Arts & Culture

NEA Chairman Jane Chu Learns Secret Poetry Handshake During Dallas Visit

By Mario Tarradell, Public Relations & Marketing Manager

Jane Chu knows a secret. The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Chairman was officially welcomed into the Raul Quintanilla Sr. Middle School DaVerse Poetry Club with the secret handshake. Students christened Chu as an honorary member during her Quintanilla visit Monday afternoon, November 28, 2016.

Big Thought hosted the Quintanilla jaunt, which began with a roundtable conversation featuring Big Thought staff and partner representatives. Chairman Chu conversed with Guy Bruggeman, Dallas Love Field; Janiece Evans-Page, Fossil; Will Dowell, Behind Every Door; Will Richey, Journeyman Ink; Lela Bell, Teaching Artist; Antoine Joyce, All Stars Project Dallas; David Fisher, Office of Cultural Affairs; Kjerstine Nielsen, Dallas Public Library; plus Big Thought’s Gigi Antoni, Erin Offord, LeAnn Binford, Leila Wright, and Shianne Patrick.

Chairman Chu made the trek from the nation’s capitol to visit with various local community leaders and speak at the Dallas Arts District Community Breakfast on November 29, 2016. The NEA has funded several different partnership initiatives coordinated by Big Thought over the years, including most recently its support of Dallas City of Learning. Big Thought also managed the Dallas portion of the NEA’s inaugural Musical Theater Songwriting Challenge for High School Students, which culminated last July in New York City.

Back at Quintanilla Middle School, Gary Gibbs, Executive Director of the Texas Commission on the Arts; Chad Pendarves from Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson’s office; and the NEA’s Meredith Raimondi also participated in the roundtable discussion. It began with Chairman Chu providing an update on NEA initiatives, and continued with partners sharing about their programs, their personal inspiration, and how the arts positively impact children.

“The ensuing conversation on partnerships highlighted the value of collaboration,” says Big Thought’s Binford, “combining partners’ areas of strength to create wrap-around services that reach more children with increased impact.”

Chairman Chu arrived in Dallas with a passion for hearing diverse perspectives from the community, and seeing quality programs in action. So she was duly delighted when the Quintanilla DaVerse Poetry Club students launched into a call-and-response warm-up led by DaVerse Lounge creator Richey, and then followed through with an activity that had students and adults creating personal poems that were shared one-on-one.

She bonded with those kids. Not only did they shower Chairman Chu with performances of original poems, but they also taught her that secret handshake. She’s official now.

Big Thought extends sincere gratitude to Quintanilla Principal Salem Hussain and DaVerse Poetry Coach Lisa Taylor for their hospitality.

Photo by LeAnn Binford/Big Thought 




Big ThoughtNEA Chairman Jane Chu Learns Secret Poetry Handshake During Dallas Visit

Six Word Stories Station Engages DaVerse Lounge Crowd

By Mario Tarradell, Public Relations & Marketing Manager

Six Word Stories took DaVerse Lounge by storm last Friday evening as 88 attendees stopped by the Six Word Stories station and wrote down their personal tales in half-a-dozen words.

We were blown away by the engagement, and the thoughtful stories. Here’s a small sampling of the beauties we enjoyed:

I’m under construction and never happier!

Your melody, my harmony, our symphony.

I am more than six words.

Organized chaos in one beautiful dream.

I can’t is not an option.

Follow your heart, free your mind.

Amazing stuff, huh? Here at Big Thought we thank Communications Manager Pholesha Johnson for doing the research that led her to suggest the Six Word Stories phenomenon as a DaVerse Lounge self-expression exercise. The even greater news is that Six Word Stories will be implemented at all DaVerse Works middle and high school poetry clubs. Also, these same middle and high school poetry clubs will be offered the national Six Word Stories project curriculum.

Need a refresher course on the Six Word Stories history? Revisit our recent Six Word Stories piece.

All of this Six Word Stories excitement spilled onto the Big Thought staff, too. We got into the six word spirit. Here are the gems we came up with:

What’s thought about is brought about.
— Rob

Determined not to cry, she laughed.

The cemetery brings it all back.
— Anne

Wisdom shared by age is golden.
— Sally

Whose lips do I adore more?
— Laura

Art will always be restriction free.
— Shianne

Love whatever arises, no matter what.
— Sarah

Insert witty comment, give me credit.
— Brandon

Love yourself first, then love others.
— Kristina

A pub in London was destiny.
— Maria

Memories of loved ones carry me.
— Phyllis

Good communication keeps the employees happy.
— Bill

DaVerse Lounge – share space, be embraced.
— Will

You should laugh, love, cry everyday.
— Erin

Shower me in happiness and love.
— Katelynn

Need to be fearless and stronger.
— Jose

Escaped the Friday Night Lights effect.
— LeAnn

Life is About Refocusing and Recharging.
— Mario

DaVerse Lounge thanks TACA, Dallas Mavericks, and State Farm for their generous support.

Photo by Can Turkyilmaz @turk_studio

Big ThoughtSix Word Stories Station Engages DaVerse Lounge Crowd

One Line Wonders Empower DaVerse Readers and Receivers

By Mario Tarradell, Public Relations & Marketing Manager

In a word: empowerment.

Yes, yes, that word usually describes the DaVerse Lounge experience, whether you’re reading on the stage or receiving in the audience. But this one, this DaVerse Lounge event Friday, Nov. 11, at Life in Deep Ellum, was especially empowering.

We had homeschooled sisters, college students, middle school dreamers, a recent high school graduate and a local hip-hop artist, among many others, pouring their emotions onto a receptive, loving crowd of 500.

So we thought we’d reminisce the evening with a baker’s dozen One Line Wonders, just to remind us how powerful sharing our thoughts and feelings can truly be.

“I hate you, my number eight”
— A lament about moving, and the uncertainty that comes with instability.
Anna, Quintanilla Middle School

“You said you hated me; I said I needed you”
— Standing up against abuse, from love to politics, emotions to physicality.
Cici, Garza High School

“All I hear is black lives this, black lives that, but we all can’t seem to come together to prove that all lives matter”
— Looking in the mirror of humanity.
Danejah, Lancaster Middle School

“I see my life as just a joke; my emotions are an endless spoke”
— Life as seen through the lens of an adolescent.
Francisco, O.W. Holmes Middle School

“When the monster was in the closet, not the closet itself”
— An ode to a best friend, and to life.
Amanda, North Lake College

“Words are mankind’s currency; they can tear you down and build you up”
— Judge people by what they say, and nothing else.
Sisters Haley and Hana, homeschooled

“My body has scars; not from fights, but from life”
— The generational pain that forces you to be strong against obstacles.
John, high school graduate

“She was a beautiful 15-year-old girl who killed herself because of bullying and depression”
— The devastating aftermath of a tragic suicide.
Serenity, Wilmer-Hutchins High School

“I want to get high to see if I can finally get you off my mind”
— Anger from a woman scorned.
Riley, Winfree Academy

“You still got your people; we are all we got – apparently”
— The state of the country and the world today.
So So Topic (AKA Tommy Simpson), local hip-hop artist

“You’re too pretty not to smile, as if me not having a smile on my face at all times is a sin”
— A manifesto against the misogynistic world we live in
Tasa, Winfree Academy

“I made some bad choices and I heard some bad voices, but thou cannot heal when thou cannot feel”
— Changing your life around through faith before it’s too late.
Dequiris, Sam Houston High School

“I keep gagging at the memory of everything that happened”
— A cathartic note to an ex-lover.
Michael, Sam Houston High School

DaVerse Lounge thanks TACA, Dallas Mavericks, State Farm, Liberty Burger, and the M.R. & Evelyn Hudson Foundation for their generous support.

Photos by Can Turkyilmaz @turk_studio


Big ThoughtOne Line Wonders Empower DaVerse Readers and Receivers

DaVerse Lounge Covets Six Word Stories

By Mario Tarradell, Public Relations & Marketing Manager

What’s your story in six words?

Is it a heartbreaking, painful tale? Or is it love and light? Maybe you share something clever, funny. Perhaps it’s exercise for your creativity.

Share your six word story soonest. DaVerse Lounge is the event Friday. Life In Deep Ellum, the venue. We’re ready to receive your tale.

First, read six word stories history:

The inspirational genesis of the six word stories movement comes from Ernest Hemingway’s famous short but potent 1920s narrative – “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” Six word stories would later become known as flash fiction. For decades this extremely succinct piece of prose has been testing writers’ abilities to craft mini masterpieces for receiving readers.

Jump to 2012 and the six word stories phenomenon picked up steam on Reddit, then lit the Tumblr constituency a mere two years later. The rules of six word stories are pretty basic – write six words. That’s it. You can be as creative, ingenious, heartfelt or funny as you like, but it must only be six words.

And now, back to six words. Six word stories table is ready. See space between henna, artist stations. DaVerse Lounge will provide pen, paper. We want your bold, honest expression. Stories are shared on social media. Or tag #SixWordStories_Daverse and we’ll repost.

What’s your story in six words?

DaVerse Lounge’s 12th season continues Friday, Nov. 11th from 7-10 pm at Life in Deep Ellum. DaVerse Lounge thanks TACA, Dallas Mavericks, and State Farm for their generous support.

Big ThoughtDaVerse Lounge Covets Six Word Stories

Rachel Dupard Found Her Voice With TBAAL, Big Thought

By Mario Tarradell, Public Relations & Marketing Manager

From adversity to triumph: Rachel Dupard is living proof. The 21-year-old native of Duncanville now calls Santa Fe home. She’s a first semester senior at Santa Fe University of Art and Design as a Contemporary Music major. Dupard is a singer whose inner voice broke through a childhood hearing dysfunction.

Her formative years in North Texas were impactful and revelatory, with more than a fair share of struggles, for the young lady born with fluid in her inner ear that complicated her hearing. Before she was in kindergarten, Dupard had already endured several surgeries and began three years of comprehensive speech therapy.

But Dupard remembers the support of loving parents and the joy of singing. She remembers the heavenly noise of singing with her church and elementary school choirs. She remembers the impact Big Thought partner The Black Academy of Arts and Letters made in her journey via five years of rigorous summer programs and three years of master classes.

“The performances during the summer programs at TBAAL gave her the confidence to be onstage and not be intimated, almost like she was on Broadway,” says LaChanda Dupard, Rachel’s mother. “That led to her audition to get into Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, and then college auditions. She walked into those auditions with a confidence level built by those years at TBAAL.”

Dupard looks back on her 21 years philosophically: “My life has been aligned like dominoes,” she says by phone from Santa Fe. “I am excited about what is next in my life.”

TBAAL helped reinforce the foundation for Dupard’s singing dreams. She was in that potentially awkward teenage cusp during her first summer performance camp at TBAAL, a longtime Big Thought partner. It was 2008, and little did Dupard know how invaluable that experience would be. In fact, three years later Dupard was honored with TBAAL’s Curtis King Performing Arts Award.

“I had the best time,” she says. “They taught me how to tap into emotions, how to tell a story, your story. That is essential to being an artist. It really helped change me and helped me be the artist that I am today. “

Dupard has studied classical through childhood private voice lessons, as well as gospel, R&B, and now jazz. She’s keenly aware of her talents, while at the same time accepting of the fact that her hearing history forces her to work harder to keep pace with classmates.

“I still have to focus a little bit more,” she says. “I still have to realize that I don’t learn as fast as my other colleagues.”

But the passion burns, and Dupard has no regrets. She’s exactly where she needs to be thanks to parents, mentors and instructors that encouraged her to reach deep inside and nurture her gift. Adversity led to triumph.

“My whole life has been an adventure so far and I’m so excited about it,” she says. “It’s been a lot of trials but at the same time it’s been enjoyable. College is setting me up perfectly for the real world of music. It has helped me deal with different people. I grew up in a very loving environment with my mom and dad. They taught me how to love people. I can’t wait to see how life turns out for me.”



Big ThoughtRachel Dupard Found Her Voice With TBAAL, Big Thought

Chelsea Mayo in New York: An Amazing Experience

By Mario Tarradell, Public Relations & Marketing Manager

Chelsea Mayo walks through midtown Manhattan like a teen on a mission. She takes in the sensory overload of the Big Apple with characteristic finesse. This 18-year-old is equal parts ingénue and sophisticate.

Chelsea won the Dallas portion of the National Endowment for the Arts’ inaugural Musical Theater Songwriting Challenge for High School Students, which was managed locally by Big Thought. She and her travel companion, dad Michael Mayo, hit New York City by storm July 22-25 for the final competition. The top prize was a $5,000 scholarship, with each national runner-up receiving $2,500 scholarships. Chelsea competed with Angel Rodriguez of Seattle and Jake Berglove of Minneapolis.

Scholarships came courtesy of the National Music Publishers’ Association Supporting Our Next Generation of Songwriters (S.O.N.G.S.) Foundation. Sony/ATV published the national winner’s song.

For Chelsea, the prize was really the events leading up to the big announcement. As we walked over to the legendary Sardi’s in Times Square for a get-to-know-everybody dinner, Chelsea marveled at the energy of the world-renowned city.

“New York was really inspiring to me because it felt so electric,” she says. “Just being there made me feel like I was a part of something special. I loved the way I could walk around and recognize places from movies and album covers. It was surreal! I think that New York is unlike any other place in the world because it has so much history and I’m really grateful to have gotten to experience some of it.”

Experience is an understatement. Chelsea met John Doyle, the Tony Award-winning director of The Color Purple, which we all saw Saturday evening at the Bernard K. Jacobs Theatre on Broadway. Doyle spoke to all of the finalists, chaperones and partner representatives about the theater, offering invaluable advice stemming from a career spanning over 40 years.

She also worked closely with songwriter Anna K. Jacobs and pianist/musical director Lynne Shankel. Jacobs and Shankel took Chelsea’s song “Say Goodbye,” a moving manifesto about a woman who feels lost in a consuming relationship that has erased her true identity, and gave it a facelift. Jacobs offered Chelsea advice on how to tweak the lyrics for greater impact, suggesting a bigger build up to the chorus and strategic pulling back to reach the grand finale.

Mayo wrote the song after struggling to pursue her musical aspirations even when her friends and family felt disappointed by her career decision.

“She has such a distinct voice as a songwriter,” says Jacobs about Chelsea. “We talked about where she was coming from emotionally when she was writing the song. I loved the depth she put into it. She put herself into the song. She was able to take her own personal life experience to come up with the musical theater story. That is what a true artist does.”

Chelsea spent much of the day Sunday rehearsing with professional musicians and singers. Shankel played piano, and Bonnie Milligan sang “Say Goodbye.” Chelsea introduced her song before a panel of judges that featured singer-actor Norm Lewis, songwriter Adam Gwon, singer-songwriter Anaïs Mitchell, Sony/ATV Director of Theatrical Development George Maloian, and Charlotte Sellmyer from the National Music Publishers Association.

“I feel like I’ve won already because I have had so many rewarding experiences and learned so much from professional musicians,” says Chelsea, minutes before the competition began. “I’ve worked with a band and mentors that have given me hope in the music business. I feel like I’ve made connections with all of them and I feel like I’ve learned so much already. Really, I’ve won already.”

Milligan performed “Say Goodbye” with heart and soul, dipping and soaring in all the right places to convey the deep emotions of the song.

Chelsea’s dad Michael Mayo sat in the audience, listening intently to his daughter’s composition.

“I’m genuinely proud of her,” he says. “I’m happy with the way the song turned out. It really sounds musical theater to me. I’m so proud of the way she interacted with people, very genuine, personable. She left an impression of herself with people. She has contacts now and they like her. As long as she puts in the work, she’ll be fine.”

In the end, Chelsea Mayo was named a runner-up taking home a $2,500 scholarship. Angel Rodriguez of Seattle claimed the grand prize with his potent tune, “Bleeding.”

Chelsea didn’t bat an eye. She was elated. She was beaming.

“I feel good,” she says. “I feel like I’m going home with priceless information. This has been such an amazing experience.”

Big Thought thanks the National Endowment for the Arts, Playbill, Inc., Disney Theatrical Group, National Music Publishers’ Association Supporting Our Next Generation of Songwriters (S.O.N.G.S.) Foundation, and Sony/ATV for their generous support.

Pictured: Chelsea Mayo, center, with Anna K. Jacobs (left) and Lynne Shankel at Carroll Studios in New York City. Photo by Mario Tarradell/Big Thought.


Big ThoughtChelsea Mayo in New York: An Amazing Experience