ArtsLink: Lost Art to Come from a Probable Lost Art and a Mentor Still Teaching, Leading to Find it Again

By Jason Young on May 28, 2020 from A&E Blog via

The best of us have figured out a way to be lifelong learners and teachers simultaneously.
Nineteen falls ago I stepped through the doors of Wallman Hall and met Dr. Francene Kirk. Coming out of high school, I was an unapologetically arrogant 18-year-old who thought I knew it all and could do it all. I found out later that she recognized that in me immediately; I don’t suppose it was that hard, but apparently she also recognized some other stuff too. She had the great privilege of directing me in several shows, the great challenge of teaching me in several classes, and the great undertaking of shepherding me through many life lessons that you learn in your early 20s. 
While I have mentioned it before in several previous blogs, it is worth saying once more: I wasn’t a great student in college, but that doesn’t mean that I didn’t learn a lot. My college years were my formidable years. Don’t misunderstand me; please don’t allow that statement to conjure images of soft hands gently molding a piece of pliable clay. I would prefer you to envision a forge and metal being shoved in flames, hammered, chiseled, doused in ice, and then sharpened. Take that, combine it with more than one ill-advised all-nighter, toss in a couple of big production numbers, and that was college. 
We worked hard and played hard.
The theatre program was challenging. It was ferociously competitive and served as my personal super collider. You see, even with my limited knowledge of science, I understand the concept of particle collision. Scientists creating a way to accelerate particles towards each other and then analyzing and discovering from the wreckage. Our program wasn’t violent; that’s not the metaphor, but it was full of talented people who thought about and made art with such passion that collisions were constantly imminent. Bruised egos were daily occurrences, but so were growth, love, grace, and encouragement. 
I have been very lucky to have remained in close contact with many of my professors. They have become more than teachers, more than acquaintances, but dear friends, true inspirations in my life and in my work. These professors, along with all the peers that walked the halls and shared the stage with me for those many years, are the foundation of my network of West Virginia theatre makers, my tribe. 
Last week my alma mater decided to eliminate their music, music education, theatre, and theatre education degree programs. That’s tough news to hear, tough news to accept. How could it not be? As someone who completely grasps what those programs meant to me, it’s hard to know that several others won’t be able to have that same experience and be impacted in that same way. But I have been purposefully and quite deliberately holding back my opinion publicly. I know what I want to happen, but I have also learned that I don’t actually know it all. 
But in the last few days, as I have watched the situation unfold on social media, as groups formed, debates raged, and leaders emerged, I have been reminded of just how much I still have to learn from my former academic advisor and how much she still has to teach me. 
Dr. Kirk has become one of the primary voices of the movement, and while several others are speaking out in sadness and anger, expressing their feelings in this deeply emotional moment, she is strategic, organized, and measured in all of her thoughts and comments. She is reminding me of the importance of research, of knowing your audience, of having a shared and accessible narrative, and to always have a goal that you are consciously and constantly pursuing.
This is a complicated situation that is only exacerbated by the current global pandemic. It’s understandable, in a time when people are on edge from the jolting trauma the world has experienced the last several months, for tempers to be running high and rational, logical thought to give way to emotional reaction. What is uncommon is for someone to decide to speak truth to power in a non-confrontational, completely rational, and remarkably empathetic way. And to do so for a cause greater than oneself and on behalf of strangers and posterity.
However, I am not surprised. The arts teach us how to collide in peace, how to solve problems without placing blame, and the immense value of empathy. As Oscar Wilde put it the arts provide a human being with the most immediate way to share what it means to be a human being. So here I am, over a decade since I have been in a classroom with Dr. Kirk, still learning big life lessons. 
The best of us have figured out a way to be lifelong learners and teachers simultaneously, and Dr. Francene Kirk is certainly the best of us.

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