Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Confessions of a Local Stage-Play Producer - Part II

An Interview with SW Michigan's "Listen To Your Mother" Producer Kim Jorgensen Gane 

This is the second part of a two-part interview with author, educator, and consultant Kim Jorgensen Gane, discussing her experience as a first time stage-play producer, bringing "Listen To Your Mother" to Southwest Michigan. (Read Part I.)


Ami: What are some of the challenges you faced with this production? How did you meet them?

Kim: We face similar challenges producing this show today that my husband and I experienced fifteen years ago when we owned a restaurant in downtown Benton Harbor. Berrien County is an incredibly diverse community, yet Benton Harbor and St. Joseph remain pretty segregated. This bothered me as a child, and it was a situation I worked hard to combat in our restaurant. 

After living other places, this is something that has stayed with me, motivating me in our inaugural season to focus on outreach and inclusion. The fact that this was a directive handed down by our national team across the country only made me more determined to find a way to make it work here. They wanted all the voices of motherhood represented, and I did, too.

I called Beth Haire-Lewis, who emcees and co-chairs the annual "Gene Harris: Coming Home, Coming Together Concert," has appeared in "The Vagina Monologues" locally, and sings with the band Sankofa. We had a very frank discussion, and I asked her to help me fulfill my vision of producing a show that represents our two communities as equally as possible, while first and foremost providing great entertainment. Without any previous experience with Listen to Your Mother to bank on, she took a big leap of faith when she agreed. 

Meagan Francis was a part of the NW Indiana cast in 2011, so she already knows what's special and incredible and life-changing about Listen to Your Mother. And she’s a big fan of community theater, recently playing Alma in The Christmas Schooner, with an impressive online following. When the national team put us in touch, we were both like, “You mean there’s another blogger in St. Joe?!” Meagan believed in what we wanted to do with every piece of her heart, too. We three make a great team.

And we’ve all been blown away by how beyond our expectations the local talent has delivered. And we’re thrilled to give these thirteen amazing writers and performers, some of them for the first time, a stage. And a microphone. 

Key Takeaway: Don't try to do it on your own. When faced with challenging circumstances, enlist the help of those who have shown themselves capable of meeting those challenges head-on. Build your team!

Ami: What advice would you give potential producers for casting amateurs?

Kim: I certainly can’t speak as an expert. But we’ve learned a few things that I hope we’ll improve upon in future years. 

I think the word “audition” can be a little off-putting for those who’ve never dreamed of doing this before, but who have a story they feel compelled to share—and story is what Listen to Your Mother is all about. It’s so very different from anything else we’ve seen. 

Some of our auditioners interpreted our call for auditions like a homework assignment. We tried to convey that it’s more about a moment that defines motherhood for you. And we tried to convince everyone that it’s so much more than a show by mothers for mothers. Even so, we only had one man audition--John Berecz--but his story was wonderful and we cast him. 

We’re open and we want you to succeed. We happen to be moms, but we were all something before we were moms. And we’re just regular people. I think we create a welcoming, supportive audition experience, at least I hope we do. 

Though it’s natural for our first cast to come largely from our direct circles of influence, I’m hoping, after a year under our belts we’ll be able to reach out further into the community. I hope after seeing a show folks will better understand what it is we’re looking for. As difficult as it was for us to choose among the auditions we heard this year, I can’t imagine what that process will be like later on.  

Key Takeaway: When casting amateurs, a supportive environment holds the key to success.

Ami: What tips do you have for finding and working with local sponsors?

Kim: Oy! Well, I’ve learned that I have a bit of a social anxiety about picking up the phone, which is not conducive to connecting with potential sponsors. 

But what if no one comes to my party!?
There’s a story in my past, about not being invited to a party in kindergarten, about being turned away at the door by the birthday boy while my best friend wiggled her fingers from mine and stepped inside. This translates into me being afraid nobody wants to come to my parties either. It’s often paralyzing and it’s something I’ll be working to further conquer before next year. 

It helps that I know and love a number of business owners who have been incredibly supportive. And I have Meagan as my secret weapon. She reached out to Celebration Cinema and got them on board as a major local sponsor, for which we’re so grateful. 

But one of our favorite things about Listen to Your Mother is the charitable aspect of the movement. 

Since 2010, they’ve raised over $50,000 for local charities that impact women and children in the communities that welcome the show. So, I guess, first pick a great charity partner. We certainly did. Readiness Center, Inc. is so easy to go to bat for. It’s because of them that we found some of our cast members, and some wonderful support from Brenda Layne at WSJM, and from The Herald Palladium (local media). Which is unusual for a first year show. But we had an idea that this community would welcome LTYM with open arms. And they have.

Key Takeaway: Don't let past problems or present anxieties hold you back. Your sponsors become your partners in producing a show you believe in.

Ami: What have you learned that you wish you’d known going into this project?

Kim: I think we’ve all learned SO, so much. As I’ve watched the seeds of our vision blossom into the show we’ll be putting on for Southwest Michigan on May 9th, I’ve learned to trust myself. And to put my trust in others.

I’m not terribly good at delegating, and that’s something I hope to improve upon in future years, too. 

It was a huge risk just auditioning in Northwest Indiana last year, and I’ve enjoyed some major payoffs. I’m sure Meagan would say the same thing of her experience in 2011. 

Even if I wouldn’t have been cast in the show, the experience of auditioning—of sharing my words and my truth, however difficult it was, out loud—was life-changing by itself. I didn’t crumble. The earth didn’t swallow me whole. Lovelyn Palm (NW Indiana director/producer) didn’t turn me away at the door. She didn’t point her finger at me and shout, “YOU WEREN’T INVITED!” Rather, tears filled her eyes. She laughed in all the right places. And she heard me. I want to gift that experience to as many other deserving writers in my community as I possibly can.

Key Takeaway: There is always room for improvement. There is always room for growth. And you can always look forward to the next production for both.

Thanks so much to Kim Jorgensen Gane for this interview. 
Have experience with producing using amateur, local talent? What key takeaways did YOU get from the experience?

Monday, April 27, 2015

Confessions of a Local Stage-Play Producer - Part I

An Interview with SW Michigan's "Listen To Your Mother" Producer Kim Jorgensen Gane 
Kim Jorgensen Gane / photo: Scott R. Gane Photography
   I am so happy to introduce you to my friend Kim Jorgensen Gane.

Kim is a writer and coach, as well a communications, media, and wellness consultant living and working on Michigan’s sunset coast with her husband, son, a standard poodle and a gecko. She’s been every-mom, raising two generations of kids over twenty-seven years.

Kim writes on a variety of topics including parenting through midlife crisis, infertility, health and wellness, personal empowerment, politics, and about anything else that interests her, including flash fiction and her books in progress. She loves to promote the work of talented local writers and artists. She can’t wait to do so as Co-Director/Producer of Southwest Michigan’s first production of "Listen to Your Mother." Her website is GANEPossible.com. Follow @KimGANEPossible on Twitter.

Kim co-facilitates #Write2TheEnd Writers Workshop™ with me, and, as you can see, does SO much more. I'm grateful she took the time out of her busy schedule to talk about her experience as a first-time producer.

Kim is a tireless advocate for building an open, diverse, thriving community. Today features the first part of my interview with her. Part II will run tomorrow. Enjoy! 

Kim:  When my oldest was in middle school, I took time out of restaurant ownership to chaperone her eighth grade choir on a trip to see “The Producers” in Chicago at the Lincoln Theater. The tickets were deeply discounted and we got to see the original cast, with Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick. It was fantastic! Even if, during the “gay” scene and after a couple of F-bombs, her teacher pulled us all out of our nosebleed seats into the hallway.
Sing with me: "I wanna be a producer!"

She was trying to whisper and still be heard by our entire disappointed gaggle, “I'm rethinking whether or not we should be here [with a bunch of 13-year-olds]. I asked the box office when I called whether this was an appropriate show for eighth graders.”

Our rather intense discussions were met with loud intermittent shushing from the usher. And then from an audience member or two, amid the fits of laughter that leaked out each time the door was pushed open.

My daughter and I weren’t missing the rest of the show for anything. A couple of other parents and I stayed at the theater with a group of kids who thought (or pretended to think) their parents wouldn’t care. The choir director and another group of parents and students went back to ride the escalators at Water Tower a few dozen more times.

The oldest and I need a do-over. Even after missing some of the best parts of the show, I’m still glad we went. But never, not one time during the show or ever in the years since, did I sing to myself, “I want to be a producer…,” and mean it.

Ami:  So: "Listen to Your Mother." What’s it all about?

Kim: Listen to Your Mother (LTYM) began with one show in Madison, Wisconsin in 2010. Founder and national director, Ann Imig, thought moms deserved more than just brunch on Mother's Day. She wanted to give moms a microphone. And boy, has the show resonated! 

In the years since, this movement has grown, with over 1000 individual past readings available for viewing on the LTYM YouTube channel. 

The 2015 season begins this weekend in some of our 38 cities across the U.S., but our local show isn’t until Saturday, May 9th. And LTYM isn’t just by moms, for moms. Anyone who's ever had a mother, known a mother, missed a mother, or wanted to be one will delight in this array of local writers reading their own stories about the truths of motherhood. And 10% of our tickets sales benefit the programs at Readiness Center, Inc. An amazing local charity that supports families in Benton Harbor in choosing education as a way out of poverty. 

Key Takeaway: Before you commit to something, know what it is and what it stands for.

Ami: What is your connection to "Listen To Your Mother?" When did your involvement with the show begin?

Kim: I belong to a very active and prolific group of midlife women bloggers. Several of them had participated in "Listen to Your Mother" in past seasons and, of course, had written about it. Patty Chang Anker included her audition experience in her book, SOME NERVE: Lessons Learned While Becoming Brave. Well, brave was something I needed desperately. Her book and her friendship has meant a great deal to me in many areas of my life, and certainly in the case of Listen to Your Mother. 

I visited the website, considered Chicago, but figured the competition would be incredibly stiff. So I auditioned in Northwest Indiana, and my story was selected for the 2014 cast. 
Key Takeaway: There is no bonus for flying blind. Do your homework. Whenever possible, try to see things from your cast's point of view.

Ami: Why did you want to bring this show to your hometown?

Kim: It’s difficult to describe the experience of standing on a stage and reading your own words about something so full of pain, pleasure, doubt, mystique, heartbreak, humor, and joy. 

My story in 2014 was about being suicidal as a young single mother. But it was about so much more than that. It was about survival, and the triumph of enjoying the family of grown, married daughters and young son I share with my husband today. The experience is one, as a reader, you gift the whole audience. And you feel their energy in return, so the process gives and receives. The audience rises with your joy, and their hearts break with yours. I wrote about that “Me, too” experience and compared it to a stand of Aspens—one organism, all connected at the roots. It’s incredible. 

I knew the moment I stepped on that stage that I wanted to bring it to my hometown. That I needed to. I wanted my community, particularly Benton Harbor and St. Joseph, to have that same experience of bonding through motherhood—a topic we all understand, yet experience in many different ways.

Key Takeaway: Passion drives the production.

Tune in tomorrow for Part II of "Confessions of a Local Stage-Play Producer!

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

The Quick-Reference Guide to Making It Through

Life doesn't always go as planned.

I thought this past weekend would be busy: a good friend planned to visit for a few days and I was scheduled to both sing and direct the choir for Easter service.

On Thursday, I was trying to figure out how I was going to get everything done that needed to be done before the weekend hit -- grocery shopping, animal feed and bedding bought, house cleaned, Easter basket goodies procured. Then I took WunderGuy to the hospital for his MRI...

...and suddenly, the little concerns that had been filling my mind were forcibly evicted to make room for the rather morbidly obese concerns that came barreling in and started complaining about the tiny size of their living quarters.

Instead of our planned holiday weekend, WunderGuy enjoyed a brisk, midnight ambulance ride to U of MI, where they drilled holes in his skull and drained blood and fluid through tubes that ended in things that looked, ironically, like hand grenades.

Sleepless nights! [check]

Unexpected stress! [check]

Vast quantities of blank uncertainty! [check. check]

But now it's Tuesday. Easter is over, and in keeping with the weekend's themes of Passover and New Life, WunderGuy has made it through. He was released Monday afternoon. We are both grateful to be home.

Some thoughts on making it through a situation you never wanted to face:

Keep Your Spirits Up
The problem won't go away just because you want it to. You have to deal with it. Time will continue ticking and dragging you forward with it. Chin up! Instead of wallowing in misery or fear, focus on just one thing at a time, and leapfrog forward from moment to moment as positively as possible.
Find Something to Be Thankful For
Yes, there can be gratitude even in crisis. The past few days have made me thankful for skilled medical professionals, readily available coffee, and my amazing friends. I'm thankful for free hospital wi-fi. I'm thankful my car runs. I'm thankful that my daughter is healthy and is getting to spend some quality time with her grandpa. I'm thankful that WunderGuy isn't in a great deal of pain.

After talking with some of the other patients' families here, my List O' Gratitude grew exponentially. I'm also thankful that WG can see, that he is not battling addiction, that he can think clearly, and that his personality hasn't changed.

My friend, the fantastic photographer Charles Hilton, once told me about his first day as a soldier in Vietnam. Shortly after getting off the plane, his unit was attacked. He remembered lying on the ground, concussed and terrified, and opening his eyes -- to notice that the light coming through the jungle trees was the most beautiful he'd ever seen. And he thought "with light like that, I can keep on going."

Laugh a Little
I'm guilty of gallows humor. I can find humor -- usually wildly inappropriate humor -- in just about any situation.

It's a gift that's not always appreciated.

But laughter can go a long way toward making the unknown bearable. We spent most of Friday in U of MI's ER, waiting to be admitted, waiting for the surgeon... Waiting.

Fortunately, I had brought along a couple of Terry Pratchett's "Discworld" books. Seriously. Fiction is a wonderful way to pass the time when the cosmic shoe has dropped upon you. It offers a quick escape. It provides quotable passages, enabling you to interact with others, if you wish, without having to search for something cogent to say.

It's amazing how quickly laughter can stave off fear. The two loathe each other and refuse to spend much time in each other's company. Given my druthers, I'd rather hang with laughter.

Send for Support
A crisis is not the time to try to go it alone. Let people you know and trust know what is going on. If you are a private person, you don't have to go into all the gory details. You could just say "Something has come up. It's too big for me to handle alone. I could really use your prayers and support for the next few days."

Tell people only as much as you want to. And don't be afraid to ask for what you need. 

I am so blessed that my father is nearby, so our 12 year old daughter could stay near home with him instead of chewing her nails 150 miles away in the ER. 

A good friend stepped in and took care of the horses, dogs, chickens, ducks, and barn cats while we were away. 

Another good friend came for a visit and brought a giant casserole of food, knowing that we'd appreciate it. (Thank God for her; when we returned yesterday, all we had to do was heat and eat. Mmmmm!)

My fabulous agent, who has her hands full with her own life, talked with me on the phone while WG was in surgery. Since at that point, I'd been awake for nearly 36 hours, I doubt I made much sense. Yet she never let on.

Have Faith
In the time it took for me to send a few hastily typed texts, WunderGuy was on multiple prayer lists and countless support networks. I don't even know how many people know about his condition. But I've heard from many people who heard from a friend... or a church member... or a colleague. And I am grateful for their well-wishes.

One dear Mormon friend, who lives half a continent away, made a few phone calls and sent a pair of missionaries to us, to bless WG. We are not Mormon. But their prayer was lovely and the blessing greatly appreciated.

One sweet friend who is an atheist sent short messages of love and encouragement. She does not share my belief in an all-powerful, all-loving God. But she is faithful with her support, which means the world to us.

Knowing that other people are thinking of us and supporting us, lifting us up in whatever way is meaningful to them energizes us enough to keep doing that moment-to-moment leapfrog thing I mentioned earlier.

Remember: Yours is Not the Only Battle in the War
Resist the temptation to think that your crisis has somehow become the center of the world. It may be what your world revolves around. But other people have to deal with their own things, too--often, at the same time as you.

While WunderGuy and I were in the ER, others we knew were in crisis as well. Fifteen hundred miles away, a writer friend was in the ER with her son, who is battling strep. A colleague in Colorado was in the ER with her business manager who had a torn rotator cuff and cracked bones. A good friend was losing a battle with addiction issues. And another friend was enduring a months'-long headache that refuses to be controlled.

60 hours after surgery: WunderGuy & I are headed home!
Commiserating with these people, as well as with the ones in the hospital with us, helped us avoid the "Why Me?" quagmire of narcissistic misery. Listening to what others are going through can do wonders to put things in perspective.

It's Only Temporary
No matter how bad things get, nothing on this earth lasts forever. Everything we experience here is only temporary. Tomorrow, today will be gone, never to return. Houses and health, work and wealth, can all vanish in a moment. No one is entitled to a crisis-free life. The good news is that crises can't last indefinitely. Eventually, "this, too, shall pass."

Until it does, wishing you all the best as you make your way through whatever life has thrown at you.

Friday, April 03, 2015

Thoughts On Emergency Brain Surgery

Last Saturday in church, WunderGuy had a sudden, stabbing headache. We left early, went home, and he slept till Sunday morning. He didn’t seize, but the pain was so unusual, and lasted long enough to concern us. He’s had a few other, minor issues with “wooziness,” for lack of a better word. On Tuesday, his neurologist ordered blood tests and an MRI. He had his MRI at our local hospital at 3 p.m. on Thursday.

During the MRI, the technician said, “Uh… how long since your surgery?”

"February 12; six weeks," WunderGuy told him. He also thought It’s never good when the technician talks to you.

He was right. Before leaving the imaging room, he was told, “Don’t go straight home. The radiologist wants to talk with you.”

That’s never good, either.

It turns out that he has a brain bleed, or a blood clot (they are using the words interchangeably), filling the empty space left from the surgery. Nature hates a vacuum. ::sigh:: WG’s neurologist called the Imaging waiting room to speak with me, telling me that emergency surgery was warranted. We were not leaving the hospital. We were not to pass go. We did not get to collect $200. We were to go to ER and check in. Now. Surgery was happening IMMEDIATELY.

Within moments, WG was in ER, gowned, IV’d, and trying to wrap his head around the fact that he was going to have neurosurgery. Locally. Though, in the doctor’s words: “After what you’ve been through, this surgery is like a visit to the dentist,” much prayer and deep breathing ensued.

I hate visiting the dentist.

Then, a flurry of phone calls erupted between the hospital staff and the neurosurgeons at U of MI. It took hours for them to reach an agreement, but the upshot of it all was: emergency or not, if anyone was going to poke a hole in WG’s skull, it was going to be the people who did it in February. Which was fine with us.

So, at 10:30 p.m., they loaded my man into an ambulance (with the suspension of a cement mixer, he informs me), and I jumped in the car, and we drove the 150 miles to U of M. Where we spent the night in the ER. (Personal observation: ER chairs make world’s worst beds. Just saying.)

A CT confirmed the brain bleed: it’s atypical, like all of his brain issues. It’s spread across both hemispheres, there is much more fluid than can reasonably be expected for his body to assimilate, and the neurosurgeon who performed the original surgery will be the one to put in the drain.

It’s sounding less and less like a trip to the dentist. And I have this persistent vision of two little straws poking out of the top of WunderGuy’s head, like tiny steam valves.

Because Super Doc is going to do the surgery… IT STILL HAS NOT HAPPENED. I understand this. For now, WG is walking, talking, acting perfectly normal, and in no pain. So we are content to wait until the OR is ready and the Doc’s schedule has an opening. But all agree that it’s going to happen today. Any minute. They just don’t know when.

If all goes well (and we have faith that it will), he’s expected to be in the hospital at least 3 or 4 days. So: Happy Easter to us.

Answers to Frequently Asked Questions:

Q:  Did we get any sleep last night?
A:   Define “sleep.” And no.

Q:  Is anyone with you?
A:  Yes: WunderGuy. No one else. This is by choice. I had multiple fabulous friends who offered wholeheartedly to come with me and keep me company through this. I hope I did not offend them when I said I’d prefer to be alone. Seriously: I meant it. It’s the Only Child in me.

Q:  Why aren't you answering my texts?
A:  Because U of M hospital has sketchy, sucky cell phone coverage. Also, because there is zero cell service in the ER.

Q:  How are you doing?
A:  We’re fine. We’re spending concentrated quality time together. I have a Terry Pratchett Discworld book with me, which I read aloud to pass the time, cracking us up into the wee hours of the morning. I aspire to write as well as Sir Pratchett; to be able to transport people out of whatever ER they may be in, and erase their worries for a short time with hilarious observations on Death, destiny, and what happens when you fall over the rim of the world.

Q:  What can I do?
A:  Pray. Think happy thoughts. Be grateful for the sleep you got last night and for your unopened head. Pray some more. If you're not comfortable praying, do whatever positive thinking process that lights your fire, and send some of that light our way, if you don't mind.

Nothing like a little cerebral emergency to put things in perspective. Further bulletins as events warrant.