Forecast: Still Sunny

Forecast: Still Sunny

Shaky Bugs brightens up ALT online offerings


When you watch Jules Taylor in a Shaky Bugs performance — several of which can now be seen on the Arts Live Theatre YouTube channel thanks to ALT Executive Director Mark Landon Smith — you might think you’re seeing a performer putting on her happy, sunny mask to best entertain children with a series of fun, upbeat songs and creative activities. Who on earth could be that cheerful, that full of energy?

As a matter of fact, Jules Taylor can. What you see on stage when she’s doing a Shaky Bugs performance is all Jules Taylor, all the time. Taylor has been perfecting Shaky Bugs for 16 years in Northwest Arkansas, bringing her unique brand of performance to festivals, libraries and private events all over the region — including Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.

“One of my favorite memories is of little ol’ me with a tutu on and my guitar, standing in the middle of the Crystal Bridges Great Hall, on the stage, with 200 babies surrounding me,” says Taylor. “That is so amazing.”

Taylor says her earliest memories are of being a performer.

“There are photos of me when I was 3, dancing on top of the coffee table for all of the neighbors during ‘American Bandstand’,” she says, laughing. “That was my thing.”

It’s possible her gregarious, outgoing personality was enhanced through the transience of her childhood: She moved all over Texas as a girl, changing schools frequently.

“My mom would get upset and say, ‘I gave you such a hard life,’ but I loved it,” says Taylor. “I went to so many different schools, lived in so many parts of Texas, and I have so many friends from all over. Moving around like that, you do kind of have to be an outgoing individual. You have to be bold.”

Her boldness led her to move to the big city, where she first honed her children’s performer skills by teaching Wiggle Worm classes for young children at Chicago’s venerable Old Town School of Folk Music.

“That’s where I learned early musical education,” Taylor explains. “I took so many free classes there — it was insane how many free classes I took.”

She loved what she was doing but, after a while, the hustle got to be too much.

Jules Taylor credits Arts Live Theatre’s executive director Mark Landon Smith for the idea of making short Shaky Bugs videos for online viewing. “Had he not given me the impetus, I might not have had the energy to do it,” she says. “Everything has been so crazy, I might not have found the energy for Shaky Bugs. It’s pretty high energy, and it’s even more intense on camera because I don’t have the babies as part of the interaction — having those tiny little babies jumping in front of me gives me the energy. But once I get it going, I can recall lots of shaky bugs dancing in front of me.”
(Courtesy Photo)

“I was all over the Chicagoland area — I drove constantly,” she says. “Old Town has all of these outreaches. I was doing Wiggle Worms all over the place. I was also doing community theater, so one day I might go teach Wiggle Worms in Hinsdale, and then at the end of the day I’m in Palatine at a rehearsal. I was exhausted from driving all day. That’s also 15 hours away from my parents, and I wanted to be closer to them.”

Taylor hit a few other stops on her way to Fayetteville, but once she landed here, she realized it would not be a temporary engagement.

“I had never been to Arkansas before, and I fell in love with Fayetteville so hard,” she says. “I got an apartment right by the library. I thought I would move back to Texas, but I started living in Fayetteville as a local — going to the Farmers’ Market, meeting everybody, getting to work at Arts Live — I loved it.”

In her nearly two decades in the area, Taylor has established herself not only as a consummate children’s performer but also as a valued theater educator, director and actor. She is on the teaching staff of Arts Live Theatre, where she also directs shows. She is also a member of the improv group Phunbags and an actor in plays and movies. Her sunny outlook, colleagues agree, is a definite plus — as when Smokehouse Players founder Terry Vaughan asked her to direct the very dark humor of the company’s production of “‘Night Mother” last season.

“She’s a bright light — where I see dark, Jules sees light,” explained Vaughan in an interview about the show last year. “She sees the humor, everything in the script that lifts it up, and it’s important to have that perspective on a journey like this.”

Taylor says Smith was the one who had the idea to get her Shaky Bugs performances online, where kids — sheltering at home because of the pandemic — can access the show from all over the country.

“Arts Live wanted to offer programming focusing on the 2- to 5-year-old audience member, and Shaky Bugs provides that opportunity through movement, music, participation and exploration,” notes Smith. “By producing Shaky Bugs on video and posting to the Arts Live Theatre YouTube channel, we are opening this opportunity to a larger audience and an audience who can participate anywhere and anytime.”

Taylor fills about 15 minutes with stories, activities and quirky interactions with notable Northwest Arkansas personalities like Fayetteville Mayor Lioneld Jordan, the musical group Still on the Hill and musician Jory Costello — and her own music, of course, which she chooses carefully for optimal learning possibilities.

“I have a pretty specific mission for Shaky Bugs — it’s to continue the oral tradition of passing down songs through the generations,” says Taylor. “My mom sang songs to me that her mother sang to her. When adults see Shaky Bugs, they say, ‘Why do you do the same thing in every show?’ But I’m not doing it for adults, I’m doing it for little bitties, and there’s nothing more exciting for a 3- or 4-year-old’s cognitive development than hearing a song that they remember.”

Taylor shoots the segments on her couch — with colorful silk scarves and bright string lights in the background, it looks more like a Bohemian salon — and Smith edits them for YouTube. Currently, there are five episodes online, with more to come soon. Taylor says filming the shows is a welcome respite from the stressors and worries of the current age — but she longs for the time when she can, once more, perform in front of a live audience.

“It’s a huge burst of happy, happy energy for me, speaking in a selfish way,” she says. “I know that when I play a Shaky Bugs show, singing and watching all of those children, I’m going to walk away from that so refreshed and in such a happy place.”


Go Online!

Shaky Bugs

Access Jules Taylor’s Shaky Bugs videos by visiting the Arts Live Theatre’s Youtube channel.

Categories: Music