Archives for category: Art

While you are enjoying the previous post, which you should really print out and read carefully, here are two gems from Garrison Keillor’s delightful daily “A Writer’s Almanac.” I have been warned never to refer to him or his work, but I believe in redemption. And I post what I want.

 

You may have to be as old as me to remember the first item. We mourn today for the legendary sports star Kobe Bryant, tragically killed just days ago in a helicopter crash. In 1959, teens everywhere mourned for the musicians killed in a plane crash, immortalized as “the day the music died.”

 

It’s “the day the music died,” the day in 1959 when Buddy Holly was killed in a plane crash in Clear Lake, Iowa, along with Ritchie Valens (who sang “La Bamba”) and J.P. Richardson (known as “The Big Bopper”). Buddy Holly’s career as a rock star only lasted a year and a half, but he recorded “Peggy Sue,” “Everyday,” “That’ll Be the Day,” “Oh, Boy!” and many more hits. Buddy Holly was 22 years old when he died.

 


It’s the 199th birthday of the first woman to graduate from medical school, Elizabeth Blackwell (books by this author), born on this day in Bristol, England, in 1821. She wanted to become a doctor because she knew that many women would rather discuss their health problems with another woman. She read medical texts and studied with doctors, but she was rejected by all the big medical schools. Finally, the Geneva Medical College (which became Hobart College) in upstate New York accepted her. The faculty wasn’t sure what to do with such a qualified candidate, and so they turned the decision over to the students. The male students voted unanimously to accept her. Her classmates and even professors considered many medical subjects too delicate for a woman and didn’t think she should be allowed to attend lectures on the reproductive system. But she graduated, became a doctor, and opened the New York Infirmary for Women and Children.

Robin Lithgow, former director of arts education for the Los Angeles public schools, has been researching the history of children’s theater, in particular, the boys’ acting companies that were popular in England.

This is Part 4 of her series. 

She begins:

If you’ve been on the edge of your seat waiting for this final post on the boys’ companies active in the Tudor Age, you are probably alone, and I need to hear from you! This is a shame, because if theatre historians Harold Newcomb Hillebrand and Charles William Wallace are correct, the Globe Theatre and Shakespeare would never have happened without them!

My first three posts on this subject covered the immense popularity at court of the Children of St. Paul’s and the Children of the Chapel (along with many others that came and went and entertained the aristocracy in the provinces) up through the last decade of Elizabeth’s reign. The third post chronicled their demise as a result of politics and the far more active men’s companies. Hillebrand and Wallace wrote their books early in the last century, and since then there has been almost total silence. Fortunately their books are exhaustive in their detail, and if you can get your hands on them, you might join me in appreciating the role that boy actors played in our rich history

The truth is, the last gasp of the boys’ companies during the reign of James I, while dazzling and controversial, was brief; and it was entirely different from what had gone before. Both the Children of the Chapel and St. Paul’s had a second flowering with the ascendance of a new monarch, but their new life was a life sustained by a different breath—the breath of commerce. Ambitious entrepreneurs banked on the nostalgia for the playful antics of the boys who cavorted through the courts of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I, and they took a huge gamble. They had investors, and they threw their money around rashly, hiring the best playwrights available. Samuel Daniel, John Day, George Chapman, Thomas Middleton, John  Marston, and Ben Johnson pocketed way more money writing for the boys than they did for the men, and their brilliant plays can still delight us; but the playful antics of the cavorting boy actors were not a good fit for them. Jacobean audiences had grown much more sophisticated, and they and demanded edgier and more dangerous fare than the children could manage.

 

Robin Lithgow, former director of arts education in Los Angeles, is researching the history of children’s theater.

This is Part 3 of Lithgow’s series on boy actors.

She begins:

If Charles William Wallace, in The Evolution of the English Drama up to Shakespeare, is to be believed, it was at Blackfriars Theatre, in the early 1580s, that the Golden Age of Elizabethan Theatre was launched. He makes a convincing argument which I will attempt to summarize here. It is perhaps an implausible leap to say that without the boys’ companies there would have been no Shakespeare, but let’s look at the evidence.

The wildly popular flourishing in the 16th century of the Children of the Chapel and, later, the Children of St. Paul’s and the Children of Windsor, had a lot to do with the youth of three monarchs. Youth craves entertainment, often the edgier the better, and Henry VIII, his son, Edward VI, and his daughter Elizabeth were all very young when they first ascended the thrown. All three of them loved the antics of the theatrical, satirical and often histrionic productions of the boys’ companies.

Robin Lithgow, former director in charge of arts education in Los Angeles public schools, has written an engaging series about the history of “boy actors.”

This is Part 2. 

She begins:

The day of the old morality plays ended in 1514, when the young King Henry VIII stood up in the middle of one, yawned, and walked out of the room. Two years earlier, during a celebration of Twelfth Night (the holiday, not the play), Henry’s Sergeant of the Revels had introduced a brand new style from Italy: the Meskaler: “called a masque, a thing not seen afore in England.” The sets, the dress, the colors, the music, the wit, and especially the dance that the noble observers always joined at the end, all imported from the seat of the Renaissance, quickly displaced the old religious dramas that had dominated English theatre for centuries. This new style, mixing music and dance with interludes of dialogue, had a huge impact on theatrical productions during Henry’s reign.

It was the in the “interludes of dialogue” that the Children of the Chapel had their big opportunity. The masques were lavish and they involved unbelievably elaborate pageant wagons that would put our Rose Parade floats to shame. Here’s a description of just one: “adorned with purple and gold, having branches wrought of roses, lilies, marigolds, gillyflowers, primroses, cowslips, and other kindly flowers, with an orchard of rare fruits, all embowered by a silver vine bearing 350 clusters of grapes of gold. It contained thirty persons, and its great weight broke the floor as it moved up the hall. On the sides were eight minstrels with strange instruments, and on the top, the Children of the Chapel singing.” At least one of wagons was said to be pulled by lions and antelopes! (Really?! I know that is hard to imagine, but that’s in the description. They may have been huge disguises manipulated by several bodies?) Since they where heavy enough to crack the tile flooring at court, the light bodies of the boys were an asset, and their trained voices made them natural candidates for the interludes. Indeed, before they were called actors, these young Thespians were called “interluders.”

Eventually there were two major boys’ companies who entertained the aristocracy, providing most of the theatricals at court for the first eighty years of the 16th century. They were the Children of the Chapel Royal and the Children of St. Paul’s. There were other companies in the provinces that came and went, playing for the great houses of the dukes, earls,  viscounts, and lords, but because of the meticulously kept royal records we have the most information about the Chapel and St. Paul’s boys. Researching them I relied heavily on two books written early in the last century: The Evolution of the English Drama up to Shakespeare by Charles William Wallace and The Child Actors by Harold Newcomb Hillebrand. Very little attention has been paid to them since, which, if Wallace and Hillebrand are correct, is kind of astonishing. Both of them make a convincing argument that the Golden Age of Elizabethan theatre would never have happened without them!

Robin Lithgow, former director in charge of arts education in Los Angeles public schools, has written an engaging series about the history of “boys’ theater companies.”

This is Part 1. 

She begins:

“Harken, I do hear sweet music: I never heard the like” and “we shall hear [in the choir of Saint Paul’s] the fairest voices of all the cathedrals in England … and to tell the truth, I never heard better singing.”

— Claude Desainliens, a French visitor to London in 1573

“Mom, I was just in Westminster Abbey, and there was music falling from the ceiling—the most beautiful singing I’ve ever heard. I thought it was angels, but then the choir door opened and out walked a whole lot of little boys!”

—My 18-year-old daughter, calling from a phone booth on her first day in London, 1995, having just heard the Westminster Boys Choir in rehearsal

* * *

A Bit of Little-Known History From My Book:

“In England, the training of boys’ voices for royal entertainment goes far back in history, deep into the Middle Ages. Sometime in the 12thcentury, probably earlier, an ecclesiastical body of musicians and singers was organized to meet the spiritual needs of the England’s reigning sovereign. It still exists. Called the Chapel Royal, it is today considered the oldest continuous musical organization in the world. Traditionally it has been comprised of from twenty-four to thirty-eight men and from eight to twelve boys. Besides the Chapel Royal and the Westminster Boys’ Choir there are dozens of boys’ choirs throughout Britain, the Chapel Royal only being the oldest.

“No one knows when boy singers were added to the Chapel Royal or other church choirs, but they were probably present from the very beginning, their treble voices being thought to be the closest to the voices of angels. There was a religious pursuit of this purity of tone. Churches, abbeys and cathedrals were designed acoustically to capture it: massive sound boxes that amplified these “fairest voices.” Choir schools, attached to churches and training children for church choirs, played a role in the pre-reformation history of British education. They offered free education to able students. Their purpose was to assure a sufficient number of well-trained voices to supply the needs of the church. As we shall see, Erasmus himself attended a song school in Utrecht, perhaps because it was an opportunity for a free education. The earliest choirmasters were usually almoners, the men who distributed alms to the needy.

Parents and teachers filed separate lawsuits against the Buffalo Public Schools, complaining that the school system has failed to provide equitable music and arts programming.

Both parents and teachers are filing separate lawsuits against the Buffalo Public Schools, citing a lack of access to music education. The legal papers claim a legally-required arts sequence is only provided at two district high schools.

Just over a year ago, Hutch Tech High School Band Director Amy Steiner had over 100 students participating in either jazz band, concert band and/or wind ensemble.

“Now we didn’t have a regular rehearsal time, and we only got to meet once a week before school, but we really became very close,” Steiner said. “We would have close to 30 gigs a year with my groups. A lot of them were outside my school.”

Students would rehearse with their ensemble before school started and for a time would receive credit for their diploma via a one minute period later in the day.

Today, outside of a small jazz group there are no performing ensembles at Hutch Tech, a school that still employs two music teachers.

Buffalo Teachers Federation President Phil Rumore said the district isn’t compliant with state arts sequence regulations.

“The district is not providing this in all of our high schools. In fact, not in most of our schools. So we’re going to go to court to make sure that our kids gets what everybody else gets in the suburbs and what’s required by the law,” he said…

In New York State’s 2017 Revised Learning Standards for the Arts, school districts and the state alike are responsible for ensuring “equity of arts learning opportunities and resources for all students in the district/state.”

If you love Broadway musicals as much as I do, you will love this PBS Great Performances production of the classic “42nd Street.” The show will no longer be available after November 29; after that date, you will have to pay to view it.

I have seen the original movie and I have seen the show twice on Broadway. This is the best production yet. It is a stunning use of cinematography to capture the thrill of being in the theater even if you are at home watching on TV.

 

Full Episode

 

Robin Lithgow spent many years in charge of arts education for the Los Angeles public schools. Having retired, she is now writing a book and blogging about the arts, especially theater and drama and their relation to cognition.

I think you will enjoy this delightful meditation about rhetoric, what it meant in Shakespeare’s day, and what it means today.

What’s with all the rhetoric?

She begins:

This is fun!

In The Taming of the Shrew, before the shrew, Kate, matches wits with Petruchio in their hilarious first encounter, the illiterate servant Grumio warns her that Petruchio will “disfigure” her with his “rope-tricks.” He’s referring to Petruchio’s scathing facility with rhetoric (which Grumio hears as rope-tricks) and his ability to use rhetorical “figures” to counter and obliterate any argument she might throw at him.

When Shakespeare was a student, only a few generations after the printing press had been invented, rhetoric had been at the core of a child’s education for over two thousand years. Before literacy was prevalent, the ability to persuade though speech gave enormous power to the “rhetor,” the public speaker. The ability to make language punch and pop, to make the listener sit up and pay attention (or else!), was considered the most important skill of a person educated in the liberal arts. All through ancient times, the middle ages, and well into the Enlightenment, the “Trivium” (grammar, logic, and rhetoric) were the foundational subjects taught first to a child in elementary, or “trivial” school.

Shakespeare had to be able to recognize and practice in his speaking and in his writing at least 132 rhetorical figures, tropes, and devices. He had to be able to practice expressive, physical rhetoric (or rhetorical dance) every time he stood on his two feet and spoke to his teachers or his classmates. “Per Quam Figuram?” was the question asked repeatedly, all day, every day: “What figure are you using?”

Quinn Strassel, a drama teacher at Ann Arbor Community High School has written a music about Betsy DeVos, the arch-for of America’s public schools. The Michigan media took note.

Strassel recruited Diane Hill, his former Ypsilanti High School drama teacher, to take on the role of Betsy DeVos, while he played husband Dick DeVos and brother Erik Prince.

The cast also included some of Strassel’s former students and fellow school teachers and staff.

As the fictitious storyline in the play goes, DeVos makes an appearance at a Grand Rapids charter school, “Future Business Leaders of Tomorrow Academy,” and enlists the help of six students of color in putting on a musical. She promises to personally give them $200,000 to renovate the school theater if they do a good job.

As the musical progresses, things go wrong and DeVos upsets and frightens the children. Guns enter the picture, one student is worried a family member may be deported, and another student has his brains scrambled by “Neurocleanse,” a mockery of the real-life Neurocore, a DeVos-backed, brain-performance company.

Another student complains about his family falling victim to a “pyramid scheme” run by Amway Corp., a DeVos company.

My friend Jennifer Berkshire wrote to tell me about Quinn’s terrific show.

She wrote:

The teacher who wrote the musical is amazing – his name is Quinn Strassel and he teaches drama at Ann Arbor Community High School. The part of Betsy was played by his former theater teacher at Ypsilanti High School, Diane Hill. That acclaimed theater program no longer exists, by the way, a casualty of Michigan’s schools of choice policy that has devastated schools in working class communities like Ypsilanti.

Here’s a bit about him and the show.

The writer, director, and producer Quinn Strassel wrote:

I believe comedy can be a path to change.

As a teacher, I’ve watched as Betsy DeVos has led a movement to defund and dismantle public schools in Michigan. It has been heartbreaking and devastating to witness.

I can’t outspend Betsy but I’m fighting back with what I’ve got: comedy, music, love, support from my community, and years of experience teaching and directing theatre.

I spent this past summer writing “Betsy Devos! The Musical!”

The show is completely ridiculous (with songs like “Jesus Wants Me to be Rich” and “The Best Kind of Teacher is a Teacher with a Gun”). But I’m proud of what it’s become. I think it has substance and heart.

I would like to share this show with you and as many of your friends as you can bring along for the ride. I want us to laugh and to celebrate public schools. I want to win hearts and change lives. https://www.gofundme.com/f/staged-reading-for-betsy-devos-the-musical

Please watch the link to the show, help fund it, and reach out to Quinn Strassel about staging a production in your community.

Art and humor will save us! And this show has both.

Robin Lithgow was in charge of arts education for the Los Angeles Unified School District. She learned to deal with bureaucracy, frustration, and budget cuts, but she never lost her joy and passion for the arts and their power to change students’ lives.

Now in retirement, she has become a student of the history of the arts.she believes that the justification for the arts cannot be demonstrated with data. She is convinced that explorations into their history will awaken minds and draw them into sympathetic appreciation for the power of the arts.

Read this entry on “Good Behavior and Audacity” to understand where she is heading.

I am retired from the position of Director of the Arts Education Branch in the Los Angeles Unified School District, where for fourteen years I and dozens of amazing colleagues labored to bring the arts to the core of the academic day for every student at every grade level. Research supported our efforts; teachers and most administrators embraced the program enthusiastically; and the evidence poured in that students thrive in arts-rich schools….And yet, we were constantly amazed that we had to advocate, advocate, advocate, to fight each year for our modest funding and for our seat at the table with the decision makers at the head of the district.

Could it be that this was, at least in part, because of our lack of history? Education leaders keep asking us for our “data,” and the obsession for data certainly drives the political power battles in education across the country. We HAVE data, and tons of it, but it is “soft” data and cannot always be directly linked to the results being sought. Perhaps history could be more powerful than data.

So I launched my own research, and once I retired I was literally able to bask in it. Over the past six years I have written a book focusing on one brief period in history, that of the humanist education designed primarily by Desiderius Erasmus and enjoyed by the young William Shakespeare and tens of thousands of his peers in Elizabethan England.

The title of my book is Good Behavior and Audacity: Humanist Education, Playacting, and a Generation of Genius.