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Music/Theatre, The Arts Meet the Laser, the Computer, the New Digital World

02/05/2015 03:10 pm ET | Updated Apr 07, 2015

In January 2015, I read more about Steve Jobs and also the development of Bill Gates. I read an obituary about Charles Townes, the father of the laser (who died at age 99). I saw a fine film about Alan Turing, the mathematician who broke the Enigma Code during World War II.

In the month of January, I also attended the JR. Theater Festival in Atlanta, Georgia with 5,000 people from more than 100 schools in the U.S. - all participating, demonstrating, performing and taking instruction, workshops and extracts of musical theatre works with music, dancing, speaking lines, staging - using only their imagination, all dressed in tee shirts. Everyone observing had to use their imaginations and fill in the blanks without theatrical lights, sets, costumes, etc.

At the same Festival: Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (in their 20's) performed elements of JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH. They wrote a "JR." musical based on the classic writings of Roald Dahl demonstrating what it will be like when grade schools perform it. I also saw Kristen and Bobby Lopez (in their 30's), who performed (with their nine year-old daughter) songs from their score for FROZEN with audience participation and a Q&A from the assembled. Middle schoolers performed extracts of the "JR." 60-minute version of THE LION KING with costumes of their creation! This iconic musical was made suitable for kids' resources and abilities. This took Disney seven years of hard work! (Bravo Disney Theatricals.)

Epiphany! Something connected all of these experiences.

Messrs. Turing, Jobs and Townes all had in common not only intellectual curiosity, but used vision and their imaginations. There are no school courses called "Imagination 101!" However, in our contemporary education system, reading, writing and arithmetic, SAT scores, getting into good schools, cramming information into kids and having them regurgitate it back has become the norm. Is it really learning? Is it eye-opening? Does it nurture dreamers and visionaries? Does it enhance America's future? The world's future? What else is needed but absent?

The laser changed the world in so many positive ways, I can't recite them but it's impossible to fathom how we can function without it from the use of barcodes to new surgical procedures! How could our society function without the computer? Both Gates and Jobs were well aware of the initial breakthrough work, the "Eureka" foundation created by Mister Turing. Jobs verbalized that Apple was built on the vision of a mathematician who solved an impossible puzzle in World War II by building a thinking machine.

Albert Einstein was admonished by his teachers for his mind wandering/daydreaming and looking out the window when sitting in class in Vienna. We all live in a world forever impacted, indelibly changed by Einstein's imagination, foresight and vision. (None of that is teachable or measureable by testing.)

The incredible work of a bunch of kids who, when presented with a script and a score of THE LION KING "JR.", intuitively apply imagination and creative skills to invent their very own version, as Benj and Justin hope children will be doing their very own versions of their writing for JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH and probably as Kristen and Bobby will be doing with Disney Theatricals for creating a "JR." version of FROZEN for kids to perform when the time comes.

You can stimulate and maybe even trigger kids into tapping into this world of make-believe theatre as part of teaching imagination and creativity and opening their minds to new possibilities.

Getting up onto a bare stage, spending months collaborating with peers (building a sense of community), working to design, perform, make costumes and be transported from the classroom to a magical world, all requires imagination, fortitude, resilience and is fun (and hard work).

I hope educators, school boards and politicians appreciate the implications of kids working together, expressing themselves and imagining what could be in addition to having to learn what already is, so the world/our country can continue to produce more inventions like the laser and the computer... and we can have a creative, inventive, humanized society, balanced with techno-dexterity.

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