The Human Connection

I’m The Bravest Individual: Self Esteem

Charity Hope Valentine had it right–self-confidence is key. For my students and myself, this can be a very real challenge. It’s a season of change–seasons, clocks, wardrobes, and mindsets. My students are starting to think of what next year will be like, their teachers, friends, and responsibilities. And so it comes up: how do you bolster a student’s self-esteem?

I’ve recently heard Scott Fried speak on a subject related to this. I have to start by saying, Scott taught me things I didn’t realize I needed to know, things I needed to hear, and how to better connect with my students. If you don’t know who Scott is, he teaches kindness. Learn more about him at www.scottfried.com.

The biggest thing you can do is validate your student. Listen. Hear them. This is his or her feeling and it is very real. Acknowledge this. Acknowledge them. Through this, you show them that they are being heard, and not just listened to. After all, this is what you’d want, right?

A reminder to the conversational partner hearing the student: as much as you want to, don’t fix the situation. Allow your student to get out whatever emotions need to be expressed. Do not give unsolicited advice. This goes for sayings like, “it gets better,” or “just give it time.” How does it feel when you hear those things? I can only speak from experience, but those statements and the like make me feel dismissed and unimportant.  Wait for them to ask for your help.

If they do ask for your help, go ahead. Offer your suggestions. Ask them about what they’re thinking. Let them try and problem solve. Wait for them to ask for guidance if you can. Let them know that you are here for them. The most important thing a student will ever hear from me is, “I believe in you.” Find your message and share it with your students. Through this, they exercise their executive functioning skills in a safe space before acting upon them. This helps them build their own self-esteem without them being 100% dependent on your thought process. This allows them to feel brave, smart, and in control. Even more, you’ve acknowledged the strength of their vulnerability, and how to manipulate their world from such a raw place. Let them be brave.

My challenge to you this week is to find a way to express that you are enough just as you are in the most creative way that you can. This can be through writing, through art, through words, or deeds. Please share your experiences below of how you acknowledge that you’re the bravest individual you have ever met.

Keep playing with words and see what your message creates!

–Stef the StageSLP

Inclusion, Interview

A World of Pure Imagination: A Conversation with Will Barrios of Tatro

One of the best parts of my job is getting to vicariously relive my childhood through the experiences of my students. The very best days are the ones that revolve around imaginative play. As a kid, I entertained myself endlessly with imaginative games I created. Now that I think back on it, they were less like games, and more like plays, in that I’d revisit the characters and their worlds daily. They had backstory and plot, and my friends were excellent collaborators. Will Barrios has created the limitless playset, Tatro. Through his product he is taking play to a whole new level by bringing us all back to the basics of using your imagination. I got to see this product at BroadwayCon, and as a speech pathologist I see endless possibilities for all of the goals my students are working on. Not only is it multi-function, but it’s lightweight, portable, and magnetic so the students (or I) won’t lose the pieces. Will and I talked about the creation of Tatro, the collaborative aspect of creating a playset that runs on the operator’s creativity, and the importance of play.

Stef: How did you get into theatre?

Will: I was in a production of Where the Wild Things Are in preschool. As it turns out, I ended up going through the entire rehearsal process and not being able to perform in the production because my aunt came to visit us the same weekend. If you were to ask my mother, she’d probably say I went after theatre to take back the experience of missing my first performance. I didn’t really revisit theatre again until I was nine and auditioned for Godspell. The cast was all ages and it was the first show that showed me that this is what theatre does—it creates these bonds and communities and after that I just wanted to do it again and again. Since then, I’ve always been extremely creative by nature.

S: How does being a theatre fan turn into creating a playset?

W: I was homeschooled for my seventh-grade year, and I was still doing shows around town. But more than being a theatre kid, I was just a creative kid.  As a creative kid, I was always creating shows at home. I’d build set pieces and bring them home. I made sets and put on shows for my parents. I did it until my parents said I couldn’t do it in the house anymore, and so I built a theatre in the garage. I had risers and a green room and sets, and I got to do this with my friends. I needed a way to make this smaller, so I could be creative in the house in addition to what I had set up in the garage. One day I was watching a show on television about magnets, and I thought, “What if I did that but with characters as magnets with a magnetic floor?” So, I got some cardboard and cut out a proscenium hole with a magnetic floor and made the characters. Tatro is the durable, reproduceable version of what that was.

S: So, dedication and drive has always been part of your DNA, huh?

W: I guess you could call it that, but it’s the joy of creating. I ended up going to design school in New York. For me, it’s the joy of creating. That’s what Tatro’s centered around. I want to give that back so kids can create in any way possible without instructions.

S: This is all how your materials got chosen, magnets over Velcro and the like?

W: Well yeah. I was thinking of a couple different materials and I came across magnets. They’re durable over time and I went with it and stayed with it.

S: I love it. I love that it is simple play that is accessible to everyone. Everything is so technology-based now, I have students who are learning how to code. My tech knowledge is not that advanced. Those same kids still come to me with “I have this grand idea, check it out, but I can’t do it. I’d never get it right.” I’ve found with a lot of kids, fear of failure can be a deterrent from even beginning a project. You’ve stuck with this for so long. What would you say to my students?

W: I have a really good friend who has a great mind for business. We were talking about my process. I mentioned failure to him, and he said, “You never fail; you pivot.” And it changed everything. You don’t fail, you pivot. You try something else when the first thing doesn’t work out and eventually you’ll figure it out. How do you eradicate the fear? You ask questions and ask for feedback and move in that direction.

S: We’ve had conversations about what this product would look like in a speech therapy session, and you shared that you worked on articulation in speech therapy as a kid, and without thinking I was able to find three different ways to use Tatro to target articulation goals. I know you’ve been talking with other health professionals and other theatre-branded creators. Who is your target audience for Tatro?

W: So, I was a creative kid, and I thought if I loved this, so would other creative kids. That was my initial market. I found that this could be a very narrow audience and wanted to see how to expand it. What’s interesting was I had psychologists, parents, and even educators come out of the woodwork with interest, which allowed for a larger audience beyond the creative kids. Right now, I’m finding parents and therapists are very interested in Tatro, which is great.

S: I really do think it’s a product for everyone.  All of that said, how do you feel about Tatro being used for therapeutic purposes?

W:  I have always thought that it had a lot of potential in talking with different professionals. I get the feedback of its durability and scalability and I didn’t realize how important that was. It’s doing what I wanted in the beginning, which is working without limits and boundaries. You can have different settings and characters and create any world, which allows an uninhibited, unlimited amount of imagination.

S: I think it’s a great tool. As someone who would use it for language, I can see it being used for turn taking, perspective sharing, social skills, language comprehension…really, I can do so much with this one playset that I can with a lot of my materials. The creation of this seems like a huge undertaking, is it all you or are you working with a team?

W: Aside from me, I work with an illustrator, a product design firm. There are very specific components of the product that their skill set matches. I also have a lot of really awesome people in various fields—education, health professions—who are so passionate about the product, and I’m reaching out to them for feedback and as product ambassadors.

S: So, what does collaboration look like for you?

W: Really clear communication. As our conversations continue about the development of the product, and in four months we’d come up with a proposal that went from a design to manufacturing. As we kept talking, patience and clarity of message and really listening to each other made this process so smooth. It’s been an amazing experience so far.

S: Sounds like everyone involved is learning from each other.

W: Yeah! The key is really our abilities to listen and hear each other in all aspects of development. The team has stuck with me as much as I’ve stuck with them. As tedious as this can get, they’ve been so supportive every step of the way.

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

W: Do something that scares you. As simple as it is, what scares you? Talking to someone you don’t know yet? Go talk to them. What’s the worst that could happen? Get creative. Embrace the moment of feeling scared and be aware of feeling scared. You will come out of it, and there is growth in experiencing that feeling and in coming out of that feeling.

 

In case you couldn’t tell, I could not be more excited about Tatro and what it’s going to open up for kids’ creativity. I have already pre-ordered mine and I know it will be the perfect addition to my therapeutic tools. To learn more about Tatro, and even pre-order your own, click here. Preorders are open once a month and are announced on Instagram at @tatrotoy and on Facebook at Facebook.com/tatrotoy. What started out as one of Will’s creative endeavors as a child is going to give so much back to even more children, and I am so excited to watch that happen.  Will and I are both very eager to hear how this challenge goes for all of you, so please let us know in comments.

Keep playing with words and see what your message creates!

–Stef the StageSLP

Autism Awareness, Broadway, The Human Connection

You’ll Never Walk Alone: Carousel and Autism Spectrum Disorder

I can’t believe it’s already April, which means it’s Autism Awareness month. For the record, it is always Autism Awareness month in my speech room, but for this month, we get a bit more of the spotlight. I choose to use this time to show how the recent revival of Carousel taught me to better understand my students on the spectrum.

The show is a story about two truly different individuals that even the whole town considers to be quirky. This made me think of the way my students are seen by the people in their lives who may not understand everything about their worlds. It takes a lot for me to step outside of the world in which I view my kids, so this can be tricky. My kids can be viewed from obsessive to single-minded, talkative to mute, docile to aggressive. Like Julie, currently played by Jessie Mueller, I view all of my students as beautiful.

There is a reason for every behavior and action my students show me. Not all communication is verbal, and I find their expressions beautiful. Stepping into their worlds for as long as they’ll allow me is a gift. I cherish it every minute I work with them. I’ve learned more from these children than I’ll learn from most adults. I learn about the beauty of numbers, technology, and verbal and nonverbal communication between children. The reciprocity and value and strength of words is all theirs, and from the simplest requests to the most complex explanations, I get to view it all. I get to understand them, and this is not a gift afforded to all.

This week, I challenge you to learn something about yourself or someone else by experiencing something new.

Keep playing with words and see what your message creates!

–Stef the StageSLP

Broadway, Inclusion, Interview, The Human Connection, Wise Words

Make Them Hear You: A Conversation With Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty

Growing up dancing, an integral part of my life was music. When I knew I needed to get emotion out or truly dig down deep and express myself, music was what let me find myself through dance. Stories got told and feelings were freed–joy, sorrow, what have you–through no better musical style than that of musical theatre. There are many great writer-composer duos, but there are truly none that have struck a chord in me such that Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty have over the years.

Ragtime has such a grip on my heart that I know it will never let me go, Anastasia fills me with such joy and wonder that I never want to leave that world, and Little Dancer, which was shown at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C., is a show that truly needs to reach more audiences. It is the music of theirs I relate to most–once a dancer always a dancer.

Just before I worked up the nerve to ask for this interview, a dear friend of mine and I started texting the lyrics to School House Rock back and forth because Lynn Ahrens wrote them! That’s right, the same material I use to create therapy lessons for my students are the ones that help my friends and me remember facts we learned in school. This interaction is one I’ll not soon forget, and I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

Stage SLP: What got you interested in theatre?

Lynn Ahrens: The first Broadway show I saw was Fiddler on the Roof, and it made me very interested in the art of telling stories in song. Years later I took a musical theater workshop, and the idea of actually writing for the theater took hold.

Stephen Flaherty: I’d been playing the piano since I was seven but what really got me interested in music for the theater was when I saw a touring production of the musical Godspell when I was twelve. I knew I had to be a part of that magic. That same year I wrote my first music for the theater: additional underscoring for my school’s production of Peter Pan.

S: For my students, editing can be really tough. So can finding the main idea or summarizing. Many of my students are working on these skills in speech and wanted to know how this translates into writing lyrics?

A: Lyric writing is all about editing, and each song needs to be concise. The classic song form is AABA—which means A) set up a premise or idea, A2) expand on that same idea, B) Develop the idea in a different direction and then A3) wrap up the idea. Not every song has this form, but it’s a good place to start, and a good way to think about organizing ideas. Maybe the simple AABA format will be of help to your students in organizing and building on their ideas. And of course, every word needs to count and be as clear and colorful as possible.

S: Do you have any advice for how to get beyond frustration when you’re brainstorming or get stuck?

A: Your mind is always busy solving problems. Sometimes you just need to take a break from what you’re trying to solve, and give your brain some breathing space to sort it out. Go to the library. Talk a walk. Take a nap. Let you mind wander. Do not go to your iPhone or Computer.

F: Yes. “Change the channel”: Take a walk (WITHOUT your cell phone), go to a park, go to a museum. Any of these may spark something or help you look at what you are working on with new eyes. And always carry what you need to capture your ideas when they do come, so you can quickly record it and remember that spark of inspiration.

S: You have written the lyrics to so many wonderful shows. Some of the most powerful lyrics I’ve ever heard, are those of yours in Ragtime. This is one of the shows I firmly believe had a hand in molding my upbringing. Can you talk about what that process and experience was like for you?

A: This would take a book to describe. Suffice to say, it was a wonderful collaborative experience, and once we sorted out how the many story strands could be organized, the writing came quickly. I think the first draft was done in about 6 months. The novel is written in a very declarative style, without a lot of dialogue, but I found the lyrics “in between the lines” –in other words, in what the characters didn’t say.

S: I have seen Anastasia twice now and another visit to the Broadhurst is certainly not out of the question. Why did you feel the need to come back to this particular work and add to it?

A: We always thought we could expand and deepen the story if we were given the chance, and when producers came to us to adapt the film for the stage we leaped at the chance. We’ve been able to make the story more adult, more complex, we’ve eliminated a couple of the most cartoony characters and have created a more realistic antagonist. The show is more historically accurate than the animated movie, too, and we got to write a slew of terrific new songs for characters who never really got to sing in the original.

F: There was a deeper story to tell. In an animated film you can only go so far and so deep. With film, you’re not the captain of the ship; the producer is. We knew there was more to discover about our characters and had a strong desire to bring the story back to its original historical roots. Luckily, the film company agreed, and we were able to go forward. It’s certainly been a journey!

S: I was extremely fortunate to get to see Little Dancer at The Kennedy Center. I found theatre through dance, and this show is my favorite of the nearly eighty I’ve seen so far. What drew you to this project?

A:I had always admired Degas’ Little Dancer sculpture, but for some reason I suddenly began to wonder about the girl who posed for it—who was she? What was her story? I did some research and found out the few known facts about her and her family, and then decided to weave those facts into a fiction, set in the colorful backstage world of the French ballet.

F: Thank you! As a composer I wanted to write more for the dance world, and we both wanted to work with Susan Stroman, who was central to the creation of this piece. Lynn came up with the central idea: The story of this young ballerina who would inspire a great work of art becoming, in many ways, the most famous dancer in the world. We are still working on the show, focusing the story and deepening the central relationship between Marie and Degas.

S: You also wrote the book for Little Dancer. For those who may not know, what is the difference between writing the book and the lyrics?

A: Lyrics are the words that are sung in a musical. Book is the scene by scene structure of the musical, and all the spoken words in those scenes.

S: Is there a future for Little Dancer so more people can be as amazed by it as I was and continue to be?

F: There is a future. We are in discussions currently about another regional production with its sights on Broadway. So…fingers crossed!

A: We hope it will come to Broadway at some point in the next year and a half.

S: What inspires you to write?

A: Life, literature, music…the world at large.

F: Many things inspire me to write. I tend to be curious by nature. I think you need that quality to be a writer or composer. Inspiration is everywhere, you just need to open your eyes, ears, and heart and dare to look.

S: We have a school-wide goal of collaboration, and you two are well known for your partnership together. What is it like working consistently with the same partner?

A: It takes patience, kindness, a sense of humor and a willingness to forgive. We are also very honest with one another.

F: Over time, you change as both individuals and writing partners. That’s one of the things that makes it all interesting. We both cultivate our own interests, and that allows us to bring new things to our collaborative process. You have to develop trust and know that you can pursue and try any idea without the fear of it not being “good enough,” without fear of failure. Once you have that freedom with a partner you are able to really fly.

S: Do you have any advice for my students on how to be a productive partner in collaborative work?

A: Keep an open mind, listen to their ideas, and rather than saying “I don’t like that idea, try saying: “Maybe not that, but that gives me another idea. How about this?” Try to build on each other’s ideas.

F: Yes. It’s all about trust, support, and honesty. And knowing that criticism, when it is good criticism, making your piece and yourself the best it—and you—can be. Honesty coupled with kindness is key.

S: You got to write for School House Rock, and I can tell you that I use your lyrics with my students in grammar lessons frequently. What is it like to have lyrics that have such a life of their own that adults who heard them as kids still quote your lyrics?

A: It’s very gratifying and also very weird.

S:  Once On This Island is being revived this season! What is it like to see new casts bring new life to your work?

A: It’s very exciting to see your work sung by new actors, and interpreted differently by new directors. Theater is a live medium, so it’s never the same twice. That’s what keeps it interesting.

F:  New casts bring new ideas and takes on characters. Everyone is different and unique. In this revival, we have adapted some of the material to fit these actors and their voices perfectly. We’re tailoring the music to fit them the way a tailor would fit someone with a new suit. It’s thrilling to see this production take on a whole new life, and I’m excited about bringing the show to a whole new generation of theatre-goers.

S: What is the difference between writing from the perspective of pure fiction, as is the case in Seussical, a period piece as in Ragtime, or a mixture of both like Anastasia? Does one genre come more easily to you than another?

A: I’m inspired by stories, worlds, and the characters who live in those worlds. It doesn’t matter to me whether it’s fictional or not, as long as it feels like it wants to leap into song. That means that whatever the project, it needs to have built-in emotions and drama. I try never to repeat place or time in my shows.

F: No, although I had to do much more research both musically and historically for Anastasia and Ragtime. Seussical, for me, was about play and the love of language and sound. I got to become a kid again, which was great fun, especially since I was turning 40 at the time!

S: What should audiences know about the work that goes into writing the lyrics for a show that they may not realize?

A: Every song has about a million decisions per square inch. What is the rhyme scheme going to be? What is the idea? What does the character sound like—are they educated? Do they have an accent? Where are they from? What are the details of their life? Is the lyric going to be dense and heavily rhymed or simple and direct? That long note is going to require an open vowel sound. The actor is going to need to take a breath somewhere. I could go on and on. And if you think about all the details in one song, think about all the details in a whole show, from lights to costumes to sets to wigs to makeup to sound…. It’s mind boggling.

F: I consider myself a dramatist first and tell stories through music. Story, character, and inner emotional life of that character always dictates the music, its tone, rhythm, and tempo. Once I can fully visualize and understand the character in that moment I can begin to write music.

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

F: Exactly that: Go to the place that excites you without necessarily knowing how you will pull it off. Being scared is not a negative and can lead you to wonderful things. Oh, the thinks you can think!

A: Get together, find a story—could be a fairytale, a personal story, someone’s favorite book, anything—and try writing a musical together.
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“Oh the thinks you can think!” indeed! If you had asked me if I ever thought I’d get to learn about some of my favorite pieces of art from those who gave them life, I would have laughed. I grew up listening to, feeling, and poorly singing the work of this dynamic duo, and am happy to say that, though some things change with age, that’s not one of them! This interview is one of my most insightful to date. I love hearing the creative perspective that, all too often, goes untold. Through this process, I’ve been challenged to look at my own writing differently, as well as viewing my students’ perspectives through a different lens. I am very excited to see what my students and I will create from theses challenges and the wisdom Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty so generously shared, and look forward to hearing your takes on the challenges in comments.

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

 

Inclusion, Lesson Plans, The Human Connection

How Do You Measure A Year: One Year Active, and One Active Year!

1B7CF3B5-FFAB-4CAE-8769-CFBB90464A0ETwo years ago today, I saw a show called Hamilton: An American Musical, and left the theatre wondering what I would create as a legacy to leave behind. I knew I was reaching my students and their families, but I wanted to do more. I felt incredibly limited. I spent a lot of my time wondering what else I could do? Who else could I reach? And how would I do it?

In January of 2017, I attended the second annual BroadwayCon in New York City and got to see what so many artists were creating. I heard so many messages of encouragement, almost as if it was the mantra of the convention. Create what’s in your head, and you’ll figure it out. I had been sitting on the idea of this blog for a year at that point, and needed something new to focus my creative energy on. After seeking the advice of a few key people immediately following that weekend, I knew I had to create this space.

On March 29th, 2017, I acted. I took to my computer and decided to expand my speech community the only way I knew how: through theatre. Theatre has always been my home, my family, no matter where I’ve been in life. I had no clue what I was doing. I didn’t care, either. I knew I was going to share my ideas and lessons, and if I did it right, I’d reach families beyond the four walls of my speech room. I’d reach educators and families and other children and give them the community I had always loved. Initially, it would be my take on everything within my practice as an SLP, with spotlights on lesson plans and my therapeutic approach. I was even ambitious enough to post twice weekly, though I quickly learned with my caseload that just wasn’t manageable, and went back to my weekly posts.

This year on the blog has been a rollercoaster for me. I’d go from great feelings of accomplishment, to many moments of doubt, reminding my students along the way that adults don’t always have it all figured out. Most of those moments included wondering why anyone I was reaching out to would want to talk with me. Never EVER doubt the theatre community–they will ALWAYS surprise you. I have gotten to talk to heroes of mine, many people I admire, and have had some of the most kind and honest conversations I’ve ever been fortunate enough to participate in. I adore this community and every time I edit an interview, I’m reminded even more of why that holds true. Thank you to all of you who have been so generous with your time. My gratitude is truly beyond words.

My students and I have gained so much from all of your knowledge, and I hope, dear readers, that this is also true for you. It is my wish that you’ve learned something, challenged yourself, or just become more open to hearing someone’s story. If you’re anything like me, you;ve learned to throw your mental script out the window and just listen. Thank you for joining me, sticking with me, and supporting me.

Cheers to an amazing first year, and my challenge to you is to create that idea that’s in your head. You never know where it’ll take you.

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

Broadway, Interview, The Human Connection, Wise Words

Somebody’s Got Your Back: A Conversation With Chad Beguelin

Since I was small, Aladdin has always been my favorite Disney movie. This remains true to this day. So much so that whenever my father sees something with Princess Jasmine on it, he buys it for his adult daughter. There may or may not be a box of Princess Jasmine cereal in my pantry. When Aladdin was announced as a stage musical, my dad and I could not buy tickets fast enough. Like anyone else who loves something, I was protective of the material I loved, but equally excited to see how this work would be adapted for the stage and the theatrical changes made. Many of my students have come back to me to tell me they’ve seen the show, and wanted to know what I knew about “all the things that weren’t in the movie.” It only made sense for me to reach out to Chad Beguelin, who wrote the book and lyrics of the stage musical. Here’s our conversation!

S: What got you interested in theatre?

C: My parents took me to see a community theater production of “Oliver!” when I was a kid. I was immediately transported and knew right then that I wanted to be involved with live theater. I had no idea that you could actually make a career out of it at that point, I just knew I wanted to be around the magic of theater.

S: What drew you into writing for theatre versus performing?

C: I originally went to NYU as an actor. I quickly realized that I wasn’t that good. There were so many talented actors in my class and I just wasn’t one of them. In high school, I had written skits for our annual variety show. I decided at NYU to take a class in playwriting. I was encouraged by my professor to pursue a double major in Drama and Dramatic Writing. I enjoyed it so much that I stayed on and got my Masters in Dramatic Writing at NYU.

S: For my students, editing can be really tough. So can finding the main idea or summarizing. Many of my students are working on these skills in speech and wanted to know how this translates into writing lyrics?

C: When you’re writing words to music, you are limited to how many syllables you can use. This means that you have to pack as much meaning into each word as you can. It forces you to edit the writing down to the bare essence. There is a duet for Aladdin and Jasmine in Act One where they dream of escaping their lives. An earlier version of the song was called “Just A Dream Away”. I quickly realized that it was too vague. What does that mean? I rewrote the song and it became “A Million Miles Away”. That was something much more tangible for an audience to understand. Aladdin and Jasmine literally want to run “a million miles away” from their day-to-day lives. This became a theme that I could build upon throughout the song. “We’ll join a caravan tonight!” or “Maybe we’ll journey on the sea!” So finding a main idea is crucial in lyric writing, as is editing thoughts down to their essence. I’m constantly asking myself, “What is the point of this song?” Finding the main idea makes it easier to elaborate.

S: What is the difference between writing the book of a show and writing lyrics?

C: The book of the show is the script or all of the spoken words. The lyrics are all of the words that are sung. There is a lot of freedom when you’re writing the book because you aren’t limited to words that fit a musical phrase. However, the goal of writing lyrics or a line of dialogue are the same. Everything said or sung should either advance the plot or reveal character – or in the best-case scenario, do both!

 

S: Do you have any advice for how to get beyond frustration when you’re brainstorming or get stuck?

C: If it’s possible, I always find it’s helpful to talk it out with another person. It’s great to bounce ideas off of someone else. If I’m by myself, I will actually talk to myself as I pace the room. “Why isn’t this working? If there another angle that I’m missing?” It sounds crazy, but I need to pace and talk out loud.

S: You’ve gotten to work on both The Wedding Singer, Elf, and Aladdin, all of which were adapted from film. What is the most exciting and challenging part of contributing to projects that may already have a strong fan base?

C: It’s important to give the audience the big moments from the movie that they are expecting. However, it would do no good to just put a carbon copy of the movie onstage. People would just watch the movie if they wanted a straightforward adaptation. So there’s always a tricky line that has to be negotiated. The key is to create something that honors the movie, but is its own creation.

S: What inspires you to write?

C: As a professional writer, I’m given deadlines by producers and have to honor them. This means that even if I’m not entirely inspired to write, I have to find a way to become inspired. Thankfully, writing musicals is a collaborative process. I usually get inspired while talking to my co-writers or the director of a project. We spend a lot of time as a group discussing song ideas or how scenes should build. This makes it much easier when it’s time to sit down and do the actual writing.

S: In terms of theatre, you are considered part of the creative team. Do you have any advice for my students on how to be a productive partner in collaborative work?

C: I am extremely supportive of the other people on the creative team. You have to create a safe space where people can say what they think are dumb ideas, because dumb ideas usually lead to good ones. We all try to encourage one another and we also are very respectful even when we disagree. When someone comes up with a good idea, everyone wins. It doesn’t matter who came up with what, it matters that the show is successful. So we are quick to praise one another and delicate with our criticisms. This creates an environment where we can trust one another and come up with a bunch of ideas, both bad and good.

S: You got to write for Aladdin, which is such a beloved Disney film, and my personal favorite. Was it as magical for you to help create and add to the theatrical experience as it is for the audiences to watch?

C: The development process was actually very difficult and daunting. We had two “out of town tryouts” where we performed the show outside of New York to gauge audience responses and perfect the show. The tryout right before Broadway was in Toronto and the critics trashed the show. It was very hard to figure out why they disliked the production so much. We had to rethink and rewrite almost the entire show. It was a very difficult time, but we had to dissect what wasn’t working and why. Thankfully, when the show got to Broadway the reviews were great and the audiences where cheering. But we had to do a ton of work between Toronto and Broadway.

S: For Aladdin, were you encouraged to use the movie or other source material inspiration?

C: The movie was a launching pad for the script and score of the musical. However, there were several songs that were written for the movie that got cut before it was released. The composer, Alan Menken, wanted me to incorporate as many of those cut songs into the stage version of the show. So it was my job to figure out how to make those songs work. This meant adding new characters and reshaping the story line to fit them into the show.

S: What is it like to have lyrics that have such a life of their own that adults and children can recite them?

C: It’s very exciting when we’re listening to Sirius radio in the car and a song I wrote the lyrics for comes on. That’s very surreal.

S: What should audiences know about the work that goes into writing the lyrics for a show that they may not realize?

C: Lyrics are very tricky. They have to rhyme, but the audience shouldn’t anticipate the rhyme. And when words are being sung, the writer has to make sure that the correct stress is on the right syllable.

S: My students love to be creative in their own way, which may or may not include performing. Would you encourage them to explore the creative/backstage aspect of theatre?

C: I’d encourage anyone interested in theater to get involved in any aspect of putting on a show. When I was a kid, I didn’t get cast in a community theater production of “My Fair Lady”. That didn’t stop me. I volunteered to work backstage and had a blast. I also made a bunch of new friends. It was a great experience.

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

C: I would say write something and share it with someone you trust. It’s a cliché, but the old saying “writing is rewriting” is very true. Share something you’ve written and discuss it with that person. It will make you look at what you’ve written in a whole new light.

As a theatre-goer and fan, I learned so much from this discussion, and am so grateful to Chad for agreeing to share his knowledge with me. I absolutely love everything about the stage production, especially “A Million Miles Away.” My students share my passion for this show and were so excited to get writing advice from the man who worked on a stage production that’s left them awestruck. I can’t wait for them to take on this challenge, and their classroom teachers will appreciate it too!

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

 

The Human Connection

First Steps First: Foundations

At any given time during the day, I feel like I need to be doing a minimum of five things. Usually, I feel like I need to be assessing a student, writing at least two reports, emailing families and private providers, making sure I am giving my students 110% percent, and–oh yeah–giving myself time to be human. Real talk: sometimes I forget I’m more than my job. If I’m not careful, all I do is my job. That means I’m not seeing my family, calling them at normal hours, keeping in touch with my friends, or anything of that nature unless it’s a school break.

At this time of year, this is how I end up sick. This is also true for my students, in my experience. They work themselves into the ground, and not just in school, but in the activities they enjoy. Sports, dance, theatre, Scouts, you name it, and they feel like they not only should be enjoying what they’re doing, but excelling. This is, in large part, why the speech room is a silly place, and why I’m writing this post. I created a checklist with my kids of how to get back to your foundation as a person.

  • Think about why you like the activity.
    Why do my students love their activities? It’s play time with their friends. What more could you want? It’s not about scoring, it’s not about technique, it’s about sharing an activity with the people you’re involved with. Sure, the technical aspect is still there, but go back to the beginning and remind yourself about your love for the activity.
  • Enjoy your favorite snack or treat.
    The key word here is “enjoy.” My students have a variety of their favorite foods in their lunches daily. We tend to forget that lunch is a social activity for the students. This means, more often than not, the kids will comment that they have their favorite food in their lunch box, and then eat it as fast as possible. When you’re trying to ground yourself, think about why you like what you’re eating. Is it the flavor? Texture? Do you have memories associated with it? Why is is your favorite? My students have answers to each of these questions, and so do I, if we all bother to think.
  • Put the technology away.
    Be aware of the world around you. Look your parents in the eye, and if they’re using technology, ask them to put it down for a minute. Engage as many senses as possible in what you’re doing. It’ll change your entire experience.
  • Go with your gut.
    Your body will tell you what it needs. If you don’t love dancing anymore, find out why your body says so. Your body knows what it needs before you do. Not feeling 100%? Sit this game out. Your instincts will let you know what’s up.
  • Laugh at yourself.
    I say it all the time on here. There is nothing more hysterical than laughing at yourself. Maybe you realized you’ve been pronouncing a word wrong for years. Maybe you tripped and you’re the only one who saw. Laugh it off. Bonus points if you tell someone else about it later so they can laugh with you. I am at my most human and vulnerable when I’m laughing at something ridiculous that I’ve done.
  • Give yourself a break.
    The pressure to be perfect is seemingly insurmountable these days, especially for my students. They want to be great in all subjects, not good. They want to be on the travel soccer team and advanced swim team and have time to play around with their siblings. I’m here to tell you, this level of seriousness without the balance of play isn’t healthy for a child, or anyone really. Give yourself a break. Take at least part of your weekend for yourself to give yourself a break. These little breaks make a world of difference for both my students and myself.

At the end of the day, do you. Do what you need to do to get back to your foundation and your why. It’s there; you just have to dig deep enough to find it. My challenge to you is to find your foundation using one of the strategies you know works for you, or one that I’ve provided above.

Keep playing with words and see what your message creates!

–Stef the StageSLP