The Performing Arts for Community Empowerment

CC: Taylor Fournier
Taylor Fournier portraying the role of “Ti Moune” at the age of 15 in Exit 7 Players’ production of Once On This Island.

Growing up, the performing arts was always an important part of my life. I sang in many choirs, performed in community and professional theater companies, and even went to a performing arts high school. All of these experiences have shaped me into the person that I am today, and I know that the performing arts is something that I want to pursue. Coming into Plymouth State University, I was a Musical Theatre major. I enjoyed the classes and worked hard at perfecting my skills, but I started to realize that something was missing. I was learning a lot to make myself a better performer, but what difference was I making around me? Music, Theatre, and Dance has always been such an important piece of my life, and I knew that I wanted to be spreading that piece with others. I did not know if it would be possible to study how to help others through the performing arts, as I had been helped from them throughout my life. And then I found the Interdisciplinary Studies Department.

CC: Taylor Fournier

Taylor Fournier portraying “Logainne Shwartzandgrubenerre” in Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Production of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. 

The title of my degree is The Performing Arts for Community Empowerment. This degree allows me to study the positive effects that Music, Theatre, and Dance have in terms of community outreach, education, and empowerment- on both micro and macro-levels. At the micro-level, the performing arts can help individuals in many different ways including providing an outlet for self-expression, help build personal self-esteem, and even provide a style of learning that could best suit a particular child. An example of this would be if you are working one-on-one with an adolescent in your community, you could provide opportunities of music, theatre, and dance to encourage self-expression and empowerment. On a macro-level, the performing arts can also have a positive benefit on a community. Music, theatre, and dance all have many beneficial qualities that affect communities such as bringing people together, helping people remember things, and getting across feelings or emotions. Because of these attributes, the performing arts can have a positive impact on community outreach efforts, education, etc. In many communities as well, the performing arts can be a tool to advocate for Social Justice. A perfect example of this in today’s society is the new Broadway production of Spring Awakening. In addition to the musical being performed as written, the entire production is also performed completely in American Sign Language. This not only educates the public of deaf culture and theatre, but it promotes public acceptance, sheds light on a topic not usually addressed, and empowers other deaf community members to participate and become a comfortable member of society. On both the macro and micro-level, it’s clear that communities can be aided by the performing arts.

In order to get the best understanding of this concept, I have combined classes from the Music, Theatre, and Dance Department along with courses focused on social situations from departments including Social Work, Social Justice, and Education. This program will allow me to begin to understand how to help people through the performing arts.

Although this school has a wonderful Music, Theatre, and Dance department and Social Work/Social Justice department, I am certain that my studies fit into the Interdisciplinary Studies title. Music, Theatre, and Dance majors mostly center fully around performance skills, with little regards of how to make an impact through them. And although the socially based majors would help gain my knowledge on social situations, none of them would allow me to study the impact that Music, Theatre, and Dance have in regards to them. My program is like no other program at Plymouth State University.

The first department that I have incorporated into my major is the Music, Theatre, and Dance department. Because I wish to work with people through the arts, it is important that I continue to improve my skills and information on the subjects. I have tried to equally incorporate courses from the Music, the Theatre, and the Dance departments, to make sure that I am studying them all. From the Music department, I will be taking MU 3170 Musical Theatre Singing Techniques as well as many other courses that will be considered electives, such as Piano 1, Introduction to Reading Music, University Chorale, and more. These courses will allow me to further my skills on reading music, performing in ensembles, performing solo, overall performance skills, etc. From the Theatre department, I will be taking TH 2230 American Musical Theatre (WRCO), TH 2500 Stagecraft Fundamentals (QRCO), and TH 2600 Fundamentals of Costume Construction. These courses will allow me to study the history of musical theatre performances in America (and their socially based causes), learn necessary theatre skills, including stagecraft and costuming, and continue my knowledge of working on a production. The courses that I will be taking from the Dance department are DN 3010 Contemporary Dance Ensemble, DN 3050 World Dance, and DN 3100 Movement for Dance Education. These courses will allow me to further my dancing skills, as well as teach me knew perspectives on dance education, dance culture around the world, and dance in regards to musical theatre performance. Because music, theatre, and dance are skills that you have to keep learning and improving on, having the Music, Theatre, and Dance department courses in my major is very important.

CC: Jaime Mancuso
Taylor (farthest left) in Plymouth State University’s production of The Threepenny Opera

In order to study the social aspects of performing arts, I have combined courses from different socially-based majors, including Social Work, Interdisciplinary Studies (taken from Peace and Social Justice Studies’ minor requirements), Childhood Studies, and Education. The courses that I will be taking from the Social Work department are SW 2200 Introduction to Social Work, SW 3130 Child Welfare, SW 3150 Child Maltreatment, and SW 3250 Families, Schools, Communities. These courses will allow me to begin to study the Social Work profession, develop an understanding of social norms/problems, and better understand the social implications in regards to education and working with children and families. For the Social Justice education in my major, I took courses from the Peace and Social Justice Studies minor offered. Although the two courses that would best fit my major are not in the Social Justice department, they are geared towards educating me on matters of Social Justice. Those two courses are PO 1030 World Politics and IS 4360 Cultural Diversity in American Society. I will also be adding CD 1000 Introduction to Childhood Studies (TECO), CD 3400 Integrated Arts, and ED 2550 Mentoring Adolescents into my major. I feel as though these three courses will help further my experience and education in working in social situations, and help apply that knowledge to the performing arts.

Completing this program will allow me to do a lot of different things with my education. I would love to work for a nonprofit organization that focuses on bringing empowerment to youth through the arts- such as The Boys and Girls Club of America or Arts In Reach (AIR) in Dover, NH. I would also love to use my interdisciplinary perspective skills to create performing arts pieces that make a difference, educate, or speak on a Social Justice matter, similar to the previously mentioned new production of Spring Awakening. Or I would love to even work with communities on performing arts based projects in order to bring a community together. By completing this degree, the possibilities for my career are endless.

My program is interdisciplinary because it uses lots of different perspectives and outlooks in order to get the best understanding of how to help me achieve my goal- helping others through the performing arts. By combining multiple courses from multiple disciplines, I will have an overall better understanding of the different impacts that music, theatre, and dance can have on social situations. Throughout my life, the performing arts have helped me in various ways. My educational goal for my life is to give that back to as many people as I possibly can. In order to do that, I start with pursuing a Bachelor of the Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies: The Performing Arts for Community Empowerment.

Special Viewing!

“To engage in interdisciplinary perspective taking requires you to develop four specific cognitive capacities:

  • Viewing yourself- i.e. recognizing the influence of culture, politics, religion, and socioeconomic background your view of a situation, event, issue, or phenomenon
  • Viewing others– i.e. identifying and examining the perspectives of other people, groups, or organizations, and identifying influences on those perspectives
  • Viewing cultures– i.e. explaining how different access to knowledge, technology, and resources affect cultures.
  • Viewing disciplines- i.e. explaining how communities of expertise understand a situation, event, issue, or phenomenon.”

Excerpt taken from Page 95 of Introduction to Interdisciplinary Studies by Allen F. Repko.

Personally, I feel as though two perspectives that I have a better grasp on are viewing others and viewing cultures. Because I have studied a lot of different cultures, their tradition, beliefs, histories, etc, I have gained some skills in making connections between the perspectives of others, and the affects that has on the world around them. With regards to technology, knowledge, or resources, oftentimes the effect is evident. The more opportunities to these things, the better the environments, within reason. But when it comes to differing perspectives, it is often more difficult to see all angles. But, by identifying that it is not always black and white, you can make connections between different perspectives, and the world around us.

Working_Together_Teamwork_Puzzle_Concept

Photo: Public Domain
The one perspective that I truly believe I need improvement on is viewing yourself. Although I have had experience making connections in the world around me, it is oftentimes difficult to make connections between my actions and the world. This is because we all have personal bias and perspectives of our own. In order to really view yourself, you must leave your personal views, and see yourself as you truly are in the world. Then, you must study the real effect you have on the world around. Being able to think about yourself in that way can be incredibly difficult, so it is definitely a skill I wish to improve upon.

Analysis of Characters Roles in “The Black Crook”

The Black Crook

“The Black Crook” is often times considered the very first musical, but many different themes from the production are still being used in theatre today. “The Black Crook” was adored by audiences for its exquisite sets, costumes, and large ensemble pieces, but one element of the production that still takes a toll in theatre today is the characters. By studying “The Black Crook,” you can see the formation of basic character roles and structure that are still used in the world of performance today.

Photo: Public Domain

From the very first scene, the characters start coming into their roles. In the first scene you meet Rodolphe and Amina. Speaking lines such as, “Oh, how wearily the days and nights have passed since you left me! (Act 1. Scene 1),” it is clear from the first moment of the play that there is an element of romance. Throughout the rest of the play, Rodolphe takes on the role of the protagonist, and eventually hero, while Anima fits directly into the role of the ingénue and love interest of Rodolphe. This simple boy/girl romantic structure can be seen all the way through theatre, from the bedroom of Romeo and Juliet, to the plots of Rodger’s and Hammerstein and so on!

As the show progresses, we start to meet the opposites, or antagonists, to Heroic Rodolphe. Evil Count Wolfenstein tries to marry Amina, taking her from Rodolphe. And then, Hertzog makes a deal with the evil Zamiel- one life every New Year and he can live forever. And this is where we start to see the structure of the “evil one,” “bad guy,” or simply, “the villain.” Each of these characters play an important part to the story of the show, but also have one general thing in common- they are all evil by nature. This idea of being “evil by natural” has been seen in many books, plays, movies, and nowadays is very common in children’s productions. The antagonist plays an important part- the opposer of the protagonist. And because of this, the character role of “the evil one” has been used in productions time and time again.

And lastly, this production shows us the generalized structure of big ensembles. In “The Black Crook,” there are many groups that perform on stage at one time- dancers, gnomes, fairies, etc. Although they are usually each the same character (same animal, community villager, etc), the ensemble represents the bigger idea, which is the group. Using a grouping of people, characters, or even just voices is a very effective manner of getting across an important point, showing a majorities opinion, showing large population numbers, etc. And this technique is used constantly in theatre today. From the pirate’s of “Pirates of Penzance” to the working girls in “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” ensembles play an important role in theatre of any age.

When it comes to the performing arts, it is always important to notice the structures that have shaped its evolution. The basic formation of character roles shown in “The Black Crook” has been used in many past productions, and is still frequently used even in contemporary theatre. Although theatre has changed enormously since “The Black Crook,” the roles of these characters provide a structure found throughout theatre history.