Better Speech and Hearing Month · The Human Connection

If Only You Would Listen: Hearing Health

As a school-based speech pathologist, most of my job focuses on articulation, fluency, language expression and comprehension and pragmatic skills. There is a key component to Better Speech and Hearing Month, and it’s healthy hearing practices. Speech pathologists can be just as involved as audiologists in this area. I personally find audiology and hearing fascinating. Here are a few tips to protect your hearing that you can implement on a regular basis.

Plug In.

No, not your headphones–we’ll get to those shortly. Earplugs. Earplugs are your friend in loud spaces. This could be a sporting event, concert, or even your job. Most professional performers have custom-made earplugs to protect their hearing, as well as people who work in contruction, but any earplugs will do. Can’t stand the feeling of earplugs? Try noise-cancelling headphones to muffle the loud surroundings.

Turn it down!

Most people turn the volume up on all devices far louder than they need to be. Televisions, cell phones, earbuds–turn it down! Your neighbors will probably appreciate this too. If you’re using earbuds with the volume up, you can damage your inner ear fairly quickly. For television, turn the volume down. If you find you can’t understand what’s going on, try watching with subtitles. I do this regularly and pick up on more details in the show this way!

Say no to cotton swabs!

Cotton swabs are not meant for ears! Please do not use these to clean your ears. If used incorrectly, you can actually puncture your eardrum. Check the box and allow your ears to clean themselves. The wax inside them is designed to protect and keep the inner ear clean. Removing it can be harmful to your auditory health.

Face the music.

Having trouble understanding what’s being said? Face the music, or the person you’re speaking with! Watching your conversational partner’s face helps you to understand what’s being said. Really hear what’s being said, and your conversational skills could improve too. Take time to process what you’re hearing so you can really process everything being shared with you.

These are just a few tips I teach my students and have picked up through my ongoing education. Feel free to ask questions or share your own tips in comments. My challenge is for you to apply one of these tips to your daily activities and let me know how they impact your day-to-day life.

Keep playing with words and see what your message creates!

–Stef the StageSLP

Better Speech and Hearing Month · The Human Connection

Do You Hear The People Sing: Better Speech and Hearing Month

May is Better Speech and Hearing Month, a topic near and dear to my heart. As this is a blog related to education and theatre, I thought I’d share some singing and vocal hygiene tips. Every year I find creative ways to share these with my staff and students. I understand not all of these tips are feasible all of the time, but these are best practices in my field.

  • Stay Hydrated

This one is fairly simple. We all spend a good portion of our day talking, occasionally at louder volumes than are healthy. The best way to protect your voice and throat is to drink water. It keeps your vocal folds in better shape for continuous use. This also helps vocal sound while singing. Tea is great, and we all run on some sort of caffeine, but we all know water is best. And on that note, anything with caffeine or acid can be drying or irritating to the voice, creating less than healthy speaking and singing conditions.

  • Breathe

Every acting and vocal coach will express the importance of breathing and breath control. This is also extremely important in everyday speaking. In order to sustain longer amounts of speech (i.e. presentations, performing, teaching, speaking over music in a dance class) you have to breathe from your diaphragm. Your abdomen should expand, not your chest or shoulders. You also want to inhale before you begin and use your exhale to sing or speak.

  • Give It a Rest

Don’t have to talk? Take a break. Vocal rest is your friend. I spend most of my day speaking to staff, students, and parents. I am more than happy to come home to my apartment and text everyone the rest of the day to give my voice a break.

  • Sleep

Sleep recharges everything, including your vocal tract and respiratory system. A good night’s sleep is always a good idea when it comes to your voice.

Those are just a few of my tips to keep your voice healthy. Please add yours in comments. I challenge you to try a new vocal health technique this week.

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 · Interview · The Human Connection

Astonishing: A Celebration of Women in the Creative Space

March is Women’s History Month, and we have plenty to celebrate. March 29th marks our second birthday here at Speech To Stage. My lessons this month have had to do with women from a variety of backgrounds and showcasing a myriad of accomplishments. My students and I have learned more than we expected, and I got asked why women only get a month. I don’t have that answer, but in my speech room and in my world, women get celebrated every day. Today, I’m taking the time to celebrate every woman who has been generous enough to share her words with me. In order of appearance, I would like to showcase the women I’ve interviewed.

  • Gillian Pensavalle
    When this blog was just an idea, Gillian was the first person I reached out to. Gillian had already jumped into the deep end of the pool with her podcast, The Hamilcast, and I am a HUGE fan. She is a true self-starter who learns on her feet and is open to whatever gets thrown at her. It has been so exciting to watch her podcasting evolve.
  • Laurie Berkner
    Laurie Berkner creates the BEST children’s music my speech room has ever heard. Any song can be turned into a lesson, and I enjoy them as much as my kids do. They inspire creative questions and conversations among my students. Thank you for your creativity!
  • Margo Seibert
    Margo was someone I knew I wanted to talk to right away. With her work with weracket.com, beautiful solo music, and Broadway career, I knew I had to know her journey from beginning to present. She has a beautiful presence about her, and insight I’m forever grateful she shared with me. Already looking forward to the next time I get to see her perform.
  • Karla Garcia
    As a dancer, I was so excited to speak with Karla. She has such a unique, sophisticated style to her work. Currently in the Broadway cast of Hamilton, she teaches at Broadway Dance Center and has her choreography in different projects. If you ever get the opportunity to learn from her, DO IT! Her energy is contagious and you will have the time of your life.
  • Susan Egan
    Broadway’s first Disney princess. I still can’t believe I had the pleasure of this conversation. I remember learning so much and being able to give my students so much to work with right after this conversation took place. If she is coming to a Broadway Princess Party near you, go. Susan is truly a delightful human.
  • Jessica Lee Goldyn
    Jessica caught my eye back in the Broadway revival of A Chorus Line. I couldn’t take my eyes off of her. A few years later, and the same held true in Tuck Everlasting. Getting to hear about her dance journey and how she takes care of herself was a real treat for me and my kiddos.
  • Sarah Charles Lewis
    This young lady is a triple threat. Just a glance at her social media, and she is always dancing, singing, acting or all three. Sarah shone as Winnie Foster in Tuck Everlasting. An incredibly talented individual, I look forward to seeing her perform again someday.
  • Arielle Jacobs
    When I spoke to Arielle, she was starring in In The Heights at Virginia Repertory Theater, which Karla Garcia was choreographing. She is currently representing royalty as Princess Jasmine in Aladdin on Broadway. She has such a sunny outlook on life and is such a lovely human to speak with. My students found her words and advice really grounding and inspiring.
  • Laura Heywood
    I have followed Laura through many of her Broadway-related endeavors. I’m certain all of you know her as BroadwayGirlNYC. She is always filling my timeline with uplifting and hopeful words and thoughts. She is now back on the radio with her own interview show. Be sure to check her out!
  • Nava Silton of Addy and Uno
    Nava may be my personal hero. She found a way to take the arts and the special education community and merge them into a child friendly teaching tool and off-Broadway show! I swear by her teaching tools and have recommended them to many other educators. I firmly believe everyone needs to see this show and learn more about her work in educating others.
  • Lynn Ahrens
    Lynn Ahrens has written so much that has made me feel every possible emotion. She helped shape my childhood with Anastasia and School House Rock, and is now working on a show I adore, Marie Dancing Still. Her advice for the writing process truly changed how some of my students approach their writing assignments and feel they understand it better having heard her perspective. My students and I are so grateful for her words and her work.
  • Andrea Koehler of Coloring Broadway
    If I could give an award for most supportive human, it would go to Andrea. She shows so much support for me and for everyone involved in the Broadway Makers Alliance. Mastermind behind Coloring Broadway and The Coloring Project, she found a way for Broadway fans to make Broadway lyrics their own with coloring pages. Each page has its own mindfulness activity to go along with it, and I am OBSESSED with this product. I think I own every coloring set.
  • Kimmie Mark
    Everyone needs a Kimmie in their lives. Gillian started this saying, and she was right. She is the dresser for both George Washington and Aaron Burr for the Broadway cast of Hamilton. She is a hero for all, including the animals! She does incredible raffles benefitting the New Jersey Freedom Farm on her Instagram account, @dunkinscout
  • Stephanie Klemons
    This amazing human is superwoman. While fulfilling her job as associate choreographer for all of the Hamilton casts, she has made her directorial debut, added her choreography to other productions and is running an amazing organization, Katie’s Art Project. Everyone should be supporting this. This was such an inspiring conversation, and my students and I really took her words on work ethic to heart.
  • Liz Schwarzwalder and Mindy Swidler of Petite Seat
    Liz and Mindy are doing amazing work. Not everyone can provide a family perspective on theatrical experiences! They think of everything a family might need to know from show content to stroller parking. They keep their followers in the know on so many shows. I know my parents certainly appreciate their work, and I appreciate the fact that they’re bringing family and the arts together.
  • Lesli Margherita
    All hail the Queen. Her message of being yourself is so powerful, and one I need to hear often. My students love her positivity and her comedy, but I love her perspective of being in control of who you are and owning it. She is truly a star that shines from the inside out, and encourages everyone else to do the same.
  • Heidi Blickenstaff
    My conversation with Heidi was so much fun. She has originated these amazingly strong and vulnerable characters through her work, as well as made roles her own. She sings one of my (and my students’) favorite songs on any OBCR, “Right Hand Man” from Something Rotten! Her push to explore your town has really helped change and shape the way my students approach the word, “adventure.”

Who are the women in your life that you celebrate? I challenge to make a list of all of the women in your life you celebrate, the impact they’ve had on you, and how you can share that celebration with others.

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

Articulation · Grammar · Lesson Plans · Pragmatics and Social Skills · The Human Connection · Vocabulary

How Lucky Can You Get: St. Patrick’s Day Speech

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! I hope everyone is wearing their green and having plenty of family fun. This holiday was celebrated in the speech room a little early this year, since it fell on a Sunday. Here are a few of my activities.

  • Write your own limerick
    This activity can get as silly as you want. First I teach the structure and rhyme scheme of the limerick and have my students repeat it back to demonstrate comprehension. From here, they can choose their own topic, and I target the writing process to what they’re working on. Is it vocabulary? Then they have to use content specific vocabulary. Describing, as many different adjectives as will fit. Articulation? Use as many words with you speech sound as possible.
  • Design your own leprechaun
    For this one, I print out a picture of a leprechaun, after explaining its sneaky characteristics. I then pose the question to my students: If you could make your own leprechaun, what would it be like? How would they act? Why would they act that way? Would they have powers? What would they look like? This activity is great for expanding utterances, answering WH questions, describing and explaining.
  • Sequencing a story
    I like to use the story, There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed A Clover to teach sequencing. While reading the story, I have my students retell the sequence as we read, and again after we read. I have a companion worksheet for them to sequence the events in the book, using the book to check their own work.
  • Holiday hypotheticals
    Hypothetical questions are a great way to get at abstract thinking. I like to ask my students what they’d do if they found a pot of gold. What would you do with it? Who would you tell? Where would you hide it?I also like to do this with the question, “What would you do with a four-leafed clover?” This speaks to language comprehension and expression, length of utterance and can be a great conversational topic for social skills work.
  • Describe your own traditions
    Not everyone celebrates this holiday. After using St. Patrick’s Day as an example, ask the students to describe or explain a tradition they have in their family. I use the example of having a family game night, complete with junk food and everyone choosing a favorite game. This gives the kids insight into the lives of their peers and allows them to appreciate the differences of those around them. You can also choose to talk about holiday traditions.

These are a few of my go-to activities. I challenge you to find a new way to incorporate different cultures into your speech work this week, and see what you learn about others.

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

Broadway · Interview · The Human Connection

A Solid Rock Am I: A Conversation with Heidi Blickenstaff

I’ve discussed many things I’ve learned through theatre on this blog. After all, participating in the theatrical experience in any capacity is bound to teach anyone something new. Today’s guest embodies one of my favorite lessons: Women are strong, smart, multi-faceted people who should never be underestimated. I’ve been fortunate enough to see Heidi Blickenstaff play Heidi in [Title of Show], Bea in Something Rotten, and Katherine in Disney’s Freaky Friday in an out-of-town production, and every time I am blown away by her performance and excited by the idea that young girls especially, but women everywhere get to see this particular version of strength and power. We talked about playing all the roles mentioned above, how she got into theatre, and what it was like taking a stage production and turning it into a musical. Let’s jump in!

Stef the StageSLP: How did you become interested in theatre?

Heidi Blickenstaff: When I was six, my mom took me to our local dinner theater and we saw a production of Oklahoma! I knew nothing about it beforehand. There was a little girl in it a bit older than me, and up until then, I was only obsessed with movie musicals, especially Singin’ in the Rain. I didn’t know you could do this live, and that was it. I wanted to do that. My parents are the most supportive, wonderful parents, and had no idea what to do with me—they were mostly into sports. We found out I had to be seven to audition for the shows, and I auditioned the next year for their youth company. I sang “Maybe” from Annie, and I was absolutely terrified. The artistic director asked my mom where my voice came from, and suggested that I take voice lessons and come back in six months. I did, and the rest is history. I got a huge musical theatre education with them. I also went to a performing arts high school and was kind of insatiable. I knew I wanted to be on Broadway the second I found out there was a Broadway. I went to college and got my degree in drama from Duke University, moved to New York and started auditioning. I was very focused and relied on my instincts, because my parents had no idea how to help me other than be completely supportive. It was a lot of on-the-job training, and you never stop learning.

S: That’s awesome to come from such supportive parents without theatre as their primary interest.

H: They were given this child who loved acting and recognized early on that I was a bit of an alien, but that they needed to give me the wings to fly on my own. My mom liked musicals; we had the albums. I could not get enough of them. The way my mom tells it, I was harmonizing with Barbra Streisand when I was two. They must’ve thought, “She’s a weirdo, but we’re going to nurture this talent and interest and find her other weirdos like her to continue to grow this interest.” And I’m so grateful for that in them.

S: My students have all seen Freaky Friday, some on stage, all of them through the Disney Channel. What’s it like to adapt a stage production to a movie?

H: I had a lot of feelings of gratitude for this. When we were building the theatrical version, the creative team was incredibly collaborative. It was built on what Emma Hunton and I could do, and our input was very much a part of the process of building the show. I love collaborating and being in a room where my creative ideas are valued and heard, and we’re very proud of what we made. I’m so glad that the theatrical version is out in the world for people to do.

When I was asked to do the film, I was utterly shocked. I was the only act held over from the stage production to the film. I didn’t even have expectations of being cast. I was brought back for readings to help cast the other actors, but I never thought I would be asked to stay. I got to reprise my role on television.

Shooting the movie is an utterly different situation from a stage production. The only thing they have in common is that they require actors. I had never been on television before or made a movie before, so this was all new to me, and more learning on my feet. The script drastically changed from a full musical with an intermission to a ninety-minute film. The differences between the stage production and the film revolved a lot around demographic and attention span. The kids watching the movie may not be as invested in a two-minute ballad as a theatre audience is. Every aspect of the movie musical has to drive the plot. All of the changes made gave the final product integrity, and our book writer, Bridget Carpenter, is a total genius and was able to write for both mediums. I was so happy to be a part of both the musical and movie-musical. Every day was a gift, and an experience of a lifetime for sure.

S: What was it like originating Bea in Something Rotten?

H: It was pretty dreamy from start to finish. I got the very unlikely offer to do the role, I didn’t have to audition. I had just worked with Casey Nicholaw on Most Happy Fella, and Kevin McCollum who produced it had produced [Title of Show] and I had a working relationship with him, too. This show had been in development for two and a half years at this point, and labs and workshops had been done. They called me while I was doing Elf at The PaperMill Playhouse, and I couldn’t believe it—it was truly unbelievable. I will never forget that moment.

To be in that room with those comedic geniuses was both amazing and intimidating at the same time. I learned so much about comedy from the cast and creative team. Every day, everyone came ready to work. We all loved that show so much. Bea was written on me, they had rewritten her from previous versions. They really worked with me to figure out what would work for me, and we landed on “Right Hand Man.” From start to finish, the entire ride was totally crazy and I’m so grateful for it. It’s what you dream about. I love Bea so deeply, and of all the characters I’ve played she’s a lot like me, in a lot of ways more than Heidi in [Title of Show].

S: What was it like to create such an empowering female character?

H: Awesome. And to be on that stage in a spotlight, belting about how strong women can be and how capable we are…it doesn’t get much better than that. I am so proud that there is a character that I got to create that has such a strong message for girls and all women that says “We got this.” I remember Kevin McCollum said to me, “When you make a musical, you leave a legacy. You will always be the first Bea. You made her. This will be a part of your legacy.” And girls and boys will hear that song and its message on a cast recording is incredible.

S: Well, I can tell you it is a hit among my students, my family, and myself.

H: Thank you.

S: How on Earth do you sing the songs that you sing while protecting your voice?

H: It gets harder. Freaky Friday is my hardest sing so far. You don’t talk a lot outside of the theatre. You have to protect your voice. You have to stay hydrated and watch what you’re eating. You can’t be in a loud place where you have to shout over everyone else, or your voice will go out.

The way I sing and make sounds is instinctual. I’ve taken a handful of voice lessons, but I’ve never taken formal, individual voice lessons. I teach a lot of master classes but I can’t teach what I do or tell you how I do it. I’m much better teaching acting than singing. I know my limits, I know my voice, and I know how to adjust accordingly. All of that comes with time. We’re born with certain gifts and instincts on how to preserve those gifts. When I’m teaching, I always stress the acting and storytelling. Find the story, then make it sing.

S: What would you say to kids and teens who want to get into theatre?

H: Access really is an epidemic. It’s becoming a luxury instead of common in schools. If you do have access to any kind of class, take it. Like attracts like, so if you can find your way into a dance class or voice class, the other folks in the class will know other things going on in the arts community. Ask people questions and don’t be shy about it. There are online resources now, too. See what’s happening in your community and if you can take advantage of that. Theatre and the arts give you empathy, perspective, and joy. Kids need this, and the arts and all art are so, so important.

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

H: I would encourage them to go do something new within their own city. My family and I have been challenging ourselves to get out of our neighborhood and do something creative and new that we don’t do every week. It’s been an awesome experience to get out of our neighborhood and see more of the city we live in. Take advantage of things in your city that you wouldn’t necessarily do and have a little adventure. Put your phone down. Make a point of unplugging and really being with the people you’re with. It’s amazing what’s around us, right under our noses.
************************************************************************************

This was such a fun conversation to be a part of, and I can’t thank Heidi Blickenstaff enough for speaking with me. How exciting is this? There is a [Title of Show] reunion concert on March 11th benefitting The Actor’s Fund! If you can, please go see Heidi in this show. It is a performance you will not want to miss! My students are already reaping the benefits of this conversation, and I’ve designed a project to go along with whatever adventure they choose to take on in their pursuit of Heidi’s challenge. Needless to say, my students have been requesting “Right Hand Man” more frequently, and I’m proud of them for that. I look forward to reading about your adventures in comments.

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

 

 

 

The Human Connection

Whoever You Are, I Love You: Valentine’s Day Connections

Valentine’s Day was earlier this week, and I hope all of my readers and their families enjoyed the day. From sugar highs to dances, to Valentine-themed activities, I know all of my students were busy. What I love most about this day through my students’ eyes is how it seems to be about love for everyone–family, friends, pets, teachers, you name it. Adults don’t tend to see it this way, so I dove in on this message. I found a way to fit every category of love in my life into this day. Here’s how I did it.

  • My Family
    This day always makes me think of family. I still get valentines in the mail from my parents. I call them on my way to work to tell them Happy Valentine’s Day in the same message I did on a valentine when I was a toddler. I send them valentines every year–one for the pair of them and one for each parent and my relationship with them. My brother and I don’t exchange valentines, but we do make sure to actually speak to each other day–calling on the phone, no texting.
  • My Friends
    I check in with my friends throughout the day to see how they’re doing adn to wish them a sweet day. Whether they have significant others or not, I make sure they all know they play a significant role in my life. We get together when schedules allow, so it’s not always on the day, but we get together close to it. It seems like quality time is something that all of us highly value, and that’s usually our gift to each other.
  • My Students
    I have a fun and holiday themed lesson for each of my groups. I wish them each a Happy Valentine’s Day and ask them how they are going to celebrate. I wander around their class parties when I can, and get away from the speech room to support the kids in their classrooms as much as possible.
  • My Self
    The most important relationship I have is the one I have with myself. I use this day to write down what I love about myself that I do only for myself. I am grateful to my body that keeps me moving, my brain that lets me be creative and analytical, my empathetic abilities to work with others and listen to them. I will treat myself to something special–a food I don’t normally eat or a new book to read. I like being able to treat myself to things I enjoy now, instead of having to ask others. Above everything, I make sure I am kind to myself on this day. That’s not always easy, but it’s the most important.

How do you show those in your life that they matter to you? How do you celebrate this holiday? I am challenging my readers to tell me how they show love to all of the significant parties in their lives.

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