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Monthly Archives: June 2010

A good friend sent me this article today.  A woman in Africa has come up with a defensive condom for women to help curb the sexual assaults which lead to the spread of AIDS in that country.

Twice in the past decade I’ve written about such a concept.  Once in an infomercial entitlted “Explomo-Ex” which consisted of four kinds of torpedo like tampons and was staged to the tune of Wonder Woman with various slo-mo women launching the differing products on a poor actor named Lindon, until he revealed his shirt that read “This Is What A Feminist Looks Like”.  I believe the DC City Paper gave it high marks.

I also wrote a rock opera version of Lysistrata called, “Lysistration” which had a scientist from NIH come up with a more severe version that included a syringe and injection that would invert the penis if the woman chose to do such a thing.

I’ll try to paste the monologues here.  If I can find them.  Anyway, it’s a strong affirmation to let my brain imagine in a world pretty hyped up on marketing spin and sexy-shiny images to promote.  So, I wanted to share it here on my blog.

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Excerpt from “Lysistration” by Deborah Randall all rights reserved @2005

BB:  Right.  Okay.  In brief.  Okay.  Some lab experimentation has led us to the “Lysistration Inversion”.  Someone here is working on a garter.  In any event, when not in horrifying housewife camouflage you MUST wear this garter.  While in the garb, it’s up to you.  Okay, the syringe will mount inside of the garter.  IF you are being attacked.  That is to say, if a man decides to penetrate against your will, you will twist the bow on the outside of the garter you should be able to get your fingers to your outer thigh, this will initiate a toggle that readies the syringe on your inner thigh.  So, keep your legs spread and don’t stab yourself, we haven’t done any studies on the effect.  As the syringe enters the penis a biochemical agent will alter only one chromosome on the DNA chain of the man.  Now, this will have a five to ten year effect.  The “Lysistration Inversion”.  In it’s most simplistic terms, each time the males penis begins to become erect, it will invert and pelvicly impale the gentlemen for five to ten years, as well as in the moment of attack.  Any questions?

BG:  How did you get the funding for this?

BB:  I shaved some off of the Viagra improvement project.  I’m not comfortable speaking about this.

Rio:  Are these chemicals harmful in any other way?

BB: (getting more defensive) Again, I have not been funded to do a side effects study.  Perhaps you’d like to attempt FDA Approval.  I’m fine right here.

Shakira:  If a man decides to rape a woman, then IT’S ON!!!

Nancy:  Okay, I know we want to invest into our inner warrior GodDesS now,

Shakira:  Damn straight!

Nancy:  But we must remain calm and we must follow the secret order as deemed in 1992.  The next order of business…

(HEAVY POUNDING ON BACK DOOR!  Male Voice.  Silence within the room.)

BG:  Grab your ass and run…it’s the heat…(women scatter)

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I can’t find the Explomo-ex monologues, but you get the gist.

Here’s what I’ve been wondering about.  Permission.  Permission to explore the things that terrify the most and turn them into some ridiculous situation which debunks their power. This to me is the power of theatre and the very reason I still walk the planet.  Without it, I would have shutdown SO long ago.

Maybe in Africa, the idea of this device will deter rape.  Maybe it will combat the myth that a man can be cured of AIDS if he rapes a virgin.  Maybe we need to put other stories out there.  Stories that say, if a man rapes a woman he will suffer pain.  Maybe, I’m not a sadist afterall but instead have found my own sanity through imagining the kind of justice that I need to hike a river path alone and not be afraid of attack.  And maybe if that’s what I need, it’s what others need to and so so there you have the reason I’m sharing some of my work.

Maybe I want to say, don’t let fear win.  But, be smart.  Use the tools that you have and move forward.  Don’t lock up.

Geez!  Why is it so hard to NOT lock up sometimes?

Well, this is it!  The final day of the Carolyn Gage Blog-Off challenge.  She wrote a BEAUTIFUL entry today about the gulf coast.  About taking responsibility as individuals.  About grief.  She is so courageous and so honest.  And, she has the quality that I admire most in people…she keeps growing.  She wants to know more.  She shows up.  She moves through.  She EVOLVES.  Isn’t that the point?

So, I’ll end my blog-off with some advice as well.  I’m not as prolific as Carolyn.  And, there are people out there with much greater wisdom than myself.  But, for what it’s worth, here’s something it’s taken me a long time to learn.  I remind myself of this almost daily.  I think of this when beautiful language eludes me.  I go back to this to weigh in and decide whether or not to engage.  It is a blue collar phrasing, a simple sensibility.  Here goes:

“If you get into a pissing contest there is only ever one guaranteed result, you will smell like piss.”

That’s it.  So gather your facts, weigh your options, make your choices and move ahead.  Let go of the people who want to roll around in the muck and take your precious time and energy.  Keep stepping.

May we all show up and tell our stories through the actions of our lives with grace, dignity, respect, and heaps and gobs of love and compassion!

Thank you my sister Carolyn Gage for the lessons, the love, the patience, your truth!

For TEN YEARS I was obsessed with telling the story of the “Molly Maguires”.  I wrote four plays.  One is published and taught at Penn State.  I’m always coming back around to this story and I can’t quite explain why.  Most people drawn to it have a family or regional connection.  I have neither.  My friend Marlie believed I was there and have now been reincarnated to come back and tell the story.  As only the true irony of life can offer up, turns out my friend has since passed on and so I can’t ask her about it anymore.

Way back in ’95 I was directing two plays for the Source festival in DC and I had written one of them as well.  We teched earlier in the day to come back and perform in the evening.  They were short plays and there were usually ten a night.  This man Gabriel Shanks had also written and directed a play there.  He used to run the Theatre Conspiracy before a group of women conspired and took it over to launch some really great works for women in Washington for  a span of three years.  So when Gabriel and I arrived later in the day to prep for the evenings performance we found that the tech crew had given each piece abbreviated short titles.  His play was, “The Naked Penis Play” as they saw it.  It consisted of two naked men lying on the floor with some simple bedding naked.  They each only spoke one word back and forth for about ten minutes.  It was a gorgeous piece of work.  My play was a four woman show that was kind of overlapping and jagged monologues delivered by women whom I’d only assigned letters for character names.  It was dubbed, “The Screaming Woman Play” by the techs.  So, Gabriel and I lay down a bet, “What would scare audiences more,  naked penises or screaming women?”  Thus went the evening.  By the way, the other play I directed was a solo piece that my friend Marlie performed called, “Solataire”.  I have all of this on video but cannot bring myself to watch.  I miss her.

Hands down, my play shocked and terrified audiences much more than his.  We drew the obvious conclusion.

Years later a woman whom I’d met at a panel discussion on women in the arts brought up the subject of the Molly Maguires.  She came over with a group of women to talk about the idea I was having for starting my own Company and we rode the elevator together and instead of giving her a lift to the metro station I drove her home and we talked.  Out of this conversation came a decade of complete obsession for me.

The lithograph image of Molly consisted of an Irish Woman confronting the British Police who were trying serve her eviction notice.  She stood in the middle of the road in front of her rented home and her fist touched the sky.  The legend goes that on the next day when the constibularly came to evict her a group of men dressed in women’s clothing appeared and slay the British.  The men called themselves, “The Sons of Molly Maguire” later known simply as the “Molly Maguires”.

Again, the image of the woman with her fist in the air-the screaming woman- became synonymous with terrifying power.  Or, maybe it was the opposite.  Maybe it was a joke to let the attackers get super close and then take them out while dressed in drag.  It goes back and forth.

It raises the question about the power of women and also about how men interface with that.  That the story made it across the Atlantic before WiFi was stunning.

What with absolute power corrupting absolutely this began to make sense.  About five years into Molly Maguire research I realized that in trying to retell this history which, while sometimes compelling and fascinating to experience, certainly did not always make good theatre -but I was a woman possessed- what I was really digging down into was my own story somehow.  The more I excavated the more overcome I was with the sense of the nameless ones.

Eckley Miner’s Village allowed me to perform the solo show on the Catholic alter during their Coal Mining Festival called Patch Town Days.  SANCTUARY.  Eckley was the movie set for the Sean Connery Film on the Molly Maguires which doesn’t even come close to telling the story, by the way.  The film Matwan comes much much closer to capturing the time, the divide and conquer mentality, the monarchy of owning the resources of the world and crushing expendable labor to make a buck.  Thinking about the Irish in the Molly Maguire story, how they were discriminated against and had to figure out how to protect themselves, snd knowing the Kennedy’s would rise up to live in the white house less than a hundred years after was incredible to ponder.  Each new ethnicity was the bottom rung of the ladder until they climbed up.  The problem is, the bottom rung is there, the ladder is there, and the next group to be discriminated against would occupy the rung and have to figure out how to climb up.  Over and over and over and over… Now we have an African American President and an oil disaster that seems almost unmanageable and border patrol.  Natural resource, expendable labor, citizenship, the themes haunt.

What’s interesting about Eckley Miner’s Village is that the town so embraces the set of the film that 40 years later it is still protected.  Electrical wires are buried, cars must be hidden from view even for people who now live in the patch homes.  And the breaker, built to stand for three months remains and faces much controversy.

The women of 1877 slept on average 4 hours each night.  It’s incredible when you think about it.  Ethnicities so divided that they put the Catholics on one end and the Protestants on the other.  The Polish, the Irish, the German, the Italian, and so on and so forth.  No mixing.  Anecdotes were told in some stories about fires burning buildings to the ground as fire departments on either end stood yelling the debate over flames about which group the building belonged to.

The women of 1877 did not have voting rights.  The gender divide was as strong as the class and ethnic divides.  Women went to church, men went to bars.  And men created political movements at those gatherings.  Black Jack Kehoes Hibernian House still stands in Girardville less than 5 miles away from Wiggan’s Patch where a massacre occured on Dec 10, 1875 that would lead to mass hangings of Irish men through the court systems beginning June 1877 and running for two years.  Until it was no longer headline news.  I’ve played my guitar there.

The women of 1877 were widowed often if they did not die in childbirth.  Men who were not battling it out pre-labor union for fair treatment underground were dying down there with cave ins and disasters.  In PA anthracite coal is the commodity.  It is found no where else in the world.  The veins of anthracite run vertically up from the ground and so mining it is a dangerous job which tended to end in more cave ins that the horizontal veins  of Bituminous Coal
of the rest of Appalacia.  Outrageously, mine disasters continue to happen today and the earth has now been robbed and appears barren in those regions.  No trees.  No roots.

The Irish women of 1877 who married were the most abused and poverty stricken people of their day.  The Irish woman of 1877 who did not marry and took on jobs as maids were the most independent and wealthy women of their day.  They had access to mansions, upper class menu’s, the libraries of the learned, and they had Sunday’s off.  It was said that the Irish maids out on the town on Sundays had the nicest clothes, the prettiest Victorian gloves.  Their uniforms, housing, and food were provided AND they earned a salary.  Priests would come to the back kitchen doors and ask the maids for money.

The Irish Catholic maids of 1877 shared duties with Protestant male servants because the wealthy landowners believed that the religions would not “mix”.

Mary Campbell was wife to Alexander Campbell.  He was hanged on June 21, 1877 along with nine other men.  All before 11am, and four simultaneously over in Pottsville (where they bottle Yeungling today).  Mary appealed to the supreme court and had her voice heard despite her low ranking as a woman.  She failed, but there was no leaf left unturned.

“The Valley of Fear” is the last Sherlock Holmes novel penned by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  It’s said to be influenced by the Molly’s.  I think it’s bunk.  Boring bunk.  The Pinkerton Detective Agency was the driving force for the execution of these men.  Valley of Fear is a Victorian informercial to rally more clients for the Pinkertons.  They were hired by a politician, landowner, railroad/mine baron named Asa Packer.  Their primary witness was held in the dungeon of the prison in Mauch Chunk Jail for three days.  He was an alcoholic deprived of food and drink and light.  He confessed the men and his testimony along with the spy hired by the establishment was the only evidence used to kill the 20 men over 2 years.  I’ve been to the prison many times.  It’s owned by the McBrides now.  And every spring the dungeon produces various random shoes and news clipping from the Victorian Era.  Because anthracite coal heats so well, the prisoners would have to stuff the vents to cool the place down.  And so each Spring the rains wash the cool winter drops down into the basement.  It’s like the place is slowing digesting or breathing.  Creepy as hyell!

When considering the expendable I found upon reflection that one constant result was mass execution.  This is a sure sign that a group in history was viewed as less than human.  We have the Native Americans massacred at Wounded Knee and beyond.  We have African American slaves at Veasey Plot and beyond.  The Irish as Molly Maguires on Black Thursday and beyond.  And the witch hunts which wiped out a generation of women SO LONG ago and beyond for sure.

The strength and power of the story as it turned out did not lie with the printed stories or the names remembered as much as it did with the heart and spirit of the story itself.  Because the people who survived and carried on in all of the best ways are largely un-named a century later.

So, it’s everyone’s legacy.  The legacy of story.  The power of truth.  The undeniable ability to bend our own life, our future, our story with the choices we make.

Margaret O’Donnel was a feisty woman.  She lost her children, two of them shot point blank at Wiggan’s in front of her eyes.  Her husband struck by a falling block underground and incapacitated for much of their married life.  I found the tombstone that Margaret somehow purchased.  Every name was printed on the square, they all lay to rest together.  Except her name is missing.  Her name is missing because who was left to have it inscribed?  Us.  We are left.

“The heyday of woman’s life is the shady side of fifty.”
Elizabeth Cady Stanton

After auditions yesterday I found myself in a kind of elation.  I mean there was Robin Rice Lichtig and Lee Mikeska Gardner sitting in Venus watching these sometimes amazing actors give up the good stuff.  It’s my idea of heaven.  And, I’d like to thank everyone who showed up.

That said, and believe me my gratitude runs deep…I want to talk about the vagina.

I know Eve Ensler has already taken this out to its furthest boundary.  But, I’d like to say that last night I heard a lot of monologues which included the vagina in various ways.  This struck me.  And, it brought up something I’ve been thinking about and sometimes chatting with Carolyn about for a long time now.  While I appreciate the celebration of the vagina, maybe there’s another subject we could explore?  Say, the tooth?

As a 43 year old, peri-menopausal woman I have to say that my journey, experience, voice, is grossly under-represented in the way of what it means for me to be a person, a woman, at this point in my life.  We have Cougar Town, the way we have the Vagina Monologues.  Again, publicly I would like to challenge Carolyn Gage to write the “Clitoral Dialogues” because that would probably be closer to good theatre.  It would have conflict, resolution, dialogue, things that largely make up something we like to call a PLAY.

What if women were so deeply infatuated with their own sensuality that they just giggled a lot?  I mean what if it wasn’t about the anatomy, how it can be used as a transporting system, or possibly talk, what if it was about the WOMAN?

In her 20’s she believes she is her body.  That’s what she is taught and she holds onto that version of herself for as long as she can so that she will be accepted, adored, desired.  In her 30’s she begins to feel shunned and reads more, talks more, thinks more, begins to cultivate and inner monologue, assesses from more of an individual perspective.  In her 40’s a dialogue rises up not just with the people around her, the world out there, but an internal dialogue.  In her 40’s she finds herself fascinating.  She loves her own company.  She knows who she is.  She has wisdom, strength, and the undeniable beauty that beams out from a kind of fearless admission of ones own truth.  That’s as far as I’ve gotten.

It doesn’t have much to do with a purse vibe, or sex mags, it has everything to do with sensuality. Self-love.

That deep sense of the unlikely chance of her own existence and the awe that comes with the triumph.  It has to do with earning the curves and owning the creases because each one brings up some insane memory of something she tried once, something that transformed her.

When we teach our daughters to remain the princess we are also teaching them to dishonor the teachers.  And, when we do that there is an arrested state of development which leaves women hating themselves.  Deeply.  And, when women hate themselves to such a degree they resent the world around them.  And, when that happens it is indeed a hostile place for everyone.

IF we could embrace the ever-growing sensuality of woman.  Of WOMAN—AH!

I have to go adore myself now so I’m going to stop typing.

I’m only typing right now because I promised my friend Carolyn I would match her daily blogging day for day for five days.  Busy times.  Tonight we audition a lot of actors for Venus Theatre.  One is a crowned beauty queen.  This is a most exciting evening and encounter because the playwright meets the director tonight too.  Our playwright this time is Robin Rice Lichtig and she and her husband Joe came into town yesterday.  I hung out with them last night and we got to know one another.  Then I saw them hiking the river this morning.  Delightful people.  Delightful time.  After telling my fish story last night Robin was now pitching a play about doing a play about a fish and how the villian (me) has to be stopped before she destroys the world.  It cracked me up.

I’ve slowly been thinking about all of the living playwrights I’ve had the great honor to work with.  They are the most incredible people.  And Robin, as well at PH Lin who we produced in March did their masters studies with Milan Stitt.  As did our final playwright of the year Andrea Lepcio.

Venus had read a play of Robin’s years back called, “Embracing the Undertoad” at an art gallery in DC as part of the wRighting Woman Reading Series.  Robin also knows works from their infancies by other playwrights that I happened to produce full out in the Venus space.  Works by Vanda, and Carolyn Gage, and so on and so forth.  I guess that we are drawn to one another eventually and that there truly is an artistic family out there.  This goes back to my dear friend Carolyn for whom I tap these keys.  I first read a play of Carolyn’s as part of a war protest in front of the White House in 2002.  It was called, “The Rules of the Playground”.  I went on to read more of her plays publicly and then to produce “The Anastasia Trials in the Court of Women” and “Ugly Ducklings”.

The first time I saw Carolyn she was performing her Joan piece at UVA.  Another playwrighting friend named Julianne Homokay was dramturging at a regional theatre at the time and she said I needed to see this Carolyn.  So we met and we watched.

Carolyn is brave.  And, she doesn’t apologize.  And, her heart is tremendous.  She is truly a sister to me and I would do anything for her.  The moment I saw her play Joan was the beginning of a growing relationship with a woman I would later come to know not only as a dear friend, artistic sister, great writer, brilliant performer, founder of three separate theatres, but she will go down in my own record book as the best read human being I’ve ever met.  When it comes to biographies of women in general and lesbians in particular, I believe it is impossible to meet a more well read person.

So, dear Carolyn I bow to you and say…KEEP CREATING!!!!

Okay. So I was talking with a playwrighting friend and we decided to blog every day this week. Where to begin?

photo by C. Stanley Photography

Venus Theatre closed “In the Goldfish Bowl” two weeks ago. It was an incredible process. The actors were amazing and the play told a great story. It was written by Kay Rhoads and it took place on a Texas death row unit. Four women. World Premiere.

It was one of those processes that faced a new challenge each week. Illnesses, actor drop out, and so on and so forth. But, the amazing thing was watching these actors pull together and tell the story.

Our Stage Manager John was running both boards and so, for the first time, I was able to not watch over every show. In fact, I watched the first couple of performances and then the final performance. I found it to be very moving.

We did throw a fish on stage though. This met with great controversy. I was accused of traumatizing and abusing animals. A gossip ring was launched in ignorant circles, acupuncturists wanted to beat me up, and so on and so forth. Eventually, we posted a notice in the lobby explaining that we never used the same fish twice and that we never killed a fish on stage. Also, that they were rescues out of a feeder tank, and that they were set free in the wild every week.

Well, even this met with great questioning. When you set them free, will they be safe there? This raises the question of accountability. Am I responsible for overseeing the food chain?

Here’s the thing. They were bred to be feeder fish. Overcrowded in a feeder tank in pet stores all over the place. Usually filled with disease in advance and definitely overstressed. Then, dumped into a tank with a predator to await their own demise. Sound familiar?

Stats show that every day three women are killed by their domestic partner and 600 are assaulted. Just last week four women were rescued from being trafficked as sex slaves 5 miles from the theatre. The point of “In the Goldfish Bowl” was to show the helplessness of woman trapped in the bowl and also as the fish out of water trying desperately to survive a terminal situation.

In doing this show, I did save some fish that otherwise would have never seen nature again. Also, almost all of our fight choreography time went to the fish. How to throw it without damaging it at all.

I don’t miss having to oversee a tank full of fish with no stomachs and treat them with fish-zoloft. But, I would like to think that everyone who had a criticism was either Kosher or vegan and did not wear any makeup tested on animals.  I also hope they were equally concerned for the animals that went into the bologna onstage. Do we really live in an out-of-sight/out-of-mind culture to such a degree?

I do appreciate the concern for the animals. But, the hardest part was looking at how little worry went out for the women.

I read a story about a Senior Petstore owner in the UK that was put under house arrest for selling a goldfish to a minor and not taking a bird to the vet early enough. Anyone see the disparity here? Real women are wiped out daily. So, I wonder why it’s so easy to care for a feeder fish and so difficult to care about women.

Why is it so easy to blame me for being cruel to animals, even though I’ve rescued them from the time I was a little girl, and so difficult to look at the human story and feel compassion. REALLY FEEL IT.  Am I fingerpointing here? We vowed not to do that in this 5 day challenge. But, I guess I’m still in venting mode.

Maybe the problem with telling the stories of women in theatre – the reason it remains a constant battle- has to do with the ability (or lack thereof) to care about them as human beings in our culture.

I want to understand.