"My job as a performer is to make sure that whatever happens in a performance lives in somebody else, that it's memorable... If you forget tomorrow what you heard yesterday, there's really not much point in you having been there - or me, for that matter." -- Yo-Yo Ma
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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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:
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.
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 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.)
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.
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
The best thing I've done all week is play drums and guitar along with the album "Coltrane Plays the Blues." The first two tunes "Blues for Elvin" and "Blues for Bechet" have totally lit me up!!! I am playing along with them multiple times a day! Seriously! It is like some kind of musical crack.
Rick Considine, my drum teacher, told me to play along with that first track and once again I understand why he is the man and why I travel to Bushwick and sit in a tiny, dimly lit, freezing cold, grungy little practice closet to study with him. Thanks, Rick. Seriously. Thank you for once again blowing my mind.
What makes playing along with these two tunes so great?
- Because playing along with real music is the next best thing to playing real music. Ha! What I mean is, it is the next best thing to playing a gig with your heroes ... and I love playing gigs and love playing gigs with my heroes even more.
- Because the tempos of these songs are MY JAM. These slow tempos speak to my soul. I get so pumped to find music that exists in this slow, spacious land of time. Ben Webster plays a lot at this tempo and he is one of my touchstones. Gillian Welch plays at this tempo. Damn. So much good and soulful music at these slow tempos. It is a kind of soul food for my ears. Delicious. Sweet. Lingering.
Check out the entire Coltrane album here. And you tell me -- What was the best thing you did all week?
“Magic is just someone spending more time on something than anyone else might reasonably (or even unreasonably) expect.”
— Teller (of Penn & Teller)
I'm working away on new songs this month.
Often, writing songs includes a lot of research: looking up words in the dictionary, checking out synonyms and antonyms, using a thesaurus, reading up on the etymology of a word, seeing how else it's been used, etc. Sometimes, I end up down the rabbit hole.
It happened to me today, working on a new tune that is kind of a "list" song. It made me think of other great list songs (someday, I'll make a list of list songs ... there are some great ones out there).
I wanted to remind myself of the lyrics to my hero Cole Porter's "I Get A Kick Out of You," so ... I googled it. After reading the lyrics and listening to a bunch of different versions, I came upon this wonderful rendition / spoof.
It made me smile! Hope it makes you smile too ...
Do you know other equally as inspired takes on popular songs? I'm talking Weird Al and beyond? Clue me in, will you? Leave a comment below! Share the wealth!