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On 12.13.14 Venus Theatre gave Carolyn Gage the first ever Lifetime Achievement Award for setting flight to the voices of women. I went in with bullet points in my head and riffed my speech about her on Saturday night. So, I’m going to do the same thing now, blog-style.

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First Laura and Amy read the 50 plays listed, then I thanked my whole board of directors and my husband who has been with me every step.
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12.13.14 9pm-ish

I want to begin by acknowledging the miracle of this moment right now. Having you all here in this room is something to behold. Having a room. Having this creative freedom and team. Before we say or do anything else, I just want to acknowledge and experience that and say, thank you.

At the beginning of the year I was crying in my coffee and miga, with my husband staring at me. I was realizing how deceptive this feeling is that we are alone. We are not. This darkness I was feeling was something I needed to shine a light on. I found myself telling Alan, I need to call my people back. It was just this kind of profound need I felt down deep. And, Alan being Alan said why don’t you?

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After producing so much and being largely ignored, I came to this point at 48 years of life. The mantra returned (not that it ever left), if it doesn’t exist, create it. And, then I thought about everyone. And I felt a deep debt of gratitude. And then, I wanted to show it by giving Carolyn a Lifetime Achievement Award.

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Theatre has done three things for me.

The first thing theatre did was save my life. As a preteen I was suicidal and theatre is the the thing that kept me alive. It’s important that I’m here in Prince George’s County doing this work now because it’s where I grew up. I want students to continue to have access to theatre here (or bring it back wherever it’s been erased) and hope to play my part in making that happen. It literally saves lives. I want to bring my work to this community now.

The second thing theatre did was give me this life. I get to work with demigods called playwrights who create these worlds where every detail seeps out of them and onto the page. From this center point designers and performers and creative souls gather and go on a journey of empathy by creating the elements of worlds previously unexplored. We do this through process. I get to work with artists who are so courageous and go places in rehearsal and later performance that push them far past their comfort zones. Because of this we have these collaborative moments of extreme risk and growth. These things have brought immense joy into our lives and have facilitated my growth into a true adulthood as both an artist, a professional, and as a civilian.

Bonds have been forged.

Finally, and this was not something I ever dreamed would have happened, theatre gave me my creative family. That’s you. I have worked with close to 1,000 artists and each one has contributed to the family of Venus. You are the builders of this house.

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This brings me to my guest of honor tonight. It’s difficult to talk about Carolyn because she has become my Sister-In-Art. It feels so personal and there’s just so much to say but I don’t want to talk too much. So, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking. Just sitting on the couch and laughing out loud reliving Carolyn moments both as a producer/director, and also as a friend.

Back in 2002 I began Bad Girl Festivals. I did them every summer for three years. They consisted of 5-8 short scripts with a single cast rotating through characters, style, and form. Julianne Homokay was one of my playwrights the first year. She wanted to be here but now works on the Craig Ferguson show and is on TV time. During Bad Girls she had been a Literary Manager of a Regional house. She wanted to be sure I knew about two women playwrights. Migdalia Cruz whom she referred to as the most award-winning least-produced playwright on the planet. And Carolyn Gage. Had I heard of them? No.

225289_1067467920211_4488_nI approached Migdalia’s agent and would later produce Cigarettes and Moby Dick. And Julianne wanted me to meet her at UVA to see Carolyn Gage perform her solo show, The Second Coming of Joan of Arc. As an actor I played a character who thought she was Joan of Arc and was hooked, and I too was a solo artist. So, I was really curious about this Gage of Carolyn.

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I met Julianne at UVA and we watched this small woman on this giant stage perform for the huge room. Everyone was silent and she was so direct and brave. Julianne and others approached the front of the stage after the performance but I just stood back and took it in.

Tonight at dinner Carolyn gave me a signed copy of that play having no idea that was my first exposure to her work.

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Let me begin by talking about her artistry. Carolyn is probably the most well read person I know. I can’t think of another person who has brain-devoured so many biographies. I certainly can’t think of anyone who has resurrected so many women from the pages of dusty books on a shelf. When Carolyn writes a play the themes and subjects also effect the convention of the world that she’s creating. I don’t know another playwright who does this with so much shift in form. Worlds come to her fully with a kind of specific definition and I adore that about her artistry. Another one of my favorite things about Carolyn, besides her extreme intellect and talent, is her ridiculously entertaining levity.

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The first play we took on of hers was called, The Anastasia Trials In the Court of Women. This was a *light* romp into the Romanov’s and the Bolshevic’s and I was hooked. It was so rich. But, I wanted someone else to direct it so I could step back and be supportive-frankly, the depth of the history scared me and I needed extra eyes on it. It had a huge cast. I approached Kerri Rambow and she quickly replied that it would be her first directing project but she had JUST been researching the Bolshevics! (of course she had, welcome to the serendipity of my life).

Simply explained, Ana is a choose-your-own-ending play. The audience votes on which way the plot line goes. But, only the women. The men in the audience were not allowed to vote. And many people found this upsetting. So, I called Carolyn and told her there was this male critic who really wanted to vote and I didn’t want to piss off critics (I mean they were already having fun beating me up at that time) so, could I just please make an exception? Carolyn replied by saying, “We had to wait 85 years, they can sit it out a night!” So, that was the end of that conversation.

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A couple of plays later I found myself staging Ugly Ducklings. This was 13 women, 8 of them under the age of 16 in a 17’x17′ blackbox at 1019 7th St., NW-The Warehouse Theatre. This script was almost 20 years old when Venus finally world premiered it. The script was older than the majority of its cast.

Here’s a Deb/Carolyn story. I was in the elevator at the radio station WPFW and on my very thick old cell phone talking to Carolyn. I told her that I’d combined two of the young girls into one character because they only appeared once at the top of the second act. And she got really upset and told me that was the same as cutting off her left arm. To which I replied with growing hostility, “is it? Is it? IS IT? Because I’m at the radio station right now and I can talk about something else!”

That’s the first time I remember it happening, The Carolyn Effect

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so, my husband is a musician, and one time there was this guy so drunk at one of his shows he could hardly walk, he was flailing all over the place, then he grabbed his drink about the door frame and was perfectly balanced. It defied all laws of science. And, this is the same effect Carolyn has on me.

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The Carolyn Effect. So in this moment when I was overcome with frustration and anger and my tone was getting more and more intense because I was still young and trying to do too many things and why wasn’t everyone just cooperating with me?!? Carolyn says,

“Let’s lay down these lightening bolts we’re hurling back and forth at each other and build an alter.”

My immediate response was a calm, “Okay”. And then I realized, I didn’t even know what that meant. What does that mean? It means this. It means this stage, this room, this moment. It means this. This is the alter. So, thank you. Thank you, Carolyn for that!

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Over the years we have grown a great collaborative report with one another. We got so used to picking up the phone and just straight shooting at one another that we started doing it on a personal level. So, I just have to tell this one story because I was laughing so hard remembering it. We have this code when things get bad. The first sentence is, “talk me in off the ledge!”

I had a root canal that went terribly wrong on the left side of my face. They’d stuck me something like 38 time and I still wasn’t completely numb and they weren’t able to finish the procedure so they sent me away with a prescription. For some reason I went to Walmart. I know you’re not supposed to shop there but it was probably the cheapest option and you can only be so choosy when you’re poor and about to be in a tremendous amount of pain. So, I drop off the prescription and some guy jumps in front of me. He says something and he takes my place in line and then they close for lunch right before my turn to pick up my medicine because HE WAS THE DEVIL. And I just saw this kind of white rage. But the left side of my face is stuffed full with cotton to try to control the drool and blood and leaking needle mishaps and slowly the tingly feeling is coming back and pangs of physical pain are shooting through my face. And I start to yell at this guy but mostly I’m grunting and drooling. I’m like the Godfather in Wal-Mart. So, if you ever see me on one of those people who shop at Wal-Mart sites just know it was that one time.

Now I have 1/2 an hour, pain coming to me, and a blinding white rage that no aggressive shopping cart pushing can cure. So, I rush out to my car. I sit in the passenger seat and dial Carolyn. She picks up. Because she always picks up. And if she doesn’t pick up she calls right back. “Talk me in off the ledge!” And I go on a 20 minute drooling, sloppy, Godfather grunting rampage. A slurping diatribe. At some point I wanted to pull my gauze out and throw it in his face. I wanted to punch him. I was telling her all of this, not exactly with concise articulation.

Suddenly, a pause. I’m breathing. Panting. Drooling into gauze. Sideways.Carolyn says, “Deb, don’t give him your power. He’s not worth it.” I say, “okay”. Then she goes on, “I mean sure it would feel great to punch him in the face and he probably would think differently about the next woman he tried to bully, but then you’d end up in jail and how would produce your plays?” “Right. Right. Okay.”

How would I be here without Carolyn? I wouldn’t. She is a master Resurrectionist of formerly unknown woman. It’s been a delight to produce 13 of your works.

So, with extreme pride it is my great honor and privilege to award the very first  Venus Theatre Lifetime Achievement Award for setting flight to the voices of women to my Sister-In-Art. The incomparable, Carolyn Gage!

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