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Monthly Archives: July 2010

Venus Theatre has been called intrepid, provocative, cutting edge, “in a shoe box on a shoe string, and that’s no small thing”.

And, we’ve been at it for 10 years.  In fact, TWICE over the past week friends have asked how many scripts I’ve given feedback on and helped bring to the boards, and the answer is…too many to count.  The web will continue to get updated but you can see a narrative of the past several years, which begins to paint the picture.

The bills keep coming and I’m wondering how much longer I can avoid making a dental appointment for myself so that I can pay rent for my theatre.  This starving Artistic Director thing is edgy and exciting in ones 20’s, it’s dark and mysterious and a bit dangerous ones 30’s, but as “one” begins to look at mid-40’s “one” wonders what to call it now.  Seriously.

Over the past 14 days, I’ve been actively seeking funding.  The week before last I asked for $10,000 a day.  The beauty of everything happening online now is that it’s easy to send in a query.  The devastating thing about everything happening online now is that rejection comes flying at you faster than the speed of light.  It’s a lot to process.  So, I’ve had about $100,000 of rejected funds.  And, okay I’m feeling woefully and profoundly sad at my career choice at the moment.  I’m sure this will pass, but it bites to work this hard and be this poverty riddled for so long.

There was a $1,000 donation.  And more financial support is pending.  So, hope abounds.

Here’s where I need you.

Bad.

First, let me say that every penny goes to rent, utilities, artists, set, costumes, lights, and props.  I can show you every penny.  Nothing it wasted.  So, $5 or $10 would help us right now.  There is no amount too small.

That said, I’m having an idea…

I’d like to challenge anyone who is up for it to raise $250 for Venus Theatre Company.  A nonprofit.  What does that mean?  Well, have a yard sale.  Go over to your Great Aunt’s house, the one you love dearly but haven’t had the time to visit because she puts you to work.  Clean her basement.  Sell her stuff and put a couch where all of that junk used to be, then paint her nails.  Send Venus the check and write it off on your taxes.  You can send monies to:  Venus Theatre Company  21 C Street  Laurel, MD  20707.  Or you can go online and do your thing through our box office service.

Here are some good reasons to take the challenge:

-It’s time you visited and spent time with that relative.

-If you raise $250 or more your name will appear in the Venus Theatre Play Shack storefront.

-Write your experience of raising the money for Venus and you’ll automatically be entered into our “Keeping Women’s Theatre Alive” contest.  If your story is chosen it will be read by yours truly before each performance of the world premiere of, “Play Nice!” in September.

-You should do this because you can.  If you can, that is.  It doesn’t cost a lot to bring cutting edge world premiere work to life, but it does cost something and we need support.

-A challenge is always fun.  If you don’t want to have a yard sale, take a dare from your friends for money and do that thing that you’re a little hesitant of doing.  You know—THAT THING!

A $250 donation by 20 people or groups of people will keep Venus Theatre setting flight to the voices of women through 2010.  Right now, I should be putting a call out for the next set of new plays.  In fact, playwrights are inquiring.  But, I can’t do that in good faith until we take care of the business at hand.  Please take this journey with me.

We need you.

I need you.

I need you bad.

I’ve been reading  a lot about Gaslighting lately.  It’s fascinating because the term is from a play and film called, “Gaslight”.

It was Angela Lansbury’s first film.  She turned 18 on the set.  And it was Ingrid Bergman’s first Oscar-win.  Ingrid Bergman who worked for Hitchcock. The Bergman of Casablanca.  And, the beloved Lansbury.  Shooting on the set together for “Gaslight” in the infancy of their amazing careers.  Two women with the grace and generosity of an unknown Universe.  Humble, gentle, real, gifted, courageous, funny, indelible, and long-standing artistically.  Seemingly superhuman.

Another name that keeps coming up on the Gaslight remake is Christopher Reeve.  Superman.

The term that has come to represent deception, gaslighting, was born in the womb of some of the most generous spirits to walk the planet.  Born of film noir talent and style.  Add in that villian Vincent Price as Mr. Manningham on Broadway in 1942 where-interestingly enough-the American title was “Angel Street”, and we’ve got something incredible here.  We’ve got one of the longest running non musicals in Broadway history.  One of the most produced plays…ever.  AND…a  word.  A descriptive.  Nay, a psychological term.

This brings me around to my point.  Pop culture.  It effects everything.  It’s a liquid.  It seeps in.  You can wear vinyl and open your umbrella, but even the most resistant and best liquid-proofed factions of society will at least step into a puddle of pop-culture.  This goes to Pattie Hurst and the Stockholm Syndrome as well.  Pop-culture.  It seeps into everything.

Culture.

And here’s where I stumble.  How do I -1. argue the value of storytelling?  How do I-2.  make the case about the importance of telling powerful stories of women for the betterment of the culture as a whole?  How do I fight so many battles at once before putting the key into the door of my theatre and turning on the lights to -3. bring in new work?

My best option as I see it is to look at the Bergman’s and the Lansbury’s and the Supermen and the Wonder Women.  Look at the grace and find the gratitude.  Embrace the evolution where I can detect it.  Because this play that became a film 60 years ago reaches into the lives of women in particular today and gives us all a language.  It may not have been in the text of Freud.  But, it’s in our storytelling history.  We know this.  We can come to understand that when disbelief, defensiveness, and depression roll in something may be wrong with the situation and not necessarily the chemistry in our head.  This flies in the face of modern psychology.  But, we know.  And we keep moving.   And we keep seeking.  And we keep telling the story.  And, presto-chango POOF! psychology has new terms!

If the stories out there are full of video games where women are prostituted, raped for points then thrown in a trunk?  If the stories haven’t caught up with the day and are antiquated and unrelatable, then we are hollowing out a sacred ground that existed long before print.  When stories become soundbytes under 3 minutes our brains wire themselves accordingly.  We lose patience.  We lose focus.  We lose the ability to journey, to connect, to experience the catharsis.  Catharsis, then becomes C3 in the junk food machine at the end of the hall with the ugly lightbulb and dead dehydrated fly in the bottom right corner of the glass box.  Tempting.

The sacred land of story is limitless, it is lush.  It wants its audience to become lost there.  To really take the journey without tweeting.  Taste it.  Smell it.  Bask in its specific light and temperature.  To discover connections and experiences and then let all of that land on a human level.  It takes time.  It takes exploration.  It takes something called process.  “Let it land”.  How many times have I said that to myself while directing work?  The temptation to twist the ending because we are out of time.  Or because, it’s the acceptable thing.  These things don’t resonate with the human spirit.  They are objects to be polished and sold despite the dead fly.  But, rarely experiences that speak to the sacred power of story.  Because you must take the journey to arrive at the story.

Gaslighting.

huh.

For those of us who have been exposed to dangerous people, as artists that’s probably 100%, and as women that’s statistically 80%.  If you are one of the lucky 20% celebrate that.  PLEASE.  Don’t feel left out, as I hear articulated.  We need MORE of you, not less.  For we the 80%, the language changes everything.  And, we need to keep going.  We should have more Bergaman’s and Lansbury’s and Reeve’s, not fewer.  We should be moving forward.  Trusting more, not less.

My job is to articulate this through numbers now.  Get out of the room and seek funding to insure the future of my Company.  To show how art saves lives.  And, it does.  The ability to conceive story changes the whole world.  And the stories we compose collectively say something about who we are.  They are the map that tells us where we’ve been and where we are going.  If we hollow these things out.  If we begin to imitate the imitations we lose our innovator’s.  We need our innovator’s.  We need our real storytellers.  Not the people who have the best chance of selling the tickets that will sell the product that will become the cute cereal brand that sugars us all up.  But, the people who weave compelling stories and offer a new perspective. Even if it offends.  Even if it flies in the face of a popular notion.  We need that power, the right to disagree but EMPATHIZE on a human level just the same.

Culture.

Pop culture.

huh.  What is it I’m trying to say here?

When the money is not there for those of us producing edgy theatre, we are criticised for that insane fact.  We are judged for not bringing in the production values and marketing campaigns of those on the other side of the million dollar chasm, even when we are given the highest of marks artistically.  When we bring in new works by living playwrights and are supposed to feel so grateful for a calender mention with a societal voice telling us how lucky we are to get that attention.  When we’ve delivered and are treated like we’ve missed the mark.  When we have done our job and merely expect the rest of the theatrical family to show up and do theirs…

And here’s a just one of many of my stories.  Venus produced a US premiere of a play by the highly decorated Migdalia Cruz.  It was called, “Cigarettes and Moby Dick”.  It was in 2005, 5 years ago.  People are still talking about that show.  It got a Curve Magazine Play of the Year Award.  I staged it in the Warehouse attic on 7th Street.  It did not get coverage in the large paper.  Another show running at the exact same time did.  It was written by a first-time playwright with a script that didn’t begin to come close to Cruz’s work, and that run was extended by a week.  Cruz came in from Cape Cod with two of her contemporaries.  We’d sent out the press releases.  Disbelief.  I was outraged and wanted to stop producing.  Defensiveness.  Where are the people who hold the artistic bar?  Depression.

Disbelief.  Defensiveness.  Depression.

When we are overlooked despite doing award winning work, we are at the very essence being gaslighted.  There’s an expectation we should view this as “Angel Street”.

GASLIGHT!

Period.

That’s it.

Let’s move on…

Artwork for the cover of Wonder Woman vol. 2, 186 (Dec, 2002). Prominently featuring the Lasso of Truth. Art by Adam Hughes.

Fireworks have once again filled the sky and America the beautiful stands strong.  I’m still on this WW theme, especially with patriotic thoughts dancing in my head -nevermind whizzing over my roof.  Turns out Hippolyta’s sister Antiope was the oringal posessee of the lasso of truth.  Truth.  That thing that shall set us free.  It’s no A-Bomb, but it’s well…truth.  Forged from the girdle of Gaea herself, this lasso is one fierce accessory!

This was embedded into our brains as kids.  Those of us born in the 60’s and 70’s.   Those of us twirling girls awaiting assignment in the backyard.

What if this became the new Steven Covey/Suze Orman SECRET?

Because, let’s face it, playing along and telling lies are the easiest choices to make, don’t you think? I mean Dianna Prince was a secretary.  Even when her alter ego was Wonder Woman, the girl was downsized to pouring coffee and taking notes.  It bites.

Before we talk about the lasso, let’s consider the bracelets. And here, I fall into fantasy a bit…

I’ve had the ability to deflect the flying bullets with my bracelets, and it’s changed my life both professionally and personally?  First of all, it conserves my energy for the things that matter most.  For the creations and the collaborations.  It does this because I am no longer wounded by these flying bullets.

Where do they come from anyway?  These bullets?  So many places.  Professionally?  A cultural denial about how very important the expressive arts are in our world.  A shaming that comes with professing honestly a story when it is not politically correct.  Busting the boundaries of what a female is supposed to shut up and do.  Poverty.  Denial.  Shame.  Poverty.  Shame.  Denial.  These are the bullets that fly at those of us trying to produce art.  Truly.  Some years it seems, at least for me, I’ve spent the entire span of time searching dusty abandoned trinket boxes trying to find these accessories-wondering if they exist, forget about even making it out the door into the world.  Forget about the wounds from the negative sources I’ve taken into my person and then needed time to recover from.  Forget about all of that because giving it an ounce of energy gives it another second to live.  Besides, there they are gleaming inside of a dusty box.  And, the thing is, they defy poverty, and shame, and denial.  Because they are priceless, and proud, and let’s face it-loud in a world of relative conservatism.

PRICELESS.  PROUD.  LOUD.

I’m gonna turn up the volume on my

PRICELESS

PROUD

LOUD

self, and I strongly recommend you do the same…it’s the AMERICAN WAY!

Now, how about that lasso?

It’s interesting that the creator of Wonder Woman, William Moulton Marston was also a bit of an inventor Post WWI.  And, he came up with something that preceded the polygraph.  That’s where this lasso comes from in his mind.  What would it mean if we could coerce truth out of people?  It would save a lot of time.  A lot of blown up talk would no longer exist.  Professionally?  We’d know where the money for the arts was and we could go ahead and ask for it in it’s proper places. We’d know the funders and politicians that were just blowing smoke and we could avoid them and find the salt-of-the-earth  movers and shakers ready to meet us on the middle ground.  YES!  We could get to the work of storytelling and spend much less time on the marketing sexy spin.  I LOATHE the marketing sexy spin.  LOATHE.

As artists, I think we are always throwing our lasso around our work.  At least I hope we are.  It keeps it from being predictable, it keeps us telling new and interesting stories.  It’s when the truth is broken that the work becomes dull.  That life becomes dull.  Because we then merely cyclically reproduce a spewing with no substance.  It’s no good.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again.  I believe in the power of story.  Personally?  It’s the only reason I still walk the planet.  Story. That’s it.  The reason I’m here.  TRUTH!

If I had given into the story handed to me, I would not have survived.  And, so it’s no joke to me.  But, it is interesting to put it into superhero context.  Because I think that we can write our way into a better world.  I already have.  So, I know it to be true.  Professionally?  It can only happen when women are heard.  Otherwise, we are mere gerbils on perpetual wheels.  Spinning.  Lying.  Projectile machinations for hurling spew.  It’s no good.

Wonder Woman was penned by a man.  So, yeah, she’s a male fantasy on some level.  But, she’s still here.  And, she still has a story.  And, she still had me twirling in the back yard and inventing my next caper to crack.

Besides-Let’s face it, the reason we know the works of Virginia Woolf is because she bought a used printing press and published her own works.  We’ve lost much.  And maybe truth doesn’t die or fade.  Maybe it lives in vibrant story accessible to the artist open to it.  Maybe, if we can wake up to the joy that life brings and deflect the drudgery, we can write the way.

Maybe men and women need this equally.  More than that, girls and boys. JUSTICE via TRUTH.

I have to go in the backyard and twirl now.

I’ve been thinking about this for a couple of days.

I wrote a play this year with Wonder Woman in it.  And, a large part of her struggle is her clothing.  In fact, in my play, her costume has become part of her skin so not only is she robbed of any real sexual sensation but she no longer “makes water”.  So, when I heard the news that Wonder Woman had a change of clothing I was pretty excited.  I mean, it’s been over sixty years, can’t a sister get a pair of new threads?  Look at Barbie for heavens sake!  But, my brain immediately brought up Rosie the Rivetor and her headscarf.  Created at about the same time.

What is it about these World World II era characters that make them so iconic?

My Spouse explained to me his feelings on the costume change with a characteristically brief statement:  “They’re robbing me of my boyhood dream”. And, this got me thinking.  Young boys fixated on her body before they knew what they were thinking or feeling.  It’s true.  Today the internet flings the subjected female image around so much they can create their own avatars.  But, this was not always so.  And, for those of us yearning for positive women, it was okay to be Amazonian.  It was okay to have a curvacious bod and feel the power in that.  To know it was a powerful thing that would be desired and there was absolutely nothing to hide or to be ashamed of.  There was a place in mythology for powerful, sensual woman, and a slow terrestrial integration was underway.  Wonder Woman wore the golden eagle on her chest proudly.  She was an American dream.  I remember spending afternoons practicing her spin as a kid.  When completed, no one could hurt me.  It was important.

So many people were so upset about this costume change that I wanted to just step back and take it in.  As I awoke this morning it was very clear to me.

They’ve changed her story.  You can’t do that.  Create a new character but, for God’s sake haven’t the history’s of women been erased enough!  Now it’s going to this level?!?!!?  Oh, the amnesia we so anxiously embrace!  WRITE A NEW CHARACTER, but DO NOT make our Wonder Woman a motherless, orphan.  Did we do this with Superman?  Was he no longer from the planet Crypton?

They’ve killed the pop culture sacred Mother.  They’ve killed her with ink.  Those bastards!

No more Paradise Island.  Here’s the outrage.  At least for me.  No Hippolyta to teach, no island full of sacred women.  It’s been destroyed.  Well, ain’t that a pisser!

I’ve noticed in conversations lately small phrases where people denounce story.  It’s not about the story, it’s about the character.  It’s about the human connection.  None of this exists without story. In fact, NOTHING exists without story.  And, as storytellers we have the ability to shape our own reality.  Not as much as we may like sometimes, but the choices we make in the stories we tell shape things. They do.

In our story there was a League of Justice.  The world was threatened by an out of control dictator committing atrocities to populations and there was no promise anyone could stop him.  But, we had superheroes.  They knew darkness and so understood the value of fighting for good.  They were heightened.  They were brighter and larger than life.  When B-52 bombers dropped bombs from the sky and women and children grew victory gardens Wonder Woman flew overhead. Maybe you couldn’t see her, but that’s because she flew an invisible plane.  So, when they tucked kids into bed at night they could dream about that instead of darker adult atrocities.  The characters believed in country in a way that had nothing to do with votes in the Senate or which Chief Justice was to be elected.  When they saw a human in trouble, they came together to put an end to it.  Period.  The American way.  Period.

The loss of Wonder Woman’s costume feels not like a wardrobe change at all.  It feels like loss.  Loss of innocence.  Loss of hope.

It feels like the pop-culture Archetypal death of the sacred Mother.

Sorry Hyppolita.  I know you’ve been around since the Greeks.  But, they’ve erased the great war between the Athenians and the Amazons.  They’ve destroyed you, Queen of the Amazons, without letting you fight for your cause.

I hope you find a way to come back and kick their asses.