Interesting commentary from the UK's perspective on children's theater. I've always felt that Europe was/is light years ahead of the US with regards to imaginative children's theater and youth programming. This guy - a man after my own heart - sets the bar and demands more for children.
I had the joy of attending the TEDxPhilly conference this past week in the city. I went knowing what I know about the TED conferences -- that people like me go and people like me speak. Passionate people. Opinionated educated people.
TED's tagline is "Ideas worth spreading." They are big ideas...visionary...strategic...refective of a possible utopia or at the very least hope for positive social change. These are people that like me, clearly see the need for reform in business, in education, in our everyday systems.
Here are just a few quotes and notes that I scribbled down...words that were more than words but rather a call to action.
"You don't have to be the genius you think you have to be...just be present." - Cristin O'Keefe
"Government and nonprofits are necessary but insufficient." - Jay Coen Gilbert, Founder, B Lab
"Classes are not silos of information but lenses." - Chris Lehmann, Pricipal
"Information is great. Knowledge and wisdom are better." - Chris Lehmann, Pricipal
"Ask kids, 'Teach me.'" - Chris Lehmann, Pricipal
"School is one size fits all...we need to give kids the space to be creative, solve problems." - Simon Hauger, Teacher and Hybrid X Team Founder
By far the most moving moment came not from a speaker or his words but from the raw performance of a West Philadelphia Catholic grade school string ensemble. In just 7 weeks these grade schoolers picked up an instrument for the first time, were transformed, persevered and learned notes and arrangements and got on stage at the Perelman Theater to play Twinkle Twinkle Little Star - three variations I might add - for all of us. They blew us away with their performance. It was not the Philly Orchestra playing but it didn't need to be. These kids were stellar for 9, 10, and 11 year olds. For having never had a music class in their life. The program is TuneUp Philly and it just goes to show how music and art make a difference in these kids' lives. I'm pretty sure there wasn't a soul in the audience that wasn't either crying or choked up. I hope those kids left with the sense of acomplishment and pride in themselves.
I'll link to the videos as soon as they are made available. In the meantime, you can see some terrific TEDxPhilly sketchnotes on Flickr from another attendee.
Update 11/22/10 -- Visual story board of TEDxPhilly compliments of Jonny Goldstein and his company, Envisualize.
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.