Support a child in finding their artistic voice

We know, as proven in various tragedies that have taken place involving young people, that our schools are not always providing a sense of family for our marginalized kids.  The arts often is the arena in which they find their voice, find their sense of purpose, find a family, and find their pride.

While sports can be a great avenue for some kids to establish their sense of self-worth.  It can help them find friends, learn teamwork and gain pride in themselves and their community.  However, many many kids don’t fit into the sports realm. They may not be inclined to challenging physical activity.  They may not excel, leaving them to feel outcast, ignored, unaccepted, or demeaned. Kids can be cruel.  The team may ridicule the kids who aren’t high achievers in the sport.  In these cases the result of their participation can have the exact inverse result of what involvement was meant to accomplish; that of inclusion, community, achievement.

Churches, synagogues and other religious organizations also are intended to build community, teach life lessons and support the members.  But in many cases, kids don’t identify with the beliefs of the group or haven’t made up their own mind as to what faith, if any, they wish to adopt.  The result can be feelings of disconnection and alienation as they are forced to pretend to feel part of the group while underneath they feel more and more alone.

In many communities, sports and church and school are the only places kids can identify to be part of a community.  When they don’t find that community there, they may feel lost, misunderstood, isolated.  The arts can fill this void.

Arts programs used to be plentiful in our public schools.  Classes and extra-curricular programs in art, music, drama, choir, along with shop classes and more provided places for kids to experiment and express themselves.  Art is individual.  No one creates the same way or the same thing. So there is no standardization. There’s no exact correct answer.  Self-expression of the individual is part of the endeavor and generally supported and praised.  So their sense of accomplishment relies on their own creative work and dedication.  While they all express themselves individually in these cases, they are doing it along with others in a collective way, providing the community they often desperately need.  They find their unique voice.

Additionally, many students are learning English as their second language.  Where the language barrier may make learning standard curriculum more challenging, and standardized testing more difficult, putting them at a disadvantage that can also lead to lower self-esteem, the arts are universal in their success in the form of self-expression.  It creates a level playing field for all involved and even praises their individuality.

So if you have kids yourself, or young extended family or friends who are considering participating in the arts, find ways to encourage them and support them.  For a birthday give them art supplies.  Let them try different things and experiment.  If they find their passion in something help them to develop it, and don’t chastise them if they change their mind a number of times.  Every child is different and only through trying will they know if they enjoy a certain art form.  Also, communicate with school officials your feelings toward the need for arts programs in our schools.

Patrick Spike as Sipos in 'Parfumerie'

Patrick Spike as Sipos in ‘Parfumerie’ – Bag&Baggage Productions, Dec 2016.

I was a very shy child.  All through school I was petrified of having to get up in front of the class to do anything.  I had a teacher who recognized this and took the time to ask me if I’d ever considered trying drama.  That one conversation was enough.  She showed an interest in me.  That was all it took.  I decided to sign up for her drama class, ended up trying out for the school play, and my mother was shocked and amazed on opening night to see her shy son up on stage in front of hundreds of people.  She forever after was my biggest fan.  I’d found something that suited me and that I could be passionate about, as well as a community to be a part of. It brought me out of my shell, developed my confidence and self-esteem and completely changed my life.

Every child has a creative streak somewhere inside of them.  It may be working with wood, or on cars, or with a paintbrush or an instrument. Help them find it.  Support it.  Nurture it. They will be better for it.

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Patrick Spike - Marketing Director of Arts People

 

Patrick Spike is the Theatre Community Liaison, system expert, and one of the original architects of the Arts People software system, with over 30 years in performing arts creation and administration. www.patrickspike.com

 

Neil Simon’s lasting influence

I remember working on my first Neil Simon scene in drama class in high school.

I found the script and showed it to my scene partner and we were both excited to do it.  I believe the scene was from Plaza Suite, with the mother and father of the bride trying desperately to get their daughter to unlock the door, come out of the bathroom, go downstairs and get married.

As with most Simon plays, the dialogue is rhythmic and fast with jokes landing and then returning later in the scene in Simon’s skillful way.  I read an interview with Simon once in which he discussed his writing always using a yellow legal pad and pen.  He said that the longer paper allowed him to scan over it to see the beats, the rhythm, in an almost musical way.  This rhythm and patter to his dialogue was a signature.  He was a master of dialogue.

I would assume that so many of us who came into the theatre as an actor or director were strongly influenced by Simon.  I’ve worked on other scenes of his from high school to graduate school.  I’ve delighted in productions of his work from boisterous comedies to his semi auto-biographical dramas, the Eugene Trilogy.

There’s a term that some writers use when referring to writing that is so good actors can’t really screw it up… “actor proof.”  I’d say that his work may have helped to define that term.  While nothing is ever completely actor proof, his writing was so solid, so pulsing with humor and humanity, that just reading it on the page can be affecting to those listening.  So when performed by truly talented actors, his dialogue and stories can soar off the stage.  They are buoyant, musical, with strong threads of truth running through the hysterical scenes.  The characters are unique, individual, and so so fun to perform.

Some theatre people now are tempted to brush aside Neil Simon’s work as cliche, or outdated, or too familiar, similar to plays by Agatha Christie and others.  Because many of his works are older and have been performed so many times they consider them less worthy of consideration and think they’ll be less challenging to work on and therefore less enjoyable.  I would say that the works of Neil Simon hold a key to a certain style of comedy that can be very valuable for actors and directors to work on and develop the certain skills they require.  The experiences I’ve had discovering his wonderful characters and working on the style and speed of delivery of his dialogue was remarkably valuable.  I still use those skills regularly when working on comedies today.

Thank you Mr. Simon for your immense contribution to the cannon of contemporary American theatre, and to the skills of the actor and director.  Your work, and its influence, will continue for generations to come.

Neil Simon – July 4, 1927 – Aug 26, 2018
Pulitzer Prize for drama 1991


Patrick Spike - Marketing Director of Arts People

 

Patrick Spike is the Theatre Community Liaison, system expert, and one of the original architects of the Arts People software system, with over 30 years in performing arts creation and administration. www.patrickspike.com

 

 

“Magic If”… for the audience

As an actor, there are many tools from many different schools of acting for us to utilize, play with, keep in our toolbox or leave alone if that tool doesn’t resonate with us.  These tools help us to discover deeper aspects of the character, to tap into emotions needed to play the scenes, relate in appropriate ways with the other characters, to play the period of the piece, to find the physical characteristics of our character and much more.

One of the grandfathers of acting who’s tools and methods still are referred to and used widely today is Stanislavski.  His “Magic If” was a simple, elegant way to discover or create nuances for the character based on possible past experiences and more.  We analyze a script first to find all the detail about our character that we can, but the script only gives us so much.  We need to fill in more detail based on clues, or simply out of our own imagination.

Example:  I’m playing a working class man in the 1930’s who is deciding to leave his family.

What if… Our character was abused as a child.  How might that past affect his present relations and his decision?

What if… His father died before he was born, so he never knew him.  How might that lack of a father example cause him to struggle in the role of father himself?

By imagining these possible back stories and history, it can color the performance I give providing depth, layers, nuances to the struggle he feels.  Things the audience is not directly aware of, but will greatly enrich the performance.

 

As an audience member, the work being done by the actors and the production team is intended to draw you into this story so you might feel the struggles, empathize with the characters, consider the dilemmas they face and wonder how you might handle the same situation.  This is the work of the audience when watching a performance.

In order to really feel the impact of a story, we need to be able to imagine ourselves in their situation.  No we don’t live in the 1930’s. Maybe you’re a woman instead of our a working class man like our character, so your situation and choices in his dilemma would be different.  But you can consider the “Magic If” of it.  What if you were faced with the same challenges he is?  Or what would you feel if you were his wife witnessing his emotional breakdown and wondering what to do.  By considering how you might feel or what choices you might make given yourself in a similar situation, we more deeply enjoy the experience of the performance.  This hopefully will lead to further consideration and discussions afterward.  It helps us all to be able to put ourselves into someone else’s shoes to relate to them better.

As a society, I think we currently struggle with a crippling lack of this ability.  Many people don’t know how, or don’t try to imagine what life is like for others.  It’s easier to dismiss them, to blame them, to label them as “bad”.  We also have powerful people trying to convince us that certain groups of people are the enemy in order to forward political or other agendas.  If we could better imagine and empathize with the struggles of others it can help us all to be kinder, to be more generous, to try to help uplift others who need help.

Imagine if this was something we actively taught in our schools.  I remember as a child going to live theatre performances as a “field trip”.  We were taught how to behave in a theatre, how to show our appreciation, etc.  Sometimes we did followup assignments analyzing the play we’d seen or sharing our experience watching it.  If this work regularly included discussion about the “Magic If” of empathy; of imagining ourselves in their lives, just think how powerful this could be in developing our children’s ability to see past differences of color, gender, orientation, religion, nationality and more.

The arts can teach us so much and expose us to lives and situations we might never be part of otherwise.  Perhaps we could be using them as a platform for teaching empathy as well as a great form of entertainment.

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Patrick Spike - Marketing Director of Arts People

Patrick Spike is the Theatre Community Liaison, system expert, and one of the original architects of the Arts People software system, with over 30 years in performing arts creation and administration. www.patrickspike.com

 

 

Admit one - free tickets

Give away FREE tickets to high school students

A theatre I’ve worked with over the years built a very successful program that had clear benefits both for high school students, as well as for the theatre itself, by giving away tickets to the students… for FREE.

Called originally their “10 for 1” program, this is how it worked.

First, they would collect donations from individuals, businesses and granters to support the program.  For every $10 dollars donated, they would then give away a free ticket to a high school student in their area.

Usher with empty seatsIn their case, they were performing in venues that had plenty of seats, where they rarely sold out. So the seats they gave away for a given performance likely would have gone empty without the high school students occupying them.  With this in mind, this program would likely not work well for performing arts groups that do not have the extra inventory.

Obviously for the students, this was a wonderful offer, especially since the arts programs in their own schools had been cut back to the bone.  Their theatre programs were mostly extra curricular in nature, and the school did not have funding to bring theatre, English or humanities (or any) students to shows on field trip type of arrangements.

For a few years the theatre struggled to facilitate the students coming to the theatre.  They tried to work with the principals of the schools, with the school districts and even with the individual teachers.  They also tried advertising in the school newspapers, and tried placing posters on the grounds.  They even tried booking school buses on a weekend to bring the students from a meeting place at the school Each of those efforts proved mostly ineffectual, relied on overworked school personnel, or were taking too much manpower to be sustainable.  The board of directors discussed ideas and finally decided to try using social media to spread the word.  Instead of requiring a reservation, they communicated that students could just come to the theatre, show their active student ID, and get a ticket as long as seats were available.  The word spread via social media from student to student, parent to parent, was shared on the school pages and others, and it finally worked.  Students began taking advantage of program more and more, to the happiness of the theatre board and staff.

As for the funding, the donations that came in required really no special handling.  Again, since the inventory was readily available, the funding simply went into the general operating budget, helping the theatre to fund their season productions and everyone wins.

grantsThe program is imminently fund-able by granters and sponsors, since it falls under the category of arts education, and helps the schools with their clear desire to include the arts in the lives of their students.  They would do occasional asks of their patrons to contribute, would have businesses help underwrite the program, and grantors who favor arts education loved to help.  A paddle raise at their gala event also would add to the funding as well.  If they ever needed evidence of the effect of the program, they could call up the ticket counts in their Arts People system, flagged with a comp ticket code.

The theatre also prepared a study guide with accompanying teacher lesson plans in pdf form for those who might want to use them for a specific show. Unfortunately they found that in most cases the teachers didn’t have the budget to even photocopy them.  So for organizations who might want to try this type of program, you may need to take some of the funding that comes in to help the teachers with these.  In some cases the students were also given a coupon code on a flyer to take home to their patrons that would give them a discount off tickets to the show, creating some additional sales revenue, and possible new patrons for the theatre.

High school students, seeing outstanding theatre for free, gaining an appreciation of the art form, or encouraging their existing passion for it, and the theatre gaining much needed capital toward funding their season expenses.  The program has been a huge success!

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Patrick Spike - Marketing Director for Arts PeoplePatrick Spike is the Marketing Director, system expert, and one of the original architects of the Arts People software system, with over 30 years in performing arts creation and administration. His work with clients has helped them to increase their revenue while streamlining their box office and back office operations. www.patrickspike.com.   He is the former Audience Development Director for Bag&Baggage Productions, and is a current board member of PATA – The Portland Area Theatre Alliance.

Arts People, software for the performing arts, serves theatres, music and dance groups, choirs and opera, high school, college and university programs, performing arts center facilities and more.