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Life Lessons from Little Women (and 2020!)

My friends, for those who don't know, I am an ensemble member with Hedgepig Ensemble Theatre, a classically based theatre company in Fort Greene, Brooklyn. Being a part of this ensemble has been an exceptionally joyful part of living in NYC, and a little over a year ago we began working on a new adaptation of Louisa May Alcott's Little Women. Developing and adapting the script was such an exciting process to be a part of as an actor. Playing Jo March was (and still is!!) a literal dream come true for my inner 12 year old lit nerd. I read that book over and over as a kid- and reading it last year in preparation for the show, I found myself connecting to it even more as an adult. To me, Little Women is a classic because of just this reason- I will be able to read it many times throughout my life and gain something new from it, hear it in a different way. Classics speak to the human experience in a way that continually invites us back for new lessons and perspectives.

I’ve seen many parallels between 2020 and the world of Little Women- illness, financial struggles, quarantine (remember when Amy has to stay with Aunt March so she doesn’t get scarlet fever??), new hobbies….I could go on and on. I wanted to share some of my takeaways from the book this year so here are-

4 life lessons that Little Women (and 2020) Taught Me

(150 year old spoilers below!!):

1. Stay creative

All of the March sisters do something creative. Growing up poorer than their neighbors, they relied on creativity and improvisation to keep themselves amused on the day to day rather than an abundance of things or experiences. So many creative adventures were taken in their attic- Jo and her Christmas play and the girls creating a club with their own newspaper comes to mind right away. Plus….no technology. No phones, no computers. Just their imaginations and big big dreams. This creative spirit becomes an anchor to presence, and proves useful to each of the women as they create their lives.

Being indoors so much this year has felt stifling. Not just physically, but mentally and creatively too. Looking at screens all day working from home is almost more exhausting than running around NYC all day. Because of the access we have to distractions and the forward thinking lens of society, I think creativity sometimes takes a backseat. But as humans, it is our lifeline to joy, whether you identify as an ‘artist’ or not. Stay creative, stay nourishing that part of yourself- without screens. I wonder if this pandemic is an opening for us to get more creative about our future- look how much space has cleared for us to make something brand new.

2. Life is messy- it’s ok to ask for help.

Just like when Meg gets jam all over the kitchen and her children- life can be messy sometimes. And just like Marmee tells her, it’s ok to ask for help. To be honest about her feelings with her partner and the ones who can support her because sometimes, we all just need a little help [from our friends]. It is not a weakness to ask for that.

2020 as a whole has been MESSY- and I have had to ask for support many times. I’m willing to be you, dear reader, have too. It’s ok. We’re not meant to go it alone and life is not meant to look any sort of perfect. Having a strong, supportive community to turn to over the course of this year didn’t make the difficult moments less difficult- but it gave me the gratitude, joy, and centering I needed to keep going.

3. Grief is essential- honor it.

When Jo loses her sister Beth, her world is turned upside down. Though Jo deals with many other difficult emotions throughout the course of the story, the grief of losing a loved one is new and raw. I see Beth and Jo in this story as yin and yang, strong and soft. They compliment each other perfectly, and their relationship allowed Jo to stay strong and Beth to stay soft- they were comfortable in those roles. But when Beth departs, Jo must learn to soften. She must learn that she can hold both parts of herself, the strong and the softness Beth embodied. She comes back home from NYC, to be with her family. She falls more deeply in love (which isn’t a part of our play, but she does fall in love- with a professor. Very Jo). She can’t do anything but be with everything she feels when Beth dies- and that is the truth of grief.

Last year, right before we went into rehearsals, I lost my grandmother and my oldest family dog within weeks of each other. I was actively moving through grief in the rehearsal process- I am so grateful to my Hedgepig family for holding me with such care during such a tender time. I, like Jo, struggle with being strong more often than soft. We are both so independent and like knowing we can go out and do things, solve problems- be brave. Grief brought me back into my heart and invited me to soften last year. I have also felt deep in the river of grief throughout 2020- there have been many losses, large and small including jobs, loved ones, any number of things because of the pandemic. I have been reminded, over and over, that we must feel our grief fully, and honor it. The losses we experienced are real. Our world must need a great softening- an invitation to be with what is.

4. Dream big and keep dreaming.

Each of the March women has dreams- Jo wants to be a great writer, Meg wants to be an actress, Beth wants to stay at home and care for others, and Amy wants to paint and travel the world. And though we see each woman achieve her dreams in a way, we also see those dreams shift and change. Meg, who acts in Jo’s plays, eventually desires to become a mother. Jo’s dreams of being a writer in NYC still lead her back home, and while Amy’s dreams pretty much all work out, it’s definitely not in the way she expects. That is the great beauty of imagination and visioning our future! Dreams take us into the unknown- a place where we tend to become more ourselves.

Some visions of my life have changed this year, and I have had many new dreams arise as well. Despite the hardship of 2020, that has been exciting. Through difficult situations, hope for a better, more expansive future is essential.The March sisters dreamed, and had hope.

And so do I.

Due to COVID-19, our annual tradition of performing Little Women live has been postponed until 2021; however, our production team and the March family got creative and made an interactive holiday experience for you all to enjoy in the comfort of your homes this year: The Gift of Giving: 5 Days of Interactive Holiday Fun. On December 15th, we (the March sisters) began releasing short videos, with a new episode every other day. In each episode, you get to know the Little Women even better, build joyous holiday cheer, carol along with the March family, and even do activities with the sisters (I will need your help writing a play!!). Your ticket gives you access to the festive Little Women website where you can watch all the videos as they become available. Click here for some festive (COVID safe) fun with the March family this holiday season.

That’s all friends. Stay well, stay safe, and stay full of hope- as Ms. Alcott reminds us: “I am not afraid of storms for I am learning how to steer my ship.”

xxx Rachel


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