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?

The 9-11 Memorial Site

On September 13th I visited the 9-11 Memorial Site. It was truly an inspirational experience in so many ways. The solitude, solace, serenity and sheer beauty of being one with the elements was spiritually uplifting. I felt as if I became part of a canvas, similar to Seurat’s vision in Sondheim’s Sunday in the Park With George: an aesthetic coalescence of art and reality. It truly was – IS – a testament to those lives lost on September 11, 2001.

Thank you to all those people whose efforts to make this hallowed ground a spiritual retreat for everyone to reflect, remember, and realize the sacrifices made by those we honor.

We will never forget.

How do the arts serve humanity as reminders of lessons lost and learned?

First Online With Fran

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. My blog First on Line with Fran will offer opportunities for you to join me in discussions on how ordinary people are doing extraordinary things in The Arts to make our world a richer, deeper, better place to live.

For over 30 years I have witnessed how The Arts have impacted the lives of so many people, young and old. Utilizing testimonials, videos, and interviews First on Line with Fran will serve to be the sounding board to let the world know that, “We’re angry as hell and we’re not gonna take it any more!” Instead of taking polite nibbles to offset this spiraling trend, let’s bite back!

Here’s my strategy:

Step One: Let’s Get Loud: Raise AWARENESS

We know there’s a drama, art, music, dance, classroom teacher who changed your life. Every educator knows that within EACH and EVERY child lies an artistic soul waiting to be sparked; it makes no difference where they’re from or what their economic status.

The Arts Rejuvenate. The Arts Restore. The Arts are our supernatural gift.

It is the force that unites us as a single, breathing, living entity that connects every human being to be all that is good and pure.

Send me your testimonial: How your third grade teacher taught you to write your first play, finger paint your fears away on an oily white sheet of paper, dance to the beat of your own drum, strum, blow, sing the lyrics that express your point of view. Move an audience so deeply that they all get goose bumps! (Wagner, Search For Signs of Intelligent Life). Click here to submit a testimonial.

Step Two: Spread the Word: NETWORK

Arrange an interview with Fran: I am scheduling appointments with people who are getting the job done. I am interested in the work you are doing and would like to feature you and/or your organization on First on Line with Fran. Tell that teacher, arts organization, teaching artist who made a difference and have them talk about their efforts to keep the arts alive and relevant. We can talk about goals and objectives and the obstacles you confront either as an individual and/or as an organization. I am particularly interested in your personal commentary and why you have chosen to pursue this cause.  Click here to arrange an interview.

Step Three: Consequences: DESIRED OUTCOMES

You know what I want what I really really want…

•Keep The Arts as a staple of a child’s education because…

•Keep The Arts as a core mission of government as compared to road repair because…

•Keep the arts as a cultural investment because the National Endowment for the Arts conducted a federally funded research that showed $278 billion in economic activity was spun off by the arts in 2009.

If you would like to join me, then be sure to contact me with your ideas. You never know…small packages can surprise you!