When I was fifteen years old, I remember sitting in Homeroom in High School when my advisor expressed that I should look into a leadership program called, "People to People." He was informed that it was an organization developed by Dwight D. Eisenhower back in 1956 after he had experienced and witnessed the tragedy that WWII and the Holocaust had brought the world. With the intention and understanding that the only way fear could be washed away and peace could be made, was for people to understand one another. Mr. Eisenhower expressed that this mission would not be fulfilled by the government, but "...through the hearts of those who yearned for dignity, freedom, and peace. " This involved young adults traveling throughout the world, taking the time to learn about and live through each other's customs and ways, and ultimately share their own while building genuine relationships with those from all around the world.
Needless to say, my parents agreed and I went on to apply to become a student ambassador of Wisconsin, who would travel to six countries in Europe over the course of one month, at fifteen. As I was going through the process of applying, and throughout the school year before the journey I would take, I was going through depression. I was my own worse enemy for so long, and it felt like nothing could take the pain away. I was wrong.
Discovering the world through People to People changed my life forever. It is an enormous reason I am where I am at today and am the person who I've become. Actually, now that I think about it, People to People didn't only change my life, it saved it.
At fifteen, everything is very impressionable. I didn't know who I was, and I had no idea where to begin looking. When given the opportunity to venture 4,000 miles away from home with other people my age, though, it was an opportunity I sure didn't want to pass up. And who knows, maybe I'd find myself along the way?
This opportunity meant the chance to begin truly thinking for myself. Upon hearing or seeing something, what made my eyes and soul light up? Would something I read help me to understand what I'm interested in? What kinds of questions am I asking, and what does that mean about me? Am I brave? Am I willing to get up and go out there in front of everyone? The truest teller of all, though, is throughout the time spent with 29 strangers of the same age group, how will they see me? Which talents and gifts will they see I have? Most of all, what kind of person will they think I am?
Of course, before leaving, I had no idea this journey would do all I said above for me, nor did I know it until after I returned home. Following my acceptance into the program, I found myself in a room at a state-central high school with 28 other high school students, of whom I've never met, from around the state of Wisconsin. I was number 22 (we were assigned numbers to count off by on the trip). In this room, and prior to, via quizzes at home, we went over the courses in government, culture, geography, architecture, religion, daily life, and a small portion of the history of each of the places we were scheduled to visit. These countries included Belgium, The Netherlands, France, England, Wales, and Ireland. The 29 of us met every two weeks for about six months before our trip, learning different lessons along the way that would prepare us for our journey and the purpose it served.
When July 3rd, 2011 rolled around, we all said our goodbyes to our parents at the airport, hopped on a plane and made our way over to Amsterdam. The Netherlands was our first stop on the journey. Here, we learned how to make clogs, visited a local farm where they taught us how to make cheese, the significance of tulips there, and created a giant hay bale maze we were able to crawl through (it was absolutely awesome). We also experienced Anne Frank's Annex and further imagined the tragic life she endured - but found a way to make beautiful, made our way throughout the city of Amsterdam, learning how to speak basic Dutch, meeting locals business owners who told us about their way of life and what living there meant to them.
We saw the Heineken factory, learned that cycling is the main form of transportation - and that road rage is a very real thing on any form of wheeled transportation, along with the fact that there are 165 canals within the city of Amsterdam, and besides bicycle, traveling by boat is the next highest form traveling from place to place. In fact, Amsterdam is regarded as the "Venice of the North!" I remember as I sat outside the place we were staying, writing underneath a willow tree by the river, and explaining in my journal that I had been opened up and found my true love - learning of new places and people and showing only love and light along the way. It was the first time I was truly happy with knowing who I wanted to be, and what got me to that state of bliss.
Next stop on our journey was us learning how to make chocolate in Belgium, visiting different WWII war zones there - being told the history of the area and what it meant to their country, as well as being taken to a monument erected in 1950, dedicated to the United States Armed Forces who fought at the Battle of the Bulge during WWII, and there, understanding the true power of working together.
This lesson further continued when we were taken to the beaches of Normandy, France, where we stood in the ruins of D-Day on Omaha beach, and continued on to visit a cemetery and memorial for those who died there that day. While we were there, there was a tribute to the U.S. soldiers, and because I had expressed my interested and love of singing with those I was on the trip with, I was asked to lead the group in singing the National Anthem, which was such an honor in a place with so much meaning. We also got to go through the Caen Memorial Museum, which touched on the Holocaust and its horrors. Traveling to Paris was also included in our trip through France, so, we also tried frog legs, escargot, visited the Louvre, Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, the Champs D'Elysee, walked through Montmartre, visited Sacre Coeur, along with many other historical landmarks and locations "The city of lights," had to offer.
England was next, where we met members of parliament and were able to enter the building and discuss their role in the government. We experienced many of the ventures of London including the Elizabethan Tower (Big Ben), the London Eye, the Tower of London, Tower Bridge, along with Westminster Abbey and saw Blood Brothers at the Phoenix Theater. We ventured to Warwick Castle, where we learned how to joust, sword fight, launch a flaming ball from a catapult, and battle with Batons (this was one of my favorite days). Prior to this, we visited the Isle of Wight, where we stayed at the United Kingdom Sailing Academy (or UKSA) and learned how to windsurf and sail a dingy boat. Throughout our trip, it was mandatory we kept a journal - one for the organization (which they read), and a personal journal for the things we didn't really want to share with anyone else. After going through and learning all of these opportunities of growth in England, I was absolutely blown away by how much my life had escalated in value, and how my mind had opened at the age of fifteen. Little did I know that where we were headed next, would truly impact my life forever and be the beginning of the paved path leading to who I would become.
After we were taught how to become medieval warriors, we made our way to Wales, where we learned how to speak Welsh, where I found my new favorite meal - Bangers and Mash, and where I gained the confidence and inner strength to break a board with my bare hand and repel down a castle wall (doing the Bernie). This proved to me that I could do anything I set my mind to as long as I believed in myself.
The last stop on our journey was Ireland, where the biggest difference was made in my life. This is because Ireland is where we spent the most time with the communities and creating relationships that truly involved being with one another and building on human connection. Here we took boat rides through the lakes between the mountains and horse and buggy rides through them. We made our way to the town of Cahersiveen where we stayed and did chores at a local bed and breakfast, spent time with local teenagers, learning the music of Ireland's past, the Gaelic language, how to jig and dance, and where those who wished could get up and sing in front of the community. I did - I sang Jar of Hearts by Christina Perri. The next day, we went out and dug peat for homes in the community, played Gaelic football with a local youth group, and from there, we chose to do different acts of community service throughout the town - a friend of mine and I chose to go to the nearby retirement home and sing the song we learned, " Isle of Hope, Isle of Tears," to a few of the tenants there. To say it was rewarding would be an understatement.
We ended our journey with a scavenger hunt around the town of Cahersiveen, which under the circumstances of a sudden death round, my team - "Team 15% Off," won. ;) We were each given an "Ireland," hat as a prize.
After countless bus rides, friends and memories made, and lessons learned, I sat there, within my own world, at the airport waiting for my parents to come to pick me up after my journey. I thought to myself, " I'm not ready to go home yet. I feel like my life has only just begun." And that it had. People to People changed my life in terms of having me discover that connecting with the world, the people in it, understanding who they were, where they came from, and what made them, them - is what I yearned for to take up each and every one of my days. To listen to them, make them smile, create with them, and open their minds as they had in mind, through who I am, is all I could ever want. The promotion of peace through taking the time to understand and be present with another human being from who you differ from (which is everyone besides yourself), without only listening to respond with one's opinion, is really what this world needs to become stronger and less torn apart.
Being able to see the world through my own eyes, and myself through the eyes of others and experiences I had over that month, taught me more about myself and this life than I had in those previous fifteen years. That month prepared me for the rest of my life in terms of having an open mind, finding differences beautiful, and taking the time to truly understand and ask questions when something didn't quite make sense to me. That month taught me that a life lived with passion and doing what I truly love is a gift well spent - and the gift of giving it to others as often as I can with as much love as I can is its purpose. Traveling at that young age to places I've never been before with people I had barely talked to, taught me to be brave, have faith in myself and the opportunity at hand, and to never ever give up on something that my gut told me was the right thing to do.
People to People encouraged me to always try new things, even if they scared me because that's what life is all about - constantly discovering who you are and how you can impact the world in the best way, just by being yourself. A daunting thought, that really isn't that daunting at all if you open your arms to it.
That next summer I traveled with People to People to Harvard University on a week-long leadership summit, where high school students from over 48 different countries were present. While we were here, we did community service, learned to work together, and on our own, build a community service program of our own to take back to our hometowns to implement in areas of need.
Throughout both of these experiences, I have made life-long friends from all around the world, something not many 16-year-olds could say. These experiences taught me to live my life in love, in service, and in courage - standards I live by each and every day and will continue to do so for the rest of my life.
So, if you, or if you have a child, is looking for a way to see the world in a new light with learning, peace, and growth beyond measure that will impact the rest of yours or their life - People to People programs are the way to go. I owe them so much for helping me become the human being I am today.
Mary Gabrielle Strause
Check out the link below to learn more:
My dearest friendly, friends and artists alike, we all know you have something that sets your soul on fire. That thing that when you think about it, it never feels like work, and the idea of it being your sole career seems like a dream to you. Well let me tell you, that dream can be your reality, and though it will take time, it is most definitely possible IF you put yourself and your work out there.
My Aunt Julie recently surprised me with Austin Kleon's books, Steal Like an Artist, the Steal like an Artist Journal, AND Share Your Work!, (best aunt ever, am I right?) and needless to say I finished them in the blink of an eye. These works are especially real and to the point for anyone looking to create as a career. The book that stood out to me most though, was Share Your Work! This book gives you multiple fool-proof strategies and inspiration for putting your work out there to get a jump-start on your career. I would definitely check this book out if you're looking for a change in your creative career. For now though, I want to share with you some inspiring tidbits of my own and information to set a foundation for you to realize just how important this aspect of being an artist is.
So many people have such incredible and mind-blowing ideas, but no one besides their close friends and family will ever get the chance to experience their idea because not enough people put what they imagine out into the world. This is due to a lot of reasons, but the number one reason is because so many never start doing this thing that they're so passionate about, and keep up with it. The work is always the hardest part - as it should be - but the reward of impacting people and allowing them to experience your gift is what's the most rewarding of all. It makes that hard work worth it! Like good ol' Benjamin Franklin said, "Hide not your Talents, they for use were made. What's a Sun-dial in the shade?!"
I know, I know, it's so much easier said than done. A common fear is that if you put your work out there, it's never going to be good enough. On top of that, why will my work matter when someone or multiple other people are doing the exact same thing I am? Well, my friends, I have some good news for you. Yes, there are literally millions and millions of videos, blogs, drawings, memes, paintings, music, cover channels, etc. out there to find on the internet. A good chunk of these videos are of the simplest things, some are tutorials, some are of people falling down, saying funny things, along with those who just want to share what they did and that they're proud of it. How is what you do any different? Because it's done by you! No one can do what you do, just the way you do it! Aren't you proud of what you do? Don't you want other people to see it and go - wow - that person really knows how to _____, I can't wait to see more - or man, that really hit me hard, in such a good way. I know I want to see what you do and get inspired - so imagine yourself sharing your work with the world and people telling you it's made a positive impact on them and their lives. How does that feel?
Know your work doesn't have to be perfect now, nor does it have to be perfect ten years from now. Perfection is a myth. The only thing that matters is that you love what you're doing, and you're learning and getting better along the way! For example, when I decided to launch my first blog, there were so many spelling and grammatical errors - heck the article might not have been interesting at all! I still have the same problems, but hey, I'm still learning and getting better as I go on. I pay more attention to my past faults so I don't make them again - this is how I improve. Same thing goes for me sharing my photos and videos. When I started film school four years ago, I had little to no idea how a camera worked. I just knew how to turn it on and press record. Now I know all of the details that go into shooting regarding color temperature, white balance, aperture, F Stops, T stops....you name it! I also know how to edit better now than I did two months ago, let alone, two days ago! See, it's all a learning process. The important part is starting and consistently putting your work out there, that way you're able to see your progress and you know what to improve upon. Look at it as a digital diary for your work. It truly is a beautiful thing.
On top of all of this, one especially exciting aspect of sharing your work is that the more eyes you get on your artwork, the more people have the chance to love what you do, and ask you to do it for them! If you're a singer and you share your covers - people are going to ask you to maybe sing at their wedding, perform at their next event, or even collaborate with you when other artists are seeking you out and see what you're doing. This could be the glorious start to you making money by doing what you love and also creating your own business after a while. This way you can switch to doing what you love full-time, and you'll never look back.
Needless to say, let the world know who you are and what you have to say, gosh darn-it! It's so important to share your gifts with the world. If you love something so much, it's connected to your purpose, and there will always be, no matter what, room for you to do what you love and make money while doing it. There are plot-points along the way that may have you questioning whether you really want to be doing what you're doing like documenting every moment of your life and process on Instagram - boy that is a lot of work - but if you give little details about your process like the beginning, middle, and end of your drawing. Possibly if you're recording a new song, you in the booth and educating them on what each piece of equipment is, etc.
Share information so others can learn - I always think that's the perfect reason to share. On the other hand, if it's something that your agent wants you to do that isn't in line with your integrity whatsoever, or you're getting the impression from society that you need to be half naked in everything you share - and that's totally not you - don't do it. If it's not you nor is it anything that speaks to the message you're trying to relay - don't ever feel obligated to do it. It's better to be hated (or just not interesting to some people), than to be loved for what you're not. You're never going to please everyone, but those 10 out of 100 people whom your work means everything to by just being you - do it for them - they're your tribe.
So GO! Do It! Share your latest drawing, your poetry, your short story - your newest video you shot no matter what. Share the cover of you singing your favorite song, launch that blog, launch that vlog, go make the start of the new year already underway!!! Go out and share your work!
In FACT! I CHALLENGE YOU!!! This week, share something of your craft on all of your different social media sites AND e-mail it to me or tag me in it (@mary.gabrielle.strause)! I want to share it with the world as well so people can see what amazing things you're doing! Send me a video of who you are and what your artwork means to you as well! I want to meet everyone!
I'm so proud of you and what you're doing! Let the world hear your voice!
Mary Gabrielle Strause
In 2015, I went to visit one of my dearest friends in New York City during an internship of his. Though he was working during the day, he asked, "What would you like to do tonight," and I answered with, "I want to go to a haunted house," which was peculiar since it was August. Of course, there was little to nothing that sounded interesting along the lines of a haunted house, but what my friend suggested instead was far better than I could have ever imagined - in fact - I still remember the experience like it took place a moment ago.
He knew I enjoyed theater, and obviously all things creepy, so he pulled up the website for an immersive theater experience called, "Sleep No More," that told the story of Macbeth through a Noir/film-esque lens. Of course, looking at the page I had no idea what to expect once we arrived, and no matter how much he tried to explain it to me, nothing could prepare me for what I was about to endure.
At last our taxi pulled up to the McKittrick Hotel, and this is where our journey began.
We continued through the front doors of the "hotel," and walked up to what would be the "check in," booth. Here we both were given a different suit from a deck of cards along with a hole-punch to send us on our way. This would be our admission ticket once we made our way up the red-velveted stairs.
After ascending a few floors, we entered through a curtain and into a type of jazz-bar from the 1920s. The walls seemed to be made of red satin and velvet, the bar a dark wood, and the floor was decorated in dozens of small, round tables with two chairs at their sides and holding a candle in the middle. At the front of the room stood a small platform stage with a drum-kit, piano, and standing microphone. My friend and I walked over to the bar to get a drink, cards still in hand. I asked, "what happens now?" "We wait," he replied. But for what? We made our way to the middle of the room when a man dressed in a roaring twenties, period appropriate suit and tie spoke into the microphone with a mid-Atlantic accent. He said we would be separated from the parties we came with and that we could interact with all we saw within the walls of the hotel. By the way my friend was looking at me, he could obviously tell I was confused. Before he had the time to explain what would happen next, the suit and card I was given was called. My friend pointed me in the direction that the five others with my same entry pass were headed and said he'd meet me back in the bar afterwards. I walked away from him and then entered a whole new world.
I was given a white mask with a long beak, much like a plague doctor costume, as were my fellow attendees, as we rode six floors up in an elevator to where our experience began. We were told these masks were to prevent us from finding our friends and allowing us to have an experience all our own - to truly immerse ourselves in the story. After the doors opened we were set free to roam throughout the hotel where there were six floors of different sets such as a forrest, a taxidermy shop, a graveyard, a ballroom, a mental asylum and hospital, etc....all of the things you would never imagine finding. Within these rooms, clues were hidden to help you discover who murdered who, where these people were hiding, and ultimately how you would find out the way they met their demise - but who are these people I'm speaking of? Truth is, I had no idea any characters would be roaming these halls.
I found out from a little birdie within those walls that there were 12 different characters from an altered, more noir version of Shakespeare's Macbeth. These actors were roaming around the six different floors and played a detrimental part to the end of the story. They couldn't speak unless they specifically brought you somewhere behind closed doors to tell you an unknown piece to the story to the naked eye. You also had the option to stay with the character you found first and go throughout the story through only their perspective, or roam around the rest of the floors to find other characters and how they interacted to ultimately find yourself in one of the 12 endings of the story based on which character you followed or found by happenstance.
In the 90 minutes I was roaming throughout the hotel for (it could have been very well over 90 minutes - as no one ushers you out - you just maybe see things for the second time and realize "Oh, I should probably find my way out" [in other words I was definitely in there for longer than 90 minutes.) I found several clues, followed multiple characters, and throughout felt like I was living a completely different life as a character within a Shakespearian filmscape.
I had fake blood splattered on me, I hid in a graveyard so a character wouldn't see I was there, I was a part of a satanic ritual and performance, and was within a grand ballroom as elegant men and women waltz with one another. Being a part of Sleep No More felt like I was living in this magical dream. It felt like I was living the reason I got into film and storytelling in the first place. It's always been my dream to create a world where people can escape to with their imaginations on high intensity. Sleep No More did this for me as I was able to escape and completely forget about reality for an hour and half. This experience inspired me to make a musical I directed, "The Wild Party," by Andrew Lippa and immersive experience, and it continues to inspire me to create worlds that I can build in real life to help fellow artists and every human being forget about their cell phones, forget about their problems, not care about what time it is or what they have to get done - they're just living in this completely fantastical world and living in the moments being created.
If you're ever in New York City, I URGE you to experience Sleep No More or any other event the McKittrick Hotel has to offer. This form of entertainment is just as and possibly far more powerful in its own way than a Broadway show. This is something you will remember forever, and you'll think about often. It's a heightened level of entertainment and a completely tangible version of virtual reality. Live in this human life. Make things happen - like going to Sleep No More. You'll only regret it if you don't go.
Buy Tickets Here:
The McKittrick Hotel
& Sleep No More
530 West 27th Street
New York, NY 10001
Standard Guest: $149.50
Maximilian's Guest: $240.00
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