CAST MEMBERS PARTICIPATE IN SPOLIN WORKSHOP

THE POWER OF PLAY

By Sue Wurster

Aretha Amelia Sills is a Los Angeles-based writer and teacher of both improvisational theater and creative writing.  She is the granddaughter of theatre academic, educator, and acting coach Viola Spolin who is considered an important innovator in 20th century American theatre for having created directorial techniques to help actors to be focused in the present moment and to find choices improvisationally, as if in real life.   Spolin’s collection of theatre games, in fact,  has long been considered the drama teacher’s “Bible.”

Aretha’s father, Paul Sills, carried on his mother’s work and was the creator and director of  Chicago’sThe Second City, the first professional improvisation company in the U.S., and, later, the acclaimed Story Theatre.  (The three generation are pictured below. )

Aretha studied theater games for many years with her father (and has conducted workshops for his Wisconsin Theater Game Center, Bard College, Stella Adler Studio of Acting, Stockholm International School, Sarah Lawrence College, and Northwestern University. She has worked with Tony and Emmy Award winning actors and has trained faculty from Northwestern, DePaul, Columbia College, The Second City, The Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science, and many other schools and institutions.  She is the Associate Director of Sills/Spolin Theater Works and directs The Predicament Players. She created and directs an improvised show for Enrichment Works, a non-profit bringing theater that inspires learning into Los Angeles public schools.

Aretha also gives talks on how improvisational theater in the United States emerged out of Progressive-era social reforms in Chicago, particularly Neva Boyd’s Recreational Training School at Hull House.  In her essay “The Theory of Play,” Boyd wrote: “Social living cannot be maintained on the basis of destructive ideologies – domination, hate, prejudice, greed and dishonesty. A society cannot hold together without a good way of life for all… Virtues are dynamic products and cannot be taken over, fully developed, without being continuously developed.”

Neva Boyd

Games, as both women knew, help children learn language skills, socialization, cooperation, and even morality, because all must agree on the rules and abide by them for a game to be any fun. In addition, the act of playing changes the participant.  Boyd wrote: “Play involves social values, as does no other behavior. The spirit of play develops social adaptability, ethics, mental and emotional control, and imagination.” Spolin’s work with actors was deeply rooted in Boyd’s beliefs.

In October, Aretha conducted a weekend long workshop in Watertown, which BOLLI CAST members Richard Averbuch, Sandy Clifford, Becki Norman, and Sue Wurster attended.  All four were challenged and inspired by the work.

Richard, who has acted and improvised professionally himself, says that the experience served as a vivid reminder that there is wonderful possibility and vitality involved in the act of playing games – it helps us reconnect with the child inside.  “It’s also so encouraging to see that you can gather a group of (mostly) strangers, and, within no time, you can play and explore acting with them.  It jump-starts the process of getting to know someone.  We’re asked to trust that inspiration will come from our intuitive selves and by connecting with other actors, especially when engaged in movement.

Sandy says that she found the Spolin workshop “fabulous.”  Aretha created a safe and supportive space which allowed us to take risks and have fun “playing” childhood games like Red Light, Green Light and other old favorites.   They relaxed everyone and got us into that playful childlike space.  No right or wrong was established early on.  Focus was an important theme for me, really focusing on your partner or the task you were doing helped to keep a scene real.
Aretha also kept asking us to really see what we were doing and to keep heightening it.  That exercise was fascinating because, in the heightening, things often became transformed.  It was fascinating to see that happening with other people.  I would love to take another workshop with her, Sandy said.

 For Becki, taking part in the Spolin Workshop was a fun and enlightening experience.  As someone who had never participated in a workshop like this, at first, I was wondering what I was getting myself into.  But participating in CAST and Scene-iors at BOLLI gave me the confidence to take the next step.  What was surprising to me was how much I enjoyed it and how comfortable I was.  Improv is very different from straight acting. It is so spontaneous, while “straight acting” involves a different kind of preparation and a script. Both, however, need the players to get “out of the box” and temporarily be someone entirely different from themselves. That is not easy, but I did manage, and learn, to do it.  What was special, on a personal level, is how all 16 of us, most of whom did not know each other, became a community, and, by the time we left, we were friends.  The reliance and support for each other was wonderful.  Overall, it was a rewarding experience, one that will help me in future productions.  I know I have gained more respect for those who do improvisation!

And for Sue, the workshop was a chance to reconnect with play in an entirely different way.  “When he moved to New York City to found The New Actors Workshop with Mike Nichols, Paul and his wife enrolled their younger daughter Neva at the Calhoun School where I was the drama teacher.  That year, Paul gave me the incomparable gift of enrollment in his improvisation course, which I relished, particularly for what I took away to apply to my own teaching and directing.  Working with Aretha, so many years later, was a wonderful experience, an opportunity to see Paul’s older daughter in action, carrying on the family ‘business’ with such grace, generosity of spirit, and depth of understanding.  Her father and grandmother are surely looking down at her with enormous pride.”

It was a memorable workshop and a terrific way to spend a kong weekend!

BOLLI “Matters” editor. Sue Wurster

Theatre, drama, speech, debate and all things word-centered have led many to refer to Sue as “Wurster the Wily Word Woman.”

WRITERS GUILD WELCOMES HALLIE EPHRON TO BOLLI

INTERVIEW WITH HALLIE EPHRON

Writer Hallie Ephron

by Marilyn Brooks

 It’s hard to believe, but best-selling mystery author Hallie Ephron didn’t begin her writing career until she was 40.  That’s because she came from the well-known Ephron family–her parents were Hollywood screenwriters; her three sisters were published authors; and she was intimidated, a bit afraid of competing with them.  How lucky, then, for the many readers of her 11 mystery novels and 5 works of non-fiction that she decided that perhaps she could become a writer after all.

Hallie spoke on December 12th to the Writers’ Guild, a group of BOLLI members who are working in various genres, including romance novels, memoirs, and poetry.  She emphasized that it’s never too late to write, keeping in mind that writing and being published may be two different things. That should not stop anyone from writing, she stated, but noted that “my goal was always to be published when I started writing,” and she kept at it even after several years of rejections.

Because she started later in life, “I developed bad habits,” Hallie admitted.  “I needed a different skill set than I had had before.”  She had been a teacher and a technical writer, but since non-fiction is so different from fiction, she realized that she needed to develop expertise in plotting, characterization, and settings in order to tell compelling stories.

The beginning ideas of her novels often come from real events, but Hallie emphasizes that she doesn’t write true crime books.  The murder of a friend’s brother was the idea behind one of her novels, but “I don’t want to write true crime—it’s too awful.”

“I didn’t know what I didn’t know” is how Hallie described the many lessons she learned in creating her mysteries.  She emphasized three:  1) this career is not for the faint-of-heart; 2) novels have to have shape—a beginning, a middle, and an end; and 3) drama in the novel is driven by the character’s (protagonist’s) goal, and without a meaningful goal, there is no story.

The story, the plot, is obviously important but often overlooked is the protagonist’s goal, the why of his or her determination to solve the crime.  In writing books in which the leading character is not a detective, there needs to be a meaningful objective that explains why the protagonist gets involved.  Perhaps the leading character has just come upon the body of her brother and is suddenly accused of his murder; solving that crime is, for her, an understandable goal.

Hallie outlines each novel, but as its storyline progresses, she goes back and revises it, reflecting new ideas and changes from the original.  She “rewrites, rewrites, and rewrites” as well. Next, she gives it to friends to read, then to her agent, and then to her editor.  Each one makes changes to her work.  As noted earlier, “This is not a career for the faint-of-heart.”

She describes her technique as “underwriting” rather than “overwriting,” meaning that she has to go back to add to the story rather than removing any excess.  But “writing is so personal, there’s no one way to write a novel,” she stressed.  “Do what works for you.”

Her own goal in writing is that “I want to write something to astonish the readers but that will leave them wondering how they missed the clue” that led to the solution.  Mentioning the movie, The Sixth Sense, she said that the shocking ending of that film was a perfect example of that–a sort of why I didn’t I see that on the part of the filmgoer or the reader.

In talking about her latest mystery, Careful What You Wish For, Hallie took parts of her own life, e.g., an organized wife and a husband who cannot pass a flea market without stopping.  But, she pointed out, it’s a novel, fiction as opposed to fact.  It’s not Hallie in the book, nor is it her husband, but in the hands of such a gifted writer, fiction can be stranger and more interesting than fact.

Our MYSTERY MAVEN Marilyn Brooks

I’ve always been a mystery reader, starting with Nancy Drew (my favorite, of course).  I think I find mysteries so satisfying because there’s a definite plot to follow, a storyline that has to make sense to be successful.  And, of course, there’s always the fun of trying to guess the ending!  My blog, published every Saturday,  is located at www.marilynsmysteryreads.com.

 

 

 

SIG UPDATE: FALL TERM, 2019

SIG UPDATE:  Fall Term, 2019

AGING WITH RESILIENCE & ENTHUSIASM (Group pictured above):  The Aging with Resilience and Enthusiasm SIG had interesting and supportive discussions this semester. Gratitude was our focus for our first fall meeting. Whether you are grateful for health, friends, family, or sunny days, being grateful provides a positive perspective on life. In November, we talked about relationships—the good, the bad, and the ugly. Discussion focused on ways to maintain long-time friendships with those who may live far away. We suggested maintaining friendships that are helpful and uplifting but ending those that drain you of your own energy and enthusiasm. December’s meeting provided a chance to examine the winter blues, especially since we met the day after two days of snow. Talk focused on ways to be alone but not lonely. The benefits of the computer enable us to talk and see others. People have been suggesting interesting books, TV shows, movies and Amazon/Netflix series that make us think and laugh. (Send your suggestions to me at sandymj@gmail.com) Our next meeting is Jan. 8th when we will be discussing remaining at home, right-sizing, or joining a senior housing facility.  (Sandy Miller-Jacobs)

THE BOLLI BOOK GROUP:  The BOLLI Book Group has recently read two acclaimed but very different best-selling novels that each feature the exhilaration, pain, and confusion of teen-age relationships: Normal People by the young Irish writer Sally Rooney, in which class differences and miscommunication discomfit the young couple; and Trust Exercise by Susan Choi, which upends our expectations and forces us to consider the meaning of reality in a fictional world.  (Abby Pinard)

CAST:  Throughout the fall, CAST (Creativity in Acting, Storytelling, and Theatre) focused on improvisational theatre.  This was an adventure in creativity, spontaneity, group solidarity—and play.  We’ve learned about acting by engaging in theatre games used to build teamwork and enhance sensory awareness as well as listening skills.  The exercises paved the way for developing characters, environments that constitute the setting of a scene, and narratives that drive fully improvised scenes.  It was a wonderful exploration of imagination and team building—fully entertaining!   (Richard Averbuch)

POETRY WRITING GROUP:  Since its founding in February, the Poetry Writing Group has continued to meet on a monthly basis.  We have about ten members who participate in presenting their own work and joining in the discussion of everyone’s contributions.  It’s all very loose and comfortable—we don’t write on themes, there’s no designated poetry expert, some bring new works while others bring older ones.  Personally, I’ve found this all very stimulating and have written more than I otherwise would have.  (Peter Schmidt)

WRITERS GUILD:  We continued to challenge ourselves with creative writing prompts, one of which was about having a superpower.  At that meeting, we got into a discussion about some of the problems that an aging Superman might have with his superpowers: maybe sneezing and accidentally blowing away half of Manhattan, for example.  That led to a session in which we collectively brainstormed other common problems with aging that would be magnified for a superhero.  We ended the semester with a guest speaker, writer Hallie Ephron, who engaged us and an audience of other interested  BOLLI members in a wonderful talk about the art, craft, and business of writing.  Watch the Bulletin for notices of upcoming meetings and the prompts we will tackle.  (Larry Schwirian)

 

 

 

 

FROM CHEF JOHN RUDY’S CORNER: GELATO

GELATO 

By John Rudy

In Sicily and Rome, you never see the words “ice cream.”  I don’t know why gelato has not totally caught on in the United States as most Americans who visit Italy fall in love with it.  We did an important study while on our trip to Sicily and Roma, and we rated the gelatos at about 8 difference places.  The best got a 9.5 on the “Mir Scale.”  The worst got a 7 (except for one at a hotel).

Good ice cream, as we all know, has a very high fat content.  The best ice cream is about 2:1 heavy cream to milk, plus egg yolks, and sugar, which is heated until the sugar dissolves.  It is then cooled and beaten (while kept cold) which introduces air (sometimes a lot) into the mix.

Gelato starts out with a similar custard base but has a higher proportion of whole milk and a lower proportion of both cream and eggs (or it may have no eggs at all).  Over-ripe fruit should be used for the best flavor.  The mixture is churned at a much slower rate, incorporating less air and leaving the gelato denser and smoother than ice cream.  Vanilla gelato contains about 90 calories and 3 grams of fat, compared to the 125 calories and 7 grams of fat in the average vanilla ice cream.

Gelato is served at a slightly warmer temperature than ice cream, so its texture stays silkier and softer; it remains dense, though, due to the lack of air.  Because it has a lower percentage of fat than ice cream, the main flavor ingredients really shine through.  PBS traveler Rick Steves says that gelato should not be stored for a long time–preferably, in fact, for only a day or two.  So eating a lot is emphasized!

Here is a recipe for chocolate gelato, my favorite.

2¼ cups whole milk

⅓ cup heavy cream

¾ cup sugar, divided

1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped

4  extra-large egg yolks

2 tbsp coffee flavor liqueur (recommended: Kahlua)

2 tsp pure vanilla extract

pinch kosher salt

8  chocolates, roughly chopped, optional but really good

  1. Heat the milk, cream, and ½ cup sugar in a 2-quart saucepan until the sugar dissolves and the milk starts to simmer.  Add the cocoa powder and chocolate; whisk until smooth.  Pour into a heat-proof measuring cup.
  2. Place the egg yolks and the remaining ¼ cup sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat on high speed for 3 to 5 minutes, until light yellow and very thick. With the mixer on low speed, slowly pour the hot chocolate mixture into the egg mixture.  Pour the egg and chocolate mixture back into the 2-quart saucepan and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until thickened.  A candy thermometer will register about 180° F.  Don’t allow the mixture to boil!
  3. Pour the mixture through a sieve (to remove any inadvertent lumps) into a bowl and stir in the coffee liqueur, vanilla, and salt. Place a piece of plastic wrap directly on top of the custard and chill completely.
  4. Pour the custard into the bowl of an ice cream maker and process according to the manufacturer’s directions. Don’t over-beat.  Stir in the roughly chopped chocolate, if using, and freeze in covered containers.  Allow the gelato to thaw slightly before serving so it is not hard.

And enjoy!

BOLLI “Matters” feature writer John Rudy

Tech guru, inveterate traveler, and home chef John says that  it was his mother who inspired his love of cooking and baking at an early age.  (She cooked vegetables in boil-able packages.)

MEMOIR: DEAR TOM

BOLLI Writers Guild Prompt for December 5th, 2019 – Write a eulogy for a close friend or family member

DEAR TOM

by Marty Kafka

12.5.2019

Dear Tom,

You were probably not expecting to hear from me so soon.

After all, we only recently became rather intimately acquainted, and yet, I feel you are a part of my family now. I have even wondered if it could be some of your brethren running around my neighborhood, acquainting themselves with my hilly backyard.

Perhaps I met you personally in the recent past, chasing you away with a broom when you and your unruly gaggle tried to peck at my pant leg. Imagine that, right outside my back door. What Chutzpah! If that was you, I apologize; although if I think about it seriously, it is a bit too late for my indulging in sincerity. If you happen to be listening in right now or even reading this memoir from your perch in Turkey Heaven, please don’t choke on the seeds and grass you are nibbling on.

Well Tom, I am not the first to have tasted the delectable legs and crispy wings you provide.  And oh, that white breast! You probably can’t appreciate that you are so very delicious. Add home-made stuffing, mashed yams, green beans, and gravy made from your own body’s fat and giblets.  You are a Thanksgiving party in my mouth.

I could embellish your species’ reputation by claiming that you are a self-sacrificing breed, but we would both know that is a bold-faced exaggeration, like the kind our President recites frequently. Nor could I claim that I sacrificed you painlessly using a knife, gun, or other instant-kill weapon. Tom, you were frozen long before we brought you home and Karen packed your hollowed inner cavity with her family recipe for stuffing. Karen and I, as well as Julie and Stetson, feasted heartily at your expense this Thanksgiving. Thanks.

Your brethren have a long history here in Massachusetts, and as far as my family goes, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say we have always been wild about turkeys. We’ve been celebrating your kin for several generations, especially in Novembers.

We celebrate you, Tom, for your generosity of spirit, poor flying skills, and relatively low IQ (even for a bird0. You are easy prey for us human predators. The qualities you embody are endearing to us.

So, Tom, until we meet again, Good Cluck to you and your family.

Best in Health,

Marty

BOLLI Member Marty Kafka
Marty Kafka is a retired psychiatrist whose passions include his wife Karen and their family, international travel, and jazz piano. 
In addition, Marty has found a retirement career taking BOLLI classes, writing memoir, and being active in the Photography special interest group.

 

 

 

 

 

 

MEMOIR FROM DENNIS: MY FRIEND ELOISE

MY FRIEND ELOISE

by Dennis Greene

             Near the end of her life, Eloise Pina was recognized and celebrated by the City of New Bedford for her lifelong leadership and dedication to the community.  Huge portraits of New Bedford’s historic personages hang in the grand meeting room of the New Bedford Public Library, and Eloise’s likeness is among them, the only woman.  At her induction ceremony, Eloise said, “I don’t know all the answers, but when I was nine years old, I met Elizabeth Carter Brooks, and she said to me, I hope you grow up to serve God and the community.”  Eloise fulfilled her idol’s hopes and then some.  She was recognized nationally as a leader of numerous church and community organization as well as a loud voice for compassionate change. But I was only 13 when I first met her, and I just knew Eloise as my mother’s friend.  Soon, she also became my friend.

When we first met, Eloise was a practical nurse at St. Luke’s Hospital. She was the de facto supervisor of her department, but because she lacked the requisite credentials, she was not officially recognized or compensated for her role. To earn extra money for her family of six, she helped my mother with housework a few days a week. I remember her as always energetic and optimistic, with a bright smile and a big laugh.

My fondest memory of Eloise is in our garage, near my weight bench. I was a freshman in high school and still only 5’ tall and 100 pounds. I loved sports and was trying to get big enough to be a high school athlete, but I wasn’t growing and was discouraged.  Eloise sometimes did bench presses with me, and, sensing my concern, she assured me that I was perfectly normal and that it was her professional opinion as a nurse that I was about to grow. I trusted her and stopped worrying. Sure enough, I grew eight inches that year and was able to become a mediocre high school basketball player who earned a varsity letter, my proudest accomplishment.

Eloise didn’t work for my mother very long because Mom convinced her to take the courses she needed to get her nursing credentials. A year later, Eloise got her promotion, and we lost a housekeeper. But she remained our dear friend.

Over the years, I heard much more of her amazing story.  As a young child, she lost her three sisters in a house fire.  The only child to survive,  she was in and out of hospitals for almost three years.

Eloise’s eldest child had a different last name and might have been born out of wedlock.  I never asked the details, but Tony and Eloise raised her with the same love and care as their other kids, and Millie grew up to become a minister.  One of Eloise’s sons was a superstar, but the other was a problem.  When his crack addict girlfriend gave birth to Eloise’s granddaughter, she drove her old car up to Dorchester, forcibly took the baby back to New Bedford, and raised her.  I don’t know about the legalities, but I do know that it was hard to stand up to Eloise when she thought her path was righteous.

Eloise was a prolific letter writer who frequently expressed her strong and well-reasoned opinions as “Letters to the Editor” in the New Bedford Standard Times.  Through her letters, she became recognized as a familiar and powerful voice in her community.  She believed that one person could make a difference, but she also knew that leading groups of voices could make change even more possible. She spent much of her life inspiring, organizing, and leading such groups.

In the late 60’s, packs of young rioters from New Bedford’s smoldering black neighborhoods were vandalizing the city’s downtown area.  Eloise and her group of churchwomen stood  in front of their beloved Grace Church, defiantly refusing to let the rioters approach.  Grace Church survived the riots unharmed.  When I asked Eloise how she had been so successful when so many other similar groups had failed, she told me it was God’s will.  But, she added with a wry smile, she had known many of the rioters since they were little boys–and they knew she still spoke to their mothers.

Eloise was one of the most devout people I have ever known, and I loved her.  I believe she loved me back–and forgave me for being a pagan.

 

“BOLLI Matters” feature writer Dennis Greene

Dennis spent five years as an engineer and then forty as a lawyer–and sixty as a pop culture geek and junkie.  He saw “The Day the Earth Stood Still” in 1951 when he was seven and has been hooked on speculative fiction ever since.