The Buck Does Not Stop Here!

During my first year in my doctoral program, I was given a graduate assistantship (along with an MFA student)  that involved helping to plan a multicultural youth arts festival on the campus of the university. The assistantship was split between the theatre department and the presenting organization that booked events for the performing arts center on campus.

This Multi-cultural Youth Arts Festival brought 10 different performers/groups–ranging from traditional dance troupes to a professional theatre company–to perform simultaneously at different venues on the campus to elementary school students from all over the county that were bussed in for the event. The festival lasted 3 days, and most of the performances were done to full houses.

That’s a lot of children.

My job included: reaching out to the schools; writing and editing an educational packet that included all of the artists; scheduling which schools would see which performances on which days (each school saw two shows in one  day); and coordinating the student volunteers who would help run the event, among other things.  I was working under the supervision of a young arts administrator named April, who decided that she would give me any of the tasks that she wasn’t interested in doing. That meant I did a lot of tasks.

The weeks  leading up to the festival found me running around to deal with all of the last-minute details an event like this requires. Because there was so much to be done, I went way beyond the hours I was  supposed to work to fulfill this graduate assistantship (and I was scheduled for more hours than the MFA student), while simultaneously juggling my own course work.

Andrea, another one of the administrator’s who worked there noticed how much time I was putting in and asked what April was doing while I did all this extra work.

“Supervising . . . I guess,” would have been my response, although perhaps not those exact words.

During this time April also came to me in a panic about needing finish the layout/editing for another program that went on a few weeks before the festival. I agreed to help, but I asked for extra pay. I got it.

On the day before the festival began, when I was pulling the second or third 10 hour day, running around in the Arizona heat and sunshine to hang signs all around campus to guide people to the different venues . . . April disappeared. She went home. Her work was done as far as she was concerned. I broke down and cried, and went to Andrea (who had stayed to help) and asked for help.

Andrea called her up and made her come back.

In the end the event was a wonderful success. However, that was the final year of the festival, as the presenting organization pulled out for financial reasons or something like that.

The school’s loss.

I was proud of what I accomplished, and very exhausted. I thought I had learned through that experience that sometimes you have to say no, sometimes you can’t please everyone, and sometimes you just have to ask for help and say this is too much.

I thought I’d learned the lesson, but perhaps I was wrong.

I’ve found myself thinking a lot about that situation in recent days, as I face another work challenge brought on my an administrator who wants the world but doesn’t seem to understand the details of what it takes to achieve her goals. It’s not the same, in that I am supposedly the Creative Director of this program that I’m working on, and I’m not a graduate student. However, the administrator who  hired me and I have vastly different communication styles and visions for what this program should look like.

I  have tried and am trying to make the program fit her vision without completely compromising what I believe is right.  For her the product is the most important, for me it’s the process. I believe that a good process will create a good product. However, nothing will get me to the product she seems to be envisioning, with full lights, sounds, set, costumes, etc.

It’s impossible.

Now, I find, that whenever something goes astray in the program, the administrator puts it all on my shoulders. Even the things that I’ve done to try to accommodate HER vision, despite my own concerns that they weren’t the best solution.

Perhaps my title to this post is incorrect. Perhaps the buck does stop here, because I have tried to be accommodating when I knew it was wrong. Perhaps I need to learn to say NO! with more confidence, and to believe that my assessment is just as valuable as hers.

But she’s the one who gave birth to the idea and wrote the grant. I’m the one whose supposed to make it happen.

I don’t know if I can do that.

I don’t want to let the kids down, but I feel like I’m on a sinking ship . . . and I’m the captain.

 

Planting Seeds of Inspiration: ‘I done good!’

I’m often filled with self doubt.

I can hear those of you who have been reading me for a while now saying things like “Duh!” or “No, really!” or (the more vulgar) “No s*%t Sherlock!”

At least I acknowledge that I’m my own worst critic.

This negativity about myself isn’t just centered on my writing. There are times that I question every single thing I’m doing, whether it’s teaching, writing, parenting, directing, interviewing . . . Basically if its a verb I do, I criticize myself for not doing it well enough–for somehow screwing even the simplest things up.

But then there are days like today, when I realize that “I done good.”

This semester I’ve been teaching a course called Studies in Drama at Bryant University; a University that is mostly known as a business school, but has been expanding its liberal arts offerings. This is a 300 level course taught through the Literary and Cultural Studies Department that fulfills an LCS requirement that all students need to graduate.

Did you pick up on the key words there? Business students, 300 level, requirement.

Anyone who has ever taught an introductory level REQUIRED course in arts or writing will recognize that sometimes getting students involved is like beating your head against a brick wall. They come in with the attitude that “this has nothing to do with my life” or “why do I need to learn to write when I’m a _______ major?” Usually those courses are at the 100 level and filled with First Year Students who are struggling with the day-to-day reality of what it means to be a college student. I’ve had both successes and failures in those types of classes, but of course I always obsess about the failures and gloss over the successes.

Now, this particular course is kind of Intro to Theatre meets upper-division expectations.  My entire class is made of up seniors, some of whom will be graduating in December; all of whom are focused (quite naturally) on getting jobs after graduating.  In other words, students who put off this particular requirement for their Senior year. Students who, in some instances, had ZERO interest in theatre and ZERO contact with theatre; they just needed to fulfill their LCS requirement in some way. Several of them signed up for this course because the original instructor (whom I replaced because of a sudden medical leave) was known for his quirky teaching style and the fact that he NEVER MADE SENIORS TAKE A FINAL.

Knowing that I might have a reluctant group, I decided to try and make the course relevant to their interests as well as my own. Since I could design the course as I saw fit, I decided to focus on “theatre as a tool of cultural expression, political engagement, and social change.” (From my syllabus). The first thing I had them read was  The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs by Mike Daisey, which is a somewhat controversial monologue/play that questions the ethics of Apple, Steve Jobs, and the use of Chinese workers to build Apple products. What better play to intrigue the interest of business majors?

From there, we’ve traveled great distances in the class: from learning about the theatrical techniques of Bertolt Brecht, to discussing racism in Othello. We spent time with the Federal Theatre Project and discusses how a bunch of beavers led to the downfall of a federally supported theatre.  We’ve looked at the role of theatre in confronting feminist issues in plays like Trifles, A Doll House,  and even Lysistrata.  We discussed the role of race and gender in plays like Cloud 9 and for colored girls who have considered suicide, when the rainbow is enuf. I’ve introduced them to the techniques of Augusto Boal and today we looked at radical street theatre and the ways in which theatre can affect social change in public places.

Revolt of the Beavers

All in all, although there have been a few unenthusiastic and non-participatory students, the discussions have been excellent throughout the semester and the students have challenged me and each other with difficult questions.

Of course, there was still the issue of the final project. Since it was an LCS class I kind of felt the need (at first) to go with the traditional write a paper route. Then, after reading an article with the class about finding ways to incorporate the reality that this generation of students has grown up with technology into theatre classrooms, I opened up the possibility of some of my students finding alternative ways to present their projects beyond the traditional academic paper.

This lead to a surprising result today. As I mentioned earlier, in today’s class we talked about street theater using articles from Jan Cohen-Cruz’ anthology Radical Street Performance: An International Anthology. We talked about various forms of street theatre they have seen themselves, and I included in the discussion flash mobs which, although perhaps not as political as some other forms, have become (in my opinion) an important phenomenon in modern society. We looked at videos of  groups like Improv Everywhere who have mastered the art of producing moments of theatre in public places.  This is one of my favorite videos of theirs:

All of a sudden, out of nowhere, a voice calls out, “Can we negotiate the final papers if we create a flash mob?”

“Um . . . let me think about that.”

The class continued until we neared the end.

“How about the flash mob idea?”

“Well. . .,” I said, not wanting to dull their enthusiasm. After all, this was a group of students who want to, suddenly, do a CREATIVE project as their final. These are the same students who refused to acknowledge themselves as creative individuals in the beginning of the class. Granted, many of them are simply trying to avoid having to write an academic paper. Still, to me this indicates that they’ve been learning that theatre does, indeed, have power.

At the same time, I don’t want their final project to be a mediocre piece of fluff. “If you want to do this, then it needs to have some meaning. It can’t be just a fun flash mob. You need to make some kind of statement. If you can, as a group, come up with a reasonable proposal by next Tuesday, we’ll see.”

“Everybody, stay for five minutes,” another student said. “Let’s brainstorm.”

I left the class in discussion and headed toward my basement office cubby.

Ten minutes later, two students walked in. “We figured it out.”

They explained their idea. (I’ll leave the details for the future).  I negotiated a little to raise the expectations (there needs to be a research component and a little writing by everyone in the group). I told them I would still make the final decision next Tuesday, pending their figuring out some of those research details and a few other logistical things.

Meanwhile, all I could think was, “Wow! I think they really learned something. ‘I done good!'”

Stay tuned for the end results.

Artists vs. Zombies

This is a repost of a post I originally wrote on June 23, 2011 for Sandra’s “Old-Post Resurrection Hop” at A Writer Weave’s A Tale. Since I’ve been thinking a lot about the importance of the arts, and the power of the arts to challenge ideas, I thought I would revisit this post. Enjoy!

“Feed me brains!”

Zombie Sam from terror4fun.com

The Zombie Leader lumbers towards an unsuspecting group of people who blithely go about their business reading, writing and creating. The Zombie Leaders intent to devour their energy and independent wills does not seem to faze them, until he makes his way to each one devouring brains and creating more zombies.

The Zombie leader does not discriminate when it comes to brains, but he especially enjoys feasting on young minds because of their potential to absorb energy and ideas at an overwhelming rate. Catch them young, he thinks, and they will never learn, grow, or threaten my Zombie Kingdom. Of course, he doesn’t really think this with as much insight as that. Really, his thought process is limited to “Brains!” but inside he knows that destroying a thinking, creative populace is what has made him strong and will make him more powerful.

Caught by this creature’s never-ending lust for domination and power, the young people turn into zombies quickly because they have yet to learn how to defend themselves from his overwhelming control.  As his army of brainless drudges grows, the Zombie King gains power over event those who have the skills to protect themselves and others from him. Why? Because these creative people often get so absorbed in their individual projects that they don’t sense his putrid, decaying presence until it is too late.

The more creative energy one zombie can devour, the higher in the ranks of the zombie world he/she rises. And with that strength comes more power and control over the ever-growing army of mindless drones and crucial elements of society which would help the diminishing group of rebels continue to fight the good fight.

But here’s the secret that they don’t understand (if they understood anything, which is a challenge when your brains are in someone else’s stomach):

Zombies cannot exist without artists!

Yes folks. Artists created zombies . We drew them, designed them, wrote stories about them. And while we focused on creating them, they grew stronger and more powerful. They grew to resent us, and their thoughts began to focus on our destruction. They exist because we gave them life,which suggests that we have the power to destroy them.

But I don’t think destruction is the answer. No! As artists our power comes from creation, not destruction. So, if we want to defeat the zombies and protect the creative minds of young and old alike, we must use of the power of our art itself. We must wield our pens, brandish our paint brushes, strengthen our words, mix our colors, build our connections, sing our songs, pronounce our monologues, grow or gardens, dance our dances, create our puppets, share our knowledge, and dream our dreams.

The zombies will try every trick they can–including destroying the foundations of equality and justice. They will attempt to suck the brains out of anyone, especially a leader, who leans towards valuing something other than power and money.

But in the end they will lose because artists never die–we live behind our words, our pictures, our songs, our sculptures, our ideas, and the power of our dreams. We are even capable of turning zombies back into fully functioning humans, or, at the very least rainbows. All it takes is a sprinkle of fairy dust and a lot of hard work.

Artists can rule the world!

This is a Blog Hop! Join in!

Believing in Butterflies

Butterflies and Hurricanes 2

Butterflies and Hurricanes 2 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Last night I went to a dance concert by the Stephens College Dance Company. Whenever I attend dance concerts one of two things happen. I either 1) leave scratching my head saying they moved well but I don’t get it; or, 2) get swept away in the imagery, the movement, and wish that I could become a dancer and share life in that magical way.

The performance last night swept me away in every way possible.

One of the pieces they did was called “Butterflies and Hurricanes” and was “Dedicated to the children who survived the Joplin tornado.” A choreographer’s note explained:

“After the Joplin, Mo. tornado in 2011, several children recounted stories of their experiences. Many reported seeing giant butterflies that held them to the ground, and kept them safe and calm. Incredibly, these stories were gathered separately, but seemed to include the same details. Could there be magical butterflies out there, or do they just live in the imagination of children? You decide.”

The power of this idea, this image, spoke to me on many levels. It wasn’t just the amazingly beautiful dance with twirling umbrellas, the lights that brought back memories of the  darkening sky of that day in 2011 (the storm that hit Joplin went over us in Independence, KS), or the elegance of the dancer on point wrapped with blue fabric that extended out to form her wings to incredible effect.  All of those were powerful, but the story behind it begged for more attention.

I did a little research and found this article called “The butterfly people of Joplin” which goes into details of the events on that day, events that lead to a belief in angels for many people.

Do I think the butterflies were angels? Perhaps. I do know that somehow butterflies, for me at least, reflect the connection between the seen and the unseen, the real and the magical,  what we know because we can see it and what we know just because we know.

Once, long ago, I sat on one of the energy vortexes found in Sedona, AZ and asked for a sign, for some guidance, for some clue that I was making good choices in my life. A butterfly landed near me and I thought, perhaps, that it was a spirit guide. I know I have a picture of that moment, but not on this computer.

Photo by Steve Kramer. Bell Rock, one of the most powerful vortexes (not the one I sat on)

Since then, I have been drawn to butterflies. Whenever I have the opportunity I go to butterfly houses and spend time watching those magical creatures . I’m always trying to capture their beauty on my camera, but somehow they manage to elude me.

Perhaps their message for me comes from the moment.

I remember as a child seeing the most beautiful butterfly I had ever seen. It was black with tiny dots of color along the edges of its wings, like someone had drawn on it with pastel dots of paint. My guess (now that I can research it) is that it was a swallowtail, although I swear it had more variety of colors on its wings.

Whatever it was, I still remember feeling honored to see it that day long ago.

When we were still in Kansas, I led a play reading of The Bones of Butterflies  by Marcia Cebulska, which I wrote about here. Marcia, who is a talented playwright and magnificent woman, went on to work on a special project this past year called The Greensburg Project, which looked at the story of the”survival and journey home” for the town of Greensburg, KS after a devastating tornado destroyed the town. I could not help but think about Marcia and her play “Rooted: The Greensburg Odyssey” last night.  For more about the project, visit this site. I was unable to see it, but I so wish I had.

I know this post seems to be wandering all over the place, almost like the flight of butterflies, random and elusive.

But somehow I feel like magic is building around me, if I simply could understand the call of the butterflies, and the message they are trying to send.

I believe in butterflies. Do you?

The Spirit We Leave Behind

Wandering through life
we stop along the way
sometimes for
the briefest of moments
sometimes for time
drawn out in memory
but faster than light.

Wherever we stop
we leave an imprint
a sliver of our soul
a slice of our spirit
the lingering sound of our laughter
perhaps the taste of our tears.

We hope
as we wander
that the impressions left behind
linger in the lives
we’ve touched
not the bitterness of loss
but the butterfly flutter
of inspiration
of hope.

The lucky ones learn
later in life
at  different points of the journey
of the impact
their spirit in that brief time made.
Hope and dreams left behind
to nurture and grow
under the caring touch
of other creative hands.

The link to the spirit of self
feels joy in these moments
but sadness as well
for tasks left unfinished
by a wandering moment
that was in some ways
all too brief.

My long time readers may recall a post I wrote at the beginning of last summer, one of my best posts perhaps, of my time working with a very special group of people to create an art/drama program. Here’s a link to Appropriate Age Appropriateness  if you forgot or are interested in revisiting that post.  I actually wrote a series of posts about working with them, as well as teaching a Youth Theatre Studio that focused on the power of imagination, because that is where one of my passions lie. Those two projects were the hardest thing to leave when we moved on from Kansas, where we only stayed for a year. Yesterday, my dear friend Jackie, my partner in the program, posted this update about continuing to work with this wonderful group. The images here tell you everything you need to know. The above poem comes from my joy that something I began continues, but also my (very human) sadness that I cannot be part of it. If I am completely honest, there is a tiny part of me that wants my role in projects to be more important, like they cannot function without me. But that isn’t the reality, and is totally selfish. I am honored to have been the spark, and hope the project continues to grow into a comforting and warming flame. Congrats to Jackie and Marisa, who have made this project soar.

Inspiration from the Photography of Ron Rosenstock

Yesterday. Worcester Art Museum.

Sarah walked from art piece to art piece, carrying her sketch pad and a pencil. She jotted down notes. Usually  just the name of the piece, sometimes words. I’m not really sure. I found myself torn between looking at the art and watching Sarah’s reactions to certain pieces..

We wandered from gallery to gallery until we entered a magical display that mesmerized Sarah from the moment she walked in.

Hymn to the Earth: Photographs by Ron Rosenstock is an exhibition full of vibrancy, magic, light and atmosphere, all in tints of black and white. Each image was more intricate and beautiful than the rest, and each inspired a snippet of story.  Of course, because of copyright issues, I’m not allowed to post those images here, however if you click on the above link it will bring you to the Worcester Art Museum page including an interview with the photographer about his work.

I can’t resist including at least one image here. So I will borrow one from his own website and hope that I am forgiven, as it is only intended to praise and lead others to him.

Each of us were drawn to different images. My favorite is called Stone Circle at Sheefrey, County Mayo, Ireland. Trees surround a crumbling stone circle, leaves pouring over its edges. Somehow he caught the atmosphere at its most magical. I can almost hear the faerie folk singing as their power builds. To me, it is the circle of the Storyteller, on the verge of the forest. It is the home of a story I am slowly starting to tell.

I bought a card a pinned it over my desk.

Sarah fell in love with an image called Muckross Abbey, Coounty Kerry, Ireland. In it you look through an arched stone doorway, past arched columned windows through which the sun cast its glow. At the end of the hall is a small, black, rectangular door. When Sarah and I looked at it, I said, “I can almost sense a ghost coming through . . . I can sense the history.”

I splurged and bought the book about this exhibition.  Each image is paired with haiku’s written by Gabriel Rosenstock (no relation). Here is poem opposite Muckross Abbey:

“Muttering in Latin
on his daily rounds
the abbey ghost”

I feel the chills of inspiration and creativity.

Ron Rosenstock was in the gallery as we wandered through the exhibition, but Sarah was too shy to say anything. I was too much in awe and caught up in the magic of creative possibility. I found myself walking in story.

We wandered through the rest of the museum, and (as I mentioned yesterday) I tended to be drawn to the feminine divine. I was also fascinated by the miniatures, perfectly painted portraits of women.

Sarah got excited by the display of Paul Revere’s creations. She just learned about him in school and somehow seeing something crafted by him made the history more real. It was fun to see her excitement.

Wandering through the modern art exhibit, a certain famous painting of a can of soup, led to a discussion about whether or not something was art, as well as interpretations of the images we saw.

That too, was fun, but I will treasure always the image of Sarah sitting in front of a mystical photograph of three small waterfalls and writing this:

Water rushing through the wind
Water falling in the river
go with the flow.

 It doesn’t get better than that.

The Many Passions (and Confusions) of Lisa

I sat in the bookstore coffee shop, green tea latte at my side, and prepped for the course I am teaching at a nearby university in Theatre for Young Audiences.

A course in my actual field, what a luxury.

Suddenly, as I read the chapters from the book selected for this course (which I went along with as I wasn’t sure what text to use) I found my chest constricting, and a tense feeling in my shoulders. I felt like I couldn’t breathe, and wanted to scream or cry despite being in a very public place.

A panic attack settling into my system. A moment for me step back and reflect on what I was feeling and why.

Deep breaths and listen to the silence.

I am a really good teacher. I challenge my students, I make learning fun, I set high expectations, and at the same time I work very hard to help all my students find a way to succeed.

But I’ve lost the joy of teaching. It was sucked out of me because of too much bureaucratic bull#$%* and because of a system that lets the priorities of a powerful few become more important than the needs of the students. I lost the desire from having too many students who plagiarized, or too many who expected–no demanded–to be handed grades rather than to earn grades. I lost the passion by having to fight too hard to even teach what I teach best, or create what I create best, against people who were so caught up in protecting their territory that they didn’t want new ideas, new talent, or anyone who might challenge the status quo.

Yet, I still love teaching when I have a classroom full of students who are open to exploring and seeing the power of learning, no matter what the subject. And I still love directing theatre when it is about a process of creation and exploration rather than trying to become a star and make lots of money. And I still love writing, even if I don’t know where it is heading.

This class (in the one meeting we had so far) seems to be full of students who really want to be there. Well, except for the one student who has already texted me with questions like “where do I find . . .?” “Do I type it into Google?” “How do I look it up?”  “Can I find it at Barnes & Noble?” Questions that I expect people of this generation, raised on technology, to know how to answer. They have more computer skills than I do, or at least they should.

So why did my throat constrict? Why did the panic set in?

I was reading about things I feel passionately about: like the importance of including arts education into the system; or the excellent tool that theatre  is to teach all kinds of skills and educational lessons and reach different types of people; or the need in any culture for theatre and performance and arts programming that reach all levels of society. I didn’t agree with every statement in the book, but still it is a book about my passions.

So why do I feel like crying?

The answer lies in my experience in Slovakia, particularly the time with the Roma. The answer lies in my current struggle with words and search for focus and simplicity. The answer lies in the multiple incarnations of Lisa, and in my inability to figure out how to market myself so that I am DOING rather than only teaching others how to do.

Not that teaching is a bad thing, but if I am not practicing what I preach I feel like an imposter. The answer lies in my imposter syndrome.

The answer lies in the fact that I have lots and lots of passions and projects, but without a deadline, without a “boss”, without a guarantee of a paycheck or some kind of acknowledgment from an outside source I can’t seem to accomplish them. The answer lies in the fact that I don’t have enough self-esteem to do things because I want to, I simply look too much for validation from outside when I know that I should be able to find satisfaction in myself and my projects, and in the joy of sharing what I love.

I am constantly saying that the process is as important (if not more important) than the product, that the journey is the reward. But when it comes to my own life, I can’t get past the block of feeling like I failed somewhere along the way.

This has got to stop!

I look in the mirror and I do not see what other people see.

I look at my list of accomplishments and I do not see what other people see!

I thought that I had finally gotten over this in Slovakia. As a matter of fact, I even wrote this:

 

Am I only able to find peace and purpose when I am away from my normal environment? Am I only able to see myself when someone else leads the way?

Somehow I must find a way to merge my passions with my abilities, and to become my own support “boss”–the person who gives herself deadlines and achieves every dream with or without validation from others.

My journey began in Slovakia, but now I have to face the painful stuff and move through it. The answers do not lie in an outside source.

The answers lie inside of me.

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