The Good Negro, Joe Turner’s and That Pretty Pretty

Been a busy couple of weeks teaching.  One of the benefits to what I do for a living is that I get to see some great theater for free, sometimes things I wouldn’t afford to be able to see on my own.  Working for TDF,  I saw The Good Negro, Tracy Scott Wilson’s new play about the civil rights movement and loosely based on the life of Martin Luther King, Jr.  She brings the man down off his pedestal and humanizes him for sure.  And in these Obama days, it’s an interesting reflection on the power of rhetoric.  I was also blown away by the magic and craftsmanship of Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, Lincoln Center’s new production with Ernie Hudson (Yes, that’s right.  Ernie Hudson of Ghostbusters, Ernie Hudson.  I think he’s great in this.).  A forgotten song.  A missing woman.  A shower of gold.  A magic man who binds people together.  It’s 3 hours long and it seemed like a mere moments.

It’s the kind of play that makes a playwright envious and awestruck and hungry to see it again and wondering if she’ll ever get the mastery and imagination necessary to build something like that.  I am ashamed to say this is only the second of his plays that I’ve encountered.  Now I have to read the other 8.

Also saw, That Pretty Pretty at Rattlestick.  Man.  She broke all the rules.  I was telling my Pace kids this week that if you’re going to be artmakers, you need to be seeing thing as much as humanly possible.  I had them read Harold Pinter’s Nobel Prize Address.  It is sort of all over the place but he talks about the real and the unreal, chasing the truth in artmaking, but more than anything, being aware of the world around you and the implications of the deeds being done.  I think the thing about Sheila Callaghan’s play is that she’s somehow capturing the way that we are thinking right now.  She deals with gender and the mess of making art, stealing and borrowing other people’s stories and messing with people because you are stronger.  The narrative is fractured, but I think it reflects these times of piecemeal narratives and stories told, then re-told, then reinterpreted, then broken and re-ordered and turned into bricolage.  Pretty cool.

On another note, some success yesterday with a class in a long term residency that I have that had not really taken to writing or performing so much yet.  But, I did some Teacher in Role work with them and let them ask questions of the character and suddenly, all they wanted to do is be involved and give the character advice on how to be an agent of change in her own life.  It really stunned me and affirmed the power of this kind of work.  It just works.

Oh, and have you seen Electric Company lately?

Red Rover and The Stimulus Package

Last week was hard.  We have some of those weeks.  Running back and forth between different sites, with different teachers and students, we have some successes and some losses.  While the good days were very good, the not-so-good days were really not so good, but we soldier on.  I have to find a way to build a culture of respect and safety in a classroom where those are foreign terms for many, many reasons.  I’ve pulled out every trick in my 10-year hat of working with young people and I’m still stumped.  If you have caught lightening in a jar, tell me how you’ve done it.  I’ll keep trying.  I am stubborn.  I am persistent.  I have patience.

In other news, if you need to laugh, if you need to see something strange, see Red Rover, which is a children’s television show meets dark, dark comedy. It’s also by my friend Rey.  He is very busy this month.  This one, I had the pleasure of seeing as an installment in Vampire Cowboy’s Saturday Night Saloon series, but now, the five installments are one big play.

Red Rover

Monday February 16th at 8pm; Tuesday February 17th at 8pm

Written by A. Rey Pamatmat
Directed by Dominic D’Andrea
Original Music by Matt Park

Canada’s favorite Children’s live studio audience Television Show now in the US featuring the lovable Red Rover and Miss Clover and their musical adventures with counting, shapes, colors, and MURDER! A smash hit straight from the red hot Vampire Cowboys Saturday Night Saloon Series.

TJ Clark, Matt Park, Margo Brooke Pellmar, David Spangler, Alexis Black and more!

All performances will take place at the West End Theatre, 263 West 86th Street (between Broadway and West End Avenue) Tickets to all shows are $15 and can be purchased at the door, by calling 212-352-3101, or by visiting:

Through the advocacy of the Association of Teaching Artists and Americans for the Arts, the Coburn amendment did not pass, which would have barred artists and arts organizations will be assisted by the stimulus package, like everyone else.  We were lumped in with casinos, zoos, highway beautification projects.  These things, apparently, are frills.  But, small victories, right?  If you have time to send some nice old-fashioned thank you notes, please do…

This, from Americans for the Arts (2/13/09):

Just moments ago, the U.S. House of Representatives approved their
final version of the Economic Recovery bill by a vote of 246-183. We
can now confirm that the package DOES include $50 million in direct
support for arts jobs through National Endowment for the Arts grants.
We are also happy to report that the exclusionary Coburn Amendment
language banning certain arts groups from receiving any other economic
recovery funds has also been successfully removed. Tonight the Senate
is scheduled to have their final vote, and President Obama plans to
sign the bill on Monday – President’s Day.

A United Voice
This is an important victory for all of you as arts advocates. More
than 85,000 letters were sent to Congress, thousands of calls were
made, and hundreds of op-eds, letters to the editor, news stories, and
blog entries were generated in print and online media about the role
of the arts in the economy. Artists, business leaders, mayors,
governors, and a full range of national, state, and local arts groups
all united together on this advocacy issue. This outcome marks a
stunning turnaround of events and exemplifies the power of grassroots
arts advocacy.

We would like to also thank some key leaders on Capitol Hill who
really carried our voices into the conference negotiation room and
throughout the halls of Congress: Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-
CA), House Appropriations Chairman Dave Obey (D-WI), House Interior
Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Norm Dicks (D-WA), and
Congressional Arts Caucus Co-Chair Louise Slaughter (D-NY). We also
want to publicly thank President Obama for taking the early lead in
recognizing the role of the arts in economic development. These
leaders were able to convincingly make the case that protecting jobs
in the creative sector is integral to the U.S. economy.

From ATA

To whom to e-mail a THANK YOU!

House Speaker Representative Nancy Pelosi

House Appropriations Commiitee Chair Representative David Obey

House Appropriations Subcommittee on the Interior Chair Representative
Norm Dicks

Congressional Arts Caucus Co-Chair Representative Louise McIntosh

Teaching Artist Life

Wow.  Somebody is doing a large scale documentation of what we do.

I’m glad.  Many times, when I try to describe what I do, I get a glazed donut look.  Then, if I manage to explain properly, I hear, “That’s cool.  I wanna do that.”  

From what I hear from Dale Davis and Carole Fineberg in my TA 101 class, the Teaching Artist field is expanding and changing at a rapid rate, so articulating what we do, studying the effects of the work and capturing a portrait of where the profession is going nationally is really key.  I also think we need to share best practices and build TA capacity.  And this is a good way of keeping the conversation going.  

I am interested in what this will yield.

Keeping the Arts in Public Schools

The top ten ideas will be presented to President Obama and will have grassroots campaigns started around them by the good people at to bring the ideas to fruition.

Check out the below.  Throw in your two cents before midnight tonight and we usher in 2009.  Let’s put the buzz in Obama’s ear that the arts are crucial to build the capacity for imagination and creative thinking that will be necessary to build the corps of young citizens to help move us into the future. 

The first round of voting for the Ideas for Change in America
competition will end this Wednesday, December 31 at midnight Pacific

Please vote for this one:

Support the Arts in Public Schools (currently in 6th place):

You can see all the ideas here:

The top three ideas in each category will make it to the final round.

Also note that the final round of voting will begin next Monday and
end just before the Presidential Inauguration in mid-January.

The top ten ideas will be presented to President Obama and will have grassroots campaigns started around them by the good people at to bring the ideas to fruition.


But, color me shocked to say that, I got ching-chonged in class today.

So, in my other life, I am a teaching artist in schools around the city.   At just about every corner of this wide and beautiful city, to almost every last stop of every subway train.  Schools showered with accolades and citywide attention and schools that are more ignored, but children everywhere.  I’ll also say that because I’ve never liked formality, I have usually asked them to call me Carla.  But, I’ll bend to the culture of a school and that the one I went to today, they use Mr. _____ and Ms. ______, so I obliged them.

But, color me shocked to say that, I got ching-chonged in class today.

“Everyone, can we all say thank you to Ms. Ching for doing this workshop with–”

“Ms. Ching-chong.  Ching-chong.”

“What did you say?”


I haven’t heard that in a long time.  A very very long time.  Which given my name, I guess surprises me.  But, it’s New York.  It’s a pretty multicultural, pan-ethnic city.  It’s the US.  We’re still glowing because we elected Barack Obama president.  The man with midwestern and Kenyan roots, raised in Honolulu.  Come on.

Double sigh.

When I have heard homophobic, racist or misogynist comments come out of the mouths of high school kids, I let ’em have it.  Because they know better.  And because they can take it.

It is my gut reaction when I hear comments of this nature.  To let the other person have it.

He is a fourth grader.

He is mimicing things he’s heard without even knowing what they mean.  This is what I tell myself.  When it comes to children–actually, the big ones and the small ones–I am an eternal optimist and eternally patient.  The reverse of how I am with adults.  So I look at him steadily.  He is smiling.

“You know, when people say, ‘ching-chong, ching-chong,’ they are usually doing to to make fun of Chinese people.  Because they think the language sounds funny.  But, I don’t think you mean to make fun of me, do you?”

He looks at me with wide eyes and shakes his head.

“So, just Ms. Ching will be fine, thank you.”

“Are you Chinese?”  “Konichiwa!”  “Where are you from?  You look like one of those Los Angeles people?”  “I’m learning Chinese, I think it’s a beautiful language.”

And here comes the rainstorm of curious questions of young children who haven’t known a lot of people like me.  So I answer them in shotgun style, checking the clock on the wall to see if I can get to them all before the bell goes.

“Yes, I’m Chinese.”  “Konichiwa is Japanese.”  “Actually, that’s funny, I am from LA.”  “Chinese is beautiful and it’s super-hard, so it’s awesome that you’re learning it.”

And I close the class and thank them for working with me.

And the little boy who “ching-chonged” me walks over.  “I’m sorry,” he says.

“That’s alright,” I say.

I smiled at him to let him know it was okay.  He smiled back.

I charged off to my next class.


Oh, I should mention that this happened two other times in a different class.

“Ms. Ching-ching.  Ching-chinga-chinga–”

“Just once, thank you.  One Ching.  Ms. Ching.  That’s it.  Thank you.”