There’s No Place Like Art!

First Online With Fran’s First Podcast

There’s No Place Like Art…

FOLWF Podcast Art

The Arts are imperative — a life journey, a life experience that is like no other.  The Arts brings people together all in one space.  The plays I’ve written have touched lives — they’ve changed lives and that’s what Art does. ~Dan McCormick, Playwright

The arts are an essential part of a complete education, no matter if it happens in the home, school, or community. Students of all ages—from kindergarten to college to creative aging programs—benefit from artistic learning, innovative thinking, and creativity. Celebrating National Arts in Education Week is a way to recognize this impact and share the message with friends, family, and communities.

Towards that end First Online With Fran celebrates National Arts in Education Week by launching her first podcast featuring guest Dan McCormick, playwright of The Violin  at 59E59 Theater.

The podcast offers opportunities for you to join her in discussions on how ordinary people are doing extraordinary things in The Arts to make our world a richer, deeper, better place to live. In these divisive times, tune in and listen to how The Arts transforms people’s lives and remind us how vitally important a role The Arts play in tapping into our humanity.

Testimonial #47: Katherine Elliot, Actor/Producer The Tempest Ladies

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?

Being artistic is just sort of in my blood, so I guess I was born with a broken mold. I was very lucky to have had some excellent and encouraging teachers when I was in school. I think the first one was the French teacher that I had from 6th to 8th grade who everyone called, Madame. She was fantastic. Every class was like watching a performance, and she could make us laugh while she was speaking a language that we didn’t know yet. Needless to say, her humor made me, and I’m sure most of the rest of the class, really want to understand what was going on. It made me want to learn French. Every day before class, we got to pick out what we wanted to wear. There were boas, berets, sparkly dresses, old suit jackets, flowers…all sorts of things. We were called by the French names we chose, and it was a blast. She knew that I liked art, and she was always encouraging me to utilize it.

A couple of years ago, I was taking an intensive at The Second City in Chicago, and I couldn’t believe it when I walked in and saw her sitting in my class. I also couldn’t believe that she actually remembered me after all of these years. It was a fun reunion, and we ended up carpooling to every class. She doesn’t teach anymore, but it made me really happy to know that she is still putting on performances.

Another standout for me is a professor that I had in graduate school (for English Literature; it wasn’t an art program) who came into my life at a time when I was on the verge of making some very big decisions. Allowing me to incorporate my artistic interests into the class may have tipped the scale that sent me rolling off to New York. There were many reasons that I chose to pursue the arts instead of getting a “real” job, but this professor really made it hit home how important the arts always have been throughout history, and still are to this day.

He would show us paintings that were painted at the same time that the books we were reading were written, which is typical to do from time to time in most literature classes, but this professor made it a focus. We would analyze paintings in the same way that we analyzed writing. We would find ways in which the author was likely influenced by the painting, which really made the connection between the arts, literature and society hit home for me. Everything is interconnected, and to this day, this is still a pattern, if not more because of the internet and our ability to easily mass communicate. He also allowed me to make a pair of Viking boots instead of writing a paper because he recognized that I would learn well that way, and it is because of that class that I am able to make my own moccasins. It’s also responsible for my knowledge of the trials and tribulations of Viking footwear during battle 🙂

All in all, I was champing at the bit to pursue the arts as a career, and these teachers assisted in making me feel confident that the arts are not only important, but crucial. Art is a form of communication, and I believe that it’s as necessary a school subject as learning to write. I am very thankful.

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

A Midsummer Night's Dream

I am a Producer/Actor for an all-female Shakespearean theatre company called The Tempest Ladies, and part of our mission is traveling overseas (primarily Istanbul, as of now) to schools in order to make Shakespeare more accessible in a fun and creative way. It gives children the opportunity to learn about Shakespeare and his plays through movement, character/relationship building and performance as opposed to sitting in a classroom only analyzing the text. We are based out of and perform in New York City, and we are currently talking about bringing our productions and workshops to underprivileged schools in the area as well as other cities abroad.

April 22-26, 2015

American Theatre of Actors, Chernuchin Theatre (View)
314 W. 54th Street
New York, NY 10035

Testimonial #46: Erik Abbott, Theatre Artist, Producer, Scholar, Critic and Teacher, Actors Repertory Theatre Luxembourg

“Madame French Teacher had a limited background in theatre, but she had an infectious spirit, an ability to inspire — and high expectations: she demanded commitment and discipline and hard work.”

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

I know that there are performing arts programmes in the state schools, in the European School (for children of EU employees) and in the prominent private schools. At least some of those programmes are very strong. There is also a state conservatory that offers music and theatre courses for young people. One of the long-time amateur theatre clubs (going strong for over forty years) offers a youth theatre programme every year, as well as a summer residential academy. What precisely, the effect of all this is on innovation and creativity in the schools, I honesty don’t know. But, as a theatre artist, producer, scholar, critic and teacher, it thrills me that I see young people in attendance at every single production I attend (and I attend a lot). We know that arts education and participation increases critical thinking skills and cognition — in other words, the arts create better learners. It is an absolute article of faith for me that they also create better citizens, parents, workers — people.

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?

We have to go back to the beginning: eighth grade. I was kind of short, kind of fat, more than kind of nerdy, a late bloomer, angry and unhappy. A friend suggested I get involved in the school spring musical, which was going to be directed by the French teacher, whom I didn’t know. (To this day I’ve never taken a French class.) I did ask to be involved (I don’t think we had actual auditions) and I was cast and, well, the rest is history. Madame French Teacher had a limited background in theatre, but she had an infectious spirit, an ability to inspire — and high expectations: she demanded commitment and discipline and hard work. I fell in love with being in a theatre and being on stage. I learned lessons in that first show that I still follow (not least things like ‘upstage’ and ‘downstage’). I made a decision, or more accurately, I discovered that this was what I was going to do with my life. And I have. I’ve spent my life in the theatre, in one way or another. My skills have enlarged and evolved — I rarely act onstage any more, but I direct and produce and teach and critique and practice dramaturgy and write plays and do scholarship and set budgets and update the company Facebook page and write press releases and publicity material and negotiate venue leases, etc., etc., etc. At thirteen, I awakened to an idea that no other life is possible. I still believe that. Thank you, Madame French Teacher.

Testimonial #45 Adam Crane:

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?

Thanks, Mom!

I was very much a “newbie” at playing the viola, starting in 7th grade. My  school orchestra director suggested that I go and try playing with a  regional youth orchestra. I do remember, vaguely, that trains were delayed,  we arrived late, and the orchestra rehearsal had already begun.

Powerful and “professional sounding” music echoed down hallways in the huge  building. I turned to my mother and said “…well, it was fun getting here, we’ll  be turning around soon.” She said, “You’re here — why not give it a try?” I  unpacked my viola and sat down in the last chair of the viola section,  trying not to bring any attention to my presence, since I had no business
being there at my “newbie” status, let alone arriving late.

Star Wars (the first one – released in 1976), had just come to theaters, and  it was the craze at the time! I knew how the music sounded, at least the  melody, but didn’t know the background stuff. But hey, it would be cool one  day to play it!

There was a fuzzy copy of a Star Wars viola part on the music stand. It  looked like alphabet soup! There were about 50 things written on the first  page, in what seemed to be different languages, all mixed in with the music.

I saw numbers, and brackets, and notes that I never knew existed, somehow  connected on the page. There were arrows and exclamation points, squiggly  lines, and to top it all, in Bold Capital letters, “WATCH-OUT HERE!”

At this point the Conductor tapped on his stand and said, “Okay everyone,  stay with me and let’s see what we have to work.” Remember, I was just down  the hall hearing them sound pro, or at least to my “newbie” ears they did.  This sound was triggering a loud thought in my head: I want to go home and  organize my baseball cards.

The Conductor then made some bird-like gesture, waved the stick he just  tapped assertively on the music stand, and within seconds, (which seemed  like a day and a half to me) he exclaimed, “STOP!” This frightening looking conductor then turned and looked directly at me and  bellowed, “VIOLAS! I’m so happy you are all here to join us.” He pointed to  me and to an empty seat by the second music stand. Still pointing, he said  “You are?” My voice cracked as I said my name. He then said, “Move up to the second  stand.” Without hesitation, I practically ran to my newly assigned and  unwanted seat.

Within seconds, (just after I bumped my viola, hitting nearly everyone in my  path), he gestured more enthusiastically than the first time. This time, his  motions resembled the wing span of the largest eagle imaginable and the  orchestra soared.

As the orchestra began to play, I tried hard to keep up with the bigger kid  next to me. I moved my bow and fingers on the strings when he did, trying to  keep a very low profile. I admit that I was practically hiding behind the  music stand, hoping to be shielded from any more undesired attention.

Again a voice in my head reminded me that I was looking forward to sorting  my 1976 METS cards when I got home and ironically, I had just gotten some  new cards including a “Victory Leader” card, with some bubble gum.

About a minute passed and the conductor stopped the orchestra, exclaiming  louder than before, “VIOLAS!” I should mention that at this point, in  addition to violinists and cellists, there were people with trumpets,  trombones, flutes, clarinets and drums the size of more than half of my  room, and some holding an instrument that looked like a stove pipe, (that I  learned later was called a bassoon). All of these strangers were looking at  the violas. Their glares felt like Star-Wars style laser beams directed at
the violas, and you guessed it, at ME! The conductor went on to say “You (pointing at me, the ‘viola player’),  repeat after me, DIG-AH-DIG-AH, DIG-AH, DIG-AH, DIG AHHHHH!”

Everyone in the room burst out into hysterical laughter, and even I giggled  a little. I began to believe I might make it unharmed through the  experience, or I hoped. He continued by saying, “I’m serious – repeat after  me,” and then he went on to display the most articulate and energetic  performance of the background of the Star Wars Theme.

I couldn’t believe it! I recognized the rhythm from the movie. Then, he  asked me to repeat the “DIG-AH etc.” I even survived his making me do it  again, and then asking me to perform it yet again more clearly and loudly.

Thankfully, I lived to share this story. He told me that when I see parts of  the music that looks like traffic jam on the page [to] just say the words in  your head. He performed it once again to really emphasize his point: “DIG-AH-DIG-AH, DIG-AH, DIG-AH, DIG-AHHH.” He continued and said, “Okay, ALL  of you players laughing, be prepared to say EVERY RHYTHM! I refer to, each
and every page, of every piece, of each and every passage, by the end of  today’s second rehearsal.”

At this moment, everyone in the room immediately fell silent. The Conductor  then tapped the stand again. With a new-found respect for our conductor,  what followed was an incredibly productive and fun rehearsal. Students were  paying attention with much more focus than before the above experience. No  one wanted to have their own public, “Dig-Ah Moment.”

During the break, students and their families ate lunch and studied their  music. Some kids were really helpful to me, since they had much more  experience than I had at the time. We all were sounding out the music in our  own way, doing as the Maestro requested. The second rehearsal was even more  amazing!

Remember, the Maestro is the teacher. Your orchestra director is your  Maestro. They are your best knowledge resource, having learned from other  Maestros. Sharing music knowledge is a tradition that has been passed down  from generation to generation. Be attentive to the knowledge you are  acquiring. In this way, you will continue the tradition.

By the way, I’m glad I stayed. Thanks, Mom!

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

In case you are curious, how this story came about — While composing the  Rhythm Worlds in a unique music curriculum the topic of how to count understand and notate rhythm sub-divisions triggered this fond memory among others. Not only did Mom instill in me the want to try my best, but now, at 21+, she has helped me by  editing thousands of pages of curriculum content from before there was a  title or a cast of characters. is an extensive music curriculum e-learning platform that shares this spirit of enthusiasm and offers quests for students, educators, music lovers and  experts. Lots of free stuff for everyone, so please stop by and signup free!
Come Play Your Part!


Testimonial #44: Victoria Orvañanos Archer, Writer Televisa


“Every time my mother punished me, locked me in my room and hit me yet again, I would listen over and over again to ‘The Phantom Of The Opera’ to ‘Music Of The Night’ and I would smile between tears. I just had to find the way to become that beautiful swan just like the Phantom did and turn all my pain into beauty. I was eight-years-old and fell in love with art.”

I am a writer in Televisa, I write telenovelas and tv series and right now I’m breaking into film and theatre. So my story begins when I was six years old…

I am the oldest of four children and the only girl. Music has always inspired me to create great stories and complex characters that can outshine during crisis for what makes a man is what he does when the storm comes. I had a rough childhood and music was always my shelter. One day, my parents came home from a trip to Toronto where they saw Andrew Lloyd Webber’s newest musical “The Phantom of The Opera” and brought me the soundtrack tape and vinyl disc as well as the Playbill of the time; it was 1987. When I first read the story I immediately identified with “The Phantom” a man suffering the cruelty of the world due to a mother’s rejection and was hiding underneath the Opera House where “the monster” grew up to become The Angel of Music. My heart stopped.  My soul was frozen as I was listening to the music and reading the lyrics. How can it be that so much grief could turn into something so magical and fascinating?! That’s when I decided I wanted to become a writer and tell stories that would ease aching hearts such as mine. So every time my mother punished me, locked me in my room and hit me yet again, I would listen over and over again to “The Phantom Of The Opera” to “Music Of The Night” and I would smile between tears. I just had to find the way to become that beautiful swan just like “The Phantom” did and turn all my pain into beauty. I was eight-years-old and fell in love with art.

Years went by and I was never picked for my school’s musicals or plays.  My mother was still in rage by my existence and by this time I was a teenager crying alongside my piano, which I learned quickly to play. I was sent to a boarding school in England for a year where I saw for the first time my beloved disfigured genius “The Phantom Of The Opera” in London!!!!! When I first saw the man behind the mask I found myself crying tears down to my neck as I understood he was but a vulnerable man crying for help, hiding behind a mask of strength, just like me. That was me on stage before the world to see, a wound opened hearted yearning for love exploiting in majestic music! I had to find my mask.  I had to find my strength. I had to find my angel and I did… The Beatles!

Lennon and McCartney’s words empowered me to dream big and aim for the greater goals. I got into UCLA and graduated and then I was offered a job in Televisa for writing the script of an entertainment news and interviews show for Telehit Channel called “Activon Tv”. I was doing great! Finally I was writing about music and art. Paul McCartney came to Mexico City and I got tickets on row number 5!!! It was the best day of my life, I shall never forget the entire stadium singing at the top of their lungs:  “Hey Jude, don’t be afraid, take a sad song and make it better, remember to let it into your heart then you can start to make it better. And any time you feel the pain, Hey Jude reframe, don’t carry the world upon your shoulder.”

And I thought to myself – I will make it through- And I did! When I incorporated the story of my life into a soap opera I was writing at the time, the ratings flew over the roof and I was receiving tweets from fans all over the world telling me how my story was changing their lives and now they were doing amazing things they never thought they could do. I was thriving with joy and suddenly all the grief I had gone through was unexpectedly worth it for it has made me who I am.

I wanted to push myself to the limit and I started writing a musical and created a non- profit organization where I teach orphan children to speak English through Beatles and Broadway songs to lead them to a world of new opportunities to build a prosperous future. These children are now dreaming of being someone great, of becoming a leader of achieving the unachievable! They laugh, they sing, they thirst for knowledge and they have become brothers. Thank God I went through that depression because these boys’ lives are changing with art and music! They want to be actors, singers, and football players and by God they will. I am teaching them to sing because we will form a children’s choir that will perform in schools and small theaters singing in English aiming for one dream: College. Every earnings will be funded to their college education. This is what it feels like to be alive!!!!!! And I would go through it all again a thousand times to find art in my way and do magic with it drawing smiles and planting dreams in lost little souls.

And now, in six months I am moving to New York City to bet on myself I can do it! I will take musical theatre writing and I will become the best writer there ever was. I will produce my musical in Mexico and I will continue to deliver happiness to children through art for as long as I live. Art has always brought up the best in me, has always led me to hope, to regain strength and fight till the end. Art has given me happiness I wish everybody out there could experience, it has given me peace and a higher understanding of life. It has made me the artist I am and the artist I will become. In my world, art has made me My Own Angel Of Music.

And that’s my story.

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

I have done exciting projects with my non- profit organization “Levantémos México” such as:

A photography exposition in The National Museum of Art titled “Black & White” 

I created an art photograph contests in several universities in Mexico: Ibero, Anáhuac and Tec de Monterrey, where students had to capture the different paths one can choose when crisis strikes: “BLACK” turning yourself into drugs, alcohol, prostitution, lust and hated with it’s consequences and “WHITE” Mediation, forgiveness, therapy, strength, faith and art with it’s results.

The project was sponsored by Domecq None profit organization, Kodak and Convivencia Sin Violencia.

KARAOKE NIGHTS FOR HAITI: I invited people to sing songs of praise and hope every Thursday for one month in a karaoke bar called REC. We gathered four thousand US dollars, which I gave to the Haiti Ambassador in Mexico City.

ORPHAN CHILDREN: We teach orphan children to speak English in order to ensure them a better future through the music of The Beatles and Broadway hit songs. These children now want to become actors and singers and are anxious to one travel to New York City and see all Broadway shows, but there are 2 in particular that became quickly very popular among them: “Les Misérables” and “The Phantom Of The Opera”. The children are now hoping, dreaming and finding their own voice and importance in life in a world that had closed the doors to them. Schools across Mexico City are helping sending their students to teach and sing with the children and an environment of joy and hope has been developed in the hearts of every one that take the lessons and teach them as well.