The First 100 Stories Campaign: National Arts in Education Week September 11-17

In July 2010, Congress designated the second week of September as National Arts In Education Week to promote and showcase the immense role arts education has in producing engaged, successful, and college and career-ready students to meet the challenges of the new CORE Standards. To that end, First Online with Fran is launching The First 100 Stories Campaign.

The Arts continue to be cut from school curriculums across the nation. Despite arts advocacy groups’ efforts to prevent the decline of arts inclusion, the budgetary solution remains to be that the arts are perceived as extra-curricular and disposable. In Chris Cleave’s novel Little Bee, the central character decided to right a wrong by collecting stories: “One story makes you weak. But as soon as we have one-hundred stories, you will be strong.” Similarly, we can do the same for the Arts. Here’s how:

Let’s hear it from you: Teachers! Students! Graduates! Parents! Artists!

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

How are the arts re-igniting your community and sparking innovation and creativity in your local schools?
Click here.

Here are the first 2! Only 98 to go …

Testimonial #1. Edie Falco, Tony-Award winning Actor
“Fran McGarry and Eve Terry, perhaps unbeknownst to them, played a huge part in my path to my present career. Though I was just a school kid, they treated me like an artist; made me believe I had something unique to offer. They helped grow my confidence which I believe can take you anywhere you want to go. I am so grateful.”

Testimonial #2: Keith Johnston, co-founded the Creative Arts Team’s College/Adult Program
My Uncle Calvin from Jamaica taught me how to play guitar and draw. He admonished me for my fear of speaking. “Being shy is selfish. God gave you a gift. If you don’t use it you’ll become a cosmic clogger. If you hold it to yourself you’re not allowing to speak your artistic gifts. Your artistic gifts is the voice of God.”
That’s what Uncle Calvin said and I never forgot it. It has become my mantra.

The collection of testimonials will be forwarded to Arts Education Partnership who will serve as a national hub for information on how the arts are going strong in our nation’s communities and schools and strategies for getting involved in arts education and supporting the arts in your community.

"The Arts Saved My Life" An Interview with Keith Johnston

Keith Johnston co-founded CAT’s College/Adult Program, which provides interactive learning experiences on independent living skills, college and workplace readiness, financial literacy, and parenting.

Following are selected highlights of an interview with Keith Johnston, Director of the College/Adult Program at The Creative Arts Team conducted on Thursday, August 25, 2011.

Career Arc & Personal Experiences: “I love this work. I could go on and on about stories of tapping a child’s genius, or people stopping you on a street and saying how much a workshop changed their life . . . It saved my life.”

Arts in Education/Educational Theater: “The Arts IS Education – any form of the Arts demands certain disciplines that are academic. The Artist is the highest form of human beings because they are the Creators. They are the Innovators. The arts is the only way things can actually change because you see it, you feel it, you smell it, you taste it, and you’re forced to deal with it.”

Consequences of Arts Reduction: “We live in a capitalistic country and this is my political understanding. . . Education is not the primary goal in the United States. It’s about making money.” Case in point is reality television. “Reality shows have no reality to them. Producers found that humiliation sells as good as sex. It could be a scheme to get our society to volunteer personal information on social networks and surveillance. We’re being seduced into not thinking for ourselves, which is what art is. “The Arts are being taken out of school. Kids don’t have access to it. They’re bored; they’re not being challenged.” Our country has become separated: “We’ve become such an individualistic society that we have generations that don’t know how to talk to one another.” They’ve turned into self-centered individuals on their IPODS. Robots. Chips for a political agenda. People have better relationships with machines than with human beings.”

Success Stories: A head of The Bloods gang was reduced to tears during a diamond poem exercise. Reflecting on past deeds he wept with remorse for “all the people I’ve hurt in my life to get these cars and women . . . None of it is worth it. I never looked at it that way.”

RESPOND: Can Arts inclusion be the solution to fixing our nation’s educational institution?

“The Arts Saved My Life”
An Interview with Keith Johnston

Following are selected highlights of an interview with Keith Johnston, Director of the College/Adult Program at The Creative ArtsTeam conducted on Thursday, August 25, 2011.  

Rather than deliver an oral presentation, Keith Johnston chose to fail his high school English course. A mediocre student to begin with, the thought of speaking in front of a group of people paralyzed him. Reading aloud was another challenge because of dyslexia and the notion of being an actor and teaching educational theater was not only a remote possibility, but also an endeavor he would have NEVER considered as career options. But, here he is, co-founder of the College/Adult Program and working for over 18 years doing the work he is so passionately committed to at The Creative Arts Team. He took the leap to confront his fears when an introverted kid in his class was taking acting lessons. “If he could do it,” he pondered, “then why can’t I?” Acting was the conduit for him to examine his true authentic self and discover the talents that lie within. It was the vehicle to access his confidence and genius: “[The Arts] gets people to think for themselves,” remarked Keith, “it gives people the tools to be better human beings . . . to gauge and look at themselves a little harder, even if it hurts. Acting is not about pretending; it’s about tending; dealing with circumstances that we may not deal with in our own lives. It’s about being authentic, honest, studying yourself to understand and reflect the human condition.” The span of Johnston’s career is a living testament of this declaration: he is a working actor, successful musician, a teacher and artistic director at the American Theatre of Harlem, and presently, CUNY CAT’s representative for the Black Male Initiative.
Growing up with the mindset of his parents, that the arts are separate from education, Keith came to understand that, in fact, the Arts IS education: “Everything comes from the arts. The chair we’re sitting on — someone drew it. Someone imagined it; someone built it.” Art is universal: “Everything in life is sound, color, and light.” Specifically, he noted how Educational Theater accesses what exists within each and every human being by getting people up on their feet, raising questions, addressing social issues. “I love this work. I could go on and on about stories of tapping a child’s genius or people stopping you on a street and saying how much a workshop changed their life.”
Keith simplified the complexity of the arts left out of education by pointing to the fact that children are only tested in two areas: Linguistics and Logistics – Math and English. The arts enhance both areas of intelligence however the spatial/visual, kinesthetic/bodily and rhythmic/musical learners are left out of the educational equation. To illustrate, he recalled a workshop conducted at a high school wherein all seniors were required to read Toni Morrison’s novel The Bluest Eye for graduation. Students were struggling with the book. He devised a 10-day curriculum to “take it off the page and put it on the stage.” Once they were able to translate the central themes utilizing drama strategies, students “started reading the book like you could not believe.” Unfortunately, there is not enough acknowledgement given to this practice. The Arts are being cut from school curriculums and the education institution is failing. “We live in a capitalistic country and this is my political understanding. . . Education is not the primary goal in the United States. It’s about making money.” Case in point is reality television. “Reality shows have no reality to them. Producers found that humiliation sells as good as sex. It could be a scheme to get our society to volunteer personal information on social networks and surveillance. We’re being seduced into not thinking for ourselves, which is what art is. “The Arts are being taken out of school. Kids don’t have access to it. They’re bored; they’re not being challenged.” Our country has become separated: “We’ve become such an individualistic society that we have generations that don’t know how to talk to one another.” They’ve turned into self-centered individuals on their IPODS. Robots. Chips for a political agenda. People have better relationships with machines than with human beings.” He referenced the desensitization and passive communication of our youth. “They don’t have to listen to anyone. [They] can have their say texting or blogging and turn off.” So many students are going into college and taking remedial courses: The Arts IS Education – any form of the Arts demands certain disciplines that are academic. “The Artist is the highest form of human beings because they are the Creators. They are the Innovators. The Arts is the only way things can actually change because you see it, you feel it, you smell it, you taste it, and you’re forced to deal with it.”
Success. Here are some stories as proof of an arts inclusion education. Keith cited his own life as an example, as well as his children’s experiences. Both were enrolled in CAT’s Youth Theater Program and continued to utilize those skills as successful academics. His daughter is a theater and English major at Lawrence University and earned a McNair scholarship for her Master’s and Doctorate; his son, is a musician, poet, modeling talent who’s completing his Business degree at Skidmore College.
At a restaurant, Keith was delivered a chocolate cake by a busboy. “So, that’s for you. It’s on me.” Unable to recall the young man’s identity, Keith asked him to refresh his memory. He was an inmate at Horizon’s Academy [at Riker’s Island] and is now writing plays for the National Black Theater.
A head of The Bloods gang was reduced to tears during a diamond poem exercise. Reflecting on past deeds he wept with remorse for “all the people I’ve hurt in my life to get these cars and women . . . None of it is worth it. I never looked at it that way.”
All these examples show how “Theater holds up the mirror for them to see themselves,” summed up Keith, “no matter how you look at it. Everything around you was created by an artist. How could we not be supporters of the Arts? It saved my life.”

The First 100 Stories Campaign: A Testimonial from Edie Falco!

Frances McGarry, Edie Falco and Eve Terry
“Fran McGarry and Eve Terry, perhaps unbeknownst to them, played a huge part in my path to my present career. Though I was just a schoolkid, they treated me like an artist; made me believe I had something unique to offer. They helped grow my confidence which I believe can take you anywhere you want to go. I am so grateful.”

– Edie Falco
July 11, 2011
Let’s hear it from you: Teachers! Students! Graduates! Parents! Artists! 
Click here to submit your testimonial.

Dr. Nancy Swortzell

It is with great sadness to learn that Dr. Nancy Swortzell, mentor and co-founder of the NYU Program in Educational Theatre passed away July 31, 2011. She had a tremendous influence on me and many others who had the benefit of her tutelage. I was fortunate to have been cast in a production directed by her, And Then They Came for Me at the Provincetown Playhouse. I particularly loved listening to her personal anecdotes during rehearsal. She was saucy, sweet, volatile and vibrant. She was and will remain to be an inspiration to all! She will be sorely missed.
And Then They Came for Me at the Provincetown Playhouse

Classroom Teaching Experience: K‐12

I knew from the very start that theater would be an integral part of my life. Growing up among 10 brothers and sisters, a “typical” Italian family as far as I was concerned, it was that environment that instilled a love of music and the arts; in fact, after Sunday dinner, we would perform a talent show replete with lip syncs to Lou Monte’s Yakkity Yak, an interview stint with our Doberman pincer, Rex dressed in gym shorts, my ballet rendition, and a trio of sisters singing to The Fleetwoods’ Come Softly. Thus began my journey to evolve as an artist and educator, with my mantra echoing the Spice Girls’ Wannabe lyrics:

You know what I want, what I really, really want….

After being told the harsh reality by my undergraduate mentor/advisor at SUNY Oneonta, Professor Frank O’Mara that I would NOT get a job in Theater Education when I graduated in 1973, my desire to pursue a career path as an English and Theater teacher remained steadfast. It was my fervent belief that theater education would alter the scope of the K-12 classroom and change the face of education; it was my calling to contribute to the field. There were no teaching jobs. Thanks to my sister Aurelia’s influence, she got me my first job at St. Philip Neri School teaching 4th and 5th grade Science. My theater training background provided the skills to devise hands-on lessons. I had 13 preps, including a Music enrichment class, and learned how to organize and manage 38 children. Mistakes were made, and I barely survived; however, Principal Sr. Paul Francis saw something special in me and encouraged me to experiment and utilize my skills as well as direct my first after-school drama club production of Aurand Harris’ Androcles and the Lion

The rest is history, as they say. I went on to teach High School English Lit and Drama at St. John the Baptist School moving on to the school I graduated from, the Northport-East Northport School district. My former English teacher, Carl Stephens, who took pleasure in my enthusiasm for classroom teaching, hired me as a 7th and 8th grade English teacher. I wanted to do for students what was done for me: to delight in learning. I eventually was transferred to the high school where I developed with a team of staff members from the Art, Music, and Home Economics departments a theater arts program. The unifying theme of the curriculum was the process of production. In Theatreworks, the introductory course, students used children’s theater as the vehicle for learning the fundamentals of play production. Theatreworks used an inter-disciplinary approach to learning theater. In addition to developing acting skills, students learned directing, costuming, designing, set design and construction, application of character make-up and producing. Every student was thoroughly involved with every phase of the production. The culmination of these learning experiences was the production of a children’s play. The play was performed at Northport High School for visiting district elementary students, at Northport Public library for patrons and their families, and at the annual Art and Music Festival held in the Northport Community Park.

Having learned the basics of production in Theatreworks, students advanced to Theatreworks Troupe where students applied their production skills to a full season of plays. Unlike an after-school drama club, Theatreworks Troupe students had the opportunity to increase their understanding of theater arts with each play. They learned to function as an ensemble, to appreciate the importance of production-related tasks, and how the contributions of each student resulted in a successful collaborative effort. Each year had a particular focus; for example, in 1993 the theme was “Breaking Traditions” with the season including plays from Thornton Wilder’s The Skin of Our Teeth, Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Lillian Hellman’s The Children’s Hour and a selection of winning plays from the 1993 Young Playwrights Festival (see College teaching). The plays were performed in The Little Theater and high school and community audiences were invited to attend. Both courses were under the aegis of the English department, encouraging the English department staff to cover the dramatic selections in their classes.

In 1993 I was selected by The American Alliance for Theatre & Education (AATE) as the John C. Barner Teacher of the Year award. It was time to consider where I would go from here.