👆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 encouragedboththat 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!
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):
I could not have asked for a more compassionate group of participants for the easybake workshop on October 15. Austin sent us a sudden cold snap and copious amounts of rain, so we opted for a furnace and sock-feet indoors, and relatively laidback activities. As with all easybake workshops, we started and ended by defining “play.” We stretched our bodies to Up, Down, and Other Opposites(Ellsworth Kelly), warmed our emotions to easybake standby In My Heart: A Book of Feelings (Jo Witek), and settled in for a bit of play.
Sitting with our younger selves
Our eight participants brought two pictures of themselves:
between 2-7 years of age, something either naturally expressive or goofy/playful
at an age where they could have used some self-compassion or from a time of transition
We sat with the “Child” picture and adopted the posture of the kiddo in the photo. Where did their bodies hold tension; freedom? I asked some sense memory questions, and we did the who/what/where part of the three-column Adult Meets Child Self-Care exercise. Finally, we interacted as our Child-selves with inanimate objects. Next, we looked to the “In-Need-Of-Love” photo and did the same exercises with that kiddo/person in mind. We then discussed the similarities and differences between the experiences of adopting our Child and In-Need-of-Love postures.
Three sheets of poster board, three colors of post-it notes, lots of love.
How have you shown compassion to others? Write two examples on yellow post-its and put them on the first poster board.
How have others shown compassion to you (whether or not it you received it well in that form)? Write two examples on green post-its and put them on the second poster board.
How do you prefer to receive compassion? Choose from the existing yellow or green, and/or create new pink ones to add to a third poster board. (I loved that the resulting array was a fairly even mix of how we naturally show compassion to others, how we have received it in the past, and new ideas – something we didn’t have time to talk about is how we could best communicate how we’d like to receive compassion moving forward.)
After we had a spread of compassion answers, we split into pairs. One person adopted their “child” posture and the second took their “in-need-of-love” posture. Child then invited In-need-of-love to play. If they had trouble interacting, In-need-of-love was encouraged to choose a compassion post-it to give Child ideas as how to best invite them into playing.
The last thing we did before redefining play was to find our resting Adult posture. Where do we usually hold tension; freedom? We split up into pairs between Child and Adult and invited each other to play, using the compassion post-its when necessary.
A way forward
I’ve been home from Austin for over a month and have been stewing about process and participation. I’ve also been putting off writing about it because I’m a tad stuck as to what happens next. Easybake-as-workshop and easybake-as-project have started taking up separate living quarters in my brain. While the workshops are still incredibly valuable to me in terms of the project, they also feel as if they could have a continuous life after the project ends. That said, I need to bring other people into the planning and execution process. Sitting with one’s childhood experiences can be both meaningful and fraught with the possibility of retriggering traumas. Certainly, there are areas I will explore in easybake-as-project where I need someone trained in dealing with personal and interpersonal violence just to keep me sane while I explore and write and perform. Why would I want to lead a group of others over similarly treacherous ground without a trained professional in the room to help us all through?
I’m not sure what all of this means just yet in terms of a way forward. In the meantime, I continue to be thankful to all of my easybake workshop participants for their generosity of time and spirit, and for being endlessly kind with me and others in the room. It gives us all compassion and permission to play.
I met Stacey Isom Campbell and Lisa Neely sometime in the Spring of 2000. It is a curious and gorgeous thing to be in a room with these women. We have a short-hand made possible by 18 years of intentional relationship and a standing invitation for hospitality, creativity, and vulnerability. Stacey and I are currently with Lisa in Austin for a 3rd Course: Theatreworkshop and presentation of Stacey’s newest play, Buffalo Creek. We gathered for a read-through this afternoon. The play is already so good and I’m excited to see how it grows this week!
Y’all, it’s hot here in Austin. I stepped out of the airport last night and my plane-chilled skin calmed just as my I’ve-been-in-Canada-a-long-time heat headache set in. I only lived in Texas for about 11 years, and never this far east, but it still feels like home. I ran across a packet of dried spices with an H-E-B grocery label on it in the pantry this morning and nearly cried from nostalgia-overload.
I took advantage of the early setting sun and made my way over to Brentwood Neighborhood Park. I counted six families on the playground proper, and there was still a spare swing for me. My hands now smell of sweat and rust, which is the very best way to smell.
In addition to rehearsals this week, I have plans to check out the UT Austin playgrounds (thank you, play researcher/pioneer Joe Frost) and the deeply cool exhibits currently on at the Blanton Museum (Wangechi Mutu’s “The End of eating Everything” – don’t mind if I do). Next week? Another easybake workshop!
If you have never played Human Rock Paper Scissors, you are missing out. Trust me.
When I agreed to meet Kelly Wolffor “crafts” before a dusk viewing of Moonrise Kingdom on Wednesday, I had very little idea of what to expect. Well, EMERGE Camp AGH was a treasure trove of easybakeheart goodness and I was game for all of it. There were craft tables for making felt merit badges, animal hats, and masks; camp games (I died a glorious slo-mo death on the wet lawn); very high-end s’mores courtesy of the always delightful Sweet and Simple Co.; a tour of the gorgeous Vivian Maier photography exhibit; and campfire singing.
I knew three people. Three. I consider myself an introvert and large groups can be intimidating. But, it was marvelous to be in rooms with a bunch of like-minded weirdos I’d never met and to feel right at home.
Of course the merit badges I made were random – a dead goldfish in honor of the fish funeral scene from Draft 1 of There’s an Easy-Bake Oven Where My Heart Should Be, and Oscar the Grouch for soooo many reasons. Merit badges are going straight into the easybakeheart workshop idea vault. I found during the Memphis workshop that semi-silently crafting kid things is one of the quickest ways to unlock larger conversations about why we stop playing and what we need in order to start again.
The morning of EMERGE Camp began with an unprompted conversation about how to create spaces for adults to just play – silent or impromptu dance parties, craft stations, reading circles, etc. I went to a Laughter Yoga session later that afternoon that feels like it belongs in the same realm. I’m thinking more and more this is just something our world needs. The Living Arts Collective in Durham, NC hosts The After Wave (adult dance and art party) every Friday night and AGH will have another EMERGE event on December 7. Go Out and Play!
How are you playing these days? Would it help to have a common space where the materials were already laid out for you? If you’re an introvert, what would make something like this feel less threatening?
Danielle Chelles, Emily Hill, Jessica Flemming and I were joined by 23 audience members for the first draft of There’s An Easy-Bake Oven Where My Heart Should Be. We presented 30 minutes of material exploring how and why children play (playing at being adults, learning to jump rope, self-soothing), why they stop (shame, grief), and Emily threw a whopper of a tantrum that makes me grin whenever I think about it. I took feedback on construction paper while everyone partook of childhood snacks (goldfish crackers, string cheese, fruit snacks, and juice pouches). I’m so thankful to those 3 and those 23, and to fellow Summer Sisters Cheryl Chamblee and Sharon Eisner who contributed writing and Rachel Klem who helped shape the group scenes. I’m really proud of what we developed in such a short amount of time! Some of the material will go back to the drawing board, other things will be lovingly scrapped in favor of Ontario-based stories, and some bits were really magical and you’ll have to pry them from my easy-bake heart with tweezers before they leave the piece.
I am notorious for being too present in the moment and not taking enough photographs. Draft 1 was no exception. I have video for review purposes, but completely spaced grabbing a pic with my amazing artists! Please enjoy this freeze-frame…
Now that I’m back in Ontario, next comes unpacking the emotional parts from which the piece derives its name. I received my 1978 Easy-Bake Oven while I was still in NC and to say I was underwhelmed would be an understatement. So light, so small, so insubstantial. Not at all the thing I remember from my childhood. A to-scale-with-adult-sized-Amber papier-mâché recreation may be in order.