5 Questions with Entrepreneur Laurie Nickerson

I’ve adored Laurie Nickerson since our very first interaction and I’ll tell you why. Her enthusiasm is INFECTIOUS. Laurie is one of the most authentic and passionate business owners that I know (and most the business owners that I know LOVE what they do.) She is a breath of fresh air. Don’t we all need a breath of fresh air in our lives?

JMK: We all know that the best shops tend to run on caffeine, good vibes and great music. Would you please share with us what your go to’s are in each of these categories? 

LN: Oh our shop is definitely run on music. We are musical theater nuts so there is always a soundtrack of something playing. If Pandora is shuffling, you will hear a weird mix of show tunes, Queen, Big Band era stuff, film scores, and the occasional Christmas song that accidentally plays because the station wasn’t removed from the shuffle in January. We are fueled on iced tea and brownies, though there is much debate if the brownies are better with walnuts or without. Cindy says yes, I say no. 

JMK: You and your mother run Puppet Peltz together which is my mothers dream come true. If you could name one famous mother and daughter duo that you most emulate, who are they and why? 

LN: Julie Andrews and Emma Watson Hamilton. First of all, Julie is such a class act, even if she wasn’t in a dynamic duo, I would want to emulate her. But, her and her daughter Emma have written a few children’s books together, I just love the vibe they put out into the universe. The books have great story lines and encourage kids to be different. Whenever I see Julie and Emma in interviews, I get the impression they genuinely like being around each other. In the clutter and noise of today’s social media and smear campaigns, these two are always positive and charming. 

JMK: Part of the reason being a puppet builder is so fun, is that you’re constantly calling upon your skills to invent and innovate your way through a challenge. Anyone who follows you on Instagram knows that you are an HGTV superstar in the making. What home renovation project have you found yourself doing the most innovating with.

LN: Haha. Oh lord. My house. Such a work in progress. This is super nerdy, but I am a huge vintage/antique nut. I don’t like to “buy new” when I can “find old.” So my house is filled with weird flea market finds. I am also blessed with the “I’m not afraid of color” gene so I have very loud colors throughout. The most challenging project so far has been putting in vinyl flooring in my bathroom. I was so excited to find deeply discounted vinyl tiles with this loud black and white print. Perfect for my house. Perfect for my budget. I figured they were discounted because no one else would want such a loud print on their floor. Come to find out, they were discounted because the pattern didn’t line up correctly. So instead of just lining up the tiles edge to edge, I had to visually offset them to try to get the pattern to line up as best I could. But, cheap is cheap, right? So the pattern is definitely still a little off, but I ended up distracting everyone by painting the walls bright pink and adding a crazy flamingo picture. When you walk in there now, there is so much “look” going on that no one is focusing on how the floor titles are slightly off. 

JMK: Love that. If you were to give on piece of advice to someone about to open their own business, what would it be? 

LN: Zig Zag. If you are so set in your “vision” there’s no room for you to grow. When we started this business, it was a completely different plan. We were going to give workshops and classes to teach people various arts and crafts. We did that for about a year and realized that there was so much hustle that had to go into it. Constantly creating new classes, constantly promoting to get people interested in the classes, constantly thinking about what’s next. It was so stressful. But, Puppet Pelts only happened because I already had a studio space. I already had an Etsy shop. It was much easier to transition to dyeing and selling fabrics because all the hard business groundwork already took place. 

JMK: That is such good advice. You’re a brilliant business woman and creative mind and a very generous human. Outside of work, what are you wildly passionate about? 

LN: Theater, dance, and typefaces. A few years ago, I took an inventory of things that I really enjoy/enjoyed doing at one point in my life. I grew up doing community theater, and stopped when I went to college. So, I got back into it. It has been such a joy to be a part of shows and learn new music. 

I also loved dance when I was a kid. So, I signed up for tap lessons again. Now, I am a full-figured, plus size lady, and I can rock it out on the tap floor. You are never too old, or too fat, or too weird to do something that makes you happy. 

I also am a total nerd for typefaces and letterforms. That is left over from my past-life career. Before Puppet Pelts I was an art director at an advertising agency so typefaces were part of my everyday life. Now, I enjoy finding posters, packaging, books, old ads, etc with really beautiful typefaces or hand painted letters. 

JMK: You’re awesome. THANK YOU!

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Puppet supplies are a mix of textiles, craft, art, and woodworking so rarely can you buy from one shop. We are bridging the gap. So whether you are making your first puppet, or are building a fleet of giant mascots, we’ve got you covered. 

We are based in the United States but ship all over the world. Orders placed through our website will typically ship the next business day.

5 Questions with Activist and Actor Sofiya Cheyenne

Sofiya Cheyenne was introduced to me through my then collaborator, Deb Hertzberg.  An instructor in the Brooklyn College Theater Department and a wonderful puppet artist and director in her own right, Deb met Sofiya in school and brought her on to a project that we were developing at the time.  I have been a Sofiya Cheyenne fan ever since.  She and her friends have been such kind and generous teachers to us. And Sofiya, frankly, she’s just a kind, talented badass woman who I love to be around.  Here’s 5 Questions with Sofiya Cheyenne.

JMK: Sofiya, we had such a wonderful time with you collaborating with the creative teams of Zwerge.  (Wouldn’t you love to be able to bring that show back?)  Your perspective on race and disability was obviously essential to our process.  How do you bring these powers to other projects?

SC: I would LOVE LOVE LOVE to bring “Zwerge” back! And honestly I should thank you for that experience… because it is truly the beginning of my advocacy and artistry journey. See, at the time I didn’t realize it… but much later when reflecting back on the experience we had working on “Zwerge” and creating the historical icon of Perla Ovitz. I was truly gifted with the opportunity to tell this woman’s story from a very authentic place. I felt empowered like never before. Through this true story of resilient people just like myself, I found a new found love of myself, performing and my dwarfism. I would say that Perla is a big reason why I do what I do today.

As far as other projects, I feel it is so important to always speak on the importance of self worth. Perla and the Ovitz family were a family that didn’t let the close minded world dictate how they saw themselves. The Ovitz family (a family of dwarf entertainers) always carried themselves with grace and dignity. Something that was very hard to do during WWII. And I carry that with me in all the work that I do. 

JMK: Wow. You’re going to make me cry.  To be honest, your comments make me want to call my collaborators and get back to the work of shining light through theater. It was a true honor for all of us to work with you on that material. 

You have a wonderfully expressive singing voice.  What music inspires you the most and why? 

SC: Thank you so much!! I truly love to sing, although sometimes I wish I felt more confident in my own voice. I think my favorite music to sing is soulful or jazzlike. I have a true alto voice, that is my sweet spot. Give me an Alicia Keys or Oleta Adams song … and I’ll be going at it! 

JMK: These days, even though life has supposedly “slowed”, everyone seems so drained.  What do you do to recharge?

SC: I breathe. So often we forget to breathe. Especially someone like me who’s a GO GO GO kinda person. (I will be embarrassed to say that some days my apple watch reminds me) but hey!! It’s important. When I breathe and take some time to meditate and be mindful of my body I feel very re-energized after. 

JMK: You’re a new mom!  CONGRATS!  How has this change in your life impacted your approach to your work and activism?

SC: Well, quite simply. Everything is about Logan now. It still feels really hard to understand what this balance of mommy and work will look like. It changes everyday. But what I do know is … my mission, just like before, has been to bring awareness to the world about dwarfism through my art. And now more than ever do I feel that is so important. I have brought another person of short stature into this world. So for Logan…. I will do anything and work really hard to make the world hear me now! To make the world a better place for someone like Logan. 

JMK: Well, you know that you’ve got allies in our team. When you look to the future, what will you do to be part of making the changes that you want to see in the world come to fruition?

SC: Perfect segue from my last response! haha. I’d say that as an artist I am really excited and motivated to create, support and be a part of projects that are disabled led and intended for disabled audiences. I want to tell stories that really impact the footprint or wheelprint that is ours. And I feel like the only way to do that is to be really intentional about our work. Little people for centuries have been begging the industry to see us as whole human beings. I think it’s about time we own our space, we own our narratives, we own our bodies and invite these audiences in and show them how beautiful we are. 

Sofiya Cheyenne is a Performing Artist, Teaching Artist, and Disability Advocate/Consultant. She is the Inclusion Director of Little People of America, Co-Chair of The Dwarf Artist Coalition and part of the Access Advisory Council for ART NY and Disability Working Group with the National Network of Consultants to Grantmakers. In all of her work she continually advocates for people of short stature and disabilities on and off the stage. She has appeared on TV shows such as TrueTV’s “At Home With Amy Sedaris”, Netflix’s “StartUP” and Amazon’s “Loudermilk.” Her favorite theatre credits include The Briefly Dead at 59E59, Other World at Bucks County Playhouse, and Guys and Dolls at Theater Under The Stars. Sofiya is a passionate educator and public speaker, she has been teaching theatre arts throughout New York City for over 10 years. Through sharing her artistry, her story and educating others, she encourages the power of community, storytelling and social change.

More at www.sofiyacheyenne.com/

On a promotional note, Sofiya Cheyenne will take part in Little Shadow Productions’ Lil’ Talks’ “Share The Mic” Series on September 13th.  Time TBD.  Get on the registrant list here. 

5 Questions with Activist, Artist and NYC Poll Worker, Lindsey Briggs

Z_Briggs

Lindsey “Z” Briggs is most known, internationally and domestically, for her work in the world of puppetry.  But for me, the most interesting thing about Z has always been her passion for activism.  I can’t think of a conversation that I’ve had with Z, where she didn’t talk about service, doing something for others, or what she thinks could be done to make the world a better place.  In trying times like these, seemingly small acts of volunteerism, like becoming a poll worker, makes Z a role model for me, and so many others.  Anyone who walks the walk, and talks the talk, is always worth my time and consideration.  (A side note: We had a different blog lined up for this week, but after the specific acts of hate that took place in my own borough last night, I decided we needed to take it up a notch.  Thank you to Z for making time at the last possible minute).  Here are “5 Questions” for advocate and activist, Lindsey Briggs.

JMK:  At this moment in time, it is impossible not to see how crucial it is to vote.  As a young voting citizen of this country, what made you volunteer to be a poll worker, and what have you learned from the experience?

LB: Following the 2016 election I wanted to be more involved.  Because I have two young kids at home, I can’t show up to meetings or rally’s in the same way that I could before kids.  It occurred to me that helping with the election might be a good fit, and I looked into being a poll worker.  I want to be a friendly face that can help to make the voting process a positive one.  I have learned quite a bit about the election process, and the work that goes into being a poll worker.  I had no idea that all New York state poll workers must arrive at the polling site at 5am and are not dismissed until at least 10pm, but sometimes much later.  We receive two, one hour breaks throughout the day, but it is a very long day.  If you see a poll worker, be sure to say thank you.

JMK:  Z, when I think of you, I think of you as an activist first.  How are you giving your time to your current primary cause?

LB: There are many causes that are very important to me.  Black lives matter and educating others about institutional racism and common sense gun legislation are both topics that I feel very strongly about.  As I said above I don’t have time to attend the meetings and rally’s that I wish I could be at, but instead I make sure to have conversations with people about these topics and do small things in my own way to help promote positive change.

JMK: You are a parent of two young, beautiful and imaginative boys in NYC.  What active measures are you engaging in to teach them compassion?

LB: We talk a lot about empathy and trying to see things from others perspectives.  Everyone’s feelings are important.  I feel very lucky to be raising a family in New York City, as it is so diverse and a wonderful example of so many different people living and working together.

JMK: Anti-Semitism is on the rise again globally and in this country.  Just last night, a synagogue in Brooklyn was vandalized with disgusting graffiti.  The words written on the interior walls of that house of worship makes one’s chest tighten and heart sink.  As an artist and activist, what do you do when you hear of such horrific hate crimes?

LB: I think about what must have happened in that person’s life to make them feel such anger against others.  It makes me sad.  I have hope that the next generation will be an example of understanding, peace and tolerance.

JMK: Agreed!  We must keep hope alive for our children.  On a lighter note, at this time of year, families are gathering around the table to share time together.  They’re also sharing food!  Would you please share what your favorite family dish is and how it makes you feel?  

LB: We have spaghetti and meatballs every single Monday night.  You are all welcome to come.  It is everyone’s favorite meal, and we will likely still be making it every Monday night in 20+ years.

JMK:  You’re awesome.  Thanks for this.  I now officially feel hopeful for Tuesday’s vote. 

Lindsey “Z.” Briggs is the Foundation Manager of The Jim Henson Foundation.  She has been working as a professional puppeteer since 2004 and has had many opportunities to perform in television, internet shorts, pilots, live theater, and independent films.  She studied at the University of Connecticut Puppet Arts masters program for 3 years and has attended and worked as staff for the National Puppetry Conference at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center.  Z. lives in Astoria, Queens with her husband and 2 children, and performs live puppet theater for families throughout New York City as co-artistic director of WonderSpark Puppets.

So Many Questions. So Many Thoughts…

Hi.

My name is Jean Marie Keevins and I am infinitely curious person.  I genuinely like people and find a great deal of pleasure listening to them and hearing about what makes them tick.  Going back as far as childhood, I have always spent a good deal of my time attending live interviews, reading short and long-form biographies and conducting private interviews myself.  Recently, I found myself with a deep desire to make my intrinsic interest in people more active.  After listening to Brian Grazer talk about his many years of “curiosity conversations”, I thought that’s me!  I need to be doing this, but in my own way.

This blog is intended to create one of may platforms that I will use going forward to simply talk to people.  Innovators, artists, cultural icons, leaders in their respective fields and more.  People that I find interesting.  I can’t wait.

Thanks for joining me!

~Jean Marie

It doesn’t take money to turn off the television and cultivate real bonding time. ~Marianne Williamson

“There’s a rainbow in the sky all the time.  Don’t be blind”. ~Ziggy Marley