Stefanie's Blog Archives - The Stage New Westminster

41.67 Days Outside

I grew up in Chilliwack, a very rural city with farmland for miles but I wasn’t exactly an outdoorsman.  My dad used to “torture” my and brother and I by taking long Sunday drives and walks in the woods. He would stop and point at some tree, or some mountain and comment about how the light was falling and which Bob Ross techniques could be used to capture such a breathtaking scene.

My brother and I didn’t have iPhones, nor would my dad have allowed them on such an excursion, so we would trudge along, nodding in agreement, counting the minutes until we were back in the car anxious to get home and “relax” after that day’s “hard work”. (Wow did we have it backward)

It wasn’t until I was an adult that I started to truly appreciate what my dad was sharing with us. He’s not a sentimental man in the way of sharing deep feelings, but in those moments he is a connected man. An appreciative man who, for the busy life he leads, can still appreciate the stillness of nature and all the ailments it can treat. I find myself now taking drives through Chilliwack when I can, or stopping at the side of the road just to get out of the car, take in the scenery, take in some fresh air and clear my head, even if just for a minute.

Now, living in the city, I miss the access to nature that I had as a child. I wish I had taken more time to enjoy the vast outdoor space around my parents house as it was free, close and safe. And I’ve told myself that if I ever have children I’m going to make them basically live outside…for health and happiness…and I imagine it helps keep the house clean? Maybe? No?!

I stumbled upon this concept when looking for further reading after finishing “Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul” by Stuart Brown M.D. (an excellent read if you get an opportunity).

1000 Hours Outside supports the idea that the more time we spend outside, adults and children alike, the healthier and happier we will be. The more connected we will be to this place we call home and the more likely we will be to fight for our environmental stability in the future.

Now, for as much as I love the idea of this program, I can’t help but ask myself the practicality of taking on such a challenge. Is something like this even possible in an urban cityscape? Is the inconvenience of managing 1000 hours much like going to the gym…we know we should make time for it…but as long as we get the bare minimum we should be okay…right? What is our bare minimum of outside time?

Somedays all I get is the walk to and from my car. Other days I get an hour long walk in…but even if I did that every day that’s still only 365 hours! (Thank goodness for Leap Years when I get 366)

The website (http://1000hoursoutside.comdiscusses numerous benefits to increased outdoor play time for all human beings, not just children. But given that child development and education is a passion of mine I can’t help but think how hugely beneficial a challenge like this would be for the youth in our community.

Does your city-living family embrace outdoor time? If so how? and where? And how many hours do you think you log in a given week?

Would ever considering taking on the 1000 Hours Outside Challenge?

It’s a challenge that I think I’d love to try but really wonder how anyone in the modern world could make it work!

(If I move my office to my patio that counts right?)

You can also find them on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/1000hoursoutside

 

The Transformative Power of Halloween

I felt this was a timely post given that I, like many other teachers, have just come through “Halloweek” where we take part in numerous Halloween themed events and do our best to join in the spirited, sugar driven, chaos while leading our lessons.

However, as someone working in performing arts, I am always fascinated by the largest appeal of Halloween, the costumes. While I’m always snapping photos for our own costume collection, or sending them to my mom (my official costumer) for future use, I am now starting to notice something much more interesting about the effect costuming has on our young trick or theatres.

I am reminded of a girl I worked with very early on in my directing career, Alexis. She had been in my program for two or three years at this point and had gradually worked her way out of her shell to a point where she was an incredibly competent performer at 9 years of age. Comfortable in rehearsal and classes and well liked by her cast mates, Alexis was a charming, quiet young thespian. This particular year she was cast as the Queen of Hearts in our production of Alice in Wonderland, her biggest role to date and by far the most demanding. No longer playing characters with personality traits similar similar to herself, she was faced with a brash, over the top, rage fueled, thoughtless persona; in short, her exact opposite. All through rehearsals I tried every trick in the book to bring her out, to have her project more, to animate her body, and I could see she was really struggling to find the courage to do so.

Dress rehearsal came and my costumers arrived, as usual,  with a set of beautiful costumes , included among them the gown for the Queen of Hearts. (As an aside, your acting students will always love your costumers more than you, doesn’t matter that you’ve worked with them all year, the costumers are the best human beings on the planet. This is a reality I have come to not only accept but embrace wholeheartedly 🙂 I stood in the girls’ change room and amidst the “Where is my other shoe” “When do I wear this?” “We forgot Alice’s apron” “Please don’t cartwheel in your costume” “Are you eating in here?!” “Who’s shoe is this?!” Alexis was being pinned into her dress, which fit perfectly

And then I watched her. I watched her as she turned around in the mirror, admiring the enormity of the hoop skirt, and not being able to control the grin on her face. We pinned on her crown, handed her the wand and the costume was complete.She smiled at herself, tapped her wand in her hand. And then, like magic, her shoulders raised, her nose turned up, and she was transformed.

At the dress rehearsal she was now giving me everything I had wanted from her. She was bossy, domineering, loud, expressive, all of the qualities you want in a Queen of Hearts. Anyone who was there that night that had known Alexis was stunned at what was being brought to the stage. Whether it was the size of the costume that brought it out, or an inner growth that occurred upon seeing the outer image, Alexis was now…bigger.

This week I noticed similar changes in other students, students as young as 3. There were a few that hadn’t yet spoken to me this year that were now explaining to me every detail about their character and their costume and a flurry of sound effects I could only pretend to understand (I’ve learned that I’m quite out of touch with today’s popular kids costumes).

They were somehow safer now, shrouded in fake fur, or a plastic mask, or the dress of an ice queen that shall remain nameless that sings and lights up…constantly…

Before writing this post I went back and forth about it’s message. Is this to say that who our children are is determined by what they wear, costumed or otherwise?

Or is it more of an observation that our children already possess these qualities and abilities, and the costume gives them a bit of a buffer to try on a new skill without feeling so exposed because in their minds they are “someone” or “something else”.

I believe that it’s the latter.

In Alexis’s case, we had discussed all matters of this character’s personality, why she was like this, what made her so angry. We had discussed that playing a role meant that we were pretending to be someone we’re not, and that this meant attempting to understand how a person could be so angry and loud.

Explaining to a young actor the difference between who they are as a person and who they have been asked to play on stage can be very difficult, especially when a child doesn’t want to appear “mean” to her friends, even in a pretend context because of how real it can feel or because they’re worried they will hurt someone’s real feelings. But it is this conversation that bursts open the door of empathy and compassion and builds the ability to think about how others feel, how our actions affect others and how to understand someone’s point of view, even if you don’t agree with it.

I am not encouraging the idea that how we dress is a complete summation of who we are, nor do I think this is the lesson to take away as we watch our kids dance like a ballerina, or karate chop like a ninja, or cackle like a witch while going door to door on Halloween. But I do think there is something to be learned by literally dressing up as someone else and observing how you feel about your usually familiar environment. Costume and dramatic play, at Halloween or other times, gives our kids an opportunity to practice and understand behavioural and social skills they may not yet be comfortable with, but could benefit from if given a safe environment in which to try them out.

Junior Musical Theatre Company

Today I am beyond excited!

Today we announce that our Junior Musical Theatre Company will run for the first time since the studio opened in January 2013. Now, why is this such a big deal you ask?

When I first started teaching it was a program like this that allowed me to discover my passion for teaching drama and directing children in theatre. It completely altered the path of my career in the best possible way. For 9 years I built a program from 6 students to 14 students, with annual waiting lists from it’s 5th year onward. It was a program that students returned to year after year, giving me the opportunity to really connect not only with these students, but with their families.

It was a true community building program. The amount of work it takes is unimaginable, but the way the families rallied around myself and my team, a group of volunteers (some theatre professionals, others enthusiastic theatre supporters) was truly a wonder to behold.

When I left my previous position to branch out on my own I worried so much that I wouldn’t be able to find that sense of community again, that for some reason it would be harder to find in a more densely populated area where more established businesses like this one already exist. As time has passed I have become deeply humbled, and so incredibly honoured, that I have been given the opportunity to work with families (over 80 this year!) on a weekly basis, and work with families that have chosen The Stage and it’s staff to be a part of their child’s educational community.

The Junior Musical Theatre Company has attempted to run many times in the past, but it simply has not had the registration to be able to afford to run it. Arts programming, to the standards at which The Stage holds it, is not cheap. But I’d like the excitement of our inaugural year to speak to other business owners. It will happen. Patience is a virtue, and a hard one to come by at that. But combined with hard work, attention to detail and adaptability, patience will pay off.

I am so grateful that I have had the opportunity these past two and a half years to grow in my early childhood music programming classes; the babies, toddlers, preschoolers and early elementary students I work with every week have sparked in me an even more intense desire to provide the best quality programming I can, and to continue to strive to grow in my understanding of children and how studies in music, theatre, and dance can truly enhance their development as they grow into the future leaders of our communities.

To the students and their families in this year’s program; you are going to be a part of something wonderful. Myself and my team are looking so forward to working with you. I cannot wait to see how you grow this year and look forward to you reaping all the benefits performing arts can offer you.

Here’s to a fantastic 2015/2016 season!

Stefanie

The Stairs of Life: One Step at a Time is Just Fine

In this fast paced world of seemingly limitless technology at our fingertips, inundation of media and high stress living we’re all motivated by one thing: the urge to get it right. The urge to succeed so that we can get life ‘right’. What is newest, most advanced, and earns us the most attention keeps us on the cutting edge of getting it right and advances us in a way that will surely guarantee our success in the future.

We want to get it right.

Right?

We’ve adopted the belief that the further you can get ahead, and the sooner, the better. This is very apparent when working with parents as every parent’s desire to help their child succeed is paramount in their lives.  And in today’s day and age it’s not hard to find copious information and research on what’s “best” for your child’s development, and what will ultimately put them ahead.

Where we run into trouble is when children are “forced” or “pushed” into advancement rather than nurtured. It is no secret that every child develops at their own pace; but with the way our society is evolving, are they developing fast enough. That is to say, are they developing at a rate that as parents and educators we can feel is indicative of their future success.

After her son, age 8, handed in a written assignment for his drama program, a mother, out of the goodness of her heart, told me that “his writing is atrocious but because of his Tourette Syndrome it’s the best it will ever be”. I was new to teaching, and new to working with children with educational barriers but it struck me as being odd that this was something I needed to consider. This was a drama class, not an english class, and I was just excited that he had engaged in the material enough to actually do the assignment! If writing was involved I was prepared to take what I could get because I knew it was what he could give. I also thought, I’m sure most people with illegible handwriting still get drivers licenses and jobs and pay their taxes.

More often than ever we find ourselves in conversations with parents about moving their child ahead in our classes, asking why their advanced 3 year old, cannot be placed in the 5 year old program. I always meet this question with an understanding that every parent is looking to give their child the best opportunity possible. However, sometimes the best opportunity to give them is a chance to be the age they are, to meet the needs of their whole development at the stage they are at. Our star pupil may be able to tap two sticks together in time, but perhaps he needs development in his social skills. Every child has areas they are working on, some that we may not even notice.

The articles below talk about Developmentally Appropriate Practice which is an educational philosophy that strives to help children develop in a way that meets their current needs. It engages young learners in a meaningful way that encourages excitement and passion for learning, and if young children possess that, there will be no stopping their future success.

This article concisely parallels nurturing physical milestones and how we can apply the same ideas to other developmental milestones

This article outlines Developmentally Appropriate Practice (DAP)

And while this article will speak to some and not to others I felt it touched on the very important topics of body wisdom and building self confidence.

Anxious Kids in Anxious Times

The Worried Child  Recognizing Anxiety in Children and Helping Them Heal  Ph.D. Paul Foxman Ph.D.  9780897934206  Books   Amazon.caIn my efforts to continue educating myself and those that I work with in all areas involving children’s education and development, I had the pleasure of coming across “The Worried Child” by Dr. Paul Foxman, a psychologist and Director for the Centre for Anxiety Disorders.

Dr. Foxman expertly discusses the many facets of anxiety. He explores what anxiety is, what it feels like; the importance of anxiety and it’s purpose, the types of anxiety and symptoms, the stages of anxiety growth and society’s role in that growth, school focused anxiety, the biology behind anxiety, and of course advice on seeking treatment. I feel one of the highlights of the book is the practical, short form, easily applied lists of solutions for parents and teachers working with a child with anxiety. Also included in the book is an entire chapter that can be read by children to assist them with their emotional management, empowering them and helping to build resilience in them.

Why is childhood anxiety particularly important to me? A couple of reasons.

Firstly, as someone who dealt with anxiety as a child and teenager I understand the confusion, despair, and hopelessness that can consume the child as well as the parents during this time. I appreciate the way it can turn a normally boisterous, outgoing child into a scared, worried, burdened individual who lacks the life experience or vocabulary to discuss the “nothing’s wrong, but everything’s wrong” feeling associated with anxiety. I hope that with this ever-increasing knowledge I can better adapt my role in my students’ lives to prevent or ease the experience of anxiety.

Secondly, anxiety is a common occurrence in arts programs. I have encountered it numerous times in my teaching career, for a couple of reasons that I can only guess at. Perhaps parents have tried having their child participate in other social activities, like sports, but because of the child’s predisposition towards the “anxiety personality” he or she has been unable to cope with the demands (whether real or imagined) of said activity. Arts programming has a reputation for working with the individual and facilitates personal growth while achieving social growth goals. The other possible explanation is that parents with children who appear shy or withdrawn to the extent that it is affecting their social experiences (in school or even at home) look to the performing arts as a way of developing confidence which will hopefully allow the child to overcome anxiety and it’s manifestations; and thereby allow them to lead a “normal” life.

It should be important for all art educators (educators of all types really but I speak here to the validity of arts programs) to understand anxiety and its relevancy in today’s society. This should demand the building of a curriculum that supports solutions and offers practical exercises for children to use as part of their emotional regulation tool kit. It is worth mentioning that, particularly in performance geared programs, creating great actors means helping students build their own emotional intelligence so that as they grow in their training they are better equipped to build stage worthy characters. Perhaps the best part of this practice is that while it builds this ability to perform, it also helps them master emotional stability and understanding which is such an important skill to have in every day life.

Lastly, and as discussed in “The Worried Child”, the world is becoming increasingly more anxious. We are in a greater state of panic then we ever have been before. The threat of violence, war, terrorism, bullying, bankruptcy, job loss, family breakdowns, political strife, government turmoil…the list goes on, is ever present in our lives. And with media access so easily available everywhere, we can be inundated with bad news 24 hours a day. Our own coping strategies aside, our children are present too, and they are feeling the effects of this world more so than ever. We are perpetuating anxiety in our culture, and while it would be impossible to obliterate anxiety, we may be able to equip our children with the necessary skills to combat it so that they may reach their highest potential, and foster in their own children the ability to do the same. It has to start somewhere, let’s start now.


Further reading on anxiety and emotional regulation can be found here:

 

Walk a Mile in Someone’s Shoes

Empathy |ˈempəTHē|
noun
the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.

 

What the world needs now…is empathy. Information flies willy nilly every second of every day, tabloids scream the latest personal information speculated by celebrity reporters. A lack of empathy is something that is seemingly so apparent, we don’t even acknowledge its absence.

Empathy is one of the attributes that separates us from the wild. A lion doesn’t choose its prey based on whether or not the gazelle had a good day at work or is struggling in a relationship. Empathy is one skill that we’d like to think is natural, and while this is probably partly true, it is fair to say that empathy is something that also needs to be exercised; both actively, as in showing & receiving empathy, and passively, as in witnessing empathy.

Bullying, something constantly on the radar now, while stemming from many issues, can also be attributed to a lack of empathy, an inability to allow an awareness of how we would feel in the victim’s role to govern our actions.

How do children practice empathy? Passively it is something they witness, from parents and other adults in their various environments, or when one child in their class includes another child who may have been left out. Actively it is something they exercise  in conflict, guided by a parent perhaps or it is something that is openly talked about at home in times of crisis or whenever the opportunity arrives.

Performing arts, acting specifically, requires the building of empathy skills. Understanding a character’s choices based on their actions, reactions, their past, the events they cause, the events they are victim to and why is how we bring words on a page to life on a stage. Trying to create emotionally accurate and believable characters requires an ability to relate to the character’s situation, either by paralleling a similar experience in our own lives; or, by piecing together experiences that might be vastly different from our characters situation but still connects us emotionally to their plight.

When we ask our acting students to think about how they would feel if a confrontational action was inflicted upon them, or how they would react in a similar situation, we are exercising their empathy muscles. We hope that these practice sessions, during rehearsals, will be relevant in their every day lives when opportunities to exercise empathy present themselves. Equipping our future generations with this ability, is one of the only ways our families, communities, and ultimately our world, will ever experience harmonious living.

This link outlines further how even attending theatre can be an engaging opportunity to witness empathy.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/lauren-gunderson/world-theater-for-children-and-young-people-day_b_1343408.html

*Side note* If you plan on taking your child to the theatre, I strongly urge you to engage them in conversation about the show during intermission and afterward. Too often the electronics are switched back on and potential moments for communication with your child are missed. Engage them in conversation about what they are witnessing!

This article outlines further benefits of exposing children to theatre early on.

http://www.education.com/magazine/article/Why_Childrens_Theater_Matters/?page=2

This is Your Brain on Music

Music is a powerful force that has been within us since our ancestors roamed the earth and used instruments to channel the forces of nature. Now, whether it worked or not is a question for anthropologists, but the fact remains that sound and music was considered powerful enough to change the laws of nature.

And now we’re lucky if our public schools even have a regular music class taught by a trained music educator.

Music may be the only magic we have left in our world. We have all seen the quotes floating around Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.  It is what does us in emotionally when watching movies like “Up”, even though we fully recognize we are watching figments of someone’s imagination sketched in a computer, we cannot help but all of a sudden relate and feel as if we are intimately sharing these moments as they happen.

Do we feel that our musical needs are met with films, the radio, advertising, i(insert pods, pads, phones), elevators (although think of the last time you were in an elevator that had music) and concert attendance?  While all of these expose us to music, how do they actively engage us? Perhaps concert attendance, singing to the radio in the car, or dancing to your iPod at home are good examples of engagement with sound, but how often does that happen versus listening to the tinny shopping mall music, or having the radio on at work in the background while you go about your business, or not even realizing that a commercial for a product had a song until you find yourself humming something familiar in the shower one morning (Alarm Force anyone?)

By and large our exposure to music is passive. It happens because it’s become comfortable for us, we like music when we shop, and we like it on in the background at parties because it fills uncomfortable silences. Perhaps this is why we no longer revere music in the way our ancestors did. We are so constantly immersed in its presence that we feel if music was going to affect my life, wouldn’t I notice it doing so every day?

Active engagement in music is what is called for. You cannot reap the benefits of a fitness dvd by watching it, you cannot climb a mountain by looking at it, you cannot give your child the benefits of a music education by placing them in front of the latest Infant Inventor series. Active engagement is what is necessary; instrumentlessons, dance classes (or jamming to something at home), music classes are methods of actively engaging your child in music development.

The science is there to support these arguments. I don’t think I’ve yet come across an article that notices measurable differences in brain development after watching 100 hours of classical music played by symphonies, if there is one out there, let me know.

I am not claiming that music lessons will teach your child to summon hurricanes. But, while it may not change the weather, science is now further exposing how music effects our entire being, not only is it enjoyable, it is incredibly beneficial, even if your child has no ambition of ever becoming a concert pianist.

Resources