With Its Funding At Risk, Julie Andrews Reminds Us Why Arts Education Is So Important
If you'll never tire of The Sound of Music scene that features Maria and the Von Trapp children yodeling with puppets (and really, how could you?), Julie Andrews' new Netflix series, Julie's Greenroom will give you some serious nostalgia. But, more importantly, the series provides arts education to an audience that may not be able to receive it elsewhere. Andrews plays Ms. Julie, who teaches a performing arts class to five puppet students. As drastic cuts are made to funding for the arts and arts education, the iconic actor's foray into children's television couldn't have come at a better time. In a roundtable with reporters, Andrews describes arts education for children as "where my heart is" — and, really, there's no better teacher for the next generation of performers and arts enthusiasts.
Andrews, who co-created the series with her daughter Emma Walton Hamilton, tells reporters that "one of the reasons that we wanted to do this show is because we really worry about the fact that the arts budgets are the first to be cut in schools these days." Both mother and daughter agree this is a huge loss to the education program, noting that exposure to performing arts has been shown to improve children's critical thinking, problem solving, and communication skills in addition to fostering empathy and tolerance. "It levels the playing field in a way that nothing else does," Hamilton says, adding that the arts "break boundaries and you don’t have to be from a certain cultural background or a certain socioeconomic background to participate."
This diversity can be seen in Julie's Greenroom — the five puppet students all come from different backgrounds and cultures, and one is in a wheelchair (but that doesn't stop him from participating in a dance lesson).
Andrews and Hamilton also emphasize that the arts provide a crucial outlet for children who struggle to express themselves in other ways — which is another reason it's so important for arts education to remain available. "[Y]ou can have so many kids that have huge problems and they are able to voice them through the writing," Andrews says, referencing Hamilton's work with children.
Julie's Greenroom will feature a variety of performing arts lessons — and the students don't always feel confident in their abilities. "Each of the students are discovering their strengths and they might not be a great singer, but they can write, or they can make a confetti," Hamilton says. It'll be relatable for kids, but Andrews hopes adults will enjoy the show, too:
"Of course, I hope it's not too simplistic. We hope that parents will be watching or grandparents might be watching with their children and if they are, they’ll get the programs on a slightly different level than the child that’s watching also. It’s like when you read Winnie the Pooh, if I’m reading it to my kids when they’re young I’m getting it at an adult level thinking, “God, Eeyore is funny” that no one remembers his birthday. And the adult is getting it, but the kid is just really enjoying the story and we’re hoping that somehow people will get [Julie's Greenroom] on very different levels."
Because so many parents will likely watch the show with their kids, it's fitting that Julie's Greenroom is a mother-daughter collaboration. Hamilton grew up surrounded by the performing arts, and she and Andrews both want to make sure every child has the opportunity to be exposed to this world. Andrews says:
"Any child, I think, what you have to do is expose them to music and musicals. I mean, in [Hamilton's] case, it wasn’t so difficult because we were talking about them and her step-father was in film also and loved musicals, and her dad has done and designed so many musicals. [She's] probably had a better education than most. Most children don’t get that kind of exposure and that's another reason for us doing the show."
Currently, funding for arts education looks bleak — so shows like Julie's Greenroom are more important than ever. "Can you imagine a world without music and dance and playwriting?" Andrews asks.
All 13 episodes of Julie's Greenroom Season 1 begin streaming on March 17. Andrews is already looking ahead to a potential second season, which would continue the show's mission: "It’s really about exposure to the arts is what we’re focusing on, all of them," she says. "If we’re lucky enough to have a second season, there’s just tons to go."