Musings on teaching theatre

For the last 18 years, my profession has been teaching theatre in high schools. I started at an all girls Catholic School (1999 – 2007) then moved to an urban public charter school for the arts (2007 – present). This is more than a resume blog, however. For the first 16 or so years, give or take, I spent most of my time being resistant to the idea of having teaching be my profession. I was good at it, some said wonderful, but I always fought with the idea of it.

Why?

I had this idea stuck in my head that I was an artist and teaching was not me living up to my potential as an artist. I felt as the years passed that I was getting too old to become that artist, a sense of hopelessness and a time of artistic crisis pervaded my days. After the release of Broken Silences and the many small successes as a writer and illustrator, I began to hit a stagnation as work on theatre piled up. I was building and designing sets at high school after high school, making art in my spare time. Then I had a revelation.

Teaching is my art.

I know it seems like a cop out but in actuality, I had received more from the art of teaching than any art I had produced to date. The success was not in the praise and the publication, it was in the impact of the art. It is always in the impact of the art. “How does the artist’s work influence the next portion of time?” is a question I ask my Art Theory students. Well, I had my profession staring me in the face as just what I described, “Art is an influence on the future that should be considered as an integral portion of it’s own era influenced by the artist’s area (location of origin or production).”

What I considered success I finally realized was the surface of what I always wanted my art to do – influence others for the better. No fear, I am still going to create works of visual art, when time allows, but over the last three years I have sunk myself eyebrow deep into the art of teaching theatre. 

The impact theatre educators can make in the long term is intense. I have seen students from years ago coming back to let me know a single unit of curriculum or a phrase I said in a class inspired them in some way. I have received letters and emails from students I taught recently and long past, thanking me for a life lesson or two that was shared through the art of theatre. This is not an uncommon thing. My colleagues in the theatre teaching world have the same experiences, indeed any teacher who is worth their mettle has like stories.

The long and short of this is simple. Life has brought me to this point. A point where I was searching for a crossroads to take me down another path. As I peered on the tangential highways and byways of my life longing for those paths, I neglected to see the entrances to paths that I had cut for my students and allowed them to find new ways of thinking. It did not occur to me to look ahead and realize I was on a great road to another type of success, one whose chief benefactor is the future.

 

Back to the Blog

I’m back. After a hiatus, I have decided to get back to the blog. I am thinking that perhaps a daily or weekly sketch is in order, but I don’t want to be a slave to a schedule. So, I’m going to try this:

As I come up with material, either in sketch form, set plans, final products, etc. I will make sure to cross publish them here on the site. 

With that, I may also muse from time to time about art, theatre, etc. This is one of those times.

     My art is long overdue for a ramp up. I have been contemplating the fine line between commercial and fine art lately. My last post (two years ago) has me making fine art. But what is that anyway? Does a person have to define it in this day and age? Look at the work of Murakami and Koons who are considered contemporary fine artists. et, their art is produced in a factory setting and incorporates commercial portions. Is it a matter of the old term “selling out?” If so, I want to know how a person is to survive without selling her/his art? Do we not always have to play to an audience, a viewer, a patron. It has always been this way. If not a client, a patron, if not a patron, an institution, if not that, then a gallery. There is always someone at the other end of the art, even religious art has a clientele. 

So here is the first edition. I have been working for some time on drawing on my iPad, this is a sketch I completed playing with some painting techniques in Adobe Sketch. 

      

Explorations in fine art painting

I have been working on portfolio pieces in the last several weeks upping my ante when it comes to fine art painting. Studies are fantastic to keep up one’s skills, but I find that I want to do more and more. Not a bad thing, and I like the derivation from my normal fare.

Greek Diner Study Iris Study Holly

So proud of my students

Twelve Angry Jurors Motif Magazine Review

TWELVE ANGRY JURORS rule at Beacon Charter High School

These high-schoolers make quite a case that JUSTICE is more than a tacky tween clothes store

by Marilyn A. Busch

 

Reginald Rose’s granddaddy of all courtroom dramas Twelve Angry Jurors is quite an interesting acting and staging challenge for even the most mature of groups to tackle. Originally airing on television in 1954, and adapted by Sherman Sergel, the script is more commonly known as Twelve Angry Men. My memories of the play and the motion picture are starkly claustrophobic visions of a sweatbox filled with cigarette smoke and the bluster of twelve white men fueled by entitlement and testosterone.

 

How on earth can something this dated be relevant today? What does a script dissecting gang mentality, Americans’ deep rooted bigotry and prejudices against immigrants matched against the the sheer fragility of our justice system….Oh wait…I see what you did there…well played, director Jason Robert LeClair and company, well played.

 

Remarkably this 60-year-old script comes across with the same “ripped from the headlines” feel as any Law & Order episode. In 2015, our culture is still mired in a sweeping distrust of “the other,” and the loudest voices controlling popular opinion, leaving the masses in a resigned chorus of “What can I do about it? I’m only one person.”

 

The play opens with the voice of a judge (Brian Hickey) booming out in the darkness to remind those assembled of their shared civic duty to reach a unified agreement as to the accused man’s fate. Court guard Gabriel Jolicouer ushers the twelve into a room to deliberate and locks the door behind him. Reasonable doubt is briefly mentioned, but a guilty verdict seems a foregone conclusion, based on the eyewitness testimony from neighbors. Eager to be finished with the trial and get back to their homes in time for dinner, the Forewoman (ably portrayed by Destinie Reyes) calls for an immediate vote and –surprise– there is one lone dissenter in the form of seemingly timid Juror 8. Carissa Fortier turns in a clear and intelligent take on the role, urging the group at least discuss the case once through before they decide to end a man’s life.

 

The rest of the group soon show their true colors – first the two lone men in the group immediately challenge her with their steadfast opinions on how this should all go down. Juror 3 (played with great depth and range of emotion by Jean-Michel Pion) emerges as the main opposition to any further discussion to the boy’s case and remains the toughest obstacle throughout the rest of the play. He is backed by the equally bombastic and unapologetically racist Juror 10, who comes to the table with what seems like years of bigotry and fear of “them” (the unnamed ethic/religious group that the accused belongs to.) Dylan McMahon handles the hot-headed character well and delivers his scenes and sense of outrage realistically and honestly.

Juror 8 (Fortier) calmly stands her ground against the tide of opposition and slowly begins to start the discussion. She meticulously examines the story as put forth by the prosecution in logical detail. Their job is not to prove his innocence, she points out, or to solve who actually committed the crime. Their job is simply to prove to each other and themselves that he is truly guilty.

What follows is a very realistic series of scenes where the jurors try to sort through what they were told to believe, what they know for sure and then start to fill in what parts may have been left out of the story. The cast does a uniformly strong job of vividly retelling the court proceedings through the filter of their own opinions and biases. The script is as equally demanding of those on stage to be actively listening to the arguments, mulling over the debates unfolding in front of them and also interrupting when necessary to express their opinions. Timing is everything and this cast’s is impeccable.

 

As the debate wages on the Jurors each have their moment to shine, Juror 11 (Janeida Turbi) is lovely as a resilient refugee who reminds us all of why we are fortunate to have the American justice system in the first place, Juror 12 (Abby Morris) is continually bringing the topic back around to herself and her energetic pronouncements that she “is in advertising!” and the snippily antagonistic Juror 7 (Brynne Clark) manages to have a back handed retort for everyone and everything.

 

Soon others are opening up to the discussion and the tides start to turn towards a possible agreement of reasonable doubt – the first to change their vote is the elderly Juror 9 (played by Hannah Lennox, bringing a nice sense of wisdom and maturity to the role), mild mannered Juror 6 (Elizabeth Woodie), and Cooper Chimene, whose Juror 2 starts out as a timid ball of nerves that manages to fight through her character’s stutter and apprehension to find her voice.

 

Mary Servino as Juror 5 has some nice moments as she empathizes with not only to the defendant’s upbringing, and surprisingly flashes some straight-up gangster knife skills. QuessSymphonee Johnson’s Juror 4 stands tall in her firm belief in the testimony of the prosecution’s eyewitnesses. Her vocal quality and maturity of tone were lovely – a welcome reminder that women need not succumb to that croaky “vocal fry/upspeak” popular culture curse.

 

My hat is off to director LeClair and Beacon Charter School faculty and students as their commitment to mastering their craft and love of storytelling is truly apparent from the quality theater that they are putting on the stage.

 

Twelve Angry Jurors will be performed on Saturday, November 21 at 7:00pm and Sunday, November 22 at 2:00pm at the Beacon Charter High School for the Arts, 320 Main Street, Woonsocket (across from the Stadium Theatre). Performances are on the 3rd floor in the Beacon Theatre Workshop and this show is not recommended for children under 13. Tickets are $10 for adults, $5 for students and available at the door and at www.brownpapertickets.com

 

 

Linda’s minstrel

What is a hero? Someone who’s courage is such that we strive to be like them. My cousin Linda is a hero, one of my heroes. Her courage is infectious, her hope strong and supported by our family.

It was only as an adult that I began to understand the importance of this family. For reasons I would not like to go into, six years of my adult life were spent without this support system. By bad choices and mistakes of trust, I lost them all. Waking up, understanding what I was without, I came back. I made that choice. Other things have led me along paths that I never thought probable, let alone possible. All the while, my family backed me, loved me, waited for me, and welcomed me home. Although we were not the best of friends, Linda and I were still cousins, still family, enjoying that bond on different planes.

Linda had a fight on her hands that brought the family together and showed what collective courage and support do in a true family. We banded together under the pink flag of hope against that horrible disease of breast cancer in the name of Linda. Her children, her husband, mother, father, brothers, and the rest of the extensions on all sides. We gave and raised funds, participated in awareness campaigns and did our parts. Then, on a day we all breathed again freely, Linda was without cancer. The awareness and fundraising still went on and the family still supported others who now shared our family’s common enemy.

Earlier this year, that enemy returned within the stronghold of our family. With courage and hope, frustration and struggles, Linda now faced Metastatic Breast Cancer. The call went out and the family once again answered. Every branch of the tree, even the spliced in branches of friends, came to support and fight. Like a call for conscriptions in the ancient days of battle, our family grew to a wide net of help and compassion, empathy and hope. Two symbols stuck out to Linda in her fight, from her first battle, the butterfly, the anchor for this round.

I am only an artist. I have no answers. I’d like to finish the story… and she was miraculously cured! But, the story is just starting a new chapter. The hope forever grows, the anchors go into the seas of unsure waters and hold our stalwart ship of Linda and her home in place and filled with hope. This is the part of the story that is written and sung about, the part where the heroes show their mettle and those of us on the sidelines find ourselves either doing, praying, or making a difference in support of them. I am an artist, I used my art and will continue to do so.

On a local television station, I was asked to do a piece of artwork live (complete with interview). An opportunity like that cannot be passed by. I drew an anchor for her, and had the anchors of the show “leap for Linda” in support. IMG_0870 IMG_0872 IMG_0933 Linda_Square_PSPF2015 (1)

That television show was to promote the Providence Street Painting Festival. At the festival, I did an 8’x8′ square dedicated to Linda. I am only an artist, this is all I can do. I spread the word, I make images to help, and I write words to explain what I feel and how things impact my life. I hope that is enough.

When Linda saw the square, when she visited the festival as I was setting down the last words, “Even with a bit of damage on our wings, we still manage to fly,” her face told me all I needed to know. I had helped the hero, I had done my part as a squire to the warrior, a minstrel on the battlefield heralding her glory to frighten the soul of the enemy.

The fight is hers. Her courage is beyond my understanding, but something for me to strive toward as a person. I am her kin, and of that I am inexplicably proud. We do not choose our family. We do, however, choose how we treat them as a testament to how we feel about the rest of our human family. I will be a herald, a minstrel, a court painter, I will catalog and praise her bravery. It is what I can do, it is what I will do.

Will you, my human brothers and sisters join me in this proclamation:

“Cancer will not be the plague of humanity. We will stand, we will fight, we will hope and pray. We cannot be defeated, for we are family, we are one. Though the enemy will try, never will it destroy our hope, our dream of its irradiation from our race, for we are a family of collective courage carrying our warriors into battle. We will not stand on the sidelines and hope the enemy does not get us. There is no nation under the stars that fights this alone. Join hands, join voices and shout to the heavens, ‘We are one family, fighting together, we are the steeds and squires, heralds, and minstrels holding aloft the most courageous knights!’ It will echo in the very walls of creation and it will forever be our legacy. The truest triumph is never giving up.”

I, Artist

This gallery contains 1 photo.

 

I am an artist again! Working toward building a show, I have been experimenting and pushing my limits as far as style and really feeling myself in my work. I have been seeking a voice for decades only to now discover, my voice is what I have been doing for decades that I never considered “good enough.” I hear from everyone how wonderful my work is, the reflex always being to disagree, even if it is just in my head. I have sought after a peace with this argument and have finally, in my 40s figured it out: I am not to be other artists, I am to be me.

Revisiting work

A revisitation of my Spring Carousel work. This time as an 18" x 24" acrylic painting

 

Looking back through the portfolio,  This former colored pencil piece needed a refresh. I was afforded he opportunity at the Providence Art Club to paint it at a benefit art auction.

The Trio

It has been quite a while since I have entered on this blog. Allow me to introduce to you The Trio. I am particularly proud of this Art Nouveau piece. 16″ x 20″ in watercolor, gouache and inktense pencils, I put it on the shelf for two months before breaking it out again to finish. Enjoy.

The Trio

Self-Portrait Meme

Created for my Digital Image course at University of Florida, This GIF (created using Adobe Photoshop) is an assemblage of photos, drawings, and web images that are self portraiture, either directly or suggested.

J_LeClair_Project_Four

The Dance

The first in a series of new angel works.

It is precarious to dance with demons. One takes one’s eternal life into one’s hands. Yet, angels, being otherworldly, risk only the moment of potential danger when surrounded by the serpents and servants of the concept widely accepted as evil. These opposing forces, this heavenly and hellish dance that takes place every time a decision is made in a human life. We do not see the dance, but we are a partner in it.

The Dance