When educating children and youth you are also raising children and youth. There’s no way around it. It doesn’t matter if you are teaching tiny ones with their parents participating or a youth group has been given to you for an hour or a day on your own. There is a Spiritual Motherhood and Fatherhood implied.
If done well with a “pure heart, a sincere faith and a good conscience” (1Tim1:5), Arts Integration can and should be used to, in essence, rehearse life. Practice. Rehearsing in an arena learning with peers. Prepare them for what may come.
As a child actress, there were experiences that stayed with me downline into young adulthood. Usually the ones we remember the most are at the extremes of our journey; either the exuberantly joyful memories or something that went “very-not-well.”
I had the blessing of growing up with one particular father figure of a director from the age of 7 up to 18. He witnessed me grow up on stage directing me i a handful of productions throughout the years. I didn’t see him consistently, but he would pop back into my life and the life of my parents as the roles and productions called for it.
A couple of years later I was in a local theatre competition through my high school. A monologuing type contest that is so popular in Texas. I decided to get coached by one of my childhood acting teachers. I don’t know why but it seemed very important to me at the time. Perhaps at 16 I was sensing the crossing of a bridge into young adulthood I was reluctant to join. My earlier teacher provided reassurance in my mind. And, condescendingly, I believed my high school drama teacher couldn’t possibly meet this demand. How wrong I was.
In less than an hour, this teacher directed me, told me exactly what to do, where to move, how to say each line, how loud, and as time would tell… how to make the biggest ass of myself in front of an entire school district, and onslaught everyone in my social setting with a tidal wave of embarrassment.
It just so happened my “father-figure” director was one of the judges of this competition.
My childhood teacher had me running corner to corner of the stage ultimately collapsing to the ground – in heaving wails. I can still feel the sticky rosin that lived on the wooden dance floor of the rehearsal hall. A puff of white smoke lifted by the slamming of my dramatic hand completing its final purpose. These are the memories that make me ever grateful that I was a child of the 70s and 80’s; the iPhone not yet in the human consciousness.
Here I must properly introduce my high school drama teacher. She who did everything in her power (God bless that woman) to keep me from what was bound to be the evening of “who wins the award for the laughingstock of UIL competitions in Texas”. I would love to believe that she wanted to preserve my dignity, but I was so bad that I would not blame her if, indeed, it was her own head she was attempting to keep out of the sand. Because, no doubt – no doubt – all eyes would be upon her as the what-the-hell-did-you-do-to-that-poor-girl High School Drama Teacher.
But I was stubborn. I had so much faith in my “little league” coach. I had not yet developed that instinct that all good actors must have: to know when you’re bad. I was so haughtily confident in my decision to follow the rat who buried me. I remember the shock and emotional reeling when, at the awards ceremony, my name wasn’t called! Ever. For anything. Nothing. <Crickets>.
I sat beside my high school drama teacher in one of those architectural cracker boxes of a high school auditorium and shifted suddenly in such a way that signaled to her I was about to blow in anger – Oh, the effrontery! – summoned by a deluge of misery and shame.
That’s when my drama teacher made one simple move. She squeezed my leg tight just above the knee and decreed stillness. Her chess move was effective. This woman knew me. This woman, whose dignity had been robbed by a snot-nosed teen, was now protecting said snot-nosed teen’s dignity, undeservedly, by seeing to it that she didn’t make a further idiot of herself, or anyone else, by a late entry mellow-drama.
Some months later, after the waves of drama has calmed, I waited for my parents to pick me up after one late rehearsal, my “father-figure” director waiting with me. As we stood at the door, he suddenly (not casually and not sparingly) brought up the Shakespearean Debacle. He told me how bad I was; how embarrassing it was to see me up there making a fool of myself. (I may be paraphrasing the actual words but as a teen it’s how I received the intent.) But then he said, “And I thought, who got a hold of her?” That I remember verbatim. So, he let me off the hook. A bit.
As I remember this, the one who sticks out to me the most in terms of caring for my spirit was my high school drama teacher. She went to the mats with me. Silently. Took the bullet for her own reputation. Dealt with the aftermath. Walked out with me in what I perceived as my walk of shame. I am certain that I hurt her reputation in the insular competitive high school drama world as a teacher, (these competitions meant something where I grew up). Yet she resisted the urge to blame me or turn away from me in the moment. She continued to teach me. She was raising me.
On the other hand, Father-Figure did, too, in his own way, though looking back it hurt terribly. He told me of his shame about me. He let it be directly known that I was an embarrassment when he had experience of my talent otherwise in a professional setting. How could I be such a bad and embarrassing actress in front of him when I should have known better?
Was this his intent? There was no room for error… or forgiveness. My parents arrived. It was never brought up again. And yes, he continued to cast me (knowing he had control over the outcome.) I deepened my intent on perfection moving forward.
So what was the difference?
Both educators were of a disciplining nature. Both useful. One crushed my spirit. One taught me about grace. One taught me shame and perfectionism. One walked with me. One taught me about walking alone.
Both readied me for battle. One for heaven. One with hell.
But only one of them was a true teacher.
This is Arts Integration. As Maya Angelou famously said: “At the end of the day people won’t remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel.” No doubt there are a lot of feeeeelings in the Arts. Feelings in paint, in word, onstage spoken, danced, and sung…. But regardless of the “sentiments du jour” that one may be tempted to leave with the student, the choice is always available to uplift and leave the student with a sense of hope. A teacher can allow for bad embarrassing screwball annoying seemingly unforgivable things to happen, and be there in response with the hard lesson, the lesson in and of itself, being the first teacher, with the human teacher standing by to translate; responding in a way more crucial now I believe than ever:
You are seen. You are loved. You will prevail.
Now. Let’s begin again.
This is Arts Integration.