Inclusion · Interview · The Human Connection

It Was Red and Yellow and Green and Brown: A Conversation with Andrea Koehler

I have never really been someone who enjoyed art as a kid. I liked the creative aspect, and I liked to make things look pretty. Truth be told, the vision in my head rarely made it to the final product. However, I vividly remember loving to color and draw, up until around age eleven. I have no idea why I stopped. Fast forward to the last few years when adult coloring books became popular. I thought I’d give those a try, and all it did was stress me out—the designs were too intricate and all of a sudden there were too many colors to pick from. What if I messed up? How in the world was this supposed to be relaxing? I just didn’t understand. And then, at BroadwayCon 2018, I met Andrea Koehler of Coloring Broadway and The Coloring Project. Magically, I was hooked on coloring again. I found it engaging and relaxing, and –get this—ENJOYABLE. Andrea and I talked about many things during our conversation, but what I took away was why coloring works for me, mindful activities, and the combination of the creative and the collaborative involved in this project.

S: How did these coloring pages come to be?

A: My why behind these pages is the mindfulness component that can be found in musical lyrics. I’m very picky in which lyrics we choose to highlight. Obviously, it has its connection to Broadway, but the point isn’t to call out a single show. “Hello, Dolly!” is a great line, but there isn’t much meaning to ponder behind that particular statement (or is there?). The reason I love the coming together of mindfulness and musical theatre is that musical theatre gives you all of these wonderfully inspirational lyrics.

S: I agree. I like that they’re not show specific.

A: And you don’t have to know it’s from a show to know the line is meaningful. However, finding they lyrics was easier with some shows, and harder with others. For example, Hamilton was easier to create than SpongeBob because Hamilton’s lyrics are full of meaningful snippets that are more easily understood out of context. And I don’t want to get pigeon-holed. I want to cover the breadth of Broadway keeping the focus on the mindfulness of the lyrics. We currently have a list of most-requested shows to pull from in the future. The number one suggestion at BroadwayCon was The Great Comet. I have to balance what people want with what will be most popularly purchased from a business perspective. We want to create a 2017-2018 season coloring book or coloring set.

S: So, let me tell you, I am not a colorer, but your pages changed that! They relieved stress. And my friends laughed at me and said, “You did that? You don’t do art.” Now I have gone out and bought markers and pencils and I keep coloring!

A: May I suggest the extra fine Sharpies? They’re really good for coloring. My step-son asked if we could color with Sharpies one day and I caved, and now I will never go back.

S: Is there a right way to color?

A: No, there’s totally not. Use whatever you like to use. I want it to be easy for everyone. That’s actually why I currently make coloring pages. A book has lots of pages and there can be a pressure to complete all of the pages before you move on. With the collections we’ve made, you can pick and choose and change which pages you’re working on.

S: That is exactly the issue I had with deciding between some of your pages, and why I like the coloring pages. Is there a difference between Coloring Broadway and The Coloring Project?

A: Coloring Broadway came out of The Coloring Project. I have a 20-year background in training and development, and the last four-five years I spent doing leadership training and personal development in a corporate setting. That’s why I’m big on self-awareness. The only way we grow as a humanity is by understanding who we are and how we’re showing up to a situation. If we never look at how we function, we won’t grow individually or as a humanity (If we don’t know, we can’t grow :P). And then in April 2015, I picked up a coloring book. It was all I wanted to do for two weeks. I realized it was a tool, and for many things. Calming, creativity, and a way to create space for thought. Your brain has space to think when you’re coloring—you’re not getting any little red or beeping notifications, which can keep thoughts from being allowed to occur. It’s a tool for thinking and for focus. Our brains have been “untrained” from being able to focus and do deep work. We think about a zillion things at once. You listen better when you’re doodling or doing a non-cognitive activity – it keeps your “monkey mind” focused and allows you the space to listen or think.  Coloring is a non-cognitive activity. I created The Coloring Project to blend mindfulness as an activity with coloring. With The Coloring Project, I created a coloring book, The Power of Positive Coloring, that has a mindfulness activity that goes with each of the illustrations.  . It has prompts to get them thinking while they color,  something like, “While you’re coloring the word ‘Inspire’ think about what inspires you.”  Coloring Broadway happened because one of my illustrators and I both love Broadway. It’s a very niche audience, but it took on a life of its own.

S: I mean, give Broadway people something, and we will run with it.

A: Being at BroadwayCon was unreal. It was a great setting for us. We sold about half of what we brought with us, and we met with a bunch of different people and got great feedback. We’re already planning for next year.

S: That’s you and Tatro and Dr. Drama and other creators, right?

A: Yes! I love the Broadway makers. We’re a fun group.

S: I’m excited for whatever you come up with. I can’t believe I didn’t lead with this, but how did you get into theatre?

A: My mom was a ballerina and I grew up in dance. At 13, I quit dancing (self-esteem and body issues) and did all academics for my entire high school career. My friend group was friends with the theatre group at another high school and we pretty much followed them wherever they went. We saw their shows and sang all of the showtunes. That was my way in.  Another way of connecting to how I felt that wasn’t dancing.

S: Do you have an intended audience? Has it changed?

A: Broadway fans. Always Broadway fans, but there are multiple audiences. There’s kids, who are just starting to connect with theatre, and the teens in their fandoms, and the adults who want a souvenir. My audience is anyone who wants to extend their theatrical experience. You can buy a poster or a magnet and have nice memories, but through coloring, it can reconnect you to what moved you while you were in the theatre. And you get to create alongside what you know from the show with your own creative mentality.

S: Again, coloring wasn’t my thing until I saw your designs. What makes your designs different?

A: For the most part, the quotes that stand on their own. Everyone wants to hear the messages of the images. And our illustrator, Justine Fisher, has a wonderful sense of design and we tease out what the theme of the quote is. We match the theme of the quote to a design. My favorite one of hers is The Room Where It Happens. It’s not overly complex, and it holds meaning and is accomplishable in a short amount of time. The designs are created to be completed within 1-2 hours of beginning. I’ve made it take longer than that, but it can be done in a reasonable amount of time.

S: Does it start with the quote or the design?

A: Usually, it starts with the quote. Sometimes it starts with the music. When I brought up Hamilton, Justine hadn’t heard it yet. The emotion behind her experience listening is what drove her illustrations. She has an incredible ability to convey the message through different mediums within the visual realm.

S: For you as a creator, is there pressure on you for your pages to be liked, or do you just create what you enjoy?

A: It’s different since I’m not the illustrator. Justine and I will sit with the quote and talk it out. She has a different aesthetic than I do, and that’s where I find pressure. As long as she and I are pleased with it, I’m not terribly concerned.

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

A:  My challenge is to finish the statement, “I am.” Finish it in as many ways as you can. Explore all of the sides of that statement that apply to you. This is the beginning of self-awareness, which I am very passionate about. Learning about yourself and accepting all that you are is key. Take five minutes. If you can do that beyond five minutes, great, but start with five minutes.

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I am currently obsessed with Andrea’s Coloring Broadway pages, and message her every time I complete a new one. We had more fun than necessary during this interview, which is the best kind of fun. I’ve already taken her challenge, and it’s amazing to own the many things that I am. My students have begun to undertake this challenge, too, and are learning so much about themselves. It’s a joy to watch, and I can’t wait to hear how you all complete this exercise in comments. Because I know you totally need these coloring pages (and those to come), follow Andrea at @ColoringBWAY on Twitter and @coloringbroadway on Instagram. You can find her Etsy shop, The Coloring Project, with both Broadway and non-Broadway coloring options.

Keep playing with words and see what your message creates!

–Stef the StageSLP

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