Life Well Lived in Art and Laughter
Off the Cuff with Milwaukee Artist of the Year Barbara Leigh
How did you get started?
Mike Moynihan and I started Friends Mime Theatre in 1974 as a â€śpopularâ€ť theater for everyone, not just folks buying expensive tickets. That became the Milwaukee Public Theatre in 1991. We celebrate 40 in September.
You turned paraplegia into art. How does art heal?
It takes you out of normal, day-to-day patterns. It stimulates your imagination and inspires you to new possibilities. So too do we healâ€”with the new, with imagination, with stimulation and with hope. In my case, time as a mime was great preparation for paraplegia. And through the ordeal, so much struck me as funny! Looking up peopleâ€™s noses? The hospitalâ€™s quirky characters? I had some wild times on morphineâ€¦
How does humor heal?
You regain control over your life. When all else fails, you can still laugh! Nobody can stop you. Smiling and laughter are immensely therapeutic, too. Science has proven it, time and again.
Greatest artistic accomplishment?
Creating and touring the Survival Revival Revue (a one-woman musical) has been most powerful.
Open mic on a soapboxâ€”life lesson to share?
Passion, Persistence, Poetry and Puns! Find what you love, keep doing it in unexpected zigzag ways and always exercise your humor.
Weâ€™re currently touring Joeyâ€™s Lunch-Money Blues about bullying; Pieces: In My Own Voice about mental health; and Hansel and Gretel about junk food. Our â€śFood for Thoughtâ€ť workshops run in low-income neighborhoods. They utilize visual art and focus on mindfulness, fitness, food and gardening.
Coming Soon: a re-enactment of the Bay View Tragedy (with Milwaukee Mask and Puppet Theatre); a Puppet Parade and Pageant through the streets of Riverwest and Harambee; and a Latino Carnival.
And last but not least, Milwaukee Public Theatreâ€™s 40th anniversary party! It is steampunk-themed, 6-10 p.m. on Friday, Sept.19 in the Plankinton Building, 161 W. Wisconsin Ave.
Everyone is an artist and theater is soul foodâ€”nourishment to help find your greatest gift: your own voice.
For more on Leighâ€™s biography, visit milwaukeepublictheatre.org/barbara-biography.html.