Finding Home: Migration, Exile, and Belonging

Theatre Communications Group Essay Salon

 

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Lady Liberty’s Worst Day Ever:  J.Dolan Byrnes (Vinnie) and Frances McGarry (Lady Liberty)

 

 

BY MONICA BAUER

On the last day of the run of the “three plays against Islamophobia”, Aizzah Fatima called me to come down from the audience to share our final bows together. She told the story of this crazy Christian woman who called her out of the blue months earlier to brainstorm ways to use theater to confront Islamophobia. At that moment, we both felt “mission accomplished.” We had met each other in common cause, to do our jobs to tell the truth in front of an audience.

In May of 2016, I watched with horror as Donald Trump became the presumptive Republican nominee for President. Back then, we all knew what he’d said about Muslims. Still to come would be the horrendous attack on the Khan family after Khizr Khan, father of American hero Captain Humayan Khan, spoke at the Democratic National Convention. Ever since I graduated from playwriting school at Boston University in 2004, I had been sharpening one tool for communicating to the world; theater. I knew I wanted to say something theatrically about Trump, particularly about his fanning the flames of Islamophobia.

Much of my passion to fight against Islamophobia comes from my personal history: I spent a year teaching at the American University in Cairo, in the 1990’s. I didn’t just come for a weekend seminar. I was there for a year, living in the suburb of Ma’adi, having serious conversations with my students, some taking up the hijab out of devotion, some proudly wearing their hair in the latest styles and wearing the tightest jeans they could buy. And I was teaching in a delicate area- Political Science. So I had good reason to lead some very sensitive discussions with my students about politics. I had one student, a serious looking young man, whose answer to everything was “Islam is the answer.” As often happens, they taught me more than I taught them.

When I came back to the U.S., I was changed forever. I was attuned to the problems of the Middle East. When 9-11 happened, and Bush turned to bomb Iraq after Afghanistan, I felt like I was a tiny voice screaming at the top of my lungs “Saddam Hussein is Sunni and secular and Osama bin Laden is Wahhabi and they hate each other!” And I knew right away there’d be a wave of Islamophobia washing over America. I was pleased when George W. Bush refused to use Islamophobia as a political weapon, but furious he was taking us into Iraq. By 2016, I had seen Trump use Islamophobia to gin up hatred against an entire world religion that he obviously knew nothing about. And I was pissed.

When you’ve lived in another culture, “they” are no longer “the other.” They are your friends and neighbors. They have names: Mohammed, Kareem, Fatima. Majidah. So when Trump turned his toxic spotlight on the Muslim community, I had to do something.

 

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Dirty Paki Lingerie, Aizzah Fatima

 

Luckily, one of my playwright pals is Aizzah Fatima, a Pakistani-American artist I first met at the 2011 Edinburgh Fringe Festival. I was over there producing a play of mine, “Made for Each Other,” and doing some blogging for the Huffington Post. They wanted short pieces from Americans doing their first Edinburgh Fringe, so I signed up, and decided to review Aizzah’s show, “Dirty Paki Lingerie.” Her one woman show blew me away– I felt I suddenly knew six different Muslim-American women, each with an important story about being Muslim in America. The show was theatrical, well-written, funny, poignant, and Aizzah was perfect in all six roles. That’s how we became friends.

In May of 2016, when I wanted more than anything to hit Trump’s Islamophobia full force with theater, I knew exactly who to call.

I put up the money from my retirement savings, rationalizing that if I lost it all I’d just have to die a few months earlier. Aizzah put up her talent and connections with the Muslim, Arab, and Middle Eastern theater community in New York. I wanted to showcase her performances in “Dirty Paki Lingerie”, which I knew she had just toured to the UK and Pakistan. She’d already done several runs of the show in New York as a solo show artist, and she said we needed to do something more to get audience and press. At first we wanted to call it “A Theater Festival Against Trump,” but our landlords at Urban Stages Theater said that was too political. They’d help us promote our show, but only if their Board didn’t deem it “too political.” That’s when we came up with the title, “The Lady Liberty Theater Festival.” I wrote a short play as a curtain raiser called “Lady Liberty’s Worst Day Ever,” a two-hander between Lady Liberty and her agent Vinnie, who gives her the bad news that Trump wants to buy her and rebrand her as “Lady Trump.” I even managed to create a rap based on the Emma Lazarus poem on the statue’s base!

We had a 60 minute show (“Dirty Paki Lingerie”) and a short curtain raiser. If we didn’t add anything else, it would be a short lopsided night of theater, with no intermission. So I expanded a short play called “No Irish Need Apply,” which had just been done at the Kennedy Center’s “Tiny Plays for Ireland and America.” The play is about a Syrian refugee looking for a job, and an old Irish-American woman who may or may not be prejudiced. Now we had one play by a Pakistani-American, and two short plays by me. We needed more diversity.

Could we expand into a real festival with numerous plays by a wide variety of playwrights? It was just the two of us, Aizzah in New York and me currently based in Tucson, Arizona. We quickly realized we didn’t have the organization necessary to run anything approaching a real festival. But we could manage one day of staged readings! We made the connection that our rental at Urban Stages included September 11th, so we began to plan for a two-fold event: an evening of three plays against Islamophobia running nightly from September 7th through the 25th, and a day long festival of staged readings against Islamophobia, showcasing the work of a diverse group of writers, actors, and directors for the 15th anniversary of September 11th.

On September 11th we produced staged readings collaborating with a diverse group of actors, directors, and writers: Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Jews, Zoroastrians from Iran, plus the usual theater percentage of agnostics and atheists. Participants included director Kareem Fahmy, from an Egyptian family that settled in Canada, and Ali Andre Ali, an actor whose background is half Palestinian and half Irish! The playwrights included Mona Mansour, Maximillian Singh Gill, Emma Goldman-Sherman, and me. Aizzah Fatima played two roles in the reading of my play “Anne Frank in the Gaza Strip.” We asked for donations for the International Rescue Committee for Syrian refugees.

On the last day of the run of the “three plays against Islamophobia”, Aizzah Fatima called me to come down from the audience to share our final bows together. She told the story of this crazy Christian woman who called her out of the blue months earlier to brainstorm ways to use theater to confront Islamophobia. At that moment, we both felt “mission accomplished.” We had met each other in common cause, to do our jobs to tell the truth in front of an audience. We had gone beyond just talking about creating theater to actually creating theater, putting up money and talent and time. Not everyone is able to do these things. Most of us are living day to day and can’t spend the time and effort to do this sort of work. It was a joy and a privilege for Aizzah and me to actually roll up our sleeves and get it done, during the most important election season in our life times, in the home town of Donald Trump.

bauer_smallMONICA BAUER
Full length plays produced Off Broadway, Off-Off Broadway, regionally in Denver, Boston, Providence, Omaha, Detroit, Tucson, and internationally in London and at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and the Brighton (England) Fringe Festival. Education includes a B.A. from Brown,
M. Div. from Yale, M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Nebraska. Monica was the 2004 Teaching Fellow in the Graduate Playwriting Program at Boston University, where she received an MA in playwriting. Short plays produced in the Boston Theater Marathon, National 15 Minute Play Festival, and many others. Conferences include Sewanee, Great Plains Theater Conference (twice), Kennedy Center Summer Playwriting Intensive, and Kenyon Playwrights’ Conference. Outstanding Playwriting of a New Script, for “The Higher Education of Khalid Amir,” Midtown International Theater Festival, 2008. Her musical, “Lighter”, for which she wrote book, music, and lyrics, was presented at the New York Musical Theater Festival in 2009. Her full length play about race, “My Occasion of Sin,” was part of the 2014 season of the Detroit Repertory Theater. Her play for one actor, “Made for Each Other” has been in various production since 2009. In September of 2014, “Chosen Child” was given two staged readings in New York as part of the Indie Theater Now/Stage Left Studio Reading Series, directed by Austin Pendleton. “Chosen Child” was also part of the 2014-2015 season at Boston Playwrights’ Theatre, where it was nominated for an IRNE (Independent Reviewers of New England) award for Best New Play. Heideman Finalist for multiple award-winner “Answering,” published by Heuer. Winner, Emerging Playwright Award, Urban Stages. Winner, Kennedy Center’s Tiny Plays for Ireland and America, 2016, for “No Irish Need Apply.” Plays published by Heuer, Brooklyn, and online at Indie Theater Now. Proud member, Dramatists Guild and League of Professional Theatre Women. Full production history at www.monicabauer.com.

ruthsmallBLOG SALON CURATOR

Ruth Margraff is a playwright and writing program chair at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Margraff’s plays, poetry and opera works include Anger/Fly; Three Graces; Temptation of the Fresh Voluptuous; Cafe Antarsia Ensemble; Seven; Stadium Devildare; The Cry Pitch Carrolls; The Elektra Fugues; Night Vision; Deadly She-Wolf Assassin At Armageddon, Voice of the Dragon 1,2,3; Judges 19: Black Lung Exhaling; All Those Violent Sweaters; Red Frogs; Night Parachute Battalion; The State of Gristle; Centaur Battle of San Jacinto; Wallpaper Psalm. Her work has been performed at various festivals and venues throughout USA; UK; Canada; Russia; Romania; Serbia; Hungary; Ireland; Italy; Greece; Turkey; Slovenia; Czech Republic; Croatia; France; Austria, Sweden; Japan; Egypt; India, Azerbaijan. She is recipient of numerous awards from institutions including Rockefeller Foundation; McKnight Foundation; Jerome Foundation; National Endowment for the Arts; Theater Communications Group; Fulbright; New York State Council on the Arts; Illinois Arts Council; Arts International; Trust for Mutual Understanding of New York, CultureConnect.

An interview with…Cheryl Navo, Playwright LIE OF OMISSION, World Premiere Play

“As a female playwright I believe strongly that I need to concentrate on writing good, strong roles for women.  For each play I write, I’ve made a personal commitment to myself to never allow the male roles to outnumber or outshine the female roles.  I hope that inspires other women to advance the roles of women in all aspects of theatre.”

APCherylNavo

It just does not get any better for an actor than to not only have the opportunity to be cast in the world premiere of a play, Lie of Omission, but also get to meet its playwright.  As arts advocate/host of First Online With Fran featuring ordinary people who do extraordinary things in The Arts and proponent of advancing the work of women through my membership at The League of Professional Theatre Women I felt compelled to share with you the arc of this fascinating woman’s journey from soldier to storyteller.

Here are some clips of our conversation…

How did your career in the military evolve from soldier to playwright?  

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The military and military life has been a huge influence on me.  My husband works for the Department of Defense and Germany is where we are stationed.  I’ve actually lived in Germany more than half my life as I came here as an active duty soldier in the early 80s.  After spending three years as a soldier, I worked for the Department of the Army as a civilian until I took an early retirement from government service almost a year ago.  I now spend my time in creative pursuits.

I first became involved in community theatre in 2009, playing Sister Margaretta in a KMC (Kaiserslautern Military Community) Onstage production of  The Sound of Music–which was my first show since I was a child, playing one of the children, in The King and I.  Theatre, on the second go-round, proved addictive.  I have spent the last six years experimenting with being an actor, costume designer, set designer, scenic painter, director, and finally, playwright.

I never considered writing a play until a chance conversation at the theatre snack bar where I was volunteering during a KMC Onstage production (I’ve truly dabbled in every possible onstage and backstage job).  Over a drink order, an actress friend mentioned that someone she knew had written several plays.  I (naively) said that I thought it would be fun, after all “how hard can it be?”  I still remember her pitying look as she explained that writing a play that someone will actually produce is exceedingly difficult.  We moved on to another conversational topic, but I filed the idea of writing a play away in my head, thinking “I bet I could do it.”  Several months later, the artistic director for the theatre offered their first-ever playwriting class and I signed up.  I discovered very quickly just how difficult writing a play can be, but I love it.

I have written four plays to date.  My first one-act play, Parade of Queens, was produced by the Baumholder Hilltop Theater for the IMCOM-Europe AACT 2012 One Act Play Festival.  My second one-act play, Hotline, was produced by Thoreau, NM—A Production Company for the 2013 Pittsburgh New Works Festival and by the Baumholder Hilltop Theater for the 2013 IMCOM-Europe AACT One Act Play Festival.  Hotline was subsequently published by Dramatic Publishing Company in 2014 and is available in their current catalog.  My 10-Minute play At What Price was produced by the Boiling Point Players in Houston, Texas; by the Towne Street Theatre in Hollywood, California; for the Equity Library/Piney Fork Theater Summer Festival in New York; and will be part of the Minnesota Shorts: A Festival of Short Plays in Mankato, Minnesota this month.

Lie of Omission is my first full-length play.  I wrote it specifically for AACT (American Association of Community Theatre) New Play Fest 2015, where it was selected as a top fourteen finalist.  Then, Studio Theatre of Long Island offered a production contract, so I withdrew it from the AACT competition, signed a contract, and here we are.

 Share with us how the germ of the play came to fruition and how it translated to the page.

Lie of Omission began as a one-act play, but the story quickly expanded beyond the one-act format.  The idea began with a newspaper article about an American doctor who was kidnapped in the Middle East.  During his rescue, a soldier was killed.  I tried to put myself in the doctor’s place.  How would that feel–to know that a stranger lost his life saving mine?  I wondered what kind of psychological impact there would be.  After reading the initial article, I purposely departed from the details of the true-life case and started throwing in complications of my own.

I have a real heart for soldiers.  Deployments are a daily reality for military families and that’s the community where I have spent more than half my life.  My husband is a retired Medical Logistics Army officer and a current Department of the Army civilian working in medical logistics.  I also worked for the Army Medical Department in medical logistics, and although I personally never deployed, my brother spent several years driving trucks for the military in Iraq.

What is your vision for the play?  What will be your next play?  What other plans do you have for your future? 

Lie of Omission is scheduled for its next production in September 2016 at the Baumholder Hilltop, a military community theatre in Baumholder, Germany.  Naturally, I’d like to see the play produced in as many theatres as possible.  As a playwright, one of the hardest things for me to do is let go and allow actors and directors to bring their individual points of view to my story.  And, that is also one of the most rewarding parts of playwriting.  Different people bring different perspectives to the work and often teach me things I didn’t know about my own play.

I’ve begun work on a new full-length play about a psychic, but it’s early in the process.  I’m also working on a young adult novel.  Also, in early 2016, I’ll be directing Death of a Salesman for KMC Onstage.

Who and/or what do you hope to inspire with this work?  

As a female playwright I believe strongly that I need to concentrate on writing good, strong roles for women.  For each play I write, I’ve made a personal commitment to myself to never allow the male roles to outnumber or outshine the female roles.  I hope that inspires other women to advance the roles of women in all aspects of theatre.

AND a First Online With Fran question:  The Arts are so vitally important to our society; yet, it remains to be perceived as an amenity.  What would you say to challenge that perception?

I’d challenge anyone who sees The Arts as an amenity to spend some quality time in the theatre.  Seriously.  My theatre involvement during the last few years has taught me so much.  I’ve developed a huge amount of confidence in myself and I’ve gained skills in almost every area.  If theatre can do this much for me, just Imagine the effect on a child.  I see kids who participate in theatre develop physical skills and talents beyond that of their peers.  More importantly, they develop invaluable social skills such as how to take direction, work as a team, and get along with others.  What other area of education encompasses so much?

Don’t miss your chance to experience this dynamic dramatic performance of Lie of Omission at Studio Theatre of Long Island.  September 4 – 20.  For performance schedule, tickets, and directions click HERE

 

Connecting Communities: as easy as ABC

The Alphabet Series at Metropolitan Playhouse

Lillian Rodriguez as Jonas Mekas
Lillian Rodriguez as Jonas Mekas

 

Jason C. Brown as Jeanise Aviles

Jason C. Brown as Jeanise Aviles

Tammy McNeill as Jimmy Webb

Tammy McNeill as Jimmy Webb

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Inspired by the community of people who inhabit the East Village, Alex Roe, Artistic Director of Metropolitan Playhouse crafted the Alphabet City series, a theatrical production that captures snapshots of local personalities whose personal stories make for a fascinating dramatic presentation. For the past eleven years, Alex carries on with this endeavor to “celebrate unheralded lives in a way that is unique” through its most recent creation The Indelible, a collection of solo performances comprised of six new monologues based on interviews with locals told entirely in their own words.

The process has pretty much remained the same. Alex has the actors seek out “someone who is like them or unlike them, but [to] make a connection with them and then try to identify as best they can with that person’s aspirations, their history, their both physical manifest and more hidden selves. . . And then transform their words through a performance that tries to capture that person’s spirit into a portrait of them. And that very act of meeting someone bonding with them in a sense and then telling their story . . . is a transformative event.”

Actor Lillian Rodriguez speaks of how 92 year-old Jonas Mekas has left his “indelible” mark by founding Anthology Film Archives and “he’s just got a very unique personality and interesting story coming from Europe, escaping from a forced labor camp [and] then coming to America pursuing his dream which was to film what he loves.” Similarly, Jeanise Aviles: hair artist/color specialist/wig maker/performance artist/knit bomber personified by Jason Brown is “just an indelible character all around. Your subject has to have an indelible kind of impression on you for you to be magnetized by them and their story enough to spend all this time with them discovering them, transcribing what they say and creating a monologue around them.” Tammy McNeill as Jimmy Webb, manager and buyer at Trash and Vaudeville (AKA the punk Peter Pan), considers her subject’s unique history is how he leaves his indelible impression: “Jimmy has so much history, it’s brought him to an incredible place in his life, and he’s so much a part of the neighborhood that people recognize him. They know who he is and what he’s been through, but also how his story is a part of the culture in the East Village. His journey and his connection to the neighborhood make him unforgettable.”

Audiences are drawn to this project for its humanity. Director Chris Harcum devised the combination of monologues by focusing on each “character’s” need to tell: “It’s two-third intuition and one-third dealing with what’s being brought to you. Of these three in particular you could literally put this in any order and have something happen, to a degree.” The process is open-ended in that the selection process is entirely left up to the actors; yet, in spite of their not being “assigned a list” actors’ sensibilities guide them to achieve their objective. “Part of it is finding the right people to do this,” says Chris. “Alex trusted me with this project because I’d performed in it twice and we’ve known each other for ten years now. Each of these actors are very different actors; none of these actors have the same process; none of the actors have the same background; they all kind of attack things differently. So my process was how much do I come into this? How much do I back off? I try to steer the ship in a way of project management – this has to happen at this point and we have to have these things. I had to put the people together to make 2 evenings. I was doing that before they actually printed out the monologues. I heard some of the audio recordings at that point. ‘Well, it’s probably going to be these 3 and I’ll see if anything kind of jumps out at me to not be right about that decision and move forward from there’; and so, that’s what we did.”

And the audience experience is transformative: “It’s like ordinary people doing extraordinary things” injects Jason. “When you’re (initially interviewing) a real live human being you really don’t think about them in a theatrical context and using the arts and putting them into a theatrical context [with] the subject becoming “CHARACTER” and having a voice and speaking to the audience and imparting these messages. I think the one through-line between all 3 of these folks is they talk a lot about hope; they’re very positive; they all have these kind of aphorisms about life that are just kind of universal that the audience relates to and by theatricalizing these people they will go back in their own lives and look at people who impact them in a different way.” Tammy received a Facebook message from an audience member to say how much she enjoyed seeing her portrayal of Jimmy. She said that she would not have understood someone like that; would not have gotten to know someone like that and came away from it with a more open mind; an open heartedness. It was interesting because “I hadn’t even thought of that. I’d been so wrapped up in Jimmy’s story, and thinking ‘this guy’s so great’, that I hadn’t even considered that somebody would come in not immediately agreeing with me, not knowing who he might be.”

“We feature all kinds of people” Alex adds. “Artists, more violent people, more gentle people, healers; invariably, I think, in everyone’s life the way that they put one foot in front of the other and make their way through the world is an inspiration to people who see it. It’s a special combination of actor/storyteller who are telling someone else’s story, but in their persona. And that makes it all possible. And people who get past these superficial who they are, past their details of our history and into something that is human and aspirational, inspirational.”

It is also transformative for the actor. Alex mentioned how actors are not the same having done this project: “I would guarantee they’ll look at things a little bit differently. But when you’re really looking at someone – why did that person choose that word and going down into that really specific place and then that act of absorbing all that material and bringing that out to people. The challenge is not everybody can do this. I think at different places they were challenged to a point of – in a way that they have not been previously and it was something that in some ways really makes you confront yourself in a different way. And so I feel like this will carry on with them in whatever they may do in the future.”

Connecting individuals to each other not only sustains the mission of this project at Metropolitan Playhouse, and one that “we’ll continue to do as an important part of our season,” asserts Alex, but also impacts those communities beyond the East Village: “What has really excited me most is that actors who have done it before have taken it elsewhere and disseminated it as if it were another community. One of the people who went off and did this, as I remember, did it for a camp for LGBT high school students and it was extremely meaningful to them to connect with their own identity and the other people that they interviewed. I’ve heard of other people doing it with family members, particularly, or with homeless members of their community.

Theater provides an opportunity for audiences to witness ordinary people doing extraordinary things and as an Artistic Director, Alex Roe envisions “using this art to not only do all the things that theater does – create a space for ritual performance for a society to examine itself, but actually connect people to one another . . . so that everybody in the room feels that connection whatever they do is incredibly exciting to me. If I could see that happen elsewhere with different communities and see more communities find the virtue in this art and how it brings them together and softens their hearts, brings them to tears and transforms them, then I can’t really imagine anything else I’d rather see and have it go.”

It’s as simple as A-B-C.

East Side Stories
The Indelible
April 14 – May 3, 2015
Metropolitan Playhouse
http://www.metropolitanplayhouse.org/

That’s How Angels Arranged
Written and performed by Lillian Rodriguez as Jonas Mekas,
Filmmaker, poet, and artist. Founder the Film-Makers’ Cooperative and the Film Makers’ Cinematheque, now the Anthology Film Archives http://www.jonasmekas.com

COLORBOMB!
Written and performed by Jason Brown as Jeanise Aviles
Hair Artist/Color Specialist/Wig Maker/Performance Artist/Knit Bomber

Gimme Life
Written and performed by Tammy McNeill as Jimmy Webb
Manager and buyer at Trash and Vaudeville (A.K.A. the punk Peter Pan)

Christ Harcum, Director
Alex Roe, Artistic Director

DEAR MOM is coming to NYC!

JUNE Dear Mom picture written by Jay Falzone & Nancy Holson
Based on actual letters written by real daughters to their mothers

Theater For The New City
Cino Theatre
155 First Avenue (between 9th & 10th Streets)
New York, NY 10003
Directions

Dear Mom picturePERFORMANCE SCHEDULE

Thursday, July 10 6PM

Friday, July 11 12PM & 8PM

Saturday, July 12 2PM & 8PM

Sunday, July 13 3PM

 

 

In the near corner:  Linda, a 45-year old control freak with mommy issues.

In the far corner:  Joan, her feisty mother, on her way out but not without a fight.

Two women who know exactly how to push each other’s buttons.

One last grudge match.

To buy Tickets

http://www.DearMomThePlay.com

800-838-3006

tickets

 

Diamond Lil, Queen of the Bowery

by LindaAnn Loschiavo, Dramatist

My entire childhood was influenced by The Arts.

Even before I entered first grade, I worried that I could never oil paint as well as my grandfather nor sketch as quickly and delightfully as my aunt much less compete with those framed masterpieces hanging in the Metropolitan Museum of Art where my parents would take me on Sunday. My grandfather had painted a wide landscape that my grandmother hung at the base of the stairs, so I felt like I was walking into it. It was supposed to be Dante’s encounter with Beatrice. My aunts explained that it was Paradise and Dante could not actually touch her. That was confusing because the bridges looked like Venice, not Heaven. Anyway I suspected my small portion of talent wouldn’t take me too far.

From the age of 2 years old, I was listening to opera and, more importantly, the loud arguments over who had sung each aria the best, which conductor interpreted the narrative most faithfully, who had received more encores during a farewell performance. My grandmother, who had met Enrico Caruso in person, often won the arguments. I adored opera, too, but felt ashamed that my voice would never be greeted with the cheers and foot stomping that made paint flake from the ceiling.

From the age of 4 years old, I was taken to Broadway musicals. Even as I felt privileged to be sitting in the orchestra section, reading my Playbill by the beam of the courtesy seat light, I suspected I could never belt out a song like Ethel Merman nor dance like Gwen Verdon. Poor me, not good enough.

Surrounded by the best ARTS BUFFET Manhattan had to offer, what little corner could I slice off as my portion? Writing seemed to be the answer. Even as a child, I had the ability to dash off effective complaint letters, so my family gave me that responsibility. I branched out into greeting cards, doing a watercolor design on the front and writing a poem inside. Then I wrote sonnets for class projects, which merited a star and got pinned up. My parents refused to buy a home encyclopedia, which forced me into the library every Wednesday; I’d borrow seven books, read one a day, and resume the cycle the following Wednesday. The librarians showed me where the published plays were kept. It was fun to memorize dramatic scenes and recite these for my family after supper.

After reading the novel “Little Women” and discussing it with the librarians, I was annoyed that very few of my classmates were familiar with this classic. I decided to dramatize part of the book to make it come alive. “New Little Women” became my first one-act play. The four March sisters (Meg, Amy, Beth, and feisty Jo) and their mother Marmee were the cast and I typed each copy of the script on my manual typewriter. Each “actress” had to promise to rehearse and, more importantly, swear on her life not to lose the script. Since my aunts worked in the garment industry, they had leftover velveteen fabric to make five long skirts and I borrowed the “scenery”: an old rocking chair. My 50-minute play, produced in Brooklyn, NY, ran for close to 18 months. What a lovely sound: the applause of a roomful of attentive strangers.

My most recent play “Diamond Lil, Queen of the Bowery” (runtime: 1 hour, 40 minutes) had a simple set (1 stool, 2 chairs, and a small table), and a cast of eight. Set in 1895, this was easy to costume: long skirts and corsets for the actresses, derbies, bowties, and shirt garters for the actors. My drama ran in Manhattan on West 46th Street from August 17th, 2013 – – November 24th, 2013.

My appetite for the arts continues. My latest book has a section on opera before the Civil War and I attend the theatre
2 -3 times a week. Blame it on Broadway biting me when I was a wide-eyed child.

“Diamond Lil” was entered into NYC’s Fringe Festival.