Behind the Jungle

As my first attempt at focusing on the details, I thought I would share a little bit about the backstage adventures behind Jungle Book, Kids where I spent a lot of time over the past week.

Anyone who has ever done something for a live performance knows that back stage tends to vibrate with energy, especially on opening night.  Add to that normal excitement the fact that this show had 70 children between the ages of 7 and 12 and the atmosphere in that college theater and the crackle of energy was palpable. I’m sure if there was anymore excitement in the air bolts of lightning would have shattered through the ionized atmosphere. Seventy young children running around in various manifestations of jungle inhabitants (including plants, prickly pears, flowers, rocks, and all kinds of living creatures) created an atmosphere that could have been (and occasionally was) utterly chaotic. Thankfully, with the help of the director and the producer, the chaos stayed at a minimum except for the rare flare up of insanity.

Photo by Jill Schrader

My job, as stage manager of this production, consisted mostly of wrangling kids and trying to prevent them from talking, running, playing, touching. You know, all of the things that kids naturally want to do when they feel this much excitement. I also had to make sure the appropriate group was ready and quiet (the hardest part) for their entrances. Overall this went well, except for the monkey chorus who can only be described as a true bunch of monkeys, led in all chaos by King Louie who had a very distinct way of thinking that the rules did not apply to him. After all, he was the king.

In addition to these more traditional kid wrangling duties, I became the official makeup designer of Shere Kan, and consultant on Kaa, Balloo, and a few others. This would have been completely fun except for one little detail–the one that made opening night a challenge in numerous ways and tested my patience on many levels.

What detail could cause me, the most experienced person involved in this show, to shoot evil looks and lash out? Only one thing could push my buttons that much.

The much dreaded . . .

Now, to be fair, most of the people who helped out back stage were delightful. They put in tons of man hours and created incredible costumes. They kept things organized and helped keep the chaos down.

The ones that made the demon in me appear were the ones who decided that they knew best.  They knew that their child should wear bright red lipstick, even though we (the producer, director, and myself) wanted somewhat less “whorish” colors for these girls. They knew that their daughter’s hair would look better with the bangs down, even though those bangs hid her eyes and blocked the makeup and made her itch. They knew what should happen backstage during the show, even though they stood in the wings and (it appears) used a flashlight that showed out in the audience. They knew when to let the kids move from point A to point B, even thought that meant somehow kids were wandering around in No Man’s land where I found them by luck.

Luckily, I had a very supportive director and producer who made it explicitly clear that I was the boss backstage, and that my word was law. Of course, thanks to Stage Moms, I had a few arguments with their children who were trying to listen to their parents when their parents were WRONG! I won . . . of course. But not without having to raise my voice and be strict.

And during the final two performances we restricted access to back stage much more seriously so I did not lose my mind.

At least the kids realized that I really am nice even when I had to be mean (or at least strict). Most of them appreciated that I was there.

The only thing that brings out my dark side is a Stage Mom. So, if you ever work on a show with me, or send your children to do a show with me, leave your diva attitude behind or expect the wrath of Dr. Lisa.

Evil Eyes. Makeup design by Sarah KramerLee.

Mwa ha ha ha!

Bullying . . . It’s Not Just for Kids

Bullying on IRFE in March 5, 2007, the first c...

Image via Wikipedia

We live in a land of Bullies.

No, I’m not just talking about the bullying of the school years that has become such a prominent story in the news. That bullying, I believe, is a result of the world we live in. The bullying of the teen years becomes more horrific because of the additional challenges of a changing body. It is amazing anyone survives.

But, that bullying or the feelings that come from it don’t disappear in adulthood. It’s not like we achieve a miracle age where nothing can bother us anymore. Think about it. Have you ever looked in the mirror (both literal and figurative) and disliked what you saw? Perhaps you see fat, or age, or gray hair. Perhaps you see insecurity, unhappiness, failure. Perhaps you see loneliness or defeat.

Whatever you see, you are not looking through the eyes of reality. No, you are looking through eyes of insecurity–of all the fears, doubts, and discouragement you have witnessed throughout the years.

Those are the feelings that come from bullying.

I still carry in me the shy, insecure girl of my youth. I still carry within me the lonely girl who felt on the fringe of all groups, and never really felt like she had friends. I still carry the girl who never felt like she was quite good enough.

Of course, I recognize my accomplishments. I know that I have had successes in my life. But all it takes is one snub, or one feeling that I’m not invited to sit at the cool kids table, and that little girl comes out again.

But remember, those snubs are from adults, not children.

I just spent the last half hour watching anti-bullying videos created by high school students of a friend of mine. Students created these videos for an anti-bullying campaign/contest. If you would like to view them and/or vote here’s the link to the Facebook Page. And it is those videos that made me realize that we never grow out of bullying or feeling bullied. We just learn to internalize it, and hope that the behavior remains inside.

But it doesn’t.

So what can we do? We can work on being kinder to each other and setting a good example. We can remember how it felt when we were younger, and use those memories to create a better world. We can tune out the voices of the bullies and embrace who we are faults and all.

We can look in the mirror and accept ourselves.

Bullying is not just for kids, but neither is prevention.

Here’s another thought about bullying that everyone should read from The Life of Jamie.

Inspiration found in a Drum, a Conversation, and the Universe

I spent the day yesterday reconnecting with old friends, discovering disturbing truths, and absorbing the power of theatre done with love and respect.

I’m starting with the last because of the inspiration and beauty of this experience. I spent 5 1/2 hours in a workshop on creating theater for children with complex disabilities (either Profound and Multiple Learning Disabilities or an Autistic Spectrum Disorder). If you want to see the power of creativity on bringing children to life, just go to The Oily Cart website and click on any of the videos. I’m linking you to the description of the current show, but most of the video links are under the Previous Show link on their website. Go on. Watch one now, and be amazed. I expect some tears to pour out of your eyes.

The workshop was great except for the one annoying woman who wanted all of HER questions answered, despite the fact that most people wanted to learn the how to do rather than the how to fund. But that’s a discussion for another post. When we finally got on our feet, the room resonated with creative ideas (I love that) as we each came up with a possible production that could be done first for PMLD and then for the Autistic Spectrum. Each group offered wonderful ideas, a few of which I will not be surprised to discover show up in future Oily Cart performances (Tim Webb will “nick them” with our full knowledge).

I wish I had taken photos of the day. But I would like to share one story that Tim told us. During the current piece, they take the drum head off of a large drum and hold it over the children, one at a time. Then they pour rice on it to create sounds and shadow images that reflect through the drum head. One little girl, he told us, was lying on her side connected to her oxygen machine, and looking basically unresponsive throughout the show. Then they did this, and moved onto the next child. The little girl squirmed her body trying to get back under the drum head.

Her caregivers were astonished. That’s the power of theater.

One of Oily Carts therapy pool shows, photo by Patrick Baldwin

I spent most of the rest of the day talking with an old friend from my graduate program and a new friend who I met for a short time when she was applying for the doctoral program and I was finishing up.  Our discussion led to revelations that some of the challenges and concerns I’ve had over the years have been felt (in different ways) by others. Our conversation has led me to think more about “Life Without Tenure” (my other blog) so I may write new posts there (although I’m still thinking I might just merge the two if I can figure out how). I’m processing the conversation right now, so I don’t know if I can clarify exactly what I’m thinking.

But, I must end with a horoscope again. I’ve written before about my (not so secret) habit of checking my horoscope daily. I’ve also written about being open to messages from the universe. I read this one and couldn’t help but get a little th rill–message received:

My Horoscope AstroSync


Your responsibilities have grown in complexity and it’s no longer sufficient to just fulfill your promises. Things have changed as your awareness has grown over the past month. Now you must integrate your recent spiritual lessons into your everyday life. It’s not enough to write about your experiences like schoolchildren report on their summer vacations. Instead, recapture the intensity of your awakening by taking your new perspective to heart.


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Now I’m off to further adventures at the airport and returning to my family. Farewell Seattle, I will miss you.

Lollipop Smiles

Shirley Temple

Image by cathro via Flickr

[This was my entry for NPR’s Three-Minute Fiction Contest. Since they posted today that if we hadn’t heard yet we didn’t make the cut, I thought I would just post it here for any interested readers. Sigh.]

Edith sat awkwardly in the corner on a stuffed chair, trying to hide from the social chatter around her. She didn’t want to come to this party, but it was the only way she could spend time with her granddaughter.

She sighed, wishing her daughter Leslie lived closer. She thought she had failed as a mother because her children lived so far from home.

She shifted her weight in the chair, imagining the eyes of the almost-strangers in the room staring at her, judging her.

One of the hosts paused at her side, “Are you having fun? Do you need anything?”

“I’m fine, thanks,” she replied, straining to smile.

She caught a glimpse of herself in a decorative mirror on the wall. When did I become so old? she thought. Her faded copper hair now seemed mostly white. Her lined face reflected years of worry and hidden frustrations; the tracks of her sorrows etched deeply into a frown.

Where is Rebecca? Edith looked around the room for a glimpse of the bundle of energy that was her granddaughter. The girl was nowhere. Edith struggled out of the chair to search.

“Where is your daughter?” she demanded of Leslie.

“She’s around somewhere, Mom.”

“Why don’t you know where she is?”

“The last I saw, she was with Dina.”

“Oh,” Edith grumbled returning hastily back to her corner. Her oldest daughter, Dina had completely charmed Rebecca. Edith simply could not compete with the fantastic fun Auntie Dina offered.

Dina appeared from the bedroom.

“Ladies and Gentleman!” she called out. “I present Rebecca the Ravishing!”

Rebecca stumbled out, dressed in clothes pulled from her Aunt’s wardrobe: a glittery purple dress flowing down to the floor, several filmy scarves, layers of beaded necklaces from Mardi-Gras’ past, and platform heels swimming around her ankles so that she swayed like a lily footed Chinese girl.

The gathering giggled at Rebecca’s grand entrance.

“Knock, Knock!” Rebecca piped up; her voice surprisingly loud in the crowded room.

Edith cringed, worried that her grandchild was going to be embarrassed by telling old jokes.

The crowd responded, “Who’s there?”


“Boo who?”

“Don’t cry, we’re at a party!” Rebecca laughed hysterically at her own joke with a jump and twirl that made everyone laugh with her.

Everyone that is, except Edith.

“Now this is for my Grandma!” Rebecca announced proudly.

“On the good ship, lollipop . . .” she sang in a sweet voice.

Edith was astounded. Long ago she had told Rebecca about singing that song as a child. Edith performed it for her parents, dressed like Shirley Temple. She’d never shared that story with any of her own children, only her granddaughter.

“See the sugar bowl do the tootsie roll  . . .”

Rebecca sang the whole song with twirls and actions and flips of hair.

Edith felt a rumble deep in her chest. The rumble became a roar then rushed out of her with an unfamiliar sound–a true and honest belly laugh.

Suddenly the room seemed to sparkle with smiles and laughter. The applause vibrated into Edith’s bones.

Edith’s laugh grew until she could hardly breathe. Then tears poured down her face, and the laughter turned to sobs. She hid her face from the crowd until she felt Rebecca’s thin arms encircling her.

“I’m sorry, Grandma,” Rebecca whispered, “Did I do it wrong?”

Edith put her arms around her granddaughter and felt her face form into the first genuine smile since she held that tiny baby eight years before, “No, Rebecca,” she said. “You did it just right.”


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