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Archive for June, 2015

This post today is dedicated to Gloria Steinem who challenged us in her talk last Friday evening to do one outrageous thing on Monday. She promised to do one, too, “and the world will change.” Here’s to changing the world one outrageous act and everyday rebellion at a time.

If I had a magic wand and could change one thing about education in the U.S., it would be to make the fine arts a required part of the curriculum, right up there with Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic. Or, if you prefer, Readin’, ‘Ritin’, ‘Rithmetic, and ‘Rt. Yeah, you heard me right. A required part of the curriculum, not an elective. No more teaching the fine arts after school or only if the school gets federal grant money. Can you imagine if we taught math in the manner that we teach (or don’t teach) the arts? We’d be lucky to have people who could count to ten without taking off their shoes.

The arts aren’t the dessert you get to have if you eat all of your bad-tasting vegetables–the arts are the main course itself. Let’s stop and ask ourselves what the arts really teach us. Music, for example, teaches us to listen to each other and to work together as a group. You can’t be hanging in the back of the auditorium, texting your friends, in music class or you’ll miss your cue. Drawing and painting teach spatial skills, proportions, and color theory. Theater teaches public speaking and emotional awareness.

All of these disciplines teach the one most important skill we can impart to our students: creativity. We’ve all heard the statistic about how most people will change careers 7-10 times in their lifetime. What isn’t mentioned is that most of these careers will be in fields that we can’t possibly anticipate. When I was kid, no one thought about becoming a computer game designer. That option just simply wasn’t on the table. Today computer gaming is a billion dollar industry.

So how can we prepare our students not only for the careers of the future, but the challenges of being a citizen in an ever-changing world? We can encourage their creativity which I define as finding unexpected connections between two very dissimilar things or ideas.

I would go still further and state that the arts should not simply be one of the four Rs, it should be the primary R, the first among equals around which all the others revolve. The reason? Math, by and of itself, teaches you one subject–math. The arts, however, teach all the Rs together–reading, writing, mathematics–by teaching you one subject.

On another, deeper level, the arts encourage a holistic approach to education. School stops being the place you go to kill time and rack up points towards being an adult and becomes the place that it should be–a place where your mind is opened, challenged, and broadened.

 

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Romeo & Juliet

I had the happy experience of discovering the filmed version of David Leveaux’s 2013 production of “Romeo & Juliet” starring Orlando Bloom and Condola Rashad, now available on DVD and streaming video, and it was just as wonderful as advertised. This “Romeo & Juliet” is a muscular, energetic, modernistic production featuring an interracial cast. Bloom exudes a youthful, James Dean vibe as Romeo while Rashad winningly alternates between girlish enthusiasm and womanly wisdom.

The entire cast is uniformly strong with Chuck Cooper as Lord Capulet and Roslyn Ruff as Lady Capulet being particular standouts for me. Cooper is bluff and jovial while also being mercurial and dangerous. Ruff adds dignity and presence to what is often a minor part. This Lady Capulet is as much a power player as her husband. We have a lot of wonderful stage actors here in the States and this production is a reminder of that.

While watching the play, I was struck by how many restrictions are placed on Juliet because she’s a girl. In an effort to keep her safe, the people around her drive her towards drastic and eventually fatal actions in an attempt to escape their unwanted constrictions. Romeo, by contrast, has more freedom, both in terms of movement and of the choices that he can make.

Gnomeo & Juliet

Two houses, both alike in tacky garden art, and owned by neighbors Capulet and Montague who dislike each other intensely as do their garden gnomes.

Gnomeo & Juliet is a fun take on the Romeo & Juliet story, but with a happy ending. Gnomeo (James McAvoy) is a blue gnome and Juliet (Emily Blunt) is a red gnome and the twain must never meet–until they do in a deserted yard where Juliet is hunting for the perfect orchid. A forbidden romance, encouraged by the flamingo Featherstone, ensues even as tensions build between the Reds and Blues until open war breaks out.

Gnomeo & Juliet is staffed with celebrity voices and stuffed with Shakespearean in-jokes including a talking statue of the Bard himself voiced by Patrick Stewart. Behind the hijinks, however, is a serious meditation on hate between groups and how it can destroy people.

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