Coping with Covid-19: Just Get Messy!

An interview with children’s author Rita Meade

The impact of reading out loud books to kids is transformative in so many different ways.  Children respond differently to the “messy message” and extrapolate solutions for Edward’s dilemma.

Covid-19 has changed our lives forever; in fact, it could be devastating. But Rita Meade’s prescient message in her 2016 award-winning book Edward Gets Messy offers a way for us to cope with the stress and confusion of social distancing by delving into our artistic souls to discover a stronger, self-confident version of our selves.

Without giving a spoiler alert, the story features Edward the pig who never EVER gets messy.  But what happens when a big tub of paint falls on Edward’s perfectly neat little head?  Getting messy has its upsides, too. Here’s how this metaphorical spin of spilled paint can offer us some perspective during this pandemic…

The Arts helps you do well academically Over the course of Rita’s educational K-12 journey, she participated in numerous art-related programs from elementary school enrichment activities to singing in the choir, learning to play musical instruments, to performing in high school children’s theatre productions.  All of this accumulated academic knowledge coalesced to help her to see the importance of children’s literature and how it could impact people’s lives. 

Despite her passion for pursuing acting as a career, she always loved telling stories. By “taking all the experiences from high school and beyond” she channeled her performance skills to be a children’s librarian and picture book author.  One of her favorite parts of being a children’s book author was visiting schools and interacting with children. The “impact of reading out loud books to kids is transformative in so many different ways.” 

Photo credit M. Bialaszewski

Children respond differently to the “messy message” and extrapolate solutions for Edward’s dilemma:  “Well, he can take a bath!” They insightfully perceive the situation as temporary and that this, too, will pass.  Ah, a lesson we can all embrace during this viral pandemic. Perhaps, we can all take stock of where we are academically in our lives and how we can use this time to reassess where our talents lie and weigh-in on where life will take us after the “paint has been spilled” ? Look to the future. You might just be surprised at the possibilities of seeking new career paths? New alternatives to adapting skill sets you might have otherwise shelved? After earning her Masters in teaching English Rita believed that this was the logical career path; to her dismay it was not.  And why . . .

The Arts strengthens problem solving and critical thinking skills.  For an A-Type personality demanding perfection, Rita, as you can imagine, was absolutely distraught. Resisting her mother’s earlier suggestion to become a public librarian Rita decided to give it a try.  She attended Queen’s College to earn a Master’s degree in Library Science.  “This is it!” eventually leading her to her current employment at Brooklyn Public Library. There were many “ups and downs,” along the way but Rita “learned a lot [through her failures and successes].”  Having to close the library due to the coronavirus was a paradox for her:  continue to comply with her conviction that libraries serve as centers of communities or close for the safety and well-being of its patrons?  Similarly, this juxtaposed Edward’s challenging crossroad to either wallow in the inevitable or rise to the occasion? When all programs had been cancelled, on the day before the library closed, Rita brought her guitar for children to strum, sing, and savor the joys of music.  During the session one little boy remarked how it was “the first time [he] ever played a guitar!”  By adjusting inevitable outcomes of separation from her prodigies, Rita realized how “the Arts change people’s brains in good way; it inspires hope, really. What else are we trying to do, you know?”  So, use this time of separation to shift gears:  think about taking out that guitar, the recorder you had in first grade, playing the piano.  Listen to your favorite tunes that got you to think about the world in a way that moved you to dance and celebrate life! Music will not only soothe your soul and ease your troubled thoughts, but also wipe away some of those cobwebs:  reading music, listening, BEING.   Memorize lines from a favorite poem. Read a play.  Sort through your bookshelf.  Re-read some of your favorite texts.  Remind yourself of what you once knew and valued.  Revisit that file of shelved things to do…

The Arts helps you to express your emotions.  Publishing a book is an arduous process. It requires trust, perseverance and humility.  Despite having a clear vision for the book, Rita learned to express her emotions through her art:   “It’s a lot of vulnerability . . . and you have to grow a thick skin.”  Besides trusting her editor with revisions, she had to learn to let go of some of her ideas.  For example, Rita had initially wanted the story to take place in a library, but after an exchange with the professionals, Rita decided to trust their judgement.   Kristin [her editor] gave her “a lot of great changes; a lot of great editing that [she] wouldn’t have thought of [herself]. Ultimately, it made the story better.”  Coping with criticism is another challenge. “People are going to read the book and will have opinions,” she said, “and you can’t control that.  Once the book goes out into the world it doesn’t belong to the writer; it belongs to the reader now.”   This was a challenge for Rita since she “sometimes just wants people to like [her].”  Trying to please others has always been part of her nature, but she knew it was something she needed to overcome.  And she did! “I can’t take it all personally . .  . [I’ll] just try to absorb all the good stuff and not the negative stuff.”  Good advice to heed during our solitary quarantine.  Sometimes, being alone allows us to be still, be patient, and listen.  Take a personal inventory of where you are at this stage of your life.  How much have you grown emotionally? What regrets can be amended? Introspection can offer time to examine our behaviors and what motivates us to be who we are. Make a list. What do you like about yourself? What do you need to change? What are some of your fears? Anxieties that keep you from taking a leap to a new job? Starting a new relationship?  Carpe Diem! Seize the day like Edward and Rita, to “[be] distraught and unsure of what to do…But Wait . . . “

The Arts gives you confidence.  Visiting schools has served to instill and inspire young audiences.  “If I can do it, “she says to her young charges, “you can do it. “ By being “live” Rita de-mystifies the persona of the author:  “Authors aren’t these mystical creatures; we’re people just like YOU!”  It is instilling this kind of confidence that made one child exclaim, “Now I want to write a book because I know that you did!”  To offer some sustainability once she has left the classroom, Rita provides her contact information to encourage her young prodigies to keep in touch.  For this teacher of Rita Meade, there is nothing more satisfying than to have a former student acknowledge how I might have played a part in the pursuit of her career. And why, during the corona virus we can look back on those teachers whose lessons have long ago shaped who we are and are grateful for their tutelage.  Write a note to that teacher.  Look them up on social media.  Thank them for their “art” of molding you into the human being you are today.  And why…

The Arts are an investmentNikki Haley former UN Ambassador recently shot off a tweet denouncing the emergency funding given to the National Endowment for the Arts, National Endowment for the Humanities, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and the Kennedy Center as irresponsible and queried:  “How many more people could have been helped with this money?”  Rita would definitively tell her how “lucky she [Rita] is to see every day the difference that the arts make in children’s lives. . . if I’m doing story time or we’re doing an arts and crafts class you can see how it stimulates the children’s creativity and their thought processes and learning and just their emotional happiness.”  There is no doubt that the arts are fun for kids. Diving into those finger paints and making a beautiful picture to hang on the fridge is awesome. Acting in a play is exhilarating.  Ensure that they continue to shape and inspire our souls.  Use this time to donate to your favorite art institution, be it the playful Paperbag Players or Lincoln Center.  It’s what makes us humane. It is what will be our legacy.  We will survive this pandemic. With the Arts, anything is possible; because after all,   “Edward knows that it’s okay even for particular pigs to get messy. . . . “

Coda:  Frances McGarry, Ph.D. is a dedicated arts advocate committed to raising awareness of how The Arts Rejuvenate. The Arts Restore. The Arts are our Supernatural Gift.  It is the force that unites us as a single, breathing, living entity that connects every human being to be all that is good and pure.  She created a blog and podcast First Online With Fran to raise awareness of ordinary people doing extraordinary things in the Arts like Rita Meade and so many others. What will YOU do during this pandemic to make our world a richer, better place to be?

Rita Meade is a public librarian who lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. She has a background in youth services, has professionally reviewed children’s books for “School Library Journal,” and has written for literary sites including Book Riot and Reading Rainbow. Her debut picture book Edward Gets Messy was published in 2016 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers and in 2017, it won the first ever Anna Dewdney Read-Together Award which recognizes a picture book that is “both a superb read aloud and also sparks compassion, empathy, and connection.”

Email: RitaMeadeAuthor@gmail.com

Twitter: @ScrewyDecimal

Instagram: @ScrewyDecimal

Edward Gets Messy

Winner of The Anna Dewdney Read Together Award

School Library Journal ‘Popular Pick’ 

Atlanta Parent ‘Best Book’

References & Resources…

10 Reasons Why Arts in Education Is so Important for Kids

Is your student looking to become more involved in the arts? Not only do K12 online public schools offer their students art and music courses, K12 has individual art classes for purchase. For more information on K12  and our programs that encourage student involvement in the arts, you can contact our enrollment team at 877.895.1754 or request to receive more information online.

Americans For The Arts

It’s All A Game: an interview with Erin Cronican, Executive Artistic Director, The Seeing Place Theater

The take away for audiences who come to see The Maids is to “make people stop and think about how they treat people, particularly people who are in service; that our society is built on people in service positions and we can treat people with humanity . . . to understand what it’s like to be ‘less-than’ and to walk out with a new found empathy for those in the service industry.”

Gaia Visnar, Erin Cronican

Gaia Visnar and Erin Cronican Photo credit Russ Rowland

“The Game — can we continue with it?” a question posed in The Maids, an absurdist play by Jean Genet is not so remotely detached from the current complicity confronting both American and global citizens. Pretending to strangle their employer, Claire and Solange, sisters and maids to Madame, struggle for their sense of selves under the guise of a game of make-believe; at first, the fantasy is amusing but then turns darkly tragic for the women who find themselves prisoners of their own diversion.

 

Produced by The Seeing Place Theater, Executive Artistic Director Erin Cronican exposes the dilemmas associated with the abuses of power in the class system. Selecting plays rarely seen, Cronican chooses to utilize her theater programs to focus on “creating edgy and compelling reinterpretations of works by playwrights that reflect the struggles and triumphs of our current society.” Honing a three-phase methodology, Cronican guides the ensemble through an organic two-month process: Pre-Rehearsal “Discovery”; Rehearsal Inquiry; Performance Feedback. One full month is spent “just breaking down the play, talking about it, talking about its impact on society, and what the playwright is trying to say, what he’s trying to do.” The Maids has its singular challenges in that there “are no definitive texts or quotes to pull together the things that have been written . . . hours were spent exploring the play’s meaning.” Once the ensemble creates a vision for its production they then proceed to getting it staged. Rather than have directors bring their singular perceptions to the play, Cronican’s approach invests in the imaginations of its talented cast — Gaia Visnar as Claire, Christine Redhead as Madame. “We don’t have the directors do it separately,” explains Cronican, who serves in both roles as actor/ Solange and director, “[that way] the actors are part of that developmental process.” Once the cast is “up on [their] feet trying out a lot of things discussed in the pre-production period . . . by the time we get to performances we have plumbed the depths of these plays very, very personally, and I think that makes the play very different for our audiences because we know them so intimately.”

The outcome of this organic process compels the cast to answer the major dramatic question: What is the effect of the abuses of power in the class system? In its final performance phase “we want the audience to look at this and say, ‘I recognize this struggle of power, maybe not in my own life, but maybe I recognize it elsewhere and what do we do about it?’”
Gaia Visnar personally shared how “it speaks to me today because . . . [as an immigrant working in the USA on a VISA] it’s about being subordinate and not having power and not being fair.” Cronican adds how artists pursuing their art, be it music, dance, theater feel a sense of “helplessness . . . being an artist in the city, wanting to take care of people but not necessarily have the resources to do so.”

At the close of the fast and furious hour and twenty-minute performance, actors go in the lobby to address audience questions so they “have someone to talk to about what they saw.” Feedback has been favorable: “People so far have really loved the play.” Audiences are encouraged to “come up with the answers for themselves.”

The take away for audiences who come to see The Maids is to “make people stop and think about how they treat people, particularly people who are in service; that our society is built on people in service positions and we can treat people with humanity . . . to understand what it’s like to be ‘less-than’ and to walk out with a new found empathy for those in the service industry.”

For Erin Cronican, the Arts truly are transformative. “‘The Seeing Place’ is the literal translation of the Greek word for theater, theatron: ‘the place where we go to see ourselves’ and if we can open up our [hearts and minds] and really listen to a piece of art, and try to find [ourselves] in it — painting, music, dance, that’s everything; then it opens your heart . . . it opens up your empathy. And it just makes you a better citizen.”

TSP The Maids

The Trauma Brain Project PODCAST!

THE TRAUMA BRAIN PROJECT is a unique theatrical narrative about the personal journey of one of its survivors, playwright Dayle Ann Hunt. Actress Marsha Mason talks about her role in the play and how The Arts can spark a conversation about early sexual trauma.

Following the NYC performance, a panel of neurologists, psychologists, and body-oriented psychotherapists discuss the relationship between early sexual trauma, PTSD and its hidden effects.

Baayork Lee: Bring It ON!

image3

Photo credit Kacey Anisa Stamats

Happy Chinese New Year! It’s the Year of the Dog and Baayork Lee blew us all away with her own fireworks at the League of Professional Theatre Women’s Oral History series Monday, February 12th at The Bruno Walter Auditorium at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center.  Honoring an Asian woman for the first time not only made this an exceptional evening of distinction, but also showcased an actress who is one singular sensation!

Her vast career spans from being cast as a five-year-old in the original Broadway production of The King and I to creating the role of Connie Wong in A Chorus Line.

Baayork’s career arc was consistent and auspicious:  “You gotta know somebody to be somebody,” she quipped when asked about how fortuitous opportunities struck. None of this, of course, happened without the support of her mother, her friends, and her commitment to future generations of artists through her work with The National Asian Artists Project.  In 2017, she was recognized for her work in theatre education globally with the Isabelle Stevenson Tony Award.

Robert Viagas & Baayork Lee

Photo Credit Kacey Anisa Stamats

Deftly interviewed by Robert Viagas, a journalist and theatre author with more than thirty-five years’ experience on Broadway, Baayork shared her story with energy and enthusiasm, insight and inspiration. The conversation between these two friends who met over four decades ago and became collaborators and biographers on their book, “On the Line: the Creation of A Chorus Line” was funny, smart, and sassy with Baayork never resisting a beat to deliver comical asides to her adoring audience filled with fans and former cast members. But as the entertainer made way for the woman, it was her wisdom about her culture, her craft, and her stamina that was most telling.

She knew from the very moment when her mother brought her from Chinatown to audition for The King and I that “this is what I wanted to do.”  Atypical of “Tiger Moms” who have specific agendas for their children who have no say in their career paths, Baayork’s mom “listened to me at five.  And supported me.”  Encouraging Asian talent that “You don’t have to go to Harvard. You can go to Broadway” is among her mantras.

But in order to make it in this business she gave some practical advice:  “It’s about being ready to survive.  If you want to be in this business . . .  you have to be ready to survive because it is very, very hard to first of all live in New York, the competition is so much more than when I was growing up and you have to have the tools to survive first in the city, and then second of all you have to be ready with your talent which is singing, dancing, acting, taking your classes, and be ready when the door opens for you to walk in. “

I had the opportunity to chat with Baayork about the vital importance of the arts and how they change people’s lives; without any hesitation she emphatically pointed to herself:  “Sitting right here. Changing lives.”  And why she is so dedicated to the National Asian Artists Project, showcasing the work of Asian-American theatre artists through performance, outreach, and educational programming.  Her work as Master Class teacher, the children at P.S. 124 “even if I get ONE [child] in the theatre, then it’s all worth [her time and talent]. “ As the dedicated voice of an Asian role model Baayork has been representing her community for the last 50 years:  “I was one of the very lucky ones to do twelve original Broadway shows, to do television, to do films, to do all of those things.  I always felt that I was representing my community.”

She is best known as a choreographer and director, internationally, although none of her work has been performed in America, she persists. “I love being in the theatre. I keep that spirit, in me. Keep that child within me. [I don’t] get bitter. Don’t give up on your dream.” Her dream project is “to have her company go on to the next level [in order to] sustain itself” and to “open up the eyes of parents – there are choices.”

Proud to be an American, Baayork has no regrets: “I’m doing exactly what I’m supposed to be doing.” The League of Professional Theatre Women is indebted to her commitment, creativity, and passion for defying the obstacles so that ALL women can create their own fireworks!

The Oral History Project is an ongoing project made possible by generous grants from the Edith Meiser Foundation, the Robert and Betty Sheffer Foundation, and private sponsors. The Oral History Project is produced by Betty Corwin and LPTW Members Pat Addiss and Sophia Romma at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center. Oral History chronicles and documents the contributions of significant theatre women in diverse fields. Interviews with such outstanding women are videotaped and housed in the Theatre on Film and Tape Archive at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center. For further detailed information, kindly email Sophia Romma at sromma@theatrewomen.org or Pat Addiss at paddiss@gmail.com.

 

Review: That’s How Angels Arranged by Lillian Isabella

 

That’s How Angels Arranged: Inspired by Jonas Mekas

The Godfather of Avant-Garde Cinema

Lillian Jonas

 

That’s How Angels Arranged was inspired by the community of people who inhabit the East Village. Alex Roe, Artistic Director of Metropolitan Playhouse crafted the Alphabet City series, a theatrical production that captures snapshots of local personalities whose personal stories make for a fascinating dramatic presentation. Actor/Playwright Lillian Rodriguez crafted a creative composite of how 92 year-old Jonas Mekas left his indelible mark by founding Anthology Film Archives. He’s got a very unique personality and an interesting story coming from Europe, escaping from a forced labor camp and then coming to America to pursue his dream which was to film what he loves.

 

 

Reading Angels is transformative — providing an opportunity to connect with ordinary people doing extraordinary things. Lillian captures his essence, his humanity, his passion. In the divisive culture that now exists we can find virtue in our hearts and realize that through his voice and example, we, too, can reach across boundaries to make our world a better place. In the spirit of the holiday season buy a copy and share with your community.

The review of Lillian Isabella’s play That’s How Angel’s Arranged! Is now officially live on Amazon and over 70 copies have been purchased through Amazon already! Buy your copy now! Click here to order.

To learn more about the ABC Project click on an interview with First Online With Fran

I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review.