As COVID-19 invaded our scene and cities shut down with uncertainty of what lay ahead, the world of the Arts was deeply impacted. For the first time since 9/11, Broadway went dark and the stories that are powerfully portrayed on stage were silenced. Dancers were forced into a season of rest. Musicians were paused. Designers and technicians were sent home. However, true artists cannot be suppressed. Performers found a way to inspire any and all who would listen and watch. The Arts, in its purest form, has never been about the monetary results or even an actual stage. A true artist creates a stage and tells a story wherever he or she exists! The true power of the Arts is the ability to tell a story that touches lives, cultures, and sometimes nations. At its core, artistic expression is transformative and even freeing.
In 1990, as a college student, I joined a team of 10 other adventurers on a summer missions’ trip to India. For 8 weeks, we were boots on the ground as we travelled throughout the Madras (now called Chenai) State. Although students are taught English in school, the national language is Hindi. Add to the equation various tribal dialects and conversation was limited, at best. The dramatic arts became our craft of choice to cross the complicated language barrier. Schools welcomed our team with questions and comments much like the following:
“You are going to share a drama with our students, no?”
“Will you sing? Will you play instruments?”
“Our students love stories! Please share stories.”
As the weeks passed, we learned that the Eastern Indian culture is filled with incredible beauty but equally grand challenges. For those not fortunate enough to be born into the “right” caste, life is hard. Really hard. Those families and children have very little rights and minimal protections. Stories, music, dramatic presentations…the Arts brought an escape, an opportunity to express and even reconcile one’s own story. Our audiences were swept to a place far away. Often, they discovered themselves or who they hoped to be in a character, a song, a scene. This was what many students needed from us.
Over the course of my college years, I continuously recognized the transformative effect of both the performing and creative arts. The Arts reach where speeches cannot. The Arts inspire where academics fall short. The Arts express when words fail. The Arts call to action by sight, sound, and emotion. When Broadway fell dark, performers took to social media, their balconies, the streets. Through this, we met artistic giants in the comfort of their living rooms, playing simple pianos, in simple attire. Comfortable. Expressing their true selves. These icons became real and very simply human.
As we begin to shake the COVID-19 daze from our minds and grapple with the reality of a “new normal,” life has somehow become simpler. Slower. Our children have an opportunity to dream and imagine, once again. What if we remind them that their stories matter? What if we take it one step farther and dare them to write, act, sing, play, paint, or draw their stories? What great masterpieces await humanity in the years and decades to come because we encouraged creativity in the lives of our children?
As the Mom of 5 children, ages 15-22, I remember the days of plays being performed on my back deck. Family and friend cookouts ALWAYS included a production of some sort. Holidays were filled with cousins coming together and working on a new angle for the Thanksgiving, Easter, or Christmas stories. What’s this year’s new approach? Shall we dance, sing, act, or play a homespun instrument? Who would write and direct? If we were an abundantly blessed audience, costumes, props and maybe even a set were a part of the show! As parents, we were all delighted in the thoughtful expression and desire to tell a story. As imaginations ran wild, parents would laugh, cheer, and sometimes cry. In each child’s way, they were expressing a piece of who they were and telling a story we needed…in that moment. Unbeknownst to any of us, our children were engaging in Asset #17 (Creative Activities). They were developing important communication and cognitive skills while increasing cultural understanding around our holiday celebrations. It was a gift!
Could there be a better time to return to the most basic of crafts? What if families create stories and share them through music, acting, dance, or another healthy expression? What if mom or dad help create costumes? What if our children explore home and outdoors for props? What if our children dream, explore, write their thoughts down and create characters from imagination? What if we listen? What if we embrace? In that, we are demonstrating the importance of Assets 1, 20, 39 (Family Support, Time at Home, and Sense of Purpose). Perhaps the next Mozart will be discovered. Maybe the next blockbuster script will be written. Or maybe we will experience our children as their authentic self, safely expressing feelings, thoughts, and perceptions. In this, they give us the opportunity to feel, connect, and celebrate how the power of the Arts is still at work today.