Backstage Pass Newsletter | April 2019

The Shadow Education System

Thoughts from Executive Artistic Director, Nina Meehan

I recently came back from a theatre conference in Italy. You walk into Teatro Baracca in Bologna and on the wall is a Charter of Arts as a Human Right for Children. Let’s think about that for a moment... Theatre and Arts as a Human Right... we all know that inherently. When you pick up a baby... you sing and dance. And yet, in this country, our children are being raised with art as the “other”, art as a privilege. That’s treating art as the sprinkles on the ice cream. But, what if the art is actually the ice cream itself!

So, what has happened in this country?

Those families that can afford it have created an entire “Shadow Education System” to ensure that their child gets that ice cream. Parents are taking their kids to the theatre and museums, they are signing their kids up for performance classes. While those who can’t afford it, don’t have those same opportunities. Of course, people with more resources will have more access. But, when you start to look at the benefits of cultural and artistic engagement, these differentials become even more profound. Research has proven time and again... the benefits include--Empathy, Literacy, Imagination, Creativity, Self-Confidence, School Readiness.

We see these benefits every day in our work here at BACT, both with our main stage shows and in our classes. At one of our musical theatre outreach schools, a child ran up to our teaching artist and said, “Miss Amber, Miss Amber, I wasn’t going to come to school today, but then I remembered it was a drama day.”

And there was the little girl whose mother was shot in a drive-by just days before her big performance as Princess Jasmine in Aladdin. The child showed up for the performance because she didn’t want to let her cast mates down. Talk about resilience in kids--that’s just super human. Despite violence, despite heartbreak and trauma, she showed up to perform.

And recently, I saw two kids holding hands and skipping down the sidewalk on their way to a school day matinee performance chanting, “WE ARE GOING TO SEE A SHOW. WE ARE GOING TO SEE A SHOW.” These little guys were ENGAGED and EXCITED about learning!

As the professionals bringing this essential experience to kids like these, we must make sure that they see themselves represented on our stages. With shows like She Persisted, the Musical to Rickshaw Girl about a child in Bangladesh, and many others, BACT has worked for years to help ensure that all the kids in our audience can see themselves on stage and learn about others.

The Shadow Education System is real. My kids see shows. They go to arts camps and take music classes. But not all children get this chance. We need to connect to the notion of Art as a HUMAN RIGHT! That’s why BACT is striving to ensure access to EVERY SINGLE CHILD in the Bay Area. This is our big audacious goal. We are only 15 years old, so we aren’t there yet, but this vision is what drives us... every day. How can we make sure that, from preschool to 5th grade, every child sees a show, takes a theatre class... PARTICIPATES IN ART?

We can do it, but only with your help. That’s why I am so grateful to all of you who have become Founding Contributors to our Dare to Dream Fund! Thank you for your generous support! You are helping us build a kinder, smarter society! Please spread the word about art as a human right and continue to join us in bringing great theatre to the entire community!

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