Tag Archives: education

Go Do: ARTS ADVOCACY DAY TOOLKIT

Today, the first day of spring, is also Arts Advocacy Day. In case you’ve missed it, the arts and humanities are on the chopping block in the proposed federal budget.

It comes as no surprise to anyone reading this that I’m a huge advocate for the arts. I found this link incredibly useful in that it offers a variety of ways to reach out, respectfully and thoughtfully, to your representatives. Your reps (remember, they work for US) need to hear from you regarding your opinion on matters that important to you.

If being in band shaped you into a better math student (and it probably did – they’re closely related); if being in theatre helped you overcome a fear of speaking in public; if sculpting helped you decide to become a mechanical engineer – then you benefited from an arts education.

If a play made you think, or a dance made you feel, or a painting made you question, or a symphony made you weep – then you have been touched by the arts.

If those things are important to you, your family, your children, your community, our culture and society, I urge you to connect with your elected representatives and explain specifically WHY it’s important that the arts remain a part of the federal budget.

There are a variety of links on the page that explain in greater detail what I’m talking about. Click on each one to gain a greater understanding of how the federal money is distributed, used, and matched.

Click here for the Arts Advocacy Toolkit.

Click here for Americans For The Arts.

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!nsp!re – Guillermo del Toro: At Home With Monsters @ LACMA

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Several weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend the member preview for a new exhibit at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) – GUILLERMO DEL TORO: AT HOME WITH MONSTERS. The exhibit focuses on the artistic life and influences of filmmaker Guillermo del Toro (Crimson Peak, Pan’s Labyrinth).

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Costume detail from "Crimson Peak"
Costume detail from “Crimson Peak”

For those who have read his book, “Cabinet of Curiosities“, this exhibit is especially thrilling. In the book, readers get a view inside Del Toro’s suburban Los Angeles home (named “Bleak House”). The home is packed with all manner of unusual oddities, props, artwork, and collections.

Satan and Death with Sin Intervening by Henry Fuseli
Satan and Death with Sin Intervening by Henry Fuseli

 

Arm of Hosts by Dave Cooper
Arm of Hosts by Dave Cooper
Illustration from "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark"
Illustration from “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark”

In this exhibit, those collections have been placed on view for the public; and it is horribly magnificent. The show is not a retrospective of Del Toro’s work; but a look at his influences and inspirations. In keeping with that idea, the exhibit is laid out thematically. Paintings, drawings, maquettes, full size sculptures, and more bring Del Toro’s unique visions into full relief in this exhibit that surrounds and immerses you into one mans fever dream.

A Life-sized sculpture of Schlitzie and Johnny Eck, both by Thomas Kuebler.
A Life-sized sculpture of Schlitzie and Johnny Eck, both by Thomas Kuebler.
Life-size sculpture of Ray Harryhausen by Mike Hill.
Life-size sculpture of Ray Harryhausen by Mike Hill.

The work of many artists is on display, and its easy to see where Del Toro derives his inspiration.

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Sculptures by Mike Hill
Sculptures by Mike Hill

Taking its inspiration from the tone and architecture of Bleak House, the exhibit is housed in an architectural shell, with long hallways that twist and turn, opening into room after room. The walls and other elements are in muted tones of black, gray, and blood red. The use of rafters overhead is enhanced by lighting that casts shadows onto the ceiling and surrounding walls.

One room in particular is modeled after Del Toro’s writing room, in which a perpetual rainstorm falls outside the “windows” of the room.

007The exhibit is truly wondrous. It’s a through and detailed examination of artistic inspiration and process. A good example is that there are several of his notebooks on display. Since they could easily be damaged by the public, all the pages have been scanned and patrons can flip through them virtually on a touch-screen adjacent to the actual notebook. It’s a great way of revealing the artist while preserving the work.

El Velo Negro by Pedro Meyer
El Velo Negro by Pedro Meyer

I have only two small quibbles with the overall exhibit. The first is that it appears to have been put together quickly. The finishes on the display vitrines are somewhat slap-dash, with visible paint brush marks and drips. One would think that an exhibit with this sort of “draw” in the marketplace would have warranted a greater attention to detail. My other minor negative comment is that I would have loved to seen LACMA embrace a greater degree of theatricality through lighting and video. The black costume from “Crimson Peak” is especially poorly lit, diminishing its detail and beauty.

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003Finally, there’s also a great book/catalogue that has been published in conjunction with the exhibit (Guillermo Del Toro: At Home With Monsters: Inside His Films, Notebooks, and Collections). The book goes into even more detail about Del Toro’s process, journals, and inspirations.

The exhibit is on view through November 27, 2016. Admission is free to members (which I highly recommend by joining here) or with regular admission ($15) to the museum.

go do: PRESENTING (Part II)

In Part I of this post, I covered some of the practical issues in preparing for a presentation. Now that you know when and where you’re speaking AND what you’re speaking about, it’s time to begin collecting your thoughts, words, and images.

Consider theme. Most of the talks I give are meant to be inspirational, as opposed to informational so I tend to start by thinking thematically. Recently, I was asked to speak to high school students about the importance of arts in education. I knew I wanted to include a personal story, given that I have received the benefits of arts programs; and I knew I wanted to include a few statistical examples that reinforced the overall point of arts education. After some thought, I landed on a theme of creativity since that is common to all arts classes. My story and my data both spoke to the importance of arts education to those who pursue and (perhaps more importantly) do not pursue the arts; and how it improves their overall education (and aptitude in non-arts subjects). Having an overarching theme allows you to connect seemingly disparate elements into a cohesive presentation. You don’t have to put your theme in the title; in fact, no one even has to know you have one. It’s simply a tool to help guide you in assessing whether or not all of your points fit under one “big idea”.

Along with theme, consider your point of view. Audiences respond to speakers who know their subject and, perhaps more importantly, are passionate about their subject. Infuse your presentation with words and thoughts that originate in your core. If your words are rooted in conviction and reinforce your points, you will deliver them in a more genuine, honest way. Otherwise, your audience may sense you’re being disingenuous which will cause them to disengage.

Create structure. People are story-based. We crave a beginning, middle, and end. You can insure that you deliver on this by carefully considering your presentation in the context of your theme. Typically this involves presenting a point, providing illustrative information that reinforces the point, then referencing it back to your larger theme before moving onto your next point.

There are several ways to create your structure. Analytical, logical types may want to start with an outline in a word program. Others might choose to create mind maps. I actually prefer to work in Keynote. Many presenters believe this is a bad idea, because it can place too much emphasis on “snazzy visuals” instead of content (and it can, so beware). My work, however, inherently relies on relaying concepts in a visual way so I find “thinking” in Keynote to be very helpful. I usually start with a theme/title page, then create pages for each of my points and fill in some preliminary information. This forces me to stick to my point when I’m putting info on the page. I can instantly see whether or not it fits on that page or should move to another. It’s essentially an outline built in Keynote, but it works for me. Your approach can also depend on the style of presentation. Experiment with a few different approaches and use what works best for your style.

Create connection. People also crave connection. Anyone can stand up and read stats from a slide. Make your presentation personal by sharing a story that illustrates your point (bonus points if its humorous and allows people to see themselves in a similar situation). Take a look at this video on TED. In it, Sir Ken Robinson establishes his points, but then goes further by telling several compelling stories that illustrate his ideas; some are about other people, some are about him or his family. What stories do is open a window between the audience and speaker, allowing the audience to see themselves  (or someone they know) in these stories; creating a connection. This brings the audience closer to the storyteller and makes it easier for them to digest the ideas the speaker is presenting.

Collect your visuals. Eventually, you’ll need to start gathering all of your images. I’m primarily motivated and moved by visuals; so I allow a lot of time to browse for images and video that support my subject.

You’ll create a folder for your talk. In it, create a subfolder for notes, another for images, and another for video. Then search through your own files and the internet, remembering that this exercise is all about volume. It’s okay to harvest a LOT of images. You’ll edit later (more on that in part II).

Go for striking, uncluttered, high-contrast images because those tend to read best from far away AND can be seen clearly even when the projector is dim or low-quality. Steer clear of the banal and the literal. You want the visual to support your idea, not bludgeon the audience with its obviousness.  To that end, don’t be afraid to be abstract or whimsical.

Collect high-resolution images (aim for 1920×1080 minimum). Crop out any extraneous or distracting details. Rename the file to something that is easy for you to remember or locate quickly; and place all of the files in your respective folders.

One last point on visuals. Someone went to the effort to create the visuals that you find so wonderful. Be an awesome human and give them credit. The easiest way to remember the creator is to put the credit info in the file name; but the best way is to right-click on the image and fill out the meta-data (using Properties on PC or Get Info on Mac). Both platforms provide editable fields, allowing you to enter the creators name and other info, along with tags to make it searchable.

So now you have your thoughts together, an outline made, and a collection of images and video. What’s next? Part III will cover creating your visual presentation and rehearsing. Part IV will cover presentation day.

 

!nsp!re – theatre students hitting their marks

Students perform a song from "Newsies"
Students perform a song from “Newsies”
Every summer, thousands of high school Thespians bring their love of all things theatre to the Thespian Festival, a celebration of student achievement in the arts. Organized by the Educational Theatre Association and hosted by the University of Nebraska in Lincoln, the Festival is a one-of-a-kind, weeklong immersion experience in singing, dancing, acting, designing, directing, creating, writing, and memory-making. Festival features workshops presented by theatre professionals, individual and group performances, programs for technical theatre students, and opportunities to audition for college admission and scholarship. It’s an incredible experience for teachers and students and I’m proud to have been involved for the second year.

The week begins with a performance of “An Evening With…”. This year, the show centered around the theatrical work of 8-time Tony-winning composer Alan Menken. Alan couldn’t be with us in person, but a video crew had been dispatched to his home to capture his thoughts.

The show is unique because of how quickly it’s assembled. A cast of 20 student performers is pulled together through remote auditions along with 15 student technicians. They all converge on Lincoln and meet, for the first time, on Saturday night. While the performers attend a vocal rehearsal (conducted by Jason Yarcho, Musical Director of Wicked), the tech students meet and create a plan for each of their respective departments.

The crew for "An Evening With..." meeting for the first time.
The crew for “An Evening With…” meeting for the first time.
On Sunday, the performers have 9 hours of rehearsal, which includes learning the choreography and blocking, cleaning it, then running it in a rehearsal space, all while running lines and attending costume fittings. While they do that, the tech students are devising cue sheets, coordinating microphone plans, and mapping out backstage traffic and activities. In the afternoon, the techs get three hours in the venue to load in and test their respective gear. Platforms are placed, show files are loaded, and other tech elements are set.

The crew for "An Evening With" loading in staging and lighting.
The crew for “An Evening With…” loading in staging and lighting.
On Monday morning, cast and crew meet in the Lied Center for the Performing Arts where they meet the 10-piece band. As they work through the show, the audio crew sets levels, the lighting crew creates cues, the projection crew runs their piece, and the dressers set up their backstage quick-change areas.

The crew for "An Evening With" loading in staging and lighting.
The crew for “An Evening With…” loading in staging and lighting.
After lunch, the cast and crew have one dress rehearsal, then doors open for two back-to-back shows. It’s a somewhat unique experience in that it materializes so quickly, then vaporizes less than 24 hours later. The students run everything backstage – lights, sound, followspots, projection, costumes; under the direction of industry pros. Like last year, I had a great crew with top-notch talent.

Running the show
Running the show
For the remainder of the week, I conducted lighting and projection workshops for a total of about 500 students. This is a rewarding experience because it’s where you see the lightbulbs start going off; as students realize that the soft and hard skills they learn in theatre are suitable to all areas of the entertainment industry and that they can work in concerts, clubs, television, cruise ships and many other areas.

What struck me most is the level of super-engagement of these students. Their passion, dedication, and commitment are extraordinary. One wonders why that is; until you meet their teachers. These theatre teachers are deeply engaged with their art and their students; forming a bridge that carries the students from knowing about theatre to creating theatre. They inspire these students to commit, to create, to embrace, to BE their art. It’s thrilling to watch; and I’m already looking forward to next year.

future cre8tors – Should I Go To College?

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Over the past few weeks, I’ve conducted six different workshops for high school arts students. At the end of each workshop, there is time for Q&A. Invariably, no matter what workshop I’m doing, one of the questions I always get is, “Should I go to college for an arts degree?”.

Well,  that depends.

There are a variety of factors that can influence this momentous decision; among the many are location, financial feasibility, desire, and expectation. Making the choice to engage in higher learning is a deeply personal one and, sadly, it is one that few high school students are equipped to make.

My real answer is that it all depends on what you want to be when you grow up and what you want from life. What are your long-term goals; and I do mean long term (30-40 years from now)? If you desire to be a Broadway designer or a professor at a University; it helps considerably to be packing at least an MFA. If you want to teach at a junior college, you may just need a teaching certificate along with the appropriate coursework. If you want to be a roadie, traveling the world on concert tours, then an MFA might be superfluous. Again, though, if you look at the career of a roadie, it’s important to look past the 25 good years of your youth (when the job is physically easier) and into your 50’s. What does life look like then?

When you’re a junior in high school, projecting that far into the future is difficult. It’s too abstract; but I encourage students to try nonetheless. What is the future? City or suburbs? Buy or rent?  Spouse? Kids? Travel for work? Vacations?  The inklings of answers to those questions can point you in the right direction.

Perhaps more importantly than “Should I go to college?”, is “Which college should I attend?” There are a plethora of exceptional schools out there; and it’s important to remember that YOU are hiring them and paying them; not the other way round. It’s perfectly fine to demand the most for your money. The key thing to remember is that this is YOUR decision. Picking the school that fits your learning style, that offers you connections to your industry, and that excels in teaching what you want to learn will take time. Talk to the professors, recruiters, and administrators. Interview THEM; not the other way around.

That sounds like a lot of work; and it is. But I will tell you that I know a number of people who blame their school or college for not preparing them adequately, or who feel their degree was a waste of time. The work you put in is directly related to what you’ll get out of it in the end. YOU have to do the work.

Another way to think about college is to do what my buddy Mike did. He always wanted to work in lighting. He had a lot of experience and was quite good even at a young age. He looked at his industry and realized that most people were free-lancers; and that in order to be very successful, he would want to run his career as a business. He also realized that he didn’t know the first thing about being in business, or free-lancing, or entrepreneurship. He paid his way through college doing lighting gigs, and graduated with a business degree. He’s now incredibly successful. I tell this story because its a great example of someone willing to engage in tough self-examination of their strengths and weaknesses, resolving to do something about it, and then following through with the hard work.

Finally, if you decide not to go to college, that’s okay. Don’t feel like you need to bend to societal norms or your parents expectations. Also, take a look at this story from Mashable, offering 6 ways to succeed without going to college.

!nsp!re – How To Talk Design by Sean O’Skea

Just a quick post today to share a few brief tips.

I read an article recently in Dramatics Magazine. Written by Sean O’Skea, “How To Talk Design” is a helpful guide to young designers navigating their first production experiences. It also functions as a pretty good reminder to seasoned pros as well.

While it’s clear that his advice is aimed at theatrical designers, anyone in an artist/client relationship can relate to these questions, which focus on getting concrete information out of a director (which, sometimes, is no mean feat…).

A few of my favorites are:

“Why is the director taking on the show?” This one can be important because we all do projects for different reasons. Understanding why the director is participating can give you insight into what they are looking for.

“What does the director think the play is about?” I think “Sweeney Todd” is about how revenge destroys us from the inside. Others think it’s about British societal castes. Still others think it’s a charming little tale about embracing opportunity. The point is – everyone has different opinions about what the play is about; but only one really matters.

“What is the director’s vision for the ‘world’ of the play?” If the director says he’s doing a traditional staging of “Hello, Dolly”, you begin to form certain images in your head. If the they say they’re doing “Hello, Dolly” as imagined by Tim Burton, you get a very different set of mental images.

Perhaps his best statement is “Communicate artfully, early, and often”.

Communicating artfully is something with which I believe we all struggle. To state your artistic intent clearly and with purpose in a way that allows people to understand what you see in your head is something that must be worked on continuously. It first requires that you know what you want to see on the stage. That is informed by the project, the research, and a myriad of other influences; all combining to create that vision. But as long as the vision stays stuck in your head, it’s virtually useless. It’s YOUR responsibility to get it out of your head through drawings, words, and actions. Communicate artfully!

You can read Sean’s full article here (on page 31).

future cre8tors – “Creativity Becomes an Academic Discipline”

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This week (Sep7-13, 2014) is Arts in Education week in California. In celebration of that, I’m sharing this article, written earlier this year for The New York Times by Laura Pappano.

In it, she covers students presenting projects for “Introduction To Creative Studies” taught by professor Cyndi Burnett.

While critical thinking has long been treasured by employers as a desirable trait, creativity has come into its own as well. An IBM study, conducted in 2010, of global CEO’s ranked creativity as the factor most crucial for success. Now, classes are beginning to pop up in the nations universities to inspire, nurture, and teach creativity.

Of course, everyone has different but similar definitions for “creative” and some of the things mentioned in the article may not fit, depending upon your worldview of what is (and is not) creative; but it’s a great read on how our educators are grappling with a changing landscape.

To learn more about Arts in Education Week, visit the California Arts Council.

!nsp!re – Young Drama Students Honing Their Craft

Recently, I had the great pleasure of participating in the International Thespian Festival, held annually on the campus of the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. We were treated to unusually cool temperatures and only a little rain, which made the week all the more pleasant.

The campus at University of Nebraska, Lincoln.
The campus at University of Nebraska, Lincoln.

The festival is produced by the Educational Theatre Association. It features a full week of activities for high school drama students. Some of the activities include performance and technical competitions (National Individual Events), college auditions, a wide variety of workshops for directors, choreographers, actors, techs, and playwrights, and fully-staged student plays and musicals. Among this years shows were, “Catch Me If You Can”, “Of Mice and Men”, “Mary Poppins”, and “Violet”.

Students rehearsing onstage (Photo by Matt Conover)
Students rehearsing onstage (Photo by Matt Conover)

Also included is an opening night event staffed onstage and backstage by specially selected students. Opening the festival this year was “An Evening with Shaiman and Wittman”, featuring the writer/composer duo of Marc Shaiman and Scott Whittman, a cast of eight students, and two Broadway singer/actors.

Rehearsing "An Evening with Shaiman and Whittman" (Photo by Matt Conover)
Rehearsing “An Evening with Shaiman and Whittman” (Photo by Matt Conover)

The student technicians are mentored by seasoned pros and are afforded a unique learning opportunity; given that the show is blocked and choreographed in a day and teched in about an hour, with no cue -to-cue or other rehearsal.

Lighting focus with me and student Sam Molitoriss (Photo by Matt Conover)
Lighting focus with me and student Sam Molitoriss (Photo by Matt Conover)

It’s a great way for the students to learn how to pull a show out of thin air. I worked with three bright, motivated students and enjoyed my time with them immensely.

Me, with my three lighting students (Sam, Jalyn, and Madison)
Me, with my three lighting students (Sam, Jalyn, and Madison)

The students were also treated to a special cabaret featuring Broadway performers Carla Stickler and Justin Brill.

Carla Stickler, Broadway's current Elphaba from Wicked
Carla Stickler, Broadway’s current Elphaba from Wicked

This week drove home for me, yet again, the importance of introducing and nurturing a love of the arts in our nation’s schools. Only a small percentage of arts/drama/music students choose to pursue a career in the arts. Those who do pursue a career in the arts face a mountain of challenges; made all the more daunting by a culture that devalues artistic contribution and rewards “celebrity” instead.

Those who do not pursue a career still carry a love of the arts into adulthood, introducing their friends, family and children to art, drama, music, and dance; four forms of expression that make us more well-rounded humans; that teach us more about ourselves.

It’s difficult to not be cynical about the state of the arts in our nation. With threatened cuts to the N.E.A, arts programs being cut out or scaled back in public schools, and theaters, operas, and symphonies folding all over the U.S., the outlook appears bleak. This, despite the numerous studies conducted within the last five years concluding that the arts support and cultivate creativity in the nations youth and that creativity is the number ONE quality sought by the world’s business in their leaders.

The conclusion ought to be obvious to our political leaders, but it’s clearly not.

In order to not cave into that bleak cynicism, I volunteer my time to work with these students through the California State Thespians. The time I spend with theatre students rejuvenates my own passion for my chosen career. I see their youthful drive, their unbridled love for their craft, their excitement, energy, and clear sense of purpose and it re-inspires me all over again. I hope they find their experience to be as enjoyable and rewarding as I do.

future cre8tors – Things You Don’t Learn In School

Just a quick share today of this article, “12 Things They Don’t Teach You In School About Being A Designer” by Jeff Archibald on Fast Company. I found that all of these resonated with me in some way. The article did make me wonder why these things are glossed over in an educational setting. Do instructors not want to broach them? Are they unnecessary for learning?

I understand that higher learning is intended to be conceptual and to teach one how to learn and to grown knowledge. At some point, though, graduates have to get jobs (no matter which design field). Tips like these, as simple as some of them may seem, do not likely occur to a graduating student. I wish every school in every degree offered a single-semester course called something like, “Your Career, In Reality”. It would be geared towards giving students actionable advice about their chosen careers. It would feature people from their respective fields imparting knowledge about their careers; pitfalls and obstacles on they way, things they didn’t expect, what they like and don’t like, etc. I believe something like this would be invaluable to students. I know I certainly would have appreciated it!

future cre8tors – California’s Creative Economy

Today launches a new section of cre8tivity lab – future cre8tors. This section will focus on creative education and careers.

First up is a quick post to relate this story – the release of the annual study conducted by Otis College of Art & Design in Los Angeles. The Otis Report On The Creative Economy has focused its efforts on southern California for a number of years. This year, however, the entire state was included in the report and the findings are interesting (if not exactly surprising).

Though the industries that comprise the creative economy are not legally defined, the report includes data from various industries, from automotive design to fashion, to gaming and entertainment. It finds that these combined industries contributed $155,000,000,000.00 to California’s economy and accounts for nearly 8% of the states revenue.

These figures speak to the demand in this sector and hint at potential growth. That’s certainly the hope by those generating this report; to statistically detail that creative jobs are important to the state. Policymakers, citing reports like this one, can then make the business case for arts and design when preserving or (heaven forbid) increasing funding for arts education. Perhaps it can even be used to lure creative businesses to the state with the promise of a skilled creative workforce.

You can read the full report here.