Every Child Needs This: Learning Bravery with Compass Creative Dramatics

By Cathlyn Melvin, Development Director Compass Creative Dramatics

My summer vacations as a kid were a whirlwind of gymnastics practice, camping across mosquito-infested Wisconsin, and terrifying just-after-dark sessions of “Ghost in the Graveyard” with the twin boys who lived across the street. My favorite part of summer, though, was the time I spent at a children’s theatre in town. They did a project each August that I always looked forward to; there were no costumes, no sets, just the story and the actors. It made us all look forward to the school year, when the company would produce shows with detailed costumes and colorful sets.

I moved away after high school to study theatre at a university about two hours from my hometown. After graduation, I worked with theatre companies in the Milwaukee area, and then was offered a short contract with a children’s theatre company in Minnesota. I spent several weeks working with kids in rural Minnesota, and was reminded how much I loved children’s theatre when I was a teenager – and how much I still love it now.

Which is why I am so excited to be bringing the company I started last May, Compass Creative Dramatics, to my hometown of Sheboygan, WI this summer. We’re based out of Chicago, but we’re a traveling company that specializes in bringing theatre to your community (and in this case, to my own!). Organizations like schools, after-school centers, churches, or other groups, bring us in to work with their kids for a week, and it’s amazing to see the transformation of students from the first day to the last.

Last fall, we worked with a group of students in Evanston, Illinois. The first day, one of our students, Ella, she stood in the circle with the rest of the kids, but wouldn’t participate. When we asked her to repeat a few words after us, she just shook her head and looked at the floor.

By the end of the week, Ella was a leader in the cast. She knew all of her lyrics and dances, and she spoke her lines big and loud and with a grin on her face. This sort of transformation isn’t uncommon with this programming, and it’s partially possible because our structure includes two adult actors who perform alongside the students, offering support, and helping them shine. If a student forgets a line, we’re there to help them out. If they get a sudden attack of nerves, we’re next to them to calm their anxiety and lead the way.

In Sheboygan in June, my colleague Cassandra and I will work with up to 75 kids, meeting them on Monday, rehearsing with them throughout the week, and readying them for performance on Saturday. It’s an exercise in creativity and in bravery, and our students will walk away with a little more courage, a little more trust, and a sense of responsibility and teamwork. They’ll walk away with the magic of live performance, and I hope that never leaves them.

We’ll work with kids – in Sheboygan, in Chicago, in Indiana, and elsewhere – who, like Ella, need extra support to really come into their own. We’ll work with kids who haven’t learned to read, or who freeze at the thought of singing in front of an audience.

It’s experiences like this that confirm for me that theatre is a vital part of education. The poise, confidence, and bravery that come from participation in theatre are skills that every child needs to experience. Through Compass Creative Dramatics, we’re hoping to give kids that important opportunity – one community at a time.

Compass Creative Dramatics partners with school and community organizations to offer quirky, engaging theatre programming designed to provide arts enrichment and cultivate personal growth and character. We strive to provide these organizations an opportunity to enhance their current theatre education and life skills training as well as provide arts programming within schools and organizations with limited arts resources.

Testimonial #21: Cathlyn Melvin, Director Compass Creative Dramatics

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 a sophomore in high school, I had to fill an empty hour. The composition class I really wanted to take wasn’t open to 10th graders, so I dug through our course catalogue to find something that would interest me. I went to a public school that didn’t provide much beyond immediate course requirements, so I ended up taking an acting class, even though I knew, by reputation, that this was a class that kids took for an easy A. I didn’t have much faith that I would learn anything, but the government said I had to be in school for that hour, so I had to sign up for something.

I knew the teacher – I had him for freshman English when we read “Romeo & Juliet”. He was one of the strongest teachers I had (one of the reasons I wanted to take his comp class!). Unfortunately, he was swimming upstream with this slacker course, and I didn’t get much from most of the class.

At the end of the semester, we were supposed to prepare a scene. I knew I wanted to do a solo piece, but I was at a loss for what to choose. He asked me if I would consider doing Shakespeare, and he helped me cut some of Juliet’s monologues into a story arc.

This was the first time I got to work with Shakespeare’s language, outside of simply reading the text, and it was maybe the first step in leading me to study classical theatre in college. I love Shakespeare (Shakespeare and children’s theatre are my two favorite genres!) and looking back, I’m very appreciative of Mr. Heling’s willingness to take the extra measure and work on something that was up my alley – and challenging.

Testimonial #20: Erin Yanacek, Classical Musician

depressed-artist1 Seeking the Love of Music That I Once Felt

I remember the moment when I fell in love with music. I was 12 years old, attending a high school orchestra concert. My brother was playing horn, and while the concert was anything but perfect, it was perhaps the first time that my budding adult mind witnessed a large ensemble in performance. Captivated and slightly embarrassed, I allowed myself to cry when the music moved me. It was as though I was both hearing sound and understanding tenderness for the first time. My lungs, it seemed, were filling with oxygen for the first time, and I could not have been more infatuated. Yet in the 12 years that followed, the story has changed.
Today, it is difficult for me to listen to classical music. I leave concerts at intermission, even when the performers are excellent. I insist that the radio be off while I drive, or at least turned to a pop or news station. And at home, I can only stomach the sound of jazz, if not only the chirping of birds or silence.
And yet, my profession is as a classical musician. I play the trumpet for a living and long to be furiously in love with this art form. Why does this awful feeling plague me?

The problem likely began with the decision to create a profession out of music-making. The standard first step was a successful audition for a university that offered a Major in music. My acceptance and matriculation into a program inspired the confidence that this would be the right step toward allowing my passion to mature.

The academic system, despite its well-intentioned faculty, was lacking. Numbers and test scores were easily quantifiable, while concepts like communication through music and aesthetic value were more difficult to grade. Emphasis was often placed on skills that contributed neither to artistic development nor to a helpful understanding of entrepreneurship.

As I developed, I began to participate in the local gig scene. Orchestras, chamber ensembles, and churches provided some opportunities to get paid to perform. Here I discovered an interesting set of unspoken rules related to hierarchy, ability, and camaraderie. It was crucial to network with the right people, and it was just as important not to step on any seasoned musicians’ egotistical toes. I learned to navigate the system, but I still squirm with feelings of guilt and superficiality when I paint on a smile for a potential boss, colleague, or patron.

As time went on, I discovered that classical music does not lend itself easily to a healthy salary. Capable musicians outnumber available gigs, and thus a battle for survival ensues, where more hours of practice per day will likely win in the end. It is amazing that any musician manages to keep creativity, musicality, or originality in mind with all of our modern-day challenges.
Now it is as though my initial love and passion for music, for creative, original, fascinating sound, is quelled. Difficulties persists in trying to juggle my own creative needs with the demands of a system that I had hoped would nurture my abilities. I am left exasperated, creatively frustrated, and unable even to hear classical music without facing a flood of conflicting emotions. And yet, I stay in the field—out of habit, perhaps, but also out of hope and trust that someday, classical music will somehow register with me once again.

The prospect of changing my career path arises… or I could simply continue to follow my mentors’ advice and practice my excerpts faithfully. Perhaps I will one day arrive at a point of happiness and understanding with the craft, and my original passion will return.

I recently stumbled upon a relevant piece of advice. Renee Fleming, who is arguably the most prominent soprano in the world, had an opportunity to sing for renowned mezzo-soprano Jan DeGaetani in her early 20’s. Fleming had arrived in the conservatory system by way of a humble background, with music infused as an everyday part of her family life as a child. DeGaetani, hearing Fleming’s natural and intuitive understanding of music, told her, “Don’t train all that naturalness out of your voice.” What a wonderful perspective —and one that I will certainly adopt from this point forward.

I long to enjoy music. To have the same uninhibited rush of the emotion, of tears, of clarity that I did in my first experiences of listening to ensembles perform, half of my lifetime ago. It is not entirely clear to me where to turn to achieve this, but I trust that the path will present itself over time. And in the meantime—back to the practice room I go.

This story was originally published in The Muse Dialogue

Testimonial #19: Lynne Harrington-Crick, Self-employed free lance photographer-filmmaker/ retired elementary school teacher

“Music is something people will always remember and be grateful that they had stuck it out learning to play or sing. It is something one carries with them all their life.”

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

I don’t know truthfully how to answer this question because the problem is here in San Diego and all over the state of California, as far as I know presently, the arts are not re-igniting anything in our community and are not sparking innovation and creativity in our local schools. This is why I retired ten years ago burned-out and stressed. Now I am ready to take a stand for a new possibility of what our community and the way our local schools could be by putting music back into the curriculum as part of the core.

Without music education, I see more students being deprived of a well-balanced education one which enriches and restores a love for learning. Backing up what music does for students and people of all ages are numerous current studies proving how beneficial and necessary it is to have music in everyone’s lives, not just for those special students who are deemed to be the only ones that should be provided a music education because of the born talents. By providing music education it is shown through studies how it develops the brain in all people that sparks that ability to think creatively bringing more creative solutions to any problem we are currently facing in the world today. In fact, it is my theory that we are dealing with so many problems because we need to expose more people to a well balanced education that includes the arts. This is what art does and I do believe most people agree with me already on this as I have yet spoken with someone who did not agree with me on this.

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?

I have to go way back to my elementary-junior high school days to answer this question. Looking back on my life, I can see how I was in a way somewhat of a split personality if you can call it that, I don’t know. I definitely had become psychosomatic. Whenever I was involved in academic subjects in school that had nothing to do with music, I was very withdrawn, timid and shy, and most fearful particularly of people in authoritarian positions such as teachers. That changed once I started music lessons and I became so naturally outgoing and loving learning in school. There was one particular music teacher in my junior high school that was more inspiring to me in wanting to be a music teacher. He was such a fun teacher that involved all his students every day getting us to come meet in his classroom after school to learn a new instrument or music theory, etc. things that were extracurricular to the program. We were so automatically self-motivated to want to learn more. I blossomed in musical ensemble groups which contributed to why I was so attracted with such ambition to major in music education when I got to college level. Music is something people will always remember and be grateful that they had stuck it out learning to play or sing. It is something one carries with them all their life.

Music Moves Us is a film project to show how important music is, to start up a movement to bring about a change in our schools, our communities, as well as the healing arts. We encourage ordinary people who have a love for music to participate in this project in ways that they feel most comfortable doing. There will be new interviews posted every month of people sharing stories how music has impacted their lives, and people are invited to participate in another way by posting comments and/or testimonials.

Pilot Episode: First Online With Fran with Angelina Fiordellisi

“I think that one of our greatest responsibilities as theater providers,” asserts Angelina Fiordellisi, “is to sensitize the tribe . . . deepening our primal connections, our primal needs, our primal impulses and what Shakespeare calls ‘holding the mirror up to society’.” This poignant insight is particularly significant since the tragic course of events this past week in Newtown, Connecticut.

On November 19th, 2012 First Online With Fran featured Artistic Director and founder of the Cherry Lane Theatre, Angelina Fiordellisi. Listen to her reflect on the work at the Cherry Lane Theatre, most notably the 2013 Mentor Project, among others, and how they contribute to cultivating an urban artist colony, honor its ground-breaking heritage, create theater that illuminates contemporary issues and transforms the human spirit.

First Online With Fran was shot and edited by The New York Film Shop, Andrea Bertola, Artistic Director.

SUBSCRIBE NOW: http://www.youtube.com/user/FrancesMcgarry