Tess. Lotta Photography

“You find peace . . . by realizing who you are at the deepest level” – Eckhart Tolle

Posts tagged ‘#rebelbeautyproject’

#RadWomenUnite: Rebecca Amado-Sprigg

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One of Rebecca Amado-Sprigg’s many attractive qualities is best defined as composed optimism. More a calm assurance, her brand of positivity is shaped by a natural intelligence and emotional maturity tempered by a streak of mischievous teasing. She wears this lovely strength honestly, and it is never more awesomely branded than when she gifts you with what I affectionately refer to as her “Bitch Eye.”

This isn’t a disapproving scowl. Not even close. It is more an assessment, a sizing up of one’s mettle, a convince-me smirk that holds the promise of a full on grin. I’ve witnessed folks that are weak of character digging deep to grow a quick-ass spine when on the receiving end of her impressive grace. If you square up with Rebecca with your own brand of honest backbone and self-reflective humor, you are so in, baby! You best be prepared to become a co-conspirator in her generosity of spirit, easy laughter, knowing accountability, and open heart.

Originally from the small border town of Nogales, Arizona, Rebecca’s career tenure in social work is rooted in California, her adopted home with her husband, Enzo. From her work with homeless families to her current position working with survivors of trafficking, Rebecca squares off daily with monoliths like institutionalized poverty and racism, exploitation, malignant misogyny, slavery, and untreated mental illness. Every day, Rebecca walks into the reality of an estimated 24.9 million trafficked victims worldwide (1.3 of every 1000 people in the Americas are enslaved), as well as over 610,000 homeless folks in the US alone, including one-fifth that are suffering from a severe mental illness, including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and severe depression.

Bitch Eye, indeed. Read on and discover one stunning Rebel Beauty.

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After 22 years of marriage to your high school sweetheart, what advice would you give for making a successful marriage?

You have to like each other in order to love each other. I think it is really important that you also grow individually as well as a couple. You can’t stunt that growth because, ultimately, you will grow apart.

How did you become involved in a career in social work?

I am a high school graduate and do not have a higher degree. When my husband and I moved to California, I started out as a support staff for an organization called Career Closet. It is an organization that provides low income women with interview clothing and job coaching. Soon, I moved up to Director of Volunteer Services.

I found I had a love of working with clients and supporting them. I wanted to move into a position where I would be able to work with them for a much longer period. So, I applied for a position as a Case Manager at a homeless shelter for families called Shelter Network. I loved working with the clients and helping them transition into permanent housing.

Because I didn’t have a formal education, I felt I needed to make sure that my supervisor knew that I wanted to move up within the organization. When a position for Program Director became available, I applied for it. I didn’t think I would get the position because I had only been at the agency for about 6-7 months. BUT I got it! I worked at Shelter Network for over 8 years until I moved to Los Angeles. Since being in LA, I have worked at St. Joseph Center, Imagine Los Angeles, Upward Bound House, and, currently, at CAST.

What keeps you passionate about this work – what makes it rewarding?

I really found my passion working with the homeless population. I really believe that the career found me. Growing up in a very small town (back in the day) the community was the social workers and food banks. So, I didn’t really know that a career in this field was an option.

When I applied at Career Closet, I was attracted to the mission. Before then, I was forging a career in retail, which I hated. But it was all I knew.

About 4 years ago, I felt I needed to broaden the population that I work with, so I applied for my current position at CAST. I missed working in a shelter setting developing programs.

Tell me a bit more about program development – why did you miss this and what about it makes it satisfying to be back in shelter program development?

Program Development allows you to really take a hard look at the program to see what improvements can be made to help the population you are serving to thrive. It also is exciting to ask for client input to understand what part of the program needs tweaking and what is working for them and what isn’t. It’s what makes the program better and keeps it from becoming stale and so formulaic that, in the end, you are not helping the client at your most optimum level.

What one aspect of social work do you feel has changed you, made you grow as a person? 

Hearing the horrific experiences that people have had to live through and, somehow, really pick themselves up, learn to trust again, and become empowered—this has forever changed my perspective.

I admire that they have found their strength and their voice to be the person that they have always known they could be. It’s so inspiring! It really makes you take a hard look at yourself, especially when you haven’t had to go through anything remotely close to what they have.

I am so lucky that I have a supportive loving family and the most amazing husband. I have never been without shelter or food and I have never been abused in any way. So, I have to really hear myself when I complain because it is so minuscule.

You have managed and trained volunteers for mentoring programs that provide direct support to homeless families. In what ways are these programs successful for participants and volunteers – what makes a success story for both?  

For the clients, it shows that there are good people in this world that care about them. It is important for them to know that there is still humanity in a world that has abused them and made them feel they were neither cared for nor had a voice.

For volunteers, it helps break the stereotype. So many people have such a negative opinion and judgment. They don’t realize one stroke of bad luck (death, job loss, and mental health) can contribute to homelessness. Many are hardworking people that just can’t seem to get ahead no matter how hard they try. They just need someone to believe in them and support them.

What do you feel the everyday person can do to change their own negative perception of homeless folks to one of shared humanity? Is it just a matter of getting involved?

Talk to them. Ask them their story! VOLUNTEER!!!!!!! Even if you can only do it twice a year. And, I am not talking about just donations. Actually go to an organization and have a conversation. It will change your life for the better, I promise!

 What are you hoping Santa brings you for Christmas this year?

A new President and peace to those that are suffering. Other than that, I can honestly say I have everything I need. Love, family, and health.

What is one aspiration you have the New Year and why?

To continue work toward becoming a more evolved and better person. I don’t ever want to stop growing. I also hope that through my work I can help more people become empowered and safe.

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Dial In:

CASTLA

Volunteer Resource

Food on Foot

#RadWomenUnite: Amanda McRaven

 

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© Tess. Lotta

Courageous, community-minded, gorgeous, and smart as hell, Amanda McRaven is a powerhouse. She embodies the bust-through-your-fears guts and enterprise that define the folks featured in my Rebel Beauty Project.

A holder of an MA in Community-based theater, an MFA in Directing, as well as a BA in English and Drama, Amanda brings her social justice sensibilities to her work as a director, educator, writer, and collaborative theater creator. A Fulbright Award recipient, her dedication to collaborative and socially-conscious performance is apparent in all the work she does, including teaching Performance Studies at California State University, Northridge, creating works with her theater company, Fugitive Kind, and serving passionately as the founding member and Executive Producer of the LA Lady Arm Wrestlers (LA LAW).

I met Amanda in 2015 though Facebook (yes, good things can happen on FB)! I was researching local feminist-based groups in LA for which to offer my photography services as a give back, and I landed on an event for an LA LAW bout at Brokechella. As a feminist artist and activist, the trifecta of LA LAW’s fundraising, feminist, and social-justice mission instantly aligned, and I happily discovered that the Brokechella shoot served as my initiation into the larger LA LAW family.

Framed as volunteer-based, synergetic performance ensemble, LA LAW reads as a democratic collective steeped in post-structuralist feminisms: think a wild, unapologetic, egalitarian, inclusive mashup of Intersectional Feminism, Queer Theory, and ensemble theater modalities in the service of fundraising for local nonprofits and providing audiences with top shelf comedic, physical performance theater. It is brilliant. It is super positive. It mirrors the personal philosophy Amanda draws on for all her endeavors.

Read on to discover what fuels this Rebel Beauty.

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Tell me a little about LA LAW—what drew you to founding the Los Angeles Lady Arm Wrestlers?

LA LAW was a love note to my hometown of Charlottesville (Virginia), where the movement started. When I moved to LA, I wanted to bring that piece of home with me. And I had known Jess at Bootleg for many years and knew it would be the perfect home for it. So I pitched it, and here we are 5 years later, having raised over $30,000 for our community.

Considering the incredible amount of work that goes into LA LAW, what keeps you coming back—what makes it all worth it for you?

Oh wow. Every single event I have a moment where I am looking out over the crowd, and I am seeing everyone buzzing and exuberant and absolutely alive and astonished and it overwhelms me. I stand there for a few moments in bliss, just letting all that joy in and marveling what it is. I still don’t know. I think it’s a combination of so many different kinds of liveness that people are hungry for. And the community. I spend my life creating community through art. That will always always keep me coming back.

What drew you to the performing arts? What is one major element that keeps you excited about creating?

I have been performing since I was 12, when I signed up for Musical Drama Class on a whim and got cast as Annie in Annie Get Your Gun. I haven’t stopped since then. Performance is the one kind of creativity that is a live exchange between strangers: creators and witnesses. That liveness is my lifeblood.

As a founding member of Fugitive Kind, what are some of the inspiring and also challenging aspects of creating and developing a theater company?

As an Artistic Director of a tight ensemble, you are the head of a family. The inspiring aspects are also the challenging ones: understanding where all the hearts are in the room on a given day and leading them to create powerfully together by first being human together. It’s a lot of work to keep us all together in a healthy and rich way, but it’s so important. I have worked with many of them for over ten years now and it is a magnificent journey to know each other so well. The challenge, too, is to not get myopic. To always consider, “can this story intrigue an audience of people we don’t know or are we just making ourselves happy”?

I imagine that sustainability is a challenge. What do you want people to know about the importance of theater, in general, and especially in a town like Los Angeles?

That it’s a fantastic place to make theater—lots of heart and love. Actors are hungry for physical, live, ensemble work. They spend much of their lives doing commercial work, so we have this vast landscape of theatrical talent that is quite remarkable when you tap into it.

You mentioned that yoga, meditation, and mindfulness inform your teaching and directing modalities. Tell me what you draw from these practices? 

Mindfulness is EVERYTHING. I have heard it described as the pause before acting. In that pause are vast stories and the opportunity to speak kindly and honestly. Being an educator and a director is about getting the very best out of your team. It’s also about being fully and authentically present in the room. So directing is absolutely a mindful practice.

Share a little about the specific work you do with refugees, veterans, and formerly incarcerated women. What is important to you about this work—why these voices? 

Live performance has the great gift of literally being able to give voice to the voiceless. When you are raised up in the theater and you have a sense of social justice, community-based work becomes necessary. It’s how artists build houses and save lives. My work with communities to tell their own stories to heal, to celebrate, to protest, to learn to speak has been the most formative work of my life. I have a t-shirt that says We Will Save The World With The Stories We Tell. And we will. The only thing that will save us now is listening and hearing each other. We save the world at the community level, not with who we vote for for president. We save the world one act at a time. Community-based theater is my way of acting.

As a professor of Performance Studies, part of your focus is on the application of performance theory to social change. In what ways do you feel performance art/theater can participate in larger social justice narratives and movements? Is it just about staging resistance narratives?

Staging resistance narratives is a huge aspect of it. We see it happening now, in our current political climate, nearly every day. People showing up in pink pussy hats or standing in solidarity with Charlottesville. Performance has the power of VISIBILITY. Humans are compelled by image. Performance allows us to change the image. Taking a knee on a football Sunday will never be forgotten. We stage resistance for a long time, and one person is brave enough to do it on a national stage where we can’t look away and then the NFL does it. And then change happens. But it starts with one strong performance of belief, with changing the story so powerfully that it sticks.

When working on my MA in English, I wrote papers on feminist characters in Shakespeare. Considering your extensive experience working with Shakespeare as an actor and director and your passion for creating feminist, socially conscious theater, tell me how you feel the works of Shakespeare you have presented with Fugitive Kind align with this passion.

Feminist and queer approaches to Shakespeare are absolutely vital. We have a history of holding plays like Hamlet up as masterworks of human nature, but if you look at it, it’s not that—it’s the story of a man lost as to how to fulfill masculine social constructs.

Many of Shakespeare’s plays are in that world. But even so, he was someone who wrote females characters with such love and sometimes astonishing clarity. Like Tennessee Williams, he was pushing against the structures of his time as far as he could. I believe in confronting those structures head on and exploding them. What are we saying if we leave endings like Twelfth Night (or any of the comedies really) intact? Every single one reinforces a heteronormative dynamic that, frankly, I am tired of. What if these stories were told by women or gender non-conforming folks? Not women playing men, but women being women? I don’t at all think that every production has to do that, but it is something that I, as an artist at this stage in her career, must do.

I am no longer ashamed to make feminist theater and to call it that. I was a fierce fighting angry little feminist in undergrad, then mellowed because I was told to, and I learned to make theater and to break all the rules and make big luscious physical bold plays, but I wasn’t brave with what I did with gender. I was participating in telling the same stories, just in a cool form. Now, I fight to tell love stories between all kinds of people because love stories happen between all kinds of people. I fight to foreground women’s experiences.

Any final thoughts you would like to share with readers?

I am so honored to be part of the Rebel Beauty Project. When you are a woman who walks through the world in this body, the times are astonishingly rare that you are told that you are objectively beautiful and worthy of being in a camera lens. This is a powerful project. On the outside I am soft and fleshy, on the inside strong lines and edges. When I saw the photos we did together, I saw the me that I always am on the inside, but never get to see. It is a remarkable thing. Thank you.

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Dial In:

Amanda’s website

Fugitive Kind

Collective of Lady Arm Wrestlers