Perhaps when you think of mindful writing, you picture a kind of writing that reduces stress, perfects techniques, or even helps you attain enlightenment. I don’t make such promises, simply because very soon you’ll discover that this kind of writing requires that we let go of any ambition and write with stillness, letting go of our internal dialogue. Mindful writing is not about the destination, but about every second of the journey.
My course, Mindful Writing Toward Momentous Leaps of Meaning, which runs on the TLA Network from August 5 through September 22, 2020, draws from the work of psychologist Clare Graves’, and specific Buddhist precepts, to create clear pathways toward wholeness. This means every aspect of our life, good, bad, or in between, is included and accepted as we also commit to living a life that is congruent with what we value the most.
In particular, we will practice the following: Conjuring: Stretching to make the “unreal” real by engaging in rituals and activities to imagine a whole self into existence. Offering: Drawing from the well of gratitude and examining the present, locating, naming, and amplifying the good that already exists. Actioning: Creating writing that is restorative, and which can be the seed of change: manifestos, process notes, poems. Committing to daily spiritual practice: mindfulness meditation, mindful movement (yoga, walks in nature, etc.)
We will walk four specific pathways, informed by the four immeasurables of Buddhism: Love, Compassion, Sympathetic Joy and Equanimity. It is possible that, as we practice these four attitudes, we may remove tension from our mind and fill it with meaning that travels to the heart and nurtures the soul.
This course is an invitation to join other kindred spirits in a series of writing encounters to reflect, meditate and engage in discussions about what it means to free ourselves from fragmentation and what it takes to recompose ourselves whole. Previous knowledge of Buddhism is not required.
Through meditation and writing, we’ll tap into the body, mind, and spirit to awaken parts of the self that are dormant. Each day will be centered around a particular poem and theme. We are aiming at achieving the maturity that developmental psychology has conceived as achievable in human beings.
The hope is that, as we take a “Momentous Leap of Meaning,” we will do so in a centered and clear way. With each writing practice, we potentially have the opportunity to take a momentous leap towards the integration of body, mind, spirit, and shadow so we can show up as whole beings in the world.
We’ll aim at creating a space where we can solidify a mindfulness practice in the general sense and specifically about how to describe inner and private experiences with clarity. Writing from a symbolic, ritualized context allows the eye of the soul to see the depth and width of selfhood. Mindful writing is a way to be intentional and focus so we can depict our inner and outer experiences without judgment.
Empathy. It’s a powerful experience to understand someone else’s condition from their point of view. Brenda Magnetti has built a strong industry reputation for being one of the best brand experience planning experts to amplify the role of empathy in changing buyer behavior. She spent her most recent years developing award-winning digital marketing and commerce strategies for Beltone, Glanbia Sports Nutrition, Michelin, Wrigley, J&J, Unilever and Mondelez International. As a life-long learning advocate, Brenda just finished advanced marketing strategy, analytics, and technology certification from Northwestern. And she recently earned her Brain-Based Coaching credentials from the NeuroLeadership Institute on her path toward ICF certification and her consulting practice. These additional expertise areas amplify Brenda’s commitment to the power of words and her focus on Right Livelihood in both corporate and non-profit settings. Brenda heads the TLA Network’s membership campaign.
The TLA Network is governed by a council, the membership of which is arrived upon annually. In council, we come together as equals, all drawing on our gifts and working with our challenges cooperatively to forward the mission of the Network.
Kelly DuMar is teaching an online six-week workshop, Your Memoir as Monologue: Writing Monologues for Healing and Transformation,starting January 15, 2020. Kelly is a poet, playwright and expressive arts workshop facilitator who has been a leader of new play development in the Boston area for over fifteen years. She founded and produces the Our Voices Festival of Women Playwrights at Wellesley College, now in its 13th year and she teaches the weeklong Play Lab at the International Women’s Writing Guild Annual Conference. Her plays have been performed around the US and beyond and are published by dramatic publishers. Here’s a short interview with her on this class:
What inspired me to teach this class?
I love monologues. Listening to them, helping others write them, and writing them myself. First person narratives are gripping invitations to audiences, particularly when they present a dramatic journey, and moments of survival of someone – a person, a character – who has enlisted my compassion and concern
Don’t you love the invitation to enchantment? The theatre, darkened, the stage lit. Whether I’m in the audience or the playwright, I’m involved and transported by possibility. The theatrical question, What if. . . is an invitation to be enlightened, and changed through storytelling.
I love helping writers tell powerful stories on the stage – particularly those whose voices and stories have been unheard, silenced, trivialized or marginalized. Thirteen years ago, I founded a play festival, Our Voices, for new and experienced women playwrights to have a uniquely supportive place to develop their stories for the stage. Our Voices is an all day play lab that has supported nearly 150 women playwrights to develop plays with actors and directors. I love how one participant describes her experience in Our Voices, because she nails why writing monologues based on life experience can be so validating:
“Writing is my solace and joy, coming to me in bursts of laughter or darkness. I have stories to tell yet, at times, I shrink from sharing, doubting my own voice. Through more workshops and conversation, I hope to strengthen that confidence in my point of view and reinvigorate the process to write the things I don’t yet dare to consider.”
How is writing for the page different from writing for the stage?
Collaboration with other artists is illuminating, joyful, and challenging – and writing for the stage requires it. Sitting day to day at one’s desk can be lonely. But writing for the stage invites us into a theatre – a rehearsal, into a relationship with actors, directors, and audiences. Here’s what an Our Voices participant shared about writing for the stage: “One of the things I love most about writing plays is the possibility of witnessing one’s words and dramatic vision come alive on stage.”
Writing monologues for the stage makes the healing power of writing visible, visceral and accessible – not just for the playwright, but the audience as well. People are so amazingly resilient! Writing monologues for the stage is a natural way to find out how resilient you are – and sharing what you write inspires other people to feel hopeful and resilient.
What are some of your favorite dramatic monologues?
My favorite is definitely Emily Webb’s “Goodbye,” monologue in Thornton Wilder’s classic play, Our Town. What moves me in a dramatic monologue is when a character goes on a compelling emotional journey and takes me with her – she begins in one place and ends in another – she’s more awakened, and so am I.
We need spaces where we can give ourselves permission to un-silence our deepest truths and most authentic self. In Memoir as Monologue, I facilitate a safe, supportive, healing environment for writers to tap into their deep feelings and beliefs and find the courage and skill to share them for personal growth and craft them for performance. Participants can expect to express ordinary and extraordinary life experiences, and feelings and construct powerful, dramatic stories with universal appeal. Scripts need to be heard as much as they need to be read. We will have at least two LIVE webinars (held on Zoom) where participants will bring their writing to be read aloud and shared.
Kelly DuMar, M.Ed., C.P., is a poet, playwright and expressive arts workshop facilitator who has been a leader of new play development in the Boston area for over fifteen years. Kelly founded and produces the Our Voices Festival of Women Playwrights at Wellesley College, now in its 13th year, and she teaches the weeklongg Play Lab at the International Women’s Writing Guild. Kelly’s award-winning plays have been produced around the US and Canada, and are published by Brooklyn,Heuer, Youth Plays, and Smith & Kraus Audition Anthologies. She’s author of a non-fiction book, Before You Forget: The Wisdom of Writing Diaries for Your Children, and three poetry and prose chapbooks, girl in tree bark, All These Cures and Tree of the Apple. She’s a certified psychodramatist and a playback theatre artist. Kelly is honored to serve on the board of The International Women’s Writing Guild. You can learn more at kellydumar.com. More on her class is here.
I’ve written for the stage, and held auditions as a playwright or director, and made difficult casting choices. But I’ve never experienced the thrill, the risk, the humiliation or the anxiety of an audition from inside the actor’s skin. When my youngest daughter discovered a talent and passion for acting in elementary school, I began to understand the actor’s experience of prepping for and going through with an audition. As a stage mom, I witnessed the emotional roller coaster, the hopes, wishes, dreams of success and inevitable failures. I waited on the sidelines, or, if the audition was a play for school, I waited at home, anxiously, for news of whether she had been cast–or not, for a much hoped for part. And, many times she was cast. And, just as many, she wasn’t.
When I began writing the series of monologues for my character, ENVIA! A One-Woman Show, the first scene I imagined was ENVIA! taking charge of an audition after a series of frustrating failures to be cast. It’s a comic monologue I’ll share with you now for the fun of it. I’m teaching “Your Memoir As Monologue” online in January for the Transformative Language Arts Network, and just want to share the fun of writing a comic monologue, inspired by life. ENVIA!, and her many monologues, have been performed and produced by many talented actresses, and all of them have put their own unique spin on this monologue–inspired by their own trials and joys of handling auditions over the years.
My daughter Franci, has, also had the opportunity to perform “Your Casting Call,” and I felt a great sense of satisfaction watching her on stage having the last word.
YOUR CASTING CALL
A monologue by Kelly DuMar
SETUP: An actress ENTERS, as if preparing for an audition, on a bare stage, dressed as The Goddess of Illusion
(CLEARING HER THROAT, ADJUSTING HER COSTUME, CLOSING HER EYES, PUTTING HER TWO HANDS UP WITH PINKY & POINTER FINGER TOUCHING AND TAKING A BEAT OR TWO IN THIS POSE. DEEP CLEANSING BREATH, OPENING HER EYES)
Hello! My agent may have led you to believe I’m here to audition, but I’m not here to meet your casting requirements – I’m here to shatter them! My intention is to inspire your deepest, most authentic, creative response to me. Oh! By the way, my monologue doesn’t require nudity, but it may inspire it, so, you’re free to remove as much clothing as you choose. . . my name? E-N-V-I-A! That’s all caps – My last name is the exclamation point! Aries is my star sign and Spontaneity and Creativity leapt into alignment the moment I was conceived! Wherever I go – whomever I meet – here I am! And I am always evolving. You will love me or loathe me but you will not beat my innate talent into compliance with your incomprehensible expectations and then reject me for my lack of originality! I’m sorry – I didn’t mean for that to sound jaded. I may be receptive to having an experience with you – if we are able to co-create a medium of mutual expression that sustains our integrity as artists and human beings.
(Her stomach growls)
I may also be receptive to an offer of a protein shake. Do you mind if I ask if you got enough sleep last night? Are you open to feedback? It’s just that you would have made a better impression on me today if you had gotten a good night’s sleep. Perhaps you were dreaming of me – And, if that’s the case, well, whatever you do – don’t stop!
(She gets ready to leave)
I don’t do call backs. If I’m interested, I’ll follow up. No worries – I’ve got your number
“Memoir as Monologue taught me the power of my own story. Kelly’s guidance on creating effective drama, her concrete feedback on improving my work, the nurturing environment she created for participants and the excellent resources she brought to the table opened a whole new world for me. This was one of the most effective online classes I’ve taken.”
“Kelly provided excellent resources, offered valuable, timely feedback, sought our feedback as the course progressed and created a nurturing atmosphere. The opportunity to both write and hone monologues and then hear our work performed by a professional actress exceeded my expectations of the class. I learned the freedom monologues offer in contrast to writing.”
“[I learned] better ways to approach monologue than the ways I’d been trying; liked that I cracked open a tough nut of a story in a new way, identifying the core problem Narrator needed to solve (which was different from the problem she was trying to solve).”
“Thank you so much for guiding us all into a most wondrous experience . . . and your attentive intelligence in keeping us on track and focused as each shared and bared depths.”
“Your class was awesome, inspiring and so very insightful. What gifts you bring and give. Thank you!”
“Your memoir-to-monologue class has inspired a whole new project. Thank you. And thanks to my classmates. I learned so much from each of you.”
“Thank you for creating such a collaborative atmosphere of mutual support.”
And here’s a description of the class: “There’s beauty and meaning to mine from your life story, and this workshop will help you artistically express what you’ve overcome and achieved, and creatively share your experience to benefit others through the medium of theatre. You’ll learn how to write successful dramatic monologues based on your life that are personally meaningful, emotionally satisfying, and relevant and engaging for an audience. In class, through thematic writing prompts and creative exploration, you’ll develop your ordinary and extraordinary life experiences into powerful, dramatic monologues that can be performed – by you or an actor – with universal appeal. In class meetings will present elements of dramatic structure and explore the artistic qualities necessary for an effective dramatic monologue. We’ll explore the role of conflict, plot, communicating subtext, voice, narrative, and the importance of set-up. New writing will be generated in and out of class, shared in class and aspects of revision will be presented and practiced. Beginning and experienced writers in any genre are welcome!”
Whether you are a TLA practitioner or someone who uses TLA in your personal self care practice, we are interested in getting a “window” into your experience. This will assist all of us in the TLA network and give new insight to the possibilities of TLA in our communities and our own paths of transformation.
If you are a TLA practitioner who can offer some perspective to how you have used TLA in your work with others, we want to hear about it!
If you have your own personal TLA practice and have used spoken, sung or written word to transform yourself and your experiences, we are interested in hearing your story.
If you have taken, attended or facilitated a TLA class or workshop and can tell us how that has inspired you, or a give others an insight to how that class or workshop has benefited or ignited your own TLA practice, we are excited to hear about your experience.
No matter the circumstance, we are very interested in what you are doing with your TLA practice. How your work has affected you and/or your community and how it has empowered you to transform your life.
Please send us your submissions here or email tlablog (dot) submissions (at) gmail (dot) com
You may recognize Adam Driver from the newest Star Wars movies, but before his time fighting in galactic space battles, he was a United States Marine with 1/1 Weapons Company. Adam describes perfectly how he learned how to find the words to express his complex feelings throughout his transition from soldier to civilian as he tells the story of how and why he became a Marine and how he formed his nonprofit, Arts in the Armed Forces.
Five and a half years ago I was perhaps in one of the most confusing and chaotic years of my life. I was struggling with depression and suicidal ideation, using alcohol to self medicate, and putting myself in increasingly dangerous situations by involving myself in abusive relationships. Looking back now, I can see why I was in that place, where the need to self destruct stemmed from, yet at the time, all I was trying to do was make it through the day in any way I could.
This is the time in my life I did not want to remember. I didn’t want to remember the mess I was, lashing out at anyone who tried to help me. Blaming everyone for my own misery. I didn’t want to think about all of the shame of being in such a low place and being completely out of control. And I didn’t want to admit that I didn’t want to survive and all of my behavior during that time reflected this desire.
As fate would have it, I became pregnant, and my entire life changed. I was able to pull myself back to reality and remember there was a reason for living. I was able to stop the spiral I was in and turn my thoughts to the future for once. I moved on from that dark place and I became a mother to my son and tucked the years I spent on a bender in the back of my mind, like trash stuffed under a bed. But the more years that passed, the more I began to smell the rot I had been ignoring.
I sometimes worry that my history is doomed to repeat itself. I still fear ever slipping back into the person I was all those years ago. It frightens me to think of myself in that place again. To be so utterly out of control. I could pretend that nothing happened, that it was just a “bad time”, but that description didn’t do the experience justice.
Last year, I began writing about the years I didn’t want to think about. I mentally transported myself back to that place and time. I imagined myself as that young woman, confused and scared and alone. I wrote about my selfishness. My cruelty. All of the shameful things I did and said and how I justified it. Where it all came from. Where the self destructive tendencies started. Throughout the process it was as if I was able to cast a light on the shadow of my past and take away its power over me. I was able to face the parts of me I was most afraid of and reflect on them from a new perspective.
Eventually, I would turn these writings into a script. My first one-woman show, entitled “Baggage”. This 50 minute exploration of my past took place in an airport as I flew home from Europe, confused and jetlagged—completely unsure of where I was going to go next. Being separated from those memories for so long unearthed a million feelings I had been ignoring, and as I sifted through them, I was able to embark on my own healing process, and forgive myself for all of the things I was so ashamed of. I was able to see myself not as a monster, but as a human being who did what they had to do and survived.
I knew that to bring my story full circle, I would have to perform my piece, but I was nervous about how an audience would perceive me. I put off scheduling a performance for fear I would be overly exposed. I have written and performed about many personal things, but this piece was somehow different. The raw honesty in it cut me close enough to bleed.
I knew that in order to honor and love that young woman I was, I needed to tell her story. It was the only way to release her from that pain she felt all those years ago. It was the only way to let her know that she was important and worthy of love, even during those dark times. I owed it to myself to make sure I could heal in order to never be in that place again. So I set a date for the performance, and begin practicing my piece, pouring all of the experience into my words and movements. Embodying the woman I was for the first time in years. It felt like I was reuniting with a part of me I hated, and as I began to embrace that character, I was able to love her in a way I never had before.
After the performance, I felt a sense of relief, like I had let go of something weighing heavy on me. I had survived. I wanted to survive. Even during those times. No matter how often I tried to convince myself otherwise.
Through writing and performing my story, I finally was able to unpack the baggage I had been carrying with me for so long.
Melissa Roseis a spoken word poet and playwright. She has hosted community spoken word events since 2003 and has been a member of 5 National Poetry Slam teams. She has performed her work across the United States and Germany and was a featured poet at the German National Poetry Slam in 2010. She currently lives in Eugene, Oregon.
Editor’s Note: Amy has written for us before, and her story is a powerful one. With the Power of Words Conference coming in two weeks, we asked her to share more. We will also post her TEDx talk within the next week. ————-
Bringing Gutless & Gratefulto the Transformative Language Arts Network Conference last year was one of the most incredible experiences of my life, and I couldn’t be happier to be presenting again this year! In my workshop, I’m sharing my near death experience and unique personal story with humor, hunger and heart, and helping others realize their potential as storytellers who can heal through their own word and powerful personal stories.
I’ve presented this workshop on college campus, at conferences, theatres, hospitals, and many other audiences from Hawaii to Pennsylvania, to survivors of sexual assault to business entrepreneurs, medical professionals to law students. Everyone has a story to tell – some of us just don’t know it yet! Once we discover this, it’s incredibly empowering, and my greatest joy is watching people realize this for themselves.
From the time I could remember, I have always possessed an intense passion for the world of words and music. All my life, I had dreamed of pursuing a career in theatre. However, at 18, I was rushed to the ER, and to summarize very briefly, my stomach exploded, I was in a coma for six months, and I was unable to eat or drink a drop of water for over three years. After 27 surgeries, I was miraculously reconnected with whatever I had left. However, to persevere through those tumultuous years took great inner and outer strength. I relied on my creativity to get through. My therapy was purely based in the world of theatre, art, writing, dance, music, and whatever else I felt was an area that I could express myself appropriately. The arts were a way for me to express whatever felt too painful and overwhelming to put into words. They also helped me process what I was feeling. But most importantly, they served to be the greatest reward acting as a medium where I could still engage with my community, reach out to others, and make a difference in this world while utilizing my passion. Arts were my way of connecting with the world, sharing my story, and spreading my message of hope, strength, and finding beauty in whatever life brings you.
I was not able to fully appreciate the beauty of my detours until I was able to share them. As a performer, all I’ve wanted to do was give back to the world. But now I have an even greater gift to give: a story to tell. Until I could put into words what had happened to me, I couldn’t fully heal. Telling my story is the magic push I needed to move forward, and that is what inspired me to bring my workshop to TLAN for the second year in a row: to help others bring out the story burgeoning inside of them.
As actors, writers, creators, humans, we tell stories constantly. I first told mine over four years ago. Not only to myself, but to complete strangers and New Yorktheatre-goers. Fresh out of my 27th surgery, I performed wordsfrom journal entries I wrote years ago as a way to pass the time between the endless series of medical interventions. Every time I “perform” what happened to me, I find myself somehow transformed in the process. Theatre has the power to change lives, both for those directly involved and those who watch. Theatre teaches us we’re capable of anything – and usually tells us this at times we need it most.
I’m truly touched by how mystoryhas affected so many people and it only serves to spur on my creativity more and more. Even on the more difficult days, knowing I can have an impact is just one extra nudge to get me going in the morning.
It’s really the ability to give back, and to have my work serve as a lens, a mirror, a window that others can look through, or look into, and see themselves or whatever they need to see at that moment. To feel whatever they need to feel. That’s how I connect with my world – that is my aliveness. As a member of this human race, it’s how I can contribute. Isn’t all we ever want: to make a mark on the world?
“Gutless & Grateful,” the honest one-woman musical story of my life. It’s my story, shared through a medium I’m passionate about. I was finally able to heal and move on once I was able to share, and now I’m so excited to help others share the story within them in whatever medium that they feel most comfortable in.
Why share at all? It takes “guts” to talk — and sing — about my sexual abuse, my anger, my guilt, how I lost hope in things ever getting better. But I share to show that things do get better with patience, trust and resilience. I share to give courage and a sense of belonging to people who are struggling with all kinds of mental health or physical challenges, but also to help build a campus that gives everyone the kind of awareness and generosity of spirit that makes that world a better place. If we all share our “detours,” we see that our detours are not detours at all. Every road leads somewhere — we just need to hang in long enough to catch the flowers along the way. The more we share our stories, the more we realize we’re not alone.
Through the transformative power of words, we can all share our stories. I can’t wait to hear yours!
Amy Oestreicher is a PTSD peer-to-peer specialist, artist, author, writer for Huffington Post, speaker for TEDx and RAINN, health advocate, survivor, award-winning actress, and playwright, sharing the lessons learned from trauma through her writing, mixed media art, performance and inspirational speaking.
As the creator of the Gutless & Grateful, her one-woman autobiographical musical, she’s toured theatres nationwide, along with a program combining mental health advocacy, sexual assault awareness and Broadway Theatre for college campuses.
To celebrate her own “beautiful detour”, Amy created the #LoveMyDetour campaign, to help others thrive through difficulties.
As Eastern Regional Recipient of Convatec’s Great Comebacks Award, she’s contributed to over 70 notable online and print publications, and her story has appeared on NBC’s TODAY, CBS, Cosmopolitan, among others.
She has devised workshops for conferences nationwide, and is this year’s keynote speaker for the Hawaii Pacific Rim International Conference on Diversity and Disability. Learn more: amyoes.com.
Trauma affects every individual differently. In the face of adversity, drama therapy makes healing possible for all, re-anchoring us in our soul’s dream.
For me, that dream was musical theatre.
Let me rephrase that. I grew up assuming my life was a musical. Call it the “theatre bug”, call me a “drama queen” or a great big ham – I lived for the world of the stage. For me, singing and acting were ways I could connect with the world around me. When I took a deep, grounded breath from my gut, I sang what my heart longed to express. I found comfort in the words of my favorite composers. I read scripts like they were novels. I would play with my playbills from various shows I had seen like they were my Barbie dolls. Through theatre, I had a place in this world. I could make believe by inserting myself into characters from every era, situation and mindset, while still expressing my own individuality.
I was the kid who got sent to the principal’s office because when the teacher left the room, I would jump on her desk and start tap-dancing. I was the girl who forced every unwilling classmate to join me in a Les Miserables medley, assigning them their designated parts to pass the 30-minute school bus ride.
Even all the way up to high school, I was the theatre-girl. It was my identity, my passion, my livelihood. I sacrificed my social life and gave up many opportunities to immerse myself in what I loved.
I’ve always been warned not to put all of my eggs in one basket, but theatre ran through my veins – it was all I thought about, lived and dreamed. I’d write songs in my assignment notebook as I waited for the school bell to ring, then hop on the train to the next open call I’d read about in Backstage. When I fought with my brothers, I could only debate with them if we could do in the spirit of a musical theatre duet. They weren’t so keen on that.
So what do you do when you’ve invested everything into your passion and you can’t follow it anymore? I’ve always thought about what would a world-concert pianist would do if he injured his hand, or a dancer breaking a leg…
…but sprains heal and wounds can eventually mend. Dire circumstances felt much more long lasting; when at 18 I awoke from a coma. Although the medical staff—that suddenly became everyday faces—was more concerned about keeping my organs and me alive, I was still trying to grapple with one frightening new concern:
Would I ever be able to sing and dance on stage again?
With a ventilator and a tracheotomy, I couldn’t even talk. From months of bed-rest, the first time I was able to stand up, I was alarmed at how they trembled, as if my legs were Jell-O. I lost the energy to even think about what I loved, and being unable to eat or drink in these new medical circumstances turned my once-steady focus to mush and irritability.
I remember asking every person I could find in the hospital if they thought I would ever be able to sing and dance again. I was faced with many apologetic “I don’t knows”, sighs, shrugs, and awkward changing of the topic. However, I remember one occupational therapist gave me words that to her, felt like words of encouragement. She looked at me compassionately, and said, “You never know – the human body is amazing. I had one patient who showed no signs of hope, and a year later, when he was discharged, he only needed a wheelchair!” (These were not exactly the words of encouragement I was looking for.)
With time, patience, and dogged determination, I was eventually discharged from the hospital. What I’m glossing over are the multitudes of surgeries, setbacks and frustrations, because what was the most important was my passion – I never forgot how I missed the stage. Even not being able to talk or stand up on my own, I still visualized me singing and dancing. Without theatre, I felt disconnected, purposeless, a has-been. I missed the vibrant girl I remembered being the first to sign up for auditions, now condemned to a realm of medical isolation.
I had always had a dream of combining song and dialogue in a show of my own design. I love the idea of storytelling through theatre, but as a teen, I didn’t really have much of a story to tell. But sometimes, a setback is an opportunity in disguise. Suddenly, I had a tale of hurdles, triumph, and heart.
Eight years after my coma, I was finally headed towards a life of medical stability. I learned through experience that things can heal with time, and that’s not always the prettiest or easiest way. It was an extremely difficult journey, yet when I started to put together a musical of my life, things felt like they had happened for a reason. Now I had a story to tell, a message to share.
My one-woman musical autobiography, Gutless & Grateful, started out as stapled pages of my journal – a few pages from the thousands of journal entries I had completed when unable to eat or drink for years. I selected 16 songs—some of which I had written – that had always resonated with my journey and me, and loosely strung them together to sing for my own therapy. I’d perform Gutless & Grateful for my parents, my dogs, but mostly for myself. Through the songs, I could allow myself a safe place to feel the charged emotions I was still trying to process from years of medical trauma.
With no formal diagnosis, roadmap, or reason to have hope at all, creativity became my lifeline and what allowed me to thrive. Devising theatre from within helped me find words for the loss, grief, and frustration I felt, and words led to gratitude. To cope with not being able to eat or drink for years, I typed thousands of journal entries to to prove that I was still alive, kicking, and breathing – isolated from the entire world and from my entire former life, but still here, and still desperate to live some kind of substantial, meaningful life.
I called it my “world in a binder”. My parents called it “Amy’s little play.” It was no surprise when I had many looks of concern and gentle warnings when I decided to book a theatre in New York for my world premiere!
I performed Gutless & Grateful for the first time in NYC in October 2012. It was a frightening, bold, vulnerable, and breathtaking experience. In it, I told everything – the pain, the medical, the joy, the infuriating – with music, drama, and humor, most importantly. I had played “roles” before, but for the first time, I was honestly revealing my own medical and emotional struggles for hundreds of strangers every night. It was a risk to lay my soul bare, but the reward was in how my own vulnerability caused others to become vulnerable and moved by my own struggles.
My show dared to explore a very personal topic – what could have been a tragedy – in a comedic, yet poignant musical – the culmination of years of struggling in the dark, and the spark in me that refused to die. Although my circumstances were unexpected, a nuisance, difficult, hard to grapple with, and frustrating, by reenacting my story for others, I rewrote my own narrative.
We are instinctively creative beings. Through the transformative power of dramatherapy, we gain adaptability and create a positive, empowered attitude toward obstacles, physical or mental struggles, hardships, and trauma. Our vision is a world where “detours” in life are everyday blessings.
As we enter the new millennium, the world is faced with massive challenges as well as opportunities to solve them. Communication is a very powerful tool. Words have the power to engage, to move ideas from the fuzzy margins to the focused center of our attention, and to inspire us to think in new ways. Theatre, arts, expressive communication, language, and learning can move us to the center of life’s stage. Gutless & Grateful empowered me to move forward and spark a sense of rejuvenation, renewal, and hope from within.
When I started sharing my own story, I realized that I wasn’t alone. Other people were struggling with what I had faced in isolation for years – shame, fear, PTSD, anxiety, depression, loneliness- I wanted to encourage people to start speaking up, and bring marginalized voices into the spotlight. I traveled to theatres, hospitals, classrooms, old friends and leaped at any opportunity to speak my truth and feel it resonate within my body, reintegrating the pre-coma and post-coma halves of myself, and reuniting them with aliveness. When I realized how combining theatre with powerful firsthand experience could transform lives, I developed my little-show-that-could into a mental health advocacy and sexual assault prevention program for students. Nearly losing my life at 18 years old, I’m now reaching out to students at that same pivotal point in their own lives.
Medically, my life is far from perfect, but now when a surgery goes wrong, I use it as more material for my show – if we can’t learn to laugh from hardship, we can’t learn anything. And for me, when I learn, I feel alive – that just as trees grow, change and evolve with every season, I can too. Through Gutless & Grateful, I’m sharing my story and helping others find the gifts and the gratitude in the hardships. And in healing other people, I heal my own self a bit more every day. I’m not there yet, but just like my show – I’m on the road.
As a performer, all I want to do is give back to the world. Being up on stage and singing is one part of the joy, but what brings the process full circle is knowing that somewhere in the audience, I am affecting someone and making them think in a different way. That is the power of theatre – stirring you to see things differently. Doing what I love, my passion once again can freely flow through my veins, and I’m a person now, not just a patient or a medical miracle.
Passion may not heal 27 surgeries, but passion has healed my heart. Theatre has re-anchored me in that passion. And for that, I am Gutlessly Grateful.
— Amy Oestreicher is a PTSD peer-to-peer specialist, artist, author, speaker for RAINN, writer for The Huffington Post, award-winning health advocate, actress and playwright, eagerly sharing the lessons learned from trauma through her writing, performance, art and speaking. As the writer, director and star of the Gutless & Grateful, her one-woman autobiographical musical, she’s toured theatres across the country, earning rave reviews and accolades since it’s BroadwayWorld Award-nominated NYC debut.
As a visual artist, her works have been featured in esteemed galleries and solo exhibitions, and her mixed media workshops emphasize creativity as an essential mindset.
Amy’s “beautiful detour” inspired her to create the #LoveMyDetour movement, a campaign inspiring people to flourish because of, rather than in spite of challenges. As the Eastern Regional Recipient of the Great Comebacks Award, Amy has spoken to hundreds of WOCN nurses on behalf of ostomates nationwide. She is a regular lifestyle, wellness, and arts contributor for several notable online and print publications, and has written for over 50 online magazines and blogs. on Her story has appeared on the TODAY Show, CBS, Cosmopolitan, Seventeen Magazine, among others.
Amy’s passion for the arts as a means of healing and expression led her to devise storytelling workshops for the Transformative Language Arts Network National Conference, the Eating Recovery Center Foundation, and The League for the Advancement of New England Storytelling.
Determined to bridge the gap of communication between wellness resources on college campuses and students, Amy is currently touring college campuses with a program combining mental health advocacy, sexual assault awareness and Broadway Theatre.