shewastheyoungamerican

We Don't Exactly Speak the Same Language

Teaching Seventeen-Year-Olds

It’s a strange thing, to teach students less than a decade younger than me. There are multitudes in that eight-year difference. For the past four weeks I have been teaching workshops on Verbatim Theatre with Look Left Look Right Theatre Company at the Brit School (It’s sort of like Fame in England. Adele is an alumni).  What I have found most striking about the experience is how old 17 seems to be. It might have something to do with the fact that it’s the Brit School and things like dress codes and calling teachers by Mr. or Ms. don’t exactly apply.

I’ve taught 17-year-olds before. In 2011 I co-directed an after school drama program at Parkway Center City High School in Philadelphia. That was a wholly different school – uniforms, lots of rules, and “bad” kids. Though none of my kids were bad, they were wonderful. Regardless of who they were from 7am – 3pm, they were theatre kids when they stepped into our space. I loved knowing that. I can only hope that the time they spent with us developed who they were and their ambitions in their different worlds.

Then, I think back to when I was 17 – what my life and my high school was like. I was about 30 pounds heavier than I am now and was not-surprisingly mocked and tortured for it by a small group of bullies. But, that wasn’t my whole experience. It’s now a small tinge of pain, knowing how cruel people can be to one another – especially knowing that I now teach people that age and those sorts of things are probably happening to a lot of them.

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My best friend Tinuke and me when we were 17. She lives in LA now and is going to be famous.

 

My high school was also the kind of place where we weren’t allowed to carry purses, book bags, go to our lockers during class, go outside, or get anything from our cars. We had to sign contracts of behavior rules and consequences if we wanted to have an “outsider” as our date to the prom. We had cops and security guards at every corner. We were sent home a few times for guns found in lockers and even a few bomb threats.  And then, of course, we had “the riot.” More than 20 students were arrested in one day due to a massive gang fight. The cops ran out of handcuffs and had to use plastic ties. There were helicopters, for chrissake. That came to define Norristown Area High School for a long, long time.

My personal belief is that if you make a school to be like a prison, then the students are going to act like criminals. I would have soaked up the opportunity to work with a professional theatre company when I was in high school. I wanted to learn. I looked forward to specialized classes because it meant the people who were there wanted to be there – and we wouldn’t lose 30 minutes each period to discipline. I had some incredible teachers, some of which still teach there. Their dedication and un-wavering hope in their students is worth the world. However, the school was a system of punishment. Everything had consequences, and rarely were they good. We received few awards for our achievements. Rather, we were slapped with more rules year after year.  Sadly, NAHS had become so out of control, I think the school had to succumb to that sort of structure.

Yes, there is a responsibility of the parent, a responsibility of the teacher, and a responsibility of the individual to face the challenges of a difficult school. However, I also believe it’s up to the schools and districts to enable environments where students and teachers can breathe.  If you set up the expectation of bad behavior and failure, then the students will meet that. If you have faith in individuals, pay your teachers what they deserve to be paid, reward students for excelling and make failure to be the exception, rather than the rule, then teachers could teach and students could learn. Standardized tests are flawed – giving students numerical values of their worth. And it always comes down to time, and especially money.

So, when I walk through the halls of the Brit School, and hear music ringing out from the studios or pass by black box theatre spaces where young people are learning about Brecht, I just hope they appreciate what they have. These kids have the freedom to be expressive. What I envy the most is that they are treated like individuals, people with unique talents and ambitions. I know my 17-year-old experience was rare, not every school in America is violent or failing.  However, I do know that I was lucky. From a very young age I had teachers who recognized my potential. They went above and beyond the call of duty to nurture creativity and intellectual curiosity.

Sure, I think it’s a little weird that Brit School students get away with cursing and teachers don’t bat an eye at a mini skirt (I’ve been shocked at my own “conservative” reaction to some things) – but I can’t imagine what it would have been like to be in a place where and entire school believed that much in its students.  We need to keep challenging young people, as 17 continues to become older and older. The precipice of adulthood is meeting them sooner than I remember it did for me.  And when I see them outside, being with their friends, being 17, I see that they are still just kids – and I have so much more to learn.

Sofa Nostalgia

The set piece turned Green Room staple loving deemed, “The Sassy Sofa.”

Recently I performed with a “mixed bag” of improvisers for the Slapdash International Festival of Improvisation here in London. We created our own little format for the show called “the mullet” – short in the front, long in the back. Heh, get it? Anyway, before the show as we were all getting to know each other the very funny Jim Libby noted that his favorite object in any performance space was the sofa. Think about it, sofas are some of the most memorable pieces of furniture in anyone’s life. He asked, ‘can you imagine your childhood couch?’ I could, couches have a lot of life. So, I started thinking about the ‘couches of my life’ and a lot came out of it.

Let’s start at the beginning. The blue sofa in Natalie Lane. This bad boy makes a lot of appearances in old family videos. Wanna see footage of my sister and I fighting over a recorder? Done. How about yours truly rolling on the floor in a diaper wailing over a Pepsi. The “I WANT A PEPSI!” temper tantrum lives in infamy in my family. Oh hey, there’s that blue couch. It’s also the couch I fell over and landed in a trip to the hospital (The first of many in my youth. Clumsy kid. Clumsy human, really). I remember sitting on the blue couch and saying goodbye to our next door neighbor/ best friend Eric the night before we moved out of the house on Natalie Lane. It was a very sad night.

Then, ah…the floral sofa of Ardin Drive. The fabric had an awful, stiff texture. That poor, poor couch. Not only did our cats tear its corners to shreds (because my father refused to ever discipline his cats), but they covered it in fur and all too often with feline vomit. Ick. However, Pursey and Sukey were not the only ones to ever get sick on it. In fact, I had that inaugural pleasure. On the day the new couch was delivered, I spent the afternoon with my sister Alyson and my aunt Colleen at the movies. We went to see The Mask, I believe. I left the theater with an awful, awful headache (and no it wasn’t because of how bad that movie was). My aunt took me back to her house immediately. I was crying so hard we had to skip Burger King (Aly was pissed). I was having my first migraine.

When my aunt dropped me off at home later that evening, I walked right in to the living room and promptly threw up all over the brand-new, just-delivered sofa. My mother was furious. She sent me straight to my room. I was mortified and really mad at my mom. I was sick! Why was she so mad at me? It wasn’t until years later that I realized my mother hadn’t had a new piece of furniture let alone a new anything in years. We were always a family of second-hand or hand-me-downs. This was a brand-new sofa. Not only was it new, but it was high quality. Built to last. And I puked all over it. In my adulthood I’ve come to appreciate very deeply how much my mom has sacrificed over the years. I literally have to beg her to go buy herself something new every once in a while. She’s always thinking about me and my sister. Almost never, and certainly not enough, about herself. We bought another new couch about a decade later. When we threw the old one away, I saw the stain underneath the cushions. I didn’t think about being yelled at that day. I think about being sick and feeling really awful and how my aunt Colleen took care of me. I think about how she loved taking me and Aly places. How she was simultaneously so fun and so caring. And I just really miss her.

I spent a lot of time with that couch. I slept on it when I had a flu on Thanksgiving and missed going to my grandparents. I writhed in pain when I had my wisdom teeth pulled. But then felt a little better when, in the first time of my life, a boy brought me flowers. I sat on it, toes tapping, waiting eagerly for my prom date to pick me up. I watched really bad horror movies with my best friends on it. I grew up on that couch.

My grandparents’ couches are also really specific. There was something so luxurious about them. Even when I was little I was like “oh wow, this is a nice thing.” I knew I wasn’t allowed to put my feet up on their tables and I should only eat in the kitchen or the porch. Though from time to time I would sneak Andes chocolates from Popsy’s office and watch tv. I also spent a lot of time on their couch when I had to go home sick from school. My grandparents would often get me and my grandmom would either make me poached eggs and toast or grilled ham and cheese with soup. Sometimes, then, I could eat on the sofa.

My adolescence and teen years were filled with so many other legendary couches. The Beshenichs had a famous L-shaped couch in their family room. I ALWAYS aimed for the corner section. I spent many-a-night falling asleep on the couch as my friends and I went late in to the night playing video games, board games, or listening to Pete and Andrew make up dumb songs. And nowadays, when I go over for Christmas or visit on Thanksgiving for dessert, I still claim the corner. There was the couch I spent about 4 hours making out with a boy on (who was in a band! surprised?) when I was 16 and felt so rebellious because I told my parents I was at a friend’s house. That boy engaged now. Then there was Ellen’s couch. Ellen threw the best parties. Even the most typical seen-in-every-high-school-movie party where there were kegs and people locking themselves in bedrooms. No synchronized dancing. However, the couch was always the center of everything in all of its brown plaid, unchanged since the 70s glory. And was where I ran when the cops showed up at the door one night. Diana’s “comfy couch” in the basement was a thing of wonders. You just looked at it and knew that thing had been really lived in. We often spent hours sitting around her kitchen table talking about all things life/boy/high school related. When it got too late, we’d move to the comfy couch. That still holds true.

And then we come to college, my years at Drexel University. The greatest couch in that era was Mindy’s at 3609 Hamilton Street. That thing was like kryptonite. No matter what time of day, no matter what season, what activity. That couch was NAP TIME. That couch came to represent a lot in our friendship. It was a place where we cried about things – things that were scary about this new stage of adulthood, things about our families that were messed up. That couch was a “safe place.” It was also a thing that proved you don’t need to be doing anything in particular in order to feel close to someone. Just being in the same space together, feeling them around could be enough. We spent about 8 hours one day watching Lifetime and eating pizza and it still remains as one of the most memorable days of my college life. And nothing really happened. I just remember feeling like I truly had a best friend. And sometimes Mindy would throw parties. And sometimes people would share a lot of feelings on her couch.

Jarret’s couch was also a place of wonder. It was just so him. I was first introduced to Jarret’s couch via Sunday Night Dinner. This was an “elite” gathering. Really it was 5 or 6 of us each Sunday who were lured over to Jarret’s where he would pretend like we had any say in what we watched that night. I suggested Monsters Inc…and we ended up watching Casino. I loved those nights, though. It was something I could always look forward to. Something to make Monday seem less dreadful. There was always a lot of wine. The night always ended with port. And Jarret’s cooking got consistently better. The tradition lives on, so I’m told.

Drexel also had its array of typical frat boy front porch couches. Broken-down, nasty black leather couches to throw your coat down on a party and hope it was still there at the end of the night. Nothing really memorable happens on those couches. They’re just part of a place, a feeling. That moment of “yep, this is college.” And you hold your red solo cup and hope growing up gets better, or maybe never changes, depending on how you feel that night. Either wholly infinite or wholly trapped. Or just totally drunk. COLLEGE.

Really though, I owe much of my college sanity to the couches in the Green Room of the Mandell Theater. I could always sneak off there during breaks for a quick nap. Sometimes you’d find a fellow Drexel Player in there and you’d dish on the latest player gossip. Or you’d find the really sneaky actors napping during strike (they were then instructed to wait until everyone else got their food before they could eat). Or if you had a class in the green room, you always claimed a couch spot. Sometimes they were used as set pieces and that would really annoy you because now they weren’t available for napping. Oh, if those couches could talk. (See above photo)

There was of course a couch for first love. We curled up together one night watching 30 Rock. “So, what do you, like, refer to me as?” He asked as Liz Lemon was most likely eating something on screen. And after that moment, we were official. I look the leap while spooning. It’s a really sweet memory, that no matter how much things hurt in the end, I can still smile about. I think of that couch fondly. The home-cooked dinners we shared on it. The water ice I brought him after his wisdom teeth were pulled and watched “25 Years at the iO” on Netflix. Or sometimes we just put on a record and lied together on that couch. It was a good couch.

Then, I come to think about the “metaphorical” couch – what I refer to as my therapist’s office. We sat in chairs in our meetings. But we all come to think of a shrink’s office as the patient lounging on a sofa while the doctor sits in some large leather chair holding a clipboard. I’m writing about this because I think people don’t talk about therapy enough. Unless you live in New York. We’ve come to accept that people meet online, that everyone is on some sort of weird diet, or that we feel free to talk about our sexual exploits …at brunch! (Once again, maybe that’s just New York. It’s definitely not London). However, we still feel shame about seeing a therapist. Or, at least I know when I tell people that I see a therapist off-and-on over the years they get this concerned look on their faces. Seeing a therapist doesn’t mean you’re crazy!

Quite the opposite really – for me it means I’m self-aware enough to know there are problems my parents, best friends, Ben and or Jerry,  and especially I can’t fix. There are issues I need an outside ear. I need a space where I feel free to say what could be unsayable. Not having to hold back is liberating. Everyone should try it. The time I’ve spent on that couch over this past year is what helped me get through the most challenging few months of my life. I felt so utterly lost when I first moved to London. My session was something once a week where I knew I could let that all out. I didn’t have to fake what a great time I was having so people at home wouldn’t worry or so I could try to force myself into believing I made the right choice. And I uncovered a lot about myself along the way. If you’re doing something to help yourself, there’s no shame in it. I think most people look at going to therapy as some sort of admission to being broken. When really, it’s something you can do to keep yourself together. If we can brag about what a great session we had at the gym this morning, why can’t we brag about what a great breakthrough we had at therapy? I’m not saying we need to spill out everything to everyone. Therapy is deeply deeply personal and we also shouldn’t treat people like our emotional dumping grounds. I’m just saying we shouldn’t have to hide it.

And when I returned back to Philadelphia for the Christmas break – I mostly just wanted to hang out with my friends on their couches. I wanted to have Mindy cook dinner for the OGs and watch the Jersey Shore together. I wanted to sip beers with Fran and Di and make fun of each other for hours on end. I wanted to eat cheese and drink wine with Julie. I wanted to watch old black and white films with Becca. I wanted to enjoy doing absolutely nothing with Tinuke and Jemma. And I just wanted to hang out with my mom, my dad, and my sister and feel at home. Because I hadn’t for a long time. At least it felt that way. There’s something about the right sofa that just brings you home. I remember experiencing that for the first time in London at my friend Rosie’s. Her flat felt so homey. It just felt right. And then later on my friend Jess’s sofa where her little dog Bridget sat on my lap and we unearthed our shared comedic take on the world. A lot of things happen on sofas.

What are your favorite sofa (or sofer as my Brooklyn-raised father would say) memories, dear readers?

The Art of Being Grumpy in London: A Beginner’s Guide

Oh, hello. You there, yes you. I see you’ve just arrived in London. Well done, you! Why you already appear a bit haggard from your flight, so you’re on the right track. Now, after you’ve been questioned extensively by the UK Border Patrol (the government is a bit Draconian these days, and to be frank, they don’t want you here! Unless you’re here to spend lots and lots of money on the Olympics) –  hopefully Heathrow hasn’t lost your luggage at this point – now find your way to the London Underground. There will be many long corridors and you’ll get stuck behind people on the moving walkway who don’t understand the concept of “fast” and “slow” lanes. You’ll get this on the escalator as well. Before you know it you’ll be grumbling under your mouth, “Tourist.”

Ah good, you’ve made it on to the tube. Now, you are on the highest capacity vessel for grumpdom in the whole of the UK. Within just one car of the packed metro system you’ll find dozens of variations of what is known as “tube face.” Now, each person has their own version of “tube face,” but for a crash course, follow these quick and easy steps:

Step 1. Be exhausted. Even if you’ve just had a cup of coffee, or more likely a “cuppa” tea, YOU ARE SO TIRED RIGHT NOW. Nod on and off between consciousness and waking. Let your eyes sag as if you haven’t slept in days.

Step 2. Lose hope in humanity. Look in despair. Roll your eyes at the people around you – more so, just stare at your feet, avert eye contact with people. If you happen to catch someone’s eye, do NOT smile at them. I repeat, DO NOT SMILE AT ANYONE. You’ve lost faith in humanity, remember?

Step 3. Hate anyone who is doing anything. At all. UGH. Can you believe those two people have the nerve to talk to each other? AWFUL. They’re probably American, amiright!? That woman reading the newspaper next to you? I can’t believe her arm brushed against yours! Oh and I won’t even get you STARTED on the arshehole who had the nerve to lug their latest Ikea purchases on to the underground. Lest we forget the screaming children, someone stuffing smelly food down their gullet, and those awful teenagers making out. Your tube face really should say, “Everyone is making my day horrible and I disapprove of everything everyone is doing.” Remember, your FACE has to say it, because you’re in London and people don’t talk to each other. Especially not in such contained locations.

Now that you’ve finally made it out of that godforsaken train, you must be feeling terribly grumpy. You are. You are so grumpy. Naturally the first thing you will notice after having emerged above ground, after being stuffed like sausages and forced to inhale toxic air….you will notice the weather. You will talk about the weather incessantly. Why is that, you ask. Well, my dear Watson (I made a bad joke, are you grumpier yet!?), it’s because the weather in London is consistently dreadful! No really, I mean that! I know it’s mid-June, but I promise you, you DO need wool socks, a winter coat, and anything you own that is water-resistant. No, no TRUST ME. It’s going to be cold. It’s going to rain. In the summer. And every other season. London doesn’t exactly have a climate, it just has weather. Now, now it isn’t ALWAYS terrible. There will be a few days when the sun finally appears. You will feel confused, but mostly you will feel relieved. You’d forgotten what the sun looked like, what it felt like. You will brandish any and all opportunities to be outside – however you can’t escape the queasy feeling in your stomach as you lie in the grass, knowing this moment is fleeting. Now that the sun has gone back to its rightful place – oblivion- you will wake up the next morning and realize your pale, pale skin is now a deep singed red. It’s the hue of grumpy.

So, you’ve prepared yourself for the weather. I told you so. Now, LOOK AT ALL OF THOSE AWFUL PEOPLE WITH UMBRELLAS. They’re so rude, aren’t they? Why couldn’t they just get a smart rain coat and hat like you? No need to bother everyone with such over-sized annoyances. Their need to stay dry is interrupting YOUR need to get to wherever you’re going as quickly and with as least interaction with the human population as possible. It’s raining for chrissake!

Now that you’ve dodged so many umbrellas, you’ve finally made it safely in to the pub, order yourself a pint. You deserve it. Just don’t expect the service to be any good.

And when you wake up the next morning, you’ll get dressed, and as you face another day, you’ll realize your grumpy pants are too tight.

Enjoy.

Even this precious English Bulldog is grumpy. PUPPIES ARE GRUMPY.

When a Change Happens

Sometimes it’s planned, calculated, assessed, logical, budgeted. Risk management. Most of the time, it isn’t. You realize it after it’s been too long since the change occurred. You walk past a river one day and realize, suddenly, you’re different. Not in any major way, it’s more subtle than that. It’s a feeling of sky washing over you and not panicking. It’s stillness, in a way.

It happened while you were brushing your teeth or rolling your socks the way you like them rolled. Or when you made eggs for breakfast and ran to catch the bus. It happened when you cried or laughed, or both at once. It happened while you were sleeping, blissfully unaware of the synapses re-ordering. Something in your grid shifted, ever so slightly.

You aren’t alarmed by it, or maybe you are. You wonder if the people around you have noticed. It’s nothing on your face. It isn’t even obvious. Only a tuned ear could hear it, sense the tension in the wire that was never there before.  It’s scary for a moment, then gone. It’s a humid day, shrouded in grey and you think the weather is nice, because, well, at least it’s not raining.

The change was quiet and slow. Soothing in a way you wouldn’t have imagined. It was easy without the polarity of struggle.  Though the thing you worry about is going back. Can you go back to how you were? Do you want to? Something had to be left behind in order to make room for something new. And yet, there are still remnants of the things that hurt you. That’s the change you want, but you can’t make it happen. Some things stick – and as you stand by the river, you hope they wash away.

Slowly you let the grips go. Let your knuckles return to a pale pink. It’s already happened. And you breathe; allow yourself to feel your new skin. It feels just like the old one, really. It just hasn’t touched the same things. It does, however, have the same fingerprints and memories. The same chubby knees. The same scar under your chin from when you fainted in the nurse’s office on Picture Day in the 1st grade. You can touch it and be happy that bit of you hasn’t changed. You drink in permanence.

I Fell Back in Love With Theatre…Finally. Again.

I was growing weary throughout the course of my MA. Applied Theatre. That’s the name of my course. Applied THEATRE. And yet, for the past six months, I’ve lost theatre- studying theories on facilitation styles, marginalized groups, identity, community, safety, politics, even neuroscience. Theatre? I saw it distantly as I walked past the actors in their blacks and bare feet languidly flittering about Central, as actors do, as the creatures that they are. I wasn’t jealous, per se, of their intensive Meisner sessions or wailing in front of one another about their personal lives to get that “realism” quality. Jealousy? Not exactly. But a yearning, yes. It was the art that I was searching for – it’s the reason I wanted to teach. I’ve been soaking up everything about context and not enough about content. The art of theatre got me out of the formerly scared self I once was and taught me to take opportunity into my own hands. Theatre offered change, purpose, and lightness when life felt grim, exhausting, or dull. Theatre made me stop feeling sorry for myself. It woke me up in so many ways – and when I started teaching theatre and saw that spark in other people, well, it all made sense.

I’m having that Mr. Miyagi moment now, a little more than half-way through my course. I’ve been painting the fence for a while now, and quite frankly, my arms are exhausted and I’ve ruined all of my shirts. (For my friends in the UK who didn’t grow up with the Karate Kid, watch THIS). Though, I trusted my Miyagi (Selina Busby, MA Applied Theatre Dojo Master) and when I couldn’t find what I was searching for, she reassured me, and sent me back on my path (if only I learned to actually catch a fly with chopsticks).

And then I found myself today, seated in the Lyttleton Theatre inside of the National watching Cillian Murphy give a gut-wrenching performance of the one-man show Misterman. I was perplexed, horrified, and heart-broken by it. I laughed in smatters, like the the rain that found its way in and out of the show – then stopped suddenly by a flash of light of other-wordly sound and was frozen in my seat as the tortured creature on stage pleaded in madness for the redemption of sin. And theatre kicked me in the stomach and reminded me what it can do to people.

Earlier in the week, I happily stood in the drizzling rain at the Globe with my dear friend Hannah to watch The Tempest performed in Bangladeshi. I was moved by how Dhaka Theatre reinterpreted the text in their own traditions, their language, movement, and culture. It wasn’t just another, “Hey! let’s set Romeo and Juliet in the 1940’s and call it a re-imagining!” The play had morphed into something different, something more beautiful. I didn’t understand a word that was said but was transfixed the entire time. The Tempest is mystical – I now can’t imagine Ariel as someone other than a stunning Bangladeshi woman wrapped in bright cloth with her long dark hair swirling about the stage as she sang to Prospero.

I’ve been reminded this week as an audience member and as a project assistant on Epidemic with Old Vic New Voices that theatre, when done well, is about human beings and human stories – be it celebratory or even morose. I struggled with my course so much because theatre had lost its joy for me. I had to stretch my expectations and my own experiences and understanding. I’m still stretching. For the majority of my time in this course I felt like a tether ball, detached from its pole and just sort of rolling around. I think, finally, someone has tied back my rope and am gaining momentum, wrapping myself up around theatre. How’s that for a metaphor?

In any case, I’ve also been reminded how vital it is to step away from books and theory and to go out and see it. If I want the art of theatre back in my life, then I’ve got to immerse myself in it. Thankfully London is sort of the perfect place to do that. Oh, and one more thing, the show I’m working on sold out in 47 minutes. If that can’t spark some excitement, I don’t know what will. Stay tuned.

The Day the Music Died

I remember very vividly the day my father explained the meaning of Don McClean’s classic “American Pie.” I listened to a lot of oldies, doo-wop, and classic rock growing up and this was a song I knew by heart before I knew how to write in cursive. We were driving in our old station wagon and I asked him, “When was the day the music died?”

“Well kiddo,” my father said in his thick, impossible to mistake Brooklyn accent, “It was a day when Buddy Holly, the guy who sang ‘ That’ll Be the Day ‘ Ritchie Valens who sang ‘La Bamba‘ and the Big Boppah who sang ‘Chantilly Lace ‘ were all on the same plane and it crashed. It was a very bad accident.”

Even as a kid I thought how tragic it would be if music suddenly died one day. If it too was met my some strange fate on an airplane and left the world. And I felt sad for my father in that moment too. Something in his demeanor changed, he looked deflated, almost. Remembering the loss of that music still resonated – because my father still loved those artists, their music still helped write his story, his growing up in New York and experiencing the birth of Rock and Roll.

I do remember when Kurt Cobain died, but I was still too young for it to hurt. I mostly knew Nirvana post-mortem. It wasn’t until George Harrison and Joe Strummer passed that I felt that wincing pain my father did. George Harrison’s voice was played to me before I was born and carried through to the rainy days now, when I need the company of his songs. I met Joe Strummer at the time in my life when I needed music to tell me it was okay to be different and that if I felt strongly about something, I should speak it. I cried when I read those headlines. The world felt suddenly less.

Very recently, the world lost two more artist ; Levon Helm of The Band and Adam Yauch (MCA) of the Beastie Boys. Again, I feel that very same deflation; the sort of sadness that doesn’t sit low in the gut, but in your head where it just sort of taps around and you feel suddenly weary.

The Band helped me understand my mom. My parents were always the ones to drive my friends and I into concerts in the city when I was a teenager. I asked my mom once on one of those trips into Philadelphia who was her favorite band when she was my age (14 or 15 at the time). Her response, without any hesitation was The Band. Which then sent her into stories from the 60s and 70s, the tight jeans and terrible (or great) hair and how she, her best friend Cathy, and my uncle Marty used to drive around and listen to music. I loved those stories – imagining my mom young, wild, and free. Then, she dropped me off at the Trocadero Theatre on 10th and Arch. On pulling up she said, “Oh! I’ve been here – this is where I saw David Bowie when he was Ziggy Stardust.” I suddenly realized, my mom was cool.

And from there on out, I noticed any time music came on the radio that my mom loved, I loved it too. We’d sing the lyrics together (painfully out of tune), bob our heads to the same beat – I got it, we got it. The Band represented a whole era of my mom’s life and helped me connect with her in my own coming of age. Thank you, Mr. Helm.

And then there is the Beastie Boys and Adam Yauch. Licensed to Ill was released nine days after I was born. I can’t imagine the soundtrack to my life in suburbia without “No Sleep Til Brooklyn” or “Fight for Your Right.” Blasting the Beastie Boys with my friends, celebrating my new drivers license transported us – out of the suburbs and in to the streets of New York. It always felt slightly rebellious to know the lyrics to songs like “Girls” or “Sabotage” and sing it in the car with my parents after changing the station from Oldies 98 to Y100. But then I realized they knew the words too and really loved “Brass Monkey.” My dad was blown away when I told them they were three Jewish white rappers from New York. And when the towers fell, they gave us “An Open Letter to NYC.” The Beastie Boys brought my parents to me like the way The Band and the Beatles brought me to my parents. Maybe it was because they both lived in New York and just got it or that something about the Beastie Boys that make you want to shout, laugh, dance, and stand up. So thank you too, Mr. Yauch.

The good thing is, the music has never died. That’s the glorious legacy they’ve left behind for us. We get to hang out with Levon Helm and Adam Yauch any time we feel like sitting around a friend’s back yard and strum an acoustic guitar and have everyone sing along; or any time we want to play that song during the middle of a road trip and see everyone in the car suddenly sit up and go, “Intergallactic plane-TAR-Y!”

Music writes our memories. It traces my earliest years dancing in front of the TV in diapers with my sister (who wrote a beautiful article on the passing of Adam Yauch) to discovering punk rock to first loves, first heart breaks, loss of loved ones to long drives with friends and the mix tapes we used to make for trips and dressing rooms – to the moments when I went out in the world by myself and felt comforted and less alone, by music.

And Then the Sun Came Out

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From the Heath, looking North.

The last week of March was the last time I remember sun in London. Not a fleeting break between afternoon showers and cold, late-night drizzle – real sunlight that lasted for hours. The sky was clearer today than any I can remember since living here. Looking to the horizon from atop the North end of Hampstead Heath, the city stretched for miles. It was the first time I could see clearly past St. Paul’s and the Spire. Even the smog had to make way today.

London is a different place when the weather is kind. Everyone sort of stops. You have to. Weather like today’s doesn’t come often. We all huddle under bus stops, ruin pairs of shoes, and rush as fast as we can with our shoulders held tensely to our ears. It’s miserable. I wake up most mornings to look outside my bedroom window to see that it is in fact already raining. Or, if it’s not raining when I wake up, it is as soon I leave the house…and it’s cold. My wellingtons have become my most faithful companions along with anything made of wool. I can’t help but grumble some days, “I just want to hang up my winter coat already.”

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What my commute has looked like for weeks.

Sure, the weather is an easy thing to complain about – but it really does something to people in this city. Day after day I’d get on the tube and look at the people sitting near me. Everyone sat there with their own brand of a sullen and dejected demeanor and I soon followed suit. Society has a way of mirroring itself like that. It’s almost too easy to fall in to the lull.

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How we "roll" ...GET IT?

Thankfully over the past miserable month of a wet chill, I’ve been involved with something that’s made it not so bad to muck about the city in the mud. I’m working on a devised community piece with the Old Vic New Voices called Epidemic. I haven’t worked on a play since 2011. I’ve been wholly thrown into improv and y’know…getting my Masters degree. At the beginning it sort of felt like getting back on a bike for the first time in a long time – a little wobbly to start, but that first whip of air in your face as your legs pump steady and strong reminds you that you’ve known how to do this all along. It’s been an honor to work on this project (and not just because it has the fancy Old Vic to its name – but I’m not complaining about that either) – namely for how much and how quickly the directors and production crew trusted me to, as we say in Philly, “Do work, son.” And by that I mean I feel like an important cog in the wheel.

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Speaking of Philly, I’m not the Philadelphian in the show! There are in fact two actors from my dear hometown. It’s so comforting to drop items like “tasty kakes” and ” Reading Terminal” into conversation and know they know what I’m saying. The whole Philly thing has actually come to serve me quite well. Let’s just say in my “facilitation style” I let my Philly ‘tude come out – but in a good way. As our director says, there are just some things I get away with that people over here can’t. Namely warming people up with a game like “Big Booty.”

It’s also been so lovely to feel part of a “theater family” again. The friendships that come out of these experiences are the reason I’ve stayed in theater for so long. It’s this massive group of people working on something that everyone cares about fiercely, and in the end you get to walk away with something everyone can be proud of. I remember feeling slightly out of place on the meet and greet day when the project first started. It feels like ages ago but it was really only a month or so. I have immense respect for the people I work with – the actors, non-actors, volunteers, designers, and everyone in between who is trying something new, challenging themselves, and expanding themselves in new, weird ways. Epidemic has brought together dozens of people from all walks of life, all ages, backgrounds, jobs, education, nationalities for as many diverse reasons. It’s beautiful in that way. It’s most valuable aspect is that it’s making art accessible for those on and off stage as well as the audience (it’s free!). In depressing economic times as these the arts are easily disposed of, and far too often at that. It’s an important reminder that society lives and breathes on more than supply and demand . It survives on human beings interacting with each other in new and challenging ways, on discovering possibilities, and every once in a while breaking into song and a choreographed dance routine….because we all need a little bit of camp to get through the day.

And as of note, it’s started to rain.

My Q&A With the Sea

As I stood on the cliffs of Land’s End – the Westernmost point on the UK’s coast – I looked out to sea. Just a few small miles away was Cape Cornwall. There, the current pulls the ocean southerly to France or northerly to Wales. I stood and listened to the salty water crash against the rocks. Gulls flew overhead and swept down into the crevices of the earth. My hair whipped and stung my face and eyes. A few dinghies floated along, indifferent to the wind and impending rain. I stood where the land ended, dropped off, and fell into the sea. And on the other side of the Atlantic, out west, was home. I couldn’t tell which direction I was going – either pulled by the current towards Philadelphia or knocked back to land in England. It wasn’t a matter of indifference, either. Rather, it was a matter of not knowing.

I’m not sure what the next step is just yet. As the months get warmer (at least as warm as they do out here in England) the question of, “So what are your plans after this year?” keeps popping up. I’ve drafted a few different answers for different audiences. “I actually don’t have anything set in stone yet and I’m seeing what opportunities come my way,” doesn’t sit well with most people. It’s usually followed up by a, “Okay, so does that mean you’re going back to the states?” Quite frankly, my answer doesn’t sit well with me either. I like knowing my next steps.

I did however know that it felt good to get out of London. It had been far too long since I left city limits. I’ve been so swallowed by school recently. It was getting to me. So I booked a train out to the West to visit my friend and fellow Jack Kent Cooke scholar Stacey De Amicis. (rather Dr. DeAmicis as she just received her PhD!) While staying in her lovely home in Plymouth I experienced some truly breathtaking places. I’ve always been content by the water, but these were no regular beaches or bays. Jagged granite jutted into crystal blue water, surrounded by rolling green fields, ancient stone circles, stunning plantlife – all the while breathing in the freshest air I’ve had since living here. I loved the sound of my wellies sinking into the mud beneath me and feeling a bit of rain on my face without the worry of, “oh god, is this going to give me a skin rash or something?” If the rain in London was like the bar wash swept up at the end of the night, then the rain out west was like that, but put through the Mary Poppins of Brita filters. What I’m saying here is…there was fresh air and clean water.

And it’s the little things like that which make all the difference. Or people who smile back when you pass them on the street rather than avert their eyes and hope you’re not another charity worker with a clipboard. I was reminded what it’s like to be surrounded by people who look outwards toward the horizon all day rather than their feet, wristwatch, or keyboard. In simplest terms, it was lovely and refreshing.

I went to the coast with the intention of clearing my head a bit. I did, even though I didn’t come any closer to a conclusion on what’s next. I remembered a friend telling me before I moved out here to, “go make your world bigger.” I try to keep that with me. It’s easy to get lost in the madness of a one-year Masters program in a massive foreign city (trust me, London is foreign). I am making my world bigger. I’m meeting really great people along the way and am being afforded opportunities I would have never imagined for myself a few years back. And an education on top of all of it. (Really, Jack Kent Cooke, thank you for believing in the value of education enough to fund my work – as I would have given up on the idea of further education had it not been for my scholarship). As what’s next draws closer, the best I can hope for, is to take in what’s now.

On a rather blustery and “weathery” day (Common out here in the UK “springtime” we saw heavy rain, hail, wind, and sun) a young boy of no more than 5 or 6 ran up to Stacey and I as we were looking across the water over towards Mount Edgecumbe. He yelped, “Look! Look!” and pointed towards the sea below, telling us in great detail how the sea swelled up and pulled away. Then, as a large naval cruiser passed us by he excitedly told us all about what different ship names meant before running up the hill back towards his father. As he scurried off I thought, “ah, to be a sponge.” Maybe that’s the best way to look at things – see the world with the wonder of a kid, even as the immense pressure of adulthood looms, and that incessant need in our 20s to “find ourselves.” Be excited to learn. Point to the things that excite you, shout it out with enthusiasm, and share it with people, even if you’ve just met them on a hillside. (Someone in Hampstead Heath or Regent’s Park might think you’re insane, but maybe you’ll luck out and meet a fellow sponge).


And now back to that incessant paper….

What it Takes to Live/Love a City

Patience. And a Plan B. The bus/trolley/subway might be running late. Signal failures, traffic, overcrowded stations, bad weather and the unfortunate human tragedy happens often.You can’t predict these things. You have to breathe, re-set, and hope you remembered a book or picked up the newspaper that day. Your boss/friend/husband/wife will understand you’re late. The same thing happened to them yesterday, or the day before.

You need music in your ears to drown out the sirens and headaches that are sure to ensue. You need to, as often as you can, remove the distraction and listen to the world around you. Hear the languages, laughter, rhythms, and tapestries being painted in sound all around you. You need to hear the feet beneath you, as sometimes you forget they are there, as you are always moving – you can go on auto-pilot. Remember your feet.

It takes a good sense of humor. An ability to laugh at yourself at the end of the day – after you’ve slipped out of a bus, had your coffee spilled by a rude tourist, burped loudly in a crowded elevator, and sneaked out for a cigarette break even though you don’t smoke. Laugh at it all, then forgive yourself. You have to. The offices, grocery stores, modes of transit, street corners and everywhere in between are seldom solitary. There’s little space. You need to make space to laugh and breathe.

You’ll need ability to shuffle behind the crowds moving slowly ahead of you. A flexible shoulder to break past the person heading your way without bumping in to them. Keep a constant gaze towards the horizon. Don’t lost track of your peripheries and from time to time, glance down. You need to know how to decipher just what that “puddle” is. You need awareness. Know who is asking you for money to go buy a can of beer and who is actually a lost human being in need of help. Any bit.

You will love the endless events and things to do. A gallery will open, a great band will play, a market will spring up and something you didn’t even know about will stop you in your tracks and you just have to go. You have to know how to balance that with nights in. You must give your body sleep and your mind some rest. Be as kind as you are curious. You have to switch off and slow down from time to time. You’ll never be able to see and do it all. Pick and choose what excites you. What is strange. What calls, beckons. Change and grow with the city. Love the places that are flagships. The places that will dutifully, hopefully never change – they are your anchors. Then, discover something new. Switch between familiar and foreign. Be in limbo. Take comfort and take risks.

It will take an understanding that humanity is all around you – in its most urgent and ugly forms. It will certainly feel fleeting or invisible at times. Know that it is constantly whirling through the streets, air, and static. It’s holding on to those moments, while standing, waiting for something, and you see an ad for your city, another city, for London, New York, Los Angeles, Tokyo, Paris, San Francisco – anywhere – and your heart leaps. It swells with the possibility and passion of those places. And there you are, full of romance and wonder on a platform. And when you feel lost in your city, you will look at its pavement, window washers, park benches, and telephone booths – and all around them you will see memories – secret places that hold secret moments. You will see the places you left your heart scattered all about the city.

You have to know that some days, the city will try to chew you up and spit you out. And then on the days when it feels so impossibly lovely, so pulsing with kinetic energy, so alive, and free, and wild – you will think of those other days and feel perfectly happy and content. Perhaps they will be so distant from the moment when the sun tips over the crest of the skyline, those other days won’t even cross your mind. Then, perhaps, you know, you feel, you are exactly where you are meant to be. You are home.

The Pretentious (And Predictable) Indie Rock Soundtrack to the Pretentious Indie Film of My Life

Opening Credits

The Personal Journey

The BFF’s

The Meet-Cute

The Falling In Love Montage

The Love Scene

The Sweaty Club Night With Friends…and Strangers

The Fights

The Break Up

The Dialogue-Free Shots of Me on a Train or Other Forms of Transportation

Arrival in London, Presumably Grey, Rainy Day

 Some Sort of Kitchen Table With Friends And Wine

The Closure

Final Credits

DVD Menu

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