Tag Archives: kids

Art (& Empathy) in a Time of Terror II

Continued from yesterday’s post:

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.

After seeing "Walking the Tightrope" at 24th ST Theatre
After seeing “Walking the Tightrope” at 24th ST Theatre

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 Hope


I’ve never written for kids before, so the audition process was a revelation. Dorothy, Michael and I had three days to accommodate everybody.

Kids smiled for photos, holding nametags under their chins. They sang a cappela, just stood on the edge of the stage and sang. The songs linger. I can see the happy little bluebirds fly and I know that the sun’ll come out, tomorrow. I might not want to run into raindrops and kittens for a while.

Some came in soft jazz shoes and gave us a little shuffle. One girl had tapped since birth. Some were gymnasts, performing bendovers and cartwheels.

They took direction well. Dorothy would say, “These are her favorite things, not her almost favorite or her maybe favorite but her favorite! The change in delivery was immediate.

The greatest thrill for me was hearing them tear into the dialogue. It’s easier to sing, I think, than read. Often voices that belt out a song disappear when faced with words, but all of the kids read with intelligence.

Then we counted. Nineteen girls and three boys (count them, three!) had signed up.

Why more boys don’t show up is a mystery. There’s the summer lure of soccer, boy scout camp, and swim teams, but hey, girls like soccer, girl scout camp, and swimming, too. Perhaps, kids segregate themselves into gender groups when they are eight to twelve years old. I don’t know. I do know that making the male characters female was a pretty good move.

Nineteen girls meant more changes. Wiley is now Wilhemina (call me Willy) Weasel. The weasels pride themselves as being the “mean girls.”

However, thanks to the three extraordinarily talented boys, Toad is still a boastful and none too bright gentleman, and his lawyer, who gave us a spirited rendition of Return to Sender, is male, too. Wilmer is still Wilmer, played by a young man who let us know that the finish to his song was going “to be amazing,” which it was.

By the fourth day, one girl’s vacation plans took her out of the show, which means more rewrites to do. I suspect there will be more throughout the summer.

So much of writing is sitting in front of the computer, all alone, without hearing the words aloud, making changes and hoping that they’re the right ones, hoping that a reader or producer will like the finished project Somehow, Someday, Somewhere!

This is more fun.