finding a more authentic, playful life --- finding your story

Thursday, April 23, 2015

inspiring teachers

So I had a teacher back in college, a theatre teacher who rather changed my life. Vivian Fusillo is her name. Amazing woman, like none other. She cast me in the first show of my freshman year --- A three-hander even! We immediately bonded.

Bright red hair with a personality to match, small-town Kansas native,  former model, Vivian was unique, to say the least. She was also often tricky to pin down for an answer, suffered from huge and  unwarranted insecurities and constantly told amazingly true stories about all the A-list English actors she worked with in the past (Think Gielgud, Olivier and Burton).

That was Vivian; Brilliant, sometimes frustrating, always inspiring Viv.

She encouraged me through casting me early. But it wasn't just that. If she hadn't believed in me, I'm not sure I would have. How great is that? And how grateful are we for great teachers --- teachers who see and believe and encourage. Teachers who see us before we do.

Vivian is a recent recipient of THE KENNEDY CENTER/STEPHEN SONDHEIM INSPIRATIONAL TEACHER AWARD. Wooh. She has received many awards over the years for her work at Winona State University, but this is a big one.

In order to receive that award, they asked the nominator for a specific story to be told about the teacher that inspired you, not multiple instances, but one. How fascinating. What's the inspirational story you would tell of your hero/mentor? Well, it got me thinking...

For me, for Vivian it was this: Her love of the pause. Yes, the pause. If there was one thing she taught me in that first time on the Winona State stage, it was to stop talking and pause. Just be quiet. Stop. So I did. Or I thought I did. Dozens of rehearsal hours that first fall together at WSU were filled with her randomly yelling from the house, "Pause!" and me responding, "I am!" and her shouting, "No, you're not!" I didn't get it. I thought I was pausing. She drove me crazy. "Just let me act, lady!"

But eventually I got it. Eventually I was able to just be quiet on stage and listen, to let something happen in the nothing. Eventually I understood how valuable it was to stop and let it all sit, to simply rest and let us all digest for a moment. Eventually I saw what she did.

This is true in life, as well as onstage. How often do you stop, pause, sit for a minute and let it all soak in? Breathe. Maybe not enough in our busy world.

Vivian taught me this skill as an actor: the power of doing nothing, really; the power of just breathing. I learned it through Vivian and still to this day, almost every time I pause heartily onstage, I think of her.

That's my story of my hero. Thank you Viv.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015


I'm finishing final edits to my memoir before resubmitting to publishers and agents. What a haul. It's like birthing a baby---but takes longer than nine months, I tell ya! It's easy to lose your perspective, to lose the point of it all. Is it worth it? How do we keep our perspective? It's hard to keep a commitment to a long term creative project when there is so much daily life that gets in the way.

Can you identify? Have you ever lost or almost lost the will to finish a creative project?

For me, in order to continue, it's about breaking it down into little chunks. Palatable bites, if you will:

The idea of publishing my book is too big. Who has time for that!? But finishing the latest edits on the first part....thats sorta doable. Making a list of current agents I'm interested in? Sure, I can do that. That actually sounds like fun! But it has to be in small bite size chunks or else forget about it.

That's probably true of anything in life.  Bite size chunks so you don't choke.

I would love it if you would share your successes/tricks to keeping committed to a long term creative project in the comments below.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Just sit right back and you'll hear a tale....

I've been digging around again in the land of storytelling for a new client I have with KSi. Our goal together was to create better, more authentic storytellers in their company, which will then also translate to a better communicating of the brand. Think of JetBlue, Google, Amazon, Starbucks---they are all brands with a strong story and we buy into those stories---daily! We buy into how those stories make us feel. We become part of an brand event they create for us---like a Facebook event but bigger and more subtle. Thats what a good brand story is. And I help to train better brand storytellers.

That session inspired me.

So I decided to start doing my own storytelling again. I used to tell stories in NYC, even winning a MOTH Story Slam. But I hadn't performed a story on a stage in years. But last week, I went to a storytelling event in Chicago---Story Club. I hadn't planned on telling a story. I wasn't really prepared, but there were a few spots open and they kept asking for volunteers. I kept saying "no" to myself. I wasn't ready. But then I asked myself: What was I waiting for? I wanted to tell a story and as unprepared as I was, the fact was I wanted to tell a story. So I dug around in my mental files for a story.

I had just told a story at the recent corporate training about jumping off a train in Prague, but how I used it there was more anecdotal. So how could I flesh out a full story, moments before I would tell it here? I sat at the bar, nursing my oversized beer (possible problem??) and figured it out. Then I went up to the host and asked if I could tell my story.

I ended up winning the audience vote that night---mostly because I jumped. 

We all have stories inside us. Sometimes we're not ready to tell them. Sometimes we haven't even identified them yet. But they always have value. They define us. Our stories make us who we are. And we all have one. It just depends on how willing we are to jump.

How willing are you to tell your story when the opportunity comes?