RISE

Last night I watched the season premiere of RISE, and my heart exploded into a million different pieces of joy. It was wonderful. It was inspiring. And it felt like I was watching my life play out on my television screen. 

I have been the English teacher who tries to get students excited about words, and literature, and characters...only to have them sleep in class.

I have been a teacher in a school district that would rather cut it's musical, it's play, and it's music programs, only to put a multi million dollar concession stand on it's football field.

I have had trans students come to my theatre department, seeking a safe space, wanting to be called by the name and pronouns that they chose for themselves - breaking a bit when their parents refused to have a conversation about their transition.

I have had students whose parents would not allow them to perform in "A Chorus Line", because it's immoral. But, you know, "Sweeney Todd" was fine. 

I have had to stand on a stage and tell a cast that they were no longer allowed to perform a show, because it was deemed too provocative by the administration, after they had already approved the show.

I have had administrations try to not pay for the rights to shows. They still don't understand that there isn't a discount, and that if the show is licensed by, let's say, MTI, that yes, that's the only place we can get it from.

I have had athletes want to join the play, the musical, only to have their coaches tell them that they cannot do both.

I have had those same athletes find their strength on the stage. 

I have seen the light and talent in students that nobody ever thought would be singing - only to have them study theatre in college, and then find themselves centerstage.

I have seen tech students find their home, their purpose, and their focus in the wings and at the lighting booth - only to go on to work in theatre professionally. 

I have sat in those seats with the best of colleagues and collaborators - tech directors, music directors, choreographers, and pit conductors who became my closest friends, and they constantly made me better at what I do. 

Watching the show last night, I was reminded of a Saturday rehearsal for "A Chorus Line". I asked the students what their dreams were - what they wanted to be and do with their lives. My Cassie said, "like, for real? Or what we wish could happen?"

"You're fifteen," I said. "There shouldn't be a difference between the two If you learn nothing else from this experience, know that. Your dreams can be your reality."

"I never thought of it like that", she said. 

"Well now's the time to start", I replied. 

Watching the show last night, I was reminded of my Dad, who started a theatre program in a town that, at the time, had like, two stoplights. The school didn't have a theatre - so he, and his colleague and partner in crime, Jon, made a stage in a gym. Yes, they built it. And they built the risers to hold the seats. And they hung curtains to make wings. And they lifted the bar of education and artistry so high, it's continued for 35 years. 

Later in their career, a new high school was built. And they got a theatre, and they had a shop, and they had a stage craft program to fit alongside the theatre curriculum.

And it was amazing - for what they built was so much bigger than any sparkly show - it was a community, a family, a tribe of students and adults who learned how to tell a story. The students learned how to fight for others who were different than them, for the stories that needed to be told. They learned the importance of teamwork and of collaboration, skills that would carve out paths for them long after they left the walls of their theatre.

Once, they did The Laramie Project. Initially, the administration wasn't pleased with my Dad, they thought it would cause some trouble. They were right, for soon the threats from Fred Phelps and his warriors of hate came out in full force.

But my father and the administration went through with the play.

Because Matthew Shepherds story was one that needed to be told. 

And the students were ready to tell it.

There are so many more stories like that one. So many more stories of my own. So many stories of colleagues of mine, from different schools, in different towns, all across the country who fight for the importance of the arts in their schools.

And they always need your help.

And they always need your voice.

So as you continue to watch RISE - I hope you'll lend your voice to the arts programs that helped shape you into the person you are - regardless of whether or not you have a career in the entertainment industry.

Because as we all know, arts education is what sticks.  It's what stays in our blood, our bones, and the message of what we learned is forever kept in our soul.

So go - vote for that school budget. Show up at that school board meeting. 

The theatre educators and students could use your support.

 

Words Are Not Enough

On March 5, 2018 Ruthie Ann Miles and Lauren Lew were walking with their young children, Abigail and Joshua, when a reckless driver ran a red light in Brooklyn, striking them, and killing their two precious young children, Abigail and Joshua. 

Ruthie is a beloved member of the Broadway community.

Lauren and her husband live in Brooklyn, as her husband is completing his residency.

I don't know any of these people personally.

But, the Broadway community is beautiful in the support that it gives it's people. It's arms are wide, it's heart is huge, and the hug it bestows encapsulates us all.

For do you really have to know another human personally to have their pain stop you in your tracks and pierce your heart? I don't think so. Some tragedies are so huge that they touch us all - no matter where or who we are. 

Working in the Broadway community, I know many people who know and love Ruthie. I myself have admired her for her work, and not only for the reputation she has as an artist, but as a human - giving, loving, honest, and heartfelt.

I don't know the Lew family personally but, my brother is about to enter his residency - and I know the time, energy, and discipline that requires. And somehow that makes their story pierce my heart even harder.

A year ago, my "older brother", Ricky, was hit and killed by a car.

It's been a little over a year, and that still doesn't seem natural to write. 

It still seems like I'm talking about someone else.

It still doesn't seem real.

I think about him every day.

There's something about the suddenness of a car crash that is impossible to shake. One moment, life is perfect, and the next it's the nightmare that you cannot wake up from, broken pieces of a heart that will never quite be the same. 

For when the lights die down and the dust settles and the smoke clears - you're still left with this gaping hole in your heart that all the apologies in the world cannot seem to fill.

And you just want to shake your hands at the heavens and scream.

And you just want to tell everyone to stop. 

And you just want to push pause for a moment so you can desperately find a way to rewind.

I know. I've been there.

And all I can say is I hope you cry if you need to. I hope you scream if you need to. I hope you weep when you want to. I hope you sit in silence when you require it, and surround yourself with the chatters of others when you need it.

I don't know these families, but, they've made an imprint on my soul.

I don't pretend to know what these mothers are going through - my brain cannot even begin to fathom it. 

Words are not enough, and yet, words are all I have - I send them love, I send them light, I send them the strength that they cannot summon themselves.

Love to Ruthie, Lauren, and their families.

Donations to Ruthie's Family can be made here.

Donations to Lauren's Family can be made here.

The Hope for a Better Tomorrow

To be a teacher is a precious thing.

To be a theatre teacher is a gift.

Once upon a time, I taught a bunch of kids who changed my brain, my life, and my heart.

I taught them theatre during the day. I was also the director of their high school musical. I chose to do A Chorus Line. The powers that be approved my choice.

The administration changed their minds about the show two weeks before these students were supposed to open.

They no longer approved of the show, and wanted to change the script.

They were not allowed to say rape. They were not allowed to say God. They were not allowed to say shit. They were not allowed to say milky wet dreams.

The script I received from the Superintendent was bleeding with red ink.

When I got the script back, I cried. I cried in front of them. Probably not the most professional moment, but it was the most human.

What will we do? They asked.

I don’t know, I said. But, if I teach you one thing, let it be this - know there is a time to smile and nod, and there is also a time to throw a punch. (Figuratively, of course.)

The next day was a snow day. We didn’t have rehearsal.

The day after, they came in with letters. And letters. And letters.

What’s this, I asked?

Our punch, they replied.

They pushed for a meeting with the school administration, and they got it. And they did their homework. 

They said, how do you teach us about copyright laws, and then pretend like it’s ok to change this script? And how come it’s ok to read these banned words in the required English assignments, but it’s not ok to say it onstage? And why did you approve the show in the first place if you weren't going to let us do it as intended? 

And finally, how are you going to sit there, and tell us we cannot say the word rape onstage? What if there’s someone in the study who’s experienced that in real life, and now, instead of creating a space in which they feel safe, you’re ushering them into silence?

There’s more to this story. So much more. But the bottom line is that the script didn’t change, the students shone bright, and I was the proudest teacher and director in all the land.

I think of these students often, and they've been on my mind quite a bit as we're seeing a group of young, bright, beautiful teenagers at Stoneman Douglas High School demanding the change that even the most powerful adults could not start. 

And my heart just swells with pride all over again.

To underestimate teenagers is just...dumb. For if we, the adults, do our jobs right, they are forced to be reckoned with. They are lights that will shine. They are the hope that will bring a better tomorrow.

Love Notes for Those Wishing for February 15th

Valentine's Day used to break my heart.

I let it become a glaring reminder of all I didn't have - and nobody was going to tell me otherwise.

It just...hurt.

I wasn't angry. I didn't wear black as a statement, I just wore it because, I like clothes that are black. (It matches my hair.)

This Valentine's is admittedly a little special. It's my ENGAGED Valentine's Day! We're going out to dinner, and he bought me roses, and I just want to hug everyone today. If my fiancé reads this, he's going to roll his eyes. He thinks it's cheesy when I say it's our "engaged anything". But, I think it's fun.

Usually our little exchange goes something like this - I say "Happy Engaged ______!" He rolls his eyes. I tell him to stop rolling his eyes and be romantic. Then he gives me some snarky answer, and smiles. Then we laugh. Perhaps that's one of the million reasons why it works. Balance.

And just a quick side note to my single friends - it's OK to wait for the kind of love you've dreamt of al your life. The kind that gives you butterflies, sees the beauty in your flaws, and celebrates you for the wonder you are. It is out there. Maybe at this moment in your life it seems like a fantasy, but it's there. I promise. 

Now, that's enough of the newly engaged schmaltz. 

I wanted to put words out there for you, the reader who's just sad.

The reader who just wants February 15th to come real bad.

I get it, I do.

I've been there. 

But here's the thing - the sadness of Valentine's Day, for me, started to fade when I thought about the love I did have.

See, for the past three years, I produced and directed a concert series called LOVE SONGS for V-Day. I curated an evening of Broadway love songs, and gave a portion of the proceeds to The V-Day Foundation.

But, it wasn't just romantic love songs - because romantic love is just one kind of love. But then there's love between parent and child, love between friends, love between siblings, love for self.

And it's when I thought about that, Valentine's Day didn't seem so painful after all.

I thought of how my Dad often gives me flowers on Valentine's Day. And it was never because he felt bad for me cause I was single - it's cause he loves me. It's cause I'm his only daughter, and that's something worth celebrating.

It thought of how my Mom would always have her students write Valentine's Day letters to one another - not because she was playing matchmaker, but because love of friends and classmates is a beautiful thing to foster, to nourish, to cultivate.

I thought of my friend Hannah, who created The World Needs More Love Letters, not to mail romance letters around the world, but to mail words of hope and heart and healing for those who need it in their darkest moments.

Look at the love that surrounds you this Valentine's Day - whether it's between you and your child, you and your partner, you and your family, and/or you and your parents, and recognize that love of community and family and friends is truly one of life's greatest gifts.

And, last but not least, I hope you look inward and that you take care of your heart. I hope you look in the mirror and love what you see. I hope you learn how to love you, for all your wonder and all your flaws.

And I hope you hear me when I say that that's a love worth celebrating. Always.

WTF Wedding Flowers

Let's talk about wedding flowers.

I love flowers. I think they're beautiful. Like a perfect piece of beauty in this crazy world. I always appreciate a bouquet. I have marveled at a field of sunflowers. I love how my grandmother speaks to her garden.

I am also a creative person. I understand that people need to get paid for their craft, for their work, for their artistry.

I get it, I really do.

But there's a difference between getting paid for the work you do, and downright thievery.

I recently got a quote from a florist to do the flowers for my wedding.

If you're a regular around here, you know I've lost all patience with the nonsense of wedding costs. If you're new, well, you can read my thoughts on the madness of wedding pricing here.

So, as I was saying - I got a quote from a florist to do the flowers for my wedding. We have a bridal party that totals 10 people. Including my fiancé and I, there's 12.

12 people.

We're getting married in a vineyard. THERE IS A SUNFLOWER FIELD ON THE PROPERTY.

The quote was $4700.00

Are you still breathing?

Good.

Now get this - they were charing me TEN DOLLARS A BOUTONNIÈRE. The suggestion was that the boutonnières be made out of spray roses, which are tiny roses. They're adorable. According to this florist, they're ten dollars per boutonnière. 

Yesterday I went grocery shopping at Trader Joe's. And there, in the florist section - were bouquets of sprig roses.

And, wait for it, THEY WERE $3.99 PER BOQUET.

To which I say, stop the madness.

Just stop.

I politely told the florist, nope, but our budget is not thousands of dollars for flowers. She told me, best of luck.

And that was that.

So, fellow brides & grooms & engaged couples - tune out the madness. You do not need to spend two mortgage payments at a florist.

You just need to find a Trader Joe's. 

..or someone who's not going to take advantage of the fact that you're blissfully happy, and hoping that you won't realize they're up-charging you to the max. 

Also - I discovered The Bouqs Company today - if anyone has an experience with them, do let me know!

Stay strong, my wedding warriors!

The Magic of Dear Evan Hansen

Three days a week, I teach theatre to adults with special needs.

Each and every week, I introduce my students to a new piece of musical theatre, and select at least one knew song for them to learn, to hear, and to sing to. 

This past week I introduced them to Dear Evan Hansen, and they listened to "You Will Be Found".

The second time they listened to the song, one student, well, she started to cry.

What's the matter? I said.

Happy, she said.

Happy, but sad.

Janna (I changed her name for the purposes of this piece), well, Janna is considered to be non verbal. She can say some words, and knows her name, but her verbal and communication skills are quite limited.

So needless to say, when she sat there after listening to You Will Be Found, eyes wet with tears and smile so wide, my heart practically exploded.

Even with her limited vocal skills, the power and magic of the music of Dear Evan Hansen broke through.

It resonated with her.

She connected with it.

So the next time someone says arts don't matter, and wants to cut an education budget to rid their school or organization of the arts education that's in place - I hope you tell them this story.

The story of music so powerful it knows no bounds.

The story of a girl who heard the message of a show loud and clear.

Art lets us communicate when we no longer have the words - and that's never something to be cast aside. 

Ever.

 

Legacy and Loss

I was going to write something else today.

Something else entirely, about how I'm stressing out about wedding finances, and life finances, and how I feel like I haven't accomplished enough professionally for my age. 

I was going to write something about how it's hard to sometimes stay focused on your own path, and your. own progress, and your own journey in this life of highlight reels and social media celebrations and whatnot.

I was going to write something about learning to tune out the chatter - for everyone has their own progress, and all timing is not the same.

I was going to write how it's ok to give yourself a break, and that it's OK to focus on one thing at a time, and that you're not an octopus and sometimes you just have to remind yourself that you can't do it all.

I was going to write that if you're an artist, there is no shame in taking jobs that pay your wallet more than they pay your soul, cause, well, you have to eat.

I was going to write all that.

And then I was wasting valuable time on Facebook, and I saw that  a friend I had in high school lost her older brother to melanoma this week, and everything else I was going to write just seemed dumb.

And then, I was just still.

I didn't know her brother. I didn't know his wife, or his kids, and honestly, I haven't spoken to this classmate of mine in years.

But it just stopped me in my tracks, in my thought process, in my focus of the day. And I sat there and wrote on the post that I was sorry for her loss, and that I was sending love and light to her family.

I read what others wrote, and it reminded me of what matters most.

The legacy we leave behind isn't wrapped up in accolades or awards. It's not about the number in your bank account, it's about the number of people you've touched - the souls that hurt when they cannot call you, or talk to you, or laugh with you, or sit with you.

It's about the ones who think about life differently because they've known you, and how they carry you in their hearts and actions for the rest of their days.

Be still with those you love, be present in the moments you share, and give thanks for what you have - for our days on this earth are far too short.

May you rest in peace, Lindsey. 

photo by Joe Pallister of designingjoe.com

Everything's One Thousand Dollars

On November 9th, I got engaged to the love of my life.

We're 30 something year old ADULTS, and happen to be living together already, and so we decided to get married this coming summer.

Cue the chorus of "Oh my goodness, that's so fast!"

Cue my eyerolls.

It's EIGHT MONTHS PEOPLE. Let's get it together. We're planning a party, not inventing the cure for cancer. 

Anyway, while this process has been lovely, and exciting, and fun, I've now hit the point where everything is apparently one thousand dollars (and up).

Lights for your wedding? So people can see? One thousand dollars. A shuttle bus to take guests back and forth from their hotel to the reception? One thousand dollars. Get married in a church? One thousand dollars. GLASSES that you have to rent because neither your caterer nor your reception hall will give you actual glasses, NOT PLASTIC? One thousand dollars.

So yes, I'm a having a lot of fun planning my wedding. But I'm also losing patience with hidden fees, and people not being upfront about how much their services cost right away. I'm losing patience with salespeople that do not have the skills to be pleasant on the phone and cordial in an email with customers who are about to spend some serious cash.

The last straw was this week. Hotels in the area where we are getting married price gouge. Plain and simple. They know people get married in the vineyards a couple of towns over, and they triple their prices.

We were all set to book a certain hotel, and I asked the sales rep at this hotel to send me a different contract for a smaller room block, and she gave me a hard time. See, this hotel would charge us for the rooms we didn't use, and then resell the rooms that we've already paid for to strangers. And that just didn't sit too well with me. So, we asked for a different contract, so that we would be minimizing our potential losses.

She didn't want to rewrite the contract, she didn't want to answer my additional questions, and she spoke to me like I was a child. 

So, now my fiancé and I will be taking our business elsewhere - to a hotel that's equal in price, and far exceeds them in hospitality.

Planning a wedding shouldn't feel like redoing a graduate degree. It shouldn't be difficult. It shouldn't be stressful. It shouldn't keep you up at night. 

So, my fellow brides to be - hear me when I say, remember what you want. Remember to take care of your wallet. Remember that the vendors work FOR YOU, and if they aren't treating you the way you expect, move on. 

It's so easy to get swept up in the costs, and the details, and get sucked into the abyss that is Pinterest.

But, put down the phone, and the magazines, and take a deep breath. 

Focus on what you want. 

Focus on what matters most to you - tune out the chatter that tells you what you "should" do, and you do what's best for you and your fiancé. 

Delete Pinterest.

Don't be afraid to ask people for input on how to make it affordable - chances are that people are going to want to help you celebrate you and your beloved - and let them if that makes your heart happy and your life easier. It's ok. That's what family and friends are for! 

Remember that a wedding doesn't have to cost a hundred thousand dollars (nor should it, in my opinion). Trust your gut. Stand up for your wallet. Remember that they're price gouging everything - and it may take a little more work to get the price you need and want.

I know I said it before, but I'm saying it again - remember that the vendors are working FOR YOU - so, if you don't like what they have to offer, move on.

It's one day. It's a really beautiful, magical, wonderful day, but it's just a day. And it doesn't need to break your bank account. And it shouldn't break your bank account.

It should be a celebration of you and your spouse, a day that honors the loved ones you have, and the start to the most important thing about your wedding - your marriage. Cause at the end of the day, that's what matters. You and your spouse, and the life you're starting together. Enjoy the mayhem of the planning, but don't let it take away from the joy of the season that you find yourselves in.

The College Pause

Recently I had an exchange with a former student of mine. It went something like this - 

Can I ask you a question?

Sure.

Did you ever feel like college made you put your life on hold?

I'm going to need more information.

So, I love the idea of getting an education and the idea of college as a whole, I just don't sit well with putting my life on hold of roofer years. I may sound super naive right now, but I'm sitting my dorm room reading chapter eight and taking some great notes on the women revolution in the 18th century and I just feel like I can be doing more. I want to put my brain to work, I want to make a change to do something that isn't pointless.

Does that make sense?

Oh, my child, it makes so much sense.

We spoke. 

We chatted.

I told her what I thought. And yet, the question still lingers in my mind.

How often to we put things on hold, because it's not the right time? Because we want to wait? Because we feel like there's an order to doing things, and our brains have become designed to do things in a linear fashion?

How many times?

I'm guilty of that. Of waiting and waiting and waiting and waiting. And then sometimes you wait so long, that you feel like you've missed the boat.

And it's so easy.

It's easy to wait for the stars align to take the plunge - in whatever that plunge may be for you.

It's easy to think that life starts after college.

It's easy to think hat life starts after high shcool.

It's easy to think that life starts when you get engaged, or married, or have kids.

It's easy to think that way, but the truth is, life started the second you were born. You've been living. You've been making decisions, you've been making choices, you've started creating memories. You're already living - so what exactly is it that you're waiting for? 

Nothing magical happens when you check off big ticket items like graduating from college.

It's interesting that she sent that text to me - cause I never realized that I did feel like I was putting my life on hold when I was in college. And I felt like that, because I did. I didn't start projects that I was passionate about because it wasn't the right time. I didn't take risks on travel because it wasn't the right time and the money wasn't there. I double majored because I was afraid to pursue a career in the arts without a back up plan.

So, to all my students, past and present - take the chance. Let your dreams live outside your head. You can start mapping out bigger dreams and take class at the same time. 

It is possible.

It's easy to think that if you're in college, you can't pursue other endeavors. That you have to hit pause on your dreams. 

I say, push play.

It takes juggling. It's not easy. You can't always say yes to all the things - and more often than not, you'll have to say no. You might even fail.

But thats ok. 

Cause the alternative is sitting in that freeze frame for way too long - and you start to let go of the bits of dreams that make up your heart.

And why would you do that?!

The world is waiting for you get to work. To make change for the better. To give a point to the things that may seem pointless.

So take a deep breath, and push play. You can always change the track if you want to.

 

Dear Fellow Artist Friends...

Dear Fellow Artist Friend(s),

As the season chugs on, I wanted to say hi.

I wanted to say, I see you.

I wanted to say, I get that your worried about your bank account.

I wanted to say, I get that maybe you're sad about not spending time with loved ones this holiday, because, well, you booked a gig and the show must go on.

I wanted to say, I understand that while you're excited for your friends booking new gigs and getting more work, you're worried about where your next paycheck is coming from.

I get it. I see it. I understand it. 

And it's ok.

You can still be happy for them and worried for you.

But, hard as it may be, try to keep the worrying and the wondering and the beating yourself up to a minimum.

Cut yourself some slack.

Whether you're an actor or a writer or a singer or a designer or a director or a creative entrepreneur or a creative that cannot fit one label or title - cut yourself some slack, and quit playing the comparison game.

So what if they booked the role and you didn't?

So what if they have a book deal and you don't?

So what if they're nominated for the awards and you aren't?

Does your work make you proud? Does your work make this world a bit brighter out there for someone else? 

Words and art don't have to resonate with millions of people to matter.

If your work resonates with just one human - I'd call that a win.

This artist life is tough to explain to others who aren't in it - believe me, I struggle with explaining it, too.

Sometimes it feels like you’re treading water in the deep end for a couple of hours, desperate for someone to throw you a life raft. Or one of those donut hole floats, preferably a sparkly one, with handles, and cup holder for a drink that sports an umbrella.

But alas, I digress.

The best I can say is don’t stop treading water.

Look, I'm not pretending to have all the answers. At all.

But I do know that this has helped me, and maybe it'll help you, too - let the envy of those who get that sparkly donut hole float fuel you, not sink you. Learn from your fellow artists - those who have come before you, and those who come after you.  As in the case for all professions, it never hurts to learn more. Grow more. Listen more.

Everyone can teach you something, even if it’s what not to do.

For my fellow artists, all I can say is this - surround yourself with people who push you, not depress you.

In the words of Lin Manuel-Miranda, be in the room where it happens. Even if it’s just to listen. Even if it’s just to watch. You can learn so much from listening to one another, watching one another, being present for another person’s art. So go to the shows, listen to the music, and be part of the experience that is the play.

Focus on your own work, your own dreams, and your own voice - but don’t squelch the voices that surround you. For we can all learn something from one another, and being open to that, well, that’s the mindset that allows glorious things to happen.

I'm rooting for you.

I hope you're rooting for you, too.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

xo,

Megan