Connected \\ June 2, 2020

Lights, camera, living room!

In my first position with PEM as a Guest Experience Representative, I spent many a Wednesday morning at the Information Desk waiting for the PEM Pals parade of tiny visitors, ages 5 and under, to pass by brimming with excitement as they headed toward the Atrium. Up until our closure on March 14, visitors to the museum on Wednesday mornings experienced an energy that was quite different from any other day of the week.

A young girl drawing with markers

Art-making with a PEM Pal. Photo by Bob Packert/PEM.

Parents, grandparents and all sorts of caregivers led and followed, corralling the little ones toward soft mats on the floor, stopping to check out the craft supplies on the cafe tables, ready for toddlers to create something all their own. The excitement peaked with the arrival of the beloved Miss Heather, PEM Pals storytelling veteran, child whisperer and bubble lady extraordinaire. Her beaming voice would fill the Atrium as little latecomers would bolt past me in the hopes of reaching the mat in time to catch the last of the coveted bubbles. Singing, dancing and a story would follow as the expansive Atrium filled up with laughter and clapping.

A young boy creating cut paper art is looking up to his left

Art-making with a PEM Pal. Photo by Emma Stevens/PEM.

For the past year and a half, I have had the pleasure of holding the reins of this popular PEM program, meeting members, Salem residents and families from all over the North Shore. Under the guidance of Creative Engagement Producer, and my PEM-entor, Caryn Boehm, I choose the story we read each week and then develop a hands-on activity inspired by the book. I’ve always loved children’s literature, and have revelled in the opportunity to spend hours looking through library collections, bookstore shelves and Instagram accounts dedicated to #kidlit. Plus, my years of performing and working as a youth theater director equipped me with the skills to step in as the storyteller when needed. We even expanded the program to include holiday Mondays, featuring yours truly as the storyteller.

Bethany leading the way during a PEM Pals in the Ropes Mansion garden

Bethany leading the way during a PEM Pals in the Ropes Mansion garden. Photo by Kathy Tarantola/PEM

Bethany in a green shirt wearing a frog hat

Miss Bethany is just one of the pals. Courtesy photo.

The method to my madness is all about being on the same level as the kids I’m working with, treating them as equals. I’ve found that by listening, and encouraging kids to share their thoughts (MANY thoughts), while prompting them creatively builds trust and genuine friendships. I try to channel back to them the wonder that sparkles in their eyes when they remember their ABCs or master their “tap-and-clap.” Not to mention, I’m not shy about getting super silly. The PEM Pals are truly my pals.

When we realized PEM was closing due to Covid-19, Caryn and I immediately began brainstorming how we could continue to bring our PEM Pals community together virtually. In collaboration with PEM’s Manager of Media Production Chip Van Dyke and Director of Communications Whitney Van Dyke (and parents of PEM Pals fan Kip), a weekly video series of PEM Pals was born.

We initially hoped to film the program within the museum, but quickly realized it would have to be filmed by me at home to ensure safe social-distancing practices. Over the weeks, the simple, rough clips of me singing silly songs in my living room have evolved into a cross-departmental collaboration including animation and original music.

A look at our virtual PEM Pals. Courtesy images.
A look at our virtual PEM Pals. Courtesy images.
A look at our virtual PEM Pals. Courtesy images.
A look at our virtual PEM Pals. Courtesy images.

Our dynamic production team is led by Chip, responsible for video editing and pulling all the episode elements together, and Caryn, who project manages the team and is the brains behind our social media efforts. Melissa Woods has also been a valued contributor as Content Manager for the museum, assisting with our social media strategy.

We were incredibly fortunate to gain the talents of two Guest Experience Representatives, who have shifted from their usual duties of manning the front lines of the museum to be a part of the PEM Pals team. Amber Orozco, a recent graduate of Montserrat College of Art with a BFA in Animation and Interactive Media, has created precious animations to accompany me on screen (and now available as gif stickers on Instagram). Beth McKie diligently combs through each episode as our Captions and Copy Editor, increasing accessibility for our viewers.

PEM PALS words on a yellow background

The team is rounded out by my incredibly patient and gifted husband, Jordan Gravel, a professional musician and elementary music teacher, who composed the original theme music for the program and accompanies me each episode on his Hammond organ. He also graciously tip-toes around the house while I arduously film segments over and over again. Jordan is no stranger to PEM Pals, having performed with me many times under our PEM-created pseudonym, The Gravel Patch Kids.

Jordan and Beth seated on white chairs, performing at PEM

Jordan and Beth performing at PEM. Photo by Mel Taing/PEM.

As the weeks go by and the museum assesses how and when we will reopen to the public, it remains clear that virtual programming will continue to be a safe and welcome option for our community. And now, any child, anywhere, can join us with PEM Pals. In my current role as a Creative Engagement Producer for the museum, along with the fantastic programs team, I am constantly looking for new ways to engage the public and bring them a sense of normalcy in uncertain times. Recently, we’ve started planning for and filming a variety of guest appearances and collaborations that we hope will encourage our smallest pals to explore the wonderful world around them while they aren’t able to explore our museum.

A group of smiling young children looking up

PEM Pals are all smiles. Photo by Kathy Tarantola/PEM.

As we look to the future, I eagerly await the time when our community can come together again in person.

Though I know my pals will have grown so much, I hope they’ll still burst through the doors of the museum with the same joy and excitement that has filled the Atrium for many years, and hopefully many more to come.

Join Miss Bethany on Wednesdays for PEM Pals online. PEM's biweekly program is dedicated to art, stories and learning for children under the age of 5 and their caretakers. New episodes premiere at 10:30 am on Wednesdays. Past episodes can be found here on PEM’s YouTube channel.

Photo by Bob Packert/PEM.

The PEM staff wishes everyone health, safety and calm during the COVID-19 shutdown. Museums provide light and inspiration during challenging times. We will be creative in maintaining PEM’s relationship with you in this time of crisis. We look forward to welcoming you back to the museum when the public health crisis has subsided. For more information and updates, please visit and keep in touch through our Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.

Stay well. Stay Inspired. Photo by Paige Besse/PEM.

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