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Monthly Archives: May 2011

It was great to have a job that was finished by lunch time.  On the good days.

This one seemed to be good.  I taught four different classes that morning and it seemed to have a very positive impact.  Of course, from my perspective the determining factor was always leadership.  It was about the Principal.  And, this elementary school which stood in the shadow of RFK Stadium in DC, had a Principal who seemed to know the name of every child.  No matter he mixed the special needs kids in because he said, “when they get out of here and have to take their shirts to a laundry mat no one will care what their special needs are.  These kids live with their Grandparents.  No one is going to hold their hand.  We have to prepare them to survive.”  This led to having one young boy in particular who couldn’t focus jump around mockingly making my job nearly impossible.  He was the laughing stock and the teacher wasn’t allowed to tell me this was indeed a disorder and not a bad day.

Still.  This one was a success.

The feet always stood out to me.  These students wore uniforms to school.  So, even on a sunny day there would be these extremely colorful galoshes and pastel plaid heeled tennis shoes.  It threw me at first.  Then I realized.  The human spirit will express wherever it can.  And in this case, it was on feet.

Many of my students were out at recess.  This was a blacktop playground surrounded by a very tall fence.  Four or five girls came running over to me as I was walking to the car, “Miss Randall, Miss Randall!”.  “Great job in the theatre workshop ladies.”  “When are you coming back?”  “Oh, that was your last session. I’m done here.”  “For good?”  “Well, maybe I’ll be sent back here again soon.  You girls are smart you will have all kinds of fun people teaching you.”  One girl steps forward.  She grabs the fleshy pinky side of my hand and gives it a slight pull down toward her.  I lean down and look directly into her eyes.  She tugs.  “Don’t leave me here.  You can’t leave me here.”

I drive home.  Sobbing.

And, that was the drill.  I either drove home with elation because the experience was so powerful and positive or I drove home sobbing because it was very difficult to step into the world of these children who absolutely deserved the best of everything and were mostly being screamed at and punished for much of the day.  Especially devastating were the times when I would get the students moving and doing the vocal work and their teachers would fly into a rage and take away recess because they weren’t being quiet and standing in a single file line.

I taught Seniors at Dunbar.  They had a top-notch English teacher and she lined up the required reading with shows in town that staged the stories.  This was brilliant.  She took her students as much as she possible could.  She was in her sixties and had been teaching for more than 40 years and had no intention of retiring anytime soon.

It was, “A Lesson Before Dying”.  Most of the students hadn’t gotten around to finishing it.  I told them, “Look we are going to the theatre next week to see this play.  I want to know what you think.  How can you tell me if you haven’t read up?”  Then, I used positive peer pressure.  So, the activities I taught were more fun when you knew the story specifically although they worked without knowing anything too, but it wasn’t as fun.  By the second session all but two of the students finished the book.  In one exercise, they were to use the characters from the play and place them in any setting as long as it had simple story structure.  So, one group decided to put the characters on the set of Jerry Springer.  Each character had their time to explain WHY they were behaving the way they were and complex relationship dynamics surfaced.  It was informed.  Intelligent.  It was HILARIOUS.  The entire class was in the library pod area chanting, “Jerry, Jerry”.  I’m sure this made the librarian fill with hatred toward me.

When we went to Round House to see the play we were seated up in the balcony.  I told the students to always read their programs, talked about the lights, pointed out the booth, and told them to pay close attention to the set.  I asked what that thing was on set under the desk?  They said, “just a bunch of old laundry or something.”  Once the show began, they were leaning it.  All of the students.  And, when the main character came rolling out from under the desk after being preset before house opened, the students could not contain themselves.  I’ve never seen an audience more engaged in a story.  Ever.

In my follow up session, they had so much to say.  They disagreed with some of the liberties taken and I agreed with them.  In particular, they couldn’t believe that two female characters had been blended into one.  They thought that was disrespectful to the original intention and voicing of the novel.  They were BRILLIANT!

Then came Anacostia.  On one side of the road was a complex that was state of the art.  The classroom was almost sterile.  We were prepping for “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” and I was struggling with the content, or lack thereof, of this particular selection as an educational device.  But, it ended up being flawless.  On the other side of the road was a school that had me sobbing on every break.

Driving up to this place you hardly knew you were at a school.  It was cold outside and there were sheets of ice on the sidewalks.  I watched one student go down quickly smashing the back of her head into the sidewalk after her feet flew up just in front of the steps to her bus.  She tried to get up and walk it off.  She was hurt.

This place.

There were bars on the windows and constant flooding on the lowest classroom level.  The heat did not really kick in until the sun was up a bit to help it.  So, the students met in the cafetorium each morning.  Wearing their coats and scarves.  Getting lectured.  This Principal had some unresolved emotional issues.  Once the day got moving along and there was movement through classrooms it seemed that the Principal would get into a screaming match with one of her students about every 45 minutes.  Physically threatening them.  I always said that I refused to yell at children.

To my great sadness I found that in this environment, without screaming you did not exist.  Finally the Counselor and I hung out and chatted.  She explained to me that these were the “crack babies of crack babies”.  And, she said, “not even that anymore because the drug has changed.  These kids don’t stand a chance.”  These kids physically could not hold a focus or stop bouncing in their shoes.  The counselor told me the story of a 3rd grader.  She said most of the Dads were dead or in jail.  She said this one little boy wanted to come to school so badly that he drove himself.  His Mom took to the streets so he dressed himself and set off each morning.  He loved coming to this hellhole.  He got up in the morning and got behind the wheel of his Parents car and found a way to drive himself in.  Once they found out about it he was expelled.

It was unimaginable, this place.

I had been threatened at other schools.  One time, while I was standing beside the Principal and a boy was repeating “white girl” over and over through the microphone and the Principal was laughing with him and giving me the death-glare.  Another time, the teacher was largely absent and I don’t know who the man was sitting in but he sent his assistant to buy him a sandwich and soda at 10am and we all watched him reprimand her for not giving him the proper change back.  Then we watched him eat.  The we watched him leave.  And, I sat in a room with some older students who did not like me cutting into their social time.  They pulled out a pair of scissors.  I told them, “I am supposed to leave.  This is dangerous.  You’ll have to decide how this is going to go.  Listen, I get paid no matter what.  So, if you want to spend your time talking over me and threatening me I can just go and finish my coffee and read a good book.  I get paid the same no matter what.  Your call.”  And, the best result I got that day was getting these students to put away the scissors and sit in a circle exchanging ideas for 10 straight minutes.

But, this Anacostia school was beyond dangerous.  Beyond devastating.  During one exercise a 7 year old mimed rolling and smoking a joint.  Very specifically.  One male teacher spent so much time threatening his male students I thought I was going to watch him have a heart attack.  He was so threatened. He HATED those boys and they laughed at him outwardly.  On the inside though, a rage had to be brewing.  He was so abusive.

What was going to happen to these kids?  The disparity from one school to another was shocking.  Shocking!

On Capital Hill there were some great experiences.  One student named Russell tended to talk over me.  So, I’d say, “Who’s the director?  You or me?  You have to show your director respect.  You’ll get a shot to share your ideas, I promise.”  I found myself right inside of it with these kids.

After that session ended Russell’s teacher asked if there was a way I could be there permanently because it was a very successful experience.  I was flattered and had too much on my plate to figure it out.  She explained that Russell was just about to fail 10th grade and the he would not show up to do his make-up test for science and didn’t seem to care about anything.  It was clear that even this very positive place had written this kid off as apathetic.  She said, “He never missed one of your workshops.  We need our students that invested.”

I explained to her that while they saw a problem child, I had the great advantage of being a visiting artist which lent me an entirely different perspective.  To me, Russell was a natural leader.  Sometimes overenthusiastic but it was clear that his peers naturally followed his lead and that he was a brave individual and incredibly smart.

“Don’t leave me here.  You can’t leave me here.”

Then came the assignment in Columbia Heights.  This was one for the record books.  Metal screenings at the front door to ensure safety.  Every class was gender divided.  Either all boys or all girls.  This confused me at first.  I had my own judgement around it.  Then, I went in to teach.

On the wall of one of the classrooms hung three huge lined sheets of paper.  Each student in each class had written their greatest dream and hope in one sentence down the sheets of paper.  “I hope I won’t be raped.”  “I wish everyone could be nice to each other.”  “I wish my Parents had a lot of food and didn’t argue.”  I couldn’t stop staring at these words.

After speaking to one of the teachers I found that there were incidences of rape on this combined campus.  Rape.  So, they separated the boys from the girls.  The all male class I had was…wow.  The teacher was an incredible woman and she was at the end of her rope.  Again, I saw her physically grab students and slam them against the wall saying, “TUCK IN YOUR SHIRT BEFORE YOU COME INTO MY CLASSROOM!”.  I couldn’t figure out why she was so physically abusive and why she was treating children like criminals.  I couldn’t figure it out until one boy untucked his shirt.  That’s all I can say about that.

In my mind I can’t leave them there, you know?  I have to set up a structure.  A program.  A way young people can get the tools that were easily given to me without anyone even giving it a second thought.

So, the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities has released a report entitled, “Reinvesting in Arts Education”.  After reading the 88 pages yesterday these stories from working in DC haunted my dreams.  It leaves me with a singular conclusion.  We need adults.  We need leaders.  The children should be the ones under 18.

“…students with high involvement in the arts…performed better in school and stayed in school longer than students with low involvement… Low-income students involved in band and orchestra outscored others on the NELS math assessment…in drama showed greater reading proficiency and more positive self-concept…”

This is something I could see only short-term.  But, to see how it affects the longevity of success is a stunner.  It got me thinking about going through the public school system in Prince George’s County in the 70’s and 80’s.  We caught the end of busing.  We had students from the projects, from mansions, and every blue collar station in between.  So, when I read Arne Duncans words about this being the Civil Rights issue of our generation it was the only thing that made sense.  It is unacceptable that the gap between quality education is directly proportionate to the class divides.  This flies in the face of decades of strife and good work.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan:

“Nothing -nothing- is more important in the long-run to American prosperity than boosting the skills and attainment of the nation’s students…Closing the achievement gap and closing the opportunity gap is the civil rights issue of our generation. One quarter of U.S. high school students drop out or fail to graduate on time. Almost ONE MILLION students leave our schools for the streets EACH YEAR. That is economically unsustainable and morally unacceptable.”

Hearing about the crisis in general is upsetting.  But, when we break it down to kids who have fathers that are either dead or in jail.  Kids that are born addicted.  Kids that get expelled for driving themselves to school because they’d rather be learning than picking up street life.  It shatters emotionality.

“and, for some demographic groups and geographic areas, the statistics are far worse. By some estimates, approximately 50% of male students from disadvantaged minority groups leave school before graduation…An estimated 2 million students attend a high school in which fewer than 50% of the students graduate-schools that have come to be known as drop-out factories…Studies about the reasons for these trends provide a remarkably consistent picture: students report being bored…show the signs of risk for dropping out as early as 6th grade…”

For those who make it through.  Who find a way to show up and pass the tests.  We are failing them too, and all of the sobbing in the world won’t change that.  It will be changed by a new social understanding around the right of every American to have a quality education.  This should have nothing to do with the class divide.  This should have nothing to do with racial discrimination.  Segregation should NOT exist in 2011.  Every child is sacred and this is simply unacceptable and intolerable on a human level.

“The narrow focus on only teaching the basics clearly has not been the answer. Many high school graduates lack the skills to make them successful in post-secondary education and later in the workforce….problem solving, critical and creative thinking, dealing with ambiguity and complexity, integration of multiple skill sets, and the ability to perform cross-disciplinary work.”

It was affirming, liberating, and uplifting to discover that there is a term, a phrase, a way to describe it.  Creativity Crisis

He was amazed by a boy who, for a class science project, rigged a tracking device for his moped with parts from a cell phone. When faculty of a major Chinese university asked Plucker to identify trends in American education…“After my answer was translated, they just started laughing out loud,” Plucker says. “They said, ‘You’re racing toward our old model. But we’re racing toward your model, as fast as we can.’ ”

It is also devastating.

I put together a video with hopes that the Prince George’s alum would begin to step forward and speak.

And, I’m offering two for one camp registrations.

I’m responding to a very simple request.

“Don’t leave me here.  You can’t leave me here.”


I read this piece on Rosanne Barr in New York Magazine that Carolyn posted on FaceBook last night and I woke up thinking about it.

snow globe

It takes so much courage to speak up and to overcome the shame that silences.  It’s something I’ve been wrestling with my entire life and I think that reading her words was a liberating experience for me as well as many others.  Just at the end of last year I was reassessing where to go next with my Company.  I related so much when she wrote:

I couldn’t take it any longer—the abuse, humiliation, theft, and lack of respect for my work, my health, my life.

I’ve been thinking a lot about tolerance and endurance and how the two relate to each other.  The problem with building up endurance through tolerating what maybe should be called out is that it changes the shape of what’s happening.  The good news is that it’s incredibly powerful.  That WE are incredibly powerful.  If we want, we can change the shape of things but shame tells us we can’t.  That’s the great lie.  When we buy into it it grows and surrounds us in these exterior ways.  It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Rooted in a lie it sets up a life that is constantly off-kilter.  This is only good if you live inside of a snow globe and enjoy the snow.

In producing the work of woman on the stage for over a decade now, this shame is something I need to always process and know intimately.  In my mind it falls under, “keep your friends close and your enemies closer”.  Shame is the greatest enemy I have ever had.  Professionally, it has kept me from celebrating real accomplishments because there was always something about the achievement that I should be ashamed of, no matter the level of difficulty or success.  It’s terrible.  A real living hell when you can’t get real about the beauty and grace of your own actions.

So, as my teachers always taught me, I decided to dig into it more deeply over the years.

The root of the shame in my life comes from my upbringing.  It’s hard to talk about it or even remember it.  PTSD is a powerful thing.  What I know about myself personally is:

-The world outside was much safer than my home as a child.

Strangers fascinated me.

-There was always more to discover and learn in the outside world.

There was always a teacher, a job in theatre, a cast of beautiful actors, or a character that would come along and transform everything.

Everything I ever needed appeared and never from where it was traditionally supposed to be.  It’s incredible.

-When my honest accomplishments could not be imitated and purchased for others pretending to show up in their own lives I was free.

I had to stop caring about the things I could not change and embrace what I could effect.

I will never have interest in the snow globe existence – unless it’s a staging concept.

Success in my life was undeniably defined as failure in their world and I was to feel lucky for any sort of pat on the head in the way of acknowledgement, and I see this in my career as well.  I think this is why I am relating so strongly to Roseanne’s story.

When the show went to No. 1 in December 1988, ABC sent a chocolate “1” to congratulate me. Guess they figured that would keep the fat lady happy—or maybe they thought I hadn’t heard (along with the world) that male stars with No. 1 shows were given Bentleys and Porsches. So me and George Clooney [who played Roseanne Conner’s boss for the first season] took my chocolate prize outside, where I snapped a picture of him hitting it with a baseball bat. I sent that to ABC.

The thing about shame being a liar is it can eat up all of your time and energy because it never makes any sense.  So, the time you spend trying to figure out nonsensical things could probably be better spent say…knitting.  Shame is a world populated with cowards.  And, cowards hide under rocks.  So, the best way to remove shame and all that comes with it is to expose everything to light.  Full disclosure.  My family stopped harassing me exactly when I said, “I will not keep your secrets.”

The one thing shame inducing entities never suspect is that they have pissed off a writer.

Those of us coming up through the blue collar ranks are rarely suspected of having any sort of intelligence.  It should be one or the other.  Sweat and grit or thought and business suits.  Fascinating.

Hollywood hates labor, and hates shows about labor worse than any other thing. And that’s why you won’t be seeing another Roseanne anytime soon. Instead, all over the tube, you will find enterprising, overmedicated, painted-up, capitalist whores claiming to be housewives. But I’m not bitter.

And, today Jack Johnson is appearing on indictment charges.  So, there is the shame of Prince George’s County.  The County where I grew up.  The school system that exposed me to theatre that now has essentially cut the arts (therefor the hearts) out of its programming.  The place where my Grandmother ran a boarding house for the wives of soldiers and my Grandfather donated land so that Forestville would have a fire house.  The county that gave about 1/2 of the land to DC so that the district would exist.  The county that is shamed by shameful people hiding under rocks.  Shamed.  And, I have pride here.  Pride.  And, hope.  I’ve met the new leadership and they bring me so much hope.  I think we’re all fed up.

Also, in the news today is that Arnold and Maria are splitting because he fathered a child with another woman.  Just like John Edwards.  Actually, this should probably be its own blog entry.  Naming the men in politics who have fathered children outside of their marriages.  Rosanne has her own story on that one too!  The question is, why do the wives suffer the shame?  In the statements of the men they have had errors in judgement and want to protect their families.  This must be a cut and paste statement.  If they really felt that way then why didn’t they just fess up before forced into it?  Say it gentlemen.

I cannot keep my penis in my pants and sometimes I create children that I may not even know about but I really don’t care because it feels good.  It has nothing to do with my wife.  I’m just a noncommittal polygamist at heart.  The shame is all mine.  I will now divorce my wife and take full responsibility for lying to so many people by say…NOT lying anymore.

The shame is always put on the wife and it has nothing at all to do with her.  That’s the thing about shame.  It’s like a pantiless sex fiend at Studio 54 in the 70’s.  It doesn’t care.  It just wants what it wants – to spread its venereal diseases – and if you are standing there willing to give it any kind of space or time it will TAKE it.  Shame is therefor, a lying pantiless diseased whore.  Have I made myself clear?

I’ve been thinking about this shift out of shame.  This is a place of real integrity and honesty.  It’s incredible really.  The love that I feel now was not something I ever thought possible as a youth.  Sincerely.  And, that’s the lesson for me.  The truth.  Exposure to light.  Stepping through the journey.  It’s worth it.  And, it’s worth it because of what lies at the other end which is real growth and integration.  So, as I see myself confrontational in meetings which I have been for the past month, I have no shame around that because I am speaking my truth.  Make no mistake, I am PISSED OFF.  I’m ready to fight.  I.  Am.  Ready.  To.  Fight.  Not because I’m violent but because I’m tired of carrying some lie because I offered to hold the shame-purse with the intention of helping somehow.  Tired of the gag orders issued by the snow globe police.  It is liberating to speak truth.  It is.  Of course, we were supposed to know that already.  I should have.  Life.

This producer was a woman, a type I became acquainted with at the beginning of my stand-up career in Denver. I cared little for them: blondes in high heels who were so anxious to reach the professional level of the men they worshipped, fawned over, served, built up, and flattered that they would stab other women in the back. They are the ultimate weapon used by men against actual feminists who try to work in media, and they are never friends to other women, you can trust me on that.

And, it’s here that I have to wonder about shame and its legacy for women.  Because until we honestly fall in love with ourselves.  Until we take that dark walk and fess up and face it we are passing on the grim diseases to the next generation.  In the news today, the Kardashians.  Mother’s throw their daughters under the bus because of their unresolved shame.  Women become their bodies and deprive their spirits.  It must stop.

Enough.

May we all keep talking.

May we bring on the light!