Record Setting ArtSpeak!

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If “education” is supposed to be hard to swallow, then Mark Shugoll and his ArtSpeak! program have found the proverbial spoonful of sugar! More than 500 students, parents, and audience members attended the most recent session held at Albert Einstein High School in Kensington, Maryland on January 31, 2012, a record number for its 14 year history. Fortunately, after having written this article about Shugoll and ArtSpeak, I had the opportunity to be counted in the lucky hundreds.

On this inspiring night, with celebrity guest artists –- Alice Ripley (Next to Normal, Sideshow), Darius de Haas (Rent), and Capathia Jenkins (Caroline, or Change) -- front and center, the evening was not only well attended but clearly compelling for its predominantly student audience. Just look at the face of Grace in the photo that accompanies this post as she was given an opportunity to ask the guest artists three questions.

As always, the evening included informative and heartfelt discussion about many aspects of life in the theatre. I can’t begin to describe the energy in the room when all the celebrity guests each sang three songs in an almost “can you top this?” mode (check out the video highlights below). For more than two hours, the students were transfixed. I couldn’t help but wonder if they are that focused in their classrooms.

Mark, and his wife (and partner in supporting ArtSpeak) Merrill, have ensured that ArtSpeak! remains free of charge to everyone who wishes to attend. But this evening will most assuredly cause me to cough up some cash in the near future because now I’ve got to see Jenkins’ upcoming performance in Newsies on Broadway and, if it comes to pass, a reunion concert of the original cast of Sideshow that was mentioned as a possibility by Ripley.

Shugoll has indicated that one or two more sessions of ArtSpeak! will be held during the remainder of this school year and theatrewashington.org will let you know the details when they are announced. I salute the Shugolls for their long-term devotion to ArtSpeak! and for leading a new generation to a visceral understanding of the power of theatre.