Maybe it's because I have really good parents, but I've always had a difficult time buying into the commercialized versions of popular holidays. I wrote a journal entry when I was 11 where I tried to describe holidays from the perspective of an alien who just arrived at earth and was reporting it's observations back to it's home planet (I was that kind of 12 year old...). I lost that journal (sadly), but I remember how absurd the descriptions of our holiday customs sounded when taken out of the context of "Christmas" or "Thanksgiving"... (Sitting on a fat stranger's lap and telling him our deepest desires? Awkward.)
I do, however, REALLY enjoy giving gifts to my friends and family. I especially like making things to give as gifts, but I've found myself busier this holiday season than ever before... So I NEED to go shopping. Which is tough when you have a LONG list and money is tight. I had considered making donations to personally relevant charities for everyone on my list, but admittedly, it's nice to be able to physically hand something to someone, as a gesture of your love and appreciation.
Q: What's a girl to do who's torn between giving her savings to worthwhile causes and buying Christmas presents?
A: Buying gifts through an organization that supports those charities she was going to contribute to anyways! DUH!
Change.org has created a FANTASTIC holiday gift guide highlighting organizations that support a tremendous variety of causes who sell holiday gifts that let you give to your loved ones AND give to those in need.
You can find a gift for almost anyone to fit ANY budget! I've already bought two of my gifts from Made By Survivors, which employs and supports victims of human trafficking, but I can't tell you what (as I'm pretty sure the gift recipients read my blog...)
With the recent string of unfortunate and preventable teen suicides as a result of bullying, we've decided to take the It Gets Better campaign to a new level: with a live, honest-account stage show made up of YOUR stories: "Let's Talk About Bullying"
We are anonymously collecting stories from across the NYC area: stories about being the victim of bullying, how you may have perpetuated it, witnessed it, are taking steps to stop it, and everything in between. We want to hear YOUR stories. Collected stories will be turned into monologues and pieced together for a night of live, honest theatre in an new, original play we're calling "Let's Talk About Bullying". Donations made from the play will be donated to a TBD organization that works with troubled and bullied teenagers.
We encourage everyone to submit your experiences- all replies will be ANONYMOUS so identities are protected. We're in this together. Let's end the vicious trend of teenage bullying. Through our efforts, we can hear stories that let us know IT GETS BETTER.
We're three NYC theatre artists: Actor Josh Jeffers, Actor/Activist Jacyln Hennell and Playwright Andrew Kramer, who believe in changing minds through the power of live theatre.
Join us in telling these stories. To share your story: comment HERE (remember, NO name necessary and be SURE TO CHOOSE ANONYMOUS so comments are anonymously submitted) with your age, gender, and location and most importantly, your story. All stories will be read and formatted into stage monologues for our original play, LET'S TALK ABOUT BULLYING, to be performed in Late December in NYC. DUE TO TIME CONSTRAINTS, STORIES ACCEPTED UNTIL FRIDAY DEC. 3RD @ 5:00pm.
As many of you know, I've become increasingly involved with Brooklyn's Block Institute over the past few years, and have joined their staff as a drama and expressive arts instructor. My teaching schedule has become increasingly hectic, (I now work for Block Institute, Community Word Project and the YWCA), but truly loving the work that I do and the people I work with makes the workload feel much lighter! Last night's Visual Arts Seminar at Block Institute was no exception, and I left in a much better mood than I arrived in- how many people can say THAT about their jobs?
As I start to think about the transition from pageant world to the real world, my poor blog seems terribly confused. Q: Is it still a platform blog? ( A: Yep. I work in arts in education, so expect to hear A LOT about that). Q: Is it still a pageant blog? (Ummmmm... Sort of. I have a lot of friends who are still competing, and I love supporting them!) Q: Is it my personal blog? (A: Maybe a little... Expect to hear tidbits about my upcoming wedding, the planning of which I find equal parts exhilarating and overwhelming). Q: Is it my professional blog? (A: Probably yes- it does have my name in the title, doesn't it?)
So without further ado, it brings me greater joy than almost anything in the world to announce that my one-woman show, A Woman In Progress which I began writing in the fall of 2009 will have it's world premiere at NYC's historic La Mama e.t.c., produced by my very own Mind the Art Entertainment, and directed by my dear friend Alessio Cappelletti, on January 20th and 21st, 2011, at 10p.
This is huge for me on a couple of levels. I'm still trying to comprehend the fact that I wrote a slightly provocative full-length one-woman show. That it was decent enough to get the endorsement of my entertainment company (we hold each other to pretty high standards) and La Mama e.t.c. is kind of mind-blowing. And then there's the fact that I'll be on stage, alone, left to my own devices for 90 minutes. I can't help but reflect back upon how far Mind the Art Entertainment has come in such little time (we were founded in 2007), and how grateful I am to be able to create and perform the type of work that touches my soul with the support and guidance of my colleagues (and dear friends). And I'm beyond stoked that one of my dearest friends (and coincidentally, one of Joe's dearest friends as well- he's a groomsman in our wedding) will be directing. I've respected Alessio as an artist since the first day we meet as students at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in 2004, and I'm thrilled to be working with him on my first solo piece.
I'm currently working on some minor re-writes, and then we'll be diving into rehearsals. Check back for updates!
As many of you know, I've been working with one of the YWCA's afterschool programs in Brooklyn since 2009, teaching dance and mentoring kids in grades K-5 everyday, Monday-Friday, afterschool. These kids have become a part of my life in a major way, and the feeling is mutual- the dedicated staff at our program provides the kids with a structured environment and regular contact with adult role models who care about them, their development, and their success. In addition to homework help and an afterschool meal, we provide our students with drama, dance, visual art and recreational education. Our program is in high demand, and because we can only accommodate twenty children from each grade level, we have a pretty sizeable wait list for families who want their children in the program. Check out the Afterschool Alliance's New York City After 3p Report on why there is such a need for this type of programming. Another interesting report to note is Afterschool Programs: Making a Difference in America's Communities by Improving Academic Achievement, Keeping Kids Safe and Helping Working Families. Funding is one of the key reasons that we can't serve more kids, which is why I'm so appreciative of opportunities to spread the word about the work these programs do.
On Thursday, October 21st, the Afterschool Alliance declared a national Lights On Afterschool Celebration to celebrate and raise awareness of the importance of afterschool programs. Our program decided to spend the afternoon sharing student art that was inspired by their experiences at the YWCA's afterschool program, and then watching a mini-documentary I created about our afterschool program. What a success! The art was stunning and hearing the kids talk about what afterschool program meant to them was truly heartwarming. Enjoy pictures from the celebration below, along with the video project I created!
A proud artist and her work!
5th grade boys scrambling to finish writing their "speeches"
4th grade can't wait to share their work!
5th grade anxiously awaiting their time on stage...
1st grade excitedly awaiting the older kids' presentations!
A 5th grader sharing his work... I loved this piece...
Another one of my 5th graders talking about her work- can you tell I'm proud?
One of our VERY talented 4th graders...
And last but not least- my video project! Obviously I'm not a pro, but I think the kids' awesomeness outweighs my sorry video editing skills...
Free on Sunday, October 24th from 3-5p? Then join myself, Miss Brooklyn 2009 contestant Diana Greene, Marina Montes- Miss Long Island USA, our own Miss NY- Claire Buffie and potentially a few other pageant pals as we celebrate the outstanding achievements of the semi-finalists in Block Institute's Brightest Star Awards! This is my second year of participation with this program, and I could not be more thrilled! Block Institute is an amazing organization in Brooklyn that serves adults and children with developmental disabilities. I was introduced to Block Institute when their Director of Special Projects and Nutrition Services, Todd Adelman, judged Miss Brooklyn 2009! I'm so honored to have since formed a strong and mutually beneficial partnership with them which includes implementing creative arts curriculum to their day programming and pre-school!
On 10/24, the 16 semi-finalists will become 10 finalists- one in each category of the competition. This year, I'm a preliminary judge and the mentor/ contestant liason! Since the competition is run similarly to a pageant, we'll be bringing in members of the pageant community to help coach and mentor the finalists for their self-presentation at the finals gala in January!
Oy! When did fall get here? Here's the Reader's Digest version of the past month:
In late August, I finished my second summer teaching gig at PS 90 through the YWCA. The dance, drama and visual art divisions teamed up to create a pretty awesome production of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The students were PHENOMENAL! They truly exceeded our expectations, and I was once again reminded of how lucky I am to work with this group...
With some of my 4th/5th Grade students!
Part of our amazing cast!
I had the opportunity to shoot a short film that featured my death by carrot (see photo- I couldn't make this stuff up).
(On the set of an untitled short film)
I also performed in a 24 hour play festival with Ex-Libris Theatre which was both the company's premier event, and a fundraiser for the Trinity LES Church's Food Pantry.
(Rehearsing with the cast of Everlasting Life)
After my teaching/performing gigs wrapped up, it was time for some much needed R&R, so I headed upstate to spend some time with my family! I arrived just in time for Courtney's 19th birthday!
My sisters and I with my grandparents at Courtney's 19th Birthday Bash!
I was lucky enough to be home for the 25th Anniversary of the Miss Fonda Fair Pageant, which was my entry into the pageant world, and was a very special tradition for our family. For the 25th Anniversary, all of the former Miss Fonda Fairs were invited to attend (I was Miss Fonda Fair '02, Kieren won in '05, and Courtney won in '08), and it was a great opportunity to catch up with old friends.
Kieren and I with Lexy Conti- Princess Fonda Fair 2010!
Kieren and I serving at the reception!
As a thank you for all the hard work my mom did to help my sisters and I prepare for Miss NY in June, we planned a surprise roadtrip, and took my mom to her childhood vacation spot, Seaside Heights, NJ! It had been over 25 years since my mom had been, and it was the first time my sisters and I visited. We had a great time, and my mom got to visit the bungalow they used to stay in, her favorite bakery and pizza joints, AND despite the hurricane, we got to dip our toes in the (excessively rough) water!
I hadn't planned any volunteering opportunities over my vacation, but they seem to find me, somehow... I ended up spending about 20 hours at The Glove Theatre helping to organize and clean up their beautiful costume shop. The Glove is a local non-profit theatre with TONS of history- it's in a tough spot financially, and is quite dependent on the generosity of volunteers to keep it running- I was happy to help! A very special thank you to acting Executive Director Richard Samrov for his boundless and contagious enthusiasm for this local treasure.
They have some beautiful vintage pieces- it felt good to get them hung properly and organized!
I also got to spend some time with my friends and family, and enjoy the beautiful upstate NY late summer/early fall.
I returned to NYC a week ago, and I've had my work cut out for me! This past weekend, I shot What Happened to Peter- a short film based on Der Struwwelpeter (German children's tales).
(On the set of What Happened to Peter, reviewing lines and guzzling iced coffee!)
This fall is shaping up to be as exciting as it will be busy! Current gigs include teaching dance at PS 209 with the YWCA, teaching drama at Block Institute, teaching creative writing with Community Word Project, researching/ applying to MFA Drama programs, training for the 2010 Tough Mudder Tri-State, and preparing for my upcoming one-woman show!
I can't promise I'll be able to blog too frequently, but I CAN promise to try! :)
One would think we, as a species, would be more adept at communicating our thoughts and feelings on a subject as universal as death. It unites us as mortals. Some fear it, some accept it, some defy it, but we will all experience it. It's not a new phenomenon. For as long as humans have existed, we've been dying. An inevitable fact of living is outliving loved ones. We're compelled to reach out and connect with those who lose someone. Why is it, then, that no one seems to know quite what to say or how to say it when extending sympathies for another's loss? "No one really knows how to say or do the right thing, because it doesn't exist," suggests Lauren Olson, writer and performer of Our Condolences.
A quick-moving, thoughtful, and honest piece, Our Condolences illustrates several such attempts by individuals with varying intentions, based upon Olson's own experiences related to her mother's death. Characters range from an unfortunate ex-boyfriend to an overbearing post-mortem management counselor to an oblivious salesgirl and a naive young cousin, none of whom has ill-intentions, yet each of whom adopts wholly inappropriate methods of well-wishing (if inappropriateness can even exist in a context where there is no such thing as "appropriate").
Olson delivers a seamless performance, effortlessly shifting among characters of varying ages, genders, and levels of emotional stability. The cleverly written piece amplifies her strong physical and vocal performance abilities, which in turn showcases her engaging and honest style of writing. Performing something tantamount to theatrical Olympics, Olson's impressive channeling of such a wide range of individuals with no lag or overlap is a testament to her acting ability. It's quite evident that director Rachel Hamilton gets the piece, and has expertly guided its clean, blunt, and honest execution. Each character shines individually with simple costume embellishments. The minimally decorated stage is functional, well-appointed, and optimally utilized, though place is never the focus.
Through a series of in-person sketches and pre-recorded voicemails, this character-centered piece keeps the spotlight steadily pointed at the individual voices represented, what the death of one woman means to each of them, and how they relate to her survivors. Though the subject matter can be emotional and sobering, the overall tone of the piece is playful—an absolution of the deeds depicted on the stage, which is a relief for the audience, who can't help but wonder, as they watch the out-of-line-yet-true-to-life post-mortem antics unfold, "Have I ever done that?"
I. Am. So. Proud. My Block Institute kiddos performed their play last week after only four short weeks of Thursday and Friday drama class, and the progress made by most of the students is absolutely astounding. This was my first time developing and implementing curriculum for students with developmental disabilities, and though I had done my research and understood how beneficial arts education is to ANY student, I was a bit nervous going in.
My schedule consisted of 10 drama classes in a 5 hour shift, because I'll be honest, I can't say no to a class who wants to take drama, even if it means working through my lunch break. The students ranged in age between 4-7, and on the very first day I fell in love with each and every single one of them. Despite challenges of every possible variety, throughout the duration of our work together, EVERY child made progress, which I do not assume to take credit for-- drama has this universal, welcoming and familiar quality that fosters incredible personal development.
Non-verbal kids started joining in to our vocal warm-ups. Kids who started the program sitting in the corner with an aide ended up in the center of the circle for our physical warm-ups. Kids who seemed completely disengaged and unwilling to connect would jump in to correct me if I forgot a part of the play. And, most importantly for me, the teachers who knew these kids best commented on their progress. Last Friday, as I watched them take the stage and tell the story we had learned together, I was absolutely stunned to think that this was the same group I had started with four weeks earlier. They patiently waited for their turns. They didn't yell out when someone was talking. They paid attention to the action of the story, and gently helped other students who forgot what came next. The practice of drama, I've found, has the inevitable effect of making the participants into more conscientious individuals. And they were excited and happy. What more could I have asked for?
Just a quick note before I head out to my show- come see the Ex Libris Theatre's Trinity@Trinity this afternoon at 3:30p!! Yesterday's whirlwind writing, rehearsing and staging process yielded us three awesome short plays, and at $5 (with $1 of each admission going to the church's soup kitchen), how can you say no?
A message from our Artistic Director:
Yesterday, at Trinity Lower East Side church, fifteen of us gathered to write some plays. There were three writers, three directors, and nine actors.
The topics were the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.
The plays were set in three spaces throughout the church, each with a three-person cast.
Everyone was given free reign to write and create what they wanted, utilizing their randomly chosen topics, spaces, and actors.
Going into the weekend, there was no tangible way to know what to expect. Yesterday, each and every actor, writer, and director turned it out --
Now we have three brand new site-specific plays for you.
Come see what your friends have been working on.
It's $5 at the door. $1 from each admission goes directly to the church's SAFH soup kitchen, which feeds homeless New Yorkers Monday through Friday!
Please, please join us. Most likely, if you're getting this message, one of the artists involves really likes you. And don't you want to witness their fantastic work?
I hope to see as many of you as possible tomorrow! You won't be disappointed.
AND THEN, since you're so fired up from the first awesome play of the day, take a quick break to grab a bite to eat, and then head over to the Ellen Stewart Theatre at La Mama to check out the 5:45p opening of Spellbound: A Musical Adventure, co-produced by Mind the Art Entertainment.
Tickets are available at www.fringenyc.org or at the door. $15 online, $18 at the door. Hope to see you there!
Join me tomorrow at 7p at the Coney Island Illuscination circus! I'll be the guest ringmaster, and the Illuscination folks have graciously invited my friends at Brooklyn's Block Institute to visit as my guests! It should be a great night! Check out my blog from last year's visit here.
$5 on Sunday gets you admission to a rotating show of 3 short plays, conceived and written in 24 hrs. And I'm in it (acting, this time- not writing)! $1 from every admission goes to the Trinity Lower East Side Church's Soup Kitchen.
It's been a busy past few weeks of work and school, but I've still been able to squeeze in some fun Miss Greater NYC events. Even more fun was that I was able to convince the beautiful Misses Catskills International, Jubilee and New York to join me!
Our first stop on Saturday was at the School of the Future, where I had organized a class/ workshop entitled Inner Beauty/ Individuality- What Should YOUR Sash Say? Using some prompt cards I had created, participants began to think about what make them unique and awesome, and then the sash making began! We used a collage-style approach, and ended up with beautiful half pageant sash/ half Girl Scout sashes that celebrated each individual!
We could have easily continued sash-making for another hour, but we had to jet to the other side of Brooklyn for Sean Casey Animal Rescue's Summer Fundraiser! I. LOVE. DOGS. A. LOT. This is no exaggeration. Unfortunately, my fiance Joe has some serious pet allergies, so having a cute pup at home isn't a realistic part of my future, but I'll take ANY chance I get to play with dogs!
The heat was impressive, but it was still nice to be outside, and we had the chance to take a few of the pooches out for a walk!
A very special thank you to Ellen, for putting me in contact with SCAR, and Sean Casey, for having us at the event!
With Sean and Charles- thanks for having us!
The following day was a nice, (air-conditioned) change of pace, as Ellen and I headed into Manhattan to watch the NY Liberty play the IN Fever at Madison Square Garden. Though we lost to the Fever in OT, it was a REALLY fun and exciting game!
Please urge your New York State legislator to sponsor legislation that would require the State Education Department to ensure compliance with existing state regulations for arts instruction. Click here to contact your elected officials!
I can't even begin to explain how grateful I am for parents who instilled in myself and my sisters an absolute, bona fide love affair with reading. My parents read to us daily until we were old enough to read to ourselves, and then made sure we ALWAYS had access to something new and exciting to read. Going to the library was as exciting to my sisters and I as going to an amusement park (and let's face it, I still get REALLY excited when I go to a library). We were active participants in the Pizza Hut Book-It program (a free personal pan pizza after every 4 books read)! And I LOVED reading to my sisters, Kieren and Courtney (or more accurately, making them listen to me read--I'm not sure they loved it as much as I did...)
I remember having a special reading nook in each house we lived in growing up. At my Grandma Sheridan's house, it was the back bedroom, where she (a retired teacher) kept her book collection. At the red house, it was in my bedroom closet with the door closed (seriously- in the middle of the day I'd sit in the dark reading with a flashlight). At the house on Wesleyan Ave, it was on a beanbag chair in the basement. At my dad's apartment, it was the bathroom (I'd sit in the tub and read... I was a wierd kid...). At our home in Fort Plain, it was my mom's room....
I'm fairly certain my reading obsession fueled my equally passionate writing fervor. I began writing mini-novels and poetry at approximately 8 years of age, and filled notebook after notebook with my sordid tales of soap-opera quality drama, adventure, heartache and the pains of human existence (** thank you to my parents for not freaking out when I wrote stories about random things that had somehow wandered into my consciousness; most of which some parents would find wholly inappropriate for an 8 year old to be writing about). I'm equally convinced that my love for stories is also what sparked my passion for acting, through which I've become a more empathetic and engaged person.
A recent article in the NY Times entitled The Medium IS the Medium discusses the continued importance of providing students the opportunity to read BOOKS (not online materials).
So I ask you this- Do the kids (or young adults, or even full-blown grownups) in your life read enough? If the answer is "no", or "maybe", or "I'm not sure", or anything but a resounding "ABSOLUTELY", then you're in luck, because NYC has one of the best library systems around... Check out the cool video below which explains how to navigate the New York, Brooklyn and Queens Public Libraries' Summer Reading Programs online! You can also get a slew of free reading material AND keep old books out of landfills by checking out a book swapping site such as Paperback Swap.