Leveraging Theatre for Social Good

Before it was fashionable to be an advocate or activist, my acquaintance Jessie Fahay invited me to join her very new theatre group. She had a vision to pair advocacy with theatrical productions, taking on socially relevant topics.

Jessica Jennings, Development Director of Ripple Effect Artists proudly talks about how they have stayed attuned to the most relevant issues pulling on the collective social conscience of all Americans:

That was in 2010. Seven years later, I could not be more proud of our endeavors and accomplishments at Ripple Effect Artists. Aside from the administrative feats, like becoming a 501(c)3 and earning grant funds, I mean that I am proud that we have stayed tuned to the most relevant issues pulling on the collective social conscience of all Americans. For example, we presented Tea & Sympathy, a play from the 50s about the bullying of homosexuals, and raised funds for the Trevor Project’s suicide prevention call center.

With each of our productions we both raise awareness with our audience, and make a financial donation toward an advocacy organization. We have worked with 11 different organizations on issues of heath care, suicide prevention, hospice, marriage equality, women’s rights, technology unemployment, sex trafficking, and now we will be looking at racism.

Our productions are paired with audience engagements such as talk-backs. While our dramas are wonderful for getting people curious about issues, real-world information and solutions from experts leave the audience empowered, informed, and pointed in a direction of taking action. Our audiences have reported taking these actions after our events: volunteering, signing petitions, conversing about these challenging issues in their own communities, and ending their participation in buying sex.

I am honored to have my work with Ripple Effect Artists as part of my artistic legacy. I like to say, in the spirit of Martha Graham, that there is no higher calling than to be fully used by our art.

Please get to know us better! We have a FREE event on May 11th, and a fundraiser on May 30th. Details and links are below.

Guarding the Bridge

May 11th @7pm

250 Park Ave., People’s United Bank.

FREE reading of Chuck Gorden’s GUARDING THE BRIDGE

Click here to RSVP

The Edge of Everyday

May 30th @ 8pm

Elektra Theatre, 300 W. 43rd St.

$45-$60 Tickets 

Rippleeffect.Jennings@gmail.com

 

Lady Liberty Theater Festival 2016

Theatre Educates:  New Festival Dedicated to Fighting Islamophobia

The Lady Liberty Theater Festival presents a trio of exciting immigration short plays aimed at curing the disease of Islamophobia in America, tied together by the ideals represented in the Statue of Liberty.

LLTF promo poster June 24Good Works Productions, in association with Aizzah Fatima, present the premiere of The Lady Liberty Theater Festival, featuring Fatima’s critically-acclaimed solo show Dirty Paki Lingerie, presented alongside two short plays by Monica Bauer, Lady Liberty’s Worst Day Ever and No Irish Need Apply. The three week limited engagement will take place at Urban Stages (259 West 30th Street, New York, NY 10001) from Wednesday, September 7th through Sunday, September 25th, 2016. On Sunday, September 11th, 2016 the festival will present a day of free staged readings that focus on the Muslim experience in America.

 

 

Dirty Paki Lingerie by Aizzah Fatima, directed by Erica Gould, interweaves the stories of six American-Muslim women, aged 6 to 65, all portrayed by Fatima in a virtuosic performance. Drawing from real-life incidents and one-on-one interviews with Pakistani-American women.

Joining Dirty Paki Lingerie are two shorts by award-winning playwright Monica Bauer, directed by Cheryl King:

  • Lady Liberty’s Worst Day Ever, starring Frances McGarry as the Statue of Liberty, and J. Dolan Byrnes as her agent, Vinnie. He breaks the news to Lady Liberty that she’s been purchased by Donald Trump, and is going to be rebranded as the Trump Statue of Liberty. Watch her fight back!
  • No Irish Need Apply (recently seen at The Kennedy Center in DC, and the Irish Arts Center in Manhattan), starring Ali Andre Ali as a Syrian refugee looking for a job in Queens, and Frances McGarry as Joan Fitzgerald, a crusty old woman who needs help running her bodega.

The Lady Liberty Theater Festival will also include back to back free staged readings on Sunday, September 11th, 2016 from 12:00 pm to 6:00 pm. Confirmed readings include What They Heard by Mona Mansour, directed by Kareem Fahmy; The Higher Education of Khalid Amir and Anne Frank in the Gaza Strip by Monica Bauer, directed by Glory Kadigan. The readings are free but donations will be collected on behalf of the International Rescue Committee for their work with Syrian refugees. For schedule information and full line up visit www.ladylibertytheaterfestival.com

The Lady Liberty Theater Festival plays the following schedule through September 25th**:

Wednesdays at 8:00 pm
Thursdays at 8:00 pm
Fridays at 8:00 pm
Saturdays at 8:00 pm
Sundays at 2:00 pm

**Schedule Exceptions: On Sunday, September 11th from 12:00 pm to 6:00 pm the festival will present various staged readings. On this day there will be no performances of Dirty Paki Lingerie, Lady Liberty’s Worst Day or No Irish Need Apply. There will no performances on Friday, September 16th.

Tickets range from $15.00 -$30.00.

Urban Stages is located at 259 West 30th Street, New York, NY 10001.

Running Time: Two hours with one intermission (Running time of readings vary).

Memorial Day 2016

 

Lin Manuel Art Advocacy

As we celebrate our bravest of soldiers who gave their ultimate sacrifice to protect our  freedom, I would like you to take some time to reflect on what it means to be An American.  Amid the bitterness and rancor of the 2016 Elections. . .

How haveThe Arts ( Dance, Theatre, Music, Photography, Graphic Arts) prompt a change in your life?

How did it change and/or alter your perspective about a viewpoint?

Share you story with First Online With Fran HERE

The value of arts education

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Katie Dees Arts education shouldn’t be considered an elective when so many studies show it boosts other skills.

 By Melissa Pranke

November 25, 2015 10:34 a.m.

 The arts are one of the most human of expressions. From the time we are small we love to sing, dance, draw and learn about others’ lives through drama. We are provoked and challenged through the arts.

Learning through the arts is not a luxury; it’s a necessity if we are to ensure the success of our students in the 21st century. When a group of international CEOs was asked to list the qualities they identified as most important for 21st century leaders, No. 1 on that list was creativity. Not work ethic or experience, but creativity because it encompasses using a logical thought process, creative problem solving skills and higher order thinking, all things regularly taught and encouraged in an arts based curriculum.

In 2000, Congress enacted the Goals 2000: Educate America Act, which identified the arts for the first time in federal policy as part of the core curriculum. Why then are visual arts, music and theater programs always first on the chopping block when schools have to make budget cuts?

Twenty-eight states require some study of the arts for high school graduation; yet the arts are still considered an elective, an afterthought, when policy makers write curriculum and strategies to advance the rigor and success of our 21st century school classrooms. Thousands of school-based arts programs have demonstrated beyond question that the arts not only bring coherence to an often-fragmented educational approach but through the arts we find student performance in all disciplines becomes enhanced. Visual arts, music and theater teachers daily ask their students to engage in learning activities that require use of higher-order thinking skills like analysis, synthesis and evaluation. Students of the arts continue to outperform their non-arts peers on the Scholastic Assessment Test. In 1995, SAT scores for students who studied the arts more than four years scored 59 points higher on the verbal portion and 44 points higher on the math portion than students with no coursework or experience in the arts (The College Board, profile of SAT and Achievement Test Takers, 1995).

In 2002, The Arts Education Partnership issued “Critical Links: Learning in the Arts and Student Academic and Social Development,” which summarized 62 studies. This has become one of the most recognized papers on the positive effects of the arts on cognitions, critical thinking, self worth and behavior.

In 2004, The Center for Arts Policy at Columbia College published “Putting the Arts in the Picture: Reframing Education in the 21st Century,” which emphasized a change from arts education to a more holistic approach of arts integration as “an interdisciplinary partner with other subjects.”

This was followed by a College Board report in 2008 “Arts at the Core,” from the National Task Force on the Arts in Education, citing now familiar research to “utilize arts programming as an effective tool to improve education in general and to achieve access and equity for all students”

These academic studies and research give overwhelming evidence of the connection between integrated arts curriculum and advanced student skill acquisition, achievement and knowledge that cannot be denied. But there is another side of this argument that while not academic is even more soulful and compelling than the factual data.

The arts are one of the most human of expressions. From the time we are small we love to sing, dance, draw and learn about others’ lives through drama. We are provoked and challenged through the arts. So, I invite you to think of the potential of each child, of your child, and ask yourself, why haven’t we acted on all this overwhelming and eloquent evidence? Imagination is an extraordinary human gift and, in my opinion, not something to take lightly or waste.

Georgia Stitt: Her Need to Tell. . . through Music

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Her love of literature coupled with a flair for creating her own melodies as a child pianist coalesced into becoming the career choice for composer/lyricist Georgia Stitt.  “I have always been a musician.  When I was seven years-old, I remember trying to play Bach and then [wanting to] improve it.”  Her innate talent to invent variations on a theme became the natural course for Georgia’s professional pursuit as a musician; nevertheless, she did not even realize that it was something you could actually DO for a career. “It was ‘extra-curricular’.” And it wasn’t until college that music would be something she considered undertaking as a livelihood.  Her passion for all types of music and a fervent love of reading convinced Georgia musical theater was “all the things that I loved [coming] together. It was really a light bulb going off when I realized that you could tell stories with music, and the more you knew about musical structure and narrative structure the more they fed each other.”

And storyteller she is!  Her focus is not so much on what stories she likes to tell through music, but “what kind of story can I tell?”  The two current projects she’s working on illustrate the range of her fascination for interesting tales to tell; one, Snow Child, commissioned by Arena Stage to be directed by Molly Smith, is set in 1920s Alaska. The score is Bluegrass because “that is what the music of Alaska is and was – that’s what they would have had – banjos and mandolins, fiddles.” While her other piece is a WW II swing band and “there is no way that music for one of them could fit into the score of the other because that’s not who those people are; that’s not the world we’re creating.  The sound of the show is very specific to the world that you’re creating, the people you’re creating and that’s interesting to me.  That calls on all the skills I have as a classical musician and as a pop musician, as a listener of all kinds of music- understanding musically what the differences are in those worlds, but also character-wise.”

Like a playwright, Georgia begins with crafting a character.  “Who are these characters and what are they involved in, what are they trying to do?  And then, what do they sound like? What music do they sound like?” Snow Child has a husband and a wife from Pennsylvania who move to Alaska during the 1920s to homestead the land.  “They’re new to Alaska and they’re trying to find their way.  And then, their neighbors are people who have been in Alaska for a long time and so they have a much more laid-back vocabulary.  They don’t speak in such big wordy sentences.  It’s like when you write New Yorker characters and they talk more quickly than non-New Yorkers. There’s less space in their language and that sort of thing.  So we have a little more folk music for the characters from Alaska as opposed to these people who are finding their way into Alaska.  And part of the synthesis of the sound is, musically, you watch these characters find their way.  Whether you are aware of it as an audience member or not I can’t say, but I think you feel it – you feel the ‘otherness’ in the music just as much as you do in the language, the costumes, in the way that characters behave and all those things.  The music is telling as much of the story as all the other elements.”

When working with students, Georgia credits her experience as a Musical Director to process a breakdown of a song.  “I think a lot of what I know about writing is because I had to sit in a rehearsal room and explain something to an actor. ‘But why do I come in on beat 4? I want to come in on the downbeat?’ And I want to explain not just that you do, but why you do.  Why has the composer anticipated—is your character anticipating something? Is your character in a hurry?”  Those are conscious, literal decisions composers make.  “Are you back-phrasing because you are reluctant to get where you’re going? Is it because we’ve got 4 bar phrase-4 bar phrase-4 bar phrase and then we’ve got a 6 bar phrase? What are those 2 bars about? Why are they there?” And so as a Music Director I’m dissecting those things, and that made me start thinking about what a composer has to do to put those clues in there for actors to dissect.  A good actor– a good singing actor– knows to look for them.”

Oftentimes, Georgia will take away the music and have students translate the lyrics into a story, “put it in [their] own language.  Explain the journey of the song in [their] own words that don’t rhyme and don’t have meter so we can be clear what we want.”  Part of the job of a songwriter is to craft a song so that an actor can identify the highest climactic moment of the song.  “Songs are structured and the bridge is the middle point and that is usually where the meat of the song is.” A character must have a Need to Tell; she refers to this as “I Want” songs where early on in the show especially a lead character will say ‘I want this and I can’t have it.’ And then the whole show is about how do I get that thing?  And it’s really that basic.  You can look at almost any successful musical where there is a character who wants something and the whole show is about how they get it.”

Wanting to be the best in her field is no easy task, especially for women.  Jeanine Tesori said at the Tony Awards, “You have to see it to be it.”  Despite Georgia not having many female archetypes, she credits the support of teachers and parents for her success. “Nobody told me I couldn’t do it.”  Her advice is straightforward in terms of making it happen:  “I have learned you can’t wait for someone to call you and say, ‘I have a job for you.’  You have to look around for whatever opportunity and say, “I should be doing that job. Who do I call to get that job? How do I MAKE that job? What do I do to make sure they think of me in that context?”

Georgia raises awareness of the plight of parity for women composer/lyricists as a Board member of the Lilly Awards.   Six years ago, as a way to recognize female playwrights who were being overlooked, Marsha Norman, Julia Jordan, and Theresa Rebeck started this not-for-profit organization to honor their work.  It’s not just an Award Ceremony, but it has “grown to [represent] the statistical analysis of what the numbers really are all around the country.  How many women are being produced? How many directors are being hired? How many female composers are being hired? And how many female lyricists/playwrights/etc.? How many female protagonists are in the show? What are the stories being told? And the number hovers around 22% female, which is unbelievable when you think about how many women are in the audiences and how many female playwrights there are.”

Programs range from providing writing retreats to a mentorship program, led by Susan Stroman.  A Fall Fundraiser is scheduled every year. Georgia is the co-producer and music director for the November 9th event, The Lilly Awards Broadway Cabaret, which features Broadway stars performing the works of women writers. You can learn more about this event at http://www.thelillyawards.org/thelillyawards/.

What Georgia loves most about being a composer/lyricist is communicating.  “I love using music to communicate an idea and then having someone say afterwards, ‘I really get what you were trying to say.’” We DO get it. Thank you, Georgia for making us all feel something special through your music!

Georgia Stitt is Composer/Lyricist and a Music Director. Her musicals currently in development include Snow Child (commissioned by Arena Stage); A.Jax (written for Waterwell with Kevin Townley and Hanna Cheek); Tempest Rock (written with Hunter Foster); The Danger Year (a revue of original songs, directed and choreographed by Warren Carlyle); Big Red Sun (NAMT Festival winner in 2010, Harold Arlen Award in 2005 and written with John Jiler); The Water (winner of the 2008 ANMT Search for New Voices in American Musical Theatre and written with Jeff Hylton and Tim Werenko); and Mosaic (commissioned for Off-Broadway in 2010 and written with Cheri Steinkellner). She has released three albums of her music: This Ordinary Thursday: The Songs Of Georgia Stitt, Alphabet City Cycle and My Lifelong Love. Her songs and arrangements are represented on the solo albums of Susan Egan, Lauren Kennedy, Kate Baldwin, Robert Creighton, Stuart Matthew Price, Caroline Sheen, Daniel Boys, Kevin Odekirk and composer Sam Davis. Her choral piece with hope and virtue (using text from President Obama‘s 2009 inauguration speech) was featured on NPR as part of Judith Clurman‘s Dear Mister President cycle, and her most recent orchestral piece, Waiting for Wings, co-written with husband Jason Robert Brown, was commissioned by the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra and premiered there with conductor John Morris Russell. Georgia has degrees from Vanderbilt University’s Blair School of Music and NYU’s Tisch School for the Arts. She is on the theater faculty at Pace University the Board of Directors for The Lilly Awards. Other fun credits include being the music supervisor of the Anna Kendrick/Jeremy Jordan film The Last Five Years, conducting Little Shop of Horrors on Broadway, writing arrangements for Tony Bennett‘s 80th birthday party and playing a nun in The Sound Of Music Live! on NBC with Carrie Underwood and Audra McDonald. www.georgiastitt.com