Visiting artist and author Jolene Sheldon works with Gilpin students
By Esmee Halsted
Jolene Sheldon, author of Jester Lester and The Mean Green Bean, has been working at Gilpin County School as a visiting artist with Mr. Halsted. She is extraordinary, both in her ability to plan projects and work with students. She is expanding her horizons by introducing a curriculum she made based on her book. Planning to make her debut with Mr. Newberg’s film class, we are excited to see Jolene’s book come to life. Beyond that, she has her curriculum set up online so everyone has a chance to be inspired by The Mean Green Bean in the midst of the Coronavirus crisis.
The story about a mischievous bean, plays into sadness, trust, disgust, anticipation, anger, fear, surprise, and joy all working to create empathy. Written while she was in college, Jolene tried to publish the book, but was unable to. 20 years later, she turned Jester Lester and The Mean Green Bean into more than a book. Realizing the emotional pull of the story, she turned it into a theatre curriculum based on empathy. “When you bring this into theatre, you’re stepping into someone else’s shoes. Theatre is the expression of emotions, and your performance is basically what empathy is – which is the ability to sense other people’s emotions coupled with the ability to imagine what someone else might be thinking or feeling.” explains Sheldon. The curriculum, available at themeangreenbean.com, begins with her book. In the beginning, a dark, depressed forest falls to the mercy of a very sad queen. Her sadness causes the forest around her to also be down in the dumps. Until one day, a jester swears to make her laugh and turn her frown upside down. He cannot make her laugh, but his trusty sidekick, The Mean Green Bean can! After doing a series of ridiculous things, the queen laughs and the forest is whole and happy once again.
Written as a limerick, Jolene provides instruction on how to create such poetry on the site. She also has several online interactions. You as the Playwright, allows others to rewrite Sheldon’s book using a blog set up, rhyming dictionary, and guide to the basic emotions. As the Director, breaks the book into six scenes, all based on the eight emotions. Using this model, directors can run their own plays, or that’s the hope. Even more, she includes a Music Director role which allows others to create their own music to the story. Jolene’s husband, Steve (an established musician) contributes to the book by adding a song: “What’s That Smell-O,” providing a great example of how to create and add music to the book.
Sheldon hopes the website will run itself. Someone can take it and use the creativity of what can come out of it. She talks extensively about her use of technology and the impact it had on her work. “I’m an abstract artist, so the challenge was I had all this vision, but I’m not a characterist.” To solve this problem, Jolene explains, “I painted all the backgrounds for the book. I wrote the book. I wrote poetry. Then I created the characters in 3D, so the sky’s the limit at this point. I can have anything I want now. I mean I could take these characters and do a Snapchat overlay, or do an augmented reality over my book. “
Her inspiration behind the emotional piece is perhaps the most interesting. “Being emotionally mature is vital to the future of humanity. So the ability to regulate and understand your own emotions as you have them, to identify them in others, and to be able to respond between the two… it makes for a better leader, a better communicator. It makes for a society that functions. We all understand we’re human, we all get how we’re in and out of emotions. We all understand them because we have them. We are able to help each other, and it changes the future. So when you bring that to children, they have all this opportunity to sponge that in and grow their emotional maturity.”
Jolene had no idea that a short book she wrote for her nieces would turn into a tool for understanding emotion and a great piece of curriculum. Jolene’s journey is incredible: she is the perfect example of life’s course and project development.
Check out the tale and curriculum at www.themeangreenbean.com/read-the-tale.