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Spilling The Milk


I
n June I was out in Detroit to give a presentation about how to resolve any conflict using the Karpman triangle. (You may think you don’t know what I am referring to, but you probably do. It’s when we recognize we are either playing the villain, rescuer or victim in a conflict and with that awareness we free ourselves from being stuck in these roles.) Once I finished the power point I had 3 hours before my flight home, so I secreted myself away to the Detroit Institute of Arts. I started with the Diego Rivera murals of the auto industry, caught some contemporary sculpture of the city skyline made from baseball bats, and made my way through the impressionists. While in the contemporary section I turned a corner and spied a Marina Abramovic video entitled  “Spilling the Milk.” Here’s what a cool art publication had to say about it:
“In the Abramovic video, included in her widely acclaimed 2010 MoMA, New York, retrospective, the artist continues her earlier themes but places them within the tradition of seventeenth-century Dutch genre painting. A luminous window lights a glowing kitchen as Abramovic attempts to hold a brim-filled bowl of shimmering milk without spilling it. The video’s scene recalls the visual impression of works such as Vermeer’s The Milkmaid (1657) with its use of everyday subject matter to portray the intersection of sensuality and spirituality at the root of human experience. Yet the concentration and strength necessary to translate this moving image into the ideal, suspended stillness of a Vermeer painting tests the limits of the artist’s fortitude and the audience’s expectations.” — From Artweek.LA
As I studied her, people gathered on the bench opposite, and to either side of the screen. More kept pooling around the piece, illumined by the projection. It was literally a crowd favorite, the growing audience gathering to witness this milk carrying/spilling event. A mother and three children peered on. “Is she actually moving? Or is it freeze framed?” the girl asked. ”I think she’s going to drop it!” one of the boys predicted. “It’s just like that, isn’t it?” the mother confided to me. “Mothering. It takes everything not to drop it all.” Abramovic, the artist, peered into the milk in her bowl, willing herself to hold still, despite the demands of gravity. “Funny you should bring up mothering,” I leaned over and whispered to the woman. “She actually had a very difficult relationship with her mother. She wanted her mother’s attention, and rarely got it.”
We turned back to the video. What made it so compelling? We hoped she wouldn’t drop the bowl. We also wanted to see her drop the bowl! We hoped she would shatter the quietly oppressive domestic scene. This tiny drama pulled us all in for almost 13 minutes. It ended with extra sloshing from the bowl and then a fade out to black. No clear climax or finality. “Is that it?” someone said walking away.
I stayed, watched the piece again, and took this picture. The crowd dispersed and a new cycle of questioning eyes gazed at the screen. Marina Abramovic never won her mother’s approval and attention the way she wanted it as a girl, but she had won the world’s.
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Influence

I really enjoyed reading a new book by Gay Hendricks over the winter break. (I got my coaching certification from The Hendricks Institute which he created with his luminous wife Kathlyn Hendricks.) In “The Joy of Genius” Gay talks about the value and importance of recognizing there are many things we don’t have control over and some things we do. Yes, you may also recognize this as the serenity prayer and I wrote about the concept in an earlier blog post as one of the main teachings of the philosopher and once-slave Epictetus. I’ve encountered some people that say we don’t have control and it’s best to let go regarding just about everything. I find that very hard and sometimes a very boring attitude to have about life. I like trying to go for things, even if they seem unlikely. Where does that leave me?
What’s left is influence. Once we let go of the things we can’t control (our thoughts, the past, the future, controlling other people, worrying about what people think of us) we can appreciate and better see what we want to create now. I like to envision that power to influence a situation as if I were engaging an Alexander Calder mobile. It’s huge, like the world. I may not transform it or radically dismantle it, but my influence can utterly shift its orientation. Although it’s mammoth, I can influence it. The winds can change how they go around it. I also may enjoy the process of moving it’s awesomeness. My perception of myself changes too.
I also find that from that spirit of influence some things come to me easier. I am not attached. I stop trying to get things right and make offers, sometimes even grand visions. Just today I was writing to the head of a college department about all the benefits of what I bring as a performer and speaker and how someone I apprenticed from my college 7 years ago, has gone on to become a screenwriter in LA, living their dream. I can’t take full credit for this achievement but I know I influenced her to go for her dream. Influence is a delicious and inviting way to engage people to play and dream big. The professor actually wrote me back with enthusiasm. Will I get to perform for and mentor her students? I don’t know, but I am playing with the mobile and dancing in the prospect of making it happen.
Are there ways you want to play with moving out of trying to control and into influence? Let me know how it feels for you to tap the mobile.

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The Stacks, A Remembrance

My father was married to his job. We would see him, but not that much. He left the house at 6:15 am or thereabouts and returned home about 5:45 most nights. He didn’t have a lot of energy for anyone at that point. I know we had dinner together, but I don’t recall him bringing a whole lot of enthusiasm to that. He was married to my mother, and they were almost like one organism in activities, but I suspected much of his best energy went into his job. Well I more than suspected. I had evidence.

Every once in awhile I got to go to school with my Dad. He was always a teacher, but towards the end of his 32 year stint in teaching he was also the head of the English Department as well as the Vice Principal of Martin Luther King Jr. High School. We’d walk into the school and he would be baraged with students and staff, “Mr. Blaine!” People had questions for him, smiles, complaints. He wore a suit and was buttoned in and down. He could field it all. He’d turn to me and deliver me upstairs.I was there less to spend time with him, and more so he could put me to work in the stacks.

There were these industrial shelves filled with multiple copies of books: To Kill A Mockingbird, Of Mice and Men, Go Tell It On The Mountain, all the classics and mandatory reading for high school English. They stretched to fill the 20×30 windowless room. I’d flip open the book and scan the tenant’s names. Often the names would slip outside the designated lines, the last name teetering on the book log precipice. I couldn’t tell whether my father had taught that particular child, but I imagined if they had been in his class and written so disrespectfully it wouldn’t have gone particularly well.

I loved gathering the books, putting them in order, taking the neglected books and reinforcing a cover, weighing whether the book could take another season of battering. My father was there to teach the kids. He was there to oversee the other teachers. My father. My father loved these books, so I loved these books. I couldn’t help it. And I loved fantasizing about how each of these books traveled with its temporary owner for months. Making a path to their home and back. Touching the tar on the basketball court, withstanding the subway floor, swallowed in an asphyxiating book bag, barely seeing the light of day. And then every summer, these books were officially on vacation, enjoying the view from the one side exposed townhouse apartment of this industrial shelving in the English department book storage. Except for the one or three books still playing hooky somewhere — under a bed – forgotten – unwanted – or stealing away time at the side of a public pool.

I loved it in the stacks. The smell of paper was flavorless but sturdy. The smell of long lasting curriculum. The smell of what my Dad believed was worth children’s time.

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Authentic Emotional Response

I was standing in the kitchen this morning reflecting on the somewhat predictable weekend routine: get my kid to do her homework, do the dishes, get the food shopping done. I noticed this did not inspire me. I also noticed that I was already seeing this as a stale day. With this awareness I grabbed a hold of myself and said, “today could be really awesome.” I interrupted the predictable pattern that was stifling me and I planted this sparkling intention. A half hour later I got a text from Jess Noel asking if Lily was available to do some choreography she had just made. “I want to see it on two bodies,” she said. “We can be there in 42 minutes!” I said. I just had to find my car… another story for another day. 

Reunited from their project this summer, Paprika Plains, in which they danced and were body painted by Jess’ sister Natalie Fletcher, Lily and Jess pledged to find a way to collaborate again on a project in 2019. For today they just warmed up and worked through some steps for an upcoming audition Jess would be holding this week. Although it had been 4 months since Lily and Jess danced, they moved to the latest LSD song “Mountains” and marked through their motions and dance vocabulary, picking up the dance dialogue they last had in September. 

Afterward we chatted about our creative hopes and dreams for the new year. For this year Jess shared she wants to make art and connect deeply and in meaningful ways. Lily wants to do some professional theatre work. And I want to create a new show to explore anti-semitism which will somehow not be depressing, and possibly funny. We talked about the magic of the Paprika Plains project, how so many in the audience shared with us that they were moved. I recounted how each and every audience member I spoke with shared about their own lives, and felt that the piece spoke directly to them. “That’s what I am looking for,” Jess said. I want an “Authentic Emotional Reaction” from the audience. I want to make art that does that.” “You should write about that,” I told her. “No,” she said, “but feel free to write about it if you want to,” she told me. 

So here I am, embracing the start of another magical year of creating work. And I’m now embodying the purpose to evoke an authentic emotional reaction, a connecting thread that envelops more and more people into a community for dialogue, trust and change. I asked for an awesome day, and I got it. I am asking for an authentic emotional reaction with my creations, and am curious what will happen. By the way, I still haven’t done the food shopping and I am just fine about that. Making the art and writing about making the art is a bigger priority. The joy that results from that is now fueling my day.

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RIDICULOUS – A Brand New Show for FringeArts 2018 – here’s the press release.

RidiculousLOREZJennifer Blaine, Philadelphia’s acclaimed solo performer, comedienne, and playwright “whose comic genius is like Lily Tomlin and Tracey Ullman” (Philadelphia Daily News) will perform her new one-woman show Ridiculous as part of the 2018 FringeArts at L’Etage (Friday September 14 at 7:30pm, Saturday September 22 at 7:30pm and Sunday September 23 at 4pm.)  Jennifer Blaine has performed with the likes of Chris Rock, George Carlin, and Glenda Jackson (Best Actress Tony Award 2018 for Three Tall Women), and has brought her smart, irreverent humor to premier venues and festivals nationwide. Jennifer’s shows are a balm for those craving some comedy, candor, and inspiration.  

Jennifer is a Philadelphia FringeArts Festival favorite, creating original solo works for 15 previous festivals—including a sold-out run of both Dirty Joke (“comedy with a conscience”) in 2013, and Vicissitudes of Travel (2017), a collaboration with Barrymore award winning Philadelphia theater artist Karen Getz.  Acknowledged as “brilliant,” (Chestnut Hill Local) Vicissitudes tracks a family’s journey through the brain surgery of their loved one and is currently on tour at medical facilities and universities. ”The playful magic in THE VICISSITUDES OF TRAVEL has the visceral drive of a fever dream—its final destination at once unforgivingly foreign, yet strikingly similar to the place you call home.” (Ken Youmans)

With her FringeArts premiere of “Ridiculous,” Blaine returns to her comedy roots to provide commentary about the current absurd state of the world as well as stories from her personal life. The show intends to be interactive, even taking off from subject matter voted on by the audience. “I’ll explore the intimate space of creativity with the audience in real time and let them impact the performance,” Blaine says. That’s part of the reason the show will be in L’Etage, a glorious gem of a performance space that veritably hugs the audience. There will be improv, audience participation and confessional (possibly embarrassing) stories about motherhood, the patriarchy, and even bestiality. “We’re at a moment where it’s not necessarily safe to be real and honest with one another. I am taking a risk with this piece to do just that. I won’t be appearing as multiple characters, but rather as just a version of myself.” The meta message is that it’s okay — even critical — for us to be ourselves at this moment in time. “I also am letting this show be a bit messy too. I want to tell these stories, but I don’t have an agenda for the audience to have a certain reaction.  I just want them to feel free, be themselves, and have hope so we can move forward out of this ridiculous time. Oh, and laugh.”

One audience member said of Blaine’s work, “she takes her audience on a journey that includes us in happenings relevant to our own lives as well as hers. She makes us laugh and cry and think about what’s important and how we can make a difference.” Come out and experience Ridiculous and see for yourself.

WHEN: September 14 at 7:30pm, September 22 at 7:30pm, September 23 at 4pm

WHERE: L’Etage, 624 S. 6th Street, Philadelphia, PA 19147

TICKETS: $20. For info and tickets, please visit https://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/3556923

SHOW DESCRIPTION:

Escape into the absurd humor of Jennifer Blaine as she wrestles the ridiculous – from motherhood to the patriarchy to bestiality. Blaine (“comic genius like Lily Tomlin”, PDN) invites us to honor ourselves despite a world of interruption & disruption. We can start somewhere, begin to protest, but remember to celebrate.

 

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Here’s the press release for the new show I will be performing at FRINGEARTS: “THE VICISSITUDES OF TRAVEL”

VicissitudesJ&Kcredit

Jennifer Blaine, Philadelphia’s acclaimed solo performer, “whose comic genius is like Lily Tomlin and Tracey Ullman,” (Philadelphia Daily News) and Karen Getz whose direction has been called “truly a transcendent experience” (City Paper) will present the world premiere of the one-woman work, The Vicissitudes of Travel, as part of the 2017 Fringe Festival presented by FringeArts.

Jennifer is a Philadelphia Fringe Festival favorite, creating original works for 14 previous festivals—including, most recently, a sold-out run of her show Dirty Joke in 2013. Jennifer collaborated on her new show The Vicissitudes of Travel with Barrymore award winning Philadelphia theater artist Karen Getz, who served as director and co-writer. Getz is known to Live Arts and Fringe audiences for her comic-actor’s ballets: Suburban Love Songs (2006) and Disco Descending (2008) and as an improvisor with Cecily and Gwendolyn’s Fantastical… and Lunch Lady Doris.  Jennifer and Karen have been working on The Vicissitudes of Travel over the past two years and have been awarded a Jilline Ringle Solo Residency @ 1812 Productions, to further develop the piece, this July.

WHEN: September 10 at 3 p.m.; Sept. 16 at 7:30 p.m.; Sept. 22 at 7:30 p.m. & at 10 p.m.

WHERE: Philadelphia Ethical Society, 1906 Rittenhouse Square, Philadelphia, PA

TICKETS: $20. For info and tickets, please visit www.jenniferblaine.com

SHOW DESCRIPTION: The Vicissitudes of Travel is a multi-character solo performance and gently interactive adventure through memory, time, art, and the bonds of family. Desperate to hold onto the brother she loves, “Sister” charters a guided tour bus through his brain surgery to ‘capture” him before it’s too late. The audience is invited to join in on an evocative journey through tangled neurons, misplaced memories and imagined artistic masterpieces as “Sister” tries to find and hold on to the ephemeral ties of love that bind us all.

Jennifer Blaine plays multiple characters to bring the journey to life, including Sister, Mother, Father, Child, Uncle, Guide, Brain Tumor, and Brother, himself. Getz marvels “I think Jennifer might be some sort of hysterically funny, benevolent alien. That’s just my deeply scientific theory- but it is astonishing to watch her seamlessly morph from one, disparate character to the next.”

According to Jennifer, “This new show is about traveling through memories, personalities, and perceptions, and exploring how we define ourselves based on our relationships with whomever we love. When someone close to us has a compromised brain or any issue where their personality changes, our universe shifts- so much can feel tenuous. This show explores what it’s like to go beyond personalities to reach the person. It is emotionally the most intimate work I have ever created, and probably my most dramatic solo show to date.”

After the performance, attendees are invited to hang out and “gently decompress” and connect,   exploring their own journeys through unpressured art making and informal conversation. Getz underscores the critical value of this post-performance period; “I am continually, happily surprised by how the piece acts as an individualized catalyst- allowing audiences to see their own journeys with loved ones who have moved beyond or away from their original selves.” The Vicissitudes of Travel is an instant-community event, intended to nurture our ability to

communicate, connect, and share experiences related to illness, mortality, family, memory and loss. It does NOT aim to be heavy. Just human.

ABOUT JENNIFER BLAINE

Jennifer Blaine has been performing one-woman multi-character shows for 22 years. Her original writing, performing, and comedy connect audiences through humor, socially relevant issues, and dialogue. She has performed with the likes of Chris Rock, George Carlin, and Joe Piscopo, and been featured at premier venues and festivals nationwide. Highlights include: Broadway, The Kimmel Center, The Annenberg Center for the Arts, The Open Stage of Harrisburg, Wesleyan University, and The Samuel Beckett Theatre on Theatre Row. She is the resident theater artist and playwright of the Showstoppers program at the Kimmel Center, which provides free musical theatre classes and mentorship for  Philadelphia high school students. She is the founder and producer for 5,000 Women which supports and launches original work of women performance artists. For more information, visit www.jenniferblaine.com.

ABOUT KAREN GETZ

Karen Getz is a Philadelphia-based theater maker: a writer, choreographer, director, actor, dancer, and creative collaborator. She is the recipient of two Philadelphia Theatre Initiative Grants and an Independence Foundation Fellowship in support of her original, comic-actor’s ballets. She has received three Barrymore Awards for Excellence in Theater. Karen is the co-guide and co-creator of The Gorgeousity, an ongoing mission to bring playfully immersive, original works of theater to gathered strangers in casual environments, to create instant communities and remind adults of the joy, power, and spiritual necessity of imagination and play. Based in Philadelphia, she’s worked with Azuka Theatre, Virginia Rep, University of the Arts, Bristol Riverside Theatre, Pig Iron, The Lantern Theater, The Philadelphia Shakespeare Festival, Act II Playhouse, Flashpoint Theater, Theater Ariel, 1812 Productions, SwimPony and Tapestry Theater. She previously worked in Los Angeles for almost a decade, appearing in over 20 major films and television shows. You can watch her dance and chew a lot of gum in the film Dirty Dancing.

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“I could be righteous and take the high road, but it doesn’t get me anywhere.”

emotionalintelligenceinaction

I was coaching a client about the way she and her husband argue. “He gets upset when things are not put away. I could tell him he’s overreacting, but it won’t help. I’d be justified in taking the high road, but it doesn’t get me anywhere.”

This is a familiar scenario. We know we are right, but sometimes a disagreement is often not really about the disagreement. My client understood this and considered what was a better use of her energy. “What if you just listened to why he was upset and showed him you were listening?” I offered. “He is feeling a strong feeling. Remember the three troublesome emotions are anger, sadness, or fear. What if you listened to what he said, not for the content but rather with your heart to see what is going on with him?”

My client, being the brilliant woman that she is, said “he’s probably feeling scared that I don’t care how he likes things to be. I can see it’s not about anything I did wrong, it’s just that he needs things to be calmer, so he’ll feel safe.”

When we are compassionate for the person we are battling, the fight becomes irrelevant. In this case, she no longer felt defensive and now responds with compassion. I have no idea whether things are any more orderly than they were in their kitchen, but emotionally things are much more peaceful. Hopefully they are both enjoying that.

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Shifting The Money Script

changingmoneyscript

When I first started dating my husband Michael, he said “We are all economic beings.” I found this comment rather dry, but I was also curious. “What do you mean?” I pressed him.  “Money is an inevitable  part of our existence. And since it is, we really ought to look at what we want our relationship with money to be like.” This conversation about money continues between us and in my coaching practice too.

In a coaching session today I gave the following advice:

1.  Money is just about exchanging energy. Often we attribute other qualities to it too, but it is just an exchange of energy. Therefore we might as well have good thoughts about money.

2. Treat money as if it were your friend. When I think about my best friend Karen I immediately think about finding a nice mug to give her for her tea, asking her how she’s doing, and just loving being with her. So I would similarly be considerate about my money, and be happy to spend time with it. If we always complain about money, then like people, it will most likely not want to be around us. But if we are a good friend to it, the relationship can just get better and better throughout the years.

3. When we appreciate something it grows. So if we appreciate money, if we are grateful for it and are generous with it, we end up getting more of it.I remember one time I was low on gigs and clients. So I went through my email list and I emailed everyone I was grateful to have worked with in the past or with whom I was still working. I did no advertising, or putting up flyers, or giving talks. And yet just by being appreciative of everyone, I ended up getting several referrals that week for new work.

4. Decide how you want the situation to be and make a commitment to having it. Often when people come to me for coaching they complain about how things are. When I ask them what they want they usually can describe it. “But how do I get it?” they ask. And my answer is often that they need to make a commitment. When we make a commitment and are truly open, things begin to change. So decide how you want it to be. It can be a powerful step to shifting not just your money script, but your money too.

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The magic of EFT: Emotional Freedom Technique

eftmonalisa* Mona Lisa with the EFT points highlighted

Lately there is increased interest in a modality I use called Emotional Freedom Technique. It also goes by EFT or tapping.  I tried it with one client in Cambodia, who told a friend also in Cambodia who loved it, who then recommended her friend in Senegal do the technique with me too!  They each report that the relief they experience with tapping has been more effective than all the different kinds of therapy and other techniques they tried before.

Tapping is an extraordinary process, whereby negative thoughts and feelings are removed by tapping on certain acupuncture points throughout the body. In addition, one affirms the things one wants to happen. But part of what distinguishes the way I use EFT from how I’ve seen it used by other practitioners, is that I bring in a poetic blending of many of the things people say during their session and integrate it into a script that is impromptu and utterly tailored to whatever that person is going through at that particular moment. In any coaching session I find what transpires is highly co-creative, meaning that it is about what I’m doing but also what my client is saying and doing. The same thread of intuition that I use in listening during a session leads to the way that I do tapping for that person as well.

One of the clients I worked with this morning offered this feedback:

“I love that you create the EFT tapping script from all the hardship and reveals that come out in our session and morph it into a sort of bath of truth telling, life affirming beauty and goodness.” I find it exciting that people get so much out of the EFT work I do because it is one of the best ways I know for me to be in the unknown, present and creating solutions for people that help change their lives. It’s one of the most healing ways I have found to be creative.

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Sometimes You Need A Good Shove

macbeth

When I was 17 I competed in the “Macbeth” contest on Broadway. High school students from all around New York City participated, seeking to best all others in Act 2 Scene 2 of the Scottish Play. My scene partner, Phillip Baskerville, and I advanced, round after round, until we found ourselves standing onstage to compete in the finals at the Mark Hellinger Theatre.  The judges were the producers of Macbeth, currently playing in this  Broadway theatre, as well as the inimitable Glenda Jackson who was starring as Lady Macbeth.

Shortly before our turn, I became immobilized with fear. My heart racing was nothing new to me, but frozen legs were a first. What was I going to do? “Phillip! … ..You have to push me onstage,” I pleaded. With a great shove Phillip succeeded in launching me onstage and into my opening monologue. Once offstage, neither of us could remember how our performance went, but hoped that we somehow did our best to replicate the choices we’d made during countless rehearsals.

Finally it was time to announce the results. First were the third place finishers, and it was not us. Then second place went to the students from the High School of the Performing Arts (our greatest competition). At last we heard our own names called as the victors! We appeared on the news, interviewed by Christiane Amanpour and were featured in an article by the great theatre critic Howard Kissel. As we toured the theatre on a subsequent visit we also got to meet Christopher Plummer. “Don’t be an actor,” he warned, while sweeping his sword and marking a battle scene, utterly undermining his own words with every jab. 

So when people ask if I have performed on Broadway I say “yes.” But I rarely tell them how I did, or that without my amazing scene partner, I would never have made it onstage. There are so many resistances that keep us from going forward and trying, but I hope this piece serves as a good shove to push you where you want to go.

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