Testimonial #8: Theresa Salerno

How has your life been indelibly touched by a teacher who utilized the arts for whatever reason and acknowledge how they were instrumental in breaking the mold to allow you to become who you are today?

The arts, to me, growing up was my savior. Being able to perform and take myself out of my world to be in another was life saving to me. I enjoyed so much all of my school musicals. I also enjoyed the flute, marching at Hofstra with my sax, and my weekly piano lessons. I truly feel without my music and performing I would have never made it. As you read along your notes on a page you are instantly into the magic of the arts.

I also feel that music will heal you. To this day, I am thankful that I was able to enjoy and appreciate the gift of music .With this blog you can make a difference and leave your foot print on this earth to let people know that there is hope. Many kids today don’t have an out. Music and performing must go on!!!! Maybe it will help them to escape from the real world for a little and have fun exploring another.

Still Advocating for Arts

Still Advocating for Arts
by Lisa Mancuso.
Northport Observer.
December 12, 2011.

Dr. Frances McGarry taught English and theater in the Northport‑East Northport school district for more than 25 years and loved every minute of it. She loved helping her students discover their hidden talents, cultivate their creativity and instill in them a love of the arts.

During her long, successful career in the district, Dr. McGarry, 60, taught such courses as Playwriting and Literature Appreciation. She created theater programs for her junior high school students and eventually brought the programs to the high school: Theatreworks Troupe for 11th and 12th graders and Theatreworks for students in grades 9‑12.

“I was born and raised inNorthport, my son went to Northport schools and my husband, also a retiredNorthport teacher, was born and raised here,” said Dr. McGarry. “I had amazingteachers at Northport. They were truly my inspiration.” Dr. McGarry said shewas a shy girl, but an English teacher encouraged her to try acting and afterplaying a Holocaust survivor in a classroom improvisation and receivingapplause for her efforts, she was hooked. “I was always grateful to my teachersand always wanted to come back to Northport to teach,” she said.
But teaching wasn’t the 5’2”Northport native’s only focus. Along the way, she earned her doctorate ineducational theater at NYU, directed and acted in plays, did voice‑over workand taught as an adjunct and visiting professor in a number of collegesincluding NYU, Nassau Community College and Brooklyn College.
In 2005, Dr. McGarry decidedto retire. It was time to move on, she told herself. Although sad to leavebehind her students, Dr. McGarry was excited to begin a new chapter of herlife. She knew she wanted to remain active in the arts so she decided to pursuea career with not‑for‑profit arts organizations. She landed her dream ob as aneducation director but after four years, the position was eliminated due tobudget cuts.
Losing that positionconvinced Dr. McGarry even more that the arts in schools was in danger and isoften perceived as a luxury and not a necessity especially in these tougheconomic times. Never one to remain inactive for too long, Dr. McGarry decidedto fight back. She turned her energy and efforts to create a website whosemission is to advocate for the arts not only in the classroom, but in the homeand in the world.
After working on it for a fewmonths, Dr. McGarry launched her website, http://www.francesmcgarry.com and she isexcited for what she hopes to accomplish through her new venture. The site isfilled with information and resources pertaining to the arts and includes alink to Dr. McGarry’s latest project, her blog ‘First on Line with Fran’ whereshe asks people to “. . . join me in discussions on how ordinary people aredoing extraordinary things in The Arts to make our world a richer, deeper,better place to live.” Dr. McGarry is hopeful the blog may turn into atelevision talk show in the near future. She has also started ‘The First 100Stories Campaign’ on her website and here you can tell Dr. McGarry your ownstory about how the arts have impacted your life. (Check out the testimonialfrom one of Dr. McGarry’s former pupils, actress and Northport native EdieFalco.)
Although maintaining herwebsite is nearly a full‑time job, Dr. McGarry is also continuing to pursue heracting career and will soon begin a film project “Ava’s Short” in January. Sheis also currently appearing on stage in New York City this weekend in a production of At the Topof Our Lungs: An Uncensored Collection of Scenes, Songs & Monologues at theTriad Theater, 158 W. 72nd Street.For tickets to the upcoming show and more information, visit Dr. McGarry’swebsite.

At the Top of Our Lungs Opens This Week!

In case you haven’t heard, there are fourteen fabulous women shouting, At The Top of Our Lungs! opens this week.” It’s sassy, it’s smart, it’s good for the soul.  Support our mission to raise money and revitalize the spirit of local organizations that empower under-served women & girls.
Thursday, December 8 at 7 PM 
Saturday, December 10 at 9:30

Sunday, December 11 at 3 PM

Click here for more info and to buy tickets:
http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/209106


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.