Interview · Scenic Design · The Human Connection

Setting the Scene: A Conversation with Derek McLane

Hi readers! Over the past three and a half months, my students and I engaged in distance learning, which required me to get creative with service delivery. Though maybe I should have expected it, my students asked me how they could stay creative at home. Many of these students had spring plays and musicals that had been put on hold, with hopes to revisit during the next academic year. When I asked in what area they wanted to be creative, they said they wanted to learn more about the technical aspect of theatre, specifically scenic design. I had reached out to a few scenic designers and was ecstatic that Tony Award winning Derek McLane, who has designed Moulin Rouge!, A Soldier’s Play, American Son, Gigi, Beautiful, Nice Work If You Can Get It, along with the NBC LIVE! Musicals The Sound of Music, Peter Pan, The WIZ, and Hairspray. We talked about what goes into his design process, when he begins working with the creative team of a show, and how folks interested in design can stay creative while at home.
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Stef: How did you become interested in theatre, and then scenic design?

Derek: When I was in high school, I had learned how to do some house construction and carpentry. It was a summer job of mine for a few years. In college, I was asked to build a set, which was something I had never done before. So I built the set and I thought, what I’d really like to do is design the set, not just build what someone else had designed. I went to Harvard as an undergraduate, which didn’t have a theatre program while I was there. Ina way, that was a blessing for me, because there was very little competition when I said I wanted to become a set designer. I had done a couple of sets for shows around campus, and I sort of made it up as I went along, and I decided I needed to learn more about what I was actually doing. I applied to Yale drama school, and completed my Master’s degree there.

S: That’s a lot of schooling. How long did that take you?

DM: It’s a three-year Master’s program. It was very intense, especially in the first year. We had to design one set a week, and we had a Saturday class in which we presented our work and it was critiqued. Once that was done, you got your assignment for the following week. It started with simple plays and became more complex as the year went on. Operas, musicals, multi-set plays, and it was exhausting. And that was only one class. We got to see our progress over the course of the year, so that was exhilarating. That was my first experience with face-to-face criticism.

S: At what point in a production do you join the rest of the creative team? What does your process look like?

DM: Well, it’s always a little different, depending on the creative team and how complex the project is. I get involved pretty early, and start the design work. Typically, what’ll happen is the director will send me a script, and I might get to see a reading of it, and conversations begin from there. Making a musical is a very collaborative thing, and it can be complicated, but the moving pieces come together through these conversations. This can take years, sometimes less. By the time you get to the second, third, fourth meeting, you and the designers, the director and producers have an idea of what the design looks like. At that point, we have an idea of how the show would work with our proposed design.

S: I’ve seen a decent number of your shows on Broadway and each set is so distinct to its show, and all so memorable. Two that come to mind, American Son and Moulin Rouge!, seem like polar opposites in how they’re designed. Where do you pull your ideas from and tailor them to fir their shows so specifically?

DM: The ideas really start with the script. I also got to do the movie adaptation of American Son, which is on Netflix. American Son has four characters, with two characters on stage at time for the most part. It’s a tragedy, and when I read it, it felt like a Greek tragedy. Not that far into the play, you can tell where it’s going, which is awful and scary. Something about the script felt symmetrical to me. You’re looking into a square room at a 45-degree angle. The text in the script, what’s described, is quite mundane. There’s not a lot of people in this space, not a lot of interaction. When I looked at my research for Miami police stations, they looked pretty bland. We put in windows, but all you could see was the rainstorm that’s mentioned. It was meant to feel elemental and realistic.

Moulin Rouge! is really an entertainment more than anything. It’s decadent. For that, I was trying to capture the club feel in the script and I was determined to make it a surprise for the audience when they came in. I didn’t want to disappoint the many fans of the movie that were coming in with the movie in mind. I felt obligated to honor that. I made a very conscious decision not to make the scenes stylistically similar, there’s an eclecticism to the way the scenes look. The show starts and it’s bright and there’s a lot of red and then we transition from the club to the streets of Montmartre, which is very grey. It shows the contrast between the settings in a fun way, keeping the audience thinking about where they are.

S: Do you have a favorite element you like to design in a show or a favorite material you like to work with?

DM: It varies. I try to let those things come out of the ideas for the story. I don’t see it as my job to impose my taste, it’ll show up through my design inevitably, but I’m much more interested in designing each show as its own bubble. I’m happiest when I can see that each show has its own world and logic. I feel like I’ve succeeded when it takes on a life of its own. When that happens, other little details make more sense based on the logic based on the bigger world.

S: How do you feel about projection design becoming more prominent alongside scenic design, as that seems to be a trend I’ve seen in a few more recent shows?

DM: It’s certainly come a long way. There are all different levels of success with that. Technologically, we’ve come a long way, but it really depends on how it’s used. What Ivo Van Hove did with Network and West Side Story made bold use of projections, and it’s something we haven’t really seen before, but it doesn’t really become scenery. King Kong also used projections really well, the set designer did those himself, and he did a clever job od tying projection into the 3-D elements on stage. In that production, the projections were all illustrated and all tied into the overall design of the show. They had a very strong identity with their design.

S: How can my students get started with scenic design, especially now that we’re home? My students are looking for ways to be creative, and a lot want to know how to explore this area more.

DM: The best part about that is anyone can design a set. Whether it can be built or not is another story. The simplest way to do it is to draw it. That’s what I’d be doing, finding a story you love and draw a set for it. It doesn’t have to be a play; it could be a book or something they make up altogether. I’d encourage them to draw the way they’d like to see something, not the way the scenes are shown to them. What can they do to make something they know better? When I’m designing a set, I keep in mind it’s something that I’m going to be looking at a lot, so I may as well like what I’m looking at. If I’m an audience member, what do I want to see? Draw spaces—your bedroom, your kitchen, wherever you are. A lot of set design is based on architecture, and that can be really helpful when you understand perspective and spatial arrangement. The drawings don’t have to have great details, they can be fast, they can be messy, they just need to convey the space.

S: Is there something people should know that they wouldn’t learn in school?

DM: A million things. School will teach you a certain number of skills, but you’re always learning. But the thing that school probably won’t teach you much about is how to deal with the people you work with. And there’s different levels of that. There’s the director and producer, the people who deal with money, the people who will build the set and work with props. You need to be able to persuade them to overcome their doubts and if necessary, stand up for what you believe is necessary and advocate for yourself. You’re working with a lot of people at once, and people skills go a long way.

S: What is the most ambitious design that you’ve executed?

DM: Moulin Rouge!, for sure. And Hairspray Live, which we did at Universal studios in Los Angeles. Sometimes we were using interior and exterior shots. There we re sets we used from their backlot and sets we built in the studio. Shooting it live and getting from one set to another was really complicated but very exhilarating.

S: So, is television more challenging than designing for television?

DM: I don’t know that it was harder than Moulin Rouge!, but we had sets of varying sizes. We were under different constraints. On stage, the stage is tinier than you think. Figuring out how to make all of that fit. You don’t have that problem on television, because you have plenty of space. The other piece is on Broadway, the set has to last a long time. On television, it only lasts as long as it’s needed. The challenges and constraints are different.

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I thoroughly enjoyed this conversation with Derek McLane. My students got to hear all about this conversation before distance learning ended, and I know some of them started drawing scenes they were interested in creating. It’s safe to say both my students and I learned a lot more about scenic design and its part in production development of a show. If you’d like to lean more about Derek McLane, you can find him on Instagram at @derekmclane or his website derekmclane.com.

 

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

Teacher Appreciation · The Human Connection

Goodbye Until Tomorrow: An Open Letter To My Students

Dear students,

I can’t believe another year is coming to a close. This year was full of lessons learned, highs and lows, and more twists and turns than I can count. I’m choosing to focus on the positives of our year.

This was a year full of firsts. I joined a new school team, and you welcomed me with open arms. Some of you were new to the school and new to me. We learned how to communicate with each other, share with each other, and laugh with each other. You’ve taught me more than you’ll ever know.

To my Kindergartners, what a way to experience school for the first time. You helped me learn and laugh and taught me that digital learning can still be fun. You let your personalities shine no matter what, and kept me on my toes.

My elementary students, you have kept me creative and innovative all year. Your ideas for digital instruction never failed to impress me. You adapted so quickly and were so excited to see me once we started digital learning. Though it’s certainly easier to do speech therapy in person, you made my day whenever you were on my screen.

My secondary students, thanks for keeping me current. I learned about your favorite YouTubers, inside jokes, songs, and what was going on in your lives. You trusted me with stories of your days and plans for the futures. I am happy to be a part of your lives and educational experience. Thanks for helping me take my lessons beyond the classroom.

To my SLP friends and colleagues, I don’t know how you keep me sane but I’m grateful for it. Thanks for teaching me your strategies and talking me down many stressful days. Working together is the only way we can get through this profession.

To my special education teammates, you are all amazing. I don’t know how you do as much as you do. We laughed together, stressed together, assessed and treated students together, and completed another year together. I couldn’t do this job without you.

To my students’ families, thank you. This year began together in person, and is wrapping up together virtually. None of us have ever experienced anything like this, but we made it work. Thank you for all you do for your students. You took on a new role in this educational model, and that has not gone unnoticed.

I know we all need summer break and a break from screens. I look forward to seeing you soon, in whatever capacity that may be. Have a wonderful summer and know that I am here for you, however I can be.

Keep playing with words and see what your message creates,

Stef the StageSLP

Articulation · Better Speech and Hearing Month · Interview · Lesson Plans · Strategies · The Human Connection

Thinking Inside the Beatbox: A Conversation with Kaila Mullady and Mark Martin

Hi everyone! I am so excited to share today’s conversation with you. I am always looking for ways to make speech therapy more fun for my students, and there’s no better time than during Better Speech and Hearing Month. As a speech pathologist working in special programs and with students from preschool to teens, I’ve always found it a challenge to make articulation therapy fun. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve played Go Fish, Memory, or brought out flashcards and thought, “This is just as uninteresting for the kids as it is for me.” Enter The Academy of Noise, a program created and run by Kaila Mullady and Mark Martin. Their program works on articulation and social interaction through beatboxing. The second I first heard about this, I knew I had to learn more—how could I incorporate this into speech lessons? What could this do for digital learning? How much more engaged would my students be through this method of instruction? We had so much fun during this conversation that it quickly evolved into a collaborative learning experience for all parties involved. Let’s jump in!
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Stef: How did you guys become interested in speech therapy in connection with beatboxing?

Mark: My mom was a speech therapist and worked in special education. She worked with students with developmental needs, students who were learning how to read, and she would bring home whatever she was working on. As a kid, I got to see what she was doing with her students and she was definitely an influence in how I got interested in how we produce sounds. I’ve always been interested in how we get people to connect to their instrument, their voice, how we project sound, and I remember thinking some of the techniques I saw her use as a kid were boring. I could tell that, by nature of how her instruction was structured, there was a lack of rhythm in what she was teaching. But it becomes so much more interesting if you set it to rhythm. It suddenly becomes more exciting when you add rhythm. I think of how much I liked the book Chicka Chicka Boom Boom as a kid, and it was because it had a rhythm to it to keep me engaged. I was a musical kid and definitely a noise-maker, and this rhythm aspect made it magical for me.

Kaila: I come from a really big Irish family, and became the babysitter for everyone. I have a cousin who used to be nonverbal, until he was about seven, and he experienced apraxia of speech. The speech therapist would come by after school and my cousin would just shut down. What kid wants to do more school after just finishing a full day of school, especially when his siblings didn’t have to do this? I realized he loved beatboxing, and I realized that if the speech therapist held up a flashcard and asked him to say “caterpillar,” it could become more interesting if I took the words on the flashcards and presented it as beatboxing. We would make beatboxing beats out of whatever cards the speech therapist held up. So we realized, he wasn’t going to sit and do flashcards, but if I presented the speech sounds he needed to work on as an instrument through beatboxing, he’d practice, because he was beatboxing around the house all day anyway. It’s like sneaking vegetables into a fruit smoothie—they don’t know we’re here to work on speech when we see kids, they think it’s a field trip.

S: Yeah, speech therapy can be boring, until it isn’t. It doesn’t feel like speech practice if you’re beatboxing. You guys have worked with a bunch of different schools and populations, can you share some of your experiences?

K: Once, we went into a school and worked with a group of kids and there was one student who was very quiet, hiding behind the teacher. He was participating with us, and  by the time we left and the teacher told us he had a hard time finding a way into activities and participating, and this was the first time they’d seen him join in. We’re not trying to say this is the fix for speech therapy, we’re not trying to say don’t do speech therapy—not at all—we just want to help give speech therapists another tool to engage their students. And if they get hooked on beatboxing, the kids have access to so much. There are videos online and it’s something they can practice on their own. And you already have the equipment. There’s no instrument to buy, and no limit on what they can do with their own instrument.

S: I was listening to your interview on SiriusXM with American Voices and I heard you talk about the /p/, /t/, and /k/ as the drum kit sounds as the first thing you learn in beatboxing. My speech-oriented brain immediately connected those sounds to measuring articulation skills as an oral-motor exercise to determine the articulation and breath support and control of a patient who may have recently experienced some sort of brain injury or stroke. I love how this connects to my line of work.

Kaila: Me too. It’s one of the things that brought Mark and I together. We’re both beatboxers and we had the same mentor, but we really bonded over the storytelling and musical piece of beatboxing and its connection to education. We took beat rhyming, which is when you talk and beatbox together alternating between the beat and the talking. When I heard it, I wanted to take the consonants in the words, thinking of what I did with my cousin, and over-articulate the consonants. This made the beat and the speaking simultaneous. For a while we worked with an art organization to do beatboxing as music therapy. We worked with a school that supported students with a variety of needs. This transitioned from being traditional music therapy to adding beat rhyming, to adding the emotional intelligence side of communication. What does it sound like when you’re mad? What does your voice sound like when you’re excited? And through this, Mark and I got to introduce the speech therapy related aspect to kids. At that point, Mark and I created a curriculum that was specifically for students who were blind or handicapped.  Now we’ve started The Academy of Noise where we have a vocal health professional, Christine Schneider. She’s amazing.

M: Top of the world in terms of anything dealing with the voice. She works with people on Broadway, vocal professionals, she’s incredible, I highly recommend her.

K: She is incredible. And then there’s Tom Burke, he’s an SLP we’re working with. Right now, he’s focusing on vocal coaching and public speaking.  And now that we have created our own organization, we have people who want to work with us and have seen what we’ve done. In the beginning, we had a hard time getting anyone interested in us doing research. We went to so many universities around NYC and the northeast and we had a lot of doors close on opportunities for us because of the word “beatboxing.” I did an experiment where I changed the wording to include “vocal percussion,” and we got farther with that. Through that, we met a woman through NYU’s Music Experience Design Lab who was willing to study our beatboxing and curriculum to create tactile instruments that students who are blind could use in the classroom. Now we’re trying to work with NYU to work on the beatboxing and speech therapy side of it. Something we just did was go to the Langone Vocal Center and some of the best beatboxers had endoscopies done to see what is happening when we’re beatboxing.

S: What was that like? I saw that on your social media!

M: For me it was insane. The most exciting part was doing something and the doctors saying “We’ve never seen the voice do this before.” For us, it’s exciting to see we’re pushing the bounds of what the human body can do. We can rethink what is possible with the voice.

K: We were supposed to get MRIs done around St. Patrick’s Day to see what happens in the brain when you talk versus when beatboxing or beat rhyming. Do the same areas in the brain respond to these tasks? We’re in a really exciting time because we have people who believe in what we’re doing. We definitely want to talk to more speech therapists about what we could make that would help you. We know beatboxing is fun, but what do you need from us for this to be effective in speech? How do we make this meaningful? Every kid is working on speech until they’re around 8, in terms of articulation, so why not make it fun and engaging? We’re looking at how to restructure our curriculum to be effective for you and meet your needs so you can meet the kids’ needs.

S: What I’ve seen that I really like is that you have a visual component to your digital lessons for the kids to follow while you’re giving them verbal instruction. Almost every child I work with benefits from the visual component paired with the verbal component to really comprehend directions. When I first heard about this, I had a student in mind that I thought would love beatboxing as a means to address articulation. I’m really interested in how you created your own major of “Beatboxing as a Language.”

M: I went to the Gallitan School at NYU. It’s a school for individualized study.  I originally went to study Music Business and I wound up with an Entertainment Media business minor. I wound up leaving the program in sophomore year because YouTube just became popular and kind of took over this whole area. At the time, I’d become part of the New York City beatboxing community and became interested in beatboxing as communication. I saw beatboxing as a kind of meta-language. I thought I had this moral obligation to share beatboxing as a form of communication with people. This has been an ongoing passion of mine. What if we could really articulate the sound of what we’re trying to do? I took all these diverse classes, poetry, different languages, linguistics, phonetics, some speech-language classes, along with the ethics and implications of how we communicate. So now, it’s about how we take what we have and turn it into what we need. At this moment, that includes delivering all of this over the internet while we’re all at home and doing digital learning.

S: In addition to The Academy of Noise, you guys started out in competitive beatboxing and now you’re producing the championship competition?

M: Yeah, so I started out making noise playing as a kid—laser guns, rocket ships, all of it. I was a musical kid and I would copy what the drummers did. I was always tapping, and getting in trouble for expressing myself through this in school. School is a fairly clinical environment, and the expectation is to sit still and sit quietly.

I didn’t know beatboxing was a thing, I was playing with music. There are two sides to beatboxing—expression and community. The feeling of belonging within the community because you express yourself the same way is amazing. It was a huge part of my learning. I know how empowering it can feel to be around other people willing to make sounds and take risks with you, and that’s why I’m here with Academy of Noise.

K: Mark was one of the first people I met. There is a vulnerability in beatboxing that is specific to what we do. We’re taking risks and making weird faces and strange sounds and I have to be okay with that, and the fact that there’s a community okay with me doing those things was amazing to find. It’s a really loving community. It’s a very positive community, our battles are an excuse to hang out; they’re not meant to be aggressive. The competitions have every age group now, and they want to welcome you and your unique voice and style. When you teach it to kids, they walk away with another skill. Say they have to leave class to go to speech, coming back into the room can feel awkward for them, they feel like they’re different and they missed out on something. Well now, with beatboxing, we’re giving them this superpower and they can come into class with something they can do that the other kids don’t know how to do yet. They get to share that. That’s what gets us up in the morning—we know all ages enjoy it. It’s harder to teach adults to beatbox.

M: I call it the shame barrier. For kids, they make weird sounds all the time and at some point, we get told to use our words. That’s so ingrained in us as adults that we don’t want to be vulnerable with our voices anymore and take those risks, because at some point, we were told not to. We work with everyone and have students of all ages. Seeing it cut to this level of freedom that these people can access through vulnerability is so powerful.

S: Is there a sound in beatboxing that’s harder to teach than others?

M: Yes. People are inventing new sounds all the time. People make the sounds more challenging, changing the production and complexity of the sound. People take outward sounds and make them inward sounds or combine them together. Every sound takes a different amount of time to learn.

K: I look at sounds that took me forever to learn and I’m seeing teenagers pick it up in a month. It’s like language acquisition, it’s easier when you’re younger. Beatboxing is a language through replication, rhythm, and timing.

M: And it’s dependent on your body. Your instrument is different from everyone else’s. Some sounds can take you moments and some can take you years. There are different styles of beatboxing so it depends on the focus of the person.

K: And bringing it back to speech, the kids get so many repetitions of a speech sound when they’re beatboxing.

S: What’s been really cool to watch while we’ve been talking is how you’re using your voices to make sounds. It would never have occurred to me to put certain articulators or sounds together to make another sound. I didn’t think vocal structures could do this. Based on how you’re explaining how you find, replicate, or recreate sounds, you guys might be the only other community that understands the articulation aspect of speech productions as well as speech pathologists.

K: That’s interesting, because we’re coming at it from putting articulators in place to make sounds and knowing how that works, and we have prompting strategies for avoiding the more common pitfalls that come with each sound.

S: Every week I challenge my students to get outside of their comfort zone and try something new. What would you have them try to do, other than beatboxing?

K: We have a game called “Show Time.” Everyone gets a minute of show time to do whatever they want in front of the audience of their peers or family. They can talk about their day, sing, dance, beatbox, whatever. The idea is getting them used to building confidence and trying something new in front of people. That person could do nothing for a minute if they wanted to, but no matter what, the audience is loud and supportive of that person’s choice.
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For the first time since distance learning began, Kaila and Mark got me thinking about the different avenues that can be taken to support my students best right now. I think beatboxing as a tool for speech production is brilliant. It really is another language, with its own shared rules and exchanges, which I think could be taken to the social skills areas of language as well. I am really excited about staying in contact with Kaila and Mark and playing with beatboxing in some of my own sessions in the future. You can find out more about what Kaila and Mark are doing by following them on Instagram at @TheAcademyOfNoise or on Twitter @AcademyofNoise. They are also teaching beatboxing to anyone and everyone interested online, and their information can be found on their website. I hope you all enjoyed reading this conversation as much as I enjoyed participating in it. I’m looking forward to hearing about how everyone’s 60 seconds of Show Time goes in comments.

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

Better Speech and Hearing Month · Lesson Plans · Teacher Appreciation · Teachers Pay Teachers · The Human Connection

It’s All Part of the Gig: Better Speech and Hearing Month Gone Digital

May is usually when I give tips for vocal hygiene and hearing protection in the school setting. My plans for this post have changed so many times, which is why I’m posting later than usual. This week, my school district announced closure through the rest of the academic year. Initially, I had planned to share my advice with my staff during our monthly staff meeting. Obviously, our staff meeting objectives have shifted, as has my method of providing services for students. Today, I’m writing this post to celebrate some amazing teachers and speech pathologists making products on Teachers Pay Teachers.

  • Fun In SpeechI’ve  been loving all of her articulation activities, including her word searches and scavenger hunts. The parents I work with have been loving these as well. Super engaging and a great break from screens for the kids with lots of practice opportunities. Raves across the board!
  • A Kinderteacher LifeI have been loving the category sorts from this shop. I have been using them as they are with the sorting images provided, as well as having my students look around their home and see what else fits into these sorts. This shop has a sort for just about everything, from community helpers to social skills. My parents love how easy they are to use and how it gets the kids doing more than a paper/pencil task.
  • Miss D’s Autism HomeroomThese activities have been lifesavers! This educator created social inferences on Google slides! Easy for my students to access and relatable scenarios for my upper elementary and middle school students. They want more activities like this and so do their families.
  • Lone Star Lit LadyThis educator makes amazing cause and effect and inference products. My students, their families, and I LOVE the graphic organizers that go along with the pictures. It has helped my students to get really organized and make really informed inferences and fully comprehend cause and effect relationships.
  • Stacy CrouseStacy Crouse is another articulation lifesaver. I have been loving her picture searches and speech scenes for articulation practice. My students have loved these products and my parents love the amount of practice per page, as do I. It’s a great way to practice articulation targets without a screen, as well as a great no-print option for my students who are more motivated by digital materials. Win-win!
  • Speech Therapy PlansThis educator made some fantastic no-print inferences for my older students. Super relatable and easy to access. It also gets my students talking about their own experiences, allowing for sentence expansion and text to self connections.
  • Language Speech and LiteracyI love this shop, and I’m currently loving the no print-no prep spring inferences. These are not only great for inferences but also great for WH questions, explaining opinions, and encouraging increased sentence length in student responses.
  • My Speech ToolsMy favorite product from this shop is the no-prep Cause and Effect activity. The pictures remove the reading aspect for my students who have challenges with decoding and fluency. They can rely entirely on the picture to make solid cause and effect relationships. This has given my students a more confident way in to understanding cause and effect.
  • Kayla SLPMy articulation kids love this SLP’s spin and say activities. The parents think it’s a great way to practice sounds in different capacities and it’s a great carryover activity as well. I’ve used these activities before digital learning, and they make for great practice for all ages.
  • Nicole AllisonI love this seller’s nonfiction texts for mixed groups and nonfiction texts for ELA targets. I’ve used them before distance learning, and they’re great either as practice or a virtual session. The parents love how full of information they are and the teacher keys that go along with the student copy.

I don’t know when school ends for you, but we have a month left of digital learning. I am more of a performing arts kid of girl, so I am extremely grateful for the creative, visual arts SLPs who are making amazing products that are easy to use and super engaging. Each seller’s Teacher’s Pay Teachers shop is linked above the products I’ve mentioned. Check out their shops, and you’ll discover a plethora of great activities for practice, homework, virtual sessions, and more.

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

Broadway · Interview · Performances · The Human Connection · Wise Words

I’ll Make You Proud of Everything I Know: A Conversation with Kyle Scatliffe

It’s Speechie Sunday and I have been looking forward to sharing this conversation for a while. At the beginning of the year, I heard Kyle Scatliffe on an episode of The Hamilcast.I had already been following his career while he toured with the Philip company of Hamilton, and became even more interested as he joined the cast of Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird. Many of my students are reading this book for school, and Kyle kept mentioning how much of his job he learned as he worked. The first thing that popped into my mind was that he could really share some of the ins and outs of being an actor, tour life, what it’s like to perform on Broadway…he had so much to share on so many topics. During one of his three Hamilcast episodes, he also discussed anxiety and vocal health, and I couldn’t imagine anyone relating to my students as well as he could. I am so glad that when I reached out, Kyle was happy to participate in this interview. We talked about so much and covered a lot of ground, I hope you enjoy this conversation as much as I do.

Stef: How did you become interested in theatre as an activity? As a career path?

Kyle Scatliffe: When I was fifteen I was feeling a bit aimless because I had fallen out of love with trying to pursue basketball as a career. I just knew that I enjoyed it but the actual profession of it wasn’t for me. I had an elective theatre class that year (9th grade), and my teacher Donna Bialkin suggested that I try theatre after I performed a scene in class. I told her that I would have to think about it. I thought about it for the entire year, but ultimately decided that I should try it. I fell in love with it and haven’t looked back since.

S: One look at your Playbill biography, and anyone can see that many of the roles you’ve played are pretty heavy ones. How do you get into or out of character and keep the role separated from your personality?

KS: I don’t treat every character the same way, and because of that my way of getting into character changes with each one. For Tom Robinson, I listen to a specific playlist of songs that were about the Jim Crow era, and for Hamilton it was accent work for Lafayette and trying to be as full of myself as possible for Jefferson.

S: Many of my students are experiencing anxiety and have developed their own strategies for giving presentations and getting involved in new social situations. As someone who is pretty vocal about anxiety and being an introvert, how did you become comfortable putting yourself out there in auditions and in performing?

KS: When it comes to auditioning and anxiety, what helped me the most was being so prepared that any misstep wouldn’t throw me off. My anxiousness tends to flare up because I’m a perfectionist in some ways and a realist in others, and those two sides are at war with each other. So, preparation always helped me. Another thing that helps is knowing that the people in the room have more pressure on themselves than you do. They are the ones on the hook if they can’t find someone to fill in a part. You’re just there to help them.

S: You’ve learned a lot about vocal health over the course of your career. Now that this is sort of becoming a more discussed topic among actors, what do you do to keep your voice healthy?

KS: Steam. Steam. And Steam. Steaming is the best thing for your voice. When you wake up and right before bed. I also don’t drink at all because it can dry you out. It’s all about taking care of yourself as an individual and knowing your responsibilities. Friday night is a cute night to go out but it’s not when you have two shows the next day. I also have a voice teacher that I see regularly. And whenever you are sick, apple cider vinegar is your best friend. It’s gross…but it’s your best friend…and garlic. Haha.

S: You’ve had the opportunity to perform with Disney Cruise lines. I have older students who are interested in pursuing careers in both theme park/ cruise line entertainment and acting in stage productions. Are auditions for an opportunity like this different from auditions for theatre productions?

KS: Hilariously enough…no. They are structured the same way. They may have open calls for the shows or agent submissions and you have to prepare something from your book or something from the shows you are auditioning for. It’s basically the same.

S: You get to play really charismatic historical figures in Hamilton. My students are curious about whether or not this made you want to learn more about our country’s history aside from this production?

KS: History was actually my favorite subject in high school, so my general curiosity towards what has happened, what could have happened, and how we don’t repeat the bad that’s happened has helped me immensely throughout my career. So, coming into Hamilton I knew a lot of tidbits about the founding fathers and their relationships and what they did. I just had to fill in the details.

S: You are currently playing Tom Robinson in To Kill A Mockingbird on Broadway. Many of my students have read or are currently reading this book. What is it like to portray a character so many are familiar with through other genres?

KS:  Because it’s a new version of the show and a new version of the script, I tend to not think about that too much. Everyone has come into the show thinking about the characters as if they’ve never been portrayed before because of the agency of the characters in this particular version. Every once and I while I do have to speak on it though and that’s when I’m reminded. Luckily, this version of Tom isn’t extremely dissimilar to the book or the movie. But he has more of a decision in the events that happen on stage.

KS
Photo: Brian Hester

S: What are the best parts about doing a role on tour versus a sit-down production?

KS: The traveling! I got to see and experience a lot of American cities that I’ve always wanted to go to. The nice thing about not being on tour is the fact that I have a fiancée and two dogs at home. You get homesick after a while and that’s what brought me back.

S: What do you think aspiring actors need to learn before working that they may not learn in school?

KS: Every actor has a completely different path. Don’t look left and right and think you are failing because other people are doing better than you or are involved in work you want to be involved in. Everyone’s path is different. And that you are never not an actor as long as you truly believe you are one and put in the work to be one. Outside validation is great, but when it’s not there, what are you?

S: How does your relationships with cast members impact your onstage performance, if at all?

KS: It helps deeply with chemistry. You should be able to have chemistry with people even if you don’t like them, of course, but it helps to be friends with those you work with because it makes the job easier. I had a teacher tell me once that he couldn’t stand one of his coworkers and he was not only supposed to be with her in the show, he was supposed to be married to her. So, he just found something about her he liked and would remind himself of that. It just so happened to be her jawline, ha-ha.

S: Every week I challenge my students to do something outside of their comfort zone. What would you challenge my students and/or readers to do?

KS: To live and to experience. Experiencing life and understanding life as it is and as it could be is an actor’s best tool. Regardless of what style of acting you use. We are on stage emulating life, but you have to understand it first before you can do that. And most importantly of all is to understand both sides of an argument regardless of what you actually believe. Try to understand how and why someone got to where they are not just judge them for where they are now.

 

I can’t thank Kyle enough for answering the variety of questions my students and I asked. When I shared all of his responses with my students, they really agreed with the notion that comparing themselves to other actors didn’t do them any good, and most had not thought about needing to know both sides of any and every argument. They’re learning how much space there is between the beliefs of “right” and “wrong” in daily life, but hadn’t thought to apply it to acting. They felt like if Kyle had been a classmate of theirs, that they’d be great friends, and now have another actor’s perspective on how the business works.  My most anxious students had not considered the folks casting could possibly as nervous if not more than they were, and this really resonated with my students.

 My students are now coming back to me with “lessons learned” from experiences, and I’d like to challenge my readers to do the same. In comments, share what you’ve learned from looking at another side of a topic. What were your lessons learned? To hear the interview from The Hamilcast, check out Kyle’s first episode here, and to keep up with Kyle Scatliffe, you can follow him on Instagram here. If you can, go see his performance in To Kill A Mockingbird—that whole production is powerful in every sense of the word.

Keep playing with words and see what your message creates!

–Stef the StageSLP

Inclusion · The Human Connection · Wise Words

If I Could Tell Her: An Open Letter to My Students

Dear Students,
Monday was SpeechToStage.com’s third birthday. As much as I’ve learned from this blog over those three years, I’ve learned even more from you. This letter is everything I want to tell you given the current state of events.

I’m sitting at home and wondering how you’re doing, and if you’re missing our speech sessions as much as I am. I’m wondering how you like learning online, and how I can best help you. Over the past three years on this site along with many years of practice as an SLP, you’ve always taught me to look at the world in perspectives I have yet to consider. I want to tell you that when I get to see you again, I will likely cry tears of joy, because you are more than my students, you are my kids.

I want to tell you that this is weird for all of us. Online learning is new for your teachers and parents and we’ve never done this before. We’re as frustrated as you. We know it’s hard. We want to help you through it, but we don’t have all the answers. We’re all doing the best we can. I want to tell you to share your thoughts and ideas and this time with your family. You won’t get this time back, and as someone who is in a house alone, make lasting memories with those around you.

I want to tell you the other side of this will be quite something. It may not be how we left things. It will cause us all to keep learning, as challenging as that is. Sometimes the rules change when you least expect it. I am learning to roll with it, since I can’t control much. Follow directions, and do what feels right to you. I have had some great days and some days when I’ve felt sad. I’ve had days when I felt a lot of feelings all at once. I want to tell you to do the best you can, and that’s all any of us can do.

I want to tell you to keep in communication with your friends. Email, text, Zoom, call–staying at home doesn’t mean staying silent. I’ve been leaning on my friends a lot to keep me sane. Find the funny. Find the silver lining. Find the moments of joy in your day. Remember the times you laughed so hard with your friends that you cried. Remember birthday celebrations, and celebrate the little things too. Find your people. Keep them close. Love them hard.

I want to tell you that I am here. I am here however I can be, circumstances permitting. I want to tell you you’re in my heart and my head all the time. I want to thank you for being you, and that my memories made with you are bringing me laughter and comfort even when I can’t see you. I want you to know that this will end eventually, and when it does, I will be waiting for you.

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

Articulation · Grammar · Inclusion · Language Comprehension · Lesson Plans · Pragmatics and Social Skills · The Human Connection · Vocabulary

The World Turned Upside Down: Activities You Can Do At Home

Hi readers. I’m writing this post without a clear theme. I know we’re all feeling so much, and we want what we consider to be normal back. We’re going through a lot of change quickly, and honestly, I’m feeling stuck and confused.  As Andrea Koehler of Broadway Makers Alliance and Coloring Broadway has been tagging her posts, #CreativityIsTheCure. I knew I needed help for ideas with this post, and I’m so glad I have friends like Andrea and Alisa Hurwitz to give me some ideas.

I know that home schooling right now is hard on everyone and is testing everyone’s patience. As an educator, I miss my staff and students so much and hope they are all well. So instead of work, I am going to share some activities that are more relaxed and easy to do. Anyone can join in on any of these activities, and I hope you enjoy them.

  • Taboo
    Write down a bunch of nouns on slips of paper and put them into a cup.  Set a timer for 60 seconds. One player chooses a slip of paper and has to describe it without saying the name of the object. The person or team who gets the most right during the allotted time, wins.  If you’re working on expressive language, describing is great practice, as the listener has to clearly understand your message. If you’re working on language comprehension, this activity focuses on your ability to consume all of that auditory information and turn it into a response. For pragmatic language, this helps inform turn-taking skills. For articulation, use your best speech sound and use nouns that have your speech sounds in them. Divide yourselves into teams, or just play against each other.
  • Listening to your favorite song
    This activity is similar to the Your Song project I started. Listen to your favorite song. Tell others why you like it and how it makes you feel. Make sure you’re patient and listen to everyone else’s favorite songs too. This encourages explaining, describing, speaking clearly, and conversational turn taking. The best part is having a dance party while you listen, moving around and dancing will make you feel better than sitting on your couch. Bonus creativity points if you make up your own choreography to go with your song.
  • Story time
    Reading is a great way to work on practicing speech sounds and asking and answering questions. Grab your favorite book, and take turns being the reader. The reader chooses where and when to stop and ask questions. After the story is done, The reader gets to ask a listener to summarize the main idea in their won words. This works on summarizing, paraphrasing, asking and answering questions, and turn taking. This can also be done with movies or online videos.
  • Articulation I Spy
    Go around your house and play I Spy with your family only using words that have your speech sound in them. Clues my students like to give are “The sound is at the beginning/middle/end of the word. Whoever guesses the right answer, wins. You get lots of practice with your sound this way. This also gets you up and moving around your house, which is always a plus.

I hope you’re all using the time we have at home to connect with your families and yourselves. Be kind and patient with each other. This is new to all of us. I hope these activities are useful to you. Do you have activities of your own you can share? I’d love to hear all about them in comments.

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

Inclusion · Interview · Performances · Pragmatics and Social Skills · Vocal Health

We’re All Connected in Emojiland: A Conversation with Laura Schein

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to take myself to the theatre and see Emojiland the Musical. It was a show I had wanted to see for a while, but when friend of the blog Andrea Koehler of Coloring Broadway told me I needed to see it, I made sure I did. Ever since, I have not been able to get this show out of my head. From concept to casting, score to scenery, I cannot remember the last time I felt like I was truly a part of the world in which the show took place. It is currently playing at The Duke on 42nd Street and I can’t encourage everyone to see this show enough. After the show, I went to the stage door because I had to thank the actors for the performance I just saw onstage. I got to thank Laura Schein (whom I had asked about vocal health during an eight-show-week, because my job is never far from mind), for her performance and later learned that she also co-created the entire production. Based on that information alone, I knew I had to learn more about the work she’s done and how Emojiland came to be. I was already trying to find social skills lessons to base of the cast album when I learned she was also a health coach and beginning to co-host a podcast on functional health. At this point, I was so inspired by the amount of work one person is doing at once across so many different platforms and professions that I had to reach out to her. I am so, so grateful that Laura was as enthusiastic as I was to have this conversation.

Stef The Stage SLP: I am so inspired by everything you’re doing right now, thank you so much for chatting with me.

Laura Schein: No problem, I’m so happy to talk to you! And yes, I enjoy wearing a lot of different hats. I’m a hat lover.

S: I can barely do one thing at a time, but I’m trying to get better at multitasking.

LS: It’s tricky, but I like the challenge of it.

S: You do so much! What came first for you; acting or creating or being a health coach?

LS: Dancing, actually. I started when I was 2. I saw a production of The Wiz when I was 3 and at intermission I turned to my mom and said, “I want to do this.” I did children’s theater and community theater, and through a summer camp I was chosen to go audition for a professional Equity production of The Secret Garden and I got to play Mary. From there, I got an agent and I was also in the Chicago sit-down company of the first national tour of Ragtime for a year and a half. It was a really amazing experience. I kept doing theater all throughout childhood and went to Northwestern University, and that’s where I started writing, directing and choreographing, becoming more interested in those areas as well.

After college, I moved to Los Angeles and kept acting, but also started writing more with my writing partner Keith Harrison. We wrote stand-alone songs, music videos, we were always creating something. Eventually, we were asked ‘Where’s your big musical?’ We spent some time thinking about it and one night at dinner in 2014 a Google Trends alert came up on our phones that said the most searched word that day was “emoji.” It dawned on us at dinner that these are characters in an alphabet but also characters with potential stories we could tell. That’s where Emojiland began. It’s been a six-year journey since then.  We’ve probably written over 50 songs for the show and developed so many characters over different versions of the show. A lot of the characters that are in the show now didn’t exist when we first started writing—Nerd Face didn’t exist—so the show has changed along with the emoji alphabet.

S: I didn’t even think of characters evolving along with actual emojis evolving in our phones.

L: Very much so. And that’s been the biggest challenge with this show. The source material is not narrative, so deciding on which characters we wanted to focus on and the stories we wanted to tell was always a topic of discussion.

S: And you’re a health coach, too?

LS: Yes, the health coach side of things is a whole other aspect of my life. I’ve always been passionate about health. My mom is a psychologist and nutritionist and actually raised me vegan. She started a school to train health coaches, The Functional Medicine Coaching Academy, and I was in the beta class. This lead me to become the co-host of this podcast, What The Func, with my friend Clayton Farris. We became friends doing a play together, and he was essentially my first client. We’re exploring functional health and talking to all sorts of professionals and delving deeper into that world.

S: I discovered the functional health world through my students and their unique diet needs. The impact of nutrition on behavior and overall functioning didn’t occur to me until I had families of my students telling me how certain diet changes affected their student’s mood or behavior. This led me to go on my own functional health journey. My older students can actually tell me, I need to eat healthy foods today or I won’t be able to focus on my exam.”

LS: Oh yeah, it’s amazing how nutrition and health absolutely affect mood and behavior. That’s wonderful that your students are so in tune with their bodies. A lot of people have yet to make the connection that what they eat affects their mental health.

S: Changing topics, I am clearly in love with your show. You play Smiling Face with Smiling Eyes and she goes through a lot of emotions over the course of the show. How do you mentally and emotionally prepare for a role like that eight shows a week?

LS: I have always been interested in pursuing the depths of emotion that I possess. The first play I ever did was called Kindertransport and it was very intense. I really learned how to access all of those emotions, and I love being able to tell the story as a character and then put it aside at the end of the play and go back to my life. There’s always some of me onstage, and in a way, it helps me process my own emotions too. Everyone’s going through so much every day, and I feel lucky that I get to share some of that on stage with people, and hopefully help them feel less alone.

S: Your answer made me feel a lot more normal. Those are the same parts of acting and performing that I enjoy, and grew up being asked why I didn’t just want to see or do happier and lighter shows. All of your characters have such a range of emotions and real depth to them. How do you create such well-rounded characters beyond the superficial images the audience knows emojis to be?

LS: That’s what I try to do in life, see all sides of a person. I try to see what drives them, what’s their history, and not take anyone at face value. I would never want to create a one-dimensional character, because that’s not interesting to me. We’re all so multi-dimensional and multifaceted, and those are the types of characters I want to create.

S: Students of mine actually shared with me that they thought it would be easier to just create the characters exactly as they are and how people would expect them. And I guess you could do that, but there’s not much story in that.

LS: When we had the idea, we very quickly connected with the idea that emojis have a fixed, coded identity. But what happens when you are who you are and everyone sees you one way, but you feel differently? We knew we wanted to tell a story about that duality, and we thought that emojis were a wonderful way to represent that idea.

S: Has working on this show changed how you use technology and emojis?

LS: Definitely. Ever since we started working on the show, I get so excited for updates because that leads to new character and prop possibilities. And no surprise, I love using emojis when texting. You know how in musicals ‘when you can no longer talk, you sing’? With emojis, when you can’t convey something by text, you use emojis. We thought there was a wonderful parallel there between how music is used and how emojis are used.;

S: I have actually used emojis with my students who are nonverbal. All of my students are extremely tech-motivated, and I’ve taught some students to use emojis on an iPad to express their wants and needs. When I don’t have access to a dedicated device, they’re actually a great method of communication. And with the space that you’re in and how your show is staged, you feel like you’re such a part of Emojiland.

LS: It really does feel that way. I love the intimacy of the space. We’re all connected in Emojiland.

S: I noticed wile I was watching the show, there is only one instance in which a gender-specific pronoun is used. I really like that choice. Was it intentional, or did it just kind of happen that way?

LS: It was intentional. There are no pronouns in the script because the emoji code isn’t inherently gender or racially specific. We were really excited about that from the beginning. And we’re excited about future productions having wildly different casting because these roles can be played by anyone.

S: That would be really exciting to see this show with different casting, I hadn’t thought of that. I love the casting in the show, I think it’s great. I love your performance in this show, but I am curious about how you take care of your voice as a performer. In this show specifically, you’re also putting on a bit of a voice. How do you prepare for that?

LS: It actually feels, as the run goes on, that my voice becomes more comfortable. It feels like my voice now sits healthfully where it should. Obviously, as a health coach, I’m really health-conscious. I eat very well; I drink so much water. And ginger shots. I’m obsessed with them. There are some nights when non-theater friends will ask me to go out to a loud bar with them post-show, but with 8 shows a week I have to be really careful. I try to get my rest and not be somewhere where I have to yell over music. It’s tough because I want to hang out, but I also have to be careful and protect myself. My castmates are the same way. When we want to go out post-show we go to a quiet diner and have pancakes and tea.

S: I get that, but there was a moment when Nerd Face’s reaction was to scream and I thought to myself, ‘I know he’s using a microphone, and I know my seat is really close, but that has to hurt eight shows a week.’ I felt the same way about whatever crazy note Skull has to hit in his songs.

LS: I guess your voice just adjusts to it. And it fluctuates. Some days feel much harder than others.

S: I have to ask; how do you wear so many hats in this production without becoming exhausted?

LS: I’m just trying to enjoy the ride. I’m so grateful for this run. One of the first lyrics in the show is “Stay in the present, the future’s unknown,” and I am really trying to just be present and focus on one thing at a time. Once I start thinking about everything at once, I get overwhelmed.

S: See, that was fascinating to me as a lyric in the show since Emojiland takes place in a phone. Most of the time we’re on our phones, we’re using it to escape and not be present. How does that work?

LS: I think we all have love-hate relationships with our phones. Phones connect us to each other. Even now, we met briefly in person, and then you reached out to me online. I’m thankful for how our phones have expanded our world and our reach, but I do have to make myself put it down and be present with the people physically around me. You need to look up. I’m also a perfectionist when it comes to responding to every message I get, and I’m working on waiting before responding to people so that I don’t miss out on connecting with someone I’m physically with in the moment.

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

LS: I would challenge people to go through one full day without complaining about anything. Try to see if it’s possible to find the positive side of every situation throughout the day, to maintain a sense of gratitude and emanate that positivity despite whatever challenges you may experience.

***********************************************************************************

Very much like my first experience with Emojiland the Musical and Laura, I thoroughly enjoyed this conversation. For context, we spoke at the end of a school week while Laura was in between teaching a masterclass and a meeting before her Friday evening performance. As busy as we both were, this was certainly the highlight of my day. I can’t wait to hear how you do with Laura’s challenge, please share the results in comments.

 

You can find Laura on social media at @thelillaura on Twitter and Instagram and Emojiland the Musical at @emojimusical on FacebookTwitter and Instagram as well. You can catch Emojiland at The Duke Theater on 42nd Street through March 19th, and tickets are available here. This show has something for everyone, and is the most relatable show I’ve seen in a while. I can’t recommend this show enough. The cast album is available on streaming, as well as physically and digitally.

 

Keep playing with words and see what your message creates!

–Stef the StageSLP

Broadway · Inclusion · Performances

All You Wanna Do: Review of A Five Show Weekend

Hi readers! Sorry for the delay in posting, but I thought a delay was in order. Last weekend, I treated myself to a five-show weekend. I saw quite the range of shows, and wanted to post a review before spring breaks begin over the coming months. Let’s dive in!

  • SIX

    My first show of the weekend was SIX, and what a way to kick off the weekend! Believe the hype–it is entertaining from start to finish. A Broadway-pop concert telling the stories of the six wives of Henry VIII. 85 minutes of pure girl-power infused performing. I strongly recommend this show to everyone, but may be more suited to middle school and older.

  • Emojiland

    Next stop, off-Broadway for the most delightful show of my trip, EmojilandFor absolutely everyone, this show has the most inclusive messaging I’ve ever seen/ There are no pronouns used, leaving all feeling accepted. Don’t be fooled by the name, this show covers many topics that resonated with me and that my students could relate to as well. There is talk of acceptance, honesty, being true to yourself and others, and messages of positivity. Friend of the blog Lesli Margherita’sperformance is absolutely everythingI could want, and Natalie Weiss’ performance shines brighter than the iPhone lights the show lives in.  I experienced a range of emotions and I don’t believe I’ve met a nicer cast of people or fans at a stage door. Laura Schein and George Abud were kind enough to share how they keep their voices healthy. Steam is your friend, folks. Hurry to see this show, extended through March 19, 2020. Personally, I’m looking forward to the release of the cast album on February 28th.

  • Jagged Little Pill

    Jagged Little Pill is a show for now. It addresses very strong, very raw issues that are present in daily life. On stage, I saw reflected what my students, colleagues, and I all go through presented through the music of Alanis Morisette. Every performer on that stage has such a presence that draws the audience in immediately. This powerful, timely production would be best for high school age and up.

  • Moulin Rouge

    Once again, I adored Moulin Rouge. I gave a full review here, and my feelings remain the same. I may love it even more after a second viewing. This time, I got to see the fantastic Ashley Loren as Satine, and she is every bit the sparkling diamond.

  • Ain’t Too Proud

    I grew up listening to Motown and have always enjoyed it. The storytelling in Ain’t Too Proud is superb. The introduction of each performer is seamless and thoroughly entertaining. There were many times I forgot I was at a Broadway show and not a concert. To learn the history of The Temptations is to learn the history of Motown. I would recommend this show to everyone who enjoys music, its history, and excellent performances.

Between all of these shows, there is certainly something for everyone. My challenge to you this week is to find a form of entertainment outside of your comfort zone. You never know when you’ll find your next favorite piece of music, theatre, film, or television.

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

Performances · The Human Connection

Because I Know Her I Am Known: Miss You Like Hell

Hi readers,

Sorry for the late post. It’s been a bit of a week, with computer failure and beginning Quarter Three of our school year. Now that my computer is up and running, we have to talk about the most moving, timely, powerful production I’ve seen since American Son (if you missed the theatrical run, go check it out on Netflix). Last night, I had the opportunity to see a production of Miss You Like Hell at Olney Theater Center with my mother.

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Image from CultureCapital.com

This production is incredible to witness. It truly dives into the complexities of mother-daughter relationships, immigration issues, passing down one’s culture to the next generation and so much more. Olney Theater Center’s description says it best:

“From the Pulitzer Prize-winning co-creator of In the Heights comes a new musical as big as America and as intimate as love between a mother and her daughter. Beatriz arrives in Philadelphia to convince her estranged 16 year-old daughter Olivia to join her on a road trip to California. Along the way, they encounter a mosaic of characters as diverse and weird as America itself, but the hard truth of Beatriz’s undocumented status and pending deportation to Mexico threatens to build a wall between them. With sharp comedy and a winning acoustic score by folk-rock star Erin McKeown, Miss You Like Hell is an American story for our time.”

The book and score by Quiara Alegria Hudes and music and lyrics by Erin McKeown has everything. It is moving, funny, relatable, and heartbreaking all at once. Many times during the show, my mother shot me some sideways glances during many a universal mother-daughter interaction being portrayed onstage. My mother also decided that her new favorite song is “Mothers,” a song about everything a mother does for her children. Erin McKeown’s music is perfectly suited to every scene, underscoring moments of comedic relief and deep emotional conversations.

This show did well to remind me of my luck and privilege. My parents are still married, I was raised in the United States, as were my parents and their parents. Many of the stressors and hardships in this production are things I have never had to experience, or even think of experiencing. It gave me some perspective about others in our country who do not have this luxury. It informs the audience to treat every interaction with any other human being as valid and valuable. As we see culture passed down in a varietty of ways through generations, it inspired conversations between my mother and I to talk about our traditions and our memories together. This show moved us in ways we weren’t expecting, but thoroughly appreciated. As we left the theater with many mother-daughter duos among other patrons, we heard mothers telling daughters to appreciate their mothers and love their mothers, regardless of age, background, culture, or relationship. To hear so many conversations about family and its importance was fortifying and comforting in many ways I didn’t expect.

While this show is only at Olney Theater Center from January 29th-March 1st, I cannot encourage everyone to go see this show enough.

This week, I challenge my readers and students to write a list of what they are grateful for regarding their family and lifestyle–this could be time in the car together on the way to soccer practice or family dinners together every night. Do this as a family, and compare them at the end of the week. Find the commonalities and look for ways to incorporate these events and activities into a more regular schedule.

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