Extraordinary Women Telling an Extraordinary Story: SHADOWS ROUND THE MOON

“This is a story of incredible love and extraordinary loss. The play is a chance to introduce an amazing woman to the world since Mary Shelley has not received the attention she deserves. People will be astounded to learn about the many tragedies she suffered. And yet, she survived. This play allows her to talk about how she did that, in her own words, her own voice.” ~ Kate Burton

“Many people know Mary Shelley as the writer of Frankenstein, but they don’t know what an extraordinary person she was,” says actress Kate Burton. “I didn’t know until I read Janice’s play.”

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Mary Shelley, author FRANKENSTEIN

Shadows Round the Moon came to Kate after playwright Janice Kennedy presented an excerpt at the Santa Monica Library and an actor in the audience asked her for a copy of the script. “He contacted me later and said he knew someone who would be a great match for the material, ” remembers Janice. “I didn’t know it was Kate, but he was absolutely right. Kate is perfect.”

Janice had a chance to see Kate as Mary Shelley when Kate did a reading of Shadows Round the Moon at a Women in Film benefit in Los Angeles. “It was extraordinary to watch her,” says Janice. “Even with no movement or staging, Kate transformed herself into Mary Shelley and the audience was mesmerized. They gave her a well-deserved standing ovation.”

Flash forward to Spring 2017 with Kate in a critically acclaimed revival of Present Laughter on Broadway. Kate and Janice decided this would be a good time to introduce Shadows Round the Moon to New York people. They set up an informal presentation at the Dramatists Guild and invited several Broadway producers and a rep from the Williamstown Theatre Festival. Janice gave an overview of the play and Kate read a couple of excerpts. The May presentation was so successful that a full reading of the play took place this past Wednesday, July 12th at the Dramatists Guild.

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Janice Kennedy and Kate Burton   Photo Credit Ellis Gaskell 

 

“This is a story of incredible love and extraordinary loss,” says Kate. “The play is a chance to introduce an amazing woman to the world since Mary Shelley has not received the attention she deserves. People will be astounded to learn about the many tragedies she suffered. And yet, she survived. This play allows her to talk about how she did that, in her own words, her own voice.”

 

To find that voice, Janice read Mary’s letters and journals as well as biographies of Mary and her husband, the Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. Janice found that even though Frankenstein was a publishing sensation, Mary did not receive much money for it. Copyright laws at the time she wrote the book did not favor the “creators” of literary works and music.

After Percy Shelley died, Mary was dependent on her father-in-law for money and forbidden by him to write Percy’s biography, even though she was constantly asked to do so by publishers. “This became the catalyst for the play,” says Janice. “What if Mary, as a way to write about Percy, wrote the story of her own life?”

This story begins with the death of Mary’s mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, when she was but a few days old. In the play, Mary Shelley talks about this being her introduction to “Mr. Bones,” her personification of Death.

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Kate Burton Photo Credit Ellis Gaskell 

The death of Mary Wollstonecraft reverberated throughout England because she was both revered and reviled as the founder of modern feminism with her book, A Vindication of the Rights of Women. After Wollstonecraft’s death,  Mary was raised by her father, William Godwin, a radical philosopher whose house was often visited by other philosophers and poets of the day, including Percy Shelley. As Mary grew up, she often hid on the stairs to listen to the talk of these men.

Kate Burton says she can relate to this experience of Mary’s. Recently, an old friend of her father’s came to see Kate in Present Laughter. He told her of sitting on the stairs as a child and listening in on the gatherings his father would have with people like Noel Coward, John Gielgud, Terrence Rattigan and Somerset Maugham.

At sixteen, Mary meets and falls in love with Percy Shelley at her father’s house. Janice’s research told her that the relationship that developed was not typical of the times. “Percy was devoted to the writings of Mary Wollstonecraft and truly believed the younger Mary was his equal — that she was as smart as or smarter than him,” says Janice. “Percy and Mary fell deeply in love and established an extraordinary partnership where they fueled each other’s ideas. Unfortunately, their life together was marked by tragedy after tragedy that began with the death of their first child when she was but a few days old.”

A few days after their baby’s death, Mary woke to tell Percy that she dreamed their little girl was “only cold and that we rubbed her by the fire, and she lived.” This dream of “reanimation,” Mary would say later, provided the seed for Frankenstein.

Two more of Mary and Percy’s children would die as small children and Mary suffered a miscarriage while in Italy that almost took her life as well. It was in Italy that Mary and the world suffered the loss of Percy Bysshe Shelley when he drowned at age 29 while sailing in the Mediterranean. Mary was only 25.

“These are things I do not want to remember,” Mary says in the play. “But remember I must, as we all must. What we have known, we cannot cease to know.”

Janice says she titled her play “Shadows Round the Moon” because Percy Shelley used the moon as his symbol for Mary in his poetry. And as Mary recounts her life in the play, all of the deaths she endured are like shadows surrounding and haunting her. “I made it a one-woman drama so that Mary is finally the focus of the story,” says Janice. “While Mary was alive, no one but Percy seemed to realize her brilliance. The irony is that he was largely credited with writing Frankenstein, something he consistently denied.”

Critics especially had a hard time believing that a young woman, only 17 at the time, could have written such a tale. One reviewer of Frankenstein exclaimed that “this is the foulest toadstool that has sprung up on the dung heap of mankind.”

“But what do critics, know?” counters Kate, who seems to intuitively understand Mary Shelley since Mary was raised in a “British culture” as she was. And Kate grew up in an artistic and literary family as well. Her father, Richard Burton, was an actor as was her mother Sybil, who became a literary agent and then a theatre manager. Sybil, in fact, founded The Bay Street Theatre in Sag Harbor, NY. But Kate says she didn’t know she was going to pursue the arts until her senior year of college:

I was going to be a diplomat but in my senior year at Brown, I decided to apply to drama schools. I knew that as the daughter of a famous actor, I would need all the proper  training. The basic decision became whether I would go to graduate school in England or  America because I am a British National. So, that was the only big fight in the family. Not with my mom, but with my dad. He wanted me to go to Britain and I said no, I was an American. So I went to Yale. I had a very interesting, good, and hard time while I was there. My first big job after graduate school was playing the ingénue in Present Laughter directed by George C. Scott, which was crazy.

For nearly 17 years, Kate was a working actress and then in her 40s, Hedda Gabler and The Elephant Man came along and “that changed my life as an actress because suddenly I was being moved into a different pantheon: I was no longer an ingénue and I was no longer a character actress. I could do more. That was 16 years ago. Then I went through a fallow period and I auditioned for this television show about doctors called Grey’s Anatomy. I was to be the mom of the leading lady, a mom who had early onset Alzheimer’s. I thought , ‘Oh my God, what a horrible thing.’ And I ended up [with] THAT [changing] my life and that was great.”

What does Kate think about the challenge of doing a one-woman show like Shadows Round the Moon?  “It’s very hard learning an hour-and-twenty-minute monologue and then, of course, I love being on stage with my fellow actors. But it has to be Mary’s story. It has to be her voice.”

Realizing the significance of providing role models, Kate values women writers like Mary Shelley and playwright Janice Kennedy.  “We’re in a time when women are being heralded in a way they haven’t been before . . . I am glad that women are being rewarded not because they’re women but because they’ve done a fantastic job.  We have two plays on Broadway right now written by women and that’s exciting.  They’re both Pulitzer Prize winners from before. They have stayed the course.”

Kate’s career arc is one built over the years:  “I came into my own in my 40s,” she says. “For me, now it’s about focusing in on what I really want to do for the rest of my time.”

After taking five years off from being active in the Union, Kate is running for the Council at Actor’s Equity  “because I know that I’m good at that, I know that I’m good at being a Union person. That’s a place that I can be helpful.” She is on the board of Broadway Cares and works with the AIDS Foundation in AIDS education. Her life is good, says Kate, and she wants to give back.

“I am very lucky to be in this amazing Broadway production right now that is going incredibly well critically and financially,” she says. “It’s so thrilling. Now, I’m about to become a “Professor of Practice” at the University of Southern California in August.” Kate’s husband, Michael Ritchie, is the artistic director of the Center Theatre Group (CTG) in LA so she’s happy she’ll be living on the West Coast again. The CTG includes the Taper Forum, the Ahmanson and the Kirk Douglas theatres.

And the best is yet to come with the possibility of her own one-woman show about Mary Shelley. Helen Mirren once said, “Your 40s are good. Your 50s are great. Your 60s are fab.  And 70 is fucking awesome.“ Kate would probably agree with that as she looks forward to more incredible opportunities coming her way.

For more information about the play contact Janice Kennedy

WOMEN IN THE ARTS & MEDIA COALITION ANNOUNCES VintAGE

WOMEN IN THE ARTS AND MEDIA COALITION vector fileThe Women in the Arts & Media Coalition is producing VintAge, one of its two Signature Events, supporting the voice and vision of women in the arts & media as they age, on Saturday, October 18, from 1-5:30 p.m. at MIST Harlem.

 

The 1st Elsa Rael VintAge Award Winner for advocacy for women in the arts & media as they age will be presented to Morgan Jenness, dramaturg & agent, for spearheading the cause célèbre that has protected Maria Irene Fornes and her playwriting work in her elder years. The award will be presented by Tisa Chang, artistic director of Pan Asian Rep. There will also be pre-taped personal statements made about Elsa Rael and the importance of celebrating women in the arts and media as they age by Estelle Parsons and Gretchen Cryer.

 

It will be an afternoon both entertaining and illuminating, beginning with the new documentary ADVANCED STYLE by Lina Plyoplyte, the story behind the fashion blog which became an international phenomenon (70 minutes); and JUST THE THREE OF US, a short film by Angela Tucker starring Leslie Uggams (15 minutes).

 

Following will be a panel on breakthroughs and issues of women aging in the arts and media moderated by Isa Goldberg, President of the Drama Desk; panelists include Barbara Davis, COO of the Actors Fund, Liz Rosenberg, poet/novelist; Yvonne Curry, choreographer/director, and more.

 

The award presentation will then be followed by a reception and networking. Hosts for the day will be Co-Presidents of the Coalition, Shellen Lubin and Avis BooneRead more…

Hillary Rodham Clinton, then a U.S. Senator from New York, wrote for that first program: “My hope for every woman in the 21st Century is that she will be blessed with choice and empowered with the tools of opportunity to make the most of her God-given talents. She will be free to pursue her own vision in the world of work, in the public sphere, in the political process and to build loving and strong families at home. Her voice will be heard; her concerns will be followed.”

 

Celebrants at past VintAge events have included Lainie Kazan, Phyllis Newman, Tina Howe, Marian Seldes, Lynn Ahrens, Anita Gillette, and Lesley Gore.

 

VintAge is co-sponsored by NYWIFT (New York Women in Film and Television), SAG-AFTRA, the Dramatists Guild, and the League of Professional Theatre Women. All four of these organizations are members of the Women in the Arts & Media Coalition.

 

Women in the Arts & Media Coalition, Inc. is a non-profit organization, which represents more than 80,000 women and men in the performing arts and media through its member organizations and affiliates. The Coalition focuses the power of its member organizations and their memberships together and uses the combined strength to address issues of concern through advocacy, networking, and educational events. Member organizations are: Actors’ Equity Association, Dramatists Guild of America, League of Professional Theatre Women, SAG-AFTRA New York Local, Stage Directors and Choreographers, New York Women in Film & Television, and the Writers Guild of America, East. Affiliate organizations are: WomenArts, Women’s Media Center, Women Make Movies, Works by Women, Drama Desk, Dancers Over 40, The Lambs, Inc., The Rehearsal Club, and Professional Women Singers Association. For more information on the Coalition, visit www.womenartsmediacoalition.org.

 

MIST Harlem is located at 46 West 116th Street, in the heart of central Harlem, steps from the IRT #2 and #3 train.  MIST Harlem is guided by the essential philosophy of using select environmentally sustainable materials which minimize consumption of resources, improve air quality, reduce energy consumption, preserve resources for future generations while providing an inviting and compelling, contemporary space. Largely hired from the Harlem community and beyond, staff is cross-trained in hospitality, efficient operations, marketing and promotions and technical production services to develop a team that excels in customer service, cultural resonance and community engagement. MIST offers a unique, dining and entertainment experience in an environmentally responsible, inviting and compelling, contemporary setting.

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.