Author, Actor, Playwright, Excellent Parallel Parker

Rules of the Lake and Ashes to Water are now available for Kindle and Nook!

Monday, February 28, 2011

Oscar Night America

Miss Thang goes to Oscar Night America in borrowed dress, gloves and evening bag. Unlike real Oscar dignitaries, I have to give my swag back. Thank you Tami, Theresa and Mo!

Photo: N/A, License: N/A, Created: 2011:02:27 20:38:07
"Photographers from the Cockade City Camera Club snap away at actress and author Irene Ziegler last night at the fifth annual Oscar Night America party, held this year at the Cultural Center of India in Chester. Proceeds from the event benefit the Central Virginia Film Institute."

CHESTER - For the fifth time, Oscar came to party in central Virginia.
The fifth annual Oscar Night America - sponsored by the Central Virginia Film Institute - was held last night at the Cultural Center of India in Chester.
The party was held in conjunction with the Academy Awards in Hollywood and is an officially sanctioned event by the movie industry.

Former Gov. L. Douglas Wilder was recognized for his achievements as Virginia's 66th governor and the nation's first elected black governor during the event last night. A portion of the PBS documentary "Wilder: An American First" was shown before the telecast of the awards show.
In the past two years, the event was presented in Petersburg. But this year, it was Chesterfield County's turn, said Frank Underwood Sr., chairman of the Central Virginia Film Institute.
Proceeds from the event benefited CVFI's "If I Can Dream It" educational program, which supports Virginia State University's Legacy Film Camp for Upward Bound students.

Wilder was honored during the event and a portion of the PBS documentary 'Wilder: An American First' was shown before the awards show began. Also attending the event were U.S. Rep. Robert 'Bobby' Scott, D-Portsmouth, and Petersburg Mayor Brian Moore and Vice Mayor Horace Webb.

Read more:

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Lady Aston's BarnStone Salon: Photo Finale

(This series of posts describes the projects each of seven artists brought to "Lady Aston's BarnStone Salon," held in early February at my home in Charles City, VA. The first of the series was posted Feb. 7, 2011.)

And so it came to an end. As Lady Aston waved adieu, they returned from whence they came. Here's some more photos as the weekend drew to a close:

Welcome to Barnstone, on the banks of the James River in Charles City, VA. This is the view from the river:

Come inside...

Have a drink.
Hang out.

Go for a walk.

 Or hang out on the porch.


Pay respects at Hollywood Cemetary

And please come back soon. Cheers.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Review of Ashes to Water

BY BOB MASINGALE North County Times - Californian | Posted: Monday, September 20, 2010 10:47 am

Author is 'Scary Good' in Debut

**** (out of four)
Irene Ziegler likes to tell fans on her website that she's a perfect parallel parker and "the voice you love to hate" on GPS cell phones.
Now we can add her dazzling debut novel, "Ashes to Water," to the list of things to love about this Richmond, Va., actress/playwright.
Ziegler is scary good in "Ashes," a double whodunit riddled with fantastically flawed characters hiding behind all sorts of lies and secrets in a small Florida town where everyone's in everyone's business or back pocket.
And as if that's not enough, someone's lighting up houses under construction near the town lake.
Murder, arson, the sweltering Florida heat and humidity: It's a smorgasbord of evil that would push anyone and any town to the edge.
"Ashes" is set in the '80s, in the gossipy village of DeLeon, where Annie Bartlett has been called home to bury her murdered father ---- the apparent victim of his oar-swinging girlfriend, Della, a near dead-ringer for Annie's late mother.
Annie reluctantly decides to help Della by looking for the real killer, both because she's inexplicably drawn to this mysterious woman who looks like her mother and because she's buying what Della's selling ---- that she's being framed.
Before long, though, Annie realizes that her prying has made lots of people uncomfortable and that her dead parents may have harbored a few sordid secrets of their own.
It's hard to believe this is Ziegler's first full-length novel ---- she has written plays and non-fiction books before this ---- because she spins such a mesmerizing tale, folding and unfolding layers of her byzantine plot like berries in batter.
She's also seriously good with dialogue and lyrical, spot-on prose, using deceptively simple lines like "Her life, like a flatsided rock, skipped from tragedy to tragedy" to add depth and dimension to characters that pop off the page.
As a result, the book is steeped in wonderfully nuanced characters: a dangerously bad-to-the-bone boyfriend, a Golden Boy firefighter, a my-way-or-the-highway judge and her odd-duck developmentally disabled son, a bellicose Miccosukee Indian developer, the brassy, bosomy owner of a popular diner, and an up-against-it sister.
And then there's Annie, who occasionally engages an apparition of her dead mother in revealing mother-daughter conversations like it's as right as rain.
It's all great fun in what is as much a whodunit as a whyfor, as much a murder mystery as an exploration of the tricky, fragile nature of relationships.
The rapidly rising body count leading up to the final pages feels almost Shakespearean, where circumstance and chance and fate weigh heavily in who lives and who dies. (And, actually, it's a good thing Ziegler ran out of story after nearly 400 pages, because another 50 and there may not have been anyone left standing in DeLeon. Hello, "Hamlet"!)
Ziegler has crafted an entertaining, nearly flawless read, unless you really want to quibble about a slightly incredulous, tension-ratcheting turn of the screw at the end that doesn't detract from the story. Although "Ashes" is essentially a sequel to Ziegler's "Rules of the Lake" ---- a collection of short stories about Annie's character-forming adolescent years ---- you don't need to read "Rules" first.
Fair warning: This isn't a book you can set aside easily for TV or dinner or time with the family or anything else, because Ziegler doesn't pad her pages with superfluous, boring passages like too many of today's readers-be-damned, self-indulgent authors. There just aren't many jumping-off points.
Good for her. Good for us.
Bob Masingale is a city editor for the North County Times, and a frequent contributor to, where this review first appeared.
"Ashes to Water"
**** (out of four)
Author: Irene Ziegler
Publisher: Five Star
Binding: Hardcover
Pages: 398
Price: $25.95

Lady Aston's BarnStone Salon: Michael Garcia Performs

(This series of posts describes the projects each of seven artists brought to "Lady Aston's BarnStone Salon," held in early February at my home in Charles City, VA. The first of the series was posted Feb. 7, 2011.) 

 I'll never forget the first time I saw Michael Garcia. It was in 1977. I was judging a poetry round at some long forgotten university, and Michael stood to perform. I don't remember what he performed; I only remember he blew me away. His performance was, as we say in the competitive forensics trade, a pen stopper. I put down my pen, sat back, and enjoyed the ride.

While his forensics days are long behind him (he holds the record for the most individual national championships, and in 1977, won Pentathlon at the National Forensics Association's national competition), he is still in the business of blowing people away with his performance skills. He has a Chicago theatre past, On Saturday night, while sitting in a chair and lit by a fire's glow, Michael BROUGHT IT.

Here's how he described the experience:

"Many, many times with this group of exceptional people I have been both
audience and performer. It is my role as a performer that I wanted to revive with this group. I wanted to see if I still had game; if the performance skills impressed on all of us 30 years ago were still accessible to me. Oh! It was great riding on that old interpretation bicycle again: Memorize something worth repeating, say it out loud to practice how it fits on your body, then perform it to share it with ceremony, respect, and reverence. It's what I do. It makes a difference in the world."

His first performance selection was from his one-man show entitled "Hold the Hot Sauce!: the Story of a Non-Spanish-Speaking Mexican Queer," which I saw many years ago in Norfolk, VA. This autoethnography chronicles Michael's wonder years and showcases his writing skills.

Next came the opening monologue to Dylan Thomas' Under Milkwood:A Play For Voices. If  you'd like to hear Richard Burton read this, there's a 9 minute version on YouTube. Frankly,  I preferred Michael's interpretation. It was less strident and self-conscious, but no less powerful. I guess I'm saying it was intimate. For me, that intimacy gilds the language. I loved it.
Do you know the poem, A Tree Telling of Orpheus by Denise Levertov? If you want to, click on the hyperlink to access it.  In this poem, a tree is stirred by the far-away ripplings of music as the Greek god of Music, Orpheus, draws near. As the music (and the god) come closer, the tree swoons in ecstasy. When the god finally moves on, the tree is so overcome with grief it rips itself from the earth and follows. It is an excruciatingly  beautiful, memorable, and emotional tribute to the power of art. My soul soars each time I hear it. And when Michael performed, he created for me a moment I'll never forget. 

Michael ended his performance with one of Exeter's monologues, from Henry VI, Part 3, I think.

The Mister, who only met Michael that weekend and had not, of course, ever been privy to his talent, was riveted. "I did not expect that performance to come out of that man," he said.

I know. That's what he does. Like I said—pen stopper.

Today, Michael is a freelance graphic designer specializing in providing expert PowerPoint/Keynote support to a wide array of clients from the McDonald's Corporation to The Nature Conservancy. Click here for his website.

Somewhere along the way, Michael picked up a Nikon D50 SLR digital camera and photography became another area of creative expression. He took many of the photos I've included in the Barnstone Salon posts, and I'll be featuring more tomorrow.

Thanks, Michael. You kicked, my friend.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Lady Aston's BarnStone Salon: The Fancy Dress Dinner

(This series of posts describes the projects each of seven artists brought to "Lady Aston's BarnStone Salon," held in early February at my home in Charles City, VA. The first of the series was posted Feb. 7, 2011.) 
Lady Aston asked her guests to bring a "formal costume" to wear at Saturday's Fancy Dress Dinner.

Chef John Capecci made a lamb stew with brussel sprouts (does one capitalize Brussel when one distinguishes said sprouts?) and couscous with pine nuts. It were, as they say, delicious. 

Dean and Kelly, our guest musicians, strolled and played fiddle and guitar.Since 1995, Kelly and Dean have performed regularly at Colonial Williamsburg. Kelly, a soprano, has sung for Frank McCourt, the Hon. Mary Robinson, Tom Wolfe, Jim Leher and THE QUEEN! 

Dean is one of only eight glass armonica players in the world. The armonica was invented by Ben Franklin. Dean also owns one of only two glass violins in the world, and plays one of only two cristal baschets in the United States.

Mo (splendid in snake and zebra) gets a kick out of the The Mister's Scottish tam with attached red hair.
Tami looked amazing in her black, beaded dress. In fact, I asked her to leave it for me. She did.

 John and pal, Michael Garcia, in ceremonial Navajo necklace.

Thurm cleaned up nicely and looked pleased with his catch of the day.

This is my favorite picture. It probably says something about the evening that I don't remember what we were laughing at. We laughed a lot. Michael, Ric and Cindy, I wish you could have been here.
Tomorrow: Michael Garcia performs.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Lady Aston's BarnStone Salon: Timothy Monsion Messes With Bill

(This series of posts describes the projects each of seven artists brought to "Lady Aston's BarnStone Salon," held in early February at my home in Charles City, VA. The first of the series was posted Feb. 7, 2011.)

Timothy Monsion (we call him Thurm) is an actor, AEA, SAG, RBB (Resident Bad Boy). HIs stage, film and TV credits roll out the door. He created the role of the Doctor in Marvin's Room, and was nominated for the Joseph Jefferson Award for Actor in a Supporting Role at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago.The play, of course, went to Off-Broadway, and Tim went with it. He's had more TV and film roles than most of us have teeth. His talent runs deep.

There's lots I could tell you about Thurm, but you wouldn't believe half of it, so suffice it to say that he's our Barrymore incarnate: lover of art, women and colorless liquor. He's also a poet, dramaturg, student of Shakespeare, husband, and dad to young Nick, on whom he dotes. His first (and truest?) love, however, is theatre.

In  school, Thurm wasn't a particularly organized person. (Okay, he was a mess.) But he never lost a script. He was loathe to write a paper, but could memorize a play overnight. He doesn't speak any foreign languages, but his accent range is wide and dead on. The man is at home on a stage.

Thurm told us that he recently acted in School for Scandal, directed by and starring Brian Bedford. He'd read the play in college, and it had all the 18th century archaic language and inside 18th century jokes that would be lost on a modern audience. But when he read the script they were using, all that archaic language had disappeared, lines had been cut, the play felt modern, quick and witty. Judicious cuts had been made, and what was left was an 18th century that was understandable and fun. 

"The most impressive thing was that not one review mentioned that the play had been altered or cut. The reviewers assumed it was the original"
So he thought, "Why not?" A Mid-summer's Night Dream would be perfect for our summer theater which had never done Shakespeare. Let me do the same thing with a particular audience in mind - that husband dragged to the theater in the summer by his wife. I wanted him to be in the beer-garden at the intermission in 40 minutes thinking, 'This thing is half over and it's not half bad.'"

Interesting theory, but what would the critics say? I mean, how presumptuous! What right do we have to mess with the plays of Shakespeare? Moliere? 

None, really, but we've been doing it for decades. How many Shakespearean plays have you seen where the time is moved to another era, where the location is moved to another country, where new imagery is woven into the set? And why do we do these things? To comment on the relevance of the plays, yes, and also to breathe new life into the plays so MIDDLE AGED MEN DON'T FALL ASLEEP.

So Tim had us read an intact scene from A Midsummer Night's Dream. Then he handed us his truncated version and had us read that. I have to admit, I didn't miss the cuts. Compare these two speeches by Titania, the Fairy Queen, and you'll see what I mean. Here's the uncut speech:

TITANIA These are the forgeries of jealousy:
And never, since the middle summer's spring,
Met we on hill, in dale, forest or mead,
By paved fountain or by rushy brook,
Or in the beached margent of the sea,
To dance our ringlets to the whistling wind,
But with thy brawls thou hast disturb'd our sport.
Therefore the winds, piping to us in vain,
As in revenge, have suck'd up from the sea
Contagious fogs; which falling in the land
Have every pelting river made so proud
That they have overborne their continents:
The ox hath therefore stretch'd his yoke in vain,
The ploughman lost his sweat, and the green corn
Hath rotted ere his youth attain'd a beard;
The fold stands empty in the drowned field,
And crows are fatted with the murrion flock;
The nine men's morris is fill'd up with mud,
And the quaint mazes in the wanton green
For lack of tread are undistinguishable:
The human mortals want their winter here;
No night is now with hymn or carol blest:
Therefore the moon, the governess of floods,
Pale in her anger, washes all the air,
That rheumatic diseases do abound:
And thorough this distemperature we see
The seasons alter: hoary-headed frosts
Far in the fresh lap of the crimson rose,
And on old Hiems' thin and icy crown
An odorous chaplet of sweet summer buds
Is, as in mockery, set: the spring, the summer,
The childing autumn, angry winter, change
Their wonted liveries, and the mazed world,
By their increase, now knows not which is which:
And this same progeny of evils comes
From our debate, from our dissension;
We are their parents and original.

You didn't read it, did you? Who can blame you? The language, while lyrical, is dense and difficult to follow. I know this, you know this, scholars know this. The reason Shakespeare wrote it like this is because words were the only tools (besides painting) with which to create images in the minds of the audience. We have photos and TV and films, so we don't need all this verbage in order to "get the picture." So, why not cut the speech, taking care not to wound its meaning, like so:

These are the forgeries of jealousy,
And never, since the middle summer's spring,
Met we on hill, i dale, forest, or mead,
But with thy brawls thou hast disturbed our sport.
Therefore, the winds, piping to us in vain
As in revenge, have sucked up from the sea;
And through this distemperature, we see
The seasons alter: the spring, the summer,
The childing autumn, angry winter,
Change their wonted liveries; and the 'mazed world,
By their increase, now knows not which is which.

And that's it! Nothing about oxen or ploughmen, or rheumatic diseases abounding. As long as one takes care to preserve the iambic pentameter (or whatever it is), it seems to make sense to condense such passages.

Controversial? Hail yas. Heresy? Nah. Purists will hate it, but actors will gild it, and audiences, more than likely, will applaud it.

Then Thurm told us about his association with Peninsula Players Theatre, a 74 year old theatre that recently undertook a successful capitol campaign to renovate its outdoor venue. Thurm has been a part of this theatre for many summers, and he took upon himself to show us the film he wrote, shot and edited. The film was a montage of interviews, early photos, and footage depicting the history of the theatre, which began with "two planks and a passion."

"The movie took two years to make. I interviewed people all over the country. It was made as a short history to commemorate the 75th anniversary of our theater.  It was quite successful, shown at different fund raising events and the 75 anniversary party."

If anyone wants to see it, you can contact Thurm for the website and password: 

Thurm lives in Studio City, CA. 

Saturday, February 19, 2011

In Which I Speak at The GFWC Woman's Club of Tarpon Springs and Introduce the Top Ten Cars That Would Appeal to Women

I love speaking to GFWC Woman's Clubs. Something happens when a Room 'O Women break bread and eat sugar, sans the company of men. I don't know if it's some sort of hormonal symbiosis or what, but inevitably hilarity ensues, and a good time is had by all.

On February 16, I had the good fortune to talk about Florida Fiction with the Woman's Club of Tarpon Springs, FL. I'm particularly indebted to Sherry Patterson who passed my name along to the president, Sherry Orr, who invited me to be their guest speaker. I met the GFWC Florida president, Teddy Hulse, got to sit at the Big Girl table, and was treated to a delicious lunch. Best of all, these gals were a GREAT audience. When I learned that their upcoming conference had the theme of NASCAR, I scrapped my prepared introduction and went with a Top Ten List my sister and I just HAPPENED to compose on our way to the luncheon.

What? You don't compose Top Ten Lists when you drive? Ohhh, it's fun.

My sister drives a Porsche. (This is the same sister who let me borrow me her Miata when I was touring Florida libraries. We like cars.) As we drove along, it occurred to me that car companies would do well to market cars directly to women by appealing to our needs. You may recall some car companies trying this is the past, with varying degrees of success, but I think they went about it the wrong way. You have to NAME the car correctly to get our attention, and then include the appropriate bells and whistles. So with the Woman's Club of Tarpon Springs, I shared my 

Top Ten Cars That Would Appeal to Women
10. The Chevy Coif—comes with vents in the roof so you can drive and dry your hair at the same time.
09. The Nissan Vasectomy—automatically locks out your kids.
08. The Chevy Blonde—comes with an extra passenger side steering wheel.
07. The Dodge Domestic—it’s self-cleaning.
06. The Volkswagen Feminist—the top comes off.
05. The Toyota Tata—comes with high beams only.
04. The Honda Booty—comes with plenty of junk in the trunk.
03. The Pontiac PMS—comes with a gun rack.
02. The Mazda Menopause—runs hot and changes lanes without signaling.
And the number one Car That Would Appeal to Women:
The Ford Hunk—comes with a straight stick and four on the floor.

I banked on these women having a sense of humor, and I guessed right. The number one car had them screaming. In a good way, I mean. Phew. Can you imagine what might have happened if I had guessed wrong?

"Um, excuse me, Miss Ziegler, but if you'd care to go into the restroom and wash your mouth out with soap, we'll wait. Or maybe we won't. We haven't decided."

Not this bunch. Had a Chippendale dancer wandered into the room at that moment, he'd have had his hands full. (As would have they!) Plus, they wore crazy hats! I love crazy hats. They were a generous group, too. Besides being the stellar community volunteers that they are, they were very generous to me, and bought several books. Thank you, Woman's Club of Tarpon Springs.

And I hope none of you are on the lam, because I've just blown your covers. Here's what you look like when you're behaving yourselves:

Best wishes to you and your important work. Have fun at your spring conference! (Somehow, I think you will.)

Friday, February 18, 2011

How the Reading Went: Full Plate Collection in NYC

(I'm talking a short break from Lady Aston's Barnstone Salon to report on the recent  happenings regarding my play, Full Plate Collection. We'll return to the Barnstone Salon tomorrow with Tim Monsion and "The Fancy Dress Dinner.")

On February 12, the Mister and I drove to NYC to hear Full Plate Collection read by the acting interns at The Barrow Group, a theater located in the garment district. This was a profoundly neat experience for several reasons, but let me thank Becca Worthington right off the bat, for picking my play out of the slush pile. For a girl who grew up on a dirt road, a reading in NYC is about as big-time as it gets. Thank you, Becca, for the honor.

A reading, by the way, is the next best thing to production. Readings are often attended by people looking for the next new voice.
FPC was originally produced in Richmond in partnership with Barksdale Theatre. I am indebted to LOTS of people for its successful run, most notably Erin Thomas, Bruce Miller, and the director, Keri Wormald. After the run ended, I began casting about for more production opportunities, which is how the play ended up at The Barrow Group.

For the uninitiated, allow me to give a brief explanation of how a playwright goes about getting her play produced. You have a couple a ways to go. There's the

1) Citizen Kane Approach, in which you marry a rich person who personally finances a production at a theater so desperate for money it doesn't care if you're talented or not.

2) The Casting Couch Approach, in which you sleep with a producer who uses his/her influence to get your play produced.

3) The Agent Approach, in which you sleep with a literary agent who handles new plays and (ahem) playwrights, who then sends your play to theaters that produce new plays.

4) The Casting About Aimlessly Approach, in which you sleep with your spouse and send your play to every theater in the Dramatists Guild Resource Directory listed as "accepts new play submissions." This method takes time, is costly, and rarely succeeds, because most theaters don't have the money to pay someone to read the volume of plays that suffocate their in boxes. You might have better luck if an advocate hands your play to the artistic director, someone who knows you and believes in your work, but even then, who has time to read a play?

5) The Screaming in a Crowded Room Approach, in which you don't sleep at all. Instead, you spend all your time building a social media "platform" whereby you attempt to connect with theatre professionals through FaceBook, Twitter, Linkd In, and other black e-holes.

6) The Answer the Call Approach, in which you figure out  where theaters "call" for plays, and submit your play to those theaters who are actually LOOKING for the kind of play you have written.

7) The Lightning Strike Approach, in which you sleep all the time while waiting for lighting to strike, because (as we all know), it's not about how talented you are; it's about who you sleep with, and only a lucky lightning strike will take you to the next level, so why bother?

There are other approaches, of course, and you are encouraged to try new and unusual ways to get your play read or produced, like using KickStarter, or hitting up friends and family for money to produce your play yourself.

Me, I opted for 4 & 6.

Of the dozens of theaters contacted, I heard from The Barrow Group, an Off-Broadway Theater. Becca (who also happens to be from Richmond--lightning strike!) made it clear to me that the theatre would NOT be producing my play, but she would like to arrange a reading of it as part of their Reading Series for Acting Interns.

The Barrow Group has an acting school for interns, and the play would be perfect them, Becca told me. There's no money involved, no travel perks; only the opportunity to hear my play read by talented actors who can bring the script to life. A reading is a scaled down performance: actors carry scripts. There are no costumes, props, or staging, and only minimal movement. The purpose is to let the playwright hear her words, and get feedback from the actors and those in attendance.

What a rewarding experience! Director Rachel Gay (who stage managed an earlier production of the play) directed eight young women in two rehearsals. They were great. The play has a few musical numbers, and they handled the songs brilliantly. Each actor played at least three roles (some played four), and their choices were funny, smart, and spot on. Rather than listen critically (as I intended), I got lost in the performance. The audience members laughed, the actors looked like they were having fun, and I was so proud I coulda busted.

During the talkback afterward, I learned that I should either write more songs or eliminate them altogether (I'm leaning toward eliminating them, but could be talked out of it), and that the "message" was not as heavy handed as I had feared. The actors told me they really appreciated being able to read a comedy, and particularly liked playing more than one role. The word that kept coming up was "fun."

I'll take Fun! I'll take Fun every day of the week!

Afterwards, the Mister and I went to dinner with my friend Theresa McElwee who came to the reading. That reminds me. I need to write a review of the restaurant across the street from the theater, the Staghorn Steakhouse on 36th Street. Don't go there. We were not treated well.

But I digress.

The next day, the Mister and I went to the Body Exhibit (recommended), then we drove home

And that's how it went. Like I said, profoundly neat. Thank you very much to Becca, Rachel, and all involved.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Lady Aston's BarnStone Salon: Chain Poetry

(This series of posts describes the projects each of seven artists brought to "Lady Aston's BarnStone Salon," held in early February at my home in Charles City, VA. The first of the series was posted Feb. 7, 2011.)

So late Saturday night, we got really drunk, right? And once bottomless wine flows, what do seven crazy artists do with one another around a fireplace on a cold night in February?

Chain Poetry! Woo hoo! BRING IT, YO.

Here's what you do: pass around narrow strips of paper and each person writes 5 words, one below the other (including punctuation, if you want.) Then you fold the paper so only your bottom two words are visible, and pass the paper to the next person. When you receive the paper passed to you, you add just three words. Rinse and repeat. When you get to the bottom of the paper (or fall in the fireplace, whichever comes first), you unfold and read the poems.

Deeeeep. Here's a few of my favorites:



Okay, one more, a short one. We must have run out of booze.


Yeah. So. That's what we did.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Lady Aston's BarnStone Salon: Telling Your Story to Make a Difference, by John Capecci

(This series of posts describes the projects each of seven artists brought to "Lady Aston's BarnStone Salon," held in early February at my home in Charles City, VA. The first of the series was posted Feb. 7, 2011.)

John Capecci is my best friend from grad school days. 

He and I co-edit a series of monologue collections for actors. (They're excellent. You should buy some.) For his current project, a book is titled, Living Proof: Telling Your Story to Make a Difference, John has partnered with his long time BFF Timothy Cage, and I'm really hurt and jealous. In fact, as I write this, I am crying. But suddenly I remember I don't have more than 20 years experience in communication training like Tim does,  and suck it up. 

At the Salon, John introduced his book, and asked for comments on content and/or clarity.  

Living Proof helps public advocates and spokespersons with the essential skills necessary to tell their stories effectively, authentically, and powerfully. John talked about how much he loves doing this work, which brings together his love of, and backgrounds in narrative theory, public address, performance, and advocacy.

Let's say I was adopted many years ago in a closed adoption. I have no birth certificate, and even though I have been met my birth parents, the state of NY still will not issue a birth certificate, which greatly limits my freedoms as a citizen of the United States. The law needs to be changed, and I want to tell my story as a way to advocate for that change. Living Proof tells me how to focus my story and goals, how to assemble and craft it, and how to deliver it.

Or, let's say I have heart disease, and want to advocate for increased public awareness of heart disease in women. I will be interviewed on CNN for a whole thirty seconds. I need to boil down my message (a lot), without losing sympathetic appeal, or allowing the interview to stray from my message points, all while looking confident and relaxed.

John and Tim have coached persons who have appeared on  Oprah (last week!), The Today Show; CNN; in national media campaigns; at The White House; on Mars; and in the portal to John Malkovich's brain. They have worked with celebrity spokespersons; professional athletes; heads of state; the Mayo Clinic; WomenHeart: The National Coalition for Women with Heart Disease; the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation; the National Meningitis Foundation;  and  major arts organizations and universities.

They are coming soon to a bookshelf near you. 

And all this is really GREAT, but the thing that is REALLY great, is that John has an advanced degree in Performance Studies. You know, the major your parents BEGGED you not to declare. And with the organizational skills you learned in Speech 101 (along with a generous dose of ambition and charisma), John has built a career to rival that of any MBA. He is a walking, talking, working advocate of the arts and arts education. And next to me, he likes Tim best.