Wine & Acrobatics

Wine and acrobatics shouldn’t go together, this magazine cover from 1986 notwithstanding. Vaudeville Nouveau – Mark Sackett (pouring the wine), Danny Mankin (suavely looking at the camera) and me – usually performed this acrobatic trick with juggling. One time, when we were working between sets at a music festival, the belt that I used to hold Danny snapped. I flew back so fast I saw the bottoms of Mark’s feet floating in mid air. … Read More

7 Deadly Sins

Years ago I made an act based on the 7 Deadly Sins; ever since then I’ve been using one sin against another to keep myself on the straight and narrow. For example, after dinner, when my mind turns to green tea ice cream with hot fudge and whipped cream — the real kind, not that stuff out of the spritzer can—I rush to brush my teeth so my Sloth can keep my Gluttony at … Read More

John Henry Song

In the middle of one night, after watching too much TV news, I woke up to find my mind hard at work rewriting the song “John Henry” as a pandemic ballad. Yes, we live in strange times. In the morning, I worked on it for a while and then sent my “Joan Henry” to the great Kenny Raskin who recorded it. Enjoy!    

5 things I wish someone told me when I first became an author

Interview with Chaya Weiner As part of my interview series on the five things you need to know to become a great author, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jeff Raz. Jeff Raz is an acclaimed author, playwright, stage director and performer (he has starred on Broadway and with Cirque du Soleil as well as a global communications consultant. His first book, The Secret Life of Clowns, was launched at the Smithsonian Institution in … Read More

Reactions – Juggling the Physical and the Emotional

In rehearsal last week, I worked with a brilliant clown on a seemingly simple move – getting her hand ‘stuck’ on a set piece when she tried to step away. “Make sure you do the reaction after the action, not before.” Duh, of course. But it is amazing how many times a clown trip or slap or other moment is ruined because the performer reacts before s/he acts. In clowning, there are two different … Read More

Winter Holidays – Time to Talk

We’re deep into the winter holidays, a time when helpful friends and social pundits are warning us to avoid talking about politics or religion or anything else that might devolve into an argument. Good advice, perhaps, but only talking about safe topics is like only eating mashed potatoes – boring and ultimately unhealthy. What if we could have respectful, exciting, joyful conversations about truly gnarly, nasty, stomach-knotting subjects? I know this is possible and … Read More

Stand and Be Present

A student, I’ll call her Beth, stood facing away from the audience in a theater class I taught last month. She turned, walked downstage and said, “Hello, my name is Beth.” Just that, and my eyes teared up. It was her third try at an exercise I describe in The Secret Life of Clowns: “Let’s start with something basic, the very simplest performance — one human being standing in front of a group of … Read More

What’s Your Secure Base?

“My mama came to visit me in San Quinton every time she had the money for a Greyhound from Bakersfield.” Merle Haggard’s grizzly old face turned soft and teary in Ken Burns’ documentary on country music. Haggard’s mother was his ‘secure base,’ a metaphor that becomes very real in acrobatics, although I find it harder to be an emotional secure base than to hold people standing on my shoulders. George Kohlrieser, psychologist and hostage … Read More

Tricked into Growing

I am all for taking risks, lifelong learning, ‘getting out of your comfort zone’…for my students. For me, I’m pretty comfortable being comfortable. I only get uncomfortable when I’m tricked into it. Like the other day when my friend Tara asked if I would perform in her site specific dance piece set in a bar. I don’t dance and I hate bars so, of course, “no thanks, I’m good.” But she tricked me! When … Read More

On Gender in the Workplace

The participants in my recent webinar for the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) on July 2, 2019, “Delving into the Art of Storytelling in a Business Environment,” asked a lot of important questions. I will answer many of them in this series of blog posts. Participant comment: It’s a double-edged sword: Women typically lead family decision-making; as parents, we juggle multiple demands and must show leadership continuously; children and spouses rely on our … Read More

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