Our Time Our Voice
About the presenters:
TARO ALEXANDER - Founder and Artistic Director, is an accomplished actor who has stuttered since the age of five. He has been a professional actor and teacher in New York City for 13 years. In recent years, he has been widely recognized for his work with people who stutter. In March 2002, he was honored by the National Council on Communicative Disorders at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., where he received the Charles Van Riper Award. Alexander performed for 4 years in the successful Off-Broadway production of STOMP. Other acting credits include appearances on NBC's Law & Order, and the National Tour of Neil Simon's Lost in Yonkers. Alexander has previously taught master classes in Cincinnati, Houston, and Toronto, as well as at the University of Michigan, the University of Indiana, and New York University. He is an active member of other New York City theatre companies including Naked Angels and the 52nd Street Project. He would like to thank the Our Time company members for their courage and trust. They have made this journey beautiful.
ANGELINA BRUNO-METZGER - One year ago Angelina would never have imagined herself standing onstage and singing in front of an audience. Angelina has grown immensely as an entertainer with the love, support, and creativity of her second family, Our Time. This drama queen found her passion for acting at a young age and hopes to pursue it for the rest of her life. She wishes to send hugs and kisses to her family, especially Margaret, her friends and everyone who has inspired and supported her dreams.
COROM BUKSHA - The New York City public school system returns with vengeance as Corom Buksha is dragged back into Frederick Douglass Academy for his junior year. At 15, he is dreading every second as his inevitable fate looms near, he is looking forward to returning to Our Time Theatre Company full time. He hopes to go to a technical college far away from New York and pursue a career "doing something with computers." If not, he is also considering journalism.
JONATHAN GREIG - I am 13 years old and being in Our Time has been very fun. I have been surrounded by talented people every Saturday and it has been great. Our Time changed my life so much that I plan on coming next year.
YONI MESSING - "My message is like butter when I stutter, everyone's thoughts unclutter" -Yoni
KEITH RUSSELL - I am 14 years old. In school my worst subject is gym. My favorite subject is history. I like all TV shows. My favorite artist is Jay-Z. I'm very scared to act in a big crowd. I hate crowds so don't crowd around me.
Our Time Our Voice
by Taro Alexander, Angelina Bruno-Metzger, Corom Buksha, Jonathan Greig, Yoni Messing and Keith Russell
My name is Taro Alexander, and I am the founder and artistic director of Our Time Theatre Company. Our Time is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing an artistic home for young people who stutter. Our Time provides an environment free from ridicule, where young people who stutter discover the joy of creating and performing original theatre. I have stuttered since I was five years old, and for most of my life, I was ashamed of that. I always wanted to be a performer but never thought I could do it because of my stutter. In spite of my fear, I went to a high school for the performing arts in Washington, D.C. When I began performing, my confidence soared. I felt like I could do anything. From that moment on, I never let fear stand in the way of my dreams. I founded Our Time three years ago because I felt there was a great need for young people who stutter to have a space where they could express their true feelings. These past three years have been amazing! It is hard to imagine that what I was most ashamed of led me to begin what I am most proud of.
Our Time is comprised of two groups, the Teen Company (ages 13-19) and the Pre-Teen company (ages 9-12). Each group meets every Saturday in New York City. The first two months of the program are spent introducing the company members to acting, singing, playwriting, drumming, and dance. The most important aspect in the beginning is to let them know that in Our Time, they can say whatever they want to say, in their own time, without the fear of anyone putting them down or finishing their sentences. It is beautiful to see how quickly everyone's confidence increases.
During the next three months, the company writes an original full-length play. It is a group process from start to finish. Every member of the company has an equal say and an equal role in the show. The next three months are spent re-writing and rehearsing the play. At the end of the season, we move into a professional Off-Broadway theatre in New York City and perform the show for the public. A full-scale musical production, with sets, lights, costumes, sound, etc. is a remarkable experience to be part of.
In addition to our production in New York City, we participate in the annual conferences of the National Stuttering Association, and Friends - National Association of Young People Who Stutter. Our Time also produces CD's comprised of songs written and performed by the company, and we hold an annual benefit gala where we honor an individual who stutters with the Our Time Award.
These young people are my heroes. They continue to inspire me each day. I feel honored to be doing the work I'm doing. I could tell you many humorous, moving, and exciting stories about the company forever. Instead, I think it would be far more enlightening to hear from them directly. I am pleased to hand over the microphone to five teen company members of Our Time:
JONATHAN GREIG - Jonathan is entering his third year at Our Time.
Before I joined Our Time, I was a very quiet young man who never spoke up in class. I was always an average student because of my tendency to not talk in class. Although I stutter, I loved to act and realized that I was fluent on stage. I began doing plays in school, and I told my speech pathologist about all the plays and how much fun I was having and how I was fluent on stage. My speech pathologist then recommended that I join Our Time. I really didn't like the idea at first because it would be taking up my Saturdays, but once the first three weeks of Our Time passed, I fell in love with it. Now my grades are much better because I speak out a lot more and give input on things during class.
YONI MESSING - Yoni is entering his fourth year at Our Time.
My name is Yoni Messing, and I am 16 years old. I live in New York City. Our Time has been an important part of my life. I have improved my acting skills, and last year I tried directing a short play.
Performing in front of an audience, especially performing with people who stutter, is an exciting experience. This year, the play was called For the Love of Family. In the play, Taro played my son. I never performed with Taro before, and he gave a lot of acting energy to the scenes that I was in. It was easy to feed off of his energy.
My favorite performance was last year. The play was called The Mystery of the Diamond. I played a rapper. This character was really close to my personality. The writing process of my songs was at first long and hard. I didn't know where I wanted to go with the songs, but then after I wrote the first paragraph, I knew the direction I wanted to take the song. I created the songs with tiny metaphors on the page, and then I eventually meshed all the metaphors together and made a song. Performing the song was a dream come true because I always wanted to perform a rap.
The thing I like the most about Our Time is the people. They are real chill. They are fun; I can relate to them on subjects that I can't with most other people.
If you have confidence, stuttering is not that big of a deal anymore, because if you have confidence in yourself, it allows you to be yourself. I can do more things. I can achieve more things, and I also feel better about myself. If you have confidence, it's all gravy.
COROM BUKSHA - Corom is entering his fourth year at Our Time.
When I first heard about Our Time, my first thought was that it was a waste of a good Saturday. I was thinking of the embarrassment that I would go through when I was up on a stage, and people would start laughing at me for stuttering. But then after about a month, Our Time became the one thing that was worth my Saturdays. Instead of watching cartoons or something, I was doing something constructive with my life.
When the first play rolled around, I was nervous that I would make a fool out of myself as usual, and no one would like it. But when my fellow actors and I got standing ovations, I knew we must have done something wonderful. So from then on out, I knew that my stuttering was only that, not a terminal social illness.
Because of Our Time, I am WAY more outspoken, because I figure that I shouldn't be ashamed of stuttering. I mean, come on, I got a standing ovation for it. How many people my age can say they have done an Off-Broadway play, been interviewed for the New York Daily News and New York One, and actually do something on Saturdays? Only ten.
KEITH RUSSELL - Keith is entering his second year at Our Time.
Hello, my name is Keith Russell. I'm 14 years old, and I stutter. And I am proud to say that I stutter too. Our Time is a great place to express yourself.
The first day I came to Our Time was on a Saturday morning; we had to wait until everybody came. I was nervous. And then, I met my first friend, Todd. When I first saw him, I thought, "Do I know you? Why are you coming up to me?" But I'm glad he did because he really opened me up a lot. When the rest of the teens and the adults talked to me, I felt at home.
Throughout the year, we wrote and rehearsed a play. On opening night, I felt really nervous, but the play still went great. At the curtain call, we took our bows; everyone clapped, and then everyone started to stand up. And inside, I felt good because I did something that I never thought I could do.
The last show was the best show, and it was a little touching at the end because we were all crying. It was the best show because, at the curtain call, we thought everyone had left, but everyone kept clapping, and so Taro said, "c'mon, c'mon, back on stage," because they were still clapping. We were all crying because we were saying good-bye to each other.
When I was in San Francisco, I was watching a lot of little kids. It felt good giving the kids some good advice to help them do the right thing. To me, it feels good to know I was trying to help somebody. During the last day of the Friends convention, Donny (another member of the teen company) and I were teaching some of the teens dance moves. They did the dance moves better than us. Sometimes, it's not fair that we only have those conventions once a year. We should have them every month.
The first day I met Taro and Chelsea, (Our Time's Managing Director) they said, "What would you do if you started stuttering on stage?" And I said, "I would run off-stage." My attitude changed because I knew that I had everyone's support. And if I did run off-stage, when I got home, I knew I would've gotten in trouble. I would have felt like a punk because I worked so hard on that play, and I would have had nothing to show for it.
I know it's hard to accept your problems, but if you accept them, then other people will too. Just be yourself, and don't change for people.
ANGELINA BRUNO-METZGER - Angelina is entering her third year at Our Time.
Two years ago, I met eight unique teenagers who would forever alter my attitude toward stuttering and life itself. That first Saturday, with Our Time Theatre Company, my eyes were opened to a world where discrimination and suffering were replaced with laughter and pride. This past year, another teenager joined the company, and he too joined the group of my most influential teachers. Along with the guidance of Taro, Chelsea, Everett, (Our Time's Musical Director) Donisha, (Our Time's Choreography Consultant) and the rest of the adults, I found myself blossoming into a more confident young woman. I cannot express my gratitude for my fellow cast and adults who have made the past two years a learning experience that most people could only dream of experiencing. My first rehearsal with them taught me a powerful lesson: everybody has something wonderful to offer the world no matter how they express it.
In eighth grade, I was diagnosed by my local hospital as a stutterer. That afternoon, I recall locking myself in my room and crying tears of humiliation and despair. A year later, when I met with the Our Time teens, I found myself able to finally wipe away those tears and replace them with a smile, and feel less ashamed of my impediment. Linda, Lidia, Donny, Yoni, David, Keith, Todd, Corom, and Jonathan, (members of the troupe) have become my second family, and with them I have never felt more comfortable just being me. Each of these individuals has something extraordinary to offer the world, ranging from intelligence, athletics, natural acting abilities, and most importantly, their leadership. All the world needs to do is slow down and listen to what they have to say, because believe me, it's worth listening to.
I have performed several shows with this company but probably, my most memorable was last June. It was opening night; I was a bundle of nerves as I waited for my first entrance. All it took was a smile and hug from a member to calm my nerves, because I knew they all had my back. The key to a successful show is trusting your fellow actors, and believe me, I would trust all of them with my life. At the end of that show, it was obvious to the audience the dedication, creativity, and love that make up the group. At the end of that night, I was never more proud or moved by one of my shows. On closing night, I have never been more sad about letting a cast go, even though I knew that the next October, I would most likely see all of them again. These teenagers had given me a priceless gift. Their optimism, determination, and confidence, when it comes to facing the world, is an inspiration to all. One can only hope to achieve what these individuals have done at such a young age. My first meeting with them was an experience I will never forget because it gave me the honor of working with the most amazing individuals and greatest teachers the world can offer.
Hi, it's Taro again. I hope you have enjoyed hearing from a few of the Our Time teens. If there is anyone out there who would like more information about Our Time, please feel free to contact us at:
Our Time Theatre Company
One Union Square West, Suite 810A
New York, NY 10003
Tel. - 212-414-9696
Fax - 212-414-8527
Email - firstname.lastname@example.org
Website - www.ourtimetheatre.org
I would like to conclude with words from a wonderful young man. When Keith wrote and presented his speech at the Our Time Benefit Gala in May of 2004, he was really nervous. He said, "But I knew I had support from the people in Our Time and my teachers and my family. When I was done, the audience really liked it." Here's what Keith had to say at the gala:
Ever since I started school, I had to go to speech therapy, and kids would ask me, "Why do you have to go there?" And I would say, "Because I have some trouble pronouncing my words." And what I should have said is, "I stutter." To me, it felt like I had to say that because no one likes to be made fun of, and sometimes, words do hurt. When I read in front of my classmates, kids would say I couldn't read because it took me so long to get the words out of my mouth, and sometimes, the teachers wouldn't even give me time to say what I had to say. And I wish that no little kid who stutters would have to go through what I went through.
To me, Our Time is like my four-hour paradise. To me, the whole world should be like Our Time. When I talk, I don't have to fear someone will make fun of me. If I talk, I don't have to rearrange my words so that they come out faster.
At Our Time, I feel safe, happy, and good. I don't have to protect myself. I don't have to keep quiet. Now I know it's nothing to be ashamed of that you stutter.
August 31, 2004