Friday, December 5, 2014

REHEARSING AT ACT! Well, their rehearsal room anyway...

We rehearsed at an ACT rehearsal room yesterday and will again today.  What a gorgeous space!  Walls of windows on two sides, on the eighth floor, so we have a spectacular view of the city!  

And a balcony outside the room with a fabulous view.  

Christine taped the floor so we had the exact measurements of of the stage at the Berkeley City Club.  Oy vey, is it narrow.  Very exciting for all of us to be using the actual layout instead of my living room.  

Carolyn was very pleased at how I was adjusting to playing to the audience on all sides of me -- at this point represented by empty chairs.  I was never worried about this, because I've toured in my solo plays all over the world and had to adapt to SO MANY different spaces -- back rooms of bars, an abandoned police station (freezing!), and a huge flourescent-lit conference room with me in the middle on a little platform.  Actually, the conference room was by far the worst.  Oh yeah, and the former operating room at a hospital with very steeply banked seats so medical students could watch -- like performing in a pit.  And tiny tiny storefronts.  And a former stable, where the stage was the width of two horse stalls.  You get the idea.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014



Thanksgiving was always the big holiday in my family.  I think it was partly because as Jews, it was the one major holiday we could share with the rest of the country.  Sure, there’s Fourth of July.  But folks don’t fly home to be with their families for that. 

No, Thanksgiving was IT.  And it was always at our house.  My mother owned Thanksgiving.  She only missed hosting (until she became really old and wheelchair-bound) the year I was born on Nov. 27.   Thanksgiving is the one holiday that marks time for me:  "Oh yeah, that was the year I had it with Dory in Pennsylvania..."  or "That year was in Modesto with my Auntie Hannah and cousin Miriam..." 

Although I loved my mother's celebrations, my most memorable Thanksgivings have been away from home.   In 1990, Pat Bond, whose writing is featured in HICK: A LOVE STORY, was slowly dying of lung cancer.  Of course I wanted to spend Thanksgiving with her in the hospital.  She was always good company – especially after the doctor put her on anti-depressants.  Very helpful when you’ve got lung cancer.

She shared a room with Ida, an African-American woman who was in a coma.  I can’t say I was really looking FORWARD to this Thanksgiving, mainly because of Ida.  I’m not even comfortable around quiet SHY people – let alone comatose.  I WASN’T worried about the food.  My hospital Thanksgivings have never been deficient in the food department.  But the company this time – iffy.

ANHYHOW, Pat and I were quietly talking, waiting for the food to arrive, when a whole CLAN burst into the room!  Adults and children, about 15 of them, laden with food!   This was Ida’s family, who we’d never met before.  She was the ruling matriarch, and there was no question where they would spend this holiday.  It had to be with her in the hospital, even if she didn't even know they were there.  

The whole family drew Pat and me to its collective bosom.  We were in need of family, and they were happy to supply it – along with Thanksgiving dinner.  Pat and I spent that day laughing and eating the delicious food Ida’s kids and grandkids had cooked. We heard stories about this fearsome Granny Ida who ruled with an iron hand when she was well.  Maybe her family was particularly jolly because Ida was no longer cracking the whip.

So:  Just because someone’s in a coma doesn’t mean she can’t throw a great party.  It remains one of my favorite Thanksgivings.
                                                        Pat as Hick
Me as Hick

Friday, November 14, 2014


Here's Carolyn (director/producer), me Terry (playwright/actress/producer), and Bob (light board operator), looking rather fabu last night.  Sadly, the souls of both my companions have been taken over by zombies, as you can see from their silver eyeballs.  I'm holding down the fort for the human race!  The TBA Awards were
quite something - a packed theater at ACT, wonderful entertainment, lots of snazzy dressed up folks (although I dare say no one besides me sported yellow-and-black checked pants by Versace - you gotta know which thrift store to hit, dahling).  The award giving and receiving moved swiftly.  Wow, there were a lot of nominations.  For those who aren't yet avid theater- goers:  There is a lot of really great theater in the Bay Area.  I say this as someone who's familiar with the New York theater scene and likes the SF scene better. 

HICK was nominated for "Best Solo Production."  The other nominees were: 
BABA, by Denmo Ibrahim, where she plays both a newly immigrated Egyptian father and the Americanized daughter
NOW AND AT THE HOUR by Christian Cagigal, a magic show that simultaneously told the story of his father, who was a Vietnam vet
PAN-O-RAMA by Jef Valentine, about his relationship to the story of Peter Pan
MAESTRO by Hershey Felder, about the legendary composer/conductor Leonard Bernstein, which had been on Broadway...... and which won.

Funny thing about competition:  No matter how much I tell myself that I'm honored to be nominated (which WAS true) and it's fine PERFECTLY FINE if I don't win --- It is NOT perfectly fine.  I felt rather bummed out.  The after-party would have been a LOT more fun if HICK had won. 

Oh well.  On with life.    

Saturday, February 8, 2014


Great Soul, Great Singer

The first time I saw Gwen Avery was in 1974, at the Amazon Music Festival in the mountains above Santa Cruz.  What a scene.   Two hundred naked women under the redwoods, listening to incredible music by incredible women on the outdoor stage.    

But Gwen wasn’t a scheduled performer, oh no.  At some point, to escape the sun, my friends and I drifted into the clubhouse.  Perhaps we needed a wee break from the intensity.  We were all tripping on LSD.  At the piano in the clubhouse, sat a naked bearded African-American Amazon, playing and singing her heart out with joy and abandon.  

She had no audience until we walked in.  She was making music for herself.  We listened, spellbound.  We thought we’d died and gone to heaven. 

Over the years, Gwen became my friend, my hairdresser, my housemate, and the subject of my still-to-be-finished documentary.  She performed at a benefit for my political campaign.  I produced her several times.  In all the times I saw her perform, only once did she fail to move me out of my chair, at one of the Russian River festivals in Guerneville.  I thought, “Well, she can’t hit it every time.”  Years later, when she was talking for my camera about her deep and abiding joy in performing, she said, “There was one show when I just couldn’t find it… One of those times at the Russian River Festival.”  I was stunned.  

Gwen just loved music, loved to party.  She WAS the party.  She was never happier than when she was creating a party wherever she happened to land.  One Martin Luther King Day, I went to a concert at Glide Church, where Gwen was part of the choir.  After the concert, she suggested we go to Osento, the women’s bath house in the Mission.  We were in the small sauna, where we were joined by two German women who were visiting San Francisco for the first time.  Of course, Gwen started talking to them, and then she started singing.  Show tunes.  That’s the only time I ever heard her sing show tunes.  I didn’t even know she knew that many of them.  Now, that was a tiny sauna.  The four of us sat on the two benches, facing each other, our knees almost touching.  And Gwen was singing FULL OUT, flinging out her arms, practically squashing those poor German girls. It was alarming.  Were these unwary visitors to the Gwen Party upset?  Offended?  Overwhelmed?  I studied their faces — sheer bliss. They thought they’d died and gone to heaven.  This would be their most cherished memory of San Francisco.

Because I was filming Gwen, I got to see many of the performances that took place in larger venues the the Osento sauna.  I also had the great privilege of going with her to visit her mother in Cleveland and her family in Verona, Pennsylvania, where she grew up.  I was very moved by her family’s love for her and their warmth and acceptance of me.  

A few years ago, I produced Gwen for Support Women Artists Now Day — or SWAN Day, the last Saturday in March.  The performance took place at Bird & Beckett in Glen Park.  Gwen dropped by an hour before the show, to check out the place, a bookstore that hosts lots of jazz and poetry readings.  She left to go change from her grubby jeans and shirt into her performing duds.  The audience started arriving… and arriving and arriving.  The place was packed!  I felt a certain pride at having done a good PR job.

When it was time for the show to begin, Gwen appeared… in the same old clothes!  She ALWAYS dressed for a show!  She leaped onto the little stage… and I realized she was drunk.  I had never seen her high for a performance.  I tried to somehow introduce her.  She lifted me up and gently threw me off the stage.  She was a mighty strong woman, and she was in charge.  There was nothing for me to do but go in the back of the bookstore and hide from the disaster that was bound to ensue. Oh, WHY had I done such good publicity?  I stood as far away as I could get, my back to the stage, bemoaning the fate of the audience.  Then I realized that my body was moving to the music.  My body could not NOT move to the music.  I turned around and approached the stage.  Gwen clearly had no plan.  The possibility of the show falling apart existed at every moment.  We all leaned forward, totally focused.  This was not being cradled in the arms of a consummate performer.  This was watching a great artist walk the tightrope between form and chaos.  Gwen pulled it off.  The audience rose to its feet for a delirious standing ovation.  I thought I’d died and gone to heaven.  

And now Gwen has died and gone to heaven.  I don’t know if there really is a heaven, but I do hope that Gwen’s soul has found peace.  She rarely found peace outside of music when she was in this world.   Oh, Gwennie, there is still so much I wanted to do with you…. I’ll finish the full-length documentary now.  I promise.  

Link below is to "Jukebox Baby," my 14 minute documentary on Gwen.