Uploaded: Tue, Jan 29, 2008, 3:10 am
Children's Theatre fans ask council, 'Why?!'
But no answers are available pending outcome of a police investigation
About 30 supporters of the Children's Theatre crowded into the Council Conference Room Monday evening to ask the City Council for information and express displeasure with the abrupt closure and treatment of four staff members: Director Pat Briggs, Assistant Director Michael Litfin, Costume Supervisor Alison Williams and Box Office Assistant Richard Curtis.
"The people at the theatre are my friends, and I don't think they've been treated well," Mac Clayton said. "I don't blame the City Council for that, yet."
But the city could be held liable for "substantial damage to their reputation and standing in the community that has resulted," Clayton said.
"You guys know (the theatre staff) are people of impeachable integrity," Friends' board member Cy Ashley Webb said. "Since the city has not provided an explanation we can only assume it's a witch hunt. Please put an end to this nightmare."
Former Friends President Suzan Stewart was near tears as she addressed the council.
In the past, the city and the theatre supporters always worked together, even forming the first private-public partnership, she said.
"I am feeling so upset about this issue simply because I'm embarrassed about the City of Palo Alto," Stewart said. "This is not the Utilities Department. This is children."
Aleks Merilo said the leadership of Briggs and Litfin inspired him to become a drama teacher.
Portraying a dancing polar bear at age 10 was one of his most memorable experiences, Merilo said.
"For four years, I saw more of Pat (Briggs) and Michael (Litfin) than I did of my parents. They are the hardest-working people."
Mayor Larry Klein reminded the speakers, some of whom spilled into the hallway, that the council could not respond.
"The members of the City Council don't know any more than you do," Klein said.
Join the discussion on Town Square
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Posted by Mike,
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 30, 2008 at 12:58 pm
Sean, first, I'm not going to get into a shouting match about the relative value of sports vs. the arts. They're both vital parts of what we have come to understand as civilized culture.
That said, how much direct payment is made for the acreage devoted to playing fields and school gymnasiums in Palo Alto? Please bring me up to speed on that, and then compare those numbers to what we spend on arts facilities and arts education. I think those numbers may surprise.
Furthermore, some of the arts are just as demanding as any sport. Ballet is one example.
btw, sport is a part of physical culture. Sport is not performing art, period - not unless you subscribe to the vapid approach to so-called "sports" like poker contests, and the mindless "contests" that reality TV has contrived in its continuing attempt to turn Americans into dumbed-down cretins. Or, you have been seduced by the mindless commercialization of sports like football and baseball (both of which II have played at fairly high amateur levels) into some kind of sideshow, featuring the "best looking, hardest hitting, fastest-car-driving, most-sex-appeal, players?
The ability of a student to participate in a play, or some other art form is something that we should not do away with lightly.
Here's a speech, given at this year's commencement, at Stanford. Anyone who thinks the arts aren't necessary, or that we shouldn't be giving one heck of a lot more suppori to them in our schools and communities, should read and heed the words that follow:
IN THE FRAY: The Impoverishment of American Culture
Remarks delivered by Dana Gioia, Chairman of the National Endowment for the
Arts in his Stanford Commencement Address on July 17, 2007
There is an experiment I'd love to conduct. I'd like to survey a
cross-section of Americans and ask them how many active NBA players,
Major League Baseball players, and "American Idol" finalists they can
name. Then I'd ask them how many living American poets, playwrights,
painters, sculptors, architects, classical musicians, conductors and
composers they can name. I'd even like to ask how many living American
scientists or social thinkers they can name.
Fifty years ago, I suspect that along with Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays
and Sandy Koufax, most Americans could have named, at the very least,
Robert Frost, Carl Sandburg, Arthur Miller, Thornton Wilder, Georgia
O'Keeffe, Leonard Bernstein, Leontyne Price and Frank Lloyd Wright. Not
to mention scientists and thinkers like Linus Pauling, Jonas Salk,
Rachel Carson, Margaret Mead and especially Dr. Alfred Kinsey.
I don't think that Americans were smarter then, but American culture
was. Even the mass media placed a greater emphasis on presenting a
broad range of human achievement. I grew up mostly among immigrants,
many of whom never learned to speak English. But at night watching TV
variety programs like the Ed Sullivan Show, I saw -- along with
comedians, popular singers and movie stars -- classical musicians like
Jascha Heifetz and Arthur Rubinstein, opera singers like Robert Merrill
and Anna Moffo, and jazz greats like Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong
captivate an audience of millions with their art.
The same was true of literature. I first encountered Robert Frost, John
Steinbeck, Lillian Hellman and James Baldwin on general-interest TV
shows. All of these people were famous to the average American --
because the culture considered them important. Today no working-class
kid would encounter that range of arts and ideas in the popular
culture. Almost everything in our national culture, even the news, has
been reduced to entertainment, or altogether eliminated.
The loss of recognition for artists, thinkers and scientists has
impoverished our culture in innumerable ways, but let me mention one.
When virtually all of a culture's celebrated figures are in sports or
entertainment, how few possible role models we offer the young. There
are so many other ways to lead a successful and meaningful life that
are not denominated by money or fame. Adult life begins in a child's
imagination, and we've relinquished that imagination to the marketplace.
I have a reccurring nightmare. I am in Rome visiting the Sistine
Chapel. I look up at Michelangelo's incomparable fresco of the
"Creation of Man." I see God stretching out his arm to touch the
reclining Adam's finger. And then I notice in the other hand Adam is
holding a Diet Pepsi.
When was the last time you have seen a featured guest on David
Letterman or Jay Leno who isn't trying to sell you something? A new
movie, a new TV show, a new book or a new vote? Don't get me wrong. I
have a Stanford MBA and spent 15 years in the food industry. I adore my
big-screen TV. The productivity and efficiency of the free market is
beyond dispute. It has created a society of unprecedented prosperity.
But we must remember that the marketplace does only one thing -- it
puts a price on everything. The role of culture, however, must go
beyond economics. It is not focused on the price of things, but on
their value. And, above all, culture should tell us what is beyond
price, including what does not belong in the marketplace. A culture
should also provide some cogent view of the good life beyond mass
accumulation. In this respect, our culture is failing us.
There is only one social force in America potentially large and strong
enough to counterbalance this commercialization of cultural values, our
educational system. Traditionally, education has been one thing that
our nation has agreed cannot be left entirely to the marketplace -- but
made mandatory and freely available to everyone.
At 56, I am just old enough to remember a time when every public high
school in this country had a music program with choir and band, usually
a jazz band, too, sometimes even an orchestra. And every high school
offered a drama program, sometimes with dance instruction. And there
were writing opportunities in the school paper and literary magazine,
as well as studio art training.
I am sorry to say that these programs are no longer widely available.
This once visionary and democratic system has been almost entirely
dismantled by well-meaning but myopic school boards, county
commissioners and state officials, with the federal government largely
indifferent to the issue. Art became an expendable luxury, and 50
million students have paid the price. Today a child's access to arts
education is largely a function of his or her parents' income.
In a time of social progress and economic prosperity, why have we
experienced this colossal cultural decline? There are several reasons,
but I must risk offending many friends and colleagues by saying that
surely artists and intellectuals are partly to blame. Most American
artists, intellectuals and academics have lost their ability to
converse with the rest of society. We have become wonderfully expert in
talking to one another, but we have become almost invisible and
inaudible in the general culture.
This mutual estrangement has had enormous cultural, social and
political consequences. America needs its artists and intellectuals,
and they need to re-establish their rightful place in the general
culture. If we could reopen the conversation between our best minds and
the broader public, the results would not only transform society but
also artistic and intellectual life.
There is no better place to start this rapprochement than in arts
education. How do we explain to the larger society the benefits of this
civic investment when they have been convinced that the purpose of arts
education is to produce more artists, which is hardly a compelling
argument to the average taxpayer?
We need to create a new national consensus. The purpose of arts
education is not to produce more artists, though that is a byproduct.
The real purpose of arts education is to create complete human beings
capable of leading successful and productive lives in a free society.
This is not happening now in American schools. What are we to make of a
public education system whose highest goal seems to be producing
minimally competent entry-level workers? The situation is a cultural
and educational disaster, but it also has huge and alarming economic
consequences. If the U.S. is to compete effectively with the rest of
the world in the new global marketplace, it is not going to succeed
through cheap labor or cheap raw materials, nor even the free flow of
capital or a streamlined industrial base. To compete successfully, this
country needs creativity, ingenuity and innovation.
It is hard to see those qualities thriving in a nation whose
educational system ranks at the bottom of the developed world and has
mostly eliminated the arts from the curriculum. Marcus Aurelius
believed that the course of wisdom consisted of learning to trade easy
pleasures for more complex and challenging ones. I worry about a
culture that trades off the challenging pleasures of art for the easy
comforts of entertainment. And that is exactly what is happening -- not
just in the media, but in our schools and civic life.
Entertainment promises us a predictable pleasure -- humor, thrills,
emotional titillation or even the odd delight of being vicariously
terrified. It exploits and manipulates who we are rather than
challenging us with a vision of who we might become. A child who spends
a month mastering Halo or NBA Live on Xbox has not been awakened and
transformed the way that child would be spending the time rehearsing a
play or learning to draw.
If you don't believe me, you should read the studies that are now
coming out about American civic participation. Our country is dividing
into two distinct behavioral groups. One group spends most of its free
time sitting at home as passive consumers of electronic entertainment.
Even family communication is breaking down as members increasingly
spend their time alone, staring at their individual screens.
The other group also uses and enjoys the new technology, but these
individuals balance it with a broader range of activities. They go out
-- to exercise, play sports, volunteer and do charity work at aboutthree times the level of the first group. By every measure they are
vastly more active and socially engaged than the first group.
What is the defining difference between passive and active citizens?
Curiously, it isn't income, geography or even education. It depends on
whether or not they read for pleasure and participate in the arts.
These cultural activities seem to awaken a heightened sense of
individual awareness and social responsibility.
Art is an irreplaceable way of understanding and expressing the world
-- equal to but distinct from scientific and conceptual methods. Artaddresses us in the fullness of our being -- simultaneously speaking to
our intellect, emotions, intuition, imagination, memory and physical
senses. There are some truths about life that can be expressed only as
stories or songs or images.
Art delights, instructs, consoles. It educates our emotions. And it
remembers. As Robert Frost once said about poetry, "It is a way of
remembering that which it would impoverish us to forget." Art awakens,
enlarges, refines and restores our humanity.
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