Benton-Stephens Resident Profile: Clare Adrian

Thursday, April 10, 2008 | 7:42 p.m. CDT; updated 2:22 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Freelance writer Clare Adrian writes March 19 in her son's old bedroom at her home in the Benton-Stephens neighborhood.

COLUMBIA — Don’t be worried if Clare Adrian’s house on North Ann Street looks somewhat dark inside. That’s just how she likes it.

Concerned with energy efficiency, she prefers to work by natural light; one of her pet peeves is when lights are on and don’t have to be.

She likes to wear dresses around her home, a Benton-Stephens house that she’s lived in for the past 29 years, and layers herself in clothing during winter chills.

Regardless of the temperature outside, Adrian remains an active member of the neighborhood and regularly attends monthly coffee shop meetings and community garden functions. A freelance writer, she has a passion for writing and the arts that has been evident throughout most of her life.

If the name Clare Adrian doesn’t ring a bell, perhaps her face will. Flashback to the 2007 True/False film festival, to the screening of one of the movies, “American Shopper,” which was shot in Columbia.

Though the movie featured many members of the community, Adrian was one of the people the film focused on.

“It was just wild,” Adrian said. “It was so much fun for me because it was so multifaceted: art, music, dance and interpretation, all under the veil of comedy.”

The film revolved around “aisling,” a sport created for the movie that consists of choreographing movements to music and moving throughout the grocery store, all the while picking up items on a shopping list in creative ways within a time limit.

Adrian’s shopping cart was covered with grapevines she collected from the woods and wrapped around the cart ever so tightly. The process took quite a while, but it was an enjoyable challenge for Adrian, who liked twisting the uncooperative vines, trying to figure out how to make them stay.

With the outside resembling a basket, the inside was lined with multicolored fabric and contained live flowers. She created a cocoon out of cardboard and crepe paper that appeared to be made of red tape, symbolizing the way artists are confined. Her plan: to emerge from the cocoon, and then proceed through the grocery store with such grace and style that she would become the ultimate champion.

“My routine didn’t exactly work out they way I wanted it to,” Adrian said. “I had to push the cocoon up and then emerge from underneath it. Then I did my dance routine. We had to do some sort of movement to get the items, and I chose dancing.”

Performing was nothing new to Adrian. When she was a junior at St. Francis de Sales High School in her hometown of St. Louis, she was selected to appear in the operetta “The Merry Widow.” Theater was a part of her college career, as well, and after she transferred to MU her sophomore year from Mount Mary College in Milwaukee, she majored in speech and drama. Her junior year, she secured a leading role in the school production of “My Sweet Charlie.”

“I was told once that I was destined to be an actor,” she said.

Despite her love for performing, she switched her major to sociology with a minor in psychology. After graduating in 1969, she held several jobs including painting houses, assisting an MU sociology professor with research and burning designs into leather at a leather shop.

“I took flexible jobs so I would have time to raise my daughter,” she said.

Her daughter, Gymi, was born in 1970 and her son, Nick, was born in 1984. Gymi now lives in Seattle while Nick is attending school at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, Calif.

Even as she was busy raising her kids, Adrian’s love for the performing arts never disappeared. She occasionally played the jazz piano, writing her own music, and had a brief stint as a bass guitarist in a blues band.

In the mid-1990s, while she was working as a parent educator with teenage parents, she began developing her own methods to teach about caring for children.

“It was very challenging and I wanted to do whatever I need to in order to get the message across,” Adrian said. “I came up with a teaching method that incorporated poems and songs, in a performance art format.”

Called “Poetic Parenting,” Adrian performed the pieces from the perspective of a child. To break the ice at the beginning of the workshop, she had one of the participants pretend to be a mom while she was the baby.

“I just sat there close to them and I would wear a baby bonnet and deliver the poem directly to the mother, like I was her child speaking to her,” she said.

The poems were written from a child’s perspective for the purpose of building empathy and helping parents understand how their child feels in different situations. Using her poems as starting points, she could then discuss parenting techniques in greater depth.

“It’s really hard for parents to have been brought up a certain way and to adapt to a possible new parenting style,” she said. “It takes repetition. The poems, songs and performances are just another teaching tool and another way to help them learn.”

As she performed “Poetic Parenting” at conferences and schools, she continued developing more programs for her company, “Claritivity Productions,” that incorporated poems, songs and plays about environmental issues, positive decision making and respect for nature, among other things. She credits her kids for many of her creations, such as “Backyard Wonders,” a song about her son’s experiences with his parents and outdoor activities like gardening. Her expertise on child development, which came from working as a parent educator, also contributed to her poems.

Many of her pieces required little time to write; after thinking and researching certain topics, she said, the poems flowed from her mind to her keyboard with incredible smoothness.

“My children were my inspiration,” she said. “As a parent, I was in awe of watching child development and human potential.”

Her performances weren’t limited to Columbia but instead took her throughout the country.

“I marketed the program in places I wanted to go, like in Seattle to visit my daughter,” she said. “Or in California so I could also visit my two brothers in L.A. I love California, it’s like my second home.”

Once, she was even invited to showcase “Poetic Parenting” at the Potosi Correctional Center in eastern Missouri.

“I did a Q&A afterwards and they asked questions,” Adrian said. “One man said ‘you mean I don’t have to beat my child like it says in the Bible?’ It was just a revelation for him.”

This realization is exactly what Adrian hoped to achieve.

“Really what this is for is to prevent child abuse,” she said. “As long as there is violence in the world, there is a place for ‘Poetic Parenting.’”

For five years in the early ’90s, she hosted a parenting show on KOPN. In the following years, she appeared regularly on the television show “Pepper and Friends.” She also taught a class for kids through the Columbia Entertainment Company in the early 2000s where the kids wrote and performed plays.

Although she continued her performances for Claritivity through 2006, it became more and more difficult to market the company, especially with her work as a freelance writer taking over much of her free time.

It was in 1994, when she was promoting Claritivity Productions, that she tapped into her magazine talents and her primary form of writing began shifting from songs and poems to journalistic articles.

While arranging to put an ad in a parenting magazine, “Babies and Beyond,” Clare was offered a spot for her advertisement if she would in turn write an article for the magazine. Fourteen years later, journalism has taken over much of her life.

She freelances for many different types of magazines on a wide range of topics, from entertainment to landscaping.

“I like the variety,” Adrian said. “I infuse the articles with any environmental messages whenever possible.”

Adrian wants to expand her messages about environmental concerns beyond just writing. She hopes to create a video for the Internet to demonstrate various energy efficient activities that people can incorporate into their daily lives

“It will have a comedic thread throughout it,” she said. “I want it to be entertaining. I want people to come up with wild and crazy ideas of ways to save energy.”

Adrian’s sense of humor is evident in her appearance in an online commercial for Rolling Rock Beer. The company was shooting the comedic commercials in Los Angeles last September, interviewing strangers on the street about how they would feel about “Moonvertising,” i.e., advertising on the moon. Adrian’s curiosity prompted her to ask what they were doing, and as a result she was interviewed. Her segment was later selected to appear in the commercials, with her appearances sliced between interviews with other individuals.

“I’d like to enjoy the moon the way it is at the moment” she responds to the proposed Moonvertising. The commercial cuts to others’ perspectives, then back to Adrian who states, “If you’re going to do advertising up there, it’s got to be really tasteful.” The commercial proceeds to cut back to the other individuals and then returns to Adrian, who questions, “Which planet are we? I forgot already.”

Though Claritivity Productions has been pushed to the back burner for now, it hasn’t completely disappeared from her life. For instance, she was recently invited to perform “Poetic Parenting” for a group in Oklahoma. In addition, Adrian’s involvement with the Missouri Storytellers Association led her to “Read From the Start,” a program that encourages parents to read to their children, four years ago. At the end of March and beginning of April, she participated in two workshops with parents in Fulton as a part of the program. She once again performed some of her favorite poems, even penning a new one specifically for the class.

A skilled writer, her words flow with ease, and sometimes when she’s been working on magazine stories for a while she finds it easier to communicate via the keyboard rather than out loud. Working on her articles in her son’s old room, an electric keyboard is not far from her desk. Whenever she needs a break from the written word, she turns to music and other arts such as photography, illustration and sewing.

Despite time constraints, Adrian, who is in the process of pursuing Expressive Arts Therapy certification, does her best to incorporate visual and performing art into her life whenever possible.

“It’s just a matter of the hours in the day,” she said. “Professional writing takes up a majority of my time ... but if something else comes up that involves performing or music and I have time for it, I’ll do it.”

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