Tag Archives: arts in education

Doing poetry proud

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You don’t have to write poetry to enjoy it, as evidenced by the bios of nine students competing tonight (March 29) in the 2012 Arizona Poetry Out Loud finals at Phoenix Center for the Arts.

Some write poetry. Some do sports. Some enjoy performing. But all have at least one thing in common — a talent and taste for reciting poetry aloud, which is exactly what the national Poetry Out Loud program seeks to nurture in high school youth.

Here’s the rundown on this year’s Arizona finalists — courtesy of the Arizona Commission on the Arts, which presents the Arizona Poetry Out Loud finals in partnership with the Young Writers Program at ASU in Tempe and the Poetry Center at UA in Tuscon…

John DeMino of Brophy College Preparatory in Phoenix will recite “It Couldn’t Be Done” by Edgar Albert Guest and “Ego” by Denise Duhamel. DeMino is a senior who spends a lot of time performing in plays inside and outside of school. He loves to act and wishes to acquire a BFA in acting and pursue a career in the industry.

Travis Marino of Freedom Christian Academy in Queen Creek will recite “Self-Inquiry Before the Job Interview” by Gary Soto and “The Oldest Living Thing in L.A.” by Larry Levis. Marino is a 17-year-old junior. This is his second time as a finalist in the Arizona Poetry Out Loud competition. He is a prolific poet, publishing several poems portraying his passion.

Rebecca Andersen of Kingman High School in Kingman will recite “The Nymph’s Reply to the Shepherd” by Sir Walter Raleigh and “I am the People, the Mob” by Carl Sandburg. As an aspiring novelist, poetry means a great deal to Andersen. Not only does her love for Emily Dickinson possess deep roots into her childhood, but her beliefs match those of Carl Sandburg and her views of love parallel Sir Walter Raleigh. She plans on studying forensic psychology and creative writing in college.

Sophia Licher of Sedona Red Rock High School in Sedona will recite “The Albatross” by Kate Bass and “The Children’s Hour” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Licher, a sophomore, is a member of the swim team, key club and photo club. She takes private singing lessons and enjoys art, writing, music, reading, photography, hiking, archery, swimming, traveling, animals, friends, family and, last but not least, eating. She would like to study marine biology or veterinary medicine.

Mark Anthony Niadas of St. Augustine Catholic High School in Tucson will recite “The Meaning of the Shovel” by Martin Espada and “I Am!” by John Clare. Niadas is passionate about acting and has performed in several productions at St. Augustine. When not busy acting, he is working to improve his performance on the track team or spending time with friends. Mark, a member of the campus ministry, hopes to attend UNLV, Maryland State or Abilene Christian to study either business or psychology.

Cassandra Valadez of Sunnyside High School in Tucson will recite “The End of Science Fiction” by Lisel Mueller and “The Destruction of Sennacherib” by Lord Byron (George Gordon). Valadez is a leader with a passion to help others. She is a member of the National Honor Society, AVID, MESA and DECA. “I have a solid belief that through the uneven patches of my life I have picked up some of the most valuable lessons, and through the accomplishments in my life I have learned to be appreciative.”

Adriana Hurtado of Tri-City College Preparatory in Prescott will recite “Bilingual/Bilingue” by Rhina P. Espillat and “Invictus” by William Ernest Henley. Hurtado is a freshman. She is active in creative writing and is a member of the softball team.

Joshua Furtado of Tucson High Magnet School in Tucson will recite “Catch a Little Rhyme” by Eve Merriam and “Annabel Lee” by Edgar Allan Poe. Furtado is a senior and is ecstatic about performing! He would like to thank his parents for their unconditional support, as well as his wonderful English teachers, Merle McPheeters and Kurt Garbe. Furtado is an actor hoping to pursue a career in film and is planning on making the move to L.A.

India Parsons of Westview High School in Avondale will recite “The Collar” by George Herbert and “Ozymandias” by Percy Bysshe Shelley. Parsons is a senior with a passion for English and the swim team. She devotes hours every day to the exercise of her mind and body, so that she can excel in both arenas.

Two common threads emerge in the lives of those competing in this year’s Arizona Poetry Out Loud finals — an appreciation for the fine art of poetry and the choice to be engaged in their communities. One and all are doing poetry, and Arizona, proud.

— Lynn

Note: Click here to read a post with details about tonight’s event if you’d like to come out and show your support for these gifted and hard-working students — the competition is free and open to the public. Click here to explore poems, poets and more through the Poetry Foundation in Chicago.

Coming up: Celebrating National Poetry Month, Tarzan tales


Sunday at Seton

My ears perked up a few days ago when I heard talk of Seton Hall in New Jersey tied to this weekend’s NCAA “Selection Sunday.” It reminded me of a recent Sunday afternoon spent at Seton Catholic Preparatory High School in Chandler, site for day two for this year’s Raising Arizona Kids Magazine camp fair.

Before entering the school gymnasium filled with summer camp providers from Arizona and several other states, I was greeted by three very polished and professsional students who took great delight in telling me all about the school’s visual and performing arts programs. A mural painted on a nearby wall should have been my first clue. This school takes both art and athletics seriously.

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I had a great time chatting with the many camp fair exhibitors whose offerings include arts and crafts fair. Some, like Voices Studio, specialize in the performing arts. Others, including venues like Mesa Arts Center, offer camps in visual and performing arts. Many exhibitors, including city parks and recreation departments, offer the arts in addition to other popular activities like athletics.

And plenty of camps offer non-arts fare that appeals to other interests — fencing, gardening, swimming, forensic science and such. My favorite find was a camp that brought a baby goat along, who seemed perfectly content to lounge around the Graco portable crib that looked just like the one my babies used to sleep in during visits to grandma’s house.

After chatting with lots of lovely camp fair folk, I snagged a tour of Seton’s arts facilities with the school’s director of admissions. A fine arts and academic classrooms building opened last fall houses a 400-seat theatre, 14 multi-purpose classrooms, a music computer lab, two art rooms for painting and ceramics (equipped with pottery wheels), a film production studio and a fully-equipped dance studio.

Seton’s fine arts department provides classes in drama, choir, band, orchestra, dance, visual arts and computer graphics, film production and photography. They present several theater performances and hold several fine arts nights each year  — in addition to band, choir and dance festivals, as well as community arts events and a hip hop competition.

Remember to ask about arts programs, and arts integration with other academic subjects, when considering schools for your children. And to explore the offerings of all our camp fair vendors as you’re looking for programs to match your children’s needs and interests.

— Lynn

Coming up: Remembering Japan, Get Creative!

A real high school musical

Saguaro High School students rehearsing Disney's Beauty and the Beast

I went to my local hardware store the other day only to discover a flyer for an upcoming production of “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast” posted on the sliding glass doors at the front of the store — thrilled to see the business showing support for local student activities.

I learned after calling the contact on the flyer that Saguaro High School is performing “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast” Feb. 29-March 2 at 7pm. They’re performing in the school auditorium and members of the public are welcome to attend. General admission tickets are $10 (at the door, or in advance at the school bookstore).

Students performing in Disney's Beauty and the Beast at Saguaro High School

Marilyn Mumaw, who teaches in the theatre arts department at both Saguaro and Desert Mountain High Schools in Scottsdale, is directing the show — which involves about 100 students. Mumaw notes that there are more than 40 students in the cast.

A student orchestra will be playing in the pit, and students are also working backstage in various tech positions. The production involves students from every performing arts department at Saguaro High School — theater, choir, dance, orchestra and band.

“Every other year we do a large scale musical,” says Mumaw. They do a “mainstage musical” every fall — and tour a children’s production each January to local elementary schools and community sites such as homeless shelters.

The Saguaro High School students have been working on “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast” for just under two months. Mumaw notes that they start off rehearsing close to three hours everyday weekday, and add more hours as opening night approaches.

Cast members are selected through an audition process, says Mumaw. One day they sing, the next day they read from the script. Cast members are chosen after callbacks. Mumaw says “it’s amazing how much kids grow” between the time they start rehearsing and the day they open the show.

Mumaw hails theater for helping students to “create a sense of self-identity and confidence,” noting that these are skills they’ll use “no matter what they go into.” She adds that theater teaches kids to work as a team, take initiative and act responsibly — sharing that theater kids also learn leadership and public speaking skills.

If you’re eager to support arts in education, encourage students who work hard to achieve a common goal and share the love with teachers who foster student creativity, head to Saguaro High School next week for a real high school musical.

— Lynn

Note: Desert Foothills Theater’s Teatro Gecko performs “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast Jr.” May 17-27. Click here for information on auditions taking place Feb. 24 & 25.

Coming up: More arts in education

Rock the Presidents!

Childsplay's "Rock the Presidents" set designed by Holly Winginstad

Though Dwayne Hartford and Anthony Runfola of Childsplay in Tempe are both history buffs, they hadn’t realized that one-fourth of America’s presidents were generals until working on “Rock the Presidents” — a 90-minute musical celebration of the 43 who’ve served in the country’s highest office during the course of 223 years. Or that presidential pets have included a cow, bear cub, alligator and tiger.

The world premiere of “Rock the Presidents” takes place this weekend at Tempe Center for the Arts. The original Childsplay production, in the works for about two years now, features book and lyrics by Dwayne Hartford, an associate artist and playwright-in-residence with Childsplay. Also music by Sarah Roberts, who’s known Hartford for many years thanks to a common thread back in Maine.

Runfola, production manager for Childsplay, directs the work — which has music but no linear story like something you’d experience with a more traditional work of musical theater. Instead, it’s akin to 26 two-minute plays set to music. Think rap, rock, country, folk, blues and more — all part of a CD folks will be able to buy at the show.

Seems neither Runfola, Hartford nor Roberts remember learning more than a few basic facts about the biggies like Washington and Lincoln as they were growing up. All hope children who experience “Rock the Presidents” will leave feeling a little more interested in history. And more connected to history as well. “We don’t look at the past as often as we should to guide us towards the future,” reflects Runfola.

Still, Hartford says he “wanted politics to stay out of this.” He’s not interested in vilifying anyone. There’s a reason he chose to “rock” rather than “mock” the presidents — despite his experience with writing parody. “I grew up in a family that encourages participation in civics and being aware of your part in the community,” recalls Hartford.

“Our presidents were real people,” says Hartford. “They aren’t just statues.” Sure, they all made mistakes. But what he’s celebrating through the work is “their choice to get involved and make a difference.” Hartford sees a common thread binding everyone who’s held the office of president — a desire to help the country, and a belief that they can do just that. “They all believed in the country,” says Hartford, “and the possibilities.” They were optimists.

Both Roberts and Runfola praise Hartford’s decision to portray some of our more recent presidents as children. The approach takes the focus off particular aspects of their politics, and places it on their humanity. And it’s a powerful way to reinforce the show’s main message for children. Anyone, including you, can become president one day.

Your first chance to see “Rock the Presidents” will be this Sunday, Feb. 12 at 4pm — which is Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. It’s a preview performance so tickets are just $12. Regular performances, recommended for ages seven and up, will run Feb. 18-March 4. Folks who attend the 4pm performance of “Rock the Presidents” on Sat., Feb. 25 can enjoy an election workshop before and backstage tour after.

A Childsplay fundraiser on March 2 will feature a special VIP performance of “Rock the Presidents.” The “Rock the Presidents State Dinner” will raise funds for Childsplay arts-in-education programs. “Rock the Presidents” is also available for school tours (grades 2-12) March 13-May 25. Click here for details — and watch for news of the “Rock the Presidents” national tour.

— Lynn

Note: You can enjoy a free MP3 download of the show’s opening number, “Hail to the Chiefs,” a rap song featuring the names of all 44 presidents — click here for details.

Coming up: Favorite presidents — plus presidential pets

Arts in Education Week

During a recent episode of “Jeopardy,” the final question required knowledge of both children’s literature and opera. Think Milne’s “Winnie the Pooh” meets Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Mikado.” Only one contestant seemed to know much about either — and he walked away with the cash. I’m guessing there’s an art teacher he ought to be thanking back home.

It’s been heartening to see arts and culture play such a pivotal role in 9/11 anniversary ceremonies. Sunday’s event at the newly opened 9/11 Memorial in NYC featured Yo-Yo Ma, the Brooklyn Youth Chorus, Emi Ferguson, Paul Simon and James Taylor. Opening remarks by Michael Bloomberg quoted Shakespeare, and poetry was prevalent throughout.

The Pushcart Players perform one of five school shows offered by Mesa Arts Center this season

Too often our nation forgets all that has been forged by arts and culture, and fails to appreciate the role they can play in moving us forward. So I’m delighted that Congress passed a bill last year designating the second week of September “National Arts in Education Week.”

For those who love the arts, no explanation of their impact or importance is needed. Art is an instinct, in impulse. An adventure of imagination as necessary as air. For others, they seem a mere nicety at best — perhaps because the joys of art never touched their lives as children.

But those unmoved by art’s aesthetic power should recognize its more tangible benefits. Art creates jobs. Creates cities where people want to live. Creates schools full of innovators and imaginators. Maybe even the “creative class” touted by a presidential candidate in his stump speeches.

Ninety percent of Arizonans believe that arts education is either important or very important, according to results of a public opinion poll conducted by ASU in May 2009 — a poll cited in the background report for this year’s Arizona Town Hall, the first of 98 Arizona Town Halls to focus on Arizona arts and culture. www.aztownhall.org.

The Arizona Arts Education section of the report was authored by Mandy Buscas (then director of arts learning for the Arizona Commission on the Arts, now the arts education outreach coordinator for Mesa Arts Center) and Lynn Tuttle (director of arts education for the Arizona Department of Education).

MAC presents Mufaro's Beautiful Daughters for grades K-6

Their work considers results of the 2009 Arts Education Census. It also looks at federal, state and local educational policies — noting that state support for arts in education has suffered significant losses of late due to “efforts to close significant stage budget shortfalls.”

Their reporting on the arts census notes that “20% of schools offered no courses in any arts discipline” and that “79% of schools spend less than $1 per year per student for arts instruction.” This despite the fact that U.S. employers rank creativity/innovation among the top five skills growing in importance.

So what can be done to move Arizona forward? A report issued after the Arizona Town Hall on arts and culture says that “Arizona residents need to speak up, stand for what we support, and make that support known at the ballot box at all levels, from the legislature, to the superintendent of public instruction, and to local school boards.”

It sounds rather daunting if you’re not accustomed to advocating for issues with local and stage officials, but there are plenty of resources to help you get started — including Arizona Citizens Action for the Arts. www.azcitizensforthearts.org.

The report also urges the arts and culture community to partner with the business community to “lobby for improved arts education” — and calls on nonprofit organizations and arts professionals in our communities to “continue augmenting arts education in the schools.” Think artist residencies, school field trips and such.

There’s plenty we can do as parents. Volunteer to help with art projects in the classroom. Coordinate field trips to places like libraries, performing arts venues, museums and exhibit spaces. Donate art-related supplies to local schools. Urge schools to integrate arts learning into other subjects. Vote art at every opportunity.

MAC presents Native American Song & Dance for grades K-12

Folks who separate art from the other disciplines, orchestrating false dichotomies that pit science and math against music and theater should learn more about artists like Emi Ferguson, a distinguished student of both music and epidemiology. Or scientists like Oliver Sacks.

To learn more about arts and education in Arizona, sign up for the free arts learning newsletter from the Arizona Commission on the Arts. www.azarts.gov.

The latest issue features details on the Poetry Out Loud program, a student art competition, an opportunity to participate in the Kennedy Center Partners in Education program, Target field trip grants, teacher workshops and more.

As for the “Jeopardy” answer that won the big bucks, it was “Pooh-bah.”

— Lynn

Note: Additional arts in education resources include the President’s Committee on Arts and Humanities (www.pcah.gov), Americans for the Arts (www.artsusa.org) and the Arts Education Partnership (www.aep-arts.org). Learn more about Mesa Arts Center arts education programs at www.mesaartscenter.com.

Coming up: Country music meets arts and culture, Art meets airport, Who let the cats out?, Shakespeare meets Sweeney Todd

Shakespeare: The gift that keeps on giving

English teacher Amie Brockway recently took her students to see a touring production of Shakespeare's MACBETH

By guest blogger Amie Brockway, English teacher, Campo Verde High School in Gilbert

In education these days, we don’t receive many gifts that actually reshape the way our students see the world. However, I am able to give my students one of these gifts every year, even on a teacher’s salary. That gift is Shakespeare.

Unfortunately, upon first opening this “gift,” students’ reactions are more “Gee thanks, you really shouldn’t have” than “Oh sweet, this is better than free texting!”

The brilliance of Shakespeare is greatly misunderstood by today’s students for many reasons. The first and most obvious reason for their struggle is the archaic language–it’s simply not what they are used to reading. The words are “funky,” and the sentence structure is “whack.” (I daresay Shakespeare would be equally confused by the language of today’s kids!) 

The second reason they struggle is because reading a play is quite different than watching a play. And plays were written to be performed. Kids have a tough time grasping stage directions and complex scenes when they are reading the text. They cannot experience the clothing, sets, or inflections of characters’ voices.

Compared to the mindless, over-the-top action scenes in today’s movies, many scenes in a script seem hollow, anticlimactic, especially since the only indication that a significant event has occurred is a brief and seemingly insignificant stage direction.

Although several centuries old, Shakespeare writes about universal human experiences like love, passion, murder, honor, revenge, betrayal, and greed. These have all the makings of a first-rate cable TV show, and Shakespeare captured them 400 years ago with rhythmic precision. He didn’t need a green screen or computer-generated special effects, either.

Shakespeare’s work shows us the simple beauty that words can possess. While giving us a glimpse of the behaviors and values that existed during his era, we also realize that we aren’t so different all these years later.

Shakespeare’s work plays a substantial role in our curriculum at Campo Verde High School in Gilbert. Both freshmen and sophomores read his plays, from tragedies like Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, and Julius Caesar to comedies like A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Taming of the Shrew.

Studying Shakespeare is not an easy task, but it’s certainly not impossible, either. It simply requires close examination. As we break down the language and uncover the real meaning of the story, the kids become more engaged. The formerly useless and boring gift is unearthed, dusted off, and viewed with new and exciting possibilities.

Students anxiously await the next twist, the intense drama, the clever trickery, the cutting wit. They start seeing Shakespeare in a new light, with a grudging respect. I compare him to an older and better-dressed Justin Bieber, and while they may laugh, they won’t argue because they’ve started to see that the hype is justified. 

After all, Shakespeare was no flash in the pan. He was “on fire” in his day. People anxiously awaited the release of his next play. His patron was the king of England himself. A serious “A-lister,” he partied regularly with the queen’s friends. If he were alive today, he would definitely walk the red carpet at the Oscars. 

His plays aren’t just stories; they’re poetry. When I start comparing some of his lines to rap or hip-hop, the kids perk up even more. Yes, he’s a 448-year-old white guy with a fluffy collar and a double life, but the man knew rhythm. Suddenly, a new admiration has emerged. “Maybe we should rap his plays,” they suggest hopefully. “Sure, why not” I encourage. “Lame” Shakespeare is now “hip” Shakespeare. 

As the icing on the cupcake, every year I take my students to see an on-stage performance of a Shakespeare play, preferably one we’ve read in class. During the field trip, everything we have discussed in class clicks. Like the accidental unveiling of the Great and Powerful Oz, they see the brilliance of Shakespeare’s work as it needs to be seen—on stage. 

This year, we were fortunate to see Macbeth at the Higley Center for the Performing Arts on March 7, 2011. Macbeth is a part of our honors freshman English curriculum, so the 270 freshmen and sophomores we brought to the play had already read it, giving them some background to the story. 

The play was extremely well done. The traveling troupe from the Utah Shakespeare Festival performed a shortened version of “the Scottish play” using actors who played multiple parts. They incorporated simple household items as props, as well as a cello to properly set each scene’s mood. 

The students were absorbed in the play from the moment it started. 

Witches on stilts? They turned to each other with wide eyes. 

Fabric blood and entrails? “Awesome,” their expressions said.

Suddenly the words they’d read began to make sense. The stage directions, the personification of the characters, the settings, the costumes, and the props all brought the story to life in a way they hadn’t expected. On the bus back to school, the kids couldn’t stop talking about it, analyzing it, critiquing it, questioning it…all clues that their brains were engaging, neurons were firing, they were learning

As a teacher, there is no better nirvana than to watch learning occur. These light-bulb moments are what it’s all about for us. (It’s certainly not the salary!) They’re what kids remember their whole lives, and what shapes their way of thinking in the future. Experiences like these change kids forever because they help them to better understand their world and human nature. 

I once wondered what criteria people used to label a piece of work as literature. What I have found is that true literature has its own beauty, and it changes the way people see the world. They continue pondering its meaning and feeling its impact long after they have closed the book or left the theatre. Seeing Shakespeare on stage did this for my students, and it’s the best gift I could have given them.

Note: Southwest Shakespeare Company will present “Macbeth” as their 2011/2012 touring show. A public performance is scheduled for Dec 31 at 7:30pm and touring productions take place Jan 6-April 27, 2012.

Coming up: “Macbeth” reviews by four Campo Verde High School students

“The Borrowers”

A cup of sugar. A gelatin mold. A casserole dish. Neighbors used to borrow such things from one another all the time. What we borrow changes, but the act of borrowing never seems to go out of style.

I’m guilty of borrowing all sorts of books that never made their way back to original owners, but I’ve loaned plenty of them too. Some books, like Mary Norton’s “The Borrowers,” seem too precious to share.

“The Borrowers” made its way to the big screen in a 1997 movie by the same name. The PG-13 flick, dismissed by some because of its sometimes crude humor, was directed by Peter Hewitt and starred John Goodman.

British actor Hugh Laurie, now known to most Americans for his leading role in the television series “House,” appeared in the film as “Police Officer Steady.”

Fond as I am of Laurie, I suspect I’ll enjoy Childsplay’s live performance of “The Borrowers” a whole lot more than the film. The Childsplay production, which opens April 30 at Tempe Center for the Arts, is directed by Dwayne Hartford.

“The Borrowers” was adapted for the stage by British playwright Charles Way. It’s the tale of a tiny family living under the floorboards of another family’s home — and the adventures that ensue when someone living below makes her way to higher ground.

“I try to create work,” writes Way, “that does not preach, that examines the pressures under which we live through story and metaphor, that is fun, sometimes dangerous, but always I trust, humane and hopeful.” Sounds like much of the work I’ve seen Childsplay perform through the years.

Childsplay presents “The Borrowers” at 1pm and 4pm every Saturday and Sunday between April 30-May 22. An ASL interpreted performance takes place Sun, May 15, at 1pm.

You can jump online in the meantime to learn more about the show, the actors and the wealth of Childsplay offerings — from school tours to summer classes.

And you can get your tickets to what I suspect will be one of the Valley’s most creative shindigs of the season — the May 6 “Childsplay Celebrates Its Greatest Hits” gala designed to support the company’s many arts-in-education programs, which “serve one in five Arizona school children each year.”

Let your toddlers borrow the pots and pans. Let your preschoolers borrow the lipstick and high heels. Let your teens borrow the car.

But give your children the things that really matter. Imagination. Dreams. Adventure. Curiosity. They’re all waiting for you at Childsplay.

— Lynn

Note: Click here to learn how your children can experience a tour of “The Borrowers” set — and how your family can enjoy a workshop exploring the secrets of shadow theater with visual effects artist Andrés Alcalá (you’ll learn to create and use shadow puppets — and even take home your own shadow theater).

Coming up: Whatever works