Niemand stopt den beat!

April 29, 2010

Yeah, yeah, I’m not supposed to be on the internet today. I’m supposed to be finishing the current draft of the play I’ve been working for the past few months. Instead, I’m watching this video on repeat and dancing around the kitchen. While the Broadway production of Hairspray left me sort of cold, the German version rocks my world.

It’s very surreal to listen to songs you know in languages you don’t. Coincidentally, earlier this week my dad sent me Not Getting Married from Company in Portuguese! It’s intense.

By the way, the German Hairspray video was brought to my attention by the delightful David Loehr of 2am Theatre.

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Our homework for class this week was to read the first chapter of Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences, which is a pretty self-explanatory and obvious theory to anyone who has spent any time with other people, ever. Different people are good at different things. Yup.

There’s not much to argue about in Multiple Intelligences – he describes each of the identified intelligences (linguistic, musical, kinesthetic, spatial, interpersonal, intrapersonal, logical, naturalistic), and offers examples of famous people who represent each skill set. What’s fun about Multiple Intelligences is thinking about yourself and all the people you know and pigeonholing them into one of these eight categories. Personally, my dominant intelligence is linguistic (I’ve been reading since I was 3, I’ve always been able to memorize the lyrics to a song after hearing it two or three times, and I even dream in words), followed closely by intrapersonal, which is just a polite way of saying I am extremely self-absorbed. Intelligences!

My spatial intelligence is weird. I’m terrible at estimating how many people there are in a room, or how much something weighs. I find the prospect of organizing furniture in a room overwhelming. But I’m great at eyeballing measurements in cooking.

While I was reading about kinesthetic intelligence (I do my best thinking while I’m riding my bike, does that count as kinesthetic intelligence?), I kept thinking about grade 8, and this kid in my class who couldn’t sit still. In most classes, that was a problem for our teachers, but in science class, Ms. L. was cool about it and let S. pace around at the back of the class. He still contributed in class (like most of the kids at my nerd high school – aside from me, anyway – he was an excellent student), he just did it while walking around. Anyway, I’m glad there are teachers out there who understand the need to pace.

A is for Adios

My keychain broke. Not a big deal, really. The keys are all still connected to the ring, so it’s not even an inconvenience. Just a busted fob, Mickey Mouse leaning against an A, brought back from Disney World for me by SJ almost 20 years ago, and attached to any keys I’ve had since I was old enough to lock things.

You don’t really think about your key fob, don’t consider that maybe Mickey Mouse stuck to an A is not exactly a sophisticated thing for a grown woman to carry around in her pocket every day, it’s just the thing that’s attached to your keys, it’s just there. Only when it breaks, when the little loop of metal snaps off of the fake leather band and clinks to the ground, do you marvel at the oddity of this decades old chachka, made in Taiwan, purchased in Orlando, attached to your keys since you’ve been old enough to have keys. It’s held keys to one car, three bikes, and nine different living spaces. It’s resided in who knows how many jacket pockets. It’s outlasted the friendship that bought it by 15 years.

It’s funny that the Mickey Mouse A should break this past weekend, because SJ has been on my mind lately. Blame Dalton McGuinty. The sex education kerfuffle was all over the news in Ontario last week, and I can’t think about sex education without thinking about SJ.

We all had that friend, right? The one who develops early, who knows girls who do bad things in parks with boys (or says they do), who teaches you lingo like “sucked his wood” and “popped her cherry”, who makes jokes you don’t understand about other girls smelling like fish.

In my sheltered childhood, SJ was an ambassador from Maturity, or at least what passes for maturity when you’re nine and clueless. She filled me in on all the “real” stuff I was too soft to figure out on my own, stuff she’d heard from her teenage uncle. But the problem with SJ, for all her worldly swagger? She was only nine, too. She didn’t know, not really. She just repeated bits of things she heard from her older cousins. Things about where body parts went and what happened to them, things that didn’t really make sense, but still sort of sounded true.

I was mystified by all this information and misinformation given and taken out of context. All I knew was that sexual maturity sounded horrible and I wanted no part of it and hopefully I would just die in some accident before the age of 13 so I wouldn’t have to deal with it (that was my morbid solution to a lot of things related to adulthood that I didn’t want to deal with). Finally, when I was about 11, I was at the Science Centre. Their Human Body section culminates in a very graphic display about the birds and the bees, including an interactive video about different types of birth control and how they work. That’s where I got it – when all the weird things I’d heard about what goes where finally made sense.

A little information, especially when it comes to sex, is a dangerous thing. It’s friends like SJ that make thorough sexual education from an early age very important. No euphemisms. No shame. Kids deserve to know how their bodies work, and how to keep them safe. I hope McGuinty keeps these things in mind while “rejigging” (or whatever the hell they’re doing now) the sex ed curriculum, and doesn’t bow to pressure from people who are trying to impose their own sexual hangups on the entire province.

Ick Ass

April 23, 2010

This week’s Popcorn Panel is about Kick Ass, and illustrator extraordinaire Steve Murray and Beguiling owner extraordinaire Peter Birkemoe were kind enough to join me on the panel this week. Personally, I found Kick Ass to be unexpectedly traumatic. What I didn’t manage to work into the panel is a reference to the terrible Bon Cop, Bad Cop, which is what Kick Ass most reminded me of in terms of its tonal dissonance: in both films, the dramatic climax is far too dark for how the rest of the movie has been set up, and it feels unbalanced. It’s unsettling, and not in a good way. In a “I don’t know what kind of movie I am” way.

Speaking of unexpectedly traumatic films, last night I watched The Apartment. Man. It’s amazing, but I wasn’t expecting a romantic comedy about an office worker who is bullied into letting executives at his company use his apartment to cheat on their wives, nor was I expecting a running joke about suicide. It’s such a well-made and well-written film, though – every tiny detail in the script is followed through on, and the result is a rich and complex film of the likes they just don’t make anymore.

Prepare for geekery: I am pretty much in love with lesson planning.

Now that we are learning practical stuff in my Artist-Educator class, like curriculum requirements, class is getting to be really interesting. This week was especially fun, because I was in an excellent group (we do a lot of group work, which is sometimes amazing, and sometimes annoying) and we made up a great media literacy lesson plan predicated on the game “2 Truths, 1 Lie” (if you went to theatre you probably played this game. If you didn’t, well, too bad you didn’t get a degree in lying like me). The curriculum itself is written in obtuse bureaucracy-speak, but it’s kind of fun to decode it and figure out how “describe how forms and styles of visual and media arts represent various messages and contexts in the past and present” can be translated into an engaging activity. (It’s not always easy. I don’t think the Ministry of Education wants learning to be fun.) After getting all depressed by Laura Penny’s diatribe about how levels of critical thinking and discourse are going down the toilet, I am particularly interested coming up with sneaky ways to teach kids how to think critically, like a media literacy ninja!

Creating a proper lesson plan is one of the big takeaway skills from this course – it’s one thing to come up with ideas about activities to do, but it’s even more important to figure out what order to do them in, how they prepare the students for what they’ll learn, how to develop their skills and confidence, etc. It’s a fairly intuitive process, but it’s not something I’ve ever broken down and thought about in terms of “preparation” and “development” and “application”, which is a helpful, organized way to create a lesson plan.

The other incredibly useful thing we’re starting to learn about now are “ages and stages”, that is, what kids are capable of at what ages, which is something I have only the vaguest inkling of from my own teaching experience, and a very important thing to keep in mind when creating a lesson plan. To personalize the information, we shared stories about our experiences at different ages, and it was a really nice way to get to know some of my classmates better.

So now we have to do independent projects in pairs, and getting our partners assigned was a bit of a nervewracking process: at the end of class last week, we each had to secretly write down the names of three people in the class we wanted to work with. It was terrifying, like speed dating, and you didn’t know if anyone would pick you and what if you got paired up with someone terrible and and and. But it worked out ok (for me, at least), because my partner is an incredibly talented writer whose work I have admired for a few years. (To be fair, we are the only two journalists in the class, so it’s not a crazy surprise that we’ve been paired up. But I am very pleased to be working with her.)

For next week, we have to read an excerpt from Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences. I will let you know how many intelligences I have after I read it.

(Beach) Balls

April 17, 2010

Researching this story in today’s National Post resulted in a colourful bruise that only started to fade yesterday, a week after I played. I don’t know if the sheer bizarreness of Beach Blast really comes through in my story. It’s a fun place, and I learned a lot about beach volleyball, but it’s pretty weird up there. I didn’t have room to mention the fact that they host bar mitzvahs (a beach volleyball Bar Mitzvah! That sounds insane even to me, and I once went to a bar mitzvah where former Montreal Canadian Steve Shutt had been hired to sign autographs!), or that all the coaches look like Matthew McConaghey (I think that’s just how beach volleyball players look – it’s not like you have many other career options when you look that way). I also didn’t have space to describe the owner’s adorable 4-year-old son who came over to me while I was interviewing his dad and started to talk up his bumping skills.

So if you have some driving urge to play in the sand indoors, and are tougher than me in the forearms, and want to hang out with a dude named Maverick, head up to Beach Blast.

Bet you thought that disjointed last post was all the arts education blather I had in me today, didn’t you? Nope! I promised myself I’d keep and account of my classes week by week, and I didn’t really write anything about what we actually did this week.

The course is designed for artists who want to teach in schools, so there’s been a lot of stuff about school and teacher culture so far. This week, the two instructors re-enacted a teacher-artist planning meeting, which was both instructive and entertaining. (Their fake planning meeting went very smoothly, and I was hoping for a second example that would demonstrate a less amiable meeting – I wanted drama!) The one thing that struck me most was that Michelle, as the artist going into a classroom, asked the Andrea (as the teacher) what her kids had been doing recently in class, so that she could plan to incorporate things that the kids were already familiar with and interested in into her own lesson plan. I really love this type of integration, and it really makes sense to me.

After their demo, we broke into groups based on our various disciplines (there are writers, musicians, dancers, actors, painters, sculptors, and more in the class – it was hard for me to choose between “writing” and “theatre”, since there is so much overlap for me, but I joined the theatre group) for one useless exercise that led into a more useful exercise where we started planning a project that we could take into a classroom. This is my favourite stuff – I had a great time coming up a puppet- and playwriting-based project that could be incorporated into an elementary level curriculum.

For next week, we’re to think about how a planning meeting with a teacher might go for this project, which I think I will do by way of scripting a little scene. We’ve also got a list of “teaching tactics” that we’re supposed to think about incorporating into our project. The tactics themselves aren’t bad, but the cutesy names are a bit much, and there are a couple that are sort of pointless and needlessly complicated (“Placemat” and “Lighthouse”, for example – can we please just brainstorm like normal people instead of wasting paper and time seriously come on!) But the tactics for getting the group’s attention and winding things up are helpful.

A lot of things in my life have been pointing towards arts and literacy education – my job at Roseneath, the artist-educator foundation class I started last week, and this book by Laura Penny that I stole from work last week, and my obsession with TED Talks.

I’ve obviously always cared about arts and literacy (being somewhat – I hope – artistic and literate myself), but until a couple of years ago I only thought it was important in that vague abstract way that I think that organic meat is important. But two and a half years ago I started teaching playwriting to children (aged 8-13), and arts and literacy education became a much more tangible subject. Over the past couple of years, I’ve been figuring out this teaching thing as I’ve gone along – making things up, seeing what works, trying my best to listen hard to the students. For my trouble, I got an OAC grant and a bunch of heartwarming e-mails from happy parents and kids, so I guess I’ve been doing something right. But my reach is very limited, which is frustrating, and I teach a specialized group of kids whose parents already care enough about creativity and literacy to bring them to a playwriting workshop in the first place. Not that I feel this isn’t worthwhile, but I feel so daunted when I think about the public school system and the emphasis that’s placed on anything that is not art.

Laura Penny’s book, More Money than Brains, only made me feel even more daunted. The book is a great read if you want to get riled up about idiots and feel like you are smarter and better than everybody. Penny is a hilarious crank and her book is full of vitriol, skewering the way the North American value system has morphed into something shortsighted, individualistic, and ugly. Not all of the book deals with education, but the message comes down to education: as the humanities become ever more devalued (since that English degree won’t make you a living anymore), our society’s level of discourse will plunge ever downward to incoherence. Because the humanities teach us how to think and reason and create ideas. Some of the examples that Penny uses will make you want to cry (she talks a lot about the insane Christian right, who would be hilarious if they weren’t so influential). Ultimately, though, the book is frustrating because while it unmasks the flaws in the North American education system, it offers few ideas about how things can be changed on a personal level – all the changes that need to happen must come from the government, which is a daunting and gloomy prospect.

Here are a few TED Talks that I’ve found very inspiring lately, although they also make me feel daunted.

I’ve got a couple of things underway that I hope will make the prospect of contributing to arts education in Canada less daunting. This class, of course, is one of them, since I’m hoping it will make me more confident and employable in that sphere. Unfortunately, the class is still sort of focused on the theories behind arts education and why it’s important – I know it’s important, that’s why I’m here. The essays about how literacy will empower children are nice and true and I agree, but I already know that. What I want to learn is how better to teach the things I care about so other people will know too.

This is more important than whatever the hell you’re doing right now. Please take a moment to watch this video about a baby otter trying to befriend a cat. Oh what the hell, I’m just going to embed the video here:

My favourite thing about this video (aside from the tiny otter’s little face, obviously) is how resentful the kitten is. He’s all “I will suffer the affectionate clawings of this stinky river beast because the peoples will give to it the raw feesh for me to steal.” You can just see that pro/con list playing out in his pissy little diva brain.

Seriously, though, don’t get an otter for a pet. Have you seen how they gang up on alligators in the Rivers episode of Planet Earth? Those guys will fuck your shit up (the otters, not the alligators). These people are idiots.

I’ve had a very multi-media week. For this story in the Toronto Star, I had to participate in the One Take Super 8 event in the Images Festival. It was fun, but hard – as soon as I started actually using the camera (when it was too late to go back and make any changes), I started having all kinds of amazing ideas about what I should do for my three-minute film. Unfortunately, I had to give back the nifty old-timey camera when I handed in my film. If for some reason you want to watch my disjointed moving-picture-essay (there’s some cute footage of a pigeon. And my red rainboots in a puddle. And me spilling tea all over the counter at work because I forgot about depth perception. SOMEONE GIVE ME AN OSCAR!), it’s being screened, along with the other (probably better) entries on Wednesday night at 11 p.m. at the Polish Combatants’ Hall

In more current media news, I produced a radio program last week. I do occasional fill-in work at CBC, and I was Associate Producer for everyone’s favourite live national call-in show Cross Country Checkup last week. I learned a lot about foreign policy by doing pre-interviews with a bunch of people who are smarter than me. You can listen to the episode here, if you want.

Now I’m off to spend this glorious Easter Monday in a dark movie theatre watching idiots bastardize Greek mythology.