Broadway Books First Class
"The arts, it has been said, cannot change the world, but they may change human beings who might change the world."
John McGinty knows the value of the Arts in education. He is a long-standing advocate of #deaftalent with a career goal of bringing the classics to life, from #deafhamlet to #deafhunchback. His journey as an actor brought him two Broadway shows in the last year - Children of a Lesser God (2018) and King Lear (2019). It's an impressive resume that has deep roots in building visibility, promoting diversity, and supporting positive role models. I am honored that he took the time to visit with the children of Broadway Books First Class one morning before a matinee performance of King Lear.
I first met John and learned of our shared passion for the Arts in education when we conducted a series of educational workshops led by Kim Weild (artistic director of Our Voices Theater) in 2016. Those sessions led to the creation of a children's book entitled How the I Becomes the We and an American Sign Language (ASL) performance of the piece on the High Line. John also returned in 2018 to oversee the ASL interpretation of songs when Ali Stroker (recent Tony Award Winner for playing Ado Annie in Rodgers & Hammerstein's OKLAHOMA!) and I conducted our Theatre Lab for Grades 3-5.
This year John came to visit with students in PreK and Second Grade. I asked him to read one of my all-time favorite children's books, The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore by William Joyce. It depicts the story of a man who nurtures - and is nurtured by - books. It's for anyone who has ever become lost in the printed word or reveled in stories that invite us to adventure. I wanted John to read this book for several reasons. One happens to be because John is Deaf. The images in this book (e.g. flying books) are complimented by ASL and Morris' oft-repeated phrase, "Everyone's story matters" is one John supports.
Another exciting aspect of his visit is his current tenure in King Lear. Shakespeare, as I learned while preparing for his visit, is VERY interesting to second graders.
I attended a matinee performance of this revival, which stars Glenda Jackson in the title role. There is some other nontraditional casting as well, including Jayne Houdyshell as the Earl of Gloucester, Ruth Wilson in dual roles as Cordelia and the Fool, and Russell Harvard (who is deaf) as the Duke of Cornwall. ASL is incorporated into the staging and plays prominently in some scenes. All of this was interesting to the students, but what made them sit up were the unfortunate gory bits.
In preparing for John's visit I touched upon the Earl of Gloucester's fate at the hands of the Duke of Cornwall (i.e. his eyes are ripped from their sockets). That bit of stage trickery became our first question for John. The children wanted to know, "How did they stab Gloucester's eyes out?" Well, we had their attention! John explained it in detail, but without giving anything away here, I was pleased that he also stressed the fact that it was carefully choreographed. He told us that if anyone felt the least bit uncomfortable things immediately stopped.
The students also wanted to know how King Lear got so rich in the first place (John delivered a fantastic history lesson here on how the monarchy amassed wealth back in the day) and why everyone dies in the play (that's tragedy, folks).
It was interesting to witness the pull of Shakespeare. I teach Greek Mythology to my first graders, but John's visit makes me ponder how to incorporate Shakespeare into our curriculum for second through fifth grades. We would definitely benefit from a theatre program.
"The Arts are an essential element of education, just like reading, writing, and arithmetic...music, dance, painting, and theatre arts are all keys that unlock profound human understanding and accomplishment."
William Bennett, Former US Secretary of Education
Other questions were more of a personal nature. They asked, "Why did you want to be on Broadway?" John told us that he has always had a passion for performing and when the opportunity to go to Broadway presented itself, he grabbed it. Then he turned the tables and asked the children about their passions and what they wanted to do when they grew up. Some said they wanted to be on Broadway or direct a Broadway show. Another said, "I want to draw hearts" and still another told us he wants to work at McDonald's for the french fries.
Before John had to make his way to the theater - he had two shows that day, each show lasting 3 hours and 30 minutes - he made sure to sign books and have one to one time with each student. John helped me realize the best of what this program can be. I am so thankful.
"Art has the role in education of helping children become like themselves instead of more like everyone else."
Sydney Gurewitz Clemens