Posts tagged #tya

A magical moment of empathy: Inside Out & Back Again

Krystle Piamonte, who plays lead character Hà in the current production of INSIDE OUT & BACK AGAIN, recently shared this story on social media, and it was so sweet I just had to include it in my blog:

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"Today after our first matinee performance, I received the most precious note/gift from one of our littlest audience members. A mom and daughter duo came to see INSIDE OUT & BACK AGAIN and handed this to me after the show. The mom said her daughter felt bad that I was having a rough day (I cry about 3x in this play) and that she wanted to write me a note to make me feel better. She also included this cute lollipop. I’m overwhelmed by this little girl’s empathy and kindness. It’s these kinds of interactions that remind me why theatre is a powerful way to connect to our humanity. Thank you, little girl. You made my heart so full today."

Story Explorers: Being Open to Openness

Now that the in-class sessions for Story Explorers are over, I have the task of taking the stories and artwork generated by each class and transferring them into a new theatre piece. What exactly that means is entirely nebulous, which is both a wonderful and terrifying thing. Before I even attempt to put anything onto the page, I’ve entered into “research mode” for the work, soaking in stories and perspectives from as many sources as possible. Recently, I was able to watch two eye-opening films that got my mind and imagination churning. This blog post is about the first. I’ll share about the other film in a future post.
 

BECOMING BULLETPROOF

This documentary follows the film-making process of Zeno Mountain Farm, a non-profit organization that hosts camps for people with and without disabilities. Their LA camp offers a unique film-making session during which camp participants star in a fully-produced film. For most of the participants, their disabilities mean they won't be accepted into mainstream Hollywood fare. Zeno offers them a chance to live out their movie star dreams.

Becoming Bulletproof walks us through the entire process from actors’ acceptance into the camp to casting to filming and, finally, to the movie premiere of Bulletproof Jackson, a classic-style Western. Along the way, we see the struggles that go into any film-making process as well as the unique challenges that come from working with a cast comprised of folks with a variety of disabilities. The documentary does an excellent job of showing the huge heart and dedication of both the production team and the cast as they work hard to make the film a reality.

Through this documentary, I observed that the process of creating film (or theatre or any performing arts, for that matter) with a cast of disabled players isn’t necessarily all that different from working with those who are labelled “able.” Every actor has their particular difficulties to work through in their craft. Some thespians are hopelessly tone-deaf. Some singers can’t dance to save their lives. Some dancers aren’t able to emote in the same way an actor can. And yet, we don’t think of these performers as disabled. They simply have a particular skill set in which they excel.

What I saw while watching Becoming Bulletproof was individuals working with their disabilities with the help of a very open-minded production team. In a wheelchair? They will make it work with the character you play. Having trouble with verbal clarity? They will hone in on your emotive facial expressions. Not able to recall your lines well? They will modify the lines in the script without compromising the story or switching you out for another actor.

These kinds of decisions require an open mind and heart as well as a deep respect for the dignity of each person in the room. It got me thinking that maybe some of the “rules” of theatre that I operate by are actually just “norms” that can be revised or redacted as needed. I need to enter into the creation process for Story Explorers, and indeed every play I write, with a similar openness to the Zeno film camp. My goal may be a little different with Story Explorers: we’re creating a sensory-friendly work for children with autism and other behavioral/cognitive needs to enjoy with their families as audience members. However, there is something about how Zeno Mountain Farm goes about its creative process that I want to channel as I continue my development of Story Explorers.

Learn more about Becoming Bulletproof.

Story Explorers: Freedom of Expression

The in-class sessions of Story Explorers finished up this past week. Teaching artist Hannah Dworkin has spent the last twelve weeks helping the kids delve into their imaginations and tell stories, which will then serve as the springboard for a new musical I will write for Bay Area Children's Theatre. I was fortunate to be able to join her for four of these classroom visits - the first two in September and the final two in December. After my eight-week absence, I was certain the kids had forgotten who I was and that I would have to re-introduce myself. Instead, I was greeted with hugs and a few "Where were you? We missed you!"

During the last two visits, Hannah had the children use visual arts to inspire stories. The kids were invited to use crayons, watercolors, clay, and even puppets, and to let their imaginations run wild. When their art projects were complete, we asked them questions about what they had made, encouraging them to create stories from their work. Here are just a couple of examples:

"Light Knight" clay sculpture by Angel

"Light Knight" clay sculpture by Angel

"Black Knight" clay sculpture by Angel

"Black Knight" clay sculpture by Angel

Stunning watercolor and crayon painting by Noorhan.

Stunning watercolor and crayon painting by Noorhan.

Teaching Artist Hannah Dworkin and the Story Explorers act out a scene with bee puppets.

Teaching Artist Hannah Dworkin and the Story Explorers act out a scene with bee puppets.

Even if there was no tangible story attached to their artwork, I found myself quite moved and inspired by the freedom of their creativity. I am now brainstorming ways to incorporate this free expression into the Story Explorers musical. This will probably mean letting go of a strictly linear narrative, and instead embracing whimsy, color and story in new and creative ways. I have no idea yet what that means, but just like the young Story Explorers did in their classroom each week, I'm ready to cut my imagination loose and see what happens!