Big feet and trash can to fill

In honour of Carroll Spinney, I present to you two of my favourite storytime socks.

Image of Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch socks

The cuffs of the socks read as follows:

Big Bird: I like big books.

Oscar: Go away! I’m reading!

Big Bird modeled wonder, astonishment, gentleness, and curiosity for me. Oscar taught me it’s okay to express my emotions, whatever they might be. No surprise then, that these two marvelous beings still sing at me and inform my work four decades later. My favourite picture of Carroll Spinney shows him performing Oscar while wearing Big Bird’s legs. Proof that these disparate creatures can (and often did) inhabit the same body.

I love this tribute to Carroll Spinney from Judy Gold. We are not alone, dear friends.

Dinosaur Hugs!

A tiny person climbed right up in my lap today while we were reading about dinosaurs at Locke Street Farmers’ Market! She wrapped me in a glorious hug and then settled in to stay! Storytime is such a joy for me and I am deeply thankful when I get concrete reminders that tiny people appreciate our time together, too (even if it means I need extra help turning pages because my arms are trapped!).

Thank you, tiny person! ❤ 🦖

Writing Workshop Wonderland!

I’ll be away from my Saturday home at Locke Street Farmers’ Market on September 07 so I can take two writing workshops with Marie Louise Gay! She’s in Guelph that day as part of the Eden Mills Writers’ Festival. First up is “Inspiring Children to Write,” followed by “Writing for Children.” I am so excited to spend the day with Stella maven and curly hair inspiration MLG! ♥️

Locke Street Farmers’ Market Folks, you are in goooood hands on 09/07! Graemazing will be at Market to amuse and amaze! Locke Street Family Day is also happening 11AM-4PM, with bucketloads of fun, including a bouncy castle, face painting, and lots of family entertainment.

I’ll be at Donut Monster (Locke) for storytime on September 10. When I return to Market on September 14, we’re going to sing songs and read stories about books and reading!

Thesis Thankfulness – 16 years after the fact

Mental Health Advocacy, Inclusion, and the Empowerment of a Marginalized Community Through the Utilization of Theatre: A Historical Overview of Our Own Voice Theatre Troupe, Memphis, Tennessee

👆That’s the pretentious clunker of a title I gave my 2003 Master’s thesis…

It’s now been 16 years since I boarded a plane for Memphis to gather oral histories for my thesis research on Our Own Voice Theatre Troupe. Upon re-reading the final document, I am encouraged both that I’m now a much better writer and that my core research concerns have only strengthened in the intervening years. In many ways, OOVTT is responsible for the shape much of my work has taken. They provided me with a devised theatre roadmap for how to work, as well as a shining example of mental health advocacy in action. Karaoke Visiting Hour and There’s An Easy-Bake Oven Where My Heart Should Be would not be possible without them. I am much obliged for our visits, for being able to see them perform at home and on the road, and for their whole-hearted participation in the very first Easy-Bake Workshop. Special thanks to Khyber Daniel for our conversations this week and his prompt to dig my thesis out of cold storage!

Screen capture of University of Memphis Library catalog record for Amber's thesis.
I was pleasantly surprised to learn that a copy of my thesis is now held by the University of Memphis Libraries!

I am also incredibly grateful to my old friend and librarian, Dorothy Hargett, who allowed me electronic access to the full-text of my thesis this week! (I lost all my floppy disks a few moves ago.) I was fortunate to be one of Dorothy’s co-workers for almost a decade, and she was an actual angel whenever I needed care or a listening ear. Absolutely none of that has changed. When in doubt, ask a librarian! In Dorothy’s honor, I provide this paltry example of how I attempted to repay her kindness over the years (these beauties were taken for a library customer service presentation she created):

That’s some quality overacting right there.

Rest and Celebration

Currently listening to Paul Simon’s “American Tune” as covered by Shawn Colvin:

Still, tomorrow’s going to be another working day
And I’m trying to get some rest
That’s all I’m trying to get some rest

The 2019 Mind Play Theatre Festival has come to a close. I performed my newest piece, Karaoke Visiting Hour (KVH), a memoir monologue about losing and finding one’s voice and value in an unlikely place. Producers Adam Bryan and Kelly Wolf gave us good guidance and care, we had lovely and supportive audiences, and we are all now on to whatever comes next for us.

My next whatever is r e s t. I got sick a week before the Festival and my muscle tension dysphonia kicked up in a hard fit. The irony of losing my voice right before I performed a piece about losing my voice is not lost on me. I was on vocal rest for two days prior to performing and am now back in bed with all my various remedies; the most generous of which is actual rest.

Image from self-care mini-zine by Kelly Wolf, Open Heart Arts. Text of page reads: "I am celebrating where I am Right Now."
Photo credit: Kelly Wolf

While I rest, I’ll be reflecting on the two most valuable lessons I learned from the Festival. The first came from a self-care mini-zine created by Kelly Wolf (co-producer of the Mind Play Theatre Festival and creative glory behind Open Heart Arts). I was helping her fold them during tech rehearsal and the last page kept singing to me as I prepared to go on stage for opening night with maybe 70% of my voice in place: “Celebrate where you are at Right Now.” This in the moment self-acceptance is radical. It is not easy. It takes courage. I speak from fresh experience that this celebrating business works, my friends. Which leads me to the second lesson learned.

At the end of KVH, I ask the audience to join me in stomping on the floor to show us all what creative community support can sound and feel like. I hoped for some kind of response: “If just one person stomps, I will engage with that person fully.” But when the opening night audience responded with whole-hearted expressive engagement and would just.not.stop.stomping, I was brought to joyful tears! The performers in the green room beneath the stage said they thought the ceiling might cave in. While the closing night audience was a bit smaller, they also responded enthusiastically. Yes, the nature of a mental health play festival is that the people in the room are there because they’re on board with dismantling stigma and supporting voices in search of mental health awareness. Also yes, when you tell the vulnerable and honest truth of your story and ask clearly for what you want and need, people may respond generously. I can hold both of these things at the same time.

So, when my rest comes to a close, I will continue to celebrate and write with hopeful vulnerability. I will celebrate my way into work with my dear friend Tamara Kissane of Artist Soapbox on a recording (possible audio drama?) of KVH and see what it wants to be next.

In the meantime, I’ll just be here with my remedies dreaming celebratory dreams of supportively stomping feet.