Words. Ideas. Action.

I love words. They excite me. I love to feel them in my mouth when I speak and I absolutely love listening to their musicality…consonants and vowels playing off each other. It isn’t just an auditory thing though. I would say I’m a true logophile. I love reading the written word, seeing how the letters build upon each other and make shapes that will represent the greater word which represents a greater thought which leads to the concrete manifestation of an idea. …it makes my pulse race just to think about it. I believe in words because I believe that they should not be said or written lightly. Words are a powerful representation; they symbolize in a gorgeous way what is or will be reality.
I say all of this because I am currently raging. I am absolutely frustrated by the everyday misuse and abuse of words. I’m not even talking about when people choose their words in such a crafty way as to purposely mislead and deceive – oh no! I’m talking about the manner in which people are literally stripping words of their meaning. The way which people throw words around in type or speak mindlessly…with no care in whats been said or intent to follow through with what their words have professed. A typical example would be the very common question, “How are you?” People SAY it all the time. Most of the time they don’t even care to know…SOMEtimes people don’t even realize they’ve said it! The reply is usually just about as devoid of meaning….and I HATE that! That makes me sad. Those words exist so that you can genuinely reach out to your fellow human beings and inquire as to their state of being, just as the words exist so that you can express how you are feeling. Maybe you really are “fine” or “ok”…but usually if you give it some thought, other words will come to mind. You may be wondering what has spurred this little rant that has truly been brewing inside of me for a very long time, but honestly, it isn’t one thing. It’s so many. It’s being disgusted at people’s surprise when I follow through with what I have agreed to in written or spoken word…because they usually don’t expect me to. I constantly hear, “well, a lot of people SAY they’ll do this or that…” That leaves me disgruntled. However, I also get testy when people use their words to “tell me what I want to hear”…with (what I come to find out) absolutely no intention of following through. Yes, I love to hear words hahaha, I’ve already stated that – and of course, I love to hear them with the thoughts I find pleasing attached to them…but not if they are false/empty…that is word abuse!!! I only ask that people be kind and thoughtful with their words…if that sometimes means using words to form sentences to represent ideas that people (me included) aren’t necessarily going to like, have the courage and decency to use them anyway! Have the fortitude to back up your actions with words that align. I adore words. …but sometimes I find myself hating them because of the flippant attitude others treat them with. It’s sad. It breaks my heart in so many ways.
I think people are so disgracious with words because they detach them from the concrete thing which they symbolize. (okay…not everything is concrete…like love, hate, etc. – but bear with me) As a performer, I was constantly told: “Don’t tell me, show me!” …and as an educator, I often request the same from my students. – and it isn’t because I suddenly stopped loving words. It’s because the two are supposed to work together. Their relationship is symbiotic. We need both. When we do not use them in sync with one another, confusion and chaos happens… Fortunately, actions are not as easily deceiving as words – although magicians and the like are able to pull it off 😉 …this leaves words. Words. Words. Words. …and people are so careless. Literally…without any care for how they are using them, what words they’re using…sometimes they don’t even know what they said or wrote because it was that devoid of meaning to them…
All I can do is request that we all take more care with the words we use. Use them with purpose. Be respectful and thoughtful with them and you’ll be amazed where they can take you!

Fountain of Youth?

I am a 29 year old female teaching artist/facilitator/performer who doesn’t look her age. For many reasons, my young appearance is a boon. First of all, personally it’s flattering that I don’t “look my age” – it is also beneficial in selling myself as an artist who teaches and works with young people, as well as helping gain employment as a performer. However, my appearance also has its drawbacks for work that is very important to me and dear to my heart.
One of my passions coming out of my graduate studies at the University of Central Florida is community-engaged theatre practices, specifically working with teenaged children using theatre for social change ideas/practices. One of my constant struggles as an artist/facilitator in these settings is harnessing my power as a leader/facilitator quickly because the students see me “as one of their peers” or “being a young, powerless female”. It irks me. A lot. The immediate power that male facilitators or older female facilitators have when they walk into a room is something I have to fight for.
While this has been something that I have taken note of over the past 2 years, I have had the wonderful luxury of working with most of my teenage groups over a long period of time. In time, usually after at least 2 sessions, the students get to know me better and will give me their respect, attention, and cooperation. Over LONG periods of time, we were able to create a small community together that is productive, creative, and beneficial for everyone involved.
Lately, however, I’ve begun to take part in a series of workshops that are one-time deals. I only get 2 hours with each group of students during which time many of them will experience a drama workshop like this for the first time and be exposed to the idea of sharing, empathy, and communication. It’s not an easy thing – for me or for the participants. Key to achieving the maximum benefits of the workshop is quickly establishing the students’ trust in me as a facilitator. However, they take one look at me and often decide right then to write me off. I see it in their eyes. Many times I can get their attention when I begin speaking and leading them through warm-up activities….however, there are the classes that once they decide I’m not worth listening to based on that impulse judgment require MUCH more than 2 hours to change their minds.
Here is my dilemma. How can I change this snap judgment? Is the answer to change my appearance? Perhaps that is my best option for these very short, one time deals. I’ve considered having an authority figure at the schools in question introduce me to the class as a method for quickly establishing this. However, I don’t want to be dependent upon another adult. Or perhaps that is being too proud on my part. Over the next few weeks I will experiment with various ideas to see what may improve this situation. I am very open to any ideas/suggestions you may have.
My work is very important to me and making sure that the students I interact with are getting the full benefits of the programs I am leading is vital. I must find a facilitation style that is still true to “me” but is also able to adapt much more quickly to these situations.

A Code of Ethics for Teaching Artists?

Last week I participated in a workshop geared towards Engineers in which the topic of conversation was Ethics. In this workshop, several different Codes were presented from varying countries, etc. As I listened my mind could not help to wander to my own profession…to my knowledge, no Code of Ethics exists. There is no equivalent of a Hippocratic Oath for the Teaching Artist profession…and I earnestly feel that what we do is no less crucial to life and the well-being of those we work with. Is it enough that each individual artist produce their own Code of Ethics? Should there be a standardized code that everyone knows and adheres to? I think about the principles that I bring to my work and what I believe in…should there be a shared buy in to that across the board? For further food for thought I’m going to paste in the National Education Associations Code of Ethics for teachers, as well as the National Art Education Associations Code of Ethics for Art Educators:

NEA

Code of Ethics
Preamble
The National Education Association believes that the education profession consists of one education workforce serving the needs of all students and that the term ‘educator’ includes education support professionals.

The educator, believing in the worth and dignity of each human being, recognizes the supreme importance of the pursuit of truth, devotion to excellence, and the nurture of the democratic principles. Essential to these goals is the protection of freedom to learn and to teach and the guarantee of equal educational opportunity for all. The educator accepts the responsibility to adhere to the highest ethical standards.

The educator recognizes the magnitude of the responsibility inherent in the teaching process. The desire for the respect and confidence of one’s colleagues, of students, of parents, and of the members of the community provides the incentive to attain and maintain the highest possible degree of ethical conduct. The Code of Ethics of the Education Profession indicates the aspiration of all educators and provides standards by which to judge conduct.

The remedies specified by the NEA and/or its affiliates for the violation of any provision of this Code shall be exclusive and no such provision shall be enforceable in any form other than the one specifically designated by the NEA or its affiliates.

PRINCIPLE I
Commitment to the Student
The educator strives to help each student realize his or her potential as a worthy and effective member of society. The educator therefore works to stimulate the spirit of inquiry, the acquisition of knowledge and understanding, and the thoughtful formulation of worthy goals.

In fulfillment of the obligation to the student, the educator–

1. Shall not unreasonably restrain the student from independent action in the pursuit of learning.

2. Shall not unreasonably deny the student’s access to varying points of view.

3. Shall not deliberately suppress or distort subject matter relevant to the student’s progress.

4. Shall make reasonable effort to protect the student from conditions harmful to learning or to health and safety.

5. Shall not intentionally expose the student to embarrassment or disparagement.

6. Shall not on the basis of race, color, creed, sex, national origin, marital status, political or religious beliefs, family, social or cultural background, or sexual orientation, unfairly–

Exclude any student from participation in any program
Deny benefits to any student
Grant any advantage to any student
7. Shall not use professional relationships with students for private advantage.

8. Shall not disclose information about students obtained in the course of professional service unless disclosure serves a compelling professional purpose or is required by law.

PRINCIPLE II
Commitment to the Profession
The education profession is vested by the public with a trust and responsibility requiring the highest ideals of professional service.

In the belief that the quality of the services of the education profession directly influences the nation and its citizens, the educator shall exert every effort to raise professional standards, to promote a climate that encourages the exercise of professional judgment, to achieve conditions that attract persons worthy of the trust to careers in education, and to assist in preventing the practice of the profession by unqualified persons.

In fulfillment of the obligation to the profession, the educator–

1. Shall not in an application for a professional position deliberately make a false statement or fail to disclose a material fact related to competency and qualifications.

2. Shall not misrepresent his/her professional qualifications.

3. Shall not assist any entry into the profession of a person known to be unqualified in respect to character, education, or other relevant attribute.

4. Shall not knowingly make a false statement concerning the qualifications of a candidate for a professional position.

5. Shall not assist a noneducator in the unauthorized practice of teaching.

6. Shall not disclose information about colleagues obtained in the course of professional service unless disclosure serves a compelling professional purpose or is required by law.

7. Shall not knowingly make false or malicious statements about a colleague.

8. Shall not accept any gratuity, gift, or favor that might impair or appear to influence professional decisions or action.

Adopted by the NEA 1975 Representative Assembly

NaeA

A PROFESSIONAL ART EDUCATOR . . .
1.  Demonstrates honesty and integrity in all profession endeavors.
2.  Promotes art as a basic discipline in the education of all students.
3.  Advocates art instruction by certified art educators.
4.  Fosters art instruction that includes the study of aesthetics, art criticism, art history, and art production.
5.  Respects individual artistic expressions and encourages feelings of self-worth and self-confidence.
6.  Safeguards against exploitation of art programs and students.
7.  Makes every effort to provide a safe, hazard-free learning environment.
8.  Demonstrates effort and commitment to the profession.
9.  Continues personal and professional development.
10.  Seeks ways to advance the profession of art education through membership and participation in local,  state and professional associations.
11.  Contributes actively to the support, planning and programs of the professional organizations.
12. Distinguishes between personal and organizational views when representing the art education profession.

The Professional Code for Art Educators was created by the Professional Standards Committee of the Delegates Assembly and approved by the Board of Directors in the Fall of 1986.

In conclusion, I believe I am going to work toward creating a Code of Ethics in the next couple weeks/months (I’ll give it as long as it needs investigation) and I’ll post when I’ve produced something worth scrutiny…perhaps it could be the start of something bigger…but at any rate it will be worthwhile to suss these things out for myself 🙂

 

PS. If you’re interested in this as well and would like to compare notes/collaborate….please let me know!

An Ethical Dilemma

For the last two weeks I have worked with a group of young people who are very dear to my heart. I don’t know most of these young people yet, only a few, but the organization through which I am working with them is WONDERFUL and I adore all of the kids that come through there. As of late, I have been having a huge ethical dilemma about the work that I am doing there…and truthfully…have since we first began planning the series of workshops for this fall.

Every year there is a Benefit Dinner held to help raise money for this organization and every year the kids are forced to sing in front of all the people who attend…which makes them feel awkward and uncomfortable. So…and I loved this, this year, it was decided that they wouldn’t have to sing, but instead an alternative performance piece would be created. This is where myself and my co-facilitator were brought in. I came in with ideas…tons…but mostly expressed the need for TIME with these young people…and this was even when I was thinking that a majority were the same from last year and they’d have a years worth of experience with me….not the case, but I digress. We were told we had 9 weeks of 1.5 hour sessions to work with the young people, boys and girls seperately to create a piece that they could perform. When it was further divided, we would have 3 weeks with the boys, 3 with the girls, and 3 weeks to put everything together…my doubts are creeping in…but I’m going along…

…now, 2 weeks in, I find myself pondering the good that these workshops are bringing to these boys. I walked into a situation where I thought I would be working with 8 young men I had worked with last year, to 26 young men, only 3 of whom I knew…and in 4.5 hours total, I’m supposed to get them to share stories about their pasts (which, for the most part…are rough…there is a reason why they are living where they are…) and their hopes for the future. They don’t know me. Yet. They don’t trust me. Yet. Most of them don’t know each other! They are new to each other…and herein is where I find myself at an ethical dilemma…I feel like I’m asking WAY too much of them in such a short amount of time…I’m asking them to risk SOOOO much in such a short time without really giving them time to get comfortable and adjusted to their new surrounding, to working with me in this new way…everything. I walked away yesterday feeling almost as if I had used them…I sucked out the information that was needed for this Benefit performance and…that was it. Is that how they felt? How do they feel about this process? ..is it benefiting them the way it should?…and I ask myself all these things…and I wonder if I should be doing it…but then, what if the assignment is given to a facilitator who doesn’t care about these things…who doesn’t care about THEM?

Needless to say, I’m going to continue through…but, I wonder about this way of working…that its not really beneficial…that we are using the techniques and using the students as a means to an end for US….instead of an outlet for creativity and expression and socialization for them…I fear that the focus isn’t in the right place…and it bothers me.

Practical Theory…

I had an interesting conversation yesterday with a colleague and friend of mine about what it takes to be a good facilitator and or teacher. We all know it when we see it…and often times we write it off as being some innate talent or ability that the person possesses, dismissing the possibility that it could be something that is learned. At the same time we discussed how we have been in room with very well educated people who have large amounts of academic theory backing them up, and yet they are unable to connect with participants/students. So, there is a gap. How much of great facilitation/teaching is instinctual and how much can be learned?

Personally, I find myself drawn to the work. I feel it in my bones and my breath and my  heartbeat. Suffice to say, I would count myself as an instinctual facilitator/teacher, however, because I do have such a desire to honor the people I work with, I have made a point to educate myself in order to be the best that I can. Even so, I sometimes feel the disconnect between theory and practice. Perhaps because sometimes the people writing about the work aren’t the people DOING the work.

I suppose this blog is a call to artists and practitioners to begin writing about their work, journaling about their process, and sharing. It is so easy to get wrapped up in a bubble of the work that you are doing and forget to check in with what other artists are up to. Also, there are a great many artists and facilitators and teacher who don’t think to chronicle their work because they don’t even realize how revolutionary it is…they do it because they love the communities they are working with, not to gain fame or notoriety by publishing, etc. However, I believe that it is important that these people start writing, start sharing…because  in doing so it will enrich the quality of the theoretical academic learning that current students, like myself are receiving. It will help create a new generation of facilitators and teachers who are informed by theory rooted in practice.

Ablevision Ireland Workshops

Getting ready to warm up and start the day.

For the past 2 days I have had the amazing opportunity to lead workshops with a group from Ablevision Ireland. This is a program that works solely with adults with learning disabilities. They have set up 2-week long summer camps to culminate in the production of a film created by the participants. I was brought in on the first day to lead a session that would help the participants get to know each other better – and aid in communication and collaboration amongst the participants and staff. I wasn’t given the specifics of how many people I would be working with or specifics about the various disabilities that would be represented. I was unsure about how quickly the workshop would progress or how much I could fit into such a short amount of time. We ended up having time for 5 activities, the most successful of which I feel was “The thing you don’t know about me is…” Surprisingly, it was enough excitement trying to find a new place and not be left in the middle to keep everyone excited and involved. I also felt like it allowed for the most amount of learning about the others in the room. We also played peas in a pod, but this required mingling and socializing one on one in a large group and I observed that many participants were not engaging with each other, unwilling to step out on their own amidst the crowd. Oddly enough, most of them were okay being the complete center of attention in the other activities!
Today’s workshop was centered on expression and storytelling. Tableaux work was a little difficult due to a great amount of mimicking when they were a “statue garden”…however, when they were divided into groups and given topics themes like love/hate/home/etc. the images began to have much more depth. Most of the time when I use this activity groups are very concerned with “getting it right/wrong”…and for the first time, that wasn’t the case. Each group’s tableaux was a little different, some abstract some more real…but there was a general appreciation, as well as an understanding of the feeling of the pieces – if the theme/word wasn’t guessed outright. For the last half of the workshop we focused on storytelling. I began by having the participants draw a self-portrait with their eyes closed. Afterwards they had to guess which one was theirs (there WAS some peeking going on). However, I was able to get most participants to talk about distinguishing features in their pictures that set them apart from others. The next step was for each participant to tell a story about their picture, it could be true or fictional, but all of them were required to share….it was the last 30 minutes that completely blew my mind! Not only did each one of them get up without complaining or trying to hide, but they shared such HUGE parts of themselves! On participant, who was talking about his love of singing and telling the story of singing in a pub began singing for the room! It was amazing to see this group, that had been so shy only yesterday become so expressive and trusting with each other. I was floored. I will never, ever forget their stories. …luckily there was a documentary crew filming the whole thing and the gentleman promised to send me the footage of their presentations!
I’m not going to lie…even this morning I was pondering over the possible success of this workshop and how I would measure the success of it…and I am not sitting here completely floored at just how successful it was. I was trying so hard in my planning not to underestimate the group I was working with that I was a bit afraid that I may have gone too far in the opposite direction. Fortunately, each participant rose to the challenges that were put in front of them.
The one thing that I am struggling with and I feel was a bit of a setback both days was the level of involvement by the caretakers…some were very involved in a productive way (allowing and aiding participants to answer for themselves and make their own choices), some were involved and telling participants exactly what to do, and some were there, but made it clear that they wanted nothing to do with what was happening. Clearly, the first type of caretaker was my favorite. It just makes me think that in the future, I should speak to the caretakers separately prior to the workshops to let them know what they are in for and how they can best help. That said, all of the participants were engaged and appeared to enjoy the workshops. Some were very obvious because they were laughing, smiling, and told me as much…but others, who often appeared to be more detached made it clear that they understood through the sharing of their ideas and stories.
I’m supposed to be done with this group today…but as always I get so very attached…I’m headed back through Drogheda next week and I imagine I’ll be popping in to say hello! Meanwhile, my rainbow is blazing!

Musings on my Upstate experience so far…

Since coming to work at Upstate Theatre Project I have had the opportunity to come into contact with several brilliant community-engaged artists and practitioners, and I have been able to work very closely with Delcan Mallon, co-founder and Artistic Director of Upstate. I have been immensely inspired by these people. What is more is that I have been able to dialogue about the work that is happening; the inspirational stories, the setbacks, the planning, archiving. I’ve also been able to see the differences in how projects are funded in Ireland, as well as how individual artists support themselves.
The most significant thing that has stuck out to me is just how integrated with the community Upstate is. This is not only a company that invites participants from the community to take part in creating work. The company doesn’t work one way. Since being here I have observed Declan taking an active part in the community. He (and I) attend meetings with a group called Culture Connect, who are dedicated to bridging connections between immigrants and the Irish people. In the three weeks I’ve been here we have also supported launching events for other arts organizations, as well as community centers, and fundraisers for local youth centers. This experience has just fully made me realize that working in community-engaged theatre is not about just engaging with the community for the purposes of making art, but about engaging with the community in every way – this is especially true for a company that is based in one place. However, the artists from Dublin that come down to facilitate/direct for Upstate have also become intertwined in this community, despite the fact that they do not live here. It makes me think about just how strong the bonds and connections that are made during the process of creating art are. I feel like it isn’t really such a bad thing that I become so fond of the people I work with and grow to care about them so much. Looking at the examples I have seen in the past three weeks, I feel like it can only lead me to be a stronger practitioner in this field.
Last week we had a meeting with Louise Lowe. She has been highly recognized for her work, and luckily, she works with Upstate quite a bit. The meeting was concerning the project she is going to work on for the upcoming season. The theme is going to be “home” and the initial concept was that it would be a piece for females only. What was interesting during this meeting was all of the considerations that were coming into play. Declan is very excited about site-specific projects and has been wanting to do a piece in the “ghost properties” that were built during the Celtic Tiger and now stand empty because the economy just dropped. He was in talks about getting access to an apartment building, however, Louise was concerned that there may be people in the community that would be highly disturbed, and was that something the company wanted to contend with? Apparently there were many people who had paid deposits on that building of 25,000 euro who lost all their money and were never able to move into their homes. How would they feel if suddenly a theatre company had access to the apartment they paid for and never got to move into? How would that change/shape the piece? Additionally, due to the economy and men being out of work in the construction industry, more men are staying at home and fulfilling the traditional “female” role in the family. How does that change the piece? This meeting lasted for several hours and it was conversation like this going around. Such exciting ideas, considerations. It really brought to light the delicacy of this work; that you really must take care because peoples’ lives are impacted and their feelings must be considered. It also brings to light questions of just how “political” you want to be with a project.
In the past 2-3 days I have spent time viewing and editing footage from precious Upstate productions, interviews with the participants from various productions, and footage of the rehearsals. Time and again, the participants state the significance this experience has had on their lives. Many state their shared ownership of the pieces with their fellow participants and speak to the power of finding their creativity and how important it is that they are heard. Its inspiring beyond words. A great, and amazing side-effect of this kind of work are the bonds and the communities that are built during the process. This is done over a long period of time through a series of workshops. Something that keeps sticking out to me though is participants acknowledging and being grateful for this newfound community, but then saying that they thought too much time was spent in workshopping, “playing games to get to know each other better.” Isn’t that interesting? However, if you take that away, you are taking away the community-building…which is a side-effect appreciated and valued by all. Despite going through an amazing process with a group of people, it seems that the end-product is what becomes the most important…atleast during the time of the interviews (which have all been right after the production). I wonder if perhaps these people were interviewed years later, they might speak more about the importance of the process…certainly they would have more memories of it. …just a thought…of course, I am biased. I have ALWAYS loved the process of making art more than the actual performance. Even as a child it was the process I loved most and now, remember most…growing in an art with others, others who became friends….some of the dearest I have…playing and experimenting with the art form…it makes me sad that somehow this beautiful process has simply become a race to get to an end-product – as if that is all that matters…just as in life…people seem to be rushing through everything, and while doing so, life is passing them by.