Recently I almost died. I got a staph infection in my much abused trachea, which I aspirated, causing me to develop pneumonia. After more than five weeks in the hospital on powerful antibiotics and bed rest I have been able to return home to complete my recovery. A good but painful sign of my progress is that now I have the energy to not just concentrate on my survival but also to be frightened, sad, and angry about my brush with mortality, the huge bite taken out of my precious time, and the long and uncertain road ahead to regaining my former abilities.
Among my regrets is having to abandon my editorial responsibilities for Opening Stages. I am very grateful to Betty Siegel for her understanding and to Janet Salmons for taking over at such short notice.
I didn't find being so sick especially edifying, maybe because I thought that previous experience had already taught me all I needed to know about the vulnerability of the body and the necessity of adapting to its continual changes. I didn't think I needed a refresher course. But we don't get to choose what life throws at us; we just have to endure it with humility and patience. I'm fair at the former, but very bad at the latter.
What kept me from losing my mind, besides my precious human supports, was my attachment to art. I read Honey Brown Eyes, a brutal and tender play script in American Theatre magazine. My wife brought in the Sunday New York Times arts pages, so that I could feel connected to the world of my dreams and passion. And I began to conceive sentences and images with which to capture my ordeal. Their fury and wackiness amused and elated me and gave me a sense of power when in every other respect I felt completely bereft and out of control.
Now that I am slowly regaining my strength, I am trying to develop those ideas into some coherent form. And I am very glad to both literally and figuratively have my voice back.
Those who can, do;
Those who can't, teach.
Ouch! How many of us have felt the bite of that old saw—and determined that teaching is "plan b" for someone who cannot make it as an artist? In this era, when artists need to use creativity to survive, it is time to re-imagine ways to succeed with performing arts careers that include teaching. Even a cursory exploration shows that there isn't an either/or choice between being an artist or teacher, so perhaps a continuum can help open our minds to a range of options.
The way I picture it, at one end of this continuum we have the full-time artist who may give occasional master classes or guide a protégé one-to-one. At the other end, we have the full-time professor or high-school teacher in an arts discipline. In between we can discover a number of ways to combine creating art and guiding others to create art of their own.
Teaching artists interviewed in this issue and in issue 29 of Opening Stages illustrate some of the possibilities. Carrie Sandahl, an Associate Professor in the Theater Department at Florida State University, is an academic. Diana Jordan and Pamela Sabaugh are artists who coach other artists. Pamela also teaches in community settings. Jaehn Clare uses performing arts to develop advocacy and civic skills and build an "understanding of how our work, both in the arts and in education, may foster positive social change in our communities." Derek Mortland tries to "teach more than music through my music" by catalyzing collaborative work.
To complement what we learn from these featured teaching artists, I spoke with representatives of two arts organizations that exemplify synergy of performing arts, teaching and learning with access for artists and audiences: Quest4Arts and the Arvada Center for the Arts.
Quest4Arts is devoted to visual theater, an art form that is by its nature accessible to hearing and non-hearing audiences. Production of new works for the stage and new approaches to education are co-mingled. Educational efforts involve partnerships with colleges, universities, schools, and community organizations. An upcoming partnership project will bring all deaf and hard-of-hearing students in Idaho together for a residency. They aim to use the arts and artists not only to teach, but to promote excellence in schools. President and Founder Tim McCarty points out that artists who respect diverse cultures can also respect the culture of the school—where learning goals and outcomes are central to any activity. By engaging in dialogue with the classroom, artists find out how their work connects with the teacher's goals and what the artist can offer to the process of achieving those goals.
Quest4Arts artists must be able to develop and carry out lessons that align with curricular goals and connect with students. McCarty observes that interest and ability to teach "are important considerations for hiring an artist these days" since most funding requires some sort of outreach. Once hired, artists learn to teach by participating in workshops on integrating arts into the curriculum or on-the-job training where they start by assisting more experienced teaching-artists and gradually take the lead.
The Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities is a city-sponsored arts center in Arvada, Colorado. This Center's Education programs attract 63,000 participants annually, including 25,000 students who are served through the Arts DayTM program of performances and hands-on workshops.
Arvada Education Manager Mickey McVey pointed out that anyone who wants to perform and/or teach at the Arvada Center must first demonstrate excellence as an artist. Artists with disabilities have two possible paths: get involved through groups whose mission is focused on work by people with disabilities, such as VSA arts of Colorado or PHAMALy, both of which work closely with the Arvada Center; or audition for roles or apply for positions directly.
Artists interested in working with an Arvada program visit staff, sit in on rehearsals, and meet with directors to build a relationship with the Center. When interviewing artists for teaching positions, McVey looks for the ability to relate to students and audiences, ability to convey artistry to students, and an understanding of students' learning differences. She encourages artists to develop portfolios that help those in her position make a match that serves educational program needs.
Each option for meshing arts and teaching comes with its own requirements and opportunities. To serve on a college or school faculty you will need a graduate degree. Now that many courses are offered online, new teaching opportunities may open up. Teaching artists may be able to give courses in playwriting, arts management or design from their own computers. Teaching in the schools—whether on a full-time or visiting outreach basis—means understanding the current focus on measurable outcomes, and acquiring skills necessary to develop and execute lessons that align with curricular goals. Teaching occasional or regular classes in community arts settings means ongoing networking, making connections, and staying in touch with staff. You may need to have a portfolio to document your work, or design a program or project you can shop around to potential host or partner organizations. Collaboration, creativity, and communication are the key to successful teaching in any setting—and performing artists can translate their inherent skills in these areas to reach people in an instructional capacity.
As these examples demonstrate, those who can keep learning how to do art better by teaching others.