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.
*************************************************************************************

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

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.

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

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