My Career in the Arts or How the Sugar Plum Fairy Changed my Life

My mother took me to see the Nutcracker at the Colorado Ballet when I was five. I think this is a pretty common rite of passage for most little girls growing up. But for me, it was more than a holiday tradition-it was the inspiration of a life-long dream.

I don’t remember a whole lot about that first show. It is a beautiful blur of color and movement in my mind, fairy tale magic come to life, so close I could almost touch it. But the sense of absolute fascination that being there inspired, of connecting completely to another world, is a feeling that I never wanted to let go of-and I never have!

I’m a lighting designer. I make magic happen. I transform a black box full of people and objects into another universe. And what’s more, I get paid to do it! I bring home a paycheck for making Peter Pan fly, for strobing the lights during a Black Eyes Peas show, for gently revealing Odette in a pond covered in mist. I have the coolest job in the world, a job most people think you have to win the lottery to land. And I have it because my mom realized the importance of exposing her kids to the arts at an early age.

I think there’s a common feeling in our world today that the arts and arts education are expendable. Having come from an entire life filled with them, I can’t think of words powerful enough to stress what a difference they made for me.

After seeing the Nutcracker, my mom enrolled me in ballet and tap. It didn’t take many weeks of seeing how flexible and graceful the other little girls were before I knew that I wouldn’t be a ballerina. But I got some great exercise. I learned about poise and confidence in front of strangers and I was exposed to classical music.

A few years later, my mom took me to see a production of Brigadoon at the local high school. I was mesmerized and insisted on taking acting classes. Again, a lack of natural ability dampened my dreams of being a movie star, but in acting class I learned diction and public speaking, and I became obsessed with Shakespeare.

Since Brigadoon was a musical, when acting didn’t pan out I naturally turned to music. Months of voice and piano lessons ended in a tearful recital where I discovered terminal stage fright. But I learned music theory, rhythm, timing. I picked up a smattering of Italian and French from singing opera. I could intelligently reference Chopin or Wagner or Andrew Lloyd Webber.

When I got to high school, all of these things served an amazing end. I could give a speech in class without uhm-ing. I breezed my way through AP English because I had already read King Lear. I wrote inspired papers about how wars and advances in technology changed the landscape of literature and popular music.

But best of all, in that same theatre where I saw Brigadoon when I was younger, I took an amazing class. Technical theatre class! At last a venue for artistic freedom that didn’t require innate physical talent! My work, my feelings, my expression could reach thousands of people—and I didn’t have to actually appear on stage!

I was hooked. Theatre took over my whole life. When my friends were at each other’s houses after school, experimenting things that would make any parent cringe, I was in rehearsal. I knew that if I missed a rehearsal, I wouldn’t be allowed to work on the show, so I wasn’t ever really tempted to be anywhere else. I learned discipline, commitment and the value of putting hard work into something you love to make it the best that you possibly can. Theatre kept me out of trouble and on track to follow my dreams.

Being exposed to the arts when I was a child irrevocably changed my life and in the best possible way. I have a Master’s degree in drama. I have a job that I truly love, working with amazing people and expressing my deepest feeling and thoughts in a creative and constructive venue.

And I’m a lighting designer for the Colorado Ballet. Every year, I get to see the Nutcracker-the same Nutcracker that inspired my life’s journey when I was five-for free.


Painting Recycling by Numbers

I asked my mom, “Mommy, what do the numbers mean on the bottom of this water bottle.” She was drinking bottled water.  But my teacher Miss Lemon says, “when you really think about it, if everybody’s mommy drinks a bottle of water a day, that’s a lot of bottles that need to be recycled.” Miss Lemon says recycling is good, but it still uses energy, which is not so good.  So I think maybe a nice pretty glass of water, like Gran drinks would be better.  Or one of those hard ones I like to drum on that my teacher uses, but she doesn’t like me to drum on it even though it makes a good sound.

“Mama,” I said, (if she doesn’t answer to Mommy, I say Mama), “do you see these numbers on the bottom of the bottle, what is it?  Why is it a 1?  Why isn’t it 5?  Or ten? What’s the number for?  M- u – m – m – ee-e-e-e-e!”

My mom says the number means that the bottle needs to only go through one process (that means you only have to do one thing to it) to recycle.  She said that some things have bigger numbers, like 9.  So does that mean you have to do something 9 times to make some things okay again? That sounds weird.  Why don’t they just melt it, like I do with the marshmallows I’m not supposed to put in the fireplace.  So I asked Miss Lemon again.  She told me that a lot of people think the numbers are for the times it takes to recycle something, but that’s not really true.  The numbers are a secret code, well, she didn’t say they were a secret code, but I like the idea of it being secret.   So for all of you moms and dads and even teachers that don’t really know what the Recycling by Numbers is, here’s what Miss Lemon says:

1  is for PETE or PET, short for Polyethylene terephthalate

These are used for polyester fibres, thermoformed sheet, strapping and soft drinking bottles (like the one my mom has).

2  is for HDPE, short for High-density polyethylene

These are used for Bottles, grocery bags, milk jugs, recycling bins, agricultural pipe, base cups, car stops, playground equipment, and plastic lumber (plastic wood? if it’s plastic, it’s not wood. silly grown ups).

3  is for for PVC or V, short for Polyvinyl chloride

These are used for Pipe, fencing, shower curtains, lawn chairs, non-food bottles and children’s toys (like Baby Dolly, or at least her arms and legs).

4  is for LDPE, short for Low-density polyethylene

These are used for Plastic bags, 6 pack rings, various containers, dispensing bottles, wash bottles, tubing, and various molded laboratory equipment. (I asked Miss Lemon what a 6 pack ring is, she said she thought it was to hold soda cans together and that they’re not very nice for birds. Do birds drink soda?).

5  is for PP, short for Polypropylene

These are used for Auto parts, industrial fibers, food containers, and dishware.

6  is for PS, short for Polystyrene

These are used for Desk accessories, cafeteria trays, plastic utensils, toys, video cassettes and cases, clamshell containers, packaging peanuts, and insulation board and other expanded polystyrene products (e.g., Styrofoam)

7  is for OTHER or O, short for a lot of things: acrylic, fiberglass, nylon, polycarbonate, and polylactic acid (a bioplastic), and multilayer combinations of different plastics.

These are used for Bottles, plastic lumber applications, Headlight lenses, and safety shields/glasses. (More pretend wood again.  But I like the Headlight – is that a light I can put on my head? Wow. I think I need one of those).

8  is for…. oh, there isn’t a number 8.  Oh silly grown ups. You didn’t learn your numbers very well.  The number 8 comes after 7.

So these aren’t used for anything, because they forgot the number 8.

9  is for ABS, short for Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene

These are used for High-impact and chemical-resistant extruded or molded objects.  I don’t know what this means, and neither does Mommy or Miss Lemon, or Daddy, so if YOU know, please write to me.

Well, these aren’t secret codes, but I think the codes for plastic are really very complicated, so it doesn’t matter if it’s not a secret because I don’t think very many people know what any of it means.

I’m going to paint now.  Not paint by numbers, because I’m Nell, and I like to make my own paintings.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle