What is a taboo when working with youth? Drugs? Sex? Violence? Scientific Theory? Broken homes? “Cursing”?…feelings and attitudes towards these topics (and more) shift depending on where you are and who you are….which makes the subject quite sticky..it also makes it difficult for theatre companies and artists working with youth to navigate what is and is not appropriate subject matter to concern themselves with in order to placate the largest number of patrons. What one gatekeeper might find totally appropriate, another might have a huge problem with!
Personally, I feel like there are no “taboos” when working with youth…or anyone for that matter. Life is about questioning and growing and learning…exposing yourself to all that is out there. When we grow up we develop a very “idealized” concept of what childhood is or should be. It comes from a good place, I think…wanting to shield/protect young people from what can be the harsh realities of life…so afraid that they will “grow up to soon” or become jaded somehow. The truth is, some topics can be A LOT for ANYONE to handle or process…regardless of age. The key is to be there and be willing to discuss and explore the thoughts and feelings that these topics spark. Yes, sometimes those conversations can be difficult…and awkward…and uncomfortable…yet, necessary.
So, no…I’m not saying that we should just thrust violent, sexual images in front of our children with no explanation…I’m saying that I believe that children comprehend and see and are exposed to a great deal more than most of us care to admit…and that the most responsible thing to do is make sure that this exposure also comes with an openness and willingness to talk, question, and unpack these emotions together so that as people grow, they learn to process information, form their own opinions, and make informed choices…
I, for one, am an eternal optimist. I can’t help it. Upon initially meeting me, most people get the impression it is because I am not exposed to any “unpleasantness” in life…that my world is full of rainbows and puppy dogs. However, hold a real conversation with me, get to know me better and you will see that this simply is not the case…in fact, its where the title of this blog came from….my colleague Brandon looked at me one day and said, ‘You’re not just a rainbow, Courtney…you’re a rainbow on FIRE!!!” ….and yes, I am 😉
When it comes to arts education and integrating arts into school systems, maybe we are arguing the WRONG thing. There has been so much talk about the arts being a “basic” school subject…and even policy saying that it is…and yet, it is rarely treated as such…and maybe because we are trying to put apples and oranges in the same blender and only expecting apple juice to come out. What I mean is that, yes, I feel the arts are basic…but not in the same way that math, science, or language arts are basic and therefore they cannot be treated in the same manner or handled the same way. Math, science, and language arts are subjects that provide students with basic skills to be able to live in the society that man has created….whereas, I might argue that the arts are basic in the same way that history is considered (and looked upon with the same air of distinction as math, etc.) basic. The subject of history informs students about the human experience thus far…and the subject of the arts informs students about the human experience now and where it is headed. The arts allow for experience…and in that, there is growth that cannot be quantified because it is unique and individual to every person. Because of this private and individual experience, there is no one test or exam that is “across the board” that can “measure” success or failure…but then again, you can’t think of it in those terms. I would strongly urge, however, that all those in the arts field who are teachers/facilitators/sharers of the arts to encourage their students to somehow (verbally, written, visually) journal this experience and reflect upon what they have learned and the knowledge they have gained…then, in the power of the personal narrative, the strength and vitality of the arts will truly be seen and recognized.
Today I was lucky enough to facilitate a reading of Everyman II at the Edgewood Childrens Ranch. This is significant because this is the show that I will be directing at the ranch with the kids in role and it the first production that will be held at the ranch. (for more info. on the place and these amazing kids, go to (http://edgewoodranch.com/) My amazing adviser Diane thought up this crazy idea to do a Readers Theatre performance of the script for the kids to kind of introduce them to it and perhaps give them an idea as to how it could sound/look. I was able to assemble 12 readers for this performance; 6 “house” parents at the ranch, 5 wonderfully talented theatre students at UCF, and 1 amazing actress from the Orlando Rep.
Going into this reading I knew that it needed to be big and entertaining AND honest. I asked my friends who joined the house parents to be BOLD and to not shy away at all in their portrayals of Beauty, Wealth, Death, Discretion, God, the 5 Wits, Good Deeds, etc. The reading that took place was a thing of great beauty, and while watching it…I could feel my rainbow sparking on fire. It occurred to me this evening that it is the wonderful and beautiful people around me that help stoke the flames in my fire! That without the creativity, passion, dedication, and kindness of others in this world my rainbow would not be so brightly lit…