Literacy Learned and Performed

“Hello everyone,

Saturday’s performance of In our own voices was a great success.   I estimate that we had 150 in total attendance and most of the attendees were families of the children in the program.   I know it was a bit stressful for the staff to do the extra work, but it payed off to see parents happy about the program.  Some expressed gratitude for helping their children become more confident reading, while others thanked us for inviting them on campus . . . It’s this kind of team work that will make our community better.

Thank you for your hard work and enjoy the summer.”

As the above quote from the administrator of the “In Our Own Voices” program shows, in the end we had a successful performance and achieved many of our goals. It was a long and difficult journey. However, there were a few things that made everything better:

  • Hugs I got from kids who didn’t want to go onstage, after they exceeded their own expectations.
  • Watching the smiles on kids faces as they found the joy of performing.

Juan Bobo

  • Having kids clamor to get their t-shirts when all along they complained about having to wear one.
  • The happy smiles as they received a copy of Tales our Abuelitas Told and a certificate of excellence at the end of the performance.

Certificate

I always knew that in the end all things would work themselves out–they always do. Parents are always pleased seeing their children on stage, taking risks, breaking out of their shells and comfort zones.

However, the struggle to get to that point, caused by things beyond my control, has made me really think about what type of programming I want to be involved in and what the goals of theatre/drama programming can and should be. It shouldn’t be a struggle. It should be a challenging  journey.

The struggle to achieve quantitative evidence in a field that works mostly with qualitative results is a struggle anyone who works with arts education has to deal with.

The people who control the money want numbers and evidence, not anecdotes. But isn’t that the flaw in the education system overall? Learning cannot always be quantified by numbers.

I know my program was a success? How?

  • Because of the girl who told me she couldn’t do it before the show started, but got up on stage, read loudly and clearly into a microphone, and hugged me afterward as if she never wanted me to leave.
  • Because of the Nepalese girl who had the most difficulty with the English language, but practically leaped at the opportunity to read her lines.
  • Because of the art work, designed by the students, that ended up on the back of the t-shirt.

inourownvoices

  • Because I could hear their voices grow louder every time I met with these students, and see them gain confidence with each rehearsal and word.
  • Because of the boys who caused trouble during rehearsals but saved the day when some performers didn’t show up, by taking on more roles and improvising when necessary. The improvisation alone proved they knew the story and the goal of storytelling.
The backdrop was designed by two students. The girl reading had the most stage fright.

The backdrop was designed by two students. The girl reading had the most stage fright.

But the problem still remains. How do we “prove” success when some of what we achieve may not be realized immediately? We don’t know when our work will have its influence. One day, one of these children might find she has the courage to perform on stage because of the roots I laid; or another one might decide to design something because I allowed him to create a backdrop; or another might find confidence in public speaking; or another might realize she wants to write. These are results we cannot measure in the immediacy of a flawed performance, where microphones don’t work correctly, voices aren’t as loud as we hoped, performers don’t show up, and blocking is forgotten. Not that the parents noticed these flaws or cared, but they did exist. These are the things that cannot be measured in numbers.

Yet numbers seem to be all that matter.

Now I find myself asking some serious questions:

  • How can I function, create, and teach in a world of numbers?
  • Do I still want to?
  • What role does theatre still play in my personal life goals?
  • Where do I want to go now as an artist, a director, an educator, a writer, a person?

The answer remains to be seen.