Thursday, December 31, 2015

My Grown Up Christmas List

Jolly Old Saint Nicholas came bearing gifts a tad early this year in the guise of Kim Weild from Other Voices.

Kim (and her producing partner Jill Bernard) invited me to join an exquisite lineup of Broadway performers for a special fundraiser called Broadway Holiday.

My role would be providing American Sign Language (ASL) interpretation for the sweet and selfless holiday song My Grown Up Christmas List.

To be invited to frolic on the playground with the big kids brought a bit of excitement tinged with "OH MY GOD!" nervousness.  If I was going to do this I couldn't mess it up, so I enlisted the ASL interpreting talents of my lovely team teacher, Oni. Interpreting is not just providing a word-for-word translation of the lyrics.  Rather, it is digging deeply into the message the words evoke and presenting them with clarity and truth.

We worked for hours to perfect this one little song.  The most challenging section was pondering how to put forth the imagery and meaning for the lyrics, "What is this illusion called the innocence of youth? Maybe only in our blind belief can we ever find the truth!" When I arrived at rehearsal the day before the event we still hadn't settled on a satisfactory interpretation.

At rehearsal I met the exquisite Elizabeth Ward Land.  She started singing "Do you remember me..." and my heart literally started going pitter-pat.  Luckily, I had a job to do so there was no time to stand there with my mouth hanging open in awe of her talent.  Check out her website or listen here to see what I mean.  The voice of an angel!

Afterwards we chatted about mutual friends, Broadway shows, passion, education, and music.  She really is extraordinary.

The night of the performance she brought me a signed copy of her CD First Harvest (I am currently obsessed with Flies on the Butter) and we went over some last minute ideas.

My Grown Up Christmas List with Elizabeth Ward Land

All in all I was quite pleased.  I think I could have done a better job but given that we put it together in just a few days it went rather well.  Above all, I am so grateful for the opportunity to play once again on the stage for a meaningful cause.  The irony of it all is not lost on me.  I gave up performing to teach and then teaching brought me back to performing (the event came about because of Broadway Books First Class).

Thank you to Kim, Jill, Oni, and Elizabeth for making it happen and thanks to Mark for being there to celebrate the moment with me.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

A Broadway Books First Class Visit from Eden Duncan-Smith

My Broadway Baby (and former first grade student) Eden Duncan-Smith returns
to inspire my current crop of first graders.

Where do you start?  
How do you separate the present from the past?
With bits of memories scattered here and there,
I look around and don't know where to start.*

I feel a little like that right now - Where DO I start? How can one post capture the layered emotions of a dazzling homecoming, a full circle moment celebrating positivity in education and spirit?  I suppose like any good musical theater aficionado I should "start at the very beginning, a very good place to start".

Eden Duncan-Smith's Broadway Books First Class visit had the school community abuzz with excitement. This was because Eden attended our school from kindergarten through fifth grade and was a student of mine when she was in first grade ten years ago.  When the thought of this project came about I immediately thought of Eden who entered into her first Broadway show, Fences, while with us. Soon afterwards, she went on to star as Young Nala in the spectacular broadway extravaganza Disney's Lion King.  Last year she starred as orphan Isabella in the movie Annie (2014) with other movie roles sprinkled throughout 2015.

Thankfully, Eden is very enthusiastic about giving back to the community and supporting literacy/arts programs in schools.  Her loving mom, Nicole, encourages Eden's acts of kindness and helped coordinate this visit.

I loved showing my current class of first graders pictures of Eden from when she was in first grade.  I also had a copy of a "small moment" story written by a young(er) Eden about the time she attended a pageant.  Sharing these visual memories was a powerful way to build connections between Eden and the children.  We wanted to send a strong message that they can ALL achieve astounding things in any field if they can dream it and work to make it happen.

The notion of working towards a goal became an underlying theme. Students asked Eden how she juggles going to school with her hectic professional life.  In short, it ain't easy!  It requires dedication and tenacity.  They also wanted to know about The Lion King and, of course, Annie!

We watched snippets of the movie before Eden's visit and you can bet your bottom dollar these little Annie fans wanted to hear all about it.  Eden graciously answered questions and even sang a bit of that heartbreaking ode to optimism Maybe.  That, in turn, prompted the students to spontaneously break out into a chorus of It's a Hard Knock Life.

Eden read Annie: A True Family alongside our exquisite American Sign Language interpreter Mary Grace Gallagher (although Eden signs herself). The children were excited to see that Eden was pictured in the book. Afterwards our Parent Coordinator, Terry,  had a little surprise from our Parent Association.  Terry happily handed out copies of the book and Eden wrote a personal message for each student.

After many hugs and smiles it was time to say goodbye - for now. To borrow (yet another) lyric from a Broadway musical, this visit was measured in love.

*Lyrics from Where do you Start? by Alan and Marilyn Bergman

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Broadway Holiday

My little literacy and arts program Broadway Books First Class kicklined onto the stage less than 3 months ago but oh, what a merry string of events has unfolded in that short span of time.

Word of mouth and the kindness of new friends brought me in touch with Other Voices, an organization "founded by Kim Weild and Jill Bernard to create new, bold and innovative works of art that bridge socio-economic and cultural divides".

Inspired by Broadway Books First Class, Kim and Jill had the idea to create a show and companion book based on the stories of my students (and others) at PS347 The American Sign Language and English Lower School.

Other Voices will conduct a series of Winter Workshops with the children in February and the show will be performed at The High Line in April 2016.

In order to raise money to support a companion book they put together Broadway Holiday, an evening of "singing, signing and celebration" featuring Broadway performers from Spring Awakening, Beautiful, Amazing Grace, Cabaret and more. The event takes place this Thursday night, December 17 at 9:30 PM.  The book is a beautiful take-away for the students serving as a reminder that their creative voices matter.

So, if you are in New York City and looking to show some love for this project please swing by 42West.  It promises to be a spectacular evening.


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