On the road againAs I write this, I pause to quickly grab a pencil and jot down one more thing on my “Bring” list, so I don’t forget when I leave for a foreign country at 8am tomorrow morning. I have more anxiety than I typically do—normally I am happiest and most content moving through space (or preparing to), and love my collaborative-creative projects best of all.

So what, I asked myself, was I worried about this time? I had done quite a bit of social, cultural, and language preparation, spent time with friends and colleagues from this country to help prevent myself from various pitfalls, and although I knew I would have to be on my toes, I also knew I had done what I could, and that lots of listening, grace, good humor and respect, we would muddle through.

Yeeeaaahhh, still worried.

Why? Turns out I am worried about the collaboration process itself. I have met none of the other people (okay, I met my point person’s husband in 2000, but hadn’t seen/worked with him in maybe 8 years) and I really have no idea what the various stakeholders expectations are, nor how anyone else involved—especially those folks in the hosting nation—perceive collaborative work and relationships.

To quote “Collaboration, from the Wright Brothers to Robots” by Michael Schrage in the March 23 Harvard Business Review, Thinking it through

Successful collaborators don’t just work with each other; they work together through a shared space. Shared space — whether physical, virtual or digital — is where collaborators agree to jointly create, manipulate, iterate, capture and critique the representations of the reality they seek to discover or design. This holds true for collaboration around products, processes, services, songs, or the exploration of scientific principles. Shared space is the essential means, medium, and mechanism that makes collaboration possible. No shared space? No real collaboration. ….. What makes a scientific discipline or artistic community or academic institution or R&D group energized and excited about embracing shared spaces to make collaboration simpler, more accessible, more effective, and more satisfying? How does collaboration become as much a value and a behavioral norm as a core competence and pragmatic means to creative ends?

YES, yes, and yes!

So I reflected on how I could best prepare myself to forward these concepts, knowing virtually nothing and no-one in advance. Here is a fabulous idea that I returned to that I have not seen pop up in a while, along with a couple reflections. I will let you know when I return how it turned out!

Know Which Part of the Collaboration Circle You Fit Best

Working Together Many years ago (over a decade), I took an amazing workshop at a conference on collaboration, a found an invaluable model for a successful team, one in which everyone felt valued and enjoyed their role. (Side note: I have searched the internet extensively for this man’s name, but cannot locate it). In a nutshell, there is a circle of ‘ways of being’ (my words) on a project. Before I explain them, let me share with you what people often say. “Oh, I can do all of those!” That statement does more disservice to your project than anything else. Why? Because it implies (a) that you do them all equally well, and (b) that they all make you equally HAPPY. Neither is true. There will be one of those that you love the most, one role that gives you pleasure and that you know you do well in any aspect of your life. You might “leak” over to the other ones, but for now, discover which of them is the MOST you. Then build your team with people in the other positions who are the most themselves! It works incredibly well—things get done quickly and happily, and everyone feels needed.

Here are the roles:

If we imagine the circle as a compass, let’s start with Visionary in the North position. “What could be?” Visionaries,HP Pre Prod you are the people who have a gazillion amazing new ideas pouring out of you all the time, and sometimes that means you don’t finish what you start (unless you have an amazing support staff). You are the ones who said, “What if there was a thing that could hold a bunch of people, and it had wheels and had its own power-source?”

Enter those of us on the “East” part of the circle, the Becomers. “What are the ways that could work in real life, right now, and the steps to get there?” We are problem-solvers through and through, taking great joy in listening to a bunch of different but simultaneous dreams (even seemingly divergent ones), and figuring out how to connect them so they all come true with maximum inclusivity and efficiency. We are the ones who said, “Hmmmm, well there could be axles and a driveshaft, and instead of turning a crank for the gears by hand, it could be a contained explosion whose force moved pistons which move the crank…” You get the picture.

Welding  But to bring the dream that became a plan to reality, the group needs those in the “South” position, the Doers. The Doers are the awesome folk who remember all the things to make the plan happen smoothly. They know the person who has space to rent, and make sure the insurance is in place before the others even knew they needed insurance. They make sure the forms you didn’t even know you needed were filled out and properly filed yesterday. There are enough pencils for everyone, they remembered to have fans installed, checked the weather report, and got enough tools for all, including some left-handed ones, and oh yeah, everything is color-coded and sensibly named, so it is easier to find by category next time, and they show up with a contact list. I worship these people.

But where does the money come from? Voilá! Coming in at the “West” are the Storytellers. They can’t help it. Their enthusiasm, love of detail, and natural warm extra-version mean that never actually ‘network’, they just share because that’s how they are, and before anyone realizes what is happening, other people have joined the dream, opening up both their hearts and their checkbooks. These people are incredible, and as an introvert (and on the polar opposite of the circle), I completely don’t understand how these magical beings give people joy by parting them with their resources….but I do know that what they are doing is including folks—in some small way– in the Visionary’s dream itself.

This lovely model also helps us to

Speak to the Most Wonderful and Skilled Parts that Live Inside Our Collaborators

and, as my mother would say, to

Put Down the Basket of ‘Shoulds’!

Wishing you the best for your next project !

Holly-077 copy_cropI have spent much of this Autumn working on creating the violence for an all-female production of  “Julius Caesar”, which opens in November. This type of project is some of my favorite work, and this production in particular has been inspiring, challenging, and visionary.  The challenges the women have struggled with and slowly– with growing fierceness, glory, and concentrated power– overcome have prompted me to post this blog from 2012 once more. Coaxing adult women into taking up more space, striking with surety, turning with quick and safe confidence, weapon in hand…even having to remind them that this warrior does not fear death…. I want girls to have some practice being bold in safe, fun environments! It used to be popular to be boys or pirates or whatever at Hallowe’en, but I watch as the one day a year we can try a persona on, break free from our assigned role and have a bit of wildness turns into another day for girls to be icons of “thingness” rather than “action”. Let this wonderful, wild day of being someone else remind us to give our girls encouragement to swash some buckles! HAPPY HALLOWE’EN!!!

I love pirates. Not, of course, modern real-life pirates, but the pirates of history and fiction with whom I fell in love as a girl. I still remember the thrill I felt when I met my first wild and adventurous pirate, Sinbad the Sailor from 1001 Arabian Nights. I was a shy, bookish, wandering girl of 8 who spent long afternoons alone in the woods to recover from school where having both too much energy and an agile, hungry mind made me ….. well, let’s call it “less than popular”. My discovery of the swashbuckling, adventurous narrative saved me.

To be clear, my love for the buckling swashers and swashing bucklers was not a love born of wanting to be in a moment with them; I wanted to be in a moment AS them. I wanted adventures! I wanted to wave a sword and save people and ride a fast horse or a fast ship or a slow camel under a different canopy of stars. While it’s true that there are more and more girls and women who are allowed to be heroic or adventurous or daring in novels, the stage and the screen still reflect society’s general expectation of females, and there is tremendous resistance to both writing such parts for women and casting women in such roles.

Enter Stage Combat. So delicious! So many techniques and practices that borrow from everything from martial arts to mime to circus tricks, and so many wonderfully pointy objects to wield. There is no room in safe fight practice for ego or a sense of victimhood, nor for hesitation/disempowerment or domination. A good teacher/choreographer also designs a fight for surprise. At this point in my career, teaching stage combat to mixed-gender (mixed-race, mixed-ethnicity, mixed-class….) groups of young people is one of the most joyful, effective, and subversive practices I know. Plus it’s waaaay fun.

Stage combat is also an entrance to roles otherwise denied chicks. The practice (The skills? The mindset?) has allowed me to play a number of swashbuckling roles (including pirates), to direct swashbuckling productions (like “Pirates of Penzance” for Cornell’s Summer Concert series last June), and to find a bravery in my self when I need it.

So, Teaching Artists, Guardians, clamour for the opportunity for your young women to practice saving the day and having adventures. Long live the ladies of the blade!

2014SOTB_Cover_300pxSeptember 1st, 2014, marked the 100th anniversary of the death of Martha, the sole surviving Passenger Pigeon.

Quite a few interesting, powerful, relevant articles have come out, ranging from blog post by Cornell Lab of Ornithology staff, Hugh Powell Never to Be Repeated: Lessons From the Passenger Pigeon” (it includes link to NY Times editorial by Lab of O Director John Fitzpatrick) to thoughts about “de-extinction” in a Smithsonian article by William Souder, “100 Years After Her Death, Martha, the Last Passenger Pigeon, Still Resonates”.

 

However, for me it wasn’t until I saw the paper ‘pull-out’ from my edition of the Smithsonian Magazine, that I felt a real connection.

It was printed with the pattern to fold the paper into an origami Passenger Pigeon.

Like the origami cranes, gracefully and soulfully keeping us aware of and connected to the victims of the bombing of Hiroshima, this funny little paper art becoming a bird in my clumsy hands immediately made Martha both real and relevant. Art, especially participatory art, illuminates ideas and feelings that are not reached by the neuropaths used when we read text, and spreads a dawn of new understandings like concretized, limiting words never can.

And what might be the next step an organizer, educator, artist might do with an origami Passenger Pigeon? What if the children in your group each made one, then created a movement piece with them exploring flight or migration patterns on a map or in front of an image? What if they became a startinggirl in msk she made place for Paper Art about other losses, physical, cultural, personal, to be shared at a community center or public space? Here in Ithaca, there was a call for any visual art about Passenger Pigeons, curated and currently hosted at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. There are soooo many exciting and engaging ‘next steps’, each easily inspired by a simple folded sheet of a lost bird. Heck, just make some and brainstorm some next steps with your group! You can even become a part of the North American Passenger Pigeon Project with your art or community project! You can download an origami pattern to print for free, or order a box of 50 pre-printed ones for a whopping $12.50 at the Fold the Flock website.

Martha’s remembrances include other incredible art pieces and projects. I am including the ones near my home in the Finger Lakes region of New York State; come if you can, but if not, perhaps you will be inspired to do something similar with your own students, group, communities.

  • Audubon's Passenger PigeonThe 16 clay bas-reliefs of Passenger Pigeons by artist Anita Welch are hung on trees in Sapsucker Woods, and seem, to me, like shades of the birds of themselves as they haunt the forest.
  • The work of sculpture Todd McGrain, whose huge bronze statues of Lost Birds slowly ‘migrate’ from site to site in regions where they were plentiful. His Passenger Pigeon currently looks out over a marshland near the Lab of Ornithology’s Visitors’ Center. You can learn more about these statues and The Lost Bird Project here .
  • The sound/loss artworks of Maya Lin, especially the What is Missing? Project. To quote her website, “What is Missing?, Maya Lin’s last memorial, will focus attention on species and places that have gone extinct or will most likely disappear within our lifetime. The project exists as a multi-sited installations, as a website, whatismissing.net, which acts a nexus for the project, and as a virtual and physical book.”

    The website includes a dynamic , moving interactive map that allows participants to learn and reflect on extinctions past, present, and future.

  • The work of Stef den Ridder, presently a Cornell Lab of Ornithology Bartels Science Illustration Intern, whose work graces the ‘cover’ of the ‘State of Birds Report 2014’ and other recent publications. This image is used with permission, ad you can read the report (and see some of her work) here  or watch on YouTube here.
  • Finally, a tribute written to/about Martha herself, an article by Joseph Stromberg, written for Smithsonian Magazine in 2011, “Martha, the World’s Last Passenger Pigeon” 

Art reaches us and teaches us.

A Road in KabulI am walking down the dirt road, my headscarf up over my nose to keep from breathing quite so much dust and smog, averting my eyes and trajectory from any men, and looking for the cement stanchions on the righthand side that mark, for me, where I turn left. So many of the courtyard and protection walls look similar, I am still nervous about making a mistake, even though I have taken this route for over a week. My left turn takes me down another dirt road, past the home of somebody important, to the middle of the next block. There, next to a yellow metal door in the huge security wall, the building’s white facade is painted in bright colors with images of children juggling, standing on each others’ shoulders, and smiling. This is the compound of the Children’s Circus of Afghanistan.

Because I think my work with the girls there was colored/textured so heavily by the context of what is happening in Afghanistan, I want to paint a more detailed picture of what life is like there, especially for girls. As many of you know, Afghanistan has been torn by war since the 1970s, with the Taliban ‘occupation’ setting new standards for oppression and cruelty in this part of the world. When I was in Kabul eleven years ago, it was illegal to listen to music, wear bright colors, watch television or movies, illegal for girls to go to school, and for children to fly kites or play outside.

Of course, in true Afghan spirit, people did these things anyway, fighting the darkness with secret arts and education. How telling that these two phenomena, arts and education, are perceived as the most threatening things people could do!! And yet, this is what we Teaching Artists know, that arts and education are tools of immense power to instigate thinking, compassion, and action.

The dynamic and delightful blend of arts and education is the backbone of the Mobile Mini Children’s Circus/Afghan Educational Girls at FestivalChildren’s Circus, and is what took me down those dirt roads this past October and – I hope! – will again in 2014.

Although I spent half my time volunteering with the Afghan Friends Network, each day also held time with the wonderful children at the Circus school. Some days I was with them as they went to perform, some days I was the teacher for the full morning, and some days I hung out with them in their math or science or English or Dari class before being their Teaching Artist for the following hour and a half to two hours.

It’s hard for people in the US to really understand what girls ‘taking up space’ means, how important that is in and of itself, never mind the actual defiant act of girls studying anything outside of the Koran, which is still an issue (especially outside Kabul) despite official government support. Girls performing, having actions and a voice, being seen strong and bold in public and across Afghanistan deeply affects everyone—the viewers, the families of the performers, the boys in the Circus, the girls themselves.

There are so many street children here, and their situation is truly bleak. Many of the children at the circus would be walking that road without this incredible organization–which feeds them, by the way. Moreover, too often, street children and orphans do not have the opportunity nor modeling to develop social skills needed to thrive and become the agents of change they wish to be; the social skills needed to learn as a team and perform integrated juggling routines develops these skills. I was asked to help develop the girls’ sense of ‘theatricality’; what is character, how does one develop them, how/why would you include characters in a juggling routine… what is a scene… how does comedy and comic timing work… what are forms of local narrative, and how can we create work along those lines…entrances and exits… beginning/middle/end… physical theatre techniques, and so on.

SchoolSo there I am, only enough Dari to say hello, in a room full of children who typically all talk at once to each other throughout their academic classes (all learning and working, by the way), tasked with doing that listening-teaching thing in hopes of sparking their understand of and interest in various theatrical concepts. Daunting. Exciting. Chaotically beautiful. Each day I would come, not knowing if the schedule would bear any resemblance to what we had talked about the previous day, having a lesson plan of something fun, student-driven, and geared toward skill-discovery and exploration. I always came early so I could hang out with them in their other classes or as they prepared to perform, and participated in warm-ups, being extra goofy or rigorous or reflective as it felt right to do.

Some days I had some translation help from the “circus father” Hamid, sometimes my friend Eva of the Afghan Friends Network (who is not fluent but had waaaaay more Dari than I did) would help and participate, sometimes I and the girls struggled through with bits of Dari they taught me, bits of English they knew, and a great deal of gesture and pantomime. One day we played with masks and discovered characters, gestures, and walks, then let them create little scenelets (girl with mask video clip).  The next using masks they madeday we played with objects, creating scenes around them then using them to become other objects (including a hilarious one where a woman trying to smack a fly with a swatter pops another character’s heart). Another day we built on the “this object is really something else” and grew scenelets with those, focusing on humor and poignancy. We found it was easier and more fun for them with the masks, and that the ‘conceal/reveal’ nature of the masks made entrance and exit buttons more apparent. 

Slowly, bit by bit, we negotiated what was important, what was fun, when it was time for a break, when we wanted to work beyond the normal parameters. They came to trust my intent and instinct and would reach more passionately across the divide of language as well as that of theatrical understanding. They worried less and played more. On our last two of my ten days, they created a new piece based on a favorite folktale, using each other as the trees and house, discovering largess and timing and so much more, and even though it was fairly raw, it was enchanting and Hamid planned on developing it to be included in the touring show, the first piece of its kind, the first story told. This video clip is from part of the story where the father has plucked the sacred fruit, is accosted by the ogre, and in fearful desperation, promises the ogre one of his daughters in marriage. For our final day, I wanted to plan an activity that was loose and individual as well as cooperative, so they made their own masks.

Girl Jugglers_edited-1I was told I should extend my stay, which I logistically could not do, so instead we have made plans for my return, which includes grant hunting and Dari-learning. I can only believe that somehow the pieces will come together, and I will again be in a deliciously crazy situation with brilliant, brave girls who will be the first in many years to tell a story, be loud and large and take up space in front of everyone. In the grey-brown streets and hills of Kabul, my heart will be bright and full of joy and gratitude.

 

 

unesco logoQUICK!!!

Turn to the nearest Arts Educator and thank them! Buy them a tea or coffee! Congratulate them on helping make the world a more empathetic place!

This week is both UNESCOs International Arts Education Week AND National Teaching Artist Appreciation Week in the United States. In honor of International Arts Education week, Routledge Education has made several Arts for Peace articles available online to peruse for free up till July 31st, 2014. See below for info and links!

National Teaching Artist Appreciation Week was established by the Association of Teaching Artists in 2012. Says founder Dale Davis, “ATA’s belief that Teaching Artists are important and integral parts of quality education and vibrant communities led to declaring the third week in May as an official celebration of the many contributions of Teaching Artists to making life better for so many children and adults. Time to pause and think and to appreciate and support the work of Teaching Artists in our schools and community.” If there is a Teaching Artist you would like to honor this year, please contact Dale Davis at ATA at ddavis@teachingartists.com.

 

ARTSEDGE logo

Want to bring more arts to your own classroom practice ? The Kennedy Center’s ARTSEDGE has class plans complete with all the attachments you need, step by step instructions…it is amazing. A great place to start and then get excited about involving a local performing or visual artist or perhaps linking more closely with the school arts teachers!

Finally…if you need a reason to believe in Arts Education, here’s an awesome study showing connections between an arts-rich school environment and success for youth at risk on many many levels  AND here’s a link to a giant pile of studies showing benefits from arts education for children, teachers and community! 

Aaaaaand as promised, Routledge Education’s Arts for Peace Article CollectionIt includes (but is not limited to):