I immediately got a request for a link to a video of the MIKVAH reading. No, we did not record it.
And then I thought, since I'm sending another blog, I should also send my very silly photo of Nikki.
Since he recovered from an eye infection, I have been washing Nikki's eyes every morning with warm water. He was not pleased with these daily ablutions, but he grudgingly submitted.
And then I woke up one morning and got out of bed. I sleep in an alcove in my studio, separated from the pups, Loulou ensconced in the recliner and Nikki relegated to an actual dog bed. When I left my sleeping alcove and rounded the corner, I was confronted with this vision:
Nikki was standing absolutely still, with the curtain over his head. It seemed he had gotten fed up with having his eyes washed and he was hiding from the eye-washer. He appeared to believe that -- because I was invisible to him -- he was invisible to me. He did not move a muscle as I went and got my camera and slowly approached.
How long had he been standing there like this?
For all his elegance and careful breeding, Nikki is a rather hapless dog. Loulou has the padded recliner all to herself because Nikki cannot figure out how to lie down in it. He stands and rocks madly back and forth. At the park, he is totally dedicated to chasing the ball, but he thinks the ball goes in the direction he runs, so he just starts out galloping without paying attention to my throw. Not that it would make much difference, since he has terrible eyesight. Fortunately, Loulou is much more discerning, and he follows her. This photo of the two of them says it all. I call it "The Goofball & the Princess."
So the last time I blogged, I was preparing for a Zoom reading of my play, MIKVAH.
I was exhausted after the reading. I don't know if it was because:
(1) I'm eight years older than the last time I dove into starting a play (in 2013)
(2) Because this subject is particularly intense and challenging to me
(3) Because I'm feeling drained by this strange world we've been living in since March 2020 -- Pandemic, Presidential election, right-wing insurrection -- little details like that...
,,,,But I've been EXHAUSTED by writing in a way I haven't experienced before.
So I needed a break after the reading of MIKVAH. And my close ex Jessica was arriving for a visit and I took a break for a whole week. It was quite a nice experience to work to exhaustion on a beloved project and then take a real break with an old friend.
We even went AWAY for two days, with my podmate Elizabeth and our three dogs to the lovely Art Deco Ocean Park Motel on 46th Avenue at Ocean Beach in San Francisco. I'm telling you, I VACATIONED!
And, yes, it was foggy at the beach. But fog can be nice TOO if that's what you end up with. Very mysterious and magical, fog is.
So: The Zoom reading of MIKVAH with a cast of two experienced and age-appropriate actresses for an audience of friends:
It was so exciting for me to see the play LIVING. People believed this 1905 Jewish village world. They believed Rachel and Chava were real people. They cared about them, thanks to the wonderful actresses and my writing. They believed the two women were madly in love with each other, even though they couldn't touch each other because they were stuck in boxes next to each other-- one box in Brooklyn and one in Ashland, Oregon.
I am so grateful to my director, Heather, who arranged the auditions that brought Amy (Chava) and Emily (Rachel) to us. The two of them were inspired.
The Zoom audience understood Rachel was trapped in a marriage to an abusive husband and it was particularly unbearable to her previously untrammeled spirit.
But then again, the actual murder of her husband was a bit controversial. That was good, that was good.
The Zoomers had a lot of good suggestions -- way too many for me to take in. Fortunately we recorded most of the discussion, so I can go back and watch it. And the Zoomers had criticisms. One friend went on at length about how inappropriate it was for for Chava to give Rachel the nickname "Little Bird." It was hard for me to hear. But then again, my friend went on so long that I actually realized she was RIGHT!
WHAT PEOPLE WANTED MORE OF:
People wanted a longer play, which was very gratifying.
People wanted more about the mikvah itself -- its rituals and history and the little details of its operation. In other words, the mikvah is a CHARACTER.
People wanted Rachel to display her knowledge, if she was so damn learned.
People wanted to see Chava and Rachel having a GOOD TIME, being more playful. Wow, I was happy to hear THAT! Because them playing together is going to be FUN to write! Let's hear it for NOT going deep, for energizing myself by creating a bit of cavorting!
Trying to understand how Rachel can get to the point of killing her husband, and imagining the emotional consequences of that act -- this is very unknown territory to me. This exploration takes a lot out of me. But lovers playing together -- that's not just familiar, it's..it's really enjoyable to think about!
After everyone else had left the Zoom room, Carolyn and Heather and my friend Tara, who read stage directions, and I continued the discussion. More and MORE and MORE ideas!
Carolyn thought the play absolutely needs music. Now, THAT'S a very exciting thought, because the music of that time and place and culture is KLEZMER! Kind of jazzy and minor key, ranging from mournful to wild celebration, Klezmer is Jewish blues that makes you get up and DANCE. And we know the leader of Isle of Klesbos, a wonderful lesbian klezmer band. She can perhaps be convinced to compose some music for us.
I've always prided myself on being open to criticism. I'm not as defensive as other writers. I have a very deep understanding that I cannot get where I want to go artistically BY MYSELF! I need help, and lots of it.
But I also need lots of encouragement. I'm not one of those visionaries whose inner flame burns so brightly that they can overcome obstacles on their own. (I just read a biography of the first woman doctor in America -- Elizabeth Blackwell. She had that indomitable drive.) Me, I need people to tell me my work is important, in order to believe in myself.
So I was especially deeply touched by my friend Jerry's words. He could not understand how other people could even SPEAK after the intense and powerful experience of MIKVAH. Thank you, Jerry, for your articulate inarticulateness. Thank you for being overwhelmed by MIKVAH.
So the first draft of MIKVAH is a success. The play really works in its current form --- although it can be SO MUCH BETTER, with music, playfulness, more information on the mikvah, more scholarly observations by Rachel and a new nickname for her too -- among other things. Chava, strange awkward innocent Chava -- she's already there in full bloom.
You know, I channeled this whole play -- except for one part of it. Quite often incidents in my plays are based on my life or on things I read or heard about from other people. But MIKVAH came from inside me -- except for the part about Schlomo the beggar drilling a hole in the mikvah so he could peep at the women bathing. That came from a New York Times story about a Hasidic community in upstate New York, where the Rabbi did that very thing.
I've said before that being a playwright is like being God and creating a world. But I've never gone so far out on a limb before. This world I've created is so different from my own. I wondered, before the reading, whether I'd really brought it to life. I have! And this world is the right place for me to examine a theme that has haunted me for decades -- women's rage against the patriarchy.
Dear Bloggelinis: I'm looking forward to describing this process of creation of a play to you. I've never done that before.
This is an 18th century etching of a Jewish ritual bath (mikvah in Yiddish) in Amsterdam.
Observant married women must purify themselves every month in the mikvah
after they menstruate and before they have sex with their husbands.
I haven't been blogging lately, because I'm deep into writing a new play. I'm not a good multi-tasker. I know, I know, I shoulda just SAID I was taking a break from BAUMblog. But of course I THOUGHT I was going to blog AND write MIKVAH. Anyhow, my apologies for being missing in action for so long. Later today, we are having a ZOOM reading of the first draft of MIKVAH, for a few friends. Having a first draft is a very big deal for me.
MIKVAH takes place in the women's ritual bath house in a small Jewish village -- a shtetl -- in Poland in 1905. We're talking FIDDLER ON THE ROOF time and place -- but a very different take.
The story concerns the intense love affair between Chava, the unlettered mikvah attendant and Rachel, a highly educated young woman who has just married an abusive and controlling man.
The theme of MIKVAH is:
WOMEN'S RAGE AGAINST THE PATRIARCHY!
The seed of MIKVAH was actually planted in 1974 at a women's music festival in the Santa Cruz mountains. At the time, I would never have believed it would take 47 years for me to actually get around to finishing a first draft.
THE STORY OF THE CREATION OF MIKVAH:
I moved to Santa Cruz in 1974 to join some college friends to start a new theater. All these college friends happened to be of the male persuasion. I was not yet a lesbian, but it was still a great big drag to be the only woman. The men were perfectly nice. But they found my ideas strange or uninteresting or both.
Carolyn relates what happened next in her Introduction of ONE DYKE'S THEATER, and she does it well. So I'll let her tell it:
"That summer of 1974, a bunch of us from Isla Vista crowded into my old VW and drove up the California coast to Santa Cruz to visit Terry. We went to The Amazon Music Festival, where there was great music and two hundred women dancing ecstatically, mostly shirtless. This was our first time in a women-only space. We were luxuriating in our new-found feeling of safety and sisterhood under the towering redwoods, when a group of tough-looking men on motorcycles roared up to the gate, hostile and aggressive, shouting, demanding to be let in. A few of us recognized that things could get bad quickly, and tried to reason with the five of them. We were followed by 195 angry women, including Terry, itching for a fight. Our ad hoc negotiating team pointed out to the men that they were outnumbered forty to one, and that even masculine superiority might not save them. Just before the point of conflagration, the bikers turned around, and roared off. That night, Terry told me, when she was part of the legion of women warriors, she had received a vision of a play about women's rage against the men, created by an all-women theater troupe. She was going to move to the Bay Area to realize her vision. This is the mythological, yet true, creation story of Lilith Theater (named for the Bible's first uppity woman)."
So I DID move to Berkeley and I DID start a women's theater collective. But did I create a theatrical attack on the patriarchy? ABSOLUTELY NOT! And why not? Because I discovered that people were really not all that interested in seeing women's rage portrayed. I would say they were intensely interested in NOT seeing women's rage portrayed. In fact, when Lilith Theater tried to talk about men oppressing women, we were perceived as man-hating females who exaggerated how bad men were!
The clearest example, of this universal distaste for women's rage, occurred during the development of Lilith's 1977 play, MOONLIGHTING, about women and work. Strange as it sounds, way back then it was groundbreaking to talk about WOMEN AND WORK! Of course, women WERE WORKING at jobs everywhere! But still, the culture held onto an image that MEN worked JOBS and women just lolled around the house all day cooking, cleaning and taking care of children. That is, they did not go to JOBS and WORK!
So Lilith created a play through improvisation that was inspired by the jobs that the collective members had actually worked.
Carolyn had been a forest fire fighter on a crew in the National Forest a few years before. Her crew was the very first crew in California to have any women on it, and her boss did everything he could to humiliate and intimidate her in front of the other crew members. We created a scene that portrayed what her boss actually did and said, interspersed with Carolyn's fuming fantasies of what she'd like to do to him in return.
But when we showed an early version of the firefighter scene to a small group of friends -- all women and feminists -- their response was: "Why are you making the crew chief so evil? It's not believable and it makes you look like man-haters!"
MAN-HATERS! An identity to be avoided at all costs!
In response to that critique, we toned down the portrayal of the crew chief. The scene no longer accurately reflected Carolyn's experience. BUT we hoped it would be palatable to our supposedly liberated audience. However, audience members -- from straight women to separatist dykes -- STILL took us to task. Why were we going out of our way to make doctrinaire feminist points in the Firefighter scene -- points that had no basis in reality?
So it turned out that, living under patriarchy, feminist women in the Bay Area did not want to hear about the true extent of men's oppression of women. Men's violence had to be muted, normalized.
And while it was rather impolite to portray the extremity of men's oppression of women, it is also true that men oppressing women seems, well, kinda normal. Just think about how frequently women are killed, both in reality and in fiction. Under patriarchy, we've gotten USED to men killing women.
Woody Allen's 1989 movie, CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS, is about a man who murders his wife, largely because her existence is inconvenient for him. He gets away with it and goes on to live a pleasant life, thank you very much. Nobody was shocked by that! For many fans, this is Allen's greatest film. It was considered a great philosophical statement about the INDIFFERENCE OF THE UNIVERSE. But in fact, it was a statement about the DEPRAVITY OF THE PATRIARCHY. Not only did Woody Allen fail to notice that, nobody else noticed it either! (Well, I did, but I'd been thinking about women's rage against the patriarchy since 1974.)
But, on the other hand, if you want to show a woman killing a man -- oh then, everyone's all concerned. Did she really HAVE to do it? Couldn't she have run away? Did he really treat her THAT badly? Couldn't she have just hurt him without killing him? Was she mentally ill to do that? Why didn't she go to the police and ask for help?
Really, a woman is not entitled to kill a man UNLESS SHE HAS ABSOLUTELY NO OTHER OPTION AVAILABLE. And even then, she's not supposed to do it. And she can NEVER just get away with it, like Allen's creepy hero! The best she can hope for is to pull a Thelma & Louise and drive over a cliff to her death! Yes, when it comes to violence, women are held to a completely different standard than men.
And that is why it has taken me FORTY-SEVEN YEARS to finish a first draft of MIKVAH, a play about women killing oppressive and violent men and getting away with it.
I got started writing MIKVAH several years ago in a playwriting workshop that my good friend, Martha Boesing, was teaching in the Tenderloin. In this rough neighborhood of San Francisco, many of the budding playwrights were living in homeless shelters or seedy hotels. There were some very talented writers in that group. Martha would give us assignments, and we would write in class. I used those assignments to start exploring MIKVAH for the first time.
I know that finally finishing the first draft at this moment has a lot to do with the MeToo Movement. This worldwide uprising of women, who refuse to live any longer for the exclusive benefit of men, has helped me give myself permission to explore this story. And completing a first draft was greatly facilitated by finding a director (a straight married woman at that!) who believes in the play and is pushing me to make it happen.
So in a few hours, MIKVAH will take a step into the world. This reading is for an audience of a few friends. There will be a discussion after, and I'll know more if the world is prepared for this story. And if it is, I'll keep on writing MIKVAH. And if it isn't, I'll keep on writing it anyhow.
All for now, my dear Bloggelinis. I'm pretty excited. I'll tell you how the reading turns out. Terry
I was very excited that a gay theater in London, Homo Promo, was going to produce a live stream performance of my solo play, Immediate Family.Peter Scott-Pressland, artistic director of the theater, had responded to the pandemic by coming up with the very fine idea of live streaming a whole series of gay plays. You'll find other plays on Homo Promo's website.
I was thrilled to have ENGLISH theater people doing the work, because I find the acting standard in that country VERY high. I mean, theater has been a part of their national identity since at least Shakespeare's time, they devote a lot of attention and money to the art -- and it shows.
I wrote Immediate Family in 1983. It is the story of Virginia at the bedside of her comatose wife, Rose. Despite the fact that they've been together for 27 years, Virginia has no legal say over Rose's medical treatment. She doesn't even have the right to stay past official visiting hours.
This is my play about the right of gay people to marry, which remained out of reach for us until 2015.
This live stream production was directed by Peter. As Virginia, Lucie Spense gives -- as Carolyn said --
An absolutely fearless performance.
I mean, this actress jumped in with both feet. The transformation of my vaguely Midwestern postal worker Virginia into a working-class English butch, was complete, without a false note.
It's not easy for me to surrender to a performance of one of my own plays. Normally I've got a stream of criticism flowing through my head: "Oh, I like how she said that line ... Damn, she should be more angry by this point ...Gee, I never thought of it that way before, but that's an interesting interpretation..."
In fact, I remember only one other performance of my own work when I was just THERE, on the edge of my seat, experiencing LIFE happening in front of me. There is no greater reward for a playwright than to see your words come to full-blooded life through the power of another person's acting. To be swept up into someone one else's vision of MY vision.... Wow. I can't thank Peter and Lucie enough.
The truth is, even though my greatest desire is that other people produce my plays --- deep down inside, I'm shocked and surprised when they actually do it! I mean, I just made the whole thing up! Don't they realize that?
WHY SHOULD ANYONE CARE ABOUT IT AT ALL?!?
My words can inspire others to bring a world to life. The world that Peter and Lucie create is so vibrant. I am humbled by their faith in my words.
TWO: The First Performance of Immediate Family
When I first performed Immediate Family in 1983, I really didn't know if anyone would buy me as a serious playwright and actress. This was my first venture into DRAHMAH! Up until then, everything I wrote was basically comic. There were serious MOMENTS, but only moments. I was very worried that people would scoff at me: "Come on, Terry, you make me laugh, but you can't pull off the heavy stuff. Stick to what you know!"
And in fact, on that first night at the National Women's Theater Festival in Santa Cruz, I really missed the audience's chuckling, chortling, giggling and guffawing. It had always assured me that I was on the right path, that the audience and I were on this journey together. THEN at the curtain call, I simply could not see the audience because the lights were in my eyes. I had no idea how they felt. It was a small theater, so there was no huge wave of applause. And THEN I went backstage to await people coming into my dressing room to tell me yay or nay -- and NOBODY CAME! Well, then I KNEW I had a big fat disaster on my hands. Obviously, people were too embarrassed to even talk to me.
FINALLY, Z Budapest swept in. She's rather magnificent (photo at right) -- the kind of woman who can pull off sweeping in. I had never met her before, but she was famous. She's the Grandmother of modern witchcraft and the founder of the Susan B. Anthony Coven. Z has devoted her life to the Goddess. She told me I had received a STANDING OVATION and the play was a huge hit! That was news to ME! I was so grateful to Z. It felt special -- destined, really -- that she was the one who had stopped my downward plunge and lifted me up to the heights. We became good friends.
After performing Immediate Family many times, I came to understand that most people (who perhaps weren't either witches OR spiritual leaders, let alone both) didn't really want to meet the actress after the show. They wanted to stay with Virginia and savor the ending. So I stopped expecting visitors to my dressing room.
Starting from such doubt, such uncertainty, Immediate Family has become my most performed play. It has been translated into Dutch, French, Flemish, Spanish and Hebrew. It was broadcast on Dutch prime time network TV. As a solo actress, I have taken it all over the world.
And now, it has burst into life in London. What a treat!
I was asked to be on an April 26 panel of lesbians who started writing in the 1970s and are still at it. The panel was presented by Old Lesbians Organizing for Change. The panel, organized by Elana Dykewomon and Jewelle Gomez, consisted of:
First row: Kitty Tsui, Elana and Jewelle
Second row: Cheryl Clarke, Irene Klepfisz, and Dorothy Allison
Third row: Your Blogmistress
I was extremely honored to join this illustrious group. I was the only writer who had solely focussed on theater (until my blog came along). We started out by each reading five minutes of our work. Then we explored questions that Elana had written. And then we took questions from the audience through Chat.
I was very excited by the quality of the women's writing and of the discussion that followed. I was thrilled to be on a panel with some of the founders of Conditions, an intense, kick-ass literary journal out of New York in the early 70s. I loved hearing stories about the early days. I treasure my old copies of Conditions.
I was a bit of an odd girl out, as all the other women were concerned with publishing poetry, short stories, essays, novels, etc. whereas I was all about producing theater. Those are different worlds. But I tried to make my sideways contribution, and Carolyn said that I succeeded.
I think there were about 180 dykes attending. I didn't send a notice to my Blog list, because OLOC requested that only lesbians be invited. They've already had an event disrupted by .... is it called Zoom Bombing? I think so. Not that a Bloggelini would ever do such a thing! But I had to respect OLOC's wishes.
Here is a link to biographies of all the panelists and lists of our publications. And remember:
Our latest one is MOMS & GRANDMOMS & MOTHER'S DAY FOR PEACE. It is really quite wonderful, and it's easy for me to say that because it's all created by Carolyn and Julia Ward Howe.
Do you know how Mother's Day began? Originally, it was a day to bring women together to work for peace, the vision of Julia Ward Howe, who wrote "The Battle Hymn of the Republic." You'll find her powerful proclamation and Carolyn's totally delightful memories of her two grandmothers in this podcast.
I've taken many Mission Rambles with Tara and her intrepid service dog, the beautiful Nella.
Tara and I met on Thanksgiving in 2015. Here's the story:
I had bought two tickets to the Hornblower yacht's Turkey Day buffet and cruise around the bay. My close ex Margo was supposed to fly down from Portland for the holiday. But she phoned me a few days before to say she'd fallen and suffered a concussion. Her doctor forbid her to get on an airplane.
What to do... what to do? The internet to the rescue! I put a notice on adyke, a lesbian community list serve, asking if anyone was interested in jspending Thanksgiving sailing around beautiful San Francisco Bay with me. I got two responses from unknown women and chose Tara as the lucky dyke.
It turned out that Tara had moved to the Bay Area two years earlier from Madison, Wisconsin, where she was the ARTISTIC DIRECTOR OF A GAY THEATER!!! Talk about having a lot in common! Tara and I had a blast that day. The bay was gorgeous, the company was sublime, and the food was awful.
As you can see, the lovely Nella had not yet joined the team. Since that time, Tara and I have become close friends and the five of us (Tara & Nella & Nikki & Loulou & I) have gone on many long walks, particularly around the Mission. Tara notices things that I don't. I really appreciate that. This time we went a very short distance before encountering Lucky Alley.
I find the painting above completely mystifying. "San Francisco 2018-3000" -- Does the artist envision us all evolving into top-hat-wearing shrimp in the 982 years from when he painted this?? And what is Moin Tam? I know that MOUNT Tam is how we locals refer to Mount Tamalpais. But Moin Tam?!? If that is "Tam" obscured by Shrimp of the Future. I'm desperately scrambling for some kind of meaning. Clearly, the bay is full of sharks in 3000. Also, it's kind of a vintage Western motif, with the cow skull up top and the antique font. And why does the crustacean's top hat sport eagle feathers? I am well and truly fermished, That's Yiddish for "confused." I reserve the Yiddish word for occasions when my confusion reaches a transcendent level. An accomplished artist put this on the side of a building, where it could be blotted out at any moment. The world is an awesome thing, I'm sure you will agree. Onward down (up?) Lucky Alley!
I don't in general go for this ghoulish graffity-ish style, but I find this one exceptional.
I just love this garage door. In fact, I think this is my all-time favorite garage door. That's an extreme statement to make. A Mission Rambler sees many magnificent garage doors. But there is something special about this one. It reminds me of no other garage door. It is strange and funny and a little creepy. It is Other.
There are many stereotypically pretty women on Mission walls. But this one seems to me to be truly beautiful -- and set off so well by the barred windows on both sides of her face!
Another beautiful woman to the right. This one is clearly the portrait of a real person. Just a gorgeous painting, and with so much garbage obscuring the bottom part of it. Painful to see. But then, if you're going to get all weepy about garbage obscuring art, don't ramble down a Mission alley!
I love how Stephen Curry's body flows up the wall and down into the street. I have been to one Warriors game, in the Oracle Arena. It was my present to my niece Rose for her birthday. She's a fan and at the time was on a women's basketball team. Big spender that I am, I told her, "Buy the most expensive tickets!" She reported back that the most expensive ones were $25,000. I settled for slightly more modest seats ($150), which STILL seemed like a lot of money!
Tara finds playfulness and beauty everywhere. She's a perfect companion for a ramble, because she points out things I miss. She was tickled by the decoration of these pipes and meters on the left. I like it too.
For me, the environment was nightmarish, with all the flashing neon lights and screaming horns. I would never in a million years go to another NBA game. HOWEVER, I am very glad I went, because I saw Stephen Curry do something impossible.
Let me see if I can describe it so you can visualize it: He was kind of in the middle of the court facing the opponent's basket. He was closer to their basket than his own. He had the ball. Without looking behind him, he threw the ball backwards over his head in a huge arc, and it went directly into the hands of a teammate who was standing all alone right under the Warriors' basket, where the teammate immediately deposited the ball. How could Curry throw so accurately such a long distance over his head? I mean, it was like he ran over and placed it in his teammate's hands. I still don't get it, but I saw it with my own eyes.
Bloggelinis, that's it for today's ramble. I think it's going to take several blogs for me to capture what Tara and I saw that day. I still have some work to do on my TAXES! Yikes! Well, it's been great fun procrastinating, rambling down Lucky Alley with you. Terry