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Yesterday I sat down with artist and playwright nonprofit organizer Becky Boesen, and we talked about the Covid-19, Coronavirus pandemic. And what we could do was artists to use this time to grow and learn and create. So let's get to it and hear what Becky says about it.
Thank you for being here on the GIRLBRAVE podcast, Becky. How are you?
I am doing great. Thank you so much for having me.
Sure. So we are in the mist of quarantining ourselves in our family because of the Corona virus. And you've just said that you've been inside now for 10 days, and we have been inside a quarantine for about four or five. But I thought this is a great time to reflect on what's going on in the world. And I thought to hear your opinion on what we can learn from this in opportunities that we that might come from it. So thanks. Thanks again for being here.
No, thank you. It's my pleasure.
Yeah, so I know you're a very passionate person. You love uplifting people in communities through your over your endeavors. So tell me a little bit about like the programs that you've done in the past.
So some of the programs that I've loved the most throughout the course of my life and career, because in the arts there's really no difference is there have started with great collaborations and collaborations with seemingly non traditional partners. So an example of that is, in 2015 I was commissioned by the Lied Center for Performing Arts to create a child hunger musical with my writing partner, David von Kampen, in partnership with Clinton Elementary School, which is a title one school here in Lincoln. Which means that a large portion of the students there are on the free and reduced lunch program and the food bank of Lincoln.
I'm a theater artist, a playwright and actor, producer, director and educator. And when we think about theater, we don't necessarily go straight to the idea of connecting to an organization like a Food Bank. But it really elevates the process when we can lean on the experts around us in the community to make a project stronger, being able to work with children and students at Clinton Elementary School, created true collaboration because I think that there's a big difference between working with people as opposed to doing something to them.
So I never want to do something to someone. I always want to do it with them. And so that was one example of a project that I really loved. It raised money and awareness about child hunger and poverty in Lincoln and has gone on so far toe live in tours both in West Virginia and Orlando. And, I don't have a lot of stipulations for the way that project happens, except whenever I give the rights for that project to take place in the future. It's always in collaboration with the food bank. So, in Orlando it was with their food bank and the same in West Virginia. And so building those kind of models and programs are really exciting and satisfying to me.
There's a lot of talk right now about those students who are out of school and not getting the food that they would have baton in schools. What are your thoughts about that, And what could we do individually to help those students are kids out that might be going hungry during these times?
That's such a good question. The first thing I want to say is that where we live in Lincoln, Nebraska, we are so fortunate to have an incredible food bank. The Food Bank of Lincoln does an amazing job feeding our community and southeastern Nebraska, and one thing that people can do right away, if they have the means to do so, is to give money through the food bank's website because I didn't learn this until I was working on putting in the grumble. But they can take a dollar and turn it into $7 so they are able to purchase and procure more food with less money then we can.
So, for instance, things like can drives while they can be supportive. Those dollars make a huge difference in the amounts of through that they can give. And because of Covid-19 the food bank can't take food donations right now. So that's one way to help. Another way to help. And I think it's something we all do is to remember that hunger doesn't look a certain way it doesn't discriminate, and so now's a great time to pick up the phone or get on Facebook and just check on your friends and neighbors.
Sometimes people are dealing with food and security, and they don't look like what we think people would look like who are struggling. There's a lot of stigma attached to hunger and a lot of sort of preconceived notions about what that means. But we have something like a 46% child hunger rate in Lincoln, Nebraska, which means we all have neighbors who are struggling to make ends meet. So that personal connection piece right now just saying Hey, you guys doing okay? We'd be happy to drop something off for you. Leave it on the porch. That's that's something we all can.
That's a great idea. Yeah, I I didn't know that about donating to the food bank that they could stretch that dollar, but it makes a lot of sense.
Yeah, they are geniuses there at our food bank. Something that I learned that I'm so proud of in working with food banks in other states through this process, the first time that they hear that I'm from Lincoln. They talk about our food bank being national rock stars. So I think we're really lucky here to have people like Scott Young and Michaella Kumke and John Mabry and the whole leadership team over there who are who are doing a great job to take care of our community.
Well, that sounds like amazing opportunity that you had to work with them and create that show, which I saw, and it was very moving. And you're right. You don't know what hunger looks like. It doesn't look like what you might think. It looks like it could be. You know, one of your best friends you just don't know. So I like those tips, um, that you shared. Thank you.
Tell me about the blanket drive.
So the blanket drive. Um, it's those ideas that that wasn't really planned. It just sort of came to be. I have ah, small nonprofit called Blix. Locally grown, and it's art are non profit is all about art, space learning and projects and engagement. And we were working on a new show, My play. SNOWCATCHER, which is about the school children's blizzard blizzard of 1888. But part of the reason I got engaged with writing that show is because in 2017 I read an article in The Omaha World Herald about a child dying from exposure in her own home or from hypothermia in her own home, essentially because the utilities were not paid and there was no heat in the home. And so I was really, um, I was really upset to think that that could happen in today's world. And I was writing a play about a child facing hypothermia over 100 years ago, you know, and so as I started working on this play and also working with students in multiple schools as a teaching artist, I started to have conversations with them in class about what was going on in their lives and sort of relevant themes, and some of it was close to the holidays.
And something that we were hearing students say over and over again was that they were hoping that Santa would bring a blanket for Christmas or bedding for Christmas. And it did not occurred to me at the time that that was something that children were looking forward to receiving or hoping that they would receive. But we started to connect to administrators who let us know that this actually was something that was at the forefront of their students minds. And so, once again, in the spirit of doing with instead of to, because, of course, I'm not an expert about ah, student at Arnold Elementary, that student could be the expert about them.
We went to the Foundation for Lincoln Public Schools and met with five principles to have an early conversation. And we were so lucky because we had some insight from our friends at the Food Bank because of our prior collaboration. Dr. Marilyn Moore was really generous in sharing some time and wisdom with us. And so we gathered with these five principles and said, You know, we're working on the show. We're working in schools. Several of the kids are coming to the show at the Lied Center. It seems only natural that this would be a community engagement project that we could tie to SNOWCATCHER. If we were to build this kind of program, we wouldn't be able to do it without your expertise and insight. What? What would this look like? Um, if it if it wouldn't work for you. Was it something that you think is a value? And if so, how could we shape this together?
And those principles were so extraordinary and helped us really sort of flush out a plan for what became a grassroots volunteer driven blanket drive and something that was very important to us in creating the drive was the idea that the schools and the students within the schools had agency within the program, or that they could decide how to best distribute blankets, how to best serve their student body and their students families. So, essentially, what has happened in the last three years is working with a team of volunteers.
We have collected new or homemade blankets or betting that a cover at least a twin sized mattress, and we're pretty particular about that because something that we learned from our friends at the Food Bank is that dignity. It's a really important part of sharing and giving, and so we make sure that these blankets are nice to receive their cozy. They're uniformly wrapped. They have a little message on the front, a little card for each student that receives them and we've had some amazing outcomes that we never could have anticipated from this program.
That puts people from all different kinds of social demographics in the same room as friends working together to prepare the blankets. Um, well, we've seen students become leaders in school, in schools, on the blanket drive, where they're the ones that help us carry the blankets in help distribute them to their peers. There's been an amazing sort of grassroots movement locally this year, particularly where people we've never met come forward and say, Hey, we just made 25 blankets for this drive. Where can we drop them off? And so seeing the community weave together, having these amazing partnerships within the school and watching the drive grow simply through collaboration and the goodness of people in our community has been really exciting for us. And it's something that, it's something, as I said, that's all ball into your run, and it brings us a great deal of joy and hopefully a lot of joy to our schools and to our students who received blankets as well.
That all started from reading one article on the paper?
Every for everything starts with reading one article for me.
That foresight of just taking an article or thought and being able to expand it into a grander vision. How can we train ourselves to think of things just a little bit bigger than what's in in front of us in order to create more change for the community?
For me, it is simply the way I'm hardwired when I take Clifton strengths. Ideation is my number one. I connect dots quite easily, but what I would say is that we all have the power to connect dots, and particularly something that I always want to encourage. Fellow artists and also my students to explore is the idea that there is a place for the arts as a conduit for community development. And sometimes we don't articulate it early on because we don't know what it's going to look like.
So I would encourage everyone. When there's an idea brewing, take the first step and start reaching out to people. You don't have to know the endgame. You simply need to bring the people on board who can help you maximize and sort of flesh out the idea and that happens all the time with me. Also, I've never had an idea that isn't 100% enhanced by all the people around me. And I think the biggest thing is just don't take for granted as creative people and his artists, what role we can play. It just might be something no one's ever heard of before. So we have to be confident about saying, I think this thing can work.
I know that ideas are powerful magnets to people. So when you have an idea, come to you a lot of times for reasons of self doubt or in security, you might think, oh, that's a dumb idea, that stupid idea. But it's amazing when you share that idea with another idea person, another person that's open. They might have had similar idea as well. And then, like you said, when those two ideas come together, to make an even a bigger idea.
That's such an important thing to bring up. It's really crucial that we all find our idea friends, the people that do encourage and support vision and are excited by that and just because at times, we may have fear pushing forward an idea or a vision. I think we need to understand also that when people shoot that down, usually that has to do more with their own fear, as well as opposed to anything personal. So I'm willing to hear no several times before I give up on idea because, you know, in in the world we live in and the way arts and creativity and innovation work, a lot of the wisdom that we have to impart on projects and community and anywhere that that we can share.
It is non-conventional wisdom, and that takes some getting used to for folks who don't necessarily go to that place first. But it doesn't mean they can't get there, and that's the advantage we have is artists is so much of what we do is experiential. So if we can include someone in a process and again, that's why it's important to do with instead of two. If we can open up our processes and have the confidence to say we'd like your input into this, then they're a part of it. Then they've helped build the idea out, and they have some ownership of it, and I think that is a great way to include people who might at first seem dismissive towards big ideas.
So you've had people tell, you no to your ideas before?
Oh, my goodness, yes, I had that happen so often or I felt like, I'm a 43 year old woman who's been working in the theater for over 20 years, and I still sometimes feel that I have to spend a great deal of time educating, convincing, um, holding my breath so I don't say the thing that wants to come out of my mouth right away, executing patience and tenacity because a lot of my ideas and thoughts are seemingly non-conventional.
But I think when purpose meets passion, and what these wonderful collaborative projects that I've worked on in my lifetime have allowed me to do is to center my passion with purpose that becomes so much more important, then pleasing everyone around me. And so I've gotten better, and I continue to get better all the time at the idea that if you can't come along for the ride, then maybe it's okay if you're not along for the ride. Maybe It's not your ride.
There are always people who want to come on the ride, you know, to co-pilot. So, you know, some of it is just making sure that I reiterate to myself that someone's not into it. It doesn't mean it's personal and it doesn't mean it can't happen. It means I haven't knocked on the right door yet.
Mmm, such great advice. We all need to remember that the next time we hear and no, it's not your idea, it's that person and that's not the right idea for them. So that's good.
Yep. Next next person, please...we'll get back to you...we'll listen carefully, though to why, you said no because there might be something in the future that's a yes, but there's there's someone waiting for you to maximize your your dream passion with purpose.
Did that come first, or just you being an artist to that come first?
Being an artist came first and, um, feeling a little lost came before passion and purpose intersected.
So when did you first realize that you were an artist?
I was super little, my first memories are of creating things. I used to write songs when I was three or four and I'd write both the lyric and the melody, and then I would go out and, stage them. And I remember, you know, the neighbors probably thought I was a little weirdo because I had choreography, you know, going down the street on it was always sort of by myself. And, you know, I think part of that is just because even though, I'm open to the world and my work in theater keeps me really engaged and I love people at the heart of it, I am an introvert. And so I have I got older, I could reach out a little bit better to collaborate. But instead, instead of having like another neighborhood kid to collaborate when I was very young, I just made one up. I made up in imaginary friend. Then we would create songs and dances and plays and stories, and that just never went away. It continued to grow. As I grew, the imaginary friend went away.
Well, we need to bring. I think we all need to bring our imaginary friends back.
Mine was awesome.
Did she have a name or was it a boy or girl?
It was a girl. Her name was Boo Boo.
Yes, and she had big freckles and glasses and blonde hair, and she loved all of my ideas. Thank you, Boo Boo. That's to this day any time I feel a little bit of self doubt, I think about Boo Boo. And I remind myself that that I created Boo Boo and she is me.
I love it. I love it. I feel inspired to draw a Boo Boo Pincurl Girl for you.
That would be amazing.
So back to being that artist. How did you decide that? Or give yourself permission that you could be an artist as an adult or grow up to be do art instead of getting the traditional 9 to 5 job?
It happens sort of accidentally. I had a really significant experience in college. I was attending UNL as a theater major and honestly, really struggling. I, was raised in a rual community and sort of ill prepared for the culture shock in coming to a large university at the time and I would say, probably pretty depressed, well, just feeling lonely and out of sorts.
And, I was working on this degree but constantly hearing from the world around me that this isn't a legitimate pursuit. What are you gonna do with this? And that's not any one person's fault Or that isn't a message I was hearing from any one person. That was the culture of then, and it's still somewhat the culture of now. You know, I think it's a little bit better, but at the time it was like, What are you gonna do with this? And so I felt myself at the time, even self sabotaging a little bit. And I enrolled in a playwriting class one semester that was taught by the extraordinary Doctor Thais Miller, who was also the department chair at the now Johnny Carson School of Theater and Film. And I took this playwriting class, and we had an assignment to try to write a scene, and I had never written a play before, and I remember going home and just putting every ugly thought into this scripts and kind of thinking, you know, maybe this is it, maybe I will fail so badly at us that they have to kick me out of college. And I could go live with Mom and Dad and they can make all the rules for me forever. And I can hide under a pillow and you know it.
This'll really kind of a challenging time for me. And so the scene ended up when I reread it. It had a lot of kind of ugly stuff in it, but it was it read as comedy. It was really, really funny. And so I went back to class and all of my classmates read through their scenes and I was last and I felt myself get that tight stomach nervousness when all of the sudden you kind of have to own what you've done. You know? I'm thinking we're gonna read this and it's so dark and it's so terrible and it's so weird. And I'm showing the world my insides right now. Yeah, and we read the thing and Dr. Miller looked at me and he said, "that is really good."
And I was shocked. None had said to me ever that the most complicated stuff going inside of me was really good. It's almost visual to me I felt a shift about everything like maybe everything about me that I was trying to hide or minimize or cover up was exactly the part of me that I actually needed to let out into the sun.
And so I started to change the way I worked on things. I started to change the way I shared. I finished the play and it was produced at UNL the following semester. So I got busy in in terms of starting to get stuff done, I don't know, it just it just occurred to me almost like a switch one day that instead of trying to be something I'm not, if I can allow myself to be vulnerable and let people see what's really going on inside that I felt at home, I felt like I was on a track to somewhere and that it was okay if I didn't know where that lead because it felt good instead of bad. And so I learned to trust that process.
That's the magic that you have inside of you that lets you produce all these wonderful shows and plays and programs. And that's that's so good that you had that experience of putting it all out there and showing your insides. But then realizing that that that was that was the good stuff.
Thank you for saying that that is so kind. And, you know, I still have, even when I still sometimes have doubts about that. I've started to understand because so much of that goes into my playwriting work. That there are children and adults in my audience is that that's the part they understand. That's the part where they see themselves. And, um so that's where that purpose kicks in, right to making sure that that there's something happening that's accessible to people, that that shows the more complicated parts of life.
Because if we can make space for those things and talk about them and work those things out and acknowledge them, then we can have really healthy, happy lives. But we gotta look at that stuff first, so yeah, this is a hard question.
But like, how would someone start doing that? I mean, who, as you know, is youngest, 13, 12, even 9 years old. As a female, I feel like we're trained by society or I'm not sure what to downplay ourselves and to not show those insides in that magic because it might be wrong. Do you have any advice of just, like, a little baby steps that people can try just showing themselves just a little bit as they grow up?
Sure, it is a difficult question, but what I go to first is, this you own your magic. It belongs to you first. And so what I would encourage anyone to do as a baby step is starting to let that magic out in a safe place without editing it. And what I mean by that is you know, I can go quickly to writing because I'm a writer. Get out a piece of paper. Put down what ever's in your mind and on your heart. Don't edit it. Don't worry about spelling punctuation. Just get it out there. And once it's on the paper, it exists. And that doesn't mean that you have to share it with the world tomorrow. But it means that when you meet the person that you can share it with your gonna know who that is. Um, the same is true of dance. The same is true of visual art.
The same is true of anything that you might love if you can get comfortable with being your authentic self when you're alone, if you can catch your thoughts when you're having them, if you can hear yourself say, Oh, this might be kind of weird I'm not sure I know. But then also remind yourself. But no one's looking right now. I I own this so I can decide how I share it. You know, those are those are some great baby steps to first getting comfortable with yourself, something that also helps me.
And what helps me today is lowering my status, and what I mean by that is I have the opportunity to work along so many students of all ages. And I know that if I want to create a safe space with fifth graders, if I could be dorkier, then they're afraid they might be right. It's fair game, all right, the working with younger people. You know, if you're a 12 year old girl and you have an idea, maybe you find the six or seven year olds in your neighborhood and you share your idea because younger people or people who are learning often look to those of us who have things to share to, kind of know what's okay or how to be.
So just turning it into energy, of making other people comfortable to buy, sort of saying, Hey, it's okay for Hannah, Wacky. It's okay if this isn't cool and just a little secret. And I know you know this, Jen, but honestly, whatever doesn't seem cool. The older you get, that's what's cool, huh? All the nerdy stuff is super cool, you know, just just getting comfortable with the idea that you can create and you can decide who sees it and who doesn't. And I think that's enough of a first step.
Yeah, it really is. And this is a good opportunity for us right now, being having life slow down a little bit for ourselves and being able to create by ourselves and not having to show people if we're not ready to show people. But it just leads us to opportunities for artists. Whether they're dancers are painters or drawers are animators or playwrights or writers or songwriters. There's a lot of opportunity and some more time opening up to us to create.
That's absolutely right. And I think the key is enjoy that time without pressure. You know, yes, I'm a playwright, and I probably won't write a play during this break just because I'm enjoying being home with my kids. We're dealing with big changes in the world and kind of getting used to what that's like. I'm stepping outside every day and making sure that I breathe in fresh air, and I don't always take the time to do that. But I'm stopping, and I'm doodling when I'm thinking about something or I'm, you know, quick writing a short poem after a meeting that I've had, you know, at my dining room table on Zoom.
So just allowing yourself the space to be creative without saying I have to do this and this and this and this I think if we can all trust that process a little bit, there will be a great deal of creative content that comes from this time, and frankly, it can be, um, it can be a little bit of not a literal lifesaver, maybe, but a life saver, because we do have time on our hands, and it just feels good to get the brain working and the body working.
And, this is a great time to take some creative risks in trying new things at home who loved that. I'm I have to admit, I'm guilty of working quite a bit, and I think that you make a really good point, which I've heard deep down in my heart by saying that you don't have to use this time to create, but, you know, using this time to give yourself space, carry around a notebook, got down ideas. But relax, go outside, be with your family, cook new things, trying new things that does lead to inspiration later on as well.
I agree. I tend to think that those of us and I do believe everyone has creativity inside of them. But those of us that strongly identify as being creative or artists we never stopped creating we're always making art. So for me, I may be writing a play right now, but that doesn't mean I'll be at the computer right now. Maybe in six months I'll be at the computer and the life that I'm living right now will go on to the page. Or maybe what you're experiencing right now will turn into a series of new paintings, right?
At times, we don't know what that's going to be, but of course, we are creating all the time. It's letting go of, of the deadlines of the it has to look or sound or feel this way and just trusting, trusting ourselves and trusting the process a little bit to say, "Wow, this is a really dynamic time to be alive, and there's gonna be a lot of rich stuff that that comes out of this time whenever it comes."
I love that ..."this is a dynamic time." That's great.
I've tried to start using that because there are so many negative words being thrown out there, and I understand that we're dealing with serious issues with this virus and that there are some scary things and scary thoughts that come to the surface. But it's also truly a very dynamic time. There are highs and lows and wonderful things to draw from this time and um, changes that will happen to our world, that that may lead to a better future, I saw on the news that because there's not a lot of, um, stuff happening with, like the canals in Venice, that the water is cleared up. Then you can see fish. You know, where there's some interesting things happening in the world that might teach us how to build a better world in the future because of this, this sort of challenging event.
So, I'm I'm trying to hold onto the silver lining because I think I think this will make us better and stronger in the end.
Yeah, I love that about you and which is one of the reasons I really was excited to talk to you today. I really do believe that that the power is within us to shape this in the way that makes us feel optimistic and better instead of living. And the fear that you see quite a bit on the news and stuff like that. And I've even had my own transformation of that fear of going down into that fear and then releasing it, knowing that it wasn't helping you at all and looking for those positives and just enjoying myself and and seeing those opportunities that this is providing.
Yeah, I know it's a new time for all of us. But it just really helps yourself, your mental state, I think, to look for opportunities and stay positive instead of going down. That your path.
I really appreciate that. Yeah, I feel similarly. And the thing is too, you know, this won't last forever. And as artists were sometimes overlooked, people don't always understand that artists generally are also very practical about making things work and getting things done and problem solving. And this is a great time to sharpen up those wonderful practical skills as artists. Because if you have that, plus the creativity plus the innovation, it just makes anything possible.
You know, if you can stay calm, cool and collected and take the best possible care of yourself during a global pandemic, you can probably also produce your own show. Yeah, you know, so all of this is just contributing to the larger toolbox of who we're all becoming and what's possible.
Yep. Owning our power and using it and staying calm and yeah, it'll definitely definitely be with us once this is past us and in the rear view mirror.
My final question for you today would be, since this is a podcast named GIRLBRAVE. I love to hear your definition of being brave in other and ideas that you might have for people listening on how they could be brave.
You're in this time, of course, so bravery for me, and it changes sometimes. But what it means for me right now is that when I'm feeling scared or discouraged or challenged that I first take the time to acknowledge that I say to myself, Hey, Becky, I think you're a little freaked out right now. And then if I can acknowledge that and I can say, Why am I feeling this feeling and work that out a little bit for myself? Then I can keep moving forward in pursuit of my dreams or my purpose or whatever's coming next.
But I think it's really important to go through things instead of around them on, and you have to be brave to go through things instead of around them. Um, I think something that we can all do right now that's incredibly brave and challenging is to take really good care of ourselves and of each other. But usually most of us are better at taking care of other people than ourselves. And we have to take the time to do that.
It's brave to stay inside for a long time and not go out and do the normal things. But that challenge having the ability to meet that challenge and say, we can do this. We can do this as a local community. We can do this as a global community. We can be brave and live life a little differently.
The normal right now is gonna make a real difference for everyone. And it'll help us get through this more quickly too. So sometimes, being brave is just acknowledging where you're at and sort of feeling those feelings and then deciding how to take the step forward.
Lovely. Well, thank you so much. This has been so much fun. And you are a talented, amazing person. And, um, you've given us such wise words to listen to over and over. So I appreciate you spending the time with us this afternoon with me this afternoon.
Jen, Thank you so much. You are You are such a gift. Thank you for this podcast. And for all the amazing things you do!
You're welcome! I love helping and sharing knowledge and inspiring others just like you do!
Thank you. All right. Bye bye.
Thank you for joining us today. I'm a girl. Brave podcast. Had a more to our website at PincurlGirls.com to hear more.
Have a good one. Bye.