Thursday, February 3, 2011

In Response to Rocco Landesman: Arts Education




Note: On January 31, Rocco Landesman, the Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, published a blog post entitled "#SupplyDemand," which has been seriously discussed in the arts community the past few days. One of Rocco's more significant points, the importance of arts education, is worthy of more discussion. The New Victory's Director of Education, Joe Giardina, addresses that here.

Mr. Landesman makes a good point when he encourages not-for-profits to increase their arts education programming. He states that “Exposure to the arts—early and often—builds future audiences.” I would add that it is visits to high-quality, challenging theatrical productions combined with professionally run, expertly crafted in-class workshops that young people need in order to ensure future audience participation.

Studies have shown that the arts are a necessary part of a child’s education because they help build critical thinking skills, imagination, play and self-esteem. When combined with visits to theaters students also gain an understanding of the process behind the productions.

At The New Victory Theater we present innovative and challenging theater for young audiences. Each of our productions is enhanced by pre and post show in-classroom workshops led by our trained team of teaching artists. Students attending our recent production of Nearly Lear, an adaptation of Shakespeare’s King Lear, have an understanding of theatrical adaptation prior to attending the show because of the work they did with our teaching artists. The same is true for students attending our next production, Circus INcognitus by the solo performer Jamie Adkins. Students understand the dynamics of physical comedy, balance and juggling prior to attending that production. During the 2010-11 season we will have provided 850 of these in-school workshops in which over 30,000 students and teachers will participate, as well as attend productions at The New Victory Theater. Teachers also receive curriculum support to extend the arts learning beyond the teaching artists’ visits.

In this way, we are de-mystifying the theatrical experience so that students have an interest in attending theater productions as adults, which has been described as an elitist experience. They will go to the theater to be challenged, inspired and thrilled by the live stage experience.

Each day I ride the bus from my suburban home in to New York City. My bus mate is a woman who is the president of a small but prestigious publishing house. Our conversations vary each day from politics (local and global), to the proliferation of Kindle, to gardening. I will always remember the day we talked about seminal experiences and she described to me the first time she went to a live theater event in her native Ohio. She described it, as many people do, as a magical event that she will never forget. It is what has made her continue to attend theater on a regular basis as an adult.

On a peripheral note, there are seven people administrating our Education Department at The New Victory Theater overseeing a teaching artist staff of over forty who work with our 160+ partner schools. We are doing our part to keep these teaching artists gainfully employed for ten months out of the year.

Lastly, The New Victory Theater offers partnerships with schools for a $100 partnership fee. After that schools pay $2 per ticket for students and $5 for chaperones. Everything else is absolutely free. That includes in-class workshops, School Tool resource guides which enhance that classroom work and professional development for the classroom teachers with whom we work. In the world of The New Victory and our education programs, supply and demand takes on the opposite meaning of what Mr. Landesman suggests. There is a huge demand for our services and we have waiting lists of schools who want to join our program that we are unable to supply because of our limited inventory. With added support from the National Endowment for the Arts we would be able to serve more students and create more theater goers of the future.


Joseph Giardina is the Director of Education at The New Victory Theater. From 2002-2010 he was the Education Director at Theatre for a New Audience (TFANA), an award-winning, classical off-Broadway theatre company. Their Education department is the largest to introduce Shakespeare and classic drama to New York City Public School children. Prior to his position at TFANA he was the Artistic/Education Director at Arts Horizons.  From 1995-1998, Mr. Giardina directed and produced the New Jersey Young Playwrights Festival. He is the former Artistic Director of UPTCo and a Founding Member of Off World Theatre which was housed at the Puffin Cultural Forum in Teaneck, NJ. 

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