On the Road to 30 and Broke: The Artist as an Educator

“If you’re gonna be an artist, it’s a time when you just have to embrace the responsibility and understand the power of music is something so special and to be able to do it on this magnitude where you reach millions of people, it’s like, why not use that for good? Why not tell kids something that they can connect with and use in their lives?” -Kid Cudi

 

Thank you's from Summer 2013: Summer Arts Literacy

Thank you’s from Summer 2013: Summer Arts Literacy

 

Some more amazing thank you's from my students at both Rawson Elementary and Breakthrough Magnet South in Hartford, CT.

Some more amazing thank you’s from my students at both Rawson Elementary and Breakthrough Magnet South in Hartford, CT.

Pieces of the Cheshire Cat costume created by a student from Noah Webster Microsociety, Hartford, CT.

Pieces of the Cheshire Cat costume created by a student from Noah Webster Microsociety, Hartford, CT.

 

I never dreamed of being a teacher. I used to play “school” with my sisters. We had a chalkboard in the basement of our abuela’s house and on the weekends I would draft up worksheets, collect workbooks my mom would buy for us, and assign them to my sisters. I worked at a summer camp for five years, volunteered at a boys and girls club in Rhode Island during college, and was a baby sitter when I was 13-14 years old. I had the energy and charisma needed to work with children. I always had a knack for teaching, but I never wanted to pursue it. After two years of freelancing as a teaching artist, I STILL don’t have the desire to teach full-time everyday. However, there are crowning moments that occur like the one today (August 4, 2014):

During a five-week Early Start Summer Arts Literacy program, a young girl struggled with retaining information and reciting what was learned. She would write down everything you tell her, but could not process information, organize her thoughts, and put them down on paper. Her reading level was at about second-grade and we were reading the ancient Greek tragedy, “Antigone” by Sophocles. By week five, our class was gearing up for performance and she was our designated Narrator. She was assigned to write, in her own words, what happened to Antigone after she was caught breaking the law by giving her brother, Polynices, a proper burial. I ask:

____________________________________________________________________________________________

“Can you explain to me what exactly happened right after Antigone buries her brother?”

“I don’t know.”

“You do know. We have talked about it all along. Who finds Antigone?”

“Creon?”

“Not Creon. But close. Who does Creon send to find the person who broke the law?”

“Ismene?”

“Not Ismene. Remember, Ismene didn’t want anything to do with Antigone’s plans. So if Ismene isn’t around, who would Creon send? Who would be the person responsible to watch over the body?”

“A Watcher?”

“Also known as a-”

“a guard?”

“YES! and in the story of “Antigone” what do they call the guard?”

“I don’t know.”

“It starts with an S-”

“Sentry?”

“YES! So what happens right after Antigone buries the body?”

“I don’t remember.”

“We just talked about it. Use that bright big brain of yours that remembers every single episode of ‘Love and Hip Hop: Atlanta’ and explain to me what happens after Antigone buries the body.”

“Umm (*thinks for a moment) the Sentry? goes and tells Creon about Antigone?”

“Right…and why is it so important that the Sentry tells Creon what happens?”

“I don’t know!”

“Yes, you do know! It starts with an L.”

“Law?”

“Yessss! That’s why it’s so important! You also rewrote Creon’s Proclamation in your last narration. In that paragraph, he announces the Law, which is…”

“Polynices is to be left to the dogs and vultures.”

“Exactly. So, again, explain to me exactly what happens after Antigone buries the body.”

“The Sentry sees Antigone and goes to tell Creon because it is the law to not bury the body.”

“Exactly. Look at you! You remembered everything!”

“Miss?”

“Yes?”

“Can I add something else to it?”

“Of course! What would you like to add?”

“I want to add: Creon punishes Antigone by sending her to a cave that is blocked up and she is left there to die.”

“Honey, that is perfect.”

____________________________________________________________________________________________

That was a crowning moment because we literally sat there for about 15 minutes trying to organize the sequence of events in her mind. When she finally realized it IN ADDITION TO adding more material, it blew me away. I was so freaking happy! Then she practiced on her own all three of her narrations, read them back to me with so much ease and so much more confidence than she had before. She was so proud of herself that she ended up helping other groups with work that needed to be done.

I’m sure you are probably wondering, “Well, Katya, if you felt like this, why wouldn’t you want to be a full-time teacher? The way you moved this student is astounding!”

Well, the answer is pretty simple, in my head at least:

I don’t think I would fully be happy. I would ache for my own personal creativity. I would yearn to find a means to unleash my inner self: explore new words, physically and mentally exercise my muscles, and sing loud to the mountaintops a voice that needs to be heard. However…

That may sound somewhat selfish, but I think it’s in how you apply your inner desires to the world around you. It is these crowning moments that fuel the work that I want to do. I want to show the world, using this child, and many others, as an example of our broken education system. How it doesn’t make sense that urban children living in low-income neighborhoods do not receive the help and support they need in order to become big dreamers, creative thinkers, and innovative leaders. So many children have lost the sense imagination because they are forced to grow up so quickly. Many of them have witnessed domestic violence, murders, and robberies. Many of them move from home to home with the hesitation to call their biological parent “mommy” or “daddy.” Many children, like the one above, look at reality television and really believe that what they see on the screen is indeed “reality.”  How can I, as an artist, inspire our children to become active listeners, deep and critical thinkers, and innovative leaders?

Like Kid Cudi, I strongly believe that it is my responsibility, my obligation, my DUTY of being the artist as an educator, to encourage and inspire children to think big and act on their ideas. Teach them, in the work that I do, to analyze their surroundings and choose what is right and wrong. Critically think about the choices that they make and how they will affect their future. Be confident and courageous. Be risk takers and understand it is okay if you make a mistake and fall. Find the strength within yourself to get back up and try again…or try something new.

Future leaders in the making!

Future leaders in the making!

So why not use the power of storytelling, via performance and outreach, to teach these children how the stories of the past connect with their present lives? It’s what I tell my Youth Play Institute actors when I’m coaching them. How do these events, these character relationships, and their feelings affect you? How has this story moved you to think differently? Even if you don’t act on these thoughts, they’ve made you think in a different way; thus making you a better person than what you were before. Lastly, making the artist a powerful force in our community’s mission to prepare our children for the world ahead of them.

Some more future artists in the making!

Some more future artists in the making!

 

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On the Road to 30 and Broke: Rejection

“Are you ready to devote the next three years of your life towards working on your craft?”

 

When I graduated with my Bachelor’s Degree in Theater Arts in 2009, I was very confused. I had no idea what to do next. At 22 years old, I was at the same place as I was four years prior, except I held a degree in my hand and student loans next to my name. I applied for apprenticeships in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island. I applied to internships and jobs. Nothing. No one wanted to hire me. I didn’t have anywhere to go.

It was until a very small theatre company near Danbury, CT began casting me in their shows. It was all volunteer work, but I didn’t care. I was building my resume. I was getting work and pretty decent reviews for my performances.  I was learning far more about productions and tech work than I did in college, and learning more about the professional lives of the actors that worked there. I was getting everything I needed. I was ready to move on.

One of the actors I worked with was from England. I still keep in touch with him. His name is John Taylor. He checks in from time to time to hear about my progress as an actor. He was one of the first people after undergrad who advocated for my talent. I love him dearly. His training blew my mind. He would talk about the intensity of his studies, his rigorous physical training,  and how his classes stretched every muscle and brain cell to their breaking point.  I was envious of his vocal work and his deep understanding of the text. He would point out important moments in the script that I wouldn’t know existed. His instincts were also sharp. He knew every specific detail of what every character wanted and how they were going to get it. I definitely lacked the knowledge of how to properly analyze a script from an actor’s stand point. The terms “objective,” “motivation,”  and “tactics” were not in my vocabulary. I knew that I had more learning to do.

During the Fall of 2009, I applied to the Central School for Speech and Drama in London, England. Why London? In my mind, I really wanted to reach the caliber of my fellow cast mate. He was so spectacular. I wanted to be like him. I wanted to experience all that he experienced throughout his career. I felt like London was the place. I wasn’t thinking about airfare, how i’m going to acclimate to living in a new country, or how this experience would help advance my career. I didn’t care. I only wanted to be a great actor.

As I started my research, I found that most MFA programs were three years. THREE YEARS?!? Who’s got time for a three year program? I’ve got places to go, things to do, and people to meet. I do not have time to spend three years stuck in a classroom.  I recently finished four years of that insanity. Why would I want to do this again? I stumbled across The Actor’s Studio Drama School during my research. The program looked interesting. It was located in New York City, which was the biggest attraction for me. Lastly, I grew up watching “Inside the Actor’s Studio” with my grandmother when I was living with her. The downside: it was a three year program.

Bummer.

So I came across the Central School for Speech and Drama. The program was an accelerated one year program. (Check!) It was located in London, England. (Check!) Auditions were coming up in November 2009 (Check!) This program was perfect! I was going to be a masterful actress in no time!

I spent the next few weeks prepping for the big audition. I picked two monologues: Miranda from Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” and a monologue from “The Vagina Monologues.” (As I’m reminiscing on this day, I cringe at the monologue choices I made. I DEFINITELY would have picked something more edgy and daring if I knew any better!) I worked on them, rehearsed them, received coaching, and I was ready to go. The day of the audition arrived and my mom came with me. We were at a studio in New York City and I was extremely nervous, but excited! We started with a movement exercise, followed by vocal exercises, and then we went in for our individual auditions.

I walked in feeling great. I move really well so I didn’t feel insecure about my movement audition. I’ve also been singing since I was little; therefore, the vocal audition was a breeze. We were to slate (announce ourselves and the monologues we were performing) and then perform. After I finished with my monologues, the auditioner asked me to recite my Miranda monologue to the actor in the room. I did what he asked and he kept asking me about what was going on around the moment: where were they, what did Miranda want, how did she feel, who would be mad, what goes on in the story. I answered all of his questions. I know “The Tempest” but I didn’t realize he was asking me all about given circumstances. All of the events surrounding the play that motivates the character in that moment. Gahhhh! If I only knew! I recited the monologue a total of 4 times…leaving me as the longest auditionee who was present. At the end of it all, I received the most shocking news of my life:

“You have so much potential. You are very good, but you are not ready for this program.”

*Blank Stare* (fighting tears, fighting tears, fighting tears)

“Okay. Is there anything you recommend me to do?”

“Give yourself some time to obtain more training, read, and live life. When you know you are ready, then audition for a grad program again.”

(fighting tears, fighting tears, fighting tears)

“Okay. Thank you.”

Defeat. Shame. Insecurity. Doubt. Failure…

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Looking back on this experience, I realized that this man was right. I had to live life. I gained so much experience throughout the last five years. I learned that you can’t rush experiences. You need to take time to discover, learn, and grow. Time really does heal wounds. Time allows you to grow. Time allows you to experience all the little things this great world has to offer. Time gives you the chance to reflect, evaluate, and try again. You do not need to rush time. Yes, try out new things. Take risks and see what happens. Make a million mistakes. Don’t let them keep you back. Use your mistakes as a spring to move you further. Look at Fear in the face and tell him that you don’t need him. You can do whatever you set your mind to, no matter how short or how long it will take. You will only become a more intelligent, well-rounded, and bright human being…and one hell of an artist. So, am I finally ready to take the time and devote the next three years of my life working on my craft?

“Yes. Yes I am.”

Kat The Artist

 

On the Road to 30 and Broke

Hello World!

Welcome to “On the Road to 30 and Broke.” This blog will document my three-year journey towards obtaining a Master’s of Fine Arts in Acting. By the end of it all, I will be thirty-years old and broke.

Why have I decided to start this blog? For many reasons. As a 27-year old freelance performer and teaching artist currently residing in Manchester, CT, I find myself in the minority of my peers. Many are in steady relationships, holding decent-paying jobs, having children and getting married. I, on the other hand, am single, and have decided to take off to the great City of New York in order to pursue my lifelong dream of being a professional artist.

A professional artist. The career that you spend more money than you gain. The career that causes people to face more rejection than any one person in a lifetime. The career that puts so much doubt, not from yourself, but from family, peers, and sometimes other professionals, into your head. This causes severe second-guessing and many attempts to change your life path.

But why would I continue on when I won’t make money, when people tell me (or they don’t tell me; their facial expressions say it all) that a career in the arts is not a viable career, and I will miss out on some of the exciting milestones that life has to offer? Well, let me fill you in on a little secret:

” artists have that power to make a lasting impact on the world and society.” (http://www.artpromotivate.com/2013/02/how-artists-can-make-impact-on-world.html)

Just turn on your television or turn on your radio.

My goal, as an artist, is to transform the stories we hear in the news (BBC is my favorite!), the images we see in books and magazines, and the many life moments we experience, into tales that make us think about how we can change in order to better accept one another. I want to address how our past is affecting our present and how our present can shape our future; regardless of how good or bad this may seem. I want to do this in the form of drama, music, dance, and art.

In addition, I want to take the arts and use it to repair our broken education system. During my two and a half years as a freelance teaching artist in Hartford, CT, I can not even begin to explain how so many of our students are lacking in their reading and writing skills. It blows my mind to see students succeed at tweeting, facebooking, and text messaging, but struggle to complete a short, five-word sentence. If my presence in the arts can express the need in building up our students to become confident and intelligent individuals who will lead our world, then I know an important part of my job as an artist is fulfilled.

Now, if this causes me to be broke by the end of it all, then so be it. But, this is the dream. The dream is to work towards creating a better understanding of you and me through the magic of art.

So, let’s do it. Let’s drive down the Road to 30 and Broke.

Kat the Artist