BAMA Kids 2018 - A Bigger Dream

The lights went out at the play’s conclusion, and the packed auditorium was for the first time–silent ... for about 0.8 seconds.

Last year, with your help, I raised just over $10,000 to send the New York City actors from ZARA AINA down to Wilcox County, Alabama to create two pieces of original musical theater with the BAMA Kids.

As those of you who've been along for the ride know, this wasn't my first time making a workshop like this happen. My original trip to Alabama with the ZARA AINA crew was in 2013.

Here's the video of our very first show with the BAMA Kids.

The actors and I went down to Alabama twice in 2017: once in May and once in November.

During our May trip, we led about 30 BAMA Kids (of all ages) in a theater and storytelling workshop. In only one week's time, we helped the children write, rehearse and perform a show filled with characters, music and dance. The week ended with a public performance for the entire town on the middle school stage. A crowd of supporters -- old and new -- showed up to cheer us all on! 

It was a watershed moment for the community. But more about that in the quotation block down below. 

 

A SMALL, SECRET DREAM SEES THE LIGHT OF DAY
It's always been a secret dream of mine to create a bench of BAMA Kids student leaders, to build the momentum for our artistic work from within the ranks of the kids themselves

Finally, in 2017, I spoke that dream aloud and was able to make a start.

In November, three ZARA AINA actors and I traveled back to BAMA Kids to teach a small group of student leaders -- hand-selected by BAMA Kids founders and directors, the amazing and heroic Ms. Sheryl Threadgill-Matthews and Ms. Jacqueline Hives -- how to create their own piece of theater from scratch.

We taught these new leaders concepts of storytelling and stagecraft. They learned how to advance a creative idea on their own and how to lead rehearsals. Over the course of the weekend with them, we gave them all the insights, coaching and knowledge they could handle. 

The biggest thing we gave them was responsibility.

We tasked them to create the next original BAMA Kids show. We promised to come back down in March 2018 and help them refine and rehearse their show, incorporating the rest of the BAMA Kids into their vision. They rose to our challenge and said they would do it. 

That was 2017.

This is 2018. New year. New inspirations. Time to make good on our promise. 

A BIGGER DREAM
The BAMA kids want more.

Again and again, they ask for more instruction, more time with the actors, more ways to express themselves. They've specifically asked for more actors to coach them, for a choreographer to help them structure their dances, for a costume designer to help them realize the look of their characters and, more broadly, their show. 

They've also asked if we can take the show on the road. They dream of performing in other towns in the Black Belt of Alabama -- Monroeville and Selma. They have their eyes on the big cities of Montgomery and Birmingham. They even dream of performing their show in that other big city, the one we come from, New York City. 

"Inspiration," said the painter Agnes Martin, "is the beginning, the middle and the end."

Here's what the beginning, middle and end look like for 2018 and the BAMA Kids / ZARA AINA partnership:

  1. Two fully funded trips to Alabama in 2018 (one in March and one in November) for the actors of ZARA AINA to continue working with BAMA Kids and our corp of student leaders.
  2. At least two public performances in Wilcox County for the kids to strut their stuff and for us to continue building community engagement and support.
  3. At least one other performance in another community -- in Alabama? in New York City? We are dreaming big!

To do this, I will need to raise $15,000 by March 1, 2018. 

Will you help?

Please donate on the web here.

Our work is all about the kids. It's true. But it's also all about their town, their parents, their teachers, their neighbors.

What we've seen every time the children stage a public performance of their show is that the broader community wakes up, shows up, and reaches out to help us. 

Here is what the local paper, The Progressive Era, said about the effect the BAMA Kids performance in May 2017 had on the community: 

In that closing moment [of the BAMA Kids’ performance] ... we were suddenly able to ... rise to our feet, and wipe away tears.

They were tears of joy, proud admiration, and, most importantly, hope, only this time, that hope would last.

The evidence to back it up was right in front of us.

Evidence of an infinite potential in the hearts, minds, and voices of Wilcox County’s future was at last undeniable, and shining much brighter than just a few stage lights.

It’s in the eyes of our children. Seems almost criminal to think that potential hadn’t been there all along.
— Progressive Era, Wilcox County, Alabama 5/30/2017

With the BAMA Kids directors Ms. Threadgill and Ms. Hives, we are changing kids lives in Wilcox County, Alabama through art and song, imagination and play, responsibility and teamwork.

The infinite potential of these children is there. The inspiration is there. 

Donate now

If you'd rather write a check -- you can do so by making it out to “Zara Aina, Inc” (Please put “BAMA Kids” in the memo line).  Mail your check to:
Zara Aina, Inc.
P.O. Box 1199
New York, NY 10009

All donations are tax deductible. You will receive a receipt from Zara Aina acknowledging your donation. 

Thank you for your love and your support.

The BAMA Kids student leaders & ZARA AINA at the Community Jam

The Short The Sweet FAQ

The Short The Sweet aka TSTS

What is it?
The Short The Sweet is bi-monthly email I send to folks like you.

What's the point?
The point is to create / assemble / curate a short email that sparks a conversation or a moment of reflection or a smile.

TSTS is meant to be fluid, sometimes longer in length, sometimes shorter. It will include, say, a beautiful sentence or three from a great book, a song to dance to, or a link to an inspiring piece of art. Or it may include none of these things. We'll see ...

It is envisioned as a mini commonplace book.

(If you've been around here for a minute, you know that I liked to write a monthly email called My 3 Things. I retired it in August 2017. It was time for a change. Since then, I've been daydreaming about what comes next. TSTS is what I came up with.)

Now! Go sign up for The Short The Sweet.

What A Song Is and What A Song Does: Intro to the Death Album

On December 9, 2017, I went into the studio to begin recording my next album — affectionately nicknamed (for now) “The Death Album.” The songs chronicle my time accompanying my mom from diagnosis of ovarian cancer to death. At this point, in the midst of this multi-year project, I feel compelled to corral some of the thoughts I had and notes I made along the way.

BAMA Kids 2017

Here's what we -- you, me, Zara Aina, and the BAMA Kids created -- in May of 2017.

You made all of this happen. Every single smile, dance, hug, and cheer you see in this video is because of you. You generously gave $4750 to get the Zara Aina crew of actors down there to create a totally original, mini-musical in less than one week with these adorable, fierce, fiery, and talented kids!. 

Thank you. I am so grateful for your support of this little homegrown, I'm-gonna-do-this-no-matter-what idea of mine. 

And, yes, I am doing it again in March of 2018! The folks at Zara Aina and I are already planning. 

Please make a donation here: http://zaraaina.org/donate/bama/

"Working with the kids at BAMA Kids was a reminder that everyone needs a chance to shine and be seen. These kids are flooded with ideas and creative talent. While watching one of the kids work I literary caught myself thinking “I’ve never seen that kind of talent before.” - Todd Estrin, Zara Aina actor

My 3 Things - August 2017

(The My 3 Things FAQ.)

1. POEM-ING: A little something from Jack Gilbert
Jack Gilbert's poems seem to show up in my life just in the nick of time. After reading and re-reading his book The Great Fires a few years back, I lost track of his poetry for a while.

(Some background: Gilbert received unprecedented fame when his first book received the Yale Younger Poets prize and a nomination for the 1963 Pulitzer Prize. At the height of the hoopla, he left America and its culture and literary scene behind by way of a Guggenheim fellowship to Greece. Though he did eventually return to the US, he never again enjoyed mainstream success. He considered himself a “farmer of poetry." His poems are spare, unhurried, full of life and the living of it. He waited two decades to publish his second book of poetry and another decade to publish his third.)

This month, a friend inserted Gilbert's poetry back into my life by reading this poem aloud to my voicemail. Needless to say, I saved the message.

Gilbert is a master of the bittersweet. Life, he shows us, is both beautiful and painful and there's absolutely no need to resolve the two.


HARM AND BOON IN THE MEETINGS
We think the fire eats the wood.
We are wrong. The wood reaches out
to the flame. The fire licks at
what the wood harbors, and the wood
gives itself away to that intimacy,
the manner in which we and the world
meet each new day. Harm and boon
in the meetings. As heart meets what
is not heart, the way the spirit
encounters the flesh and the mouth meets
the foreignness in another mouth. We stand
looking at the ruin of our garden
in the early dark of November, hearing crows
go over while the first snow shines coldly
everywhere. Grief makes the heart
apparent as much as sudden happiness can.
 

 

2. SEEING: Dawson City: Frozen Time, a film by Bill Morrison
The LA Times film critic Kenneth Turan nailed it when he said Morrison's new film "does so many things so beautifully it is hard to know where to begin."

I wholeheartedly agree.

Morrison’s film tells many stories, but the main one is about how several hundred reels of volatile nitrate film from the 1910s and ’20s were discovered decades after they were presumed lost. Not just lost, but totally forgotten. They were buried (used as landfill) in Dawson City, the legendary Yukon River town in northwestern Canada, considered ground zero of the mid- to late-19th century gold rush.

How the films ended up there, how they were discovered, and how they were saved is a wonderfully strange odyssey that I won't spoil for you. The life stories of the characters involved (including a certain Frederick Trump ... yes, that Trump) are simply not to be believed. 

Morrison's suspense-filled narrative is largely created from what is left of the now un-buried, un-lost films. At times his story boomerangs away. He simply cannot resist a few giddy and mesmerizing silent-film montages and meditations full of visual riffs and rhymes. These beguile and then astonish, as you remember that what you are seeing should not have been seen, would not have been seen had it not been for the permafrost and a backhoe.

When the house lights came up,  I was stilled, utterly spellbound, but Morrison's work is about impermanence and change and my life beckoned. Time is never frozen. 
 

3. DANCING TO: Cheryl Lynn's Got To Be Real

Seven minutes of unadulterated awesomeness. I dare you NOT to dance to this one. It's totally impossible. How real does it get? About as real as this song being considered one of the defining moments of disco. Oh hell yes.

 

+++ OUTRO & FAREWELL +++
It has been a privilege to have you aboard while I row this little boat of mine down the river of life, to point out the changing scenery, to remark on the weather (internal and external), and to luxuriate in the eddies and swirls of thoughts, delights, inspirations, and happenings. 

I have loved writing My 3 Things for you these past two years, so it is with a mixture of happiness and grief that I let you know that this is my last edition.

To all those who ever reached out to me by email or by leaving a comment on the blog itself, I salute you for your courage and I thank you for your humanity and willingness to share. You make my day, every day.

What's next?

I'll be creating and sharing more writing with you, but how much and when and about what? Who knows! I am in that wonderful space of creation and possibility. Life is short. I am dying everyday. Time is not frozen; limits are not fixed.

I look forward to connecting on the next adventure!

My 3 Things - July 2017

(The My 3 Things FAQ.)

1. LISTENING: Pescade Robioso's song Credulidad
I just heard this song for the first time and now it's on repeat. How did I not know about the music of Luis Alberto Spinetta? If you're a fan of Jeff Buckley, turn it up.

2. PLAYING & TALKING: an interview and a few of my new songs on WERU.org
Here's something sweet: last week at the community radio station WERU.org in Blue Hill, Maine, I got to talking with and playing new songs for the great DJ Mike Joyce on his show Barefoot Blues.
 

                                    Dj Mike & I at WERU.org

(Sidenote: Mike's been in radio for 30 years, and, in addition to the Barefoot Blues hour, he hosts a show called Boat Talk for all you boat fanatics out there).   

Mike's a great interviewer and we cover a lot of ground. My Dad joined me on his chromatic harmonica for the opening tune and then Mike and I get into it -- new songs, the stories behind them, the meaning of life, etc.

Community radio like the kind WERU creates is hard to come by these days (their motto is “a voice of many voices"). They've been playing my music since the beginning and for that I am very grateful. 

This interview is only up on the WERU online archives for another week, so if you want to listen, now is the time!
 

3. MARVELING OVER: Resist! -- a free magazine of political comics / graphics about women and everything else that matters

Speaking of a voice of many voices ...

Of course McNally Jackson -- the great Manhattan bookstore -- had a stack of RESIST! at the checkout counter. Luckily, my friend picked one up and showed it to me.

Holy smokes! Awesomeness and bad-assery on every page. 

Resist! sprung up after the November 2016 election (shocker ... not!). Edited and by produced by Françoise Mouly, art editor of The New Yorker, and her daughter, writer Nadja Spiegelman, Resist! is a "free print publication of political comics and graphics where our slogan, 'Women's voices will be heard,' can come true."

The pages overflow with images hilarious, sharp, tender, angry, and absurd on a huge variety of issues: the environment, power, immigration, sexism, racism, and the economy.

The editors weren't out for unity. What they wanted was a cacophony of voices and realities, something big and loud and messy. Something like democracy itself.

There are artists known and unknown here: Roz Chast, Lynda Barry, and Art Spiegelman to name only a few. Many of the images and thoughts come from abroad, the waves of anxiety and worry reaching other coasts than ours (Canada, Germany, Australia).

Resist! is entirely funded by individuals, comic shops, and bookstores; all the contributing artists forgo monetary compensation. You can click here to find a free copy near you, or better yet order a few and spread the wealth yourself.

++ OUTRO ++
I am always so happy to hear from you! Please send up a smoke signal and say Hi by leaving a comment below. Let me know what your 3 Things are! What lights you up right now? I want to know!

X to the O,
K

My 3 Things - June 2017

(The My 3 Things FAQ.)

1. LISTENING: Toni Childs "Don't Walk Away" from the album Union

This was the hit song from Child's 1988, Grammy-nominated album Union, one of my desert island discs. 

Not going to lie, I haven't listened to this record in five years or so. Suddenly, it resurfaced in my life; I've been on a scavenger hunt for music that captures my hopes and dreams for the Death Album.

Is it too much to hear new music from Toni? A set of songs that would do her incredible, indelible voice justice? I hope not. 

PS: 80s video awesomeness alert!
 

2. SEEING: Generation Wealth by Lauren Greenfield at the Annenberg Space for Photog. in LA
In so many ways, this show is not for the faint of heart.

It unsettled and disturbed me. Upon leaving, my soul felt coated in an unsavory residue that lingered for days. And yet, I am so glad I saw those pictures, read those words, glimpsed those worlds.

Greenfield's show overwhelms and overstuffs the cold, corporate corner in Century City that is the Annenberg Space for Photography. Parking and finding your way there is your first challenge. As you emerge from the concrete rabbit warren of the enormous glass and steel office complex into the faux-park courtyard, you're likely to see caterers rolling tables on their edges setting up for a corporate event and a clutch of famous bloggers-slash-social media personalities sharing meatballs and fries (the offices of CAA loom over you after all) at the luxury bistro-slash-coffee shop that caters to this microcosm. It's all very surreal. And you've not even seen the show yet.

Finally, you enter the Annenburg and that's when the cultural vertigo really sets in.

The photos are large, colorful, utterly absorbing. This is a master documentarian at work -- there is humor here. There is also restraint (on the part of the photographer, not -- let's be clear -- on the part of the subjects). The first-person interviews that accompany almost every image are gripping, pared-down but packing a huge punch; the short films and projections are mesmerizing.

Considered the "preeminent chronicler of consumerism and youth culture," Greenfield stares unflinchingly into the gaping, insatiable maw of our materialist, status-chasing, money-driven, "mine is bigger than yours" culture. She leaves no corner of the collective psyche unexamined: here's Tupac losing $10k in ten minutes in Las Vegas; there's a woman spread-eagled on a plastic surgeon's operating table getting everything that can be lifted and tucked lifted and tucked all at the same time; here's a stripper crawling on the floor of an Atlanta club, scooping up armloads of dollar bills thrown by a patron who admits he can't afford to make it rain the way he just did. From Russian oligarchs to Chinese billionaires to kids in LA who just can't stop spending on sneakers and jeans, Greenfield swan dives into "the influence of affluence over the last 25 years."  

This is important work. She's observing and examining the inescapably powerful forces bending all of our realities every single day -- consumerism, comparison, advertisement, social media, and the manufactured need for more, bigger, shinier, faster, newer, younger, now. She captures outrageous ambition with the same evenness of tone as she does moments of quiet and reflection and contrition. There's heart-wrenching humor here as well.

So what about that residue I felt on my soul?

Caused by the complexity of the subject matter no doubt, and by the ways in which Greenfield does her work so well that there's room for me to see myself in all of this, to see the ways in which I'm complicit. 

I'll leave the last words to one of my favorite people on the planet, the English musician, composer, record producer, singer, writer, visual artist, and shit-stirrer Brian Eno: "Lauren Greenfield's photographs range from hilarious to terrifying, sometimes in the same image. The images are unjudgemental -- dystopian shock and awe somewhere at the end of Empire -- and yet moving: she makes it personal. It could have been me."

The show is on until August 13, 2017.

 

3. WATCHING: Whitman, Alabama -- the documentary film
Having just come from the Black Belt of Alabama, the voices melodious and measured still ringing in my ears, watching a few episodes of this project helped cure me of a fraction of my homesickness.

Filmmaker Jennifer Crandall was born in Ethiopia and raised in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Haiti. She's part Chinese and part White. No wonder she's interested in identity.

She created the project Whitman, Alabama as "an experiment using documentary (film) and poetry to reveal the threads that tie us together—as people, as states, and as a nation."

For the last two years, she's been driving all over Alabama meeting people and inviting them to face the camera and share themselves through the words of Walt Whitman's “Song of Myself” -- a vital piece of American art and an artifact of our American project. 

This project is genius. Everything is here: the rural, the urban, the lost, the found, the high, the low, the old, the young, the free, the caged, the restrained, the superfluous. 

This particular episode will crack you open.

I see so much humanity and goodness in these faces, in these words, in this whole idea. I swoon and find myself falling in love with America again.