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A couple of months ago, I decided it would be a great idea to revamp my vision and dive back in at Venus Theatre.  We begin the year with a solo play called, “The Last Reading of Charlotte Cushman”.  I wanted to enter into the new decade of Venus by embracing different forms which give artists a kind of liberation.  Solo works have been important to many of us and I really wanted to offer up a platform for Women’s History Month.

Watching Karen Shields perform Carolyn Gage’s play is an experience for me that I can’t quite wrap my brain all the way around.  Of course I can’t because it’s not a thought, it’s not a theory it’s an experience.  The pride that comes up when I watch Karen on my stage is hard to describe.  This is it.  This is the world I want to support, the art I want to bring to my community, the reason I wake up in the morning and dive in.

Turns out Cushman was the director of the Walnut Street Theatre in 1843.  And, Karen taught me that the Walnut Street Theatre is the longest running theatre in the United States.  Fascinating.  Cushman supported her whole family with her acting.  She was the first great American actor.

One thing I love about the writing of Carolyn Gage is her levity.  Many people focus on her politic.  Her radicalism.  To me, Carolyn is a prolific writer with a sense of comedy that really can’t be touched.  I’ve always seen this in her writing and it’s always been an amazing experience staging her works at Venus.  But this time Break the Mold Productions has already done the work.  Karen and this piece have been nominated for three awards in New Orleans.  I just sit back on my heels and watch the woman work after setting a few lighting cues with Technician Lauren during one tech rehearsal.

Hearing about the person Cushman was is so interesting but falling into classical pieces of writing with Shields is something I don’t think I’ve ever experienced in the theatre before.  It’s the power of immersion.  While structures are flying up and budgets are so extreme I can’t even fathom the numbers, what’s happening under my roof is very simple.  Modest even.  Incredibly human.  We share breath.  We go all the way inside of the experience because the space is so intimate and the experience is so intimate and the moment is so precious and the artistry so pure, and there we are.

We.

Me.

Karen Costanzi who runs box office, and four patrons who have made it clear I should keep my doors open so they can keep coming to see the work at Venus.  And, Alan.  My singular support system.  There we are.

A humiliation sets in.  This woman has traveled from the Delta.

A rage blows through me.  Why can’t people walk 10 minutes or take a 20 minute drive to experience this?  Where are the young actors that I have put on my stage and why aren’t they exposing themselves to the brilliance of this work?

Then outrage.  Not even 8 people.  Four paying customers.  Four.

I think, for the resource it takes to run my theatre, I could travel the world and expose myself to incredible works.  Why am I doing this?

Why?

Then the beginnings of ridiculous jokes start to run through my brain, Snookie and Charlie Sheen go to a Lady Gaga concert…

I don’t know what to think.

I’m up half the night ranting.

I know for sure that if I hear one more person begin a sentence with, “You know what you should do…” I will shove some accessory of theirs into some orifice of theirs and who needs that?

A long time ago I knew that I must write the definition for the success of my own life.  I knew that if I didn’t I would either be dead pretty quickly or lost in the armpit of dysfunction.  And, a long time ago I decided that I would wake up everyday doing the work that I love to do.  And for many years I tried to pretend that work happened in a cubicle under florescent lighting.  I organized insurance offices.  I waited tables.  I invented office systems.  I answered phones.  I got sick from a toxic life of pretending I was fine.  But, I had health insurance.  There’s a strange balance.

So, now I wake up and I work with some of the best actors I’ve ever seen.  And, I give a space for some of the wisest writing I have ever found.  And, I dive around inside of a classic.  And, I’m actively meditating on Charlotte Cushman, and Gabrielle Bompart, and Lou Salome.  EVERY DAY.  This is my life.  And, I’m fighting to turn the neighborhood my theatre is in into an arts district.  I don’t have health insurance and my income ranks at poverty level, so there’s that.  But, I’m showing up as best as I can and I’m praying to sell ten tickets to each show.  It’s such a modest goal.  I’m wondering about all of the Universities that surround us.  My own not even 20 miles away.  Wondering about the Board of Trade where I was elected a Director.  No one shows.  Wondering about the Prince George’s County Arts Council some of whom have never been to ANY theatre ANYWHERE.  Wondering.  Where are the people!?  Where ARE they?

Are these people insulating on their couch in some microcosmic virtual snowglobe trying their best to be still and not shake up the plastic flakes?  And, if so, what does that say about small professional theatre?  And, what happens to the writers?  What happens to them?  And, what happens to process.  Where did it go?

Did we lose process to the information age because now things appear at a single push of the button.  Because of extreme accessibility to information and virtual communication are we now going to lose the ability to connect in a room together?  Not knowing the script?  Not being able to jump to another hyperlink if we, for a single moment, become uncomfortable or bored.  I mean, what happens next?  Really.  The world terrifies us.  Right now are people in the comfort of their snowglobes live streaming Japan attempting to process another tsunami, extreme loss of life, to see if there will be a nuclear holocaust?  How horrifying and may Japan be showered with love and light!!!

Do we have so much extreme violence in our world that we need stillness in our culture?

Maybe we don’t want to be pushed.  Maybe we want safety.  I understand that.  But, it’s important to keep growing and connecting.

Fear or Love?

Choose.

I’ve been avoiding writing anything like this but now, I can tell you that I merely provided the space for the Cushman piece, and some housing.  I haven’t directed it, produced it, or written it.  It comes in from New Orleans after three nominations including best actor and best drama.  This announced on the night the Helen Hayes Awards once again ignored an entire years worth of work at Venus Theatre.  With the Chairman of the Bored announcing that they embrace the very old and the very young.  What about everything in between?  What about process?  What about risk?  What about discovery?

What will I do?

What will we do?

Because I think this is epidemic.

I go back to watching Shields perform.  To watching a single human being embody a force of nature.  To watching the risk and catching my breath with her and laughing in a room together with people I don’t know outside of this place and sharing the well up in the eyes of tears too.  To feeling, going, being and what else is there for me to do?

This form saved my life.  I invented worlds.  I came to understand some kind of unseen chorus that made sense of it all and that became a restoration of human spirit.  Hope.  Understanding that all things are possible.  And for me, just to BE, to stand at the back doors of a theatre was something that healed my soul when I was younger.  I could go anywhere.  I could do anything there.  Labels didn’t exist there.

Only story.  Only adventure.  Only choices.

So, tonight you’ll find me in my theatre.

Where else would I be?

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