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

Raising awareness of our civic responsibility: KILL SWITCH

Raising awareness of our civic responsibility is a mission of The Arts.

Jaclyn S. Powell’s prescient screenplay KILL SWITCH is a story about a well-liked, but self-absorbed and politically ambivalent Manhattan doctor who becomes sucked into the politics of money when he discovers he’s unwittingly the heart of a government conspiracy to control health care costs – and they’re playing for keeps. It’s a cautionary tale of what happens when we abdicate our civic duty to participate in the political process. Please attend a staged reading Wednesday. October 30th 6 pm at The Poets House. RSVP www.francesmcgarry.com
#killswitchthemovie

The lead roles will be played by Joe Feldman-Barros, Dominique Nieves, Frances McGarry, Richard Jordan, Jillie Simon, Richard L. Smith and Susan Lynskey. Directed by Carol Dorn

The New York Women in Film & Television (NYWIFT) New Works Lab was formed to give writers helpful critiques for their full length screenplays, plays, shorts and web series. The 4th Annual New Works Lab Showcase will feature scenes from Chasing the Dream by Corrine Frances-Pijuan, Kill Switch by Jaclyn S. Powell and Koko and Friends: Born to Play- Destined to Win! by Denise West.

All About Image/We Are The Elite

All About Image

Marcina Zaccaria’s All About Image/We Are The Elite

Directed by Tony Tambasco

 

A drama written in the present time, taking place in New York City and other parts of the U.S., All About Image/ We are the Elite is a journey of the people who make images. In the process of capturing and making these images, the characters explore their personal relationships while re-affirming their aesthetic principles.

What they see is under critique. What they present is a complete outpouring of their entire vision.

Part of the New York International Fringe Festival

Photos courtesy Steven Pisano

Kraine Theater

85 East 4th Street

New York, NY 10003

View Map

October 3 @ 7:00pm

October 4 @ 7:00pm

October 5 @ 5:15pm

October 6 @ 5:30pm    

Featuring:

David Arthur Bachrach *

J. Dolan Byrnes *

Frances McGarry *

Jeff Burchfield *

Don Carter *

Catherine Luciani

Milton Lyles II

Nana Ponceleon

Akin Salawu

Lourdes Severny

Kelsey Shapira Katy Wilson
* Appears courtesy of Actors’ Equity Association


Further details at Fringe BYOV.

Tickets available through Eventbrite

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For a Good Time Call Old Ringers at the Ridgefield Theater Barn

Published on Thursday, 14 February 2019 14:37

Brewster’s Hamlet Hub

Written by Christine S. Bexley

Our protagonist is played to authentic perfection, down to the just-right Bronx accent and lilt of a seasoned day-drinker, by McGarry. Her throughline is natural no matter what wacky situations or daring costumes she is put into.

.fran on phone mouth open

Diane (Frances McGarry) gets more than she expected when she answers the phone in Old Ringers, playing through February 23rd at The Ridgefield Theater Barn. Photo Credit Paulette Layton

In the words of George Michael, “Sex is natural, sex is good. Not everybody does it, but everybody should.” And some people find it lucrative to do it over an untraceable phone attached to a PayPal account in order to pay the electric bill.   Making its Connecticut debut, the Ridgefield Theater Barn’s first offering of its 53rd season, Old Ringers, by Joe Simonelli, finds women of (mostly) an advanced age in that very spot, to often absurd outcomes.    When Diane (Frances McGarry) finds her Social Security check drastically diminished, a wrong number to a sex hotline opens the door to an adventurous financial opportunity. Joined by her friends–the frisky Verna (Linda Seay), the trepidatious Kathy Ann (Stefanie Rosenberg), and the sensible Rose (Laurel Lettieri)–and her carefree boyfriend Harry (Mark Rubino), Diane and the group must navigate worldly challenges and personal discoveries while maintaining their sense of humor and avoiding the judgmental gaze of Diane’s pious daughter Amanda (Sarah J. Ahearn) and a roving Detective Rumson (Joshua Adelson).   The playwright defines these characters through, at times, heavy handed dialogue and slapstick-driven motivations, but the actors bring humanity and genuineness to such two-dimensional archetypes with guidance and adjustments from director Carol Dorn, who freshens the material a bit for the present era of technology, sex positivity, and elder visibility.

Our protagonist is played to authentic perfection, down to the just-right Bronx accent and lilt of a seasoned day-drinker, by McGarry. Her throughline is natural no matter what wacky situations or daring costumes she is put into. McGarry is matched in energy and ease by Rubino as Harry (who has some fun costuming moments of his own).    You could not ask for a better trio of friends than Diane’s to join her on this romp. Verna’s cliche “tramp” label was navigated well without unnecessary over-sexualization by Seay (who somehow did not come off as intoxicated despite double fisting a flask and a screwdriver. Impressive.). Lettieri’s Rose emanated grace and maturity (and a convincing bum hip), especially when espousing the customary “old lady wisdom,” despite the actress being no senior citizen.   Simonelli’s characters have some clunky and immediate transitions to make, and the cast worked diligently to make them seamless. Rosenberg’s Kathy Ann telegraphed her coming out moment from her first line, however, her distinct voice and pacing shifts were necessary for her bombastic reveal and she thrilled audiences in the process. Ahearn’s Amanda had to do some equally difficult personality gymnastics with the introduction of Tony Rumson, a detective played by newcomer to the craft Adelson. Ahearn jockeyed between over-wrought, teetotaling Christian and relaxed, inebriated flirt with speeds to induce whiplash. Adelson’s depiction of Rumson was a bit of a paradox as the actor’s earnestness clashed with the character’s reported bravado. For an acting debut, he rose to the occasion.

Indicated by the pre-show music, this world of women was raised on Diana Ross, Lesley Gore, and Sonny and Cher in the sexual revolution 60s, and came of age in the self-improvement 70s. That these ladies would be so hung up on the morality theories of others was a convenient if implausible plot device, and the use of the detective as the literal as well as figurative voice of the law fell flat. Someone needs to tell these folks to relax: as long as everyone’s over eighteen years old, phone sex hotlines are not illegal. Sorry Tony.   Setting the actual stage, kudos to set designer and builder Nick Kaye. The verisimilitude of the Bronx abode was not only impressive to behold, but grounded the farcical nature of the action in a world that could be realistically inhabited, and where the coffee was hot enough to see the steam from the last row. While the comedy benefits from the low-hanging fruit of scantily- (or comically)-clad seniors, costume designer Will Heese outfitted each character in garb that fit personalities and situations naturally and completely (although Kathy Ann could use a longer coat to support her character’s presented modesty, as her costume is still visible to the audience and cheats the reveal a little).

This is a show to take advantage of RTB’s cabaret style seating. Bring your favorite noshes, libations, and snacks to marvel at the riotous and resolute journeys these seven characters take. This brassy offering is anything but subtle as it raises laughter the to the rafters from sold out audiences.    Old Ringers runs until February 23, 2019 at the Ridgefield Theater Barn, 37 Halpin Ln, Ridgefield, CT, 06877. Doors open one hour prior to curtain, which is 8PM evenings and 2PM matinees. Tickets are $35 for adults, and $28 for seniors, students and veterans, and available at ridgefieldtheaterbarn.org or by calling the box office at 203- 431-9850. For more information, email  info@RidgefieldTheaterBarn.org.

Recommended for mature audiences.

 

Theater Review: Theater Barn Cast Definitely Not Phoning It In

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A wrong number leads to some interesting possibilities for Verna (Linda Seay), Kathy Ann (Stefanie Rosenberg), Diane (Frances McGarry) and Rose (Laurel Letteri), in a scene from Old Ringers, playing through February 23rd at Ridgefield Theater Barn.
(Paulette Layton photo)

By Elizabeth Young

February 07, 2019 at 07:00 am

The Newtown Bee

Frances McGarry is a brave scene stealer. A gifted comedic actor, she takes hold of her character and plays her at full tilt.

RIDGEFIELD — The phones are ringing off the hook at Ridgefield Theater Barn, and for good reason. They are being answered by crafty women of a certain age who provide a certain kind of comfort for lonely souls. Joe Simonelli’s Old Ringers is on stage for a full-on hilarious evening of theater.

A group of New York women gather frequently in the Bronx apartment of one very sassy and bawdy Diane (played by Frances McGarry). Diane lives in the home she shares with her religious and uptight daughter, Amanda (Sarah J. Ahearn). Constantly at odds with the other’s concept of a good life, they exasperate each other.

Diane is well fortified by her drop-in lover, Harry (Mark Rubino), her cadre of likeminded friends, and vodka. Amanda is appalled.

Sexually charged Verna (Linda Seay) has not been active for some time and is highly motivated to end this drought. Rose (Laurel Lettieri) suffers from a sore hip and rejection. Rounding out this posse is Kathy Ann (Stephanie Rosenberg), a youngish widow with a naïve charm, until she gets the hang of her calling.

Financially fragile, these women gear up to earn some cash in a modestly illegal immodest manner. With support from Harry, in chaps, the calls for their services just keep coming, until Police Officer Tony Rumson (Joshua Adelson) starts stopping by to woo Amanda, with whom he is instantly infatuated.

This adorable play is a very funny in the hands of this comedic cast, who appear to be enjoying every minute of the ribaldry. The direction of Carol Dorn allows the determination and unity of this group of sisters in kind to shine. The laughs are as easy as the action is unforced.

Frances McGarry is a brave scene stealer. A gifted comedic actor, she takes hold of her character and plays her at full tilt.

Linda Seay is gorgeous as the long tall wannabe seductress, Verna.

Rigid and demanding, until she is not, Amanda is wonderfully rendered by Sarah J. Ahearn. She energetically lets her character loose with expert timing.

As a shy and very innocent Kathy Ann, Stephanie Rosenberg is sweetly befuddled. The reticence of her character is the perfect contrast to her enthusiasm as she gets the hang of her new job.

Laurel Lettieri is lovely as the older and more worn out Rose.

Playing the sidekick to Ms McGarry, Mark Rubino is a hoot. He is gleeful in this role and super fun to watch.

The soulful performance by Mr. Josh Adelson, as his Tony falls in love for the first time, is authentic.

The set, designed and constructed by Nick Kaye, is wonderfully cozy and worn. The design provides large spaces for the actors to gather and move, yet retains a small-space feel. Much credit to Will Heese for fabulous and funny costuming.

The Barn is the absolute perfect venue for this light-hearted fare that pairs excellently with a snack and beverage. Make the call, ring the bell, and get yourself a ticket.

Performances continue weekends through February 23, on Friday and Saturday evenings as well as the afternoons of Sundays, February 10 and 17. Visit ridgefieldtheaterbarn.org for full performance and ticket details, directions, and reservations.