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Actor Johnathon Schaech: On arts education, Doom Generation

by Andrew Davis, Windy City Times

Actor Johnathon Schaech (pronounced "sheck") is known from a variety of shows and movies, including How to Make an American Quilt, Quarantine, That Thing You Do!, The Forgiven and the LGBT fave The Doom Generation (with gay auteur Gregg Araki).

However, in addition to upcoming movie projects, Schaech is channeling his passion into saving arts education in elementary schools. He recently testified before Congress and—along with celebrities such as Jane Lynch, Steven Tyler and members of KISS—is part of the YouTube video "Epic School Battle," in which the villains try to deprive young students of the arts. (The video is at Article Link Here ;

Schaech talked with Windy City Times about his films, arts education and what Hollywood needs.

Windy City Times: You recently testifed in front of Congress about arts education?

Johnathon Schaech: Yeah. They put me in a group of actors—with Alec Baldwin and Tiffani Thiessen—and we each had to say something as advocates for the arts in schools. I had part of Adopt the Arts out here in California with Matt Sorum of Guns 'n Roses.

He started this thing because they were taking the arts out of the elementary schools in his neighborhood. He would say, "Man, that's not right. How could a child not have any understanding of music? It's one of the only things that bring kids together without competition. You need to be expressive."

As an advocate, I've learned so many talking points on why the arts are important in America, number one, and in the education system. It's mind-boggling that the first thing they go after when there are budget cuts are the arts. In the poor regions, you start to see that the arts are completely gone; parents can't save the programs because they don't have any money.

The biggest thing I advocated on Capitol Hill is that we have to stop proving that the arts and music improve academic performance. They help to help develop the brain and build critical thinking skills and spatial reasoning. It's just common sense. People think the arts are a luxury but they're really a necessity—especially for the minds of youths.

WCT: That would seem to be the key thing: to convince people the arts are a necessity.

Johnathon Schaech: Yes! When the arts are gone, what kind of children is America raising? What about the foundation and principles of this country, where we're all given an equal chance to be successful? Everything around us involves the arts.

WCT: I remember when I went to high school during the Stone Age. [Schaech laughs.] Activities like band and chorus (which I was in) were considered electives.

Johnathon Schaech: Yes, and at a certain point, maybe they should be electives. But when you're younger, everyone should get to play an instrument or sing in the chorus. Those things open their minds.

You doing this interview—it's you using your creative side. You're not a fucking computer. You're coming up with stuff.

WCT: And the arts really helped you when you were in school.

Johnathon Schaech: Oh, yeah. ... Let me talk about bubble testing. For most people, it's difficult to do. You basically learn to memorize the answers, and then you go on to the next test. That kinds of stuff increases the dropout rate across the United States; the kids feel horrible about themselves. The kids don't learn; they get bored and they drop out of school. That happened to my nephew.

Me, personally—I was put in remedial classes when I didn't test well. In the Stone Age ... [Interviewer laughs], they put people who tested poorly all in the same class and they tried to teach you at a slower pace. I was a very small kid, and I knew I shouldn't have been in remedial classes. The problem was that I was testing poorly. The problem was that I was dyslexic and no one realized it.

My reading-comprehension skills were poor—until I started taking art classes. The discipline of art and the visual processing inside my head were the things that triggered the analytic side of my head. I scored very high on the SATs and I could've gone to any college I wanted.

We're going to have an Ayn Rand generation of kids where it's just going to be about math and science. Creativity is one of the building blocks of all this.

WCT: I know "Epic School Battle" deals with a serious subject, but it looks like it was so much fun to make.

Johnathon Schaech: When those guys came to me about raising funds, I thought, "If the kids only knew." With the video, we wanted to reach out to the children and say, "Hey! This is what's going on." It's going on in California, but I've gotten so many messages from across the country.

I wanted to create a viral video so kids can have a good time but have an idea about what's going on. The next thing you know I'm getting the band KISS, Steven Tyler—and we had to make the video "epic." I couldn't believe KISS walked in the door; they were, like, eight feet tall.

WCT: Talking about your work for a bit, many of our readers are fans of The Doom Generation. What was it like working with Gregg and what do you remember from making that movie?

Johnathon Schaech: First of all, it hits on one of the biggest issues going on across America: It doesn't matter who you love, as long as you find love. When it came down to it, that was one of the messages behind Gregg. Then I went and did a film, Splendor, which involved three people in love. I wish Gregg would make more movies. Everyone should see The Doom Generation, or bring Xavier [Schaech's character] back for some revenge movie.

With my work, I feel like I've done a lot of good things—but there are other things I want to accomplish.

WCT: Being a big fan of horror films and thrillers, I've seen several of your films.

Johnathon Schaech: One of my best friends from high school has a publishing company, Cemetery Dance, that's a leading publisher in horror. I've gotten to work with [novelist] Stephen King and Tobe Hooper [of Texas Chainsaw Massacre]—a lot of great horror people.

WCT: If you could change one thing about Hollywood, what would it be?

Johnathon Schaech: I'd make it [have more integrity] about what people say and do. It'd make life easier out here.

"Integrity" is my favorite word that I try to live by. I mean, I struggle with it...

WCT: As we all do.

Johnathon Schaech: It's just good to be what you say. Like with these civil liberties we want to take away from people—what's going on with that? It seems like some people are scared, and that they forget about where we've gone.

WCT: Some people feel that way about marriage equality.

Johnathon Schaech: Well, Obama stood up for that and the way he did it—and how he addressed the religious aspect of it—is the way to go. Everyone has a right to religious beliefs, but you don't push them on someone else. I believe in the Constitution of the United States of America.

I have this open mindset. I was raised in a very diverse family—complete with "funcles." [Laughs] ... Imagine if people had put that money [for] Prop 8 into education.

WCT: You sound like you're going to run for office.

Johnathon Schaech: [Laughs] Could you imagine if they looked into my past?

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