the shelah marie

encouraging healthy women from the inside out.

A time for healing

One evening in the midst of a tearful conversation with my roommate about feeling judged by other Black women for posting pictures of my curvy frame on my Instagram, she gave me an idea. Why not make this conversation public? So, the next day I sat in front of my computer and made a video about why I chose to curate my online image with photos of my curves. I didn't expect anyone to watch it.

 

But it got a lot of attention, including being covered by ForHarriet, an online community that "celebrates the fullness of Black womanhood." They approached me and asked me to collaborate with them on  a series of Youtube videos addressing topics relevant to Black women. 

I took the opportunity to address something that I've been dealing with for years, depression. I explain how I deal with it and why Brown and Black women experience depression in a unique way.

I got a lot of comments asking about my meditation techniques that I found helpful so here they are as promised:

  1.  Metta. Metta is a mediation based around the principle of kindness. If you are in NYC, you can practice with the amazing human being who introduced me to Metta, Joshua Alafia. Otherwise, you can start with this 30-minute guided meditation which I LOVE. 
  2. Ho'ponopono. This mediation is very simple, it's comprised of these four phrases: I Love You, I'm Sorry, Forgive Me, Thank You. You can go through it step by step (starting with yourself) and go through the feelings and thoughts associated with each phrase. Another good starting place is this video which just repeats the phrases over and over, I sometimes listen to it will I practice breathing techniques. Or when I'm falling asleep I play it sometimes so it can work on my subconscious. 
  3. A Healer. I think talking to someone who is wise and has a specific body of knowledge is so helpful. My personal Healer/Life Therapist is Audrye Arbe. She's a clairvoyant who uses her gift to heal and to help you evolve. You can call her at 1-888-75-PEACE. And despite the 888 number she's not a sleazy psychic hotline scam, she's the real thing and I would only recommend her if I believed in her transformational work. 
Shelah & Audrye

Shelah & Audrye

I hope this helps. If you want more info like this stay tuned as I'll be launching my podcast: The Curvy and Curly Chronicles, and I plan on interviewing Audrye and talking about this topic a bit  more. You can subscribe to my mailing list there to stay updated.


Xo,

S


word of the day: sustainability

For the past four-ish years I've been working to situate myself in a place where I can produce artistic work on a consistent basis that feeds my community and provides paid work for myself and other artists. Like The Flight, which we tour every February to colleges around the U.S. pic 14

There are many times when I wish I genuinely didn't have this artistic heart burning deep within (lol is that dramatic?)  Many days I wish I could be like the other friends I know who value their financial freedom enough to get "real" jobs that allow them to have things, to own things, big things like cars, houses, spouses, children. J/k

::insert evil emoji here ::

Seriously, they can buy name brand shoes and clothes, take a nice vacation and get some much needed dental work. I think what I envy most about that life is that they have a much easier time getting some kind of sustainability (you will hear that word a lot in this post lol). I live a charmed life, a life that I actively choose over and over again. I understand that and take full responsibility for my decisions because I understand the trade offs. I can't go on luxury vacations but sometimes people pay me to go hang out with celebrities in the Caribbean for a week, or teach in Africa, or Haiti. I consistently find myself at random events that are cool and exciting (check those adjectives out).

I make sure to eat free food and take pictures while I'm there and post them on Instagram so people think I'm sorta D-list famous and I get more followers. It works sometimes. My life happens in bursts of excitement followed by long stretches of uncertainty and despair. And Instagram followers don't necessarily translate to a better reality. They shole don't pay no bills!

My goal is to figure out how to stay authentic to my truest self, while still maintaining a healthy financial life. Is it possible? Has to be. Or else what am I doing living in one of the most expensive cities on earth? Isolated from all my family and childhood friends? Sweating because I'm carrying groceries up three flights of stairs? But if I don't genuinely believe I can make my deepest desires a reality, then what am I doing here? People like me, who have left everything to make something don't have the luxury of doubt. We have to believe that what's possible is larger than what we currently conceive of as reality.

Which is why I keep going with The Sustainable Theater Workshop. It's something I'm building for myself & my larger community. Not only is it work I truly believe in and am passionate about, but it allows me to create opportunities for myself to make money (SUSTAINABILITY). Which is important. Some people think artists should work for free or that charity work should be free and I say, "Why?" Maybe if we invested more money in educators and service workers we would have a more positive, tolerant, well-rounded community that could really think about who they are in the world and not just spout off something they heard on the news. Sorry that was snarky. I am having flashbacks of a meeting where I was pitching the workshop and they said, "Why do you need to be paid? You're an artist you should do it because you love it."

Chile I nearly fell out. Yeah I'm gonna pay my Sprint bill with passion & love. :: side eye ::

 

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So as I stress (SHOCKER) about meeting my fundraising goal, I'm actively trying to focus on all the skills and tools I'm developing by doing this and the invisible toolkit I will have cultivated that I can use to continue building a strong foundation for myself. Things aren't happening as quickly as I would like. But every project, every campaign, is an attempt to create a tiny bit of my dream world where artists don't have to beg for money or scrape by all the time. A world in which art isn't on the fringe, extra-curricular, or frivolous.

Here's to the dreamers turned entrepreneurs. However long it takes.

BONUS: Here's a video if me explaining a little more about what exactly I'm doing in Senegal.

https://vimeo.com/108485958

What happened to Black TV?

photo 1 3JON: "Man, where are the Black TV shows?"

SHELAH: "What do you mean?"

JON: "Like A Different World, Living Single, The Cosby Show, The Parenthood, Martin."

SHELAH: "I know, right. I feel like we used to see so many shows with full black casts just being -- people. Living lives."

JON: "We should write a show."

SHELAH: "A TV show? I've never written in TV format before."

JON: Laughs loudly. "Me neither but we could figure it out!"

I had a conversation  just like that a little over a year ago with my dear friend and collaborator, Jon. Jon is an LA-based producer who specializes in sketches, one of the most well known is the Denzel Parody skit starring KingBach. I knew Jon would be able to produce a quality pilot, and he knew I had writing experience, so we decided to create our dream show, The Academy.

The concept started out as a web series that we were going to pitch in a short format of 3-5 minutes to WhatTheFunny, a company of The Wayans family. Then we decided our show was too big for 3-5 minutes so we began writing 10ish minute episodes and that went on for a few months. We finally settled on a dramedy that centers around Nicole (me!), a brand new school counselor/psychologist who returns back to her high school alma matter in Miami on a special assignment from the county to rid the school of an out of control drug problem.

2014-01-12 18.17.08We held auditions in LA and had tons of name actors come out, people we both recognized from film, TV and even a few ex-R&B singers. I was honored by how many people believed in our script and what we were doing for Black TV. It's not a Black show in the sense that race is not the content of the show, the content of the show is what's going on at the school and in the life of Nicole and her peers. But just seeing Black people on screen in a variety of roles, living lives that don't center around their Blackness is huge. It says that Black people don't only exist as spectacles, we have quotidian experiences too. And the characters on the show are so diverse, that our show adds to the multiplicity of Black images on TV -- which in my opinion is a step in a more tolerant, informed and open minded state of TV.

Our shoot in LA was amazing, I even lost my phone and had a complete stranger return it! Yay nice people! Here are some pics from the shoot. Jon pulled together a professional production and I know it's going to be a very impressive product. Several times during the shoot actors would come up to me and say, "thank you so much." And I was like, "shit -- don't thank me, I was just happy to be writing." LOLZ

I will keep you posted on progress. We are editing the pilot now so we can pitch it to Netflix, Amazon Prime, HBO and a few other networks for pilot season.

XO,

SM

Stay Open.

Raven Symone  & Shelah Marie Last year I shared one of the most inspiring weeks of my life in Jamaica with The RuJohn Foundation, it was transformational. So, throughout the year I kept in contact with the foundation and was on track for going this Summer. But due to budget cuts and scheduling logistics I couldn't go in the end.

I was SO disappointed, I must have sulked for a full weekend. I started to investigate those feelings, like WHY do you feel so sad about this, Shelah? After a lot of meditation and writing I came to the conclusion that I associated that trip (being linked to celebrities and luxury) with a certain marker of success.

"If you go on the trip you are successful or better off than you were last year."

Yes, it's important and valuable to be linked with people who are actively getting roles in film and on TV, yes I should network and understand the value of social status as it relates to be an actor. Yes, it's nice and important to be recognized.

But all of that has almost nothing to do with that trip. I am friends with some celebrities, I network and all that stuff already. I'm already doing that.

But the story I told myself about the trip being a marker of success was just ONE STORY. Our experience is largely made up of the stories we consistently tell ourselves. The things we choose to believe to be true for our own experience ultimately craft that very experience.

So I allowed myself to feel those feelings of rejection, disappointment and despair without judging them. They are simply information. They were letting me know that there was a gap between my desires and my beliefs about those desires. 

And what do you know? That same week I got a call from a colleague in Dakar, Senegal who is associated with one of the few schools there for students with Down Syndrome. They have a special program for their higher functioning students where they develop trades and different skills like gardening, farming and sewing.

After some talk I sent a proposal to do a version my Sustainable Theater Workshop in August.

So do I still think about not going to Jamaica? Of course. But I also know that what you focus on you magnify, so I'm focusing on what a life changing experience going to Africa will be, how much these students will teach me, and how fulfilling it is to do what I love internationally.

Stay open.

View More: http://frwd-momentum.pass.us/shelah

The Sustainable Theater Workshop 2014 at The UN

Scared Shitless

Every now and then you meet someone who really believes in you, lucky for me I ran into one of those people, Malick, who heard about the work I did in Haiti and Jamaica and believed in what I could do as an artist and educator. Next thing I knew I was at a meeting with some officials at The UN negotiating fees and logistics to organize a version of The Sustainable Theater Workshop. I was terrified. Before every meeting I would have lengthy meditation sessions and would be practicing my three-part breathing on the train ride there -- most likely looking crazy as hell. We get tied to our identities, and I was tied to my identity as an "artist-who-is-not-so-good-with-money," and I definitely wouldn't be caught dead negotiating fees from REAL business people. So there I was in one of the final meetings, battling my inner identity crisis, feeling all unworthy and silly for being there and wanting to crawl out of skin because I was so anxious. I even cried. In a REAL PEOPLE BUSINESS MEETING. And not like a little tear -- healthy, heavy tears streamed down my face as I tried to continue talking normally and act like I wasn't fucking crying in the middle of a meeting.

Words just kept circling around in my head like they would in a cartoon: artist -- blah, blah, blah -- money -- blah, blah, blah -- free -- blah, blah -- services, Haiti, kids, not sustainable, free, free, how much -- I couldn't even think straight. The original plan was to bring three of my students from Haiti to work with three students from Jamaica and six other students of African decent here in New York. In my usual Shelah fashion of doing too much all at the same time, I fantasized about seeing my students at the airport and hugging them, and fancy UN delegates giving them standing ovations, and subsequently offering them scholarships to study in the US and -- voila -- happily ever after. So in this meeting, when I learned that it wasn't a possibility, and I had already told my students from Haiti (under other advice. I'll never do that again), I was consumed with disappointment and guilt.

You ruin everything. The inner dialogue was ugly.

The Show Must Go On

The good thing was that the program was still going to happen, just not how I had originally imagined. That would be the big personal lesson for the project overall: to let go of my attachment to a certain result. I had to let go of my rigid expectations and get comfortable with not having control and things not being perfect.

Thanks to The RuJohn Foundation I was able to have three students come from Jamaica, who were joined by four other African girls (from Guinea and Senegal) to participate on the workshop. From March 20-25th the students worked together to write and perform their own theater performance on March 25th to celebrate The International Day of Remembrance for the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade. It was very challenging because not only did I have the students from Jamaica in my custody 24/7 for the entire week, but I had to juggle different student schedules, not having space to rehearse, and funding a large part of the workshop out of my own pocket.

The Payoff

Khadija Sall, confidently teaching the crowd Wolof.

I realized very explicitly that I do not like  the administrative work around these projects, but I have to deal with it because I want to produce my own work. What I really love is creating micro-communities for focused amounts of time who get together to create something artistically. I love being that facilitator, that guide to create new experiences and find new parts of ourselves. It was pretty amazing to witness so many things, like Khadija, 17, who recently moved to The US from Senegal, perform for her first time ever on a stage. She's into coding and has participated in Girls Who Code, she told me she wants to study web design in college, so it was lovely to be able to cultivate her qualities as a natural performer and see her proudly teach Wolof to a crowd of almost 700 students.

It was also pretty cool to connect my students with professional actors in person, like Stephen Hill or virtually, when my students got to hear some encouraging words from Raven Symone.

https://vimeo.com/90365282

What an amazing journey. Now on to the next one!

Love, Shelah

Can I be real for a second?

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This is the most challenging thing I've ever done. Not having any free brain space, always being on call any time of time day or night, thinking about receiving and paying out large sums of money, wondering if the show is "good enough" -- I'm tired. I want to be like "OMGEASH I'm so excited to be producing and acting in a play I wrote! How cool!" Which is true, somewhere in my mind -- but what feels most true right is is pure overwhelm. I'm navigating all the different performances: Shelah as confident producer pitching her show, Shelah as invested actress in rehearsal, Shelah as business woman negotiating a fee. And sometimes it all falls down. Well, not completely. Most times everything "works out" but not without a good dose of trauma first.

This the first time I've attempted something this grand. The Flight has been booked at The University of Northern Iowa, Furman University, The African Burial Ground National Monument New York and is having it's New York City Premier at Dixon Place. It's exciting when I think about it, but this process has been terrifying. Not he immediate kind of terror you'd feel of you were in the jungle being chased by a tiger -- but the kind of fear you'd experience if you spent a night in the jungle alone. You snap your neck in the direction of the slightest noise and maintain an ancient sense of I'm alert because shit could get real at any second. At any second the stage manager could drop at in the middle of a rehearsal (true story). At any moment you could hire a new stage manager who misses tech week (another true story). At any moment you break down in cry unexpectedly when another NYC theater owner says something like, "your play is about what? Who are you again? No, we're booked till June" (click). Or, at any moment you could get an email that gives you free space, at a theater you really love, or develop a relationship with someone who you know you will work with again.

So, I totally understand that this is a moment for me to be grateful -- and I am. But I wouldn't be honest if I said I never felt like throwing the towel in. I won't though, because I know much better than that.

 

Until next time,

S

Can goodness & business live together?

View More: http://frwd-momentum.pass.us/shelah Soon I'll be taking a group of students to see Bertolt Brecht's The Good Person of Szechwan.  In its most simple form, the play is about a woman, Shen Te, who can't be good to herself and to others at the same time, so to deal with it she creates a male alter ego, Shui Ta. In order to exist in the world she had to SPLIT HERSELF IN TWO, because there wasn't room for her successful business side and the side of her that was overly kind and unendingly giving. I don't claim to be altruistic or traditionally   good in any way, but I do resonate with her character very much, when I think about the state of the entertainment industry, "...for no one can be good for long if goodness is not in demand," (Good Person)

I routinely go through intermittent periods of despair in terms of my acting career. This happens all the time, it seems my neurosis and anxiety patterns are clear to everyone but me. I'm always surprised, like, "Really, I've said that before?" But it never fails, one of my friends books a spot on TV or posts a picture on Instagram with a ton of likes and I begin to look at myself and say,

 So what now, Shelah? What have you got going on?

And in these dark periods of disillusionment, I secretly start to judge. Judge these high achieving (in my mind) friends to see what about them is somehow unworthy of said accomplishment to make myself feel better. "Well, they put out racist content. OF COURSE they're successful." And something terrible begins to happen. I start to associate success with badness and the oh-so-seductive-artist-struggle with goodness.  Which is mostly bullshit and something people do to make themselves feel good about not being where they want to be, including me.

With all of this said, I have been facing a lot of these personal demons with my current project of pitching The Flight to almost 200 colleges and universities across the U.S. It’s scary. Our collective (Samora Suber, LaChrisha Brown, and I) get on the phone and call people and say, "we have a great show. I know you don’t know who we are, but book us for Black History Month and we will provide you with some phenomenal BHM programming."

That takes a lot of cajones. And this is our first time ever doing something like this (the college we booked last year came to us), so we are literally figuring everything out as we go along.

Here's a few pages from our Media Kit.

What I am coming to realize is the whole goodness and business paradox is a personal struggle that we all individually make the rules for. So for me it was about entitling myself to charge money for my product, and to reach out to strangers about it, and to create an amazing show. You actually have to give yourself permission to be really, really good. So – I’m working on it. Join me?

 

Charity work in Jamaica

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It all started at Olive Garden after a Brooklyn Nets game the day before Christmas Eve. I was sitting next to Andrew and his lovely mother, just chatting as people usual do over unlimited garlic bread and salad. His mother started talking about their foundation (The RuJohn Foundation) and the charity week they do every summer in Jamaica. That's when I chimed in a told her about my experience in Haiti and told her that I'd love to work with her foundation one day.

That was it. Or so I thought. Fast forward to March or so when I get a call from Mrs. Bachelor offering me a spot on the charity trip. All I would have to do is lead the acting workshops with two different high school aged groups, one in Kingston and one in Montego Bay. Perfect! I can do that with my eyes closed. Just one more thing -- I'd be organizing and facilitating the workshops with a few other actors. Lamorne Morris (Fox's New Girl), Robert Ri'chard (Coach Carter, Cousin Skeeter), Raven Symone (The Cosby Show, That's So Raven), Lance Gross (Tyler Perry's House of Payne, Meet the Browns, Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor) & others.

Wait what? I was terrified. Before the trip, I didn't have the confidence in myself as actress to think I could lead these really successful actors down a hallway let alone through acting workshops. The days before the trip I got increasingly anxious. I'm not skinny enough to be in a bikini around all these sexy folk! I'm not an accomplished enough actress to do this -- how am I going to answer the dreaded 'so what have you been in' question? What if I look completely stupid? What if the other actors don't trust me?

I rehearsed my speech to the actors explaining how the workshops would run over and over. I memorized it like I would a monologue. I rehearsed the workshop and memorized how I would explain the activities, focusing on clarity and brevity. I couldn't stop rehearsing and obsessing because I felt I had something to prove.

And then I arrived to the airport and I started to meet the actors and other participants (NBA and NFL athletes like Andray Blatche and Darius Butler and other dancers, and professionals all volunteering their time). I realized that they were just people like me and I loosened up a little. Under the shared goal of providing services and experience to kids who wouldn't otherwise receive it, it was unbelievably easy to connect and make friends.

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The workshops went off extremely well. The actors were engaged, cooperative, generous and honest in the room. The kids were committed and thankful for the experience and so talented. I had the same feeling I had working with my students in Haiti last summer. I understood once again two things: theater is innately shamanistic. It moves energies and transforms and serves as a conduit for powerful human interaction. The other is that people are naturally creative beings. The stuff these kids came up with in less than an hour was amazing.

See for yourself.

https://vimeo.com/69897148

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One thing I took away from the talk back sessions for the participants was Robert Ri'chard's note on realizing the difference between fame and acting. For me that was a key point and I was happy to see the actors relating so honestly to the students. This reinforced the idea -- which I have stated many times before -- is that the focus should always be on doing good work. Create a body of work you are proud of above all. The highlight of the trip was on the bus ride after the workshop when Raven turned to me and said "What do you do? Whatever it is I want to see you work more. You have a really calm spirit and you're very good at what you do." Can't really describe what it feels like to have an actress of her level say something like that to me.

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Also the accommodations weren't bad.

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One of the best experiences of my life. For sure.

xo,

Shelah

 

The Long Hallway: Third time's a charm.

longhw Last Saturday there were over 60 people crammed into our Brooklyn apartment. We had the entire living room space full and the hallway was packed as well. We have a long hallway, but apparently not a large enough living room! My roommate Noelle Ghoussaini and I arranged our third Long Hallway arts event at our apartment and it was a phenomenal experience. 

We had several different performances that presented a unique blend of live music, live performance and film all enveloped in a really warm, electric social experience. I think one person described the night as Magical. Yes, magical it was. I was shocked and impressed with the talent throughout the evening. I knew all of the performers, but for some reason the performances all seemed new and shiny. Like Sullivan's experimentation with Catherine Brookman's unearthly live and recorded voice via the loop machine. It was transcendent. Or Noelle's beautiful piece, phoenicia flowers, interrogating the relationship between the human and the Godly experience. Or Kirya's brave piece on gender bending. Or Lily's hilarious political satire. I could go on.

Be Black Baby

 

Be Black Baby

On a personal note, I was extremely moved by how well by piece was received. Be Black Baby is an immersive, site-specific theater piece designed to give an audience a particular view of what it's like to "be black." Sometimes it's fun and games and sometimes shit gets real. I got the idea from Brian DePalma's film, Hi, Mom! Inside the film lies a little gem of Black radical theater called Be Black Baby. I've been terrified if unveiling Be Black Baby for over 2 years. I didn't want to offend anyone or be too aggressive. But this time around I was so busy prior to The Long Hallway that I didn't have time to obsess about it, I just didn't have that luxury. I almost didn't do it. That resistance is strong. Boy am I glad I did it. The piece was honest, it was true to my voice as a person and as an artist and it was FUN! It really showed me that in dissecting complex issues about race, privilege and the commodification of black cool can also be fun at times. There was something really empowering and enjoyable about subverting the roles of power that I seek to upset on a daily basis. I am going forward full force with this piece. If anything, I have learned to go towards fear, discomfort and the things that trouble you. It pays off.

If you want to know more about the piece hit me up. Shelah@shelahmarie.com

Until next time,

Shelah

long hw wall

OH! The best part... I got a song with my name in it (other than "Oh, Shelah" by Ready for the World). THIS SHIT IS GOING VIRAL I PROMISE!

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pT0MrtigqMU&w=560&h=315]

Booking a film off Instagram?

IG

I've radically changed up my social networking behaviors because I realized that I've been routinely underestimating how much these outlets can actually effect your career. "Oh, it's just Facebook." Not really, behind the Facebook accounts are real people and they actually do want to connect, if they didn't stuff like FB just wouldn't be around. So I've made it a point to be strategic with my activity on these sites. It's been a great experience, anytime I see a film I like or an actress or a director I look them up and see if we can connect in a genuine way. I mean, people hire their friends, right? So I figure all I have to do is make friends. And not in some cheesy networking kind of way -- but why couldn't these successful people that admire want to be friends with me too? Maybe we won't connect, and if that's the case then that's fine -- but I at least make it a habit to make my circle comprised of people who are living the lives I wanna lead.

Anky IGWith all that said I saw that one of my friends, a really talented director and writer named Anky, was casting for a film I immediately jumped on the chance to audition. And later that day I auditioned and BAM! Lead role in an indie film going to the festival circuit.

Did I that this is one of my exact (I mean word for word) goals for 2013?

Woo!

On-camera audition class!

Keeping in line with my goal of scoring a juicy lead role in an indie film I've started taking an on-camera workshop with former Telsey & Co casting director, Heidi Marshall. I received rave reviews about her from a few of my coworkers and I looked her up and she sounded great. She was also very friendly and warm in my interactions with her on twitter, which can tell you a lot about a person. Especially a casting director who can often times be strictly professional and cold with actors. I win the award for most awkward slate ever.

In our first class today she gave us a basic rundown on how casting works in NYC. And a really thorough "day-in-the-life" of a casting director. I found this to be particularly helpful because knowing how casting directors move through their day equips me with the knowledge of how I can put myself in the best position to be casted. We then had mock auditions where we read scenes we prepared before class. I read a acne from Revolutionary Road (April is basically my dream role). We all took notes on each other's auditions. Here are a few from mine:

Some were good, like these: Very engaged and invested in character. Confident start. Good looking. You look like your headshot. Totally believable and vulnerable. Riveting.

And my favorite positive remark: "Camera kisses her."

Some were more critical: Delivery: little lost. Wanted to see her intense and look at the reader. Seemed a little awkward in your slate. DO NOT SPEAK TO CAMERA!

lolz

Sketch Comedy & LA

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I couldn't stop hearing Tupac's "To Live & Die in LA" on my six hour flight to Los Angeles last week. Can you believe they don't even give you cookies anymore? Good thing I packed my rice cakes and seaweed chips because that would have been the struggle paying ten dollars for tiny chicken sandwich. But I digress. I was beyond excited to bust my comedy chops (blows off dust) in a new comedy sketch with the hilarious Andrew Bachelor. I filmed my scene with YouTube guru DeStorm who's videos have a combined 2 millions views. Crazy. Can't wait to see the edited product! In the meantime, I found this old video of a Living Color audition I submitted. Haha.

 

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[vimeo 36460419 w=500 h=281]

Shelah Marie Comedy Reel from Shelah Marie on Vimeo.

Flight 2013. Prepare for departure.

The time is almost here! Samora Suber, LaChrisa Brown and I leave for Iowa in less than one week! Argh! We've been in rehearsal non-stop trying to polish the production and I'm very proud of what we've done. We want to provide an active experience with Black history in a way that a traditional style of theater wouldn't allow. A theme in all my work is how to create a bond between spectator and actor, and how can that bond can be used to extend the theater going experience. There's media, live singing and lots of audience participation. I can't lie though, I'm terrified! I've been informed there will be almost 200 people at our show and that kind of pressure makes one a little scare. Mama I hope they like me! :) I'll keep you posted. Check out our image below!

flight pic

Until next time, Shelah Xoxo

Write. Act. Repeat.

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I've heard it called "authorial acting" once which sounds legit to me. It's basically working as an author and an actor at the same time (author-actor, authorial acting). I think that sounds about right. The process for my latest play, Flight 2013, has been just like that. Write. Talk about it. Try some things on our feet. Re-write. Repeat. I know by now that my strength as a writer is in cooperating other's voices. I like to hear how people naturally say things, I like to hear how people disagree with what I wrote, and how I can incorporate the performance in the text -- it all makes the final product that much more interesting.

I'm also looking forward to embellishing the piece with dance and song as both actresses are amazingly talented in these areas. Mo is a really talented dancer and LaChrisa's voice is ah-may-zing. So Mo helps us all learn dance, phrases, LaChrisa teaches us bits of song and we all keep a directorial eye out since we're essentially doing this piece without a director in the traditional sense.

One month til the show! Woo!

xo,

Shelah

Scene study and scene writing

Things in my life always seem to have a weird way of tying together. Through my collaborator Noelle Ghoussaini I heard of  Arian Moayed's scene study class. It was a really unique experience because I'm not really acclimated to the traditional theater scene in NYC. I am heavily involved in the teaching artist world and in the devised, experimental, performance art scene -- but in terms of different acting techniques, I'm still fairly new. This class served as a perfect bridge from where I am and where I want to be. Arian is amazing, he's personable and down to earth but has a shit ton of professional credits in film, tv and theater in NYC. He's also shooting first feature. Yeah, that's where I wanna head.
I want to stay true to my curious nature in theater, but I am also very pointedly trying to make a career (read: pay bills sometimes) with this.  This is not a hobby. So I learned valuable advice about making honest and fearless choices in acting, but I also learned a little more about the habits of a highly successful artist.
Speaking of, I finished writing my second play, Flight 2013 and am in rehearsals to perform the play on February 25th at The University of Northern Iowa. It's a satirical piece inspired by the "Git on Board" segment of George C. Wolfe's The Colored Museum. The concept is a boutique travel agency that specializes in Black Historic travel excursions that bring the audience to different moments in Black American history.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MFprKJBKbRY]

It's the right passage, for your rites of passage.

Until next time,
Shelah

Site Specific Theater Workshop

I'm tickled that I got accepted into the Site Specific  & Immersive Theater Workshop presented by Kevin Spacey's Old Vic Theater. Aww sheeeiiit.

It's a workshop specifically for theater practitioners that are interested in theater performed in alternative spaces and/or that manipulate the audience-spectator relationship.

I've been hypnotized by a piece called Be Black Baby for going on two years. I did a short solo-piece inspired by BBB before, but I really want to re-perform it. Meaning, I want to recreate the piece as is. If you even looked at the YouTube clip you'll notice that this could be very challenging. There's violence on audience members, nudity and tons of other things that could get me and my artistic friends jailed, sued or beat up.

Right up my alley.

I've got a small group of collaborators together who are working on getting a structure for the piece because I want to have a solid concept ready so I can use it as concrete framework for the skills I'll learn in the workshop.

I'll let you know how it goes. Shelah

Update (12/22/12):

It was so lovely to join in on a workshop with Cora Bissett. She's probably one of the kindest women I've ever met. That's why I was really intrigued by her because she was so loving, honest and caring -- but created a site-specific theater experience (Roadkill) that was quite challenging, aggressive and violent. One of the best pieces of advice she gave me was:

to take care of your audience and to love your audience.

That's exactly what I needed to hear and also what troubles me. I want to create an aggressive piece of theater that unapologetically interrogates the American racial climate in an aggressive, intimate way, but I must keep in mind the whole reason behind the project. It's not just to scare white people; it's to call attention to the destructive effects of separatism through the subtle racial subjugation we experience today. Now, in order to highlight that I may have to use aggressive measures, but they are not for the sake of being aggressive alone -- it is to shock people out of their preconceived notions about race and allow for an experience they wouldn’t have otherwise.

Ok. I'm rambling.

Until Next Time,

SM

The Performance of Practice: Dance at DNA

One day at the end of class I heard Sasha say, “Now would be the time to let me know if you’d like to audition.”

“Audition for what”, I thought?

Without knowing  fully what I was getting myself into, I told Sasha that I would like to audition and a few days later I was a member of The Performance Project at Dance New Amsterdam.  It’s a collaborative dance project where you work with a group of dancers under the direction of a certain chorographer, and for the beginning modern dancers it’s Sasha Soreff. She has an amazing way of identifying weak points in an unsure dancer like me, and coaching without discouraging.

Because surely I can discourage myself. I remember one rehearsal during our first week and we were rehearsing and I couldn’t remember where I was supposed to be or any of the choreography I was taught. I was so humiliated that I almost cried. Or worse. I almost walked out and told myself, “you’re just not a good enough dancer.”

The resistance was strong.

But thankfully I stayed, and I realized that it makes no sense to be jealous of or intimidated by dancers that are better than I am – if they are in the studio rehearsing more than I am. Yeah, some are just naturally gifted, but most are good because they practice, practice, and practice some more.

I think my favorite part of the process has been seeing the fruits of my own practice. Dancing has actually helped me become a more focused actress as well. As my favorite dance partner in crime Sheila tells me, "I couldn’t give a care less about an audience, I just wanna get out there an move." She also has a stellar collection of cat shirts.

Meow.

 

Sheila & Shelah

We'll be performing November 1-3

THUR-FRI at 7:30pm, SAT at 3:00pm and 7:30pm.

Get tickets here.

My favorite song from our piece. So beautiful.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ij59zbvuHZM

 

Update 12 — Sustainable Theater Workshop — What I've learned

Three weeks doesn't seem like a long time, but for me, this trip to Haiti felt like years. Maybe it was the sharp shift in lifestyle (easy to get conceptually, much harder to bear experientially) or the new working environment, but here are some honest  reflections.

What I've learned about myself:

  • One of my highest priorities is my independence

Life becomes almost unbearable if I can’t navigate my time on my own terms. Classic American individualist mentality, I know. You ever tried giving a cat a get a bath? That’s pretty much how I respond when I feel like someone is controlling me. It gets even worse when that person is male. I am neither used to nor familiar with being at the mercy of anyone, male or female. So being in Haiti, where even the most independent women still navigate through men for many situations in business, travel and education, it was a trial for me to wait around/ask permission from one man for almost everything -- uncomfortable to say the least. In the words of Chief Keef, “That’s that ish I don’t like.”

  • I have a very hard time without forced social interactions

This is why I cringe when I hear the word “networking.” I don’t want to pretend to like people; I don’t like fake smiling or fixing my opinions to suit people who don’t agree. I would rather politely bow out of the conversation and go find someone I gel with better. I’m also really spoiled because in New York and Florida I have a very strong network of people who care for me. My wellbeing matters to them, because I matter to them. I can honestly say that is one the things I missed the most.

  • In professional settings, I need to learn how to diplomatically and honestly express when I feel something is wrong

I’m a big girl, everyone isn’t going to like me and that’s ok. This isn’t a friendship -- this is professional. I think women especially, get conditioned to try to appease and not “bother” anyone. I’m always worried that I’m going to disappoint/upset someone. Excuse my French, but FUCK THAT. I deserve to be respected as a professional performer and educator. If I keep up my end of the agreement, I should be met with the same. You think Will Smith (don’t ask why I picked him) in his early career or otherwise, would just be like “Oh, you completely changed our agreement last minute? Oh, sure – no problem.”

Hell no.

So why should I?

  • Patience & Flexibility

Things are not always going to go exactly how I imagined. Being here as helped me realize that sometimes plans should be altered. If they change, maybe there is a space for me to achieve something better than the original plan. On the same token, that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t make extensive plans or have structure – I just need to learn how to be flexible within those structures. Furthermore, sometimes shit takes awhile to pan out. For example, anyone who knows me will tell you I have NO sense of direction. Turn me around in a circle and I’m lost. My first time walking home from The Center in San Rafael I was really effin nervous. I stand out like a sore thumb, my creole is horrible, and I have no phone or anything to call if I get lost. The center and the house where I am staying are literally on the same street; all I had to do was walk STRAIGHT. I got so nervous my first time walking alone that midway home I turned around and walked back, only to later find out I was going the right way all along. I was almost there; I just had to keep walking.

  • I am a dedicated and passionate educator

No need to be humble here. This has been an extremely hard trip for me emotionally, spiritually, and socially. The only saving grace has been my time with my students. I think the way I approach a group allows us to have such a genuinely good time together, which creates a dynamic learning environment. I once heard someone say that in a particular research study, the classrooms where students learned the most was when the instructor gave the group opportunities to know them on a personal level. When I’m with a group, I’m always trying to let them know who I am, so I can better get an idea of who thy are/want to be.

Update 11 -- Sustainable Theater Workshop -- Shifting expectations

Shifting expectations -- August 8, 2012

 

So I’m wondering now, was it unrealistic of me to think that a program, any program, especially one running in an agricultural city severely lacking resources, would run the way I expected? To me, one of the biggest reasons I decided to come to San Rafael was that I genuinely believe kids here deserve and are entitled to high quality, organized, continual arts programming. So for me it’s not okay that things are not running up to speed. But on the other hand, I have to work within the structures in place here. I have to be aware of the cultural nuances at play and the social dynamics already established before I arrived.  I can’t expect to come into an extremely patriarchal, male-dominated society, as a single, young, American female coming to teach a weird, artsy program and not have backlash. The backlash for me has been mostly passive aggressive on two fronts. One: I haven’t been openly expressing my feelings about the trip to the organizers (Definitely a lesson in personal growth and professionalism on my part). Two: They feel/know I’m not completely happy with the way things are going, but are not really open to addressing those concerns on a professional level.

There’s also the problem with many theater arts programs, in the U.S. as well, where organizers coming from a non-performance background routinely underestimate the need of performance-based programs. You need consistent time, space and support in order to construct performance, otherwise, it’s like trying to build a house on an uneven foundation. For this particular workshop, a lot of frustration had to do with the interruptions in the program days. But after three days with the same group of kids now, I can feel and see the difference. When I am able to actually do the work I came to do, all the other issues don’t feel so drastic. I think the first week (when I wasn’t working with the kids) I was feeling like I came to Haiti for some kind of family vacation, which, in the right context is amazing, but a family vacation and a trip to do a theater workshop imply two sets of very different expectations.

A few lines from a personal journal entry:

This is making me doubt myself. Am I not strong enough? Did I make the wrong decision coming here? What invisible scripts am I re-performing that make me feel so worthless/outcasted in these types of situations? Did I bring this on myself?

I have shifted my expectations slightly and it’s definitely made a difference in how I feel about being here. A problem with much of my work, regardless of location, is my relationship with perfectionism. So the trip hasn’t gone exactly as I had imagined, instead of forcing my previous thoughts about how things should have gone, I am trying now to be more flexible and appreciate this unique experience for what it is, and not harbor over what it isn’t. This resolution came after many weepy Skype calls, journal entries, a nightly cries.

Check in again soon,

Shelah

PS. Check out this video I made from my some of my Haiti footage.

[vimeo 47395443 w=500 h=281]

Fun stuff - Medium from Shelah Marie on Vimeo.

Article published about The Sustainable Theater Workshop!

Check out this really great article published about the workshop from StageDirections.com.

Brooklyn-based performer Shelah Marie created The Sustainable Theater Workshop to help teach Haitian children how to create theatre. She’s worked the past year to create the Workshop and ran an IndieGoGo campaign to help fund a three-week trip to Haiti this summer. After her three-week workshop concludes the students will have written and performed an original work, which Marie will independently publish, so an archive of their work can be created.

-StageDirections.com.

Yay,

Shelah