Testimonial #7: Thomas Guglielmo, Professional Clown for Ringling Brothers & Barnum and Bailey Circus

How has your life beenindelibly touched by a teacher who utilized the arts for whatever reason andacknowledge how they were instrumental in breaking the mold to allow you tobecome who you are today?

A teacher that touched mylife. . . Mrs. Fran McGarry along with Dr. Stephen C. Porter were instrumentalin imparting confidence, direction, motivation, and meaning through theirknowledge, dedication, and practice of teaching through the Arts. They weredirectly responsible for my decision to pursue my dream and achieve thedistinction of becoming the youngest person accepted to the prestigious Ringling Clown Collegeand subsequently become the youngest clown to perform for the Greatest Show onEarth. A decade of achievement in the entertainment industry is directly aresult of the patience, dedication, and caring of teachers such as these. Mylife continues today and the lessons learned carry over into every area of mylife.

Remembering those Dog Days of Summer . . . or What I Did Over My Summer Vacation

They say that when one doorcloses, another opens.  Read about mypersonal predicament of joining the ranks of the unemployed in an articlepublished in the November 2011 issue of Incite/Insight. 

I hope it will provide alittle inspiration for anyone facing challenges in this [non-existent] jobmarket and that there is light at the end of the tunnel:

As an educator, summers were always a time to leisurely pursueprofessional enrichment, read junk novels, and capture the calm breezes of theseason. Not unlike T.S. Eliot’s Prufrock whose life was “measured in coffeespoons,” my teacher’s existence was structured into 42-minute segments, 5 daysa week, 10 months a year, carefully pacing myself to the next day off tore-boot my energy. This inner balance worked for me for over 30 years.When I left teaching behind to pursue other goals, it was challenging, yetthrilling. How would I monitor the next 30 years of my life?
Using the lyrics from the Spice Girls’“Wannabe” tune as a source of inspiration, I sought to reinvent myself witheach new endeavor with the query: So, tell me what you want, what you reallyreally want? With every new day, I wanted …
To be acollege professor!
To devise a newcurriculum!
To serve as aneducation director for arts organizations!
To presentworkshops at conferences!
To teachteachers!
To work withyoung people and promote their voices throughplaywriting!
As I successfully transitioned from onecreative pursuit to the next, I finally landed a job as an education director;no sooner did I begin to savor the challenges of this career phase when theposition was eliminated due to budget constraints in March of 2011. I shouldhave seen it coming; the handwriting was on the wall: continued budget cuts,declining arts funding, selectively competitive grant awards. Schools, thoughsupportive, were unable to allot monies and relinquish class time for artsprogramming. Despite acknowledging its merits, schoolsperceive such programs as “extras” and they easily become targeted to reduceexpenses with the rationale that donations from philanthropic patrons wouldreplace any losses. Sounds like a feasible compromise until you begin to thinkabout the long-term effects. I’ll come back to that dilemma, later. Stay withme.
So, here I was, at age 60, unemployedwith a Ph.D. and over 30 years teaching experience, with no prospects, or so itfelt at the time—after all, this was during the highest unemployment rate inour nation’s recent history. In this economic downturn, who would hire me atthis stage of my life? I sulked … for an entire week lapsing into a regimen ofeating Mallomars with a quart of milk. After glutting myself with such internal pleasures, I took astep back and asked: So tell me what you want, what you really really want?
Within the soul of every teacher lies adeep commitment to making our world a better place to live in by educating ourfuture citizens—those young minds whose imagination and talent shape the nextgeneration. It has always been my strong belief that the arts define ourhumanity, and that they are an empowering supernatural gift givento us in order to make our world a richer better place to live.

So. Now. What. Are. You. Going. To. Do?

It was time to put my [unemployment]money where my mouth was and take charge. Subverting all fears aside, “Whatmakes you think you can make a difference?” echoed in my psyche. I was remindedhow I used it as a mantra for all my students—why not for me?
After an acting stint in an Off-Broadwayproduction of The Vagina Monologues, I realized the only way to moveforward and effectively utilize my time and talent would be through thecreation of a professional website. Thus began an arduous two-month examinationof the scope and scale of my career arc. As a result of this self-reflection, Iwas able to define my next challenge: to authenticate the arts and alter its perception as an amenity. I started tocollect stories of artists “in the trenches,” so to speak, who were makingthings work and garnering amazing outcomes: 12-year-old Olivia Bouler of Islip,Long Island, who raised more than $175,000 for the Audubon Society; an Artspaceloft to energize Patchogue, Long Island; the Airmid Theatre Company working withNew York Assemblyman Steven Englebright to create a permanent theatre space on the sprawlingformer grounds of the Kings Park Psychiatric Center.
On a national scale, I was horrified andoutraged by a particular story related by Erika Nelson, an artist in Lucas, KS who makes miniature models ofgiant pieces of Americana, puts them in a van, and drives around the country toshow people. She called her mobile museum “The World’s Largest Collection ofthe World’s Smallest Versions of the World’s Largest Things.” But this year,Kansas, which has one of the country’s smallest state artsbudgets, decided to shrink it even further, to zero, cutting off all ofNelson’s state support. This was just one story among many. While nationaladvocacy groups fight to keep the arts as a core mission of the government, therising sentiment is that it’s an optional staple of sustenance. Instead oftaking polite nibbles to offset this spiraling trend, I decided to bite back!
Since the launch of my website in lateAugust, I’ve initiated The First 100 Stories Campaign, entered blogs onsubjects ranging from literacy, CORE standards, and professional development,and proposed an education program for class field trips to the 9-11 memorial.Additionally, I conducted two interviews for First Online With Fran: atalk show solely dedicated to honoring ordinary people doing extraordinarythings in the arts to make our world a deeper, better place to live. Soundslofty, doesn’t it?

Alas, it’s the stuff that dreams are madeof.
And THAT is what I did over my summervacation.
More to come. Stay tuned.
Frances McGarry, Ph.D. has been teachingtheatre for more than 30 years. The Young Playwrights Festivalin New York City became the subject of her doctoral dissertationin the Program of Educational Theater at New York University. She haspresented Young Playwrights Inc.’s Write A Play! curriculum at local,regional, and national conferences. Her new website, http://www.francesmcgarry.com offers discussions on how practitionersare utilizing the arts to make our world a richer, deeper better place to live.

Guest Lecturer at The City College of New York School of Education

This past Monday evening, Iwas a guest lecturer at the CCNY Program in Educational Theater Teaching Literacy Through Drama graduate course.  One of the assignments is The Diary Project; wherein, classmates creatediary entries from their childhood and adapt them as monologues and/or scenesculminating in a devised performance.

To get them started on thisproject, I selected a playwriting icebreaker exercise from Young Playwrights Inc.’s Write A Play Curriculum calledWhat’s In A Name? Each participant introducedthemselves by substituting their last name with a new one that reflected eitheran aspect of their personality of which they are particularly proud, orsomething they recently accomplished. For example, I became Fran Dream Reaper; others included SobhaSeedplanter, Marissa Laughter, Laura Lunacy, Joe Bridgemaker, EricSilkscreener, and so forth.  The groupselected Amy Jazzhands as the name they found to be the most evocative.  Delineating the difference between the REALAmy and the one that the group would create, the character evolved as aseven-year-old girl who wore red sequined tap shoes with bows, a neon greentutu with yellow suspenders, had bright red-curly pigtails that bounced whenshe walked.  She carried a journal in herdoggy bag pack and spoke with a froggy voice. She left her home in Staten Island to tell the group something that made thisday different than any other.  She said, “I am leaving home.”  Another response, “I have jazzy hands and Ineed your help.”  Another had her announce,“A crime has been committed and I’m here to solve it.”  Each participant was instructed to choose oneof the prompts and write a monologue clarifying Amy Jazzhands’ Need To Tell.  The renditions were read aloud and the groupdiscussed how the character communicated WHAT she needed to tell, WHO sheneeded to tell and WHY this day was different from all other days? Tofacilitate the lesson further, the class deconstructed the exercise:  the power of choices, how names tell ussomething about the character, how selections impact characterization,etc.  In addition, a discussion ensued onhow the exercise could be integrated into their professional praxis.  During the hands-on demonstration, I stepped outof role to note “teachable moments”; for example, how it applied to a COREstandard, literacy goals, classroom management strategy, etc.

The Paper Airplane exercise was used as an assessment tool:  every member “flew” their paper airplane andshared what they learned.  We exploredhow that same urgency for feedback can be applied to playwriting.  To learn more about how these exercises andothers are used as playwriting tools, the class was encouraged to attend Young Playwrights Inc.’s Teacher Training Institute.

To further assess theefficacy of the demonstration, participants were encouraged to imagine possibilities, integrate the lesson into theirprograms, and share their implementationthrough their testimonies on my website.  Ultimately, my goal was to INSPIRE them to take these new tools outinto the field as theater education practitioners and encourage them to putthem to use!

Thank you, Professor Sobha K. Paredes and theCCNY Program in Educational Theater!

How do you use playwriting as ateaching tool?

At the Top of Our Lungs

Give aBuck!
Asmany of you know, I launched my website to advocate for the arts; in addition,I am an ardent women’s activist and do my best to empower women of allages.  The cast from The Vagina Monologues  andsome new talent joined together to create a new show At The Top of Our Lungs, alively production aimed at tackling stereotypes that women confront.
On that note, if you careabout making a difference then GIVE A BUCK and do something!  If every family member and friend donates ONE DOLLARthen it will help promote our cause and meet expenses (naturally, if you cangive more, well, please do…)
It’s easy and quick. All you have to do is click hereto donate your buck: 
Thank you for your support.Spread the word!
Atthe Top of Our Lungs
AnUncensored Collection of Scenes, Songs and Monologues
Raising Money and Empowering Womenin the Arts
Directed by Andrea Bertola
Performance Dates:
December 8th at 7:00pm
December 10th at 9:30pm
December 11th at 3:00pm
At the Triad Theater

Our Mission:

We believe womenshould be provided with an enriching environment to nurture and generate newideas. To accomplish this goal, we have organized theatrical events to giveevery day women a creative outlet to increase awareness, raise money andrevitalize the spirit of local organizations that empower under-served women& girls. We have fun crafting cutting-edge theatre while giving back to thecommunity. Sounds like a win-win to us!
Our Show:
The cast from The Vagina Monologues andsome new talent joined together to create a new show At The Top of Our Lungs,a lively production aimed at tackling stereotypes that women confront. It’shysterical and heartwarming, sassy and uplifting. This show is an eclectic mixfeaturing pop songs, Broadway favorites, spoken word poetry, monologues,burlesque and more! Grab a table with friends, enjoy some cocktails and beentertained by this insanely talented cast.

The Triangle Project: an original work at the New York UniversitySteinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development

The Triangle Project, an original work at the New York University Program in Educational Theater Black Box Theatre is a production not to be missed!  Nimbly directed by Dr. Nan Smithner and craftedby a creative cast, the play was a combination of storytelling, acting, physicaltheater, music, song and environmental theater. Rather than create a docudrama about the Triangle Shirtwaist Factoryfire, which erupted on the corner of Washington Place and Greene Streets in March 1911 killing 146workers, the performance offered a metaphorical response to the tragedy of the fire.

Ironically, it was thepremature arrival of snow on Saturday evening that forced the opening act to beheld inside; however, the change of venue did not detract from the show’sdirective:  audience members were dividedinto groups and we “traveled” the timeline with our character hosts, introducingus to people, places, problems, and predicaments.  Rotating from one theatrical locale to thenext allowed each audience member to be intimately invested with each newintroduction – hearing their personal dilemmas and delights as immigrants whocame to Americato live better lives.

The arc of the plotdelivered:  the second and third actscarefully cut the pattern, seamlessly unfolding what we all knew would endtragically and yet, hoped all throughout the action that some how, some way, itwouldn’t.  Subtle details were delicatelydropped by each character:  the butcherwho was a fireman, the wedding proposal, the large ring of keys jostled by a menacingsupervisor, a lit cigar, untended piles of fabric scraps – all carefully wovenonly to come crashing down on its victims, simultaneously crushing theaudience’s sensibilities to tears. 

How could this havehappened?

Indeed.  The play echoed 9-11 sentiments, the Occupy Wall Streetprotest, the paradox of America’simmigration policy — a timely piece meant for all to see. To learn.  To reflect. That is the power of educational theater and I urge you to not miss this opportunity to witness thepassionately powerful message of TheTriangle Project!

Heartfelt congratulations tothe cast and crew! You make us all proud!

The show will run November 3 – 5, 2001 at 8 PM. For tickets, contact NYU Ticket Central at www.nyu.edu/ticketcentral/calendar,212.352.3101, or in person at 566 LaGuardia Place (at Washington Square South).

What was your reaction to the show?