My 4 Least Favorite Words....

“It’s only a show.” “It’s just children’s theatre.” “It will be cute.”

As someone who has been creating theatre with and for young people for almost a decade, those sentiments, and many more like them, are not just a pet peeve of mine- they’re fighting words. Much like other adages and practices around pedagogy that I have taken issue with in the past (read: beginning dance teachers teaching beginners alone, women only being able to teach children in many churches), these make zero sense. I find them irresponsible and dangerous.

Yet, these are things I get told when I hold my students (and other children’s theatre productions, I’ll be honest, I’m judgey) to professional standards. Not in terms of performances, although there are some VERY talented children out there. I mean in respect to color-conscious casting and culturally appropriate show selection. Actually, I hold them to a higher-than-most-professionals standard, because there are some theatres and theatre professionals who do a TERRIBLE job of this. I hold them to a formational, educational standard.

In children’s theatre, we are encountering these young humans while they are still learning. Heck, I work in a school.  My job is literally to be an educator. As such, I want my students to learn as they are involved in theatre. And, not just theatrical skills. Rather, I want them to learn the traits theatre and the arts are so uniquely suited to develop: perspective, empathy, collaboration, ensemble attitude. Unfortunately, when we tell stories that are not ours to tell, what we teach is that other cultures are here for our entertainment; cultural appropriation is okay, as long as it’s cute; and/or that the performing arts are exempt from the standards we hold for culturally responsive teaching and pedagogy in our classrooms.

As theatre teachers, it’s really time to do better. Because, the arts are underfunded, under-appreciated, and usually just seen as outlets for self-absorbed humans.. When one of us does something that is irresponsible, questionable, harmful, or just unprofessional, you put all of us under that label with you. For the sake of our own field, we have to do better. For the sake of our students, we have to do better. As Tonia Sina told us in our IDI training, “when you know better, you do better”.

This mentality, this lack of ethical art, in the name of kids just having fun, is harming all of us- as educators and artists, and our communities. Can we please find a way to have integrity AND be creative? I really don’t think it’s impossible. I do think it will take some work. Some diligent planning of rehearsal time to be sure to include dramaturgy on the culture, time period, social issues of a given show. Some hard choices being made when a show will pigeon-hole certain actors into caricatures of their race/orientation/gender. Some long discussions with students on why we can’t, in our population do certain shows. Based on this past weekend’s Twitter explosion of a high school performing Alien, a discussion on copyright and creative ownership is needed as well….

When I allow “it’s just a [children’s] show” or the entertainment factor to be my driving force for selecting a show, I ignore my responsibilities as an educator AND as an artist. Now, I don’t think any children’s theatre director (particularly one in a school) sets out to explicitly teach children these things. Nor are they explicitly taught. However, our choices set these examples for our children and their families, and will help them develop their own approach to the consumption of art, as participant or spectator. We also inform their approach to Others who are different from them. We can teach them openness, inquiry, and to find common ground while enjoying differences, as art is a common expression of humanity searching for and expressing meaning. Or, we can give them Other as Spectacle, as entertainment or caricature.

When we, as the as experts in children’s theatre or theatre education, make irresponsible choices we undercut the power we purport theatre to possess. When we make a choice based purely on cast size or title recognition, we make it all the harder for arts educators in every discipline (not just ourselves in theatre) to be taken seriously. We fulfill the outside world’s stereotype of “Oh, you teach theatre? That must be fun…”. We denigrate our ability to do our actual job of shaping the minds and lives of young people.


Responsible, ethical choices are not always easy to make. It is probably easier to do the show-in-a-box. It is probably easier to do a show you’ve done before, the way you’ve always done it. But easy isn’t always right. Easy doesn’t always carry the integrity we know we are capable of.

This world needs truth-telling theatre. This world needs audiences who recognize the power of the theatre, and artists capable of wielding it. We don’t need “just a kids’ show”.




The Bible as Literary Construct and Art

This post was originally a discussion paper for my Feminist Theology 2 class in my PhD work.

The Bible has long been called “The Word of God”. Often included in the discussion are descriptors such as as “infallible”, “divinely inspired”, “perfect” and “only”. But for Christian Feminists, accepting the Bible as the only word of God, or the infallible record of those divinely inspired causes pain and exclusion, and raises more questions.

The Bible has often been used to oppress women. Ranging from exclusion from church leadership to domestic abuse, certain selections are held up in defense of androcentric and even evil choices of the human patriarchy and tradition in the place of power. We have, in our churches, decided that the passages dealing with multiple wives and slavery are clearly no longer applicable in today’s society. However, these same churches struggle to deal relevantly with homosexuality, violence, and the role of women. The Church must stop assigning cultural acceptance or dismissal to only certain parts of the Bible. Either we interpret it all through the lens of what is freeing, loving and life-giving, or we do not. Either we state that all of the Bible is the product of the world that it reflects, which is not the world we live in, or we do not. Many modern Christians are trying to pick and choose the passages that defend their positions, as un-Christlike as they may be, while dismissing others on the basis of history. This double-standard of Biblical reading and interpretation cannot be allowed to continue in our churches.

Sandra Schneiders reminds us in her essay that language is a “human phenomenon” (38). And as such, the Bible is inherently human. She writes “Because the text is human language giving voice to human experience of God in Christ, as well as to the experience of the early community in all its weakness and sinfulness, the text, even though it is inspired….is as capable of error distortion, and even sinfulness as the church itself” (49). The modern Church’s and modern Christians’ inability to recognize the above leads to harmful teachings and beliefs on women in leadership (in the church and civic lives), the gender (or lack thereof) of God, and the inferiority of women. This continues into oppression of other groups, including homosexual men and women and minority races.

As a language construct, Word of God is a metaphor. Much of what happens in the Bible is a metaphor, or a parable. That is, words or stories spoken to impart meaning and message, rather than to be taken a literal truth. Many Evangelical Christians hold that the Bible is literally, rather than metaphorically, true. Schneiders writes “The idolatrous result of this literalization can be traced through church history in the patriarchalization of Christian faith” (39). She reminds us that “Obviously, God does not literally speak, but the metaphor word of God certainly intends meaning. Its referent, what it points to is the entire domain of reality that we call divine revelation that is, the self-disclosure of God as it is perceived and received by human beings” (39). Revelation requires interaction between God and people. It is again this human element that cannot be considered untainted or infallible.

All language must also be interpreted. We interpret, as I often tell my students in choreography, based on what we bring with us. The audience’s own past experiences and biases influence what they see and hear. Even what they ate or didn’t eat, and the events of the day, before coming into the theatre influence what they view and, ultimately, what they interpret. Every audience member sees a slightly different dance, a slightly different play. It is tied up in their own personal, embodied experiences. No playwright or choreographer can ever fully know how their work will be received, a point that Schneiders makes about Biblical texts (48).

Schneiders writes, “Essentially, interpretation is a dialectical process that takes place between a reader and a text and culminates in an event of meaning” (47). It is this evanescence that I love about live art. No performance is ever the same. It is why actors and dancers can continue to “do the same thing” for 8 shows a week- it is never the same, because the energy shared between audience and performers is always different. In the same way, we encounter texts differently. We can reread the same passage at different points in our lives and discover different meanings, based on personal experiences and experiencing it with the people around us. Schneiders reminds us that this is important because “...it implies that a text does not have one right meaning…”  and that “...meaning is not ‘in’ the text, but occurs in the interaction between text and reader…” (47). Importantly, “the reader makes a genuine contribution to the meaning rather than being simply a passive consumer of prefabricated meaning” (48). It is this act of interpretation that gives hope to me as a Christian feminist. The meaning of the texts lie with us. We are responsible for researching, communicating and embodying meaning from the Scriptures that is inclusive, life-giving and freeing. We can accept the Bible as a human construct of communication with the Divine. In it we can see other human interpretations, and bring our own. And we can, ultimately, determine its meaning in our lives.

Schneiders, Sandra M. (1993) "The Bible and Feminism: Biblical Theology" in Catherine Mowry LaCugna, ed. Freeing Theology. New York: HarperCollins.


Art Education: Process v. Product. Originally published 5.2012

April was full of events. Actually, most of them occurred all in 1 week! My high school students presented A Midsummer Night’s Dream and their semester dance performance. My students at Hedgerow performed for a fundraiser. Through it all, I was coaching, correcting, writing program notes, performing as well, and just generally hoping for the best. 

Weeks like that are the best and the worst. We celebrate as all of our hard work, scolds, suggestions and teaching become a beautiful final product. And, we worry that it won’t. Somehow, it always seems to “come together”. Yet, I’m concerned that miracle of adrenaline is something we take for granted. Do we, as teachers and directors, just trust it will “come together”, and then not instill in our students the importance of discipline, rehearsing as you would perform, and taking pride in one’s work, as much in the process as the product? 

If we do not encourage our students to be disciplined- prepared, on time, respectful of the process, their peers and their authorities- we miss a chance to prepare them for college and jobs, where they will not have us there to remind them. 

If we do not have them rehearse as they perform, we do not teach them that the arts, and most things in life, are group efforts. That the actions (or lack thereof) of one person has a ripple affect on the group, with consequences s/he may not foresee when focused on him/herself.

If we do not encourage our students to take as much pride in the process as in the finished product, we do not actually encourage learning. We are telling them that the end is all that matters. We do not take mistakes and failures as learning opportunities, rather we just focus on the happy ending (see chapter 1 of Jonah Lehrer’s Imagine). And in that, we don’t encourage creativity. If we cannot teach our students to try, to fail, to try again, to seek ways to improve we are not educating them. We are not creating a generation of resilient, innovative thinkers and doers, who operate with perspective and insight. We are simply teaching them to get to the end. By whatever means necessary. 

The arts in education should not be about just getting to the end- the performance, the final piece, the presentation. The arts in education should be a time to teach the value of exploration, to embrace learning and process as just as important as the finished product. If you never start, you can never finish. If you do not learn as you go, you will not end up in any place different than where you started.