Broadway · Inclusion · The Human Connection

When I Think of Home: BroadwayCon 2019

I have known for some years now that home is not a place, it’s a feeling. A feeling usually centered around people and experience. For me, it’s getting to do something I love with people I find it easy to be around–no frills. At my third BroadwayCon, this continued to be true. I got to see dear friends and support the art and causes I love. I got to experience community at BroadwayCon, which we know I am ALL about. Allow me to share my experience with you.

I got to reunite with so many of the folks who allow me to interview them and continue to support them. I got to see all of my friends involved in Broadway Makers Alliance,  some of whom are #FriendsOfTheBlog including Andrea Kohler of Coloring Broadway, Mindy and Liz of Petite Seat, and Will Barrios of TatroTatro.  I got to continue to support some of Doug Otero‘s new Intermission Beauty products. I got to cheer on and support Gillian Pensavalle of The Hamilcast and Patrick Hinds, who was the first person I saw ask the questions I wanted asked on his podcasts. All of these folks have been supportive since minute one, and it’s always a joy to connect with them.

I felt insanely grateful to thank so many #FriendsOfTheBlog, Lesli Margherita, James Monroe Iglehart, and Susan Egan. There is nothing more satisfying to me than being able to thank these folks in person. I hope they know how much their time means to me, and that I didn’t look too foolish trying to say so eloquently.

As you can imagine, BroadwayCon is a non-stop experience, so there is a real magic involved in being able to be yourself without being “on” over the course of these three days. As fast-paced as the weekend was, it all felt really natural and completely comfortable. Of course I had my obsessed fan moments with many of the folks there–speaking at panels or walking through the marketplace–but that behavior was not only accepted but expected. And not just by attendees, but the guests at the convention! I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, theatre people are a very unique, special, wonderful group of people. I made new connections with folks I’ve never met before, and not once did I feel unwelcome or out of place in a room full of people I’ve never met. Who knows, maybe I’ve even met you, dear reader! If not, I certainly hope to do so!

The human connection is strong at BroadwayCon, where any two people can strike up a conversation. This week, I challenge my readers to have an unlikely conversation–a conversation with someone they wouldn’t normally speak with at length, or a conversation on a subject they normally wouldn’t speak on at length. What you learn from new, untapped perspectives can be extremely powerful. Listen, and really hear what’s being said.

Keep playing with words and see what your message creates!
–Stef the StageSLP

Broadway · Performances · The Human Connection

They Say There’s Always Magic In The Air: A Review

Happy New Year to all of my readers! I was fortunate enough to spend the week of winter break in New York City seeing some amazing theatre. I am forever grateful to the cast and crew of all of Broadway who provided entertainment and worked even harder than usual while the audiences attending their shows had a break from their job. This trip, my family and I saw two dramatic plays and two musicals. Why is this a big deal for us? We have never attended a dramatic play before. Comedies, sure, but dramatic plays are new to us. Musicals are our go-to. All of this to say, here are my thoughts on my experiences.

  • American Son
    I saw this play on my own. It has been over a week, and the messages of this playa re still sitting with me. Kerry Washington may have it handled on Scandal, but her performance on television is nothing compared to what she does on stage in ninety minutes. The dynamic between her and Jeremy Jordan, Eugene Lee, and Brian Avers (who was on in the role of Scott) is electric. This is possibly the most powerful piece of theatre I have ever witness. No topic goes undiscussed. No perspective goes unseen. I didn’t know I could hold my breath for ninety minutes, but that’s how I felt by the end of the show. This show should be required viewing for absolutely everyone, and if you can get to the Booth Theatre before the end of this limited run, I urge you to go and witness this for yourself.
  • The Cher Show
    I cannot stop talking about this musical! Holy cannoli! I am one of the biggest Cher fans—I can sing her whole catalog backwards and forwards, and have been to my fair share of concerts as well. The message of the show is so uplifting. The takes on the songs and how they’re used to help the story progress is wonderful. Absolutely nothing can compare to seeing Bob Mackie’s costumes on parade. Stephanie J. Block commanded the stage and embodied Cher in a way that I can’t describe. Christopher Gattelli’s choreography speaks to his strengths, and those of the ensemble as well. I hope to find myself back in this audience again in 2019.
  • The Prom
    I don’t even know where to begin. This is the most inclusive, entertaining, moving show on Broadway. You are rooting for each character from start to finish, eating up Casey Nicholaw’s direction and choreography and Chad Beguelin’s book. Beth Leavel is a force to be reckoned with, as are Caitlin Kinnunen and Brooks Ashmanskas. The way the story moves from heavier subject matter to joy with jokes, production numbers, and honest, heartfelt performances is truly something to behold.
  • To Kill A Mockingbird
    I will not be able to adequately express my love and appreciation for this show. Jeff Daniels as Atticus Finch, Gideon Glick as Dill, and Celia Keenan Bolger as Scout in Aaron Sorkin’s adaptation of the beloved classic (and favorite of mine). It was an honor to watch this adaptation, and I felt it truly honored the book, its message, and managed to increase its verbiage to become even timelier. There are definitive stamps of Sorkin’s work throughout, with jokes and moments of levity throughout the play. Every actor seemed as though they were born to play these roles in this iteration of such a revered text. My entire family, some of whom were skeptical about enjoying a dramatic play, enjoyed this show the most out of the four we’d seen. While tickets are hard to get, if you can get them for the foreseeable future, you will not regret spending time in the theatre with this production.

It goes without saying that I enjoyed every show, for different reasons. Each offered me new perspectives, new experiences, and new appreciation for my favorite art form. With this, I challenge my readers to consume a new form of media that you’re skeptical of, for whatever reason. See where it takes you, and what you gain from it. I look forward to your comments.

Keep playing with words and see what your message creates!
–Stef the StageSLP

The Human Connection

Pine Cones and Holly Berries: A Gratitude Post

I can’t believe I’m writing my final post of 2018. I am looking forward to a lovely break with my family filled with quality time, delicious food, and–you guessed it–Broadway! I’ll report back on that later, but I digress.

No matter where you are, the end of the year is always a unique moment. For me and my students, it serves as a moment of reflection. We choose highlights from each month of the year, and focus on growth as well. As a family or a class, this is a great exercise that not onlu encourages reflection and introspection, but language expression and comprehension, critical thinking, and executive functioning skills. From here, we move to goal setting. We set goals for school and home, for behavior towards ourselves and others. My students tell me things like, ” I want to work harder with word problems,” or “I want to beat my record for number of books read in a year,” as well as “I want to be a better friend/child/sibling.”

Well, if those words didn’t get me thinking, nothing could! There’s a lot of change in this particular season, and I think that’s beautiful. I don’t believe in resolutions, and am firm on being able to make any change at any point in the year. I have written down some personal goals and they include professional growth as always, but the one that stands out most is to be where I am.

I am currently sitting on my floor, typing this post, listening to the wind blow outside and the keyboard clicking. I am comfortable in the quiet, and I am here in this moment. I will always give this blog my all and dedicate the time and attention it requires. And while there are *ahem* “a million things I haven’t done,” they can wait. I’ll get there. It doesn’t all have to happen right now. Right now, I get to connect to you through my writing, and I can’t think of anything more important.

In this winter season, I challenge you to make some goals for yourself. They don’t have to be about change, and they don’t have to be big–they need only matter to you.

Keep playing with words and see what your message creates!
–Stef the StageSLP

Inclusion · The Human Connection

I Got You, Babe: The Strong Friend

It is this wonderful time of year when we are appreciative than thankful for all of our family and friends. Sometimes, this is expressed through gifts. Others through gestures and acts of helping out. These are those wonderful friends and folks who are always there, no questions asked. Many of my students are these people to their friends. I am this friend to many, and I have many of these friends. This post begins a series of posts inspired by my students, who have been working on describing and explaining their friendships with each other.

Who am I talking about? The kids who always have a smile on their face and seem like they can take on the world. The kids who get dismissed as “fine” or “having everything together.” The friends who listen to you, day or night, without complaint. The friends and family who tell you they’re fine.

As a “fine” friend, I can tell you there are a zillion things going on. My students, when they do open up to me about their lives, are anything other than fine. They’re under pressure, exhausted and people-pleasing. They’re afraid to be real around their friends. Many of the adults are the same.

What do these people in our lives want? They want us to ask how they really are. Beyond the “fine.” They want to be seen and heard. They want to be validated. They want to be appreciated. This can be especially hard during the holidays, when they are being strong for everyone having a hard time. Listen to your strong friends. They are often the most in need of care. Listen to the stronger students, they are most often in need to positive attention and demonstrations of caring.

This week, I challenge you to really hear that “strong friend” beyond their response of “fine,” and show them some extra appreciation.

 

Keep playing with words and see what your message creates!
–Stef the Stage SLP

The Human Connection

I’ve Got the Sun in the Morning and the Moon at Night: A Thanksgiving Post

For those of us in the United States, we’ve just finished celebrated Thanksgiving. I was fortunate enough to get to spend mine with my immediate and extended family. I just wanted to take some time to post how thankful I am for this site, for my readers, adn the many amazing folks I’ve gotten to speak with.

I’m so grateful to anyone who’s given me their time and help me better understand how the theatre world works, and how to access my students through this medium. I cannot express enough how much the words you’ve all shared have impacted my students and myself.

There are no words for how appreciative I am of my students. Each one has taught me a new perspective in so many aspects of life. They’ve taught me to be silly, to value the people in your life who are “safe,” and to think outside the box. They keep me on my toes and they keep me teachable and flexible.

I have the most unbelievable family. They keep me laughing and learning. Our memories of all sorts are always at the front of my mind, and I’m loving making new ones with the youngest generation of my family.

I have my health, appreciation for myself and what I do, appreciation for the arts and all they teach, and an ability to care for myself. I have fantastic friends I can call on no matter the situation. What more could I want out of life than all of these amazing things?

This week’s challenge is for you to reflect on what you’re thankful for in your life.

Keep playing with words and see what your message creates!
–Stef the StageSLP

Inclusion · The Human Connection · Wise Words

What Does It Cost To Be Kind: World Kindness Day

Those who know me well know that I value kindness above all in anyone I meet and any task I undertake. It is something I aim to instill in my students and have hopefully been successful. World Kindness Day is November 13th, and I decided to brainstorm with my students on how to observe this day. These are the pearls of wisdom my students came up with to recognize the day.

  • “Hold the door open for people who need it and smile at them.”
  • “Help someone with their locker–the new ones stick a little.”
  • “Bring the groceries in with mom and dad.”
  • “Buckle my little sister into the car.”
  • “Watch television/play a game that someone else chooses without pouting. You might even enjoy it.”
  • “Listen to the adults the first time.”

Now, these seem pretty straightforward for kids my students’ age. We all know how easy it is to be do some of these task. We may even do them ourselves without thinking about whether or not it was a kind gesture. And then there were the things I didn’t think my students would open up about…

  • “I’ll tell myself I’m smart.”
  • “I’ll be proud of who I am, regardless of what other people think.”
  • “I’ll stop being jealous of my friends.”
  • “I’ll say nice things to myself.”
  • “I’ll be proud of my work.”
  • “I’ll believe that I am enough.”

Not only did this give me incredible insight into my students and help me relate to them as people, but it got me thinking about how unkind we can be to ourselves. And when we are, it’s so, so hard to escape the negativity we cause ourselves resulting in a vicious cycle. If there is anything every human being needs, it is kindness and care. Not only on World Kindness Day, but every day. To my students and my readers: I see you, I am here for you, and I believe in you.

Your challenge for the week is to find a way to be kind to yourself and a way to be kind to others. Leave it in comments so we can all learn from one another.

Keep playing with words and see what your message creates!
–Stef the StageSLP

Broadway · Interview · The Human Connection

The Spark of Creation: A Conversation with Stephen Schwartz

Did you know that hope and wonder have a sound? If you are one of my students, or one of many people who are familiar with Stephen Schwartz’ work, you are extremely familiar with it. The music and lyrics behind his work are sure to evoke emotion the second you begin listening. For me, I grew up singing songs he’d written, admittedly poorly, or quoting lyrics back and forth with my family. My students can identify a few composers by sound, and Stephen Schwartz is one of them.  I have many musically inclined students who wanted a composer’s perspective, and I thought it would help to round out their theatrical knowledge that they were absorbing through my speech sessions. I have been a lifelong fan of Stephen Schwartz’ work, from Pippin to Children of Eden, Hunchback to The Prince of Egypt, and of course Wicked. I don’t believe there’s a lyricist who has leant more to my vocabulary lessons or SAT word study, which I now get to pass on to my own students. We talk about how he became interested in composing, why learning the basics in any instrument is important, writing style, and so much more.

Stef: This blog of mine has become sort of a family affair, and I have to start by asking questions from my mother. I wouldn’t know your work if not for her. She wants to know how long it took you to write “What Is This Feeling,” and is it based on a sibling relationship?

Stephen: Actually, it’s funny she should ask that because it’s one of the songs I found most tricky. I had four versions of that songs over the course of the show before I figured it out. There was always going to be a song in which Elphaba and Glinda were responding to the idea of being roommates. Winnie Holzman, the book writer, had the idea of doing a falling in hate/hate at first sight song. Taking all of those love at first sight songs and rewriting them. It was not one of those songs that came instantaneously. I remember after my third version asking Joe Mantello if we needed that song there. The relationship isn’t really based on anything other than instantly falling in hate with someone. If you think about it, the clichés for love are similar— “What is this feeling? My face is flushing,” and so on, but instead of feeling love, they’re loathing each other.

S: Wow, that’s a really interesting backstory. She and I were convinced that was based on sibling rivalry.

S: No, that was Winnie’s idea about falling in hate. She had the idea and it ended up working out.

S: I am so excited to share wit my kids that songs take as many drafts as writing. I don’t think they realize that.

S: Writing a song for a musical is storytelling. Some songs come easily and some take longer.

S: The other thing my mother really wanted you to know is that she is extremely appreciative for your work with Children of Eden. My brother played the role of Father in a high school production, just as he was going off to college. She really appreciates you sharing the parent perspective in “The Hardest Part of Love,” especially as she was going through it. It was very timely for her.

S: Thank you. As parents we fear the empty nest, and that was a way of expressing it, whether or not it actually happens.

S: My students want to know how did you become interested in writing and composing for theatre?

I was always interested in music. Musical ability is genetic, and it’s something that tends to show up very early. My parents tell me that I used to ask them to play specific records as a toddler. When I was six, my parents had a friend who was a composer and he was working on a show. When we visited him, he’d play what he was working on for us, and my parents would then say that I’d go over to his piano and pick out what I heard him play. He suggested my parents put me into piano lessons, and that’s how that started. I knew at eight or nine that I wanted to write for the theatre after seeing one of his shows on Broadway.

S: How is it different for you when you’re collaborating with someone else, versus doing all of the work yourself?

S: It’s not really different in that the goal is the same. It’s storytelling using song. When I’m doing both music and lyrics, it’s maybe more fluid, and I’ll switch between mediums. These days when I’m collaborating, and mostly it’s with Alan Menken now, we still start with,” What’s the assignment? What story are we telling?” I try to come up with a title, because I think it helps with structuring the song. Alan will write music first and then I put words to it.

S: When you’re composing and writing lyrics, which comes first for you?

S: It really works fluidly and moves back and forth. Maybe I’ll write some lyrics or a chorus and that will suggest some chords. Sometimes it works in reverse of that order. It changes from song to song, there’s no set formula.

S: My students want to know if writing comes easy for you, and what happens when you get stuck?

S: Writing is not easy, I think, for anyone. There are bursts of inspiration and times when you hit a wall. You have to keep going and just get words on the page. Something to break the lock down. Stop and do something else—go outside, take a walk, something unrelated to the task so your unconscious mind can think freely. You don’t want to be at a computer, you want to be doing a physical activity. If it’s a day where I’m planning to write, I won’t start with my computer, or it ruins the flow for me.

S: Many of my students are in orchestra or band and are learning the basics and would rather just play what they want than learn what’s being taught. What would you say to them?

S: That’s how everyone feels, but the truth is you can do both! You can have time to play and explore—that’s valuable. But if you don’t do the basics and practice, you won’t get better. The more you master the tedious stuff, the more you can do what you want. This applies to practicing for anything, sports, arts, what have you.

S: How does it feel knowing you’ve shaped so many lives through your work, either in theatre, film, or both?

S: Obviously, there are reasons people become writers, and part of that is to be able to communicate. Knowing that in some cases that I have successfully communicated with someone, it’s very gratifying.

S: That’s what your work does, it communicates the message of the show very well. And I’ve used your work to teach vocabulary, social skills, you write very smart lyrics that lend themselves to these topics. I’ve had to be careful using Wicked, though, since some of those words aren’t real.

S: That’s something to explore with your students, too. Winnie brought up that the story takes place in Oz, which isn’t exactly the same as our world, so the language wouldn’t be exactly the same. She created these Ozisms that appear throughout the script, so I started incorporating them into my lyrics. The whole point of that was that it was understood that we weren’t in our world, we were in a different place.

S: And I get to use the Ozisms to have my students explore their creativity and define words on their own. Going back to “What Is This Feeling” and “I’m Not That Girl,” I’ve taught girls that it’s perfectly acceptable to be nice to each other, and to diffuse girl drama. Your songs tell stories and teach lessons at the same time.

S: Oh, that’s great!

S: Is there a difference in how you approach writing songs for film than theatre?

S: It’s pretty much the same. If I’m writing for film, I’m aware of the fact that it’s a motion picture, and that the characters aren’t standing still and singing. It’s all about storytelling through song.

S: I can tell you, the animation and music for Prince of Egypt felt like magic and so cohesive.

S: There was a lot of collaboration between myself, the people writing the screenplay, and the story artists. We aren’t always in the same room, and it’s a four-year process for something like that. There’s a lot of communication there.

S: Do you get any say when it comes to finding the vocal talent for the animated movies, because those were some spot-on choices.

S: In an animated picture, yes, I get some input. Sometimes the studio decides. But everyone has the same interest in making a good movie with voice actors who are going to deliver a solid final product.

S: I think Brian “Stokes” Mitchell was a brilliant choice for “Through Heavens Eyes”. It definitely impacts the way I hear and interpret the song. Did you have him in mind when you wrote the song?

S: No, but he’s brilliantly talented. I knew him and he was everyone’s first choice.

S: Your musical style is clearly influencing my students, who influenced you growing up?

S: I had a lot, and what people think of my style is an amalgamation of that. I played a lot of classical piano growing up, so Debussy, Beethoven sonatas, and Bach. I think there’s an influence from there. My parents had a lot of cast albums that I listened to, and also a lot of folk music I enjoyed. Then there’s The Beatles and the singer/songwriters from that era, through the eighties. It’s what I respond to that comes in my style of music.

S: My students want to know why you think arts education is important.

S: The key thing is that I feel that our society is lacking empathy. It shows up in all parts of life, politics, day to day behavior, everything. There is a lack of perspective taking, and that’s something we get from arts education. We get that from music and painting, not just performing. You have to question everything, and we lose out on that without arts education. On top of that, everyone is in their own echo chamber right now. Encountering and creating art forces you to overcome that. There’s a big focus on sports in our schools, and I enjoy playing sports, but that is the perspective of winners and losers. If there’s one thing we really don’t need more of right now, it’s that lense. Art isn’t about that

S: Every week I challenge my students to do something outside of their comfort zone. What would challenge them to do?

S: Exposure to the arts and other people’s lives and perspectives. Find a way to access that and learn about the world around you beyond what school can teach you in facts and STEM.  Talk about your observations and what that’s done for you. There’s a big world around you, go beyond the screen and notice it in different ways. Don’t necessarily eliminate anything, just go beyond it.
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I was over the moon when this conversation took place, and I’m still so fulfilled by this conversation. I am a very big fan of Stephen’s work, in case that isn’t obvious, and I thoroughly enjoyed our conversation. My students gained a lot of insight about what goes into the process of composing a show, and the driving force of storytelling. They took a lot of comfort in knowing writing isn’t something that’s supposed to be easy. I look forward to taking on Stephen’s challenge by seeing more art that maybe I wouldn’t have exposed myself to in the first place. I look forward to hearing how my readers take on this challenge as well.

Keep playing with words and see what your message creates!
–Stef the StageSLP