The passing of Robin Williams has prompted many touching posts through social media and on different sites throughout the internet. I am still processing my own thoughts and feelings regarding this unfortunate event and will likely update this post at a later point in time. One thing I keep going back to is how much emotion I always saw in his eyes and heard in his voice as he brought his characters to life. Despite what he might have been feeling inside, one thing is for sure, that man lit up like the sun anytime he was given a chance to fill the air with laughter.
Similar to many of you, one of my most favorite characters was the genie in Aladdin. Genie showcases many of Robin’s talents, and because music has a powerful way helping us process our own emotions, it feels right to publish “Never Had A Friend Like Me” as a toast to such an accomplished and inspiring individual.
Have you ever wondered what your child’s dreams are like? When my daughter was a toddler it always seemed like she would go to bed and wake up the next morning with a new skill or string of vocabulary words. We used to joke about what her brain might have been doing while she was asleep. Would she wake up speaking a new language? Start walking and make herself breakfast?! Or were her dreams filled with rainbows and butterflies? We could only imagine!
Today, I am proud to present the world premiere for “Dah Day” the third video from the The Best Day Ever! by Baze and his Silly Friends.
“Dah Day” is a swirling, psychedelic adventure featuring the voice of Cole, Marc Bazerman’s (“Baze”) son, when he was just 1 year old. To create the song, Baze followed Cole around, capturing various vocalizations and sounds during playtime. At the same time, Baze was curious about what Cole might be seeing in his dreams, which ultimately inspired him to further develop his vision for this video. Animated by Tony LaRocca (Egotistical Productions), “Dah Day” brings to life all of Cole’s favorite toys, including his teddy bear, his guitar and Otay, his beta fish and blends them into a surreal, technicolor dance. It’s pretty much what the best dream ever might look like!
Want to hear more by Baze and His Silly Friends? You can listen to and purchase additional tracks from The Best Day Ever at via CDBaby and iTunes. You can also stay in touch with Baze and his Silly Friends through Facebook and Twitter.
As much as I have heard the ABCs, and sung them (backwards and forwards), I am always pleased when artists come up with their own unique versions. Below are two that we encountered recently that are worth mentioning.
Kristin Kellner – Rock n’ Roll ABCs
San Francisco singer-songwriter, Kristin Kellner, serves up a fun version of the alphabet with eye pleasing animation (hat tip to Jovanna Tosello) and some rock n’ roll swagger. Each letter is attached to a word which makes this song an excellent vehicle for supporting language and literacy skills. Rock n’ Roll ABCs is perfect visual aid for little ones just learning the song, toddlers ready to recognize letters, as well as big boys and girls who are ready to practice reading and writing.
Rock n’ Roll ABCs can be found on Kellner’s children’s music debut, Obstacle Course, which she hopes will “prompt family jam sessions and inspire budding musicians everywhere to pick up an instrument and ROCK!” Check her out!
Play Date – “XYZ”
Keeping on the alphabet rock tip, Play Date’s “XYZ,” from their NPR featured album Imagination, features Shanti Wintergate’s sweet voice with even sweeter lyrics: “J is for Joy..to the world/K is for Kindness for every boy and girl.”
While “XYZ” does not have an original video, Nordstrom loved the song so much that they created their own Back to School 2014 version for a commercial called “The A-Z Life.” Pretty stylin’!
Congrats Play Date!
On August 19, 2014, The Pop Ups will officially release their 3rd album, Appetite for Construction. In honor of this exciting event, I am proud to kick off the “10 Songs in 10 days Celebration” (learn more at the end of this post) with a new single called “Getting the Job Done.” Set to funky electro-pop beats and multi-layered harmonies, the album’s leadoff track pays tribute to those who work to make our lives richer, i.e. teachers, doctors, farmers, bakers, while also encouraging us to find joy in our own work.
Jason Rabinowitz explains, “The inspiration for this song was that we were on tour w/ Yo Gabba Gabba Live, traveling from place to place making music, and we stopped and looked around and our minds were blown by the fact that this was OUR JOB! We were so inspired we wrote the song on the tour bus and sang it with the kids that were also working there. Work, play, have fun… That’s what it’s all about. An homage to all of the people that work so hard to make the world go around. It’s easy to forget simple things like bread, or your computer, have people behind them dreaming them up, creating them, and making them work. We’re all very important and all have work to do… Let’s have fun doing it.”
If all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, then someone needs to grab some dancing shoes and introduce Jack to The Pop Ups!
Ready to enter a world of fun? You can start streaming “Getting the Job Done” now!
Today, August 6, 2014, Ella Jenkins turns 90. To celebrate, here is a sampler of her latest Smithsonian Folkways release More Multicultural Children’s Songs.
More Multicultural Children’s Songs is a collection of songs from Ella’s world travels. Listeners will catch fish in Hawaii just before attending dinner festivities, and visit an Australian Zoo. There are also familiar songs like “Kookaburra” and “Waltzing Matilda,” but regardless of whether they are familiar or not, Ella adds her own special touch to each song, gracefully capturing the spirit of the cultures they represent.
The remainder of the songs on the sampler can be found at the Smithsonian Folkways site here.
I recently read an article about childlike wonder. The author was talking about how curious and magical seeing the world through a child’s eyes can be. As a parent, I often feel as though I am experiencing the world with the same sense of novelty as my 5-year-old. When my daughter wants to immerse herself in an imaginary world, I can’t help but feel that I am an honored guest in what feels like reality, if only for a moment. Whether I am a chef serving her tasty fruits and vegetables or she is a fire chief saving my kitty from a tree, I always feel a particular sense of wonder as I explore familiar scenarios with a renewed perspective.
Getting dressed up has always been a child-enforced requirement for most of our play. Sometimes my daughter extends the fun and wears her costume to a park or a restaurant, even asking people to call her by her character’s name. Regardless of what she chooses, it never occurs to her that she might be wearing “boy” or “girl” specific clothing. She is just enjoying herself, and I often marvel at her uncanny ability to walk proudly out the door as though it is just another regular day with just another regular outfit on.
The Pop Ups’ new video for “Costume Party,” really captures the fact that dressing up is always a party regardless of gender or age. As the Brooklyn duo dons all kinds of outfits they capture the essence of childlike wonder while also reinforcing the notion that “no matter what you see ya know that me is me is me.” “Costume Party” was recently premiered on Huffington Post by Jeff Bogle from Out With The Kids with a wonderful reference to the story that inspired the song.
Those familiar with existing Pop Ups’ material will enjoy seeing some references, costumes and puppet characters from previous videos. For newer fans, follow the instructions by super saxophone puppet guy for additional viewing options.
When my daughter and I first experienced the colorful world of Elska we were taken by the intriguing story of a modern pioneer living on an arctic island containing a land of lost socks, an arctic fox and the Goobler. Elska is a magical character brought to life by Shelley Wollert and producer Allen Farmelo. In the performance of Elska’s first album, Middle of Nowhere, the audience is transported into Elska’s fantastical world in a theatrical way that taps into the most magnificent parts of a child’s imagination.
Recently, Elska received an amazing invitation to be a part of The New Victory Theater’s LabWorks artists’ residency program, guided by The New Victory Theater programming department under the leadership of Mary Rose Lloyd, the theater’s Director of Artistic Programming. Elska was one of just ten artistic teams to be offered expert support as well as the opportunity to use the theater’s state-of-the art facilities to develop a new performance piece as well as an accompanying album.
Jonathan Shmidt Chapman, Associate Director of Artistic Programming at the New Victory Theater noted, “We’re delighted to welcome Elska to the 2014-15 New Victory LabWorks Artist Residency Program. Elska is a unique and innovative artist, merging music and theatricality to provide a one-of-a-kind experience for family audiences. We are looking forward to providing space, support and feedback to Elska as the artists develop a totally new work, writing new content (music and narrative) and enhancing their musical stage show for a theater venue.”
I was so excited about this announcement that I wanted to catch up with Allen and Shelley for some Q&A about what their future plans are.
Kids Can Groove: Congratulations on your residency with The New Victory’s LabWorks program! What an incredible opportunity!
Shelley Wollert: This is truly an amazing opportunity for Elska to create a new piece and a new album with the mentorship at the New Victory Theater, which is cutting edge, so well respected and internationally known. It puts a tiny spotlight on Elska in that community which is really a nice introduction for us into the theater world. It’s just a great thing to be a part of and we’re super excited to get started.
Allen Farmelo: When I consider this opportunity in the broader context of how public funding for the arts has been consistently drying up in the US, I feel that what LabWorks is doing is not just visionary in the artistic sense but socio-economincally and politically ambitious and forward looking. I feel extremely honored to be a part of their mission to support performing arts for young audiences.
KCG: Can you explain what you will be doing during your residency? Will you be expanding upon Middle of Nowhere?
SW: What we’re doing at LabWorks is going to be creating an entirely new piece and a new album simultaneously.
AF: When we created Middle of Nowhere, we made an album and then created a live show to go with it. What we want to do now is create the music, the theatrical piece, the props, the production and the lighting
simultaneously. With LabWorks we have the opportunity to play and experiment in real-time with the added benefit of mentorship from directors, lighting techs, prop makers, set designers, producers, etc, who are very familiar with theatrical elements.
KCG: How did the transition to theater come about?
AF: The transition to theater grew out of our live show, Middle of Nowhere, which is based on our debut album of the same name. Over the past couple of years that we’ve been touring Middle of Nowhere we’ve had the opportunity to perform in clubs and in theaters, the latter of which provided a proper lighting setup, an expanded stage setup, and a seated audience. What we found is that the show really worked well in theaters. The children were transfixed and the parents were able to engage with the children more as true audience members, rather than as chaperones to what is often just a child-centric concert experience.
SW: To further underline what Allen is saying, instead of [Middle of Nowhere] being just purely a concert, our live performance is turning into something that is more of a story line, involving many theatrical elements that transports the audience to a setting that goes beyond a typical concert. When we heard about LabWorks we felt that was the perfect opportunity to allow us to grow in that area.
AF: We ended up showcasing at a booking conference called IPAY (International Performing Arts for Youth Conference) and while we were there we saw a broad range of international children’s performances. When we saw our musical act in that context and with a character and a script, we realized that we are more than just a musical act. What further solidified our thoughts was when we performed at the Alden Theater in Virginia because they billed our show as Elska performs “Middle of Nowhere” as if it was a theatrical piece rather than just a concert. That changed our paradigm up even more and we started really considering pursuing theater. The album title grew into a performance title and that changed our paradigm up. So when we heard about LabWorks it was the perfect fit for us.
KCG: Have either of you done theater before?
SW: I have a degree in performing arts and a background in acting. I was an apprentice at a really great theater called the Actor’s Theater of Louisville in Kentucky which had a really strong acting program. I also studied in London and in college, as well, so for me bringing Elska into the theater is such a return to my roots as a performer.
AF: Shelley is maybe being modest in this regard. She has a long history as an actress, and also played Joan of Arc in a solo show called The Passion Project which was reviewed positively in The NewYork Times. It was one of the most amazing deconstructed multimedia pieces I’ve ever seen. I saw Shelley perform there before I even knew her and it blew me away.
KCG: That must have been a very emotional performance I imagine.
SW: Very. The Joan of Arc show itself was physically intense as well which is something I’ve been drawn to as a performer. Just recently, I did an acting intensive at Brooklyn College in a technique that was created by a French master director named Jacques Lecoq. I threw myself into this class and it was physically and mentally demanding and so amazing. Right now, as an actor, and with the LabWorks opportunity, I’m ready to really push myself to grow and to really reach my own physical potential.
KCG: I’m curious what your approach to this production will be like in the theater because you will be developing a story and the music at the same time which is a different creative process than they way you approached the production of Middle of Nowhere.
AF: We have an interesting challenge ahead of us. We don’t want to make musical theater in the traditional sense of a broadway musical, we want to do something different. For our current live performance, Shelley performs as Elska based on a script she wrote which weaves the songs from the album together. During our residency with LabWorks, I see us going even further into the sounds of Elska’s life and the actual soundscape that she exists in, which is based on Iceland. I think young minds are very open to a sound based experience so we would like to blend sound design and actual songwriting into something that ignites their imagination rather than filling it entirely, as one might with songs that advance the plot in musical theater.
Instead, what we envision is that Elska makes music in her life and she’s going to create moments of that on stage where she would be out on the island, naturally, and then the children will fall into that moment with her. What is interesting about performing for young audiences is that they can’t hold a plot line for very long, so there’s this ratio of plot to ambience that you get to play with. I’m most interested in creating magical moments that are wonderful and memorable rather than a traditional theater piece with various scenes, acts and a whole narrative arc. The opportunity to create music that isn’t necessarily advancing a plot or a story but creating a feeling or a mood is a greater challenge that I’m looking forward to. In the last record, we did some of this with songs like “Arctic Fox” where we created sounds that imitated a fox’s whiskers moving around. We used bells for the “Elska Express” and you can hear the train in the background, too, so there is a bit of sound design there which we currently incorporate into the live performance of Middle of Nowhere.
KCG: I remember the video for “Arctic Fox” had sounds that were perfectly timed with Elska’s facial gestures. It really feels like a whole piece.
SW: Exactly. For me, movement and sound should not be separate from one another. There is an acting method called Viewpoints that was adapted for stage by a director named Anne Bogart. One of the Viewpoints, according to the method, is called kinesthetic response. Basically, when something happens it causes a reaction. If a door slams on stage, a person appears to sit down at the exact same moment, or when a bell rings, Elska’s head is compelled to move at the same time because of that kinetic force and that action and reaction that happens. When we create this piece, and I perform this piece, it’s really important that my full physical body is tuned into these sounds and the angles of the stage so that it can be completely aligned. This also relates back to something I learned from my acting class in the Jacques Lecoq method which was the theory of le jeu which means play. An actor who can play is an actor who is interesting to watch, and we know this with children as well. A child who is playing and is in that imaginary space is totally engaged in that moment. When Allen and I are at LabWorks, one of the cards I’m going to have on the wall will say le jeu. From play, from engagement, and from these actions and reactions that we’re creating, we’re going to be in this new world that will be exciting to watch.
KCG: It sounds really magical. I can just see the theater as being part of the scenery. The audience is going to be teleported to another place for the duration of the show.
AF: It’s funny because I’ve always been interested in making albums that were worlds unto themselves. My favorite records, from front to back, are the ones where you feel like you’re in one unified world, and that’s what we’ve tried to do with Elska. For the new piece, we want to make sure that our work continues to feel like one unified world.
KCG: How do you see LabWorks supporting you throughout the development process?
AF: With LabWorks we have the support of a community of really excellent and pretty experimental theater makers. When you see a lot of the work they present, domestically and internationally, some of it is very abstract, very avant-garde theater which is a really good fit for us because we want to push Elska further into abstraction. The question we want to explore is how to do that more elegantly and more imaginatively. We always think of Elska like Legos. It’s an open-ended toy and we’re expecting a child to take that toy and turn it into something. We want to present building blocks for the imagination. We’ve been really cognizant of that with the development of the plot in Middle of Nowhere. I’ve seen 2 and 3-year-olds completely engaged in Elska just absolutely dive in and start creating their own stories, their own plots, their own bits, and so we’re cognizant of not handing a closed-off narrative, but one that is open and leaves the child with possibilities and questions. Rather than pondering a completed plot, we are inviting them in and encouraging them to create that plot themselves to some degree.
SW: Exactly. Allen and I are both excited by things that are a bit absurd and not literal, so we’ll be pursuing those types of ideas. When I think about the song “Winter Bear,” or an actual polar bear, there are many ways you could create a polar bear on stage. I am excited to talk with the talented people at The New Victory Theater and discover how to bring an imaginary character like this onto the stage in new ways.
KCG: Since the debut of Middle of Nowhere, you have devoted a lot of time to developing Elska and Elska’s world. How will you maintain your vision while also incorporating feedback from the LabWorks panel of experts?
AF: That’s a good question, because when a creative team partners with a larger entity one wonders whether creative autonomy will be minimized at all. But, I have one-hundred percent confidence that working with The New Victory Theater is going to add integrity to what we do and help our next piece become more like Elska than it already is. It’s time for us to go further into our instincts and gut feelings about this vision we had, time to develop Elska into something even more unique. Their expertise and level of professionalism, knowledge, depth and dedication to theater for youth is a total gift for us. We’re the company creating the work and they’re the theater providing support for us to do our work and further realize our vision. The beauty of the LabWorks residency is that we have total creative autonomy over our work while being educated on techniques that will help us get closer to what we really want our next piece to be.
SW: It will be interesting to get The New Victory Theater’s input on that. Through LabWorks, we are going to be given professional development opportunities to meet with their technical team and education department to talk about those aspects of Elska. They have an incredibly robust and talented panel of experts that I am excited to learn from.
KCG: As you prepare to enter into a more theatrical space, do you feel a greater responsibility to deliver a compelling performance? Are the stakes higher now?
AF: With the new piece we are trying to create a lot of new things, so in that sense I feel a growing responsibility to the audience to provide excellence across a bunch of mediums. At the same time, I am also cautious about creating based on the audience’s reactions to our work. I always say the greatest enemy of creative work is the imagined audience because if you create based on an imagined response you aren’t listening to your own vision. I prefer to make sure that I have a responsibility to the work itself. As a producer, I am very interested in creating something that is functioning and beautiful on its own terms. While I do keep the audience in mind, I also want to come at the work without a set of expectations that I believe other people would have.
With Middle of Nowhere, we give the audience a sense of really being inside Elska’s world by creating an imaginary world and now we’re getting ready to make an imaginary world in three dimensions because theater does that amazing thing of putting a real person in front of you.
As the adventures of Elska advance into greater heights, fans will still be able to catch the current production of Middle of Nowhere as it continues to tour over the next year.
To find out more about the magic of Elska, visit her online where you can find her touring schedule, view videos and get to know some of the characters that also play an important role in bringing Elska’s story to life.
To find out more about the incredible LabWorks residency program visit New Victory LabWorks.