Boom! Here She Is

STEPHANIE ROBERTS: I sometimes look above my desk at a photograph of my mentor. He is naked, covered in white (butoh-style), mouth agape, eyes wide open, and wearing a huge red nose. I am reminded that this, all of this, is taken on for the sake of joy.

 At Dell’Arte International School of Physical Theatre, where I received my MFA, we sweat. A lot. After an attempt to be the ocean, or an eagle, or a forest fire, we would wait, out-of-breath and spent, for the critique. It usually went something like this: “Our proposal of the theatre is that it has the power to move the world; Effort, Risk, Momentum, Joy!” It was these critiques that kept me going and, as a generative theatre artist, that still keep me going in this uncertain, and often-undervalued profession.

Effort, Risk, Momentum, Joy, a credo proposed by Dell’Arte founder Carlo Mazzone-Clementi, has guided me not only in creating and teaching theatre, but in promoting myself as a professional artist.

Effort  “I’m very lucky”. I say that a lot when talking about my job as an assistant professor at UMKC Theatre Department. I teach Clown, Commedia, Mask —all of the things that I love—and I’m grateful. And yet…I worked damn hard to get this job! It was the effort of two degrees, countless classes and workshops, years of performing, directing, teaching and volunteering my time, and pages of applications, resumes, and letters of interest. Yes, there have been serendipitous events that have brought me here, but those moments would not have happened without the effort and discipline required of the profession. As baseball great, Don Sutton said: “Luck is the result of busting your fanny.”

Risk “I hate networking”. I look back at how many times I have said or thought this. What I really meant was: “I fear networking”. It took years for me to realize that networking doesn’t have to mean being pushy, self-serving, and forcing myself on others. It sounds absurdly simple, but I finally got it when a friend said to me: “They’re just PEOPLE!” Putting it in this perspective has made the risk less risky. I go to theatre events that interest me, I introduce myself to people who make theatre, and I tell them about my own. In this way I’ve changed my vocabulary and turned “Networking” into “Building My Community”.

Momentum  In physical theatre one uses the momentum of the body to facilitate a dynamic action with ease. I’ve found that producing and promoting oneself is often a matter of giving in to the momentum of the project. Here’s an example: A year and a half ago I had an idea for a theatrical band. I told a colleague about this idea, who emailed a Conservatory of Music professor, who posted the idea on an email group, which led to me finding two musicians. I kept talking about the project, which led to more band members, which led to jam sessions, which led to rehearsals, which led to a gig, which led to recording our songs, which led to a MySpace page, which led to more gigs, which led to more exposure…and so on.

Joy   As my students are sweating with the effort of their work I remind them to smile. And in an instant the work becomes…lighter. As I write press releases, and create facebook groups, and battle with deadlines and schedules and unexpected events, I sometimes look above my desk at a photograph of my mentor. He is naked, covered in white (butoh-style), mouth agape, eyes wide open, and wearing a huge red nose. I am reminded that this, all of this, is taken on for the sake of joy. The joy in creating and sharing my work. A joy that is the result of the effort, risk, and momentum of the creative act.

Stephanie is a recipient of The Charlotte Street Foundation Generative Performing Artist Fellowship as well as an Inspiration Award from ArtsKC, with which she developed The Mask of the Broken Heart, a one-woman play that premiered at the Fishtank Performance Studio. Her sentiments are shared here from KCArtist Link and you have to check out her video of Boom! An International Lost and Found Family Marching Band.


Creative Tell-All

Sometimes paper isn't interesting enough.
We have to admit something here at How She Does It.  We don't know how to do everything (although sometimes we might like to think we do).  In fact, we're keenly interested in how others do what they do so well.  So, we've begun inviting artists, writers, musicians, performers, and educators to give us a peak at their process.  

I'd like to kick this off by featuring the youngest artist I know: my nearly 1.5 year-old daughter, Francesca.  Most mornings, she wakes up and shouts with complete abandon, "Painting!"  (She started today off with, "Berries, A, B, C."  But not long after that, she yelled, "More, more painting!"  I try to imagine what it would be like to passionately call out, "Writing!" before climbing out of bed, but so far I'm too busy answering the call for "Painting!" to accomplish this.

Valentine Series


The Artist in her Daddy's Shoes





Medium:  Water color and Finger Paint on Paper and on Self 

Favorite place to paint: Bathtub

Risky Moves: Tasting the paint

The Artist's comments:  "My painting!  Cesca painting.  I do it.  Blue, green. Heart.  Painting.  Mhmmm."

To submit a video, photo essay, or blog post, contact us at


Uncorked in 2011

2010 was the year of unopened champagne.  Seeing some of the year in reviews yesterday, I remembered how very fortunate we are.  But, it was a year full of emergency room visits and canceled trips.  Before it drew to an end, we had to say goodbye to our part imp/part gentle giant mastiff, and instead of Christmas cheer, we shared a nasty stomach flu with seven family members.  

On the last night of the year, we decided to brave a snow storm and go see the latest Coen brothers movie-- definitely worth it. We got home just before midnight to find our 16 month old partying with her grandparents.  No complaints there.  It's a story I'm sure I'll tell her many times.  Needless to say, we forewent the fancy bottle of champagne we were given at Christmas and began the third tuck-in of the night, this time parents included.

My resolution for 2011:  to open that bottle of champagne.  Maybe even tonight.  And metaphorically too.  I will say that even if 2010 was low on celebrations, it was full of writing-- against all odds.  I know this because I like to make a list of everything I worked on at the end of the year.  Creepy overachiever behavior, I know. But if I don't do that, I'll sulk about, thinking I've done practically nothing.  

Looking at my list, I'm proud of the children's book I created with Colleen Darby (who designed this site for us), and I'm excited about the new piece Sharon Kenny (of recent bikini bottom fame on How She Does It) and I have started sketching out.  And dare I broadcast that I finally arrived at a draft of the screenplay I've been working on for the last four years that I'm proud of? Fingers crossed, there will be many more reasons to pop corks.  So stand back if you're in the same room with me.




 I am equal parts thrilled/mortified to be making my "How She Does It" debut.  When Cristina Pippa first asked me to be a part of this amazing community, I was honored, to say the least.  I quickly went to the site to check out all of the other writers and was blown away by the countless accomplishments of these femme fatales.  I studied the premise of the blog...How She Does It.  Okay.  I couldn't help but feel hopelessly unqualified.  Who am I to be talking about "How I Do It" when the majority of my life consists of unreturned phone calls, unanswered emails, and mismatched socks?  Even so, here I am - ready to write with abandon...two months behind schedule.

It would be a gross misconception to say that I am the only one who feels this way.  I see lots of women whom I practically idolize discrediting themselves all the time.  I recently had a work session with a singer who just came off of a critically acclaimed Broadway debut.  As I listened to her remarkable voice, I sat there in utter awe that a regular mortal could produce such a glorious sound.  And yet, she would finish singing, roll her eyes and say something like, "Eh, that was okay."  I wanted to slap her in the face and say, "What the hell is wrong with you?!"  We continued working and as we were leaving, she asked me my age.  I told her, and her response was, "That's it?!  But you're so accomplished!"  This on the day that I was wearing bathing suit bottoms as underwear because I had not done laundry in a month.  Oh, the irony.

So why is it that we are so quick to admire other people (all of us - not just women), and yet so quick to minimize our own achievements?  Could it be that with the dawn of Facebook, Twitter, etc. that people are painting pictures of their lives that don't really exist?  ("This is a picture of me and my adorable puppy right after my rich boyfriend surprised me with a trip to Venice!")  Perhaps.  Don't get me wrong, I'm not about to put in my Bio that I recently left soup in the refrigerator for a month and chose to throw out the entire pot rather than exposing myself to the mystery that had developed in there.  But still, I think it's time we all gave ourselves a little more credit.  Even if we're still convinced that pajama bottoms can totally be pants. 


How She Gets a Second Chance

Last week was a roller coaster for female playwrights-- 19 in particular.  Actually, the news that the Theatre Development Fund had decided not to award a playwright with the $25,000 Wendy Wasserstein Prize this year riled male and female playwrights alike.  And other theatre artists.  And anyone who feels that the voice of a woman under 32 is worth hearing.

I first learned about the decision on Kirsten Greenidge's blog.  Anyone aspiring to do anything should read it. Then, I read Michael Lew's post on the Youngblood blog, encouraging the Executive Director of the Theatre Development to reconsider.  Another blogger called this move risky, suggesting that Lew was putting his own fragile playwright neck on the line by taking such a stand.  Are we sure we're not writing for the mafia?  

Wendy herself crossed my mind.  I heard her speak when I was in college, after reading every one of her plays. She was both poker-faced and encouraging.  I wondered what she would think of the decision about the prize with her name on it.  Then off I went to teach my Playwriting I students, who I couldn't help stirring up over the news.  "How could they say that none of the finalists' plays were 'truly outstanding?'" I asked. "I'd say some of the plays by women in this room could be called that."

By the time I got home from teaching and opened the Times, I realized that a "do-over" for the prize is already in the works.  The blogosphere can be so dizzyingly over-saturated that I sometimes wonder if it's a little like shouting into a black hole (which I'm sure has its own pleasures), but reassuringly, last week proved a couple of things:  

  1. People do care that some of us are out here writing for an industry reported to have produced less plays by women in 2008 than in 1908.  And they care deeply. 
  2. Impassioned blogging can make a real difference.

Admittedly, I've been more screenwriter, musical book writer, blogger, teacher, mom, and even children's book author than playwright over the last year, but just a couple of weeks ago I began writing a play that I'm sure can find no better medium.  After what the Times called a "mini-firestorm" last week, I feel more compelled than ever to finish this new play and to rewrite it and to rewrite it again and to do my best to make it "truly outstanding."


The Page is All We Get

Yesterday was the half-way point for National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo), the blazingly insane annual novel-writing blitz that challenges participants to write 50,000 words in the month of November. I started participating in 2002, and have joined in every other year since (excluding 2006, when I was still reeling from the work of planning a wedding and getting married). I've won the challenge every year that I've joined in, which means I've got over 150,000 words written toward at least three different novels.

As it stands this year, I'm about 7,000 words "behind," after a fun wedding weekend out of town and no writing at all. This does not worry me. The best part of NaNoWriMo is getting behind, feeling lost, and writing anyway.

One of my favorite NaNoWriMo procrastination tools is the official Forums, where users encourage each other, rant, exult, and cheer when they've gotten the green bar -- when their word counter has filled up to 50,000. I especially love wallowing in the wilds of human creativity in the Reference Desk section. This is where bring your logistical questions that would take too many NaNo hours to research. Instead, fellow NaNo-ers share their knowledge or best guesses. I'm continually amazed by the loose-cannon creativity in these forums, shown by questions like:

"Car charger/cigarette lighter in 1980s A-Team van?"
"What does a cow's liver smell like?"
"What is the male equivalent of pillow fighting in the middle of the night???"
"Colors of alien skies humans could breathe"

I LOVE that there are human beings writing novels that need the answer to these questions! And that other people enjoy brainstorming the answers! The breadth and depth of human creativity inspires me endlessly.

One of my other favorite parts about NaNoWriMo is the pep talks from published authors that they e-mail out every week. Last week, Aimee Bender sent out a pep talk that included this bit:

"You may or may not have an outline, but it doesn't matter—what we hold in our heads before we write is RARELY in sync with what shows up on the page, and if I were standing and saying this in front of you with a megaphone, I would say this next part especially loud and clear: The Page is All We Get. What shows up on the page? Well, that is your writing. The full-blown perfectly-whole concept you may have in your head? Is just thought."

The Page is All We Get.

I wrote this immediately on a scrap of paper and posted it right in front of my eyes.

In previous NaNos, I've plunged straight ahead with a novel idea created just for that year's NaNoWriMo. This year, I'm writing new content toward a novel that I've been cultivating in my mind and somewhat on paper for the last year and a half. So I know all about that Epic Outline in Your Head. It just doesn't matter. What comes out, does.

This is about more than just writing. What we write, what we live, is All We Get. Those plans and ideas and dreams and abstract concepts. Just thoughts.

So even when I'm 7,000 words "behind," I know that I'm way ahead of where I was on October 30th, because I've written 18,000 words that would never have existed otherwise. This is my real writing life.


Abstract Impressionism

It's been surprisingly difficult to get back to NYC over the last year and a half, even from where I live on the very western edge of the state.  So I was ecstatic to have one of my BFFs visit last week and anxious to get her creative response to something I've been working on for a very long time.  I swooped her up from the airport and took her straight to a brand new coffee shop I've been meaning to try, tucked away in a turn of the century building.  "Let's pretend I don't have any other responsibilities this morning," I told her.  "And just talk." 
Which we did.

A mile a minute.

I popped up to get our drinks from the bar and was surprised not at what the barrista said: "I'm sorry about the art," but at my automatic reply:  "I don't need art."

How funny.  It echoed in my head, and I found myself repeating it at our table.  Do I?  Do I need art?  My life seems to have been based on it being about as important as air or water, but I cast it off so easily.  

In context, right?  I was trying to say to the poor man who hadn't mastered his car sized espresso machine that when I'm staring into a bowl of latte, I'm not looking for leaves or hearts (although I admit the designs can be impressive).  It's the caffeine that's essential: something someone as sleep deprived as me can scarcely remember how I spent a year and a half without. And it's the taste of all the times I've set aside a moment for myself or my work or even a friend.  Maybe that is art.  And I do need that.




Right Timing

This is me at 20 weeks pregnant. Halfway there. And celebrating with silver lamé pants from American Apparel. (They look fabulous, if I don't say so myself.)

If you could walk into my house right now, you'd gasp at how neat and organized it is, even though it is less than 12 hours after I returned from a week away. My nesting powers are supernatural and focused right now. (And I'm a typical first-born Virgo, so I already LOVE order.) I unpacked my bags within 30 minutes and even watered a few plants that needed love before bed.

Order, cleanliness, calm, tying off loose ends, extreme productivity -- these are what motivate me right now. Left brain stuff.

I still have the threads of a novel in my mind, and I know that I will write it someday. But most right brain activities do not turn me on right now. I haven't sat down to a writing practice in months. I am writing, but it's for clients and other projects. Even my Project 365 has lost its lustre for me; most days, it's a chore to remember to take a photo.

Perhaps I'm so lit up by order because my body is currently engaged in one of the most staggeringly incomprehensible acts of creativity known to mankind.

Creative people often use pregnancy and birth analogies to describe their processes of writing a book, launch a new business, complete a painting. I thought for sure that I'd write my novel while I was pregnant, finishing it cleanly before I turned my attentions to my new family member.

That ain't happenin'.

Which is why I got utterly vexed by this description in the usually-inspiring Writers' Almanac's bio of Tracy Chevalier:

She started writing historical novels, and her second book, Girl With a Pearl Earring (1999), was a huge best-seller... For the book, Chevalier was inspired one day when she was staring at a poster she had bought when she was 19, a copy of Johannes Vermeer's painting Girl With a Pearl Earring...She started the book right away, but she was pregnant and she didn't want the book to get lost in her life as a new mother, so she researched and wrote the whole novel in just eight months.

Well, shit.

SHE did it, so why aren't I?

I only have five months left to research and write this entire epic novel (or possibly novel series). Why didn't I start earlier? Who cares about a clean house if I'm a failure as a writer?


You get the gist. We all have these crazy-making voices.

After I calmed down and stopped beating up on myself, I heard a deeper, truer level of voice in my head.

Maybe, for me, layering a huge creative act on top of another huge creative act would make my writing thin and stressed out. Maybe I will need an orderly, energetically-cleansed house after this baby arrives more than I will need to have locked down my best-selling novel.

Maybe there's a reason that I haven't written this book yet.

Maybe there is something about dancing through the transformative doors of birth that will unlock within me precisely what I need to make this book magic.

Maybe, just maybe, I am in exactly the right place at the right time.


Put on those lamé pants and take a dance break.


P.S. There is also something to be said about the enormous strides our company has taken in the last month, and the necessary creativity I am pouring into it to flow with the momentum we've been building for two years. And how writing a novel on top of that on top of being pregnant might just make my head explode. But that's another post.


Online Artists' Retreat

Sharon and Emily If a genie popped out of my red wine bottle and granted me three wishes, I think the first would be this:  Please create a space where all of my favorite creative types could magically meet up on a regular basis.  It would take magic, because we're all sprinkled across the country, and even the world, and just finding a simultaneous coffee break seems insurmountable.   But in my dream world... I can see us convening somewhere inspiring to share new drafts, sketches, paintings, songs.  A symposium and a retreat, it would refill all our tanks and make us re-commit to our own work.

Genies aside, I hope that howshedoesit is a more easily realized stand-in for this idea.  Our mother blog, Crucial Minutiae, was originally meant to be an extension of our New York writers' group.  For me, and I imagine some of the others who moved from the city, it was like a lifeline.  I could no longer attend the group's bi-weekly meetings, but I felt connected through our diverse daily musings on Croosh.  Now we're here, and howshedoesit comes with a twist.  We're not all writers!  So... 

I'd like to personally welcome Emily Brady Koplar, fashion designer extraordinaire, and Sharon "keys" Kenny, indie singer-songwriter diva! These are two women I'd insist the genie bring to my artist colony.  (Ah, see, it's gone from a little meeting to retreat to a colony where I think we'd all live quite happily.)  I've long benefited from bags and bags of Emily's clothing samples and from Sharon's song writing for my wedding and a couple of what we still think are genius musicals.  I'm sure you'll enjoy their work as well!