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Written on August 27th, 2013 , Arts in Community, Arts-in-Ed, Teaching Artistry Tags: , ,


It is thrilling and fabulous when our former students land high profile gigs and glamourous roles – duh, right? Of course we are happy, and count these moments as Successes.

But as glittery as these moments are, they are not, for me at least, the most important successes. For me, the arts are the way we most deeply touch, understand, convince, heal, love, change, and learn from the people around us. Successes are when children grow up to continue caring about those connections and connecting moments, and seek them out through out their lives both as art-makers and art-consumers. Big time, earthquakey successes are when children grow up to want to continue to spread arts availability and impact…. like Lilly Katz.

Lilly Katz is a junior at Mount Holyoke College this year, studying dance, a passion she has had all her life.

I met her when she was knee-high to a grasshopper, already taking dance classes, and playing Jiminy Cricket in our Star Search production of “Titanic a la Disney” (see my blogpost “The Courage of Art” for more info on Star Search). She was an energetic sprite, very similar to many of our young performers in her excitability, distractibility and not-so-good-at-sitting-at-a-desk ability that often made her feel, in other settings, that her value was less than those around her. We did what we do with all our performers—encourage them, push them, ask inquiring questions and make creative problem-solving demands of them, foster teamwork, and discover/celebrate the awesomeness that each individual brings in the setting of putting on an original full-length musical in nine days with no budget.

She went from being a student performer to be a student performer/helper, to a student performer/choreographer, to a student performer/choreographer/intern-in-training, to a paid intern (which was the same year she directed and choreographed a middle school production of “Millie” as her Final Project)…..

and then she graduated high school, and took a gap year to work in Latin America teaching and learning dance in impoverished areas. When asked to recommend a dance teacher for the elementary ages at the Hangar Theatre’s Next Generation School of Acting, I recommended three people, including Lilly. It was a week long, half-days, she sought out advice and prepared ahead, and she ROCKED IT. I asked her how it was, and she talked about wanting it to be fun AND hard work, and that she wanted her kids to learn how wonderful dance is for expressing feelings.

Last summer, I was asked to recommend someone for the Ithaca Youth Bureau’s Youth Theatre/Musical Theatre class, and recommended a few people, including Lilly. She got the gig, researched, asked her various mentors (including me) for help and advice, and ROCKED IT. I asked her about that experience, and she talked about choosing a play that was about people not being valued at first, then making friends they didn’t expect, and having the group take ownership of the piece to make changes and imagine performance ideas, working together to make it their own. She also noted that several of the kids came in with low self-esteem and/or learning/behavioral challenges, and that the play became something they could feel good about and equal to their peers. She had witnessed the same thing in her production of “Millie”, particularly in the pre-teen girls.

This summer, she was the choreographer and stage director for a week-long Theatre Intensive for middle and high school kids

outside of Syracuse, NY…and is filling in for me in our final week of Star Search, as I am the keynote speaker and presenter at an educators’ conference in British Columbia. I was questioned about wanting her to be my sub—she only just turned 21. “She’s the real thing,” I said. Sure, Lilly is growing her skills as an artist an educator…aren’t we all always still growing, reaching? But she’s the real thing, a woman with a passion for inviting and empowering children toward understanding, excellence, and joy whose knowledge of performance and of education exceeds many who are older than she is, and as such, it seemed perfect for her to shine at Star Search, her alma mater in many ways.

What’s next for Lilly? She has worked this summer with another artist-educator who is also a researcher with Imagining America to create an assessment tool to gather data for her thesis project.

It’s about how certain kinds of performance projects can foster positive personal identity, care-taking, and community building….. Here’s to all the “Lilly’s” out there, who carry forth and sow the next generation of seeds.



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    Harriet Katz commented

    I always knew Lilly was special, but being her grandmother I was prejudice. It is a pleasure to read how special and wonderful she is in the eyes of others. Thank you for putting in writing what I always knew. I’m so proud of her.

    August 28, 2013 at 3:17 pm
    michael Katz commented

    Nicely said, Holly. Thanks for trusting Lilly with Star Search.

    August 28, 2013 at 11:08 am