This week I got a chance to see a one woman play, Miracle in Rwanda, in NYC. It’s another very powerful story of a genocide but from a more recent time than Vilna and I think further proof that history does indeed repeat itself if we aren’t careful. This show was written by Leslie Malaika Lewis and Edward Vilga and stars Malaika Uwamahoro.
In April 1994 in Rwanda, an extremist militia of Hutu tribesmen began a brutal, widespread effort to exterminate all members of the Tutsi minority tribe. A Catholic young woman named Immaculee went into hiding, armed only with the rosary her father gave her. Imagine spending three months hiding in a small bathroom with five other people with only your prayers to keep your hope alive.
At its core, the story is one of survival and forgiveness. Immaculee learns that hating the extremist murderers the way they hate the Tutsis makes her no better than they are. She learns the only way for her to be truly free is to forgive, which is such a difficult thing to imagine her being able to do after witnessing her whole story.
A few weeks ago, in between trips to Los Angeles, I had the honor of seeing an Off Broadway play, Vilna. No matter what my schedule was, I definitely knew I HAD to see the talented Sean Hudock in the role of Motke Zeidel and I wanted to see this show about the Holocaust because although I haven’t studied it since college, I have thought about it often.
It saddened me to read the statistic that 49% of Millennials cannot name a single one of the over 40,000 camps and ghettos from this time. The Holocaust is becoming a faint or non-existent event of small significance and this cannot be. In order to insure history does not repeat itself, we need to be aware of the events that took place, how certain groups rise in power, and how other groups are so easily targeted. (Sound familiar… I thought so).
The play is only running for a SEVEN more performances, so I encourage you to grab tickets and head out to see it before it closes. Besides my good friend Sean, who always gives phenomenal performances, the cast is chock full of talent. The ghost of Motke Zeidel is played by Mark Jacoby and the cast also includes Carey Van Driest, Patrick Toon, Seamus Mulcahy (Motke’s best friend), Tom Morin, Brian Cade, James Michael Reilly, Tom Morin, Nathan Kaufman, Sophia Blum, and Paul Cooper. Vilna was written by Ira Fuchs and directed by Joseph Discher.
I know many of us are familiar with the story of the Holocaust but trust me, it is so powerful to see this story in person. Motke’s story, in particular, is heart wrenching. Imagine having to choose who you would give up each week from you own community to sacrifice to the Nazi’s in order to keep them from your own loved ones? Imagine knowing you were sealing these people’s fate, people you knew all of your life, to people you knew you couldn’t trust to keep their word. Imagine knowing no matter what you did to please them, you were most likely only prolonging the inevitable. It’s unthinkable.
The most important parts of the play are the details in the story and relating those to our own current times. The power of the story lies in the talent of all on stage. Most of the time, I felt like I was there with them, I felt nervous for them, and I cried right along with them as well.
Emerge yourself in a little history by picking up tickets here.
SYNOPSIS: With a new school year comes a new beginning for the Tigers, the worst-ranked high school cheerleading team in the state. Riley, the new captain, rallies the girls for a fresh start at the annual team sleepover, however, the night takes a bloody turn.
A squad that can’t stick a landing now has to solve a murder if they want any hope of making it to regionals – or the morning. Featuring an infectious pop rock score and razor-sharp wit, this brand new musical proves the highs and lows of being a teen girl in high school are more extreme than they seem.
Some people were meant for music and, in some cases, music was also meant for them. Such is definitely the case with Brandon Rogers. If you’re a fan of his from his American Idol days or just a fan period and you follow his journey on social media, you see how he literally lights up when he’s singing. That light is always something I find contagious whenever I am watching someone perform. Plus, as you’ll learn, Brandon has been surrounded by music from a young age.
If you know Brandon, you know that in addition to being so talented, he’s also a really good guy. I have had the privilege of hanging out with him a few times, so I’ve witnessed his kindness and humor but again, if you follow him on social, you see that shine through regularly. Some of my favorite posts of his are when he watches Idol and shows his support for the current contestants, gives his advice, and offers encouragement. He also showcases that sense of humor on the regular, so if you aren’t following him, make sure you do so!
His new song, ‘Apathy’ is a beautiful statement about moving past hurt and difficult relationship memories. It’s also a stunning video with lots of familiar faces (My very good friend Ronnie Kroell appears in it as well). I included it at the end of this interview for you to enjoy!
Now, let me allow you to experience a little of Mr Brandon Rogers:
Q: Your journey with music has taken you so many places. Tell us a little about how you got started, did you always know you had such talent and were you always ready to honor it?
Brandon Rogers: Thanks so much for the compliment! Music has always been a part of me; I’ve been singing pretty much my whole life. My mom and dad both sang around the house growing up and my mother was even an aspiring songwriter at one time – but as she would say life got in the way. I’ve just always been immersed in musical energy. I’ve played piano since I was 9, played sax in bands, sang in choir in school, studied vocal performance and jazz in college, then joined a boy band right after school. I’m lucky to have parents that always supported and loved my musical aspirations.
Q: Speaking of journeys, your song and video ‘Apathy’ take listeners/viewers on a bit of an emotional one. Where did the inspiration for the song and video come from?
Brandon Rogers: I’m sure it goes without saying, but I love this song. I loved writing it and it was cathartic emotionally in a way that I didn’t anticipate. When it came time to figure out the visual medium, I just wanted to convey that no matter which side of a breakup you’re on there’s going to be some sort of residual emotion that is sometimes tricky to shake. I wanted it to feel like I was simply the narrator while all the talented actors (some of which were real couples) displayed the range of emotions expressed in the song. The flashing Edison bulb is the device I used to bind all the scenarios. I’m really proud of how well the director (Rashsaan Patterson) realized the vision. We then sat down and edited it ourselves until we felt it had the right energy.
Q: Being an ‘American Idol’ alum, are you glad to see it return? What advice do you offer current/future contestants? What advice do you wish you had received when you were on the show?
Brandon Rogers: I’m always glad to see American Idol return. It definitely holds a special place in my memory. I made some friends that I’ll have for a lifetime and it got me out there in front of the public in a major way. The advice I would give to all contestants is to enjoy it while it’s happening. It’s easy to get caught up in the future – meaning where you’ll end up/what will you sing next week/what happens afterwards/etc but I think it’s important to just be in the moment. The experience is singular. Relish it. What I wish I would’ve known was that when it’s over, it’s completely up to you what happens next. It’s can be a springboard for your career, but YOU have to do the work. It’s not just going to happen automatically and they won’t necessarily help.
Q: ‘Apathy’ brings up a great point. “The opposite of love isn’t hate, it’s apathy”. That applies to personal relationships, but in our current situation, it also applies to much of the social and political issues we face today. Do you think there is a cure for the kind of apathy that exists in that context?
Brandon Rogers: Good catch. I wish I could say that I made it up but I borrowed it, with love, from the holocaust survivor/activist Ellie Wiesel. The quote starts “The opposite of love is not hate, its indifference.” I used it in relation to a relationship, but it’s original meaning were definitely more politically salient. To me, the hard part in avoiding political apathy is that we’re so inundated by information from every angle that every new tragedy or scandal has become routine. The only cure would be realization that we all have the agency to push for changes we want to see in the world.
Q: Will we be seeing/hearing a new album soon?
Brandon Rogers: Definitely. I have most of it written already and I’ll be releasing them one by one as they’re finished. Next up is a song I wrote called “Weekend Love”. It’s an upbeat song about that moment when you start to realize a relationship is drifting from a casual thing on the weekends to something more serious. Should be out in the coming weeks.
Q: What is one thing you absolutely cannot live without and one thing you wish we could all live without?
Brandon Rogers: The one thing I can’t live without and the one thing I wish we could all live without are the same thing : my phone. It’s definitely a mass addiction. Maybe we’d all connect a little more if we disconnected a bit online.
Q: Where can everyone find you online to keep up with all you have going on?
Q: What’s coming up next for Brandon Rogers?
Brandon Rogers: I’m going to try to release more music and video at a more regular pace. First “Weekend Love” then either a song called “Science” or “Run”. I’m on the fence. In the meantime, I’ve got a single out with an Italian DJ Matt Strike called “I Refuse” that I co-wrote with Will Jay. Additionally, I’m just going to keep on writing and being creative every day in hope of putting a more positive creativity into the world.
One of the best parts about NYC is all of the rich, wonderful shows that you can catch off-Broadway. I love a good Broadway show just as much as the next pop culture aficionado but I really enjoy the subjects that are explored in the smaller shows. This past weekend I was able to catch a touching, thought-provoking, and conversation starting show called ‘Fiercely Independent’.
Fiercely Independent is a new play by Tony winner Kathleen K. Johnson. It’s about a couple (Julie and Robert) who have been married for four years and are having some difficulties getting along. They decide to spend 24 hours together in a hotel room with no television, no cellphones, no internet or computers to see if they can work things out – in separate beds.
They have devised a set of rules to follow for the time they are spending at the hotel so that they can maximize their time with limited distractions, hoping to find some solutions and compromises to their issues. This may seem like very heavy subject matter, and it is, but among the serious discussions, there are moments of humor, of tenderness, and of hope.
I don’t want to give away too much of the story but I will say that it’s a very raw look at what our relationships have become in the modern age but also a reminder of how much relationships haven’t really changed. We all still want the same things: To be seen, to be heard, to be loved, and to know that we matter to another person.
Both Julie and Robert have equal chances to air their grievances and they also find that there are more distractions than cell phones, computers, tv, and internet. Even without all of those, they wander from their true goal a little but then they are always reminded of why they decided to come to this hotel room and return to the task at hand.
If you’re in the NYC area, I suggest adding this one to your list of shows to see. It’s currently playing at SOHO Playhouse, so you can make an evening of it by visiting one of the local bars and/or restaurants. I absolutely suggest going with a friend or significant other because there will be plenty to discuss.
FIERCELY INDEPENDENT – a new play by Tony winner Kathleen K. Johnson – will be given its world premiere Off-Broadway at the SoHo Playhouse (15 Vandam St. in Manhattan), with preview performances beginning March 1 prior to an official press opening March 6. FIERCELY INDEPENDENT will play a five-week limited engagement through April 7, it has been announced by producer Michael Guccione.
Featured in the cast of FIERCELY INDEPENDENT are Caitlin Gallogly, Christopher M. Smith and Jordan Sobel.
In FIERCELY INDEPENDENT, Julie and Robert have been married for four years. They are not getting along. They decide to spend 24 hours together in a hotel room with no television, no cellphones, no internet or computers to see if they can work things out – in separate beds.
CAITLIN GALLOGLY (Julie) is thrilled to be a part of Fiercely Independent! Recent cred- its include Jovie in Elf at the Engeman Theater and Janie Preston in On a Clear Day at Irish Rep. She’s best known as Princess Kenny on Comedy Central’s “South Park” and as Kim on “Silicon Valley” (HBO). Also on TV: “I’m Dy- ing up Here,” “Future Man,” “Mindy Project,” “Masters of Sex.” Recent stage: Forum, The Scarlet Pimpernel, Recorded in Hollywood (Kirk Douglas Theatre, Ovation nomination), The Women (Scenie Award, Eddon Award), The Belle of Belfast (EST/L.A.; Ovation, L.A. Weekly Award nominations), The Queen’s Physician. Thanks to her incredible family and Professional Artists. Caitlingallogly.com @caitlingallogly
CHRISTOPHER M. SMITH (Robert). Off-Broadway debut. Select theatre credits in- clude the world premiere of Apple Season at NJ Rep, The Gun Show at PS21 in Chatham, Sex With Strangers at Portland Center Stage, Other Desert Cities at Speakeasy Stage, The Pavilion at the Lyric Theatre in L.A. (Stage- SceneLA Award, Best Actor) and Clever Lit- tle Lies at Florida Studio Theatre. Select TV credits include “Orange Is the New Black” and “The Blacklist.” BA Theatre, University of La Verne. www.christophersmithactor.com
Jordan Sobel is an actor, percussionist, fight designer, and teaching artist. He has had performed in New York City and regionally in cities such as Boston, Chicago, Sarasota, and Fort Worth with companies such as The American Repertory Theatre, Huntington Theatre, and The Asolo Rep.
KATHLEEN K. JOHNSON (playwright/director) has numerous Broadway credits, having produced A GENTLEMAN’S GUIDE TO LOVE AND MURDER (2014 Tony Award), WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? (2013 Tony Award), HAIR (2009 Tony Award), GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS, RACE, A LIFE IN THE THEATRE, THE LYONS, THE BEST MAN, SUPERIOR DONUTS and BLITHE SPIRIT, among others. Most recently, she developed and presented a workshop production of the new musical LOUISIANA RHYTHM.
FIERCELY INDEPENDENT has set and lighting design by Will Cotton; and costume design by Rodney Harper. Original music and lyrics are written by Andrew David Sotomayor. Recorded and produced by Erik Gloege. Song performed by George Bugatti.
FIERCELY INDEPENDENT is produced by Michael Guccione, who has produced THE LYONS starring Linda Lavin on Broadway, along with the NY premiere of SHEAR MADNESS and also on Broadway, HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS And RUBEN & CLAY’S CHRISTMAS SHOW.
FIERCELY INDEPENDENT will perform Wednesdays through Fridays at 7 pm; Saturdays at 2 and 7 pm, and Sundays at 3 pm. Tickets are $59 and can be purchased at https://www.fiercelysoho.com/ or call 212-691-1555.
On my many trips to Los Angeles for big entertainment events, I’m always very lucky and honored to be part of Celebrity Connected’s award show events for Emmys, Oscars, and more. At these events, I meet some amazing vendors who have unique products, products that help others, and some truly wonderful things with Social Good connections.
At this past Oscars Celebrity Connected event, I met an author, Irma Goosen, who also has created a special movement for young people (and all people) who are dealing with the effects of bullying, the struggles of growing up and life, and who need to feel like they have a community to connect with. The unique way she started all of this was by writing a series of books but so much more came from it. Her perspective as a mom gives what she does a very nurturing tone. You can feel the passion she has for what she does and who she helps. I definitely suggest checking out her website and her books.
I’m going to let her explain more about it all in our interview:
Q: Talk to us about how you got started as an anti-bullying champion.
Irma Goosen: Did you know that 1 in 2 young people today, think about suicide? And that the highest demographic in North America with mental health is in the ages 15-24 years? My younger daughter has always been sensitive. She’s an artist, beautiful, quiet and not one to initiate confrontation.
The bullying started in first grade, by her teacher – an old-fashioned woman who didn’t understand that my daughter had been in Montessori the past 4 years, and that she got taught to ask questions and investigate objects. It continued through high school. I can’t count how many times I had to do her assignments, just so that she wouldn’t get into trouble with the teachers. Yet she maintained her honor roll status and participation in sports.
One beautiful summer’s day, 4 years ago, she had a post surgery follow-up at the children’s hospital. She had needed the surgery due to a sports injury. That day became the darkest day in a mother’s soul. That day I found out my decorative knives, which had been disappearing, found their way to her bedroom. She had been harming herself, a way to try to focus on the instant pain which for a short while overshadowed the mental anguish she was going through.
She had a suicide plan in place. She knew the why, the where, the how… but not the when. She knew I would be devastated. My mother’s love saved my daughter’s life.
That day became the best day in my life, because that is the day my daughter became my teacher. That day I learned that I had to raise awareness about what our young people are going through. I have spoken with hundreds of young people, and so many of them struggle.
It wasn’t easy. There were days when I wondered if I would get home and she would’ve done that horrible deed. One thing I made sure of, I always told her how much I loved her, and how it didn’t matter what she did, I would be there for her. She would not be able to chase me away. I kept on telling her the same thing, over and over.
Since then I have been actively involved at schools, and teen groups. I talk about bullying and kindness at events. I make sure parents and kids know where to go for help. I have added the help websites and phone numbers in my books. The young generation deserves protection – they are our future leaders.
Q: The Guardian series is based on reality but written as fiction. Did you do that to protect those you were writing about or to make it easier for them if they wanted to read it?
Irma Goosen: Both of the statements are true. The Guardian series takes the readers, whether children, young adults or adults, on a series of journeys where the young person struggling with reality gets shown how strong, and loved they really are. That no matter what, there is always hope. They get shown that they have free will, and can change their circumstances at any moment. They only need to trust.
Because I write about elves and fairies as guardians, the books come across as fantasy, but they are in fact dealing with current events.
Parents see the hidden lessons, while the younger generation sees the message of hope. What I feel strongly about is that the old adage of “it takes a village to raise a child” is very true.
Q: What should parents look out for if their children are having trouble but not being open about it?
Irma Goosen: There are many signs we as parents see, but don’t take notice of, because we feel they should be part of the troubled teenage years. Mood swings, temper tantrums, wearing long sleeves even in summer, sleeping all the time, no appetite, skipping classes are a few ways to notice something is wrong.
Kids don’t always talk about what’s happening. Make a point of talking to the young person in your life. Tell them you love them. Talk about what bullying was about when you grew up. Perhaps it happened to you. Perhaps a friend got bullied. Sometimes a child doesn’t realize they became the bully, or that they are in fact being bullied, and that’s the reason they are sad.
There are different kinds of bullying: physical, social and by using social media. Physical is easy to recognize. Social bullying is a bit more difficult. Example: when there is a group of friends, and one talks about the other with the rest of the group. Instead of finding out the truth, the group might side with the talker. Cyber bullying is tough. It’s easy not to use real names on instagram, twitter or snapchat – which in turn makes it very easy to send anonymous comments. It becomes addictive.
Kids don’t necessarily mention suicide. Talk to your kids. Listen to them, because they might mention something in passing when you’re busy with something else.
Q: What do you think schools can do to assist with the issue of bullying, depression, and anxiety in children?
Irma Goosen: I am involved in a program at a few schools at elementary level, where we take the kids through a series of talks and exercises. Those programs then continue to junior high or middle school. We seem to be getting positive results, but of course it takes a few years of being involved.
It’s up to the parents to insist the schools get a speaker or program in place to assist them with the bullying issue. Get the kids involved, and let them make decisions as well about what they would like to see in place. Start the programs early, and continue them into high school. The schools all have budgets for programs, and mental health is probably the most important one to deal with. If the schools don’t want to pay, do it for free. It has been proven that bullying drops by 25% if the schools get involved with anti-bullying programs.
There are kids who are in abusive relationships, and don’t know they are being bullied. There are many kids who are growing up in households where the parents unfortunately are dysfunctional, and the kids themselves didn’t realize those relationships were not normal. The schools will then be the place they could get the education from. From there, the help they need. 1 out of 5 kids get the help they deserve, it’s up to us as a society to change that.
Q: In one of my own jobs, I work in an environment where bullying has been tolerated. Do you see many adults dealing with the issue in the workplace and what would you suggest if complaints have been made but not addressed?
Irma Goosen: Bullying in the workplace should never be tolerated. I have seen it happen over the years and it’s a tough situation. I was bullied at the start of my engineering career, because I was the only female among the males and as such, a minority. I have seen people quit their jobs because of the old-fashioned, patriarchal attitudes.
Talk to the person. Tell them that their words and actions are hurtful, and that you would like them to stop. Then, put it in writing. You now have a record. The next step if that didn’t help? Report it to your supervisor. They should then talk to the individual. In many cases the bullying should stop there. Still nothing? Human Resources. In many cases I have seen, the individual responsible for the unacceptable behaviour was either moved to another department, or their services were no longer required. In some cases HR will suggest you making a case at the police against the person, if things don’t stop. Then it becomes possible for the bully to be charged with a criminal offense.
Most workplaces have counsellors available as well. They are there to help. I am fortunate that I don’t come across much bullying in the workplace anymore. I don’t say it’s not happening. I think there has been a shift in the way people think. It’s all about education.
Q: Most times, those who are doing the bullying have suffered at the hands of a bully themselves either at home or in some other situation in their past. The saying goes, “Hurt people hurt people”. This doesn’t excuse the behavior or lessen the effects of it on victims but, as a parent and professional, what do you suggest is the best action if you can’t actually seek results with the parents of a bully because they are actually part of the problem?
Irma Goosen: This is why education is key. Talk to someone you trust. Young people have a keen sense of knowing whom to talk with. They could talk with a friend, the friend’s parents, a teacher, an adult in the family they trust. There are free counseling services available in almost every town. Talk to the preacher. Always, but always, make sure the person you talk to is trustworthy. Sometimes it would mean talking to more than one person, because the first one or two didn’t believe you. Don’t give up. There is someone out there who will help you.
Once again, this is why the schools should get involved. By having programs in place the kids learn about their behaviour, which in turn could lead them finding help for the adults in their lives. Fear is powerful in any abusive relationship, and even more so when it’s an adult figure and their charge. This is why I will continue speaking up to have the collective voice of young people be heard.
Q: How can people join your Movement?
Irma Goosen: By getting involved at your schools and youth organizations, the Movement will grow. Let me know when you do that!
I would love for people to buy the books and distribute them to schools and groups. Contact me if you want to create a cinematic experience like video games, or movies or a series.
Book me to speak at your events to raise awareness about bullying.
Join my video series by submitting your stories of strive, then hope. Contact me for the format. Let’s bring positivity back to our lives!
Join The PDA App. It’s free, and there are so many specialists who could help. Make sure to look me up as well! I would love young people to be sponsored, in order for them to share their stories of triumph after having gone through traumatic experiences growing up.
Let me know when you did something to help youth, I want to see this go worldwide! Make sure to tag me!
Q: Where can people find you and your books online?
Email me: Irma@discoveringlife.info
My website which is new: http://discoveringlife.info
My books can be ordered through Amazon. The titles are:
The 3rd book in the series is almost there!
Q: I ask everyone this, What is one thing you absolutely cannot live without and one thing you wish we could all live without?
Irma Goosen: I can’t live without having kids in my life. I adore kids, they are wise beyond what we can imagine!
I would love for us all to live in harmony. War is senseless. Bullying is fear reaching out as violence. So the one thing I wish we could live without would be without violence.
Q: What’s next for you and your movement?
Irma Goosen: I have teen events where I get specialists in their fields to teach real life lessons. Example: What to look for when a young person opens a bank account. Or, how to check the air pressure in the tires. Or, how to build a fire. The list is endless.
I am also rolling out my full day workshop to talk to corporations about mindfulness in the work environment, and what it means for their families as a result. That includes bullying.
I am in negotiations for a possible tv show, it does cost money for the production costs and studio time, so any help would be appreciated!
The one thing I would love to have happen is to be able to speak to thousands of kids, and their parents. To share my daughter’s story of triumph. To let them know, there is hope.
I am working on my YouTube channel, updating my website and getting it all ready to start sharing the amazing stories of so many courageous people.