Monday, November 17

Hungry Ghosts: The Business of Art

As our country's economy continues on its downward spiral, many businesses are encountering financial trouble. In the past year, the theater community has been beaten to the ground with a stick. It has become so bad that major theater companies are practically giving away seats for free. Downtown Los Angeles' Center Theatre Group is offering 10,000 tickets for only $20, their slogan: "All Performances, All Three Theaters, All Season for About The Price of a Movie and Soda!" With these rates, now is the time to go to the theater. However, the drain on our economy is not the only reason for the reduction of audience members. As I scoped the Internet looking for answers, I came upon a post from The Next Stage and an online essay from blogger Sarah Ruhl. Reading these posts I have concluded there are two main problems with having a thriving, successful theater community in America today.

The first, and most obvious, difficulty is getting people to go to the theater. According to The Next Stage's post, Theatre is Dead, Long Live Theatre, finding an audience comes rather easily. Finding people who are not family or friends is the difficulty. "The problem is not only getting our marketing in their face, but convincing them to spend time and money on our little thing they know nothing about, using only our enthusiasm." I know from experience how draining it can be to promote and find all the work that was done made hardly a dent. The second dilemma has two parts: having the "right" kind of theater community and dealing with theater as a profiteering business. Sarah Ruhl talks about various audience types; the wise, the innocent and the know-it-all. Then she goes on to write about how people in New York are hungry ghosts and hungry ghosts cannot be satiated. To them, it is not an artistic endeavor but a possible money making organization and they must learn how to make it succeed. How can they make it run forever? "And if a play were to run forever, could it properly be called theater anymore? Instead it would be an ossified strange thing, dangling half-way between live theater, a parade and an amusement park ride. Think of the longest running plays...what happens to them...what do they become...restaurants and plays should not be open for longer than the half-life of a chef, because they are about consumable items." As I have written many times, theater is an expression of civilization. Plays are not meant to run year after year just to make money. I suppose if the theater can communicate the author's message while making money, then that is a good business. I have commented on both of these posts. Below are the links to the websites as well as the comments which were posted by myself.

The Next Stage: Theatre is Dead, Long Live Theatre

I really enjoyed this post as it seems this is always a relevant problem in the theater community. It does not matter where you are or what the economy is like—the theater can never get the audience it usually deserves. I was just in a production of Our Country’s Good at my university. It was an amazing show with a beautiful set in a theater that holds around 350. Our largest audience was our last Sunday matinee with a total of approximately 115 audience members, most of which were family or friends. I really love how you play a bit of the number game. Unfortunately, just telling people about a play does not mean they will come. Out of those 5760 people you say 20 will come. That is just so disappointing, isn’t it? As someone who is in love with acting and the theater because of the thrill and the beauty of telling a story, I find it so disturbing when people don’t want to go. However, when people go they are blown away with what they are missing. How can we let the rest of the world to continue to believe theater is a waste of time and money? As a whole, the theater community needs to ban together to fix this problem. Let’s start talking, maybe someone will finally listen.

Sarah Ruhl: Essays I Don't Have Time To Write (Part 3)

You discuss many topics, all of which I find very interesting and meaningful. I have come away reading this with some new ideas that I still need to mull over in my head. However, one thing I can write about now is about the first topic on this post. I found it extremely thought provoking. The line "Instead it would be an ossified strange thing, dangling half-way between live theater, a parade and an amusement park ride" was probably the most interesting thing I have read about theater lately. People are so concerned with making money and establishing something the integrity of a play and the author's word are at risk. I would love to ask the studio head how he could possibly allow a show like Cats to run for so long. Honestly, I don't really even like that musical. But besides that fact, these productions have become freak shows and it saddens me that people don't see that. When I see a good show, I leave the theater feeling something I didn't feel before the play. Or I am contemplating the message, what the author wanted me to hear. Why go to the theater to watch something and leave without ever questioning what it was you just invested time and money on? These "hungry ghosts" and know-it-alls don't really understand the world in which we spend a lot of time and I feel truly sorry for them. They don't know what they are missing.

Monday, November 10

Dubai: Good Business And Great Art Make For A Better Society

As a student on the verge of graduation, I am about to embark upon a new journey. Many in my situation leave college with an internship or job offer but the life of an actor is not quite as stable. I will be graduating with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Acting and with a vast knowledge of my “ability” as an actress, however, that knowledge does not always pay the rent. Finding work as an actor in the United States has become a more increasingly difficult problem. With reality television programs increasing in number, many dream of fame and fortune. The only issue is that many of these dreamers have no right being involved in theater, film or television. This is a large part as to why many talented students leaving acting schools are forced to find jobs as waiters, etc. Trying to determine which road to take is difficult but I recently came across an option that I found intriguing; one of the upcoming places "to be" is located in the United Arab Emirates—Dubai. Over the past few years, Dubai has begun the construction of their new gimmick, which they have called The World. The World is a group of 250 to 300 man-made, private islands. Here they will build private homes, estate homes, dream resorts and community islands. What is so unbelievable about this project is that it is shaped like the continents of the world. American actors are being sought out bring a different culture to this "world." Could Dubai become the new theater capital of the world?

While doing research about The World and what Dubai city has to offer, I found the Dubai Theatre Community & Arts Centre website. DUCTAC deals with not only theatre events but other forms of art too—painting, sculpting, singing, and dance. They hold concerts and performances as well as conducting classes and workshops. They are the “first modern, non-profit, cross-community creative centre in the Gulf, built to international specifications. This flagship project was the brainchild of local theatre-lovers and business people who recognized the need for an entertainment and educational centre for the community and future generations of Dubai.” They are always looking for people to be a part of their community and it could be a great opportunity.

Those who happen to be taking a trip to Dubai city in the next couple of weeks should stop by and see some of their shows. In the coming weeks, one of the United Kingdom’s most respected artists, Michael Calver, will be having a free exhibition. Also, another art exhibit will begin this month. This one will be a permanent public art piece spanning the walls of the Dubai Community Theatre and Arts Centre. Once finished, those who visit the Centre will find a gathering of “inspirational words and messages from the people of Dubai which will be artistically and beautifully transferred into a unique public art showcase.” For those music lovers, the English Chamber Orchestra will be performing in the Al Farabi Concerto—a series of concerts presenting works by exceptionally gifted contemporary composers from Kuwait, Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan, Palestine, Syria, Morocco and Algeria. The concerts are designed to promote the music of Arab composers, alongside that of their Western counterparts.

Lastly, DUCTAC’s most recent production was a sellout hit this summer. Disney’s “High School Musical On Stage” found rave reviews and is back by popular demand. According to Timeout Dubai, the actors in HSM On Stage are “more than just all right. Dubai’s got serious talent.” Who knows, maybe America has yet to see real talent from Dubai.

The Ruler and Prime Minister of Dubai, HH Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, once said "Most of people talk, we do things. They plan, we achieve. They hesitate, we move ahead. We are living proof that when human beings have the courage and commitment to transform a dream into a reality, there is nothing that can stop them. Dubai is a living example of that." I believe if the people of Dubai can think that, maybe Americans living there could consider it true for themselves as well. As someone captivated by the beauty of Dubai city, it would be great to work there. One of the best ways to learn about oneself is through other cultures and societies. What I want to do is all about expression and telling a story. By living with a completely different group of people who have a distinct philosophy of life, I can learn about the world. And the only way theater can help shape society is by understanding everyone’s point of view and communicating it for everyone to hear. Actors are here to transform our dreams into realities- Dubai may just be the place to start.

Tuesday, November 4

To Be [right-wing] or Not To Be: Politics of Theater

This week, it is time for theater to go political. On Tuesday everyone in America will be waiting with hushed breath to find out who wins the race for presidency--why not talk about it? As I searched the blogosphere, I came upon two posts about theater and politics. Both authors discussed how theater has been lacking of a little right-wing controversy. Chris Wilkinson from the Noises Off blog writes about this shortage. His main issue focuses around another blog, that of Edward Einhorn at the Theater of Ideas blog. Here, Einhorn remarks about the recent New York Times article talking about how the political plays of today are mostly all liberal. The article fails to answer the question of why that is. According to Einhorn, the reason is a "current spate of political plays have reac[ted] against the Bush administration." I thought this was a clever idea and enjoyed reading his explanation. He even brought in a rather clever quote that Obama had said which I think only made Einhorn's point stronger. He even helped with continuing my point on how theater helps society today, by saying:
"But that is all part of a disdain for intellectuals that has become a standard part of political discourse here in America. And theater is an arena for intellectuals. Yes, it is also a place for emotions, and for beauty, but it is one of the few places where people are asked to think out loud in front of you so you can consider what they have to say. Theater like no other art form is about debate, and by that I don't mean televised debates meant to convince the public that you have the right demeanor and are capable of looking into the camera and sounding forceful, but actual debates of actual ideas."
Below you will find the comments posted on each post, as well as the links to each. I would beg you to read and understand these blogs with an open mind--one that is ready to learn and understand. That after all is what theater is about.

Noises Off: The Politics of Theatre

Mr. Wilkinson,

First off I would like to say thank you for writing about something I believe to be very important. As a student about to graduate from university with a degree in acting, I find it very valuable to hear about theater and its place in society. Specifically in politics. Since I am voting in less than 12 hours now, I am very intrigued by the candidates and their positions—however, I will say I am an Obama fan. I find it fascinating that we do not have much, if any, “right wing” theater here. Do you personally have an inkling as to why that may be? Are people truly afraid to do it? Maybe it is just easier to poke fun at the government.

I also really love the quote that Andy Burnham said, “all of us, and I include myself, need to remember just how affecting theatre can be for young people. It can be life-changing in your late teens and early 20s.” This is something I believe and attempt to promote through theater and why I want to be involved in the theater.

Lastly, I would like to respond to MichaelFowke in the previous comment. As long as I have been involved with acting and the theater, I do not believe I have stumbled upon one “intolerant (even fascist) socialists.” Everyone I have worked with and have talked to are waiting for criticism. We want to succeed in telling our stories truthfully. How can do we that if we are not told if something does not seem true? Yes, it is the playwright’s story and his/her view of the world is just that, and that cannot be changed. But that does not mean a story can’t be told or understood in another way.

That is the beauty of the theater. One mans garbage is another mans treasure. I apologize, but it seems that you are the intolerant socialist, as you do not want to learn about the world and how others view it.

Theater of Ideas: Why is Theater Liberal?

Mr. Einhorn,

This is a fascinating topic for me. It is so important to deal with what is going on in society today. Right now, that is the race for presidency. And it is true that theater plays a vital role in society, so it is a great question of why it does not represent from both sides. Do you have an idea as to why theater is not as right-wing as it could be? Do you think it may become so in the future? I am not sure if I would necessarily like modern right-wing theater, but how would I really know until I came upon some.

I love the quote from Obama. To me, that is exactly why one should vote for him. He is a normal person—not some robot the government is churning out and not some old man who can hardly see while driving his Volvo.

I should also like to think the insanity we share as those who love the arts are only promoting open minds, a new view of the world and the most important, thinking. One on end, my generation is very adamant about what we want but on the other hand, we don’t think for ourselves sometimes. We say we fight, but that is only once in a while. I am tired of the bleach blonde, BMW driving, princess who is always on the cell phone not watching the world go right past her.

Theater can change society. It can change it for the better. All we need to do is get them to see.



Thursday Nov. 6-9

Get your tickets now!!!

Sunday, October 26

The Art of Living: Our Country's Good

Throughout past posts, I have attempted to show how theater has been helping to improve communities around the world. From the United States to Africa, illegal immigrants to at-risk youths, theater advocates have been doing all they can. Now, I believe it is time to let my readers understand how the words of a play have the potential to change society as we know it. For those who live in Los Angeles, this November the University of Southern California's School of Theatre is putting up a show entitled, Our Country's Good. Written in 1988 by Timberlake Wertenbaker, Our Country's Good tells the story of the first officers and convicts who were shipped to Australia from England in January of 1789. To put this in historical perspective, by the late 1780's, the crime rate had severely increased, therefore allowing British law to identify a wide range of offenses as capital crimes. For instance, stealing candlesticks or a loaf of bread was considered a hangable offense. Yet, judges were reluctant to send people to death for such minor offenses. So they were instead exiled to the colonies on the island of what was known as New South Wales, now Australia, with Royal Marines resentfully serving as jailers. Under the direction of their Governor, Captain Arthur Phillip, RN, some of the colonies' convicts acted in George Farquar's The Recruiting Officer, directed by 2nd Lieutenant Ralph Clark, which was used to humanize and civilize the prisoners. Our Country's Good follows the lives of these ten convicts and officers involved in the play and the hardships they had to endure while being exiled to, as one of the characters describes, "this flat, brittle burnt-out country." This play discusses the class system in the convict camp and presents themes such as sexuality, punishment and the idea that art can act as an ennobling force.

While watching a performance of a play at Wormwood Scrubs, a prison in England, Wertenbaker said that "…in prison conditions, theatre can be hugely heartening and influential and indeed in prison your options are so limited you can become a born-again Christian, a gym-queen constantly working out, a bird watcher or you become passionate about theatre." This is why theater activities have become so popular in prisons over the years. She stated that it seemed as though the convicts had become, even only for the moment, civilized human beings and had taken their work very seriously. The theater director Wertenbaker worked with on Our Country's Good, Max Stafford-Clark,
said, "The convicts knew their lines absolutely because they had nothing else to do and they didn't want to waste time with pleasantries, as soon as you came into the room they started rehearsing. The two hours were very intense because the time was so valuable and we saw immediately how doing a play could become absolutely absorbing if you were incarcerated."

Many actors, authors and playwrights believe in the idea that theater can change lives and the way one views the world. One French playwright thought this way. Antonin Artaud believed that theater should affect the audience as much as possible. To achieve this with his work, he used various forms of strange and disturbing forms of lighting, sound and performance. In one of his essays, Theater and The Plague, Artaud wrote, "In the true theatre, a play disturbs the senses' repose, frees the repressed unconscious, incites a kind of virtual revolution...and imposes on the assembled
collectivity an attitude that is both difficult and heroic." I play the character of Mary Brenham (below right), a convict from London. In the story, Mary becomes the star of The Recruiting Officer and begins to shine because of the production. Research has shown me who Mary really was and by learning her heartbreaking story, it became so clear as to why she finally is happy again. Even Liz Morden, a heartless and mean bully, befriends Mary and becomes a human being again. The character's lives change drastically for the better because they are involved in something bigger and greater than themselves. The director of USC's production, Jack Rowe, writes in his Director's Notes for the playbill: "It is her design that the actors play both convicts and jailers-a rich device that places on trial all our assumptions about what 'civilization' means. It is at once a meditation on the redemptive nature of art, a celebration of the power of compassion, cooperation and creativity, and an insightful look into the very nature of theatre." After watching Our Country's Good, a reviewer for the London Times wrote, "All people tend to become what society says they are! In performance the convicts challenge their definition."

As important as theater may be to improving society today, it was not always so. In the 19th century, there were two kinds of supporters: those who believed in art for art's sake and those who believed in the social responsibility of art. According to Larry Shiner's book, The Invention of Art: A Cultural History, many did not support the idea of art for art's sake. They supposed that art should embody moral content and should neutralize political content.
Shiner says, poet Friedrich Schiller could even write in 1803 that art should “totally shut itself off from the real world.” Many saw art as fundamentally alien to a society propelled by commerce and industry. The rest of society might be dominated by the government and materialism, but art can be a refuge where the human spirit may roam freely.

Wertenbaker's play exhibits true human behavior as we experience it every day. The words give me chills every time I read them or hear them in rehearsals. I can only hope that they may have an effect on someone's life who truly needs help. I can also hope that our production will live up to the lives of who these people were and do them justice. Bertol Brecht once said, and I truly believe, "all forms of art serve the greatest art of all: the art of living."
Please come out to support the theater: The USC School of Theatre presents Our Country's Good, a play by Timberlake Wertenbaker-November 6-9, 2008. Buy your tickets at

Tuesday, October 14

Drama In Society: A Look Around the Theater World

Last week in my post "An Expression of Civilization: Theater and Immigration Laws," I discussed how theater is being used to improve communities around the world. To discover more, I explored the blogosphere this week to find out what others are doing. The following links are all placed to the right in my LinkRoll. To begin to understand what theater is about and "how to be an actor," I suppose the first question one may have would be "How do I act?" Even though this question cannot truly be answered in one simple sentence, I stumbled upon a website that appears to be a good jumping off point. At The Applied & Interactive Theater Guide website, I found many different acting techniques, theatre techniques, as well as the history of theatre. The site is very simple and easy to navigate, however, the simplicity makes it appear to be less professional than it may be.

Similarly, The Applied & Interactive Theater Blog follows the same rather dull color palate, however writing about theater news and events around the country. While reading about what is occurring in the theater community, the C.A.T Community Actors Theatre website interested me. This theater company puts on productions written by the surrounding community--oh, and did I mention they are an all black company? By reaching out to the black neighborhood, C.A.T begins to redefine a new generation of theater. The website has a fun, funky feel to it with easy to use links. However, there appear to be misspellings and grammatical issues throughout the site.

Another theater group I found is Theatre West. The actors involved in this theater company not only act, but also teach acting workshops in multiple techniques. The homepage has numerous pictures with quotes about an actress or play and many links to informative pages. However, when I click on a link and then wanted to go back to the homepage, I found no way to click "home." It became annoying to retype the web address. Another website with many links and photographs belongs to the National Theatre in the United Kingdom. This theatre company is one of the largest and well-known companies throughout the world and their website proves it. With fourteen brightly colored links to their season of plays (picture above left), it is very easy to get lost in the website. However, it almost seems to be the point to get lost and find yourself on a page called Discover, where you can find out about their programs, plays, and backstage tours.

To find out what is happening in the art community in New York, I headed over to Gothamist: Arts and Events blog. The summaries of each post are easy to see and to read with interesting titles. However, the large and often brightly colored advertisements in the top and left margins of the page subtract from the simplicity of the blog.

The Next Stage is a fun online magazine discussing what they call "new theatre." The picture atop the page makes me laugh and pulls me into what they might have to offer. Everything is laid out neatly, making it possible for even the most internet incapable to find what they want to read. Yet, as interesting as the magazine may be, there will be random posts about unrelated topics. Something similar happens on the blog entitled, Theatre Notes. Here the author, Alisson Croggon, keeps a blog about her theatre reviews. Even though the theatre reviews are very insightful, Croggon's posts about Patti Smith do not seem to fall under theatre reviews and the copious amount of links turn me away.

At the theatre section of the Culture Monster blog, through the Los Angeles Times website, I found many posts about theater and events going on around the country. This was a great place to gain knowledge without any issues. Everything is easy to read and the writing is excellent. The only problem I had is with the categories sections; there are so many links that are in such a small text, they are difficult to read. On the other hand, the New York Times' theatre posts had no category section, only Most Popular and Critic's Picks links. The New York Times website, however, is spectacular. Not only are there interesting articles about theatre in New York, they have performance videos and audio. Everything is a bit packed in, but still easy to navigate.

There are many theater companies around the world who deal with helping children, at risk teens, families and communities. The Unusual Suspects is one. Their website has a great slideshow of people involved in their programs and photographs of their productions. However, there is so much material being presented on the homepage, I feel overwhelmed trying to take in all the information. The Creative Alternatives of New York (CANY) works as a therapeutic center. With a headshot and quote from Susan Sarandon, the front page is welcoming and open, giving the information in a calm way. Nonetheless, the huge red "Donate Now!" sign is extremely noticeable and detracts from the tranquil-ness of the page. ENACT is a drama therapy program which could use some help from the web designer from the CANY site. The page is laid out in a boring way with a lot of extra space not being utilized. The writing throughout the site is great, but the design could use some work. Broadway Cares is a company that is working to fight HIV/AIDS. Their website is patriotic and fun and makes me want to donate. The layout of the "important" links is easy to find and read, yet the left hand margin is packed with tiny writing and links to other information about the company. This is equally important as the donation page but is harder to find. Juxtaposing the Broadway Cares website, the Apollo Theater Foundation has enlarged every link, making everything seem of the same importance. It is vital to restore the Apollo Theater, however, the different scholarships they have for students are important to donors. I had to dig through a few pages to find out about those scholarships.

The America-Israel Cultural Foundation has a similar problem. Even though their mission may be clear, I had no idea how much they give back to the community until I happened to click on a link titled "Artists." Somehow the topics of “money” and “awards” do not seem to fit under that term. The government has also helped spread the arts. Soon after the Great Depression, Roosevelt mounted the Federal Theatre Project (above right). This website is the collection of all the plays, as well as photographs, playscripts and administrative records from these productions. The site is easy to navigate and themed appropriately. However, the way the way the information is presented is confusing and I just end up skimming over what they have written.

Some of the most interesting websites I came across talked about theater and technology. The Arts and Humanities Data Service has something they call a Digital Performance Archive, where they have performances that include various forms of technology. As interesting as it is, the search engine is difficult if you do not know what to search for. But there are a numerous amount of performances to choose to loose yourself in. Another out of the ordinary website is Teatre Virtual. Another site dealing with theater and the Internet, this website actually has "live" acting, as well as many other forms. The futuristic layout is enticing, but difficult to navigate, and the writing is hard to comprehend, since it was originally written in another language. Yet, it is still an innovative idea.

Lastly, a professor's blog entitled Theatre Ideas plays an alluring role in this search. Here the author writes on the role of theater in American society. He has book recommendations, theater quotes, posts on various actors and theater techniques. Even though his posts appear to lack order, his ideas are thought provoking.

My exploration of the web has given me a new perspective into the world of theater and its influences on society.

Monday, September 29

An Expression of Civilization: Theater and Immigration Laws

Previously, I wrote about theater helping the community, reaching towards convicted and at-risk youths. This week I continue to discuss how theater continues to deal with community issues, specifically illegal immigration. Living in California, illegal immigration has become a very prominent issue. I can honestly say I cannot drive ten miles without seeing someone on the side of the road trying to peddle something or get a job. As sad as that may be, the number of illegal immigrants entering the United States are astounding. According to The American Resistance, "In a letter dated February 2004, no less an authority than Arizona Senator John McCain recognized that Border Patrol apprehension figures demonstrated that 'almost four million people crossed our borders illegally 2002'– experts on the subject agree that illegal crossings have only increased since then." The website continues to say that there are approximately 15 to 20 million illegal immigrants in the country, but it could be much higher. While researching this topic, I came across a blog which addresses this. In Immigration Drama: SoCal Day Laborers to Have Their Own Theater Troupe, Mike Boehm, a writer for the Los Angeles Times, explained how the Cornerstone Theater Company wrote and performed a production called "Los Illegals"--a show performed by illegal immigrants who shared their personal stories, some of which were in Spanish. I have personally seen a show similar to this at the University of Southern California and I found this to be an extremely important, thoughtful and moving piece of theater. When researching, I also came across a very similar story written by Fim Kennedy, a playwright and writer for a British theater blog. Can Theater Change Immigration Law? begins by describing the story of a man named Benjamin and his heartbreaking story of how he found himself a refugee in a British immigration removal center. Then she explains that she was writing a play about refugees and asylum seekers. This blog begins to question if theater can really change society and influence peoples actions. I found it particularly interesting because that topic has recently been on my mind. I am currently in the rehearsal process for a show entitled Our Country's Good, which discusses theater and its social influences. Below are the comments I left on each of the blogs, as well as their links.

Immigration Drama: SoCal Day Laborers to Have Own Theater Troupe

Thank you very much for writing about such an important topic. Illegal immigration has definitely become a problem in this country, especially in the state of California. I am glad that there are people who believe that theater can, and does, have an influence in everyday life. I find it interesting, however, that the goal of this theater troupe is "a sustainable, independent theater troupe by and for day laborers and domestic workers," with a mandate to dramatize their lives and immigration issues at "work sites, street corners, protests, churches, community centers and union meetings throughout Southern California." I wonder if that goal has been and/or continues to be achieved. Also, I am interested that their goal does not include something to do with helping these day laborers. It would seem that this play would have an effect on them in one way or another but shouldn’t a group that is using these personal stories have the welfare of the people at the forefront of their goal? And with having these “nonthespians” (as they call them) performing, taking their time to help and give their stories instead of getting work, do they get paid with that $100,000 grant they were given?
And what have they been doing since this production over a year ago? The Cornerstone Theater Company continues to do plays that interact with various people but it does not seem as though they have started another play that will involve these immigrants and their stories. I do hope this is something they continue, as I believe it is extremely important to hear their side of the story. It is a heartbreaking one--the world would benefit to hear some of these stories.

Can Theater Change Immigration Law?

First, I would like to thank you for writing such an interesting and informative blog. It is so heart wrenching to hear stories like this one, knowing there is not much we can do—yet. I would first like to ask how you stumbled upon Benjamin? As you said, you were doing research for your play, but that still must be difficult to find people if they are being held in an Immigration Removal Center. It is unbelievable how much like a movie this all sounds—a prisoner’s word against the guards, “forgetting” important documents. I find it hard to believe people can be that cruel, even to people who may be illegal. I would like to find out about how the production of your show actually went. Did it have enough publicity to get it out there? To make politicians and lawmakers notice? I find it hard enough to get “everyday” people to the theater, let alone politicians. How would you go about getting politicians and lawmakers to notice and become interested in such a story? Since you wrote, “A well-connected theatre company may be able to achieve the first…” I would assume you have an idea. I absolute love the quote that John McGrath said, “the theatre can never 'cause' a social change. It can articulate pressure towards one ... it can be the way people find their voice, their solidarity and their collective determination.” I find that is the question of theater—can theater change society? If it can, how so? In the play Our Country’s Good by Timberlake Wertenbaker, one of the characters says, “The theatre is an expression of civilization…for a few hours we will not be despised prisoners and hated gaolers. We will laugh, we may be moved, we may even think a little. Can you suggest something else that will provide such an evening?” I truly hope that theater can change society and how we live in it. Please keep us informed if this continues in any way.

Sunday, September 21

Arts Education: How To End After School Crimes

Crime is one of the most problematic conditions of society today. Many of these crimes are committed by those less than eighteen years of age. According to the Juvenile Crime Statistics, approximately thirty percent of minors in America were arrested in 2002. Many of these crimes have found to be committed almost immediately after school was let out. Even though these minors may be enrolled in school and are receiving decent education, wouldn't this percentage dramatically drop if they were involved in after-school extracurricular activities?

Besides sports, one of the most well known after-school activities is Drama Class. Many think of this class as an easy class; however, theater and arts education may be one of the most productive ways of keeping minors safe and out of trouble. Frank Hosdoll, a Chairman for the National Endowment for the Arts, once said "Serious arts education will help them--to understand civilization... to develop creativity, to learn the tools of communication...and to make wiser choices among the products of the arts." Arts education can help prepare the next generation for the future as well. By watching and being involved in visual and performing arts, people may learn how to manage their lives better. From time management to articulate communication skills and even problem solving with new ways of thinking, arts education is a foundation often forgotten. This is why arts education would benefit minors, especially those who are considered to be "at risk."

These "at risk" youths now have a place to go for help, The Geese Theatre Company. Located in Birmingham, England, they have opened their doors to the Criminal Justice system to help youths who are in prison, on probation, or those who have mental health issues. By using arts education to stimulate self-awareness, they are able to "consider the connections between personal behavior, choice and responsibility and broader social, economic and political factors." They encourage their students to look into their behaviors to help them become better citizens in their community. They may then be able to teach others how to do the same. Their approach to this is quite simple.

By choosing fictitious stories, the students and instructors delve into various situations and behaviors. They discuss alternatives to these actions in a discussion and debate setting, then "rehearse" these choices for future reference. Another approach they use involves using theater masks (see photo on right). These masks allow the students to understand they can still express what they feel without having to show the world their insecurities. By using this technique, the students understand that everyone wears a mask of some sort, "some habitually, some self-consciously." The masks allow the students to look into their destructive and coping mechanisms, and how those strategies can be changed.

In a movement course last year, my class and I were to use similar masks during many of our exercises. Even though we were using the masks to learn about our bodies and how movement and body positions can express many types of emotion, it is understandable how mask work is an important part of this rehabilitation process. Each of us learned not only what our body looks like and expresses on an everyday basis, we were taught how to change and improve upon it. This is why the Geese Theatre Company's approach to helping these youths is so innovative and interesting. One of the most captivating, yet simple ideas I took away from that class was that any habit could be broken; it is just a matter of time and dedication.

It appears that is what this group believes and by diving into their "stories," these students relearn how to live their lives and become a great addition to society. Some of these performance stories include: Inside/Outside-an interactive performance for lifers and their families preparing for release, Journey Woman-a performance and residency for women prisoners, Open Your Eyes-a play about the dangers of trafficking recruitment, So Far-a sex offender treatment, and so on. These open-ended stories allow for audience members to question and influence the actors who are bound by a story they must continue to live in. As strange as it may seem, this method appears to work. A prisoner said about the performances, "That was spot-on. You hit the nail on the head. Some of the scenarios you presented today brought tears to my eyes."The actors are all convicted offenders and yet, these performances give them a chance to feel free--even if only on the stage.

The Geese Theatre Company's performances and groupwork interventions address many different offender issues. They have even started to expand internationally, helping with the Azerbaijan Women's Prison in Baku, Azerbaijan, as well as the issue of trafficking in Bulgaria. Because of their unique mask theater work, the company's approach is welcomed internationally and continues to find advocates for what they do. We can only hope that soon the Geese Theatre Company finds it way to America, to continue serious arts education and help fight for the future of the convicted and at-risk youth population.
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