Board Members

Melanya Helene performing her one-woman show, "Hopeless."

Teachings of Pema Chodron Onstage in “Hopeless”

Billed as “a celebration of exhaustion, uncertainty, and the art of giving up hope”, Melanya Helene’s one-woman show “Hopeless” at The Brooklyn Bay in Portland combines stories, music, and reflections on the writings of Buddhist nun and teacher, Pema Chodron. Those writings include books such as When Things Fall Apart, The Places That Scare You, and the classic The Wisdom of No Escape.

Despite the show’s title, “it’s actually quite cheerful,” says Helene. “It explores the traps you can get into—fear, anger, frustration.”

Helene first encountered a Buddhist perspective for her work and life when she went to Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado to study dance therapy. She already had a background in performing art. Her introduction to Pema Chodron came 15 years ago at a baby shower when she received a copy of The Wisdom of No Escape. In the years following while Helene underwent the “huge transition” from being a childless performer to “being a Mom,” Pema Chodron’s teachings were an important support. “I had no time for retreats, no time for sitting. I had to focus on practicing mindfulness in daily life.”

Eight years ago Helene met Scott Kelman, creator of a unique form of improvisation that uses mindfulness, self-awareness, and empathy to get in touch with and share creative impulses. Since his death in 2007, Helene has continued teaching his methods. She explains the practice and intention of “mindfulness-based improvisation” in the introduction to one of her classes, “Entering into Emptiness”:

The creative process is an act of entering into emptiness and discovering what emerges from moment to moment.

Through deliberation…we begin with things as they are, discovering a deepened awareness of ourselves—our bodies, sensations, emotions and thoughts—along with a heightened sense of other—our relationship to other players and our environment. We interact through awareness, movement, sound and words.

In this improvisational form, we yield to our natural empathy—moving between self and other, body and space—and through empathy the group discovers connection, meaning, narrative, and story; a collective dream.

“Hopeless” began as a short piece—less than ten minutes—several years ago. “People really responded” so Helene performed it again at the Portland Shambhala Center. Two years ago she expanded it more and now, in its current version, the show is a full-length stage performance.

“A lot of it is about sharing things that have been helpful to me,” explains Helene. Of her style of performance Helene says, “I do it standing in front of people, with no protection. The bottom line is always presence—in self, in body, in the group. Unlike a regular performance, where the object is to create an illusion, I’m not ‘putting on’ anything. Instead, the goal is to strip everything away.”

In addition to performances and classes for adults, Helene and her colleagues at The Brooklyn Bay offer a children’s program called “Play after Play: Interactive Arts for Children.” Bringing children onstage after a performance, “Play after Play” encourages them to interact with trained performers in a form of “original play” involving movement, touching, accepting things as they are. Helene describes it as “tonglen-ish” in its emphasis on giving and receiving love.

Performances of “Hopeless” continue until June 20. For more information, please visit The Brooklyn Bay website,, or email

Contributor: Julie Welch.

Photo: Courtesy The Brooklyn Bay.