Finding Downey’s Voice

17 August 2012

I stumbled upon A Civil War Christmas by Paula Vogel one year ago. I shared it with our Christmas show production team at First Baptist Church of Downey, and we all immediately fell in love with its themes of forgiveness, loving one’s enemies, unity, and race relations. We immediately applied for the rights and waited. Meanwhile, a few significant stumbling blocks at the church made it clear that producing this show would be impossible this year. In hindsight, this was a godsend, as I was still working on my MA thesis and needed the fall months to complete it. God knows what He is doing.

During the last year and a half, my husband and I have been running the Downey Arts Coalition, a collective of artists, activists, and arts & culture lovers. Our activity with the DAC has been a tremendous introduction to a city we’ve known our whole lives. We have been involved more actively in the community than ever before, and we have been privileged to not only meet many wonderful new friends, but also to admire the collective diversity and unity that is unique to the Downey community. I must admit– now more than ever– I love my city. This community is quite special.

Local communities are the building blocks of this country, but if you look at our nation as a whole, we are divided. We are polarized. We avoid those whose ideas and opinions differ from ours. We demonize the other side. Even Christian brothers and sisters divide themselves along ethnic, denominational, and political lines.

Downey, this is not who we are! And for Christians, it is certainly not how the Bible calls us to live. We ought to remember our commonalities, rejoice in the fundamentals of our faith and values, and love one another. Even if there are enemies, Jesus admonished us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.

It is these principals and themes that ring out strong in A Civil War Christmas. This is a play that follows several different story lines and tells the tales of many important individuals in and around Washington DC, 1864.

There is Bronson, the Black Union Soldier who worked his way up to Sergeant but carries a grudge like a heavy burden. His motto, “take no prisoners,” gets challenged by the very words of Jesus on stage.

Then there is Elizabeth Keckley, a strong and determined former slave who bought her own freedom from the money she earned as a seamstress. But she also carries a heavy burden– her only son was killed in battle and she feels his death is her punishment for teaching him the hate she harbored in her heart.

Then there is Raz, the young confederate boy eager to fight and win a battle everyone says is lost. In the end, he will be shown a grace greater than any sin.

Mary Surratt is a passionate confederate sympathizer who owns the boarding house where conspirators meet to plot the assassination of President Lincoln. But when she accidentally runs into Mary Todd Lincoln on the street, she bonds with her as one mother to another, and together they mourn the losses their hometowns have suffered in the war.

And then there is Chester Manton Saunders, who was brought up in a devout Quaker home. Catching on to his mother’s strong Christian faith, he believes ardently in the abolitionist cause and the “divine spark in every man.” His faith will not allow him to fight in the war, but he joins the army anyway, serving under Decatur Bronson, and helping the unit out in any non-combat way he possibly can. When he realizes Bronson is about to commit murder, he knows time will allow no better intervention than prayer, and his mother’s faith urges him to call upon the Father. The answer to his prayer will astound you.

Our congregation cannot support the demanding ensemble this play requires. So, out of necessity and perhaps divine intervention, we feel compelled to reach out to our sister church in Lynwood in partnership. This is the part that really excites me. Because this play is all about unity, brotherhood, and Christians coming together during turbulent times to work toward a common good. And so with this partnership we attempt to do just that. If this succeeds, we will be bringing the lofty ideas off the stage and into real life. This partnership is an opportunity for our congregations to come together in unity and brotherhood and abolish the differences that would divide us. What would usually just be figurative, only represented on stage, we wish to make literal, and practice in real life.

We always say that FBCD’s Christmas show is a gift to the community. Well, this year will be a gift like no other. I have directed the FBCD Christmas show several times now and I always do it because I want to serve my church and serve the Lord. (And because it’s fun.) But this year, I have new eyes.  I truly want to do something special in this community and I believe in the strong message of this play. I have always believed that FBCD is a special sub-culture within Downey and I believe we as a church are well-suited to be giving this gift at this time. This play will meet us where we are as individuals, as a community, and as a nation.

Oh, and did I mention that we are currently remembering the 150th anniversary of the Civil War and the 20th anniversary of the LA Riots?

I hope that the whole congregation at FBCD will rally around this play, so that it will truly be a gift from the whole church, and not just a few members. There are still some auditions left, so if that is your interest please come audition or talk to David about singing in the choir. If not, there are many other opportunities to serve such as set/props construction and coordination, stage management, costume coordination, stage hands, PR, Tech Team, and by telling others in the community and bringing a group to attend the performance. As usual, all performances are free. Theatre is not an art of isolation. We are moving a mountain here, and it’s going to take an army.

This play has something to say, and I want to help it find its voice in Downey. Will you join me?

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Random Updatedness

12 August 2012

I guess it’s time for another update. It’s been a busy summer and we have many exciting things happening. Let’s see, I think I’ll work backwards…

We are looking forward to celebrating the weddings of some very important people in our life. Our dear friend Scarlet is marrying Andy’s best buddy since childhood, Geoff, next weekend. We couldn’t be more thrilled about this marriage and all the festivities this week. Andrew’s brother Tom is also getting married the same weekend in a small ceremony in Santa Barbara and we are so thrilled to have Tanya joining our family.

I am in the beginning stages of directing A Civil War Christmas, a play by  Paula Vogel at FBCD. Every stage in this process has proven itself a challenge and we expect it to continue this way. Our fears that the whole thing could fall apart at any moment are real, but we plug along with God’s guidance, waiting on Him to pull this whole thing together. If it does come together, it will be a really incredible show. I am very excited to direct it. And intimidated. I know this will be a great gift to our community.

This week I was honored to be featured at our local concert in the park with the Downey Symphony Orchestra as a narrator on one song. This was a great privilege for me and a wonderful PR opportunity for Downey Arts Coalition. We had a booth at the event and conducted a raffle to benefit the Symphony.

Art on the Vine, our monthly art series with Downey Arts Coalition, celebrated its first anniversary last weekend. This was our first endeavor and has by far been our shining star. So proud that this has come out of our organization. In other art news around Downey, we look forward to the opening of the Stay Gallery, a real-deal art gallery to be located in the heart of downtown Downey, and operated by our sister organization, the Downey Art Vibe. DAC will be coordinating the performance-related stuff that gets programmed into the space.

PJ is now 5 years old and Cakers is 21 months. They have had a lot of fun this summer going on playdates, field trips, and spending once a week with “Teacher Amy” at playgroup (just PJ of course). A new opportunity for PJ has come up that we are going to try. Our friends are starting a homeschool co-op and we signed him up. So he will be attending Discovery of Learning Homeschool Center twice a week in the fall. The drive is a little far for us, so we are keeping an open mind about it. But many of his friends are attending and I know he will really grow.

Speaking of homeschooling, now that he’s 5 and obviously a “big boy,” I’m finding a lot of strangers always asking him if he goes to school, or if he will be going in the fall. I find this question very annoying. I told him he can tell people that he’s homeschooled, but he doesn’t usually say that. He usually gives them a more detailed response. He is wonderful.

He has grown into an incredible personality. He is by far the friendliness person I’ve ever known. He talks to so many people while we are out and about, and loves to give them random information about his life or thoughts. Today as we were crossing the parking lot at Trader Joe’s he yelled hello to a couple he saw across the way and was sure to tell them that we are going on vacation to the mountains and that we were going into TJ’s to get some snacks. Like most people, they were very entertained by him.

Cakers is equally as delightful. He seems to have an endless vocabulary, acquired mostly by mimicry. He puts two words together and seems to understand everything we say. He is such a little darling. He now plays like a big boy and relishes every moment of life. Babywearing has been reduced to its most practical essentials, such as longer walks trough shopping centers and trips to the market. Gone are the days when I would wear a precious and tiny sleeping baby while trying to prepare a meal. That was a difficult thing to multi-task and I am thankful for the relative amount of peace I get while the two of them play together during my meal prep time (I actually started listening to NPR again while I cook! amazing!), but I am acutely aware of what I have lost. Bittersweet. I am pleased to still be breastfeeding him, and hope he continues for many years to come.

Andrew still works for Local Hero Post in Santa Monica. The commute is tough, but the job is good. The company seems to always be growing in demand and in reputation. We keep hoping this will one day make life easier. Hasn’t happened yet… He injured his leg pretty badly playing with the kids on Father’s Day. It’s been a struggle, but he found a doctor that he really likes and is now in physical therapy.

Aside from CWC, we are also trying to plan a season of theatre at the new gallery. One-acts, mostly original stuff. I would direct hopefully one of them, and other of our theatrically-inclined DAC members would take the others. More on that as things develop. I would someday like to get a job again. This is probably not a good time for us, but we remain interested. I’m also being mentored right now toward leadership in La Leche League International. That process has been slow because of all I’ve got going on in my life. But accreditation as a leader will be a meaningful contribution I can make in people’s lives for years to come and I am enjoying every step of the journey.

That’s all for now! Sorry there’s no pictures!

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A Civil War Christmas Character Breakdown

8 August 2012

*Actors, feel free to email or facebook me with any questions

DECATUR BRONSON (Male, 20s-30s, African-American): A strong, intelligent, passionate Sergeant in the Union’s Colored Infantry. Carries a heavy grudge for the kidnappers of his late wife. His motto is “Take No Prisoners.”

ELIZABETH KECKLEY (Female, 30s-40s, African-American): Mary Todd Lincoln’s companion; an expert with the needle, she has bought her life as a freewoman one stitch at a time. A thoughtful, introspective, caring woman who spent her childhood as a slave and lost her only son in the war.

MARY TODD LINCOLN (Female, 40s-50s, Caucasian): a devoted wife and mother, she also suffers from headaches and bouts with depression. She confides in her dear friend Keckley, and worries about her husband’s leadership in the war effort.

JOHN WILKES BOOTH (Male, 20s-40s, Caucasian): Lincoln’s assassin; an ambitious and passionate confederate conspirator; also a well-known stage actor.

CHESTER MANTON SAUNDERS (Male, 20s-30s): A young Quaker pacifist abolitionist in the Union army. Does not believe in war, but believes in the “divine spark in every man.” Deeply religious, he cares passionately about the abolitionist cause.

HANNAH (Female, 20s-40s, African-American): An runaway slave escaping with her young daughter. Desperate for her daughter’s freedom and safety.

RAZ (Male, 12-17, Caucasian): A young ambitious confederate determined to fight with the Mosby Raiders, even if it costs him everything.

WIDOW MARY SURRATT (Female, 30s-40s): An ardent Confederate activist, she owns the boarding house where conspirators meet to plot the assassination of President Lincoln.

ANNA SURRATT (Female, 12-22): Daughter of Mary Surratt, part of a family of conspirators seeking the assassination of President Lincoln. A sweet girl devoted to her mother.

JAMES WORMLEY (male, 50s-60s, African American): a successful Washington DC merchant, born a freeman. Describes himself as “shopkeeper, hack carriage company owner and all-around entrepreneur”

FREDERICK WORMLEY (male, teens-20s) son of James Wormley

JIM WORMLEY (male, teens-20s) son of James Wormley

MOSES LEVY (Male, 20s-30s, Jewish) a wounded soldier who longs for his faith at Christmastime and who feverishly foretells Lincoln’s assassination

ROSE (Female, 20s-30s, African-American): A smart and beautiful young freewoman who taught her husband to read. Appears as a memory/spirit that haunts Bronson.

WALT WHITMAN (Male, 40s-50s, Caucasian): an important humanist poet who is known to visit wounded and dying soldiers in the hospital. He is a source of encouragement and friendship to many.

SECRETARY OF WAR, EDWIN STANTON (Male, 50s): a tough, efficient, and brilliant military mind whose strategies brought the Union Army to victory. He lost several members of his family to disease and suicide before throwing himself into his legal work and working determinedly in the Lincoln administration.

WARD HILL LAMON (Male, 20s-40s): Lincoln’s bodyguard and head of security; sees danger everywhere because “danger is everywhere to be seen.”

GEORGE (Male, 20s-30s): Keckley’s only son, “light-skinned enough to pass as a white man,” he secretly enlisted in the Union Army when his mother sent him away to college. Dying in the first battle he fought, he appears to Keckley as a ghost/memory throughout the play.

JESSA (Female, 5-14, African-American): following her mother as they escape slavery and head north into Washington DC. A brave and trusting young woman.

LITTLE JOE (Male, 5-12), a young slave boy who gets sold in the family’s attempt to recover from financial ruin.

ROBERT E. LEE (Male, 50s-60s): General of the Army of Northern Virginia, leader of the Confederate cause, his surrender effectively ended the Civil War. He is a passionate leader, who does not seek privileges over his soldiers.

ULYSSES S. GRANT (Male, 40s, Caucasian): the Union general who led the north to victory. He is weary of the war, but determined in his cause.

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Leif is such a Lucky Baby!

12 June 2012

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Memorial Day Musings

29 May 2012

This Memorial Day, I am thinking of the sacrifice of not only those soldiers who paid the ultimate price on the battlefield, but also remembering those forgotten souls, the innocents– the civilians, the refugees, the victims of genocide, wartime violence, and civil unrest, for whom the uninvited, unexpected hand of death came swiftly and coldly through the strong arm of war. For they also died bravely, heroicly, often sacrificing themselves for the sake of others. Or maybe some did not– some perhaps died cowardly, not mentally or spiritually prepared to meet an untimely end, but are nonetheless missed and mourned by their loved ones. Some perhaps may have died suddenly and senselessly, without warning or fanfare to their life’s end, cut short mid-sentence. Some died young. Very, very, young. These are all the human cost, the total casualties of war. They are widespread and often immeasurable. Until the day when war is conquered and hate, enmity, strife, violence, and the lust for power have come to their ultimate end, these souls will wait for justice.  Until then, we will mourn and we will remember.

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My Yearly Update!

23 April 2012

I never blog anymore.

I think this is because I need to decide what this blog is, exactly. I know i don’t want to be 0ne of those “mommy bloggers” whose blogs I read often. I’m just not as awesome as they. Nor do I see myself being one of those that blog every major and minor life event, with pictures. I’m too much of a slacker for that.

Oh well.

Here’s an update at least:

I am working part-time at Cerritos College now. I teach Acting Fundamentals in the Theatre Dept. It is temporary, substitute. But they asked me to stay until the end of the semester because the reg prof is on medical leave. I am loving it! The class is great. I’ve decided I don’t really know how to act, but hopefully my students won’t figure that out until after the semester is over. Don’t tell. =) Next time I should teach something easy like how to tie shoes the cool way, or alphabetizing my bookshelf… j/k… The hardest part really is dealing with childcare. Andy stays home once a week and the other day we have been using a series of grandmothers and babysitters. It’s really hard to leave them, but I know they are in really good hands, and that they are enjoying the time they spend with their caregivers. I don’t know what we’d do if I was offered a more permanent job, but I trust the Lord will show us if He gives me such an opportunity.

The Downey Arts Coalition is embarking on its first theatrical endeavor! I am so excited to be producing Urban Acts: New Plays from the Street alongside Andrew, a couple other DAC members, and also alongside the critically-acclaimed Urban Theatre Movement. Those guys rock. This will be a staged reading series at site-specific locations throughout Downey. All new plays by new and established playwrights. We are very very privileged to be able to read these wonderful new works and to have most of the playwrights in attendance as well! Check out www.downeyarts.org for more info.

Speaking of DAC, our organization is 1 year old now! I can’t believe the organization that Andrew started has grown into such a huge thing practically over night! I never imagined we would be involved with so many incredible people and doing so many exciting things here in Downey when he first started talking about wanting to form a group like this. That’s exactly it– when he started talking about wanting to do this, it was just going to be a group. Like maybe a support group. Well, God had other plans and it has exploded into an organization! No, a movement! We are even on the fast track toward 501C3 status with our plans to merge with the Downey Art League. This, alongside our friendship with the Downey Art Vibe, is making the arts movement in Downey a force to be reckoned with! Good things are happening and lots of people are getting on board.

It’s also pretty cool to see my husband in this leadership role. He’s always been such a strong leader and he is really thriving in this organization. I’m so proud to be his wife and partner. He stays up way too late, though. 😉

I’ve got a couple of potential directing gigs lined up. Not professional, but I’m excited about both the projects. I hope they don’t fall through! Meanwhile, just focusing on Urban Acts and my new job.

My children are a constant delight. I want to homeschool Peer, we’re learning more about that and considering our options. I might sign us up for a charter in the fall. At the very least we are glad that we can delay kindergarten and keep him home until age 6. A lot of parents are doing that nowadays. “Giving them the gift of time,” as I’ve heard it said. I like that. He will be 5 this summer and I am so proud of the young man he is growing into. I’ve recently discovered that he knows quite a bit of math. He is very adept at simple addition and subtraction, and he’s learning to read and sound things out. I catch him practicing on his own, it’s so cute. What a smart kid I have!

Leif is 17 months going on 5 years old as well.  =) He seems to have his own complete language that he is teaching us, and loves to play and run around outside with his brother. He wants to do everything his big brother (or “Ba-Ba”) is doing, especially the naughty things like smacking and destroying. Also wrestling and horseplay. It’s all a lot fun until someone lands on their head, boys! I am pleased that we are at the point with breastfeeding where it is so easy. But I often miss having a tiny one to nurse. Leif no longer needs/wants to snuggle in my lap for hours nursing. At most it may be 10, 15 minutes and then he’s back to playing. Oh well, he’s pretty heavy and squirmy anyway!

We still go to First Baptist, not a long happening there. Looking forward to several weddings this summer, especially that of our good friend Geoff, when Andy will be a groomsman. Geoff is very special to us and we are so happy for him and his new bride-to-be Scarlet, who is especially lover-ly and wonderful.

I guess that’s our family in a nutshell right now. Sorry no pics. I’m a slacker.

 

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Diplomas and New Opportunities

5 April 2012

Well at long last I’ve finally officially finished my Masters! You may have remembered that I participated in the graduation ceremony in May 2010, but I hadn’t yet written my thesis. Well, I took a semester off to have a baby, then took all of 2011 to write it, as expected. It was a joy to write and sometimes I even kind of miss it! But I defended it with high praises from my Professors and now I am officially a Master!

Then, two weeks ago I got an exciting opportunity to teach Fundamentals of Acting at a local community college! It’s only substitute, but I’m having a blast and hoping that it could lead to more work in the future, whenever that may be.

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Kumquat Fluff

11 February 2012

The WordPress app was giving me trouble last night, so I posted a delicious recipe to my Tumblr blog. No, not the one with the dreamy local arts advocate. The other one, that no one knows about.

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Astroturgy

11 February 2012

I <3 Twitter

Does anybody else? It’s so unique among all the social media and I love how it seems to be the media of choice of intellectuals and information junkies. I’ve become very educated on many topics thanks to Twitter. And it also seems that bloggers who really have their finger on the pulse of their niche tweet a lot and offer so much more to their readers than just what they post on their blogs.

I knew I would have one of those moments eventually where it really became useful to me and here it is. As part of our efforts to bring more theatre to Downey, I was wanting to compile a reading list for myself of plays that have space, aeronautics, the great beyond, etc. as a theme or plot point. I follow a lot of dramaturgs on Twitter and they went crazy with the challenge. They were incredibly helpful and amazing. (honestly, I was surprised and ashamed at how little I knew before) So between tweets, links, and related research, here’s the list I got:

  1. Astronauts by Claudia Reilly
  2. Cosmonauts Last Message… by David Greig’s
  3. Humble Boy by Charlotte Jones
  4. Kaputnik : a comedy in one act by Frank Semerano
  5. Flight by Giron, Arthur
  6. Moving Bodies by Giron, Arthur
  7. The Blue Ball by Paul Godfrey (1995)
  8. Space by Tina Landau (1998)
  9. Galileo by Bertolt Brecht
  10. Star Messengers in the Millennium (musical) by Jillian Hanson
  11. To the Stars by Leonid Andreyev,
  12. The Starry Messenger by Justin Fleming
  13. The Astronomer’s Garden by Kevin Hood
  14. A Short History of Night by John Mighton
  15. Comet Hunter Miyagawa & Lattis (2003)
  16. Man on the Moon (musical) by John Phillips

Also, this link is a wonderful list of space/science plays compiled by a researcher whose book I own and reference often.

I think I might try to tweet this post, just to say thanks to all the wonderful dramaturgs all over the country who helped me out.

Looks like I have a lot of reading to do!

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Epidurals in Labor

8 February 2012

Today I read this article at The Feminist Breeder about epidural use in labor, and it was excellent. The author devoted the short piece to the scientific aspect of some risks associated with the routine use of this popular labor drug. Because she was being scientific and evidence-based, she stopped short of giving any personal opinion, anecdote, or bias toward why an individual woman might do well to avoid the epidural, if possible.

Well, since this is my personal blog, and if you pinky-swear to read the article, I will go one step further and give you my personal opinion as to why I chose (successfully) to avoid the epidural. Twice.

But first, shout-out to the Haters! They’re right. You don’t get a trophy. Or a medal. (although in my case it did involve a certain amount of jewelry, but that’s another story) Nonetheless, there are tangible benefits to doing without this drug, if possible.

Here’s the bottom line: epidural use robs you of your mobility. Mobility and gravity are your best friends during labor.

When I gave birth to my second baby, I was on my knees. In fact, I was in that position for the entire 2nd stage. No one told me to get in that position except my body and my baby. I was able to listen because I could still feel what my body was doing. I could not have been on my knees if I was limp from the waist down. Being in this position utilized gravity to pull my baby down. Mimicking a squatting position on my knees also opened up my pelvis 30% more than if I had been on my back, as one is with an epi.

During the first part of both my labors, I also enjoyed the freedom of movement that going drug-free afforded me. I took walks, ate, drank, sat cross-legged on the floor, did yoga, used a birth ball, leaned upright against a tall dresser, and best of all MOVED AROUND in between all my different coping strategies.

Did any of these things take the pain of birthing away? Of course not! If anything, they made it “worse,” and by worse I mean better. Better because all these things I did helped my body dilate, move the baby into position, and push that baby out. To which end I had a completely intervention-free vaginal birth. The Perfect Birth.

Sometimes people will tell horror stories about birthing drug-free. As a willful natural birther, I would say that if you prepare mentally, physically, and spiritually for a natural birth, it is not torturous. It is euphoric. But don’t think that you can just white-knuckle the pain. You must surrender. You will do better if you prepare with a class specifically designed for it, like HypnoBabies or Bradley.

I would also add that sometimes one must be flexible to very real complications in childbirth. If a woman has been in labor for 24, 30 hours and her body is totally fatigued, an epi may do her some good, giving her the rest she needs to push her baby out. Or if she is induced, the labor is already not natural, and few women can endure the pain of pitocin contractions without medication.

But if you are healthy, low-risk, and open-minded, and if you are serious about wanting to reduce your risk of surgical birth, vacuum extraction, forceps, episiotomy, pitocin, etc., you might be surprised at your ability to birth without an epidural. You’d be surprised at the strength that comes from within, and from above. And at the peace that passeth understanding.

Try it, you might like it! 😉

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