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Category Archives: Women

It was great to have a job that was finished by lunch time.  On the good days.

This one seemed to be good.  I taught four different classes that morning and it seemed to have a very positive impact.  Of course, from my perspective the determining factor was always leadership.  It was about the Principal.  And, this elementary school which stood in the shadow of RFK Stadium in DC, had a Principal who seemed to know the name of every child.  No matter he mixed the special needs kids in because he said, “when they get out of here and have to take their shirts to a laundry mat no one will care what their special needs are.  These kids live with their Grandparents.  No one is going to hold their hand.  We have to prepare them to survive.”  This led to having one young boy in particular who couldn’t focus jump around mockingly making my job nearly impossible.  He was the laughing stock and the teacher wasn’t allowed to tell me this was indeed a disorder and not a bad day.

Still.  This one was a success.

The feet always stood out to me.  These students wore uniforms to school.  So, even on a sunny day there would be these extremely colorful galoshes and pastel plaid heeled tennis shoes.  It threw me at first.  Then I realized.  The human spirit will express wherever it can.  And in this case, it was on feet.

Many of my students were out at recess.  This was a blacktop playground surrounded by a very tall fence.  Four or five girls came running over to me as I was walking to the car, “Miss Randall, Miss Randall!”.  “Great job in the theatre workshop ladies.”  “When are you coming back?”  “Oh, that was your last session. I’m done here.”  “For good?”  “Well, maybe I’ll be sent back here again soon.  You girls are smart you will have all kinds of fun people teaching you.”  One girl steps forward.  She grabs the fleshy pinky side of my hand and gives it a slight pull down toward her.  I lean down and look directly into her eyes.  She tugs.  “Don’t leave me here.  You can’t leave me here.”

I drive home.  Sobbing.

And, that was the drill.  I either drove home with elation because the experience was so powerful and positive or I drove home sobbing because it was very difficult to step into the world of these children who absolutely deserved the best of everything and were mostly being screamed at and punished for much of the day.  Especially devastating were the times when I would get the students moving and doing the vocal work and their teachers would fly into a rage and take away recess because they weren’t being quiet and standing in a single file line.

I taught Seniors at Dunbar.  They had a top-notch English teacher and she lined up the required reading with shows in town that staged the stories.  This was brilliant.  She took her students as much as she possible could.  She was in her sixties and had been teaching for more than 40 years and had no intention of retiring anytime soon.

It was, “A Lesson Before Dying”.  Most of the students hadn’t gotten around to finishing it.  I told them, “Look we are going to the theatre next week to see this play.  I want to know what you think.  How can you tell me if you haven’t read up?”  Then, I used positive peer pressure.  So, the activities I taught were more fun when you knew the story specifically although they worked without knowing anything too, but it wasn’t as fun.  By the second session all but two of the students finished the book.  In one exercise, they were to use the characters from the play and place them in any setting as long as it had simple story structure.  So, one group decided to put the characters on the set of Jerry Springer.  Each character had their time to explain WHY they were behaving the way they were and complex relationship dynamics surfaced.  It was informed.  Intelligent.  It was HILARIOUS.  The entire class was in the library pod area chanting, “Jerry, Jerry”.  I’m sure this made the librarian fill with hatred toward me.

When we went to Round House to see the play we were seated up in the balcony.  I told the students to always read their programs, talked about the lights, pointed out the booth, and told them to pay close attention to the set.  I asked what that thing was on set under the desk?  They said, “just a bunch of old laundry or something.”  Once the show began, they were leaning it.  All of the students.  And, when the main character came rolling out from under the desk after being preset before house opened, the students could not contain themselves.  I’ve never seen an audience more engaged in a story.  Ever.

In my follow up session, they had so much to say.  They disagreed with some of the liberties taken and I agreed with them.  In particular, they couldn’t believe that two female characters had been blended into one.  They thought that was disrespectful to the original intention and voicing of the novel.  They were BRILLIANT!

Then came Anacostia.  On one side of the road was a complex that was state of the art.  The classroom was almost sterile.  We were prepping for “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” and I was struggling with the content, or lack thereof, of this particular selection as an educational device.  But, it ended up being flawless.  On the other side of the road was a school that had me sobbing on every break.

Driving up to this place you hardly knew you were at a school.  It was cold outside and there were sheets of ice on the sidewalks.  I watched one student go down quickly smashing the back of her head into the sidewalk after her feet flew up just in front of the steps to her bus.  She tried to get up and walk it off.  She was hurt.

This place.

There were bars on the windows and constant flooding on the lowest classroom level.  The heat did not really kick in until the sun was up a bit to help it.  So, the students met in the cafetorium each morning.  Wearing their coats and scarves.  Getting lectured.  This Principal had some unresolved emotional issues.  Once the day got moving along and there was movement through classrooms it seemed that the Principal would get into a screaming match with one of her students about every 45 minutes.  Physically threatening them.  I always said that I refused to yell at children.

To my great sadness I found that in this environment, without screaming you did not exist.  Finally the Counselor and I hung out and chatted.  She explained to me that these were the “crack babies of crack babies”.  And, she said, “not even that anymore because the drug has changed.  These kids don’t stand a chance.”  These kids physically could not hold a focus or stop bouncing in their shoes.  The counselor told me the story of a 3rd grader.  She said most of the Dads were dead or in jail.  She said this one little boy wanted to come to school so badly that he drove himself.  His Mom took to the streets so he dressed himself and set off each morning.  He loved coming to this hellhole.  He got up in the morning and got behind the wheel of his Parents car and found a way to drive himself in.  Once they found out about it he was expelled.

It was unimaginable, this place.

I had been threatened at other schools.  One time, while I was standing beside the Principal and a boy was repeating “white girl” over and over through the microphone and the Principal was laughing with him and giving me the death-glare.  Another time, the teacher was largely absent and I don’t know who the man was sitting in but he sent his assistant to buy him a sandwich and soda at 10am and we all watched him reprimand her for not giving him the proper change back.  Then we watched him eat.  The we watched him leave.  And, I sat in a room with some older students who did not like me cutting into their social time.  They pulled out a pair of scissors.  I told them, “I am supposed to leave.  This is dangerous.  You’ll have to decide how this is going to go.  Listen, I get paid no matter what.  So, if you want to spend your time talking over me and threatening me I can just go and finish my coffee and read a good book.  I get paid the same no matter what.  Your call.”  And, the best result I got that day was getting these students to put away the scissors and sit in a circle exchanging ideas for 10 straight minutes.

But, this Anacostia school was beyond dangerous.  Beyond devastating.  During one exercise a 7 year old mimed rolling and smoking a joint.  Very specifically.  One male teacher spent so much time threatening his male students I thought I was going to watch him have a heart attack.  He was so threatened. He HATED those boys and they laughed at him outwardly.  On the inside though, a rage had to be brewing.  He was so abusive.

What was going to happen to these kids?  The disparity from one school to another was shocking.  Shocking!

On Capital Hill there were some great experiences.  One student named Russell tended to talk over me.  So, I’d say, “Who’s the director?  You or me?  You have to show your director respect.  You’ll get a shot to share your ideas, I promise.”  I found myself right inside of it with these kids.

After that session ended Russell’s teacher asked if there was a way I could be there permanently because it was a very successful experience.  I was flattered and had too much on my plate to figure it out.  She explained that Russell was just about to fail 10th grade and the he would not show up to do his make-up test for science and didn’t seem to care about anything.  It was clear that even this very positive place had written this kid off as apathetic.  She said, “He never missed one of your workshops.  We need our students that invested.”

I explained to her that while they saw a problem child, I had the great advantage of being a visiting artist which lent me an entirely different perspective.  To me, Russell was a natural leader.  Sometimes overenthusiastic but it was clear that his peers naturally followed his lead and that he was a brave individual and incredibly smart.

“Don’t leave me here.  You can’t leave me here.”

Then came the assignment in Columbia Heights.  This was one for the record books.  Metal screenings at the front door to ensure safety.  Every class was gender divided.  Either all boys or all girls.  This confused me at first.  I had my own judgement around it.  Then, I went in to teach.

On the wall of one of the classrooms hung three huge lined sheets of paper.  Each student in each class had written their greatest dream and hope in one sentence down the sheets of paper.  “I hope I won’t be raped.”  “I wish everyone could be nice to each other.”  “I wish my Parents had a lot of food and didn’t argue.”  I couldn’t stop staring at these words.

After speaking to one of the teachers I found that there were incidences of rape on this combined campus.  Rape.  So, they separated the boys from the girls.  The all male class I had was…wow.  The teacher was an incredible woman and she was at the end of her rope.  Again, I saw her physically grab students and slam them against the wall saying, “TUCK IN YOUR SHIRT BEFORE YOU COME INTO MY CLASSROOM!”.  I couldn’t figure out why she was so physically abusive and why she was treating children like criminals.  I couldn’t figure it out until one boy untucked his shirt.  That’s all I can say about that.

In my mind I can’t leave them there, you know?  I have to set up a structure.  A program.  A way young people can get the tools that were easily given to me without anyone even giving it a second thought.

So, the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities has released a report entitled, “Reinvesting in Arts Education”.  After reading the 88 pages yesterday these stories from working in DC haunted my dreams.  It leaves me with a singular conclusion.  We need adults.  We need leaders.  The children should be the ones under 18.

“…students with high involvement in the arts…performed better in school and stayed in school longer than students with low involvement… Low-income students involved in band and orchestra outscored others on the NELS math assessment…in drama showed greater reading proficiency and more positive self-concept…”

This is something I could see only short-term.  But, to see how it affects the longevity of success is a stunner.  It got me thinking about going through the public school system in Prince George’s County in the 70’s and 80’s.  We caught the end of busing.  We had students from the projects, from mansions, and every blue collar station in between.  So, when I read Arne Duncans words about this being the Civil Rights issue of our generation it was the only thing that made sense.  It is unacceptable that the gap between quality education is directly proportionate to the class divides.  This flies in the face of decades of strife and good work.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan:

“Nothing -nothing- is more important in the long-run to American prosperity than boosting the skills and attainment of the nation’s students…Closing the achievement gap and closing the opportunity gap is the civil rights issue of our generation. One quarter of U.S. high school students drop out or fail to graduate on time. Almost ONE MILLION students leave our schools for the streets EACH YEAR. That is economically unsustainable and morally unacceptable.”

Hearing about the crisis in general is upsetting.  But, when we break it down to kids who have fathers that are either dead or in jail.  Kids that are born addicted.  Kids that get expelled for driving themselves to school because they’d rather be learning than picking up street life.  It shatters emotionality.

“and, for some demographic groups and geographic areas, the statistics are far worse. By some estimates, approximately 50% of male students from disadvantaged minority groups leave school before graduation…An estimated 2 million students attend a high school in which fewer than 50% of the students graduate-schools that have come to be known as drop-out factories…Studies about the reasons for these trends provide a remarkably consistent picture: students report being bored…show the signs of risk for dropping out as early as 6th grade…”

For those who make it through.  Who find a way to show up and pass the tests.  We are failing them too, and all of the sobbing in the world won’t change that.  It will be changed by a new social understanding around the right of every American to have a quality education.  This should have nothing to do with the class divide.  This should have nothing to do with racial discrimination.  Segregation should NOT exist in 2011.  Every child is sacred and this is simply unacceptable and intolerable on a human level.

“The narrow focus on only teaching the basics clearly has not been the answer. Many high school graduates lack the skills to make them successful in post-secondary education and later in the workforce….problem solving, critical and creative thinking, dealing with ambiguity and complexity, integration of multiple skill sets, and the ability to perform cross-disciplinary work.”

It was affirming, liberating, and uplifting to discover that there is a term, a phrase, a way to describe it.  Creativity Crisis

He was amazed by a boy who, for a class science project, rigged a tracking device for his moped with parts from a cell phone. When faculty of a major Chinese university asked Plucker to identify trends in American education…“After my answer was translated, they just started laughing out loud,” Plucker says. “They said, ‘You’re racing toward our old model. But we’re racing toward your model, as fast as we can.’ ”

It is also devastating.

I put together a video with hopes that the Prince George’s alum would begin to step forward and speak.

And, I’m offering two for one camp registrations.

I’m responding to a very simple request.

“Don’t leave me here.  You can’t leave me here.”

Workshop Premiere, "Hypnotic Murderess"Well, hello.

Time got away from me for a second there.  Things are going really well at Venus Theatre.  So much is in the hopper.

We bid farewell to March (Women’s History Month) having pulled together a band called the sheshes and produced three solo shows.  Two of them were developed at Venus.

That’s why I’ve been a little out of touch.  Today, I cast our international premiere which will be coming to you in May.  It’s called, “The Stenographer” by Zoe Mavroudi.  What an incredible writer she is!  Her solo work has gotten some notice on BBC Radio as well.  Just incredible.

Zoe resides in Athens, Greece so we have about a 12 hour communication gap between us.  Once I get her completely updated, I’ll let you know the details.  I’m really excited about this play.

Some things I’ve learned over the past month:

-Taxes come around every year so might as well just roll with that and not give into too much stress, even if you have to stay up late for a bit.  I say this as I type having been up for about two days on tax deadlines.  *shakes fist at sky*

-Celebrating Her-Story was an incredible journey at Venus Theatre this year.  Women are strong.  And have been since the beginning of time.  Finding their stories is liberating and empowering.

-The stories of strong women are important to men too. Two male playwrights brought women to life this month.  In working with them it became very clear how the stories of women are also the stories of men.

-Maryland is an impressive state.  With 13.3 mill budget passing yesterday the arts will stay alive here.

BRAC at Ft Meade is going to expand the area of Venus Theatre in ways that are hard to articulate.  The numbers are shockingly higher than we were once told.  Approximately as many as 60,000 new jobs are being created in Howard County.

-Venus Theatre is located in Laurel, MD.  Four counties meet in Laurel.  To the North, Howard.  To the South, Prince Georges.  These two counties are simply divided by the Little Patuxent River.  To the East, Anne Arundel.  And to the West, Montgomery.

Add to that the participation Venus has with the Laurel Board of Trade, the Helen Hayes Awards, and the League of Washington Theatres and you can see that life has been keeping me busy.

This is just a quick jot of a blog post.  Hoping your Spring will be magnificent!

Celtic Bronze Mirror

Okay.  So, on February 14 we will launch 2011 officially here at Venus Theatre.  SO EXCITED!  I’ve had two months to really think and now a month and a half to put people and projects together.

One thing I discovered in my moments of meditation is that I need to continue to celebrate creatively.  Without that, I become an administrator/middle management.  I was born to play and to build a playground.  Using theatre as the medium.  Period.

So, I’ve decided to pick up the guitar and get back to my Molly Passion.  Eventually my play was published in an anthology.  It’s the last play in the collection.  The first is written by Jason Miller.  He was the Priest in the original Exorcist film.  I digress.

We’ve formed a band!  It’s comprised of Amy Rhodes.  She was in the initial Molly Maguire cast.  She plays flute and bass.  And Andrea Abrams.  She was in the touring Molly Project.  She sings and plays a sort of keyboard bagpipe wooden box-thing.  And then, there’s me.  I play guitar and sing.  We mostly know the same songs.  I mostly wrote all of them.  But, we are just learning to play them together.  I find this to be really invigorating and exciting.

We have band practice tomorrow.  Alan is going to be there.  He’s the musical director of Venus Theatre.  He’s a musical genius.  So, I wonder how I’ll sleep tonight because I’m really excited to be in the bAnd.

Here’s the thing.  The name.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve hurled band names around.  Rancid Butter.  That’s the one that stuck most.  But, that’s definitely for when I plug in the electric and do socially conscious shredding laced with a feminist message.

The bAnd.  The name?

Okay so I was meeting with a friend.  Okay, we were drinking beer.  Okay, it was a bar crawl in Fells Point.  And, she tells us this story.  Her five year old son is now noticing his anatomy along with the anatomy of well, EVERYONE.

He tells my friend, his Mother, that boys have penises and girls have giants that live in clouds.  Brilliant.  So, I want to name the band Cloud Giants.  But, I don’t think it’s folky enough.

So,  here we are.  In the shows Maeve has been the named singer.  Daughters of Molly Maguire is the name of the initial play.  Then it was, Are you a Daughter of Molly Maguire.  Then, it was the Molly Project.  That became the umbrella.  But, we already have Flogging Molly out there, so I think there’s not much left to do with Molly.

In the initial show I named the characters after celtic goddesses.  So, Amy’s character was called Findabair (white phantom).  So, what do you think of Finda?

For some reason it’s sticking with me.  We are bringing back stories of the dead with this project, always.  And, we are pale women.  My other thought was Mab.  Which is the same character as Maeve.  Or Queen Mab.  Shakespeare used her spelled that way.  She’s Queen of the fairies no matter how you slice it.  Magic.  And, also there’s the beatious poem written by Shelley in 1813.

So, that’s that.  I don’t know.  Thoughts?

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?