Performing, Teaching, Evolution and Human Rights

A person’s a person, no matter how small. – Dr. Seuss

My thoughts continue on the intersection of performing and teaching.

When you teach a subject that you know a lot about, the very act of imparting it to someone else makes you research and think, thereby making you a better practitioner of your art form. Being a teaching artist makes me a more thoughtful performing artist and gives me a clearer voice in expressing my thoughts.

Last month, I was sitting blissfully alone on a sunny deck at Sea Ranch, reading Edna Ferber’s novel, Showboat, (1926) the source material for Kern and Hammerstein’s history-changing musical by the same name, which opened on Broadway in 1927.

My copy of the book had apparently been purged in good condition from the Green County Library, somewhere in Ohio, and it has come into my New York-born hands here in Northern California through the miracle of the Internet and its miracle child, Amazon.com.

And why was I reading it, that lovely weekend at Sea Ranch, when I was supposed to be resting my brain from work? I was enthusiastically becoming better informed on the origins of the first musical in American Musical Theatre history to tell a serious, unified story through song, dance and text.

Because I am teaching it.

I am teaching it to my class in American Musical Theatre History and Practice; a curriculum I am creating for 4th and 5th graders in the Albany School District, thanks to LEAP Imagination in Learning. It is the project that has cured me of my fear of LCD projectors.

This is the project that a few months ago sparked a discussion on the 10 Most Iconic Songs in Musical Theatre History, graciously moderated on Facebook by Mike Ward of the San Francisco Bay Times.

So there I was, voraciously reading Showboat. I’ve known the show since I was very young and know most of its songs by heart, having sung along with the record in my childhood bedroom. And I get to teach it to today’s kids, whose parents are younger than I am and who probably have never heard of Showboat, although their children have become FASCINATED with it.

And I MUST teach it, because I’ve defined the course as comprising the iconic songs of Musical Theatre history — and the kids are to learn Ol’ Man River.

And to teach Showboat, I must explain laws against racial inter-marriage to multi-racial 4th and 5th graders. And so I must research, so that I have the facts with which to handle this delicate subject with honesty.

So I read Edna Ferber’s Showboat, set in 1887 on the Mississippi River in the post-slavery South.

And I’m thinking about Slavery. And the fundamental law that you cannot buy and sell a person. PERIOD. And how much that law is still violated on our planet every day, now in 2010.

And I’m thinking about the evolution of our species. How we are ALL alive today because of some strength that has sustained our literal DNA ancestors and allowed us to come into being here today.

We are all the products of survival. Some have survived because of flexibility and adaptability, some because of intelligence, wisdom, bravery, daring, strength, hardiness, some through wielding power or domination, some buying their survival through craft or riches.

But in the end, we are all – despite the vastness of our variety and our differences – we are all PERSONS. The teacher is equal to the student. The boss is equal to the mail clerk. The general to the cadet, the rich to the poor. Those that speak a specific language are equal to those that speak another. Those who express their spirituality in one manner are equal to those that celebrate it in another. Those of one race are equal to those of another. We all come into the world in the same way. We are all persons.

At this time of year, at Christmas time, much thinking and praying and card mailing involves an invocation for peace. MY prayer is that we can, as humans, remember that we are fundamentally all equal to each other, and that we all have human rights. If we were all treated with compassion and all had enough to eat, would we be able to banish war?

GROWN UP CHRISTMAS LIST (Foster & Thompson)

No more lives torn apart
That wars would never start
And time would heal our hearts
Every man would have a friend
That right would always win
And love would never end

Blessings to all of us in this season and in the coming year.

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