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

The Human Connection

I’ve Got the Sun in the Morning and the Moon at Night: A Thanksgiving Post

For those of us in the United States, we’ve just finished celebrated Thanksgiving. I was fortunate enough to get to spend mine with my immediate and extended family. I just wanted to take some time to post how thankful I am for this site, for my readers, adn the many amazing folks I’ve gotten to speak with.

I’m so grateful to anyone who’s given me their time and help me better understand how the theatre world works, and how to access my students through this medium. I cannot express enough how much the words you’ve all shared have impacted my students and myself.

There are no words for how appreciative I am of my students. Each one has taught me a new perspective in so many aspects of life. They’ve taught me to be silly, to value the people in your life who are “safe,” and to think outside the box. They keep me on my toes and they keep me teachable and flexible.

I have the most unbelievable family. They keep me laughing and learning. Our memories of all sorts are always at the front of my mind, and I’m loving making new ones with the youngest generation of my family.

I have my health, appreciation for myself and what I do, appreciation for the arts and all they teach, and an ability to care for myself. I have fantastic friends I can call on no matter the situation. What more could I want out of life than all of these amazing things?

This week’s challenge is for you to reflect on what you’re thankful for in your life.

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

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

Broadway · Interview · The Human Connection

The Spark of Creation: A Conversation with Stephen Schwartz

Did you know that hope and wonder have a sound? If you are one of my students, or one of many people who are familiar with Stephen Schwartz’ work, you are extremely familiar with it. The music and lyrics behind his work are sure to evoke emotion the second you begin listening. For me, I grew up singing songs he’d written, admittedly poorly, or quoting lyrics back and forth with my family. My students can identify a few composers by sound, and Stephen Schwartz is one of them.  I have many musically inclined students who wanted a composer’s perspective, and I thought it would help to round out their theatrical knowledge that they were absorbing through my speech sessions. I have been a lifelong fan of Stephen Schwartz’ work, from Pippin to Children of Eden, Hunchback to The Prince of Egypt, and of course Wicked. I don’t believe there’s a lyricist who has leant more to my vocabulary lessons or SAT word study, which I now get to pass on to my own students. We talk about how he became interested in composing, why learning the basics in any instrument is important, writing style, and so much more.

Stef: This blog of mine has become sort of a family affair, and I have to start by asking questions from my mother. I wouldn’t know your work if not for her. She wants to know how long it took you to write “What Is This Feeling,” and is it based on a sibling relationship?

Stephen: Actually, it’s funny she should ask that because it’s one of the songs I found most tricky. I had four versions of that songs over the course of the show before I figured it out. There was always going to be a song in which Elphaba and Glinda were responding to the idea of being roommates. Winnie Holzman, the book writer, had the idea of doing a falling in hate/hate at first sight song. Taking all of those love at first sight songs and rewriting them. It was not one of those songs that came instantaneously. I remember after my third version asking Joe Mantello if we needed that song there. The relationship isn’t really based on anything other than instantly falling in hate with someone. If you think about it, the clichés for love are similar— “What is this feeling? My face is flushing,” and so on, but instead of feeling love, they’re loathing each other.

S: Wow, that’s a really interesting backstory. She and I were convinced that was based on sibling rivalry.

S: No, that was Winnie’s idea about falling in hate. She had the idea and it ended up working out.

S: I am so excited to share wit my kids that songs take as many drafts as writing. I don’t think they realize that.

S: Writing a song for a musical is storytelling. Some songs come easily and some take longer.

S: The other thing my mother really wanted you to know is that she is extremely appreciative for your work with Children of Eden. My brother played the role of Father in a high school production, just as he was going off to college. She really appreciates you sharing the parent perspective in “The Hardest Part of Love,” especially as she was going through it. It was very timely for her.

S: Thank you. As parents we fear the empty nest, and that was a way of expressing it, whether or not it actually happens.

S: My students want to know how did you become interested in writing and composing for theatre?

I was always interested in music. Musical ability is genetic, and it’s something that tends to show up very early. My parents tell me that I used to ask them to play specific records as a toddler. When I was six, my parents had a friend who was a composer and he was working on a show. When we visited him, he’d play what he was working on for us, and my parents would then say that I’d go over to his piano and pick out what I heard him play. He suggested my parents put me into piano lessons, and that’s how that started. I knew at eight or nine that I wanted to write for the theatre after seeing one of his shows on Broadway.

S: How is it different for you when you’re collaborating with someone else, versus doing all of the work yourself?

S: It’s not really different in that the goal is the same. It’s storytelling using song. When I’m doing both music and lyrics, it’s maybe more fluid, and I’ll switch between mediums. These days when I’m collaborating, and mostly it’s with Alan Menken now, we still start with,” What’s the assignment? What story are we telling?” I try to come up with a title, because I think it helps with structuring the song. Alan will write music first and then I put words to it.

S: When you’re composing and writing lyrics, which comes first for you?

S: It really works fluidly and moves back and forth. Maybe I’ll write some lyrics or a chorus and that will suggest some chords. Sometimes it works in reverse of that order. It changes from song to song, there’s no set formula.

S: My students want to know if writing comes easy for you, and what happens when you get stuck?

S: Writing is not easy, I think, for anyone. There are bursts of inspiration and times when you hit a wall. You have to keep going and just get words on the page. Something to break the lock down. Stop and do something else—go outside, take a walk, something unrelated to the task so your unconscious mind can think freely. You don’t want to be at a computer, you want to be doing a physical activity. If it’s a day where I’m planning to write, I won’t start with my computer, or it ruins the flow for me.

S: Many of my students are in orchestra or band and are learning the basics and would rather just play what they want than learn what’s being taught. What would you say to them?

S: That’s how everyone feels, but the truth is you can do both! You can have time to play and explore—that’s valuable. But if you don’t do the basics and practice, you won’t get better. The more you master the tedious stuff, the more you can do what you want. This applies to practicing for anything, sports, arts, what have you.

S: How does it feel knowing you’ve shaped so many lives through your work, either in theatre, film, or both?

S: Obviously, there are reasons people become writers, and part of that is to be able to communicate. Knowing that in some cases that I have successfully communicated with someone, it’s very gratifying.

S: That’s what your work does, it communicates the message of the show very well. And I’ve used your work to teach vocabulary, social skills, you write very smart lyrics that lend themselves to these topics. I’ve had to be careful using Wicked, though, since some of those words aren’t real.

S: That’s something to explore with your students, too. Winnie brought up that the story takes place in Oz, which isn’t exactly the same as our world, so the language wouldn’t be exactly the same. She created these Ozisms that appear throughout the script, so I started incorporating them into my lyrics. The whole point of that was that it was understood that we weren’t in our world, we were in a different place.

S: And I get to use the Ozisms to have my students explore their creativity and define words on their own. Going back to “What Is This Feeling” and “I’m Not That Girl,” I’ve taught girls that it’s perfectly acceptable to be nice to each other, and to diffuse girl drama. Your songs tell stories and teach lessons at the same time.

S: Oh, that’s great!

S: Is there a difference in how you approach writing songs for film than theatre?

S: It’s pretty much the same. If I’m writing for film, I’m aware of the fact that it’s a motion picture, and that the characters aren’t standing still and singing. It’s all about storytelling through song.

S: I can tell you, the animation and music for Prince of Egypt felt like magic and so cohesive.

S: There was a lot of collaboration between myself, the people writing the screenplay, and the story artists. We aren’t always in the same room, and it’s a four-year process for something like that. There’s a lot of communication there.

S: Do you get any say when it comes to finding the vocal talent for the animated movies, because those were some spot-on choices.

S: In an animated picture, yes, I get some input. Sometimes the studio decides. But everyone has the same interest in making a good movie with voice actors who are going to deliver a solid final product.

S: I think Brian “Stokes” Mitchell was a brilliant choice for “Through Heavens Eyes”. It definitely impacts the way I hear and interpret the song. Did you have him in mind when you wrote the song?

S: No, but he’s brilliantly talented. I knew him and he was everyone’s first choice.

S: Your musical style is clearly influencing my students, who influenced you growing up?

S: I had a lot, and what people think of my style is an amalgamation of that. I played a lot of classical piano growing up, so Debussy, Beethoven sonatas, and Bach. I think there’s an influence from there. My parents had a lot of cast albums that I listened to, and also a lot of folk music I enjoyed. Then there’s The Beatles and the singer/songwriters from that era, through the eighties. It’s what I respond to that comes in my style of music.

S: My students want to know why you think arts education is important.

S: The key thing is that I feel that our society is lacking empathy. It shows up in all parts of life, politics, day to day behavior, everything. There is a lack of perspective taking, and that’s something we get from arts education. We get that from music and painting, not just performing. You have to question everything, and we lose out on that without arts education. On top of that, everyone is in their own echo chamber right now. Encountering and creating art forces you to overcome that. There’s a big focus on sports in our schools, and I enjoy playing sports, but that is the perspective of winners and losers. If there’s one thing we really don’t need more of right now, it’s that lense. Art isn’t about that

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

S: Exposure to the arts and other people’s lives and perspectives. Find a way to access that and learn about the world around you beyond what school can teach you in facts and STEM.  Talk about your observations and what that’s done for you. There’s a big world around you, go beyond the screen and notice it in different ways. Don’t necessarily eliminate anything, just go beyond it.
************************************************************************************

I was over the moon when this conversation took place, and I’m still so fulfilled by this conversation. I am a very big fan of Stephen’s work, in case that isn’t obvious, and I thoroughly enjoyed our conversation. My students gained a lot of insight about what goes into the process of composing a show, and the driving force of storytelling. They took a lot of comfort in knowing writing isn’t something that’s supposed to be easy. I look forward to taking on Stephen’s challenge by seeing more art that maybe I wouldn’t have exposed myself to in the first place. I look forward to hearing how my readers take on this challenge as well.

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

Inclusion · The Human Connection

Masquerade: Halloween Across Abilities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Broadway · Interview · The Human Connection

Best Face Forward: A Conversation with Douglas Otero of Intermission Beauty

One of my favorite parts of any theatrical experience and even every day life is makeup I fell in love with makeup many times in my life: watching my mother put it on every morning and waiting for the day she’d let me have my own, getting ready for recitals, auditions, and shows, and discovering products I really love. Makeup can change my entire day and my entire mood. With that said, imagine how ecstatic I was to discover Intermission Beauty. If you’re new to this brand, it is a small business founded by Douglas Otero who has created a line of Broadway inspired makeup and skincare. And an extra bonus: they’re cruelty free. After watching my students begin to express themselves through makeup, while doing the same myself, I knew I had to talk to this line’s creator. We talk about how he got into theatre, what drew him to makeup, his cruelty-free philosophy and more!

Stef: How did you get into theatre and performing?

Douglas Otero: I got into theatre and performing during high school. I always had the performance bug, and used to put on magic shows for company that used to visit my family when I was little. In high school, I met the right people and an amazing music teacher who guided me along the way. I found my first voice teacher, one thing led to another, and I started auditioning for Broadway shows, theme parks, and cruise ships.

S: How was your interest in theatre connected to your makeup artistry?

D: I have always loved makeup. When I got tired of working as a waiter, I decided to free-lance as a makeup artist. When I was in shows, the girls would ask me to help them with their makeup, even if I was getting ready myself!

S: What inspired your line Intermission Beauty?

D: My love of Broadway mostly, but my love of animals and protecting them. That’s how the Broadway Diva series came to be.

S: Your line is cruelty free, which is important to myself and my students. Why did you choose to make your line cruelty free?

D: Again, my love for animals is huge. Ever since I was born and came home from the hospital, I had pets; dogs especially. I’ve seen a lot of what happens with animals and testing cosmetics I want that to be a thing of the past. Especially in this day and age with so many other ways of testing products.

S: How long does it take to match a name to a color, and which comes first?

D: There isn’t a particular time frame. It’s all inspiration and how much I may love a show.

IB2

S: What should people know about makeup artistry that they don’t already know?

D: That it isn’t really always what they see on a YouTube channel. Everyone is different and not everything works on everyone. You also have to be realistic about what you’re trying to achieve as a consumer or makeup user. Some make it harder than it is.

S: Creatively, what does makeup design do for you that performing didn’t, and what did performing do for you that makeup design doesn’t?

D: It’s actually not that different! Although I do miss being onstage, it’s pretty similar. I’m using art to create and put it out on display for everyone to see. Whether I’m working with a celebrity for a red-carpet event or creating a new shade, it’s being consumed by many people. I feel with the makeup, people are at least getting to take something with them that they’ll use and enjoy. Hopefully they end up coming back for more.

S: What would you want your consumers to know about Intermission Beauty or how the products are created that they may not already know?

D: That I’ve gone to great lengths to put out the best products I possibly can. Considering I’m a small business with no investors and creating everything on my own dime is something worth saying. I’m very proud to say that.

S: Would you encourage kids to explore their creativity through makeup design and theatre? How could they get involved?

D: I’m all about allowing kids to express their inner creativity. It’s where they will really get to see what they do and don’t like. I was never forced to do anything and don’t think kids should be. If they want to take an art class, let them. If they want to take a dance class or a singing lesson, support them. At school, volunteering community theater, or if they’re old enough to work at a makeup counter or even do makeup for a community theatre or high school theatre—those are all great ways to get involved.

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

D: Stand up and sing a song for someone, or for a group. Do someone else’s makeup, or even your own. Similar to public speaking, not everyone is comfortable doing these things. If you want to be able to perform you should be able to get up and do it for a crowd. In the case of makeup, you need to be comfortable touching someone else’s face. Both are areas where you need to be outgoing, sure of yourself and your skills, and unafraid to get your hands dirty.
**************************************************************************

I am really excited for my students to break out of their shell through Douglas Otero’s advice. This was a great conversation with a lot of insight into makeup design, and how creativity can be displayed in so many different ways. I can’t wait to see how my readers take on this challenge in comments!
In case it wasn’t already clear that I love this line, I currently own four lipsticks, two liquid lipsticks, and the lip scrub and balm are absolute staples in my makeup bag. Those last two are heaven, especially in fall and winter months. The next time you’re looking for makeup for your next production or a day-to-day look, check out Intermission Beauty at @IntermissionBeauty on Instagram, and you can purchase the products for your own collection at IntermissionBeauty.com. I personally am a repeat customer and love what he’s doing for the animals with these products.

 

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

The Human Connection

The Start of Somethin’ New

Hi everyone!
I don’t know about my readers, but I am officially back in school and working with students. This is a big year for me: I’ve changed schools and populations and age groups. Boy, do I have heaps to learn and I am beyond eager to do so. Since I will be learning on my feet this year, some changes will also be happening here.

So what does this mean for this blog? I will continue to share interviews and strategies, but on a schedule of twice per month, instead of weekly. It means I’ll have new insights into new populations to inform my posts, including new topics and revisiting topics through a new perspective.

I may also be adding more about taking time for self care. It’s something I’m personally experimenting with and encouraging my colleagues and students to do the same. If that’s something you’re into and want to see here, let me know and I’ll happily share.

My challenge for my readers and students this week is to pick something new to learn or try. You never know what you’ll learn about yourself until you step into something new, and what better time than the start of the school year?

Keep playing with words and see what your message creates!

–Stef the StageSLP