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.

Testimonial #36: Yvette Heyliger, Playwright/Individual Artist/Teaching Artist

How has your life been indelibly touched by a teacher who utilized the arts for whatever reason and acknowledge how they were instrumental in breaking the mold to allow you to become who you are today?

When I was growing up, I had the benefit of a holistic education–one that included instrumental and vocal music (where we learned the National Anthem and other songs as well as how to play them on instruments given to us in class), visual arts and electives, like “drama club” or “orchestra.” We even had prayer (or a moment of silence) and recited the Pledge of Allegiance daily. These activities planted seeds of patriotism in my heart that have stayed with me and shaped my character. (Yes, I have been known to tear up at the singing of The Star Spangled Banner!)

I attended a newly-formed performing arts high school, Duke Ellington School of the Arts. Circumstances resulting from decisions made by a very conservative school board in reaction to the activities and functioning of the arts school necessitated that I become an activist. As president of both the junior and senior class, I fought for the artistic freedoms and philosophies my school championed which were unheard of at any other school in the District of Columbia at that time (to my knowledge).

As I reflect on my career as a student, I can say that the early marriage of arts, activism and love of country within my youthful heart continued into adulthood, resulting in life-long fidelity as a citizen artist.

Making a Difference Through the Arts: Tara Handron, Actor/Playwright

How are the arts re-igniting your community and sparking innovation and creativity in your local schools?

Because of how I am using my art form (writing and performance around substance abuse, alcoholism and other disorders), I am seeing the arts take a powerful role in educating young people about all the potential harms and dangers of addictive behavior that often begin in middle school and high school. With my play, Drunk with Hope in Chicago, and its research as well as the work I do with the Student Assistance Professionals at Caron Treatment Centers in the DC area, the arts are not only enhancing education around topics that can be either boring or taboo but more importantly the arts are making them more impactful. When I portray a young woman who has been sexually assaulted while intoxicated that can have more of an impact on a young person than simply reading facts and statistics. And with programs like this, more teens are starting their own socially aware performance groups. Using the arts to educate not only transforms how we learn tough or academic topics but also inspires students to be creative in other areas of their lives. Creativity breeds more creativity! For clips of the show and more information go to: http://www.tarahandron.com

First Online With Fran: 7,388 Views

First Online With Fran is endorsed by the African American Playwrights Exchange!

ff12_katori_hall[1]Friday, February 22, 2013
Cherry Lane Theatre playwright mentoring program (NYC)

Katori Hall

First Online With Fran is a TV talk show dedicated solely to arts advocacy as a means to raise sustainable national attention to the Arts. Hosted by Frances McGarry, the pilot episode features an interview with Angelina Fiordellisi, Artistic Director and Founder of the renowned Cherry Lane Theatre in NYC. It’s worth a watch for a couple of reasons because 1) playwright Katori Hall gets a plug, 2) you get to meet the person behind the playwright mentoring program, and 3) it helps support Ms. McGarry’s goal of creating the first TV talk show dedicated solely to arts advocacy– and us.