Fertile Ground Portland

A Festival of New Works Blog

Whitebird Video Interview with Minh Tran and Tere Mathern December 31, 2009

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As part of this year’s effort to branch out into new genres of world premiere performance, Fertile Ground is delighted to welcome Whitebird Dance’s world premiere dance performance from Minh Tran and Tere Mathern. Here’s a great interview with them about the genesis for their pieces, and the bittersweet announcement that this performance will be the last time to see Minh Tran perform on stage. Check it out!


Rebecca Frost Mayer + O’Flannery’s Pub: The Well-Made Play December 18, 2009

Jamesons and Guinness:  The Irish are synonymous with hard drinking.  Is it cultural?  Is it genetic?  Do they deserve this reputation or is it just bad PR from those angry Victorians?  Well, although Ireland’s alcohol consumption has declined these past few years, it still ranks within the top four among EU countries, and multiple articles (here’s one) indicate that tackling addiction is becoming a medical priority.  Something to think about as we ride the waves of the holiday season and head towards champagne and/or Portland-micro-brew New Years and choose to moderate, indulge, or abstain.

Alcoholism is just one of the topics playwright Rebecca Frost Mayer, most recently seen in Miracle Theatre Group‘s Canta y no llores, touches upon in her soon-to-be-unveiled O’Flannery’s Pub.

Rebecca Frost MayerO’Flannery’s Pub is a family drama that takes place in a fictional bar located just outside of Boston. The bar is owned by a woman named Margaret and her husband Patrick, and they had told their son Seamus that when he turns 30 he will acquire a share of the family business; however, Seamus has gotten a little out of control recently with his drinking and his behavior in the bar. Meanwhile, his girlfriend, Caitlin, is sort of dealing with some issues and Seamus’s best friend since childhood, Mark, is working at the bar to earn some extra money because he’s building a house. Mark also teaches Health at a school and coaches baseball, and the boys used to play baseball together when they were growing up. And everybody in the show is a big Red Sox fan.

th – I definitely got the wrong team there with my bad Dodger’s joke.  [The joke is so bad I won’t repeat it here.]

RFM – It’s okay. I’m wearing a navy blue sweater right now so I can see how that would throw anybody off. And Manny is a Dodger now so I don’t completely hate them. You know, they’re the national league anyway.

th – Totally all going over my head.

RFM – You won’t have to be a baseball fan to get the show.

th – What are some themes or ideas you’re playing with? We’ve got a family bar and people in trouble.

RFM – And baseball. We have a mother and a son who are coming to a major rift as the son is growing up or maybe not growing up. We have some marital stuff going on. Basically, Maggie believes her son is an alcoholic and she is in dispute with her husband over whether that’s A. True, whether B. It matters, and whether C. It’s okay to include him in the family business. Patrick thinks that they need to keep their promise and be people of their word and Maggie thinks that Seamus needs to get himself some help. Seamus and Caitlin fight a lot, which is sort of the dynamic of their relationship anyway, although it’s revealed during the play that Caitlin is fairly stressed out about Seamus’ behavior so she starts going to a support group.

I’ve written plays in the past about similar themes. I did a one-woman show when I was in college on the subject of alcoholism; it’s a subject near and dear to my heart. I have many family members and close friends who have gone through treatment for it, and I at one time in my life attended support groups for family members of people who are struggling with alcoholism. I think it’s a really fascinating subject and it’s never been my intention to write a play about why alcohol is bad or that somehow all people who drink are alcoholics, but it’s such an interesting gray area, it’s referred to pretty commonly as a disease, and so that whole idea that it could be a mental illness or a disease makes for really interesting material. This play, as the title suggests, is about a very Irish family; however, there are references in the script to the fact that [the Irish are] certainly not the only ones, although there has been some research that has shown that that is an ethnic group that may have more of a genetic predisposition to alcoholism than, say, other ethnic groups.

th – Are you Irish?

RFM – You know, we’re unsure. There’s a part of my family lineage where the name “Frost” comes from that’s from somewhere in the British Isles. One of my grandfathers thinks that that person may have been Irish or I would say it’s more likely English based on the name, just research I’ve done on “Frost”s, but it’s entirely possible – I have freckles.

th – What was the inspiration for this specific play?

RFM – I worked at a bar in Boston when I was going to school there. It was owned by a family, not unlike the family that is depicted in this play. Basically, on my first night of the job I was introduced to the son of the owners, though it’s unclear to me whether he was a part-owner or not. He was a really charismatic, outgoing, brash, funny, forceful individual, and he had a goatee that was red on one side and gray on the other side, and this was a naturally occurring phenomenon – it’s nowhere in the play but it’s just something good to know about him. He had a girlfriend that was working there who was the lead waitress and their relationship had an interesting dynamic, and I always really admired the woman who owned this bar. She just seemed like a really keen businesswoman and her husband was not the easiest person to get along with. I was working here and I just got this idea because I do this when I’m in interesting situations and meet interesting people I think, “Okay, I could write a play about these people.” So I very thinly disguised it and my senior year I wrote a draft of it. It was a one-act at the time and it was actually very interesting because I had friends from my class at [Boston University] do a reading of it and for my birthday, which was a few weeks later, we went to the bar where I was working and somebody was like, “Okay, so which one here’s Seamus?” “Oh, is that Caitlin? Oh, yeah, she’s totally Caitlin.” I love Boston very much and I love the Red Sox and I really wanted to write a play that would be set there. It’s been really great to work on it now, especially in the wintertime when this weather reminds me of being there.

th – What’s your writing process been for O’Flannery’s Pub?

RFM – This one’s taken place over several years. I worked on a draft and then I sort of put it away and then I decided to pick it up and, after getting some feedback on it, I decided to expand it into a full-length play. So I did some stuff with that and I did a very informal reading of it here in town several years ago and I then I got caught up doing other writing [and acting and teaching] projects; [but] I just kept coming back to this play. So this is the first full-length play that I’ve ever finished and done multiple drafts of and had performed.

th – For Fertile Ground you’re doing a reading. Is it a music stand reading or a staged reading?

RFM – It’s going to be a reader’s theatre/concert style reading. That had at least been the director’s [Andrew Wardenaar] and my plan. And we were talking about the idea of possibly adding some blocking but I got an email the other day from Theatre Vertigo, who I’m renting the space from, that there’s going to be a fish tank on the stage that is non-moveable, so that circumstance has partially dictated the format of the performance, which is fine because I believe that everything happens for a reason. If the fish are dictating that it’s gonna be a concert reading, it’s meant to be a concert reading.

th – What do you hope to get out of this reading?

RFM –I am really looking forward to hearing [the play]. I’ll definitely be in the audience taking furious notes. There will be a talkback afterwards that Andrew, my director, will be moderating so I really look forward to receiving feedback in a structured environment like that. And I sincerely hope that as many members of the theatre community that are available can be there. Of course I’d love to get some conversations going about the play’s potential for production.

th – Do you feel this is still in a draft form? Do you think this is the final form?

RFM – I’m in the process of doing a rewrite right now based on some feedback I got way back last spring from my playwright’s group and also from Andrew, who’s been hugely helpful in the writing process. I think that what happens on January 26th will be a final draft and then based on the feedback I get that night there might be one more draft after that before I start submitting it real seriously.

th – What do you think makes this play kick-ass? Why do you think the world needs O’Flannery’s Pub?

RFM – Well, I think it’s a really heartfelt, high-stakes family drama with a strong sense of humor. The characters are really relatable and compelling. I’m a firm believer in the well-made play. I love all of the directions playwriting has taken in the last 50 years and I love what so many contemporary playwrights have done with the structure of plays. I think it’s also important to see and hear and do plays that are really based in story and a theme and strong characters. I think that’s really valuable.

th – Do you have a favorite character? Are you in the play?

RFM – No, actually. And that’s a rarity for me. When I wrote the play, I had initially written Caitlin as a character I could play because being an actor and playwright I do that a lot, although I let go of it somewhere in the writing process and I am happy to watch another actor play that role now. It shifts. I really love Maggie. And in a lot of ways I love Seamus. In a lot of ways I love Mark.


O’Flannery’s Pub plays January 26, 2010, 7:30pm @ Theater!  Theatre!

Directed by Andrew Wardenaar
MARGARET: Alyson Osborn
SEAMUS: John San Nicolas
CAITLIN: Aubrey Jessen
MARK: Tony Cull
PATRICK: Chris Porter
BOB: Michael Biesansz


The Poetry Foundation’s Best Poetry of the Year? Now at Fertile Ground December 17, 2009

One of the coolest fusion projects participating in this year’s Fertile Ground Creative Festival is a collaboration between poet David Biespiel and Oregon Ballet Theatre dancer Gavin Larsen. It’s called Incorporamento and it will be an intriguing test of the possibilities of interconnecting spoken word and movement performance.

David is the head of the Attic Writer’s Workshop, which does amazing work with creating space for writers to develop their craft. He also edited Poetry NW. How he found time to still WRITE himself is a mystery to me. But it seems to have paid off, with a huge honor from the Poetry Foundation. Check out their release below:

David Biespiel’s The Book of Men and Women named Best Poetry of the Year by The Poetry Foundation.

The Attic is pleased to announce that founder, director, and writer-in-residence David Biespiel’s newest collection of poems, The Book of Men and Women, has been named by The Poetry Foundation as the Best Poetry of the Year. Read more

David Biespiel is widely recognized as one of the leading poets of his generation, a liberal commentator on national politics for Politico, & also one of the nation’s experts in teaching writing. Learn more about David Biespiel

Founded in 1999, the Attic Writers’ Workshop is a unique literary studio that hosts creative writing workshops and private consultations for over 350 writers every year.

Congratulations David! We can’t wait to see how your work translates into dance through the expressive work of one of Oregon Ballet Theatre’s most talented dancers.


Many Hats Collaboration + Truth and Beauty: Insanely Beautiful December 10, 2009

Late November.  Tonight I’m sitting in on rehearsal of Many Hats Collaboration’s Truth and Beauty.  All I know of the project is that Jessica Wallenfels is involved in its creation, which means the piece will involve movement and the human form manifest in a beautiful complexity, if my memories of Mutt and Restroom serve me right. Jessica is joined by former classmates Betsy Cross and Elizabeth Klinger from D’ell Arte and Joe Spencer from CalArts “a hundred years ago.”  We’re in a second-story bare officey space in Brooklyn overlooking Powell Blvd.

How it all began – Jessica and Betsy knew they wanted to “move together,” which they began doing in 2007, meanwhile trading music and books in search of source material for a project.

Jessica Then [Betsy] got me Truth and Beauty and we both read it and we were like, “Oh my god don’t you just love this book?!”   And it made us cry so much and it’s about this two-woman friendship.  It was weird because neither of us was, “Oh, I’ve always wanted to do this project.”  It was just like, “Look at this thing we’ve found.  It’s insanely beautiful.   Let’s try to do something on it.”  We did a lot of movement, research, and emotional work for movement on it, but we couldn’t quite take it further to the next step of getting it into a script.  Enter Elizabeth Klinger.  Elizabeth tore up the script and made this awesome adaptation.  And the adaptation is no mean feat because a bunch of physical theatre artists turning a memoir into theatre, “Whoa, how do we do this?”   That alone was a huge step forward for us.

And we’ve been working on this like projection idea that has been incorporated and then deincorporated and then scaled back.  Because the novel has so many locations, we were thinking of projection basically as the set, to suggest where we are because we have no budget for this.  We spent a lot of time dramaturging the film that would go along with this.  Projections that give us where we are in place or things that are really hard to do onstage, you know, moods or shifts or major life events that happen and we can’t do because there’s too many people in it or something like that. Now we’ve got to a place where we’re going to have five or six occurrences of projection, possibly.  But the researching the film script, so to speak, really informed what we wanted the theatre event to be and what it wanted to impart.  Every time we were coming up with a projection we’d ask ourselves what are we trying to do with this, do to the audience with this, and then we would get further with what the theatre piece actually was.   And it’s hard because the structure of the novel – it’s these two writers [Lucy Grealy and Ann Patchett] – and then one of them, the one that I play [Lucy] is definitely on a destructive path … It’s a story we know well in terms of how fame and pressure and things like that can make people self-destruct.  So how do we tell that in a new way?  Also, the memoir isn’t built with a traditional rising action, climax, dénouement, you know, it kind of goes more like this [makes a spiraling downward gesture] and so how do we structure that structure while remaining true to the story but making it a theatrical event that’s going to be interesting for a live audience?

We just got into this space a month ago and we’ve really been jamming and turning out four scenes a night.  Actually staging it.  Because we didn’t have a space for a long time, we didn’t know where we would be performing it, and so we had no idea about configuration and also the chairs, the idea of the chairs as our set, that didn’t come for a long time.  That came like six weeks ago, so once those major pieces started to fall into place, then it’s like we’ve been booming.

I won’t see the projections tonight but I do see The Chairs.  Within the corner section of the space taped off into a stage is an eclectic collection of at least nine chairs, some paired, some solitary.

Elizabeth: Their first apartment together is this green [narrow, 70s-style marbleized] chair that one of them comes with into the apartment with.   This other wooden chair is the other chair that the girl enters the apartment with.  So they’re both their kitchen chairs that sat around the kitchen table in this apartment and told all their sex stories and got to know each other and really fell in love over the chairs.

Jessica – It’s really interesting because their friendship crosses so many boundaries of what normal people expect out of their friends or where they stop their friends, and these women did not have these boundaries at all.  So that’s one of the things that makes their friendship just extraordinary is that it is like a marriage.  At one point Ann describes to her boyfriend that she’s like married, as if Lucy is her wife but they’re totally hetero.

Elizabeth – The one you asked about [an off-white short back chair with tan spots like a giraffe], that’s Lucy’s chair.  That’s the chair that’s her apartment, her life-on-her-own chair, when they’re apart.  And Jessica’s decided it’s probably her work chair because it’s really hard for her to ever work and so the chair’s super-uncomfortable, so probably perpetuates her distaste to sit down and work.

Jessica – She’s a writer but she hates writing.

Elizabeth – The next chair [a bland, beige soft-seated, square chair] is our clinical chair for the abortion and the doctors’ offices and the hospitals.  It serves the place of all the clinical sets basically.  The other two chairs [round, red-felted seats with copper-colored curlicue backs], they’re the ice cream shop but then they also serve the purpose of a few other locations, like a canoe.

These two [broad, wooden, curved back chairs] are our pub chairs, like our bar. Ann gets a divorce and goes back home and lives with her mom and she gets a job waiting tables at TGIFridays and writes at night in her mom’s guest room.  That’s [a seafoam green, hard plastic school chair] our classroom chair.  That’s like when they’re teachers together, when they first start teaching out of college, and that’s also their chair for academic success, academic achievement as they go on.   That is still the prize that they hold the highest esteem where they started and where they’re always reaching for.  And there’s so much struggle for success with these two women.

Jessica – And they both do become famous, which is another extraordinary thing about their friendship is they’re struggling writers who make it.  And the odds of that is pretty incredible.

Elizabeth – And this chair [a dark multi-colored squashy sofa corner seat] is Ann’s mom’s.   So when Ann’s living with her mom in her guest room, this is the chair that she finds comfort in, and then it becomes later something she takes with her through life into her own home [and] it becomes Ann’s chair.  So Ann’s and Lucy’s chairs are very different.

theresa – What am I going to get to see tonight?

Jessica – Tonight we’re working on some scenes from Act 2 where Lucy is just starting to get a little bit of success.   She’s in a writing residency [Yaddo] but she’s much more concerned with who she’s fucking or not fucking, and Ann’s trying to comfort her and steer her correctly.  And there’s another scene where Ann has a boyfriend who’s a poet who’s in direct competition with Lucy because Lucy is a poet at this point in her life.  She writes a book later that is actually the story of her cancer [Autobiography of a Face].  She got this rare form of cancer when she was 10 and they irradiated the tissue to get rid of the cancer, and then for the rest of her life she’s not able to have a normal face because the bone keeps melting and she has 35 surgeries during her lifetime to try and fix her face so she can be normal and be pretty and be attractive and none of them work because it just keeps melting away.  So that’s part of Lucy’s problem with men.  What I was trying to say is that the book that she writes, that makes her famous, is the story of her face, which is not really the story she’s ever wanted to tell.   She’s wanted to be a writer on her own terms or her own story…

Betsy – But that’s the only thing she was ever famous for.

Jessica – But it’s also a really great book.

Betsy – Yeah, and I think she was also ashamed of that as she was proud of it.

Elizabeth – Lucy never wanted to write that way.  She was very identity heavy for herself – she identified, “I’m a poet.  This is what I am, not this.”

Jessica – But when men are concerned, it’s total all out competition between Lucy and Ann, especially if the guy is a writer, which he has been at different points in Ann’s life.  And then [Lucy] gets jealous.  She gets really really jealous on lots of levels.  We’re in the middle of the story, where they’re just starting to get some notoriety.

* * *

The Rehearsal

Scene 1 – Chaste Cuddling at Yaddo.   The chairs are cleared away, leaving a bare stage and only Ann’s mother’s chair, the corner-end sofa seat, downstage right.  Ann (Betsy) sits in the chair.  Lucy (Jessica) is crumpled on the floor nearby.   The Painter (Joe) stands in the corner upstage left.

1.            Yaddo, where Lucy gets a call from Ann, which, in the days before cells phones, was a really big deal.  The phone rings.  Lucy remains crumpled on the floor, then Joe announces it’s for her.  She bolts up, face electrified, grabs the other end of the phone from Ann.  The phone cord is comically vast, at least 15 feet long.  Lucy stands and, phone in hand, prances across the stage towards Joe then remains by his side, wiggling and giggling just like a 6-year-old with a crush.  She fawns by his side as she talks on the phone to Ann.  Joe indulgently beams down at her.

Ann narrates:  Yaddo is adult summer camp with lots of sexual intrigue and Lucy is playing a dangerous game with a nameless Painter (Joe) she’s met there.   Lucy obsesses over him but the relationship is doomed from the beginning.  The Painter will sleep naked with Lucy, but he has a girlfriend so won’t have sex with her… because he’s good and true to his girl back home.  Lucy explains this to Ann matter-of-course, as if it makes perfect sense that someone should walk all over her heart with no strings attached.  Ann’s rightful indignation on Lucy’s behalf has no effect.  Ann settles for begging Lucy to at least eat, but Lucy giggles self-consciously and worries she’ll drool it over herself.   There’s something frantic in Lucy’s devotion to the Painter.  Then the Painter leaves and Lucy is dejected.

The scene ends and Elizabeth points out that Jessica forgot to wear her mask.  “Oh yeah – I thought I felt too cute.”   Jessica straps a piece of flesh-colored plastic across her mouth, leaving her teeth bared.   Mental flash to Silence of the Lambs.  I understand Lucy’s fear of drooling out her food.

2.            This time, Lucy slinks on all fours with playful sensuality to Joe, who mirrors her.  They meet and roll against and over each other like puppies.  They nuzzle.  Playful as these movements are, now that Jessica is wearing the mask, Lucy’s vulnerability is almost crushing; Joe becomes a man bent on a taking advantage of Lucy’s desperation for sex, love, and comfort.   And Lucy, self-conscious of her face, will take whatever she can get.  This is disquietingly familiar.

Elizabeth admires the playfulness of Jessica and Joe on the floor and hones in definite moments in the text where Lucy does and does not face him.   She probably doesn’t look at Joe when she talks about drooling, or anything else that makes her unattractive.  Elizabeth encourages them to find the holds in the scene rather than continual movement.

3.            They spend time choreographing the series of movements around the idea of “chaste cuddling.”  Jessica and Joe lay on the floor back-to-back, then curl into spooning.  “Can you make that more chaste?”  Joe pulls his arm from around Jessica’s waist and props it up on his hip.  [Jessica/Lucy – “I thought he was going to put it on my boobie, then he doesn’t.”]  We burst out laughing.  Joe moves his pelvis away from Jessica and she slides her body downstage so her butt is at his knees. [“Boner killer.”]  It’s ridiculous, but so is the Painter’s relationship with Lucy.  Jessica curls her head down from under his arm, and Joe rolls to face away from her.  Then he rises and walks away.  End scene.  Lucy’s heartbreak.  She falls back, spread-eagle on the floor.

Chaste cuddling:  I envision two marble statues.

4.            Elizabeth continues to choreograph sexual intrigue; aligning movement with text.  Here is where the Painter nibbles Lucy’s tummy and the sexual stakes are raised; here is where Lucy turns her face away from him.   The text and movement are woven together.

The scene is run one last time.  The stakes are higher, the action more interesting.   From a cute girl toying with a crush, Lucy has transformed into a woman so insecure and frantic for affection she’ll starve her body and self-respect, for the touch of a man’s hand.

Scene 2 – Lucy Grealy comes to glory.

1.            Picking up from the previous scene, Lucy is spread-eagle on the floor.  Ann remains in the squishy chair and narrates the next phase of their parallel careers.  Lucy climbs higher to success, with an autobiographical essay about her face published in Harpers, a residency, and a book contract.  Lucy rises, face blank, eyes empty and cast towards the lights.  She picks up the green chair of academic success and carries it above her head as she steps with deliberation in a half-arc from SR to SL, stopping center stage.   The emotional distress of a moment ago is gone, replaced by cold, driven intellect of success and self-abnegation.

Ann stands, and for the first time this evening I get a glimpse into her life as something more than Lucy’s pillow.  She narrates her far less glamorous life, teaching for a semester in Kentucky.   She approaches Lucy, lies back, then props the green chair of success against her feet, holding the two back chair legs with her hands.  Lucy hops onto the chair and Ann extends her legs upwards, pushing Lucy into the air. The metaphor of her supporting Lucy and her career is literalized.

Betsy’s extension is effortless.   I’m concerned about her balance and strength but Betsy’s worried about her lines; the chair wobbles only when she turns her head to the side to refer to her script – then she loses sight of Jessica’s movements and can’t counter her weight.  For now, Elizabeth determines, the issue is blocking and safety, not so much the lines.  Joe enters, this time as Mark Levine, the Poet who becomes Ann’s lover.  He reaches out and removes Betsy’s hands from the chair legs… and Jessica remains perfectly balanced on her perch.  It’s gorgeous, both in the world of the play – a symbol of Lucy’s reliance on Ann’s strength, the fragility of Lucy’s success – and in the actual here and now – Betsy and Jessica’s trust for each other as performers.

Elizabeth is excited how easily Joe was able to remove Betsy’s hands and focus from the chair.  This is the metaphor she wants – Mark pulling Ann away from Lucy.  But, she suggests, what if at the top of the scene, Ann brings the chair of success to Lucy?  Granting Lucy the success she herself once had.  Emphasizing even more how entangled their successes are with each other, how entangled Lucy’s sense of the personal success is mixed with Ann.

2.               The scene begins again.   Lucy is spread-eagle on the floor on her back.  As Ann speaks, Jessica tries something similar to a shoulder stand with a half-twist.  [It doesn’t work this time but she’ll play with it throughout the evening.]  Ann picks up the chair and the women approach each other.  While it’s apparent in the dialogue how much Ann gives to Lucy emotionally, the act of her handing off this chair of their success exposes even more her generosity.  I feel its weight.

Lucy is propped aloft on her chair of glory.  This time, when Mark takes Ann’s hands away from the chair, Lucy hangs down backwards, her upside-down face gazing at us.  Then Mark carries her and the chair them both across the stage to SR.  When he puts the chair and Lucy down, Lucy is facing the wall, her back to Ann.  Of course Lucy would protest this.  She has her chair of glory but it isn’t enough; she needs Ann too.  She turns to face Ann – Mark is still between them but US – and they argue about Mark, his poetry, and Ann’s betrayal in dating a poet.  It’s a verbal tennis match, with Mark in the middle.   But Lucy wins Ann’s attention back to herself, as I sense she always does – she asks if Ann loves her more.  Ann does, though not without pointing out the exclusivity of Lucy’s definition when there are, in fact, many types of love.

Elizabeth asks, “What the hell do we do with Mark Levine?”  It gets awkward with the two women arguing around him and he remains silent.  How do they make him feel like a character and not just a body?  He feels superfluous by the time Lucy asks Ann if Ann loves her more than Mark.  Should he stay or go?  Betsy suggests keeping him in the scene – he’s a significant relationship for Ann.  Betsy’s interested in the linear status play – the three of them in a line, Mark physically between them.  The scene is run again and after Mark puts down Lucy and the chair, he deliberately blocks Lucy’s ability to see Ann, in essence creating his own little world with Ann.

They play for some time with the visual of Ann and Mark easing into their relationship, all the while Lucy and Ann arguing about the relationship.  And with Mark between them physically, it’s evident how much Lucy’s power is weakened.  Slowly Ann and Mark fold into sitting, hesitantly their hands tickle up each others’ arms.  I see the hesitancy of Ann exploring a love and self outside of Lucy.  Mark reaches his hands under Ann’s arms and lifts her in a swift diagonal so her knees are on his shoulders as Ann comes closer to Lucy.  When she admits that she loves Lucy more, Ann is severed from Mark and slides over the back of Lucy’s chair.  As someone who continually walks into doorjambs, I’m amazed by Betsy’s easy grace.

“But does this movement work?” someone asks.    After all, Mark rips Lucy and Ann apart, but the movement on stage brings the women together.  They try again.  After the lift, Ann’s forward momentum pushes Lucy off the chair, onto the floor.  Lucy huddles with her arms around her legs.  And now it’s just Lucy and Ann again, Mark is third place in the line as Ann tells Lucy of course she loves Lucy more than Mark.  Mark exits.

3.            Having Ann back to herself isn’t enough for Lucy.  Ann moves back to the squishy corner chair that is her mom’s house and Lucy picks up her chair of success and marches to the opposite side of the stage.  She pouts about not having a boyfriend.  She marches back to Ann, still with her chair of glory, complaining that she can’t write, she doesn’t have a book published.  Lucy doesn’t – she can’t – stop moving.  She tantrums, about to crawl out of her skin; I expect at any moment for her to start screaming, as the real question is, Why isn’t your love enough for me?  It oozes from every pore.   Ann, resting in her soft chair, must be exhausted, trying to hold Lucy together, yet she comforts her, rises and again, lifts Lucy onto her chair of glory.  And 2 to 3 hours later, she tells us, We do it all again.  While Lucy talks about being lonely, I think how lonely Ann must be, spending her life dealing with Lucy’s demands like a child.

4.            Elizabeth wants more natural movement during this last section.  So now, after Mark leaves, Ann and Lucy stay in the chairs, Lucy bemoaning her struggles.  The stage picture is so quiet.  I miss the movement, but Lucy’s dependence on Ann’s support is clearer.  Whereas before Lucy was running around with her chair of success, now she deserts it and doesn’t return to it until Ann encourages her to write.  Then Ann lifts Lucy onto the chair…and the cycle begins again.

* * *

Wrapping Up

Everyone checks in at the end of the night and Elizabeth makes me, rehearsal trespasser, speak up.  What happened tonight was the integration of text and movement to empower a story, and how this happened was through specificity.  Taking the impulse of the body and shaping it so that its actions became a story in itself, a story that at times moved with and supported the text and, at other times, moved against the characters’ language and told the unspoken story.

Ultimately, those two scenes amounted to approximately ten minutes of the play.  For me, ten lonely minutes about friendship.    Beauty.  Women and love.  Women and art.  Women in art.  Lonely because creating art, especially writing, is lonely; done well, it is the darkest and brightest of ourselves; then having expended our all, we’re left staring into the expanse of our faceless audience, looking for the one to return us to ourselves.   Looking for the one who will love us enough to temporarily assuage the searing self-doubt and hatred that arises from seeing in the mirror that which we can never escape.


Truth and Beauty runs Jan. 22-23, & 28-30 at 8:30pm @ Shaking the Tree, 1407 SE Stark St.

$15 at http://www.pdxtix.net/manyhats

see also:  www.facebook.com/manyhatscollaboration

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Investigating La Llorona December 2, 2009

Filed under: the creative process — fertilegroundpdx @ 3:48 am

What is it that is so compelling about a woman who kills her children? Throughout time we’ve been fascinated, disgusted, drawn and repelled by the fate of the woman who chooses some other goal (revenge, love, riches) over the fate of her own children.

While researching the figure of La Llorona, the wailing woman of Latin American mythology for their Fertile Ground project Memory Water: A Tale of Love, Loss and Liquid, collaborators Chisao Hata, Andrea Stolowitz and Samantha Van Der Merwe discovered that the myth of the child killing woman trapped in the “in-between” has an international array of counterparts. Here’s a few others for you to consider:

Banshee: In Irish legend, a banshee wails around a house if someone in the house is about to die.

The Onryō: (Japan) Ghosts in this in-between state who are very powerful from love, jealousy, hatred or sorrow can bridge the gap back to the physical plane where they can haunt and wreak havoc on their earthly tormentors.

The White Lady: (U.S.A & Europe) is a type of female ghost purported to appear in many rural areas, and who is supposed to have died or suffered trauma in life.

The lady in white of Latuda: (U.S.A) is a young mother, who had on a fateful day in 1927 left her child sleeping at home while she ran a quick errand at the general store. After an avalanche killed her child, she hung herself in the upper floors of the mine office. To this day the lady in white walks the streets of this ghost town, seemingly unaware that the town now lay in ruins.

Dames Blanches (meaning literally white ladies), in French mythology or folklore, were female spirits or supernatural beings, comparable to the White Women of both Dutch and Germanic mythology. They lurk in narrow places such as ravines, fords, and on bridges, and try to attract passerby attention.

Witte Wieven (Dutch) are thought to be wise women, herbalists and medicine healers who took care of people’s physical and mental ailments. It was said they had the talent for prophecy and looking into the future. They had a high status in the communities, and so when they died ceremonies were held at their grave sites to honor them. According to mythology, their spirits remained on earth, and they became living spirits (or elven beings) that either helped or hindered people who encountered them. They tended to reside in the burial sites or other sacred places. It was thought that mist on a grave hill was the spirit of the wise woman appearing, and people would bring them offerings and ask for help.

the Weisse Frauen (meaning White Women), in Continental Germanic mythology and folklore, are elven-like spirits that may have derived from Germanic paganism in the form of legends of light elves (Old Norse: Ljósálfar). They are described as beautiful and enchanted creatures who appear at noon and can be seen sitting in the sunshine brushing their hair or bathing in a brook. They may be guarding treasure or haunting castles. They entreat mortals to break their spell, but this is always unsuccessful. The mythology dates back at least to the Middle Ages and was known in the present-day area of Germany.

Spooky cool, eh? Can’t wait to see what they do with these juicy archetypes in the show.

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Pulp Diction Participant Talks Process

Filed under: the writing process — fertilegroundpdx @ 2:23 am
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Anna Sahlstrom, playwright of one of the Pulp Diction late night pieces, called The Go Girls, shares how she went from JRR Tolkein spoof to late night pulpy feminine empowerment in just a few simple steps…

Every story for me starts out as a daydream or a passing idea.  Some people come to create a framework for an idea for a story and some just sit down and let the muse come to them.  I have tried both means of writing and have found that I can’t completely map what I’m going to write.  I don’t use outlines or other schematics.  I simply imagine the story I want to tell and I go with it.

The Go-Girls began for me as a funny idea for a story while I was at a meeting for the Women’s Ensemble performance group at Loyola Marymount University.  We created the group because of the lack of onstage opportunities for women at our school.  I thought it would be funny to do a modern, urban spoof of Lord of the Rings with me as the star.  The story would change greatly by the time I actually wrote the play, but what remained the same was the desire to have a show with all women and to have a theme of female empowerment.  And the comedic aspects would be there as well.

Well, I didn’t think about The Go-Girls until two years after I had graduated.  I had been steadily working on establishing my acting career.  I continued to study and audition and even did community theatre.  However, I was really frustrated and felt that I wasn’t getting anywhere.  I had also just gotten a day job after searching for two years.  I wanted to create a piece that was fun and with a lead role for me to play.  I really needed some inspiration.  I went to see X-Men: The Last Stand and it reminded me of when I read the comics and how much I loved the series.  The Go-Girls resurfaced in my mind as a feminist super-hero spoof rather than a spoof on JRR Tolkein.

I had never written a full-length play before, but I sat down at my computer and just let the writing come out.  It was easier to write than anything I had attempted before.  I think it was because I wasn’t forcing myself to please someone else or censoring my writing.  I find that I can create much better work when I get out of my own way.  The script simply felt right.  I spent the next year and a half editing my script, and then I was accepted into the One-Year Acting Program at Drama Studio London.  I brought a copy of The Go-Girls with me and imagined doing a staged reading of the play.  I was granted that opportunity and I cast a bunch of my new friends and myself in the lead.  The reading was so much fun.  The audience of ten people couldn’t stop laughing.

With the feedback from the director of the reading, I edited out parts that were either too long or didn’t work.  I was considering how to put together a future production, when the opportunity came to have a reading as part of The Pulp Stage’s Pulp Diction late-night reading series for Fertile Ground.  I have done further edits, with the advice of my director, to make the play work even better.  I am really excited to be sharing my work with the Portland theatre community.

The process of my work is the process of my life.  I determine what I want and the let the scenes and the pieces fall into place.  And I can never completely plan what will happen.

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My “Low Five” Thanksgiving Memories

Filed under: Uncategorized — SexyNurd @ 1:46 am

Thanksgiving serves far more than turkey, gravy and mashed potatoes. For me, it also dishes out juicy, painful memories.

Here are my worst holiday moments. Forgive me if they taste a little bitter.

1. 1979: Sitting at the cousin’s table drooling for turkey, until learning the adults had devoured the entire bird. What did we kids eat? Hormel canned ham. I wanted to kill aunt Betty. As a matter of fact, I wish I would have. Her head would have tasted better.

2. 2007: Tip–Don’t break up with your girlfriend three weeks prior to Thanksgiving. Unless, of course, you enjoy spending the holiday alone eating a turkey sandwich while watching Children of a Lesser God.

3. 2006: Making the mistake of attending a vegan dinner. Tofurkey “log” is an apt description, because it tasted like a burnt sawdust turd.

4. 1974: “I swear to God, grandma, I did not pee on Tammy and JJ from the oak tree.” But I wish I would have.

5. 2002: Thinking I would get laid, I drove to San Diego with a girl I barely knew, to spend the holiday with her friends. She forgot to mention they were super Christians. At the end of a 12-minute opening prayer where the host offered his graciousness to everyone on the planet—including Charlton Heston—I added “You forgot my mom.”

Their reaction? Total silence and awkward stares.

I’m still grateful that I made that quip.


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