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Monthly Archives: March 2010

First thing you should know is, of the four playwrights Venus Theatre is producing this year, three of them studied under the same master teacher, Milan Stitt.  This simple little fact kind of blew my mind.  I’d read 80 plays last year and what were the odds?

Just a few days ago, our PH Lin went back to NYC.  She’d seen opening and two shows to follow and gladly told me that the experience with Venus Theatre “exceeded” her expectations.  In fact, Debbie Jackson of DC Theatre Scene (http://dctheatrescene.com/2010/03/16/zelda-at-the-oasis-2/) agreed.

Another tip I didn’t know when I chose the plays was that Pat is actually from this area.  She was asked to write a play about F. Scott for a celebration in Rockville, MD.  A one-act to which she replied that she thought in terms of full-length plays and would see what surfaced.  She ended up writing about Zelda.  And, that was a while ago.

How the work found its way to Venus is fascinating.  There are bios on all of our playwrights, as well as the four directors, this year at www.venustheatre.org/about_us.  I’ll paste Pat’s below.  I can tell you that this event we had on Saturday past was a big deal in the historical part of Laurel, MD.  Venus collaborated with the museum at the end of Main Street.  My idea was to bring in people who could walk to the theatre.  And, they were a delightful bunch.  This was a terrific collaboration with the Museum Director and the Laurel Historical Society.  Afterall, Zelda was from this general area.

It was catered by a woman who runs her own catering service and the BBQ house on Route one.  I was rushing out of the museum before the event to run two trays full of scones down to the theatre just as Pat was coming in.

She drove me down and back.  Twice actually, because in my rushing around I’d forgotten the postcards I was to bring on the first trip.  What a gift!  It was our only time to really connect directly in this whirlwind weekend.  In this time she told me her story and it was absolutely fascinating.  She was in real estate in Montgomery County.  And she was a director.  Her first marriage ended and she met the person she is with now.  Once their kids had grown up she began to journey into NYC on the weekends.  She simply began writing plays because it left her evenings much more available and she thought she’d try her hand at it.  While in NYC, she bumped into a man and had a long conversation with him about the state of theatre and what was to be done.  He immediately invited her into his master class having never read her writing.  He was Milan Stitt.

She began his master classes in NYC on Saturday mornings at 10 with the agreement that she would stay and study on into the evening.  They covered all of the classics and in doing so came up with a common language.  (Brilliant!  If you ask me this is a common struggle in theatre.).  From there she rented a third story bedroom in a brownstone and to this day remains great friends with that landlord.  Now she could travel up on Friday and be more refreshed on her Saturdays.  And if she liked she could stay through the weekend.  Then, she would go back and resume her real estate life in Washington, DC.

Well, family business was coming to close for her in Washington.  Her husbands job allowed him flexibility in location and the lovely landlord had to sell the brownstone.  So, they made a lateral move and bought a place on the same block as the brownstone.  All of her friends remained and the transition was a smooth one.  She’s had works produced all over the world, but coming back to the DC Theatre region with Zelda was something special.

I’m only grateful to have met and collaborated with such a talented artist.

Patricia H. Lin (ZELDA AT THE OASIS)

Patricia H. Lin (P.H. Lin) grew up in Washington, D.C. She raised her family in Bethesda, and Rockville, MD. During her “DC-MD Years,” Pat was a member of the Playwrights Forum. Locally, she had work produced by the Source Theatre Festival, The Baltimore Playwrights Festival, The Center Theatre Co. of Fairfax, VA, and Horizons Theatre. Since moving to New York, Pat has been produced and/or presented by Women’s Project & Productions, The Lark Play Development Center, Pulse Ensemble Theatre, Nomad Theater Company, and Diverse City Theater Co… all of which are located in NYC.

In addition to DC, MD, and VA, Pat’s work has been seen in theaters or Festivals in MI, IL, NC, OH, PA, KY and CA. An excerpt from this play, ZELDA AT THE OASIS, has appeared as part of an International Women’s Playwriting Conference in Greece.

Pat has won the Dayton (Ohio) Playhouse’s National Playwriting Competition. She is a recipient of George Mason University’s Mary Roberts Rinehart Award. She holds an MFA in Theater Arts from the Catholic University of America, and is a Woodrow Wilson Fellow.

Lynn Sharp Spears writes:

“Senses are the physiological methods of perception.” How we interpret and communicate what we perceive is what makes each of us unique. Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald’s manner of communicating her world view is what made her irresistible to F. Scott, who in turn made her the darling of the Jazz Age. These same perceptions are what landed her in 8 different sanitariums over the course of her brief life. Zelda’s way of speaking was a combination of the Deep South and her African American nannies. This unusual, to both the Swiss and Northern doctors in any case, way of communicating, on top of her lack of fluency in French, caused the doctors to interpret her speech and behavior as schizophrenic.  The ensuing treatments caused multiple problems, not the least of which was eczema. More recent professional opinions of her case say she was manic depressive. On a positive note, her stays in the sanitariums afforded her a place to create her beautiful, powerful paintings, and there she wrote her novels Save Me The Waltz in 1932 and Caesar’s Things, which was unfinished in 1948 but will soon be published. In “Zelda At The Oasis” P.H. Lin has given us an opportunity to enter a possible encounter between Zelda and a Barman, where different objects send her to memories of the choices she had to make on her too short journey on this earth.  Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald died at the age of 48 in a fire at the Highlands Sanitarium in Asheville, NC.

Adam and Eve  by Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald

Had she not been drugged, and if the door to her room had not been locked, she might have escaped. I want to thank Deb Randall and P.H. Lin for the opportunity to discover this brilliant, tragic, amazingly fearless, heroine; Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald.

Zelda and Scott.

One week from today we open a play which tells the story of Zelda Fitzgerald.  I was drawn to this play for many reasons. But, it seems there is always something of the unknown that pulls me one way or the other artistically.  Maybe its this quest to find my artistic gender heritage as an individual.  Maybe a deep need to tell stories of interesting women who are NOT put on a pedestal or marginalized.  Maybe.  Maybe.  All of it.

A personal loss yesterday meant we were to attend a funeral.  My Spouse did not pre-load his Garmin with the address.  For some reason, he printed a yahoo map and I was to navigate.  We were in Rockville and we were turned around.  I looked up from the printed directions to see banners with F. Scott Fitzgerald’s name up and down the street.  I looked over my right shoulder and realized we were beside the final resting place of this most notorious couple.  Talk about timing!

Something to process. Chills ensued.

Zelda and Scott are buried together in Rockville, MD.  They never lived there, but Scott’s father did.  The final monument reads:

Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald

September 24, 1896 – December 21, 1940

His Wife

Zelda Sayre

July 24, 1900 – March 10, 1948

“SO WE BEAT ON, BOATS AGAINST THE CURRENT, BORNE BACK CEASELESSLY INTO THE PAST” -The Great Gatsby

The quote is the final sentence in “The Great Gatsby”.

Zelda found Scott to be too poor to marry at first.  He was smitten with her.  Many were.  She was the “it” girl.  Later called the “Golden Girl”.  The “Original Flapper”.  “This Side of Paradise” was published by Scribner’s in 1920.  Money was no longer an issue it appeared so, the engagement resumed, which led to the marriage, which led to the birth of their first and only child on October 26, 1921.  “The Great Gatsby” was published in 1925.  By then, they had spent much time in Europe and bellied up to the bar with the American expatriate community in Paris, including (but definitely not limited to) Hemingway.

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Zelda began to notice a theme of plagiarism in the work of Scott:

“[i]t seems to me that on one page I recognized a portion of an old diary of mine which mysteriously disappeared shortly after my marriage, and also scraps of letters which, though considerably edited, sound to me vaguely familiar. In fact, Mr. Fitzgerald—I believe that is how he spells his name—seems to believe that plagiarism begins at home” (Zelda Fitzgerald: The Collected Writings, 388).

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Here lies the powerful conflict in the play we are producing and in that specific world – the larger more epic questions arise.  What does it means to be a female artist in this world and how does that collide with traditional roles and expectations?  On some level, do we women all eventually become either mad or hollow? Is that the final choice?  It can’t be.

Zelda was a woman born in 1900 with great gifts, and into a family that could provide her hearts desire.  She was torn between the traditional role of the good-wife-who-lands-the-best husband, and eccentric-artist-who-expresses-the-unknown.  She was exploding with expression.  Any kind of expression.  Her paintings are amazing works.  And, she wrote a play entitled, “Scandelabra”, which I have yet to read.  It was difficult for her to get published in her day.  She was also a dancer.  Accepted into a Russian ballet troupe at the ripe age of 27!

Scott was working on his fourth novel in the late 1920’s to pay for their high lifestyle in New York.  Zelda’s schizophrenia ultimately kicked in with little release in 1930.  In 1932 she checked herself into Shepherd Pratt Sanitarium in Towson, MD. Scott rented a place there in the suburbs called, “La Paix” where he continued work on the Dick Diver story.  This is thought to be a telling of his trials with Zelda-well, everything is thought to be that.  She had never stopped writing.  After handing her novel to Scott and waiting too long for response she appealed to Scribners for feedback.  They offered her publication after the first read.  By this time Scott was a full fledged alcoholic and a very controlling husband.  It can be argued that he wanted to “protect” Zelda from the world and from her own internal demons. The two defined the jazz age.  Some would say they launched it.  He romanticized her and I don’t know that she entirely disliked it.

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Tales of the Jazz Age (1922), Fitzgerald’s second collection of shorts contains one of his most famous short stories “The Diamond As Big As the Ritz”. His second novel, also adapted to the screen, was published the same year, The Beautiful and The Damned (1922);

“I love it,” she said frankly. It was impossible to doubt her. …. At her happiness, a gorgeous sentiment welled into his eyes, choked him up, set his nerves a-tingle, and filled his throat with husky and vibrant emotion. There was a hush upon the room. The careless violins and saxophones, the shrill rasping complaint of a child near by, the voice of the violet-hatted girl at the next table, all moved slowly out, receded, and fell away like shadowy reflections on the shining floor–and they two, it seemed to him, were alone and infinitely remote, quiet. Surely the freshness of her cheeks was a gossamer projection from a land of delicate and undiscovered shades; her hand gleaming on the stained table-cloth was a shell from some far and wildly virginal sea….–Ch. 2

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Our play also deals with very different writing styles.  The traditional linear form and the swirling content that is often connected to the female writer.  The play does not follow a linear timeline either.  We spin and swirl.  I was struck while watching a rehearsal the other day with this dialogue exchange:

BARMAN

I was playing this wedding? And all the Father of the Bride wanted to hear was…

(He hums the opening to Minuet in G)

The problem was, the piano had this really slow key. You know, the kind that, once you push it down, it takes forever to come back up again?

ZELDA

Not the…!

(He points “you’ve got it.” She giggles)

How do you play the Minuet in G, when you’re missing the main attraction?

BARMAN

You transpose everything up a half. And improvise.

“You transpose everything up a half.  And improvise.”

Welcome to the world of Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald.

“Most people hew the battlements of life from compromise, erecting their impregnable keeps from judicious submissions, fabricating their philosophical drawbridges from emotional retractions and scalding marauders in the boiling oil of sour grapes. ” Save Me the Waltz, 1932

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Scott was enraged about the publication of Zelda’s “Save Me the Waltz”.  He was able to speak with Scribners and make edits on Zelda’s work before it was published.  In what I believe to be a far more devastating blow to his wife, he spoke to Zelda’s Dr’s and made it clear that she was not to cover his “material” in her writing anymore.  Meaning their relationship and specifically their time in Europe-it is believed.  Very soon after, in 1934, he penned “Tender is the Night”.  A follow up to “The Great Gatsby” and a counter to “Save Me the Waltz”.  Readers waited 9 years to behold this volume.  It was received with mixed reviews.

“Save Me the Waltz” is currently in the lobby of Venus Theatre awaiting silent auction.  At the age of 32 Zelda was legitimately published!  Clearly, she would say that Scott had published her words much sooner.  Now, in the year 2010, much of her work is published and available.  How fortunate are the readers of this day?

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P.H. Lin has Zelda saying the following:

I don’t do tears, Jelly Bean. Tears only make you rust. And when you’re a dancer, as am I? You want to stay mobile. Always. Mobility is the prime necessity… if you hope to function. And be considered remarkable, inside or out.

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As for Scott, well you probably know a lot about him that I haven’t even mentioned here.  He’s a legend.  His drinking caught up with him.  Mixed with what he insisted were attacks of tuberculosis.  He had his first heart attack in 1940 in Schwab’s Drug Store.  By then he was living in Hollywoood and had a relationship with Sheilhah Graham.  He (I SWEAR!) lived on North Laurel Avenue.  His apartment was two flights up so he moved in with Graham only one block away on N. Hayword Ave, she had a ground level.  The two attended the film, “This Thing Called Love”.  Upon leaving Scott felt dizzy and bemoaned that people probably assumed he was drunk.

The next morning he clutched the mantel and fell to the floor with his second, and this time deadly, heart attack.  Graham quickly sought out the building manager, Mr. Culver, and he gave her the final news.  (Culver was the founder of Culver City.)

Scotts remains were shipped to Bethesda, MD.  His funeral service was in Baltimore attended by 20-30 people.  His daughter Scottie and Dorothy Parker were two of the small number in attendance.  Parker was overheard quoting from “The Great Gatsby”, “the poor son-0f-a-bitch”.  Scott was originally buried in Rockville Union Cemetery.

As for Zelda, well she always signed herself into sanitariums and out when she felt well enough to take on the world.  The “Original Flapper” spent time at Shepherd Pratt in Baltimore/Townson.  It was a reputable facility.  Still is.  But, you can imagine the stigma.  Then and now.  She had a history of mental illness running through her Father’s side of the family.  And, it did catch up with her.  Scott definitely had his flaws, and their financial ups and downs were almost as notorious as their extra-marital love affairs.  But, there was something to it all.  Some kind of love/hate compassionate rivalry that kept them all ablaze throughout most of their lifetimes.

Zelda was from the South and she ended up back in the South in her final sanitarium.  In 1936 she signed into the Highland Mental Hospital in Asheville, NC.  She and Scott last saw one another in 1938.  She painted.  She painted a lot.  And, she was working on her second novel.  After 12 years in Ashland, in 1948, there was a fire in the hospital.  Zelda died in that fire.  She was 48.

It wasn’t until 1975 that the remains of the couple were moved to St. Mary’s Cemetery in Rockville, MD.  A woman named Frances Lanahan “worked to overturn the Archdiocese of Baltimore ruling that Fitzgerald died a non practicing Catholic, so that he could be at rest at the Roman Catholic cemetery where his father’s family was laid.”  Well, I understand that traditional Catholics don’t believe in divorce so I s’pose there wasn’t much debate about Zelda being moved right along with him.  That’s my assumption anyway.

Both Zelda and Scott each left this world in the midst of writing their next great novel, respectively.

“Advice From a Caterpillar” by Zelda Fitzgerald.

Tonight at Venus Theatre we will have our final tech run for “Zelda at the Oasis”.  Kris Thompson (pictured on the left) has done the entire lighting design.  She is amazing.  John is in the center.  He’s our stage manager and board operator for both lights and sound.  And, properties person.  He has his hands full.  And Ali Daniels (pictured on the right) has designed the sound for the show.

Perhaps I should explain.  Starting in the mid-90’s I vascillated between doing solo work and producing full out productions with gobloads of people.  Back and forth.  From carrying a whole show in my trunk and hitting the highway to renting DCAC, 1409 Playbill, the Warehouse, and more.  Four years ago we landed this modest space.  And I did two solo shows back to back under the florescent lights in ’07 in the very low don’t-break-the-ice-on-my-head ceiling. We have since lifted the tiles and raised the ceiling thanks to the Not Such Stuff cast, which marked the beginning of the 4 play 2009 season.

As serendipity would have it, for the first four years here at the Shack our business neighbors to the left only repaired old theatre lighting.  That was their WHOLE business.  So, Ken and Dan were always there to lend a hand.  Eventually, thanks to a DFF grant, we were able to purchase 16 instruments and two dimmer packs.  We borrowed a board from next door.  This was a long journey because of the West Virginia formula.  You know, watts x voltage = amperage.  Yeah, I had to pick that one up too.  It comes down to a delicate balance of electrical current put to the best and most economical use through an electrical panel (which -thanks to a SECOND DFF grant- is no longer showered on with raw sewage due to flawed plumbing) in a modest space.  When the formula is askew, well…boom boom OUT GO THE LIGHTS!  And, don’t think it hasn’t happened DURING shows. (because it has.  a long time ago.  in a galaxy far far away).

Enter Kris, who can add environmental light and plug it all in so it all stays lit.  She jumped in mid-last year after I lit shows myself, with the help of Ken and Dan and others.  She’s a miracle worker.  AMAZING woman!

Last year when we were teching “Why’d Ya Make Me Wear This Joe?” Kris wanted an air raid light.  So, I found one in this thrift store on Main Street.  Only it was rigged to plug into a cigarette lighter.  The adapter at Radio Shack was 6 times more expensive than the light.  So, I took it over to Ken and Dan.  They rigged an old computer motor up to a switch and gave us the effect.  We then used the light inside of our “pinball machine” set up in “Helen of Sparta” at the end of last year.  I love collaborations of this nature.  So much fun!

Ali Daniels is fresh out of UMD.  She is a lovely actor, singer, scenic painter, and sound designer.  Last year on “Homokay’s Medea” she painted the entire set.  Marbilized platforms in purple.  So pretty.  Then she painted pinball art murals chosen by Joe Musumeci onto both walls in the Shack for “Helen” last year.  This is the first time she’s designed sound for Venus.  Ali has gone through rights on the music.  It’s 1935 era.  She’s been up til 2 or 3 some mornings stretching top hats and pulling up melodic lines.  At last check she created an effect of glasses clinking during 1927 party sounds for a background cue because a pre-recording was nowhere to be found.  I’ve overheard her talking about Charlie Chaplin and which parts of which songs we could use.  She sits patiently through tech, with Kris.  They set levels with John and Lynn and make the aural and visual world appear.  This is critical on Zelda because so much of it is a journey into the mind of the character.

The lights and sound go far to help tell this amazing story.

Tonight, when I sit through the final tech run, I will count my lucky stars that these three people have had such a hand in my Company and in this production.

Kris, John, and Ali, if you are reading this…you KNOW how much I appreciate the fine fine work you’ve brought into Venus.  THANK YOU!

One of the many designers on Venus Theatre’s Zelda at the Oasis production is Beth Surdut.  Read about her below.  This beautiful silk will be on silent auction through April 4th at the Venus Theatre Play Shack.  21 C Street Laurel, MD  20707.  www.venustheatre.org

Beth Surdut, Visual Storyteller Art for the mind and body at www.bethsurdut.com

Beth Surdut comments on The Zelda Shawl, commissioned for the world premiere of Zelda at the Oasis at the Venus Theatre

“The bird of paradise, which bloomed abundantly in my gardens in Hawaii and Florida, is like Zelda, a striking and messy plant, an intricate combination of colorful life, awkward death, and rejuvenation. Each pod contains more than the one bloom that you first see, another blossom appearing as its predecessor dies. In fact, you can reach in with a gentle forcefulness and coax the next bloom into showy existence or break the blossom in the process.”

Beth Surdut’s multi-layered career as an artist and writer includes designing architectural art glass and textiles, painting, illustration, and working as a journalist/commentator for print, radio and cyberspace. Luscious, sumptuous and glowing, Ms. Surdut’s hand painted silk accessories and clothing are a result of breathing in the vast sky and landscape, then breathing out onto silk with brushes and dyes     The artist’s nature explorations have encompassed free diving with Hawaiian sea turtles, hanging from a rope in an island fern forest, riding an Indonesian water buffalo, and canoeing with Florida alligators for three years, earning her the nickname “Gator Girl.”  Her art is collected internationally and has been shown at the Smithsonian Institution, DeCordova Museum , American Textile History Museum , Cahoon Museum of American Art, and the New Zealand Wearable Art Awards. She has designed and painted Celtic motifs for fashion icon Mary McFadden, created numerous fabrics for Hawaiian shirt manufacturers as well as Indian women’s clothing companies. Known for her unique tropical interpretations, she designed table linens for the Boston Museum of Fine Arts blockbuster Gauguin Tahiti exhibit. Ms. Surdut currently resides in the high desert of New Mexico, where Raven, Bringer of Magic, called her to create the art and story of Listening To Raven~Drawings, Myths & Realities, an ongoing exploration of science and spirit. These detailed story drawings, created with pen and pencil, heart and mind, are a vision quest expanded by paying attention to small moments.

Holy Mercy it’s March!

Hi everyone.  I wanted to stop in with this blog as an attempt to begin to keep you abreast on the inner workings at Venus Theatre.

We open a world premiere in just over a week.  It’s a beautiful play by P.H. Lin called, “Zelda at the Oasis”.  It explores the character of Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald.  She was the wife of F. Scott and that’s mostly how she’s remembered.  But, she was an incredible artist.  She painted.  She was offered a position in a Russian ballet company, even though she was 27 at the time.  She was a prolific writer.  You can find her words lifted by Scott and published under his name.

She was also a schitzophrenic.

So the process of transforming our modest space at the Venus Theatre Play Shack from the inside of a pinball machine to a bar in 1935 called, “The Oasis” has been quite interesting.

I’ll tell you more soon.  But, I wanted to get this blog started today.

More soon!