Hello, Everyone!. My name is Betty May. I am a theatrical director, a writer, and a clown. Born in Brooklyn, New York, I attended high school on Long Island and was graduated from Wayne State University (Detroit, Michigan) with majors in theater and history and a minor in science.
In college, I met and married Gerald (Jerry) G. May.
While our children, Earl, Paul, Greg, Julie, and Chris (who joined the family late in life) were growing up I taught swimming, acting, dance, and exercise classes. I conducted a class I called, “Parent and Child Messin’ Around” and wrote and had published a non-fiction book based on that class: T.S.K.H.* *TICKLE SNUG KISS HUG Exercises and Tricks for Parent-Child Fun (Paulist Press).
My drama classes grew and I opened my own theater in a derelict movie house with kid, teen, and adult companies. The kids and teens toured extensively, including a teen trip to France, England, and Switzerland. These years were filled with Broadway musicals, educational pieces, and plays I wrote to fill in the gaps between major productions.
When the late 1980s recession set in, grant money dried up and the theater closed. I expanded my theatrical efforts to Central America. I taught high school during the school year (Theater, Art History, and Spanish) and spent the summers in a squatters’ settlement in Guatemala. I started with a troupe of thirty-five street kids; over seven summers it swelled to a company of ninety. We performed in other settlements, churches, schools, community centers, and synagogues. We toured mountain villages, where the indigenous inhabitants spoke only the languages of their ancient ancestors. The children enchanted the public at the National Palace and at the Guatemalan version of The Hollywood Bowl. Their performances culminated in a featured hour-long appearance on Guatemalan national television.
My husband, Jerry, was a psychiatrist, spiritual consultant, and author. He wrote ten books in all, including Addiction and Grace and The Wisdom of Wilderness. When he died after a protracted battle with cancer, it fell to me to edit the latter, the most difficult task of my life.
Following Jerry’s death, I searched for something to do we had not done together. I went to clown school, learned to juggle, balance plates, and make balloon animals, and became a variety artist. Now, in addition to writing and theater work, I perform at parties and community and business events, and serve as head coach at Greg’s circus school: centerringcircusschool.com.
My writing is ongoing. To date I have written three novels: Where Space Begins (middle grade science fiction), Payback (a middle grade book about bullying), Shades of Friendship (a young adult book about racism), and one non-fiction project FACES: Imprisoned Women and Their Struggle with the Criminal Justice System (an adult book based on my experience working with a group of Lifers in a maximum-security prison). FACES is available in e-book and print form; the novels are looking for homes.
For the past five years I have worked with a group of Lifers at the Maryland Correctional Institution for Women. I went into the prison in response to a somewhat bizarre request: write a comedy about life in prison. Now I am an activist in the judicial and penal systems, testifying before congressional committees and advocating for people I once knew only through horrific newspaper headlines.
My sojourn into the maximum-security prison was more foreign to me than the time I spent in Guatemala. What started as a simple theatrical gig turned into a life-changing phenomenon.
While I continue with my fiction writing and my work as a clown and circus coach, I am totally committed to advocating for the women who have become my friends, and lobbying for progressive changes in our judicial and penal systems.