Archive for the 'writing' Category

I can’t believe I’m telling you this

Public speaking comes fairly easy to me. Acting on stage does not. But that’s exactly what I’ll be doing at Victory Gardens Zacek McVay Theater in Chicago this Saturday, August 13 at 2:30 pm.

My class: (Clockwise - Andrew Lund, Beth Finke, Kathleen Guillion, Rukmini Girish, Michele Lee,, Whitney the Seeing Eye Dog, Grishma Shah) Courtesy Neo Futurists.

My class: (Clockwise – Andrew Lund, Beth Finke, Kathleen Guillion, Rukmini Girish, Michele Lee,, Whitney the Seeing Eye Dog, Grishma Shah) Courtesy Neo Futurists.

Some back story. Earlier this year I attended one of two accessible performances of Too Much Light put on by the Neo-Futurists. The Neo-Futurists are a collective of Chicago writers-performers “dedicated to creating honest, unpredictable theatre,” and in Too Much Light productions cast members attempt to perform a perpetually rotating list of two-minute plays in 60 minutes.

After the success of their two accessible performances this year those honest and unpredictable Neo-Futurists took things one step further. They used funds from grants they’d received from The Chicago Community Trust and Alphawood Foundation Chicago, teamed up again with the Victory Gardens Access Project, and offered their popular Intro to Too Much Light playwriting program to a class accessible to performers and writers with and without disabilities. The class was offered free of charge. I couldn’t resist.

The hope was that half of the enrollees would identify as having a disability. The Neo-Futurists achieved their goal. In fact, we outnumber the others: of the seven performers, Two use wheelchairs, I am blind, and one uses a prosthetic arm. .
Over the course of ten three-hour sessions every Saturday (we started on June 4, 2016) the seven of us have:

  • explored the process and tools needed to create a two-minute play
  • followed the Neo-Futurist tenets of honesty, brevity, audience connection and random chance to write plays from our own life experiences
  • examined specific play formulas and styles that are similar to plays performed in Too Much Light
  • pitched a few of our plays to teachers to have them performed Saturday

These productions used to be called Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind. I’m not sure that they took the Blind word out because I am involved, but must say, I prefer the shortened title.

And while we’re mentioning that blindness of mine, I need to tell you that losing my sight some twenty-odd years ago left me with a unique version of paranoia. While I don’t mind people looking at or listening to me when I’m sitting or standing still (like when I’m giving a talk),  the thought that people might be watching me attempt a task — even one as simple as finding a doorknob — fills me with anxiety.

I started waking up Saturdays wondering why the heck I signed up for this thing. The commute to Victory Gardens isn’t easy, days off work are precious, I stink at memorizing lines, and I hate having people watch me perform.

I liked learning about playwriting, though, and every week I grew more fond of our teachers and my classmates. Most of them have acted before. It was a treat to experience their work, and hear it improve from week to week.

I stayed in class, and was determined to keep news of this Saturday’s performance a secret from my friends. But then last Saturday we had our dress rehearsal.

That's me in the spelling bee piece.

That’s me in the spelling bee piece.

I have speaking parts in a play one classmate wrote about a spelling bee and in one another classmate wrote about a trip overseas. Whitney does not have a speaking part (Seeing Eye dogs are not allowed to bark). She plays a major role in my Dear Boss play, though, so her name is in the program on the cast list.

The four of us with disabilities wrote some plays that address accessibility, and many others that don’t mention it at all. One thing the plays have in common? They’re all pretty good. And so, I’ve changed my mind. Everyone should come this Saturday.

The performance Saturday won’t go any longer than 45 minutes and will feature live captioning and American Sign Language for people who are hard of hearing and audio headphones for people who want the action on stage described. Victory Gardens is wheelchair accessible, and a touch tour of the stage and props will take place ahead of the show for anyone interested.

The play starts at 2:30, so come experience it for yourself on Saturday afternoon, August 13, in Victory Gardens Zacek McVay Theater, 2433 North Lincoln Avenue . No need to RSVP, and no need for tickets, either: It’s free!

Of course it was illegal

Here's my Thursday afternoon cast of criminals.

Here’s my Thursday afternoon cast of criminals.

“Of Course it was Illegal” is one of the many, many writing prompts I’ve assigned over the years out of pure curiosity, and lucky you: generous writers in my memoir classes have given me permission to share some of their confessions here on the Safe & Sound blog.

A number of writers came back with essays about stealing gum or candy from stores, and these shoplifters seemed to remember the scenes of their crimes pretty vividly. Hugh was no exception, but his quest was a little different. “I was seven and Dean was ten and we were deeply involved in casting lead soldiers,” Hugh wrote, pointing out that the lead he and his big brother needed to cast soldiers back in the 1930s was the same lead in the fishing sinkers sold at the neighborhood Sears store on 79th Street on Chicago’s South Side. “They were about two or three inches long,,,and slipped easily into a pocket.”

Darlene’s pre-teen crime took place at the Eckerd’s Drug Store on the corner of Florida Avenue and Bearrs in Tampa, where her family was living at the time. “Money was extremely tight for us with a very big family to care for,” she wrote, describing a 1966 fashion-statement-wooden-tigers-eye ring a friend had bought there. “I wanted a ring like that, too!” I’m not gonna fink, ahem, on Darlene. I’ll let you guess the rest.

Marijuana was illegal when my writers were young adults, but that didn’t stop some of them from smoking pot, and, in some cases, trying other drugs, too. A co-worker Bruce described as “attractive and a little edgy” invited him to relax and tuck a small disc of LSD under his tongue during a drive to see Alice in Wonderland at the movie theater. “She had access to the drug and she agreed to join me in the experiment,” he wrote. “I worried that my starchy life style would stifle the effects of chemical.” He needn’t have worried.

Some confessions were quite serious. Early in her marriage Regan discovered her then-husband had walked out with their joint checkbook. Knowing he would drain the account, she climbed into her 1963 Volkswagen bus and pursued him. Regan crashed into his 1970 Ford Mustang every time it slowed down. “Eventually I was able to get up enough steam to bulldoze him off the road and cram him into a tree,” she wrote.

Regan posts her essays on her own BackStory Essays blog, and you can link to her entire The Secret Years post to hear the rest. I will tell you this, though: her ex-husband survived.

Other stories involved international intrigue. Brigitte grew up in Germany, and when she received a Fulbright Scholarship to study at Vassar in 1961, she came on an exchange visitor visa. She married an American, they had a son, and she didn’t bother applying for citizenship until 10+ years later in 1974.

“The real truth about my past life: I was… hmmm, I was… an illegal alien,” she wrote, insisting it never occurred to her at the time. Nor did it bother anybody else in charge. “I suppose coming from a Western European country didn’t hurt, either.”

Another story of international intrigue came from Mary. Her husband had traveled from America to West Berlin with a church group before he and Mary were married. It was 1954. He was 17. He crossed the border from West Berlin to East Berlin illegally.

Getting east was relatively easy. Not so on the way back. Police wanted his papers, and when they saw the American passport, they arrested him.

Mary and her husband recently celebrated their 80th birthdays, and she beamed in class while reading about him spinning a tale to his captors 60+ years ago about having come to the Russian sector looking for books by Engels, Marx and Lenin. “He said he’d been prevented from learning about socialism in America,” she wrote, describing his captors returning with a “scuffed carboard suitcase” filled with English language editions of Engels, Marx and Lenin and sending him on his way back to West Berlin.

A few of the essays were downright educational. Jim’s piece about his career in the airlines taught us how the decision-making between a flight dispatcher and a pilot can be reviewed later to determine which decisions are legal–or not.

Lorraine’s piece taught us something about underage drinking. She was only 11 when her relatives routinely asked her to head to the corner store to buy groceries — including liquor. While doing research for her essay she discovered that from 1872 until 1961, as long as you had “parental permission,” it was legal in Illinois for children to buy drink and be around alcohol. She sounded a bit disappointed to discover that some of her childhood “hooliganism” really wasn’t illegal after all.” I grew up thinking drinking was part of our religion,” she sighed. “And that it was illegal.”

And who knew that it is illegal to possess a migratory bird, even a dead one, without a wildlife permit? Pat did — she’s an avid Birdwatcher.

So years ago, when she came downstairs to find that a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker had died after crashing into her apartment building, she knew she shouldn’t have put the migratory bird into a shoebox to store in her freezer. “The truth is, I really wanted to see the guy who was the Collections Manager for Birds at the Field Museum,” she confessed. “That sapsucker was going to be my excuse.” Pat had met the collections manager briefly a couple times before. She noticed he didn’t wear a ring, but she thought that was probably because he spent most of his day cleaning the innards out of bird carcasses. “But he seemed single,” she wrote. “There was a boyishness to him that gave me hope.”

After six weeks breaking the law, Pat finally decided it was time to act. Here from her essay :

The next morning I took the shoebox out of the freezer and set off on foot for the Field Museum. It occurred to me that the shoebox could reveal my extravagance in spending $120 for a pair of Mephisto sneakers and my unattractively large shoe size. Well, it was too late to find another woodpecker coffin now.

And so, did Pat ever meet her dream man at the Field Museum? I’ll let you decide……

My Favorite Place? In class with memoir writers

The living room couch with an afghan nearby. Jamaica in the 1950s. Our backyard in the 1950s. A sandy cliff on Grenada. Petra. The woods near the family farm. The dining room table. A rocking chair. A Buddhist temple. A Wisconsin monastery. A Catholic church. Anywhere with trees. Grannie’s Jackson Heights apartment. Our garden. Eating ice cream with dad on the front steps.

Those are just some of the places writers in the memoir classes I lead wrote about last week. The writing prompt? My Favorite Place.

I lead four memoir classes in Chicago every week now, and each has its own feel. Our Lincoln Park Village Monday class meets in Mel and Pam’s living room. The two of them have been married 50+ years, and eight years ago they moved into a condo overlooking Chicago’s gorgeous Lincoln park. Pam opened her essay saying, “My favorite place is…right here.”

I was certain Pam’s opening line would be my favorite of the week. But then, at the Thursday Lincoln Park Village memoir class, Judy Roth started her piece with this: “My favorite place is…first!” She edged Pam out with that one.

Pat is in the class I lead at Grace Place across the street in Printer’s Row. Her essay describes going to a concert at the Quiet Knight on Belmont Avenue in Chicago when she was 17. “The opening act was a young local singer-songwriter named Steve Goodman,” she wrote. “After that epic introduction to the Chicago music scene, I went to folk clubs every chance I got.”

Writers in my Me, Myself and I memoir class downtown grew up on Chicago’s South Side, on farms, as military brats, in plush Chicago suburbs, in India, Canada, Germany and the Philippines. Their favorite places were as diverse as their backgrounds, but when they each read aloud in class, we noticed one similarity. They’d all chosen places that helped them escape the everyday world.

Sharon Kramer is in that downtown class, and one of her favorite places to be is “in a large dark movie theatre with comfortable seats and a handful of strangers.” She acknowledges curling up on a couch to watch a movie can be pretty good,“but it is not the same as going to the movies, purse swollen with snacks concealed in baggies.”

That's me with Sharon Kramer and three other writers from our downtown class:, Audrey Mitchell, Wanda Bridgeforth, and Darlene Schweitzer.

That’s Sharon Kramer to my left and three other writers from our downtown class: Audrey Mitchell, Wanda Bridgeforth, and Darlene Schweitzer.

When Sharon enters a theater, she looks for a spot with empty seats on either side. She imagines her mother sitting on one side, her grandfather on the other. “It seems natural to enjoy a movie with two people I miss, two people who loved movies as much as I do.”

Sharon’s grandfather was the father of seven children, and he was married to “a wife who could think of a thousand chores he hadn’t finished.” The movie theater was her grandfather’s secret office away from home, and if Sharon’s mother wanted to talk to him, she knew where to look. “In the nearly empty movie theater, she would slide in next to her father. He would say, ‘What’s the problem, girl?’ And, they would talk.”

Her mother was overwhelmed with sadness when Sharon’s grandfather died. “ She Walked to the Embassy Movie Theater and sat down next to the seat her father used to occupy,” Sharon recalls. “A great sense of calm came over her.”

Sharon says now, sitting between the empty seats she saves for her mother and grandfather, she feels a sense of calm as well. “Sometimes I find myself turning and smiling to let them know how much I enjoy their company,” she writes. “I wish I could tell them things I didn’t have the courage to say while they were alive.”

Sharon’s essay was a superb example of how a relatively straightforward prompt – My Favorite Place – can spark a myriad of meaningful memories. I’ll say goodbye here and leave you with the conclusion of Sharon Kramer’s “The Magic of Movies:”

Leaving the theatre is a shock. Especially if it is daylight. It takes a while to come to grips with reality. The story that was so engrossing is made up. The characters I felt a fellowship with are just actors. My mother and grandfather are gone. But it was a great moment.

Woebegone but not forgotten

Our guest blogger John Craib-Cox is the proud father of a son and two grandchildren in London and a daughter and granddaughter here in Chicago. He signed up for a memoir-writing class shortly after his wife Tessa died unexpectedly on July 17, 2012. That was four years ago today. She was 67.

Today's guest blogger, John Craib-Cox.

Today’s guest blogger, John Craib-Cox.

Tessa Craib Cox was born in England and met John when she was on a graduate fellowship at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art in the 1970s. Young newlyweds John and Tessa moved to Chicago in 1974, the same year A Prairie Home Companion first aired. The poignant piece he read in class last week about Garrison Keillor’s final appearance as host of that show is a beautiful reflection on love, family, nostalgia and loss.

by John Craib-Cox

In 1974 Public Radio began to broadcast A Prairie Home Companion. At the time, with two small children and few satisfactory baby sitters, weekend evenings were spent in our apartment and this program became a welcome source of entertainment.

The host, Garrison Keillor, was roughly our ages, and had a familiar dry sense of humor and similar musical taste. This proved to be a winning combination. Friends also liked the weekly program and it provided many shared subjects for conversation.

Many of our friends had grown up, like me, in the Middle West and found Keillor’s Lake Wobegone reminiscences struck a familiar regional note. Our children liked the ragtime music heard on the broadcasts. They would dance whenever the band played something bouncy and up tempo.

Throughout the ’70s we weekly would listen together to Garrison Keillor on the radio, and whenever he was at Ravinia Park we would be in attendance. Keillor had a wonderful sense of the absurd. As they grew, our children would laugh whenever he referred to the freeze-dried mouse morsels obtainable at Bertha’s Kitty Boutique.

After several years the Prairie Home Companion ritual faded in favor of other activities. Then Garrison Keillor left for New York. It was never the same again. Keillor’s first New York program opening monologue opined that it was rather odd to be starting to broadcast from a city where most parked automobiles had a dashboard sign saying “No radio.” That thought wasn’t enough to hold us, however. We ceased to tune in, save on the very rare occasions when we were driving and could find nothing else to listen to.

A wave of publicity alerted me to the impending final program. I made certain to be at home to listen to the broadcast. With the exception of the telephone call from President Obama it was more or less the familiar program that we had started listening to in the 1970s. This final broadcast became a receptive sponge for melancholic feelings contrasting the unchanging nature of the program over 42 years and the totally changed nature of my life in the 42 years since the first broadcast.

As it drifted into the final half hour, the clouds of melancholy became thicker and I became sadder. Suddenly the telephone rang. A friend calling from Italy. I was brought back into the present, making plans for my August trip to London.

My myopic music review: I like this Social Experiment

The temperature was 90+ degrees in Chicago Wednesday. Our time at a rap concert outside at Grant Park that night was hot — in more ways than one.

I wrote a post earlier this week about my quest to understand what young people are listening to these days. If the musicians we heard in the Petrillo Band Shell Wednesday night are any indication, those kids have very good taste! The Taste of Chicago concert was free if you stood on the lawn, and thousands upon thousands of teenagers and 20-somethings gathered there peacefully — and happily — to hear Donnie Trumpet and The Social Experiment, The Roots, and … Chance the Rapper, a last minute addition. My disability status allowed me $25 seats in the shell. We opted for those. It wasn’t long before Mike guided me to a walkway behind our seats, though. I needed to stand up — and dance!

Donnie Trumpet and The Social Experiment opened the show. Donnie’s real name is Nico Segal, he’s a good friend of my friend Chance the Rapper, and he plays, guess what? The trumpet. A lot of people were there Wednesday to see Chance the Rapper, but if you ask me, it was The Social Experiment’s time to shine. The band features three trumpets, a trombone, two sax players, two keyboards, guitar, bass, drums, and … vibes. I really, really, really liked The Social Experiment.

Before Wednesday, I hadn’t quite taken to this rap thing. I’d assumed rap was more talk than music. I have trouble understanding what they’re saying. I can’t see to watch them do their cool moves. But The Social Experiment changed all that for me. It’s horns, back-up singers, and rap — all in one.

Donnie Trumpet, The Social Experiment and Chance the Rapper. A beautiful night.

Donnie Trumpet, The Social Experiment and Chance the Rapper. A beautiful night.

The band’s performance was a 21st century variety show. Donnie brought one young performer on stage after another, boasting over and over again to the audience that “These musicians are all from Chicago!” I especially liked Michael Golden, one of many rappers who came out to perform with the band. He had his Go lyrics choreographed, so sometimes, when he’d repeat a phrase, like, say, “Don’t Go, don’t go” the guys on stage would chorus along, often in harmony. Like Motown! Female singers in the background were doing harmony, too — beautiful.

I read up on Donnie Trumpet a.k.a. Nico Segal a little bit and learned that he has Cuban background. That might explain the band’s Afro-Cuban sound. The music The Social Experiment played Wednesday also combined gospel, doo-wop, Motown, rhythms like Prince used, jazz like Miles Davis played, reggae and even … marching band. You couldn’t help but dance to it.

Mike and I were so sweaty it was gross to hold each other. Whitney the Seeing Eye dog stayed home (she doesn’t like crowds) so I unfolded my white cane and danced with it instead. About half an hour into Social Experiment, Chance made his entry, the audience went ballistic, and the exhiliration left Mike and me laughing — with joy.

It wasn’t all fun, though. Many of the lyrics I heard Wednesday touched on violence and chaos. A Chicago Tribune review of Chance the Rapper described his Paranoia trac “as incisive and moving a perspective on Chicago’s poverty-stricken killing zone as any piece of art.” In the article, Chance talked about growing up on Chicago’s South Side. “You have to be around it, you get sensitive to the sound and sight of a fight, the way a gun sounds — it doesn’t sound like the movies,” Chance told the reporter. “The idea of having friends who passed before they were 16, 17, you realize other people who aren’t from here aren’t like that, and they fear us.”

The concert was on Wednesday, the night before this week’s shootings in Dallas. Alton Sterling had been killed by a police officer in Baton Rouge the day before, and after the crowd took a moment of silence to ponder that, Donnie Trumpet stepped back up to the mike. “Moments of silence should be followed by moments of joy.”

Chance and the band responded with a version of the song “Blessings” and its refrain, “I’m gon’ praise him, praise him, ‘til I’m gone.” It was moving — and exhilarating — to be in the midst of thousands of happy, peaceful fans enjoying music together.

And so, with this post today, I’m gon’ praise Chance, Donnie Trumpet, The Social Experiment, the fans, the Chicago Park District, the City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and the security staff for providing such an eye-opening, ahem, night to this middle-aged blind music lover.

I’ll leave you here with another Chance the Rapper quote from the Chicago Tribune, this one about his track called Paranoia.

”In Chicago people are afraid too. So to say, ‘I know you’re scared,’ it’s a kid speaking to an adult, to anyone who is outside this. He’s saying, ‘I’m in the same position, I’m scared too.’ I can’t be inattentive or unprepared. Because they could pull on me at any time. It’s fear of the next step. That song is saying if everyone would stop and say how they feel, we might realize we have a lot more in common than we thought.”

Beth’s night at the Emerald City dance club

In my playwriting post last week I promised a second post with more details on my failed attempt to memorize and perform a monologue without being able to see the script – or the audience.

I wrote my two-minute dog monolog on my talking computer, then listened to it line by line and repeated the lines one at a time onto a voice recorder. Throughout the week I’d listen to the recording, and I made a special point to do so before swimming laps for exercise. That way I could rehearse underwater, too.

And still, I arrived at class the next week feeling uneasy, and, of course, I flubbed my lines. So. Is it more difficult to memorize a script when you can’t read print? Would reading my monolog over and over throughout the week (rather than listening to it) have made my memorization efforts more of a success?

I don’t know.

The next classs went much better. We didn’t have to hand in that assignment, we just had to perform it. The teachers wouldn’t have my script in front of them. They couldn’t know if I was memorizing or ad libbing. Performing my piece in class this past Saturday was far less nerve-racking.

Our homework last week was to choose a famous book or play or movie, write a two-minute interpretation of that work, and perform it as a play in class. The play could be a one-person show or we could ask fellow students to take parts, too.

Our class is studying the Too Much Light (TML) style. We’re creating very short minimalist plays. No costumes (actors just wear their street clothes) and no elaborate set design. Each short play starts by announcing the title and saying, “Go!” Plays end by simply calling out “Curtain!”

A teacher sat next to me to describe the action when my classmates performed their pieces Saturday. I was one of three classmates helping one writer perform his interpretation of Batman, another enlisted other students to perform her piece on Harry Potter.

I was born to play the part. Here I am with friends at a high school costume party in 1976 -- we're dressed as the characters from Wizard of Oz. (photo courtesy of Laura Gale).

I was born to play the part. Here I am with friends at a high school costume party in 1976 — we’re dressed as the characters from Wizard of Oz. (photo courtesy of Laura Gale).

My favorite was the two-minute interpretation of the movie Titanic: It opened with a woman sitting in a chair with her back to us, hugging herself, moaning and making kissy sounds throughout the entire two-minute play. This was a minimalist portrayal of a character making out with someone non-stop. A second actor would periodically approach the make-out artist, nudge her chair and say, “Hey!” You know, like, “Hey – I’m out here!” The make-out artist wouldn’t even look, just simply shake her off.

The actor doing the nudging happens to use a wheelchair, which, to me, made the scene even more effective. She’d roll away, come back, nudge the make-out artist’s chair, say “Hey!” and be shaken off, then roll away and come back and say “Hey!” Over and over again.

Finally the nudger showed up with a water pitcher in her lap. This time, after saying “Hey!” she poured the pitcher of water over the make-out artist’s head. “Curtain!” There you have it: The make-out artist portrayed Kate Winslett’s character in Titanic, the nudger played the iceberg, and the entire movie that one an Oscar for best picture in 1997 was over in two minutes.

I chose The Wizard of Oz, figuring I could be Dorothy, and my Seeing Eye dog could play Toto. Our TML teachers had urged us to consider the theme of the work we’d be interpreting, so my free time the week before was spent pondering no place like home, the ruby slippers, clicking three times, and Dorothy’s dance segments with the scarecrow and the Tin Man.

Which led me to wonder: Why didn’t Dorothy dance with the cowardly lion? And that’s when it came to me. The Wizard of Oz as a night at a dance club. My class mates and teachers liked the idea and had plenty of recommendations afterwards of ways to enhance the script and my performance. I’ll end this post now with my original script. Enjoy!

Scene opens with me talking to Seeing Eye dog Whitney as we walk on stage, my feet obviously hurting.

Me: Man, she really was a witch, wasn’t she?

We stop in front of the stage, facing the audience.

Me: These shoes are killing me.

I lean down to adjust them, get a kiss from my dog and stay down there to talk with her face to face.

Me: We leave the farm, head to the city, try to meet Mr. Right, and jeez. The first guy was nice and all, but boy was he dumb. The second one was so stiff, and that third guy, what a chicken. God these shoes hurt.

I fumble with the shoes and finally stand up again to face the audience.

Me: These damn shoes! They’re so tight they won’t come off…

I run the heel of one shoe off the other, obviously struggling to get that one shoe off, to no avail.

me, grunting: One!

I run the heel of the second shoe off the first shoe, obviously struggling to shove that second shoe off, to no avail.

me, grunting again: Two!

I repeat with the first shoe, trying one last time, obviously struggling, to no avail.

me, grunting again: Three!


When I grow up, I want to be a hair model

After Prince died, I asked the writers in my memoir classes to write a 500-word essay about a celebrity’s death that made them especially sad. We published writer Bob Eisenberg’s essay about Vidal Sassoon here, and it inspired my young friend Tara to publish an essay about Vidal Sassoon on her taraisarockstar blog as well. “His passing was very sad for me, too,” Tara wrote. “I’m not a hairstylist, but his technique became a major part of my life.” She gave me permission to excerpt from her post here on our Safe & Sound blog, and here’s that excerpt:

How Vidal Sassoon changed my life

by taraisarockstar

When I entered the London Sassoon Academy as a shy 18 year old girl, the creative director asked, “Are you looking for a change?” I had no idea that phrase would be the caption of my life for the next fourteen years.

That's Tara modeling backstage, purple hair, Midwest Hair Show (photo of haircut by Tim Hartley)

That’s Tara modeling backstage, purple hair, Midwest Hair Show (photo of haircut by Tim Hartley)

Every few months, I was given the opportunity to hair model for the Vidal Sassoon salon in London and back home in Chicago. The hair modeling adventure pulled me in, and, like any other addiction, I couldn’t stop. The company made such an impact that I became a receptionist for the Chicago salon for five years.

I am a platform for the seasonal hair collections. With the color and cut changing every few months, my hair attracts attention wherever I go. Total strangers stop me walking down Michigan Avenue to ask, “Where did you get your haircut?”

The day I met Vidal started as a typical day of prepping for a hair show at the salon. Stylists pacing, cutting, and shaping hair. The local stylists made room for the international creative team as they poured in from various cities to Chicago, finding their creative space.

The international creative director was cutting my hair as Vidal strolled into the salon. Some stylists cheered. Some cried. I sat on the edge of my seat.

Sassoon stood, arms crossed, and watched Tim Hartley cut my hair. After a few moments, he whispered to Tim that he needed to add this haircut to the next collection. He took pictures with the staff, gave hugs and left.

His technique, taught in salons throughout the world, demonstrates to stylists how to treat hair like a canvas and hairstyling an art. They see geometric shapes, vibrant colors, dimensions. They find inspiration in architecture.

I admire these stylists and colorists who devote their lives to this evolving hair education. Truly, I see how the stylists admire the man who changed the world with his pioneering hair techniques. In the midst of devoting their lives to his method, the experience of meeting Vidal was meeting their idol. An icon. I am glad that I got to be a small part of it all. Thank you, Vidal, for changing my life.

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