How nice to see an article in “The Dramatist” on the topic of missing female playwriting voices! And it’s the lead article. The news is still bad – 59 theatres across the country failed to include a single play by a female playwright last season.
But I want to vent a bit about something else that’s bugging me of late: boy plays. I’m sick of stories without any meaningful female characters. I’m getting to the point where I really don’t care to see another production with either nothing but men onstage. Or 18 men and two – maybe three – women who are there to support the boy story.
I saw two fine productions here in Washington, DC recently: the Shakespeare Theater Company’s production of “Wallenstein” and WSC Avant Bard’s production of “No Man’s Land.”
“Wallenstein is Friedrich Schiller’s play about the Thirty Years’ War, a commissioned adaption by former poet laureate Robert Pinsky. It’s described as an “epic story of war, intrigue and loyalty tested.” To be fair, there are two female characters in the piece (and a couple of women filling in as soldiers to fill up the stage. They’re playing men, of course.) But it’s a boy play. The stage was filled with men. It was the story of one man’s ambition.
And the message? War is bad. I get it. So don’t do it. End of play.
What about those women? They were mere pawns to the ambition. It would have been so much more interesting to hear their side of the story, to see the senselessness of power grabs and blood and gore through their eyes.
And then there’s the Pinter. “No Man’s Land” by Harold Pinter was chosen because of the opportunity to put two former Artistic Directors of WSC Avant Bard’s company on stage together. Great for them. Tough evening for me.
Verbal jousting is fine. But I didn’t care. What was the point? Where were the women?
I want to contrast those two evenings with my recent experience in Omaha. That city’s historic Playhouse – where Henry Fonda launched his career – produced the world premiere of a play by a local Omaha playwright. (A woman, by the way.) It had seven women onstage!
Playwright Ellen Struve’s “Recommended Reading for Girls” is the story of two daughters coming to terms with their mother’s decisions about treating her cancer. But their very real world is invaded by characters from all the books they shared – Anne from Green Gables, the Little Princess, the German-speaking Heidi, and a Nancy Drew wanna-be girl detective.
(Full disclosure: Ellen is my weekly Skype writing buddy.)
At last! A girl play! Girls on stage, talking about relationships and family and fantasy. It was wonderful. And funny. And probably boosted the sale of Kleenex throughout the city of Omaha.
Ellen says she was writing for the audience who actually comes to the theatre: women. And women of a certain age. Nobody’s writing for them, she says. The people who run theatres are choosing “hot” or “edgy” plays or old standards that feel familiar. No one is choosing plays that makes them laugh and cry and go home feeling like they got their money’s worth.
But will Ellen’s play find a second life outside of Omaha? I sure hope so. The statistics are against her – a play by a woman about women.
I recall a golden age of Hollywood where women main characters drove the stories – “Stella Dallas,” “All About Eve,” “Kitty Foyle.” I’m ready for a golden age of theatre where every seat is filled by people like me, who long to hear our stories told onstage.Tweet
Saturday, I took the Red Eye home to see my mother. My sisters were not sure what was going on with her – one minute she was fine, the next she was disoriented and feverish. I could hear nurses in the background, uneasiness in my sister’s voice and when I finally got to say hello to my mother she made absolutely no sense at all. By the third call, I was looking online for a cheap flight – with all my almost points, that miraculously expire before I can use them, I was left to the mercy of Priceline and not much choice. So, I flew in for Mother’s Day, surprising my mother who was up and dressed – for a while. By 6:30 pm we were on our way to the hospital where we stayed till about 2 am the next day when we put her in a room. Getting Mother somewhat situated, thankful to the doctors and nurses at Methodist for connecting dots, ruling out, and genuinely caring, I was able to think about keeping the flight plan to return to LA. Before my mother went to her room, she told me I looked like a “thug” with my scarf on my head, my leather jacket and the way I was standing, which made everyone laugh. To that she exclaimed she didn’t know I was so short. More laughter. She was “in” again. She told me to come back later and stay longer.
I got to see nieces and nephews, all my sisters, the new baby and the green of Indiana. Concrete filled Los Angeles seemed like a prison sentence and I was out on parole. Air without exhaust fumes – who knew? The speed limit is 55 mph on the highway, there are about four of them, a few overlap – 465 circles the city. Go either way, you’ll get there eventually. Not a lot of traffic – none if you compare it to the 405.
Spent the night (wee hours of the morning till my flight back to LA on Monday) talking with one of my sisters; got to see her new grandson. Got to have some White Castle burgers, wish I had gotten to go to the (farmers) Market. Sleep deprived, I drove off into the sunlight, promptly missed my exits had to turnaround three times, turned into incoming traffic, had to drive over the center divider because I couldn’t back up. A miracle, I got to the airport on time and safe.
The whole three days of travel, I kept getting “that would make a good play” thoughts in response to something I saw or heard. I had a chore staying present to visit with family while waiting on results of tests for my mother. But, I’m a writer so I am aware of story even when I am preoccupied. Story can be triggered by anything – the visual, sounds, emotions…
My mother always asks me what I am working on. She gets real excited when I say I am researching things. She has every confidence in my gift. My regret is that she wasn’t well enough and there wasn’t enough “in” time for me to read her some poetry.
I found story on my journey, none of which will pass the “b” test but if I, as playwright – because I am female, am not only limited by the male dominated theater-world but also by the female constituency because of the content of my work, who gains? Art should not be held under dictatorship. I have a distinct voice and my stories are universal in scope. I am a playwright, I am of color and I am a woman and I tell damn good stories. I face racism daily – in America – and must shake it off like sand continually. Truth be told, when I send out my work, I don’t think I may not get picked because I am a female, I think “I hope they don’t ask for a picture then they will know I am of color”. I have to decide whether or not to send a play that would be considered too ethnic. I have to say on conference submissions whether or not the characters have to be played by ethnic actors which in some cases can limit or put one out of the running altogether. I count yellow/brown/red faces on theater company rosters to see if my work will even be looked at in the first place. I had an actress read a page from one of my works who was shocked when I told her I wrote it for a blond-haired blue-eyed woman, just like her. She liked the universal story but had assumed the character was written as a woman of color because I am a woman of color.
I want to tell my stories as I find them, how I hear and see them and be able to take them straight through to the next level based on their substance and craft, not my lack of a dick and my failing of the “b” test no matter how many times I take it.
As a habit, I write through the night, so in a sense, I am always riding the Red Eye…Tweet
A Guest Post by Laura A. Shamas
With so many entertainment options available now, the question is: How can we encourage interest in theatre so it will thrive in the twenty-first century?
Recently, I read a bestselling book Contagious: Why Things Catch On. It’s written by Jonah Berger, a professor of marketing at The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. Although Contagious is written as a marketing primer, I was struck by how much of it was applicable to theatre and to the arts in general.
It’s hard to determine what makes things popular today. Berger writes that it’s not merely the quality, the pricing, or the advertising of the projects/products that catch on. He reports that although we spend a great deal of time online, only 7% of word-of-mouth happens via Internet-related channels: “We tend to overestimate online word-of-mouth because it’s easier to see.” Social media may display the interests and activities we’ve chosen to share, so the record is available at a glance, but the activities we have offline are just as important and are just as influential. Most of us do not have the time to respond to every update or tweet. When Berger polled his college students, he found that less than 10% of their friends responded to a message they’d posted online. He reminds us “that Facebook and Twitter are technologies, not strategies.”
So what does work? Berger has found six principles that make things “go wide.” Berger describes the anatomy of virality, although not all components are necessary for each and every case of a popular share. These ideas are easily remembered in the acronym “STEPPS”:
1) Social Currency.
5) Practical Value.
1) SOCIAL CURRENCY. Do you know insider info that makes you seem cool? Can you share something that you know will be considered “remarkable” or unique? If so, you will share it; it’s human nature. Berger underscores that we find it “pleasurable” to talk about our interests and attitudes. This makes us “look good,” Berger says; it gives us social stature.
Breaking patterns that others have come to expect also gives us social currency, like doing something in a novel, unexpected way. Leveraging game mechanics (by allowing others to see how well we do in a points system, as with airline miles or Foursquare) is another way to gain currency because games motivate us via “social comparison.” We measure our scores next to our friends’ tallies.
Making people feel like “insiders” also boosts their social currency; this is done by giving scarce, unique, exclusive offers to customers or clients.
Berger’s thoughts on social currency made me think about current theatre practices. Theatres have long used “special pre-show receptions,” a chance to preview a show, or even an opportunity to attend certain rehearsals to give subscribers “insider” cachet, such as in Arena Stage’s Theater 101 class.
But what more could we, as theater professionals, do to promote “remarkability” and innovation? Mixed Blood Theatre’s egalitarian Radical Hospitality is a recent idea that breaks previous patterns related to how theater is “sold” to an audience. Or how about doing a play in one’s living room for only twelve people at a time? What else can be done that’s surprising to change the ways in which theater is experienced today?
What can a specific play do that is “remarkable,” completely surprising, or new?
2) TRIGGERS. Daily, we each share about 16 or more opinions about an organization, product, or service, Berger says. That’s a lot of “word-of-mouth.” Why do we do it? Timing is everything.
Something in the environment “triggers” our need to share. Did you know the sales of Mars bars escalated during the 1997 NASA Pathfinder’s mission? Or that Rebecca Black’s 2011 hit song “Friday” always got more YouTube hits on that actual day of the week than any other? These are examples of “triggers” that resonate in our everyday lives.
Berger explains that even negative reviews can be positive for business, if the reviews introduce a project’s existence by giving it press.
If you want to lay the groundwork for triggers for your product, you can “grow its habitat,” according to Berger, “by creating new links to stimuli in the environment.” This can be done by directing attention to related messages or associated ideas in your project’s arena. The more often you can make a project come to mind, the better.
In this chapter, Berger notes that movie theaters depend on immediate word-of-mouth, as weekly box office reports convey.
But it is also true that ongoing word-of-mouth or “repeat business” helps to drive entertainment sales. So I wonder: How do we “grow a habitat” for theatre? Is it related to the DNA (or identity) of a specific theater or should it always be more play-specific? Or both? How do you grow a habitat for a new play? What are the environmental “triggers” needed? What is the relationship between the cultural zeitgeist and the community in terms of “triggers” that may need to be seeded and tended?
3) EMOTION. Theatre artists already know this axiom: “When we care, we share.” But Berger attaches a component to emotion that goes beyond empathy/sympathy: awe. This was my favorite part of Berger’s book, as he discusses our love of mystery and “the experience of confronting something greater than yourself” which enlarges one’s own “point of reference.”
This section reminded me of works in depth psychology, where awe is seen as part of the numinous or “mysterium tremendum,” the transcendent spiritual force that both attracts and repels.
Berger cites Albert Einstein’s idea that the mysterious is the power of “all true art and science.” I’ve been in “awe” in the theater many times: in awe of excellence of artistry and aesthetics, in awe at the brilliance of execution, in awe of the communal act of artists joined together onstage to produce drama. Berger’s emphasis on the importance of “awe” as an emotion really rang true for me as an artist. Yes, awe-inspiring projects catch on!
We feel affinity for those with whom we’ve shared emotions and secrets, but also with those who make us laugh, according to Berger. If you can crack me up—well, now we’re connected.
The science of “physiological arousal,” an active state in which we’re ready to move or react as needed, is at the core of why emotion matters in virality. Berger uses the image of “kindling a fire” as a metaphor to express emotion as a marketing force. He also reports that exercise (jogging, walking) promotes more emotional sharing.
In theatre, we’ve long known that emotion is what drives human beings. Berger’s exercise discussion made me think of interactive theater like Sleep No More. There’s always a lot of well-deserved buzz about shows that require the audience to move. Does walking around or being physically active while viewing a show contribute to the audience’s desire to spread the word post-show?
4) PUBLIC. Is your project publically visible? We imitate the behavior of others. Can we observe other people supporting your project? Berger reports that we mimic the behavior of others because it provides information about how to live: “social proof.” If others are eating at that restaurant, it must be good. (I wonder if it’s also related to the idea of crowd-sourcing.)
Where do most people put their theatre tickets? Away, in pockets, purses. One idea that Berger suggests directly about theatre is intriguing: “…if theater companies and minor league teams could use buttons or stickers as the ‘ticket,’ instead, ‘tickets’ would be much more publicly observable.”
Berger also explores the concept of “behavioral residue,” something that lasts after the experience. That made me reflect further: certainly, shirts and swag promoting a show should be categorized as part of this.
5) PRACTICAL VALUE. Berger calls this component “news you can use.” Is your project part of a money-saving “deal”? Is there valuable information to impart? Can it help get a discount? Berger suggests that the precept of “practical value” may be the easiest to apply.
To apply “Practical Value” to theatre-making: we certainly award discounted tickets for Student or Early Rush, or preview sales. There’s a financial “deal” aspect to that, as producers have known for a long time.
But is there another way to explore the concept of “practical value”? Can we make the case for the necessity for the arts (art, music, theater, dance, literature)? Can we show it’s not practical to live without them? Is there a way to impart to twenty-first century audiences that art is “fit for action,” as the etymology of “practical” shows?
6) STORIES. Berger begins this final chapter by relaying the story of Odysseus and the Trojan Horse, a Greek myth that has been retold for thousands of years. It has a message; it’s a good narrative. Berger then uses that myth as a metaphor for the function of story relatable to products and brands: a good story may contain valuable information more entertainingly told, and thus, is more memorable, more sustainable.
Berger believes that a product should construct a “carrier narrative” shell that will get people talking, like the Trojan Horse itself. He also cautions that this narrative should be embedded to the plot, so that it’s directly related to the product—not tangential.
The element of story is easy to connect to theatre-making. Writers certainly know something about “story as vessel” for information, since we often struggle with how to artfully hide exposition in a good tale. We know about the value of story, whether for a one-person show or an ensemble.
But what is the story of a specific project? Often, we limit promotional narratives to the bios of the creators, or an issue that brought the creative team to the project. What if you can create “the story” of a play in performance in order to attract an audience, as a meta-narrative? Should the show have its own origin story?
Berger ends Contagious with an epilogue and a checklist, and the good news that you don’t need a big budget to apply these steps to make your project “go viral.”
As we seek audiences for our art, perhaps some of Berger’s ideas can point the way towards imagining a more “contagious” future for theatre artists and audiences.
Contagious: Why Things Catch On by Jonah Berger, published by Simon and Schuster, New York, 2013.
To see author Jonah Berger discuss Contagious: Why Things Catch On and each aspect in detail, click here.
Laura A. Shamas is a co-founder of LA FPI and currently volunteers as an Outreach Agent.Tweet
Lately I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about choices.
An actor makes choices — some conscious, some not — about how she or he lives in the moment. Sometimes the choice happens on its own as a result of information that the actor is given; other times the choice is deliberate. Whatever the genesis, that decision sets the tone and, ultimately the trajectory for the scene, play, movie, TV show or Youtube video. Because once that choice has been made, the story gains new life. It moves in a new direction with new choices — again, some deliberate, some not — that present themselves. My point is, there’s no going back. The story is in motion, and you’re along for the ride.
In other words, you can’t go home again.
Or can you? I’ve recently been exchanging emails with a fellow writer/actress who, after years of slogging it out in The Big Apple, has moved back to her hometown in Kentucky. She will continue being a writer/actress; she will just do it from a place where she can hear the cicadas at night as opposed to police helicopters. A place where, upon hearing what she does for a living, people actually respond with “Wow, that sounds exciting!” as opposed to a raised eyebrow.
I am intrigued by people who do what we do outside a major metropolitan area. I often think about moving back to my hometown of Chapel Hill, North Carolina. And when I say “think”, what I mean is, I am lured by a romantic notion that includes a rambling house that I either own or rent for next to nothing with a wraparound porch and a slightly uneven wood floor, twilight cocktails on said wraparound porch, quiet walks in the woods unsullied by the sound of cop choppers overhead (yes, this is a serious pet peeve), and a small group of like-minded people all committed to doing good work. But wait a minute — don’t I already have that? That last part?
If there is a center in Los Angeles, I live in it. Hancock Park/Hollywood is, in many ways, both a geographical and emotional center of this vast patchwork of communities. The copters — yes, those again — idle overhead when Paramount Studios hosts a big to-do. Through the windows of my Hollywood bungalow I hear my neighbors talk about auditions and scripts and making a video to jumpstart their songwriting careers. This often unhinges me when I’m trying to write, and lately I long not so much for a wraparound porch but a tent in the woods and no one for miles. The radio static of all the creative energy and eagerness to “be something” in this town can get to me. Try as I do not to care about keeping up with the Joneses — or, in most cases, the wannabe Joneses — it’s hard not to be in a state of constant personal evaluation: Am I working hard enough? Why did she sell a script and not me?
Then there’s just the energy of it all. If you believe in it — and I do — a city filled with people striving creates a certain energy that isn’t necessarily the kind that calms you down and lets you look inward. In fact, it pulls you outward, away from your center as you gaze with envy (and then self-loathing for feeling the envy in the first place) at those around you who seem to have it together more than you do. But there’s another aspect to that energy: creativity. It’s here and in spades. Scratch the surface of almost anyone you meet in L.A. and you find they do something interesting. New. Freely and without limitation. An actor has a food blog. A food writer plays in a band.
And again, if you believe in energy, I live in a bungalow that once housed writers and producers who were under contract at Paramount in the ’20′s. In the fifteen years I’ve lived here I’ve come into my own as a writer, and more importantly as an artist. As a person. I found my voice here. I found myself. I credit the bungalow almost as much as my own determination.
Could that have happened in Chapel Hill? Or Charlottesville or Austin or Louisville? Possibly. But as a single woman not hell-bent on getting married and having a family, I found my people here. “Here” being L.A. “Here” being at my acting school, an amazing creative community. “Here” being with my playwriting group, with my writer friends. “Here” being literally right here, on this blog.
A better question might be: Maybe you can go home again, but do you really want to?Tweet
I found an inspiring talk by Amy Cuddy on “body language”. And it resonated with me in all the ways that words become scripts become characters become bodies.
As an actor I’ve worked with some stage directors who were all about the floorplan, “Move left three steps, raise your arm, turn away, walk to the wall.” There were times when I was asked to do some physical bit of business, that was not organic to my process, that made me feel like a puppet on a string. Other times, I would find becoming the body of the character in the challenge of doing something that wasn’t my idea. And sometimes it was all about finding the shoes that my character would wear, as the footprint of the body would tell me how I would walk in that play.
But what I related to most in this talk, was the idea that “I don’t belong here.” I’ve done a lot of shape shifting in my life, in my travels and shows, and that concept of “belonging” has been a large part of my hunger and identity. Being able to be part of the LA PI blog gives me a place to belong
The clip is 21 minutes long.
I’m watching a social gaff on Facebook unfold into an example of what happens in real time in social media.
One of the writing groups I belong to found this Facebook posting for a community college production of “The Three Musketeer”:
“Boobs and Swords! Send me an haiku about swashbuckling and win two comps!
(limit 10 pair per performance. Ten pair of what? Comps. Pervert.)
The director, who was surprised to receive negative feedback for this posting, then created a kind of apology on his (public) Facebook page:
“I really offended a group of total strangers on Facebook of late. I apologize for the offense, it was unintended. I just love my show so much, and my cast is so amazing; some of us have taken to shouting the phrase, “Boobs and Swords!” throughout the rehearsal process, because — well — the show is The Three Musketeers and as it happens, there were an awful lot of boobs and swords in everyday culture back then.”
As a feminist I really object to this guy’s use of language to sell his beloved show. But then I thought, you know, I’ve said some really unfortunate things in my lifetime, onstage and offstage, and I’m really glad that no one seems to record or remember those comments.
But then I read more of the apology:
“What is, for some of us, a happy watch-cry is, for others, extremely offensive. In my enthusiasm for the production, I neglected to consider the feelings of other people. So, for everyone who was offended by my use of the phrase, “Boobs and Swords!”, I apologize. For those of you who don’t know, a warning: The Three Musketeers is set in 1625. There’s an awful lot of … um … ladyjiggles … and even more swordplay going on throughout the show. Now that I’m on the subject, I suppose I should warn everyone that several of the men wear pants that are very tight. If you are not imaginative but also easily-offended, this could be a problem. If you come see the show, whatever you do: do not look at any of the actors’ … manflappies. In fact, it would probably be best if everybody who comes to the show studiously look away whenever ladyjiggles or manflappies can be seen OR imagined in, through or near clothing. Honestly, our budget is not very large. So this presented a problem when costuming the show. As a result, we could only afford one Puritan. Everyone else is a libertine and, sadly, dresses the part. If this will make you uncomfortable in any way, I urge you to stay away.”
So, actually, I think that the director of this show is a complete knucklehead.
And now comments and concerns about this apology are now fluttering all around tweets and Facebook groups and blogs. Like this one.
This was an interesting interview with Carey Perloff at the ACT Theater in San Francisco in Howlround. Here is her bio:
“Carey Perloff, a vigorous proponent of unusual classical literature and a passionate advocate of new work and new theatrical forms, is celebrating her twentieth year as artistic director of A.C.T. Perloff has directed dozens of award‐winning productions for A.C.T., including the American premieres of works by Tom Stoppard, Harold Pinter, and Timberlake Wertenbaker, world premieres by Philip Kan Gotanda, Constance Congdon, and Mac Wellman, and new interpretations of Schiller, Webster, Euripides, Gorky, Gogol, and Molière.”
Great bio. How many women playwrights did you count in that round up? One. Constance Congdon. But then Carey Perloff is also a playwright. So make that two.
I think it’s great that she’s a champion of child care in the workplace. And she has some great things to say about what has prevented other women from getting to leadership positions.
“There are many, many threads to tease out of this. One has to do with women playwrights and women’s stories and why those are so underrepresented.”
But then I read this in her interview:
“One reason this gender conversation has been incredibly valuable is that I’ve never done things like bean counting. I never actually sat down and made a list of the twenty women directors I wanted to hire. When all this conversation came up, I thought “I should do this, because who is out there that I don’t know? Tons!” I looked at the Goodman season, and half the plays were being directed by women I didn’t know. I thought, “All right, so one of the things is to keep the running list in front of me, so it’s right there. I should get to know the next generation. I should keep the former generation alive too. Are we forgetting who is out there? Sometimes having the list is good. I really don’t like bean counting because I don’t think it’s the solution to diversity. On the other hand, it makes you think.”
We all work in different ways, but how well informed are you as the artistic director at ACT if you don’t know who half the new women directors were at the Goodman season? Is her aversion to”bean counting” really an aversion to being held accountable to the very statistics that she cites as a “bottleneck” or a “pulling the ladder up behind her”?
Read the entire interview at the link:
I seem to remember a game of dodgeball where you would line up against a schoolyard wall, and some psychopathic child would try and smack you with a hard rubber ball. There would be screams and laughter and bruises, and if you wore hideous cats eye glasses like I did, invariably you would get smacked in the face and your glasses would get broken.
Writing my newest script reminds me of that game. Trying to get out of the way of the ball, running into walls and people, and chaos and pushing and yelling. All this because an unwelcome character showed up in the script this past month. I knew I was writing towards him, but he isn’t what I expected, and there he is. I’m going to refocus on another script while I think about this dodgeball character.
What has really helped cope with this change in direction is sharing the script/writings with another playwright I really respect. The comments and feedback have been a kind of tough love/insight I couldn’t give myself. (Thank you MD~!)
From the ICWP (International Centre for Women Playwrights) Nina Gooch posted an article that really lifted my spirits. Ursula Le Guin is working with the Portland Playhouse & Hand2Mouth Theater on a new stage version of her The Left Hand of Darkness. What she she wrote about the rehearsal process brought me back to that circle of magic that I was once a part of.
“Sitting in on a rehearsal is a strange experience for the author of the book the play is based on. Words you heard in your mind’s ear forty years ago in a small attic room in the silence of the night are suddenly said aloud by living voices in a bright-lit, chaotic studio. People you thought you’d made up, invented, imagined are there, not imaginary at all — solid, living, breathing. And they speak to each other. Not to you. Not any more.”
Of course, we know that art matters. Especially – and mostly – those of us who work within it.
Still, it’s difficult to conceive of why I should bust my butt to get people to see a play while Watertown is locked down.
Short-term, all I need to remember are the happy faces of kids who think going to the theatre is fun, and parents relieved to find a place that welcomes families. Not only do they not have to find a babysitter, they can enjoy an experience together.
So that helps. It really does.
Even then, my conflicts usually come to the surface because there has to be something else – bigger, better, that reaches more people – there has to be some faster way to spend my time to create a better world. Right?
Maybe there is. Maybe there isn’t. Maybe I’m in the exact right place to introduce more people to more stories that create empathy in their lives. Marketing has such a bad connotation to it, when in fact I should be called an Audience Ambassador. My job(s) is to find a way to bridge the vast gap between quality family programming and the elusive where the parents are.
(It’s not really so elusive. We know where they are: in schools, in parks, at work, visiting ill family members, volunteering at their school fund-raisers, writing blogs to tell their own stories.)
Last Friday, I had to go to 24th ST Theatre. I had two guests taking photographs of the guest clown rehearsing his performance. As the staff transitioned from a performance space to an arts education/after school space, I worked in the lobby. There something happened which is not unique to this space, but which always manages to get me.
A young kid – 9-11 years-old at the most – saw my MSL (Mars Science Laboratory) sticker on my laptop and asked me about space.
So we talked about it. We talked about robots on Mars and what that teaches us about our own world. We talked about what life means, and why alien life forms may not be anywhere close to human form. Maybe they are. We don’t know yet, and we could find more information in his lifetime.
Then he had to go to After Cool, where the main parts of drama they teach include: expression, public speaking, story-telling and empathy.
Part of my job is to then tell their great stories from class to increase the program’s exposure and maybe funding down the line.
Back after the Newtown shootings, I also had a reason I had to go to work that day. It turned out to save me. I had to go, even though all I wanted to was crawl into my cave and cuddle with my dog.
We had a Parents Night for After Cool. This being my first time, I had no idea what to expect. Students of all ages packed their parents into our space and showed them vignettes of their greatest fears and their greatest hopes.
The best part: their parents heard them.
Back to last week.
It is incredibly difficult to simultaneously look at to-do list and live stream of a bombing close to where a high school boyfriend told you he loved you. It is difficult to call your parents and want to know they’re okay, want to just hear their voices as you look at this horror, and they need to discuss something else entirely with you.
How can you bug me about calling my grandfather *again* and not being excited enough about good news form the family when THIS IS HAPPENING RIGHT NOW?
That is what I want to scream.
But they don’t know that I just needed to hear their voices over the police scanners and the twitter rumors.
They don’t know that because I don’t tell them.
And what matters to them when they hear from me is to figure out how to ask me to make two phone calls (even when they know I will get mad at the messenger).
And when all I want to do is figure out how to make a better world, I can actually start with my own family.
2 phone calls.
Maybe adults could use a Parents Night just as often as kids lucky enough to be in an after school program.
If I had to tell my parents my greatest fears:
That Dad returned to the Marathon because he missed quality time with his girls and as a result, got caught in the bombings.
My greatest wish:
That I could have the life I love without being 3,000 miles away from the folks who helped me create it.
Empathy has to start somewhere, often closer to home.
Maybe I should start with why I had time to write this blog post but not enough time to make two phone calls.
Next: Clowns and HopeTweet
It’s hard for me to justify plodding along with all of my work on a day like last Monday. The Boston Marathon was an annual trip with my father and sister, walkman buds in our little years, switching radio stations between the race and our latest music tastes.
Then of course remembering that attacks like this happen all over the world every day and this one just happened to be in my hometown.
Life moves on, and “Tragedy Social Media Plan” was implemented among my clients. The fact that I even have such a thing depressed me.
Yet there was still work to do.
There always is.
[to be continued....]Tweet