Visiting Spirits

24 Sep

Last night I had a dream. I saw my Granny, who passed away the year T was born, sitting at a desk some distance from me. She looked like how remember her, not as she was in her last few years when she became rather frail, but like she did when I was little and would put her hair in pink cushion rollers every week.

I was happy to see her because I usually see Pop in my dreams, if anyone. My grandfather used to tell me that when he died he would become my guardian angel and watch over me. At the time I used to pooh-pooh it (I didn’t like to imagine him gone, you see). Since his death I’ve seen him twice in dreams. So I do wonder if, maybe even hope that, he is fulfilling his promise. When I have the occasional rough patch in life, I sometimes even…I wouldn’t say pray–my grandparents were quite religious and I am quite not, so neither of us would say pray–but I “think” at him. As my guardian angel, I am sure he would feel it his duty to care for me during dark times.

Pop was obviously very special to me and the way he loved me was completely different than anyone I’ve ever known. But in day-to-day life, Granny was often the one I really talked to, who I would call on the phone and just chat with, the person whose little bits of wisdom I find myself returning to often. In the three years she was alive after Pop passed we became very close; out of everyone I knew, including my husband, she was my greatest comfort when I lost my first pregnancy. So in some ways I miss her more–or as the French say, elle me manque plus–she is more missing from me. Sometimes I still catch myself planning to call her.

I told her this in the dream, and that I was so happy to see her. She said she was sorry she couldn’t see me more often (or really, that I couldn’t see her), but that they did hear me whenever I talked to them.

Her smile was striking, just really beautiful.  It’s hard to describe what she was like. I want to say she was glowing, but not like a halo or an aura or something. It was more like warmth, like she was radiating coziness. She was also–and this is true of the two times I’ve dreamed of Pop as well–almost more real than life. Not like when you dream of people you know and they’re obviously a dream person. Flat somehow, like a recording or a projection. She was really real, almost like she was there in more dimensions than the usual three.

I noticed then that her voice was that of a young woman’s. I realized that must have been what she sounded like when she was young, like my age. She said that was it exactly. I should mention that it was like we were talking in our heads, and it was more in ideas than clear sentences like I’m writing here. I observed too (again in my head) that she didn’t choose to look like a young woman, only to sound younger. She looked “tickled,” to use one of her words. I felt like she was glad I noticed, or happy that I caught on to that. I thought later, on waking, that maybe she thought I’d like to see her that way.

We may have talked more in the dream. If we did, I sadly don’t remember it. I hope I told her I was sorry I couldn’t sing His Eye is on the Sparrow at her funeral, as she had asked me to, but never brought up again after she saw how excruciating it was for me to sing at Pop’s service, not even when she knew she was dying. I know I slept more, I did not wake up immediately as one tends to do from lucid dreaming. When I did wake up, I didn’t remember this dream right away. It wasn’t until lunch, when I was reading a magazine where people were sharing spooky experiences, that I remembered it.

I’m not really a religious person. The supernatural interests me but I’m first and foremost a scientific thinker. I don’t know if I really received a heavenly visit from my deceased grandmother last night, or if it was some deep subconscious trick of the mind. I do know I hadn’t been thinking of her or Pop the day before, the autumnal equinox. But this morning, I went to read her obituary again, which I wrote for the paper and still have on file.

Today is the day we buried her four years ago.

Do you believe in dream visitations? Share your experience in the comments.


Stop Everything: Your New Fall Wardrobe is Here

14 Sep

When I was growing up my mom was really into hunting for old stuff. She had an antique business and could spend hours scouring the booths at antique shoes and flea markets looking for treasures to resell (or decorate our house). She was also really good at finding gems at places like Goodwill or Value Village (vintage pumps for $4? Yes please). Although I liked seeing the spoils, I used to hate, I mean hate actually shopping at any of these places with her because it took FOREVER. Recall, these were the days before Kindle and smart phones.

Of course my mom has the last laugh because now, I am that person. Well, I don’t have an antique booth, and I may never be as thorough a treasure hunter as she is, but I love culling through old stuff trying to find something good.

Which brings me to thredUP.* Have you guys heard of this?

*This is not a sponsored post. I’m just a very satisfied customer. All of the items featured in this story were bought with my own money.

Basically, it’s an upscale consignment website. People from all over the place send in their very gently worn (and in some cases brand new) better brand cast-offs and the site resells them at steep, I mean steep discounts (usually 70% or more). It would not be hard for me to spend hours just paging through everything remotely in my size and snapping up dealzies.

For instance, can we please talk about this Alexander McQueen coat that wants to be part of my life? It is 79% off people. Of course I still can’t afford it, but dang, that’s a good deal!

I prefer to shop at middling brands that normally I could only afford one or two minor pieces (J Crew, Madewell, etc.) that coordinate with my existing wardrobe. I also love to get a good helping of the cheapest brands thrown in (Forever 21, Old Navy) because that stuff is often never worn (idk, regret purchases?) and will be literally, like $4 or $5. That’s the price of a latte!


Cardigan: J Crew via thredUP, Dress, bag: Target, Shoes: Xoxo (old), Sunglasses: free swag from P’s vet clinic #donthate

ThredUP is easily searchable by pretty much every filter you can think of: type of garment, size (it will automatically look for equivalent sizes to compensate for the fact that brands size differently), brand, condition, style, and price. And for you designer snobs out there, they have those all cordoned off in a separate section. Descriptions include fabric content and washing instructions, if any of you other mamas have sworn off hand-wash only for the forseeable future. They also have shoes, scarves, bags, and accessories.

It’s like going to the Buckhead Goodwill store, only without the gross smell and the selection is from the entire country. Kinda makes you want to attempt to be a fashion model (SNORT).


Top, Shoes: Forever 21 via ThredUp, Skirt: Max Studio via ThredUp, Anklet: Jewelry auction via my grandma, On Nails: Julep lacquer in Soleil (fingers) and Julep (toes)

Dress: Miss Me via ThredUp, shoes: Target, Clutch: Mark, Earrings: Vintage

Dress: Hello Miss via thredUP, shoes: Target, Clutch: Mark, Earrings: Vintage

ThredUP also has children’s clothes, mamas. I got T a complete back to school wardrobe for less than two twenny-twens (are we still saying that? No? Well I am).

It’s a lot of fun, because you get to hunt for things without having to stand up. Just beware–items can only remain in your cart for 24 hours. Once they’re removed, somebody else could snatch them up! (Fellow wafflers, don’t fret: it doesn’t happen that often…I can usually retrieve my finds from the “recently removed” list in my cart…but I did just miss out on a perfecto classic denim jacket in this way, so. Fair warning.)

H&M Jean Jacket 6

The one that got away…

Of course not everything is perfect. Sometimes the flaw on something is not as tiny as they say. They used to do these mini curated collections but have since stopped, and I really liked that feature because thousands of items can be overwhelming to sift through, even for natural born raised hunters like me. But their return policy is pretty good (100% store credit, or refund minus a flat $8.99 for shipping).

rebel round 1 021

Pants: Gap via thredUP, Top: Heritage 1981, Scarf: local boutique, Shoes: Sam & Libby, Earrings: Bauble Bar, On Nails: Julep lacquer in Margit

Excited yet? You should be, because if you visit the site through Cushion Cut’s link, you’ll get $20 to shop with. No catches! Just click on that link (except yes, you’ll need to make an account, blah. But you’d need that anyway to get stuff shipped to you). That’s all you have to do! (This is very special guyz–$10 credits are the norm).

Happy fall shopping!


P.S. Want more free stuff? The nail colors in this story are all from Julep, a polish company that makes breathable nail color (so your nails don’t turn yellow–ick). I subscribe to their monthly box o’ polishes and am pretty obsessed. If you want a free box (three colors!) just click here!

Yonah Mountain Vineyards

11 Sep

Over Labor Day weekend, P and I escaped to North Georgia for a winery tour. I actually purchased the tour for P’s birthday back in June, and we just now had a moment to take advantage. Our first anniversary was celebrated at Chateau Elan, so we hold a special place in our hearts for wine [tours].


It was an absolutely perfect day. At 83 degrees some would call it hot–but to my cold blooded self it was paradise. When we pulled down the winding drive to the tasting room, the vines rose up to greet us.



Vineyards are actually quite common in North Georgia. I could never figure out why–I mean, any of you guys that are not from this state, have you ever heard of Georgia wine? But I learned on the tour that the composition of the soil is almost identical to Napa Valley. I have trouble imagining it, but I guess it makes sense. Why else would there be four vineyards (and a Cabbage Patch, HA) in Cleveland alone?

Yonah Mountain Vineyards (named after the eponymous mountain looming in the background–more on that later) is pretty new, only seven years old. They have a unique octagonal tasting room that is, in a word, fancy.






The oak in the middle distance is more than 100 years old. Normally you wouldn’t have a tree so close to the vines, but the owner couldn’t bear to cut it down.



Inside the octogonal tasting room, even the bar is octogonal.


Murals and a set up for live music (alas, not playing at 1:30 on a Sunday)


The trademark nautilus bear made many an appearance. As did stone fireplaces.


Art for purchase adorned the hallway.

This was my favorite piece. I know jack-all about fine art, but I think that, like wine, it's fine if you think it is. Also this was painted by somebody name Patrice Young, which made me laugh. (Patrice is one of P's many strange nicknames).

This was my favorite piece. I know jack-all about fine art, but I think that, like wine, it’s fine if you think it is. Also this was painted by somebody name Patrice Young, which made me laugh. (Patrice is one of P’s many strange nicknames).


Even the bathrooms were swank, including a bowl of bespoke salt scrub.

We arrived early (P drives like a bat out of hell when we’re on a schedule), so we had time to make the acquaintance of some of the locals.

Yonah means

Yonah means “bear” in the language of the native tribes of this area.

And to plan our retirement.


Muffy, shall we tee off at 4?


I simply cahn’t dahling, I’m off to the spa.



Our tour guide was the owner of the vineyard himself, which was really cool. He started us out with a taste of wine before we even stepped foot out the door. My kinda guy.


He reminded me a little of my late grandfather. Personable, quick with a cheesy joke, and not hesitant at all to talk about how much things cost–from the $110 bottle of reserve to the $23,000 loading dock to the $450,000 in total expenses last fiscal year. It made me a bit awkward, to be honest, but whatever. The owner was a retired financier, after all, so he was doubtless just speaking his language.


He told us that Yonah Mountain, that wave-looking bump back there, was the oldest mountain on earth, citing a geologist that told him something about its being the very bottom of the Appalachian chain. Sure, why not?

One of the most unique things about YMV, and the reason I got us this tour in the first place, was that the wine was aged in caves, supposedly the only one in the state. There were many things on the property, according to our guide, that were “the only/largest/best one in the state.”

Like this press, originally purchased by another vineyard to make that Southern classic: muscodine wine, and resold to YMV when it didn’t work on the muscondine’s thick skins.

Another “only” not pictured here is the only stiletto-proof floor grate, put in at extra expense. Not sure if I believe that one.


An anti-mildew machine that allegedly came from some kind of NASA outlet store. (Where is that and how can I be invited?)

I was imagining a cave as in like, stalactites and bats. But no–in reality it was basically a basement. Although he did, as he said, have the walls painted brown to lend to the authenticity. I about died laughing, I couldn’t even be mad at the bait n’ switch.


The barrels are made from French forest wood, which is apparently superior to American forest wood for aging wines (and comes at great expense, of course). After their short life at the winery is done, they are resold to a brewery to hold beer. Yay for recycling!


I don’t always drink rose, but when I do, it’s in a faux cave.

The second, larger cave was a bit more legit. It still wasn’t an actual cave, but it did have, as our guide put it, “Disney lighting.” My photo of the grand effect didn’t turn out and there were too many people on the tour to set up another shot, but here are a couple of the entrance and the barrels that lined both sides of the tube-shaped cave.




A dark, secret tasting room rounded out the downstairs tour. That’s where all the good bottles were kept.


The hand-painted frescoes and lighting fixtures were really something. Three hidden Mickey Mouses were somewhere in the paintings, but we couldn’t find them.

Although this tour was perhaps not as polished as a place like Chateau Elan, I learned many more interesting things. For instance, the primary issue grape growers in Georgia experience is an overabundance of rain. You’d think rain would be good for vines, which are after all, plants. But evidently it makes the leaves rot. At YMV they* actually hand-sift through overwatered plants to find those that are still usable.

*they being everyone–all vineyard employees do literally every job, from picking to pouring to [event] planning. 

The last part of the tour was the enormous and brand-new event facility, where you can have your wedding or bar mitzvah beneath authentic “Dancing with the Stars” lighting and sound systems. I didn’t take any pictures because by then we were enjoying our 7th pour of wine.

Suffice it to say, I highly recommend this tour for all those who like a bit of sass with their class–some cheese with their wine, so to speak. Which, honestly, don’t we all?

Although they produce a nice Bordeaux-style table red, Chardonnay is the primary grape grown on their own fields (some of their wines are made from grapes they ship in from Cali). So that’s the bottle we went home with. We wanted to be as gen-yoo-wine as possible.


The 411: Yonah Mountain Vineyard tours are $30 per person and are offered three times on Saturday and once on Sunday. Tours include 8 tastings and a wine glass. Menu tastings are $6-$16. Bottles range from $40-$150 and can be purchased online.

I’m Doing My Best

26 Aug

A couple weeks ago I was asked to speak at Sunday Assembly* in a segment called I’m Doing My Best. That’s a short life anecdote given by a member that relates to the subject at hand–in church we might call it a testimony. Each month’s assembly has a different theme and August’s was Gender and Performance. Somebody got wind of the fact that I’m into theatre I guess, because I was asked to share this month. Scary!

*Sunday Assembly is, in their own words, “a life-celebrating congregation without deity, dogma, or doctrine.” Yes, in other words, Atheist Church. Along with the very cool folks that attend, what I like about Sunday Assembly is: 1) it’s Sunday night, not Sunday morning and 2) it’s only once a month. If you think it’s weird that I work at preacher school (where I occasionally participate in chapel services) and then sometimes attend godless church…well, yes and no. My personal spirituality could best be summed up as “I’m not ruling anything out at this point.” But that’s another subject for another time.

Anyway, I thought I’d share my speech with you guys. As a bonus for the “reader version,” I’ve added a few extra endnotes for your interest and edification. My thesis for this piece was inspired by this article I read recently, which put words to something I’d been feeling for a long time but hadn’t yet been able to articulate. It turned out a little more like a graduation speech than perhaps I intended, but I hope at least a few people will find the essential message resonates with them, as it did with me.

* * *

I’m not sure if you know this, but in theatre you face a lot of rejection.

Of course, most people will face rejection of some kind in their professional and personal lives, but in few other lines of work can it be so constant and at times so utterly arbitrary. For example, they like you, but…you’re too old for the precast lead. Or you remind the director of their ex. Or you’re too short for the costume.*

*yes, this actually happened to me–I almost got to be in the chorus of Beauty & the Beast at the Fox but you had to be at least 5’3″ to fit the dancing plate costume, FML.

You have to develop a bit of scar tissue to keep bouncing back, time after time when somebody tells you you’re not good enough.

But what’s even more insidious is the rejection that comes from within—the way so many actors—and so many of the rest of us, I’d wager—diminish our own accomplishments.

I got bitten by the theatre bug at an early age. In 5th grade I managed to convince my teacher to let me leave class every day for a week with my friends to write, direct, and (obviously) star in an original work. It’s a little fuzzy now but it involved princesses and a magical quick change into one of my old ballet costumes.

It was really good.

Anyone who knew me as a child would tell you what an incredible burst of passion it must have taken to motivate me to propose this scheme to a grown-up, let alone open myself up to the critique of my entire class. Just the year previous I had broken down in the middle of singing The Last Unicorn during the talent show because my friend was “looking at me weird.” I wasn’t really your most outgoing kid. Not a natural leader.

But whenever I tell people about this episode in my life, I’m quick to qualify it. You know–in a small school they let you get away with anything.*

*Not untrue. Hollatcha Clairemont Elementary. 

Fast forward several years. My parents were supportive of all my performances in middle and high school, but they weren’t so thrilled by my decision to major in it.* It was also around this time that I got my first significant rejection—my audition based application for a theatre scholarship was turned down. I still can’t hear the song I chose for my dance piece** with cringing a little.

*The technical name of my degree is actually Theatre & Performance Studies. The episode referenced here happened at Berry College where I attended for two years as a theatre major/psych minor before transferring to Kennesaw State to finish up. Fun fact: I transferred partly for money and culture reasons, but mostly for boy reasons. The relationship didn’t last but I’m still #winning because KSU is now recognized as one of the top schools in the nation for theatre degrees. Go Owls! (Berry has an excellent theatre program too; their shows were more professional than some actual professional houses.)

**”We Love to Boogie” from the Billy Elliot soundtrack. I wasn’t adept at choreography yet. Lots of head isolations were involved. 

But for whatever reason, I stayed a theatre major. I didn’t get cast in the first play of the season*, but I did get cast in the second.** And I regularly got cast in shows for the rest of my college career. They even awarded me that scholarship the second semester—thankfully I didn’t have to audition the second time.

*Translations by Brian Friel. It was down to me and another freshman for the part. That girl (who also later transferred to KSU) was a truly extraordinary actress by any standards, and led me to fret that college would be like high school, with the same girl getting cast in every single lead year after year (she was really good too and is actually sort of famous now, but still–this is an educational environment we’re talking about). Thankfully Berry, unlike Decatur High School, didn’t chose their seasons around their stars.

**The Learned Ladies by Moliere. I had a freakin’ awesome wig. 

Eventually I graduated and the minute I got my degree in hand, my dad said, Alright! Let’s see you start putting that thing to work! And cut me off.* I got lucky and was hired almost immediately as a dance teacher and within a year or so, I became a program coordinator and designed a dance curriculum that was still in place after I left that company.

But that was really only a part time job, and I was barely making rent.  It was just a kids’ school anyway.

*Yes, I realize how entitled this is. And I wasn’t even entirely cut off– I was still on my parent’s health and car insurance plans for a few more years. But for someone who had never supported herself, and who at that point hadn’t been taught any but the most rudimentary fiscal wisdom, it was a shock that cannot be denied.

Around that time I made two life decisions: that I would not pursue acting as a full-time profession and I would never marry another actor.

One of those resolutions I kept.

But even though the lifestyle of a full-time professional performer wasn’t for me, I didn’t regret my major for a second—not even when justifying it for the 80th time in a “real world” job interview. I kept with it on a part time basis as I slowly made my way into the field I’m in now, which is flexible enough to where I get to moonlight as an actor, dancer, and choreographer without having to worry about whether I’ll be able to afford air conditioning in August.  I’ve had a pretty decent amount of success—for a non-professional—and then…I had a baby. After my baby-induced hiatus I tried to return to acting. I went to about a dozen auditions without even a callback. I nearly quit acting, but my husband convinced me to go to one more call and I got cast.* After that, things started picking up and now I have a full time day job, a family, and a pretty awesome hobby to talk about at parties. I even have a blog [hi guys!].

*In Cabaret, as a Kit Kat girl. The fact that I wore underwear on stage within a year of given birth is a feat in and of itself.

In some ways, I have more time to devote to creativity now than when I pursued it professionally—Case in point, I wrote a play last year—I’d never written a play before in my life (unless you count the one from 5th grade), and, it got selected to be produced in a new works festival. But eh, it was only a ten minute play.

Does anybody else do this? Achieve something, only to disparage their own achievement? Get excited about something and then feel the need to sort of downplay it?

Theatre is weird. You have to promote yourself relentlessly as if you were a business entity, not a person. At the same time, it behooves you to be friendly and personable—the guy everybody wants to work with. There are some jerks in the biz–that’s a stereotype with truth to back it up. But you’ll also make some of the best friends you’ve ever made in your life – only to turn around and compete with them for the same work.  With these kind of contradictions it’s really a miracle that anyone besides sociopaths stick with it—although you might meet a few of those too.  But those of us who are not egomaniacal have a tendency to downplay our glory. After all, we don’t want to make our best friends feel bad. We don’t want to be That Asshole.

At the performing arts camp where I met my husband we had a talent night, and one of the other counselors sang a soulful rendition of Fever by Peggy Lee. When I complimented her afterward she said “yeah, that’s the one song I can actually sing.”  She was being kindly self-deprecating, but I was truly kind of floored. Did she really think she was a bad singer? But the crazy thing is, I do that kind of thing myself all the time.

The arts are a hyper competitive environment under the best of circumstances and you can’t help but measure yourself again and again and again against what other people are doing. Doubt and self-sabotage are the Ebola of the creative professions—contagious and deadly. And complaining is practically a team sport.

But, ask any actor why they submit themselves to this continual self-flagellation and you’ll hear the same thing: we do it because we love it. It brings us joy.

I’m talking about theatre but everybody has these moments in their life that spark joy and fulfillment. Whether it’s starting a new business venture or starting a new relationship. And isn’t it strange how sometimes it’s actually easier to dampen that bright little spark than to fan it into a flame?

The truth is, there’s a lot that’s difficult and dark about doing something you love. We accept that as part of anything worth doing. But that’s why it’s even more important to stop throwing shade on the silver linings. They’re rare enough as it is.

It’s important for our own sanity, but it’s also beneficial to others. As Marianne Williamson said, “It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. As we let our own light shine, we give others permission to do the same.”

So let me ask you this. Can you imagine if I told you everything I’ve just told you about my theatrical life…without the qualifiers?

So instead of saying, I’m an administrative assistant and I sometimes do theatre, what about…

I am an actor.

I wrote and produced a play when I was ten years old and performed it in front of my entire class.

I went to school on a theatre scholarship and graduated with honors.

I designed a dance program from scratch at age 23.

I’ve done shows all over town and gotten to play some amazing parts.

I have a blog that got Freshly Pressed within its first month.

My first play was accepted at a festival and was an audience favorite.

And how about a new one: I just finished the draft of a new play last week.

Both of these stories are mine. Which one is more compelling?

I like to tell my son I’ll never run out of kisses because for every kiss I give away, a hundred more pop up in its place. I’m doing my best to believe that joy, like kisses, is not a limited resource. There’s room for everyone at the table, and by letting ourselves really shine, we become a light by which others might see the path to join us there.


Why good actors should do youth theatre

17 Aug




Naval gazing on the set of The Hundred Dresses.

Earlier this summer I had the opportunity to perform in a stage version of a well-known children’s classic, The Hundred Dresses. Most of the other roles are played by children. Technically and practically, this relegates the production to “Children’s Theatre” or “Theatre for Youth;” this particular company used the term Family Show*.

*For the purposes of this post, I use all these terms to mean shows with children as either audiences or actors.

I recently read an interesting, if academic, essay on HowlRound that argues for abolishing the division between “grown-up” and “kids” shows (if you read it, read the comments section too). I can get behind that theoretically but in practical real-world terms, I think most audiences appreciate the distinction, especially if they are bringing children viewers. But one particular phrase in the intro stuck out:

[Simone] examines how we might include children, as audience and artists, without the deadening label “children’s theatre.”

Deadening label indeed. It got me thinking about the subject from an adult actor’s perspective.

the hundred dresses photo call 7-24-2015 4-51-49 PM


The book version of The Hundred Dresses was written in the 1940s, and although it’s still popular with teachers I had never heard of it. The director, who I know from previous projects, asked me to come in and read for the part of the mother. At first I was shocked I was reading for mother roles. And then I was shocked that I was shocked–I mean, duh, I am a mother.


Mom Face.

But anyway, had I seen the audition notice for the piece it’s not likely I would have come out. Being unfamiliar with the show is part of it, but the larger part would definitely have been the family tag.

But then I thought, why?

Of course many would say that it’s not worth it to do unpaid children’s theatre. I don’t think that’s the real issue. Many Atlanta actors both professional and non-professional attend Unified Auditions* It’s not uncommon to hear an actor complain after Unifieds that they only got callbacks from theme parks and kids theatres. These places pay. So there’s more to it than that.

* If you’re not an Atlantan, or an actor: Unifieds are a yearly general audition, aka cattle call, attended by many local and regional companies. Most are hoping for an audition invite from one of the big companies as most cast their seasons exclusively from Unifieds or personal recommendations.

I won’t attempt to explain this phenomenon–maybe it has to do with memories of our own youth theatre experiences (although I would argue that the majority of those are positive…why the hell else would you still be doing it as an adult otherwise?), or maybe it’s because daytime shows are par for the course in youth theatre, and day performing feels like a lower step on the totem pole (but then how do you explain the celebrities that clamor to do Shakespeare in the Park every summer?). Or maybe it’s simply that more kids=more noise. Whatever. I just want to point it out so I can refute it.

the hundred dresses photo call 7-24-2015 5-17-32 PM-ANIMATION

I think most people–including actors–would argue that we have a responsibility to the next generation. And you’d be hard pressed to find anyone in showbiz who doesn’t think arts education is important. My question, frankly, is how do you think arts education comes about? It doesn’t exist in a vacuum. We don’t put little kids in a machine that spits out professional actors on the other end.

Yes, there’s theatre in schools (well, sometimes), and there’s acting classes for kids. But I would argue that live theatrical productions (and to some extent film as well) touches many more young lives, either igniting the initial spark of inspiration or giving them the tools needed to actually practice the craft.


Two young actors in Lionheart Theatre’s Production of The Hundred Dresses, July 2015

It’s true that mediocre family theatre is a common phenomenon. A lot of folks are afraid of a potential black hole on their resume into which three months of a lackluster children’s production was sucked. When this happens (and I think it’s rarer than we imagine), I suspect it can be entirely chalked up to inexperience.

The vicious cycles goes: more experienced adult actors don’t audition for family shows because of the bad rap they have, and without experienced adults the kids don’t have a good support system, so you end up with mediocre performances. The same holds true for the rest of the production team–a lot of people experienced in one aspect of theatre cut their teeth on new roles (stage managing, directing, technical design, even writing) in youth theatre settings. I guess the argument is, it doesn’t matter because everyone’s parents are going to love the show regardless. Sometimes you get just a few too many newbies trying to juggle all the balls, and a few get dropped.

That’s all the more reason for professional theatre artists of all ilks to throw their shoulder into the work of producing quality children’s shows. The inexperience should be concentrated in one aspect of the production only–meaning if the kids are new to the stage, the director, technical crew, stage manager should not be at their first rodeo. And it’s very important to have experienced adult actors lay a foundation of support. There will be a little more hand-holding, yes. A little more chaos, definitely. But I think it’s 100% worth it when you think of it as an investment in the future of theatre.

And at the very least, it’s a low pressure situation–everyone’s parents are going to love the show regardless.

So you want to choreograph a musical? Simple tips for setting dance numbers

17 Jul

Uh oh. Somehow you, a non-dance professional, got roped into choreographing a show and you have no idea where to start.

dance feet

First, you should hire me.

If that’s not possible due to my extremely high demand and exorbitant travel fees, never fear. Take a deep breath and remember: if you do not have a dance background, yet end up having to choreograph a show, chances are the majority of your cast won’t be up to anything crazy-complicated anyway.

Above all: Never show fear. They can smell it.



OK! Let’s get started.

Appoint a dance captain

There’s always at least one person who is both a good dancer and marginally responsible. It will be easy to spot that person after a few rehearsals. They don’t necessarily have to be the very best dancer, but for the love of God, pick somebody that actually shows up to rehearsals and stays the whole time. That person can help you in many ways including:

  • remembering what you said last time (a double-edged sword)
  • demonstrating stuff you can’t do or don’t feel like doing
  • doing partner bits with you
  • showing everyone else how to do something “right”
  • the person who everyone else will watch during performances (make sure to strongly discourage this, but it’s probably going to happen anyway. Reality.)

Do the locomotion

In choreography courses, you learn that there are two settings to movement: locomotor and non-locomotor (Fortunately there will not be a quiz). All you need to know is that moving through space–say, from one side of the stage to the other–in any fashion, to the music, counts as dancing. As my childhood ballet teacher will tell you, that includes things like walking/skipping/galloping in a circle. You can also use the old line switcheroo, if you have enough space. That’s where you’re in staggered lines and the back lines moves up while the front line moves back to switch places.

The standard three staggered lines, aka windows (source)

Bonus for kids’ shows: everyone gets a chance to be in the front.

Grab yer partner

Do not underestimate the power of things done in pairs. Do-si-do is classic of course, but think outside the box (square?). Mirroring can produce a neat effect, as can shared-weight.

Make use of tricks

I rather hate tricks in dancing as a rule.

Tricks refers to acrobatics like aerials, any kind of extraordinary body contortion, or things like running up a wall and flipping off of it.  I don’t like it because it’s not true dancing, and it doesn’t require as high a level of technique over a long period of time (if you’re bendy, you’re bendy). Plus, tricks can and often do mask a lack of technical artistry. But if you have folks that can do a million turns in a row or a switch split leap, give them the opportunity to do it (have the other dancers frame them and strike poses). Easier for you, plus it will take up time and provide a little wow factor for the audience (my opinion’s unusual, most people are highly impressed by tricks).

I mean, sigh…I guess. If you must.

Plus, nine times out of ten, in a non-professional show the people that can do tricks are not cast in a large role (I don’t know, law of theatre?) and it gives them a chance to shine.

Get your Richard Simmons on

This may seem weird, but many fitness styles like aerobics are excellent resources for “dance-ish” moves, and they’re easy for your actors who move because they’re usually repetitive (see below). Sometimes when I do workouts, I think of certain moves as dance choreography and it makes it easier for me. So it stands to reason the opposite thought pattern can be used.

Give ’em a hand

If you have to choose, focus on the upper body, in particular the arms. Why? The feet are more difficult to get correct and for better or worse, the audience notices the upper body more. There’s a reason the classic Broadway stance is so powerful and continues to be used in every show of all time.

The power of strong arms and simple feet (source)

Press repeat

I mean this in two senses. One is repetitive movement. I have trouble choreographing this way because I die of boredom slash feel like I’m actually exercising. But that doesn’t mean you can’t. Examples would be, for instance, four grapevines in a row.

The other is recycling sequences of movement from earlier in the number or from another number. I promise, this does not mean you are lazy, and coming from me that’s saying a lot. If anyone calls you on it you can say it’s “thematic.” (Hey, even Bill T. Jones did that boob-groping bit over and over in Spring Awakening and he won a Tony for it).

If all else fails, freestyle

Especially if you’re working with kids, you will generally find that actors are eager to move to their own rhythm and sometimes even create something that is awesome enough to teach everyone. But you might encounter significant hesitation if you straight-up ask “who has a good idea for this next part?” Nobody likes to be put on the spot, plus it might breed resentment of the isn’t-this-your-job? variety. Instead, frame it as a collaboration. Then put the musical number on and let everyone dance around while you watch for an inspiration–but be sure to give whoever created it due credit.

Happy Choreographing!

Emergency Bikini Body Part III

25 Jun

As we touchdown on the runway of 4th of July week, it’s time to wrap up this party and talk about the very last last last minute tips for a beach body so you can get to the important part: relaxing. (You can read the first parts of the series here and here).


Day of


Let’s consider what to eat the night before and morning of your vacation or event.

Google “foods that cause bloat” and you’ll get 866,000 results. That’s what I call info overload. Spend a little time sifting through the advice, you can find basically any and all foods listed at least once somewhere. Even foods that are quite healthy and nutritious can cause bloat if you don’t already eat them frequently. That’s the catch-22: if your diet already has nutritional holes, introducing new things to fill those holes quickly and all at once can cause bloat. That’s why advice to avoid certain foods is kind of a muddy prospect. Ehh…kind of yes and kind of nah.

There’s the usual suspects like cruciferous vegetables (ex: brussels sprouts and cabbage) and beans. Then some say apples and peaches as well (while other sources say they actually stop bloat). Those folks over there say dairy causes bloating.  Then these guys say that high fat foods puff you up due to longer digestion time (while others say the fat-packed avocado is a top flat belly food). Others sources go as far as to say avoid artificial sweeteners, chewing gum, eating fast, and drinking through a straw. In the end, nothing is safe but an IV of black coffee and dandelion greens chewed at a cow’s pace.

That’s pretty silly.

You know your body best. After years of observation I’ve discovered that bread and salt are two of my biggest bloat triggers, so a practical breakfast for me on a beach morning is something like yogurt with berries and a boiled egg, or a banana with natural peanut butter. For someone who has issues with dairy, or with fat, it might be totally different.

Women’s Health has a huge archive of daily eating plans. (Most of them make me depressed and slightly hangry just looking at them, but you’re bound to find examples of meals that avoid whatever your trigger is).

But the number one bloater to avoid?

A large meal.

That’s the only one-size-fits-all solution: just keep meals small and frequent, particularly 1-2 days before you want to look trim, and you’ll be golden.

Elemental Side note: Water or Gas?

If you suffer from bloating and aren’t sure why, do a body check at the end of the day. If your bloat is due to water retention, you would see swelling in the feet and ankles. Reducing sodium intake and drinking more water will help that. If it’s all in the tummy, the culprit is probably gas, which comes from food. Only time and attention can pinpoint what your individual trigger might be.


Right before you head out to the beach (or step into ya fancy clothes), do 10 push-ups and hold a minute long elbow plank. I confess almost never get to do this step because by the time we’re at this point of readiness there’s generally a swimsuit-clad child jumping on me and whining at the door to go out (is this a preschooler or a puppy?), but when I do there’s a real difference.

Get Up, Stand Up

To look immediately thinner in two steps:

1. Roll shoulders back

2. Pull tailbone forward (tuck hips) without squeezing the tush (check out the first installment in this series for details).

Out of all posture checks, this is the best because it’s how classical dancers are trained to stand (have you seen a ballerina?). It takes practice to stay that way when you’re used to slouching, particularly if you’re a female who is #blessedinthechest, but it’s the fastest, easiest trick in the book. Try it in the mirror. Then try it on the beach and see what happens.

Get in the water!

You’re not doing yourself any favors by sitting or standing by the pool edge, trying to remember to keep it sucked in. Everybody looks cute swimming around like a mermaid (or man – no hate or discriminate). Plus, you’ll automatically be getting more activity into your day.

And One Parting DON’T

As an experiment, I tried a DIY body wrap (anything for my readers). And it was a huge fail. The plastic just bunched up into a thin band and made me itch, plus I lost all the clasps on the ace bandages. Leave it to the professionals, or better yet, ignore that snake oil entirely.


So that’s it! The Cushion Cut Beach Body countdown. But just remember the thing the makes you the most attractive on the beach, male, female, young old–is having a good time. Take it from this guy.

Happy Chillaxin.



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 904 other followers