Written on September 28th, 2014 , Arts-in-Ed, The Business of Art, Uncategorized Tags: , ,

Zoe on ComputerNow that the school year is in full swing and folks are beginning to stress about test scores, the idea of extending the school day, cutting recess, cutting creative activities and so on comes again to the fore. “Play is under pressure right now, as parents and policymakers try to make preschools more like schools. But pretend play is not only important for kids; it’s a crucial part of what makes all humans so smart, ” Alison Gopnik wrote in “Let the Children Play, It’s Good for Them! A leading researcher in the field of cognitive development says when children pretend, they’re not just being silly—they’re doing science”. If you are a regular reader of mine, you know this is crazy making for me—I have written blogs in the past that touch on related subjects ( for example, The Importance of Play). I also believe that play is crucial to a healthy society; it gives us the opportunity to explore ideas and test working relationships, take risks and discover that failure is a step on a path, not an end. Yes, I love using and recommend heavily Michael Rhodes book, “Theatre, Community and Dialogue, the Hope is Vital Training Manual” AND the original community-building book The New Games Book: play hard, play fair, nobody hurt, by Andrew Fluegelman, Ed. Headlands Press: Garden City, NY: 1976”. Moreover, neuropsychologists and others have shown how we build new neurons with focus and practice, including those for empathy ( see “Mirror Neurons”  and “How to Grow the Good in Your Brain” ).

skulls of overwhelmingnessWhy the heck are we denying developing humans the opportunities that make them become fully realized?!?

So as not to bore you to death, I have broken the rest of this blog into 3 easy-to-digest sections, and you can scroll to your fave.

  1. I. How is play important to individual development?
  2. II. Why might play be important to the health of society?
  3. III. What are some cool awesome play-like things you could do RIGHT NOW that would also be helpful on a larger scale?

I. Jon Hamilton, in an article titled Scientists Say Child’s Play Helps Build A Better Brain, writes “”The experience of play changes the connections of the neurons at the front end of your brain,” says Sergio Pellis, a researcher at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta, Canada. “And without play experience, those neurons aren’t changed,” he says. “It is those changes in the prefrontal cortex during childhood that help wire up the brain’s executive control center, which has a critical role in regulating emotions, making plans and solving problems, Pellis says. So play, he adds, is what prepares a young brain for life, love and even schoolwork.” There links in the article to more studies and commentary on play, its impact and it’s decline, and in fact, NPR’s website has a whole section on Education (click here).

II. As an artist, I recognize the crucial role play and playfulness has in a creative process, but more importantly, inStudents discover! our ability to be less afraid of the unknown and of failure. Play is where we can learn to roll with the punches, take healthy risks, form useful alliances not conscripted by religion, race or like-ability but born out of a mutual desire to accomplish something. A lack of play opportunities compels us to fear ‘risk’ and ‘other’, and fosters the idea that we must feel secure at all times and at all costs, cling to what is known as ‘safe’ rather than risk alliances and explore change. On a large scale, this is how we become controllable; the Taliban outlawed arts, education, and playing, as do many regimes.

In John Poole’s article, he writes “Not surprisingly, Panksepp and others think the lack of play is a serious problem. Especially at younger ages. And particularly in school settings. Without play, we know that other species become quick to aggression and have trouble “fitting in.” Panksepp thinks the rising rates of ADD and ADHD may in part be due to this problem. In trials where extra playtime was given to kids showing signs of these disorders, there was marked improvement in their behaviors as reported by teachers and parents. “It’s not just superfluous,” says Panksepp. “It’s a very valuable thing for childhood development. And we as a culture have to learn to use it properly and have to make sure our kids get plenty of it.”

IMG_0449A fabulous website called “Invention at Play” is very much worth visiting to arm yourself! Here’s a sample “Make Believe/Visual Thinking: In pretending, we learn to navigate with ease between real and imaginary worlds while learning the differences between them. Using our imaginations encourages original thinking, flexibility, adaptability, empathy, and the ability to generate multiple solutions to a problem. Pretend play helps us learn to think visually and spatially and to both capture and express ideas.”

III. Cool games for grown-ups to help make a difference!

In How Scientists Are Using Games to Unlock the Body’s Mysteries! They’re not just for kids anymore”Sharon Begley writes about online games that help scientists solve important problems, like Foldit“This online game asks you to determine the 3-D shape of a protein, knowledge crucial to understanding how it works,” (Foldit here) and Eyewire (neuron mapping).

Other fabulous fun that helps is on Zooniverse (I LOVE these!).

I want to close with another Sharon Begley quote, “It’s this tinkering approach, this trial and error, that is the basis of play. Beginning when we could hold a rattle, we all learned to solve problems by playing with them.”
Let’s keep making play an important part of learning to solve problems.

Written on April 27th, 2014 , The Business of Art, Uncategorized Tags: ,

Shearwater Productions at a glanceI have had a rash of opportunities lately, both ones for which I applied and those for which others applied to me. This may seem obvious, but as artists, educators, community leaders –typically always looking for opportunities (jobs, partnerships, projects, and more)–we too often forget that what begets success, even in the face of what looks like failure, is less WHO we are than HOW we are.

Duh, right?

Yet, I know that at least two of my current projects came to me, not because I was the “best” (most stellar, most talented, etc), nor even because I am “very good”–I am, but so are hundreds of others. I was selected because of how I work. By the same token, I have selected others based on their interactions and their working reputations, and it is surprising to me how little attention folks give to that sort of thing.

So here’s three tips for Landing the Next One!

1) Lose Graciously, and Mean It

Hi Holly

Thanks for letting me know. If I can ever be of any assistance, please feel free to contact me.

Many Thanks and Continued Success”.

I received the above note after passing along the information that this person was not selected by my client. Guess What?! Sacked?what? I am personally going to seek out opportunities for this person, and hope that we get a chance to work together. Being able to find sincere gratitude for being considered will separate you from all those people who are annoyed that their superiority wasn’t recognized. Who wants to work with people like tat? Most of us would rather work with people who are okay with not being right all the time. Cultivating that ability in yourself will have positive ripples in everything you do—it is one of the key ingredients of being a real team player.

2) Be a Great Worker 

     Be hard working. Again, a no-brainer, right? You’d be surprised how many people think they have a reputation as a hard worker, when actually their reputation is for being a bit of a partier or for having a long turn-around time or for saying they will do “x” and then not doing it. Part of being a hard worker is setting benchmarks, and making sure they are realistic. This is a great way to make sure everyone is on the same page every step of the way, and meeting deadlines will help establish your reliability. I have been hired by folks who do not like me as a human, because they know I will do a really good job.

Thinking it through Be a good communicator. This means a few things.

  • * One, please do NOT use long form narrative as your email style. Outlines, bullet points, and clear formatting makes the information easy to pull out, so different folks can easily see different bits. Email also allows you to use colors and highlights—using purple or blue with bold makes a name pop out without it looking like shouting. If you are responding to an “You didn’t get the job” email with your thanks, go ahead and use subtle but innovative and clear formatting (like bold with blue for something). It will intrigue and hint at your awesome skills.


  • Two, please make sure your cell phone/office phone message box is both set-up and not too full for more messages, and then please return calls. Nothing is more maddening than trying to hire someone and not being able to reach them. A quick way to go from hire to fire!
  • Three, if something is unclear, ask, in a nicely formatted question with a short recap. I recently was on a team and a volunteer (whom I did not even know) did a “checking in” email that was so well thought through, so short and so clear that I decided to actively recruit her for future projects of my own.

 3) Be Outcome Oriented

 What does a successful outcome look like, in precise terms? How will we know? I am working on one project where creating a rubric“success” means that all the participants become active stakeholders in the creation of a play, take positive risks, and have fun. Another requires a highly detailed, visually stunning mask. People tend to be more clear about desired outcomes when discussing a concrete object, less so when the final product is an experience had by the consumer (a bridal party, an audiobook, a workshop), and even less so when the success of an endeavor is in the process itself. Become good at asking those questions, even in the application stage. Your clarifying questions will mark you as a team-mate worth having, and you will be remembered.

Written on April 28th, 2012 , Uncategorized

Most of my blogs have been informative, with tips or structuring ideas, or different cultural/historical lenses on art and teaching. However, I write this one in Austin, TX, more than 1700 miles from home, having just had a conversation about the importance of reflection. Therefore, I present to you a short piece on the actualoldest profession (well, except the obvious ones related to food, shelter, and health), the life of a Traveling Player!

Between point A and B in a Jordanian desert

Ever since the sun set on separate fires, people—my people—have made they way from one grouping to the next, weaving the enchantment that is a performance. We often have a home fire, a community in which our relationships with others are more solidified and our responsibilities more divergent, but we are successful because we roam, and that open road/distant mountain/rippling sea whisper sweet nothings into our ears the whole time we are at home, calling us back out into the world.

Practically speaking, this way of life has several constants. One is that we work hard to offer an excellent smorgasbord of practices for the village or benefactor to choose from. This pallet often includes teaching, directing the locals in a production for a festival or holiday, dinner entertainment, providing a script for a speech or for others to perform, reading/performing other peoples’ writings, and having a prepared theatrical piece that can be performed in the street or on the stage. I LOVE this about my job. I love that my life is a mixture of all of these things, and that I am constantly challenged to improve on each front and, most importantly, be able to drop what I am doing to shift gears into another one of the items on the players ‘menu’. For example, this coming week I teach a student how to fall down stairs for a performance of Noises Off (which I am not directing) followed by a first rehearsal for a performance of Pirates of Penzance (which I am directing) on Sunday, a meeting on Monday in a city about 60 miles away about a teaching gig, rehearsal all day Tuesday for a physical theatre production with Kakeru, drive 4 hours to record a new book with Audible on Wednesday, performance on Thursday with Kakeru followed by an audition, record again for Audible again on Friday, and Saturday, fly to Seattle for a mixture of performance, clowning, and teaching in different West Coast areas over the following two weeks.

How unbelievably AWESOME is that?!?!?

Of course, not every week is like that. As has been true for all traveling players across time and space, many weeks are soooooo empty one can hear the crickets chirping. Those weeks are even more full of crazy things we will do for art. We work on new performance pieces, which means trading services in lieu of space rental for rehearsal, creating new props and costumes out of bits and pieces of things like colanders, dowels, and duct tape, and writing writing writing, often on the backs of napkins or our hands or a paper towels to catch our ideas that come most frequently at the most inconvenient times.

I'm flying!!

We must also, like our historical ancestors, get really really creative with ways to reach new markets and benefactors, like costuming up as characters from our own shows or as famous characters, or doing something completely fun (but for free) on YouTube, or dreaming up and testing out new ‘products’. Some of my best new ideas and most fun projects, like MysteryGrams, have grown out of these times that are fiscally barren.

What else is always on the Traveling Players plate? Constantly preparing for the next gig, the next opportunity, which may mean doing research for a piece (always), or perhaps taking classes or attending a conference to improve our skills (I do both, and am also currently learning the uke), or becoming a part of a guild or guild-like organization, whereby helping the group is also helping the self (I belong to a few).

Luckily, the research, conferences, outreach, and sometimes even the fun crazy free projects to maintain sanity and maybe get some exposure also involve travel, and once again we are on the open road, feeling the freedom of movement and the hunger of distant lands. Ultimately, traveling players are people who not only need to travel to succeed, but who need to roam and adventure on a very deep core level. As my dear friend Pete once said to me, “If they ever made a book of your life, it would be a “Choose Your Own Adventure” book!”