Testimonial #33: Tara Handron, Actor/Playwright

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?

When I was in high school I was lucky to have the same teacher all four years for performing arts choir and the school musical productions. Sharon Greene taught me much more than just how to sing second soprano. Mrs. Greene taught me and many others how to both shine as well as how to be part of a group, a unique integral piece of a greater performance. When I was a junior, Mrs. Greene cast me as one of the three African American back up singers in Little Shop of Horrors. I am not African American, I had done just a few shows up to that point, and yet she went ahead and cast me with two extremely talented girls who were. I felt honored. She encouraged me to use all my unique gifts in any role whether it was third dancer from the left or a lead solo in a state-wide concert. She made me feel valuable and talented and that in turn helped me to take risks in performance and in life. When I was in class or rehearsals with Mrs. Greene I felt alive. I felt confident. There were other times during high school and in college when I used alcohol in unhealthy ways to feel secure or worthy. Mrs. Greene encouraged me and others to find our worth and power in creativity and hard work. Those skills and experiences have helped me in many areas of my life well beyond high school and well beyond the stage. Today I am someone who continues to create and grow and be authentic in all my roles: performer, writer, marketer, fundraiser, producer, friend, daughter, girlfriend, sister, volunteer, student…Thanks, Mrs. Greene!

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

Because of how I am using my art form (writing and performance around substance abuse, alcoholism and other disorders), I am seeing the arts take a powerful role in educating young people about all the potential harms and dangers of addictive behavior that often begin in middle school and high school. With my play, Drunk with Hope in Chicago, and its research as well as the work I do with the Student Assistance Professionals at Caron Treatment Centers in the DC area, the arts are not only enhancing education around topics that can be either boring or taboo but more importantly the arts are making them more impactful. When I portray a young woman who has been sexually assaulted while intoxicated that can have more of an impact on a young person than simply reading facts and statistics. And with programs like this, more teens are starting their own socially aware performance groups. Using the arts to educate not only transforms how we learn tough or academic topics but also inspires students to be creative in other areas of their lives. Creativity breeds more creativity! For clips of the show and more information go to: http://www.tarahandron.com

Testimonial #31: Solomon Epstein, Cantor and Music Director

“The arts are contagious, and your kid has caught the bug.”

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?

From age 9, upon hearing a touring performance of “La Boheme”, I wanted only to become an opera singer. At age 18, I entered the Cantors Institute of The Jewish Theological Seminary, New York City. On the Music Faculty were some of the most respected musicians in New York: Dean Hugo Weisgall, also Chair of the Composition Department at Queens College, whose operas were premiered by New York City Opera 1959 – 1993; Siegfried Landau, then Music Director of the Brooklyn Philharmonic; and Miriam Gideon, Professor of Music at City College of New York.

These musicians insisted that I MUST continue to study Composition seriously. I was 21 at the time, I didn’t want to hear them, because I only wanted to sing opera. No one doubted my musicianship, but my singing, while good, did not seem to be of operatic quality ( much later, that changed; I learned very late that great voice teachers are EXTREMELY rare).

I became a cantor, but around age 38 I had a walloping “mid-life crisis”. I found myself composing constantly. Then I panicked, because I knew I needed vastly more technique in composition and orchestration. I also became aware that the insistent voices of those great teachers had only been hibernating. Now they came roaring out of their cave like an awakened bear. Their voices drove me to pedal as fast as I could to play “catch up”, triggering 12 years (1982 – 1994) of study with 4 composition professors at 3Universities, while at the same time composing opera in a disciplined frenzy.

One result was a 1999 premiere of my opera “The Dybbuk” in Israel, sponsored by a University and a Tel Aviv Foundation. I was thrilled by audience ovations, excellent press reviews, and the incredible dedication of a number of young professional performers.

It would never have occurred to me to take on these increasingly self-challenging efforts in opera composition, if the mandate of those immensely respected teachers had not ultimately caught up with me and pointed me in the direction to realize my best potential.

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

Though I used the arts (music and theater) continuously in education for 35 years while I was Cantor and Music Director of Synagogues, I am now retired. But speaking from my own experience, I STILL receive surprise E-Mails from former students, now grown and themselves parents, about how transformative their participation in choirs, drama, and musical theater I directed had been for them spiritually and intellectually .

I believe them, because on more than one of these large-scale projects, many parents and the Rabbi would ask me,” How do you do it? My kid is saying to me ‘I have to cancel my soccer practice/piano lesson/baseball practice/dance lesson today, because the cantor says we have to be at play rehearsal which cannot function unless every member of the team is present.’ ”

My answer: “The arts are contagious, and your kid has caught the bug.”

As to the area where I presently reside, there are real problems. I think a great trigger to inspire the current local educational establishment to wake up would be a presentation in person by Frances McGarry.

It would also be wonderful if the children in the Brooklyn Theater Project video could be sponsored on a regional tour, both presenting a sample of their theater work, and speaking to an assembly of kids just as they spoke on the video. I can’t think of anything better than those Brooklyn kids inspiring other kids in underserved regions around the country.

Testimonial #30: Lorenzo Dawson, Hope for Miami

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 University of Vermont had an experimental program using acting and play production (as intro college English) as a way to connect with students so that they could write and create out of affirmation. My teacher in this course “saw” me. She cut me loose to create characters and act them out. It was my first fledgling step out of mental illness.

Today, I coach students in artistic expression, setting them free to see who they are, and believe that they can learn and do anything.

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

I grew up with zero use of the arts to call me forth. At home as a 5-year old, I was singing and playing instruments for family gatherings. Instinctively, I knew that, if an adult gave me a creative pathway, I could learn and do anything. Instead, because no one “saw” me, I went on a downward spiral into mental illness.

Nearly 20 years later, I began to give myself permission to be who I was without restrictions, free from the one-size-fits-all academic rigors I had been raised in. I began to envision young people being called forth by those who committed themselves to “see” students outside of the box of academic performance standards.

For the past few years, I have been giving to young people what I didn’t get. I “see” them. I use ballroom dancing, music, and writing to open pathways for students to see themselves, their value, and their place as a vital part of their generation. Now I watch them instinctively know that they can learn and do anything, right now, as a young person. Though using creative arts to call students forth in this way has a long way to go in our schools, I’m thrilled to be a part of this day of small beginnings.

Testimonial #29: Paula Jacobs, Arts Education Program Director, Newark Arts Council

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

In Newark, NJ arts education stakeholders have aligned to create a structure for membership and leadership in order to make a more significant and lasting impact with a collective voice and a coordinated effort. We invite you to visit the Arts Education section of the Newark Arts Council’s website: http://www.newarkarts.org to learn more about how you can get involved.
Anyone with an interest in ensuring equitable, high quality arts education for Newark youth is welcome! Newark needs more partnerships like the one between the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra and University Heights Charter School in Newark . . . here’s the link to this great article by Peggy McGlone of the NJ Star Ledger: http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2013/04/nj_symphony_newark_students_vi.html

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?

As a first grader in elementary school in Los Angeles during the 1970’s, one of my classmates was Kim Fields from Facts of Life and Living Single fame. Her mother, Chip moved with Kim from New York to further Kim’s career as a young performer and also was hired as a drama teacher at our school. Her original plays and the opportunities that came with them enabled many children without access to arts education the opportunity to collaborate, sing, dance and extend those opportunities into the professional world as well. At the very least, it played a crucial role in building self-esteem, teamwork and a strong work ethic. Chip’s gift at making every child feel special and her passion for the arts was unique and contagious. I was inspired to direct my own energies toward the field of educational theater and have worked as a theater educator, program director and arts administrator in a variety of educational settings, with memories of Chip and my early experiences guiding the way as I collaborate with others to continue the fight.