arts advocacy

Thursdays with Emma Walton Hamilton — Interview Excerpts Part THREE

This continues the serialization of an oral interview I did with Emma Walton Hamilton, founder of the Children’s Book Hub, for the Hub on January 8, 2013. Today we’re learning about Emma’s background and training in the theatre. From the “Meet Emma” page on Emma’s website: Emma worked as an actress in theater, film and television for ten years before turning her attention towards directing, producing, educating and writing. She was a faculty member at the Ensemble Studio Theater Institute, and later became one of the founders of Bay Street Theatre in Sag Harbor, New York.  She served as Bay Street’s Co-Artistic Director for thirteen years, then chose to focus her energies on the Theatre’s educational and young audience outreach as Director of Education and Programming for Young Audiences until 2008. She has co-written lyrics for several songs, including “The Show Must Go On” recorded by Julie Andrews, and “On My Way” recorded by Laughing Pizza, and selections of her poetry are included in Julie Andrews’ Collection Of Poems, Songs And Lullabies. Emma and her mother also completed stage and symphonic adaptations of Simeon’s Gift, which was developed at Bay Street Theatre and went on symphonic tour to venues including the Hollywood Bowl, Atlanta Symphony and the O2 Arena in the UK under the banner of Julie Andrews’ Gift of Music. Emma is a member of the Author’s Guild, The Dramatists’ Guild, The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, the International Reading Association, SAG, AEA, AFTRA and ASCAP. She has served on the theater panel for the New York State Council on the Arts, as a National Ambassador for The Broadway League’s “Kids’ Night on Broadway”, and as a trustee for the Morriss Center School in Bridgehampton, NY, and the Center for Therapeutic Riding of the East End (CTREE).  An accomplished public speaker, Emma addresses arts and literary conferences, schools, universities and other groups on a regular basis about the value of, and synergy between, the arts and literacy. And now to today’s excerpt from the interview:

With gratitude to a teacher and mentor

“Bonjour, mes amis!” Those were the words that greeted our Grade Seven classroom that early September day in 1968 when Monsieur Pugh strode into our first French class. Little did I know, the first time I encountered the sandy-haired recent arrival from England that he would have an impact on my life that continues to this day. I quickly discovered that I loved learning French. When I think about it now, I probably would have enjoyed anything this man taught. (Well, he would have had to work hard to get me to enjoy math…) I don’t quite know why I felt the connection with him that I did. Perhaps it was because I felt he truly valued my abilities and my contribution. That was so important for a kid who usually felt as though she was on the outside looking in. I didn’t really fit in with most of the others in my class, but I knew somehow that Monsieur Pugh accepted me for who I was, and encouraged me to be the best “who I was” that I could be.

What Do Katherine Anne Porter and The Great American Mousical Have in Common?

Katherine Anne Porter was an essayist, novelist, social critic, Pulitzer Prize winner, who learned to be a survivor from an early age, and whose writings reflected her understanding that no matter how difficult life gets, one must hold on and go forward. As a brief biography on the PBS website states, “Often concerned with the themes of justice, betrayal, and the unforgiving nature of the human race, Porter’s writings occupied the space where the personal and political meet.” She gave an interview to Barbara Thompson Davis for the Paris Review, in which she spoke of the arts, saying, “Human life itself may be almost pure chaos, but the work of the artist is to take these handfuls of confusion and disparate things, things that seem to be irreconcilable, and put them together in a frame to give them some kind of shape and meaning.” If you look at the upper right hand corner of my blog, you’ll see a list of links to the other pages on my site, under the title “Learn More!” Included in those pages is one devoted to that Paris Review interview, and the quote about the arts in particular. But what does this have to do with The Great American Mousical, which is the topic of all my Wednesday posts this month?

Encouraging the Artist Within

This post could be subtitled “A Cautionary Tale.” Last Monday, I blogged about the joy inherent in the artistic expression of children. I remember feeling that joy myself. I liked my art big and bold and life-size, if possible. Mum used to tell of going into the spare bedroom where she’d covered the bed with a clean flat sheet, to find that toddler me had drawn a mural over the entire sheet. She kept that sheet until it faded beyond recognition. I remember standing on a chair in first grade, so that I could draw huge pictures on the blackboard at recess time. My grandmother used to save shopping bags for me (at that time, shopping bags were made of paper, with stiff cord handles). I would cut the bag down the sides so that it would lie flat, then draw a person and color and cut it out, leaving one handle sticking out the head of my person. I could then carry the person around by the handle, making her “walk.” I wonder how many such people I made over the years? There came a point, however, when I became aware that other kids in my class could draw much more realistically than I could. Other kids were “artistic.” I began to feel I was not. I don’t know now if it was just the comparison of my own art to theirs, if there were careless remarks that added up to me thinking I wasn’t good at art — however it happened, it happened. It’s all too easy to squelch that joy in artistic expression that we saw last week, and that I felt in my early years. Are you familiar with Harry Chapin’s song “Flowers are Red?” It illustrates this perfectly. It’s available on iTunes (or Youtube). I’d urge you to give it a listen.

Art for the Visually Impaired

Imagine yourself visually impaired, or even totally blind. Close your eyes, and then imagine that even if you opened them, you still would be cut off from the visual world most of us take for granted. In that situation, would art have any meaning for you? Could it? Would there be any possibility for you to understand what seems a simple concept — color? You might be answering “Sculpture! I could experience sculpture!” Yes, you could, if it weren’t behind barriers in the art museum that say Please Do Not Touch. How would you “see” and understand art?

Help Save Third Avenue United in Saskatoon!

I’ve just learned that the congregation of the 100-year-old Third Avenue United Church in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, has been told by the church authorities that they may not apply for heritage building status. This would likely mean that when the congregation folds, as is probable, the building could be sold and perhaps demolished. The building has some of the best acoustics of any concert venue in the province. The architecture is beautiful. It is already the site of choice for many performances. Performers of as high a caliber as Duke Ellington and Arthur Rubenstein have performed there. There is currently a group, separate from the church, the Third Avenue Centre, that regularly stages concerts and other performances in the 1200 seat main auditorium of the church.   There is a grassroots movement to try to reverse the governing body’s (Presbytery’s) decision about not applying for heritage status. If you know anyone in or near Saskatoon, Saskatchewan who would sign the petition, the directions to the church are on the Friends of Third Avenue United blog. There will be a public forum “Third Avenue United and The Importance of Saskatchewan Heritage” May 17, 2012 at 7pm at the church. Quoting from their blog, “the free event is sponsored by Great Places and Mendel’s Murals and includes feature speaker Bill Waiser, award winning author of Saskatchewan: A New History.” Please forward this blog post to anyone who would be interested in both saving this historic structure, and in creating a unique and valuable performance venue. For more information, check the Friends of Third Avenue United website (note particularly the 10 Ways You Can Help and the Interesting Facts).  

What action are YOU being called to?

Yes, “bonus” post ahead… When I was growing up, if I mentioned being cold, my mother would quote her father as saying in response to such a complaint, “Well then, jump up and do something!” Today it’s cold in my apartment. It’s chilly outside, and there’s a strong wind blowing against my side of the building, which always makes it a tad nippy in here. And so I’ll be taking my grandfather’s advice, and regularly “jumping up” from my computer to do something active in the apartment. There are other calls to action in daily life though…

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