Why did you create Child’s Play in Action?
I have been working in the theater and teaching children for a couple of decades now but I didn’t realize how many tools were at my disposal until I became a mom. There is so much noise out there about what you “should” be doing with your kid to help them succeed. But I’m starting to feel like it is all really simpler than we think: that in order to create thriving children and successful humans, we just need to be playing more. Research does back it up. The tools in Child’s Play in Action are for you: parents and educators looking to unleash kids’ imaginations through specific actionable steps.
What are some of the coolest places you’ve performed?
When I was 14, I joined a classical theater training program for teens at a theater in LA that was in the wilds of Topanga Canyon. The stage had a stream running behind it and when I performed on Ophelia’s mad scene, well….it was hugely inspirational. When I was 16 I was cast as Lady M in a production of Macbeth in Oxford, England. We performed in an ancient chapel and it was really wild and totally spooky! Now I direct Shakespeare and musicals in one of Brooklyn’s oldest churches so it all comes full circle!
What was your best teaching experience?
Before Child’s Play NY and the thrill of running my own school, I’d have to say my work with inner city LA kids directing Shakespeare and originating our own play. With Will Power to Youth, I directed the kids in Twelfth Night and Romeo and Juliet along side social workers, playwrights and other actors. Through really intense sessions we created original pieces based on their life experiences and wove in the Shakespeare text too. I did subsequent work with other companies like that: Oddfellows Playhouse in Connecticut and Epic Theater in New York. A goal of Child’s Play NY is bringing theater to kids who don’t normally have access to that as a creative outlet. We are partnered with The Drama Club (offers acting to youth in the prison system) and we give scholarships every year to kids for our own classes. I’m committed to bringing these classes and this curriculum to lots more kids than are in our New York programming, and that’s a big reason why the Child’s Play in Action videos exist.
How does your own training come into play when you started your company?
I did my undergrad degree Wesleyan University. The campus was crackling
with young artists generating their own work. Inspirational people like Lin-Manuel Miranda were with me in school and we were all making our own stuff and mashing up artistic influences and interests. I think Child’s Play is an extension of that belief that you can manifest your own creative thing as an artist. So I really am grateful to the entrepreneurial and artistic spirit of that campus.
But then I wanted the best acting training I could get and I craved to be part of an ensemble. I (and 17 other kids) got into NYU’s celebrated graduate acting program in 2002. It was fantastic to be part of that creative cauldron. We would be in class from 9-6 and then rehearse from 6-10. It was grueling and formative and I loved every moment of it.
What was the most unique class you ever took?
When I was 20, I lived in Spain for a year and studied contemporary theater with a Madrid-based company. It was such a phenomenal way into the language and the culture – I also made lifelong friends from this experience.
What’s your first memory?
I’m 3 and I’m sitting in a theater in Cincinnati watching my parents play someone else’s parents on the set of Neil Simon’s Brighton Beach Memoirs. I remember being intensely proud. I toured with them for a year when I was 3 and 4 (Patrick Dempsy juggled apples at my 4th birthday!) on a bus-and-truck-tour of that play. My folks continue to act professionally and are a total inspiration in all that I do.
First Acting Job?
When I was 7, I was an extra for a day on the set of The Wonder Years – my parent’s played Winnie Cooper’s parents on that show! Their shoot coincided with my spring break, so I was brought along to set one day. I remember being really excited to get a hamburger from my own dad on-camera, (and wear funny 60s glasses too!). But I guess my first REAL job where I was actually cast, was on stage of The Delacorte at the Public Theater/NYSF in As You Like It. My parents had worked there as well. Their goal is to bring free Shakespeare to New Yorkers, so it was right up my alley and I was honored to work there.
Most Bizarre Artistic Moment..?
I was watching True Detective (season 1) and it is the final terrifying episode * (*Jocelyn is married to actor, Glenn Fleshler). I turn to my husband for comfort and the killer is right there next to me! Just a weird and scary meta-moment brought to me by “the power of make-believe”.
What do you love about teaching?
When I’m teaching I connect back to the parts of my own training that I loved: physical theater, language, movement improv, mask work, clowning. So I get to work on my own self as an artist continually in the classroom.
I love when I’m directing now and I get inspired by the texts we are working on and the kid’s creative choices and I feel like there is magic in the room. I can plan out an improv game, or how I’m going to block a scene, and then the alchemy between me and the students and something like Creativity takes hold and we just ride it out. That’s the coolest.
I’m grateful that by now I know enough to trust the kids and the process. I plan and then I plan not to have a plan. That way their ideas sway the direction of our stories and our staging. I love the belly-aching laughs that I get from their improvs. I love the mind-blowing insights kids have into their characters. I love the way they use technique + play + courage to SOAR in their roles. I really kvell (yiddish for “gush with pride”) when they finally are performing, conquering “opening night jitters” and doing brave and fulfilling work.
Tell Me More!
I have been known to snore during savasana.
I frequently watch cooking shows while eating takeout.
HBO is my jam.
Walking across the Brooklyn Bridge is something I loved doing…before I had a kid.
Even though I’ve lived on the east coast since I was 17, I seem never to have the appropriate clothing for winter.
I never bring enough snacks to the playground.
I believe that if you work hard, love what you do and persist, truly anything is possible.
Transitions are hard. For kids and adults.
Words I love: Courage, Grit, Creativity, Artistry, Family and Coffee.
What are you proudest of?
I know it is a cliche to be proudest of your kid, but it’s gotta be Nathaniel. I love watching him grow into his own person and kinda just keeping up with him. It is wild to see flickers of my own parents in there too. I actually love NOT playing with him these days – but watching him play with other kids. Also when he takes a piece of paper and flaps it up and down and turns it into a “bird” that becomes his pet for the day, I feel like I’ve done my work!