O for a Muse of fire, that would ascend
The brightest heaven of invention,
A kingdom for a stage, princes to act
And monarchs to behold the swelling scene! Henry V, Prologue.
North Carolina House Bill 13, which would grant local school districts flexibility to combat class size limits imposed by last year’s short-sighted budget, is currently stalled in Raleigh.
It is like the scripts are in revision and the players are ready to rehearse. But production has been halted.
It seems there are too many directors behind the scenes too busy worrying about how much money they will net rather than what will actually need to transpire on that stage.
The thought that local school districts are being kept in limbo (and in what some might call a hostage situation) concerning programs like the arts is more than disconcerting. To stay aligned with state law, school districts will have to lower class sizes and for elementary schools that could mean a variety of things. One scenario is to do away with specialties like arts and physical education. Or, sadly, it could be that they lay off some of the players in the acting troupe.
From the Winston-Salem Journal this past Friday in an article entitled “Schools could cut assistants to hire more teachers, meet class size requirements,”
The Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools district has started contingency planning in case the N.C. General Assembly doesn’t pass a bill that would give schools relief from impending class size reductions.
The district will keep any teacher assistants hired from now until the end of the school year on temporary employee rolls in an effort to avoid layoffs over the summer. If the state mandate on smaller class sizes kicks in, district leaders say they might be forced to cut some teacher assistant positions for next school year in order to keep offering art, music and physical education classes (http://www.journalnow.com/news/local/schools-could-cut-assistants-to-hire-more-teachers-meet-class/article_9440fea2-c230-5128-8cff-270cefb7d83b.html) .
“We currently have legislation … that, when passed, overlooked the fact that regular teacher allotments do not separate out art, music, PE,” said Superintendent Beverly Emory. “Our board agreed and we’ve said from the get-go that we’re not laying off teachers; we’re not doing away with those programs.”
Cutting some teacher assistants next school year is one strategy the district is considering, Emory said, to deal with the class size reduction that would require the district to hire “as many as 200 additional teaching positions… with no additional funding.”
Either way, the production of what happens on the stage of school will be altered by a set of directors (lawmakers) whose parsimonious eyes on the bottom lines seem to contradict the bragging about what a great state (wait for the pun) our state’s economy is in with surpluses and all.
On March 31st, I was fortunate to see a production at Wake Forest University of Macbeth, the infamous Scottish Shakespearean play of greed and ambition. I never pass on a chance to visit my alma mater and did so with two erudite friends who value the intrinsic worth of art like it is the currency of life.
Go see it if you have a chance. It’s at the Tedford theatre, named after a Wake legend whose daughter happens to be a legend herself.
And it was fabulous. Students less than half my age grappling with a cautionary tale to remind us that what resides in us as humans has so much power over not just us as individuals but society as a whole (oftentimes in a negative fashion).
Macbeth is driven by ambition and greed, and however you want to interpret the role of the witches and the supernatural, you cannot mistake the parallels between Shakespeare and the modern world or even modern North Carolina. It teaches us what happens when those who are corrupted by power become “poor players.”
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing. Macbeth, V, v.
Oddly enough, the audience for a Shakespearean play when it would have originally been produced would have spanned all socio-economic backgrounds. The peddler, the merchant, the midwife, the prostitute, the clergyman, the nobleman, and sometimes members of royalty would have all been housed together to see what transpired on a stage to soak in social commentary and be a part of the fiber of being.
That’s what the art produced on the stage allowed for. Do we have anything that does that with American society today which can speak across social barriers besides money?
We all are affected by it especially the lack of it. One of Shakespeare’s most famous soliloquies is from the comedy As You Like It metaphorically explaines that. Spoken by Jaques, it begins,
All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts… As You Like It, II, vii.
During last night’s production, I thought of all of the focus that the past McCrory administration and current NC General Assembly placed upon STEM education, steering funds and emphasis away from a well-rounded curriculum that celebrated multiple intelligences. Yes, we need to pay attention to an ever-changing global economy that demands a more highly technically skilled workforce. Yes, we need to build bigger, better, more elaborate, more multi-functional stages.
But what productions will be shown on those stages?
Wake Forest University is beginning to introduce more engineering and more bio-medical programs on its campuses. But the Deacons have not forgotten their liberal arts. Even the city where Wake resides, Winston-Salem, has the reputation as the “City of Arts and Innovation.”
To force school systems to take away arts programs would be like settling for a well-built stage and having no shows performed on it – a nice empty venue without substance, without memories, without meaning. It would be foolish. It would be tragic.
When we are born, we cry that we are come
To this great stage of fools. King Lear, IV, vi.
The very stage that originally housed the first production of Macbeth is gone. But the art of the play still lives and grows and takes new meaning and even provides clarity to new times.
It you want to see a thriving high school, more often than not it has a highly involved drama and music programs that serve as outlets for students with creative intelligences. They not only build sets; they produce art on stage.
What we remember from those performances was not necessarily how well the stage was built. We remember what was done on them. Whether that stage was in an auditorium, on a canvas, on a football field or basketball court, or electronically created, the production is what makes the stage come alive. Not vice versa.
Lawmakers in Raleigh should strongly pursue passing HB13. Then they should start fully funding schools.
If not, many will walk around as the melancholic Antonio, the Merchant of Venice.
I hold the world but as the world, Gratiano,
A stage where every man must play a part,
And mine a sad one. Merchant of Venice, I, i.
Good thing Antonio has a happy ending thanks to a cross-dressing woman.