hugs and kisses
Written in 2007 by Jackie on request of Jeanie Rule for the Hugs and Kisses 25th Anniversary project.
Updates throughout are noted and dated.
Here you will find random memories and reminiscences regarding my Hugs And Kisses experiences. These pages are my personal memoirs, and are copyrighted as such in my name. You have my permission to use all or part of them, provided that you do so in the context I intended with credit given as “reprinted with permission from Jacqueline Jones nee Goldberg.” As you hear from other Hugs And Kisses alumni, you’ll probably get different points of view of some of the same stories. It will be Theatre IV’s answer to Rashomon.
Some of these stories overlap; forgive the repetition. This was done so that each segment would appear complete in itself. These recollections were written for readers who are familiar with the script and general history of Hugs And Kisses, by Terry Bliss and Bruce C. Miller with music by Richard Geirsch. If something seems vague or confusing, please do ask me to clarify.
Steve Perigard (Theatre IV Associate Artistic Director) and I met around 1995 during Theatre IV’s Charlotte’s Web. Steve had taken over directorial duties for Hugs And Kisses from Bruce Miller (Theatre IV Artistic Director) and asked me to talk to his cast about my experiences with the tour. This was long after I left Theatre IV’s touring company; I was a parent by this time and periodically freelancing. For a few years and before it was considered Hugs And Kisses prep over-kill, I shared what I considered important for Steve’s actors to know; I have included some of those tidbits here. As we discussed how much easier the tour had become in terms of acceptance of this subject matter by the public, one actress asked me “Why? What happened in the last 15 years?” I was stunned. 15 years! Well, the answer, of course, is that Hugs And Kisses happened!
Touring Hugs And Kisses demonstrated to me more than any play I’ve ever done what a valuable tool of communication live theatre is.
I bet I will think of other Hugs And Kisses stories and will add them here when I do.
Jacqueline Jones is my professional name now, although when Hugs And Kisses started, I was still Jacqueline Goldberg. I began with Theatre IV in 1980 and toured Hugs and Kisses as “Betsy” from its beginning in 1983 till 1988, stopping only because I was “in production” with my own little audience member. I missed only one show between 1983 and 1988: the 500th; there was a special event and two casts would be performing Hugs And Kisses at the same time in different cities. I don’t remember the details, but I’m sure Bruce does. When the Hugs And Kisses tours began, there was only one run per school year so I was able to participate in other Theatre IV touring shows throughout the season as well.
I was the first and maybe only Theatre IV touring actor “on staff,” meaning my job was secure. Back then, usually Theatre IV actors were hired by show; now I think they are hired by semester, acting in repertory. I never knew which tour I’d be offered but thankfully, I was guaranteed work. One day, I went to Bruce Miller’s office with a problem. I was company manager for one of the touring shows and there were issues I needed help with. After our meeting when I turned to leave, Bruce off-handedly mentioned that he was planning to cast me in Hugs And Kisses. I left his office thinking that I was going to be in one of the then infrequent “grown-up” shows – a door-slamming British sex comedy! I do not think I ever told Bruce this. I must now.
Hugs And Kisses actors then and now are specially chosen not only for their talent, but also for their sensitivity and ability to handle tough subject matter. I advised more recent casts to keep that in mind when they get stuck and to affirm, “I have what it takes, just take a deep breath and go on.” In addition to performing in the play, each actor in Hugs And Kisses acts as a liaison between a child who has experienced Secret Touching & our “Special Friends,” the cast’s non-intimidating euphemism for social workers, police officers, counselors, etc.
Theatre IV’s special brand of curtain speeches (“When we watch a play, what do we do with our ears? – – – eyes? – – – hands? – – – mouths? – – – etc. How do we show the actors we like what they did? Is it okay to laugh? blah, blah, blah) originated with me when Bruce asked me to come up with a curtain speech about theatre manners. Of course, that was in 1980, long before Hugs & Kisses. I also began the tradition of writing thank you notes to each venue host. I am sure actors cursed me for years over that – I think that practice went by the wayside. As the Hugs And Kisses secretary, in addition to writing thank you notes, I was responsible for recording EVERY question that was asked during Question & Answer period. These Hugs And Kisses notebooks are all on file at Theatre IV. They were also transcribed by Ann Childress at the VA Department of Social Services.
Each actor was also responsible for recording EVERY question s/he was asked in private, as well as the name of EVERY child s/he spoke with in private, whether their question regarded the content of the play (it usually did) or not. When I “retired” from Hugs And Kisses, Barbara Rawn (SCAN, Stop Child Abuse Now) came to my home to interview me and take down my answers – the answers my Hugs And Kisses casts had “perfected” – word for word to every question on her list of questions she’d saved from our tours; she used these to train subsequent casts; the new actors still receive this information in their Hugs And Kisses packet along with their scripts and contract information. They use my words verbatim as answers currently given to specific questions during Q & A. As new questions come up, the current casts will “perfect” their own answers to pass down to new casts.
While playwright Terry Bliss was doing her extensive research, I accompanied her to support group sessions for adult survivors of child sexual abuse. Terry pulled together her own resources, the points that social services required, and a story line to come up with a terrific rough draft. Bruce Miller (using his expertise with children and playwriting), together with Terry, tweaked what Terry wrote to appeal to and hold the attention of all ages of children, as well as adults. Hugs And Kisses was the first script about child sexual abuse in the country that featured children rather than animals or aliens as main characters.
I do not have Terry’s original script, although I’m sure Terry must and I bet Bruce has it, too. I do have the 2nd draft of the original script, the one which Bruce reshaped. I can even sing for you the title song’s original melody, which was ditched days before our first tour of the seven regions in VA. Long story short (ask Bruce for any details he’d like to share), since Richard Geirsch hadn’t been commissioned in time to compose accompaniment to Bruce’s original melody, Richard came up with a “new and improved” melody. Richard kept many, but not all of Bruce’s lyrics. In fact, this segment about hugging was intentionally left out because VDSS did not approve: “Or sometimes to squeeze tightly between the forelegs just like a bear,” even after forelegs was changed to “forepaws.”
Early in 2007, Paul Deiss and I, not realizing this special anniversary was coming up, were discussing putting together a recording of the original as a surprise for Bruce. Maybe it’s not too late to do that (not necessarily as a surprise). Let me know!
During the rehearsal process and over the years, I contributed certain dialogue to the script. This was not done lightly because so much meaning hung on each and every word the playwrights chose. Changes were approved (and some requested) by Ann Childress at VDSS. Early editions of Hugs And Kisses referred to only two kinds of touching: Good Touching and Bad Touching. Eventually the phrase “Secret Touching” came into use to refer to child sexual abuse. Bad touching, which initially had clumped together physical abuse AND child sexual abuse, came to refer to any physical abuse other than sexual. When the script evolved to include names for three kinds of touching (Good, Bad and Secret), I contributed new lines to the script that helped differentiate Good Touching from Bad Touching and Secret Touching, and Bad Touching and Secret Touching from each other.
Initially the script appeared to be written as if doctors have carte blanche to children’s bodies. Director/co-playwright, Bruce Miller and our cast went round and round about that; we, especially the females, were adamant that the section about doctors be expanded. Bruce finally compromised by adding a line for Mrs. Sawyer (as I recall), “You should feel free to tell your parents anything the doctor says or does.”
UPDATE September 1, 2011 – On Bruce Miller’s Facebook Wall, I posted,
“‘Pediatrician gets life for sexual abuse’ – This is why [actress] Sara Stevenson Sarna and I insisted the original draft of the Hugs And Kisses script be amended to include a clearer passage about doctors, Bruce. Thank you and [co-playwright/dramaturge] Terry Bliss for taking our concerns to heart.”
Another refinement changed “Tell your teacher” to “Tell your teacher or some other trusted adult.” A whole segment was added listing suggestions of some trusted adults children could tell and asking the audience to call out ideas.
Secret touching involves areas of our bodies that we consider private. Our swim suit areas. But what kind of swimsuit? 1-piece, 2-piece, bikini or thong? Before the Hugs And Kisses direction settled on the areas of our bodies the actors refer to in its current incarnation, it went through many stages – no pun intended. In the beginning, as the Al-narrator described the parts of our bodies we consider private, actors on each side of the narrator displayed, in their best Carol Merrill style, those private portions of their fully clothed bodies this way: the Betsy-narrator used her hands vertically from armpits to hips to point to the area covered if she were wearing a 1-piece; her hands stayed in the “parentheses” of the sides of her body. Simultaneously, the Mike-Narrator used his hands vertically from waist to hips to point to the area covered if he were wearing a man’s speedo; again, his hands stayed in the airspace on the sides of his body.
Between the actors, director and VDSS, over the years of production, various versions of the designated swim suit area evolved, finally settling on imaginary swimsuits with actors’ movements to clearly demonstrate these designated swimsuit areas: the buttocks, hips and pubic areas for both males and females and adding the front bust area for the females. She does two swift motions to fill the same amount of time as his one. The motions the actors used circled back and forth horizontally, pointing to those specific body parts. We wanted to be specific and didn’t want children to think that if someone tickled a girl’s ribs, for example, it’s “a part of the body that we consider private.” Yet, as we discussed with Barbara Rawn, it’s all a matter of intention. If a person accidentally bumps another person’s butt, it is forgivable. If a person grazes another person’s arm – or tickles a child’s ribs – with sexual intent, it’s a different story, and that is what Hugs And Kisses is about.
In those days, we ran our own sound, so banter dialogue or silent tape meter was added in some cases so we could all be on stage at the appropriate time for a sound cue. I recall the Rapunzel play within a play being amended for this reason. We never adlibbed during Hugs And Kisses unless some technical difficulty absolutely required it.
Since I left the tour in 1988, it appears to me as if no further revisions to the script proper were made (check with Bruce Miller) except the cultural references (in 1983, the pop stars were “Fred and Ginger” and the beast was “Jabba the Hut”), which are updated each year. Even the blocking has stayed pretty much the same; however the musical arrangements and the choreography are redone periodically to reflect the current music and dance trends. I choreographed “Let’s Get on With the Show” (the only dancey dance) the first 5 years, adapting it for different casts, and we used the original recordings during that time.
UPDATE: The names of the characters were changed to reflect the twenty-first century: Judy became Emma – and later Jemma, Betsy became Katy, Mike became Michael, Al became Jacob, and Mrs. Sawyer became Mrs. Crenshaw.
UPDATE 2021: Mrs. Crenshaw has a new name and is a Spanish Teacher rather than a P.E. Teacher. She speaks Spanish in the production. Jemma is Korean and speaks Korean in the production. These changes were captured in the Video production of Hugs And Kisses that was created in light of the coronavirus social distancing.
One point that never wavered except for changes made for clarification is “Secret Touching is Never the child’s fault” which started out as “Bad Touching is Never the child’s fault.”
All of the people who trained us for that first tour (and ever after) were dynamic, passionate and caring, and so enthusiastic about the Hugs And Kisses project. Bruce Miller, Artistic Director/Co-Founder of Theatre IV and co-writer of Hugs And Kisses directed most of the first 5 years worth of casts (if not he, then his original direction was followed implicitly – I even directed one cast after my first child came along). Bruce told us when we started that he did not expect any children to respond to the actors’ invitation to talk to us after our performance. Ha-ha. No one had any idea of the response we would have! But Bruce made sure we were as prepared as we could be, just in case.
When we began, we were trained by Ann Childress (who initiated the idea of the play with Bruce; please ask Bruce for details) and her staff at the Virginia Department of Social Services. The social workers talked to us about what child sexual abuse is and what to expect. We actors figured out that “social worker language” incorporates the royal “we” by beginning sentences with “you have to blah, blah, blah.” But they are referring to how THEY handle victims of Secret Touching or Bad Touching. Counseling is their job not the actors’ job. The social workers gave us statistics, told us how to listen and talk to the children and told us especially not to ask leading questions. They reminded us that proof of a founded case does not lie with the actor.
Confidentiality was required. Most importantly, we were told that the fewer times a child repeats the disclosure, the better. They told us that evidence is lost in a retelling. We were instructed that as soon as possible after we had an inkling that a child might have a problem with Secret Touching (actually at that time it was called “Bad Touching”), to find a moment to interrupt and introduce the child to the Special Friend (counselor, social worker, police officer, etc.) on hand. Counseling – and intervention – is their job not the actor’s. I would say something like, “You know what, before your go any farther, I know someone I think can help you. Let me introduce you to our Special Friend.”
Barbara Rawn from SCAN (Stop Child Abuse Now) took over our training sometime during my tenure with Hugs And Kisses. She was fierce in her desire to support us. Especially in those early years, there were times when we’d be in the boonies with no local support structure; we would call her long distance and ask what to do. She was always there for us.
When Hugs And Kisses first started, Theatre IV and the VA Department of Social Services had 30 free shows to offer. They could not give them away! So in autumn of 1983, a showcase tour to the seven regions of VA was planned. Bruce Miller can give you more information on this. The actors on that showcase tour were Brad Greenquist, Jacqueline Goldberg (now Jones), Sara Stevenson (now Sarna), Paul Tomayko, and Michele Wagner. When we began the school tours in 1984, Kelvin Davis replaced Brad.
The audiences in these showcase houses were packed with parents, school/social-worker/counselor/doctor-type professionals and community members. They gave us initial feedback and asked tons of questions; we wrote down everything (I was the secretary). These notebooks are still on file at Theatre IV.
Those seven showcases were emotionally charged. Some of the subjects during Q & A dealt with parent’s rights and infringement thereof, religious issues, personal boundaries and legalities. (Certain professionals are mandated by law to report suspected child abuse.) During the Q & A following one of the showcases, an audience member questioned and insulted our ability to talk to the children. Michele gave an impassioned answer (I wish I could quote her directly, but it’s been 25 years!) that although we were not professional counselors, it does not take training to offer compassion and love to a child. This was greeted with thunderous applause. Whew, I can still feel the heat in that room!
Once the school tours began, there were times we crossed picket lines to load our set. We faced subtle and not-so-subtle obstacles from reticent school administrators (whose show might have been sponsored by their PTA). And then there were schools that brought the show in without the parents’ knowledge; parents would find out and show up during or immediately after the play.
Some schools sent home permission slips for their kids to see the show; it seemed to us that the very children who might need to get the message most were denied access. We hoped that their friends and teachers would share the messages that “Bad Touching* is Never the Child’s Fault,” that every person has the right to “Say NO” to Bad Touching and that a person experiencing Bad Touching should “Tell a Trusted Adult.”**
*Bad Touching was later renamed Secret Touching.
**On the first tours the phrase used was “Tell Your Teacher.”
A surprising number of principals, counselors and teachers would undermine a child’s effort to disclose, especially if the child was perceived as a troublemaker or liar. These school professionals failed to make the connection between a child’s Secret Touching life and his problems at school. When our early casts thought a child might not get the help s/he needed at school, we would go so far as to call Barbara Rawn (or other Richmond VDSS or SCAN contacts) long distance! Sometimes, we called the local social services ourselves. There were times, although rare, that we were concerned that local social services would not pull through; however, we found consolation in turning over our records to Ann Childress or Barbara Rawn. In the whole state of Virginia, one of the most diligent and supportive Departments of Social Service was Chesterfield County’s. They always provided a team of at least one social worker and one police officer to each Hugs & Kisses performance.
Adults disclosed to us, too. The actors are “safe” to talk to and Hugs And Kisses is a catalyst. We heard many times, “I wish there was a play like this when I was a child.” We treated the adults the same way we did the children, encouraging them to reach out for help. “You know, our Special Friends are here for you, too.” Or “Did you know there are support groups available for adult survivors of Secret Touching?”
Sometimes a child wanted to disclose something other than Secret Touching. When I was visiting one of his casts, Steve Perigard told us about a child he met on a Wednesday after the boy’s Dad had just died on Monday. Steve had not long lost his own Dad and they – he and the boy – had a cathartic moment together (ask Steve about it). If a child had a problem other than Secret Touching, we introduced him or her to our Special Friend, too.
As the reputation and positive impact of Hugs And Kisses grew, the warmer receptions to us became. In my eight years touring with Theatre IV, none of my casts received more free school lunches than did our Hugs And Kisses casts! Even with these negative stories I have shared with you, for the most part, we were treated royally.
Immediately after a performance, unless we were prohibited (and yes, that did happen), we had a Question and Answer period. First, we would introduce our “Special Friends who are trusted adults who came today especially to help those of you who might need it.” Then we opened the floor to questions.
Our Q & A actor/facilitator repeated each Question for all to hear. Not only did that make it easier on the audience, but it also allowed “thinking time” for the actors. Occasionally, questions were asked in a way that the facilitator edited, citing our rule to use terms from the script; however, as secretary, I wrote down every question that was asked in the exact words used to ask it.
Each cast has its own method for taking turns to answer questions. Here is how the casts I was in would handle it. After our actor/facilitator repeated the audience member’s question for all to hear, if we wanted to answer it we would make eye contact with our actor/facilitator so s/he would not catch an unprepared actor off-guard. We listened to one another carefully so we could come to the rescue if the actor whose turn it was started floundering or answered incompletely. We tried not to undermine each other. We reminded ourselves to “think before you speak.” We agreed that it’s okay to say, “I don’t know” and okay to show vulnerability and okay to ask the other actors for help in answering. We tried to be specific by answering the question that was asked rather than ramble about everything we want to make sure was covered. The actors developed “pet” answers or phrases that we employed over and over.
Even today, but especially back then, we had to remember that some localities have no 911 emergency phone number. And some homes have no phones. We got in the habit of asking in the school office if any kind of emergency number existed in their locality so we could remind our audience members about it. The times when we had to make urgent calls, we usually traveled to the closest pay phone and called collect. There were no cell phones, of course, and sometimes we needed to be out of earshot of school personnel.
When we first started, we sometimes asked our Special Friends for help during Q & A; in time we avoided this as much as possible after we realized that their knowledge and compassion did not guarantee that they were good public or extemporaneous speakers. Most answers to the questions asked are found right in the script; we often came up with a more appropriate answer than the Special Friends were capable of doing on the spot. If we did not know the answer to a question, we told the children that we would try to find out for them and then we followed up.
As we became more experienced, we refined our Q & A session. “Q & A is for questions not stories.” On rare occasions, a child would begin to disclose during this time; the actor/facilitator was always attentive in order to discreetly cut off a disclosure with, “Hold that thought, this is a time for questions; will you get permission from your teacher to come back to talk to us about that afterwards?” And then we did our best to seek out that child after the Q & A.
Our cast (Kelvin Davis, Jacqueline Jones nee Goldberg, Sara Sarna nee Stevenson, Paul Tomayko, and Michele Wagner) developed a Quiz Game in response to censorship in venues where Q & A was not allowed (back then, our company manager always asked if there was time for a brief Question and Answer session to follow the performance). In some locales where there had been kidnappings and programs about stranger-danger, the Q & As got very off track so we used our quiz questions to steer the audience back to Hugs And Kisses content as well as to illustrate what a question is because the youngest audience members sometimes did not know the difference between a question and a statement. I think our Quiz Game is scripted into the Q & A now.
The most common questions we heard during Q & A were:
Q: Was the dog real?
A: No. In real life, could a dog get you the help you need?
“Nooo,” they would shout.
Then we asked, “Who could you tell instead?
We’d ask, “Who else could you tell?”
They would offer lots of ideas which our actor/facilitator repeated for all to hear.
Q: Who played Hugs?
A: Hugs was played by three different actors! Can you figure out who?
Sometimes the audience members knew who played Hugs and sometimes they didn’t. The actors who play Mrs. Sawyer (Crenshaw), Judy (Jemma), and Mike switch off playing Hugs. Thank goodness claustrophobic hot-natured I never had to put on that dog suit!
A Q & A story fellow castmates like to tell on me involves a special education student. Usually, the special students would sit right up front. I was the actor/facilitator (this job was normally assigned by tour). I took a question from a special child who had a severe speech impediment. I repeated “his” question and answered all in one breath, “Was the dog real and the answer is no” and went directly on to the next raised hand, anxious to keep Q & A moving. This may be a story that is humorous to recall, but at the time was not funny to me at all. It was one of those sensitive moments when I didn’t want to embarrass the child, knowing that in this situation I would never have been able to understand what he really asked.
Every once in a while, we performed Hugs And Kisses for an adults-only audience. This was usually to showcase it at conventions of “Special Friends” or to allow potential audiences (Schools, PTAs, etc) to screen it. We changed nothing about the performance except the curtain speech. Normally, Sara said that there would be times when we actors would ask the audience a question and that they should just shout the answer back. Sara always elicited a chuckle when she’d add for these adults “and the kids always get the answers right!”
In 1984, when the very first of the school tours started, at the end of Q&A we would invite the children to ask their teacher for permission if they wanted to come back to talk to the actors. After we were visited by kids who were interested in the arts or just actors in general (normally not a bad thing, but we had to remain focused on the Hugs And Kisses content matter), we learned to change the wording to “If you’d like to talk to us about something special and private, ask your teacher for permission to stay now or come back and talk to us.” Often children who came back would want to disclose to the actors who portrayed Judy or Betsy, but usually were comfortable to talk to any of us.
We made a point to make eye contact during Q & A and with children who came back afterwards. I reminded Steve’s casts how important eye contact is, too. Our beginning casts made a habit during Q & A to exhibit Good Touching amongst ourselves, holding hands or tossing an arm around a fellow actor’s shoulder. I encouraged subsequent casts to emphasize Good Touching. I also reiterated how important it is to take care of themselves as a group and individually.
In the beginning years, Ann Childress asked the actors to keep track of EVERY question, both publicly and privately asked as well as the name of EVERY child who came up along with general topic of conversation with each child who came. My casts used to tease me about my 6th sense. Somehow, I could peg kids that I “knew” would come back. It was a certain look – sometimes I would see it during the play or during Q & A – sometimes even before we performed! I was almost always right. And I often wondered if the ones (whether I “pegged them” or not) who didn’t make it back that day would disclose to a trusted adult later after they had more time to think about things.
What I recall about many of the children who returned to disclose Secret Touching to me (other actors may have different recollections) was bad breath (nerves? stomach?) and circles under their eyes. Sometimes they did not make eye contact with me. Most who spoke to me were very matter of fact, as if they were drained, or removed from what they were telling. It was rare that there were tears.
Sometimes children returned not to disclose their own problem with Secret Touching but to ask what to do to help a friend who they knew had the problem. The compassion these children exhibited was inspiring.
If necessary, in our private chats, we would steer the conversation to Hugs And Kisses content matter without asking leading questions. We avoided yes/no questions. “What did you think of the play?” “What did you learn?” “What was your favorite part?” If they brought up the Hugs, the Dog, we asked, “Could a dog get help for you in real life?”
We never promised to keep a child’s secret, citing the play’s advice that there must be no secrets about Secret Touching. We persuaded each disclosing child to share his secret with our Special Friend to get help. When necessary, we explained that we could not stay but wanted to leave the child in good hands. We accompanied the child to the Special Friend if possible. We always praised a child for sharing his secret with us, telling him how proud we were of him and what a courageous thing he’d done. If the child wanted us to stay while he disclosed to the Special Friend, we would stay only long enough for him to feel comfortable before we made a quiet good-bye and slipped away. This was because of the confidentiality issue.
Sometimes there would be a long line of children waiting to talk to us. We actors had to balance our time between talking to the children and fulfilling our crew responsibilities (breaking down our set, sound, props and costumes, loading our van, etc). Sometimes we had to leave before we could get to all of the children so we asked them to wait for our Special Friends. We did not like to do this, but had to sometimes. We would write down the names of children waiting to make sure they got the attention they needed and also were on a list we turned over to the principal.
Before we left each school, the company manager (in the first years, depending on our tour, that was Paul Tomayko or Sara Stevenson or I) would say our usual Theatre IV thank you and good-bye to the principal, as well as turn over the names of the children who had spoken to us after the play (because of that mandate that they report suspicions of abuse). As I mentioned, if at any time we felt that those children would not get the help they needed, we called the local social services ourselves, consoled that we were also turning over our records to Ann or Barbara, too. I am not sure of the parting procedure nowadays.
The rest of the cast waited in our van for the company manager. When we were ready to leave, we headed on either to lunch, the next school, to the hotel, or home. The first week of our school tour, we talked to a lot of children. We’d been lead to believe that it would be a rare occasion for a child to take us up on our invitation to talk about something “special or private.” WRONG. No one had any idea how well Hugs And Kisses would be received and how receptive victims would be to the cast.
We knew we were supposed to keep the disclosures as private as possible, so we all went home for our first weekend, tightlipped. All of us – ALL – had terrible weekends. We were so stressed and we took it out on our families or roommates. We discovered how important it was to talk about our own feelings, just as we were telling the children to do! Van time became therapy time. Our cast learned that we were one another’s most valuable support system, the only ones who could really empathize. Van time was vital.
The number of children who came up after a performance varied from place to place. Sometimes just a handful, sometimes a caboodle, and other times no one. There was a variety of reasons for this: some schools did not want the kids to come back at all (we were strangers meddling in their local affairs), some teachers considered some of the kids who asked to come back to be “liars” or “problem children” and thought these kids wanted to come back only to get out of class or for the attention (hmmmm, it didn’t occur to those teachers that maybe THIS problem was what was causing the trouble); some schools were so open and nurturing that the children already received a certain level of comfort & support if they needed it for any reason, including Secret Touching.
Our fantasy when few or no children came back was that there were no problems and that the play would fulfill its original intention as a preventative measure ensuring that the children would have the tools they’d need if Secret Touching ever presented itself.
One time after a show for which I was the company manager, one of my castmates told me that another actor needed me; I figured it was a technical problem. This gentleman who towered over me was, at that time, the only Hugs & Kisses actor who was also a parent. He took me aside, and all of a sudden burst into tears, “I don’t know what I would do if anyone ever did ‘that’ to one of my kids.”
Sometimes an actor might need to take a break from talking to any children in private. It’s important to recognize our own limitations and the limitations of the other actors in the cast. Actors who needed a breather would busy themselves with breaking down the set while other actors would continue talking to kids. I know I became a little snarky to my fellow actors when I felt overwhelmed, but some compulsion drove me and I was always focused on the children.
“Use the vocabulary of the play” even to adult audiences was the advice we were given. We were careful to take our time during Q & A and after we got the hang of it usually felt confident about the answers we came up with. One day, I was the Q & A facilitator and a tiny, tiny child in the front row asked in his colloquial accent, “You can’t play with your penis?” Nonplussed, I said, “Kelvin would you like to answer that?” (I was teased for years about this.) Kelvin was amazing. He answered that the kind of touching we were talking about involves 2 or more people and he listed key points that define Secret Touching (it usually involves in our bathing suit areas, it usually involves an adult and a child or a teenager and a child, etc). Kelvin really reassured that child – and the boy’s parents who happened to be sitting with him in this publicly attended show – while he neatly skirted actually talking about masturbation, which is not addressed in the Hugs And Kisses script.
On a lighter note … I am neurotic about checking my props. Theatre IV actors have touring duties in addition to acting and in my touring days, one of the jobs was Props Mistress/Master. It is not considered disrespectful to check behind the Props Master/Mistress and in fact is expected. When I was company manager, I encouraged actors to make a habit of checking their own props and costumes.
One time, an actress (not in the original cast, but one I toured Hugs And Kisses with later), notorious for not checking her props and costumes, appeared onstage on Hugs’s first entrance in the Hugs body suit with NO DOG HEAD! Judy (the character who experiences Secret Touching) had to do the whole first scene, including singing her emotional song, directly into the Hugs actress’s real eyes. During this segment, which includes long freezes for Judy and Hugs as the narrators offer commentary about what Judy tells Hugs during the monologue preceding Judy’s song, one of the other actors high-tailed it to the van to get the Hugs Head and made it back in time for his entrance as Hugs.
Three different actors portray Hugs throughout the play, so aside from completing the dog costume, the Head is important to disguise this fact. Oddly, the audience never questioned what perhaps they thought was artistic license. But this experience took its toll on the actors that day! Oh, it was so hard not to laugh! Hugs’s Head was NEVER forgotten again in all these 25 years.
What was hard was when a child felt s/he had followed our instruction to “tell a trusted adult” by telling one of us and did not want to talk to anyone else. We had to explain that we were leaving and could not provide all the help s/he needed. There were times when a child would not tell us his name. It was not long before each actor got into the habit of saying to each child who came up to talk after, “Hi, I’m first/last. What’s your name?” This way, the child was more likely to answer with a proper introduction which we could then remember so we could write it on our list or if we needed to introduce them to a Special Friend.
The actors had to trust that the children would get help properly. It was very hard to leave children, ones we’d spoken with and ones we did not have time to speak to.
On one of our first school tours after the showcases, we traveled to Wise County in southwestern VA. We were still quite the novices and there were NO social workers or other professionals available to us; the only support we had was a single volunteer from their County Multi-Discipline Team. Kids came out of the wood work to talk to us. We – and that kindhearted Multi-Discipline Team member – were OVERWHELMED. We were at that school for HOURS. The story that haunts me still is the little girl who was regularly raped by her brother, uncle, and father. She cried and cried when she told me. Oh, it was awful. We took as careful notes as we could for each of the children and then had to just walk away. It was awful. We visited this area more than once, but after that first time, they were more prepared with “Special Friends.”
A few years later: “My father secret-touched me with his tongue.” Burned into my memory is the girl who said only that one sentence to me. I responded, “I know someone who can help you” and introduced her to our “Special Friend.” I still think about her and hope she got the help she needed. Now, in 2007, this little girl would be in her late twenties.
Because of the confidentiality required, we actors were never allowed to follow-up with the children or otherwise find out what happened. However inappropriate, I tried discreetly to find out about that little girl in Wise. A year or two later, all a social worker could/would tell me was that the girl had been turned over to social services and that she would never be the same. It was not at all uplifting to me. I felt like I had lied to her – and to every other child – about things getting better by “sharing the secret.” Even though we encouraged the children to tell their secret so things will get better, sometimes, in reality, things get much worse before they can begin to get better.
Steve Perigard, Associate Artistic Director of Theatre IV, toured Hugs And Kisses himself some time after I left Theatre IV full time. Later, when he directed Hugs And Kisses touring casts, Steve invited me to offer my input as part of his casts’ training. I relayed tour stories (minus the names), shared ideas and stories that I considered important for them to keep in mind, and told them from this actor’s point of view what to expect in their travels.
I told them that Secret Touching can start innocently and not to be judgmental because more often than not, the perpetrator is someone the child loves. I told them that the Actor’s job as a liaison is to LISTEN and BELIEVE and INTRODUCE. I said, “Don’t allow teachers or others, who belittle a child or what he says, to intimidate you.” I would tell actors, who undoubtedly worry about certain audience members, that not every child with Secret Touching will disclose today – tomorrow – next week, but there was no doubt that Hugs And Kisses actors made a difference in these children’s lives.
By the time Steve started scheduling Jackie-time with his casts, I had children of my own and was able to include a parent’s perspective, interspersing “evidence” from my own family’s life. I told these new Hugs And Kisses actors that a child’s favorite “toy” is his/her own privates and I shared stories to support this. I also thought that the actors should recognize that our skin is our largest organ and that it needs stimulation. I told them that babies exude hormones that invite people to touch them. I recommended the book Touching (subtitled the Human Significance of Skin), by Ashley Montague.
I do not know if they get it in their training now, but it was important to me to remind the actors in Steve’s casts that sometimes part of the confusion with this problem is that Secret Touching can feel good, even to the young victim. Our bodies are made to feel good. I would then cite lines from the play such as, “Secret Touching happens between an adult & a child or a teenager & a child” and is not acceptable. I told the actors that the ambiguously good feeling of Secret Touching is how certain dialogue evolved: “Eventually, it can make you feel creepy inside,” “or sad,” “or give you an ‘Uh-oh’ feeling.” There is a line in the play (I hope I am not paraphrasing; please check a script), “Little by little, you start to feel that something is wrong.” Some of these lines were not in the first scripts and were added in subsequent editions.
An unfortunate fact is that as the times changed, it became more important for the actors to protect themselves, too, although nothing negative ever happened regarding any Hugs And Kisses actors. I told the actors (in Steve’s casts) to interview privately, but not too privately, both for the sake of the child and the actor. We could protect direct view of the child by keeping him in the shadow of our bodies or we could go behind the set where other actors are. We could retreat to a corner of the room. We tried to protect the privacy of the child while at the same time we were careful not to create any type of situation that might feel threatening to this child or incriminate an actor.
In my later Hugs and Kisses years it was recommended never to console a child with a hug without asking his or her permission first. Read body language. Respect the child’s space. Ask, “Do you need a hug?” “Would you like a hug?” I always tried to appear open (physically, I mean) so that the child felt s/he could initiate contact. Sometimes they would just fall into my arms.
The current Hugs And Kisses touring schedules are made for mental heath. Most touring actors are careful to protect themselves against “tour rot,” the yucky physical ailments that invade our bodies if we let our health run down. In the “good ol’ days,” Hugs And Kisses would be booked just like any other Theatre IV tour show so that, as with the other tours, we did three, sometimes four shows a day. Over time, Bruce Miller (Theatre IV’s Artistic Director) and Phil Whiteway (Theatre IV’s Managing Director) came to realize it was important for each Hugs And Kisses actor to take care of himself and his fellow actors. Once it became obvious that Bruce’s idea “probably no kids” would come up after the shows was incorrect, Hugs And Kisses touring schedules were more carefully planned to build in time to stay after the shows a little longer and also to allow actors to pull themselves together for the following show. Bruce and Phil did what was right and appropriate,
There was one point at which Michele Wagner (the original Judy) would have liked an emotional break from portraying Judy. With director Bruce Miller’s blessing, Michele and I considered switching roles. Looking back, I am sure keeping our original roles was the right decision. Michele was a wonderful Judy and sang “Why Does it Hurt to Be Me” hauntingly. Bruce tends to like the quality of an actress’s voice when it is stretched to the toppest top of its belt range. He would not compromise in lowering the key for Judy’s song for Michele or, when it was under consideration, for me. So this song was not only an emotional drain on Michele, but a physical one as well. This was an artistic choice for Bruce and a change also would have been a costly and technical nightmare with the “Cart Machine.” Oh, we will have to ask someone else what that sound contraption was. probably with financial sacrifice.
When I toured Hugs And Kisses, the costumes for us four child characters were brightly colored overalls – mine were orange – and patterned shirts – the first tour, mine was a long-sleeved white blouse and in subsequent years, I wore a yellow and white striped blouse with three-quarter length sleeves. As Betsy, I wore braids (my hair was long and brown then!) and for the first year, I even had braces on my teeth. When I started the tour in 1983, I was 27 years old. For the next 5 years, I marveled and blushed whenever I was demanded to show my hall pass in the middle schools and even some of the elementary schools we visited!
In the beginning years, costumes for the Rapunzel play within a play were Sandwich Boards with cleverly painted character bodies (I portrayed the Magic Fish). The look was completed with yarn wigs and silly headgear for each of us, even Hugs, who played “the noble steed.” It wasn’t till years after we we’d been touring Hugs And Kisses that I finally saw on the videotape how terrific these Sandwich Boards looked. Until then, we actors thought Bruce’s blocking was crazy and uncomfortable. The Sandwich Boards also created traffic jams on the smaller stages. I think Rapunzel costumes are made of fabric now. Oh, hindsight is 20/20; I compliment Bruce’s original concept.
On my last Hugs And Kisses tour in spring 1988, I was pregnant with my son Madison. I did not tell my cast till near the end of the tour when I was 4 months along because I knew they would pamper me and not allow me to fulfill my touring responsibilities the way I thought I should. I experienced mild morning sickness but nothing that kept me from performing. One day, my cast member, Larry Cook arrived at call time and confided that he was experiencing nausea and thought he might have contracted whatever I had. I had a private laugh and teased him about it later when I shared news of my baby. The cast did mother me the last few days of that run. I continued touring with Theatre IV that summer in Jack and the Beanstalk till just a few weeks before my son was born in August.
Answers to most Questions asked regarding Hugs And Kisses subject matter are in script. When I became pregnant, I knew “touring retirement” was imminent. Barbara Rawn (SCAN: Stop Child Abuse Now) paid me a visit in my home in 1988 after my son Madison was born (2 and 1/2 months early!). Barbara went over each and every type of question we’d been asked during Q & A so far (I’d been the scribe who kept all the Questions written in those notebooks) and quoted my answers for subsequent casts. Although those questions and answers have evolved to meet changing times, for many years, the casts studied the answers our first cast came up with. We’d carefully considered the answers to such questions as “Can you get AIDS from Secret Touching?” To that one, we’d replied, “Secret touching itself does not cause AIDS. You can get AIDS from a person who does Secret Touching only if that person has AIDS.”
After I had children I had a revelation about breastfeeding [www.llli.org] and Hugs And Kisses. Our family practiced extended breastfeeding and child-led weaning. Worldwide, the average age at which children are weaned naturally is four years old; in some places children seven years or older receive the benefits of their mother’s milk. Not till I became a parent did it cross my mind that the families of some of the children I spoke with may have practiced attachment parenting [www.attachmentparenting.org] at home and that maybe these particular children had NOT experienced Secret Touching, as I had thought in my ignorance. Technically, our Special Friends should have determined that these extended-breastfeeding children were not experiencing Secret Touching; but knowing how, even now, breastfeeding can be misperceived, I still suffer much guilt over this, feeling as if I betrayed those children by introducing them to social services. Although I have been reassured that I did the “right thing,” I will never know.
“Did Secret Touching ever happen to any of you?” Our social worker advisors and Bruce Miller asked us not to reveal our personal history. Bruce suggested that we answer, “No, but we know a lot of children who have experienced Secret Touching and how important it is for you to know there is help. That is why we do this play.” I never felt that answer was ideal because in more than one case I know of, an actor was asked to lie by responding “No.” Looking back, I think I would have preferred we answer something like, “This is not about us but about all the children we know who have experienced Secret Touching and how important it is for them and you to know there is help. That is why we do this play.”
Hugs and Kisses,
Jacqueline Goldberg Jones