A Message from YPT’s Producing Artistic Director and CEO

This season, as we celebrate our 15th Birthday, we’re inviting you to enter our work in a whole new way, to gain your insights into the work by sharing our own and asking you to engage with us. In the coming weeks and months all of us in the company and on staff will be posting entries about the work that we’re doing, from programs and specials projects to development and production. We hope you’ll enjoy this bird’s eye view of how we do what we do and that it’ll inspire you to join us in helping to give students the tools they need to engage the world. Visit often to catch up on what’s been happening and stay connected with what’s next.   Welcome to our community, our family, our company. We hope to see you again soon.

David
Producing Artistic Director and CEO

Can Glee Save Arts Education?

James Sims of the Huffington Post thinks so! He makes a great argument for it in his recent article. Here’s an excerpt. To read the full article click here.

With increasing educational budget cuts sweeping the nation, arts education is often one of the first programs to get slashed. Just as Glee was airing on Fox Tuesday night, the community of Fowlerville, Michigan announced it would be cutting band and art programs due to budget reductions.

In steps Glee.

“I actually heard from a guy who worked I think in the public school system somewhere in Washington state and he was like yes, we’re having tons of problems,” Brennan said. “He was like the one thing no one is touching now is Glee Club, which is such a fascinating blow back from this show.”

Why Theatre? Jenn Book Haselswerdt Testifies

Jenn Book Haselswerdt is the Education Coordinator at Imagination Stage. I had intended to interview her for our series about theater educators and what inspires them. Before I could get around to it she posted an amazing piece on her blog testifying to the power of arts education.

Why Theatre?
by Jenn Book Haselswerdt

A new play opened at work a couple of weeks ago, and it’s astounding. That really is the perfect word for it, I think. I’ve seen it three times already, and always come out humming the music (we’re a veritable chorus up in the admin offices). It’s challenging, thrilling, sophisticated, sad, and funny. The set is gorgeous. The performances are fantastic. And yet, we’re getting complaints from adults.

The complaints seem to stem from the “challenging” and “sad” aspects of the show. In my opinion, the play gives parents a great opportunity to talk to their children about serious subjects…if they ask or get upset. And when I spoke to the playwright, she made a statement I agree with to an incredible level: why pander to children, and talk down to them, instead of writing for them as if they were people (which they are!), and, in the process, also entertaining their parents? The script’s references to Marx and the proletariat (in a funny way, I promise) are some of my favorite moments in the play. I don’t believe in talking down to students, nor in presenting them with a world that is sunshine and rainbows at all times (although I do believe plays can certainly be light and airy!). Like our Artistic Director says, the only thing theatre for young audiences has to do that might be different from theatre for adults is always present a sense of hope. And this play has that in spades.

So, why theatre? Why the arts?

I believe in the power of the arts to change the world, to educate, to change the way people think. My life is theatre for young audiences and youth theatre, and I make my living by educating students–and their teachers–through the arts. Good theatre for young audiences is there to educate as well as entertain, to facilitate conversations between children and their parents and caregivers, to expand their view of the world in which they live. And so, I recognize the education can go beyond the classroom, and into the world.

This was also what I took away from the Human Rights Art Festival this weekend. I only went to a handful of events–certainly fewer than I had meant to–but they certainly got me thinking. My favorite event was the panel on the use of the arts for social transformation. I listened to a group of artists talk about their activism through theatre, the double meaning of the word “act” (to act politically and act on stage), the profitability of activist theatre, and whether this type of theatre ultimately means more to the artists or to the audiences. One of my favorite points was that the goal doesn’t necessarily have to be for an entire audience to rise from their seats and begin to protest or donate money or what-have-you. An artist has to realize that everyone in the audience is walking their own steps in their own individual processes, and all one can hope for is that every audience member winds up one step further. Brilliant. This is, indeed, what I want from the arts. I also appreciated the outlook that these plays are not about messages; they’re about stories. There is no message in a story.

I visited the visual arts installation next, and found myself particularly taken by the works of art railing against domestic violence. I’m not a visual artist in the least, myself, and it’s always fascinating for me to see what others can do with the media in front of them.

I do believe in the power of the arts to entertain, but I think artists have a responsibility to educate their audiences–adults as well as children–and to do it well. I hope I can contribute to that.

Click here to link to Jenn’s blog ThirtyFlirtyFab

The Need for Arts Education

by David Andrew Snider

Recently I talked with a board member from Theatre Communications Group (TCG), of which YPT is a member.   The TCG board was reaching out to all its members to find out what’s happening in our organizations and how TCG can better support us.  At the end of the conversation came the big question:  “Besides fundraising,” (which is assumed right now) “what’s your biggest challenge today?”  “Ensuring our relevance,” I said immediately.  “What do you mean?”

It’s a critical time for arts education and for live theatre in general.   While so many people spend more and more of their time in the virtual world, our work can be more important than ever.  To keep us connected, to keep us talking, to keep us alive to one another.  When push comes to shove and we’re talking about cuts to school budgets for books, to shelter, food and clothing providers, so many people today, even in nonprofits, will say “well, it’s not like the arts are a human service.”  To which I say, and said to the DC City Council last summer “The arts are a human service.  They are a human service.”  As much as we need to eat, sleep and clothe ourselves to be human, we need to express ourselves.  We need to be able to share with our neighbors and the rest of the world what’s bothering us, how others can help us and what we fear or dream of for our future.  When we cut off self-expression, when we deny the inherent need to communicate and be heard, we see the frustration and violence that results.  We see the school shootings, the fights in the hallway, the teen suicide.  We see how social media has again sparked in all of us the itch to be known, to see and be seen, to always be in touch.  So as we’re ensuring that critical needs are met in these challenging times, I think we need to consider not only what will get us through the night, through the next month or next couple of years, but also what we want to be, look like and represent when we get through it.  What kind of society do we want to have?  How do we know what people need if they can’t tell us?  And how can we envision our future if we’re not able to dream?

Tips For Elementary School Teaching Artists

by Nicole Jost

In my experience working with elementary school students, classroom management is a big challenge. I find myself entering the space with lots of enthusiasm and a desire to engage these young students, only to be derailed when I can’t get them to listen to instructions. Unlike classroom teachers, who see their students every weekday, I typically only work with students once a week. So how can teaching artists build effective classroom management strategies with such limited time? And how can we do that without becoming evil (read: not fun) teacher dictators?

I got one great idea from a teaching artist who works with YPT, Meg Greene. In her classrooms she uses a tool called “Star Audience Member.” To get students to buy in to this tool, I first asked them what makes a good audience member. (My students offered suggestions like “listening quietly,” “staying in your seat,” “looking at the person who’s talking,” etc.) These traits became my criteria for picking one Star Audience Member per class. The Star gets their name written up on the board, and I also gave him/her a YPT pen as a small prize.

What I love about this tool is that a) you can use it to encourage students to focus (i.e. “I’m still looking for today’s Star Audience Member!”) and b) because the students themselves identify what makes a good audience, they understand the teaching artist’s choice for the Star. A few times, my students guessed who I was going to pick based on their observations during class. There aren’t many complaints of unfairness because basically, they made the rules.

What other strategies do people suggest?