Education & Performing Arts for Youth
Behind the Scenes with Monique Martin
What is the difference between a Mandolin and a Cello? Do you remember the order of the Phases of
the Moon? Raise your hand if you are one of those parents
who have a tendency to grill your children after an outing to the museum, park or performing arts program. My hand is raised. No judgment.
Being raised by a talented yet amateur musician and a lover of the arts circa 1970’s Oakland, California I enjoyed the rich cultural offerings the Bay Area had to offer with my parents and five siblings. Was it the natural competition of growing up with siblings vying for our parent’s attention or the enthusiasm for the arts that informed my artistic curiosity? I’d say a combination of both. Yes, we were quizzed on what we saw. And yes, we eagerly compared, imitated, mocked and discussed what we liked and did not like about the programs we attended. Was there a moral to every excursion? Yes, have fun! The underlying message in my family, especially with my fun-loving father, was “have a blast”! My mother, a theater, dance and museum lover leaned a bit more towards the “what is the moral of the story?” side.
Is “Edu-tainment” critical to arts and cultural programs for families? Is it our expectation as consumers that our children leave a program smarter than when they arrived?
As a producer of performing arts I am interested in the veil that separates great fun and an educational entertaining experience. A current trend in family programming includes rockers turned family band Justin Roberts and the Not Ready for Naptime Players as well as jazzy Marika Hughes & Bottom Heavy and soulful Shine and the Moonbeams; three of my favorites and SummerStage Kids alums. Though sonically and lyrically very different, all of these bands deliver a live performance that parents and children rock out to. All the above mentioned bands sing songs about the universe, breakfast cereal, and the all too pervasive hot topic of bullying. However, what I most appreciate is at the core of their music is joy, joy and more joy!
As a parent I enjoy sharing a head banging experience with the kids. As a programmer scouting talent, I find that watching the parents’ smart phone activity can be very informative. If parents are more occupied checking emails and surfing the web than enjoying the performance with their children, that is an indicator to me that parents may not have been part of the artistic equation. Have I been guilty of such activity? Yes. I am not so high and mighty to suggest that children’s bonding with their friends during a performance is a ripe opportunity to see who liked your post on Facebook or try and complete the New York Times crossword puzzle. However, it goes without saying that the enthusiastic post performance discussion can be as entertaining and educational as the performance. And if you weren’t paying attention you might have that awkward moment when your children ask you what you thought about “so and so?” And you have nary a clue what “so and so” is. Yikes!
Is it the sole responsibility of the artist to connect the educational dots of the performance? I think not. Similar to the parent-teacher-child relationship, I see the same need for that artist-child-parent trifecta when attending a performance. My goal as a programmer is to introduce families to the same level of quality programming you’d experience going to a high-priced ticketed event with adult friends. I look for pieces and performers that tell a story and take the audience, both adult and child, on an artistic journey. This journey shouldn’t end with the last note, but should keep parents and children talking long after the curtain has been drawn. The final destination should always be a transformative experience.
Monique Martin is the Director of Family Programs at City Parks Foundation.
Photo by Hollis King.