Monday, July 18, 2011

Don't Rain on the Kids' Parade, Why I Support the Arts In Schools

I took a break from writing and jumped on You Tube to watch a few music videos. I ended up in Show Tunes having started with Billie Holiday. You know how it is, one link to another and you're lost in video land with a cue line up you will never get through. I landed on Barbara Streisand's "Funny Girl" performance of "My Man," which I am convinced, in a former life, I sang while lying on a grand piano in a sequined gown. Suddenly I was reminded of a young woman I saw perform when she was a teenager about to blow town. Her whole life was ahead of her and the prospects were endless. She was cute and self-confident, when she stepped out on the stage during a talent show.
In the true meaning of the song, this girl, this child on the threshold of her life, this young woman took "Don't Rain on my Parade" to new heights. I was on the antique resistor light-board backstage. When she stepped forward at the key change, singing, "I'll march my band out, I'll beat my drum..." I literally walked out from the behind the curtain on the edge of the stage. People in the wings all stepped forward. This was a performance to remember. I didn't care that the audience could see me. I wasn't going to miss this. As I write this the chill bumps are forming on my arms. This girl sang the hell out of that song. By the time she reached the last refrain the house was on it's feet. There was not a doubt in a single mind in Sheep-Harney Auditorium that this girl was going to make it, no matter what she chose to do with her life. I will always treasure that memory.
Later in life, I became a drama teacher, after working in both professional and college theatre. Oklahoma City University, where I got my graduate degree, produced Miss Americas from all over the country. I worked with Kristin Chenowith while I was there. I say these things to frame what I am about to say.
I've worked with a lot of very talented people; some were famous, some should have been, but never got that break. It's the nature of the beast. With that in mind, I've thought long and hard about the kids I worked with along the way. There was the young woman who carried herself like an adult from the moment I met her in her early teens. She could silence 2000 high school maniacs by just taking the microphone into her hand. She could sing like an angel. Melinda, I hope you're still singing.
There was the young dancer, and I mean this was a professional ballet dancer at 14, with the black curly hair and dimples that made all the girls blush. Yes, it was a young man. He played dramatic roles for me, like John Merrick in the "Elephant Man" and won state acting awards. He left not a dry eye in the house with that performance. He charmed Miss Laurie and the rest of us with his singing voice, as "Curly," in "Oklahoma!" He remained with the local professional dance company and was constantly in one rehearsal or another, all while maintaining a vey high GPA. He continues to dance professionally today after graduating from college. Zachary, I will never forget you.
During the rehearsal process for a production of "Camelot" I noticed a shy dark haired young man. I met Hassan that day. This young man was a born dramatic actor. His sophomore year, he won an All-State Acting Award as one of the top three actors in the state. By his senior year, his acting was a privilege to watch. I see his picture in the local press now, as he moves through college and onto the professional stage. Besides being a great actor, he is one of the best people I've ever known.
David had more pure talent than I've ever seen. Jill is the second coming of Lucille Ball, if the folks in Hollywood would just catch on. Alistair's a comic genius. Leah did Judy Garland proud. Kia flew "Peter Pan" to life. Josh could win you over with his comic timing. There were just so many wonderful moments, I cannot name them all. And don't get me started on how hard those kids you never see, the stage crew that makes it happen, work to bring you a performance you may never forget.
In this age, when GLEE is so popular, don't sit there on your couch watching 20 somethings play teenagers. Go to your local high school or college. Watch real kids do there thing. We've all sat through some dreadful performances at one time or another, some of them by professionals. Yet, every now and then you witness a young person reaching into their soul and producing an unforgettable performance. You may never see their name in lights, but what you saw was an inspired, emotional moment, where the artists and the art come together.
I am blessed, so blessed, to have witnessed these performances. Support your local music and theatre programs. Art makes us human. Don't rain on the kids' parade. Help keep the arts alive in schools and in your community. In doing so, you may see a young girl bring the house down, in a dusty auditorium, and be forever grateful. Thank you, Celena.


  1. Thanks for the memory, Decky. I WAS one of those kids a long, long time ago. It was the brightest most wonderful time of my life. I followed the dream to college and to Hollywood where it withered.
    I don't regret a single moment and still have friends from those glory filled days.
    We were on top of the world, full of fire and passion.