- By Chrissie
- November 13, 2010
At a recent presenters conference I took in a morning's worth of ten-minute showcases geared at family/young audience programmers. These programmers’ present performances as a bus-in school show or a family matinee, or even consider residencies. As a manager and artist rep of two family and youth focused artists, I am always curious and excited to observe what others in the same general programming area are creating and performing.
I was so disappointed this very morning. It goes back to my last post - Not On The Test - about how frustrated I am that what we in the States deem as the necessary "art" for youth audiences is either A. Dumbed Down or be soley focused on curriculum.
I was cringing in my chair watching the showcases...
I saw/heard some cultural storytelling...that by itself is great. However, what I saw lacked directorial insight. The disclaimer here is that with only ten-minutes, any artist is limited in tech and production but that said, I think it's clear the ones that actually do have the concepts of beginning/middle/end, sequencing, and high production values.
I think culture is one of the easiest ways to weave together curriculum and imagination - provided it's authentic. Sometimes I wonder about that. Or even if it is authentic, the presentation is so in your face that it comes across as silly. And while the target is certainly a young audience, why do we assume they want silly and goody? To be talked down to? Why do we assume they aren't intelligent beings who are unable grasp concepts? Or to imagine?
When we set the bar at such a horrific low -- MUST MEET CURRICULUM STANDARDS -- then we drop the quality qualifier from our curatorial process. I don't think all curriculum based shows are terrible but frankly, I'll go so far as to say that No, I don't believe there should be a place (even at a kid's birthday party) for the guy and his guitar singing about math principles. If you want Math, then pay attention in Math class, watch Curious George, or Sid the Science Kid. But performing arts for children, just like for adults, should meet qualifiers - artistic excellence, technical proficiency, production values, and interesting/challenging/imaginative concepts.
Not Farmer So-in-So with his guitar singing about Math.
And I saw that guy as well as an Einstein and I'll see a Thomas Jefferson impersonator too and a random old guy at my son's daycare reading from a paper a silly Halloween story (and blowing fog into the crowd) as well as tons more curriculum based, and goofy programming.
I do not for one second believe that there is a studied "art" behind the creation of those shows.
And sadly, because funding is so low and we are a nation of test takers, we make it THAT easy for anyone to grab a guitar, study up on a civic or historical figure, practice their shtick, and ta-da! Just like that those "performers" are in your kids' faces.
Another trend is having the artistic excellence and production values but backed up by a best-selling children's storybook. While these productions are well done they are the safe route for many a presenter. Backed by a book, there is an immediate curriculum tie-in. There is also immediate audience recognition.
A good friend, colleague and artistic director of a dance theater company recently said, "A lot of artists pander to the curriculum so they can sell their work. But really I love to think we should be making work that inspires us, and the curriculum will still be met in different ways. It really loses the art and magic when it becomes contrived. Now onto how to convince presenters who don't have that sensibility, or an audience who they think will respond, that art and good performance work is important with or without a math, science, or even a best-selling children's book attached to its curriculum or concept."
All this leaves me frustrated - I see such a lack of understanding, appreciation and support for creativity and imagination in this country. Without the aforementioned values, we wind up with crap.