Friday, January 15, 2021

My Top 4 Books in 2020 (plus all the rest)

Amazingly, I managed to hit half of my reading goal for the year! Between a new baby and a global pandemic, I am firmly in camp "making it through each day is a success." I somehow wound up with MORE books on my TBR shelf than I started with, thanks in no small part to discovering BookOutlet, plus the library's super-convenient website ordering and curbside pickup. I still adore browsing through the stacks, but between email list and Bookstagram recs, and having the entire NC Cardinal system at my fingertips, it's too easy to get the exact book I'm looking for. I can't wait to be able to be pleasantly surprised again, though.

My Four Favorite Books: 

1. Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson. "Beyond race, class, or other factors, a powerful caste system influences people's lives and behavior and the nation's fate. Linking the caste systems of America, India, and Nazi Germany, Wilkerson explores eight pillars that underlie caste systems across civilizations... [and] shows the ways that the insidious undertow of caste is experienced every day." This book made me so righteously angry that I wanted to vomit. And I say that as highest praise: this is a book that every white person needs to read. I thought I understood "racism", but I didn't get the nefarious ways those in power use race (and class and other delineations) to divide us in order to maintain power. Is there a way to get rid of caste on a country-wide scale without simply burning it all down and starting over? I don't know. That's what had to happen in Germany to stop the inhumanity. 

Also in the category of Black Lives Matter reading: Stamped by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X Kendi, Dean Smith, Charlie Scott, and the Era That Transformed a Southern College Town by Art Chansky, Raising White Kids by Jennifer Harvey, Freedom is a Constant Struggle by Angela Davis, and Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? by Beverly Daniel Tatum. 

2. Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression - and the Unexpected Solutions by Johann Hari. "Once Hari had uncovered nine real causes of these problems, they led him to scientists who are discovering very different solutions--ones that work." I believe mental health is a multifaceted thing, made up of neurochemicals, physical pathways, gut health, AND the connections Hari talks about in this book. Only using one of these facets to gain good mental health leaves a lot of potential on the table. I also believe the medical establishment wants to sell the quick fixes of pills and a lot of people would benefit from therapy, meaningful work, a better network of acquaintances, neighbors, and friends, and finding ways to be of service. My own journey with therapy, medication, functional medicine, and connection certainly bears that out. Knowing my own history, I sought a therapist for immediately post-partum, to talk through and hopefully alleviate issues that could have led to a postpartum depression or anxiety episode. Hari's book is worth reading even if only to check through your own connections and see what you can make stronger. 

Also in Getting Better reading: What You Do is Who You Are, Smart People Should Build Things by Andrew Yang The Disappearing Spoon, Cribsheet, 7 Secrets of the Newborn, Untamed by Glennon Doyle, The 7 Laws of Enough, Courage by Osho, In Praise of Slowness by Carl Honore, Meaning of the Library, Off the Clock and Juliet's School of Possibilities both by Laura Vanderkam, and See You at the Campground by RVAtlas. 

3. The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters by Priya Parker. "At a time when coming together is more important than ever, Parker sets forth a human-centered approach to gathering that will help everyone create meaningful, memorable experiences, large and small, for work and for play." I loved this one so much that after I returned it to the library, I bought myself a copy. Total game changer for theater and other live performance events. The way Parker describes asking "what is the purpose of this event?" made me rethink every theater show I have put on. Being able to think through her precepts for gathering will make any theater better connect with their ideal audience, which of course leads to raving fans and successful operations. 

Also in When I Have a Job Again reading: This is Marketing and The Practice, both by Seth Godin (these actually bookended the year!), Profit First by Mike Michalowicz, Setting the Table by Danny Meyer, and Building A Company: Roy O. Disney and the Creation of an Entertainment Empire

4. In fiction: The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd. (Fun fact: Kidd lives in our old home Chapel Hill! Did I know this when we lived there? No, I did not.) I CANNOT stop thinking about this story about Ana, wife of Jesus of Nazareth. "Grounded in meticulous research and written with a reverential approach to Jesus's life that focuses on his humanity, The Book of Longings is an inspiring, unforgettable account of one woman's bold struggle to realize the passion and potential inside her, while living in a time, place and culture devised to silence her. It is a triumph of storytelling both timely and timeless, from a masterful writer at the height of her powers." Kidd's storytelling made me weep. 

Also in fiction: The Library of the Unwritten, Mysterious Benedict Society: Riddle of the Ages, The Secret Chapter, and The Satapur Moonstone

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

2019 Reading Roundup: Flanuering Through the Stacks

2019 Reading was not quite as prolific as 2018 (which I didn't write a recap on because #moving), but contained quite a few stand-out books. I did manage to complete 42 books, plus a handful of magazines and tons of online articles/essays.

I didn't read as many off of my To Be Read shelves as I'd hoped: dammit, Instagram, I'm looking at you! Too many authors I follow, too many readers I'm friends with who keep recommending interesting books. Couple that with the browser tab I keep open to my local library account, which also links up with over 50 other library systems across the state, so I can simply place holds at any time... Look, I'm not saying I have a problem, I'm just saying it's reallllly easy to give into ordering a new-to-me book at any time. For 2020, I'm trying to keep lists of "books to read", either as a saved collection in Instagram or on paper in my planner, that I can reference after I've finished the current stack.

So the #theunreadshelfproject2020 has 64 titles on it. I've actually subdivided my reading chart into TBR and Library, to reinforce my own desire to read off my own shelves. My total goal for the year is 60 books read. Wish me luck.

On to the round up:

- I hesitate to nominate a "Top Number", but I will list these as being particularly impactful: Choose Yourself by James Altucher, Joyful by Ingrid Fettel Lee, The Courage to be Disliked by Fumitake Koga and Ichiro Kishimi, Do Less by Kate Northrup, Range by David Epstein, Boss Up by Lindsay Teague Moreno, and Don't Keep Your Day Job by Cathy Heller. These were ALL Instagram recs.

- Due to the changing nature of our family (I am still shocked every day to be expecting Kid #2), I also read and LOVED Like a Mother and Expecting Better.

- A couple of travel books got in there: The Yellow Envelope, Walking the Bible, and The Art of Flanuering.

- Fiction included: Less, Mr. Lemoncello's Great Library Race*, The Witch of Painted Sorrow, The Library of Lost and Found, Shadows, Noir, The Serpent's Secret, and The Forty Rules of Love (a novel about Rumi and Shams!), and The Saint Omnibus (so much better than ANY of the movies or the tv show. Natch. Although I am partial to the Val Kilmer version, because hello,

- Also fiction, but deserves special mention by author:
-- local Fayetteville author Shane Wilson's A Year Since The Rain. I read this steamy, magical realism novel, then promptly got pregnant. I'm not saying it's Shane's fault... but it is.
-- fave queer steampunk author Gail Carriger released the final in the Custard Protocol series, Reticence. So good. So sad to be done with the series.
-- fave not-just-YA author Catherynne Valente's crazy retro sci-fi novel Radiance.

As usual, other bits and bobs but those are the ones worth sharing. You can always follow my Instagram for reviews in real time.

I'd love to hear if you've read any of these! Leave a comment with your review if we read something in common.

*We discovered they'd made the first Mr. Lemoncello's book into a tv movie. Please give it a HARD PASS and just read the series. The movie was awful. Like, 1980s BBC tv series of Hitchhikers Guide awful. Like, did they even read the book or just the character list and highlights?

Friday, March 15, 2019

14 Ways Indy Theaters Can Use Social Media Like Award Shows

Any time I read, well, practically anything, I always wonder how the lesson can be applied to live independent theater. A recent article from Nielsen Ratings proved no different. "Award Shows are Big Winners on Social Media"  got me thinking "How can live theater use social the way the awards shows do?"

After all, the two events are very similar. For starters, they're both live events. Attendees are all in the same room together. There's often alcohol involved. There are distinct phases to the event: the pre-show, the live event itself, and post-show discussion.

Secondly, like awards shows, theater productions should be culturally relevant, at least to the community in which the theater resides. These productions may even feature local celebrities or have other local cultural cache.

I am a firm advocate that social engagement is but one leg of the three-legged online marketing stool. A regular email newsletter, a regularly updated website, and good, engaging, timely social content should all be feeding each other in a beautiful circle, driving audiences to engage with every platform. Besides, with the increasing confusion of how many people will see each post on Facebook or Instagram, and the real-time nature of Twitter, posting more is always preferable to posting less. Very few people are going to complain that you've posted too much, and even if they do, so what? Invite them to help with the next show: they need something else to do with all the time they've been spending on social media.

I can hear my theater friends going, "But, Devra, I'm only one person of a two-person team and we're already producing/directing/acting in/buying props/covering stage management/etc etc etc. How am I going to add a full-blown social media plan to this show?" Have you gotten your 501c3 status? Call your local high school and see if someone needs community service hours who also loves social media. Call a social media influencer and see if they want to participate in the show in this volunteer capacity. Tap your board (because you do have a decent sized board for your nonprofit organization, right? [suspicious look]) and see if they know anyone who could help. I'll do it, for a generous consultant fee.

So, How can small independent theaters/shows use social media like their award show cousins? Here are a few ideas:


  • Build your promotional plan from the beginning of planning. Don't wait til the week of the show. Oscar social media blitz starts 4-6 weeks in advance, basically as soon as the new year rolls over, and that doesn't include the screener coverage. 
  • Decide a hashtag early and make sure all available social media channels are included on all marketing material. Make sure your entire team knows the hashtag. 
  • Use every aspect of your show for content: actors, director, designers, rehearsals, props, costumes, sets, music, dramaturgy, etc. You know the Grammy winner for best small market radio station is still crowing about their win, even if they aren't featured on the telecast! 
  • Can you release content that highlights both the actor AND the character they are playing? 
  • & don't forget to call out your sponsors! Best if you can find a way that integrates into the show itself, like Taco Bell sponsoring an award, but even if you can't, it's value added for the sponsor, which (hint hint) makes them more likely to sponsor you again in the future. 
  • Invite local social media influencers to a final dress rehearsal and encourage them to post in real-time, take pictures, whatever. 
  • While the theater company (network) puts out content through official channels, encourage the individuals involved (talent) to post on their preferred network. CBS did a ton of social media for the Grammys, but so did Alicia Keys, and all the other talent associated with the show. 

What is your Billy Porter moment? 

Opening/During the Run:

  • Ok, so have we all given up on tweet seats? I actually really liked the idea, if it can be done unobtrusively and not bother other patrons. 
  • Provide all the relevant social media information (AND WI-FI, if necessary) in your lobby/bathrooms/waiting area so audiences can engage with your show online right away. 
  • Live-stream your Q&As. It's an easy way to re-engage those audiences who have already seen the show and gain new people who may want to come see the show if they hear a little more about it. 
  • For muse's sake, and I wish this could go without saying, but it can't: HAVE ACTOR PHOTO-OPS AFTER A PERFORMANCE. People have just given you two hours of their time and hopefully you've provided great value for that from your performance. Reward them by being available afterwards and graciously taking photos that we all know are going straight to social afterwards. 

Outside of Showtime: 

  • Repost. Repost. Repost. This is a big thank you to your audiences that have not only given you their money and time but are gifting you with content! If you want to ask permission, by all means, but many posts/accounts/platforms are public. Share an Instagram post on your Story. Retweet. Comment. ABC/CBS/MTV do this all the time. Remember when "Dancing With The Stars" had a live twitter feed on the live show? 
  • Integrate a hashtag feed onto your website so that the conversation from Twitter or Instagram shows up there. 
  • Is there a moment or phrase from the show that would make a great GIF or meme? Make it so! One way you'll know is if there's a particular moment or character that audiences keep referencing. 

Yes, the networks and talent who participate in awards shows have cumulatively hundreds of people who can post social content. But that doesn't mean the small theater shop gets a pass on engaging with their audience in this way just because they don't have as many people. Because this is the crux: the small independent theater must engage with their audiences in every way possible in order to deepen relationships and increase their audience overall.

Friday, January 18, 2019

Minimal Living: Forced Version

Minimalism is everywhere these days. It's very in style, if getting rid of all your belongings and living with the bare necessities is your style.

Don't get me wrong: I've toyed with the minimalism idea for several years now. Even as an extrovert who loves owning lots of "things that spark joy", there is still a threshold of "too much". I'd started paring down before we made the big move from the Triangle to the Coast and made sure to not RE-accumulate random things while we were in Morehead City.

So when it came time to pack all our belongings again for moving, I embraced the opportunity to live with even less. I knew we'd be "in between" homes for a while and that what ever I kept had to be packed into two vehicles, along with my kid, dog, and cat. I looked up long-term travel on Pinterest, followed minimalist accounts on Instagram, and made sure I knew what self-care was non-negotiable for me during this time.

And we'd already done this on a trial basis: when we evacuated for Hurricane Florence and spent a week at my folks' place. So I thought I knew what I was getting into.

Extended-stay "Suite"
We are now in month three of minimal living. November and December were still in our old home, but January has mostly been in a 400 square foot extended living hotel "suite" (I use suite lightly: it's basically a hotel room with a 2 burner stove and full size refrigerator).  When the minimalism aesthetic is forced upon you, you learn a lot about exactly where you fall on the style spectrum.

Here are a few things I've learned during our time without stuff:

1. Most homes really are filled with simply too much stuff. There's a reason why the before and after pictures on any HGTV show are so starkly different: there's the perfect amount of stuff. Since we were living in our home while it was on the market, we staged it with our own stuff. 90% of our worldly goods were in storage, but the 10% we had left were enough to be comfortable with. Did I have choices? No. Did I need choices? Again, no. Not really.

2. Speaking of choices: How many clothes do you really NEED? This is one of those areas where the long-term travel folks are right: you learn very quickly that you can indeed thrive on 3 shirts, 2 pants, a jacket, and a few odds and ends. My husband's entire work wardrobe is in a suitcase. My daughter packed 1/3 of her wardrobe and STILL has shirts she hasn't worn.

Now, will I want to burn every item of clothing after this time is up because I'm tired of seeing/wearing it? Most likely, yes. BUT, the point is that you don't need a bedroom-size walk-in closet because it's 99% unlikely you wear all those clothes on a regular basis.

3. Close quarters are truly close at night. Sleeping is the one activity that I legitimately do want my privacy and hotel living does NOT provide it. There's the kid in the bed right beside me. There's the cat who wants to be nocturnal. There are the other hotel patrons who are keeping vastly different hours. I don't recall reading anything about this in the long-term travel research, so let me be the first to say that if you're going to sleep in close quarters for a long time, figure out really quickly whether your tolerance level is "eye-mask and earplugs" or "sleeping pills." I don't care if you're in a hotel, BnB, travel trailer, or hosteling your way across Europe: sleeping normally won't happen.

Paleo chicken parmesan with
non-paleo whole wheat
angelhair pasta. All done on the
2-burner stove.
4. I miss my kitchen, but I've learned to be vastly more creative. I consider myself a fairly decent home chef, but being forced to rely on one knife, one skillet, one pan, and an old 2 burner stove has ratcheted my kitchen creativity up 100%. Long-term travel folks will tell you quickly that eating out is more affordable overseas, however, you still don't want to eat out every meal.

5. Home is truly where the heart is. As frustrated as I can get by this situation, it's vastly better to be together. I missed my husband so much when he was on the road and I was in an empty house waiting for an offer to buy. My daughter has been a champ throughout the process and, rather than the nightmares we've experience in school vacations before, this has been a growth experience for both of us. Even the dog and the cat--as bored as I can tell they are--have been good about being cooped up in a small space together.

I'm thinking I will wait on unpacking once we are in the new house. I know I can live without that stuff for a while longer. Maybe forever.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Theater in the Age of Netflix

I read a great article in the December issue of Fast Company titled "Retail in the Age of Amazon." Long-time readers know of my penchant for following retail conversations and seeing how they are applicable to the theater world and this article was no different.

(New readers: hello! do you think retail and theater overlap, too?)

I sat down to write notes on all the topics and details from the article that I wanted to flesh out on for theaters. I thought it would be 4 or 5, since the article itself had 4 sections to it.

Instead, I had TWENTY-TWO points to hit. To flesh out each of those points, even a paragraph a piece, seems a tad much for a blog post.

Some of them I've written about before, like defining success on your terms and using heretical ideas.

A lot of them are about how going back to basics and focusing on differentiation rather than competing at the same game can help retail businesses survive and thrive in the age of click-and-buy.

This is my point about live theater: when it's easiest to click-and-buy entertainment in your pjs on your couch, you can't treat your theater business like it's another Netflix. Nor can you exasperatedly declare "there's nothing I can do!" about declining audiences and lackluster seasons. There are plenty of things you can do. Twenty-two things by this count.

So I'll be tackling this list, giving each point the focus it deserves. I hope to even find real-world examples of theater companies and people who are doing these things already. Nothing beats reading another's story for inspiration and checklist-creation.

Carr wrote: "Retailers don't need to chase a futuristic version of themselves that they might never attain; they first need to remember what made them special in the first place." I'd say the same is true for theaters, too.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Reading in 2017 Expanded My Mind, Heart, and Soul

I read 37(ish) books in 2017. As usual, they were a bit all over the place.

Some of the highlights:

- being diagnosed with anxiety and depression and realizing your codependent tendencies makes you seek out book help. I read Melody Beattie's work, including the classic Codependent No More and the newer Stop Being Mean To Yourself. I have another one still on my TBR pile. Related: Never Good Enough; Drama of the Gifted Child; The Wisdom of Depression; Potatoes Not Prozac.

- the business books included the fantastic Abundance by Peter Diamandis (older title) and Principles by Ray Dalio (new title). I'm enjoying branching out my business reading to forward-looking futurists. These are the folks who read science fiction as kids, made it come true, and are now looking ahead another forty years to see what will be next. 

- in the "make my life better" Dewey Decimal section: You Already Know What To Do, about tapping into intuition, was phenomenal and fell into my hands at the perfect time (towards the end of therapy). I've definitely been following my intuition more and feel much better about choices. Another good read was Pussy: A Reclamation. We all need to listen to our female intelligence more. Others in this category: The Happiness of Pursuit; Living Forward; Fearless and Free; Make Your Mark; The Power of Meaning; High Performance Habits.

- file under "Tim Ferriss": I read his own Tools of Titans, plus his recommended Vagabonding.

- I expanded my religious studies reading this year. Most exceptional was Four Testaments, which included foundations texts for eastern religions and a through introduction to Zoroastrianism. Every Judeo-Christian raised person should read about Zoroastrianism as it directly influenced the Hebraic history and Christian mythology. Related: A New Earth; How Philosophy Can Save Your Life; The Spirit of Zen.

- I reread Deborah Harkness' All Souls Trilogy (one of very, very few fiction works I have read multiple times) and that led me to read The Clockwork Universe, about how science bloomed during the 1600s, leading to thoughts which changed the world. Universe talks about England right after the time period of the Shadow of Night, the second in the All Souls Trilogy. It was neat to read about topics Harkness references as "coming." This also highlighted how out of practice I am in STEM areas, so I'm using the Brilliant app to brush up on my science and I read Richard Feynman's intro lectures to physics, Six Easy Pieces.

- The massive fiction tome this year went to an author I haven't read in 20 years: Neal Stephenson, and his collaboration with Nicole Galland, The Rise and Fall of DODO. If you're a fan of long, crazy, interwoven, sharp character-driven science fiction, I can't recommend this book enough. I've never read Galland's work before, so I can only surmise she kept the pace quicker than Stephenson's normal slog. But it was incredible; the ending was perfect and didn't make me sad (*cough*like The Night Circus*cough*). Also read: The Masked City; Furthermore; The Burning Page; Book Scavenger; A Conjuring of Light; Girl Who Drank The Moon

There were bits and bobs more, but those are the ones that stand out.

As usual, you can follow what I read over on Instagram, where I post shots and reviews in real time.

I'm tackling #theunreadshelfproject2018 for my reading this year, which means getting through the 55 backlog titles on my shelves. Wish me luck.

Monday, April 3, 2017

What If Success Was Easier?


1. obsolete : outcome, result

2a : degree or measure of succeeding
b : favorable or desired outcome; also : the attainment of wealth, favor, or eminence

3: one that succeeds


2a : to turn out well
b : to attain a desired object or end

From the latin succedere: to come after, or up from below

Why do we not do a better job--or any job at all--defining success for ourselves? 

Why is the first definition of success one that Webster's qualifies as obsolete? An outcome or result. The first definition of succeed is literally "to come after another in rank or position, to follow after another in order". The second definition is to attain a desired end. Why don't we do more to delineate in any kind of terms what our desired end is? Why do we always default to "money" or "fame" or "status of some kind"? 

I admit that I am a perfectionist with [insanely] high goals for every artistic event I'm involved with. My props had to be indistinguishable from the real thing, if I couldn't get the real thing. My shows had to be sell-outs, or as close as physically possible without literally picking people up and bringing them to the theater. Classes and workshops needed to have the max number of students or I felt unsatisfied as either a teacher or a venue provider. More, always more. 

What if we defined success differently, though? I've written about failure before, how I don't truly believe in failure as long as you're trying and learning. But why can't the same be true of success? Why isn't there a spectrum rather than two distinct points? You did or you didn't. You succeeded or you failed. You made a gazillion dollars or you're a poor hack who just needs to quit trying. You're an investment banker/hotshot lawyer/neurosurgeon or you might as well be laying on your couch without a job. Dr. Strange thought his life was over because he couldn't use his hands any more after the car accident. 

The success story in the performing arts is school--move to one of three acceptable cities--get discovered--get signed to a project/show/team with an amazing amount of salary--pictures on magazines/appear on television/people want your autograph. 


Why do we set ourselves up for the massive amount of disappointment that this definition of success inherently creates? 

Yes, money and fame are nice (I'm guessing.) But we can redefine the outcome we want and have success on our terms. 

I want a family and a house and live in a community I can afford without feeling like all work and no play. 

I want to produce theater that makes me--and hopefully an audience--laugh and cry and try to be a better person. 

I want to help other performing artists produce work that moves them and their communities, regardless of what size that community is or what that community looks like. It could be a town of 8,000 people, largely agricultural based, with a strong Irish background and cultural history of story-telling. It could be a neighborhood of 400 with young families of all nationalities trying to find some commonality between them and make their neighborhood a better, safer place to live. It could be a dancer who has moved six hours away from the only home she's ever known and just wants to move her body and find like-minded individuals. 

Connection is succeeding. That may be one person. Or 1000. 

More is better, sure. But it's not necessary. Define your success and then achieve it. 

Or not. And redefine and try again.