The Glass Menagerie at FHS

I just saw a superb production of The Glass Menagerie at Fayetteville High School last night.  Full disclosure: my daughter plays Laura.  Despite that fact, I don’t think my opinion about the excellence of the show is biased.  Every member of the cast, the set, the lighting, and the projection and sound effects were all the quality of a professional production.  Those who can should come to see it at the FHS Black Box Theater tonight or Saturday at 7 pm or Sunday at 2 pm.  Arrive early to buy tickets because it is an intimate space with limited seating.

Given the shift in education away from the arts toward a narrow focus on math and reading skills, it is wonderful to see how Fayetteville School District is actually expanding its attention to the arts.  The performance was held in the new state of the art theater facility at the high school.  In his directorial debut, Trevor Cooper is a recent addition to an expanded drama faculty at the high school that now includes four teachers, led by the fabulous Warren Rosenaur.  The school’s principal, Steve Jacoby was in the audience last night , as were school board member, Tim Hudson, and several teachers.  They come out to see the arts just like they come out to see the football team — both of which make significant contributions to the education of students.

It’s also wonderful that the AP Literature classes saw in-school performances of the play today and yesterday.  I suspect that if they also have the chance to read the play in class, the benefits would be even stronger.

I’ll be able to test my suspicion more rigorously with an experiment I am conducting on the effects of students seeing quality theater.  With an award-winning local theater company, TheatreSquared, I am conducting a study in which school groups are awarded free tickets by lottery to see A Christmas Carol and Hamlet.  We want to how these theater experiences affect students.  In particular, we are collecting information on whether students are also reading these plays to see if the combination of reading and seeing a play is particularly effective relative to just reading or just seeing the play.

But even if you’ve never read The Glass Menagerie, come see it this weekend at FHS.  And then read it.  It’s a beautiful production of a beautiful play.

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14 Responses to The Glass Menagerie at FHS

  1. jendacott says:

    Trevor Cooper – recent graduate of the Secondary Education MAT program at the University of Arkansas and winner of the Outstanding Student Award in 2013.

  2. Jason — Thanks for pointing out that Mr. Cooper is one of yours. You guys should really be proud of Trevor Cooper. He is a world-class educator, which reflects very well on our College’s MAT program.

  3. matthewladner says:

    Congrats to your daughter and her fellow players. One of our children attends a performing arts school, and another had the opportunity to play the role of Malvolio and Nick Bottom in school Shakespeare productions. We’re big fans of the arts.

    I’m willing to bet however that you agree with me that no amount of the arts can substitute for literacy. I think of literacy as the base level of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. It is hard to fully appreciate art, among other important things, without it.

    Thus I’d be happy to see elementary schools spend more time working with illiterate 3rd and 4th graders and less on the arts for those same students. It’s easier to catch up on the arts than on reading ability. What do you think?

    • I agree with you that basic literacy is a prerequisite for pursuit of the arts. But basic literacy is typically achieved in elementary school — even for most disadvantaged students in lousy school systems. So, schools need to shift very early from the mechanics of reading to the content and quality of reading. The arts is a way to get quality content into reading. As ED Hirsch and others have noted, schools continue to treat reading as a “skill” far too long and neglect quality content. The way students advance beyond 3rd grade reading is by exposure to quality content.

      So, no I don’t think kids can “catch up on the arts” more easily than on reading because they are really one and the same thing beyond 3rd grade for most students.

      • matthewladner says:

        Agree but the “most” is not a very large “most” in many states (40% below basic here in AZ for instance) and the neurological window for easier literacy acquisition seems at a minimum better established than any similar phenomenon in the arts, if there is one.

        In other words, I’d be happy to have illiterate 3rd graders get more reading instruction at the cost of their arts instruction for that year. If I could afford to do both arts for on track kids and extra reading help for illiterate kids, I would. All the titles of federal funding can in fact be used for this purpose.

      • Students who are below basic do not necessarily lack the ability to decode words or other basic mechanics of reading. What they mostly lack is vocabulary and the ability to comprehend what they are reading. The way you correct that is by exposing students to more and better content, which expands their vocabulary and gives them a cultural framework for comprehending things that they read. Art is part of that better content. So, the way you address low reading levels in AZ is not with more focus on the abstract “skill” of reading, but with quality content. Again, art and literacy are part of the same thing.

  4. matthewladner says:

    There doesn’t seem to be much focus on reading as a skill or otherwise here in Arizona, but we do have plenty of illiterate 4th graders taking art classes. Maybe it has a delayed reaction.

    • They take reading classes too. The problem is that the reading classes treat reading as an abstract skill rather than focusing on quality content.

      • Greg Forster says:

        I think this is the heart of the issue. The solution is not to cancel art class but to give parents the power to choose schools that actually teach reading in reading class.

  5. Greg Forster says:

    “I don’t think my opinion about the excellence of the show is biased.”

    So . . . you don’t love your daughter, then?

    Or do you mean to say that your opinion about the excellence of the show falls within a conventionally accepted margin of error in spite of your bias?

  6. Barry Stern says:

    Congrats to Jay and family. You must be proud.
    Many years ago I was introduced to the extraordinary power of the arts in school. The Berkeley (CA) school district convened all new high school teachers for a morning meeting and welcome. I was mentally prepared to be bored by a tour of the district’s rules & regs. Sure enough, the superintendent opened with his warm welcome. Three minutes into it he concluded by saying “We have something special for you.” The lights dimmed and for the next two plus hours we were treated to “Raisin in the Sun”, a multi-media play performed by the high school’s theater group. It was the district’s first year of school busing, and they wanted everybody on board. The play was superb — as well done as any I have seen. I came away feeling that this was a special school in a special district. As for their rules and regs, they gave us a copy of the employee handbook.
    I was the first full-time teacher of an experimental course called Social Living. The district required that I develop a learning contract with each of my 10th grade classes. Within broad guidelines students could choose the course content and how I would teach it and evaluate their work. The content menu included drug abuse prevention, police-youth relations, relations with parents and peers, youth employment issues, human sexuality and race relations.
    One class wanted to study drug abuse prevention by developing a script for a 15-20 minute film documentary on “Should we legalize marijuana?” They would conduct research, lay out different points of view, organize and film a debate, interview peers and community leaders, etc. I asked the theater arts director for help. He visited the class a few times to suggest how to develop the script and provided feedback on various drafts. The students were totally “dialed in” and produced an excellent product. Take away – the arts can improve literacy, thinking skills, creativity, judgment and teamwork. It just takes a teacher to use the arts as a vehicle to help students care about what they are doing and make the connections to life lessons. What would school look like if some of that afterschool energy were moved into the school day? Since U.S. high schools have run in place for 30 years, maybe it’s worth a try.

  7. George Mitchell says:

    Good news. What a pleasure for you and your family.

    High school drama can be exciting and inspiring, as apparently it is in this case, or something you grind through as a loyal parent.

    My oldest was part of the stage crew at her high school, where the dramatic productions were consistently solid and sometimes spectacular. My youngest, who attended a supposedly “elite” school, participated in less memorable performances. Many of the students went into these plays thinking they were “special” enough to avoid hard work.

    My youngest has stuck with community theater and this year for the first time she will be in a paid* production of “Rent” in St. Louis. When she was cast for the play she reacted with complete jubilation. I can’t wait to see the actual performance in March.

    *The level of compensation officially qualifies her as a “starving artist”

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