NEWS-RECORD Thursday, February 22, 2018
From Rose Bennett Gilbert


What do human beings fear more than death itself?  Not dentists.  Not snakes or spiders or taxes.  What terrifies a whopping majority of us -- 74 percent, according to a 2013 survey of society's most pervasive fears -- is speech anxiety, aka speaking in public.  

Emily Zacharias is out to change all that.  Actor, director, performance coach to other
professional actors, writers, and clergy, Emily will be helping the shy and silent
find their voice and use it effectively in her classes, "Enjoy Speaking: Learn to Communicate With Confidence," beginning Feb. 27 at the South Orange-Maplewood Adult School.  On Apr. 21, she's teaching "A Public Speaking Intensive," limited to five
students who want to further enhance their communication skills. 

Emily emphasizes the verb, communicate.  "Communication is not performance. 
Communication is connection with the other.  Lose the burden of performance.

Her classes are "designed to circumvent the pressure of our performance-oriented culture," Emily explains.  "They are highly effective for anyone who needs to speak with groups of three or more --  sales associates, architects, township administrators, retirees, anyone interested in personal growth who wants free rein of their own expression."

Emily's first class begins with students sitting in a circle --  "Communication is a circle with everyone involved" -- and proceeds through six sessions involving verbal exercises ("a safe playground"),  poetry readings ("so people can fall in love with the sound of their own voice"), and learning how to be what Emily calls "active listeners."

"Communication is a shared experience between active speaker and active listener,"
reminds Emily, who offers five everyday exercises to strengthen communication skills:

1.    Read a newspaper article aloud.  Clarify the story points and examine your own feelings about them;
2.   Go to the website Poem-A-Day.  Choose a poem and read aloud.  Enjoy the sound     of your own voice;
3.   Surprise a colleague, friend or family member with an honest question of interest
       to you both, then give them your full attention as they answer;
4.   Make an impromptu toast (imaginary wine glass) to colleagues, family, or         friends.  Celebrate the experience of being in their presence.  Initiate fun, an      original viewpoint and style;
5.  Improvise a short speech about what you ate at your favorite meal.  Push the outrage.             Engage the imagination.  Stretch your expressive self.

To enhance your skills as an active listener, Emily advises:

•    Be intent on listening.  Keep eye contact with the speaker;
•    Find interest in what you are hearing. Show respect for the speaker;
•    Remember, you don't disappear when you stop talking.

"Realize that communication is not about you: it is always about the other.   In class, with exercise and trust, we lose the burden of self-consciousness. This is the key to feeling free and learning to enjoy the process."


IT'S OKAY TO TALK IN CLASS Actor, Teacher Emily Zacharias


Actor, Teacher Emily Zacharias




by Rose Bennett Gilbert, Trustee

November 9, 2017

Maplewoodian Leah Gomberg really knows how to make a house a home.  In the past year alone, she's done it some 150 times...all over town and South Orange, and in surrounding communities, too.

Not that she ever lives in those houses herself.  Leah is a home stager, owner of Sweet Life By Design, a successful, l1-year-old business in a thriving industry that didn't even exist until the l990s or so (when a Washington-state realtor named Barb Schwartz started redecorating to help her clients sell their homes and launched a new business model that now has  millions of followers, world-wide).

Leah joined their ranks big-time soon after she and her family moved in 1996 from Greenwich Village to a l917 house on Highland Ave.  In those old-tech days, she recalls, the local realtor had scant marketing tools, little more than photos of houses available for viewing by prospective buyers.  That took a lot of time and effort, Leah recalls. "I saw eight houses in one day! Some empty.  Some attractive.  Some disgusting!"

Today, potential buyers can easily preview their options on line, Leah points out. And she makes sure they like what they see...which does not include weary wall-to-wall carpets,  cracked plaster, crowded closets, or frumpy front doors.  Such turn-offs signal that a house has not been well cared for, she warns.  "It's 'Nope!' at first glance!"

That's just the beginning of the professional tips and how-tos Leah will share Nov. 14 in her popular class Home Staging 101 at the South Orange-Maplewood Adult School.
High on her check-list:

Make it Q-Tip clean.  No one wants to buy old dirt! 

  • Paint it fresh -- she'll suggest the right colors, usually a warm neutral like gray or greige.  "White white is too stark, not cozy."  
  • Do strategic decluttering  "Get rid of little things like toys and too many decorative objects, and make spare room in the closets.  You need to show how spacious and organized a house is."
  • Let in the light.  Replace heavy draperies with sheers.  "People respond to light." 
  • Banish that old wall-to-wall carpet. "People would rather see a wood floor in not-great shape.  Wall-to-wall is not only dated; it makes a buyer wonder what it's hiding."
  • Repair obvious eyesores.  "Experienced homeowners realize that all houses settle over time, and walls often crack.  But young buyers see those cracks and think something's really wrong with the house."
  • Enhance curb appeal.  Fix up the front door.  Keep the yard neat.  Wash the windows.

What about the furniture itself?  Leah has a local warehouse full of answers, dozens of sofas, chairs, rugs, lamps, and decorative accessories, plus a staff to rotate them in and out of houses as needed.  Sometimes she simply rearranges the homeowners' things to make the space look more enticing.  Other times the house is totally empty and begs for furnishings to help a buyer see it as "home."  Leah can do over an entire house in a few hours, she says.

"I've had a lot of experience with old houses."  With old-house sellers and buyers, too, Leah points out.  "Moving is really stressful. It helps that I have a master's degree in social work.  People worry about bringing in a home stager.  They think that they'll be judged.  We help them understand that the way you live and the way you sell a house are not the same thing."

Her ultimate advice:  "Make your house a product."  The bottom line, as she quotes the International Association of Home Staging Professionals:  " Staged homes spend 88 percent less time on the market, and sell for 17 percent more than unstaged homes."


How to Foil Stage Fright? Improvise!

Rose Bennett Gilbert, Trustee

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Tongue-tied at cocktail parties? Fraught with stage fright about speaking in public?

Meet two Maplewoodians who can cure all that and promise you'll have great fun in the process. Actors Lulu French and Brad Barton will share their Rx in classes at the South Orange-Maplewood Adult School, starting October 3rd. Their prescription: learn to practice improv, aka improvisational acting. Or, as defined by 17-year improv veteran and teacher Lulu French:

"Improv is a theatrical art form where one gets on stage and discovers what they are doing at the moment. There's no preplanning, no script."

No fear either, she says. And no long years of training required: "The trick lies in listening, really hearing what the other person is saying (on stage or at that cocktail party), and immediately responding," Lulu explains. "Listening and making eye contact. It's like joking with a friend: she says something and you respond. It ebbs and flows. There's no agenda. No one is in control."

Which can feel a little creepy at first, admits Brad, Lulu's early partner on the improv stage and now in life (they met at Gotham City Improv, moved to Maplewood in 2010 and have two sons, 12-year-old Scott and toddler Charlie).

Also an accomplished performer who has appeared on gigs like Late Night With Conan O'Brien, MTV, One Life to Live, and Comedy Central, Brad says he first came to improv "looking for something fun" when he had a day job "I wasn't too thrilled with."

Discovering improv, Brad reports, "Unlocks a door. I've had students go from saying, 'I don't know how you guys do that' to being the guys up on the stage, doing it."

Lulu likens the improv process to playing sports. "Sports are improvised, too, but there is also some structure to the games." Ditto for the way she teaches improv: "We start in a circle and play games that warm up our bodies, our brains, and let us connect with each other. "Improv takes so much brain power," Lulu declares. "Concentrating is hard. You have to be so aware of what's going on. There's no time to think of what you're going to say next.

"Actually, I don't like speaking in public," she confides. "But I love to improvise because I'm not speaking for myself; I'm immersed in a character." Improv is also a lot of fun, both teachers emphasize. "It requires some silliness," Brad adds. "You get to leave the day behind."

How does that work when both halves of a couple are playing at being someone else?

The answer: they rarely perform together these days. "When we were still young and crazy and living in Manhattan," Brad recalls, "we performed together at least once a week. But then, the children...."

At least one of those children is following his parents' footsteps to the improv stage: Scott, a Maplewood Middle Schooler, is now in his third year of studying with his mother. And Charlie? "He's a two-year-old," Brad reports. "And a terrible listener."


Thursday, Oct. 15, 2015
@ The South Orange-Maplewood Adult School

I know the precise moment when it hit me, this deep longing to speak Italian. It was in Milan, teeming with rain on that Wednesday last month, as we were feeling our way through city streets also teeming with Vespas, vehicles, and fearless pedestrians. We rounded a blind corner and suddenly the enormous, ethereal Duomo Cathedral of Milan appeared in our rain-streaked windshield.

A Gothic confection reaching heavenward since the turn of the l4th century, an impossibly delicate, lacy wedding cake made of brilliant white Candoglia marble, the Duomo towers over its own block-square cobblestone piazza -- across which we were now blithely bumping in
our rented Audi. And only us. Not another car in sight. For good reason. "ZTL," the small sign up front would have warned us, had we noticed it through the pouring rain. ZTL, we've since learned, means "Zona Traffico Limitato," not too difficult to translate; just difficult to see in the first place.

Later, consulting a guide book for hindsight, we learned that ZTL is "the worst and most common infraction committed by foreigners. ZTL means limited traffic zone. Replace the word
limited with restricted and you begin to get the picture. ZTLs are present in most historical city centers throughout Italy. Unlike the highways where everything is clearly marked, you have to look for ZTL signs. The sign is a red letter O on a white background, much like a do not enter sign. They are usually small and placed at intersections above or near traffic lights where you may turn in another direction to avoid crossing that ZTL checkpoint." 

No see, no turn. So on we blundered, in thrall to Milan's astonishing architectural treasure, bouncing across the vast -- and sacrosanct -- piazza, oblivious to the astonished Milanese waving at us from the shelter of the adjacent arcade.

Our reaction: 1. "Duh! Can we really be such Innocents Abroad!" And 2. "Shall we all take Italian classes when we get home?" The answer to both questions: The South Orange-Maplewood Adult School. We flew into Newark on a Friday and by Tuesday evening were soaking up the melodious flow of a Romance language that totally lives up to the name. Professor Fil Secci, our teacher, is a native speaker, hailing from a small town not far from Naples. So we're learning the tongue straight from the horse's mouth, so to speak. Equally enriching: we're learning about the Italian way of life, the culture and customs and attitudes that add up to La Dolce Vita for some 60-million Italian speakers.

Beginner Italian runs for l0 classes this fall. And come spring, there's Continuing Italian and Italian Conversation conducted entirely in Italian. No more staining after subtitles in old Fellini movies. No more ordering the wrong thing at Libretti's in Orange.

But there is more to come, we've also learned from the guidebook. "Once you have crossed the TZL, even for a second, it’s too late. Your picture was automatically taken. Your license plate
was crosschecked against a database of sanctioned vehicles and you will be fined. ZTL cameras are only aimed at those entering restricted zones. At this point you might as well fully
enjoy your crime and cruise around the restricted zone for the rest of your vacation."

Gotcha! snapshots are not exclusive to TZLs, as award-winning New Jersey photojournalist Jim DelGiudice will prove next Wednesday, Oct. 21, when he delivers the autumn Eva Samo Lecture honoring the Adult School's consultant and 50-year supporter. An adjunct assistant professor at County College of Morris and a frequent lecturer at Drew and Columbia Universities, DelGiudice's talk is called "Gotcha! Snapshots that Changed History."

He defines snapshots as "moments captured on camera purely by luck" that often become iconic images, "not only transcending a moment in time, but becoming the memory of that moment," DelGiudice says.

Examples he cites include the photos of the Hindenburg exploding; of the fireman raising the flag in the ruins of the World trade Center on September 11; of Monica Lewinsky hugging Bill Clinton in a receiving line.

He'll also examine photos that changed history by accident: one of Abe Lincoln's tousled hair that helped him gain the presidency; another of candidate Gary Hart on a yacht that lost it for him.

You can catch the prof's intriguing "Gotcha" show and tell at the Columbia High School library, 7:30-9 p.m. for $18 (student rate, $5). Tickets available at the door, or click on somadultschool.org.

Meanwhile, we "Innocents Abroad" will still be waiting for our "Gotcha" photo, coming any day now from Italy with love.
-- Columnist Rose Bennett Gilbert is a syndicated journalist (CREATORS.com) and a passionate trustee of the South Orange-Maplewood Adult School.