Born to Not Get Bullied

By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
The New York Times

When she was in high school, Lady Gaga says, she was thrown into a trash can. The culprits were boys down the block, she told me in an interview on Wednesday in which she spoke – a bit reluctantly – about the repeated cruelty of peers during her teenage years. “I was called really horrible, profane names very loudly in front of huge crowds of people, and my schoolwork suffered at one point,” she said. “I didn’t want to go to class. And I was a straight-A student, so there was a certain point in my high school years where I just couldn’t even focus on class because I was so embarrassed all the time. I was so ashamed of who I was.” Searching for ways to ease the trauma of adolescence for other kids, Lady Gaga came to Harvard Universityon Wednesday for the formal unveiling of her Born This Way Foundation, meant to empower kids and nurture a more congenial environment in and out of schools.
Lady Gaga is on to something important here. Experts from scholars to Education Secretary Arne Duncan are calling for more focus on bullying not only because it is linked to high rates of teen suicide, but also because it is an impediment to education. A recent study from the University of Virginia suggests that when a school has a climate of bullying, it’s not just the targeted kids who suffer – the entire school lags academically. A British scholar found that children who simply witness bullying are more likely to skip school or abuse alcohol. American studies have found that children who are bullied are much more likely to contemplate suicide and to skip school.  The scars don’t go away, Lady Gaga says. “To this day,” she told me, “some of my closest friends say, ‘Gaga, you know, everything’s great. You’re a singer; your dreams have come true.’ But, still, when certain things are said to you over and over again as you’re growing up, it stays with you and you wonder if they’re true.”
Any self-doubt Lady Gaga harbors should have been erased by the huge throngs that greeted her at Harvard. “This might be one of the best days of my life,” she told the cheering crowd.  The event was an unusual partnership between Lady Gaga and Harvard University in trying to address teen cruelty. Oprah Winfrey showed up as well, along with Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health and human services.  Kathleen McCartney, dean of the Graduate School of Education here at Harvard, said that she and her colleagues invited Lady Gaga because they had been searching for ways to address bullying as a neglected area of education – and as a human rights issue. As many as one-fifth of children feel bullied, she said, adding: “If you don’t feel safe as a child, you can’t learn.”
Lady Gaga describes her foundation as her “new love affair,” and said that, initially, she thought about focusing on a top-down crackdown on bullying. But, over time, she said, she decided instead to use her followers to start a bottom-up movement to try to make it cooler for young people to be nice.  I asked Lady Gaga if people won’t be cynical about an agenda so simple and straightforward as kindling kindness. Exceptionally articulate, she seemed for the first time at a loss for words. “That cynicism is exactly what we’re trying to change,” she finally said.  Bullying isn’t, of course, just physical violence. Lady Gaga’s mother, Cynthia Germanotta, who will serve as president of the Born This Way Foundation, says that one of the most hurtful episodes in her daughter’s childhood came when schoolmates organized a party and deliberately excluded Lady Gaga.  Lady Gaga was reluctant to talk too much about her own experiences as a teenager for fear that her foundation would seem to be solely about bullying. Her aim is a far broader movement to change the culture and create a more supportive and tolerant environment. “It’s more of a hippie approach,” she explained.
“The Born This Way Foundation is not restitution or revenge for my experiences,” Lady Gaga told me. “I want to make that clear. This is: I am now a woman, I have a voice in the universe, and I want to do everything I can to become an expert in social justice and hope I can make a difference and mobilize young people to change the world.”  Yes, that sounds grandiose and utopian, but I’m reluctant to bet against one of the world’s top pop stars and the person with the most Twitter followers in the world. In any case, she’s indisputably right about one point: Bullying and teenage cruelty are human rights abuses that need to be higher on our agenda.

www.FrancesMcGarry.com

Frances McGarry: Featured Guest on Artistic Resilience

Be realistic. Be transparent. Be authentic.

I was featured as a guest on Artistic Resilience, a new online community that is designed specifically tounite different types of creative people. In this community artists,scientists, entrepreneurs, educators and more can share ideas and collaborateon new projects to improve the world as we know it. Artistic Resilience provides a platform that incorporates ideas, dialogue, connectivity and hard work.  The interview with Claudia Walters, the founder of Artistic Resilience follows:

Name: Frances McGarry.
Stage: East Coast.
Creative drug of choice:Theater, Theater Education, Acting, Singing.
Random fact:I have struggled my entire life with the correct spelling of myname:There is the masculine spellingFrancIs and the feminine spelling FrancEs.As a way to thwart the shame and embarrassment I felt tovalidate my identitywhen the incorrect usage wasmade I decided to address this and other issues that come with growing up in anItalianfamily of 10 (6 girls and 3boys) by creating a cabaret act Frances With An E.Now, what do you think about THAT?!!
Tell me something good:As of March 2011 my position as Education Director waseliminated from a not-for-profit arts organization due to budgetaryconstraints.My entire professional lifehas been devoted to promoting the arts on many different levels.For over 30 years I’ve worked as an education practitioner:first, as a classroom k-12 English and theater teacher, then asan adjunct professor, and finally as an education director for not-for-profitarts-in-education organizations.I’ve conducted a variety ofdrama workshops across the nation, and now unemployed for thefirst time in my life, I have found my new niche as arts activist:raising awareness of the vital inclusion of the arts in ourevery day lives through the launching of my new website.
Where can we witness your creativegenius:

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Frances-McGarry-First-Online-with-Fran/297833316931497

aR: Define artistic resilience inyour own words.

FM: Artistic resilience means topersevere at creating a deeper, richer, compassionate world through the artsdespite the obstacles; artistic resilience requires re-inventing, re-imaginingour world through the gift of our innate ability to make art and seek solutionsto the ills of our society.
aR:When you’re feeling a little discouraged in your creative work, whattools do you employ to get yourself back on track?
FM:I make lists:Monthly goals; a one-year plan; 3-year; 5-year plan. This servestwo purposes:first, it forces me to focuson realistic goals and objectives and second, it offers opportunities for me toreflect on how far I’ve come since that last month. It’s also a great tool to“punt” during the course of the month and shift paths without feeling like I’mgoing in too many directions.
I have also learned a valuable lessonsince losing my job:surround myself with aninner circle of friends who are 100% FOR me.Not necessarily in an ingratiating way, but to selectively havethose persons who truly value my talent and believe in my potential andcanprovide insight and balancewhen I feel like a failure.
aR: Yes a support base is essential.You also perform right…? Do you wish to continue that as well as yourbusiness? Are one of these professions a bigger passion for you or moreimportant to you?
FM:I am an actor.I would always apologize and refute that declaration of truth,but after performing in an Off-Broadway production of The Vagina Monologueswith an amazing cast of talented women, I have accepted that this is somethingI’m good at and one that I will continue to pursue.It’s not necessarily a matter of importance; nevertheless, it’sa part of my genetic design and well, why not use it?
aR:You seem to be in love with storytelling. Can you name 2 of yourfavorite storytellers and tell me why you think their way of bringing a storyto the surface is so awesome? (Can be anyone. Singers, song-writers,playwrights, directors…)
FM: Mr. Fred Rogers. The best of allstorytellers for every age. E.B. White.I still weep at the end of Charlotte’sWeb. Any Irish playwright/citizen/actor. The ultimate spinner of tales,Shakespeare.
aR: A few of my favorites as well.So what do you ultimately hope to accomplish with your newwebsite?
FM: To raise national awareness ofThe Arts so that funding remains intact. To keep The Arts as a staple of achild’s education. To keep The Arts as a core mission of government as comparedto road repair. And to keep The Arts as a cultural investment because theNational Endowment of the arts conducted a federally funded research thatshowed $278 billion in economic activity was spun off by the arts in 2009.
aR: Wow!How do you plan to accomplish all of that?
FM: Phase One:Let’s Get Loud:Raise AWARENESS
The purpose of the first phase willbe to establish an audience by focusing first on The Arts and its critical rolein defining our humanity. First Online With Fran will serve to be the soundingboard to let the world know that, “We’re angry as hell and we’re not gonna takeit any more!”
Phase Two:Spread the Word:NETWORK
To prepare a list of guests, I amsetting up appointments with people who I feel are getting the job done. I aminterested in the work you are doing and would like to feature you and/or yourorganization on First Online With Fran. We can talk about goals and objectivesand the obstacles you confront either as an individual and/orby the organization. I am particularly interested in yourpersonal commentary and why you have chosen to pursue this cause.
Phase Three:Go Global:GO OPRAH!
Who better to get the job done, thanOprah?We need to convince her thatthe Arts need her support and know-how to thwart the decline of arts inclusion.Her new programming network:The Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) will be the means to the end.Here’s how:
To redefine the shape of television,CEO Christine Norman summed up the programmingmix in simple words and phrases:“Aspiration. Nurturing. Newness.In short, Winfrey’s fans want to see their hero helping makepeople’s dreams come true in a new, always-on TV environment.” (The PostStandard January 1, 2011 page C3).
First Online With Franwill be the FIRST TV Talk Show that will bring sustainableNational attention to the vital inclusion of The Arts in people’s lives byinviting guests from all walks of life – the school custodian, Lincoln Center,struggling/successful actors, lemonade stands:ordinary people who are doing extraordinary things to make thearts the fabric of our existence. Let’s make The Arts FIRST ONLINE WITH FRAN.
Phase Four:Change:Alternative Solutions
By raising awareness of how the artsare important to our existence through First Online With Fran we can change theperception that The Arts are viewed as optional, an extra – fluff.No Arts? That’s like saying let’s cut the air for which webreathe.Through the program, FirstOnline With Francreative alternativesolutions that are being implemented can be offered to show how The Arts are avital component for educating the whole child.
aR: Well you definitely have it mappedout! You mentioned before that you thinkthe arts enhances the professional as well as the personal lives of others. Forinstance, having exposure to the arts can make a businessman a bettercommunicator, etc… When did you first come to this revelation?
FM:Personally, it transformed my life from a shy, insecure child toa protector of the ARTS UNIVERSE.Seriously, after writing an integrated arts curriculum for ahigh school program I began to get feedback from students after graduation.How Theater Troupe saved their lives; helped them to acceptidentity issues; helped them to be a better lawyer, architect, manager, etc.I have witnessed over the years how theater can provide lifeskills through hands-on learning.I’ll never forget a student, Lauren, who was the designatedproducer for a our first major drama production on the school auditorium stage.There were a lot of politics and problems she had to face inorder to get approval for the use of the space.I told her, “Welcome to the world of business. Figure out howyou’ll get past the red tape.”She returned a few days later with a dispenser of red tape.“Here it is,” she said.I laughed, not at her, but at my assumption that she understoodthe idiom.Priceless learningexperience both for her and for me. It was these kinds of challenges thatafforded each student to experience and allow each of them to take ownership oftheir learning firsthand.
aR: What’s the most important adviceyou can offer to another creative person trying to seek their own goals?
FM: Be realistic.Be transparent.Be authentic. Know your strengths, weaknesses, and enemies. Besurrounded with an inner circle of friends. Be vigilant.Be diligent. Be willing to turn your will over to your spiritualCreator, whoever and whatever that may be to guide you to your ultimatedestiny.
aR: Thanks for being so realistic,transparent and authentic in this interview.And best of luck to you in your new and exciting venture.I believe your goals for your business are relevant to us all.
FM: Thanks so much for this. Takecare.
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Testimonial #9: Chelsea Hoffman

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?

Photo by the lovely Shannon Davies

My life has been shaped by many teachers, all of whom left an indelible impression on my life. I remember one of my first acting lessons came from sitting in on Dr. McGarry’s class – I couldn’t have been more than 6 or 7 years old. The students, all in High School, were playing an improv game that I was allowed to join in on, and the scene I was given was a driver that was pulled over by a policeman. At that age, I was prone to fits of giggles whenever in the presence of an older and therefore obviously cooler kid (luckily I grew out of it!) and couldn’t stop giggling. Dr. McGarry told me to think about the relationship and the situation – if a policeman pulled me over, would I really giggle? Probably not – I would be terrified! This small but valuable lesson has stuck with me, along with countless others in my time in both public school and then later Drama School at NYU’S Tisch School of the Arts

How are the artsre-igniting your community and sparking innovation and creativity in your localschools?

 The Arts are so incrediblyimportant to our children and our schools. I currently live abroad, and peopleare always shocked and jealous when I tell them that I was able to studycontemporary drama, Shakespeare, jazz, electronic music, and audio engineeringall in my public school. Here, if a child wants to pursue ant of those things,it has to be done on their own time.

What many people don’trealize is how applicable skills gained in the arts are to jobs outside theaccepted creative field. Besides the obvious connection between drama andpublic speaking – think how often people are asked to give presentations in ALLwalks of life, and how dull they can be if the person has no sense of audience- the arts teach problem solving, critical thinking, and gives tools on how toengage an audience. These are things that any businessperson would be well offto have in their repertoire. Music has been shown to improve math ability, anddancing is a great way for the kid who may not be into competitive sports tostay fit. To use a terrible clichéd expression, if one thinks outside the boxjust a little one can see that the arts benefit students beyond making themmore cultured and sensitive individuals (traits that should not be overlooked).We are so lucky in our country to have the opportunity and the precedence tooffer education like this – we must take advantage of it.

Photo by the lovelyShannon Davies

An Interview with Tricia McDermott

The Little Theater Who Could…
An Interview with Tricia McDermott.
Founder/Producing Artistic Director Airmid Theatre Company.

This following article recently appeared in the 2012 January/February Arts and Entertainment issue of GEM Magazine.

Despite arts advocacy groups’ efforts to prevent the decline of arts inclusion, the budgetary solution remains to be that the arts are perceived as an amenity. To challenge that notion, my blog First Online With Fran interviews ordinary people doing extraordinary things in The Arts to make our world a richer, deeper, better place to live. The Founder and Producing Artistic Director of the Airmid Theatre Company, Tricia McDermott shared her thoughts and vision for women in the theater and how the work at Airmid enriches our community.

Although Tricia was adamantabout NEVER starting her own theater company, the professional director/producer/consultant/educatorfelt compelled to promote classical works of women playwrights when theopportunity arose.  After the success ofthe Broadway revival of Ibsen’s A Doll’sHouse reaped Tony-Award winning accolades with Janet McTeer’s performance,McDermott found an original source called TrueWomen and wanted to present the play. When she was unable to find aproducer she pioneered the idea of a production company that would bespecifically devoted to classics by women. Founded in 2000, Airmid Theatre Company creates a safe home for womenartists, igniting broad public recognition of the essential contribution womenhave made to the worlds of theatre and dramatic literature.

One of Airmid’s missions isto establish the history of playwriting by women by professionally producingtheir work with actors of both genders, and to thereby broaden discussions ofwomen’s roles today.  Tricia shared ananecdote of a 60 year-old man who supported the theater and attended a readingof a piece called Making a Scene, acompilation of scenes of 16th to the 20th century womenplaywrights.  Although he consideredhimself to be a male feminist, and believed that he saw women as equals, “hedidn’t quite do that as much as he thought he should.”  In an email he told Tricia “He recognized thatseeing this same event told through the eyes and experience of a woman [made it]a different world.”

Airmid has an intern programwith college age students and works with some high school students in variousprograms.  A public reading of two playswritten by the German nun from the tenth century, Hrosvita of Gandersheim, wasattended by a high school English and Drama class from Babylon High School.Students were enlightened to learn through the reading that “all things of areligious nature are not strictly about religion.”

Tricia commented on thevalue of the arts, particularly the theater: “Theater lands in a very unique place. It makes people well-rounded.  Andno matter what time you start your child off, or even yourself, and getinvolved in theater, you get an opportunity to collaborate with people andcreate a team.”  As far as the new CommonCore Standards is implemented across the nation’s curriculums to prepare studentsfor college readiness Tricia felt that working in the theater fulfills thatgoal:  “You have to do it on a lot ofimagination and very little money.  Youhave to work within a budget.  You oftenhave to create something out of nothing. And you then have to market it and sell it to the world.  Theaters have an accounting office and oftena contracts department, a development department that writes grants.  We have every other aspect of business; itjust happens to be that the product is a piece of art.” 

This construct is to createjobs, to create an economic and tourist destination. Tricia explained howtheater is community based:  “The communityhas to be engaged.  It’s people speakingto each other, breathing each other’s air. It’s experiencing the same moment. For me, there is a great affinity to finding a spiritual life within thetheater whether it’s as a participant or as an audience member. But whetheryou’re participating in the actual creation or the experience of it, there’s acommunion that happens.  And you findyourself engaged with people in a way that you don’t in any other art form.”
Let us Know:  Airmidcontinues its search for performance space and is presently looking at sitesboth on the South and North shores of Long Island.  To learn more about Airmid and their programofferings go to www.airmidtheatre.org

If you’re an ordinary persondoing extraordinary things in the arts, then be sure to arrange an interviewwith First Online With Fran at www.francesmcgarry.com