Autism Awareness · Inclusion · The Human Connection

I Talk To Him and He Just Talks To Me: Conversation Techniques for Everyone

April is Autism Awareness Month. There are plenty of articles out there that will attempt to describe how people on the Autism Spectrum interact with others. I’ve been teaching my students how to have appropriate conversations with people across abilities, with a highlight on ASD.Today, I’m here to make some suggestions addressing how we interact with people with ASD.

  • Say hello.
    The person you are speaking to is exactly that, a person. This person should be treated with the same respect as any other individual you encounter. Say hello. This may be met with a verbal hello, a nonverbal greeting, sign of acknowledgment or no response at all. There is absolutely no reason for this person not to feel accepted during any interaction.
  • Listen.
Listen to the response you get. Listen to what is being said and how it is being said. Related to your topic of interest or not, listen and hear. All people have interests and different methods of communicating and all are valid. Keep in mind, nonverbal reactions are just as valid a form of communication as verbal reactions.
  • Talk to the person in front of you.
    I cannot stress this one enough. People should not be talked about in any situation. Just because someone isn’t neurotypical doesn’t mean they should be talked about, they should be spoken to. If you find yourself speaking about the person instead of to them, please know they’re taking in every word you say.
  • Have a conversation.
    You are an active participant. Ask questions. Learn about the other person’s perspective on the topic of discussion; you might learn something new yourself! Make sure you’re taking turns talking. Remember: a conversation ges back and forth and is not an interrogation of one individual from the other.
  • Ticks happen.
    Some people flap their hands. Some people don’t maintain eye contact. Some people, fidget with objects or the hems of their shirts. This is not an uninvested conversation. This is how the individual is coping with incoming sensory information. Do you ever doodle while you’re on the phone or in a meeting to keep your focus? This is the same logic–using another skill to help take in all of the sensory information around us.
  • Politely end the conversation.
    Conversation does not end because you’ve decided it should. You do not simply walk away from someone you’re having a conversation with. You conclude the conversation using a concluding statement. What are those? “I have to go now.” “It was nice talking to you.” “Thanks for helping me.” “See you soon!”
This week, and every day, I challenge you to talk to someone new and different.Open yourself up to what conversations with anyone have the potential to become. Share your interactions in comments.
Keep playing with words and see what your message creates!
— Stef the Stage SLP
Broadway · Inclusion · The Human Connection

When I Think of Home: BroadwayCon 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

Inclusion · The Human Connection

I Got You, Babe: The Strong Friend

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Inclusion · The Human Connection · Wise Words

What Does It Cost To Be Kind: World Kindness Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Inclusion · The Human Connection

Masquerade: Halloween Across Abilities

Get ready for the paper faces on parade coming by your house! Halloween is fast approaching, and it’s likely that you’ve already engaged in festivities this weekend. I thought it might be worth exploring what Halloween could look like to the students I serve, and how to interact with them.

For the child who stutters:
Please be patient. Let them say what they want to say. They’re so excited to say “Trick or Treat,” and have been looking forward to it for weeks if not months. Also give them the time to say “thank you.” The look of joy and gratitude on this child’s face will make your night.

For the child who says nothing:
Maybe they’re shy. Maybe they  don’t have the words to communicate. Maybe they know all the non-verbals that go along with tonight. This may be a less-frequent inclusion opportunity. Welcome their participation along with the other kids’.

For the child with food allergies:
This can be a tough holiday for those with food allergies. I keep alternatives to food–spider rings, keychains, small trinkets of that sort, for these kids. In the spirit of inclusion, it allows these kids to participate in the fun. Want more on this topic? Visit this site to learn more about the Teal Pumpkin Project.

For the child who wants to have a conversation with you:
Engage with them! They want you to have fun, too. It may be that they’ve been doing some linguistic rehearsal to practice their conversational skills. This is a great night to engage with them, a real treat for you both.

This list is by no means comprehensive, but it is all in the spirit of each person celebrating has a happy Halloween. May yours be filled with noting but treats. And as an extra treat, the pumpkin carving designs in the post’s image is from my dear friend Andrea at Coloring Broadway, and you can get your own pumpkin carving templates here

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

Inclusion · Summer Speech · The Human Connection

Those Kids Will Live and Breathe Right On The Page: Shows to Empower

I have always believed that shows of any kind, and art of any kind, can teach us anything. There are a few shows I believe came into my life when I needed the messages they provided. Since I believe summer is a great time to experience theatre (any time is a great time to experience theatre), but I find myself looking for motivation during the summer. I have compiled a list of musicals I believe all children and adults should see to empower themselves and expand their perspectives.

  • Newsies
    Newsies is one of the most empowering shows I’ve seen. It boasts about the power that the next generation has. That children have a right to be heard and we, as adults, should listen. When i saw this show in 2012, I left the theatre filled with such hope and believing that I could accomplish anything. All people should know this feeling.
  • Seussical
    Is there a show that better showcases the power of imagination? This work shows a diverse cast of characters and personalities, and allows its audience to experience the perspectives of others and a good deal of empathy as well. The lessons taught throughout this musical are important for those of all ages.
  • Wicked
    This is the first musical that taught me there is room enough for everyone. There is not a negative to being your own person. Each of us is unique, and our abilities should be celebrated, not dismissed. As a bit of an outsider myself, I loved how Elphaba learned to embrace her talents and her own identity,as did others. This is something I believe every child should learn.
  • Hairspray
    Inclusion is what we all want for our children, regardless of circumstance. We want all students to be equal in all aspects of life, and what better musical to teach such a lesson? It’s also a fantastic showing of self-confidence on the part of Tracy.
  • The Secret Garden
    This show is brilliant at sharing the message of bringing light where there is darkness. As I have my own work on choosing to be positive in tough situations, this show exemplifies how this can be done at any age and under any circumstance. It also shows the value of relationships across age and familial attachment, as well as a family unit working together to improve their situation.
  • Frozen
    The family first message in this production can’t be beat. The love between the sisters is palpable, and the strength of friendships, long-lasting or newly formed, is one of the most valuable supports we have.

My challenge to you this week is to look for ways to empower yoursel or your children. This can be through the arts, as a family, an activity of your choosing. Just take a moment to appreciate how strong you are. Let me know how you choose to do so in comments!

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

Broadway · Inclusion · Interview · Performances · The Human Connection

It’s A Bit Of A Dance: A Conversation with Stephanie Klemons

Recently, I’ve found myself wondering what goes into production roles I only know by title, especially those involved in dance. They’ve always seemed very involved, but I never quite understood what these jobs entailed. This was never clearer to me than when a former student asked me about them, and I surprised myself by not having an answer. This was the point where I decided I needed to talk to someone who knew this job firsthand. I have been following Stephanie Klemons’ career for about ten years now, and her work as a dance captain and associate choreographer has never ceased to amaze me. She and I spoke right after she made her directorial debut with In The Heights at The Kennedy Center. This woman is one of the hardest working people I’ve ever spoken with. When we began our conversation, my first question was not “How are you,” but “Where are you?” We discuss her many responsibilities, the difference between commercial work and theatre, and Katie’s Art Project.

Stef the StageSLP: Which came first for you, dance or theatre?

Stephanie Klemons: Definitely dance. Theatre came into my life a lot later. I’ve always loved theatre. I saw Cats as a kid and I wanted to do be on Broadway. But dance was my passion. I’ve always been passionate about it. In high school, someone said I had a pretty nice voice, and that I should start taking voice lessons if I wanted to be in musical theatre. I double majored in college in dance in Genetics and Microbio Research and Dance, so I didn’t have a lot of time for singing.

S: Those are two very different majors, at least in title.

S: Yeah, they’re not as different as you’d think. The same part of my brain that problem solves my way through cancer research, that has to figure out a solution to a problem is the same way I look at solving problems and making decisions in the theatre. And for me, the same way I memorized organic chemistry is the same way I memorized things in theatre. Memory is memory. It’s definitely its own skill. I’ve always thought they were similar, the big difference was the people I was around. The way I had to communicate to scientists versus dancers—that’s how I honed my communication skills.

S: What is Katie’s Art Project?

S: Katie’s Art Project does a lot. Its objective is to connect professional working artists with children with life-threatening illnesses to create a lasting legacy through art. We’ve found that creating partnerships with specific hospitals has been the best route to take, three in New York and one in Chicago, currently. We pair children in those hospitals with artists. We’ve been taking on one project at a time and working with everyone’s schedules to put the project together. I saw a niche for this, and so I created it. There are music therapists who come in and work with the kids and Make-A-Wish can connect kids with their favorite artists, but I didn’t see anything like creatives coming in and creating music with these kids. It’s all about the process, and recording a song is just the icing on the cake.

S: How can I spread awareness of Katie’s Art Project?

Personal connections always help. We have an event on July 23rd called The Art Project, which is a pop-up gallery of both visual and performance art. All of the proceeds go to Katie’s Art Project. Last year, we were able to release our single, “Home” because of it. We’re hoping to make it even bigger this year.

S: You recently finished a production of In The Heights at Kennedy Center that you both directed and choreographed. What was that experience like for you?

S: We were originally supposed to go on earlier in the season, but I had the Philip company of Hamilton opening, so I moved us to the second spot in the series at Kennedy Center so I could be there for tech and opening. As a result of our schedule change, we started rehearsing on the ten-year anniversary of In The Heights, which got us a lot of attention, as did Tommy Kail, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Andy Blankenbeuhler stopping by. As it happened, we were there during March For Our Lives, and we got to lend our voice to that cause. In present times, doing a show like Heights was really important to me.

S: Since the creative team for the original production of this show was mostly male, what did you bring to your production as a woman?

S: Interestingly enough, that team was more female than Hamilton, because of Quiara Hudes. I don’t feel that Heights was quite so male because of her influence. She spoke to such nurturing themes, and Lin is the best at collaborating, and it just worked so well.  As a woman people respond differently to my reactions than they do to the guys.

S: You started in performing, what does performing do for you that choreographing doesn’t, and what does choreography do for you that performing does not?

S: Performing was my first love. Last summer I did In The Heights in Pittsburgh. I was missing that side of my life, and it was so fulfilling. It allowed me to say, “Hey, I can still do this.” Now that I’ve directed and choreographed a show, I really love it. I love setting a show and knowing that together I helped people achieve their best. I’ve been teaching for so long that it really makes sense to me now.

S: The amount of mental and physical energy that goes into being the associate choreographer for Hamilton is superhuman. With the amount of travel involved, how do you keep yourself grounded, and protect both your body and voice so you can do this job?

S: I have an unbelievable support system, and I don’t take that for granted. I make a point of taking care of myself, like going to the gym or the beach or taking walks. One of the stage managers in the Chicago company of Hamilton said I was pretty solid in my self-care. This was not the case when I started in Hamilton. When I eased up on myself, so did everyone around me. You have to realize you set a standard for everyone else around you, and you don’t want to set that bar impossibly high that even you cannot keep up.

S: It took me halfway into my first year in the schools to realize the same thing. I can’t hold my kids to as high a standard as I hold myself.

S: Yeah, the way you teach and where you teach from matters. If I teach from a place of excitement, the actors are usually excited. If I teach from a place of fear, they may be more apprehensive about what I’m asking them to do.

S: What is a dance captain and its responsibilities? What is an associate choreographer and its responsibilities?

S: Dance captain is hired on a performance contract, like all the other actors in the show. They can be a swing, they can be ensemble members. Most of the time, dance captains are off-stage swings because of the job requirement of giving notes. That’s easier to do when you’re not onstage. You also run auditions, and they perform. They’re magical people in this business who can deal with a lot of projects as once. It’s a lot of responsibility.

S: That’s super human.

S: It is super human. And people outside of this business don’t acknowledge it as much as it should be acknowledged. Associate choreographer is a little different. With Andy Blankenbeuhler, it can be him asking me to choreograph a few counts of eight after giving me a concept, or I’ll help him conceive the idea of a piece. When we’re setting the show, that’s when the associate choreographer teaches the entire show. They hire the dance captains and teach them how to give notes and when.

S: What are the different factors you consider when creating work for commercials than when you create for the stage?

S: It’s so different. For Hamilton, we talked about the workshop for a few years, then we did the workshop, more time passed and then we did the off-Broadway run, and later transferred to Broadway. Theatre takes years. Commercial world, the director, writer, or ad agency come up with an idea and what the story is for the commercial. By the time I’m brought on, it’s a few days of work, but is actually a lot easier for me. They don’t mess around with time in commercial work. Creating Hamilton took years. Creating the Eli Manning Super Bowl commercial took a few days. I knew what that needed to look like, I knew what the day looked like and I set myself up for success in our shooting schedule.

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

S: I think that there’s no substitute for hard work, but I think that people forget this. The world needs people to be engaged, and that requires you to be engaged in life for the majority of the time. I think we reward too easily, and that kids should do something to get the satisfaction of hard work. Unplug and make sure you’re aware of the world around you outside of social media.
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This was such a fun and informative conversation, and I can’t thank Stephanie Klemons enough for her time. To learn more about Katie’s Art Project, please check out their website. It’s a wonderful organization that I really believe in. I really value her challenge and will be taking it on along with my students. There’s no better time to take on such a challenge.

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