An Interview with Tricia McDermott

The Little Theater Who Could…
An Interview with Tricia McDermott.
Founder/Producing Artistic Director Airmid Theatre Company.

This following article recently appeared in the 2012 January/February Arts and Entertainment issue of GEM Magazine.

Despite arts advocacy groups’ efforts to prevent the decline of arts inclusion, the budgetary solution remains to be that the arts are perceived as an amenity. To challenge that notion, my blog First Online With Fran interviews ordinary people doing extraordinary things in The Arts to make our world a richer, deeper, better place to live. The Founder and Producing Artistic Director of the Airmid Theatre Company, Tricia McDermott shared her thoughts and vision for women in the theater and how the work at Airmid enriches our community.

Although Tricia was adamantabout NEVER starting her own theater company, the professional director/producer/consultant/educatorfelt compelled to promote classical works of women playwrights when theopportunity arose.  After the success ofthe Broadway revival of Ibsen’s A Doll’sHouse reaped Tony-Award winning accolades with Janet McTeer’s performance,McDermott found an original source called TrueWomen and wanted to present the play. When she was unable to find aproducer she pioneered the idea of a production company that would bespecifically devoted to classics by women. Founded in 2000, Airmid Theatre Company creates a safe home for womenartists, igniting broad public recognition of the essential contribution womenhave made to the worlds of theatre and dramatic literature.

One of Airmid’s missions isto establish the history of playwriting by women by professionally producingtheir work with actors of both genders, and to thereby broaden discussions ofwomen’s roles today.  Tricia shared ananecdote of a 60 year-old man who supported the theater and attended a readingof a piece called Making a Scene, acompilation of scenes of 16th to the 20th century womenplaywrights.  Although he consideredhimself to be a male feminist, and believed that he saw women as equals, “hedidn’t quite do that as much as he thought he should.”  In an email he told Tricia “He recognized thatseeing this same event told through the eyes and experience of a woman [made it]a different world.”

Airmid has an intern programwith college age students and works with some high school students in variousprograms.  A public reading of two playswritten by the German nun from the tenth century, Hrosvita of Gandersheim, wasattended by a high school English and Drama class from Babylon High School.Students were enlightened to learn through the reading that “all things of areligious nature are not strictly about religion.”

Tricia commented on thevalue of the arts, particularly the theater: “Theater lands in a very unique place. It makes people well-rounded.  Andno matter what time you start your child off, or even yourself, and getinvolved in theater, you get an opportunity to collaborate with people andcreate a team.”  As far as the new CommonCore Standards is implemented across the nation’s curriculums to prepare studentsfor college readiness Tricia felt that working in the theater fulfills thatgoal:  “You have to do it on a lot ofimagination and very little money.  Youhave to work within a budget.  You oftenhave to create something out of nothing. And you then have to market it and sell it to the world.  Theaters have an accounting office and oftena contracts department, a development department that writes grants.  We have every other aspect of business; itjust happens to be that the product is a piece of art.” 

This construct is to createjobs, to create an economic and tourist destination. Tricia explained howtheater is community based:  “The communityhas to be engaged.  It’s people speakingto each other, breathing each other’s air. It’s experiencing the same moment. For me, there is a great affinity to finding a spiritual life within thetheater whether it’s as a participant or as an audience member. But whetheryou’re participating in the actual creation or the experience of it, there’s acommunion that happens.  And you findyourself engaged with people in a way that you don’t in any other art form.”
Let us Know:  Airmidcontinues its search for performance space and is presently looking at sitesboth on the South and North shores of Long Island.  To learn more about Airmid and their programofferings go to www.airmidtheatre.org

If you’re an ordinary persondoing extraordinary things in the arts, then be sure to arrange an interviewwith First Online With Fran at www.francesmcgarry.com

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.

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?

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?

Time, Maturity and the ARTS Can Work with ADHD

In an October 25th Newsday letter to the editor, DonnaRicci,a mother from West Islip  was urgedto medicate her son for displaying attention deficit hyperactivity disorderbehavior by his elementary teachers, school psychologist and schoolofficials.  She resisted: “I would sitthere in tears, never believing it.” She  believed that her son would grow out of itwith time and maturity. He did. With diet, nutrition, and flexible learningstrategies, her son, now 15 thrives. 

She concedes how teacherscan become frustrated with having to discipline students while trying to teachthe required curriculum and how too much is expected of young children.  She asked, “Why must so much be crammed intoa young brain, not developed enough to absorb information on a permanent,sustainable level?” She suggested re-examining the educational system,instead. 


Seven or eight-year-old boysare immature and wild with energy; yet, this is perceived as abnormal behavior?  As a middle school teacher and a mom of an active “speeddemon” son (an observation from his then first grade teacher) I understood, as didshe, how boys need to fidget and move.  WhenI taught 8th grade English, I made sure that some time during aclass session students were given the opportunity to get up and movearound.  Drama strategies facilitated allof my class lessons to insure that students had an opportunity to takeownership of their learning utilizing an  integrated arts praxis pedagogy. A correlation couldbe drawn to improved testing  results on NewYork State ELA scores.

Ross Rosenfeld’s opinionthat some children need more structure is noteworthy; however, Ricci added howsports, music lessons and the like are fundamental in helping train the brainto focus.  Case in point:  “Our son has been taking guitar lessons fortwo years, and his grades have improved significantly.” 

Let’s hear it from you:  Doyou think ADHD behavior  is exaggeratedand overly diagnosed? How does integration of the arts help to encouragelearning?