Inclusion · Interview · Performances · Pragmatics and Social Skills · Vocal Health

We’re All Connected in Emojiland: A Conversation with Laura Schein

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to take myself to the theatre and see Emojiland the Musical. It was a show I had wanted to see for a while, but when friend of the blog Andrea Koehler of Coloring Broadway told me I needed to see it, I made sure I did. Ever since, I have not been able to get this show out of my head. From concept to casting, score to scenery, I cannot remember the last time I felt like I was truly a part of the world in which the show took place. It is currently playing at The Duke on 42nd Street and I can’t encourage everyone to see this show enough. After the show, I went to the stage door because I had to thank the actors for the performance I just saw onstage. I got to thank Laura Schein (whom I had asked about vocal health during an eight-show-week, because my job is never far from mind), for her performance and later learned that she also co-created the entire production. Based on that information alone, I knew I had to learn more about the work she’s done and how Emojiland came to be. I was already trying to find social skills lessons to base of the cast album when I learned she was also a health coach and beginning to co-host a podcast on functional health. At this point, I was so inspired by the amount of work one person is doing at once across so many different platforms and professions that I had to reach out to her. I am so, so grateful that Laura was as enthusiastic as I was to have this conversation.

Stef The Stage SLP: I am so inspired by everything you’re doing right now, thank you so much for chatting with me.

Laura Schein: No problem, I’m so happy to talk to you! And yes, I enjoy wearing a lot of different hats. I’m a hat lover.

S: I can barely do one thing at a time, but I’m trying to get better at multitasking.

LS: It’s tricky, but I like the challenge of it.

S: You do so much! What came first for you; acting or creating or being a health coach?

LS: Dancing, actually. I started when I was 2. I saw a production of The Wiz when I was 3 and at intermission I turned to my mom and said, “I want to do this.” I did children’s theater and community theater, and through a summer camp I was chosen to go audition for a professional Equity production of The Secret Garden and I got to play Mary. From there, I got an agent and I was also in the Chicago sit-down company of the first national tour of Ragtime for a year and a half. It was a really amazing experience. I kept doing theater all throughout childhood and went to Northwestern University, and that’s where I started writing, directing and choreographing, becoming more interested in those areas as well.

After college, I moved to Los Angeles and kept acting, but also started writing more with my writing partner Keith Harrison. We wrote stand-alone songs, music videos, we were always creating something. Eventually, we were asked ‘Where’s your big musical?’ We spent some time thinking about it and one night at dinner in 2014 a Google Trends alert came up on our phones that said the most searched word that day was “emoji.” It dawned on us at dinner that these are characters in an alphabet but also characters with potential stories we could tell. That’s where Emojiland began. It’s been a six-year journey since then.  We’ve probably written over 50 songs for the show and developed so many characters over different versions of the show. A lot of the characters that are in the show now didn’t exist when we first started writing—Nerd Face didn’t exist—so the show has changed along with the emoji alphabet.

S: I didn’t even think of characters evolving along with actual emojis evolving in our phones.

L: Very much so. And that’s been the biggest challenge with this show. The source material is not narrative, so deciding on which characters we wanted to focus on and the stories we wanted to tell was always a topic of discussion.

S: And you’re a health coach, too?

LS: Yes, the health coach side of things is a whole other aspect of my life. I’ve always been passionate about health. My mom is a psychologist and nutritionist and actually raised me vegan. She started a school to train health coaches, The Functional Medicine Coaching Academy, and I was in the beta class. This lead me to become the co-host of this podcast, What The Func, with my friend Clayton Farris. We became friends doing a play together, and he was essentially my first client. We’re exploring functional health and talking to all sorts of professionals and delving deeper into that world.

S: I discovered the functional health world through my students and their unique diet needs. The impact of nutrition on behavior and overall functioning didn’t occur to me until I had families of my students telling me how certain diet changes affected their student’s mood or behavior. This led me to go on my own functional health journey. My older students can actually tell me, I need to eat healthy foods today or I won’t be able to focus on my exam.”

LS: Oh yeah, it’s amazing how nutrition and health absolutely affect mood and behavior. That’s wonderful that your students are so in tune with their bodies. A lot of people have yet to make the connection that what they eat affects their mental health.

S: Changing topics, I am clearly in love with your show. You play Smiling Face with Smiling Eyes and she goes through a lot of emotions over the course of the show. How do you mentally and emotionally prepare for a role like that eight shows a week?

LS: I have always been interested in pursuing the depths of emotion that I possess. The first play I ever did was called Kindertransport and it was very intense. I really learned how to access all of those emotions, and I love being able to tell the story as a character and then put it aside at the end of the play and go back to my life. There’s always some of me onstage, and in a way, it helps me process my own emotions too. Everyone’s going through so much every day, and I feel lucky that I get to share some of that on stage with people, and hopefully help them feel less alone.

S: Your answer made me feel a lot more normal. Those are the same parts of acting and performing that I enjoy, and grew up being asked why I didn’t just want to see or do happier and lighter shows. All of your characters have such a range of emotions and real depth to them. How do you create such well-rounded characters beyond the superficial images the audience knows emojis to be?

LS: That’s what I try to do in life, see all sides of a person. I try to see what drives them, what’s their history, and not take anyone at face value. I would never want to create a one-dimensional character, because that’s not interesting to me. We’re all so multi-dimensional and multifaceted, and those are the types of characters I want to create.

S: Students of mine actually shared with me that they thought it would be easier to just create the characters exactly as they are and how people would expect them. And I guess you could do that, but there’s not much story in that.

LS: When we had the idea, we very quickly connected with the idea that emojis have a fixed, coded identity. But what happens when you are who you are and everyone sees you one way, but you feel differently? We knew we wanted to tell a story about that duality, and we thought that emojis were a wonderful way to represent that idea.

S: Has working on this show changed how you use technology and emojis?

LS: Definitely. Ever since we started working on the show, I get so excited for updates because that leads to new character and prop possibilities. And no surprise, I love using emojis when texting. You know how in musicals ‘when you can no longer talk, you sing’? With emojis, when you can’t convey something by text, you use emojis. We thought there was a wonderful parallel there between how music is used and how emojis are used.;

S: I have actually used emojis with my students who are nonverbal. All of my students are extremely tech-motivated, and I’ve taught some students to use emojis on an iPad to express their wants and needs. When I don’t have access to a dedicated device, they’re actually a great method of communication. And with the space that you’re in and how your show is staged, you feel like you’re such a part of Emojiland.

LS: It really does feel that way. I love the intimacy of the space. We’re all connected in Emojiland.

S: I noticed wile I was watching the show, there is only one instance in which a gender-specific pronoun is used. I really like that choice. Was it intentional, or did it just kind of happen that way?

LS: It was intentional. There are no pronouns in the script because the emoji code isn’t inherently gender or racially specific. We were really excited about that from the beginning. And we’re excited about future productions having wildly different casting because these roles can be played by anyone.

S: That would be really exciting to see this show with different casting, I hadn’t thought of that. I love the casting in the show, I think it’s great. I love your performance in this show, but I am curious about how you take care of your voice as a performer. In this show specifically, you’re also putting on a bit of a voice. How do you prepare for that?

LS: It actually feels, as the run goes on, that my voice becomes more comfortable. It feels like my voice now sits healthfully where it should. Obviously, as a health coach, I’m really health-conscious. I eat very well; I drink so much water. And ginger shots. I’m obsessed with them. There are some nights when non-theater friends will ask me to go out to a loud bar with them post-show, but with 8 shows a week I have to be really careful. I try to get my rest and not be somewhere where I have to yell over music. It’s tough because I want to hang out, but I also have to be careful and protect myself. My castmates are the same way. When we want to go out post-show we go to a quiet diner and have pancakes and tea.

S: I get that, but there was a moment when Nerd Face’s reaction was to scream and I thought to myself, ‘I know he’s using a microphone, and I know my seat is really close, but that has to hurt eight shows a week.’ I felt the same way about whatever crazy note Skull has to hit in his songs.

LS: I guess your voice just adjusts to it. And it fluctuates. Some days feel much harder than others.

S: I have to ask; how do you wear so many hats in this production without becoming exhausted?

LS: I’m just trying to enjoy the ride. I’m so grateful for this run. One of the first lyrics in the show is “Stay in the present, the future’s unknown,” and I am really trying to just be present and focus on one thing at a time. Once I start thinking about everything at once, I get overwhelmed.

S: See, that was fascinating to me as a lyric in the show since Emojiland takes place in a phone. Most of the time we’re on our phones, we’re using it to escape and not be present. How does that work?

LS: I think we all have love-hate relationships with our phones. Phones connect us to each other. Even now, we met briefly in person, and then you reached out to me online. I’m thankful for how our phones have expanded our world and our reach, but I do have to make myself put it down and be present with the people physically around me. You need to look up. I’m also a perfectionist when it comes to responding to every message I get, and I’m working on waiting before responding to people so that I don’t miss out on connecting with someone I’m physically with in the moment.

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

LS: I would challenge people to go through one full day without complaining about anything. Try to see if it’s possible to find the positive side of every situation throughout the day, to maintain a sense of gratitude and emanate that positivity despite whatever challenges you may experience.

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

Very much like my first experience with Emojiland the Musical and Laura, I thoroughly enjoyed this conversation. For context, we spoke at the end of a school week while Laura was in between teaching a masterclass and a meeting before her Friday evening performance. As busy as we both were, this was certainly the highlight of my day. I can’t wait to hear how you do with Laura’s challenge, please share the results in comments.

 

You can find Laura on social media at @thelillaura on Twitter and Instagram and Emojiland the Musical at @emojimusical on FacebookTwitter and Instagram as well. You can catch Emojiland at The Duke Theater on 42nd Street through March 19th, and tickets are available here. This show has something for everyone, and is the most relatable show I’ve seen in a while. I can’t recommend this show enough. The cast album is available on streaming, as well as physically and digitally.

 

Keep playing with words and see what your message creates!

–Stef the StageSLP

Broadway · Inclusion · Performances

All You Wanna Do: Review of A Five Show Weekend

Hi readers! Sorry for the delay in posting, but I thought a delay was in order. Last weekend, I treated myself to a five-show weekend. I saw quite the range of shows, and wanted to post a review before spring breaks begin over the coming months. Let’s dive in!

  • SIX

    My first show of the weekend was SIX, and what a way to kick off the weekend! Believe the hype–it is entertaining from start to finish. A Broadway-pop concert telling the stories of the six wives of Henry VIII. 85 minutes of pure girl-power infused performing. I strongly recommend this show to everyone, but may be more suited to middle school and older.

  • Emojiland

    Next stop, off-Broadway for the most delightful show of my trip, EmojilandFor absolutely everyone, this show has the most inclusive messaging I’ve ever seen/ There are no pronouns used, leaving all feeling accepted. Don’t be fooled by the name, this show covers many topics that resonated with me and that my students could relate to as well. There is talk of acceptance, honesty, being true to yourself and others, and messages of positivity. Friend of the blog Lesli Margherita’sperformance is absolutely everythingI could want, and Natalie Weiss’ performance shines brighter than the iPhone lights the show lives in.  I experienced a range of emotions and I don’t believe I’ve met a nicer cast of people or fans at a stage door. Laura Schein and George Abud were kind enough to share how they keep their voices healthy. Steam is your friend, folks. Hurry to see this show, extended through March 19, 2020. Personally, I’m looking forward to the release of the cast album on February 28th.

  • Jagged Little Pill

    Jagged Little Pill is a show for now. It addresses very strong, very raw issues that are present in daily life. On stage, I saw reflected what my students, colleagues, and I all go through presented through the music of Alanis Morisette. Every performer on that stage has such a presence that draws the audience in immediately. This powerful, timely production would be best for high school age and up.

  • Moulin Rouge

    Once again, I adored Moulin Rouge. I gave a full review here, and my feelings remain the same. I may love it even more after a second viewing. This time, I got to see the fantastic Ashley Loren as Satine, and she is every bit the sparkling diamond.

  • Ain’t Too Proud

    I grew up listening to Motown and have always enjoyed it. The storytelling in Ain’t Too Proud is superb. The introduction of each performer is seamless and thoroughly entertaining. There were many times I forgot I was at a Broadway show and not a concert. To learn the history of The Temptations is to learn the history of Motown. I would recommend this show to everyone who enjoys music, its history, and excellent performances.

Between all of these shows, there is certainly something for everyone. My challenge to you this week is to find a form of entertainment outside of your comfort zone. You never know when you’ll find your next favorite piece of music, theatre, film, or television.

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

Performances · The Human Connection

Because I Know Her I Am Known: Miss You Like Hell

Hi readers,

Sorry for the late post. It’s been a bit of a week, with computer failure and beginning Quarter Three of our school year. Now that my computer is up and running, we have to talk about the most moving, timely, powerful production I’ve seen since American Son (if you missed the theatrical run, go check it out on Netflix). Last night, I had the opportunity to see a production of Miss You Like Hell at Olney Theater Center with my mother.

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Image from CultureCapital.com

This production is incredible to witness. It truly dives into the complexities of mother-daughter relationships, immigration issues, passing down one’s culture to the next generation and so much more. Olney Theater Center’s description says it best:

“From the Pulitzer Prize-winning co-creator of In the Heights comes a new musical as big as America and as intimate as love between a mother and her daughter. Beatriz arrives in Philadelphia to convince her estranged 16 year-old daughter Olivia to join her on a road trip to California. Along the way, they encounter a mosaic of characters as diverse and weird as America itself, but the hard truth of Beatriz’s undocumented status and pending deportation to Mexico threatens to build a wall between them. With sharp comedy and a winning acoustic score by folk-rock star Erin McKeown, Miss You Like Hell is an American story for our time.”

The book and score by Quiara Alegria Hudes and music and lyrics by Erin McKeown has everything. It is moving, funny, relatable, and heartbreaking all at once. Many times during the show, my mother shot me some sideways glances during many a universal mother-daughter interaction being portrayed onstage. My mother also decided that her new favorite song is “Mothers,” a song about everything a mother does for her children. Erin McKeown’s music is perfectly suited to every scene, underscoring moments of comedic relief and deep emotional conversations.

This show did well to remind me of my luck and privilege. My parents are still married, I was raised in the United States, as were my parents and their parents. Many of the stressors and hardships in this production are things I have never had to experience, or even think of experiencing. It gave me some perspective about others in our country who do not have this luxury. It informs the audience to treat every interaction with any other human being as valid and valuable. As we see culture passed down in a varietty of ways through generations, it inspired conversations between my mother and I to talk about our traditions and our memories together. This show moved us in ways we weren’t expecting, but thoroughly appreciated. As we left the theater with many mother-daughter duos among other patrons, we heard mothers telling daughters to appreciate their mothers and love their mothers, regardless of age, background, culture, or relationship. To hear so many conversations about family and its importance was fortifying and comforting in many ways I didn’t expect.

While this show is only at Olney Theater Center from January 29th-March 1st, I cannot encourage everyone to go see this show enough.

This week, I challenge my readers and students to write a list of what they are grateful for regarding their family and lifestyle–this could be time in the car together on the way to soccer practice or family dinners together every night. Do this as a family, and compare them at the end of the week. Find the commonalities and look for ways to incorporate these events and activities into a more regular schedule.

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

 

Better Speech and Hearing Month · Broadway · Improv · Inclusion · Interview · Performances · Strategies

Packages Tied Up With String: Wrapping Up 2019

Every year, it feels like time speeds by even faster. I feel like so much has happened over the course of this year, but like the year wasn’t long enough to feel like it lasted 365 days. In all of the chaos that comes with this time of year, I thought I’d highlight my favorite things from each month, related to blogging, Broadway, speech therapy, or both. Let’s start at the very beginning….

January:

BroadwayCon was the highlight of this month. I got to reunite with friends and #FriendsOfTheBlog. I got to nerd out with my community of theatre-loving folks, and form memories with my best friend. I met the Broadway Makers, and started contemplating joining their organization. I got to meet and thank performers I admire. I saw Come From Away, which was such a show to experience. Between the community feeling in the show, in the audience, and over the course of the weekend. I hope everyone gets an experience like this at least once in their lives.

February:

My Valentine’s Day post. Getting to share what I love, who I love, how I love them, and how I expand this holiday beyond romantic love. If you haven’t read it, please check it out, and consider how you’ll be spending the next Valentine’s Day

March:

My conversation with Heidi Blickenstaff. She and I had so much fun during this conversation. We talked about so much and I heard some great stories as we approached a milestone for [title of show]. I think about that conversation often and revisit it whenever I need to be reminded of what a strong female lead is.

April:

Finding out I’d get to work with a  few new populations in speech therapy. 2019 was a year of professional learning for me in every sense of the word. I’ve worked with more students in a greater variety in this single calendar year than I have in my time practicing. I learned a lot about myself in this year, learned more about my colleagues and students, and learned new strategies and skills. It is to the credit of my students that I am a more well-rounded clinician.

May:

Better Hearing and Speech Month. This month every year I get to educate others about this field, what I do, and why I do it. I also get to learn more from my colleagues. For some vocal health tips, read on here.

June:

The highlight of June was the Tony Awards. This, along with the conclusion of every school year, are points of reflection and celebration midway through the year. No matter who takes home trophies that evening, its us theatre-goers who truly win.

July:

Freestyle Love Supreme at Kennedy Center. This show was so joyful and everyone was so present. It was a night with  my parents full of laughter and entertainment. The crew is so talented and so quick, you can’t help but be invested in this show from the second mic check begins.

August:

Moulin Rouge! the Musical. I loved this show so much. I’m planning on seeing it again in February. I haven’t stopped listening to the album or telling everyone who will listen how much I adore this show.

September:

The start of a new school year. As hectic ass this time is each year, I love the feeling of a fresh new year full with new opportunities for myself and my students. I am new to some and familiar to others, and excited to begin lessons alongside my colleagues.

October:

Using Tatro in my speech room. This toy was such a hit with my students, I keep finding new ways to incorporate them into lessons. My students ask to use this playset over and over. I loved getting to support my friend Will Barrios.

November:

Celebrating World Kindness Day with my students and sharing some tips with my readers here. I truly enjoy hearing my students’ ideas and perspectives on kindness each year, and how they grow and change. I got to spend this day with students who were new to me and I got to learn so much about them by listening to their opinions and practices.

December:

Seeing Leslie Odom Jr. with the National Symphony Orchestra. This concert was a real treat. Anyone who knows me knows that Leslie Odom Jr. is one of my favorite performers, and to see him at my favorite venue alongside the NSO was incredible. It was just the thing to put me in the holiday spirit. I had already been listening to both of his Christmas albums and his new album, Mr, on repeat since it was released in November, but this was and auditory experience unlike any other live performance of his I’ve seen.

I’m so grateful to you readers for joining me over the course of the year. May you all have a wonderful holiday season and a very happy new year.

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

Broadway · Performances · The Human Connection

Spectacular, Spectacular! My Review of Moulin Rouge! The Musical

The opulence is overwhelming. The beauty is bedazzling. The freedom feels like fireworks. The truth is terrific. The love is lavish. Moulin Rouge! is a must-see event.

From the second you walk into the theatre, you are completely enveloped in the ambiance of the Moulin Rouge. If you think you know this show because you saw the 2001 movie, think again. Nothing can prepare you for what you, dear audience member, are about to experience.

From beginning to end, the set dazzles, the choreography intrigues,  the acting amazes, and the singing captivates. There are crowd favorites and new surprises across all creative choices that could only be done in such a stage production. This is a magical world you’ve entered, full of extravagance encapsulated by Karen Olivo, the ensemble, and Danny Burstein, with desire personified in Aaron Tveit’s and Tam Mutu’s performances respectively. Sonya Tayeh has truly outdone herself with the choreography, which soars and inspires to the point where you want to get up and dance (I must admit, I danced in my seat the whole show). I smiled ear to ear from the second I entered the theatre and I’m fairly certain I fell asleep with that same smile on my face when I fell asleep that  night.  I can’t encourage everyone to go see this production enough! It’s timely and touching, entertaining and endearing, heartbreaking and heartwarming.  Tickets are available here.

As we all know from the film, the beautiful, idealistic Bohemians of the revolution believe in the foundational truths of freedom, beauty, truth and love. This week, I challenge you to determine what your own fundamental beliefs are. They can be words, phrases, or anything you like. Share them in comments and see how you can practice these beliefs in your day to day life.

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

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