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New Victory Blog

The New Victory Blog is a place to learn more about New York's theater for families and the shows we produce. Find out what we do and what we're passionate about—exploring the arts as a family.


In New York, the state mandates that twenty percent of lower elementary school needs to be spent in arts education. Twenty percent, if you do the math, is one full day a week. In New York City, few schools are compliant with the state's mandate. This means that cultural institutions in New York City have never been more important.

Cultural institutions are filling the gap where, in fact, certified teachers are supposed to be. In many cases they are providing the only theater that these students will be introduced to. While cultural institutions are doing an admirable job introducing kids to the arts, nothing replaces regular, regimented classes in schools. 

Arts programming in schools is an ongoing challenge. However. the arts are not a privilege, but a right. Sadly, arts education doesn't rank high on many people's priority list. My goal has been making the arts a priority in our schools. Having said that, one of the things we have to think about is just how we judge the quality of a school's arts education program. One of the things I have talked about is a report called the "The Qualities of Quality" by lead researcher Steve Seidel. The focus of the report is on quality teaching and learning in the arts. Basically, the report has told us that there are four indicators of quality in arts education.

One: The Environment
Is the environment appropriate for the art form being taught? If students are taking dance, is the floor appropriate? For theater, is the space flexible with movable furniture? For visual arts, does the room have a sink?

Additionally, where do the arts live in the building? Are they a priority, or are they marginalized? Are they considered a core subject or simply an enrichment?

Two: Engagement
Are the students engaged? Are they participating in art making? Are the teachers engaging? The report states that students decide to engage in the first 3–5 minutes of a lesson. If you lose them in the first 3–5 minutes, you've lost them for the entire class period.

 

Victory Dance
New Victory Teaching Artist Shelah Marie leads a classroom workshop for Mother Africa
Three (the one I find particularly important): Relationships
Not just the relationship the teachers have with their students, but the relationships that the students have with one another. The teacher's job is not done if they do a good job building relationships with their students, but the students have not developed healthy relationships among themselves. The teachers must understand the importance of all relationships: relationships with parents, administrators, among and between students, and between faculty.

Four (makes people nervous): Knowledge
Do practitioners actually know what they are teaching? In some cases, we have the English teacher teaching Shakespeare. This might be the only theater class in the building! That doesn't mean the English teacher doesn't know and understand theater, but he or she is not a certified theater teacher. In some cases you have the physical education teacher introducing students to dance. Again, we might have a great physical education teacher who's good at dance, but chances are they don't have formal dance training. Knowledge is important in making sure that our teachers actually know what it is they're teaching.

The same four principles apply to the work of teaching artists. Seidel came to New York a few years back to report out some of his earlier findings. He said when teachers really knew their subject, when the students were actively engaged and when strong relationships were built–he said there was LOVE in the room. Not something that can be included in a research report, but you could feel it in the room. It's interesting to me that people frown upon using the word "love" when talking about teaching and learning. What does that say about the current state of education?

Photos: Alexis Buatti-Ramos | This post was originally seen on the New Vic blog in 2010. 
 
 
Russell Granet Russell Granet, Executive Vice President, Lincoln Center (LC), is internationally known for his work in arts and education. He oversees education, community engagement, and international at LC. An enthusiastic, respected advocate for arts education for more than 25 years, Mr. Granet joined Lincoln Center after running his own international consulting group, Arts Education Resource (AER). Since his appointment in September 2012, he has spearheaded Lincoln Center Education’s highly successful fundraising efforts, its renovation, and the rebranding initiative that simultaneously confirms Lincoln Center’s educational mission and its message of dedication to bringing quality arts to the widest possible audience. 

Prior to founding AER, Mr. Granet held leadership positions at The Center for Arts Education—The NYC Annenberg Challenge; The American Place Theatre; and was a senior teaching artist in the NYC public schools. He served on faculty of the Steinhardt School of Education at New York University for twenty years.

Mr. Granet has worked on projects in Argentina, Australia, Egypt, England, India, Kenya, Mexico, South Korea, Tanzania, Turkey, and throughout the United States. Mr. Granet’s leadership was cited as “visionary” in the 2013 Proclamation by the City of New York and currently serves as an advisor to the NYC Mayor’s Cabinet for Children.  

 
Posted by Beth Henderson
Written by Diane Paulus, Artistic Director of the American Repertory Theater (A.R.T.) at Harvard University.

I was in grad school assisting Andrei Serban in France and we were doing Massenet’s opera Thaïs. It was the premiere and at the end of the first act there was this pause. Someone from the top ring stood up and screamed down to the stage "Mettre en scène au toilette" which [roughly] means "The direction is in the toilet!" When it was over I went backstage and the French stage manager said, "I'm so sorry. That was so embarrassing." And I said "It’s great! I wish we could be like this in America."

It’s a terrifying thing to really take audience participation that far, but it's something that excites me. If they want to quietly watch, that's fine. However, if they want to stand up, cheer, boo or talk, they should be able to. An audience should be free to have any organic response. I often think of my experience with kids as an example. 

Once, I had a small company out of grad school and we were performing a melodramatic version of Frankenstein. One of the collaborators, Alfred Preisser, used to run The Classical Theater of Harlem and was a teacher at The Harlem School for the Arts. So, on Halloween, we were invited to do the show in the lobby of the school.

There were about 500 kids in this atrium—it wasn't even a theater. The kids went wild. My collaborator Randy and I were there and we were just amazed that the kids were screaming at the monster, "Don't do it! Run! Run!" When the villagers in the play tried to burn the monster and all the kids were screaming, I was amazed as an impressionable young director. It was so alive. The kids were so unedited; they were just talking to actors from the get-go. To me it was the most incredible, pure theatrical interaction. 

Then, the next day, Alfred came down to the theater. "Boy did I get my hand slapped for that experience," he said. "We were trying to teach the kids in the school to be well behaved in the theater. You are quiet, you pay attention, you do not talk to the performers."

I often think about this because I want audiences to have passion. I want them to care about their theater as much as they care about their sports—like when you go to a sporting event and the people scream, "The referee is wrong! Play better!" The kind of passion for a team that comes from those fans is invigorating. They care about it, they know it, they're in on it. What is the etiquette we're teaching kids about the theater?

Of course I get it—it's not always appropriate to go to the theater and scream and hoot and holler. However, I think sometimes we say, "I do theater and here are the rules." I think there is room for all different kinds of theater. I'm not saying all theater should be loud, noisy, interactive or on your feet. But I'm always trying to say don't assume theater is just 'this,' that these are the rules. Keep looking at theater as a broader definition or how can you expand that definition of theater. 

It's such an important thing to turn kids on to theater in the right way.

Editor's Note: This post first appeared as two separate posts on our blog during our 2011-12 Season. It has been edited for clarity.

Diane Paulus is the Terrie and Bradley Bloom Artistic Director of the American Repertory Theater (A.R.T.) at Harvard University, and was selected for the 2014 TIME 100, TIME Magazine’s annual list of the 100 most influential people in the world. Paulus is the 2013 recipient of the Tony Award for Best Director of a Musical (Pippin). A.R.T.: Waitress (currently on Broadway at the Brooks Atkinson Theater), Crossing (a new American opera with music and libretto by Matt Aucoin), Finding Neverland (currently on Broadway at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre), Witness Uganda, Pippin, The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess, Prometheus Bound, Death and the Powers: The Robots’ Opera, Best of Both Worlds, Johnny Baseball, The Donkey Show. Her other recent work includes Cirque du Soleil’s Amaluna, currently on tour in Europe, Invisible Thread at Second Stage, The Public Theater’s Tony Award-winning revival of HAIR on Broadway and London’s West End. As an opera director, her credits include The Magic Flute, the complete Monteverdi cycle, and the trio of Mozart-Da Ponte operas, among others. Diane is Professor of the Practice of Theater in Harvard University’s English Department. She was selected as one of Variety’s “Trailblazing Women in Entertainment for 2014” and Boston Magazine’s "50 Thought Leaders of 2014."
 
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