parenting, thoughts

Community Theater and The Homeless: Cutting the Arts in our Schools

So, for several weeks now, Lyric Theatre, one of the local musical theater troops, has been rehearsing in the gym space of the daycare/preschool that I clean every night. They’re currently rehearsing for their upcoming production of “Legally Blonde”. So from seven to ten every night, I get to hear one of the best sounds in the entire world, people working it out.

I get to hear a single rehearsal piano banging out the same bars over and over just so an actress can be sure she’s hitting that note just right. I get to hear the choreographer yell out the timing for dance steps. I even get to hear actors working on lines alone or with each other. All the Lyric Theatre crew gets from me is watching a pregnant woman in zebra stripped elastic waistband pants clamber around with a vacuum, not really a fair trade. But those sounds, those wonderful sounds bring me right back.

In a way, my siblings and I grew up around the theater, specifically the Lyric Theatre family. Both my father and mother were members. My father directed, acted and produced shows, while my mother sewed costumes early on and was even on stage for one production of Guys and Dolls.

That sound of performers and artists “working it out” was just something that was part of my upbringing. One of the productions that I remember the best was when my father directed “Jesus Christ Superstar”. It was 1989 and I was seven years old.

As is the case now, it’s very hard to find rehearsal space and so productions often have to make due with rehearsing in unusual venues, like the daycare I clean at or ACME Glass. But this time, they were rehearsing at the Eagle’s Club, a smoke filled den that always seemed to smell like french fries and ketchup. It’s now the Eagle’s Nest.

I remember sitting with stacks of coloring books, coloring away and watching Judas commit suicide for the hundredth time in front of me.

“Make sure you’re really holding that mattress up. We don’t want to lose our main actor here guys.” My father had decided that Judas would be taking himself out by way of leaping off a hydraulic platform, meant to represent a cliff and falling into the dark onto a mattress carried by several, hopefully, strong actors. Even though I had seen this rehearsed a dozen or more times, I always looked up from coloring in Mickey Mouse to see if this was the time he was going to REALLY take a dirt nap.

Because my father was involved in so many productions for Lyric, it meant that we were able to get comp tickets to all of the shows and could sit inches from the stage. The second best sound in the world? The sound of the orchestra warming up. It meant that all of the magic was still hidden behind the curtain and that the entire show was still waiting to be seen. The curtain call was always a sad moment for me.

There were lots of other great memories tied to that production, watching my father place a bicycle seat on the cross for the actor to sit on and wo ndering why Jesus couldn’t have grabbed one off an old Schwinn too. Then there was the time that my sister, brother and I were running around the isles of the Flynn during “Hell Week”, the week right before a show opens when no one gets sleep and everything has to come together. My sister slipped and hit her chin on the arm rest of one of the Flynn seats, causing a geyser of blood to spray out. My father had to stop rehearsal so that we could all go to the ER  and watch her get stitches. It was the first time I had ever seen it done, it’s actually pretty cool.

But the memory that really sticks with me is the memory of my father after the final curtain call of the show. The production had ended, the audience had left, it was just him and an empty theater. He was sitting alone in the middle of the isle staring at the empty stage, crying. I remember standing with my mother and not understanding. Let’s make it clear too, that the only other time I’ve seen my dad really cry was at the ending of “Field of Dreams”. But what was so unclear to me as a child, now is crystal clear. He was crying because it was over, this amazing creative endeavour and all the coming together and “working it out” was over. The magic of theater, for that moment, had passed. I suppose it’s why, even at seven, I was always sad during curtain call.

So what is this all leading up to? This is a parenting blog, right? Not a theater blog. It’s leading up to this. A few weeks ago, I found out that the high school Andy and I graduated from, Mount Mansfield Union High School, has severely cut back on the budgeting for arts and music. It’s funny because it seems like every time I drive by the school, they’re adding new football bleachers, new soccer fields and having campaigns for new lacrosse uniforms.

As mentioned in a previous blog, I was never good at sports and so, the drama and music program was where I found my home. It’s where I made all of my friends and was asked out on my first date with my husband, who also found his home there. Not only that, it’s where my parents found their home. My mother and father were both members of the band at BHS and, true story, I would not be here if music weren’t a part of their curriculum. While on an away band trip, my mother got sick sitting in the back of the bus and had to move up towards the front. My dad was sitting in the only seat that wasn’t completely occupied and so they sat together. By the time they arrived back at the school, my dad had asked my mom on their first date.

A love of the arts was given to my parents in school and given to me later on through these wonderful moments with Lyric and live music, which my father played. I can’t wait to make the arts come alive for my children too, show them how wonderful the creative process is, how “working it out” is beautiful and an integral part of all of our lives. But I can’t do alone. I need teachers like I had and my parents had, showing them every day in the halls of school.

But you know, if that’s not going to happen, if the arts are just going to be cast aside and underfunded, then maybe my hopes should be that my children and the hundreds of thousands out there right now about to head into schooling will just be really good at football… because it makes me beyond sad to think of that many children being homeless.

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