The Art of Teaching: Live Entertainment

posted Jun 20, 2018, 8:53 PM by Kevin Roughton

I just heard the opening keynote of the Courageous Creativity Conference at Disneyland by Matt Conover. Matt is the VP in charge of live entertainment at Disneyland (theater, music, parades, etc.) It was a wonderful keynote with a ton to take away for all of us as teachers - not just those teaching art.


I was reminded of my first keynote I delivered nearly 5 years ago. I entitled it: “I’m Not an Entertainer! (But I should be.)” I was asked to speak to the a bunch of social studies teachers - admittedly not always the most forward thinking bunch (You can’t blame us, looking back is kind of our responsibility!)  I figured this might be the only time I asked to do a keynote so why pull punches? The speech was very well received but I still regularly come across the “I’m not an entertainer!” mentality. I even often fell into myself this last year as I struggled to get my students to do ANY work.


Tonight’s keynote reminded me of just how important the entertainment piece is to what we do. Matt’s presentation contained zero words on screen outside of a couple signs. Still, with the use of story he held my attention for over an hour. He wasn’t doing flips or using crazy voices. He just told stories. It is so important for us to remember that we may not be actors, comedians or singers but that doesn’t mean we can’t entertain. We are gifted with the best stories the world has ever known (literally!) and we just need to share them and share them often. How can we ensure that we are delivering these stories in the best way possible? Matt gave us 8 guiding principles to Disney live entertainment that I think are largely applicable to us.


1) It must be safe.

Of course we want physical safety in our classrooms but we need our shows (teaching) to be emotionally safe as well. How are we making sure everyone is included? How are we making sure that failure is okay?


2) It must be unique.

What is it that only you (or our subject) can do? If our class feels just like English our show and our stories aren’t going stick. We can do emotion and real life better than anyone else. Let’s take advantage.


3) It must be based on story.

EVERYTHING. If an activity isn’t fitting a unit’s story why are you doing it? Yes, I’m talking to myself.


4) It must be the best.

I love this! As Matt put it, “No experience is too small to be excellent.” That was kind of a punch in the gut. My bellwork isn’t usually excellent. It’s small so I let it slide. I shouldn’t. It should be the best. That will be a much longer post in the future I’m sure!


5) It must fit the environment.

Does the experience fit in the classroom walls? Perhaps more aptly, does it fit in the tech tool we’ve set it in?


6) It must be built for the audience.

“Your audience’s tastes might not be the same as your own.” Ouch. I’ll need to reflect on that more for sure.


7) It must garner emotion.

Emotions connect very strongly to memories. If we want our kids to remember our lessons we should make sure they are emotional. Any emotion will do!


8) It must create value.

In terms of a theater production it has to sell tickets. For us it has to lead to learning. “It’s not called Showshow it’s called Showbusiness!”


Entertainment is important. Our brains work better when they are, well, awake. Let’s not hide behind the excuse of “not being an entertainer” any more. We have the most amazing stories to tell and it is our responsibility to do them justice. I’m excited to learn more over the next two days and share what I can.


For now I’ll leave with one thought that really hit me from his speech. Matt mentioned a live theater show created for the Disney Cruise Line. I’m not a theater guy so I have little reference outside of loving the Hamilton soundtrack. He mentioned that one of the shows “basically produced itself” and that the first performed version of it was only version 3.


Only version 3?! I asked him to elaborate and he explained that the show was so well conceived that it only took 3 iterations to get direction, production, set design, music, lighting and every other single group involved on board. That’s crazy to think that version 3 being good to go is considered almost magic in the theater business. I’m usually happy to throw out a version that isn’t even version 1!  Maybe that’s why I’m not quite up to Disney standards! Yet. Now, if you'll excuse me, there's about to be a fireworks show out my window. Tough conference huh?


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