We Go Together... The Role of the Arts in #HollistonInnovates

Fresh off an exhilarating performance of Holliston High School‘s rendition of Grease, I find myself compelled to blog my thoughts about the role of the Arts in #HollistonInnovates. Tonight, I witnessed a widely-diverse group of students come together seamlessly to produce an entertaining and thought-provoking show. Students of different ages, different genders, different racial and ethnic backgrounds, different body types brought Rydell High to life.  For those of you local to Holliston who read this blog, they have two remaining performances: Friday, November 17, 2017 at 7:30PM and Saturday, November 18, 2017 at 7:30PM  I highly recommend it!

Watching the performance, I was struck by two different observations.  First, these students were fearless.  One by one, they took their place on the stage and jumped headlong into their performance.  They weren’t afraid to make a mistake nor did their enthusiasm and energy fade when the inevitable technical glitch or awkward moment arose.  Each of these students showed incredible courage last night -- courage to take a risk and  jump out of their comfort zone-- and they did it in front of an audience!  My second observation from last night’s performance was the sheer joy that each and every student displayed throughout the performance.  From the backstage crew to the technical crew to the on-stage performers -- they were having fun!  

As I reflected on the play during my drive home, I couldn’t help but think of the transformations I had witnessed.  In a way, I suppose the play is about transitions, as Sandy (the protagonist) transitions from the shy and demure “Sandra Dee” to the confident young woman we see at the end of the show.  Rizzo (the antagonist) transforms from the impenetrable leader of the Pink Ladies to a softer, more human character at the end of the show.  In the stage play, however, both Sandy and Rizzo are more complex than the characters that Olivia Newton-John and Stockard Channing portrayed in the movie.  Sandy shows that there’s a tougher side just underneath the surface early on in the play, physically confronting Rizzo on several occasions early on in the first act.  Rizzo shows signs of her softer side as well. In stark contrast to the movie, in the play, Rizzo sings her big solo, “There Are Worse Things I Could Do” to Sandy and not to the boy she is pining over in the movie version.  As the song ends, Rizzo concludes her song by singing these lyrics directly to Sandy: “But to cry in front of you…. There are worse things I could do.”  In that powerful moment, we see the character’s vulnerability and realize she’s just another scared teenager, trying to navigate that precarious tightrope into adulthood.

Not only did the characters transform, but so did the actors.  Last night,  I saw students who last year couldn’t make eye contact with me as we passed each other in the hallway, who tonight were standing centerstage belting out a solo with all the confidence in the world. I saw students who last year couldn’t walk five steps without tripping over their own feet dancing on stage like they owned the place (Born to Hand Jive, Baby!). I saw students who last year were painfully shy form lifelong friendships with people who, 8 weeks ago, they hadn’t yet met.  

So, assuming you’re still reading, you’re probably asking yourself, what does this have to do with the role of the Arts in #HollistonInnovates?  You see, #HollistonInnovates is not just about introducing more innovative instructional techniques into the classroom -- it’s about having a community conversation about what knowledge, skills and characteristics do we want our graduates to have when they graduate from HHS.  This play and more importantly the effort to put it on, taught our students that: (1) personal growth comes from the courage to try new things and the perseverance to endure failure in order to learn; (2) learning can be (and should be) fun; and (3) the person you are today is not necessarily the person you’re going to be (or can be) tomorrow.  In her Note from the Director, Theatre 370 Director Courtney Bottomley summarized the learning she hoped students would take away from their experience: “By the end of Grease, our friends say goodbye to how people see us, the version we show the world that keeps us safe, and say hello to who we really are, and taking the chance to be authentic, truthful, and being accepted as we are.”

To me, there are three truths about those learning objectives.  First, they are essential outcomes that we should strive to instill in every HHS graduate. Second,  there will NEVER be a standardized test that can measure those outcomes.  Third and most importantly, these outcomes are best delivered by a rigorous, comprehensive and robust Fine and Performing Arts program.  The role that the FIne and Performing Arts plays in the development of the skills of creativity, communication, critical thinking and collaboration (4 skills around which much of our #HollistonInnovates work is centered), is obvious and undeniable.  Spend one night with the cast and crew of Theatre 370’s production of Grease and you’ll learn how the Arts guide our students through the process of self-discovery and self-awareness -- essential ingredients in their journey from Holliston (or Rydell) High graduates to happy, engaged and productive contributors to our global society.  

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