Tag Archives: Arts Education

Literature meets life

L to R: Corie Leigh Coash, Britton Jeffery Gardner and Sadi Weir are cast members for the Utah Shakespeare Festival production of Les Miserables

I met a trio of young actors this summer who’ll be giving their last performance in “Les Misérables” at the Utah Shakespeare Festival this weekend. I often call time spent talking with them to mind when naysayers neglect to recognize the role of arts and culture in readying kids for real life.

These youth — Britton Jeffrey Gardner (Gavroche), Sadi Weir (Young Cosette) and Corie Leigh Coash (Young Eponine/Ensemble) — are living proof that time spent with literature, and the theater that flows from it, leads to profound understandings of self, others and society.

Gardner recalls getting involved with the festival’s “Playmakers” program when he was just six years old, and says his interests outside of theater include soccer and cello. Gardner plays in the school orchestra and participates in Boy Scouts. He describes Shakespeare as “such a great writer,” and marvels that the things he wrote about were happening many hundreds of years ago.

He’s read Victor Hugo’s “Les Misérables” and says “this whole story happens all the time.” Everything Hugo said about the world is true, Gardner told me. “People in power abuse it,” explains Gardner, “and make those not in power miserable.” For Gardner, “Les Misérables” is a good example of what can happen when one group in society takes advantage of others.

Gardner finds the music for “Les Misérables” especially moving, and feels the work is a “touching” story. “It’s about a person with no choice but to steal a piece of bread,” says Gardner. “But he becomes a good man, transformed because a bishop treats him like any other person.”

Gardner describes Gavroche as “a strong character,” noting that “he’s lived through a lot of things.” In the book, observes Gardner, Gavroche is the son of ill-tempered innkeepers named Thénardier. Knowing that even college graduates sometimes stumble when asked to compare various versions of classic tales, I’m struck by Gardner’s insights and his gift for sharing them.

Like Gardner, Coash plays soccer and enjoys making music. She participates in Girl Scouts, and plays both piano and guitar. Coash credits Shakespeare with fueling her imagination, adding that “his stories are amazing.” Her favorite characters include Puck from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” a sprite she describes as “mischevious and fun.”

Coash describes her Les Misérables character as “a snotty, mean girl who shoves people and stands on tables,” but notes that Eponine gets nicer as she gets older. “She loves this guy but he’ll never love her back,” explains Coash. “And she never went to school.” Coash describes performing in Les Misérables as “a great learning experience” and says theater “makes you open up and blossom” instead of being shy.

Gardner describes fellow Les Misérables cast members as “nice” and Coash agrees that they’re all “very kind.” They’re great mentors, says Coash, and always happy to help with questions. Weir says “that’s just fun” when asked what it’s like to work with all the older, more experienced actors.

“I like to dance a lot,” says Weir. “All styles.” She hadn’t yet read Hugo’s novel when we spoke, but noted that she wants to. Still, she’s got a better grasp of the material than plenty of grown-ups. Weir describes her character as “very sad and miserable,” adding that young Cosette is threatened a lot, made to work and forced to sleep in a basement.

“Les Misérables” is filled with life stories, says Weir. “It describes a lot of life lessons.” Weir praises Shakespeare for being “very creative” and says her favorite Shakespeare works include “Romeo and Juliet.” She hopes to do more theater, noting that it “helps to get people’s imagination going.”

Though the Utah Shakespeare Festival production of “Les Misérables” ends this weekend as their fall season comes to a close, tickets for 2013 performances are already available — and shows like “Peter and the Starcatcher” are likely to sell out just as quickly as “Les Misérables.” Click here to explore their 2013 line-up, which includes four Shakespeare works, “12 Angry Men” and more.

Also watch for Utah Shakespeare Festival news of upcoming children’s auditions, classes (for youth, teachers, directors and playgoers) and next fall’s Shakespeare competition for students — all places where literature meets life.

— Lynn

Note: The Utah Shakespeare Festival tour of “Romeo and Juliet” hits Higley Center for the Performing Arts on March 4, 2013 (target audience is grades 7-12). Click here for school show and ticket information.

Coming up: Fun with Falstaff, A “Twilight” tale, Ode to thespians

Kids in a candy store

One of many fun touches at a recent ArtSource event in Tempe

It wasn’t glasses filled with candies plopped on to the center of round tables that made arts educators’ eyes look large as round peppermint candies. It was the chance to spend several hours together, away from day-to-day operations and in the midst of fellow creative souls championing the cause of arts and culture in Arizona schools.

L to R: Teniqua Broughton, John Huppenthal and Nicole Stanton at ArtSource

A recent gathering of arts educators and arts organizations dubbed “ArtSource” opened with remarks by Teniqua Broughton, executive director for Act One Foundation, who introduced Linda “Mac” Perlich. Perlich and her husband, founders and owners of ON Media Publications, started the foundation to provide arts and culture field trips to Arizona students.

Both grew-up enjoying plenty of field trips to see symphony, ballet and other performance art, “Mac” here in Arizona and her husband J. Russell in Michigan. Never mind that they weren’t particularly talented in creating art, she says. Time with the arts fueled attitudes and skills applicable in other areas of life — and taught them the importance of arts audiences and arts advocates.

John Huppenthal talks arts and education at ArtSource in Tempe

John Huppenthal, Arizona State Superintendent of Education, spoke as well — also confessing that while he was never all that gifted in the arts, he’s a firm believer in the power of arts to mold and motivate creative, engaged citizens. Huppenthal shared stories of early encounters with arts and literature, sharing one thought he’d found particularly profound — the idea that mastery requires 8,000 hours of practice.

EPIK Dance Company performs Make a Move at ArtSource in Tempe

Next up was a work in progress that already feels plenty polished — an anti-bullying piece called “Make a Move” developed and performed by EPIK Dance Company. It opens in a classroom, then moves to other spaces where students sometimes mock and mistreat those whose outer appearance differs from their own. I’m eager to see the finished product when it’s rolled out for public performance.

Make a Move by EPIK Dance promotes bullying prevention

I sat with Step Raptis and Lisa Chow during the presentations, telling Chow how much I enjoy reading her Arizona Dance Coalition newsletters and asking Raptis what he’d be performing during October’s Festival of the Arts at the Herberger Theater Center. Raptis shared news of other festival plans too, and I made a mental note to give him a call to talk more about Step’s Junk Funk.

The day also included grant workshops and a casual roundtable discussion, and lots of time visiting displays highlighting arts education programs and other offerings of local arts and culture organizations. Think music, dance, museums and more. “ArtSource” was a lovely demonstration of the fact that Arizona has a wealth of arts education resources for students of all ages.

As I passed the Ballet Arizona table, decorated with soft mounds of tulle and pink pointe shoes well-worn by the dancers who’d later signed them, I shared that my daughter had trained for ten years with the company’s school — just a few years behind David Hallberg and several of the School of Ballet Arizona students who now dance with Ballet Arizona and other esteemed companies.

I ran into several Tempe Center for the Arts volunteers while peeking into the gallery being prepared for the next exhibit. One shared their four-point approach for engaging visitors in conversations about exhibited artworks, told me a bit about docent training and responsibilities, and even shared her enthusiasm for several of the classes she’s taken through the Tempe Public Library. I was thrilled to share that Stephanie Solis, a teen who recently exhibited at the TCA Gallery, is featured in the current issue of Raising Arizona Kids magazine.

ArtSource event presented in Tempe by Act One Foundation

I enjoyed a lovely bit of roundtable time with women from the Phoenix Symphony, Musical Instrument Museum and Arizona Family Theater, talking with the theater’s producer about their upcoming production of “Junglabook” and their outreach to elderly audiences throughout the Valley. I recalled how impressed I’d been watching a MIM docent explain music and physics to a group of students, and enjoyed learning about the symphony’s upcoming Day of the Dead concert. Soon the conversation turned to Phoenix First Fridays, and the impact of arts on the city’s development.

Greg Stanton talks art and economic development in Phoenix

Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton, who first crossed my path during Arcadia roof rat meetings a decade or so ago, channeled a similar theme — crediting arts and culture along Roosevelt Row with drawing new construction to the area. Stanton encouraged folks to share their “big ideas” for Phoenix’s future via the city’s website, and invited questions from the crowd.

I decided to share my question with Stanton after his formal remarks ended, curious about what sorts of art he’d made as a child that his mom liked to display on the fridge or around the house. Seems he had a thing for making Shrinky Dinks. Like other distinguished “ArtSource” guests, Stanton noted that while he never exhibited great artistic talent, he fully appreciates the importance of experiencing the arts and the role of arts and culture in driving economic development. And he graciously thanked me for writing about his wife’s bullying prevention work.

I learned from the Desert Botanical Garden folks that they’ve got two new art exhibits coming to the garden in October, plus the return of their outdoor concert series. I visited their website when I got home, and was pleased to learn about a monarch butterfly exhibit — which reminded me of Manolo Valdes’ “Butterflies” exhibited at the New York Botanical Garden.

Representatives from the West Valley Arts Council shared news of their “Big Read” plans, and I talked with Childsplay folks about Lois Lowry coming to town thanks to Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe. They’re performing “The Giver,” adapted from one of Lowry’s books, at the TCA in October — and hoping Lowry might join them for a rehearsal. Next I explored the Latino Film Series and other Phoenix Art Museum offerings.

Heard Museum display at ArtSource at Tempe Center for the Arts

When I visited the Heard Museum display, I remembered lingering over Katsina doll exhibits with my son. At the ASU Gammage table, I recalled more than a decade spent seeing touring Broadway shows with my youngest daughter. At the ASU Art Museum table, I recalled times spent admiring various works of sculpture. At the Mesa Arts Center display, I learned that community members have already started contributing yarn art for next year’s yarn bombing affair.

I shared with folks from Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts my enthusiasm for not only the center, but also several nearby venues — including the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art (including its young@art gallery), the Scottsdale Civic Center Library and the Scottsdale Historical Museum. And I overshared a bit by noting that I’d gone into labor with my son while strolling paths throughout the Scottsdale Civic Center Mall.

Soon I stumbled on another reminder of just how fast time flies — a presentation by the Arizona Arts Commission noting that it’s once again time for schools to register for the Poetry Out Loud competition. It seems only yesterday that I was watching state finalists do poetry proud at Phoenix Center for the Arts before one young poet was selected to represent Arizona in the national competition.

Those who missed the “ArtSource” gathering can learn more about the organization’s support for arts education by visiting www.act1az.org.

— Lynn

Coming up: A little love for Broadway, Remembering 9/11, Jersey girls tour

Gatherings for good

Arts educators have several upcoming gatherings for good

Arizona educators, parents and members of the community will soon be gathering to make good things happen in arts education, Holocaust education and bullying prevention. Read on to learn about four gatherings for good…

ArtSource” is a free showcase of “model arts education programs” offered by Arizona arts and culture organizations. It’s being presented by Act One, a non-profit foundation of ON Media Publications working to provide free educational fieldtrips for Arizona’s underserved schools. “ArtSource” takes place Tues, Aug. 28 from 3-6pm at Tempe Center for the Arts. Anyone connected to arts, education or arts education is welcome to attend. Think principals, art specialists, parents, school board members and teachers.

John Huppenthal, Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction, will be speaking about his “values and views” on arts and arts education. Arizona Commission on the Arts and Arizona Department of Education will provide workshops on grants and funding. Giveaways, afternoon treats and drawings to win performances for students are included as well — and there’s a bullying-prevention component too. Learn more or RSVP (through Aug. 25) to artsource.eventbrite.com.

The “Anti-Bullying Summit” is an opportunity to unite education and community leaders in furthering bullying prevention throughout Arizona. The summit is part of Nicole Stanton’s “Stop Bullying Initiative,” and is being presented Oct. 5 from 8:30am to 5pm at the ASU Memorial Union in partnership with Jenn-Josh Lateiner Memorial Fund, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Magellan Health Services, ASU and Safeway.

The keynote speaker is bullying prevention expert Dan Olweus of Clemson University. The free event is “to provide education, break out learning sessions, data gathering, best practices and other information to develop a cohesive response and system/tools to stop bullying in schools and seek for identify ways to focus on the bystander.” Learn more or RSVP (by Sept. 1) at stopazbullying.org.

The “Joint Arts Education Conference” is a day of professional development focused on arts education, including exploration of education reform’s impact on arts education, the relationship of arts education of Arizona standards, revisions to the national arts education standards, keys trends in arts education and more. The Oct. 15 conference takes place from 7:30am to 4:30pm at Mesa Arts Center.

Keynote speakers include music education experts Peter Loel Boonshaft, professor of music at Hofstra University, and David A. Dik, national executive director of Young Audiences Arts for Learning. Other speakers include Evan Tobias of ASU and Lynn Tuttle of the Arizona Department of Education. Superintendent Huppenthal and Robert C. Booker, executive director for Arizona Commission on the Arts, will offer opening remarks. Learn more or register ($95/early registration by Sept. 6 or $75/students) at ade.az.gov.

The 21st annual “Educators Conference on the Holocaust” is an opportunity to experience Holocaust survivor testimony, learn about Holocaust education resources and become better informed about 21st century anti-Semitism. It’s being presented by the Bureau of Jewish Education of Greater Phoenix on Mon, March 4, 2013 at the Ira Levine Jewish Community Campus in Scottsdale. Keynote speaker Doreen Rappoport will present “Beyond Courage, the Untold Story of Jewish Resistance During the Holocaust.”

Conference partners include Arizona Council for the Social Studies, ASU College of Education, Maricopa Country Community Colleges, NAU Martin Springer Institute, Phoenix Holocaust Survivors’ Association and UA Center for Judaic Studies. Topics being covered include civic engagement, teaching Holocaust history through memoirs, perspectives of Holocaust survivor children and more. Conference fee $65 ($35/full-time students). Learn more at bjephoenix.org.

Watch Arizona Citizens/Action for the Arts for details of next year’s Art Congress, taking place in February at the Arizona State Capitol in Phoenix.

— Lynn

Note: Click here to learn more about National Arts in Education Week 2012 (Sept. 9-15)

Coming up: Broadway launches new season, The emotional lives of LGBT youth

Calling all teachers…

The Mesa Arts Center has plenty of options for school and family outings

I love getting lost in the arts oasis most folks know as the Mesa Arts Center. It’s got spaces for visual and performing arts and a diverse calendar featuring all sorts of music, dance, theater, exhibitions and more.

So I was delighted to learn that MAC is inviting teachers to attend a free “Educator Preview Night” on Thurs., Aug. 23 from 4:30-6:30pm — which will give teachers a chance to explore the center and learn about its many programs. I’ve enjoyed chaperoning many a school field trip through the years, so I decided to take my own peek at what MAC has in store for students this year.

While exploring their “Performing Live for Students” season I discovered music from three world cultures, dancers from Mexico, local and national storytellers, a work by Dallas Children’s Theater, a dinosaur petting experience and a one-woman play about school desegregation. I’d have loved seeing any or all of these in chaperone mode when my kids were younger.

Mesa Arts Center also presents four “National Geographic Live!” shows this season, which you can enjoy in school or family mode. One explores African ceremonies, and another the wonders of extreme cave diving. One examines birds of paradise, and another adventures in polar exploration.

Print this post and share it with your child’s teachers

If you’re eager to see more arts and culture in Arizona classrooms, be sure to alert your children’s teachers to MAC’s Educator Preview Night, which can make planning field trips more fun and less time consuming.

Teachers who attend will enjoy drinks and treats, a tour of the MAC campus, goodie bags, door prizes and such from 4:30-5pm. From 5-6pm they’ll get a special preview of MAC’s “Performing Live for Students” season. They’ll see a “surprise performance,” meet the MAC team and get a “sneak peek” at fall shows for the Mesa Contemporary Arts Museum.

Dessert and entertainment round out the evening from 6-6:30pm, as teachers have the opportunity to pre-register before members of the general public for “National Geographic Live!” and “Performing Live for Students” shows.

The artist co-op at MAC will be open throughout for teachers who want to watch artist demonstrations and enjoy unique works by local artists. I rarely visit MAC without taking time to browse the co-op’s space because I always meet such lovely people there.

Mesa Arts Center notes that space for their Educator Preview Night is limited so interested teachers should RSVP promptly to 480-644-6540.

— Lynn

Note: Click here to learn more about MAC outreach programs

Coming up: The New American Playwrights Project, Field trip follies

The fine art of civil discourse

In the aftermath of the tragic Tucson shooting that recently took the lives of six people and injured many more, there’s been a lot of debate about the role of rhetoric in fueling violence.

I haven’t any way of calculating the relative role of various factors in the shooting, but I began wondering that day about how we might begin to reclaim the fine art of civil discourse.

I started by exploring something called “Project Civil Discourse” — a “special initiative” of the Arizona Humanities Council.  The program is “a statewide effort to create respectful dialogue and discourse on public issues.”

There’s a dedicated “Project Civil Discourse” website that features information on speakers, readings and resources related to the topic of civil discourse.

I got to thinking about the role of arts and humanities in fostering civil dialogue the other day when I heard someone propose that schools pay math and science teachers more than teachers in other subjects.

The speaker detailed the relative scarcity of qualified teachers in these areas, and noted the importance of these fields in both national and international affairs. 

I can’t disagree with either point, but I have to wonder whether he’s heard the startling statistics about how poorly even college graduates fare these days in the reading and writing department.

I’m inclined to believe that arts and humanities form the foundation of civil society — and that they should never be valued (or funded) less than other fields of study or enterprise.

So I was especially pleased to learn that Arizona State University is readying to launch “Project Humanities” next month.

It’s “a yearlong celebration filled with public events, programs and activities that highlight faculty and student scholarship, research and creative activity” in the humanities.

The university-wide initiative includes all four campuses — and will focus on “Humanities at the Crossroads: Perspective on Place” during its inaugural year.

Fervent arts supporters have likely noticed recent upticks in calls to downsize or eliminate organizations like the National Endowment for the Arts and National Public Radio.

It’s compelling evidence that many value the right to bear arms over the right to free speech.

Appreciating art is no longer enough. Those who create and love it must also advocate for it. Hence the importance of organizations like Arizona Citizens Action for the Arts and the Arizona Commission on the Arts.

Seek out community resources offering education and training in the fine art of civil discourse — including colleges, libraries, museums, non-profits and cultural organizations.

And check out “iCivics” — an online tool founded by Justice Sandra Day O’Connor to help improve the depth and breadth of civics education for American youth.

If you agree that the arts and humanities are at the very core of our democracy, you have plenty of opportunities to become a more engaged citizen working to assure their role in fostering and sustaining civil discourse is never neglected or forgotten.

— Lynn

Note: If you know of another organization or program specializing in civil discourse, please share it below to let our readers know

Coming up: A pair of posts featuring perspectives on bullying, Performance resume tips for child and teen actors

Photo: Wikipedia