Friday, June 1, 2007

ADHD or Creativity?

This is Gillian Lynne, world famous choreographer. She did Cats and Phantom of the Opera. How she got there is a fascinating story and a reason why teaching to the students you have is so much more important than teaching to the curriculum.

In the 1930s when she was in school Gillian had trouble learning- she fidgeted. Today we would say she had ADHD and prescribe medicine, but ADHD hadn't been invented so they sent he to a specialist. When Gillian was 10-years old she and her mother met a doctor and he heard all about Gillian's learning difficulties. After a few minutes the doctor told Gillian he wanted to speak to her mother privately so they left Gillian alone in the office with a radio playing. When the doctor and mother left the room they observed Gillian. She immediately got out of her chair and began moving to the music. The doctor turned to her mother and said, "Mrs. Lynne, Gillian isn't sick, she's a dancer, take her to dance school."

They did and at dance school Gillian saw dozens of other kids just like herself. Young people who had to move to think. Gillian became a soloist, she preformed with the Royal Ballet, she had her own dance company, she met Andrew Lloyd Weber and is a multi-millionaire. Another doctor would have given her meds and written her off.

My point here is that as teachers, and especially teachers in the arts, we must look past the surface and explore the creativity inside all of our students. That boy banging on his desk might be the next great percussionist someday.


Thursday, May 31, 2007

Grading Creativity

I had breakfast the other day with a friend who told me that when he was a kid he painted a picture for an art class. The teacher gave him a "C" and said something about perspective. My friend took the painting home, showed it to his parents who liked it, got it framed and has kept it for 30 years. He told me that even today when he looks at that painting he likes it, but can only remember the teacher giving him a bad grade.

He hasn't painted since.

I think a lot about teaching in the arts and how often students get the creativity crushed right out of them. How do you grade a piece of art? Does Monet get an A because it is "impressionistic", does Picasso get a C because his portrait of a woman has three eyes and two noses? Do the artists care?

I tell students on the first day of class that I don't care about grades, I care about them making good films, and more importantly learning something about their own artistic process. I also tell them that if their goal is to get a good grade by doing well on the tests and skating by on the creative, then they should probably find another teacher. I don't want a bunch of good test takers, I want a bunch of creative people.

I am going to write more about this, but for now I am curious about your thoughts about teaching and grading creativity.


Wednesday, May 30, 2007


I think the best films take me some place- either emotionally or geographically- I haven't seen before. Perhaps that would explain an attraction to both westerns and period pieces, I don't know. Over the weekend, thanks to the Sundance Channel, I saw a terrific little Canadian film called Sabah. In many ways it was a simple meeting of two cultures, conflict film. A Muslim woman, Sabah, meets and falls in love with a Christian man much to her family's chagrin.

No new territory is explored here- Mr. the Parents is a broad comedy version of the same thing. What is different, however, is seeing a Syrian family on film. I was taken some place I have never been. Also, and not to be overlooked, is the fact the film is Canadian. Just across our border lies an interesting film business. Atom Egoyan, the wonderful Canadian director, is an executive producer on Sabah, and his films are always worth seeing.

More later on the Canadian industry. For now check out Sabah.


Monday, May 28, 2007

Anticipate This?

In Saturday's NY Times there was an article about how Heinz Ketchup- among other companies- is sponsoring a TV commercial competition on You Tube. The winner will be paid $57,000 and have his commercial air on television. Any one who has read this page more than once knows my feelings about You Tube and the trend of discounting creative filmmaking. While I understand why Heinz is thrilled- the p.r. alone, plus there have been 12,000 hits on You Tube for these spots- it is slowly (quickly?) killing the business.

There are thousands of people across the country who count on the commercial TV business to earn all or part of their living. Here's just a few: the ad agency employees- top to bottom, and you know the first to get canned will not be a six-figure creative director- actors, casting directors, schlubs like me who own production companies and all the people we hire to produce a commercial.

If I was one of my students I would race out and make the best damn Heinz spot I could. But what about my ilk? I can think of nothing more than changing ketchup brands. Anyone for Hunt's Ketchup on your Memorial Day burger? Muir Glen Organic?

Here's the link, read it and weep. You can find the You Tube spots on your own.