Wednesday, December 23, 2015

It's a Beautiful Day for Good News, Vol. 9

Hey, there! I know, I know, it's been awhile. I missed you too! Oh, it's just been a crazy, CRAZY, few months. No, actually, a lot of it wasn't good. Or maybe it was, but it was in disguise, and I'm still trying to discover its secret identity. Of course - there have been lots of good things, too - really good things - but most of those came about by going through the bad stuff and making it to the other side. Or at least a small clearing.

I carry this Winston Churchill quote around in the corner of my mind, for such times:


Eventually, you will come to the end of your hell, but only if you don't stop and sit there. You've got to keep moving.

It's so much harder to avoid taking an indefinite journey in hell if the media is telling you that there is no end, that if you find your way through this hell, there's another waiting for you, and another, and another, it will never end. You should be scared. We have lots of "reasons" to be scared - look, here's another! Bet you hadn't thought of that one, huh? That's right, go hide under the bed. That's the only place where the monsters can't find you. Oh... oops. Sorry. I was so worried about making sure you were scared of the Out There Monsters that I forgot about the In Here Monsters. So many Monsters! They're everywhere! Aren't you terrified?

Personally, I battle the Dark by looking for the Light. It's there, always, but most people seem to be so fixated on the Dark, that it's hard to remember that if it wasn't for the Light, the Dark wouldn't even be there.

So here is the ninth installment of my semi-regular post of Light. Seems appropriate for this time of year, seeing how we just passed the solstice, and are on our way to longer, warmer, and (literally) brighter days.

I just noticed that all of these stories are about children. That's also a lovely coincidence with the holiday season.

A child leaves a note of apology in a book at a Toronto library.

Another child calmly, silently confronts a shouting bigot with a symbol of love.

A seven-year-old donates the contents of his piggy bank to a vandalized mosque.

A touching father-and-son moment happens on-camera after the Paris attack.

An unbelievably eloquent six-year-old describes how she wants her parents to behave after their divorce.

Happy holidays, everyone. Keep going. You'll make it.

"I'm trying to focus on the good stuff here, people! Lalalalala! I can't hear you!"

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

It's a Beautiful Day for Good News, Vol. 8

Yes, terrible things happen in the world, but I contend that more good things happen, they just don't bring in the ratings. The "We Have Twenty-Four Hours to Fill" news programs would have you believe that the world is terrible, people are mean, and everything's either currently on fire, or will be soon.

So, in my tiny little attempt to balance that out, here's some Good News for you.

High schools students cancel their senior trip plans for something even better.

A single mom has her lost purse, and all of its contents, returned to her - by the homeless man who found it.

This eight-year-old girl receives gifts from her unusual friends.

Over fifty years into their relationship, a couple is finally able to tie the knot.

The Girl Scouts return a $100,000 donation, because it was not intended for all of the girls.

After both of his parents die, a six-year-old decides that the world needs more smiles.

And to wrap it up, let's laugh at a kid. Actually, I feel bad for the little guy, but his deadpan reaction kills me.

If you set your mind to it, ALL THIS can be YOURS!

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Reflections on Opening Night(s)

First of all, I'd like to thank my doctor and modern medicine. This has been the most manageable tech week ever for me, and I opened THREE shows last night.

"Silver: A Noir Ballet" opened at 6:00. We had to hold the house for ten minutes, because there were so many people buying tickets. Fringe necessarily keeps a very tight schedule, but I knew the running time of the show gave us a little wiggle room.

The way Fringe tech works is this: Every company gets exactly three hours in their performance space to get everything technically ironed out. Considering most theatre companies, who don't share a venue with seven other shows running in rep, have at least four or five days, and sometimes even weeks, in the space to make sure everything goes smoothly on opening night, this is virtually no time at all for anyone to create a well-oiled machine.

But that's part of the charm of Fringe. The audience knows it's different than anything else they're likely to experience, and there's a hectic party atmosphere to the entire Festival. It's really as if the audiences are part of the team. Everyone is very supportive, and everyone's ready to have a good time.

I've never done any show EVER that didn't have some hiccups on opening night - or even, every night; it's live theatre, ladies and gentlemen!

The house for "Silver" was packed. I didn't get a house count, but this is my eighth year doing Fringe, and I've never seen an opening night that full. Composer Christian Hankel has poured everything into this show, and I was so happy for him, to have such a large audience on Day One.

After the show, I packed up props as quickly as possible (remember, each company shares the space with several other companies, so there's no leaving things out for tomorrow's show), and ran across the hall to the planetarium for the "Voyage to Voyager" opening at 8:00.

NASA confirmed that Voyager 1 has left the solar system. Voyager 2 is on the cusp.

I was rather scattered at this point, to be honest. Words were hard for me to find, and I felt frantic and awkward before the show. I'm very grateful that the "Voyager" team is extremely capable, and so I could be a blathering idiot without fear of the entire thing falling apart.

And again, I was shocked at the turnout. Audience members were in line before I even got there! I had to ask the audience to move toward the center of the aisles, so the people who hadn't found seats yet could actually sit with the people they came with. What a great problem to have. It was very close to being a sold-out performance. I'm still reeling with gratitude.

Tara Varney's photo.
I celebrated opening night with some fun, sent to me by a secret admirer, who obviously knows me extremely well.
Afterward, I had about 30-45 minutes of downtime, which I chose to spend eating the crackers, cheese, and tomatoes I had packed. And then, I was off to City Stage again - this time to perform in "Badder Auditions" at 10:30pm.

Except for the getting-pretty-for-the-stage-after-hours-of-sweating part, I was pretty relaxed. The show is mostly improv; each actor in the revolving cast (I'm doing all of the performances though) has the barest outline for what might happen during their "audition" onstage. There aren't lines or blocking to memorize, there are no tech cues, you just have to go with the flow. As with all improv, sometimes a joke just doesn't land. Last night, I estimate 90% landed. And that is a pretty darned good percentage. I laughed out loud very many times, and my jaw dropped more than once at the sometimes-R-rated antics onstage. I like to see envelopes genuinely being pushed.

And then, it was over. The night I was so stressed about. History. On to the next.

Today, "Badder Auditions" is at 3:00. Director Kevin King and I have some sort of interview with Channel 41 before that, but I don't know when it'll air or anything. "Silver" is right after, at 4:30. Then I get to actually SEE a show or two before "Voyager" at 9:30.

I don't know. Maybe I'll have dinner too. We'll see.

The Fringe website has all the info you could want, or ever need, about the festivities. This year, there are 116 performing groups presenting over 480 shows at 20 different venues. You WILL find something you like, for sure. Unless you only like naps and bratwurst. I don't think you'll find those there. But you never know.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

The Voyager Mission and the Pale Blue Dot

When I was a kid (I now include teendom in this category), I would look up at the night sky and try to wrap my brain around the knowledge that those points of light are the past. They are so very far away that what I was seeing was literally many years old. (The closest star to us is Alpha Centauri, which is nearly four-and-a-half light-years away. This means, just in case you're unsure of the definition, that the light from Alpha Centauri takes almost 4.5 YEARS to be visible to us.) It was stunning to me. Most of these stars were bigger than our sun, but they're so far away that they're easily obscured by streetlights. How tiny is Earth? How tiny am I?
"When I was a kid." Ha. I still do this, constantly.
Voyager I was launched on September 5, 1977. Its primary mission was to study the gas giants of our solar system. Its secondary mission: send a message of peace and understanding into interstellar space, to be found, hopefully, by intelligent life. The form this greeting took was what became known as the "Golden Record."
When Voyager I passed Saturn in 1980, Carl Sagan, head of the Golden Record committee, asked that the spacecraft be turned around to take one last photo of Earth. He knew that the photo would have no real scientific value, because it was too far away to make out any detail, but he thought it would be an important image for understanding our place in the cosmos.
Most scientists on the Voyager Mission team thought it was far too risky, that taking a picture of Earth, so close to the sun, would irreparably damage the camera. It took ten years for the Voyager team to agree that it would be worthwhile, to recalibrate the instruments, and smooth out other assorted bumps.
On February 14, 1990, Voyager I was 6 billion km/3.7 million miles/40.5 AU from Earth when it took this photograph:
The remarkable "Pale Blue Dot" photo. Yet another gift from Carl Sagan.
See that tiny point of light in the far right sunbeam? That's the Earth.
In his 1994 book, Pale Blue Dot, Sagan wrote:
"From this distant vantage point, the Earth might not seem of any particular interest. But for us, it's different. Consider again that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar," every "supreme leader," every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.
The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that in glory and triumph they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner. How frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity – in all this vastness – there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.
The Earth is the only world known, so far, to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment, the Earth is where we make our stand. It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known."

I can't possibly add anything to this. Sagan was far more brilliant and eloquent than I'll ever be.

I suppose some people might find this depressing: we're so insignificant. I find it exhilarating: we're so insignificant. That's amazing. That's freeing. That makes all one's worries and disagreements and fears and mistakes even tinier. If you try something big, and you fail, it means nothing, compared to the vastness of the universe. If you confess your love for someone, the risk is infinitesimal. If you embarrass yourself, no one will remember it by the time the light of Alpha Centauri reaches the Earth.

This is us. We have to take care of each other, because this 0.12 pixel is all we have.

Voyage to Voyager, a multi-media play about the creation of the Voyager Golden Record, opens at the Gottlieb Planetarium in Union Station on Fri, July 17.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

"Voyage to Voyager" at the Kansas City Fringe Festival

Ever since I was a kid, I've been fascinated with astronomy. I wanted to be an astronomer when I was young. I didn't understand that other people weren't as fascinated with the books on planets and black holes and such that I regularly checked out from the library.
When I was eight years old, I'd heard that a craft had been launched that was going to investigate Jupiter and Saturn. I thought I would die of suspense long before it ever reached Jupiter - how could I possibly wait all those years? And there was an even longer wait for it to get to Saturn, which, clearly, was the coolest planet in the solar system. I mean, RINGS, people.
I was also aware that there was a record on that craft, and that the record had music and messages that would hopefully find their way to intelligent, extraterrestrial life. And then, they'd know about us, and come here, and that would be so cool!
I had no idea how to find out what was on that record. But truly, what made my young mind reel was the question How did they decide what to put on it? What was on it was important to me, but thinking of the process of creating it was almost overwhelming.
How did they do it? There's a LOT of music in the world, and this was the '70s, so I knew how short records were. How did they (whoever "they" were) narrow down the choices, and most importantly, agree on what should be included?
The Voyager mission taught us that Saturn may not be the coolest planet, or at least, not because it was the one with rings. We learned that all of the gas giants have rings. Voyager discovered twenty-three new moons.
In 1979, Voyager 1 took these photos of Jupiter, and we could finally watch the movement of the Big Red Spot.
In 1989, Voyager 2 took this photo of Neptune. Gorgeous.
Most breathtaking, for me, is the "Pale Blue Dot" photo taken of Earth from over 4 billion miles away. See it? In the far right "sunbeam," that tiny, 0.12 pixel point of light? That's us.

The Pale Blue Dot. There we are.

I will probably blog more about the Pale Blue Dot photo at a later date, because it blows my freaking mind.

When I learned that NASA has confirmed that Voyager 1 has left the solar system, and Voyager 2 is close (in astronomical terms) behind, I had to learn more about this mission that's captivated my imagination for nearly 40 years.

Now we have the internet, and it's easier to sate my need for information about the Voyager mission. I'm still thrilled and overwhelmed. The more I learn, the more I want to know. For instance, check out the ticker on the NASA website, showing how far away the Voyagers are.

So, we wrote this play, about how the Golden Record was put together. Carl Sagan led the project, and who doesn't love Carl Sagan? Then we found out that the Gottlieb Planetarium at Union Station was excited about having us do it there. How perfect! And then we talked to Billy Blob, a local animator, and he was enthusiastic about contributing fantasy story elements from thousands, or millions, of years in the future. And the cast. The beautiful, slightly off-kilter-in-the-best-ways, asking-the-hard-questions, motley crew of a cast. They're delightful.

In the meantime, check out the western sky. Venus and Jupiter are hanging out together. Look at them, and know that Venus is currently about 70 million miles away, and Jupiter is 489 million miles away. The surface area of Jupiter is 120 times bigger than Earth's. I am not able to fully grasp this. My mind just stretches and twists and turns and tries to comprehend that size and distance, but can't.

So here's the official blurby stuff about the show. I really hope you can come see it.

In 1977, Carl Sagan was asked by NASA to create a peaceful greeting to extraterrestrial life; a Golden Record that would be included on board the Voyager Space Mission. The next six months were filled with frantic calls, governmental red tape, unexpected egos, miscommunication, and last-minute changes, but most of all, the question: "What does it mean to be human?"

The creators of the 2014 Kansas City Fringe Festival's Best-Attended Show, “Red Death,” invite you to the magical dome of Union Station's Gottlieb Planetarium, where live actors, animation, and outer space collide in a comedic, informative, and unconventional theatrical event for all ages.

"Voyage to Voyager" is co-written by Bryan Colley and Tara Varney, the authors of "Hexing Hitler/Sexing Hitler" and "KHAAAAAN! The Musical." Tara Varney also directs. The play stars Coleman Crenshaw as Carl Sagan, Jen Benkert, Claire Davis, Andy Garrison, Michael Golliher, Parry Luellen, and Shelley Wyche, and features original animation by local artist Billy Blob.

7/17 - Friday - 8:00pm
7/18 - Saturday - 9:30pm
7/19 - Sunday - 6:30pm
7/22 - Wednesday - 8:00pm
7/24 - Friday - 9:30pm
7/25 - Saturday - 8:00pm

Tickets are available at the door, or through the Fringe website.

Also, don't forget the one-time purchase of a Fringe button, which you can use over and over to get into other Fringe shows and events, helps sustain the Festival operations, as well as being a nifty status symbol to show off how artsy and cool you are.


Wednesday, May 27, 2015

It's a Beautiful Day for Good News, Vol. 7

Just in case you're new here, "Beautiful Day" posts are my effort to remind everyone that the world is an amazing place, and that it's filled with incredible people doing inspiring things. Don't watch the news. Unless there's a tornado warning.

A 102-year-old former chorus dancer sees herself on film for the first time.

A Pittsburgh detective's heart breaks, and he helps a couple of kids like no one else could.

"Wanksy," a Manchester, England "street artist," finds a new way to get potholes filled, and quickly.

A moment of anonymous generosity on the 6 Train, caught on video.

A scientist accidentally invents sunglasses that correct color blindness, and a dad sees the color of his children's eyes for the first time.

You may or may not know that I'm a big ol' bird nerd. (I caught it from my dad.) So, some of my personal good news last week was adding a new bird to my Life List, when a great-crested flycatcher landed on my back deck!

This guy, here. Or a relative, anyway.
Look for good news. It's there, it's just that ugly news is often louder. 

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

The Mastery Pursuit

Laura Isaac
Laura's so cool.

My friend Laura Isaac began an overwhelming project a few years ago, called "10,000 Hours." Trained as a printmaker, Laura sought to push herself as an artist and took up knitting, something she'd never tried before, as the medium for her new project. It's based on the idea that 10,000 hours of practice, at the edge of your ability, will make you a master of it.

It's a revelatory project, in many, many ways. The sheer commitment to a project that, by definition, will take TEN THOUSAND hours to complete is beyond my understanding. I find that a very courageous undertaking right there.

As part of her project, she started a podcast, in which she interviews artists of various disciplines. I was shocked and deeply honored when she asked if I'd be willing to be interviewed.

I was really nervous, but it turned out to be a lovely experience. Theatre people don't often talk about their art and their creative process, so this was unexpectedly welcome and fun. We laughed a lot. I cried a little too. Because I do that sometimes. Don't let it bother you.

Here are the links to my interview with Laura:
Part 1: "I realized that I was teaching process-based acting... but, as an actor, I wasn't part of the collaboration."
Part 2: "I think people feel pressure to be supportive, and that's often interpreted as being encouraging and positive."
Part 3: "The reason I'm not happy with this is the reason that I do this."
Part 4: "Giving up is the end, and letting go is not worrying about the end."
Part 5: "I've got to listen to the story and figure out how it wants to be told, not how I want to tell it."

And here is website of the lovely, talented, and brave Laura Isaac. She is fascinating and wonderful (haha, Laura!) and loving and super-cool. Check it out.

Thank you, Laura, for the space to re-discover that maybe I do know what I'm doing. A little, anyway. Sometimes.

Monday, April 20, 2015

It's a Beautiful Day for Good News, Vol. 6

It's spring. Everything's green, flowers are blooming, Kansas City had the most delightful soft morning thunderstorm the other day, hummingbirds are back in the area... But I'm feeling really down, mostly because of News. I truly believe that the world's Good Things and People far outweigh the Bad, but what we hear on the news is the exact opposite. Every moment, people are choosing to make the world a better place, but we don't often hear those stories. That's why I blog them. Hopefully, the following stories will inspire you, like they inspire me.

A brother is missed, but his birthday is celebrated, with an anonymous 130% tip to the server.

Middle school basketball players defend a bullied cheerleader, in the middle of a game.

A group of women help a chronically-ill friend with a surprise pajama/house-cleaning party. Their subsequent joy is a direct result of their friend "being vulnerable enough to humbly allow us in to see her dirt."

An assisted-living facility is shut down, but two employees stay on, without pay, to help those with nowhere to go.

Writing an obituary for a loved one is hard. Writing one that the loved one would appreciate is even harder, but it's completely worth it.

Thirty-five years after taking pictures of mimes in Central Park, a photographer realizes that he captured a rare treasure.

Two on-duty police officers stop and play street football with some neighborhood kids.

Last year, a man started shooting people in the parking lot of the Jewish Community Center here in KC. Due to the quick actions of many, JCC went on lockdown, but three people were killed in the meantime. In remembrance, a week of kind acts called "Seven Days: Make a Ripple, Change the World" was instituted, culminating in a peace walk on the anniversary of the shootings.

Photos courtesy of Jay Coombes, who hid in his car as the gunman aimed at him in 2014.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

"White Rabbit Red Rabbit": A Very Vague Post-Mortem


Last night, I walked onstage, with a prop I didn't know the purpose of, to perform a play I knew nothing about. Cheryl Kimmi, Executive Director of the Kansas City Fringe Festival and producer of the play I was going to do, right then, handed me a sealed manila envelope with my name on it, and took a seat in the audience.

I was alone onstage, with a few props and a couple of set pieces that I hadn't known about before arriving, and didn't know how they were going to be used. I opened the envelope in front of the audience. I knew that it contained the script, and that's everything I knew about what was about to happen.

Moments before, I was alone in the Green Room backstage, pacing and drinking honey straight from the bear, trying to calm down, loosen up, and coat my scratchy throat. I felt very alone. Then I looked around at the show posters around the room. I saw a photo of my dear friend Marcie.Then another close friend, Parry. And sweet Amy. These are people who are very close to my heart, and one reason for that is that they've been part of some of the most moving artistic experiences of my life, all at Fringe. And there was a photo of Coleman, an actor I hold in high regard, who was in Red Death last year. And there was darling Karen, whom breast cancer took away from us a few years ago.

Suddenly, weirdly, and very sappily, I fully realized that I wasn't alone. Everyone in that theatre was rooting for me. Even people who couldn't come to the show, like my aunt, Jean, in Salt Lake City - they were rooting for me too.

So I opened the envelope, and started reading: "White Rabbit Red Rabbit by Nassim Soleimanpour."

In 1994, someone asked me how many plays I'd done. At that point, I counted around 200. Of course, I've done far more since then, than I'd done up until that point. I can't begin to count, but that was over 20 years ago.

The point is, I've done a lot of theatre. Add to that the number of plays I've seen and the number of scripts I've read... I contain a lot of theatre experience.

And White Rabbit Red Rabbit was an experience like none I've ever had before. Nothing even comes close.

I took a journey last night. I'd never seen this land, so I had to trust the playwright, Nassim, a man I've ever met, never heard of, in another country, to keep me safe. I also knew that Cheryl never would have asked me to go on the journey with him if it meant I'd be in danger.

Trust is a very fragile thing. We've all been badly burnt by putting our trust in the wrong people. But going into this play, I had to choose trust. For no good reason other than Nassim and Cheryl chose to trust me.

They chose to trust me. At least Cheryl knows me, and knows how I work. But Nassim doesn't. Still doesn't. It's a fair bet that he still hasn't heard my name, even though I somehow feel very close to him now.

I felt a tremendous sense of responsibility to him. Even as a playwright myself, I've never felt this sort of responsibility to someone's work.

White Rabbit Red Rabbit, in my opinion, is a deeply moving piece of theatre. Nassim sets out to accomplish a number of things, and does so with a surprising variety of tactics and emotion. There was a lot of laughter last night. And though I can't speak for anyone else (because stage lights are bright), I know I cried many tears.

I had a transformative experience last night. Maybe because I let the play be what it was. Nassim was exactly right about how his work needed to be presented. Without any previous knowledge from the participants.

I hate being vague about this. But you need to know nothing about this play until you are there, onstage or in the audience.

My life expanded last night. And for that, I am exceedingly grateful.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

"White Rabbit Red Rabbit": The Play I'm Performing that I'm Not Allowed to Know Anything About

"The play they are not allowed to talk about. Iranian playwright Nassim Soleimanpour was denied a passport because his status as conscientious objector. Unable to travel, he wrote a play which, since its premier in 2011, has taken audiences by storm and been celebrated worldwide as one of the most transformative and original evenings in theatre. Every performance is unique - and a surprise for the brave actor who is not allowed to see the script until the moment they arrive on stage, joining the audience on a journey into the unknown; stumbling upon the personal and profound, the limits of liberty and ultimately where theatre can take you, with or without a passport."

Now you know as much as I do about the play that I'm performing on Monday. No, really.

The Kansas City Fringe Festival is producing this run, with a different actor every night. Why? Because the playwright, for what I'm sure is a very good reason, doesn't want the actor to see the script until it is handed to them, onstage, in front of their audience.

No, I don't get any time to look it over before I start acting. Zero minutes.

Yeah. 'S craziness. I know.

I've talked to a few of the other people slated to perform this piece, and they seem quite casual about it. Sort of a "No rehearsal? No problem!" kind of thing. I guess part of me feels that way, but it goes against my natural tendencies.

I've always been one, when faced with a challenge, to research the heck out of it. It's akin to knowing your enemy, I guess. Google is my best friend.

But for this play? No. No research! Bad Tara!

It was a very difficult urge to contend with at first. As time passed, I got used to the idea of not worrying about it so much. (That's quite a feat, in and of itself, because I worry about everything.) But then...

It opened. Last week.

And now, I'm scared that I'll accidentally learn something I'm not supposed to know, by some well-meaning audience member letting details slip.

For instance: Here's KC Fringe's Director of Development, Brent Kimmi, discussing the project on Kansas City Live. My name might be mentioned once. Or twice. (The selection they perform is not from "White Rabbit Red Rabbit." It's from our 2012 play, "Sexing Hitler." Obviously, since it's on daytime network television, it's not as racy as it sounds.) But Brent uses the word "interaction," and now I feel like I know too much.

The suspense is killing me.

Then suddenly, last night, a thought: What if there's more than one script, and an audience doesn't know which script they'll see performed until they show up? I mean, how would I know? How would the audience know? An audience member could see it two or three times, and just always see the same script performed, luck of the draw? Then I could get up in front of the audience on Monday, get handed the script, and just say anything at all. The audience would pretty much HAVE to believe me! I could recite pieces of audition monologues I've done over the years, or describe my breakfast in great detail, or confess deep secrets, or relate stories about students, or anything! AND I wouldn't have to wear reading glasses! ...oh. Well. There you go. If I'm not wearing reading glasses, it's a pretty good bet that I'm making it up. Now you know my secret.

It has not escaped me that this theatre experiment is something of an analogy for life. You never know what's coming, you can never fully prepare. You show up, and deal with the script that you're handed.

I mean, I teach improv, for crying out loud. I know about jumping in. I know about saying "yes." I know about not knowing.

So how is this project different? It's... not, I suppose. Hm.

If you're interested in seeing this fascinating experiment, here's the link to the Facebook event page, where you can read some of the fretful thoughts and conversations, and here's the link to purchase tickets.

If you're interested in the possibility of seeing me fall flat on my face... well, the same links will work.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Project Pride presents: Meet Me in the CafeQUEERia

I apologize profusely for not posting about this sooner, but my life has been a crazy neck-and-neck race of projects recently. (And let's not even talk about having time to do my taxes. Oy.) But I have to share this deeply meaningful project with you, and it opens tomorrow.

Project Pride is the teen LGBTQ+ and straight allied theatre troupe of which I am co-director. The intention of the group is to give teens a vehicle to express themselves, to educate audiences about the challenges of being a queer teen, so we can give them what they need for support (not what just we think they need). They spend months devising scenes, which the directors then help shape into a cohesive performance piece.

I've done a lot of theatre in my life. I've done a lot of all kinds of performancy things. I've directed a lot. I've had a lot of acting students.

Project Pride has been one of the most important and profoundly moving experiences of my life. These young people astound me on a regular basis, with their acceptance of each other, their passion and enthusiasm, their strength, their compassion, and their determination to make the world a more loving place.

It is not easy for them. Nor is it always easy to support them. The world is full of people who are too-ready to jump to conclusions, be proud of their ignorance, and reject things they don't understand.

But these young people need us to be on their side.

And I need them. They are beautiful.

Here is the link to our Facebook event page, for more information about the show this weekend:

Please join us. There is laughter and silliness, and poignancy and depth. But mostly, there is love.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

It's a Beautiful Day for Good News, Vol. 5

A new installment of my semi-regular serial attempt to counteract the message from common media that The World is a Sad, Bad, Dangerous Place. Good stuff happens all the time.

Australia's hostage crisis in December brought out the best in some people.

A tattoo artist doesn't charge his weekly customer.

A man's inspiring obituary reveals that he is, in fact, Spiderman.

In a touching and supporting move, parents correct a birth announcement, nineteen years later.

A mom writes an open letter to the Trader Joe's employee who probably doesn't know the impact her actions had.

Left at the altar, a woman celebrates herself, with the help of her family and friends, in the best photo shoot ever.

In a Philadelphia restaurant, customers pay-it-forward with pizza.

Now, here's my favorite laughing baby video ever, and a photo of a baby hedgehog.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

My 2014 in Review

Is it a natural urge to look back on the calendar year and weigh it as positive or negative, productive or wasted? Or is it an act of artificial significance, thrust upon us by society ("2014 sucked for me") and the media ("Best Dressed Stars of 2014," "Those We Lost in 2014," etc.)?
New Year resolutions never made much sense to me. If you know you want to make changes, why don't you make them as soon as you think of it? Why wait for a certain date? Is it the arbitrary declaration of a "new year = fresh slate" or something?
Regardless, I was going through a dark period a few months ago, and decided to list what I'd accomplished so far in 2014. It did make me feel better, so maybe there's something to reviewing the year after all. So...

  • Variations on a Theme: a 60-minute one-act, with a staged reading at the Fishtank
  • Role Play: a short play, with a staged reading at the Fishtank
  • In the Cradle: a short play
  • "The Cute Little Woman, Young Jacob, and Me": a story-poem, conceived as a children's book
  • "Road Trip": a poem of uncertain genre
  • (And drafts of a play that we hope to be our 2015 Fringe entry...)

  • Variations on a Theme: staged reading at the Fishtank
  • Role Play: staged reading at the Fishtank
  • American Institution, by Bryan Colley: staged reading at the Midwest Dramatists Center
  • Project Pride presents: Queerios!: co-director, stage production at The Coterie and KC Fringe
  • Project Pride presents: We Are: co-director, stage production at TedX YouthKC
  • Red Death: opera by Bryan Colley and Daniel Doss, at KC Fringe
  • Honk, Jr: stage production for the Coterie Acts

  • "The Cute Little Woman, Young Jacob, and Me": a story-poem (at two different events)
  • Bad Auditions, directed by Kevin King: KC Fringe
  • Variations on a Theme: Narrator
  • Role Play: Narrator
  • American Institution, by Bryan Colley: Narrator
  • Pecha Kucha, at the Middle of the Map Festival
  • Dickens Carolers: my eleventh (?) season

  • Superheroes Save the Day, grades 2-4: The Coterie
  • Sketch Comedy, grades 8-12: The Coterie
  • Be and Awesome Inventor Like Phineas and Ferb, grades 2-4: The Coterie
  • Audition Lab, grades 8-12: The Coterie
  • Funny Bones, grades 5-7: The Coterie
  • Make a Scene, grades 3-5: The Coterie
  • Make a Scene, grades 3-5 (again): The Coterie
  • Scenes from a Dystopian Future, grades 8-12: The Coterie
  • Mythical Creature Academy, grades 2-4: The Coterie
  • Acting Fundamentals, grades 5-7: The Coterie
  • The Very Hungry Caterpillar, grades K-1: Community School of the Arts
  • Dramarama (playwriting), grades 3-5
  • Dramarama (acting), grades 4-5
  • Dramarama (acting), grades 2-3
  • Dramarama (acting), grades K-1
...which, by the way, brings my total number of students (since 2011, when I thought to start counting) to 728.

That's a lot in one year. I think. I don't know, it's just what I do.
From here, at the top of the 2015 ride, I'm looking the first half of the year, which so far contains:
  • Teaching "Rock 'n' Roll Roadshow", grades 5-7, for The Coterie (starting January)
  • Teaching "The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane," grades 2-4, for The Coterie (starting January)
  • Teaching Dramarama Acting, grades 2-3 (starting January)
  • Teaching Dramarama Acting, grades K-1 (starting April)
  • Directing the staged reading of Amanuensis, by Bryan Colley (February)
  • Co-directing Project Pride's performance at the Coterie (March)
  • Leading a children's improv workshop for Johnson County Public Libraries (March)
  • Performing in White Rabbit, Red Rabbit (March)
  • Directing Silver, a ballet noir by Christian Hankel (July)
  • Writing/directing/producing a new original play at KC Fringe (July)

I think I'm going to bed now. I need to rest up.