Billy Bob Thornton, Amy Brenneman and Dennis Quaid visit SiriusXM Studios


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Giving Birth, Literally and Creatively, Is a Labor of Love


Holly Pretsky

Amy Brenneman’s piece Threshold has evolved to include movement and music.

In Threshold, her play in progress, writer and actress Amy Brenneman describes the experience of giving birth to her daughter, Charlotte, and the spark of recognition that followed.

“Amid the din and the excitement of the delivery room I had this surprisingly clear thought,” she says. “Oh, it’s you. I didn’t know it was going to be you. This time around, I’ll be the mom.”

On Tuesday afternoon, she delivered the line standing barefoot in the middle of the Patricia Nanon theatre at the Yard surrounded by a different kind of din and excitement. Yard dancers Jesse Keller Jason and Alison Manning knelt behind her. Director Sabrina Peck stood just off stage. Sound designer David Van Tieghem finished his lunch as he managed cues from a folding table. Stage manager Luana DeBorst took notes on her laptop. Fellow performers Cate Woodruff and Nell Geisslinger waited offstage.

Ms. Brenneman’s daughter Charlotte, now 18 years old, watched from her seat on the risers, leaning against a stack of folded stage curtains. She listened as her mother described her honesty, her gut instincts, her “animal heart.”

As part of the Yard’s Offshore Creation residency, the group has spent two weeks workshopping Threshold. A version of the play, Threshold 90-52-15, debuted at the Yard in 2016 but has evolved in the years since. Threshold 90-52-15 focused on Ms. Brenneman’s relationships with her 90-year-old mother and 15-year-old daughter (the numbers in the title represented their ages at the time), this version has been stripped down to focus on Ms. Brenneman’s experience of motherhood.

Amy Brenneman works on a new play at The Yard with director Sabrina Peck. — Ray Ewing

The play is about raising Charlotte, who has a rare chromosomal abnormality that was not diagnosed until she was 15. In the play, Ms. Brenneman grapples with the values and beliefs that are the bedrock of what she calls dominant culture: work hard and you can achieve anything, you too can eventually fit in.

“My daughter is not on the autism spectrum, but she’s always in the clump: ‘Autism and Related Disorders,’” Ms. Brenneman said. She said the realization that drives the play is that the problem is not Charlotte’s difference, it’s the notion that difference is something to be corrected.

“There’s an incredibly new and different way of looking at these differences. . . .They’re part of the diversity of humanity and always have been,” she said.

At rehearsal, sound designer David Van Tieghem read the dominant culture lines in a coaxing voice from the folding table. “You can do this. Charlotte can do this, she just has to work a little harder than some kids. But with a little can-do spirit, she’ll catch up and fit right in,” he said.

Ms. Peck stopped the scene and asked for a drumbeat under the dominant culture lines. Mr. Van Tieghem cued one up. The dancers began a regimental combination.

— Ray Ewing

Ms. Peck said incorporating movement to enhance a story is a frequent practice for her.

“I really enjoy setting an intensely personal story in a context of those heightened theatrical elements like lighting, sound, music, visuals and movement,” Ms. Peck said.

Ms. Peck and Ms. Brenneman met while studying at Harvard and have collaborated on three theatre pieces since, including a play called Mouth Wide Open about Ms. Brenneman’s struggle with chronic illness, and Threshold 90-52-15.

“What Sabrina and I do has a lot of what I would consider a collage,” Ms. Brenneman said. “We have to get it up on its feet. It’s not a play-reading in the traditional sense because the words are only one element of it. We have the opportunity in a safe way to get it up on its feet.”

The two-week residency is geared entirely toward the creative process. The play will not be performed publicly at the residency’s close.

“We have never ever had the opportunity to explore work without a paying audience at the end of two weeks. I keep pinching myself,” Ms. Brenneman said.

Tuesday afternoon at rehearsal, Charlotte stepped on stage to practice the final scene, taking her mother’s hand. Earlier, Ms. Brenneman described reuniting with her daughter recently on the Island. It sounded like a similar feeling to when the two first met in the delivery room 18 years ago, a spark of recognition.

“We’ve been talking about this character Charlotte and then when she arrived on the ferry, I was like, Oh, hi.”

Film challenges IQ Testing, Limits Placed on People with Intellectual Disabilities


The Frostig Center is proud to host a screening of the new documentary Intelligent Lives, which is shattering stereotypes about what it means to be “intelligent” and opening doors to more inclusive education and employment.

The screening will be held at The Frostig Center on Friday, Nov. 2 at 6:30 p.m. All are welcome and admission is free.

Intelligent Lives stars three young adults with intellectual disabilities who challenge perceptions of intelligence as they navigate high school, college, and the workforce. Academy Award-winning actor and narrator Chris Cooper contextualizes the lives of these central characters through the emotional story of his son Jesse, as the film unpacks the shameful and ongoing track record of intelligence testing in the U.S.

Following the screening, Executive Producer Amy Brenneman will lead a discussion of the film and the issues it raises.

“People with intellectual disabilities are the most segregated of all Americans,” said Dan Habib, the producer, director and cinematographer of Intelligent Lives. “Only 17 percent of students with intellectual disabilities are included in regular education. Just 40 percent will graduate from high school. And of the 6.5 million Americans with intellectual disability, barely 15 percent are employed.”

Advance registration is required due to limited seating. Please go to to reserve your seat and learn more.

The Frostig Center, located at 971 N. Altadena Drive, is a non-profit organization that strives to improve the lives of children with learning differences through research, professional development for teachers, and Frostig School. Frostig also provides services to young adults with learning differences who are transitioning to college and work. For additional information about The Frostig Center, call (626) 791-1255 or visit our website at

65 Years, Countless Stories: Frederica Brenneman ’53 September 19, 2018 Alumni Focus


This September, Harvard Law School commemorated 65 years since women first graduated from Harvard Law School. Since that historic milestone, the number of women at HLS has grown dramatically from 13 women in the Class of 1953 to women making up nearly 50 percent of the incoming class in 2018.

This past weekend, on Sept. 14-15, hundreds of Harvard Law alumnae gathered on campus for Celebration 65 to commemorate this anniversary and celebrate HLS alumnae’s contributions to the legal profession and society.

In the “Countless Stories” video series, alumni from across the generations share their HLS experience and explain the difference their legal education has made in their lives.

In this segment, Frederica Brenneman ’53 shares her Harvard Law experience as a member of the first HLS class to admit women. In 1967 Frederica Brenneman was working as a law clerk to the Connecticut legislature’s judiciary committee when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that juveniles were entitled to constitutional due process. In the wake of In Re Gault, the state’s juvenile court doubled in size and Brenneman was appointed, the second woman on the bench in Connecticut history. She became judge in Superior Court when the state trial courts merged in 1978. In her long career Brenneman has specialized in abuse and neglect cases, pushed for stronger legal protections for children, shaped clear statewide protocols and case law, trained innumerable judges, and educated caseworkers, attorneys, parents, and the public on court procedures.  Read more about Brenneman’s career in public service and her role as a consulting judge in the T.V. series “Judging Amy,” starring her daughter Amy Brenneman, in Harvard Law Bulletin’s Summer 2000 article “Brennemans on the Bench.”

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