Just had to share what I saw when I was walking around my neighborhood. To take action and ask for the sign to come down, call 215-873-0733.
Because I’m an actress, when I mother, I often give Lily acting tips.
Once, when Lily was just 2 years old, I explained emoting as the feeling of really wanting something.
“In ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’,” I told her, “Stanley is so nuts about his wife he calls out for her ‘Stella! Stella! Do you understand what I mean?”
Without missing a beat Lily replied “Sure. That would be like me saying Elmo!!!! Elmo!!!!!'”
I’m always telling Lily I love her.
When I say “I love you,” she says “I already know that Mom.”
This week I asked “Do you know why I tell you I love you all the time?”
“No, why?” she replied.
“Because someday when I’m not here anymore you’ll be able to close your eyes and just feel that love still inside you.”
And she said, “Oh Mom. When you’re not here anymore, we could always just SKYPE!”
PART I – THE PERFORMANCE
I’ve just gotten back to Philadelphia after hosting the second “5,000 Women” festival at Wesleyan University. When my colleague Vashti Dubois and I walked into Crowell Concert Hall, we gasped “What a glorious space!”
The evening began with Aleta Staton performing a portion of her one woman show “Remember My Name” about Alberta Hunter. The electrifying Alva Nelson accompanied her on the piano. Staton serenaded the audience with Hunter’s words and music, as the audience we alternated between tearing up and laughing.
Next Jody Sperling, of Time Lapse Dance, performed a solo set to “Claire de Lune.” Sperling is internationally renowned as a choreographer and dancer, and as she glided through the space, white silk flowing like waves, petals, and memories that kept changing form, it was evident why.
Sue Guiney dazzled the audience with poems about three stages of women’s lives. My favorite: “Purple Hair, On seeing young poets at a reading.” Her words reflected the complexities, allure and quirkiness of her quest to map out her womanhood.
Naomi Ekperigin slammed us with an unbelievable comedy set, sending the audience writhing in hysterics. She called her Upper East Side high school a “dream killer,” since no one made out there, whereas she admitted Wesleyan was the easiest place to get some action based on having only the basics in common.
Sarah Wolfe, Mica Taliaferro, and Emma Maclean performed an excerpt of “The Trojan Women.” It was hypnotic to experience the Greek tragedy as adapted by these students. They gave it a contemporary take, using themselves as both the characters and a small Greek chorus.
Kerry Holahan, a soprano soloist, was nothing less than arresting. Her set was comprised of 2 classical and one Chinese operatic song. She shifted gears to deliver each of them in such a way that each was accessible, as we hung on her every note. Michael Noble was her elegant accompanist, and no one could believe they had had just one hour of rehearsal, they were so phenomenal.
The performance ended with an excerpt of “Blackbird,” by David Harrower, performed by the riveting Mandy Goldstone, a student graduating with high honors.
I hosted in the guise of my myriad original characters. It was challenging and fun to be the glue between each of the acts. My characters included: Ruth, Danny, Gina the English Lesbian Widow, Bill the body piercer, Helmut, Dr. Amir, and Mami, who all strutted their stuff.
There were many support people I’d like to acknowledge here, including Bob and Tony who provided wise-cracking technical support and Vashti Dubois who helped with absolutely everything.
The head of the Center for the Arts, Pamela Tatge, was once again delighted by the performers. Barbara Ally, Assistant Director, literally and figuratively embraced us all and made sure we felt at home. We hope to collaborate and bring the event back at other times, so the world can experience what Wesleyan women performance artists are creating.
PART II. THE PANEL: MAKING IT IN THE ARTS
For the Saturday panel, “Making It In The Arts,” I was joined by several alumnae Suzanne Appel ’02, the managing director of the Cutting Ball Theater in San Francisco; Wendy Black-Nasta P’07, an international jewelry designer since 1977 and is the Founder and Executive Director of Artists for World Peace, a nonprofit organization that creates opportunities for artistic expression – fostering world peace and raising funds to benefit humanitarian causes around the world.; Rachel Basch ’80, the author of two novels, The Passion of Reverend Nash and Degrees of Love, Naomi Ekperigin ’05, a writer, stand-up comedian, and actor who has performed around the world, including Sydney, Australia, San Francisco, and New Zealand, and Vashti Dubois ‘92, director and dramaturge, whose background in social justice, art and social change, and youth development are the catalyst for her own creative work. There were many brilliant stories disseminated by the panel. Here are some of the incredible highlights of the discussion.
Suzanne Appel noted that in her work as Artistic Director for Cutting Ball the most rewarding experiences came from giving artistic works exactly what they required. She reminded us of the fluid nature of leading a creative life. She reported that some of her friends who enjoyed artistic success early in their careers, shifted gears and went on to do other things. As she has continued to produce fascinating experimental theater she said that “with Wesleyan behind me I had the confidence to go for it.”
Rachel Basch recounted a story about a day when her writing professor slammed down a book on a desk and denigraded it, calling it “kitchen fiction.” At that moment she discovered that actually that was precisely what she wanted to create! Due to this seminal event, she credits the teacher with being her “reverse mentor.” Basch added “It takes a long time to build a creative career. You have to find your own way. Keep your eyes on your own paper. Whatever art you’re doing, you’re always ascending. If you are making art in this society we live in you’re doing something dissident. It’s counterculture. You can’t measure with the yardstick other people use to measure success. You have to develop your own way to measure.”
Wendy Black Nasta shared that she spends a lot of time in her studio processing her ideas. She stressed the importance of being totally honest wherever one might be in one’s life. She also said that there have been times she has not had any money, but that that has not deterred her from questioning her art, or from doing anything but art. She has mentored at least 200 women in the world, and is always doing her art. Wendy’s advice? “Believe in yourself, because you can make a living in the arts.”
Wesleyan taught Naomi Ekperigin that the feeling she had prior to being at Wesleyan, that there was something wrong/different about her, wasn’t because of who she was, but was because of who other people were. She said that being challenged academically at Wesleyan taught her to be super-competent so that out in the world she could reliably “generate the content” so she always finds time for her creative pursuits. She also admitted that while others on the panel might be willing to go without during lean times, “Bless them, but I am delicate, I need a high thread count.” She also shared the sobering story of auditioning for “30 Rock,” for a part she knew she was ideal for, an African-American business woman. She didn’t get it, and when the segment aired the part was played by a white woman.
Vashti Dubois revealed that her career has taken a serpentine route. She’s always been doing something else and all the while also creating as a performance artist. She spoke of first attending Wesleyan and being told that she’d need to create her own work to perform since Wesleyan at that time only did traditional casting. She responded by deciding to leave Wesleyan and go out into the world and co-create the Mumbo Jumbo Theater Company to present opportunities for women of color and others to play whatever parts they wanted to, while also making it possible for them to earn money so that their art and livelihood could be one and the same.
After the panelists spoke, a grad from ‘11 asked, “How do I say no to certain projects when I want to be working all the time, but I’m also exhausted?” Naomi Ekperigin offered that making choices out of fear and desperation is unnecessary. She assured the woman to consider that all these opportunities are “not going anywhere.” I encouraged her to breathe into her body and see whether she had a yes or no to doing a project before committing to it. I offered that if she has an “I don’t know” perhaps that is a no, since it is not a clear “yes.”
Another question, posited by a parent. was “How do I handle my child choosing a life in the arts, when both parents are scientists, and frankly we are scared?”
Rachel Basch responded with a story of a student asking her to call his mother for him to break the news that he wanted to be a writer, and she told him “If you are going to be an artist, then you need to be able to make the call.” If people are going to choose the path, they need to be brave enough to do things for themselves. Vashti Dubois added, “As an artist you have to have a tremendous amount of courage to create what you want. If it’s your child you must say, “this is not my journey now, but I will support you.”
I stayed afterward and discussed options for keeping this “5,000 Women” dialogue going with Kerry Holahan. She had great points to share as well, pointing out that as women in the arts “we are inherently using too much of our time making money so we can do our art,” and that we should endeavor to find creative ways to transform that dynamic.
Thank you everyone who participated!
One of my most successful and talented actress friends, Tembi Locke, used to say this amazing phrase every so often when things were challenging for us as actresses living and auditioning in New York City. I often think of it. Sometimes it seems like we are making no progress at all, like nothing is happening. That is precisely when it is good to appreciate the calm, the silence.
You may also want to imagine the phrase “wouldn’t it be wonderful if I could experience….?” Use the quiet patch to plant a wish, hope, a feeling of magic. The best manifestations spring out of the energy of no attachment. So, as an experiment, even if you don’t believe something good is coming back to you, try floating your intention out there and see if something magnificent comes back. Why not give it a try?
I look forward to hearing what you create.
I am feeling really fortunate. My daughter, Lily, is 5 today.
Some people who’ve known me a while say, “Wow! That went fast.”
But I don’t experience her growing up as having been fast. I experience it as instances and moments from our 1,825 days together. There’ve been some tough moments, lots of exhaustion and exhilaration, and many experiences she and I have shared. I remember her first keyboard pounding concert at 5 months of age, her first word, her first step, her first successful time on the potty, the first friend she made on her own. I experience Lily as complete and perfect as she is. I see her as a great party waiting to happen which often does.
Two days ago she was involved in a fight at school. Her teacher told me that Lily stayed engaged with her friends and worked out the disagreement until they all worked out the problem.
“Lily has something so special inside her, that I wish everyone had,” her teacher told me. “She’s a peacemaker and she cares, but she’s honest too.”
How do I begin to measure the magic of my child? Well, I guess we will celebrate her turning 5, which is just an excuse to appreciate the beauty I get to love everyday anyway.
Anyone who has ever acted knows that Acting is Doing. People sometimes think that they need to be in a certain mood in order to act. They don’t. One of the secrets to acting is that it’s all about doing. Actors have to make a choice and then just do it. It has to be a doable choice which is stated in a proactive, positive fashion. For instance, sometimes I watch coaching clients struggle to figure something out. They say “Well, I don’t want more of that experience.” They have said what they don’t want, instead of what they do, and as a result they end up with an unpalatable experience. To illustrate how they are boxing themselves in, I usually ask them to “not sit down.” This baffles them. What should they do? Then I say sit down, and they can do that, because it is doable, positive, and measurable. In acting this makes for a great performance. In life, it makes for a cleaner and clearer opportunity to manifest what we actually want.
What do you want?
What will you do to invite or allow it?
I love artists: visual, musical, theatrical, cinematic. One of the things I like most about artists is drinking in their style.
Why does Tina Turner decide to go with shaggy hair? Why does Judd Apatow make movies steeped in adolescent humor? It’s their style! Style is all about making choices that make sense to you and expressing what pleases you. When you add up all those choices they become your style.
To discover your own style:
1. Observe and take note of artists you love. What do you appreciate about them? Is there something they do which you would like to adopt or adapt for yourself?
2. You may not notice your own style, because it is second nature to you. If so, consider what sort of feedback you often receive. My friend Kelly Hu, who starred in such movies as “The Scorpion King,” used to tell me I was so funny. I always told her I was just being me until one day I realized being funny is my style.
3. What feels like a yes to you? A yes is what you feel good about and it’s easy to move toward it. For instance do you want to wear a parka in a blizzard, or like me do you choose a vintage tiger striped coat which literally stops traffic? My coat is a big yes for me. When you follow your inner yeses you will begin to create and collect aspects of your style.
Everything you do is an opportunity to trot out your style. All you need to do is take it.
When I heard about Whitney Houston’s death I was reminded of the many ways society sends destructive messages to artists and creative people.
One message is “you’re only as good as your last hit.” In many news reports I heard that Whitney was disappointed and down that her last album did not get the critical acclaim to which she was accustomed. Imagine topping the charts with hit after hit for decades, and then after coming out of isolation and self-destruction you don’t top the charts in the way you once did. She did well, but her performance wasn’t as meteoric as it had been in the past. The meta-message “only as good as your last hit” is reinforced.
Another message is that “unless you knock my socks off, you are not legit.” Her voice had undeniably changed, she could no longer soar in the same way, but now her voice was filled with edges and qualities that reflected despair, heartache, and the desire to overcome it all. She had lost notes, but had developed strength and gravitas. The qualities in her voice reflected that she was older and seeking to find herself. Unfortunately we are living in a culture of competitive contests, instead of curious listening and warm receptions for the stories in all our voices.
Last of all Whitney modeled “smiling on the outside, while crying on the inside.” I wish she had had support to overcome her addiction, to deal with fame and disappointments, because when you reach that far out with your amazing gifts, you also may have what I call “an upper limit,” which tries to limit how much joy and happiness you allow yourself to get back. She gave so much, but somehow did not receive all of the support and love she really needed and deserved. She soldiered on, but probably had much pain and grief that was difficult to acknowledge.
I understand why with Whitney’s death so many people are writing about how addiction destroys. For instance, there is a great article in Forbes, A Cautionary Tale, reflecting on how her passing provides an opportunity and reminder to reach out and support those we care about who are struggling with demons of their own. As a society, I hope we can learn to value the magic of all our artists, with their ups and downs, and learn to curb our critical impulses to destroy, as we move into a culture of ongoing appreciation and support for the ample creative resources that lie in each of us, which truly heal us all. That would be the greatest love of all.