At this point in my life, I have worked in many environments, including being a teaching artist in Kabul without much Dari, working with folks with pretty much any atypical situation you can think of, and had crazy weather do its very best to wreak havoc. Generally, we find a way to manifest a successful outcome, and I am able to be in the smooth problem-solving zone (especially as I gain experience with age).
That being said, my latest project has me laughing as I realize that the boy ‘on the spectrum’, the girl with Muscular Dystrophy, and all the other kids with their wide-ranging challenges are teaching me to what it really means to be patient, roll with the punches, and remember that life is washable.
Here’s the backstory. “Life is Washable” is the tagline for the wonderful, ability-inclusive organization called The Magic Paintbrush (www.magicpaintbrushproject.org) that is sponsoring this latest project. I quote their website:
“The Magic Paintbrush Project provides family and community engagement programs that serve individuals of all ages with special needs. Our programs include innovative workshops, activities and materials designed to creatively engage ability and invite involvement with families and caregivers. The Magic Paintbrush Project creatively connects those we serve, including individual families, agencies, integrative programs and classrooms. We have successfully served thousands of individuals leaving a lasting impression for all.”
The Magic Paintbrush Project is run by the delightful Jen O’Brien, who originated it years ago as a response to a lack of creative opportunities for her own children with special needs. Jen and I had worked together at a few symposiums and helped each other with resources over the past half-dozen years, and when she contacted me last spring, I figured it would be another one of those types of calls.
She wanted to create a theatre company with kids with special needs. They would meet once a week (not counting holiday weeks), would learn about performing and playwriting, write their own piece, and finally perform it in a professional theatre… within about three months. She was hoping I would be willing to be the person to lead the workshops, facilitate the script development, and direct the show. Exciting and a lot to accomplish under any circumstances, never mind that although theatres have wheelchair-accessible seating, they do not often have wheel-chair accessible greenrooms and so on. But, what the heck, life is washable, right? I said, “THAT SOUNDS AWESOME!!!!!!!”
Then we had what I think many of us have experienced: ‘floating stakeholder syndrome’, followed by outreach challenges, and everyone’s perennial favorite, scheduling obstacles. I had nearly given up of having the project happen at all, when Jen phoned the day before our first day to say we had four kids for sure. Not what I was hoping for, and four kids is the bare minimum needed for a fun and full theatrical endeavor. Add to that a cold day, an outdoor delay, and a broken thermostat in our working space…
Magic Paintbrush Project logo
I brought that stress into the arena. I shouldn’t have and I know that, but the best I could do was keep it on the inside, and wonder how I could meet everyone’s needs and forward the project so we could somehow meet stakeholder expectations and various deadlines. I began to do what I know how to do, begin the process of becoming a writing/performing ensemble. The kids began to do what they know how to do: listen for the important things, find their own way to connect, and not mind the mess/chaos…because life is messy, life is crazy. Nothing is designed for this particular group of differently-abled kids whose physical needs are so varied, and they are ready to roll with that because we have decided as a team that this is our trajectory. We will create our and perform our show, because I will teach them what I know about theatre, and they will teach me what they know about living vibrantly in a messy world.
With Chanukah and American Thanksgiving just around the corner, and festivals of light and Christmas not far behind, some of my friends are at a loss as to what kinds of presents to give or how to connect with their family, friends or communities across the miles. I was mentally masticating on this conundrum as I picked up a wonderful anthology I am reading, Murder for Christmas.Then it struck me like a frying pan to the face—WHAT A GREAT PROJECT TO DO! This being an arts-in-ed blog, I am hoping none of my readers freak out, but instead read on to my three simple, fun, easy ways of celebrating whatever you celebrate with people you care about. AND these suggestions have a base cost of ZERO; what you spend on folks is your time.
- Write a group story.
Choose a holiday or holiday theme (lighting candles or sledding, for example).
Choose a character (or a few) that is a source of fun or remembrance for the group. Garden gnomes, my grandmother, and dogs are always great story centerpieces in my family. Think of an event or story that is true, and let your mind wander about mischievously to alter it a bit. Write a short paragraph that has a cliff-hanger and some implied action. Next is the tricky bit, and should be adjusted based on to whom you are reaching out, because you want people to participate in a way that is comfortable for them, and you want it to feel easy—and sometimes these two things require opposite kinds of organization. My suggestion is send out on the email waves your idea,your paragraph and a list of dates for people to choose (so that the story will have a linear path). For example, maybe have it set up for the 8 days of Chanukah or every-other day leading up to Christmas Eve. Then send out the final version to everyone, or record yourself reading it and send that out, or have a video hangout and share it together! Cost: NOTHING. If you need public access to a computer, this kind of usage is free at most libraries, and it is simple to do.
- Create a Holiday-Themed Crime Scene.
You know I create interactive mysteries for events and for homes, and yes that is hard to do. BUT this idea is much simpler and can involve everyone, and is terrific for children. In a nutshell, there are those creating the crime scene, and those who will be detectives. For example, maybe the grown ups are creating it and the kids will be the detectives. Side note: more than one household can have the same group-created crime happen! The Crime Creators choose a theme, then a crime (something is missing ((Stolen? Lost? Transmuted? Etc)), someone has been kidnapped, some place has messily searched), then decide the ‘who’ and the ‘ why’–again, family jokes or themes or stories work best. Set the stage and voila! Help solve the crime and make sure sweets and treats are there for rewards. Making these choices as a group– maybe even different people get to have final say for different aspects– makes it all the more fun. Then on the day of the event, perhaps there is a phone call or an email clue that helps solve the mystery. Video tape the same mystery playing out in different homes, and share that, or just talk on the phone afterwards and be sure to have the kids swap solving stories. A terrific advantage to these is that there isn’t any real writing involved. Cost: can be as low as zero—just use what you have!
3. Make your own anthology of remembrances.
Many of us have had a family or group member collect photos which are then made into a little book (digitally or physically) for a holiday. This idea is similar, and has the advantage of everyone being able to do their part –or not– without very much structure. The point person (you) chooses a person or theme. Keep it narrow, because people do better with some specifics to spark their memories and with some structures to build on. Put out a call or email blast, include a deadline and your own example, and collect the mini-stories and memories as they come rolling back in. For example, I might ask people to share a memory of a time we were all together, including my Texas family. Or, I might suggest that each story have a pet in it, or involve my grandmother. Once you receive the stories, organize them into an arc, maybe add a photo or two (in the word doc or on paper), and voila! A lovely group gift that will be a surprise for everyone in the group. If it is all digital, the cost is ZERO and this project can easily be done at any library. Or use something shutterfly, vistaprint, snapfish et cetera to make an inexpensive lovely ‘book’ with more pictures.
Mikel Moss is an Ithaca Native and Drama Therapy Alternative Training Student with the North American Drama Therapy Association (NADTA). He was recently be awarded the “Student Volunteer of the Year” Award by the North American Drama Therapy Association (NADTA). He currently serves on the Diversity Committee of the NADTA and is vice president and co-founder of the Affinity Group “Blacks in Drama Therapy”. He gave the below speech at the annual Drama Therapists’ conference this year. In it, the community to which he refers is that of Drama Therapists.
I have very vivid memories of my childhood: Singing, playing outside, riding my big wheel, laughing, my favorite pair of Osh-Kosh overalls, meeting my best friend Disi hours after moving to our house on Second Street. The most vivid memory that I have from my childhood is the communal dinners we would have. My mother and all of her friends would get together at least once a month to cook, play music, play cards, laugh and joke for hours into the night. All of us kids would eat, play, laugh, sometimes argue; all in all a great time was had by all.
I carry this amazing memory with me everywhere. It is that sense of community and kinship that has guided a huge portion of my life. I tell that story to a lot of people because it helps to illustrate my feeling of the sense of community [of Drama Therapists--editor] I envision. A couple of years back, I was telling that story to one of my friends in front of my mother and she looked at me in shock. My mother and I have this intense connection with one another so before I even noticed she had the weird look on her face, I felt it. I asked her what was wrong. She smiled at me and with tears in her eyes told me that those meals, those “community meals” as I called them, happened because at that time of the month, no one had enough money to feed their families by themselves. But someone had a little bit of this and someone had a little bit of that, and another person had a bunch of this but only a little bit of that so they all came together and pooled what little bit they had so that everyone had enough and sometimes even a bit more to carry them through.
For me, this insight was everything. It has shaped and dictated my journey in this community. In everything I do, whether it be volunteer or learning, I am always searching for a way that I can not only contribute what little bit I have to our profession, but to also encourage others to do so as well. We all have busy lives, careers, families, and other various obligations that consume most of our time, and many of us have already contributed so much time and energy to this community. Some of us are new and are still making our way and are not sure where we fit in.
I encourage everyone at either end of that spectrum to continue to contribute in ways that you would not normally think to. My mentor Cleve Thomas used to always tell me, “Always bring something to the table. Even if it is just a smile and a encouraging nod. You never know when that may be just enough for someone.” If you have been in this community for many years, offer your experience and wisdom to those just walking through the door. And not just in the classroom. Find a way to reach out to the new people and welcome them to the family.
Listen to their ideas, encourage their dreams and goals. We must learn to strike from our vocabulary phrases like, “Oh, we tried that 10 years ago and it didn’t work” or “We’ve done that already”. Doing something once and not having it work doesn’t mean it won’t ever work. How many times in history has the continued effort of someone paid off? Instead, I encourage you to say, “You know who knows a lot about that? This person right over here” and “That’s a great idea, how can I help?” And if you are introduced to someone who has a passion you once had or do have, embrace them! Give them all the support and wisdom you can! The lessons that we have to teach one another should not be conditional on whether the other person can pay the fee for your seminar or class. To borrow from one of my favorite phrases: It truly does take a village to raise a drama therapy student! If you are new to this profession, WELCOME! WE ARE SO GLAD YOU ARE HERE! I don’t have much, but what I have I will share. I encourage you to take what wisdom you can from those who have come before you, and nurture your dreams! I encourage you to find a place where you feel your ideas, goals and thoughts are not only received, but there is excitement for them. And if you can’t find a space, MAKE ONE! I will cheer you on! I may not know where it is you want to go, but I will walk with you for as long as I can.
This spirit of kinship and community is something in me that will never go away. No matter how many bad words and situations are thrown at me, no matter how many of my projects and ideas are whittled down to almost nothing, no matter how many times I stumble, no matter how many times I have to find a new school at which to study, no matter how long it takes me to get my RDT (cause lord knows its taking a while!), I am here. I will stay here. I am not going anywhere! I share my enthusiasm and my story in hopes that you take what you need from it and use it to continue to better our community, our family.
It’s that time of year again when ghouls and goblins populate the fronts of houses and the piles of candy at the store and children get excited about ‘what to be’. Some of my friends and colleagues be’moan’ the hype, commercialism and calories. I personally LOVE Hallowe’en (I’m a theatre person, remember, with an active inner child), but this blog is dedicated to those who don’t. This blog is for those who want to do something somehow connected to some aspect of Hallowe’en-ness, but but at all related to consuming. Here are my recommendations.
No Vampires, but way too many Bat Calls from Romania (!!!) for scientists to go through, so they are asking for help sorting and categorizing various sound files. Your/your family’s help helps with conservation and migration research. It’s free, easy for anyone (including children) to do, and the tutorial is quick and very helpful. Find it here.
This project (and others) are on a fantastic citizen-science website called “Zooniverse”. Check it out—if bats aren’t your thing, join a space project, or help climate scientists by combing through old shiplogs for weather reports, or identify animals caught on camera in the Serengeti…or even help go through medical slides identifying cancers.
Branding Lessons from the Undead
Can’t get away from work, but want to ‘get in the spirit’? No bones about it, there are a number of business blogs that are rocking the Hallowe’en vibe to do business as unusual so to speak. My husband alerted me to these two terrific articles that mix business with pleasure; click here for “Branding Lessons for the Undead”, and here for “Putting the Horror into Horror Writing”. I thought the article about branding was particularly brilliant.
Do you work with elderly folks, folks in a recovery or care facility, or a community center? Or with kids?
What an excellent opportunity to celebrate personal and local history! Folklore isn’t just about the lore, it is also about the folk, and EVERYONE has stories about autumn events. Whether your great-grandfather fell off the thresher, or your (or your dad’s) childhood friend swore a ghost lived in the attic and the scarecrow was alive, or you had a tomato fight, this time of year provides lots of fodder that can prime the pump of rich, delicious memories. If your clients are mobile, make a circle and record the tall tales and make a CD of them for later pleasure or for their visitors. Serve s’mores and hot cider, and ask questions about corn and barns and cats and running in the darkness. Notice aloud the themes that crop up, and maybe read from collections of local tall tales….
I personally am using one such collection, “I Always Tell the Truth (even if I have to lie to do it!)” a collection of tales from Adirondack lumberjacks in an upcoming course. Great Stuff!
If your clients aren’t mobile, having a little paper or online questionnaire to help prompt the stories, and create a printed collection, again noting cultural, historical, or geographic themes. Kids can make a picture book of a story from an older family member or friend!
Things to Watch or Listen To:
Instead of doing the most commercial thing, reach back in time and listen to, watch, or broadcast some oldies but goodies.
My movie recommendations: “Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy” and “Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein” are good for anybody, any age, any background, even people who hate Hallowe’en. Make popcorn and get ready for the oldest cheesiest gags in the book in these delightful homages to the horror greats (which star the likes of Bela Lugosi and Lon Chaney Jr, by the way). Orson Welles’ “War of the Worlds” is a terrific listen—and there are lots of short adaptations if you/your group/your family want to do it yourselves!
Haunted History Tours
Every town has history, and not all of it is pretty. Luckily the gruesome and
gross are often very interesting! Go on a haunted tour or make your own map of murders in your town. Why not? Learn about the architecture of the homes of your city’s local criminals of 50 or more years ago. Remember—the older the event, the more fun and creepy it is to think
about. Don’t pick anything too recent—social and emotional wounds may still be too fresh. Generally, anything during or before WWII is best. And frankly, as someone who has done official haunted tours, people love realizing that some nice old lady in the late 1800s poisoned her daughters … slowly… with arsenic….in this house….. (or was hanged…right here, where the old gallows stood)!
In a nutshell, find a way to embrace the season even if you need to push away certain aspects or values of it. There’s always way to have fun, do good work, connect to history and community, and get your work done!
Although I have returned to the United States from Afghanistan, my heart is still in a small bright classroom filled to capacity with girls bright, ferocious, and beautiful as fireflies.
I plan to write soon some funny and stressful details of my time there and plans to return, but for today, I would like to focus on the MMCC (Mobile Mini Children’s Circus) itself, and the incredibly important work they do.
I quote their website below; photos provided by MMCC
“The Mobile Mini-Circus for Children (MMCC) and its local partner, the Afghan Educational Children’s Circus (AECC), together form a cooperative International/Afghan non-profit organization dedicated to empowering young people. MMCC is the supervising umbrella organization under which AECC operates. Activities, however, are run jointly and cooperatively…Established in 2002, MMCC/AECC has grown into a countrywide education program focusing on teaching children to lead. MMCC/AECC’s basic philosophy is that children know best how to communicate with other children. The goal is to give children the tools they need so they can themselves develop creative and novel ways of spreading fun education throughout Afghanistan.
|Since 2002 MMCC and its local partner AECC, Afghan Educational Children Circus, has performed and made workshops for more than 2.7 million children in 25 provinces all over Afghanistan. The combination of entertaining and essential educational messages such as health, landmine awareness, peace and back to school/importance of education, delivered by professional Afghan artists in a pure local context, has proved to pave the road for cultural activities even in parts of the country where music, singing and other forms of artistic expression have been suppressed or forgotten for decades.Each year MMCC and AECC bring together children from across the country for numerous big events such as festivals and children assemblies. When children play, practice and perform together, they become much more than just representatives of their background, region or ethnicity. They become friends, active members of a joyful family and advocates for national unity.Circus and especially social circus as developed in the frame of MMCC/AECC in the past 10 years, is much more than physical art. It is about using the amazing capacities of circus as a tool to make positive social change for children.
Where every child is acknowledged, a community can blossom. A primary target group and main concern of the MMCC/AECC are the challenged children and youth including orphans, handicapped, street working- and internally displaced children living in refugee camps. These are the most vulnerable in society.
Through comprehensive outreach programs, children from all different backgrounds are involved in the activities.
In one of MMCC/AECCs larger outreach programs, children from IDP camps first visit the Kabul capacity center where they are introduced to the world of social circus. Afterward, a group of MMCC/AECC trainers visits the camps regularly with circus and media equipment to teach children how to play, juggle, perform, interact and express themselves through photo, radio and video productions.
Some of the best camp children become part of a trainer program and network supporting them to continue and sustain the activities in the camp.
|Cheerful Anniversary Celebration of MMCC/AECCWhat are the best moments in life?
Isn’t it the time you are so happy and full of joy that your laughter is so intense you can’t control it anymore, until your eyes are full of tears?
Many believe you first need security, shelter, health, education, economical stability, infrastructure etc., until finally you could have those fancy moments. 10 years ago MMCC (Mobile Mini Circus for Children) started from the other end, practically bringing those laughers and good moments to millions of children in Afghanistan: our Social Circus brought the laughter first, which makes all problems seem less horrible and put a focus on the fun and positive side to bring hope. A hope that can rebuild the country: MMCC incorporates information and education into performances and workshops, so children learn through fun.
Since 2002 many children have been motivated, educated, and inspired to a healthy, wise, hopeful, dynamic and positive life through the MMCC. With or without security, infrastructure, etc., they have had at least lots of fun and now after 10 years they are forming the new Afghan generation. Besides the joy and laughter a broad range of cultural and educational services have been provided by MMCC since 2002 such as:Since 2002, 2.7 million Children have watched the live educational performances of MMCC in 25 provinces of Afghanistan.
Hundreds of events, festivals of circus and theater, pedagogy workshops and beautification of schools and championships in many different provinces have been organized.
Hundreds of radio, music and TV programs plus magazines have made for and by children.
A numerous local and national Children Assemblies (Shura-e-Atfal) organized.
International performing tours of children to Japan, Italy, Denmark and Germany.
There are different ways to help us to cover the young artists costumes and equipment to keep them performing for thousands of children. One way is by direct contribution, and the other is via your social media. Click HERE to spread the wealth or the word!
Me again…..Folks, check it out, and please spread the word. To fight anything else, we must first fight despair. Yours in joy….