Tag Archives: Helen Keller

updated bios,& legitimacy!

Dr. Michelle-Leona Godin & Igor GuideDogDr Michelle-Leona Godin is a writer, and performer who’s one woman, two voice, three act autobiographical treatment of Helen Keller’s time on vaudeville (it’s true!) called The Star of Happiness just finished its second run at Horse Trade’s Kraine Theater and is looking forward to touring next spring. She received her Ph.D. in early modern literature from NYU’s English department in January 2009. Though her research on Helen Keller launched her from eighteenth-century England to 20th century America, the central concerns, namely how social and philosophical constructs shape blindness as both a trope and a disability, provide a through-line. Godin is a regular adjunct and occasional faculty at NYU. When she is not teaching and writing she performs at comedy, storytelling, and variety shows in downtown Manhattan and beyond. Recently she appeared at the Nuyorican with KickAssonance and the 92Y Tribeca with Sideshow Goshko. She has also performed on The Moth Main Stage, and at Tell Your Friends, The Liar Show, and at many music venues around the city, both with her former band Gutter & Spine and currently as a solo act which can only be described as an avant accordion brain smash! She is currently working on her forthcoming show From Homer to ME: a quazi poetic, neo prophetic cabaret about sex, drugs and the great books of the Western Canon.

Igor GuideDog is Godin’s guide dog. He is a two year old German Shepherd born, bred, and trained at the Seeing Eye, which is the oldest guide dog school in the united states and one of the most prestigious in the world. his trainer was the marvelous Sue, who also trained his mistress michelle-leona, and they graduated together at the top of their class in September 2011. Since then he has been working hard in the streets of New York City and beyond. He is proud to be a member of The Star of Happiness and Godin’s forthcoming show From Homer to Me.

The Star of Happiness got reviewed – thank you Edge NY!:

Igor wrote a FAQ just for you:

And if you doubted Dr G’s legitimacy or longwindedness, here’s her Dissertation on GoogleBooks:

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Helen & Friends @ Zuccotti Park


happy stars at zuccotti park

happy stars at zuccotti park

That was the sign I made and carried with me to Zuccotti Park Sunday. Finally made it to OWS – after the fact from the standpoint of many who think the movement of the physical place is dead. But it was exhilarating for me and my companions nonetheless. Besides me and my sign there was:
1 Igor GuideDog (Mr. Popularity)
2 Caroline (blind friend with cane)
3 David (filmmaker with old school camera that took 30 seconds of footage and 10 minutes to reload
4 Liam (latecomer/hanger on)

I had agonized over the signs – regarding both form and content:
1 How to incorporate Helen’s quotes
2 How to incorporate my show (The Star of Happiness: Helen Keller on Vaudeville?!?)
3 How to engage with an unseen public
4 How to engage with other blind people actually I’m lying this was not a concern. I just wanted to say to people “hey you wanna feel my sign”! this proved to be fun.
5 How to get the words on the poster without busting out the old spray paints and upsetting domestic odor
6 How to make letters legible to sighted people when you can’t see

Time was dwindling on the night before and I had not made the stencils I had considered. I finally hit upon using Velcro tape to make letters but let me tell you this is not so easy as it sounds especially when you can’t see what you are doing and at about midnight, after more than one tall boy, I began to despair that I was making a sign illegible to all. I almost stopped right there but then decided that a sign that no one could read had its charm also. I did poop out after that first sign, but it turned out to be just the right thing and just enough of a burden. Not sure how I thought I’d carry six signs in one hand and Igor in the other even with a ride from Accessalimo on one end of the journey and help from friends on the other.

“ASK ME WHAT I THINK OF CAPITALISM” seems merely suggestive rather than provocative, but even still the lady at the Dunkin’ Do —
- No you didn’t?!
- We needed coffee and turned to The Man. Sorry.
– nuts was indeed provoked she said to David (who was holding my sign for a moment, “who’s going to pay taxes if nobody has a job?” David answered diplomatically that indeed he does have a job and pointed me out as being the owner and author of the offending sign. I was only vaguely aware of this exchange and could not defend my sign since I was busy fending off passes on my German Shepherd by German tourists!

So basically we did not even get coffee down our gullets when the games began and they did not stop till we left the park. Between the dog and the sign there was really not a moments rest – Igor gave out many Guide Dog FAQs (jesus I wish he had hands) and I talked about Helen and the sign and occasionally got to answer the question – with a big Star of Happiness smile – “I think it has outgrown its usefulness.”

People wanted pictures of me and my sign, people wanted interviews with me and my sign, people wanted words of wisdom from me (I tell ya, it’s that poet prophet thing – my people have cornered the market!), and I happily got to say many times over, “you wanna feel my sign?!”.

We wanted to film some footage for a newsreel promo for The SoH And we hopefully got some, but since David was using this little old school wind up camera which may or may not have taken a single decent frame – we won’t know till the film is developed what we got if anything. The irony is that I neglected to get him to take even a single pic with my iphone though I grace the iphones of many strangers and poor David spent much of his time figuring out how to use their cameras so that they could have their picture taken with us!

Ok, fine, so half the people wanting pictures with us were from some kind of disabled action committee (God I hope our footage turns out!) And most of the other half were just plain lame, but still I felt like some kind of crazy pied piper singing out Helen’s song of socialism!

It was fun talking to people about Helen’s politics because it allowed me to hide behind her strong convictions – at least partly. Admittedly many people asked me if I too were a socialist and finally, by the twentieth time or so I formulated an answer that did not get people riled up – I had been saying that I’m not really political, but they gave me shit for this and rightly so. I live in a society that is to a certain extent civilized – meaning I think that we are circumscribed by laws that inhibit and punish our selfish and insatiable parts and so I cannot help being political, but what I mean and finally managed to articulate, is that I’m not that interested in current events. I can’t help but take the long view – studied the classics as an undergrad, got my phd in early modern lit, and just recently started reading books written in the twentieth century.

That said, I do feel a socialist at heart. I feel kindred with Helen’s politics though I myself am not an activist. I tried to tell someone who asked me about policy that I’m an idea woman not a policy woman, but he wouldn’t except that. Well, too bad because it’s true. I think in terms of historical and psychological trends and cannot wrap my brains around the details of changing today’s policy. Rather I found myself clutching at one large thread that runs through Helen’s critique of capitalism: greed. Greed and a culture which not only allows for but encourages that greed to get totally out of hand.
I’m not exactly talking about people here – I don’t believe that there are obvious distinctions between the selfish and the unselfish, the greedy and the not greedy– I think these things exist on a continuum like most everything else I can think of. The fact is that humans will be greedy, shit I had a dog that was greedy. We all want all we can have, right? Maybe not all the time – hopefully not all the time, but sometimes, right? Probably we have all felt that insatiability that leads to a loss of control and an indifferent attitude regarding the suffering our bottomless gullet, pocket, loins, etc. might be creating in the lives of others.

So what I hit upon in my interviews and discussions yesterday was the thought that the real change that OWS can have, and I think already has had, is to make greediness just a little more out of fashion which to those who are greedy for change may sound trifling but to me, sounds like the kind of change that lays the groundwork for a paradigm shift!

So I guess my answer to the question “What do you think of capitalism?” is tamer than Helen’s but of course I am not a card carrying socialist and I have lived well past the dream of her Soviet Utopia and so there is some irony in my answering with her “I think it has outgrown its usefulness. Rather I think if asked at this moment what I think of capitalism, I should answer the way I would about my own out of control tendencies: maybe a little more structure and restraint are in order?!

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The Star of Happiness Teaser & Show/Lecture Description!

“At first it seemed odd to find ourselves on the same bill with acrobats, monkeys, horses, dogs, and parrots; but our little act was dignified and people seemed to like it.”
– Helen Keller from Midstream

Historical fact and schoolyard humor collide in dr. michelle-leona godin’s autobiographical treatment of Helen Keller’s time on vaudeville. This one woman, two voice, three act play and its companion lecture grope toward an understanding of what it’s like to be the blind spectacle.

The Teaser:

The Show
Yes! Contrary to what you might think is the normal state of the universe, Helen Keller really did perform on vaudeville stages for four years (1920-1924). Stumbling across this little known fact about one of the most famous women of the modern world, michelle-leona decided to investigate Helen’s motivations and the reaction of others to her startling career move which she describes in her much lesser known and out of print follow-up autobiography to The Story of My Life called Midstream. Much of the script of the Star of Happiness quotes Helen’s eloquent words about her uniquely glamorous life as a performer, her unenviable frustrations at not being taken seriously as a politically engaged and often radical thinker, and her poignant thoughts about living life as “an unmated.” Helen’s words are further complicated by michelle-leona’s perspective as a professor, performer, and woman with a progressive eye disease. Irreverent humor rubs up against reverential admiration in the patchwork of jokes, philosophy, biography and the sound and vision scapes that call attention to both the joys and superficialities of the sensory experience.
Though the story moves forward in time from 19th century Tuscumbia to present-day nyc, The three acts are snapshots connected more by ideas than a strict narrative. Act One enacts the impossible but nonetheless worthy attempt of SHE to recover Helen’s Life and personality out from under the debris of juvenile jokes on the one hand and stuffy biographies on the other. Her “lecture” is framed by the limited narrative of The Miracle Worker in order to draw attention to the constraints Helen experienced living eighty years in the public eye – an eye that for the most part refused to let her grow up or to see her as a complicated, thinking person.
Act Two recreates and deconstructs the act Helen performed for four years on the vaudeville circuit. SHE quotes Helen’s words and her jokes as well as the feel of 1920’s variety from shtick to sentimentality. At the same time SHE grapples with Helen’s politics, religion, and sexuality from a point of view that is both skeptical and sympathetic. In Act Three SHE presents herself as dr michelle-leona godin, professor and performer. SHE may now be allowed to participate in a more universal and nuanced discourse than had been her predecessor, but still cannot quite get over the blind thing. Likewise, the jokes are hers now and biting and funny though they may be, there is still something pathetic and pandering in them. Throughout the show the rare photos and virtual stage sets illustrate ironically and honestly the visible world in which SHE lives and the spectator may be left wondering where to find the line between exploitation and transcendence.

The Lecture
The Star of Happiness lecture serves to highlight the research that forms the backbone of this project and details the process from discovery to creativity. By examining specific passages and images in their original context on the one hand and in their new context within the script and theatrical production on the other, students learn how critical reading and deep research can fortify their artistic as well as academic projects. The lecture, which can be run as a seminar depending on the number of participants, also engages with other creative research projects such as Beckett’s unfinished play about Samuel Johnson’s relationship to his blind cohabiter Anna Williams, Derrida’s Memoirs of the Blind, and the stage and film versions of The Miracle Worker. Depending on departmental concerns, we can emphasize the literary, philosophical or theatrical, but a rigorous engagement with blindness as both a trope and a disability underlie our approach to these disparate works.

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Announcements: The Star of Happiness is Near!

The Star of Happiness: Helen Keller on Vaudeville?! is an autobiographical treatment of Helen Keller’s time on Vaudeville wherein historical fact and schoolyard humor collide.  Yes, contrary to what you might think is the normal state of the universe, Helen Keller really did perform on vaudeville stages for four years (1920-1924).  Truth is at least as strange as fiction!

So please come see this one-woman, two voice show that I’ve been working on for two years.  You will probably laugh, you may even cry, chances are you will be highly entertained, learn something in the process, and will in all likelihood be left disconcerted, intrigued  and a huge fan of Helen Keller!

The Star of Happiness is a proud participant in this year’s miniFridge taking place at Under St. Mark’s Theater June 29-July 4.

St*r Show Dates:

Friday, July 1 9pm

Saturday, July 2 7pm

Sunday, July 3 5pm

For tickets, and info on the other miniFridge participants please visit Horse Trade:


& please help save Under St Mark’s Theater!:


here’s our Save Under St Marks pitch courtesy of NY1:



Other great shows I’m in this month:

  • Awkwardly, acting as the musical guest at Tell Your Friends

Tuesday June 7, 8pm @ Lolita Bar, 266 Broome Street nyc

  • drunkenly, rocking faces off with my Accordion in the madness that is the BTK Band

Monday, June 13, 9pm @ Under St Marks, 94 St Marks, nyc

  • Humbly, sidekicking with my accordion @ KGB Presents Sideshow Goshko

Friday, June 17 @ KGB Bar, 85 East 4th Street, nyc

  • Appropriately, Helen Kellering it up @ Alter Ego Vaudeville Surreal

Sunday, June 19 @ Fontana’s, 105 Eldridge St nyc, 8pm

  • Enthusiastically, special guesting as The Star of Happiness @ Penny’s Open Mic

Tuesday, June 21 @ Under St Marks, 94 St Marks Street, nyc 9pm

  • Promotingly, titillating with a tidbit of The Star of Happiness @ Killy Vs. Kanada

Wednesday, June 29 @ Under St Marks, 94 St marks, nyc

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