Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Everett Bradley and President Barack Obama

Tonight, Everett Bradley, Our Time's Musical Director, will be performing in front of President Barack Obama with Jon Bon Jovi at the Commander-in-Chief Ball.

Congratulations Everett! We know you will rock the house and have a great time doing it. If you get a chance, would you mind sharing this poem with the President ... it was written by Our Time Alumni Jonathan Greig about a year before Barack Obama began running for President:

Who says I can’t write a play
Who says I can’t be a valedictorian
Who says I can’t build an airplane or be an astronaut
Who says I can’t act in a play
Who says I can’t make tons of friends
Who says I can’t be President
They may say it
But I don’t
Because I know I can

What will you be doing tonight?

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The Our Time Questions with Liz Tuccillo

Liz Tuccillo, on the right, during one of her many trips around the world

Periodically, we will interview members of the Our Time and Camp Our Time family (company members, alumni, honorees, participating artists, the board, volunteers, staff, donors, parents, campers, counselors, etc.) by asking them the same 20 questions. Which will now be known as THE OUR TIME QUESTIONS.

Our fifth interview is with Liz Tuccillo. Liz is an accomplished writer perhaps best known for her work on the HBO comedy series Sex and the City and for co-authoring (with Greg Behrendt) the best-selling book He's Just Not That Into You. She also wrote Fair Fight and Joe Fearless (which are two of Taro's favorite all-time plays).

Liz is involved in MANY ways with Our Time: Liz is a Board Member, a volunteer, a playwright teacher/adviser for our One-Act Play Program, a host for many cast parties and other Our Time events including an unforgettable afternoon with Our Time Gala Honoree Bill Withers and the Our Time kids. She is one of Our Time's most important friends and we are all SO THANKFUL to you, Liz for EVERYTHING that you do for us!

1. Favorite Food: Very hard to say, possibly French fries

2. Favorite thing about Our Time: The love, baby – all the love!

3. Favorite place I’ve been: Reykjavik, Iceland

4. Place I’ve always wanted to go: The Grand Canyon! And all the other National Parks out west as well.

5. Favorite Movie: I don't know if I can say I have a favorite movie. The two movies that come to mind that have affected me the most have been Ordinary People and The Lives of Others.

6. If you were trapped on an island for three years, and you could only listen to one recording artist, who would it be: Stevie Wonder. Does that make me really old?

7. Mac or PC: Mac. Does that make me really young and hip?

8. Chocolate or Vanilla: Chocolate, c’mon.

Cats or Dogs: Neither, really. Don’t tell anyone, I think people will hate me.

Favorite Our Time moment: Recently – Tom singing Neil Diamond at the One-Acts! I mean talk about a magical moment!

What do you want to be when you grow up: Completely satisfied with my life and unafraid.

Who would play you in a movie: Tina Fey. No wait. I think what I really mean to say is that I want to be Tina Fey.

Favorite Book: Um. “He’s Just Not That Into You.” What? What????

Favorite sports team: Giants right now. So obvious, I know.

What advice do you have for people who stutter: Hang around Taro and Our Time for the rest of your life.

What advice do you have for people who don’t stutter: Hang around Taro and Our Time for the rest of your life.

Favorite TV Show: 30 Rock. I WANT TO BE AS FUNNY AS TINA FEY.

Favorite Play or Musical: Six Degrees of Separation was pretty amazing. And Rent. That’s right!

If you were President, what would your first official act be: Shutting down Guantanamo Bay, getting all the prisoners to trial or releasing them.

Where do you see Our Time in 10 years: That is a very difficult question as I am not clear how much the company can expand, if we are not able to clone Taro into twenty different people. But what I do see, is an amazing, thriving, huge camp for kids who stutter, and their friends and siblings. And a space – for rehearsals and offices.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

The Letter (a follow up to "TALK, TALK, TALK!")

Happy New Year! I hope 2009 brings you much peace, joy, good health, and love.

Since my last post, I have had the opportunity to sit down and draft a letter of complaint to the CEO of American Airlines. I will keep you up to date on any response I get from Mr. Arpey or American. Thank you so much for the outpouring of comments and emails of encouragement and support! And now, without further ado, here's the letter:

Gerard J. Arpey, Chairman & CEO
American Airlines
5908 Avion Dr
Los Angeles, CA 90045-5622

January 1, 2009

Dear Mr. Arpey:

I am writing to convey my profound sense of sadness at the treatment I received at the hands of American Airlines last week. I am not unhappy merely because of the fact that I was treated rudely by your employees or inconvenienced by your airline during my journey, although I could write you an entire letter dealing with a litany of complaints that stem from the utter lack of professionalism that I experienced over and over again. However, this is not that letter. This letter is intended to bring to your attention a single instance of indignity that dwarfed the others, spoke to a deep lack of training and understanding on the part of your employees, and positively shocked me with the level of ignorance and unkindness that it betrayed.

Let me begin by explaining that I am one of the 60 million people in the world who stutter. Over the course of my life, I have experienced many instances of being teased, mocked, cut-off, interrupted, or laughed-at because of the way I speak. Nonetheless, I was absolutely taken aback by the breathtaking insensitivity of an American Airlines representative who I encountered on December 22, 2008 at LaGuardia Airport as I attempted to check in for my flight to Dallas Fort Worth (Flight Number 745 departing at 1:10pm).

The check-in area was understandably busy, filled as it was with hoards of passengers bound for holiday destinations. Unfortunately, your company seemed to be entirely ill-equipped to efficiently manage the crowds, and things were borderline chaotic. I was certainly not the only customer there who was completely mystified as to which incredibly-long line to stand in or where to check our bags after finishing our self-check-in. Not wanting to have my wife or toddler stand unnecessarily in the wrong line and potentially miss our flight in the confusion, I sought out the counsel of a roving American Airlines employee.

As I approached the representative, I asked if it was alright for me to ask her a question. She turned to me, stopped walking and said, "Okay." At that point I said, "I just printed our boarding passes and I was wondering w-w-w-w” (that's right, I had a stuttering block on the word “which” as I attempted to inquire which line we should be standing in).

As I was trying to get the word out, the American employee abruptly barked, "TALK, TALK, TALK! I DON'T HAVE TIME!” At the same time that she was interrupting me she was backing away from me. When she was finished with her remark she turned her back on me and walked away.

I cannot overstate to you how disturbing this incident was. Not only was it insulting, degrading, and humiliating to me personally (to say nothing of the inconvenience, as I had yet to find an answer to my simple and politely stated question), it also tells me that other people are at risk of being victimized in this way if even one of your employees has failed to comprehend the basic rules of civility and compassion.

The anger that this incident has aroused in the stuttering community in the week and a half since it occurred is palpable. After posting about my experience on my organization's blog, I have received comments and emails from people who stutter and non-stutterers alike who are angered, sickened, saddened, and vowing to avoid your airline from now on. One reader pointed out that what happened to me is “as appalling as saying 'walk walk walk' to someone who is wheelchair-bound.”

It is on behalf of everyone who suffers from speech disorders or any kind of disability that I write this letter of complaint and beseech you to make up for the inexcusably rude and ignorant behavior of your employee. As the Founder and Director of a renowned non-profit organization, Our Time Theatre Company, my life’s work centers around making the world a more compassionate and understanding place. Our Time Theatre Company is a 501 (C) (3) non-profit organization dedicated to helping kids who stutter turn fear and shame into confidence. As you will read in the enclosed information packet, Our Time has been featured in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune, as well as on National Public Radio’s All Things Considered, and the Today Show.

I would like to take this opportunity to offer to meet with you personally so that we can discuss the ways in which American can integrate disability awareness and the concept of sensitivity and patience to its training of employees. In addition, I would like to offer to conduct a presentation to your employees about what stuttering is and what are some more appropriate ways to respond to people who stutter.

Meanwhile, I can assure you that my company will steer clear of booking flights on American Airlines (we tour with our large group of young performers and staff frequently, to domestic as well as international destinations).

Once I was on board my flight bound for Dallas, I was struck by a column entitled Being There: Our Employees Go the Extra Mile, printed in the December 15, 2008 issue of American Way Magazine. In the article, an American Airlines employee is profiled for her dedication and excellence, and is quoted as saying “being kind to people makes customers happy and keeps them coming back.” I couldn’t agree more, but I also cannot imagine a larger disconnect between what a company professes to believe and how that vision is carried out in reality. As the Director of an organization that works with people every day, I understand that unforeseen things happen, chaos happens, weather happens, but there is never an excuse for unkindness, incompetence, insensitivity, or discrimination.

I look forward to your prompt response.


Taro Alexander