Treehouse Shakers

Treehouse Shakers
Hatched, BAM Fisher, Hillman Studio

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Home to Stephens College

I have been home a week since returning from Stephens College in Columbia, Missouri, and I am seriously missing it. I was invited by president, Dianne Lynch, and VP of Philanthropy, Shannon Blankenship, for perspective students’ weekend. I was thrilled at the prospect of speaking to the future students and sharing how Stephens has graced my life and career. Being a Women’s college, they so graciously agreed for me to bring my two-year old daughter. I have been traveling quite a bit since the year started, and couldn’t bear the thought of leaving the little one home again. Plus, one day I am hoping she may want to go to this special school.

Mara and Daughter at Macklanburg Playhouse
So we took a plane to St. Louis and drove to Columbia, college town USA, to find my dear Alma Mater, looking quite historically beautiful. The campus is mostly comprised of brick buildings from the 1830's, walkways, and lots of green spaces. There are horse stables and tennis courts. A wonderful theater facility, dance studios and a renown fashion department. I think the school used to own a lake and golf course, but not sure if that is still part of the property. I was giddy with excitement as we drove to the visitors’ center. As I got out of the car, I couldn’t stop imagining the day when my daughter will be off to Stephens, unpacking into her own dorm, making lifelong friendships, and beginning her own journey into adulthood. The Visitors center is so beautiful, newly renovated, and awarded by the US government for its solar power unit, I was beaming with pride by the time we checked in.
President Dianne Lynch, Karyn Meek Class of '95 (Currently on National tour with 9 to 5), Orelia, Annie, Shannon Blankenship and Lamby Hedge.
Over the next several days I spoke to two classes of theater students, led a staff development in the Early Childhood Department on how to integrate storytelling into the classroom, taught two storytelling workshops to the 3-5 year olds in the Children’s Center, and spoke to the perspective students and their parents. I got to eat with students, catch up with old professors, see dear friends, and spend time with Dianne and Shannon. I also got to see first hand all of the improvements and amazing things that are happening on the campus. Currently, Dianne and Shannon are in the process of raising funds to preserve the President’s Home built in 1926. It is falling down, and the last thing the new President wants to do is to tear down another historical building on campus. Music to my ears! The president’s home has such meaning to me. It was one of the last places I was with my mother, her sister, and my grandmother, during my college graduation weekend. The building must be saved! Right next door is a sad reminder of what happens when those funds aren't raised; the empty lot where the original theater stood, and where Maude Adams, the queen of the American Stage, was the head of the drama department from 1937-1943.
Telling Stories at the Children's Center
I also had the pleasure of having lunch with my former theater professor, Addison Myers. He retired shortly after I graduated, and still he remains such an influence on my life and work. At Stephens, we were taught by working actors. Addison had worked in NYC, regionally, and in Europe. He taught us about NYC. In fact, he inspired me to go to NYC. I remember after one spring break he had visited NYC and returned with a subway token and taped it to a note in my mailbox saying, “For your first ride when you move to NYC!” I still have it.  He was the first to tell me about the theaters on the Lower East Side, Katz deli, Experimental Theater. Who knew only a few years later I would be getting my start in the NYC Fringe Festival. It was there on the Lower East Side that I helped produce the Nino Nada Festival, for families, with Adam Koplan under Aaron Beall’s Nada. The festival was acclaimed by the New York Times, and Treehouse Shakers premiered its’ first performance for Young Audiences, Flying Through Rainbows.

Mara and Addison at Stamper Commons
I spoke to the theater students in the Arena Classroom, the same place where I premiered an independent directing piece using various women’s writings, several theater students, and slides of women’s artwork. Emily Bunning, who was a dance major at the time, choreographed. So truly and really Stephens College is the birthplace of Treehouse Shakers.

My daughter had her first preschool experience while attending the Children’s Center. NYC is seriously competitive when it comes to preschool, and to finally see her socializing and playing with kids her own age was priceless. She has yet to stop talking about her wonderful teacher Miss Michelle, the sandbox, and the water fountain. She also has been wearing her Stephens College t-shirt my mother in law bought her before the trip and boasting to anyone who will listen, "I went to Stephens College!"

Stephens College helped seed Treehouse Shakers, has an incredible alum network, and is where I made the bestest of friends. I came home thinking, men can have their 150,000k golf memberships, just give women a college degree from Stephens College and they can make it anywhere!
Mara, Lamby Hedge (Current Theater Professor & My director in Dancing at Lughnasa) and Shannon Blankenship (VP of Philanthropy, and class of '93)

Thank you to everyone who made this trip so wonderful, for being so gracious, and the Stephens Community who continue to work so tirelessly to make Stephens College a truly magical place for women.