Monday, September 20, 2010

Education, the Arts, and the two Cs --Jenny Hollingworth

I became a parent for the first time eleven years ago. Up until that moment, I had very little experience of children, and frankly even less awareness of what might be important to their wellbeing beyond love and the most basic of human needs: food, clothing, sleep. But I did have one blinding revelation as I held my new son in my arms: ‘if I could give my child two defining attributes at this moment, I would choose the two Cs: Confidence and Compassion.’

Many more revelations, misconceptions, trials and errors have come and gone since then, but surprisingly, since it was probably fuelled primarily by a mad rush of hormones and the lingering remains of the anesthetic, that first one still holds true for me. I want my children to have the kind of confidence that enables them to stand up for themselves, to articulate their thoughts and needs, to know that they are worthwhile human beings with gifts to offer; and I want this confidence to be tempered with the compassion to recognize those less fortunate, so that my children can both appreciate their own abilities and advantages, and learn to help those who stumble along the way.

The arts, to a receptive child, are uniquely designed to engender both the ‘C’s. All children the world over love a good story, and all of the varying artistic forms have at their heart a story to tell. Well-crafted stories, be they in books, theatre, music or a painting, teach a young child how the world works. They flesh out the nature of good and evil, establishing a system of moral values that will stay with the child for life. And as the child grows and the stories become more sophisticated, they teach the meaning of heroism, love, kindness and generosity, stimulating empathy in a young mind and offering ways to deal with the real-life issues that await all children in the playground: bullying, unfairness, negotiation, the reefs and shipwrecks of friendships. None of these issues are covered between the pages of a biology text book, or in a set of algebra problems, or on a map of the world, valuable in other ways though these may be. Nor is compassion a defining characteristic of behavior on the sports field, though team skills and a certain type of confidence may be highly developed, if you are talented and successful, with the flip side of a lack of confidence if you consistently fail.

Watching a play, listening to a story, exploring a great painting can all plant in a young child the seeds of compassion. Confidence comes when the child elects to participate. I’ve seen young children, my son included, take their first steps on stage, and felt their triumph when they have remembered that single (but vital) line. I’ve witnessed the unparalleled joy on their faces when the applause rips through an encouraging and loving audience. I’ve also worked with young children on writing individual stories, helping them to shape their thoughts and follow the arc of their tale, and I’ve seen them stand up and present it in front of their classmates with the confidence that comes from knowing that their story is both interesting and unique. Much the same confidence comes from playing the trumpet in the school band, or seeing your painting on display at ‘Back to School’ night. In each case, the message sent to the child is clear: You have something to say, and the world wants to hear you say it.

Once a week, I tutor young adults with literacy problems. In every case without exception, the teenager in this situation, now struggling to navigate through High School, has grown up in a house without books, without theatre, without exposure to the arts. It’s not acceptable to assume that if the schools don’t provide artistic opportunities, the parents will fill the gap. Many will; but equally, far too many won’t, for lack of time, education, or inclination.

Eleven years ago, I wanted my child to learn confidence and compassion. If I could give a gift to the world today, it would be to teach the same things to all our children. They aren’t easily discovered in text books, or on the athletics track. But there is an abundance of opportunities to learn them through the arts, for each new generation of open hearts and minds. It’s our job to make sure our children have the chance to find out.


Jenny Hollingworth is the Assistant artistic director for Arclight Repertory Theatre. She will be directing Arclight's upcoming production of Zahsman.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Role of Arts in Education: Educators perspective

Over the next few weeks, we at Arclight Repertory Education Outreach are going to be bringing you a number of different takes on the role of the arts in education. We’ll be hearing from many different voices in the community, from our own teaching artists, to parents and college students. We invite you to join in the conversation and share your thoughts with us at

To start things off though, as both Education Director for Arclight and a middle school teacher for the last eleven years, I wanted to focus on a benefit of arts education that I hold very dear personally.

Today, I want to talk about confidence.

Growing up, I was the shy kid. You all know the kid I’m talking about. The quiet kid in the class who’ll raise their hand, but then hesitate to answer, wondering what the other students will think of his response. The kid who sits with his friends and listens to their stories and laughs, but never quite volunteers his own contribution. Through elementary and middle school, that was me.

Shy, quiet, and deep down, maybe even a little afraid.

In high school, the shy kid became a ghost. I played football, but I wasn’t very good. I joined clubs, but I faded into the background. I did well in class, but I never pushed myself as far as I knew I could go.

Shy, quiet, and deep down, maybe even a little afraid.

When I went away to college, I decided that enough was enough. I was tired of being a ghost. I was tired of being the shy kid. I was tired of being afraid to really be me.

So, on the advice of a friend, I auditioned for a group of student-directed plays. I had never been on stage before in my life. The director handed me a few pages of the script, paired me with an actress, and told me to begin. I looked at her and told her that this was all a bit new to me. I’ll never forget her response. She smiled this amazing smile and said “All you have to do is pretend.”

So I did. And it was a blast. I wasn’t the shy kid anymore. I was a Greek sea captain, falling in love with a beautiful girl promised to another.

And just like that, it happened.

Not so shy, not so quiet, and maybe still a little afraid, but in a totally different way.

I got that first role, and that started me in the world of theatre. I found I could make people laugh. I found that I could make people afraid of me or sympathize with my pain. I discovered just how much fun it could be to stand in front of an audience and make magic. And all you have to do is pretend.

And as I found this freedom in these various roles, I began to find myself. I began to find my voice and my gifts. I began to truly love having an audience respond to me.

I have taught seventh grade English for the last eleven years, and I love what I do. My students are my audience, and when I read them Poe’s “Masque of the Red Death” and watch their eyes grow wide in suspense, or see them thinking over a poem, I think back to that twenty-two year old director, and I know that I owe her a debt beyond description.

And then I see that shy kid. You all know the kid I’m talking about. The quiet kid in the class who’ll raise their hand and then hesitate.

Shy, quiet, and maybe even a little afraid.

And I know that if I can do something that makes sure that the shy kid doesn’t have to wait till college to discover the same confidence that theatre gave me, then I need to do it.

For me, that is why the arts are so crucial to education. It changes lives.

I know it changed mine.

Mark Gelineau
Education Director

Thursday, June 17, 2010

A few days ago, I went to see a former dance student of mine perform in her middle school performance night. Before the performance started, the principal and dance teacher announced that the dance program has been approved for next year. A very exciting thing since most arts programs get cut nowadays. After this announcement, the dance teacher talked her background and how important these programs are to schools. She noted that dance helped her get through school with her father continually reminding her to do well in school so she could continue her dance training.

This speech made me start thinking that we as educators need to do more to teach the public that arts programs are indeed important. They help raise self-esteem, team work and can be great motivators to keep kids in school.
Over the next few weeks, we will have a few guest bloggers writing about their POV on arts in education. I hope you will find these blogs interesting and will be motivated to get your kids into the multiple arts programs in schools. Lets continue to keep arts in the schools!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Arclight Education First Year Wrap-Up

Sunshine? Check. Lemonade? Check. Porch swing? Check.

It is indeed the first few days of summer, where all teachers and students can look back on the last school year with a heady mixture of wistful nostalgia and palpable relief. This is doubly true for Arclight Repertory Education Outreach, as the 2009-2010 school year was our first major programming year. It was an adventure every step of the way, but bringing arts education to the South Bay was well worth the occasional danger. So sit back on that porch swing, sip that lemonade, and let me regale you with the thrilling tales of our year in review.

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step… and a librarian to point the way

Fresh off providing educational materials for last summer’s Shakespeare on the Square Festival, we entered into the Fall with excitement. We assembled a crack staff of teaching artists and educators and boldly took our first steps forward. Our first opportunity brought us to the newly constructed East Carnegie Branch of the San Jose Public Library on a cold, crisp October day. Over the course of a two-hour workshop, over twenty children constructed their own unique monster puppets and learned how to give them life and character through voice and movement. The monsters all made it home for Halloween and the kids had a blast.

Some strings attached…and that is just fine

The Willow Glen Branch of the San Jose Library contacted us about the possibility of a puppet workshop, similar to the one we provided for East Carnegie. We told them about a new variation to the workshop and they were interested. Focusing on marionette puppetry, the Arclight teaching artists helped the kids craft their own paper marionettes, based on famous story-book characters. Once they had made their puppets, the children learned the basics of marionette manipulation, using the traditional stick and string set-up. Big Bad Wolves chased Ugly Ducklings around the room while young puppeteers laughed.

They all became swans…

Del Roble Elementary School is an old friend to Arclight Repertory and when they contacted us and asked us to return this year for a series of acting workshops, we leapt at the opportunity. The workshops began with theatre games, getting the young actors used to the vocabulary of acting and the basic skills needed to bring their characters to life. Then, the students began to work on their scenes and monologues, taken from the famous folk-tale “The Ugly Duckling.” After polishing their character work, the students performed for a room packed full of friends, parents, and teachers. The progress of these young actors and actresses was astonishing to behold, and we’re sure that this will not be the last performance for many of these talented young people.

Need a refill on that lemonade? Cushion for the porch swing? Nope? Ok, just checking.

Scripts? We don’t need no stinking scripts!

Nothing brightens up the dark winter days like a good laugh. We had the opportunity to offer an introduction to improv acting class at the East Carnegie Library towards the end of the winter days. The class was our first general acting class at a library and we were delighted to see such a large number of adults alongside young children for the class. Improv games, comic timing, and quick thinking were the orders of the day and the time flew by for everybody involved. This great workshop actually gave us the idea for our series of adult acting classes and public speaking workshops that will be coming this year

Fate or Fault? You make the call.

One of the great, defining questions of studying Shakespearean tragedies is the role that Fate plays in determining the outcome for characters. The fundamental question of whether characters are condemned by Fate or suffer as a result of their own actions is something that scholars have argued over for years. Now, the middle school students of The Harker School can weigh in as well, having seen the Arclight assembly program, Fate or Fault. In the play, Shakespeare’s two daughters argue over whether tragedy is predestined by Fate or whether people’s actions determine the course of events as seen in Julius Caesar and Romeo and Juliet. The show was funny and thought-provoking and we will be returning to Fate or Fault next year, perhaps with some different tragedies to add to the argument.

A real Cinderella Story…

Our second assembly program of the year was performed at the Castro School in Mountain View in the spring. The show is called When the Shoe Fits and it is an exploration of Cinderella stories from different cultures. The talented cast brought the script to life, to the enjoyment of the audience of kindergarten, first, and second graders. When the Shoe Fits is available this coming year as well, and is a great starting point for a discussion on fairy-tales and comparative folk-lore.

So there you go. Quite a year for us here at Arclight Education. And we would not have had it any other way. The chance to work with so many different schools and libraries was something special for us, and the children we taught made this a terrific first year if programming.

And this was only the beginning. Over the next few weeks, we will be keeping you informed of some of the upcoming projects Arclight Repertory Education is developing and give you a sneak peek at some of the surprises to come. So enjoy the summer sun, and that porch swing. When you head back to school, we’ll see you there.

Mark Gelineau

Education Director

Arclight Repertory Theatre