Broadway Books First Class

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A Visit with Alison Fraser

Two events occurred in recent days that, on the surface, seem unrelated but serve to deepen my understanding of development and purpose. The first was an extraordinary Broadway Books First Class guest artist visit by two-time Tony Award nominee Alison Fraser. The other was the passing of theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking.

Stephen Hawking argued that there is no God because time itself did not exist before the creation of the universe. This is due to the effects of the laws of nature upon the void created by an enormous black hole, which eventually exploded to set the universe on its infinite path of expansion. This leads to the question, "Without a creator (God), does life have meaning?" And to examine that question we can relate the vast complexities of the universe to our own incredible brains.

There are secrets in both that remain a mystery awaiting investigation but one thing seems certain - we've evolved. Humans have become metacognitive, i. e. self-aware and self-reflective. Those traits propel us forward and allow us to create our own meaning, our own purpose.

This trajectory of growth and forward momentum hit me as I engaged in a bit of reflection about Broadway Books First Class. The program continues to evolve and, more often than not, the changes are absolutely obvious. It feels like those old V8 commercials where the actors hit their heads and declare, "I could have had a V8!"  

Two such "staring me in the face" revelations came via Alison Fraser's visit. Alison was one of the very first performers to come onboard and from the start her involvement has been invaluable.

I've seen her perform in over a dozen shows (many more than once) including Romance/Romance, The Secret Garden, Gunmetal Blues, Gypsy, First Daughter Suite, The Divine Sister,A Charity Case, Love Therapy, Dedication or The Stuff of Dreams, Squeamish, A New York Romance at 54 Below, a staged reading of Red Scare on Sunset, and singing with the Greater Trenton Symphony Orchestra on New Year's Eve 2012.

The first "Aha Moment" sprung from my intent to remain conscious of inviting guest artists and selecting books that mirror the cultural and linguistic realities of my students. I thoughtfully work to ensure my students see themselves reflected in the books the guest artists read - and in the guest artists themselves - and realized that this objective could be strengthened and supported in a very simple, concrete way.

So, I asked Alison to share a picture of herself as a child with the students. That created an immediate connection and provided fruitful territory for discussion. Why hadn't I thought of that before? In seeing Alison as a child the mystery and awe of who she is strips away and the children see her as one of them. It is a fantastic way to start each visit and I hope it continues.

The second realization was something that has been part of every guest visit from the very beginning, only I hadn't fully realized how powerful it was until observing the students with Alison. That is not to say the guest artists missed the significance. The divine Charles Busch wrote in reference to the Q&A following the read aloud, "The more interesting part was the discussion afterwards".

The Pre-K and Second Grade children started asking Alison questions the minute she sat down. Their questions and Alison's answers gave me visions of an Inside the Actors Studio type interview program conducted by theatrically wise elementary school children. Each Broadway Books First Class visit is recorded and it would be brilliant to share a clip of the interaction so others could catch a glimpse into how fantastic it was.

We learned behind-the-scenes stories about Alison's audition for The Secret Garden (she even sang us her audition song!), we got the scoop on why she was in particular shows and how she felt about them, and even delved into a discussion about her latest triumph in the one-woman tour de force Squeamish.

All of this book-ending a reading and subsequent discussion of STRICTLY NO ELEPHANTS by Lisa Mantchev and Taeeun Yoo. It is a beautiful book about inclusion with illustrations I adore.

And to return to the question, "Does life have meaning?" I'll go with Stephen on this one. On a Tuesday morning, in a classroom in New York City a group of young children met with a generous, talented actress and proved to me that it does.

How brilliant that I was there to witness it.