Monthly Archives: August 2014

Week Two – Meet Lindsay Tanner and Village Playback Theatre!

Hello again, fellow Celebrationists, and welcome to week two of my blog!

I’ve decided to add another element to my writing each week, by beginning with three things I am grateful for – feel free to join me!

Today I am grateful for…

  1. My expedited passport, which is happily resting in my lap – no trouble at all with pick-up! I’m going to Japan for a week!
  2. Perfectly timed subway trains this morning, arriving just as I swipe my card and shimmy through the turnstile
  3. The many friends who assist me with all things related to technology…you are all so patient with me!

All right friends! Here we go…

Today, I’m thrilled to introduce you to the kind-hearted, generous, and super-sparkly Lindsay Tanner – a member of Village Playback Theatre. I had the great privilege of seeing a riveting public performance a few months back and became obsessed with the Little Bit of Good this organization is doing. Combining theatre with unique service to the community, read on to learn about these amazing folks and the difference they are making!

VPT pic-2(Lindsay is the lady in white, in the back row, with the dazzling smile)

Tell the nice folks out there – what is Village Playback Theatre? 

LT: VPT has been serving the New York City community for the past 12 years in such diverse settings as psychiatric facilities, recovery centers, homeless shelters, schools, and mental health communities. Playback Theatre is a form of applied theatre that has existed since the 1970’s and has been performed worldwide. In Playback, audience members share personal stories with the performers, who use dramatic, musical, and movement improvisation to play that story back. VPT’s performance team consists of highly trained actors and musicians, and a facilitator who holds a Masters degree in Drama Therapy from NYU. The role of our facilitator is to guide the performance and the sharing by audience members. The results are cathartic and full of affirmation for the storytellers.]

When did you start working with this organization? 

LT: I became a Village Playback Theatre company member in 2011. A close friend had been working with VPT for a couple of years at that time, and I’d seen one of the company’s public shows. I auditioned and went through a lengthy callback and interview process, full of improvisation and ensemble work. Getting to know the company and its style of working during that process made me even more eager to join.

What inspired you to begin/join the team?

LT: For me, acting has always been about service. I’m always looking for ways to use theatre to offer something to the world. I also feel most connected to my artistry when I’m creating theatre with an ensemble using impulse-based physical work. And Village Playback Theatre combines all of these elements! It’s a dream job.

We perform almost entirely for disenfranchised audiences – people who might never have seen a play before. We go to recovery centers, hospitals, psychiatric wards, homeless shelters, schools; people share their personal stories with us and we improvise them back using a combination of music (we have wonderful jazz musicians in our company!), movement, and improvised scenes. When we rehearse, we share our own stories with each other – so I can tell you from personal experience that having your story “played back” is cathartic and validating and profound.

What excites you most about the work you are doing?

LT: Through VPT, I’ve gotten to know people whose lives and experiences of the world differ greatly from my own. That’s my dream come true: using theatre to engage with the world and expand my understanding of humanity – creating theatre that honors both the individual and the community story.

Playback requires deep listening: in order to honor a story that someone is sharing, a playback performer must dedicate her whole being to the task of listening to that storyteller. That’s a big part of what makes playback theatre so wonderful: how often in life do people listen to us that fully? How often do we listen like that when someone else is speaking? The practice of playback theatre has enriched my life offstage. It’s certainly made me a better performer. And I think it’s made me a more understanding, empathetic human.

How can others support the organization?

LT: Like any non-profit arts organization, we are always in need of resources! You can visit http://villageplaybacktheatre.org/ to find out more information about the company and make a donation.

“Like” our Facebook page: Village Playback Theatre. You can follow all of our activities throughout the year on that page!

Lastly, if you know of an organization that could benefit from a playback performance, please put us in touch. We are always looking to bring our work to new communities!

What is another organization or individual you believe to be doing  “Little Bits of Good?”

LT: I work as a teaching artist with The Stuttering Association for the Young (SAY). We make theatre with young people who stutter, and there’s nothing I find more inspiring than working with these kids and this group! SAY is a beautiful non-profit organization where everyone is empowered to say what they want to say and take as much time as they need to say it – a great philosophy for all people, I think, and one that fosters an environment of deep listening and respect. Check out the amazing work that they do – and come to one of the performances if you can! I guarantee that it will make your day. Here’s their website, which also has some great information about stuttering and tips for listening better when you’re communicating with a person who stutters: http://www.say.org/.

What is the best thing that happened to you today?

LT: My boyfriend and I got tickets to see King Lear at Shakespeare in the Park!

Thank you Lindsay, and thank you all for reading! Tune in next week for another Little Bit of Good – coming at you from Toyko!

Meet our first GBD!

Hi there, fellow Celebrationists!  This is what I’ve decided to call our excited selves as we celebrate the GBD’s (Good Bit Do-ers) from week to week!

I am thrilled to begin my very first GBD feature by introducing the dynamic and beautiful Jacey Powers.

By Laura Pennace - http://www.facebook.com/pennacephotography

In October of 2013 Jacey was diagnosed with breast cancer at a very young age, and during treatment began a vlog and blog to share her story – which she does with humor, grace, and brass-tacks-amazing-facts.   I’ve been incredibly inspired by Jacey’s insights and experiences, and as someone whose life has been touched by cancer in my own family, find solace in the detailed information, advice, and wisdom she shares.

I hope you’ll visit www.thattimeihadcancer.com and learn something you didn’t know about finding happiness in the midst of life’s greatest challenges, and that sometimes “Life’s Not Fair. So What?”

Read on to learn more about Jacey’s journey, and the Little Bit of Good she is doing, by sharing her story!

When did you begin working on www.thattimeihadcancer.com

JP: I began working on the website in January of 2014—to put that into my cancer timeline, it was between my third and fourth rounds of chemo that I finished writing the first three installments and began filming them.

What inspired you to begin? 

JP: I’ve always liked the idea of having a blog, but it’s been difficult for me to blog consistently, for a million reasons; not the least of which was feeling like I didn’t have anything substantial to write about.  Then, last October, I was diagnosed with cancer, and I thought: “Oh.  Well.  This is… substantial.”

So, in November I started writing in long form (like blog posts), about the experiences I was having. It was surprisingly unfulfilling.  I just didn’t feel like I was capturing my story, and honestly, it wasn’t nearly as cathartic as I imagined writing down everything was going to be. By January, I hadn’t put anything down on paper that I felt okay about sharing with other humans.  Then, around New Years Eve (inspired by the idea of a new year and a new beginning), I was in Florida looking at these pieces I’d scrawled out and started to assess them.

My first thought was: these are too long. I felt I needed to break them up more episodically. My mind started circling around the notion of shorter “episodes,” and that’s when I came to the idea of the vlog.

Writing dialogue has always been more exciting for me than any other form of writing. It took me months to write five pages of prose—it took me an hour to covert those five pages into 15 pages of dialogue. Thus the vlog was born.

The blog came as a way to supplement the vlog, and do my very best to be informative.  The vlog is very much about my experiences, and while I think an intimate, personal lens is often the mechanism through which the most universal stories are told; when it comes to science and medicine it’s almost irresponsible not to supply viewers/readers with resources that go beyond “this funny thing happened in my oncologist’s office.”

 What excites you most about the work you are doing?

JP: On a personal level, I just like telling stories.  My father was an amazing storyteller.  He was a novelist and a motivational speaker, but his vibe was like that of an old-timey humorist—in the style of Mark Twain or Spalding Gray.  We don’t have many people like that anymore… maybe Ira Glass? Mike Birbiglia?  Not stand-ups, but people who tell stories that are funny, and touching, and interesting.  I guess I am excited to maybe be a person who tells stories like that.

It’s also exciting to work with a lot of friends I’ve made through theater over the years—many of whom I wouldn’t otherwise see.  Luckily, it is difficult to say “no,” to a girl with cancer, so most of the actors I’ve approached have agreed to come and play with me, which has been amazing. I also love working with Regina Myers (who edits and films all the vlogs), she’s an incredible entrepreneur and all around brilliant lady who has been so generous with her time in helping me tell my story.

What excites me most is when I am contacted by a vlog viewer I’ve never met.  A few people (other survivors), have reached out to me and told me they enjoy the vlog, and that means a great deal to me; and at the end of the day is what excites me the very most about what I’m doing. Breast Cancer is a strange sorority I had no interest in pledging, but now that I’m in, I’d like to do what I can to help the sisters I’ve made through this disease.

What is the best way for others to support breast cancer awareness, your blog, and/or the things you are trying to accomplish, in writing it?

JP: I think most people are aware of breast cancer.  Today my plastic surgeon told me 1 in 8 women will develop invasive breast cancer during her lifetime.  Most of us know more than 8 women… So, that math alone has made us all pretty “aware.”

I guess what I’m trying to accomplish (with this and anything I write), is to start a conversation. In the vlog I talk about my challenges getting a mammogram—if someone finds that struggle surprising or upsetting, I hope they comment on the vlog—or re-post it to expand the dialogue.

There are so many things I find unattractive about the digital age we live in, but the ability to share information, opinions, ideas instantaneously has value.  I don’t have all the answers—I don’t even have all the questions: I have a story, and in an ideal world, it would inspire a conversation that would generate change.  So in a broad, virtual sense; the best way to support the vlog and its mission is to watch it and share it and talk about it.

In a more intimate humanistic sense, the best way to support the vlog is to watch it and read the blog and apply any insights it might give you to your daily life.

You probably know someone who will be diagnosed with breast cancer.  Their experience will not be mine, but I hope my story gives people a better understanding of what a young person with breast cancer, or a woman who is sick, or a human who is struggling in life goes through and what they most need from others and inspires people to be stronger, more compassionate humans.

For example, I hope that seeing someone like me, who “looked healthy,” through all of treatment, reminds us that it is important to show compassion to everyone.  Who knows why that girl is sobbing in the back of your yoga class?  Maybe she’s a self-involved yuppie or maybe she just had a chemo infusion on Tuesday and is tired of her body constantly letting her down… in downward dog.  We can’t know.  So.  Namaste.

 What is another organization or individual you believe to be doing “Little Bits of Good?”

JP: The American Cancer Society does big bits of good.  I especially enjoyed their “Look Good, Feel Better Workshop.”  Livestrong also does big bits of good. Their subsidiary “Fertile Hope,” helped me preserve my eggs.  These are great organizations to volunteer for or donate to.

In terms of “Little Bits of Good,” I am really into “Fighting Pretty,” www.FightingPretty.org.  The founder, Kara Skaflestad, has a story similar to mine (she was a 26 year old, living in NYC when she was diagnosed), and the “Pretty Package,” my boyfriend requested for me (that I received a week before my mastectomy), was one of the nicest things I’ve ever received in the mail.  Most organizations will send you pamphlets, but Fighting Pretty is the only group I know who sends you lipstick (and earrings, and scarves, and underwear, and chocolate, and joy and more).  Check them out immediately.

What is the best thing that happened to you today?

JP: I am currently in the habit of listing five things I am grateful for in my day.  So, you will get five things!  (Brevity has never been my strong suit):

  1. I had a nice conversation with my plastic surgeon.
  2. Alternate side parking was suspended due to Idul-Fitir, so I didn’t have to move my car.
  3. I got to watch Netflix with my cats.
  4. My boyfriend ordered me breakfast
  5. I got to fill out this lovely survey!

By Laura Pennace - http://www.facebook.com/pennacephotography TTIHC Postcard Front

***These glorious photos of Jacey were taken by Laura Pennace (www.laurapennace.com).

Check back next Monday, August 18 for more Little Bits of Good!

Little Bits of Good

We’ve turned the internet into a pretty powerful place for self-expression, don’t you think? Social media sites, blogs, and the power of the almighty YouTube give our complex humanoid egos a platform to vent, express our passions, and find others who share (or don’t) our views, in seconds. At the tap of a mouse. In our pajamas. With Thai food in our lap.

We feel validated and less alone when we think someone (or several thousand someones) share our experiences, frustrations, and general confusion about the world we are creating. It feels good to be heard. Especially when we feel wronged – personally, or as a society. The internet seems to be a pretty safe channel for “getting it all out,” without an actual human, face-to-face confrontation.

And just as I believe that personal blogs, Facebook status updates, and Twitter feeds can be cathartic places for these kinds of self-expression, I’m equally fascinated and inspired by how much incredible light there is out there, too – created by the same flawed and beautiful human race that it’s so easy for us (myself included!) to find fault with. And I wonder what would happen if we added a stream of thoughtful and well- purposed celebration to the mix of everything else we are putting out into the wild and wonderful world of the interwebs.

We will never be able to eliminate every single bit that seems wrong to us, on this planet. We can, however become detectives for the good – and by shining our flashlights on what is WORKING in our community and in our world, we make ourselves more aware of the incredible quantity of brilliance that exists in our lives. I very much believe that this awareness and constant mining of what is life-giving and beautiful in our current situation makes us attract, create, and inspire others to perpetuate more light and goodness in our own lives, and the lives of others.

In this blog, I will be celebrating one Good Bit, each week. This may range from an act of kindness seen between strangers on the subway, to an awesome organization, to anything that tickles my fancy and merits a celebration for adding a teaspoon of positivity to the planet! Specifically, this blog will hi-light the particular rockstar humans who are making these Little Bits of Good happen. These folks are adding their unique piece to the magical mosaic that is our world.  And stepping back, we might just see how great the view is!

I encourage you to read, pass along, and share your own stories if you wish, and feel so inspired! This blog is not meant to act as a vehicle for turning a blind eye to anything that causes distress – but if we’re going to freak out about what makes us rage – why not also freak out about what makes us dance?

I’m a Libra. Always searching for balance. And this site is for dancing : )

Stay tuned for the first featured Good Bit, coming at you on Monday, August 11th!