Theater for Children by Children

Maru Garcia - headshot

“The theatre,” wrote Stella Adler, “was created to tell people the truth about life and the social situation.” And what better time to be introduced to that remarkable journey than in childhood when imaginations are probably at their most fertile. No one knows that journey better than this week’s guest, Maru Garcia, whose love of the performing arts is matched only by her desire to pass that passion along to the next generation of actors…and playwrights!

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: A “triple threat” label in the performing arts definitely applies to your talents as an actor, a writer and a director. Let’s start with a look at what originally ignited your passion for the stage. For instance, when did you first know that the theatrical world is where you wanted to be?

A: My mother used to take my sister and me to the theater to see different kind of plays, mainly musicals. We started playing at home, singing all the songs of the musicals which we saw over and over again. At 16 I enrolled myself in an acting course and I was hooked. The decision of studying Drama was difficult as I have hip dysplasia which made it impossible for me to dance or do any physical exercise; however, with the encouragement of my dad, I decided to pursue a career in Theater. Once in college, I decided to focus on Directing.

Q: Were you in plays at school?

A:  I was not, I started acting in plays when I was 16 years old with my teacher from the acting course I was taking at night while attending high school.

Q: What’s the first play you remember seeing and what were your impressions of that experience?

A: It was “Quiero Vivir” by Alberto Del Rio and it was amazing. I still remember the songs which we sang over and over again using a tape.

Q: Was there/is there a dream role you’d love to play?

A: All roles are amazing for me. I love acting in comedies but I would love to be tested as a dramatic actress. I would love to play the role of Lucy in Sartre’s play “Mors Sans Sepulture”, although I am too old for it. A very deep character with many changes and growth within itself.

Q: Do you have a favorite play and/or favorite playwright?

A: Not really, I love all genres.

Q: So how did you first break in?

A: It was as a shepherdess in a Pastorela. It was so much fun! Although I was exhausted at school for two months straight. I remember going directly to rehearsal after school and then coming home around 10 pm to do homework.

Q: How does your approach to acting (and focusing on the role you’re playing) compare/contrast to being a director (and having to draw forth the best performance from each of your actors)?

A: As I have been a director before, as an actor I am able to concentrate on what works on stage including blocking and being aware of where are my fellow actors both emotionally and physically. On the same token, the experience as an actor helps me understand what my cast members are going through when I direct. As a director I am able to tell if the actors need support considering that each one of them undergoes a different process.

Q: Best cure for stage fright?

A; Breathing…most of the time.

Q: Which would you rather direct – a comedy or a drama?

A: Oh my goodness! Both of them have their appeal. I don’t mind the genre as long as the message is powerful and makes the audience think.

Q: You’ve directed a number of productions in your native language, Spanish. Were these originally written in Spanish or translated from English and what, if any, challenges were present (especially in comedy) in capturing cultural nuances and themes that would resonate with your audiences?

A:  I have directed both types of plays, some of them were in Spanish originally and some of them were translated. Usually the translators are good at capturing the nuances that would relate to the Spanish speaking audience. When directing, it is also important to consider the gestures and movements related to the culture.

Q: Whenever the economy gets wobbly, the first programs that tend to get axed in public schools are always the performing arts. Why is this a dangerous practice and what effect do you see it potentially having on our students?

A: That is an unfortunate reality. The school system is more concentrated in academics without understanding how the arts expand the view of the world. A child that struggles academically could be highly successful in an artistic program which in turn would help that child academically.

Q: What can today’s educators do to counter the negative effects of theater classes being reduced – or even eliminated – to trim expenses?

A:  They can read books that elicit the imagination of the child. Use dynamic approaches to education with a lot of role playing, including puppets.

Q: Every decade or so, pundits will proclaims that “theater is dead.” What’s your response to that?

A: Theater will never be dead. As an artistic experience is very appealing to all audiences, there is nothing that beats the interaction between the live actors and the audience.

Q: This leads us to the exciting reason you’re doing an interview with us – to talk about your newly released book of plays (Theater for Children by Children) that was penned by children ranging in age from kindergarten to fifth grade. How did this fun idea come about?

A: I have always believed children can create wonderful plays. They already have the component of imagination; they just have to be encouraged to sew the story together. That is where the adult comes in. The adult guides the children in creating a story that makes sense. Everything else is their creation: the characters, the basic plot line, the dialogues, even the costumes and the set can be created by them.

Q: Tell us about the process of getting the kids involved in the creation of plots, the development of characters and dialogue, and all the nuts and bolts of just putting a script together that could be performed.

A:  The process starts with improvisations. Depending on the age of the children, improvisation can be very simple or very complex. It’s all a game for them. After the improvisations are done, the teacher (the adult) can determine what the children are interested in. The next part is to work on the dialogue. This can easily be done by the children themselves if they are old enough to write or by the teacher asking questions and writing their answers. After that, the children choose a character.  The adult puts together all the pieces, making sure there is a beginning, middle (conflict) and end. The older the children are, the more complex the plot and the characters are.

Q: Any unanticipated hiccups?

A:  Yes, at the time of the performance, the voices of the children were not loud enough which caused the audience to miss some parts. We also had a number of absent children in some performances.

Q: Any glimmers of future actors, playwrights and directors in the book’s talent pool?

A: Yes, there were many kids that were extremely talented. I hope they can really reach their full artistic potential one day.

Q: Did the children get to perform the plays?

A:  Yes, all the plays were performed. It was amazing to see them on stage.

Q: What was the result?

A:  The productions were very simple but the students felt a huge sense of accomplishment.

Q: Can children of any age go through this process?

A:  Children starting at 5 years old can start the process. I have worked with children 3 to 5 years old but not all of them have the attention span that is needed.

Q: Where can teachers and parents purchase Theater for Children by Children?

A:  It is sold through Amazon.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: Regarding writing?  I am writing a book regarding my experiences in dating from the moment I got divorced to the moment I started dating my fiancé. Regarding theater? I continue to audition for different companies. I would also like to find a producer for my “Mediumship show”, hopefully to be shown on T.V.

Q: Anything else you’d like our readers to know?

A:  This was an amazing experience. These children worked really hard in this project, it showed me what children are capable of. I hope I can repeat the experience with different groups of children all over the world.

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to Prepare Your Young Child for Success in School

How to Prepare Your Young Child for Success in School

I often consider myself fortunate to have been a toddler in a pre-technology age. Yes, there was radio and television but they figured only minimally in terms of educating me or keeping me mindlessly entertained. I also seem to recall that my favorite toys were sans batteries and that I could be mesmerized for hours with “talking” sock puppets, blowing bubbles, making hand-shadows on the walls, collecting fallen flower petals, and turning the pages of a colorful book as the nearest available parental read out loud to me.

As a result of these experiences – all of which were “free” – I knew how to read, write, talk up a storm, color pictures and do simple math before I ever started school. Margaret Welwood’s book (available through SmashWords) may be small in terms of page count but it packs a pleasant punch of happy memories and serves as a reminder to today’s parents, grandparents and guardians that the very best thing they can spend on the little ones in their lives is Time. It’s a message that can’t be repeated often enough, especially the concept of carrying on conversations with toddlers even though logic might otherwise tell you that they haven’t a clue about, oh say, what the national deficit, global warming, or supply side economics even means.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: Let’s start with your background as an educator and ESL instructor. During the 25+ years you worked with immigrant families, were there any differences you observed between the passion they exhibited to give their children the best learning opportunities versus the mindset and expectations of non-immigrant parents?

A:  An interesting question. I would say that in my experience most parents want the best for their children and will sacrifice to provide for them. However, some of the refugees I worked with had suffered so terribly in their home countries that I believe they had a heightened appreciation of what it means to be Canadian. They were truly grateful for the opportunities their children would have here.

Others, whom we would term “economic refugees,” gave up good positions in their home countries so their children could have a better life here. One young woman told me that in her country she didn’t have choices. “Here,” she said, “I have choices.”

Q: What attracted you to the topic of early learning?

A: I’d worked with children off and on for years. When I wanted to promote our college’s English as a Second Language program for adults, a freebie on the website on how parents could help their children learn seemed like a good idea.

Q: What are some of the most significant changes you’ve seen in this field?

A: My early work with children consisted of teaching nursery school, Sunday School and English as a Second Language. In later years I worked as a teacher aide with Canadian students who had special needs. Thus I can’t really speak to how curriculum and delivery have changed, but I will note another important facet.

That is the emphasis on safety and security. There were no peanut-free schools when I started out. Fire drills yes, lockdown procedures no. And no signing in and out at the day care. I was so impressed with the director of Tommy’s after school care. I used to pick him up about once a week. Once I picked him up two days in a row, and the director asked, “Is he staying with you now?” They don’t miss much!

Q: What do you feel distinguishes your approach to early learning tools and techniques?

A: I believe that’s what is in the book is simply common sense, based on shared experience and solid research.

Q: Define the desired takeaway value of this book for your readers.

A: I think that for conscientious and aware parents and caregivers much of the value may be in being able to say, “I’m doing most of these things. I’ve got it right!” But there may be a couple of surprises. I’m really intrigued by the link between learning a second language and delaying Alzheimer’s symptoms, and the possible link between excessive screen time and autism.

Other parents, particularly young ones, may find a lot of new information that they can use from day one.

Q: Throughout the text you’ve incorporated wonderful pictures rather than using stock photos. Why?

A: None of the pictures except the cover one were taken with the book in mind. I looked through some very attractive—and free—stock photos, but they all looked so posed. They didn’t fit with my theme of using everyday experiences and no-cost or low-cost activities.

Q: Tell us about your prior writing/editing experience.

A: I started writing freelance newspaper and magazine articles, then edited a business magazine and a Writer’s Digest award-winning book on diabetes education.

Q: How did you get into writing picture books for children?

A: My grandchildren, Tommy and Tina, were the impetus. They like me to read them stories, but there’s something special about making up our own. Tina even missed her school bus one day while she and I were engrossed in our story about a bug hotel! And once Tommy called, very sad, and said, “I think what would help me is a really funny story.” I did a take on Jack and the Beanstalk using his house, and it helped to distract him from his sorrow.

Q: The best writers were often voracious readers growing up and have simply carried that thirst for reading into adulthood. Would that apply to you?

A: Yes. I really liked science fiction. My mother used to park me in the book section of The Bay while she did her shopping, and I worked my way down a series of SF books.

Q: What and who were some of the books and authors that especially resonated with you?

A: Marooned on Mars by Lester del Rey and French-Canadian fairytales. I also read non-fiction books about astronomy. The Stars Are Yours by James S. Pickering was an inspiration. I bought a telescope, and my friends and I had a space club.

Q: I’m assuming you read aloud to your children when they were toddlers?

A: Oh yes, and years after they were toddlers, too.

Q: As crucial as this bonding experience is between a parent and child, a lot of today’s moms and dads who are dual wage earners or are single heads of households lament that they just don’t have enough time to read aloud, much less play games. What impact does this have on a child when s/he starts school?

A: Some older teachers say that kids aren’t as smart as they used to be. I think part of that is the need for faster and flashier stimulation than a book affords. Yet, earlier this year as a volunteer story reader at a day care, I found that the children were, in general, very good at listening to stories. I also never saw a TV on there.

Reading and playing with children is important, but I believe that a lot is also accomplished through solitary and group play with generic toys that encourage creativity.

Q: Every year there seems to be a strong push to get technology into the hands of children at a younger and younger age. In your view, what are the pros and cons of this approach to early learning?

A: Pro—it’s the way our world is, and children need to be ready for it. Also, some learning technology is highly interactive. I’m attempting to learn French with a free online program and a set of DVDs I’ve borrowed from the library, and I think they’re pretty effective.

Con—I think some children are less able to entertain themselves or to pay attention to what’s going on around them. And they are losing the ability to interact with others through play. I see these as real losses, and I’m always encouraged when parents limit screen time.

Q: Writing is a solitary pursuit. Do you allow anyone to read your work while it’s in progress or do you make everyone wait until it’s completely done?

A: Allow?? I insist! I love getting feedback.

Q: You’re giving your book away for free and yet this still requires marketing efforts on your part to let parents, grandparents and guardians know that it’s available. What steps are you taking to accomplish this?

A: I’ve posted a link on my website. There are several links to the book on my g+ page because I’ve posted it on several communities. I offer it to people I meet who show interest in the topic—and I ask people like you and The Edimath for reviews!

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: The artist is coloring the pictures for Scissortown and then the marketing will begin in earnest, hopefully this month. (I have a reading at the Christian school booked for Jan. 27.) I’m also doing a course on Google AdWords.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: The e-book, Scissortown, and other books to follow are expressions of my love for my grandchildren and our enthusiasm for stories.

Q: Where can readers learn more about you?

A: Please visit Writing Books for Children to learn about my writing journey, Grandma’s Treasures to learn about Tommy and Tina, the inspiration for my stories, and Grandma’s Bookshelf for a video about Scissortown, a link to my free e-book, and reviews of books I like.