Thursday, December 31, 2009
It's way more fun and interesting to set goals and to break them down into projects which in turn can be broken down into daily habits.
My Daily Habits for the month of January are twofold:
(1) Call or email a friend, family member, or colleague each day to say hello and/or initiate a get-together.
I already got a jump start on this by calling my great aunt to see how she is doing after the awesome Happy Hour she hosted after my recent wedding in San Diego. (She also came up to the front of the room and danced The Hora with us to the theme song of Sean the Sheep. Great aunts do not get better than this.)
(2) Exercise every single day - be it by taking a class at the YMCA or going for a brisk walk. I am serious about fitness this year, y'all.
Again, got a jump start by taking a modern dance class at the Y yesterday (which left me in pain, but well worth it) and by taking a stretch class today.
For more great tips on setting goals for the year, read Diane M. Scholten's Be Your Own Life Coach: Dream It! Plan It! Do It!
Monday, December 28, 2009
This is a particularly inspiring edition of Ebony. One person I would personally add to the Arts section is tap dancer Ayodele Casele. Check out her Dancer Spolight on the International Tap Association website.
Saturday, December 19, 2009
I had been looking for a way to participate in the celebration, and this was just perfect. I set aside two full evenings to attend four of the films, and here are some of the highlights of the event:
- First of all, I scored this awesome Alex Ross Super Grover litho (pictured above) along with the book It's Not Easy Being Green by anwering some Sesame Street trivia questions thrown out to film audiences by the event's co-programmer, Craig Shemin. Craig and his wife, Stephanie D'Abruzzo, opened each of the four films I attended by joking around with the audience and providing some nice inside scoops on the films. They were naturals for the job, as Craig is a Muppet historian and Vice President of the Jim Henson Legacy. Stephanie is a Sesame Street puppeteer, as well as a an Emmy-nominated Avenue Q performer.
- The World According to Sesame Street was an amazing documentary directed by Linda Goldstein Knowlton & Linda Hawkins. These two women traveled around the world to show how people bring Sesame into countries around the globe, including Bangladesh, Kosovo, and South Africa.. What I learned is that each country goes through a process of figuring out what content and characters will best work for their particular culture. One of my favorite scenes was of a master puppet-maker in Bangladesh staying up in until the wee hours of the morning to create a character in time to start shooting the show there.
- Next up, Jim Henson and Friends: Inside the Sesame Street Vault was Craig Shemin's compilation of Jim Henson and other star Muppeteers' (along with the Muppets themselves) appearances on talk and variety shows from the 1970s.
- Sunday night's first feature was Sesame Street at 40: Milestones from The Street. This gem showed lots of highlights from the show's history, including the very touching treatment of Mr. Hooper's death as well as the marriage of two of the show's human characters. Elmo was the ring bearer - of course!
- Lastly - and what a great way to end the weekend - was Sunday's Sing! Sesame Musical Moments - a compilation of Sesame's musical numbers. My favorite pieces were the ones from the disco era - "Me shaggy, me blue, me know how to groove.....................Cookie!" - and Pre School Musical, a spin off on High School Musical wherein the Troy-like Muppet espouses the supremacy of the block corner while the Gabrielle-like Muppet argues that the dress-up area actually rules. I had never seen that piece before and could not stop laughing!
- Other highlights included a special guest appearance by Bob McGrath, a beautiful singer and long-time Sesame cast member. I also had a nice chat with audience member Bonnie Erickson, who was part of the original design team for The Muppet Show and also Creative Director of the Product Division of Children's Television Workshop.
Sunday, December 13, 2009
For two years in a row, I saw Kam Mak unveil the Lunar New Year stamp in front of the teachers, students, parents and grandparents of PS 124 in Chinatown during their annual New Year celebration.
I remember Principal Alice Hom introducing Kam to the children, saying to them "Maybe someday, this could be you." So great that the school would publicly acknowledge the accomplishments of an artist. And being a lover of stamps, I thought it would be worthwhile to interview him for Creative Times at some point.
During this past summer, I kept seeing someone who looked a lot like Kam in the Carroll Gardens Park. He was usually playing basketball with two boys. Finally, I approached him and it did turn out to be Kam with his son and son's friend. Little did I know, he lived only a few streets away from me!
I recently had the pleasure of meeting Kam in his artist studio in the top floor of his home, and gathered some information about his work and his life.
How Kam Landed the Job of Designing the Lunar New Year Stamp Series
As Kam shares, "There is little in the U.S. that celebrates the contributions of the Chinese to this country." It was this fact which motivated the OCA (Organization of Chinese in America) to lobby the United States Postal service in the 1980s to do something which would acknowledge Chinese heritage. The USPS decided that the Lunar New Year would be a good vehicle to celebrate the richness of Chinese culture. After the first series of Lunar New Year stamps was completed in 2004, the OCA lobbied for a second series and Kam was chosen to do this next group of 12 stamps which would run from 2008 - 2019.
Kam, who has worked in conjunction on the project with USPS Art Director Ethel Kessler, states that the Lunar New Year stamps have been a huge source of pride for the Chinese community. "The stamps have been mentioned in most Chinese newspapers in New York," Kam shares. He also relays his hope that people in the U.S. who don't celebrate the Lunar New Year will develop an appreciation for Chinese culture and history.
Kam is sometimes asked why he does not make the Chinese Zodiac animals more central to the design of the stamps. His response? After decades of celebrating the Lunar New Year, he feels that the animal is just a small part of the symbolism of the celebration. According to Kam, There are actually other symbols which just as powerfully convey the essence of the New Year and the beauty of the Chinese culture.
A Little About Kam's Life
Kam is also a celebrated children's book illustrator who wrote and did the artwork for My Chinatown based on his own experiences growing up there. In 1971, when Kam Mak was 10 years old, he and his family moved from Hong Kong to New York's Chinatown. Kam said it was quite the dangerous neighborhood back then, full of gang violence. His mom worked 6 days a week 12 hours a day in a sweatshop. His dad lived mostly in a bunkhouse in Long Island, where he worked in a restaurant. He came home one day a week to be with the family.
Kam's dad, who passed away a few years ago, ultimately became the person who took care of Kam's children when they were very young. The death, according to Kam, hit his now teenage son particularly hard.
Kam's mom, who lives in Chinatown, is extremely proud of the fact that her son has been publicly lauded by Chinese organizations and newspapers for his honor of being chosen to create the Lunar New Year stamp series. According to Kam, the public recognition helped his mom feel connected to her son's choice to make art his central work.
Kam is married to illustrator Mari Takabayashi, who created the children's books I Live in Brooklyn and I Live in Tokyo. Kam and Mari have a son in middle school and a daughter who is in high school.
For more information about Kam, visit his website: http://www.kammak.net/
Saturday, December 12, 2009
If you have a real connection with someone, or you are building a connection to someone, then an occasion like a birthday, wedding, engagement, or birth merits either a paper card (trips to the stationary store can be fun! and you can even pick up cards at your corner drug store!) or a phone call.
A Facebook congratulations, especially if you know someone well, should be an "extra" on top of the more personal form of contact.
Think about how much personal notes and calls mean to you, and consider making them a part of your personal practice.
Friday, December 11, 2009
Wednesday, December 09, 2009
Anticipation of seeing both my and Mike’s side of the family in San Diego at a December party to celebrate our November marriage. I love that we will all be together under the same roof!
Watching Charlie Brown and Sean the Sheep DVDs. (And now I can’t get the Sean the Sheep theme song out of my head!)
Celebrating the 40th anniversary of Sesame Street.
Baking cookies to honor my Dad Len’s 70 years of life.
Interviewing inspiring people like Atiba Edwards, co-founder of the arts nonprofit F.O.K.U.S., for my blog.
Watching lots of good Dance Films and live dance shows including: The Wiz, Planet B-Boy, National Dance Institute’s Tribute to John Lennon, and Every Little Step (a documentary about the making of “A Chorus Line”).
Getting married to my best friend, Michael Sorgatz, in a small ceremony in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Check out our wedding website: http://wedding.mikesorgatz.com/
Heartfelt phone and written messages I received on my 40th birthday.
The perfect blend of good Information about personal and professional development in my friend Colleen’s new(ish) blog Newvine Growing – exploring evolution, revolution, and living intentionally. As I told her in an email “I like the way you are thoughtful with being fruity or crystal-waving.”
Jumping for joy when an all-female dance group, We Are Heroes, won the championship title in America’s Best Dance Crew.
Laughing as Mike and I watched chickens chase each other in and out of rows of Kale on an animal sanctuary/mini farm on Block Island.
Celebrating the Lunar New Year at Public School 124 in Chinatown. Just amazing to see young people participate in traditions that have lasted for thousands of years.
Going to MOMA for Friday night dates. Nothing beats Café 2 on the 2nd floor.
Visiting my nephew Niko’s Surfer Top 100 website to see what he’s been up to in the world of surfing. I am always cheering you on, Niko!
Remembering what a great and historic thing it is that Obama is our President.
Planning the Fourth Annual Brooklyn Blogfest with a dozen or so of some very creative, fun, collaborative Brooklyn bloggers. Check out http://brooklynblogfest.com/
Getting to convene monthly with a group of women artists who enjoy each others’ company while pursuing our respective creative Quests.
Photo and email updates from my brother Adam and sister-in-law Raychel about their family adventures.
Surprise marriage proposal from Mike while we were visiting Block Island.
The great people I met while working at The Brooklyn Children’s Museum. What a smart, kind, and caring bunch of folks. And what an amazing place for parents and caregivers to bring their young ones.
The memory of my Uncle, Chris Linn. He was a wonderful writer and world traveler.
The satisfaction of placing bouquets of fresh flowers of the Vase that lives on our kitchen table. I am grateful for all the corner flower stands in New York! Recent discovery: Gerber daisies can last for two weeks!
Watching Mike Sorgatz build his community on Artinbrooklyn.com, a place where he showcases the work and biographies of other Brooklyn artists.
EXtreme love and support from my mom, Libby, around planning wedding festivities.
Continuing to enjoy swims and steams at the awesome facilities of the Dodge and Chinatown YMCAs.
The idea of driving a Zambone at top speed across Wollman Rink with all my friends, family, and the whole slew of Muppet characters on board.
HAPPY NEW YEAR! I wish you a 2010 full of love, growth, adventure, and joy.
PS – Keep in touch!
I’d love to hear about what you’ve been doing, thinking, and dreaming about.
I welcome recent photos of you with friends, family, loved ones, and pets.
Drop me a line via email: ETraubman@aol.com
Monday, December 07, 2009
CLICK HERE TO VIEW THE AUCTION
There are tons of incredible deals sure to fit every budget size. Some featured items include:
Apple iPod Touch
4 VIP Tickets to the Daily Show with Jon Stewart
Dinner for Two at Prune Restaurant
American Girl Doll
Reserved tickets for Shakespeare in the Park (No waiting in line!)
Autographed print of a New Yorker cover by J.J. Sempe
Private Tour of the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA)
Great travel destinations to Chicago, Key West, and the Caribbean
Tickets to the TONY Awards
And so much MORE (no really, so much more!)
This is a fantastic auction - click here now to view the catalogue.
LET THE BIDDING BEGIN
and don't forget to tell your friends!!!
Friday, December 04, 2009
Would you like to participate in this momentous occasion?
Come out out to the Brooklyn Academy of Music's BAM Rose Cinema next weekend. On Saturday, December 12 and Sunday December 13, they will be showing a series of Sesame-related films, most of which are 90 minutes long.
Click HERE for the Calendar, then click on "12" to view Saturday's films, and then "13" to view Sunday's films.
If you're someone who likes the "insider scoop," make sure to get tix to the 6:50 Saturday show of The World According to Sesame Street. It's followed by a Q & A session with the directors.
In mid-September, the Los Angeles Unified School District notified Christina Gutierrez (better known as Miss G. to her students) that she would be laid off from Hamilton High School due to low seniority. For Gutierrez, the news came as a unwanted surprise. "I felt railroaded," she told the Los Angeles Times. "I saw something in the mail and my heart dropped."
However, for this Humanities assistant's students, her removal from the school became an opportunity to forcefully, yet peacefully, let their voices be heard. On her last day of work, 500 students of this culturally diverse school (44% of the student body is Hispanic, 33% Black, 17% White and 5% Asian) organized a sit-in protest as a means of communicating their disapproval of the decision reached.
The protest was much more than a poorly organized brouhaha. A group of 4 students and friends, Noemi Rodriguez, Jimmy Biblarz, David Kamins, and Maya Festinger, teleconferenced twice a week, figuring out logistics and investigating rules and regulations. Via word of mouth, the four students publicized the event and the day of the protest they distributed informational handouts for all the protesters.
As they lined the halls the day of Miss. G's departure, the students knew not to block any exits or disrupt traffic circulation in the building. They also cleverly found a diplomatic way of avoiding the Principal's requests to keep quiet: they started to snap. By the end of the day, the students had gathered 300 letters in support of Gutierrez and felt proud of having successfully completed the job.
However, these student rabble rousers soon realized that their efforts had still fallen short of stimulating a reintegration of their beloved teacher into the school. They knew they needed to do more and, in an unexpected twist of fate, they were presented with the solution.
During Miss G.'s absence from Hamilton High, she took a substitute teaching job in an elementary school while her replacement prefered to work at an elementary school. For the students, the answer was simple: why not switch the two teachers?
With that in mind, they once again geared up and prepared to present their solution at a school district board meeting. As with the protest, the young men and women looked through videos and researched on how to defend their case in the most professional manner. Maya Festinger, one of the student protesters, told the Los Angeles Times, "We want to create a legitimate student representation. We don't want to be belligerent or bludgeoning. A lot of what we are about is proposing solutions, rather than listing grievances."
The students moved and impressed the board members so much that, in an unsual move, they conceded and allowed Miss Gutierrez to return to Hamilton High.
According to Miss Gutierrez, this moment serves as a source of empowerment for the students, of whom she is incredibly proud. The students of Hamilton High prove that anything is possible with a little dedication, organization, intelligence and a lot of heart.
Thursday, December 03, 2009
I’m about to finish conducting my interview with Kevin Clash, longtime Muppeteer of Elmo and a Co-Producer of Sesame Street. “You know who you should interview next?” Kevin says. “Franky. Frank Biondo. He’s the cameraman on Sesame Street and even though he’s behind the scenes, he shapes the mood and the feeling on the set.”
So I call Frank and he tells me he’s filming a show, not Sesame Street, but a special offshoot, When Parents Are Deployed. He’s going to be at the Unitel Building on West 57th Street. Could I come up there while he’s filming to watch and to talk? “Sure thing,” I say. How could I pass up a chance to see Frank and Muppeteers in action? I’ve only dreamed of this moment since I was six years old.
I get to the Unitel Building and wind my way back to where they’re filming. Kevin Clash is there, directing and also playing Elmo, and Fran Brill is playing Elmo’s mom. Costume folks are stitching up Muppets and their outfits, and other folks are painting and repairing sets. Frank’s filming and within minutes of our first interaction, I can see why he is known as The Mayor. He greets me warmly, and, in between takes, he comes to the back of the stage where I am standing to chat with me about his work and personal history. He is warm, funny, engaging, talkative, totally unpretentious. He starts in right away with the beginning…..
How Frank Got to Sesame Street
Once upon a time, cameraman Frank Biondo was used to filming big names in show business – Barbara Streisand and Merv Griffin, to name a few. Imagine his shock when he found himself filming, in his own words, “A freakin’ eight-foot bird” and “an orange Muppet in a garbage can.” It was the late 60s and Frank had been brought on set to film the pilot of a new television show after the original filming company had gone on strike.
The show was Sesame Street, and no one knew just how big the show was going to be, including Frank. According to Mr. Biando, the early incarnations of Sesame Street characters were not so great-looking. “Big bird looked a lot different then. His head was whacked out.” Frank was filming these funky-looking characters, wondering “Who in the world is going to watch this stuff?” Thirty-nine years later, working for a show that is televised in 120- plus countries, he has his answer.
How Frank Got Elected to Mayor
Frank has met a lot of creative people in the course of his 39 years of work on the most famous street in the world. He’s interacted and cooperated with thousands of production people, directors, actors, and Muppeteers. But to Frank, those thousands are not just a sea of nameless faces; they are faces with stories and Frank loves to tell their stories. And that’s why Frank is Mayor of Sesame Street: because he uses story-telling to keep the history of the show alive, to weave the moments and the people from past and present together.Frank is Mayor, too, because he is the one that comes up with the “crazy ideas” that keep people on the set connected to one another. One time, he got cast and crew to bring in baby pictures and guess who was who. He has organized wrap parties where the cast members got to show off their various talents. He created Frankly, Frankly Have I Got a Deal for You – a newsletter for people who work on the show. Frankly was a home-grown publication that included recipes, classified ads, jokes of the week, and letters from the show’s Executive Director. Frank also helped start a nonprofit organization called Make a Kid Smile. With Elmo dolls in tow, he and his family members visit and brighten the days of children hospitalized with serious illnesses.
Where Did Frank Come From?
Having spent his youth surrounded by lots of relatives, it’s not surprising that Frank knows how to create a sense of family among a sizable group of people. He was the eldest of 16 grandchildren and named after a grandfather who came to the U.S. from Sicily. Frank remembers that his grandpa -- a father of nine -- smoked cigars, used a spittoon, made his own wine, and always paid home visits to grandchildren when they were sick. Frank’s grandmother made Sicilian pizza every Sunday night for the entire family.
Frank remembers another part of growing up: dancing. He’d go to church dances, where he did the Cha Cha, the Mambo, and the Lindy. After joining the US Navy at 17, he taught dance classes in the USO in exchange for meals. In his present day life, Frank liked to dance out in Long Island. He describes himself as “a 50s dancer who dances to live band music.” If there’s a dance he doesn’t know, Frank makes a point of learning it. Not long ago, he went and took lessons to learn how to do the Hustle.
It’s A Wrap
After the shoot is done, Frank invites me to have lunch with him and the crew. He and some of his co-workers start telling funny stories about their years together on set and teasing each other good-naturedly about challenging times they’ve gone through. Chuck, one of Frank’s longest-time buddies there, remembers when the two of them set off together to film the Daytona 500, each being assigned to catch the race from a different angle.
After they've reminisced for a while, I say to Chuck and Frank: “You two have seen a lot.” Frank’s reply? “If we died now, we wouldn’t have missed much.” It’s so clear that Frank’s a man who feels full, full and grateful for all the people and stories and Muppets and children and actors whose lives he has been part of over the last four decades. And I realize that Sesame Street would be a very different place without him.
Wednesday, December 02, 2009
It all takes time to do, but it is gratifying to think about each person that adds to the richness of my life as I address the envelopes.
Whether you send 5, 50, or 500 holiday cards, make it an exercise in reflecting on and expressing gratitude for every person who makes your life the great adventure that it is.
Tuesday, December 01, 2009
In a world of six billion people, it’s easy to believe that the only way to initiate profound transformation is to take extreme action. Each of us, however, carries within us the capacity to change the world in small ways for better or worse. Everything we do and think affects the people in our lives, and their reactions in turn affect others. As the effect of a seemingly insignificant word passes from person to person, its impact grows and can become a source of great joy, inspiration, anxiety, or pain. Your thoughts and actions are like stones dropped into still waters, causing ripples to spread and expand as they move outward. The impact you have on the world is greater than you could ever imagine, and the choices you make can have far-reaching consequences. You can use the ripple effect to make a positive difference and spread waves of kindness that will wash over the world.
Should the opportunity arise, the recipient of a good deed will likely feel compelled to do a good deed for someone else. Someone feeling the effects of negative energy will be more likely to pass on that negative energy. One act of charity, one thoughtful deed, or even one positive thought can pass from individual to individual, snowballing until it becomes a group movement or the ray of hope that saves someone’s life. Every transformation, just like every ripple, has a point of origin. You must believe in your ability to be that point of origin if you want to use the ripples you create to spread goodness. Consider the effect of your thoughts and actions, and try to act graciously as much as possible.
A smile directed at a stranger, a compliment given to a friend, an attitude of laughter, or a thoughtful gesture can send ripples that spread among your loved ones and associates, out into your community, and finally throughout the world. You have the power to touch the lives of everyone you come into contact with and everyone those people come into contact with. The momentum of your influence will grow as your ripples moves onward and outward. One of those ripples could become a tidal wave of positivity.
Monday, November 30, 2009
Mike and I met friends in The West Village. Having just had a long dental procedure, I sought out comfort through a cup of gelato at Cones Ice Cream Artisans on 272 Bleecker Street. Since the store was pretty quiet on a cold winter's night, I ended up having the greatest time hanging out with Raul Daloisio, the owner. We chatted about all the different kinds of customers that come in, including celebreties and financial wizards and theater producers; different ice cream joints around New York; and social networking. Raul admits to being low tech: he has no website or email address.
I told him about my blog and how I thought social networking could benefit him. Truly, though,I could see that Raoul does a good business not just because of the yummy treats that are made fresh daily on the premesis but also because he connects so genuinely on a personal level with his customers. I would come back again just to say "Hi" and hear about his interesting adventures as the owner of Cones.
After departing from Cones, I proceeded down the street to bookbook. This bookstore, formerly known as Biography Bookshop, lost its lease and is now located under a new name at 266 Bleecker. I was warmly greeted by Frank Baldaro, a sales associate. Like Raul over at Cones, Frank was delightful to chat with, and he showed me some wonderful books in the cookbook section. One was called The Fat Duck Cookbook which looks more like an art book. The other gem was Cake Wrecks: When Professional Cakes Go Hilariously Wrong. Frank and I stood there laughing as we looked at photos of cakes made with disastrous outcomes.
Even though neither one of these stores is super-techy in terms of having web sites, blogs, or Twitter and Facebook accounts, I truly appreciated the old-fashion hospitality and small-town friendliness which each proprietor extended. That's what makes a place worth returning to, much more than any number of Tweets that they could send.
The personal touch wins every time!
Rabbis, Goats and other Characters: Paintings from Jonathan Blum's First Decade in New York: (1999-2009).
OPENING RECEPTION AND AFTERPARTY IS THIS THURSDAY, DECEMBER 3RD, 2009
FROM 6:30pm to 2:30am.
All the action will take place at The Green Building: 450 Union Street (corner of Bond St.) Brooklyn, NY. on the Gowanus Canal.
This will be a great night. Come anytime and plan to stay late if possible. There is a great line up of performers playing throughout the evening. They are all incredible and each one has had an influence on me in some way.
6:30-9:15 Charles Sibirsky Trio with Lena Bloch and Dan Schuman
9:15-9:30 Barry Blumenfeld (from TAPFUSION) with Nir Sadovnik
9:30-10:00 MC and DJ Andy Gensler
10:00-10:45 Jeremiah Lockwood (from Sway Machinery)
10:45-11:15 DJ Baxter
11:15-12:00 Daniel Kelly Trio with Eyal Maoz and Rob Garcia
12:00-12:30 DJ Gensler and/or DJ Baxter
12:30-1:15 Raul Rothblatt introducing Transylvania United with Sarah Alden and Aron Szekely
1:15-1:45 Josh Diamond
1:45-till the end DJ Gensler and/or DJ Baxter
The show will run through Jan 14th and can be seen every Sunday and Thursday from 12 to 6 pm or by appointment.
Saturday, November 28, 2009
Love this message below from Daily Om about Clearing Away the Unnecessary.
And, by the way, if you need some moral support and an extra pair of hands with Clearing Away the Unnecessary - be it clothing that no longer fits/looks good on you; papers that are no longer relevant to your life; books that you no longer read - I'm here to help!
Start the New Year off with a clean slate! Email me, EleanorTraubman, Professional Organizer to Busy New York Women since 1999.
I can be reached at: ETraubman@aol.com
A clutter-free life is only a step away!
CLEARING AWAY THE UNNECESSARY
(Reprinted from Daily Om)
You may enjoy strong self-discipline which enables you to complete your tasks in record time today. With this level of dedication to getting things done, you could make great progress in both your professional and personal endeavors. Even better, you can take this focus to the next level by turning your attention to activities that would ultimately make your life easier later on, such as organizing and de-cluttering your surroundings. If you take some time to think about the areas of your life where you need to be most productive, you will find many opportunities to transform your workflow into one that is easy and unobstructed. In order to make room for this new easy flow, consider clearing away the unnecessary in all aspects of your life today, including professional, domestic, financial, spiritual, and emotional.
Clearing away objects and habits that no longer serve our highest good can make room for more beneficial circumstances to enter. We are accumulators by nature, consistently adding to our store of provisions, collections, tools, and knowledge. Though our store of items can help us feel secure, we can also reach a point when our cluttered surroundings become overwhelming and restrictive. Choosing to clear away the unnecessary things in our lives can instantly lift our moods and energize us, improve our productivity, and create openings for greater abundance to enter our lives. By releasing that which no longer serves you today, you can create a lighter and more productive environment that enhances all aspects of your life.
Friday, November 27, 2009
I am reposting this piece in honor of Sesame Street's 40th anniversary.
“And now, I’d like to introduce a special guest,” announced Fran Brill to the group gathered around the conference table. She seemed to be concluding a presentation about her career in television so I was surprised that someone else would be appearing on the agenda. I waited, expecting Fran to beckon one of us at the table to come forward. Instead, she reached downward, below the table. When her arm came up, she was joined by long-time Sesame Street muppet Prairie Dawn. Using a high-pitched voice, Fran infused the Sesame character with life. Prairie Dawn fielded questions from the audience. “Who is your favorite friend on Sesame Street?” I asked Prairie. “Oh,” she said, “I like Grover and Cookie Monster but I don’t have favorites. I like everybody!”
Fran Brill, the first female muppeteer hired by Jim Henson, has been on the set of Sesame Street nearly all of its 38 years. Here’s the big surprise: Fran didn’t play with puppets as a child. Her primary passion and training was in theatre, starting from when she stole the show in a play that her Brownie troupe performed. In her teens, Fran performed in summer stock and also interned at the Bucks County Playhouse. As a young adult, she chose to attend Boston University College of Fine Arts for its strong theatre department. There, Fran received classical theatre training and also participated in regional theatre.
Fran’s first big acting job was in a theater in Atlanta, where she performed in an original show called Red, White and Maddox. Red was a musical satire of a Georgia governor who wouldn’t serve people of color in his famous restaurant, the Pickrick Cafeteria. In 1969, the show moved to Broadway. Like all Broadway shows, it came to an end and Fran found herself looking for work in The Big Apple. By day, she’d make rounds to the agents with eight- by -ten photos in hand. In the late afternoon, she’d arrive home exhausted and in need of cheering up. Watching Sesame Street and Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood seemed to do the trick.
“Watching those shows, I’d think ‘I could do those voices,’” shared Fran. She had already done radio commercials and voiceover work. In 1970, one of Fran’s agents pointed to an ad in Backstage, which announced Jim Henson’s search for muppeteers for a Christmas television special. Fran called Jim. “I can do the voices,” she said. Jim let her know he didn’t work that way: muppeteers did the voices for their own characters. Interested in her theatre background, Jim invited Fran to come for a workshop in the East Village. Under the tutelage of Jim, Jerry Nelson, and Frank Oz, Fran underwent intense training in the skills of muppeteering. In the end, she made the cut, and was asked to muppeteer in the Christmas special.
From the Christmas special, Fran and Richard Hunt were asked to be in the core group of muppeteers. Fran agreed, with the condition that she could continue to act in plays, musicals, and commercials. Jim agreed, and Fran was on her way to Sesame Street.
Fran remembers well the sparks that ignited Sesame Street. The initial collaborators included “The Four Js”: television producer Joan Ganz Cooney, writer Jon Stone, composer Joe Raposo, and, of course, Jim Henson. With the Head Start Initiative newly underway, the ground was ripe for a show that would educate children about numbers, letters, and other early childhood concepts. The show utilized the format of both magazines and commercials by featuring a combination of live action footage, animation, and muppet inserts. Fran describes the formative years of Sesame as “a rarefied experience in a rarefied atmosphere” and “the perfect storm.” “They invented the wheel as they went along,” she shared. “Nobody thought that the show would be a juggernaut.”
In terms of her own role on the show, Fran started out as Ernie’s right hand – literally. A muppet generally needs two people, one person to operate the head, left hand, and voice and another person to operate the right hand. Eventually, Fran helped create and inhabit a new character - Prairie Dawn. Twenty years down the road, when the show’s producers wanted a female equivalent of Elmo, theyworked with Fran to fashion the character of Zoe. The characters, Fran says, represent different facets of her personality. Her job, as the muppeteer, is to channel "the spirit and personality that lives inside of the puppet."
True to the spirit of Sesame Street, Fran views her role as muppeteer as an ongoing process of growth and education. “I’m constantly learning, trying to be better, trying to please myself.” Fran shares that she strives to be as truthful as possible in her roles – not an easy task since she’s got just her hand and her voice to make the essence of a character shine through. Fran also reflects on the larger experience of being part of Sesame Street. “We’re inheritors, or seeds of Jim Henson,” she relays. She explains how the warmth, compassion, and empathy of the crew, cast, and content of Sesame are reflective of Jim. He was, Fran relays, a man who never raised his voice, never lost his temper, just worked off of praise and respect. “He brought out the best in you as a human and as a performer.” The gentleness, humanity, cross-generational appeal, humor, love, and global concern in Sesame Street was, according to Fran, “Jim Henson’s way of changing the world.”
While Jim firmly remains a legend in the mind of Fran and countless others, Fran herself has clearly won the esteem, love and respect of her audiences. On Fran’s birthday, folks logged onto Muppet Central Forum to share these sentiments with her:
“Happy Birthday Fran Brill, and thanks for all the wonderful characters you’ve given us over the years!”
“Eeeeeeey!! Franny!! You go, girl!”
“As well as continued success with the muppets, I hope to see you performing in tv and movies. You’ve contributed a lot to the entertainment world.”
“Yay! Happy Birthday, Fran!” Hope you’re as blessed as you’ve made us all feel over the years! Thanks.”
“Frog bless you for all the fun and magic you’ve brought into our lives.”
Meeting Fran in person, watching her interact with her fans, and seeing her in action as a muppeteer, I got a clear picture of why she has won the affection of so many people. She is incredibly hard-working, loyal, funny, intelligent, cultured, and down-to-earth. Her lack of pretense is notable: she exhibits a complete willingness to share the events of her professional history without sparing any of the less-than-glamorous details. She does not see herself as separate from or better than her audience. In the end, it comes as no surprise that Prairie Dawn (a/k/a Fran) likes and gets along with all her friends on Sesame Street. She’s a living legend, and a lovable one at that.
posted by Eleanor Traubman @ Tuesday, August 28, 2007
Thursday, November 26, 2009
At one point during the reception dinner, I went over to my woman of honor, Cecilia, and she held up a pink piece of folded-over paper with two pieces of toast drawn on it. She said "This is for the toasts." I laughed, and felt so happy she was there with me and Mike.
Here is page 4 of her pink-paged toast:
I am so happy to be here today with all of you to celebrate Mike and Eleanor's love and commitment to each other. So I'll end by sharing 2 quotes on love.
The first is by the psychoanalyst and alchemist Carl Jung:
"The meeting of 2 personalities is like the contact of 2 chemical substances; if there is any reaction, both are transformed."
The second is by the painter Marc Chagall:
"Only love interests me, and I am only in contact with things that revolve around love."
Thank you, Cecilia, for your beautiful toast!
Here's Mike and me right in front of the venue. The bouquets were made by my dear friend and woman of honor, Cecilia Andre.
Since most of our experiences are rooted in cause and effect, we naturally want to justify our contentment. We envision grand circumstances, stating that if only we could achieve this goal or obtain that possession, we would finally be in a position to attain happiness. As a result, satisfaction is always just out of reach and the very notion of grabbing hold of it seems like nothing more than a pipe dream. But the truth is that sincere contentment and fulfillment are never wholly the result of external events or situations. Though life’s joyful moments can ignite the spark of contentment within us, that spark is fueled by serenity long established in our souls. When we forget this, it is easy to become stuck in "if only" patterns of thought. If we concentrate on the natural serenity that exists within us, however, we can move forward unimpeded by disappointment.
What do you think?
The circumstances you live through each day have the potential to bring both joy and despair into your life. Relying on the reactions they awaken within you to create an emotional foundation means living on a roller coaster of feeling whose course is determined by chance. Though you may yearn for the object of your desire—be it a new job, financial health, a spouse, or some other symbol of success—you have within you the power to be happy without it. Letting go of your "if only" thinking patterns can be as easy as recognizing that inward emptiness cannot be dispelled with outer world solutions. Try creating a list of your “if only”s. Then literally and figuratively let go of the items on the list by tearing it up or burning it. This simple action can help set in motion the intention to set you free, enabling you to make a fresh and balanced start in the present, unencumbered by regrets and unfulfilled desires.
There will likely be periods in your life in which you find yourself tempted to seek a magic formula for fulfillment that is centered upon a single goal or achievement. But the ingredients that come together to form the seeds of happiness that can sustain your spirit throughout the triumphs and trials of existence come from within rather than from without. When your search for satisfaction is focused on your soul, you will never fail to find the joy you seek.
What do you think?
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
2. A fun, caring group of friends
3. My terrific husband - Mike!
4. A loving, supportive family
5. An apartment in a quiet, homey neighborhood
6. All the cute dogs in New York! Especially the ones I get to pet!
7. Getting to swim at the YMCA
8. Getting to live in such a vibrant part of the country - NEW YORK!
9. Creativity! Love! Glitter! Fairies! Dachsunds! The Westminster Dog Show! Old school hip hop! Puffy paint! Stationary stores!
10. Shaun the Sheep from Wallace and Grommit (see picture above)
Sunday, November 22, 2009
Friday, Nov.20th: Took day off of work to prepare mentally and physically. Got manicure and pedicure. Took short trip to SoHo. Got lots of nice phonecalls from family and friends. Walked around neighborhood with Mike and went to the dinner with him. Mopped the floor. Laid out wedding clothes.
Saturday, Nov. 21st - Wedding Day: Gorgeous, sunny and brisk weather! Took walk. Got phone call from great aunt in LA. Had turkey sandwich. Met friend Melissa at beauty salon. Got way way girlified. Got home. Freaked out a bit about girlification. (I usually wear no makeup and sport running shoes.)
Watched Charlie Brown Thanksgiving Special on video while Mike took a power nap.
Called parents while freaking out. (Little did I know, they were here in NY getting ready to go to the wedding!) Got picked up by car service. Picked up friends John and Colleen. Proceeded to Lower East Side. Got there way early. Walked around with J and C. Went back to wedding venue. Greeted friends. And...........suprise! Parents flew out from Cally to be with us!
Got hitched. First dance to Shining Star by The Manhattans. Walked over to Frankie's to have dinner with the group, a small group of guests. Lovely, heartfelt toasts!
Took cab home. Took hot bath. Opened presents with Mike. Talked about highlights of the day.
Only slept about five hours~
Sunday, Nov.22nd - Day After Wedding - Met parents and cousin at MOMA. They wouldn't take parents' luggage, so we ate at an old hotel in the area. Very fun! Dad showed us pics of wedding on his mini laptop.
Parents left for airport.
Mike and I walked around 5th Avenue, trying to figure out where to register. Saw holiday window displays. Ate giant pretzel. Watched other people eating giant pretzels. Took carriage ride in Central Park.
Took subway home. Looked at friend's slow-mo video of the wedding.
Happy to be with my best friend and be surrounded by so many supportive friends and family members.
Looking forward to the family party in San Diego in December.
Saturday, November 14, 2009
I've stayed with her a bunch of times while visiting out in Seattle. She is a master gardener, so her house is surrounded by beauty. One time while I was there, she let me harvest a whole bunch of lavender.
For my birthday this year, she sent a care package. There were crayons with a note that said "These are for your colorful creative self." There was a chocolate bar that said "This is for your sweet self." And there's a puzzle I have to put together that has a birthday message on it.
I just love these gifts with symbolism and thought behind them!
Friday, November 13, 2009
I received it today, along with lots of heartfelt phone messages, Facebook messages, cards, and phone calls.
Someone at work gave me a Birthday hug.
I feel so blessed to have so many good people in my life!
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
You can ask anyone. I wear running shoes every day for every occasion. I have feet that require them; I'll spare you the details about why.
I figured that getting married was a good enough excuse to ditch the tennies and go for something that seemed fairytale princess-like.
My friend Louise Crawford, who is a lot of fun and a great scout, offered to take me on the hunt. First, we went to Macy's in search of the Ninas. They did not have the shoe I wanted. It was beyond mobbed because of Veterans Day being a day off work for many and also a sale day. I tried on something else but it was white satin-y fabric which gets dirty quickly. More importantly, it was not the Nina Gamma.
I said "Louise, let's get out of here and go to Lord and Taylor. It's calmer and they have better customer service." Once there, we headed straight to all the silver-y looking shoes. Louise reached for a pair and said "Look at these, aren't these cool?" And I said "Hey! Those are the shoes I wanted!" We couldn't believe the good fortune.
I can't wait to wear my new shoes. But I will definitely have my running shoes on hand for when the dogs start barking.
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
Originally posted on Friday, July 27, 2007
During a recent family vacation in an island off the coast of Seattle, I spent a lot of time playing with my nephew, Tyler. Tyler is two years and 4 months old. He loves to greet every person who comes in the room, jump on his older brother, and look at picture books. He is full of passion for life. When I play with Tyler, I follow his lead as much as possible. One evening, I sat quietly with Tyler as he lined up crayons next to each other and drew circles of all colors and sizes. One morning at the beach, I held Tyler’s hand as he walked in and out of the water, looking at the waves, the light, the skim boarders at water’s edge. Once in a while, Tyler would let out a shriek of delight accompanied by a joyful leap. Mostly, though, he wanted just to walk and look. I stayed with him as he did that for about a half an hour.
I can think of few activities more rewarding or important than to follow a young person’s mind. It does take a conscious decision to not insert my idea of how things should go. There’s always a pull to worry about how a child is going to “turn out,” and direct him or her to activities that will (seemingly) ensure success in the future as a “productive” or “well adjusted” adult. But I have a hunch that if we adults spent more time following the creative minds and pursuits of young people, more humans would have lives that they are truly passionate about. Kevin Clash is the proof in the pudding.
Kevin Clash is the puppeteer behind Elmo, the lovable, furry red muppet who has won the hearts of millions on Sesame Street. I gathered information about Kevin by reading his book – My Life as a Furry Red Monster – and by meeting him in person at his Sesame Workshop office. Most inspiring was learning the details about a life of love and support from family, friends, neighbors, and mentors who backed Kevin’s passion for puppetry from the start. Kevin’s rich history as a producer and puppeteer shows that good things happen when adults pay close attention to and nurture the creative and artistic sensibilities of children.
Kevin’s Life in a Nutshell
Kevin grew up in a working class, African heritage suburb of Baltimore, Maryland with a mom, a dad, and three siblings. He spent countless childhood hours creating puppets and puppet shows, getting plenty of inspiration from television programs such as Captain Kangaroo, Good Times, and, of course, Sesame Street. During his younger years, Kevin performed shows for neighborhood folks, for audiences in the wider Baltimore area, then for local television programs.
When Kevin was in high school, he saw Kermit Love featured on an episode of Call It Macaroni, a children’s television show. Kevin was blown away by the fact that an adult was making a successful living from his passion – designing costumes and puppets for everyone from George Balanchine’s dancers to Sesame Street’s Big Bird. Through perseverance, Gladys got in touch with Love who in turn invited Kevin to come to his workshop in New York City. Shortly after that visit, Kermit invited Kevin to be Cookie Monster’s puppeteer in the 1979 Macys Thanksgiving Day Parade.
Stu Kerr, a television personality, was Kevin’s first mentor. When Stu saw Kevin’s puppetry at a local fair, he invited Kevin to perform in a television show called Caboose. Through Caboose, Kevin eventually landed a spot on Captain Kangaroo. Kevin credits Stu with teaching him about the importance of cooperation in working with other professionals, both from the creative and business aspect of things.
Speaking about costume and puppet designer Kermit Love, Kevin commented: “He took me under his wing like I was a grandson. He was so positive, guiding me in the right direction. When the time came to decide to go to college, he encouraged me to stay working with Jim Henson.”
And, finally, Kevin said of Jim Henson: “Jim was so approachable; there was no ego. Jim’s message was ‘Let’s have a good time and respect each other and give back.’ With Jim, you learned the craft by watching and by doing. It was intimidating to be the new kid on the set and Jim stuck with me.”
Kevin has been blessed with the sound guidance of these three and countless other guides. He also knows, particularly from his childhood days, that adults must step back enough to trust the rightness of what children love to do and want to pursue. On the topic of supporting young people in their journeys, Kevin says this in his book:
“You can teach your children all the basics and then some, and they will turn right around and use their knowledge in wonderful, powerful ways you can’t even imagine. That’s the beauty of learning. But it can be hard to resist pulling on the reins and, at some point, steering kids away from what they want to learn to what you think they need to know to be successful. […]
Dreams are fragile things, but when they’ve been bolstered by the support of parents and teachers, and reinforced with early success, they can withstand the skeptics and take flight. When I was a kid, my dad and I spent a lot of time together building things, and I can’t help but think of this metaphor: Kids are the architects of their own dreams. I know that I was.”
posted by Eleanor Traubman @ Friday, July 27, 2007
Sunday, November 08, 2009
With wedding planning and a new job, I forgot about my mini-getaway spot. But I remembered it last night when my body telling me it needed some rejuvenation.
By the time I got inspired to go swim, my local Y in Brooklyn was closing in less than an hour. So I decided to take the train up to my Manhattan stomping ground. What a lovely bonus that the Chinatown Y now has extended hours on Saturday night; they are open until 8:45 pm! It was quiet; I had a whole lane to myself and there was barely anyone in the locker room.
After a great swim, I went around the corner to Whole Foods, brought some soup upstairs, and enjoyed reading a celebrity magazine that another Whole Foods patron begifted to me.
I came home feeling so energized. Even though it was late, I spent an hour cleaning up the apartment and getting things organized for the next few days.
Before going to sleep, I read a bit in the NY Times about the 40th birthday of Sesame Street.
Did you know that Michelle Obama was on the show and promoting healthy eating. Go, Michelle!