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Monthly Archives: December 2010

So, I was wondering about the classics.  Shakespeare, Moliere, Ibsen, Strindberg, and on and on.  Because there are few female writers preserved through the annals of time, there must be ways women have had to play catch-up.

As for me, I’ve done four solo shows.  One by John Ford Noonan.  That was, “All She Cares About Is the Yankees”.  He wrote to me that Samuel French had put it out of print at the time and that it was his favorite.  It was an incredible experience.  Then, Cynthia Coopers, “How She Played the Game”.  Six female athletes that had gone virtually unacknowledged.  I was able to meet one.  Gertrude Ederle.  She was humble and joyful and 98 years old.  I sat with her in a nursing home for three hours.  We chatted while Kobe Bryant was on the news talking about buying his way out of infidelity with diamonds.

I wrote two solo shows myself.  “Til It Hurts”.  And, eventually it did.  It really did.  I started performing that piece on the birthday of my estranged Father and wrapped on my own birthday.  None of this intentionally planned.  That was the play that should have had the kitchen sink fall out and onto the stage instead of a curtain call.  I was able to perform it EVERYWHERE.  Bookstores.  The back of bars.  Source festival.  Arts on Foot.  Innovator’s Series at Gunston Arts Center.  All, or sections, of that play were performed from April to October 1999 (I think).  I remember having to wait at 1409 Playbill for Joy Zinnomen to wrap up her Mother’s birthday dinner so that I could clear the room and take the “stage”.  The stage that some patrons had mistaken for a bathroom in the middle of a monologue.  It was an interesting journey.

Then, after writing a show for twelve performers, then two, then three, the Molly Maguire ten year obsession turned into a one-woman show.  This is published in an anthology and taught in a class at Penn State.  I performed this piece for years and years.  Through states. There were moments where I met with Grandchildren of the woman I portrayed and told them about their own relatives.  Stories they’d never heard.  Really fascinating experiences, altering.

As I read my Strindberg and Moliere and Shakespeare and Ibsen, I yearn for the female perspective of yore.  Virginia Woolf said that Anonymous was a woman.  Funny.  True.  Strange erasure.

So, it brings me to question the female solo show.  Because at least half of the time (and, this is based on no scientific study) the characters are resurrected from history.  My friend Carolyn has one about Joan of Arc, Calamity Jane, and it leaves me wondering.

I remember waiting tables at the Paper Moon in Georgetown in the 80’s.  Lily Tomlin came in because the French restaurant was overbooked.  Everyone bought her wine and when I offered her a bottle from my table she asked if they wouldn’t mind buying her a cup of coffee instead.  How I wished I could have pulled up a chair and asked her some questions.  Like, what was the significant of “Searching for Signs of Intellegent Life in the Universe”?  Was it a vehicle for her?  Why would she take on such a risky task when she’d already acquired status and experience?  I know that someone else wrote it.  It was a collaboration.  It wasn’t historical.  But, it did give her a chance to fly through varying roles and embrace many facets of her abilities.  I wonder about it.

I myself am standing here on the corner of Walk/Don’t Walk and wondering.  Trying to adjust the tinfoil on my head, one could say.

First, in terms of filling in the historical gap.  Just looking at process alone is staggering to me.  These men usually were actors first.  They were writing for other actors they liked to work with in many cases.  Company  members.  They were oddballs.  Outcasts.  I’m generalizing, I know.  Which is always dangerous.

But, for women everything seems so institutionalized.  How much can actually be accomplished in the context of the educational microcosm which tends to be devoid of the real?  Everything is already paid for.  It changes the stakes.  It alters the color.  I wish I had more access to the contemporaries of these men I so admire.  There are some women preserved.  Note the pic of Aphra here.  Virginia Woolf had to buy a used printing press and she was a novelist, that helps but it doesn’t go all the way in answering what female playwrights were writing.  Edwardian Comedy boasts a deluge of amazing female theatrical artists through the suffrage movement.  Essentally ALL of those plays are now out-of-print.  Why aren’t they being taught?  It’s so confusing.

I have a strong intuition that as a female artist we dig to find it because we need to know who we are and where we come from in order to stand in our best light in the day to day.  It’s hard to do that when one gender has had that power for so long. I mean it drove Shakespeare’s protagonists mad, you know?

It would be amazing to hear stories -if there are artists out there that care to share their experience- with cultivating solo projects.  Because, I’m torn.  Theatre is collaborative by nature.  It’s liberating to be able to throw your set in the car and hit the road with maybe one technician and road manager-if you’re lucky.  But, it’s not really collaboration.  It’s liberation.

It’s such a liberating alternative to playing the standards.  But, it’s limiting too.  Many times we tell our own stories.  Many times, we capture ourselves through the unknown shoulders on which we stand.

How important is the solo play process to women developing their artistic voice?

After running a Company for a decade I’ve learned to put into managerial practice what I have come to refer to as the act of  transparency.

Transparency.

The darkness defines the light

The darkness defines the light.

This frightens people.

It’s kind of the personal equivalent to co-dependency which says, “I won’t keep your secrets”.  This concept has come to me over time.

In times of extreme rage with people who have wronged the work and then run away, I’ve found myself repeating the mantra: cowards hide under rocks.  I think this was my way of letting myself know to keep stepping up into the light and not worry about the creatures of cowardice.  By the way, I have met many of them.  You know that moment, when you finally have a few minutes to deal with the wrong that you’ve been recovering from and saving the farm over for an extended period?  The clouds part and there is a temptation to go coward hunting.  Start lifting those rock and sinking down into the sulfurous mud.  All the while holding a well-worn gardening shoveling above your head ready to take a good cracking swing, you find your arm begins to tire.  Well, I do.

Then, in the sad times, I’ve found myself chanting the mantra:  the darkness defines the light.  This was perhaps powerful and profound, or maybe a masochistic cowardice way to rationalize dark times.  The theory being that even the smallest spark illuminates.  So, no matter how difficult the industry.  No matter how much the 17% refused to shift, it was still 17% light.  Still, 17% of women getting plays produced which is not zero.  Not complete darkness.

Each time a new mantra presented itself I began to notice that always there was this image of light.  Light.  Ah, light.  Alight.

transparent  adj. 1.  Capable of transmitting light so that objects and images beyond can be clearly perceived.

And so, here I am.  Transparent.  Talking about it.  About how hard this job is.  About how amazing it is.  About all of it.  Not keeping secrets.  And, you have to begin to think that there’s some power in that, isn’t there?

So, without crossing a line, let me tell about my year here at Venus Theatre with the intention of transparency.

We produced four full shows and did a reading at the Kennedy Center.  That’s 65 performances this year alone, add-in about 150 rehearsals and a renovation of the space and you begin to see what the workload has been like with very little funding.  Yet, everyone has gotten paid with only eight actors left – a few weeks to get money to four of them and months for the other four.

Let’s do an artistic profit/loss analysis, shall we?

Profit:

Well, we brought Zelda Fitzgerald to life with “Zelda at the Oasis” in a town not far from her burial site with a script that was rejected by the Fitzgerald Organization 13 years prior and had never been produced.  Our Zelda was nominated for an audience choice award with DC Theatre Scene.  I’ll take that as a major win.

We covered four women on death row in Texas in May.  On September 22, the state of Virginia walked Teresa Lewis into her death chamber.  The Venus production of “In the Goldfish Bowl” was able to embrace and explore the conditions these women lived in, and the world in which they committed heinous acts.  It was difficult, at first, to look at unlikeable characters that the audience despised at the start, then amazing to watch them fall in love with those same characters through a journey that was jolting and powerful.

Imagination was alight in September and we defied the laws of physics and nature when Isabel freed her entire family from the self-hating dominance of a Mother-turned-monster with the only tool she had, her imagination.  After the Venus Theatre world premier, “Play Nice!” is now being given an equity showcase performance in NYC in 2011.

We took on breast cancer through the perspective of the love to two sisters.  “Looking for the Pony” moved audiences in ways I KNOW they never expected.  It is the first time Venus Theatre has been given a Helen Hayes recommended status.  Ever. Take into account that haunting 17% dim light and realize that this regional premiere (written by a woman, Andrea Lepcio) held it’s own with major houses in the city producing tried and true works (by male writers).  That’s something right there.  Something that is kind of unheard of.

“Another Manhatten” was an amazing experience at the Kennedy Center’s page-to-stage festival over the summer.  Claudia Barnett used the history of Manhatten Island as well as the the event of 911 to weave a story that was engaging.  When I worked with Claudia I was a little shocked about how excited she was to first receive my feedback to her and then to see our two rehearsals.  She took copious notes and went into rewrites with the utmost respect.  She contemplated my notes with extreme diligence.  It was nice to have a moment of play development over the year.

This is all great stuff.  These are all major accomplishments.  And, I brought in more guest directors than ever before and scaled back on actors this year.  Lots to process.  All of the great stuff is a bit overwhelming.

But, there was loss.  Financial loss, yes.  Loss in the way of disrespecting the form has been the greatest blow, cost, damage to the Company (to ME) this year.  I am a collaborator, not their bitzch.

Loss:

Some of the artistic team of one of the productions decided to remount without going into production negotiations with Venus and actually stole the show.  This was an interesting moment for me.  There was the chance to go into litigation.  I realized when I had five lawyers on it at one time that there are benefits to having incredible friends in various professions.  In the end, after AMAZING guidance, I decided to:  let go of the rope in that tug of war.  In theatre, we must have trust.  And this was a great loss.  Because, I had given these people an opportunity to do a great piece of work and their response was theft.  In fact, it was the first time in my entire theatre existence (almost 30 years) that I was not invited to my own cast party.  I understand they perceive me as some kind of beast.  And, I honestly had them for that.  I hate them.  Shovel-UP-HATRED!

Then, going into the next show one of the actors just pulled out 8 rehearsals into the process.  Oops, just said her car couldn’t make it to rehearsal and then drove her script back to us.  Bye bye.  There were only about 20/25 rehearsals total.  Amazingly, we found another actor who was MUCH stronger and pulled the show up to new levels.  This, coupled with the three actors that held the line, was one of the most incredible things I’ve ever witnessed.

Then, we ran out of money and, for the production necessary on one show, I threw myself back into credit card debt.  Bad move on my part.  But, I deferred to the professionals.  Only, no one knows the ins and outs of my Company as much as me.  So.  I have to hold myself accountable for that one.

Finally, halfway through the final run the Stage Manager who was to be the new Producing Director resigned through an email from his cell phone on a late Monday morning after I had just seen him on Sunday.  I still have so much rage about this I could spit nails.  Shovel-UP-HATRED!  He put the entire project at risk.  It would have been a sound decision to close the show because the guy was running lights and sound, and was allegedly in charge.  But, we pulled ourselves up by our bootstraps and re-teched the entire show in one night.  Two actors and a director from previous shows in the year appeared to keep Venus flying.  I won’t ever forget that.  I won’t EVER forget it.

So, for each devastating loss, there was an even larger lift and blessing.

Yeah.

There is this light of transparency that my artists have gifted me by doing the work that they do best.  I want to rage.  I want to be furious about the people who slipped, let me, moreover MY PEOPLE, down.  But, it doesn’t add up.  It is difficult for me not to expect the very best from every individual.  The truth is, people aren’t always up to their best.  Some people never are.

So honestly, they gave what they had to give.  And, they did what they did and they showed us all who they really are, and sometimes that comes with a good bit of ignorance, arrogance, and an elevated sense of what those individuals are capable of.  Sometimes, life will just jump up and bite a person on the rump.  This truth is a great gift to me on all levels.

As for myself.  I’m proud.  REALLY proud!  Because as much as I want to rip crimped hair out by the roots, or run people over with my little Yaris, it turns out that I am ridiculously sane. Just can’t go loco.  Though, I do have my fantasies.  But, these works this year have moved me too deeply.  They’ve taught me too much.

They have taught me: LOVE WINS, the smallest moments can be the most profound experiences, there is a grace to spirit when it is reaching for growth, there is laughter inside of the growing pains, the rhythms of stories and the people in them make their own kind of music, immortality exists and lives inside of the pens and bodies of the storytellers -and if we want to, we can LIVE it.

LOVE WINS!

To have sanity after a life in this craft is a great gift.  To remain passionate, is a rarity.  And, to be surrounded by fellow artists of passion, integrity, and great talent is beyond anything I could have ever wished for.

I do feel hurt professionally.  That I would have taken my company out on a limb only to be robbed or discredited is nothing less than evil on some level.  But, people are flawed.  And, this is the business of people.  None of that is my doing.  And, I have to ask myself this about the loss:  Is it worth hardening and giving into a system that you know doesn’t work in order to avoid certain devastation?  Nope, self.  Nope.

So…

PROFIT!  (with a side of slight heartache and tears, and time needed to diffuse real hatred Shovel-UP-HATRED!)  Batting cages anyone?

Now, to apply all of this to the future and shape a new animal.

A more transparent animal, if you will.

That’s going to take some time.

Yeah.

ouch.