Let There Be Light!

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These days, as a supporter of the arts, I find myself extremely frustrated, again and again, with articles demeaning public support of the arts. A few years ago I took note of an editorial in The Oregonian that made the argument that “given budget constraints, the school system was right to allow arts instruction to ‘wither’ because the arts are ‘low priorities’.” Of course, at that time, those beliefs were not based on any actual studies or documented proof of which I am aware. In more recent years, studies have been done that report the opposite conclusion: that involvement in the arts does help keep kids in school and helps them to excel. After-all, aren’t the arts largely about problem-solving; about developing the discipline it takes to muster a core competence, and about developing and applying creative solutions to various life situations? 

Perhaps even more important, as I have observed in my 30+ years in writing about and working with theater as a theater reviewer and publicity agent, theater is largely about developing character and self-confidence; it’s about providing a safe, comfortable place for children to find out who they are and where they wish to go in life.

A good friend of mine and longtime director of the Theater Performance Workshop (TPW) and the KAO’s community theater, Jeff Seaberg, has declared that the importance of theater arts to parents and children everywhere, is that “theater helps you to discover the skin you’re in!” Above all, it can help those who have a hard time engaging with others, making it easier to successfully engage in life, its challenges, its successes, and its rewards.

One of the greatest joys to me in having been a theater reviewer for such a long time, is hearing back from the actors whom I had praised as child actors years ago for their work and accomplishments in student and community theater productions. I have often been told by them how much my positive and honest reviews meant to them at the time and helped them to continue with their passion for the arts.

For example, Heather Cousins has been the Miramonte High School Theater Instructor since 1999. In a recent interview Heather said, “When I was in elementary school I was really, really shy and my only real goal was to be completely invisible. My fourth grade teacher had a love affair with Shakespeare and she had these really high expectations of fourth graders and thought that there was no reason why we couldn’t understand Shakespeare. And so we read the play Macbeth in class and it was all in the original Elizabethan language and I auditioned for and secured the role of Lady Macbeth. Suddenly, I really, really got into it, and I wasn’t invisible anymore.” After the play was performed at the school, everybody kept asking about the girl who played Lady Macbeth. Her life changed after that, all because of Mrs. Strickland at Valley Vista School! From then on she began auditioning for Community Theater and got some roles at what was then called Civic Arts Repertory (now known as Center Repertory Theater).

Heather Cousins eventually earned a Bachelor of Arts in dramatic art in English from University of California at Santa Barbara and went on to earn her Masters of Arts in theater from Exeter University, in Exeter, Devon, South West England, United Kingdom. While approximately in the middle of her college experience, she discovered that what she wanted to do most of all was to become a teacher, which subsequently lead her to Miramonte High School in Orinda. In addition to teaching drama, she has directed over 50 plays and musicals at Miramonte. She has commented recently that she feels very fortunate to be teaching such dedicated and talented students.

Heather’s story, about a girl who only wanted to be invisible, is not that much different from many other stories of how theater and the arts have influenced the lives of people I have had the good fortune to meet while working as a newspaper reporter and photographer. In fact, my own story of how theater saved my miserable childhood and teenage life at the time I first crossed paths with a theater instructor in 1955, is worthy of telling, but that shall be held in reserve for a later issue.

In theater and the entertainment arts there are many stories of lives that have been enriched, perhaps even saved by their involvement in music, theater, and the graphic arts. Terrence Mann, a character in W.P. Kinsella’s novel, Shoeless Joe, upon which the movie, Field of Dreams was made, once said, “Movies will make you famous; television will make you rich; but theater will make you good.”

There are many, many facilities, schools, and programs that have long histories of very positive success for individuals and families. There are also many stories of couples who have met, married, and subsequently have children, due to their involvement with the arts.
Theater can be a window to enlightenment—a window to new opportunity—sometimes providing a new light at the end of a dark and troubled pathway; a light where children can lead other children to a more fulfilling and richly rewarding life.

Let me be your guide over the next few months to some positive and insightful information on how to become more involved in the arts, for you and your family.

Charles Jarrett has been a resident of Alamo for over 33 years. Largely a product of the Oregon school system, he served in the US Navy, later becoming a productive citizen engaged in marketing and middle management in the insurance industry for over 36 years. He has been actively involved in certain aspects of theater for over 45 years, and has served on Alamo community service commissions such as the R7A parks, the P2B police, and the Alamo improvement Association.

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