Check This Out: Explorer of the World – Frances England


Artist: Frances England
Album: Explorer of the World (official store) | iTunes | Amazon
NOTE: Read through for bonus activities for you and your family inspired by this album. England will be releasing an accompanying activity book (expected May 2016).

“Be an explorer of your world.” These were instructions given to my classmates and me during a recent improv class. Our assignment was to embody our experiences, put ourselves in other people’s shoes.

For example, the next time you eat sushi, imagine being the sushi chef. Embodying that identity brings you closer to the experience of eating sushi, appreciating the texture and taste beyond what you could access as just the consumer. You connect with your imagination and feed your curiosity.

I recalled the impact of this exercise when I first heard Frances England’s new album, Explorer of the World.

Sometimes people look they don’t see. They hear without listening. They miss the beat. And I don’t want to be the one to miss out. The one who’s not looking at the world around. (“Explorer of the World”)

We spend so much of our time in front of screens, digitally connecting with the world, that we forget to really see what’s around us. As my daughter Emily has gotten older and her interests have shifted more to gaming (and the excitement of a new Poseidon dragon being born in her game!), I admit I’ve become less motivated to get outside and just discover with her.

This modern-day state of affairs is partly what inspired England to create Explorer of the World, which urges families to find beauty in the world around us and really dig in.

Children are natural explorers and really the best improv instructors. Their imagination and super curiosity fuels us as parents. We get to break new ground with our kids in the real world. And it does get real. Like that moment when your child is playing with her umbrella in the gusty wind and she turns to you and asks, “What if I threw an umbrella up into space while standing on the sun?”

Those are the precious moments that Explorer of the World characterizes and inspires. In “Little by Little” England sings “I do love you, you appreciate the wonder in everything,” and I feel my heart ache because I want every moment to last while knowing the days are quickly ticking by. England brings such depth of emotion as a mother, the whole hearted and body feeling of loving your children with everything you have, wanting to savor the time you have with them while reassuring them (and yourself) that you will always be there. This is underscored in “My Street” as England sings, “I’ll be there to show, show, show you the way / I’ll be there to warn you about those twists and those turns / I’ll be there to lead you back home, to lead you back.”

What I love about Explorer of the World is the subtle reminder that feeding your curiosity doesn’t mean spending a lot of money or a big, grand outing; the world around us – whether city, country or our own backyard – provides so many little things to see, to understand and to learn. We can find patterns in common sights and familiar places and rhythm in everyday life, whether it’s stopping to listen to a beatboxer or grabbing hold of opportunity and pretending to be a tightrope walker on the shadow of a telephone wire.

francesenglandbannerA long-time resident of San Francisco, California, England uses the artful city as the backdrop and inspiration for her fourth album. In fact, England spent two years capturing the sights and the sounds of the city by carrying around a handheld recorder and integrating what she recorded into the songs. For Bay Area residents, the bucket drumming that opens “Street Life” is a street performance on Market Street, and ambient noises were recorded on late night walks through North Beach.

England is sensitive to the world. She feels through the things she sees and can so vividly recreate the richness and emotion of an experience. There is this layer of being awake, the exhilaration of seeing what we see when we step outdoors, to bond through our experiences together when we let the sizzle of our surroundings breathe life into us and take us away.

To produce Explorer of the World, England once again teamed up with Grammy award-winning producer Dean Jones. The album was also co-produced with Dave Winer from Justin Roberts and the Not Ready for Naptime Players. The result is a very eclectic composition that mixes electro and acoustic melodies and harmonies with a rhythmic blend of funk and beats. This new dynamic is a very fitting dimension to England’s smooth sound.

So whether we pretend to be a sushi chef, pack up a bag to climb Mt. Everest, make a map of our neighborhood, visit where our parents grew up, or actually fly to another land and step through a new culture, we have the power to experience life together as a family, treasuring every moment little by little. Those are memories that will change us, strengthen bonds, and last far beyond the time Poseidon the dragon was born.

Bonus activity: Be an explorer! Listen closely to England’s lyrics that offer fun suggestions to dive deeper into the adventures right outside your door. Watch for England’s accompanying activity book (expected May 2016).

  • Neighborhood Map: Make a map of your neighborhood. Draw in the houses. Fill in the trees. What about cars and their colors? Shrubs, animals, fences, mailboxes, kids, sidewalk cracks, neighborhood oddities and fixtures? Go home and draw your version of your neighborhood map and compare to your family members’ map. Discuss the ways you see things in similar and different ways.
    • Quiet Observation: Take a camera and notebook on a walk. Spend 10-20 minutes walking silently (depending on your children’s ages) and observe the things you pass every day until you find at least three patterns you’ve never noticed before. Look for shapes. Look for color. Talk about the patterns. Take notes. Take photos of the patterns.
  • Neighborhood History: Find out who has lived on your street the longest. Interview them. What has changed? What’s better? What’s worse?
  • People Watching: Sit on a bench in a public area or silently walk through your town or city. Listen to the people walking by. What are they saying? Write a story about who they are and where they’re going.
  • Family Meeting: Arrange a time for a family meeting. Bring a calendar. Have each family member name a place he or she really wants to go this year. Maybe the museum, the waterpark, the train stations, the zoo, camping trip, kayaking, the mountains, the ocean. Decide what’s realistic and write it down (whether it’s today, tomorrow, this year or in the near future).  


Theater review: Mark Foehringer’s Nutcracker Sweets


Christmas is creeping up on us and while many of us are still thinking about gifts or checking last minute items off our list, there are still ways to savor the joys of the season. San Francisco has no shortage of seasonal theater and ballet productions for the young and old. And while all of these productions come highly recommended, oftentimes the length and complexity of the story may supersede the mental capacity of the even younger crowd; 5 and under, specifically. Until now…

Set inside San Francisco’s historic Fort Mason Center, sits the cozy Southside Theater proudly presenting Mark Foehringer Dance Project|SF’s fourth annual holiday production of Nutcracker Sweets.

Fort Mason Center interiors -  San Francisco, CA, USA

This year’s production marks the Company’s transition from the Children’s Creativity Museum to the Southside Theater until the Cowell Theater’s upcoming renovation is complete. The Southside Theater’s seating capactiy features 160 cushioned stadium style seats, making it easy for little bodies to get an unobstructed view of the stage.

Mark Foehringer’s Nutcracker Sweets, while intended for children of all ages, was developed with a special focus on capturing the attention of younger children (5 and under). With a runtime of just 50-minutes, Nutcracker Sweets highlights the most exciting parts of this beloved holiday classic featuring creative costumes, colorful set design and a live orchestra with musical direction by the multi-award winning Michael Morgan.

Nutcracker Sweets was made for the child in all of us,” said Mark Foehringer, artistic director of Mark Foehringer Dance Project|SF. “The production features storytelling, dance theater, ballet and a live music performance all in one.”

The fact that Foehringer incorporated multiple disciplines into the concept and choreography is what makes this particular adaptation so captivating. The dancers do such an excellent job of expressive movement that it feels as though you can hear what they are saying, even though the show is completely silent.

Nutcracker Sweets mainly revolves around the adventures that unfold throughout Clara’s dreams. Starting out in Herr Drosselmeyer’s toyshop, Scene 1 serves as a prelude to the manifestation of the Nutcracker soldier. Chaos and silliness abound as the Mouse King and Queen infiltrate the toyshop, romping with leaps and flips just before the Mouse King turns Drosselmeyer’s nephew into the Nutcracker doll. Emmy nominated costume designer, Richard Battle, designed a stunning headdress for the Nutcracker, giving the the soldier doll an almost human-like quality. With a swing of his cape, Drosselmeyer changes the life-sized Nutcracker into a miniature, wooden doll and brings it to his niece, Clara.

Scene 2 progresses with a smoke filled stage as Clara falls asleep. The dreamscape begins as the Mouse King and his army challenge the Nutcracker (and his toy soldier army) to a fight. As the battle unfolds, the Nutcracker is almost defeated until Clara rescues him by hitting the Mouse King on the head with her shoe. Swooping in, Drosselmeyer reappears, leading the couple into Candy Land.


Candy Land’s scenic design, created by Peter Crompton, is perhaps the most interesting and colorful with its one-dimensional images of frosted confections and cherry topped ice cream sundaes. Scene 3 is the most dance intensive part of the production as Clara and the Nutcracker prince are presented with sweets of all sorts from the Sugar Plum Fairy. After a delightful party, everyone disappears as Clara’s dream fades.

Scene 4 picks up with Clara coming into Drosselmeyer’s toyshop where she is once again reunited with her Nutcracker Prince. This is the only part of the production where I felt like the story was a bit rushed, as though it was at risk of exceeding the 50 minute mark. Although, based on the aforementioned ages of the target audience, it’s likely that this observation went unnoticed. From my daughter’s standpoint, for example, things made perfect sense and ended quite happily.

Overall, I was entertained by the show and impressed by the thought that went into creating a special experience for the younger set. The choreography was expressive and moving, and the costumes were bright and inspiring. I took a peek around the audience from time to time to gauge their response and saw nothing but wide eyes and smiles.

Perhaps the most spectacular piece of the production was the characterization of Herr Drosselmeyer as a magician and the significant role he played in making the transitions seamless through the use of his cloak. Although the talented cast danced wonderfully and with vibrant smiles, it was the character of Herr Drosselemeyer that continually caught my eye. Using Drosselmeyer’s cape to move the show along in such a smooth way was a subtle but significant part of show that upheld the magic of the story. It was as if the cloak was a character all on its own, which is a hat tip to Mark Foehringer’s excellent direction and choreography.

As a bonus, the dancers made themselves available for a meet and greet afterwards which added to the excitement of the entire experience, especially since the Sugar Plum Fairy was more than happy to lend her wand for photo opportunities. This was the icing on the cake as many of the young theater-goers eagerly awaited their turn to snuggle next to their favorite character and smile for the camera. In fact, I was instructed several times, by my daughter, to make sure I got a picture of her with her favorite dancers, which is profound because getting her to pose and smile for the camera at the same time is akin to asking her if I can brush her hair.

For parents looking to introduce this beloved tale to their little ones, Mark Foehringer’s Nutcracker Sweets is a great way to go. It upholds the charm and fantasy of the classic tale while captivating the hearts and minds of the young and young at heart.

The final two performances will take place on the following days. Location, pricing and box office information can also be found below, as well as a video preview.

Dec 22 Sat 11 am, 2 pm and 4 pm
Dec 23 Sun 11 am and 2 pm

WHERE: Southside Theater (Landmark Building D, 3rd Floor) at Fort Mason Center, Marina Blvd. and Buchanan Street, San Francisco

TICKETS: $25 general admission