Seva Yoga – Something for Everyone



One of the many reasons we love Seva Yoga, in East Grand Rapids, is that their studio offers a little something for everybody. Students come to Seva to meet, learn, and practice the many disciplines of Yoga. The owners, Tobi and Melissa Tungl, believe that Yoga is simply too vast to narrow offerings down to a single discipline and it is here that students can explore and discover the practice that works for each individual.





On Saturday May 31st, we joined Seva’s Saturday morning Vinyasa class. However, this wasn’t a typical Vinyasa class. Jeremy Arndt, musician, played live music that complemented the class’ atmosphere taking its students deeper within while his melodies fit with the teachings of the class and the poses.

Jeremy has traveled the world studying different musical traditions and sharing his own music. He crafts his gentle blend of world-music, inspired by his journeys, with the the handpan and other world instruments. Jeremy played  music from his new album, Journeys: Handpan Solo, and other compositions. You can check him out here.


Seva offers a wide variety of classes, including:

Vinyasa: This energizing and empowering class combines pranyama with a continuous flow of asana. Build strength, increase endurance, release tension and find flexibility in this vigorous practice.

Sweet Vinyasa: Everything that you LOVE about Vinyasa, just a little sweeter. These classes focus on the alignment of asana as well as cultivating balance within your life.

Gentle Yoga: A restorative and relaxing practice ideal for new students or anyone wishing to find their center. Perfect for students with chronic symptoms such as muscle joint pain, stiffness, stress and fatigue. A good choice during pregnancy as well.

Hot Vinyasa: For those who like it HOT! This energizing and empowering class combines pranyama with a continuous flow of asana. Build strength, increase endurance, release tension and find flexibility in this vigorous practice. *not recommended during pregnancy

Slow Flow: A slow flow of postures set to music. Strengthen and lengthen in a relaxed way. All levels welcome.

Yin Yoga: A contemplative practice in which participants hold floor postures for longer periods of time while softening the muscles and focusing on the breath. Poses are chosen to stimulate the connective tissues and direct energy, bringing vitality to the entire body while promoting stress relief, meditation and relaxation.

Happy Hour Vinyasa: A fun, fast hour of vinyasa flow set to energizing and uplifting music. Start your weekend off with this exciting, dynamic practice featuring live music monthly to bring great energy into the studio and your life.




Are you a promising Yoga Instructor?

Seva Yoga’s 200-hour Level Foundation Yoga Teacher Training focuses on Ashtanga, moving through Vinyasa and finally flowing into the Seva Yoga practice, our foundational class that makes yoga accessible to all levels.

The next Seva Yoga Teacher Training Shala, with Melissa Tungl begins September 2014!

This program is designed for success as a Yoga teacher and student in mind. Program hours exceed the curriculum hours required by Yoga Alliance and will include workshop topics such as:

The Ethics of Teaching Yoga

Optimal Alignment & Accessible Modifications

a study of the Chakras

an Introduction to Ayurveda

a deep study of Anatomy

For more information or to request the application and catalog please contact


To learn more about Seva Yoga, visit their website: www.

Be sure to like them on Facebook


Everybody, meet Noah: Roberta King’s new memoir, “He Plays a Harp,” is a family love story



Beans for tacos are simmering in a crock pot on the counter as Roberta King and her husband Mike Miesch sit at the kitchen table talking about Noah.

They do this a lot.

Their son Noah died eight years ago at the age of 17 from pneumonia, a complication of a life with cerebral palsy.

But the essence of Noah is all over the place in their pink and white beach house in Muskegon.

His photo is on the refrigerator. His shoes are lined up in his bedroom closet. A couple of his favorite books are still on his bed.

Noah comes to life, in a way, every time his parents talk and laugh about him.

Now, everybody can get to know this kid who had curly blonde hair, a love of Jimmy Buffet and a mischievous streak that once compelled him to pull the school fire alarm.

Consider King’s new memoir, He Plays a Harp,” your introduction.

Everybody, meet Noah.


He once splashed in the Gulf of Mexico with dolphins. He owned one of Jimmy Buffet’s guitar picks. He loved SpongeBob SquarePants cartoons. He appreciated a good hunt for the perfect Halloween pumpkin.

King’s book, published by Principia Media, is mostly a story about how Noah lived.

But it starts out with how he died.

You’ll likely be crying by page 22, when King tenderly, but matter-of-factly, writes how she and Mike gently told their boy goodbye as he died:

“Don’t be afraid, Noah. It’ll be good in heaven, love. You’ll be able to breathe again,” I told him. I thought he might like to know that because his labored breathing and coughing bothered him.

“We’re here with you right now, and we’ll be with you always. Don’t be scared.”

… As Noah journeyed forward to his death, Mike and I held tightly onto each other and to him. Finally, as he drew his last troubled breath, we let the most amazing kid we’d ever known go where he wanted to go. Home.



It’s the most private of moments. Sad, but somehow beautiful. But King would rather laugh with you than cry with you, and much of the book captures the funny family moments that she and Miesch hold dear.

As King and Miesch savor wine and tacos, a bouquet of cheerful daffodils on the kitchen table, there’s lots of laughter.

Remember how Noah would ask what’s for dinner? He’d keep asking, repeatedly, ignoring his mom’s answers until she finally named his favorite — spaghetti.

Remember that time Noah took a huge dump in the airplane bathroom? Miesch carried him from their seats in coach to the bathroom in first class, because it was closer. The stink, his parents tell between fits of laughter, would make your eyes water.

“It was a first-class poop,” Miesch quips with a grin.

“I like talking about Noah,” says King, vice president of public relations and marketing at the Grand Rapids Community Foundation. “It keeps my memories fresh. It keeps him alive.”

“We bring him back,” Miesch says, “with our memories.”

While King’s account of Noah’s final moments brings her readers to tears, the stories of Noah’s life were hardest for her to write.

“His life stories made me cry more than anything else,” she says. “Those were the tender times I spent with him.”

She knows some people might shy away from a book they know deals with the death of a child.

“We have a societal discomfort with death,” King says. “People don’t want to read about it.

“But death is pretty short,” she says. “Life — even if it was short, like Noah’s — is filled with experiences. For it to be a complete book, death has to be part of it. But not all of it.

“I told the things I thought would help people get to know him. To understand why he’s so beloved.”

She pauses, and smiles.

“He was so cute,” she says.




He was also severely disabled. Noah was never able to stand, walk or run. He used a wheelchair since kindergarten. His clenched and shaky hands made it difficult and awkward for him to feed himself.

“Not only does death make people uncomfortable, but disabilities freak people out, too,” King says. In her first draft of the book, she “sugarcoated” Noah’s severe disability, she says.

“Then one of my test readers said, ‘You wouldn’t know that Noah was disabled,’” she says.

So she included more stories about the struggle to get Noah ready to leave the house. The complications of family vacations. The challenge Noah had making good friends.

As she wrote, she felt closer to her son.

“One thing the writing did was help me remember things I had long ago tucked away,” King says. “Then, suddenly, all this good stuff came out. I’m grateful for that gift of greater memory.

“I feel like we were really close all of our lives,” she says, “but I feel even more connected to Noah now than any time since his death.”

Miesch, maintenance manager at Pioneer Resources in Muskegon, says the book is a gift to him, too, preserving his son’s story.

Noah’s bedroom is a place of comfort for Miesch. It remains just the way it was when Noah went to bed there each night.



Miesch walks down the hallway and shows how Noah’s sailboat comforter is still on the bed, and his SpongeBob pillows. Noah’s copies of “Charlotte’s Web” and “The Jungle Book” rest on the bed. His shoes are neatly lined up in the closet.

“His shoes never wore out, because he never walked in them,” Miesch says. “I haven’t wanted to change his room. Once something is gone, it’s gone forever.”

He’s quiet for a minute.

“It’s a way I try to hold on,” he says. “When I go in there, I think about Noah.”

Miesch created the cover art for “He Plays a Harp” years ago, when he and King were dating.

“It represents something like a bigger universe,” he says, walking into the living room to get the original oil pastel art, in a carved black frame.

“When we die, we go somewhere,” he says. “It speaks of that bigger picture.”

The book’s title came from King’s struggle to answer the question she often gets asked: Do you have any children?

Sometimes, to avoid the discomfort that can follow “My son died,” she fibs, and pretends Noah is still alive.

When a woman once started asking about Noah and his interests, King blurted out, “He plays a harp.” No idea where that came from, she says.

She wonders why there isn’t a special word for parents who have lost a child.

King keeps a plastic bag of Noah’s clothes in her dresser drawer.

“Every so often, I’ll open up the bag, just to smell it,” she says. Then she closes it fast, so the air can’t dilute the scent.

Noah had a good smell,” she says.

One more thing to know about Noah.

“Through the book, people are getting to know Noah, who he was,” King says. “Maybe people will read it and be less fearful of people with disabilities, when they realize they live a normal family life.

“It’s kind of a love story,” King muses. “A good family story, about how families cope, that situations like ours are real.

“But mostly,” she says, “I wrote it for myself. I wanted a record of his life. I didn’t want him to pass from this world forgotten.”

For more information and a schedule of book signings and events, visit

King’s debut reading will be at 2 p.m. Saturday, May 3 at the Scolnik Center for Healing, part of Muskegon’s Art of Loss and Hope event.

She’ll also read from and sign copies of her book at a launch party at 2 p.m. Sunday, May 4 at the Richard App Gallery, 910 Cherry Street SE in Grand Rapids.

SEVA — Selfless service.


Seva means ‘selfless service.’ And the teachers, the support staff, and students really embrace that,” said Melissa Tungl.

Melissa and her husband Tobi own and operate SEVA Yoga at 2237 Wealthy Street SE, Suite 120 in the Gaslight Village business district of East Grand Rapids. The studio, now in its eighth year, is well-known in the area. The Tungls took over operations just last year.

But why is Seva Yoga different than a yoga class that you may find online, on video, or even take at your local gym?

“We do a lot of community classes where we take all the funds that we collect and donate it to different parts of need in the community. We’ve donated to Kid’s Food Basket, God’s Kitchen, and Humane Society of West Michigan,” said Melissa.

And that’s just for starters.





At Seva, they support the notion that Yoga should be accessible to everyone regardless of their financial situation. If the pricing structure at Seva is beyond your financial means, please come enjoy the classes simply by making a donation to the studio. Donation meaning “the act of giving”, please simply give what you can afford. 

Melissa Tungl glows when she talks about yoga and her commitment to community. She strongly feels that everyone can find something to love about practicing yoga.

“I have always been interested in yoga and wellness,” she said. “It’s been a path that’s always called to me. It’s a joy and honor to share my enthusiasm with my students. When they’re here, I can see it. And I can feel it. I know that it’s making a difference.”

It was while first living in Caledonia, that Melissa visited many different yoga studios. When she found Seva, she says she finally “found her yoga home”.

“I enjoyed the practice style and the good community here,” she said. “Moving forward, I decided to become a yoga teacher. I took my training here at Seva. I was a teacher here at Seva. And then we bought the studio.”

Beyond the style of practice and the community, Melissa felt assured by the studio’s reputation for excellence. Seva not only holds a State of Michigan propriety school license, but it also offers a rigorous training program to become a Yoga Alliance 200RYT certified Yoga instructor.

“The teachers are really known in the area,” she said. “People who have their certificate from Seva are some of the best.”

The Seva Yoga studio offers a variety of different classes, with different styles, instructors and pacing: something for every body type.

“We offer anything from really gentle yoga, which would be really good for someone who’s got a lot of stress, a lot of anxiety, depression,” said Melissa. “It would be good for people recovering from injury. Gentle yoga is really therapeutic and one of our slower classes. And then we offer everything from that base level all the way up to your really high, Vinyasa, cardio-based hot yoga class for those people who want to really move and really sweat.”





But what about a person who is ‘yoga curious’ but feels too intimidated to drop in for a class?

Melissa sympathizes. She’s been there.

“Oh, man, it’s so hard to get on your mat for the first time,” she said. “It can be really intimidating. You see all these pictures in magazines of these beautiful women just like pretzels, totally, totally unrealistic. And you realize that’s just the marketing of yoga. That’s not really what yoga is.”

So what is yoga? Melissa smiles and offers this suggestion:

“Sit at home. Just sit down. Close your eyes. Take ten deep breathes. Feel that awareness,” she said.

“And that,” said Melissa, “is yoga. Yoga is not the picture on the magazine. It is not the woman with the leg behind her head.”

“It’s that awareness and really deep connection, which is what everyone is looking for. Everyone. And I think that’s why yoga is so popular now.”

The studio also offers drop-in, student, and senior rates; as well as unlimited monthly packages. Weekend training for 200RYT Yoga Alliance certified Yoga instructors begins in September 2014. Visit the Seva Yoga website for more details.

Grand Rapids Community Foundation Recognized for Diversity and Inclusion


This year Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce has chosen Grand Rapids Community Foundation as the recipient of its 2014 Diversity Visionary Award. Created by the Chamber in 2003, the award recognizes an individual or organization for their exemplary efforts, advancements and contributions to ensure diversity, inclusion and equity within their own institution or community.

Grand Rapids Community Foundation has been a true leader in fostering a more welcoming, inclusive and equitable community. We are pleased to honor the organization for their sustained efforts at the board and staff levels as well as their successful track record in making an impact on the behaviors, policies and strategies in the region,” said Rick Baker, Chamber president and CEO.



“This award demonstrates how important inclusion is in continuing to build a vibrant and dynamic community, and it brings attention to the issue. We have devoted, and will continue to devote, our time and commitment to assuring that all voices are heard and all members of our community are at the table. We intend our organizational culture to model equity in everything we do,” said Diana Sieger, Community Foundation president.

“For more than 25 years, Grand Rapids Community Foundation has been deliberately trying to increase diversity and inclusion, internally and with our grantees. When we established our first volunteer committee to review grants, it was intentionally diverse in its make-up. That opened the door for further conversations throughout the organization on this subject,” said Marcia Rapp, vice president of programs and diversity co-champion.

The Community Foundation focus on diversity and inclusion has become part of our organizational culture and involves staff, trustees and grantees. This award comes on the heels of important work that the Community Foundation has been doing to move the issues of diversity, inclusion and cultural competency forward. As an example, over the last few years, three staff teams (of four to five people) participated in year-long statewide cultural competency learning groups with other foundations. “Facilitated by specialists in this area of knowledge, these peer learning groups fanned the fire and created enthusiasm across the organization,” Marcia said. Additionally, all staff and trustees take a personal inventory of their cultural views. This inventory helps determine where each person is on their cultural competency journey.




Recently, the Board of Trustees approved a strong diversity and inclusion policy for use with nonprofits who are applying for general grants. “Our mode is to ‘work with’ not ‘do to’ others, so we are working with community experts to assemble a palette of resources that nonprofits and others can tap for continuous improvement in the area of cultural competence,” Marcia said.

“Each day as I work with donors and the community, the importance of diversity and inclusion becomes more apparent. Although one can grow fatigued along the way, reflecting on the successes provides the energy and determination to keep going. I am honored to be a part of the leadership team at the Community Foundation as we further this work internally and externally,” said Jonse Young, donor services director and diversity co-champion.






Past Recipients of the Diversity Vision Award include:

2013: Faye Richardson-Green, Steelcase Inc.

2011: Bing Goei, Eastern Floral & Goei Center

2009: Warner Norcross & Judd LLP

2007: Cascade Engineering Inc.

2005: James P. Hackett, Steelcase Inc.

2003: Bob Woodrick, D & W Foods



Stress can destroy a 66 ton bridge. What about you?



You hear a ton about stress these days. What can you do to better manage your response to the tension in your life?

Dr. Steven L. Pastyrnak, Division Chief of Pediatric Psychology at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital and Assistant Adjunct Professor at Michigan State University, will offer a practical approach to dealing with stress at a 90 minute event at Grand Rapids Community College (GRCC) on Wednesday, March 12, 2014. “Understanding and Managing Stress” is free and open to the public.

“Everyone feels stress at some point or another,” said Dr. Pastyrnak. “I don’t care if you are a two year old kid or a 102 year old senior, you’ve experienced stress at various points throughout your life.”

Stress is something that impacts all of us.

“What I would say as a clinical psychologist who’s been working with kids for 20 years now, is that ultimately the more stress that people experience, the more other issues develop in their lives: whether it’s physical, emotional, or performance-related,” said Dr. Pastyrnak.

“If we’re dealing with younger kids, we see a lot of physical complaints develop as a result of stress. We see school performance impacted.”

But what about as we get older?

“Not only do relationships and school performance suffer, then occupational performance suffers. How they do at their jobs. How they get along with people. Things like that.”


At the Children’s Hospital for the past 17 years and in his doctoral dissertation, Dr. Pastyrnak has developed expertise in intervention directly related to reducing anxiety and stress. When children are being treated for cancer or some other type of other chronic illness, he and the pediatric psychology team identify the kind of stress a child is experiencing. They can develop recommendations and interventions to help reduce that stress.

Dr. Pastyrnak identifies three pillars of stress: physical, mental, and behavioral.

“First are the physical symptoms that go along with stress. That includes your stereotypical six year old who doesn’t want to go to school and complains of a tummy ache. You can have stomach pains. You can have butterflies in your tummy. You can have your heart racing a little bit. You can have tingling in your hands and your feet. You can have this whole sense of numbness that takes over your body at times. And that can be very much stress related.”

Those are some examples of physical signs. But what’s going on in your head?

“When your body is feeling stressed, then you have a tendency for your mind to try to make sense of why it’s stressed. And that’s where worries come from. And that’s where anxious thoughts come from. ‘Well, I must be stressed because I’m late on my rent. Or I must be stressed because I have a test the next day. Or I must be stressed because this part of my life isn’t going so well.’ And it’s your mind’s attribution to what’s going on that we normally think of as anxiety. We think of it as worries, basically.”

Thirdly, Dr. Pastyrnak addresses the behavioral component of stress.

“The younger kids are, the less likely they’re to be able to communicate their thoughts and their physical symptoms. But more likely, we’re able to see it through their behavior. So ultimately, think of stress as your body’s emotional defense. It’s what triggers your fight or flight response. So kids who tend to withdraw or avoid things, or kids who tend to be more explosive (have tantrums and act out) are experiencing some degree of stress.”

Adult behaviors are often not that different from what Dr. Pastyrnak sees in children.

“If you as an adult have ever avoided anything because you didn’t want to deal with it at the moment, that is a little bit of a stress reaction. You may have avoided it as a way to protect yourself.”

“The reality is that anything that causes a physical change to your body is identified as a stressor. It doesn’t always have to be a bad thing. But your lack of sleep. Your lack of good nutrition. Sometimes your lack of exercise. These are things that can create stress in your body. If you’re fighting off an illness, this can create additional stress in your body and it can come out in different physical and psychological ways.”

However, the doctor emphasizes that stress is primarily physical.

“But then, it becomes psychological or behavior afterwards. And that’s why some people are more prone to stress, and other one are less prone. Just because their bodies don’t respond physically the ways others do.”

“We all have a certain genetic predisposition to experience stress. If we have a very high predisposition and a low amount of stress, we still may have the symptoms of stress. If we have a low predisposition but a high level of environmental things going on, you may be stressed. It’s really that equation that determines how stressed we are in a given situation.”


Beyond sharing an overview of stress, Dr. Pastyrnak plans to make the session interactive.

“We’re going to do some breathing exercises. We’re going to do some muscle relaxation exercises. Anybody interested in coming along should leave their reservations and their tight clothing at the door.”

Although Dr. Pastyrnak has a wealth of clinical experience, he also has personal experience dealing with stress. He and his wife Jennifer (also a psychologist) have two teenagers: Anna, who is 15 going on 16; and Camden who has just turned 17.

“I have two teenage drivers at my house,” said Dr. Pastyrnak.

How is the doctor responding to that stress?

“Y’know, so far, so good,” he said.

Even if you’re not feeling stressed, learn to help someone who is. Attend this free event in room 168 of the Wisner-Bottrall Applied Technology Center on Fountain Street at GRCC from 1:00-2:30 pm on Wednesday, March 12, 2014. For more information, visit the GRCC Psychology Speaker Series web page (

For the Love of Food, Beer & Wine — March 24th Celebrates the Fur Babies at Humane Society of West Michigan


Monday, March 24th
marks the second annual Paws, Claws & Corks event at the Steelcase Ballroom in DeVos Place. When you attend, you’ll not only help raise money for the Humane Society of West Michigan (HSWM), you’ll also help yourself to a mouthwatering array of fabulous cuisine, brews, and wine.

Oh, and the networking opportunities?

“We’re expecting 450 plus people to attend,” said Trudy Ender, Executive Director at HSWM. “We’d like to shoot that through the roof. Over 500 would be fantastic.”





Last year’s event raised over $84,000 for the Humane Society of West Michigan. With the support of local restaurants, businesses and individuals, this year’s event is primed to be an even bigger success.

“Whether you’re an animal owner, or you just want to support the animals in our area, we want you to come,” said Nicole Cook, Marketing & Events Coordinator for the Humane Society of West Michigan. “It’s a fun event. Whether you love food, beer, and wine — or you just want to come out and support our animals, there’s something for everyone.”

The Humane Society of West Michigan has been in our area since 1883, and relies entirely on local support to fund its programs.

“Because we’re 100% donor funded, we don’t receive any funding from the government or national animal welfare organizations,” said Cook. “So everything that we do comes directly from our community. We rely on events like this that provide the majority of our funding to care for all the animals that we have year round.”

Locally, Meijer continues to support the organization and plans to be present at the event

“Since 2004, Meijer has been a partner with the Humane Society,” said Stacie Behler, Group Vice President for Public Affairs at Meijer. “We realize the importance of rescuing and finding forever homes for pets in West Michigan. And so we love to support different events that the Humane Society puts on to raise awareness as well as raising capital. We got a lot of expenses here, caring for animals.”

The HSWM needs your support to run its 15+ critical programs. The largest program is animal adoptions.

“Currently, we have about 200 animals,” said Cook. “The majority of those are dogs and cats, but we also currently have bunnies, a couple of guinea pigs, and some hamsters.”



Another big program is Kibble Konnection.

“That’s our low income pet food bank,” explained Cook. “We believe strongly that if we can provide some supplemental services for people who are struggling a little bit that they can keep that pet in the home. The pet’s happier, the people are happier, and that’s one less animal in an already overcrowded shelter.”

Other programs include humane education, spay/neuter, and animal rehabilitation.


Come to nom-nom-nom, network, and bid on auction items. This year’s event will feature noshes and guzzles from the following restaurants:

The Catering Company

Cygnus 27


B.O.B.’s Brewery

San Chez Bistro

FOODesign by Chef Brech

One Trick Pony Grill & Taproom

Reds on the River

FireRock Grille

Reserve Wine & Food


Who you’ll meet: a small sampling

Kim Bode, Principal – 834 Design & Marketing

Paws, Claws, & Corks Co-Chair

“My involvement with HSWM and Paws, Claws & Corks stems from my love of animals, particularly dogs. I have 4 amazing large, loud and lovable dogs – Bentley, Apollo, Murphy and Jimmy. The joy they have brought into my life is immeasurable. Animals give so much of themselves to their human counterparts and the least we can do is support a great organization that is dedicated to finding them their forever homes.”



Stacie Behler

Group Vice President, Public Affairs, Meijer

“I’m not unlike thousands of Meijer customers who also have pets in their homes. Today, I was with my dog Jake. And he’s got two cat brothers that live at home with us, too. He had a sister that we had to say goodbye to in November. But we are an animal family, and lots of Meijer shoppers are animal families, too, so it’s a great fit for us to support the Humane Society.”


Tom Picardy, Certified Financial Planner – Fortune Financial Solutions, LLC

Humane Society of West Michigan Board Member

“My passion for animals and involvement with the HSWM started as a young child. As the current President of the Board of Directors, I continually try to find innovative ways to help the organization succeed in our wonderful community. ”


For tickets, please contact Tammy Hagedorn, Director of Development, at or 616-791-8138. You can also purchase tickets online.

Les Misérables opens at Grand Rapids Civic Theatre. To be safe: bring a hanky.


Grab a tissue. Or grab a box of tissues.

Les Misérables will open tonight at the Grand Rapids Civic Theatre. It runs through March 30. Get your tickets now, because the entire run is already over 45% sold.

There’s something for everyone in this wildly popular, tear-jerking operetta.

Les Miz fans will come to gorge themselves on the lush music and high drama. High school teachers love that the play is based on the nineteenth century French historical novel by Victor Hugo. Teenage girls often identify with trials of the young women on stage. Snarkers love to protect themselves emotionally by making snide remarks about the misery and misogyny. Sophisticated adults insist that the play is about the moral triumph of courage and hope. Others argue just as passionately that it’s about the hopelessness of social injustice.

See? Something for everyone to love…or even love to hate.

And until recently, Community Theatres have never been granted the rights to produce this extremely successful musical. That all changed in 2012, when Music Theatre International (MTI) made a call to the Grand Rapids Civic Theatre and School of Theatre Arts.

“The licensing company was interested in knowing if (community) theatres would want to produce this piece. Their first call was to our very own Civic Theatre,” said Executive and Artistic Director, Bruce E. Tinker. “Let me be clear, there was no hesitation in our saying yes.”

The Civic is working hard to live up to the exacting expectations of Les Miz superfans. I walked through the costume department, adrift in a sea of petticoats. Awash in underwear, I watched a costume frenzy taking place before my very eyes.

Civic costume head Robert Fowle estimated that they will make close to 200 costumes for this production. The play features nearly 50 cast members.

“Right now, I have about 17 people that have been in working on this one so far,” Fowle said, as one volunteer busily sewed a costume. “And they come in, day and night.”







With a plethora of quick changes, the show requires four dedicated dressers, two deck crew, and two more working backstage on hair, wigs, and makeup. Because this is a period piece, the costume department is striving to make the outfits as authentic as possible.

“In period shows, I dress the women from the underwear out, which means corsets and pantaloons and petticoats,” said Fowle. “We’re not going as far as corseting, because there’s so much costume changing.”

However, dresses will be boned “within an inch of their lives” for structure. And since the show is chiefly grey and brown and drab, many of the costumes will need to be made dirty and distressed to make sure they don’t look brand new.

“The only really pretty scene in the show is the wedding,” said Fowle. “Because that’s not dirty and raggy.”

And yet, the show is going to be quite beautiful, insists Tinker, the show’s artistic director.

“It’s a tremendous cast,” he said. “The sound is beautiful. It is sung very, very well. And there’s great heart and emotion throughout the show.”

Jeremiah Postma will play the lead, Jean Valjean. This marks the first time the powerfully built actor will appear on the Civic stage.

“You’re just talking to a country boy,” said Postma. “You know, I grew up on a farm. Interestingly enough, I never did theater until my very last opportunity in high school.”

A friend at Thornapple Kellogg High School heard Postma sing in an offhand way and encouraged him to audition for a high school play. After a 14 year hiatus, Postma is returning to the stage to play this enormously challenging role.

When Postma auditioned, he did not try out for Valjean. However, the director asked him to sing Valjean’s parts. Postma’s vocal coach told him that if he was offered the part, that they’d make it work.

“I cannot believe that this country boy has been given the opportunity to portray Jean Valjean. Blows my mind,” Postma said.

Conversely, Audrey Filson, who plays the grown-up Cosette, is no stranger to the Civic stage.

“My very first show (at the Civic) was in 1997,” said Filson.







She admitted that being cast in the Civic’s 1997 Children’s Theatre production changed her life. Bitten by the theater bug, Filson took drama classes, voice lessons, and attended summer theater camps. Ultimately, she decided to go to college for musical theater.

When she moved back to Grand Rapids in the fall to attend grad school, Filson heard about the auditions for Les Miz. She couldn’t resist. Filson felt thrilled to land the part of Cosette.

“I have a pretty easy job,” said Filson. “I just have to be an adoring daughter. You know? She just loves her dad. And that’s really fun for me to play, because I love my own real dad. I think it’s a really sweet relationship to play.”

Die hard Les Miz fans will be interested to learn that the directors are inserting little touches from the original book into the show.

“There are little moments, I keep calling them Easter eggs because I love movies,” said director Scott Mellema. “And in movies, especially with like comic movies that are out, fans look for Easter eggs, which are little bits and pieces that only fans would know. So there are moments.”

One superfan hint? Read the book before coming to the show to help find the Easter eggs. (Pay attention, for one example, to the scene with Eponine at the barricades.)

And given that the play is going to sell out any second now, is there anyone who needs to be discouraged from getting tickets?

Civic Theatre’s Community Relations Director Nancy Brozek cautions people who don’t like musicals to stay away. There’s no spoken dialog in Les Misérables. It’s all singing, almost all of the time.

And remember, the word misérables is right in the title. Expect some tears to be jerked.

To be safe: bring a hanky.

For ticket information:


WISE women: Joining together for support, friendship, advice on the road to business success



Branding expert Connie Sweet has some business advice for you, woman to woman.

Steer clear of those business card companies that offer pre-made designs anyone can choose.

“You don’t want the same business card someone else is using,” Sweet says. “You could attend an event and discover three people have the same business card design as you do — a yoga instructor, a hair stylist and a dog groomer.

“If you don’t recognize the importance of your business image, how can I feel confident you will provide the individualized service I would appreciate?”

That’s one kind of insider tip you’ll find at a gathering of WISE women.

Sweet co-founded WISE — Women in Successful Enterprises — in 2009 with friend and fellow business owner Floriza Genautis.

Both are successful entrepreneurs with impressive resumes. They decided to round up some other successful women to see if they could bolster each other.




“There are a lot of organizations that serve start-up companies and offer classes, but once you get past that start-up phase, you no longer get that level of help or collaboration,” Sweet says.

WISE is designed for women who already have their business feet wet — but who want to continue to succeed and grow. It’s a “bridge organization,” Sweet says, that helps women business owners gain certification, corporate connections, government contracts and networking.

The group has worked with the Center for Empowerment & Economic Development and introduces members to the Women’s Business Enterprise Council, an initiative of CEED that provides opportunities for nationally recognized certification of businesses that are at least 51 percent owned, operated and controlled by a woman or women.

Women who own businesses have interests and needs that not all women share, Sweet says. “Women’s conversations often center around families and children,” Sweet says. “But for business owners, a good portion of our lives is about our businesses. When we meet people at PTA meetings, we’re often just not on the same page.”

WISE offers an opportunity for women in business to connect with each other.

“We can gain a lot of information from each other,” Sweet says. “We share resources, share tips. We gain so much from each other. That’s a powerful thing for women who often feel they’re out at sea, on their own.”

Maureen Fitzgerald Penn felt that way when she left her job as marketing and development director for Catholic Charities West Michigan in Muskegon to start her business, Penn & Ink Communications, in 2008.

“I thought, ‘How do I begin this? I’m hanging up my shingle but I don’t have any contacts in Grand Rapids,’” Penn says.

Joining WISE changed all that. Penn met other women business owners, made friends and acquired a few clients.

Now, years later, the group is still valuable, she says.

“Once you’ve been in business a few years, you need to grow,” Penn says. “You have to step out of your comfort zone and approach larger companies with bigger needs. WISE has helped me break down the barriers so I can do that.”

Penn is on the group’s advisory board — they call themselves “advocates” — and helps plan each year’s events.

“We decide on the speakers and events based on our own reality,” she says. “What are the issues we’re facing? What questions do we have? Then we find speakers to address those needs.”

Events set for this year:

  •  “Common Negotiation Mistakes and How to Avoid Them.” Speaker Penny Rosema, a professional buyer, shares negotiation tips March 12.
  •  “How to Get in with Community Media.” A panel of media experts shares tips at a gathering at the mlive hub May 7.
  •  “Building Success from Scratch,” a presentation by award-winning chef and restaurant owner Jenna Arcidiacono from Amore Trattoria Italiana Aug. 20.





Each year WISE also hosts an event designed to give back to the community.

This year they support the American Diabetes Association at a Nov. 5 event.

“We’re reminding other business women that a social conscience should be part of your business,” Penn says.

While there is a cost to attend WISE events (and non-members are welcome, too) it costs nothing to belong to WISE.

“We formed this group just as the Michigan economy was flailing,” Sweet says. “We decided we weren’t going to saddle people with an annual membership fee.”

Sweet and cofounder Genautis met through another organization, Alliance of Women Entrepreneurs.

Sweet is founder of Connection Graphics, LLC in Lansing. She creates distinctive brands that connect with her client’s philosophy and business strategy.

Her resume of graphic design jobs includes time at ad agencies, educational institutions, non-profit organizations, publishing houses and governmental offices.

Genautis is the principal founder of Management Business Solutions, a professional staffing firm specializing in placing candidates in the areas of accounting, finance, human resource, information technology, sales and marketing and engineering.

The tips and resources WISE members share are valuable, Sweet says, but the laughter is pretty great, too.

“What I’ve gained most is friendships,” Sweet says. “This is an open, diverse and welcoming group. And I want women to know that having a successful business is within reach for all of us.”

For more about WISE, including upcoming events, visit


Clybourne Park: Let’s make fun of the way we talk about race


Talking frankly and publicly about race in a public forum will probably get you in trouble. No matter what you say, someone is going to take offense — even when none is intended.

And what about listening to someone else? Can you really do it without judging? Or will you be just as quick to take offense, too?

The provocative comedy Clybourne Park doesn’t try to solve tough issues like racism and gentrification. It will, however, aim to make you laugh while you think. The way we discuss race in America serves as the basis for this Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize winning comedy. Written by Bruce Norris, the play is coming to the Grand Rapids Civic Theatre from January 17 – February 2, 2014.

If you loved the play Raisin in the Sun, seeing Clybourne Park is a must. In its first act, the play takes place in 1959 — in the same fictional South Side Chicago home that the Younger family bought in Raisin in the Sun. Instead of focusing on the trials of the Younger family, though — you see what is happening as the white couple prepares to sell their home to the Youngers. In the second and final act, we fast-forward 50 years: it’s 2009, and a young white couple wants to buy the same house in what has become a predominantly African American neighborhood. 

As Chris Arnold, Director of the Diversity Learning Center at Grand Rapids Community College said at the Theatre’s Inside Dish program, “We’re a very segregated community.”






And as a Clybourne Park audience member, you’re a huge part of the play. Will you laugh at what might be perceived as a racist joke in a public theater? Will you feel indignant when someone says something you feel is offensive? Will you cringe with embarrassment when you hear snippets of your own inept dialog being paraphrased on stage?

Bruce Tinker, the play’s director, shared his own take at the Inside Dish.

“What I love about this play is that it says a lot of the things that we should be saying,” he said. “Certainly a lot of the things that we’re thinking and rarely ever take the opportunity to just put out on the table.”

Tinker says the play isn’t just about segregation in terms of housing and community and work arrangements. It’s not just about gentrification, either.

“It has a lot to do with just as individuals, how we’re living and seeing the world, and how little we share about that,” said Tinker. “This playwright (Bruce Norris) has elected to do that in some very confrontational ways, but also some very humorous ways. There’s a lot of humor in this play. And there’s a lot of moments where you think, ‘Oh! Did he just say that? I laughed. Maybe I shouldn’t have…'”

Tinker also cautions us that playwright Bruce Norris uses language like an Eastern European.

“This is going to be a push for our typical audience because there’s a lot of coarse language used in the play,” said Tinker. “The playwright uses it as a whip. ‘Did you hear that? Did you catch that? Are you paying attention? Yes, that person just said that. Yes. That just happened right in front of you.'”

Um, wait. Back up.

Did Bruce Tinker actually say that Eastern Europeans use language coarsely, as a weapon to inflict violence? And that the typical audience can’t handle the way Eastern Europeans communicate?




No. No, he didn’t. This is what he actually said:

“And so in a way, it’s a little Eastern European in terms of dramatic, thematic drama. You know the Eastern European tradition does a lot of that, where it really slaps the audience a little bit. And Bruce Norris does this just like little jabs. Sometimes they’re playful. And sometimes you think they maybe hurt a little. And sometimes they’re all in fun.”

When it comes to race and ethnicity, I can easily manufacture a distortion between what is being said…and what is being heard. Anyone can. Clybourne Park attempts to poke fun at our collective communication breakdown.

And that’s why the Production Sponsor (Warner, Norcross, and Judd) is spending its diversity dollars to underwrite Clybourne Park: to help spark a dialog. The idea is not to just show something on stage, but to have it resonate in the community afterwards with discussions.

You’ll find many opportunities for open community discussion on the topic of race this January. On January 20: GRCC, GVSU, and Davenport University are all holding marches and programs in honor of MLK day (you can find details at and And on January 21, Public Enemy Star Chuck D will be speaking at 10:00 a.m. at Davenport University’s Sneden Auditorium. Further, WGVU Newsmakers with Patrick Center will air Gentrification: Stories from a Community in Transition on the Create Channel on January 17. The program will re-broadcast on January 19 at 10:30 am on WGVU.

But aside from a handful of events in January, let’s keep the open and frank conversations going forward, shall we?

“This is a topic that is timely, it’s relevant, it’s current, and it’s happening. West Michigan is in the thick of it. And it’s something we all need to talk about,” said Nancy Brozek, the Theatre’s Director of Development and Community Relations.

“As a theatre, we always hope you like the play,” said Brozek. “But even if you don’t, we want you leaving talking about it. Whatever side or whatever position you have on the topic, we want the discussion taking place.”