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

Everybody’s Got A Dream: A Conversation With Matthew Scott Creative Education Director of Broadway Dreams

If you had asked me what my dream was when I was younger, my answer would have been to perform—a total no-brainer. I was hooked on performing for others and bringing smiles to their faces with something I could do. I found a way to channel that into the helping profession of speech pathology. For my students, the answer is very similar. Almost all of them want to perform in some capacity, they’re just not sure how to get there. While some are interested in doing school productions or youth theatre organizations local to us, others want more than that. Enter Broadway Dreams, a not-for-profit organization that specializes in holding masterclasses in singing, dancing, and acting. I got to talk to their Creative Education Director, Matthew Scott, to learn more about his love for performing and arts education, this organization, and how it all works. Scott has worked on Broadway and touring productions of An American In Paris, Jersey Boys, Sondheim on Sondheim, and First You Dream.

Stef: What got you interested in performing?

Matthew Scott: I grew up just outside of NYC and started seeing shows and concerts when I was a kid. My mom always played music in the house and I started taking voice lessons around the time I was 11.

S: What is Broadway Dreams?

M: We are a not-for-profit Arts Organization that provides training and mentorship. We are currently active in ten cities in the US and six partner countries. We specialize in weeklong intensives and performance opportunities. We bring Broadway professionals (directors, choreographers, musical directors, actors) to your city, teach master classes and at the end of the week, we write and perform a show.

S: How did it get started?

M: Fourteen years ago, Annette Tanner, the executive director and founder of Broadway Dreams started the organization with one weeklong program in Atlanta, GA. It grew from there.

S: What are the different programs within the organization?

M: Aside from our weeklong intensive programming which takes place predominantly in the summertime, we offer additional programming throughout the year in the form of Triple Threat Extremes, College Prep Classes, and Broadway Boosts. More info can be found on our website www.broadwaydreams.org

S: Are there age restrictions at Broadway Dreams?

M: The wonderful thing about Broadway Dreams is we do not have an age cap. You are never too old to dream!

S: How do students get involved?

M: They often find information online or by following our talented faculty on social media. But word of mouth is a big part of it too, and we have students who have been with us for over a decade now.

S: What sort of students get involved with the programs? Is it for students who are thinking of musical theatre as a profession, or can classes be taken for fun?

M: It is for anyone who has a dream. Many of our students go on to be professional performers, but many others pursue parallel careers in the arts, or become teachers, or stage managers. No matter what, they leave our program with a better sense of self. I will say this, our students are FIERCE, talented, and yes competitive. This is a serious program and a great opportunity for those who are serious about a career in the arts.

BDF_logo_outline-01 (1)

S: How does a school or organization connect with Broadway Dreams?

M: They can reach out on our website.

S: Why do you think the arts are an important component of education?

M: It’s all about teaching empathy, acceptance, tolerance, and music and theater do that. It is healing and all children should be able to express themselves through art.

S: Some of my students feel it’s easier to play a character than it is to be themself. Do you find this to be true for you?

M: There is much truth in that statement. And yet, what your students may not realize…just yet, is that they will always bring a part of themselves to any character they play. Even the characters who are not redeemable, and do not deserve the sympathy of the audience deserve the sympathy of the actors who play them. Therefore, you must always seek to find redemption in any character you play. And often times, that means looking inward and bringing your own personal experiences to the role.

S: How do you select the teachers for your classes?

M: Often times I just reach out to my exceptionally talented friends, people I’ve worked with or long admired. The criteria for our faculty are that they be a great teacher and successful in their field. Also, they have to be a good person.

S: During your career, is there advice you’ve received that has changed how you perform? Is there any advice you’d share with kids/teens who are currently performing in school?

M: Keep going. Keep singing, and dancing. See as much as you can. Read. Go to the theatre. Listen to cast albums. Be informed and start to figure out who you really are. It’s like a moving target that is constantly changing, so keep pursuing your goals and it will reveal itself to you.

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

M: If you are not a dancer, go to dance class. Not a singer, go do Karaoke, and take voice lessons. Write. Create. Dream.
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I can’t thank Matt enough for his time and insight into Broadway Dreams. I have been aware of them since I attended BroadwayCon 2017, and can’t believe it took me this long to dig deeper into their philosophies and programs. I strongly encourage all of my readers to go explore their website and see if they find anything that suits them, I know some of my students have already started exploring. You can find more information at BroadwayDreams.org, @Bway_dreams on Twitter, and @mybroadwaydreams on Instagram. You can follow Matthew Scott at @thematt_scott on Twitter and @fattymattyfresh on Instagram.

 

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

Grammar · Improv · Inclusion · Language Comprehension · Lesson Plans · Pragmatics and Social Skills · Vocabulary

Time to Play: How I Use Tatro

Hey there, readers! I cannot tell you how excited I am about this post. It’s been in the making for some time now. I’ve spoken to Will Barrios of Tatro previously on this blog (you can read more here), and I couldn’t wait to get his playset into my speech sessions. The featured image is one of my students’ creations from a recent session. This might be one of the most versatile speech therapy tools I have in my arsenal, and I am so excited to share how I use it with you. In addition, I’ll be sharing what my students thought of the activities and the playset. Spoiler alert: it was a hit and my students did not want to do anything else in speech.

Activity one: Playset building means team building!
Tatro is a playset with a pretty straightforward design. I can say that as someone who has seen the product finished. This playset was new to all of my students, so I decided to try it with a fourth grade group working on pragmatic skills. I laid out all the pieces on the table with a visual of the final product. I asked them how they thought it should be built, and had them work as a team to build the playset. They had to give each other directions–bonus following directions task!–and problem solve their way out of disagreements. The students got to work together until arriving at the correct assembly of the playset. As one can imagine, this took quite a bit of time, so the remainder of the speech session was spent with free play and exploration of the playset.

Activity two: Prepositions Practice!
For those who aren’t familiar, the playset is mostly magnetic. My students were fascinated with this because ” Nothing rolls onto the floor! It’s so easy to play with!” There are a variety of themes to choose from with this playset. At the moment, I own the Matinee Time, Fairytale Village and Castles, and Spellbound Forest Magnet Packs. My students chose to use the latter two packs together to first design a scene, with many magnetic pieces left over. Using the target concepts “on,” “next to,” “above,” “below,” “over,” and “under,” I gave my students directions for how to continue to decorate their scene. This allowed them to demonstrate their knowledge of these concepts through play. Later on in the session, they got to give their peers directions and feedback.

Tatro2

Photo: tatrotoy.com

Activity Three: Playing through Problem and Solution!
Using the Matinee Time magnets and the two characters and movers, I tried a different pragmatic language task. I paired my students up, interchanging partners each turn, and read them a scenario in which they would have to solve a problem. For example, I would say “Pretend it’s recess. You want to play tag, but your friend wants to play kickball. Ready, set, solve!” The students would then create their own mini play and act out possible solutions to the problems I generated. There are plenty of such problem solving activities available on TeachersPayTeachers.com. After this, my students and I talked through how this could be used in their classrooms without the toy. Next steps will be to work on generalizing this into situations they’re already encountering throughout their day.

Activity Four: Recreate and Retell!
Many of my students are working on summarizing and retelling, and this is a great tool for that! I read my students a story–choose whatever is appropriate for your student, and had them use the playset and all of its accessories to retell the story. After this, the students get to create their own story, demonstrating their knowledge of beginning, middle and end. They also have to tell me the main idea of both the story they retell and the story they create through play.

This is only what I’ve used Tatro for so far, and the possibilities are endless. I’m hoping to bring some new magnet packs to speech soon. My students were obsessed with the fact that the toy is magnetic. “We can’t lose toys this way!” “I didn’t know magnets could be so much fun!” “Where can I get one of these for home?” The answer to that last question is Tatrotoy.com. I know I’ll be heading there soon to look at some other magnet packs for my students. Will, my students and I can’t thank you enough for creating this new speech room staple! My challenge to my readers is to create the thing you’re thinking about. Draw, paint, write, choreograph, build—it’s up to you! Make something new and see how many ways you can enjoy it!

Keep playing with words and see what your message creates!

—Stef the StageSLP

Inclusion · Pragmatics and Social Skills · The Human Connection

Together Wherever We Go: Social Skills and Friendships

One of the things I love most about a new school year is watching students reconnect with friends. Sure, it may have only been a day or two since they last saw each other, but it could’ve been months. Even sweeter than watching these reunions is witnessing the forming of new friendships.

While this seems like a simple skill, it isn’t easy for everyone. Some kids can bond over the design on their backpacks, but others have a harder time making connections with their peers. Maybe they’re shy, anxious, or maybe this is a new experience for them. Collaborative work and interactive classroom activities certainly help, as do social periods in the day, like lunch and recess. I’m fortunate enough to work in an environment that promotes inclusivity and making new friends. Of course, there’s always the inevitable (typically short-lived) drama that results in friends distancing themselves. Frequently, I am called upon to help resolve these issues among my students, and like any other speech activity, we talk through it. So far, my students’ friendships have not been a concern, and we spent a session talking about what keeps a friendship strong. Here’s what they had to say.

  • Listen to your friends.
    My students have shared they feel closest with their friends when they feel like they’re being heard. A conversation involves two people, but you can’t both talk at the same time. Make sure you’re listening to and really hearing your friends during conversations.
  • Understand the other person’s interests.
    You don’t have to like everything your friend does, but showing an interest goes a long way. If your friends like football but you don’t know anything about it, ask about the rules of the game. This way, when it comes up in conversation, you don’t feel left out and can follow the conversation going on between your group of friends.
  • You don’t have to do everything together.
    As mentioned above, separate interests are not a problem. These interests allow for personal growth as well as growth and cultivation of new friendships. They also allow for time to recharge and family connections. I am constantly explaining to my students that you can be friends and give each other space at the time.
  • Make time to be together outside of school.
    School is definitely a social environment, but it’s an academic setting first. There is a time and place to be social, but it shouldn’t take away from school work. Spending time together with less structure, such as a play date or family get together not only form lasting memories and inside jokes but teach kids how to navigate social situations with other people involved and in alternative settings.
  • Your friends will annoy you, just let it go.
    No one is perfect, and even your best friend will annoy you. Maybe they did something that didn’t sit well with you. If you find it really uncomfortable, you can tell an adult or tell the friend how their actions made you feel. If it was something small, my students think it’s best to let the little things go and move on.

My challenge to you this week is to implement one of these strategies within your friendships, old or new. Please share your own friendship advice in comments, this is an area in which we can all learn from each other. I hope you found my students’ tips helpful, I know I’m looking forward to seeing yours!

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

Improv · Inclusion · Performances · Pragmatics and Social Skills · Summer Speech · The Human Connection

Comedy Tonight: Freestyle Love Supreme

Hi readers! If you follow me on Twitter, you know that I had the opportunity to see the unbelievable improv musical comedy crew Freestyle Love Supreme in DC. If you’re not familiar with Freestyle Love Supreme, here’s how their website describes them:

FLS is a freestyle (hence the name), improvisational, hip-hop comedy show. Every night the performers take suggestions from the audience and spin them into instantaneous riffs and full-length musical numbers. Every night is different: no two shows are the same. We don’t know what we’re rapping about until YOU tell us!”

The crew has a rotating cast of characters, but I was fortunate enough to see Anthony Veneziale aka Two-Touch, Chris Sullivan aka Shockwave (whom I have interviewed about beatboxing here), Andrew Bancroft aka Jelly Donut, Ian Weinberger aka Burger Time, and Chris Jackson aka C-Jack.

FLS
Photo Credit: FreestyleLoveSupreme.com

You might be wondering why a blog with a focus on speech pathology and Broadway is writing about her night at an improv comedy show. This group of talented performers put together an experience that is founded on trust, the power of yes, and open communication. If I could take my students working on social pragmatics to see anything, it would be this. The performers were entertaining each other as much as they were making the audience laugh. The audience was as much a part of the show as the people on stage.

If you’re familiar with this group you know that the entire evening is built on the relationship between the performers and the audience members. How is that different from any other performance I’ve seen? Great question reader–this show only works if the audience and performers can work together. It was the coolest experience I’ve had of an audience being fully present and actively engaging with the folks onstage. There was no fourth wall, everyone was there to have a good time, especially the performers, and it was such a relaxed atmosphere, you felt like you were in a room full of people you already knew. Unlike a scripted show, each performance in completely unique to its audience.

This got me thinking about conversational speech and pragmatics, and how they are unique to the people participating in them. Sure, you can tell someone about a conversation you had with a friends, but it’s never the same as being there. That was exemplified by the friendship between the performers and by how inclusive they were with the audience and between one another. The exchanges are quick but meaningful, funny without picking on anyone, and easy to follow but entertaining. This is what I want all of my students to know about interpersonal skills and conversing with one another. There is no room for ego in this group, and all topics and ideas get treated equally, the same way they should in any conversation. The transitions were logical and smooth, which many of my students are also working towards. I couldn’t help but notice all of these parallels and had to share them with my readers.

The best news I can share with you? Freestyle Love Supreme is going to broadway for 16 weeks beginning September 13, 2019, and you can get tickets at FreestyleLoveSupreme.com. I cannot encourage you to see this enough if you’re able. If not, there are some episodes of this crew doing what they do best on Amazon Prime, but be in that room and feel a part of the community of the audience if you can–there’s nothing like it. This week, I challenge you to engage in a conversation and stay in it–no distractions, no tech, no interruptions. Stay as in tune and present with your conversational partner as possible, and just have fun.

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

Inclusion · The Human Connection

Fundamental Truths: My Basics For Speech

Hi all! I’m spending my summer teaching summer school and taking continuing education courses. As I’ve been going through both of these activities, I’ve been able to reflect on my practices and beliefs that I hold in all of my speech groups. As different as each individual student is, I have the same foundational beliefs and expectations for them all. I thought I would share them with you readers here.

You are capable.

Every single one of my students is capable of achieving his or her goals. Each one learns in his or her own way, but each student, through whatever method of learning, is capable of achieving not only their IEP goals, but also those of personal interest, or goals they’ve created within their classroom.

You belong here.

I strive to make my space a safe space for all of my students. They know that I am there to help and support them. They also know that I create my groups in a manner in which the students feel accepted and equal to their peers. I am sure to always point out successes and valiant efforts in my speech room, be they for stamina, risk-taking, or progress towards a goal, personal or academic. All of this helps my students to feel that they belong.

You and your best are enough.

Unfortunately, there are circumstances in which my students are made to feel “other,” or as though they are “that kid” in the class. My students are themselves, and they are enough as they are. I only ask of them to try their best, and that their personal best will always be exactly enough for me. I stress that they are not in competition with each other or even themselves, and that we all (myself included) working on something in this space.

It’s okay to make mistakes.

I purposefully point out when I make mistakes around my students. The pressure to be perfect and high achieving is overwhelming to my students and many others. I encourage making mistakes. It means my students are learning. When I show them that I make multiple mistakes a day, they learn to understand that mistakes are a part of not only life, but lifelong learning.

Practice with me, practice with everyone. 

One of my favorite things to tell students and families is that the wonderful thing about speech is that it can be practiced anywhere and with anyone. Are you playing with your friends? You’re working on expressive and receptive language. Playing video games? That’s executive functioning and following multi-step directions. Having a conversation at the dinner table? That’s social skills and turn-taking. Speech is not restricted to the speech room by any means.

I hope you’ve found something useful or interesting in my fundamental truths. Do you share any of them with me? Have any you’d like me to adopt? Share them in comments below–I look forward to learning from you. My challenge to you this week is to identify your fundamental truths in any aspect of your life, and examine why those truths are foundational in that area of your life.
Keep playing with words and see what your message creates!
–Stef the StageSLP

Backstage · Broadway · Inclusion · Performances · The Human Connection · Tony Awards

I Am What I Am: Tony Awards Musings

In my speech room, I ask all of my students to strive for their best. I do my best to teach them it’s not about winning, but about how you show up and put in the work. I believe that this is also the case for theatre. With the Tony Awards only a week away, I can’t help but think that it’s us, the audience members, who are the real winners.

Every individual involved in theatre, onstage, backstage, production, front of house is doing an amazing job every night to make sure the audience has the best experience possible. It’s easy to forget that those roles are in fact work and are by no means easy.

This is a world in which we escape into theatre to find ourselves. No award adequately expresses the magic found in a theatre. It can’t express the memories, emotions, or connections felt in that space. So as the Tony Awards air on television next Sunday, which I will certainly be watching, keep in mind there are more “losers” than “winners,” and it’s the theatre-goers who are the true winners. Theatre is designed to bring community together, and I challenge you all to keep that in mind as awards are handed out. How will you bring community together in your own way? Share in comments, I can’t wait to read them.

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

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