Good Idea: toddler open mics

July 30, 2015 § Leave a comment

Previously, my kiddo went through a phase where he told kid-style jokes which he mostly learned from a library book about Fozzie Bear (whence he also learned to punctuate his jokes by saying “wokka wokka”) and popsicle sticks.

Currently, he has moved into a phase in which he makes up his own jokes.  For instance THIS.

So here is my idea: an open mic night for toddlers! (and their parents!)

I imagine it would happen on, say, a Sunday around 5PM – early enough for the kids (aka “the talent”) not to be melting down because its too close to bed time, but still late enough for the adults to enjoy a cocktail in a socially-acceptable way.  The venue could be pretty much anywhere, though it would be imperative that adults be allowed to bring in kid snacks.

The kids could go up and tell jokes and stories and do impressions.  I feel like it would be all kinds of good practice for them in terms of public speaking, being a good audience member, empathy, delayed gratification . . . And while non-parents would think it was a horror show (and they wouldn’t be wrong), parents would find it totally entertaining (and maybe a good way to make other parent-friends?).

This would NOT ever be an opportunity for scouts to come find child stars of the future.  It would be purely for the entertainment and gratification of kids and their parents.  And while I’m sure much of the time it would be a mess, I’m also sure that it would yield Andy Kaufman-worthy moments of avant garde comedy GENIUS!

What’s your best kid joke?  Post it in the comments!

Awesome Grants

July 28, 2015 § Leave a comment

awesome_foundation_logo_resized

A long time ago, my dad said something to me like: what sets the successful people apart is that they DO their ideas, they don’t just have them.  That’s a terrible paraphrase, but I’ve thought often about his point: we all have ideas about things we want to do, things someone should do, something it would be really cool to have in the world, but we usually stop there; it takes a lot more effort and commitment to keep going.

The Awesome Foundation has the potential to make the leap from having the idea to doing it just a bit easier.  I read about them in the NY Times last week.  A group of ten Trustees each put in $100/month and then award a $1000 grant each month to help fund an awesome project.  And it can be anything.

I was even more excited, when I visited their website, to discover that there are currently 80 chapters in 18 countries!  It’s not just a NY thing!  And the projects that have been funded already are really cool – it’s inspiring just to go poking around their website.

I don’t know what I may apply for a grant to do or make or accomplish, but next time I have a great idea, it’s encouraging to know that the Awesome Foundation is out there to help make awesome ideas happen.

What would you request a grant for?

Wish I Was Here

July 22, 2015 § Leave a comment

Wish I Was HEre

Zach Braff and his brother Adam Braff made a great movie.

IMDB says: “A struggling actor, father and husband finds himself at a major crossroad, which forces him to examine his life, his family and his career.”  That’s about right, but it doesn’t really do it justice.

Wish I Was Here tackles so many family dynamics in a way that feels more truthful for all of its complexity and nuance.  The many different relationships, in the hands of a lesser writer, might easily bog the story down, but here the buoy and illuminate the film from within.  The effect is emotional complexity portrayed with complete clarity.  The writing is excellent.

The performances are excellent across the board, with a particularly impressive turn by Kate Hudson (who I’d come to think of as more of a star than a serious actor and who proves me WAY wrong; she knocks it out of the park.)

The directing is excellent and all the more impressive knowing that Zach Braff was directing a film in which he was also starring.  The film feels thoughtful, emotional, heavy at times – but appropriately so – but never labored or over-wrought.  I can’t imagine describing the film as “effortless” given the subject-matter, but overall the film has a beautiful ease and flow to it.

If you google it, you’ll see that Wish I Was Here got plenty of “meh” reviews.  Rotten Tomatoes says “Critics Consensus: There’s no denying Wish I Was Here is heartfelt, but it covers narrative ground that’s already been well trod” but I respectfully disagree.  Or rather, I agree that we’ve seen these elements before, but I disagree with a poor review.  I think Wish I Was Here covers that ground better than most and with a fresh new alchemy born of the particular given circumstances of the characters, and the ways they come together.

The film is moody and thoughtful and funny . . . a little quirky here and there.  It was self-funded on Kickstarter (raising over 3.1 million dollars) – a controversial move at the time.  As someone who has made her own show with the help of crowd-funding, I have mixed feelings about projects of that scale/scope on the same platform as my 10K web series.  At the same time, I highly doubt that Wish I Was Here could have been as special and specific as it is had it been processed through a movie studio.  And I’m inspired to see people doing just what I’m doing but on a much grander, higher-up-the-food-chain level.  Hopefully in a few years – a few projects – I’ll be higher up the chain too.

Wish I Was Here is available on Netflix and VOD.  Check it out and let me know what you thought in the comments.

Enjoy this post? This blog? More good times (and a mailing list) at www.EevinHartsough.com

Summer reading for Peanuts

July 17, 2015 § Leave a comment

vintage library read

My kiddo – who is 3.25 years old – has loved stories pretty much forever.  He loves to be read to and he loves to be told made-up stories.  I noticed a while ago that, if we were making up a story for him, he had a pretty high tolerance for a story much longer than the average picture book.

We dipped our toe in with The Invention of Hugo Cabret which alternates a few pages of plain text with many pages of text-free illustration.  Later, over the course of a couple of low-energy sick days, we plowed through Peter Pan.  So we continued.

Mixing longer books in with the picture books kept me from getting really sick of reading and re-reading the same five-minute story over and over again.  Longer stories have also been great as a way to enjoy some quiet time after a big day at camp or on the playground, and they keep us all entertained on longer car rides or the occasional flight. There’s also something nice about having more entertainment in a smaller, lighter volume given all the other stuff we’re inevitably schlepping around.

Early on, we had some hits and some misses.  The Wizard of Oz was great . . . except for that scary chapter where she sends her pack of wolves to attack Dorothy and friends (yikes!).  The Enormous Crocodile was a pretty big (if slightly intense) hit which got me excited for more Roald Dahl, but The Magic Finger which focuses on characters who hunt ducks introduced a slew of concepts we weren’t necessarily excited to discuss and Esio Trot was too much about spelling or romance (or both).  James and the Giant Peach seemed like it would be a good idea, ’till I started to read it and realized that James’ parents are killed by an escaped rhino in the first two pages.  Duh, mom.

But, with the help of the wonderful people at our favorite local book store, Bank Street Books, we’ve really hit our stride this Summer.  These books all hit the sweet spot of being a great story, but with mostly accessible vocabulary for a younger kiddo, a picture on every page or two, and content that doesn’t venture too far beyond their years.  And they’re fun to read as an adult.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl.  I’m a lifelong fan of Dahl, but most of his books are too edgy for our kiddo right now.  Not so Charlie and the Chocolate Factory which we borrowed from the library and read all the way through at least four or five times before returning it a couple of weeks later.

My Father’s Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett.  This is a trilogy, although I happen to like the first book the best.  Each is about 70 pages long with a picture on every other page or so.  They are stories of a young, kindhearted and very independent little boy going on an adventure to find and rescue a captive baby dragon and the adventures that ensue.

Mercy Watson series by Kate DiCamillo.  There are six books in the Mercy Watson series beginning with Mercy Watson to the Rescue, about the (mis)adventures of a toast-loving pig named Mercy, her owners Mr. & Mrs. Watson and their neighbors on Deckawoo Drive.  All the books are lushly illustrated in full color by Chris Van Dusen.  The books feel old-fashioned and wholesome though they are contemporary.  The characters are a bunch of delightful oddballs.

Bink & Gollie by Kate Di Camillo & Alison McGhee.  We discovered Bink & Gollie through the Mercy Watson books.  There are currently three books in this series about a pair of best friends who love roller-skating, pancakes and each other most of all.  These books feel a bit like the Elephant & Piggie books for the next age group up and they’re the shortest books on this list.

The Magic Treehouse by Mary Pope Osborne.  This is a fun series because it involves time travel and magic.  The first book in the series – Dinosaurs Before Dark – was an instant favorite.  A word of caution, though, as other books in the series dip in and out of being little-kiddo appropriate.  A book set during the Civil War, for example, (which I never should have agreed to read, so that’s on me) prompted a discussion of war in general, and an explanation of slavery – it was just a lot for a 3 year old.  So these are recommended but not without some parental vetting.

The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner.  Because the first book is about kids who are alone in the world, fending for themselves, we skipped it and went right on to Book Two: Surprise Island which is delightful old-fashioned.  Four siblings are allowed a summer largely to themselves on their wealthy grandfather’s private island where they gather and prepare their own food, craft their own museum, and discover American Indian artifacts.  These books are probably the biggest wild-card of the group and, like the Magic Treehouse books, should probably be vetted on an individual basis for appropriateness, but the kiddo and I are well into the Woodshed Mystery (#7) and having a great time with it.

What are you reading with the kiddos in your life this summer?  Leave a comment!

So . . . I made a show!

July 8, 2015 § Leave a comment

Gemma & The Bear-LOGO-1280x720

It’s called Gemma & The Bear and we just released the first two episodes this past Monday.

It was over two years ago that it all began – sometime between giving birth to my son and my mom’s brain tumor being diagnosed.  Kevin and I wanted to make something together and I thought it should be a web series.  We’d done theater together, but I wasn’t doing theater at the moment because I had a tiny child to take care of.  Something on-camera felt more manageable.

So we began.  We met and wrote and had a reading and got rid of everything we’d written and started again.  Working on the project was always a joy; it was also my artistic life-line.  Without the luxury of time I used to enjoy, it became important to focus on doing one thing well, and that was our show.

Late last summer – almost a year ago – we began our casting process (we paused so I could have back surgery), in the late fall we launched our Indiegogo campaign, and in December we finally – FINALLY – started filming.

We shot for seven non-consecutive days in December, January and February, going by location rather than chronology of the script.  When our office location fell through the morning before the shoot, my brother came through with his office for us and we squeezed what we’d planned to film in three days into two.  We made third graders stand outside on one of the coldest days of the year.  We re-cast a major role at the last minute because our original actor was injured.  We called in favors.  We got it done.

I handled the craft services and, later, the payroll.  I wouldn’t choose to take on those extra roles again, but it felt really good to support our cast and crew in a loving way through food, and later, to appreciate them by redistributing about 75% of what we’d raised to make the show in the form of checks to our artistic and technical collaborators.

I thought the hard part was over.  And then I found myself a producer of a project in post-production.

But now it’s here!  Gemma & The Bear.  Kevin R. Free was my collaborator in all things – writing, acting and producing – and Matt Scott as director, editor and co-writer has provided invaluable additional vision and input.  This has been one of the most rigorous and most rewarding artistic experiences of my life and while I learned a lot (and would do some things differently if I had to do them over) I am incredibly proud of what we’ve made.

We’re still working on episodes 3, 4, 5 and 6 – they’ll be out in August – but for now I hope you enjoy episodes 1 and 2.

Episode One: HE’S BAAAAAAAACK!!! – Gemma gets a big assignment at work and graduates from therapy, but a blast from the past threatens her security.

Episode Two: MEET THE BEAR – Gemma visits her dad, Hank, to try to get to the bottom of the Bear’s reappearance in her life.

This isn’t theater so I can’t see your faces; leave a comment!

Happy Birthday, America! You don’t look a day over 223 . . .

July 2, 2015 § Leave a comment

This time every year, I can’t help but think of this amazing video:

I love this video for its own sake, but I especially love it because it reminds me of this:

If you don’t know, this book is where that cherry tree story comes from (“I cannot tell a lie”) and many others.  Weems made stuff up to build up America (and for personal profit).  It was a new country and it needed some stories, some culture, some history of its own to help it feel established and viable and “real.”  And Weems wasn’t the only one on this band-wagon.  There’s a reason so many buildings were built with Greek-style columns (the Greeks had credibility, they had gravitas) and I’ll always remember learning, when I toured Yale, that the windows were intentionally cracked and then repaired and that worn cobblestones were imported from Europe to give the place an older, more established feeling.

To me, the Cox & Combe’s video is just taking absurd part in (and, sure, poking fun at) this same tradition.

I love that tradition.  Well, I don’t love the making-stuff-up per se, but I love the spirit of re-invention.  I love self-determination and being the author of your own story.  I love Jay Gatsby inventing a new, fabulous life for himself.  I love that no matter where we’re born, we don’t have to feel destined to end up there.

Yup, there’s a lot that’s wrong with our country.  Jay Gatsby is a fiction and a white, male one at that.

Nevertheless, on the anniversary of our country’s independence, I like to appreciate that dyed-in-the-wool of America is the energetic belief that each of us is free to pursue his dreams and to be whoever he or she wants to be.  It might not happen for everyone but it wouldn’t happen for anyone if we didn’t begin with the assumption of that possibility.

*Fireworks!*

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