Fond memories from the road, with love from Elly Berke (Cast Bubble Butts)
The time I spent in the back of a black mini-van cruising down America’s interstates was my most enjoyable and most unique cast-bonding experience to date. We knew we had an important job to do and a critical message to spread to young adults, but we didn’t quite realize that we’d become a family in the process, which we learned by adapting the following principals:
1) Don’t bug Dad while he (or she) is driving. Driving with time constraints, through unfamiliar states, is stressful. We learned to eliminate backseat driving, and instead adopted a policy of respect and support for the person driving. We restrained from asking Ellen, Ariel or Kyle to drive fast or slower and we resisted the urge to whine, ‘Are we there yet?’
2) Share your snacks with your siblings. While it was tempting to hold the bag of veggie crisps between my knees and stuff my mouth, we learned to pass the bag. We polished off a large shopping bag full of Trader Joe’s munchies by sharing, and making sure the driver was well-fed too.
3) Respect each other’s perspectives. This principle was applied chiefly to our music selection. We went around the car and each person got to request a song. We then played the songs in that order and got to learn a bit about each other in the process. For me, this was also a cultural education. I had never heard of Janelle Monae until Oronde showed me the light. Ellen’s Whitney Houston repertoire is unparalleled.
4) Don’t be afraid to open up; your family loves you unconditionally. As the miles slid by, we started to share some very personal stories. We revealed embarrassing moments in our dating lives. Shared losing-our-virginity stories. We gave relationship advice when needed, or lent an ear and a hug for to stories about past hardships, embarrassments, bad-break ups. In a way, we crafted our own unique version of a Speak About It script. By supporting each other, we also learned something about supporting our audiences. And it all came out in the van.
5) Finish your homework, then you can go out and play. We always set aside time in the van to review our scripts, and give each other a chance to practice monologues. What’s more, we really helped each other in preparing to lead facilitations. We gave advice on good tactics to engage with students and staff. When the van doors opened automatically and we were dropped in the middle of each Arcadian campus, we were prepared for the occasion and dressed in our Sunday best.
6) Don’t mind what the other kids say, dance like no one’s watching. Whenever we got a break from the van—or sometimes right there in our bucket seats—we danced in whatever ways we wanted. I perfected my chest pump and shoulder shimmy. Oronde taught us all how to twerk and amazed us with his muscle isolations. Ellen taught me moves that made me feel like a back-up dancer in a Nelly video. I deemed this dance ‘the pony.’
7) Family dinner brings the family closer together. This could not be more true than when we sat down to dine in Northampton, MA. We turned that dark, quirky, hotel dining room/jazz lounge into our own personal kitchen table. We toasted to our successes on the road and to our family bonds. We tasted each other’s dinners, sampled each other’s cocktails. We befriended the wait staff and applauded heartily as each musical number came to a close. It felt like our energy and our bond lit up the room. Later we had more family fun time in the pool. We all jumped in. The other families lounging on the deck looked on enviously: how are they having so much fun together?
The secret’s in the van.