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Friday, March 23, 2012

Clowns in my Coffee, Clowns in my Coffee

I was awoken by stirring and voices all around me. My eyes opened and quickly shut again and I lay still, breathing rhythmically. Surrounding me, in various stages of morning readiness were three female clowns.

The previous evening came back to me in a slideshow: meeting Maggie and Liz at the airport, climbing into a white van with a man who had a sign bearing my name, and arriving at our hotel, La Casa Sol, in Quito, Ecuador about 30 minutes later.

At the hotel I finally met Dario, the cheerful Italian man I had been exchanging emails with leading up to the trip. Then I was ushered up an M.C Escher painting to my room. In the dim light from the hallway streaming into the pitch black quarters I barely made out the shapes of the roomates who greeted me before I crawled onto my single matttress and passed out.

Now, laying with my eyes squeezed shut against the light I tried to remember my comrades names. Nothing came to mind.Maybe one was named Kate? From their conversation I gathered they all knew one another already... and from their outfits I imagined they had professional clowning experience. The actual adventure of what we were here to do hit my stomach like a flock of angry butterflies carrying sledgehammers. I was in South America with a bunch of clowns and now I was one too.

After assembling my first clown complete with a purple wig to cover my purple hair, I walked downstairs to search for coffee. The kitchen area, like the rest of the hotel was painted in bright, traditional colors. But it was no match for the motley crew it barely contained.

Busting out of all its seams were clowns of all ages and speaking in a manner of all languages. Some of them eating, some of them painting their faces, some of them chatting excitedly to one another about their arrival. I spotted Dario, Maggie and Liz and sought them out, but soon was swept up, hugging and greeting everyone.

When Patch arrived no one changed what they were doing, but his presence was powerful. He is TALL, far taller than I expected him to be, and his energy took up any space that he wasn´t physically occupying, which wasn´t much. "Good morning!" he began bellowing at people, and the clowns nearest to him greeted him with familiar hugs and jokes.

When all the clowns were squeezed into the tiny kitchen, much to amusement of the hotel staff I imagined, Patch began to address us. I recorded this first clowning pep talk on my phone, but the stand out quotations were as follows:

"If you love people, you can´t fail."

"The reason we clown is because the clown can do what normal people can´t do. Don´t think about whether or not something is appropriate. Inappropriate is for normal."

"Clowning is just the trick to get you in the room of a sick person without them calling the nurse."

After our pep talk we were throw into the ring. Coffee cups were set down and we began a clown parade that would end at the nearby children´s hospital, Baca Ortiz. Our manager/wrangler, Pablo, led the way in plain clothes, and we were a sight to behold: a straggling trail of clowns following him down the street accompanied by an accordian and a whistle to keep the beat. He carried an umbrella and an iPhone. We carried bubbles and streamers.

I skipped and waved at everyone we passed. I held hands with my new strange friends and we mirrored one another´s goofy walking.

I was a clown! I was joy! I was happiness! I was light as a feather! And I was wholeheartedly thrilled at how terrifying it was.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

You're Doing WHAT??

About a month ago I posted an announcement to Facebook and Twitter that I will be heading to Ecuador to "clown around" with Patch Adams.  But what does that mean?

First of all, some people have told me they had no idea Patch Adams was a real person. He totally is. Some of you may only know of him from the Robin Williams movie that bears his name. That's valid, but the real Patch Adams, MD is alive and well. 

His real name is Hunter and he really, actually, honestly is a medical doctor. He's also a ton of other things including a clown (duh) and a social activist. 

Because of all this, he's one of my heroes. Here's a video of him in 2012 explaining some of what he's all about. 

40 years ago Patch founded the Gesundheit! Institute which is a not-for- profit organization dedicated to holistic healthcare. GI is "based on the belief that one cannot separate the health of the individual from the health of the family, the community, the world, and the health care system itself."(from the Gesundheit! Institute's mission statement.)  GI builds clinics, offers education to healthcare workers, creates orphanages and provides healthcare to tens of thousands of people... some of them all over the world!

Ok. That's awesome. But you're still maybe asking ...why CLOWNS? Why would this man choose clowns, which can be so very creepy? And why would I choose to go be a clown? Isn't this all very silly and whimsical for the sake of whimsy? Not... entirely. 

These "humanitarian clowning trips," are also referred to as Gesundheit Global Outreach (GGO). The whole philosophy boils down to this: individual health is linked to the health of society. The health of society is determined by the health of the individuals within it. You can't 
separate the two. Anyone in the field of community or  public health worth his or her salt will tell you the same. Then- consider that society's health is linked to a ton of other bigger things, like politics and economics and environment. We need to affect changes in those things (in order to change society), in order to promote the health of individuals within that society. And the only way for society to change is for the individuals in the society to change. 
GGO is rooted in the belief that  in order to change society we must befriend one another. Clowning is a unique way to create friendships through play, and silliness and break down social barriers and status differences. Or as GI puts it:

We work closely with community members, seeking understanding which can guide more responsible and precise helping gestures. In clowning, we lovingly disturb the status quo and facilitate creative social change, enabling dialog between those with power and those without (men/women, rich/poor, boss/worker, doctor/patient, prisoner/guard, etc). Through collaborative explorations of local issues and needs with community members, we offer assistance in community projects, and education in health care, political and economic policy.

 Got goosebumps yet? I do. And THAT my friends, is what I meant by "clowning around," with Patch Adams! I leave on Sunday the 18th. Feel free to leave words of advice or concern in the comments section, or email me directly, as always!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

I'm Back: A Year In Review 3/11-3/12

Oh. Well, hello there, gentle readers. And my brother.
I bet you're wondering where I've been.

I've been here but I've been BUSY!  My last entry was SEPTEMBER in 2011 And let's face it. It was a half hearted attempt at excusing my absence from the blogosphere. Is it still called that? I don't know, who cares, never mind. I'm going to update you on all my favorite things, a few setbacks, and the things I was the most excited about all year. Then it will be like we never parted, and we can pick right back up where we left off.

[Beep bop booooop. Time Machine noises! Beeeoop.]

March 2011: Went to Florida to visit family. Had an incredible time, got a terrible sun burn. Went to Chicago to visit friends. Saw a great show at The Steppenwolf. Introduced new friends to old friends. Sunburn eventually healed.  Hidden Falls had our first "Comedy Lab" run at Improv Boston. I saw Prometheus Bound at the A.R.T OBERON space. My obsession with immersive theatre, the A.R.T and Diane Paulus began the first time I saw Sleep No More, but Prometheus would be the beginning of my obsession with the OBERON space. Later in 2011 I would return to see several other productions there.

April 2011: My first ever paid gig as a motivational speaker. After speaking to the undergrad nursing class at UMass Amherst in January 2011, I was invited back to address the second bachelor students. I wrote about the content of my talk in this blog entry. Around the same time I was included in a very nice article in UMass Amherst Magazine.

May 2011: I had a meeting regarding Gorefest or a rehearsal for Improv Asylum Mainstage almost every night of the week! Boring to write about, no? That's ok. I filled my free time with adventures involving writing, motorcycles and inspiring theatrical productions.

June 2011: In June I entered my very first sporting event: Ruckus, a three mile long race with an intensive integrated obstacle course. I finished close to dead last... in the wave after mine. That's what happens when you don't train for athletic events that you register for on a whim. However, by the end of the day I was muddy and sore and happier than I could ever remember being. Endorphins, go figure. I also got my bicycle fixed in June and began riding it everywhere I could. At the end of June, we had a death in my family, which was sad, but brought a lot of the relatives together in a nice way.

July 2011: As per tradition, I spent the weekend of the fourth with some of my favorite people ever. Ted's parents open their beautiful home in Maine to us each year, and this was no exception. We had an absolutely amazing time. I brought a newish friend with me and was thrilled to see that he got along swimmingly with my gang. Also in July, my best friend from kindergarten got married at the church we grew up in. Our new mainstage review:  Life Before Sext opened at Improv Asylum, which meant rehearsals slowly drew to a close. And Laura Clark and I finalized our script for Gorefest 9. With all my new free time Sunday - Wed nights I saw shows, checked out condos (and houseboats!), and had plenty of late night beach adventures in Eastie and beyond.

August 2011:  Even more time in Maine, this time with my college roommate who came East to remember what the ocean smelled like. At my day job I took on the large task of assessing the entire respite aide staff via 1:1 interviews so we could develop a new competency program for CNAs. And, one of THE best things that happened all year.... at the end of August I had the extreme honor of presiding over the state-sanctioned union of two of my best friends, Amy Koske and Mark Teffer. That's right, they weren't married when we all woke up that morning. On top of Mt. Tom, overlooking a lake I said some words, and they made promises. I said more words and they said beautiful things that made everyone laugh and cry. I said one more sentence and they WERE married. Magic!

September 2011: September marked the world debut of the web series I had been diligently working on all summer with Jonathan Katz! Explosion Bus, produced by Tom Snyder, is my first web series AND my first time voicing an animated character. (Very fun, and now in its second season!)

October 2011: I turned 28 years old on the first day of October. I started this blog on my 25th birthday. I could never have imagined all the things I'd write (and not write) about in that time! In October a few other notable things: my friend Colleen tied the knot with her best friend and now-husband. Also Hidden Falls performed at our first out of town festival, in Philadelphia. It was my first ever time renting a hotel room all to myself, the show was amazing and I got to meet my musical improv hero Jill Bernard, in person! At the end of the month my second full length musical was produced at Improv Boston. Co-written by Laura Clark, with music by Melissa Carubia and directed by Bobby Smithney, Gorefest IX: MASSacre General Hospital got some great reviews and made me very happy. Because I took a step back from performing/directing this year I got to actually celebrate Halloween as well!

November 2011:  Hidden Falls got to perform at the New York City Musical Improv Festival right at the beginning of November. The show went well, and it was incredible to be at a festival dedicated solely to musical improv. That same weekend, the UMass School of Nursing honored me with an award. I took a train from NY to Connecticut and drove from Connecticut  to Amherst. Arriving just in time for the ceremony, I gave a short acceptance speech as the 2011 Distinguished Young Alumna of the year. I am the second woman to be awarded this new distinction. It was a true honor to meet past recipients of the (original) Distinguished Alumni award as well as to trade stories with this year's recipient. In other news, I took up a Spanish class at night, and began writing a web series with Laura Clark.

December 2011: December was full of surprises, some good, some bittersweet. I tried some new things... like finally taking a puppet workshop with the one and only Bobby Smithney! I auditioned  and got into a new musical improv group, directed by Bryan Dunn, called B.U.M.P! I celebrated my mother's birthday with her! At the end of the month, Norm Laviolette and I had a meeting at Cafe Graffiti. The outcome of the meeting was this:  I would not be taking a position on the cast for the upcoming mainstage production. We decided not to consider this a true "retirement," as they would like me to come back on a future cast. In the meantime, Norm told me, I would still be counted on for corporate gigs and he hoped I would continue writing and pitching ideas for other show slots at the theater. "You have two theaters in this city with their doors open to whatever ideas you have. Not a lot of people can say that."

January 2012: Like the four years past, I rang in the New Year with shows at Improv Asylum. A few weeks later, not only did I leave the IA Mainstage cast but Dan Faneuf and Jane Blaney both performed their final (retirement) shows. It felt like every single week we were staying up all night to say nice things about each other. It was beautiful and sweet, but a huge relief once it was all behind us. Also in January, about one week in, I got hit by a pick-up truck on the way to work. Thankfully, he had put his brakes on. Also thankfully, I was all bundled up for a snowstorm and when I hit the pavement I didn't suffer too much damage. Also ALSO in January I began rehearsals for B.U.M.P, and continued rehearsals with Hidden Falls. My Sundays became entirely dedicated to musical improv. My passion for improv, which had begun to dip recently, was rejuvenated. It was like magic. Or crack. I couldn't get enough make em ups.

February 2012:  Early in the month I dyed my hair bright purple, the same shade it was back in college before the School of Nursing insisted I knock it off. This gesture was exactly what I needed to chase the winter doldrums away. 28 years old and still classy. Also early in February, B.U.M.P debuted at the 10p Thursday slot at Improv Asylum and was an instant hit! Meanwhile, Hidden Falls had landed a second comedy lab slot at Improv Boston on Wednesdays so that started up the very same week! Also, Explosion Bus began recording episodes of Season Two.

March 2012: That's right now! So instead of recapping it, I'm just going to restart my blog. Ok? Ok. Let's do this.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Classic Water

I had an intensive creative period during the spring.

 I was writing and rehearsing for Improv Asylum's Life Before Sext which you can now catch Thursday through Saturday nights at Improv Asylum in the North End. at the same time, I was recording the Explosion Bus web series with Jonathan Katz, which you can start watching on Sept 13th. Also, I had the pleasure of co-writing my second Gorefest script. This time I teamed up with Laura Clark of Improv Boston to create a creepy and disgusting muscial medical horror show entitled Gorefest IX: MASSacre General Hospital. The show opens October 10th but you can already buy tickets online. After such a busy spring, I really didn't do a lot of writing this summer, including, as my brother continues to point out, in my blog(s).

Since yesterday was Labor Day I figured I would reshare my favorite David Berman poem and consider this the official start of my beginning to blog again. Here we go.

"Classic Water"

I remember Kitty saying we shared a deep longing for
the consolation prize, laughing as we rinsed the stagecoach.

I remember the night we camped out
and I heard her whisper
"think of me as a place" from her sleeping bag
with the centaur print.

I remember being in her father's basement workshop
when we picked up an unknown man sobbing
over the shortwave radio
and the night we got so high we convinced ourselves
that the road was a hologram projected by the headlight beams.

I remember how she would always get everyone to vote
on what we should do next and the time she said
"all water is classic water" and shyly turned her face away.

At volleyball games her parents sat in the bleachers
like ambassadors from Indiana in all their midwestern schmaltz.

She was destroyed when they were busted for operating
a private judicial system within U.S. borders.

Sometimes I'm awakened in the middle of the night
by the clatter of a room service cart and I think back on Kitty.

Those summer evenings by the government lake,
talking about the paradox of multiple Santas
or how it felt to have your heart broken.

I still get a hollow feeling on Labor Day when the summer ends

and I remember how I would always refer to her boyfriends
as what's-his-face, which was wrong of me and I'd like
to apologize to those guys right now, wherever they are:

No one deserves to be called what's-his-face.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Explosion Bus

Hey Everyone!
 I recently recorded Season 1 of this new animated web series with <namedropping> Jonathan Katz called Explosion Bus!
Here is a letter from our producer, the one and only Tom Snyder. </ namedropping>.

Explosion Bus
(The world's last animated hope)
Premiering on September 13, 2011 at

"This exciting new full-length web series will no doubt be referred to, in the future, as the first web series to make grown TV executives cry."   -  Me (Tom) 2011

Dear Friends,

Twenty years ago, a dream came true when I got to work with Jonathan Katz on our first TV show together. Before then, I would force my wife to watch endless VHS clips of Jon. Five years later, Jon and I were startled to be collaborating with Tom Leopold, often labeled 'the funniest guy in America'. Ever since, the three of us have been inseparable, unless we're apart.

A little over a year ago, production began on Explosion Bus, a 4-season, animated epic starring these two brilliant guys. I created this show, hopefully like no other, expressly for Internet broadcast.  Here are a few of its important and unique aspects:

  • None of the cast, which includes many brilliant local actors, are exposed to the script until moments before their lines are performed. They find out what is in store for their character as the scene develops. Their performances are 'in the instant'.
  • Our animators, the spectacular artistic director Robert Keough and the smartest artist in the East, Steve Davies, are not given post-production ‘notes’, the bane of an animator’s existence. This is unheard of in the business. (Ask any animator.) Bob and Steve know better than anyone what this world should look like. They are the visual artists.
Back to those local actors, and by local I mean Boston and New York...  They all have spent many hours alone in sound booths, without proper ventilation, learning a new meaning of the word 'flexible'. They have each invented their characters, and there ain't a one of them that you won't love. Misch Whitaker, Megan Goltermann, Chris Cook, Jonathan Wilson, Ahna Tessler, Jayson James and Dan Weber have over a billion combined hours of stage appearance, and one of them slightly more.

Explosion Bus also includes amateur and professional performers who audition their acts as part of our animated show. We find them across the land through Craigslist. They are fearless, and generous and talented. We are deeply indebted to these wonderful people, young and old.

Want to find out what it is really all about?

Please visit our web site at where you will find some fun, pre-launch stuff: trailers, interviews, shopping, etc. And on Tuesday, September 13th at 8:30 PM , it is there that you will watch Episode One of Explosion Bus. We firmly believe that we have the best time slot on the internet!

Til we meet again,
Tom Snyder

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Improv: the Cult

I just finished reading Tina Fey's new book Bossypants.

Fey devotes a large portion of the book to discussing improv. It wasn't until I was reading about the culture she found herself immersed in that I realized NOT EVERYONE DOES THIS. I have been taking my role in the improv cult for granted.

I don't ever assume that everyone went to nursing school. Or that everyone else grew up in West Roxbury. Yet I forget that years of rhyming drills weren't part of everyone else's college experience. I forget that not everyone spends their spare time playing make believe. It's easy I guess, because most of my friends have a unique day job that I know little to nothing about, and then at night they do what I do. Everyone I associate with has the same basic story that I do about finding and falling in love with improv. We don't have to talk about it, because although we went through it separately it was a shared experience. It's just what we all did, and what we all do. I'm not talking about being part of a show-biz social circle, although at there is certainly some overlap. I'm not even talking about belonging to the "theater kid" clique, although I have those groups of friends as well. Improv ingrains itself into you in ways you don't even consciously realize. To quote Tina Fey exactly: "studying improv literally changed my life."

I once posted a piece about what it means to apply the rules of improv in a medical workplace. This was a response piece to Liz Caradonna's blog post about the benefits of having a trainer improviser in the office workplace: Beyond the Funny.

When I joined The Yellow Submarines in high school, I had no way of knowing I was beginning a life long journey down a new way of life. I don't care that it sounds over dramatic to you. It isn't.

The Subs and I watched Whose Line is It Anyway (the British version) and thought "we can do that." So we did- learning and perfecting short form games each week. We went to see shows at Improv Boston and Improv Asylum, idolizing grown ups who had somehow made improv their livelihood.*  Still, improv was just a game to me until I auditioned into Mission:IMPROVable at UMass.

My time in Mission was the most serious I have ever been about  improv. We rehearsed three times a week. We had a show every Saturday. If you could not make all three rehearsals, you couldn't perform in the show on Saturday. If you missed too many rehearsals a semester, the director would talk with you about your commitment to the group. We hired alumni to come back and give workshops. We raised money and went to Chicago every year on Spring Break to see shows and take workshops  at iO and The Annoyance. We did corporate shows, and college road shows during the school year. In the summer time we played at birthday parties for friends, and tried to busk on the streets of Boston.

We used to do a warm up called "Yes, Let's" and the attitude behind the game permeated our performances and our friendships. Want to make up new structures on stage, with a live audience? Yes, let's. Want to try to do an entire show backwards?  Yes, let's. We failed sometimes, but that was half the game. the other half of the time we were brilliant. We were fearless in our love of the art.

By the end of sophomore year with only a handful of  exceptions, EVERYONE I interacted with on any kind of regular basis was an improviser. My friends. My roommates. The guys I dated. When I left college I was more concerned with what I was going to do for my last show with Mission than I was with any other part of graduating.

My social circles now are slightly more diverse by virtue of my job, but not by much.  My involvement in the Improv Boston community as well as my role at Improv Asylum see to that. Plus, most of my best friends from Mission are still in touch, some on a weekly basis.

So I really do forget that not everyone knows how to hold an "object work" coffee cup,  and that not everyone knows cares what a "Harold" is. Most of my coworkers during the day won't "mirror"  funny voices and don't "yes and," jokes. Instead they laugh and then ask me how my stand up is going and if this is part of my routine.

Sometimes I wonder what I'll do when I eventually move on from Improv Asylum. Until I read Bossypants it was easy to imagine that I might just retire. Try something new entirely. But now I know that even if I took a break from performing for a while (which, to quell any rumors before they start, is not my plan), I would never, ever be able to leave the cult. You take it all with you. Like a language that you never forget how to speak, like your handwriting but when you're not thinking making it neat, like the side you sleep on in your bed when no one else is there. It's just who you are.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011


Interesting coincidence in The Telegraph  as I browsed through my Google Reader, catching up on a week's worth of writing from some of my favorites.

I've thought about getting a tattoo on and off for the past few years. One design that I absolutely can't shake is the word "satis." It's Latin for "enough."

I love the word "enough" for its dual connotations. It can mean being comfortably satisfied or can insinuate  the breaking point. (Who, while bickering with their sibling,  hasn't heard their mother scream "Enough! Knock it off."?) I love the idea of a reminder that I do not need anything more because my cup is full. Satis. I also enjoy the reminder to not put up with a lot of bullshit. "That's enough of that," my little tattoo will remind me. Satis.

And in this recent blog post Stephen Hough voices his love of the word "enough," for most of the same reasons I do.

Maybe we should get matching tattoos, Mr. Hough!