By Lovewell Founding Artistic Director:
David Spangler, Ph.D.
Lovewell Institute has spent the past twenty years developing and refining a unique arts education curriculum into an effective professional training methodology. The Lovewell Method is an applied arts education philosophy. Experience has taught us that the highest learning curve is achieved in direct proportion to the student’s level of motivation. This is one of the fundamental ideals of our process, and one of the tangible reasons for the success of our programs. The Lovewell Method has evolved into a pedagogy built on Authentic Experience and Cognitive Thinking. I’m going to briefly illustrate to you what Lovewell is, what Lovewell does, and how Lovewell does it.
What Lovewell Is:
After piloting this program in 1984 at the Hampton Day School in Bridgehampton New York, I was asked to integrate it into the Salina Public School System USD#305. In 1987 as an artist-in-residence I directed the first large-scale district wide model of what was to become the “Lovewell Experience.” Over the following two years I assembled a board of directors and formed a not-for-profit 501(c)3 corporation. We also qualified as a 509(a)(2) which is the highest level of charity detectability.
Artistic: Solid dramaturgical structure, timely and relevant theme, interesting characters, Cohesive design, some good performances
Educational: Ethics in government, Invasion of Privacy, Media Intrusion, Diversity Issues. Therapeutic: Hispanic students in America, single parent households, extended families
What Lovewell Does:
The most important thing that Lovewell does is to ignite the spark of Creative Thinking in students, parents, local artists, teachers and ultimately the whole surrounding community. Creative involvement promotes motivated learning and unity. There is never a losing team in the Lovewell game. Our slogan is “building a cultural community through arts education” and that’s exactly what we do. Our programs galvanize our fragmented communities and rally people around issues of common concern by co-creating publicly performed theatre pieces – maximum ownership, maximum buy-in, maximum involvement.
Employing the Lovewell Method, our staff guides students through the rough waters of bringing order out of chaos, meaning out of data, and resolution out of random events. The themes, characters, dialogue, plot, music, lyrics, design and dances in our productions are generated directly from the imagination, experience, and innate wisdom of the students. The Lovewell Method utilizes creative problem solving, and anyone watching our process knows the high degree of critical thinking that occurs as we develop our projects. The process of creating our shows is a training ground for group dynamics, team-building, organizational strategy, emotional intelligence, and vocational skills.
Lovewell conducts workshops in several different formats, all of which incorporate our basic curriculum and teaching materials. The formats have been developed to meet the needs of the various schools and institutions that request our program. These formats include intensive 3-week and 4-week summer sessions, after-school programs, weekend workshops, one-day seminars, and teacher training sessions of varying lengths.
Lovewell is a not for profit 501c3 and our programs are funded through a wide variety of sources including grants, donations, tuition, and service fees. Partnerships have proven very successful in putting together our programs. Whether we are partnering with a school, a social service organization, or a theatre company, the procedure remains the same – we identify the mutual desire for a Lovewell program, we establish a budget and contract, we recruit and market, we hire and train staff. Our programs are magnets for positive public relations and publicity because the product of the process is a display of very well trained, well disciplined and talented students at peak performance and optimum eloquence.
Another important thing Lovewell does is facilitate collaboration. Theatre is an art of unavoidable collaboration. The playwright, the producer, the director, the composer, the choreographer, the actors, the designers, the technicians, the publicists all need to collaborate and communicate at an effective level. Collaboration skills are a major focus of the Lovewell system. The Lovewell approach is holistic and stresses mutual respect and understanding between all the separate disciplines that must be unified into a successful theatrical production.
Artistic: Challenging elements of performance techniques, and technical design elements.
Educational: Examining Shakespeare (the play, the movies, the adaptation[West Side Story], the language and symbolism. Ebonics issues.
Therapeutic: Self esteem, conflict-resolution (Capulets-Montigues), AIDS Theme (forgiveness)
How Lovewell Does It:
Specific procedures, activities, and teaching methods utilized in the Lovewell Method:
Affirmations - Each day students are guided through the reading of seven affirmations. This exercise involves quiet contemplation of the goals to be accomplished that day, and the means by which they will be accomplished. Staff members (and eventually students who volunteer) read each affirmation and comment on how it applies to the task at hand, or how it applies to unresolved situations from the day before. Different methods of problem solving are shared and applied directly to the challenges of the day. This process has proven highly effective in getting the students focused, and into a brain state known as “flow” which enhances their concentration. By the end of the exercise, each student has a mental image of his or her next action necessary to move the group activity forward. We have found this to be a very productive
Some Procedures - The first day of our workshop is spent greeting new arrivals and getting to know each other. Then there is a brief orientation followed by a staff.talent showcase. The next day students and staff discuss some of the submitted material and engage in an intensive “guided brainstorming” session with the goal of setting a theme, choosing characters, and devising a basic plot line. The challenge is to create a literate, stage-worthy and entertaining piece of multi-disciplinary theatre that expresses the students’ thoughts and feelings. This art piece must be written, rehearsed and publicly performed within a limited time frame (3 to 4 weeks full time, or 3 to 4 months after-school).
Early in the process each student presents a simple talent showcase where they perform any material they wish – from thespian and forensics entries to new and untried stand-up comedy skits. This showcase functions to inform the other students and staff of the unique abilities and characteristics of each participant. Being familiar with each student’s unique talent and personality helps guide the writers toward creating a show that features “the best” of what each student can do. It often takes “an outside eye” to shape material that shows the particular talent of a student to its best advantage, as well as fitting it into the theme and plot as the production evolves.
The first phase continues with what we call the “vortex of chaos” – refining characters, researching background materials, crash courses in dramatic structure, coaching in songwriting, lyric writing, playwriting, choreography and design. The goal of this phase is to bring order out of chaos. By the end of this phase we will have established the title of the show, the poster design, and a few good songs and scenes. We should also have a good idea of how to tie all the elements into a cohesive theatrepiece.
The staff is instructed to allow the students to take the lead. We encourage the students to initiate the ideas in order to give them a sense of maximum ownership and participation. This is at the core of the Lovewell Method because it empowers these students with a new self-awareness that creativity is a powerful inner force that has infinite practical applications. Unconditional mutual support and reverence for the ideas brought forward results in a profound sense of commitment and unprecedented motivation.
The second phase is a frenzy of creation. We divide into 4 groups or departments:
SCRIPT - writers around laptops hammering out the dialogue, plot points, character analysis and structure.
MUSIC - songwriters gathered around pianos working out melodies, lyrics, underscoring and dance sequences.
DESIGN & TECH - designers and technicians in the shop devising visual and technical aspects of the production in terms of sets, costumes, lighting, props, visuals, and special effects.
DANCE - physical learners and dancers in the studio exploring the possibilities of narrative movement as it relates to the theme and plot.
Students are encouraged to switch groups as their interest and focus shifts. This creates an interdisciplinary atmosphere where students can explore new aspects of the theatre-related arts. The staff meets several times each day to compare the progress being made in each department, making sure we all stay on the same track. During this phase, we put the emphasis on organization techniques, communication skills and flexibility. An attitude of cooperation is essential and the students learn how to work together on a common goal. During this phase a social event is held called “Pillow Talk.” It is, if possible, in the evening and each student brings a pillow and a snack. First the staff hands out awards based on the unique strengths of each student. Everyone gets an award. Then a candle is passed around the circle and each student gets to share a personal story with the group – a revelation, a fear, a confidence. This exercise bonds the group before going into the final push of production.
During the third phase the focus turns to the performance itself - getting the scenes and songs staged and rehearsed, the sets and costumes finished, and the students and production elements technically polished for performance. Staff offers coaching in performance skills, acting techniques, musical arranging, theatre tech and all practical aspects of getting a production on its feet. Issues dealt with include stage fright, completion of songs, scenes and dances, promotion and publicity, and most importantly – energy management. We strive to balance the manic energy that often culminates at this point with the calm clear confidence of experienced performers. The audience adds the final ingredient. The energy coming back to the performer/creators from the audience is always an indescribable experience. Realizing that the reactions and emotions coming back to them from across the footlights are a direct result of their efforts and artistry, the students experience an exhilaration and sense of accomplishment never to be forgotten. Somebody is not only watching them perform, but also listening to their ideas and appreciating their communication skills on a larger scope. The respect and praise they feel is a priceless addition to their self-image.
Teaching Methods - Lovewell Instructors are trained to draw out the innate talent and wisdom within each student. Some of the materials in your packet will give you an indication of our teaching methods, materials and training philosophy.
Students, staff, parents, and teachers agree that Lovewell Experience is demanding, intense, and challenging. It is total immersion, the one room schoolhouse and the cooperative classroom all rolled into one. It is the inner equivalent of what Outward Bound is to the outside world – in fact some students have called it “Inward Bound.” This is part of what makes the Lovewell Method so effective in the way it impacts students with a new confidence in their own abilities and potential, forming deep and lasting bonds as a cultural community, a pattern of lifelong motivated learning, and most importantly – giving voice to their own observations, feelings, and inner wisdom.