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Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up. ~Pablo Picasso

Thoughts for the Teaching Artist is devoted to an ongoing exploration of the role of the arts in education. I believe that the arts are an integral, essential part of every person's education. Arts education develops 21st Century Learning Skills, supports all core subjects, creates empathy & builds bridges, and helps develop voice & vision.

The views expressed in Thoughts for the Teaching Artist are mine alone and do not represent the views of my employer or any other persons or organization.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Skin of Our Teeth

I know that every good and excellent thing in the world stands moment by moment on the razor-edge of danger and must be fought for. ~ Thornton Wilder, The Skin of Our Teeth

The world is a scary place. We read newspapers, watch TV, and consume web media voraciously with the hope that given enough information, somehow we will understand the threats that seem to surround us. But reading about wars in far-away places, environmental disasters close to home, and endless political infighting often leaves us feeling even more helpless to understand. Surely things have never been this bad before?

Audiences on October 15, 1942 may well have shared that sentiment.  Less than a year after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Thornton Wilder dared to open a play that was described by the New York Time's Brooks Atkinson as "one of the wisest and friskiest comedies written in a long time."  The subject matter?  Nothing less than life, death and the end of the world.

Act One of The Skin of Our Teeth finds the four members of the  Antrobus family facing impending environmental disaster in the form of freakishly cold weather in July.  An enormous wall of ice is moving toward their suburban home in Excelsior New Jersey. By the end of the act, Mrs. Antrobus is imploring the audience members to pass up their seat cushions to be used as fuel to keep the home fires burning. Act Two finds the family still alive and intact on the boardwalk in Atlantic City, but this time the threat to the family comes from within, in the form of a gold-digging beauty queen who has her eye on Mr. Antrobus.  But before her plan comes to fruition, an epic storm arrives to destroy all living creatures on earth; fortunately the Antrobus family takes refuge on a large boat, along with a whole lot of animals. Act Three finds the family split apart at the end of a long-running war that appears to have engulfed the entire US, splitting Americans into warring factions, with Mr. Antrobus and his son on opposing sides. And yet, by the end of the play, the Antrobus family has been reunited, and Mr. Antrobus vows to begin once again to rebuild the world.

In 2010, The Skin of Our Teeth strikes me as eerily prescient. Written in the midst of World War II, Wilder manages to capture the broad range of threats to humankind, both those that attack us from outside and those we find within ourselves.  Mr. Antrobus makes plenty of mistakes. (Did I mention that his name means "human" in Greek?) But in spite of his mistakes, Mr. Antrobus continues to struggle on, buoyed by his belief that he has a greater purpose, and he must continue to work to improve the world, not only for his family but for all people.


  1. Thank you for your beautiful words on this very important topic. Children learn in different ways. The way to reach many of them is through art and science. I will be looking for The Skin of Our Teeth to read and share.

    I look forward to reading your blog now that I have the link.

  2. Susan,
    Thanks for your kind words, and thanks for reading.

  3. I believe this is one of the most critical issues a theatre teacher needs to grapple with. Teaching in the arts should not be a "fall back." Teaching is a calling. This requires some self examination, honest soul searching and self awareness. Very important topic.