Fluent Summer 2014

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Summer 2014 | Vol 2 No 5

Contemporary American Theater Festival At Twenty-Four Miss Emily Art: The Medium & The Message Showing Up Shepherd Senior Exhibits Eyes, Ears & Soul Charles Washington Symphony Orchestra Ed:Cetera Post-Individualism: A Tentative Manifesto Poetry Grace Cavalieri Fiction Rebecca Moore Coda Musing Around

“Peonies” by Emily Vaughn


Summer 2014

Contemporary American Theater Festival At Twenty-Four

Miss Emily Art: The Medium & The Message

Showing Up Shepherd Senior Exhibits

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Letter From the Editor The Power of Art

Ears, Eyes & Soul Charles Washington Symphony…

Fiction Rebecca Moore

Poetry Grace Cavalieri

Ed:Cetera Post-Individualism…

Coda Musing Around

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For more than 30 years, SHARON J. ANDERSON has been an independent creative director in corporate America and in real life, a storyteller—though she prefers the term, “story listener.” For her work, she has received more than 40 industry awards, including a New York Film Festival Award (non-broadcast) for Short Documentary featuring interviews with 9/11 First Responders and three Gold Addys and two Silver Addys. In addition, in 1985 she was picked out of a Sea World audience to kiss a whale, and in 2001 was awarded Second Prize in the Prince George’s County Fair Cow Chip Toss.

winning fine art and architectural photographer whose work has been exhibited nationally and regionally. His work can be found in public and private collections throughout the Mid-Atlantic Region and in galleries in the Eastern Panhandle region of West Virginia. Visit his website at http://sterlingimages.com.

TODD COYLE is a journeyman musician

SHEILA VERTINO is returning to her

who has performed in and around the Eastern Panhandle of WV and around the country for over 30 years. He has worked in folk, blues, pop, jazz and country bands as a guitarist, bassist, singer, producer and sound man. SEAN O’LEARY is a playwright,

newspaper columnist, blogger and marketing consultant living and working in Harpers Ferry, WV. His new book, THE STATE OF MY STATE: A NATIVE

is a collection of his newspaper columns. Sean is also the author of seven fulllength plays. In 2006, he was named to The Literary Map of West Virginia.

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Sheila Kelly Vertino Associate Editor Cheryl L. Serra Managing Editor Kathryn Burns Visual Arts Editor Zachary Davis Fiction Editor Tom Donlon Poetry Editor Contributing Editors Sharon J. Anderson, Ed Zahniser Submissions For information on submitting unsolicited fiction, nonfiction, plays and poetry, please see the website:

roots as a freelance writer and journalist, after a career as a magazine editor-inchief and book and research publisher. Based in Shepherdstown, she describes herself as a culturally curious word nerd.

Fluent Magazine is published quarterly

ED ZAHNISER’s poems have appeared in

online at www.fluent-magazine.com.

5 books, 5 chapbooks, 10 anthologies, and over 150 magazines and other venues. He is co-editor of IN GOOD COMPANY, an anthology of area poets celebrating Shepherdstown’s 250th anniversary.

The Bridge Gallery Identity Crisis

Missed an Issue? Spring 2014 Subscribe! Fluent Magazine 4 | fluent

Summer 2014 | Vol 2 No 5 Nancy McKeithen Editor & Publisher

STERLING “RIP” SMITH is an award-

A D V E R T I Z E R S Old Opera House Two Rivers Turnings


www.fluent-magazine.com/submissions. Please submit events and arts news to submissions@fluent-magazine.com. and distributed via email. It is available To subscribe www.fluent-magazine.com/subscribe All rights reserved. No portion of this publication may be duplicated or reprinted without permission from the publisher. © 2014 Fluent Magazine

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Fluent Magazine is grateful for the support of the Jefferson County Arts and Humanities Alliance (AHA) through its Community Arts Impact Award program. Jefferson County, WVa is a Certified Arts Community.

The Power of Art I’m grateful for serendipity. It happens often in the production of Fluent Magazine. In this issue, two artists — one a painter, one a playwright —  both talk about art and how it empowers people. Emily Vaughn, the artist of “Miss Emily Art” (page 12), puts the power of art into the hands of children as young as toddlers through art+history classes. But this is no ordinary art history curriculum. Vaughn integrates themes of social consciousness and history into her classes to show “...how art communicates. How art is powerful,” she says. A recent lesson plan was on contemporary artist Kehinde Wiley, who at first exclusively chose black men for his paintings, but since has expanded to include “brown faces” of men and women in his artwork. Says Vaughn, “This man is doing these paintings because he’s looking at art history and he’s not seeing anybody who looks like him in these paintings.” Playwright Chisa Hutchinson, whose play “Dead and Breathing” has its world premiere at this year’s Contemporary American Theater Festival, tells a story similar to Vaughn’s, from the theater side. In her interview of the playwright (page 26), Sharon Anderson asks, “You have said you write plays to ‘make yourself and others like you more visible.’ Why do you need to make yourself more visible?” Hutchinson’s reply: “...There’s something motivating...about seeing yourself on stage, about seeing yourself in art. It’s incredibly validating. When you feel important enough for someone to make art about you, you are motivated to go out and achieve something and contribute to the world.” Two artists and their art, making a difference for many.

Emily Vaughn’s Toddler Art Class at Four Seasons Books in Shepherdstown

Nancy McKeithen Editor & Publisher

Photo provided by Miss Emily Art.

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In Concert with the Community BY TODD COYLE

The Charles Washington Symphony Orchestra — CWSO — got its start over a conversation between friends who thought the area needed a community orchestra. That was fall 2012. Today, Camilo Pérez-Mejía is the Music Director, while Andrea Diggs, Brian Ellsworth and Kim Krapf are the board members — president, vice president and secretary/treasurer, respectively. The orchestra rehearses and performs at schools and other venues around Jefferson County. “The community has been incredibly supportive since the beginning,” says Diggs, CWSO president and one of the friends in that conversation in the fall of 2012. fluent: What are the challenges of starting and running an orchestra in a small town? cwso: The reception by the community is very positive. However, it seems difficult to convince people that this is worth getting out of the house for. In this age of instant gratification where most people have access to any kind of music online, many no longer experience quality live music performed by larger ensembles. Being in a small town, especially one with commuters who leave early, return late and thus have less free time, may mean that it will take us longer to build a regular audience. But as we aim to establish and ground our presence, we hope it will mean becoming a part of their lives and getting to know the audience. That doesn’t happen so much in large cities with massive, less intimate concert halls. fluent: Who are the players? How do you find new

players and how does one go about becoming a member? Are they all professional musicians? cwso: We started by asking friends if they were interested and had an energized, albeit small, group of players for the first few rehearsals. Most who showed up those first few weeks are part of the core group today. We have a rapidly growing string section with a steady woodwind section. The brass section is still 6 | fluent

small, but a perfect size to balance the rest of the orchestra. There is a great eclectic mix of players, ranging from enthusiastic amateurs brushing off their dusty instruments, to professionals, most of whom also teach music. In addition, it’s a place for young, aspiring musicians looking for more than what is offered in school. At times, other local professionals will join us for a concert, even if they are unable to attend regular rehearsals. Currently, everyone, even the music director, donates their time. fluent: I consider Mozart, Chopin, Rachmaninoff

and others as the rock stars of their day. Why has their music endured over the years? What makes it last? Are their any rock stars today whose music you think might last like that? cwso: There are many reasons a composer’s music carries through generations. Often, the music is an exquisite blending of technique and beauty. Works can be used for study and analysis by music students, yet still be aesthetically appealing to audiences. Sometimes a composer is able to capture moments or express emotion in ways that words cannot. Tchaikovsky’s “Romeo and Juliet” and Grieg’s “Piano Concerto in A Minor,” or almost anything by J.S. Bach are excellent examples of this. And have you heard the music of Maurice Duruflé?

It’s breathtakingly beautiful! However, it is hard to know for sure what future generations will appreciate. The safest answer [as to rock stars today] requires reaching back within the last century (still modern compared to Handel and Vivaldi) and mentioning Aaron Copeland, who wrote “Appalachian Spring” and “Fanfare for the Common Man,” and Leonard Bernstein, whose great works include “West Side Story” and “Chichester Psalms.” There are at least two composers in the surrounding area who have an impressive, and still growing, list of compositions. Dr. William Averitt has the ability to combine cultural history and modern composition techniques for results that are moving in unexpected ways. He is an incredible storyteller, able to make music relevant to all listeners. His works have been widely performed throughout the United States and abroad. Not coincidentally, one of his former students, Dr. Joel Puckett, continues to amaze performers and audiences with music that transcends time and space while maintaining tonal integrity. His ability to fill even the smallest corners of a concert hall with intense musical energy is far above

that of most composers. It is likely that their music will continue to be performed for centuries to come. fluent: What exactly does a conductor do? Is it im-

portant and do you have one? cwso: Well, our conductor is good at making jokes, for sure! It’s not in the job description, but there is no shortage of laughter at our rehearsals. Camilo is important for morale, without a doubt. In concerts, he collects the energy of the players to lead them in a unified expression of the music. In order to get there, though, he must run enough rehearsals to help the less experienced players be comfortable with the music, while providing challenges for those who have played for years. In addition to keeping time, checking notes and rhythms and intonation, he discusses the pieces. It is the conductor’s job to make the music fresh and approachable. Understanding the purpose of a piece, both for the concert and how it was originally intended, is not such an easy task. Camilo accomplishes that in such a fun way that showing up for rehearsal is a pleasure, not a task. u

Photo provided by the CWSO.

Camilo Pérez-Mejía conducts the Charles Washington Symphony Orchestra in Haydn’s “Unfinished Symphony.”

fluent: When one hears Symphony Orchestra, one

tends to automatically think classical, but it’s much more than that, isn’t it? How do you choose material? cwso: It is much more than that! “Classical” is such a misunderstood word. Centuries ago, it was important for royal courts to employ musicians to be at their disposal for scheduled and impromptu concerts. This may be why many still see it as an upper-class luxury. Music was also rooted in the church tradition (and historically, royalty held very close ties to the church). In the last decades, however, many denominations of Christianity have moved away from traditional sacred music (much of which could be considered classical) toward what is known as Contemporary Christian. This new style typically uses a distinct form: reflective verse–powerful chorus–reflective verse​–powerful chorus–mind-blowing bridge–powerful chorus. This form mimics popular music, which is often predictable and familiar. Add to that, many movies have original scores, but rely on popular songs with that same recognizable form to back up prominent moments or important transitions in the plot. Therefore, “Classical” music, which encompasses music through Medieval, Classical, Romantic and 20th century eras (to name just a few) is slowly slipping away from conscious societal integration. Music is known as the universal language. The listener merely needs to be receptive. And the more you expose yourself to the more complex melodies, harmonies, rhythms, colors and timbres offered with classical music, the deeper and more moving experience you will have. With all this in mind, CWSO programs a broad range of styles into each concert. We want the audience to feel at home, yet be excited and transported to different places; to be relaxed, yet experience something new and different. For example, our first concert included a relatively unknown and spectacular work by Alec Wilder, “A Child’s Introduction to the Orchestra,” one movement from a Haydn Symphony, and music from “Lord of the Rings” by Howard Shore. It had something for everyone! fluent: What’s the most surprising place you’ve

heard classical music? If you could play anywhere in the universe where would it be? cwso: For me, it is most surprising to hear a famous motif intertwined with a pop song. It’s probably a 8 | fluent

good thing, but how many listeners know where it came from? The melodic phrase is simplified, technofied and amplified. But let’s just use your word and call it surprising. I think most people, though, would find it surprising to know that classical music is still used in movies, commercials and even television shows. That’s when the real magic happens! As far as playing anywhere in the universe, that’s a tough question to answer. Another reason that music is the universal language is because it isn’t so much created as recreated. Over the course of existence, cultures have identified the most pleasing combinations of sound frequencies (pitches) and volumes (dynamics). This is music on the most basic level, but it also explains why we can be so affected by a good, live performance. The sound waves can be felt. Even whales and birds understand this concept. So, if there is a place where sound waves travel at a different speed than here on earth, it would be fascinating to play there. fluent: What importance does/can a community

orchestra play in the community? cwso: If the community is willing to embrace art and culture, an orchestra has the ability to bring people together in a unique way. The saying “power in numbers” applies wholly when it comes to a musical experience. It’s nice to have chamber ensembles and singer-songwriters regularly playing throughout the community for intimacy and continuity, but nothing compares to the effect of an orchestra. The sheer volume of sound waves has greater impact on the listener. There is greater variety of color, contrast, tension and release that you can’t get with any other kind of group. And when the orchestra has a goal of playing for the entire community, not just an elite group or specified type of listener, then everyone benefits....Classical music can be an everyday love for everyone, from babies to teenagers to great grandparents! fluent Instrumentalists interested in joining the orchestra should contact Yvonne Stewart, CWSO’s personnel manager, at cwsymphony@outlook.com. Volunteers are welcome, especially to usher at concerts or help with marketing or fundraising. For more information about the CWSO, please visit their Facebook page.

things you’ll find on the fluent website all free, all the time the magazine: current & past issues to read and download gallery exhibit information calls for artists / contest info / audition listings arts & culture events listings arts class listings arts news how to subscribe, how to advertise, how to submit work, how to contact us <updated daily>

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M A G A Z I N E ?

C L I C K O N T H E I S S U E S B E L O W T O R E A D T H E M .

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By Sheila Kelly Vertino

Miss Emily Art The Medium & The Message Art+History. That’s the way Emily Vaughn teaches art history classes at Four Seasons Books and Morgan Academy. To Vaughn, Michelangelo was the first comic book artist. “He painted in panels, with everybody’s figure exaggerated and ‘ripped.’ ” On a more serious note, to give her students some idea of the Above, Sam’s outsized, vibrantly colored flower draws inspiration from the work of Georgia O’Keeffe. Top right, Emily shows off the work of her students on display at the Shepherd University’s Center for Contemporary Art & Theater during last year’s Contemporary American Theater Festival. Bottom right, at the April 2013 Earth Day Celebration at Morgan’s Grove Park in Shepherdstown, Emily and two young artists paint a mural of Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, on the side of a PanTran bus in a project funded in part by a grant from the Jefferson Arts Council. Photos provided by Miss Emily Art.

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powerlessness facing a court-supported artist 500 years ago, Vaughn had them lying on their backs, painting their future masterpieces on paper attached to the underside of a table. “Kids were complaining after 20 minutes,” Vaughn recalls. “Their backs hurt. Their arms hurt.” She asked them, “What if you went to school every day, 1st grade through 5th grade, and had to lie on your back and paint like this, with no summer vacations, all day, every day?” Thus, the very un-glamorous life of Michelangelo painting the Sistine Chapel. u

To Vaughn, teaching art history is an opportunity to use the lives and mediums of diverse artists to teach not just about how they made their art, but also the times in which they lived and the messages they wanted to convey. Vaughn names Judy Chicago’s “Dinner Party” as one of her favorite art lesson plans. “It totally embodies the idea of social consciousness, and talking about history and how art communicates. How art is powerful.” Showing Chicago’s giant triangular dining table to kids, she asks them, “How would you make a place setting for someone you admire, using the symbols?” Admittedly, some of the place settings in the original work are too graphic for children, so Vaughn crafts her lesson plan around others, with more appropriate images. “I do have to be careful with the imagery. But I have to be careful with everybody’s imagery.…I believe there is a way to present some nudity to children. I always tell them we don’t say ‘naked’ in art. We say ‘nude.’ ” And she em-

Right, Nylah shows off his Judy Chicago-inspired place setting. Students created plates, cups and silverware for their own personal heroes. Bottom, students channel Chuck Close with larger-than-life self-portraits in the German St. Studio space Vaughn shares with her partner and fellow artist Michael Davis.

phasizes the importance of artists studying the human anatomy, in order to be able to paint and draw it properly. American contemporary artist Kehinde Wiley is another of Vaughn’s favorites. “He would get these guys off the street, have them flip through an art history book and pick their favorite painting. Then he would paint them in the pose from that painting….The background would be a bright jewel tone, with these crazy fleurde-lis or wallpaper patterns or flowers.” At first, Wiley exclusively chose black men for his paintings, but he has since expanded to include “brown faces” of both men and women. “It was a commentary on how we just don’t see brown faces in art,” notes Vaughn. “It’s nice to be able to introduce these concepts: This man is doing these paintings because he’s looking at art history and he’s not seeing anybody who looks like him in these paintings. “So you are gently exposing [the kids] to these larger cultural issues.” Every month, Vaughn plans all four classes and creates a poster of the upcoming lessons (page 16). “I always try to make sure it’s not all old white men. I want to give these kids a more well-rounded view of art history than I got when I was growing up.” Vaughn proudly states, “All my kids know what ‘contemporary’ means….These are just as worthwhile voices as any of the Old Masters to me.” Working outside the confines of the public school system, Vaughn sees as an advantage: “I don’t have to take them through art history. I am free to jump around. I can incorporate concepts that aren’t necessarily part of their art education.” “When I come up with an artist that I really like, I want to come up with a lesson plan: How do I communicate this to kids? How do I make this kid-friendly?” Some of it has more to do with the message, some with the medium. To teach Jackson Pollack, Vaughn let her students dive into “the action painting kind of thing.” For stained glass, she teaches Frank Lloyd Wright and Notre Dame Cathedral, and provides the students u

Above, Reily displays his “glass” bowl after learning about Dale Chihuly. Students used a variety of application techniques and glass paints to decorate plastic tableware in the style of the artist. Left, weekly art classes take place all year long at Four Seasons Books in Shepherdstown. fluent | 15

Above, a Plein Air painting workshop in Shepherdstown took kids to “the Wall” in front of McMurran Hall. Below, the July schedule of classes at Four Seasons Books. For info on weekly class times, camps and private lessons, go to MissEmilyArt.com.

with Plexiglas to paint on. Glass (plastic) bowls from the Dollar Store are transformed, Dale Chihuly-style, with dripping glass paints. For Mother’s Day, she explored Mary Cassatt’s art with her students, using chalk pastels.

On Creativity & the Importance of Making Mistakes As a Millennial, Vaughn is comfortable with technology, but chagrined by some of its effects on her young students. “I see kids that are confused by scissors, or they don’t know how to open a glue bottle. I’m horrified. They are lacking basic motor skills.” Expecting instantaneous results, kids can be impatient and miss the relaxing aspects of art. Vaughn notes the frustration in her young students. “I call it ‘the clicking culture.’ They are used to art programs online where you just click the square and it fills in.” By contrast, live art requires different skills: “Having to go through the process of coloring in the space. Thinking where you are going to put what. And not being able to un-do it! The kids say, ‘I messed it up!’ ‘And I’m like — ‘Cope!’” Even in the animation summer camp she is teaching through Jefferson County Parks and Recreation, Vaughn is taking a bit of an “old school” approach. “I don’t have an animation program for that. We’re doing it very pared down. Using hand-painted animation cells, and an animated gif process — that’s the only technology aspect 16 | fluent

of it.” Vaughn explains that part of the reason for going low-tech is budget-related, and some is more purposeful. “I want the kids to go through the process of drawing the pictures, and to realize that [in the early days of animation studios], there were hundreds of people in a building drawing those pictures over and over again.” Looking forward to introducing budding artists to animation, Vaughn laughs, “Art is about being messy and leaving an entirely human mark….I would rather see a messily painted cell than a perfectly rendered dinosaur!” fluent

How Well Do You Know Your Art History? Since January, Vaughn has exposed her students to the art and times of the following artists, and more. Can you match up the artists with the school or medium they represent? (Answers on page 59.) 1. Kehinde Wiley 2. Gilbert Stuart 3. Edgar Degas 4. Edvard Munch 5. Agata Olek 6. Walt Disney 7. Michelangelo 8. Bayeux Tapestry 9. Romare Bearden 10.William M. Harnett 11. Robert Indiana 12. Chuck Close 13. Henri Toulouse Lautrec 14. Henri Rousseau 15. Antoni Gaudi 16. Frida Kahlo 17. Alphonse Mucha 18. Keith Harring 19. Mary Cassatt A. Fresco painter of the Sistine Chapel B. Spanish architect C. French Art Nouveau artist D. French Impressionist painter E. Polish soft sculpture crochet/yarn-bomb graffiti artist F. Harlem Renaissance artist G. Animator, artist and business tycoon H. American portraitist I. American pop artist J. Sequential panel art K. American Impressionist living in Paris L. French naïve painter M. American grid portrait painter N. Contemporary American painter O. Norwegian painter P. French painter and poster artist Q. American street artist R. Mexican surrealist painter S. American still life and trompe l’oeil master (Answers on page 63.)

Gray’s Tea Room, 1940 I don’t know why they called it a Tea Room. They didn’t serve tea. In fact I don’t know of anything they served except hot roast beef sandwiches on Saturday night, with mashed potatoes, 35 cents. Sometimes my father ordered pork. We sat on high stools at a counter, and no one thought to sit on chairs, anymore than we expected a chocolate cake more than once a week from Fiestal’s grocery. Across the street from Gray’s on the corner was a record store, and once I asked my father for $5.00 to buy an album of Carmen Cavallaro playing on the piano. I couldn’t believe my good luck. He gave it to me just like that, as if he had another one in his pocket, and maybe even more. We felt prosperous at the counter waiting to be handed dishes piled high with gravy for people like us who could order whatever they want, either beef or pork. Recently in a classroom, my students argued whether it were better to have more or enough and what those two words meant — satisfaction, wish expansion, possibilities, ambition —  If philosophically we must have enough before we can have more, for more can never come from lack. For six years I passed Gray’s on my way to school and never thought anyone else was there or that anything else was ever eaten but what we had. Gray’s was to come alive and open, once a month on Saturday. Now when I see a tea room, I want to tell them what they’re missing, what with their sad tea and biscuits. Sometimes, in the late afternoon, I wish we were all alive, and back on Stuyvesant Avenue. I like to think of that, when we didn’t know differently, when there was always more than enough. Grace Cavalieri Published in Paterson Literary Review (2013 winner of the Allen Ginsberg Award). fluent | 17


Inside The Voice Of The Playwright Five Interviews By Sharon J. Anderson catf: What does “uncanny valley” mean?

thomas gibbons: It comes from the field of robotics.

It is the idea that people are fascinated by an artificial being that is somewhat human-like, but the closer it comes to being more truly human-like, it becomes creepy. catf: Why write a play about it?

tom: The sound of the words — uncanny valley —

really appealed to me. I didn’t have a title when I started the play, but I like to have a title as early as I can. I also liked that no one knew what it meant. I have a weakness for cryptic titles. Also, when I go to the theater, I like a certain element of mystery — not a “who-done-it,” but a certain amount of mystery where I don’t quite know what I’m in for. catf: What do you want your audience to have realInterviews reprinted with permission from catf.org. sharonjanderson.com

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ized after seeing “Uncanny Valley?”

tom: That’s the kind of question that I really don’t

like to answer. I hope that 20 different people will walk out with 20 different things. However, one of the things I want people to think about is this: As technology blurs the line between human and mechanical, artificial or whatever word you want to use — how is that going to change our definition of humanity? catf: “Uncanny Valley” has been described as travel-

ing “to the ethical heart of humankind’s bid to outrace mortality.” What’s that about? tom: The idea for the play came from a National Geographic article that I came across in my dentist’s office a couple of years ago. The article was about the LifeNaut Group in Vermont, which is exploring the idea of downloading human consciousness into a mechanical or artificial body in order to extend our life span by hundreds of years. People in this field seriously talk about immortality. That article included a photo that I found absolutely fascinating and haunting…I just couldn’t get it out of my mind. One of the LifeNaut engineers is sitting in a chair facing a table on which is an artificial head. This head is called Bina 48, and she is probably the most advanced robot in the world right now. I’ve since found out through research that lots of other people are working on this very idea. In fact, an article in the New York Times last June entitled “This Man is Not a Cyborg, Yet” is about a Russian multi-millionaire named Dmitry Itskov who is putting a lot of money into this idea because he wants to live for a long, long time. catf: Do you want to live for a long, long time? Do

you want to be immortal? tom: No, I don’t want to be immortal, but it is hard to answer that question. What does immortality mean? Dmitry Itskov is having a cyborg created that is basically identical to him. By the way, I had never heard the term “uncanny valley” before I read that National Geographic article. So I started to do some research. It’s a really well-known concept in the field of robotics, artificial consciousness and the whole field of computer animation. As I began to work on the play, the word “valley” became very important because it has many metaphysical implications: the valley between life and death, the valley between the creator and the created, the valley between parents and children. I’ve come to realize that this play is very much about parents and children.

catf: What was the first play that made an impression

on you?

tom: The year I graduated from college, I went to

England and saw a lot of plays. One play in particular called “Destiny” made a huge impression on me. It was about the rise of rightwing politics in England, and I was struck that “Destiny” was about something happening in England at that moment. I decided that I wanted to write plays that were very urgently of the moment. “Uncanny Valley” actually takes place 40 years into the future, but it’s of the moment in that it deals with research that Playwright Thomas Gibbons. is happening now and just Photo by Seth Freeman. extrapolates from that. One of the important questions the play asks is this: Is Julian (the artificial human) conscious? Even though the field of study I’ve been researching is called “artificial intelligence,” it seems to me that what researchers are really talking about is “artificial consciousness.” They are a little bit slippery about the distinction. catf: What is the distinction?

tom: In my play, Claire (the human) says, “There are

people in my field who don’t make much of a distinction; they say that to be conscious is to know. But that’s not true. To be conscious is to know we know.” This is the fulcrum of the play. What is consciousness? How do we measure it? How is it signified? Can an artificial being be truly conscious? On the face of it, the play is very simple: two characters in one room and the relationship between a neuroscientist and an artificial being, but as the play goes on, it gets deeper and deeper and deeper. catf: Do you like one character more than another?

And why is the scientist female and the artificial being male? tom: I like them both. I first wrote the play for two actors I knew and they, in fact, did the first reading u fluent | 19

of the play. But the more I worked on it, the more I realized that the scientist really needed to be a woman. I thought the play would be too icy if it were two men.

richer — to have what I call “poetic density.” It’s not just what the characters are saying, but also what is being suggested.

catf: So a woman brings a certain warmth that you

catf: Why do you keep your eyes open like you did

tom: Exactly. And then Julian ended up being much

tom: I read the papers like a mad man every day


younger, so the two original actors were no longer right for the parts.

catf: So this is where the mother and child dynamic

comes in? tom: That is part of it, yes. Whenever you write a play, you always hope it will go in directions you didn’t plan or expect. I didn’t realize when I started it that it was so much about parents and children. My wife and I have a son who is now in his first year of college. When I started the play, I was acutely aware that he wasn’t going to be around here much longer and very much thinking about how much I was going to miss him. Those feelings worked themselves into the play…in some things revealed about Julian and in some things that Claire reveals about the past and her own daughter. The play really is about actual and metaphorical parenthood. catf: What is the best thing and the worst thing

about being a parent? tom: There are so many great things about it. The best thing is just seeing how this being that you helped to bring into the world grows and develops and changes; and how completely fascinating that is on a day-to-day level. The worst thing is realizing that you raised your child to be a separate being and there is something definitely bittersweet about that. You can raise a child and be with them constantly from the time they are born and — any parent knows this — you will be surprised by something at some point. You think you know everything about your child, but you don’t. catf: Here’s a “101” question: What percentage of the

play you originally wrote ends up being the one we see on the stage? tom: At the moment, I’m working on draft #15. The reading and research never end. I finish a draft, and then it goes away for a couple of months. Then I go back to it because I want to make the play deeper and 20 | fluent

that day in the dentist office?

because most of the ideas I have for plays have come from things that I’ve read. I know I’ve hit on a good idea when I can’t forget something I’ve read, but I deliberately don’t start writing right away. I let it sit, and if I still can’t forget it in a couple of months, it probably needs to be written. And I’d like what I’ve written not to be forgotten by the folks who see my plays.

The CATF production will be directed by Tom Dugdale. “Uncanny Valley” is presented as part of a National New Play Network Rolling World Premiere in conjunction with San Diego Repertory Theatre and InterAct Theatre Company.

catf: You have said that you wrote “North of the

Boulevard” because “the middle class is getting totally screwed by this country.” Are you as mad as hell and not going to take it anymore? bruce graham: Oh, I’ll take it, but I wake up angry. This play represents the difference I can make as a writer. I’m not a political activist, so this is how I’m going to make my attempt at change. Also, your audience in theater is usually upper-middle-class-to-wealthy. Maybe I’m exposing something people never thought about before. catf: You also have said that you always want to give

the audience something or somebody to “root” for. What are we rooting for in “North of the Boulevard?” graham: Depends on your point of view. There’s a guy named Trip in the play and he faces a real moral dilemma and question. Some people don’t see moral dilemmas and questions. They just do it. Other people say, “Whoa, whoa, whoa…you’re making a kind of Faustian bargain here. Don’t do it.” I think people in this play are rooting that these guys can get better lives, with the exception of the old guy who is probably beyond redemption. These guys haven’t gotten the breaks in life that others have. catf: A description of this play asks this question

catf: In all of your interviews as well as one-on-one,

you drop one one-liner after another. Are these oneliners a way to protect yourself ? Keep others at bay? graham: Yes, they are. I’m a private person in a public business. Writers have to be hermits. Too many writers want to talk about writing. It’s the most boring topic in the world. I may talk about it with a couple of writer friends, but I really like my privacy. People like the oneliners because they believe they’ve heard something that sounds like insight so they walk away, which is why I like one-liners. Playwright Bruce Graham. Photo by Seth Freeman.

catf: You said that if you

weren’t a writer, you’d be a serial killer. graham: It’s nice work if you can get it. That would be an easier way to get out my aggressions. catf: So that’s why your plays are called “blistering”

and “gritty?”

graham: Yes, but I’ve also written a play, “Stella and

about your characters, “Are they corrupt enough to escape the corruption that’s ruining their neighborhood?” graham: Well, I have a favorite line of my own because I’m a typical American: I hate corruption until I get my piece. We all roll our eyes, but if someone slips you 30 grand do you take it or walk away? Quite frankly, I’m not sure what I’d do. I hope I would do the right thing, but we’re all on shifting sands.

Lou,” now playing in Chicago with Rhea Perlman, which is the sweetest, nicest PG-rated thing in the world. One of my most popular plays — perhaps my most popular — is called “Moon Over the Brewery,” and it’s about a little girl and her imaginary friend. I change from play to play. I get really bored writing the same thing.

catf: How was being a stand-up comedian the best

more relevant to the human condition than tragedy. graham: Comedy comments constantly on the human condition. I just saw “Laughter on the 23rd Floor,” which had a dour ending to it and a lot of profanity for a Neil Simon play. People were shocked. Comedy will always comment on the human condition and not always in a nice way. Historically, any time dictators come to power, the first thing they want to do is to get rid of the clowns and the comics because ridicule has so much power. Nothing can make you look more ridiculous than being the butt of a joke. u

training you ever had as a writer?

graham: Comedy is immediate reaction. Your audi-

ence either laughs or they don’t, and if they don’t laugh, you’re back delivering pizzas. In the 1970s I worked in a couple of clubs with a partner, and I hated doing the same jokes twice. I had to write new material every week. If the sketch didn’t work during the first show, I’d be at the corner of Fourth Avenue leaning against a dumpster doing a rewrite for the second show. They don’t teach you that at Yale.

catf: Coleridge said that comedy was more useable and

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catf: Joni Mitchell’s album “Court and Spark” in-

cludes this line: “Laughin’, cryin’ — it’s all the same release.” graham: I love that album. And yes, it is the same release. Our shoulders hunch, we get short of breath — physically, they are one degree apart from each other. catf: You teach your students that a play must have a

story and that must have “universality.” What’s universal about “North of the Boulevard”? graham: What’s universal about it with the exception of a very, very, very few people — we’ve all had to struggle at some time. It can be an emotional struggle or an economic struggle, but three of the characters in this play want a better life for their kids. I know my parents certainly did. I think that’s important to people even if you are in the upper income bracket. The characters are struggling and when they make you laugh, you suddenly care a little bit more about them. catf: Does that happen when a character makes us


graham: Oh, no…my students are forbidden to write

anything in which a character cries. It’s a cheap way to get emotion. If the character is on the verge of tears, that’s okay, but crying, no way. A character has to earn the right to cry.

catf: Do characters have to earn the right to make us


graham: No! Because laughing is fun! I personally

don’t like displays of emotion, so I don’t put them in my plays too often unless it’s anger. My most heinous characters make you laugh before you find out that they’re evil. My play “Coyote on a Fence” [CATF, 1999] is about death row and it’s somber for the first five minutes, but then the character is funny and the audience is laughing and then they find out what the prisoner did and they say, “Oh, my god.” So I’ve yanked their emotions back and forth. They don’t know how to think about this guy. The audience can’t get comfortable with the character because they don’t know how they feel about him. catf: The masks that symbolize theater — the comic

mask and the tragic mask — both look like grimaces.

22 | fluent

The grimace of comedy resembles the grimace of tragedy. The masks seem to have the same distortion. graham: I’ve always thought that. They freak me out. When I was a little kid, they scared me. But back to your point. If I slip on a banana peel, it’s comedy, but if you slip on a banana peel, it’s tragedy. catf: Coleridge said that comedy is a more pervasive

human condition; that “the problems raised in the great tragedies are solved in the great comedies.” graham: That’s interesting. You look at “Macbeth” and you see that Shakespeare stuck some comedy in there, like the porter or the grave digger in “Hamlet.” My play “Desperate Affection” features a hit man and the woman who falls for him. I approach his profession as a bad habit. That’s comedy. If I approached it as him really killing people, that’s tragedy. catf: You have said, “there’s a lot of anger brewing

out there.” graham: I’m not hip to “the meek shall inherit the earth.” I go to church once a year with my actor friends and this Easter, heard a great sermon that featured a story about how a priest in a country experiencing revolution was appealing to people to forgive and move on. “I burned your house and killed your husband, but now I ask for forgiveness.” No way I would do that. I admire people who do that, but not me. catf: When your audience walks out of “North of the Boulevard,” what do you want us to be thinking? graham: I want you to be thinking, “Why are these guys in this position?” I also want you to be thinking, “Okay, what happens the next day?” Or, “That’s not my life. How can I be more empathetic to people who have that life?”

“North of the Boulevard” made its world premiere in 2013 at Theatre Exile, Philadelphia, PA, Joe Canuso, Producing Artistic Director. [COYOTE ON A FENCE by Bruce Graham was a 1999 CATF production.]

catf: What convinced you to give a voice to women

catf: What was the most important thing the military

taught you?

charles fuller: I enlisted in 1959 and was there until

1962. While there, I had the opportunity to read all the great works in English. I had an opportunity, in a sense, to finish college. I had left Villanova my junior year because I wasn’t happy. My father had two jobs to keep me in college, and I thought that was a waste of his money, so I left. In those days, you couldn’t sit around your parents’ house; the next best thing to do was to join the military, so I joined the Army.

catf: Your experience in the military was essentially a

good one? fuller: Yes, but it is profoundly disturbing to see the kinds of things that are happening in the military at the moment — these extraordinary charges of sexual assault. This was probably going on when I was in the military, but at the time there was no large female population.

who have been sexually assaulted? fuller: This may sound naïve, but sexual assault is simply wrong. You can’t keep brushing things under the rug and believe they will suddenly disappear. You can’t keep maintaining that all the male soldiers who came home were heroes when last year the estimate of sexual assaults was 26,000. I didn’t start writing to tell happy little stories. I started writing to make some impact on the world in which I live. If you don’t want to say anything about sexual assault, that’s your business, but I want to Playwright Charles Fuller. say something about it. I Photo by Seth Freeman. think it is absolutely and unequivocally wrong. We have no right because we are in the military to rape fellow soldiers who just happen to be females. A lot of victims are male as well. In the Army I was in, the life of the person next to you was as valuable as your own. You would never do anything to hurt your comrade. Your life depended on him, and in the case of Iraq, those gentlemen’s lives depended on the women they were raping. It’s horrifying. catf: Why is war hell?

fuller: Because it’s justifiable murder. The idea that

the only way we can change things or convince people or defend religions or overthrow governments —  whatever those reasons for starting wars — the idea that the only way we can do that is to kill one another is horrible. It’s horrible because there’s a kind of acceptance; a kind of behavior that maintains that during certain operations we can and must kill one another in order to succeed. That’s absolutely insane. catf: Does war corrupt the military?

fuller: I’m not sure about that. What happens is

this: When we come to believe that the only way to make change is to murder one another, the idea of “the other” makes less valuable the human life it u fluent | 23

possesses. As a consequence, we can kill the “other” and not feel guilty. Unfortunately, human beings spend too much time rationalizing that war is right under certain circumstances; that it’s okay to threaten and kill other human beings. catf: You have said, “Plays are about language.” The

military today trains soldiers to “neutralize” and not to “kill.” Does the military dehumanize people? fuller: I don’t think so, but over time the language of war has changed. When I joined the Army in 1959, we learned how to “kill” the enemy. When I was a kid, a person was “homeless” and a guy without a job was called a “bum.” When is the last time you heard that term used in current language? Language has changed over the years, and that’s reasonable. To be concerned about another person’s feelings despite what they are or what they are involved in is okay.

wrapped her neck with the power cord of her pink laptop and sexually assaulted her until she was dead. Should this ex-Marine be executed? fuller: I don’t believe in the death penalty. People should be isolated from other human beings. That’s enough punishment — isolated for the rest of their lives. “One Night” was commissioned, developed and produced by Cherry Lane Theatre (Angelina Fiordellisi, Artistic Director), in conjunction with Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre.

catf: You have said, “sexual assault in the military is

now academic.” fuller: It is something that is accepted. What I find very strange is that we haven’t worked out a way to do very much about it. The bill that was going through Congress at one time was not passed because it would take some power away from commanding officers. To solve this problem, we have to bring people who are accused of sexual assault into civilian counts. catf: What do you think about the recent increase in

rape scenes on TV? fuller: I don’t know what the heck is going on with that. Most of those scenes are extremely poorly done and seem done only so viewers have something to talk about at work the next day. If you’re not serious about doing something about rape, you shouldn’t even think about writing about it. After a rape scene, you have to see that someone is punished; that they are made, in some way, responsible for what happened. It is not something to laugh about, it is not something to dismiss. That kind of behavior is not entertaining. It dehumanizes women. It’s horrible.

catf: Thirty minutes before this interview began, the

Washington Post published an article entitled, “Jurors to weigh whether ex-Marine should be executed.” The convicted Marine attacked a soldier — at random — 24 | fluent

catf: Whenever you describe the play “Dead and Breathing” you say, “It’s a comedy. Swear.” What’s funny about being in a hospice for two years dying of cancer? chisa hutchinson: Exactly. There’s really nothing funny about it. Whenever I tell people what the play is about, it always sounds so heavy and bleak. If you’re

living in hospice or a hospice worker, you cannot be in that space all the time. It would be exhausting. Hospice workers have to have a sense of humor, otherwise they would scratch their eyes out and never come out into the light of day. Comedy is a defense mechanism. It’s the way we survive. If people who are suffering just dwelt on the suffering, it would be totally exhausting and unpleasant. If you plan on living, you’ve got to have a sense of humor. catf: One of the characters

in “Dead and Breathing” is based on your favorite aunt. chisa : When I finished Playwright Chisa Hutchinson. this play, I was so excited to Photo by Seth Freeman. send it to my aunt to get her stamp of approval. She loves it and has shared it with everybody. She’s a nurse who has seen a lot of suffering, yet she is probably one of the funniest women I know. She’s got such a wry sense of humor and is relentless with her comedy. She is a joy to be around, and I hope that the audience will find her as enthralling as I do. catf: Did you follow her around with a tape recorder

or a pad and pencil? How much of this play comprises her actual words? chisa: It’s more that the characters are inspired by her. It’s more like I’m asking, “What would my aunt do if she were in this position?” Yes, I’m transplanting her into this fictitious situation, but the character is very real with my aunt’s attitude, her humor and her quickness. catf: What would your aunt say was your greatest

strength, and what would she say was your greatest weakness? chisa: She would say that my greatest strength is loving and my greatest weakness is loving. catf: You have said that your plays are about three

things: race, sexuality and gender. Is this true about “Dead and Breathing?”

chisa: I always have an agenda, but I don’t like to beat

people over the head with it. Whenever you have to give your pet a pill for medication, they won’t swallow it. But if you stick the pill in a piece of cheese or wrap a piece of chicken around it, they’ll eat it. I feel that way with plays that have messages. If you wrap the message in something else — like a narrative about mortality and morality, faith and forgiveness — it makes a message about race or gender easier to swallow. catf: Is the play more about the relationship between

the two women or about death and assisted suicide? chisa: The relationship is the vehicle that carries the message. How can men in your audience come to care about women? How can you make them give a shit about gender issues? They won’t if you don’t give them something broader to relate to. How can I write a play about race that people who do not identify as people of color can relate to? The trick is to focus on the human relationships and present another angle to sneak the message in. catf: For being so young [34 years old], you seem like

an old soul. chisa: I hear that a lot.

catf: Why is someone as young as you dealing with

assisted suicide? chisa: I have multiple sclerosis, and I wonder some times — and this is kind of morbid — when I’m going to die. I have fears and concerns about how MS will affect my breathing or my heart or some other function that I really need. Right now it’s just in my legs. I wonder if it ever got to the point where I was unable to function, if I would decide, “Wow, this is not really the quality of life I want. I really would rather not go on like this.” I wonder if I would decide that, but I don’t think I have the courage. catf: Here’s an excerpt from a short story called “Go

Like This” by Lorrie Moore. The story is about Elizabeth, a married writer with one child who has been diagnosed with terminal breast cancer and announces to her friends and family that she has decided to end her life: “I tell them the cancer is poisoning at least three lives and that I refuse to be its accomplice. This is not a deranged act, I explain. Most of them have known u fluent | 25

for quite a while my belief that intelligent suicide is almost always preferable to the stupid lingering of a graceless death.” What do you think of that description? chisa: Wow. Wow. That is the best articulation of that I have ever heard. This applies directly to “Death and Breathing” because it is the struggle between this nurse whose job is to nurture life and the patient who asks her to end it. It goes against what the nurse believes. Her function is to tease out the difference between intelligence — as in intelligent suicide — and ingratitude for life. The nurse feels like this woman who has been in hospice for two years has had two years of life. The nurse can’t shake the feeling that this woman is totally ungrateful and has wasted two years’ worth of life. This play is a question: Is there a difference between that intelligence and that ingratitude? Between rationally wanting to end your life and being ungrateful for the life you’ve been given? catf: In his book The Savage God (written after the

suicide of his good friend, poet Sylvia Plath), A. Alvarez describes suicide as “…a closed world with its own irresistible logic.” Is “Dead and Breathing” a closed world with its own irresistible logic? chisa: Yes, I think so because it departs from conventional ideas of morality. It’s not necessarily about what’s right and what’s wrong, but rather what’s beneficial and what’s not. I think it’s definitely a world of its own, but one that I hope is still intriguing for folks to visit for an hour and a half. catf: I read that one of the things that inspired you

to write plays was a debate you heard between August Wilson and Robert Brustein about color-blind casting. I once saw a scene from the play “Night, Mother” by Marsha Norman — about a daughter announcing to her mother that she plans to commit suicide — with two white actresses, and then saw the same scene with two black actresses. The two scenes felt very different to me. chisa: They should feel different! The black actresses add a whole other dimension. I felt that way when I saw, “A Streetcar Named Desire” on Broadway with multi-racial casting. When the sisters are talking about their struggles and struggling in the South, it takes on a whole other meaning. When you cast a black actor 26 | fluent

in a role that is traditionally white, of course it’s going to “color” it differently just because of our cultural baggage which can, actually, heighten the dramatic narrative. It can certainly refresh it. I also think, though, that it can hurt the actor. Having been in the position of playing a white character, it’s hard to fully commit to a role that you know wasn’t really meant for you. You’re constantly thinking, “I wonder how the audience is feeling about this? Are they taking this differently than the way it was intended?” Black actors should have the option of getting their own narratives out there; to play a role that was actually intended for a black actor; otherwise it’s going to be intellectual acrobatics throughout the audience. That is, people will be focused on figuring out what statement the director is trying to make by casting a black chick in this role. I think it does a disservice. catf: Would it do a disservice to “Dead and Breathing”

if it featured two white actresses? chisa: To an extent, yes. There are elements in the play that are distinctly African-American, and I think that they would either be lost entirely or take on a whole different meaning if they were performed by non-black actresses. Not that I’m not open to that, but it is a different interpretation. As a playwright, you have to accept that people are going to take liberties. You try your best to make the blueprint as clear as possible, but people may have trouble casting the eight black people and the one white person; they’ll have to use a couch instead of a bed, and so forth.

catf: You have said that you write plays to “make yourself and others like you more visible.” Why do you need to make yourself more visible? chisa: Why the hell not? If I see one more damn play about a white chick who is restless in her marriage… please, just get a divorce and be done with it so I can go home. African-American culture? It doesn’t get more dramatic than our experience. It just doesn’t. If you want to put something electric on stage, put black people on stage. First, we have very interesting experiences that go beyond self-indulgent fluff that I really can’t get into. Enough already with the whining. If you want a play that’s about something bigger, a play about people who

struggled mightily with something beyond themselves, put black people on stage. Second, I think about audiences. I’ve had former students email me out of the blue to thank me for the race-appropriate monologue they performed in my theater class; how it inspired them. There’s something motivating, too, about seeing yourself on stage, about seeing yourself in art. It’s incredibly validating. It’s not just a fluffy, fun experience. When you feel important enough for someone to make art about you, you are motivated to go out and achieve something and contribute to the world. catf: Is that the singular, peculiar, unique thing about


chisa: I think so. People for whom going to the the-

ater is a regular Sunday afternoon and who regularly see themselves on stage — those people begin to take this art for granted. For others it is a relatively new thing, “What? There are black people on stage? There are Asian theater companies out there?” For people for whom this type of theater is different…they can feel it and appreciate it in a way that may be lost on others who’ve been able to take it for granted. Some people are going to be shocked and scandalized by the ending to “Dead and Breathing,” but I was not shocked, and I did not write the ending to scandalize anyone. Perhaps I am taking the dramatic narrative for granted. catf: Why even take the risk of scandalizing an

audience? chisa: Again, I honestly did not set out to scandalize the audience. I just didn’t. For me, it is what it is. That’s all I can say about it. catf: Alice Walker said that “Life is better than death

because it’s a lot less boring and it has fresh peaches in it.” chisa: I would have said mangoes.

A World Premiere by Chisa Hutchinson. Directed by Kristin Horton.

catf: How did you find the story of Gait City?

christina anderson: I found the story of Gait City

when I created it. Gait City is the story of a fictitious place that was inspired by research I did about Oregon and Seattle and the stories of what happened, particularly to people of color, and more specifically — black people — in the Pacific Northwest region. In the last couple of years, I’ve been constructing cities and narratives from scratch. Often those cities are created from actual events that happened from different time periods. catf: What inspired you to combine exclusionary

laws and cult behavior in “The Ashes Under Gait City?” christina: I’ve always been interested in cults. When I was in fifth grade, I remember watching a Jonestown biography on TV that totally freaked me out. I was only 10 years old and got such an eerie feeling whenever I heard the voice of Jim Jones hovering over this group of people. I never lost the essence of that u fluent | 27

feeling, so I’ve always wanted to write about cults in some capacity. I also remember that cult in California [http:// en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heaven’s_Gate_(religious_ group] where members committed suicide and were found with sheets over their heads, all wearing sneakers. If I remember correctly, the members were mostly white people with one person of color and one black person. The conversation, at least in my immediate community, was about, “Who was this black woman?” “Why are black people joining these cults?” So I started doing research on cults and blacks. When I started writing “Gait City,” I thought it would be interesting to have a black woman — an Internet guru, Simone the Believer — find out that the history of Gait City once included black people and then want to go to Oregon to create a black community. Over the course of the play, this community slowly takes on the essence or eeriness of a cult, however, at the beginning of the play, Simone the Believer is not a cult leader. catf: Why is she called, “Simone the Believer?”

christina: She is someone who people hire to believe

in them because she has this essence and this aura about her. She gives off this essence of taking care of people and instilling in them the confidence to take on different parts of their lives and redefining those parts. She believes in people and their capabilities and gifts.

catf: Is she patterned after Oprah Winfrey?

christina: She’s patterned after Iyanla Vanzant and a

little bit of Erykah Badu. Iyanla is a motivational speaker and has her own show on the OWN network. She puts out books and teachings on how to redefine yourself. Erykah is a singer-songwriter, activist and actress. catf: Does Simone unwittingly become a cult leader?

christina: When I set out to write this play, I knew I didn’t want anyone to say or think the word, “cult.” I set out to write a play where people come together and when they unify, it has the essence of a cult, but no character ever says the word “cult” or believes that a cult is what they are a part of. When you get swept up into something like this, you don’t think it’s a cult. You just want to be around people who make you feel like a member of a community. I don’t think Simone considers herself a cult leader or wants to have a cult

28 | fluent

around her. Simone wants to go to Gait City because she discovered this story of black people being pushed out. She considered it an historical injustice and she wants to correct the injustice by starting a black community. She does not set out to be a cult leader. catf: Jim Jones, the leader of the People’s Temple in

Jonestown, said that he moved his church to Guyana because it was “a place in a black country where our black members could live in peace.” Is this what “Gait City” is about? christina: Yes. Simone wants to go to Gait City to honor black people who were displaced. She is specifically targeting a community of people who feel like they have never had a home they can settle into. catf: Jim Jones’ son said this about the People’s Temple:

“It allowed me as a black man to hold my head up high.” christina: You feel empowered when you can exist in a space that not only allows you to be your most authentic self, but also encourages you to be your most authentic self. catf: By the end of this play, are the characters more

authentically themselves? christina: That can be the argument, right? As the writer, I don’t say that these characters are in danger or the situation they are in is troubling. I don’t think any of them think they are in danger, and I don’t think Simone thinks she’s putting them in danger. You aren’t sure what Simone is doing to these people. You aren’t sure who gets roped in when. Hopefully by the end of the play, you don’t know if they’re going to make it, you don’t know if they’re going to implode, but you do know they have committed to this thing and the length of time they can sustain it will be questionable. catf: This play reminded me of Shirley Jackson’s short

story “The Lottery,” which has been described as “a chilling tale gone mad.” Is this a chilling play gone mad? christina: Interesting. The story that comes to mind for me is Ursula K Le Guin’s, “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas,” about a utopian city whose good fortune requires that a single unfortunate child be kept in perpetual filth, darkness and misery. This child somehow keeps the town unified. Is my play a “chilling tale gone mad”? I don’t know. I wrote the play because

I was interested in delving into cities and who has the right to claim property and territory and who has the right to live in that space and create community. catf: The cover story in

the June 2014 Atlantic, entitled “The Case for Reparations,” by Ta-Nehisi Coates includes these quotes: “The essence of American racism is disrespect” and, “Liberals today view racism not as an active, distinct evil but as a relative of white poverty and inequality.” christina: In the play, Simone talks about disregard. When I write about BlackAmerican culture in the 21st Playwright Christina Anderson. century, I realize that the Photo by Seth Freeman. “isms” of the 70’s and 80’s are now more nuanced. “Micro-aggression” is a new term that’s circulating. It isn’t outright aggression or blatant racism that a black person is confronted with daily. It’s little reminders, little jabs like, “otherness” and “repression.” That’s how all the “isms” function today. Very rarely do we use seriously blatant racist language or derogatory slurs. We just say that the person is “on the fringe” or “speaks freely.” These are very subtle, nuanced ways to express disrespect and disregard.

catf: Tocqueville in Democracy in America made this

observation in the early 19th century: “Race prejudice seems stronger in those states that have abolished slavery than in those where it still exists, and nowhere is it more intolerant than in those states where slavery is never known.” christina: That’s why I write the plays that I write. We think as a nation we’re over racism or we have progressed or we’re now in this enlightened state, but that is not the case. As a nation, we have greatly sinned over the past 200 years, and while racism may not be as aggressive but more nuanced, it still exists. Those are the plays I am interested in writing. catf: Doesn’t Toni Morrison in Beloved make the

case that leaving the past may be a necessity and that redemption is to be found not in remembering, but in forgetting? Morrison says that her characters are caught between “was and must be.” Are your characters caught between “was and must be?” christina: The narrative of “Gait City” is that it has a history of excluding black people and displacing them. Simone the Believer is twofold: She feels like the presence of a black population in this city will serve as the ultimate memorial about what the city did to that original black population, but she also wants to create this new community of black people. So the past, the present and the future exist simultaneously. Yes, the characters are caught between “was and must be,” and I would add that they also caught in the “could be.”

catf: As a white person, was I born racist?

catf: So the ending of this play is the “could be?”

no one is. We all have to live in a society where things are presented or marketed to us—we aren’t born to hate. It is what we learn and the different ways we learn it. We all grow up in different ways in different parts of the country and experience different things. I don’t believe that anyone is born racist any more than anyone is born to be angered by racism. There are undoubtedly tons of essays that agree or disagree with me, but I’m more interested as a writer to see how societal practices and influences can affect our lives or the way we talk about certain things or the way we ignore certain things. I’m not so interested in the origins of racism as much as I’m interested in how it affects us whether we know it or not.

community they are creating is a “could be.” Simone creates the community and invites others to come and make it what it “could be.” I can’t predict if the audience will think this is a “could be.”

christina: I would like to believe in my heart that

christina: The characters in this play think the

catf: There’s a lot of social media in this play — YouTube,

texting, Facebook. You once advised the students you teach to “Be present…let the experience, the memory live in your muscles, your limbs, not on Facebook.” christina: Simone created a community online, but can she create it in the real world? At the end of the play, she starts to create that community, but by that point, characters are shutting down or deactivating their social media profiles. When Simone first puts out u fluent | 29

her invitation via YouTube to join her in Gait City, she doesn’t get any replies. She realizes that she’s asking a lot for someone to join a community using that method. It’s like what we’re doing with hashtags. We say, “#activist” but are not part of the action on the ground. It’s all talk, like “#bringbackourgirls.” The play wrestles with the question, “Can you create the same community that you create online?” Some people may even argue that because we have the freedom to create a community online, we don’t necessarily need to be in the same space together to create change. By the end of the play, Simone has created a community, but is it the right kind of community? Is it a faith community? A cult? I hope all of these questions come up. catf: About plays, you have said, “I love that it is a

world in which adults are still able to pretend.” How old were you when you started to pretend and what were you pretending to be? christina: The first story I tried to pen when I was in first grade was about red balls flying instead of bouncing; red balls that bounced, grew wings in the air and took off. I was a kid like any kid — I wanted to play with possibilities. That’s so glorious! As kids we have questions and we set out to experiment, to find out, “Is this possible?” Sometimes it results in broken arms, but mostly it results in a good time. Theater is one of the few genres where we can go back and take those kinds of journeys and ask those kinds of questions. Hopefully in that experimentation, a conversation will arise and people can talk about different ideas and issues. In “The Ashes Under Gait City,” I’m dealing with the issues of race and class and Black American culture, landscape, history — but I try not to be didactic or on the nose or aggressive about it. Hopefully the essence of the play will bring up these questions. Those questions come with pretending and imagining and going along for the ride of this Internet guru who finds out about this city I made up with characters I made up — it all goes back to pretending. catf: Would Simone have a tattoo of a women’s sym-

bol and a Black Power fist on the back of her neck? christina: No, that would be me. I got it when I was around 22 years old. I always wanted a tattoo, and I knew I needed something I could stand behind for 30 | fluent

the rest of my days. I was pretty certain that I wasn’t going to stop being a black woman so I figured it was a safe tattoo to get. It’s still empowering and it’s still bad ass for me. catf: You said, “If you keep doing things that will

make you happy, everything else will fall into place.” christina: For me personally, that has been my narrative. I found playwriting when I was 15 years old. I had no idea how to live off it, how to make a career out of it and when I just focus on the writing and telling the story, I connect with people. Somehow I get into Brown University, am able to study under Paula Vogel and be with people who have made me a better writer. For me, I have to trust in the pen and the paper even when it’s dark and I’m asking myself, “Am I the only person interested in writing about this?” When I focus on the story and my characters, everything else does seem to fall into place. catf: You have a play in San Francisco and you have

a play in London and Shepherdstown is smack in the middle. What’s it like doing a play in a small town rather than a large city? christina: It’s awesome. Ed Herendeen was interested in “The Ashes Under Gait City” when it was still in progress and even now, I’m doing rewrites after rehearsals with the actors. That is the biggest gift a playwright can get — everyone being open to making your play clearer, stronger and better. I can work on this play and it’s a safe space, very few distractions. Plus, I’ll be seeing this play for the first time with all of its video screens, etc. It’s a great gift to see your play produced. catf: Maya Angelou said, “There is no greater agony

than bearing an untold story inside you.” christina: A personal story, a thought, an idea, a question — it’s so important to get it out on paper; to get it out in some creative and artistic art form. It’s hard to create a world from scratch, and it’s a lot of work to teach the audience about this world in an active way. But it’s a million times more painful to keep it inside. Or to write a play that’s safer or easier for an audience to grasp…it hurts more. I must always stay true to the things I’m curious about and the ways I want to tell the story.

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Lucie Tiberghien Director as Storyteller When a director says, “Theater is almost a political act for me,” my instinctive reaction is to run away quickly. But when, during our conversation, Lucie Tiberghien said those words, my flight instinct was disarmed, first by her slight embarrassment at uttering a cliché that she knew sometimes signals polemic masquerading as drama — plays in which what the characters say matters more than why they say it. More than that, I was disarmed by her simple love of telling stories with the plays she directs. Tiberghien, who studied history and political science in her native France before gravitating to the arts, knows stories can be highly persuasive in a way that Director Lucie Tiberghien...

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political slogans cannot. Slogans merely tell, but stories enable us to empathically share the struggles of characters who are often new to us and whose unique situations cause us to see things as we never have before. That’s what she hopes will happen with her production of Christina Anderson’s new play, “The Ashes Under Gait City,” which will have its world premiere as part of this year’s Contemporary American Theater Festival (CATF) in Shepherdstown. CATF’s website describes “The Ashes Under Gait City” this way: “When a devastating fire burned Gait City to the ground, the community decided to rebuild, an enduring and noble and gesture, but with

BY SEAN O’LEARY one crucial oversight — they forgot the black people. An Internet guru, Simone The Believer, launches a campaign amongst her followers to encourage black Americans to migrate to this town and reclaim their roots.” That a play about the aspirations and struggles of a hard-bitten group of black characters should have its premiere in West Virginia, demographically America’s “whitest” state and one that is sometimes accused of being unusually racist, will test the capacity of all — the playwright, the actors, the audience and of course, Tiberghien — to create a story that resonates with an audience whose personal experiences may

be quite different than those of the characters with whom they must identify. Tiberghien knows that the primary responsibility for making that happen is hers. In a premiere production of a play, nothing is a given, not even the script, which as Tiberghien points out is subject to revision right up until the first preview before a live audience. That fact, she explains, creates special challenges that simply don’t arise during the production of established plays. “The actors must be able to believe in their characters,” says Tiberghien. But, how can they when characters’ words and actions may change in the span of hours, practically up until the moment the actors u

at the first rehearsal of “The Ashes Under Gait City,” CATF 2014.

Photos by Seth Freeman.

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must appear before a live audience? And what of the playwright who has her own sense of the story and the characters? Will she accept concerns and questions from Tiberghien and the cast members as opportunities to improve the play or will she see them as threats to the integrity and meaning of what she has created? The answer to all of these questions is that the actors, the playwright and the director must be able to have faith in each other’s unique perspective, which, as Tiberghien observes, is easier when all concerned know one another and have worked together previously That is not the case with this production. This is the first time Tiberghien is directing a play by Christine Anderson and her first time directing the actors who make up the CATF cast. So, why should they trust Tiberghien?

Perhaps more reassuring to actors and playwrights than Lucie Tiberghien’s credits is the special perspective she brings to the task of midwifing new plays. First, there is Tiberghien’s considerable résumé. She has directed plays, many of them world premieres, on some of America’s most prominent stages — Arena Stage in Washington, La Jolla Playhouse in California, the George Street Theater in New Jersey, and the MCC Theater at the Lucille Lortel Theater, The Rattlestick Theater and the Cherry Lane Theater, all in New York. This will also be the sixth occasion on which Tiberghien will direct a play at CATF, which makes 34 | fluent

sense because Tiberghien, like the festival itself, focuses almost entirely on contemporary plays. As a result she has worked with many of America’s hottest playwrights, some of whom achieved that standing with Tiberghien’s help. Among the names that will be familiar to CATF audiences are Stephen Belber, Craig Wright, Lee Blessing, Richard Dresser, Tracy Thorne, and Deborah Laufer. Perhaps more reassuring to actors and playwrights than Lucie Tiberghien’s credits is the special perspective she brings to the task of midwifing new plays. Tiberghien is as much an immigrant to theater as she is to the United States. She had established herself as a dancer and choreographer in France before coming to the United States in 1995. But, as she put it, “The productions I was working on seemed to consist of more and more words and less movement.” So, she decided to go all in and joined the 42nd Street Collective in New York, formerly Playwrights Horizons theater school, where she studied directing. It was simultaneous immersion in American society and in American artistic culture. The transition would have been more wrenching were it not

Looking Back Turning 24 2013 HEARTLESS


for the fact that Tiberghien’s mother is American by birth. Young Lucie grew up in a bilingual if not an altogether bicultural household. Still, like her English, Tiberghien’s perspective on America is slightly accented or, described more accurately, somewhat detached. That’s why she probably has fewer axes to grind than most of us and, as much by personal inclination as by accident of birth, seems willing to accept Americans and all people with all of their frailties as human beings. It’s that kind of sympathetic nature that actors must bring to their work and that playwrights hope directors will bring to theirs. And, if they were real, the characters in plays, who are almost always deeply troubled, would wish for this sensibility because they would know it will allow them to be seen as threedimensional human beings rather than as types. Tiberghien’s nature is an even greater gift to audience members who must try to make the empathic leap to identify with characters whose lives are otherwise unfamiliar — a challenge that will undoubtedly be true for many who view “The Ashes Under Gait City.” The CATF website goes on to say that “…this play delves into ownership, identity and the power of belief. It dramatically captures the influence of cult behavior, through technology’s lens, while tackling the continued and complicated nature of race in our contemporary world.” It takes a director of Tiberghien’s unique skills and sensibilities to guide us all — playwright, actors and audience members — on a trailblazing journey into these remote reaches. fluent



















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Recent Accolades catf 2011–2014


Actor Andy Bean (2011, “From Prague”) has a ROLE in the new show “Power” on STARZ (pulls fifth spot in the opening credits). CATF sound designer Eric Shimelonis (2013 & 2014) wins Helen Hayes Award “OUTSTANDING SOUND DESIGN” for the play “Never the Sinner” at 1st Stage.

Johanna Day (2012, “In a Forest, Dark and Deep”) wins PERFORMANCE OBIE for “Appropriate.” Former CATF director Liesl Tommy receives DIRECTING OBIE for “Appropriate.” Former CATF staffer (2011) Abigail Vega is named LATINA/O THEATRE COMMONS PRODUCER. “Mr. Marmalade” (2006) returns to the region with PERFORMANCES in Baltimore. “Gidion’s Knot” (2012) acting edition is PUBLISHED by Dramatist Play Service. Jane Martin’s “H2O”(2013) is a finalist for the STEINBERG/ATCA NEW PLAY AWARD. That’s a finalist two years in a row—and four plays in four years considered—for CATF. Former CATF assistant director Lily Wolff DIRECTS “Gidion’s Knot” in Austin, TX (produced 14 additional venues nation-wide, making it a top-five produced play during the ’13–’14 season.


“Arlington,” the musical adaptation of Victor Lodato’s “Dear Sara Jane” (2009) PREMIERES at San Francisco’s Magic Theatre. Margot White, on stage at CATF in “Heartless” (2013)—she stepped in at the last minute due to an actor’s injury and read the play for the first time the day before opening to a sold-out audience with only a few hours of rehearsal—is STARRING in “A Dish for the Gods,” playing in NYC.

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CATF Alum Laura Kepley (2010, “Breadcrumbs”) is named the new ARTISTIC DIRECTOR at Cleveland Play House. A new DOCUMENTARY about CATF-favorite Sam Shepard is released in select locales. Lear Debessonet (2011, director of “The Insurgents”) wins the DIRECTING OBIE for “The Good Person of Szechuan.” The American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA) holds ANNUAL MEETING at CATF. ATCA gives special commendation to director Lear Debessonet (2011) for her WORK in expanding the boundaries of conventional theater. Eisa Davis (2009, playwright of “The History of Light”) receives the SUSTAINED EXCELLENCE OBIE AWARD. Playwright Beau Willamon (2009, “Farragut North” and later the movie “The Ides of March”) creates more political intrigue with the Netflix series “HOUSE OF CARDS” starring Kevin Spacey. Rebecca Harris (2012, actor in “The Exceptionals”) won the BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS IRNE AWARD for her performance in “Mrs. Whitney” at Merrimack Repertory.. Joey Parsons (2009 and 2012) wins the SF BAY AREA THEATRE CRITICS CIRCLE AWARD for Best Prinncipal Actress for her performance in “God of Carnage” at San Jose Rep. “Gidion’s Knot” (2012) is a CITATION WINNNER of the ATCA/Steinberg New Play Award. Eisa Davis (2009, playwright of “The History of Light”) and Crystal A. Dickinson (2011, actor in “We Are Here” and “Race”) to STAR in new play at Playwrights Horizon. Playwright Melinda Lopez (2005, “Sonia Flew”) receives a MELLON-FUNDED THREE-YEAR RESIDENCY.

Shepherd University President Suzanne Shipley ANNOUNCES THE OFFICIAL NAME of the 180-seat theater inside the Center for Contemporary Arts is the Stanley C. and Shirley A. Marinoff Theater.


The full script of “Gidion’s Knot” by Johnna Adams is PUBLISHED in American Theatre magazine and features photos from the CATF World Premiere production (2012). Eric Coble (2003, playwright “Bright Ideas”) to make his BROADWAY DEBUT in spring 2013 with “The Velocity of Autumn” directed by Arena Stage’s Molly Smith. CATF playwright Kyle Bradstreet (“From Prague”) is ONE OF TWO STAFF WRITERS for “Copper,” an original series produced by Barry Levinson. Playwright J.T. Rogers (2008, “The Overwhelming” and 2010, “White People”) is a 2012 GUGGENHEIM FELLOW.

CATF and Shepherd University acting alum Chris Boykin (2008, “The Overwhelming”) to APPEAR in an episode of “BOSS” (starring Kelsey Grammer) on STARZ. CATF Playwright Jennifer Haley (2010, “Breadcrumbs”) WINS the 2012 SUSANSMITH BLACKBURN PRIZE. Beau Willamon receives OSCAR NOMINATION FOR BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY (with George Clooney and Grant Heslow) for “The Ides of March,” based on his play “Farragut North” (CATF 2009). Playwright Lydia Diamond’s “Stick Fly” (2008) GOES TO BROADWAY.


“Lidless” (2010) by Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig is a FINALIST in the 2011 SUSAN SMITH BLACKBURN PRIZE. “Lidless” and “Breadcrumbs” NOMINATED for the ATCA/ STEINBERG NEW PLAY AWARD.

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Alex Podulke About The Acting Life If you missed seeing Alex Podulke in the riveting performance of “H2O” at last year’s CATF, you have the opportunity to see him at this year’s festival, in “Uncanny Valley.” It’s not the first time he’s played an other-human. In a conversation with FLUENT, he talks about acting, Shepherdstown, neuroscience, androids and more.

fluent: What first brought you to CATF?

podulke: I came to CATF not because of the audi-

tion but because of my relationship with Jon (Jon Jory, director of “H2O”). In slow motion, he’s trying to get as many “Jane Austen’s” to stage as he can, and the last three years he’s used me a lot. We were doing “Sense & Sensibility” in St. Louis, Diane Mair (his co-star in “H2O”) was playing Ms Lucy Steele and I was playing Colonel Brandon. John asked us to do the first reading of “H2O,” and that’s how it started.

fluent: How long have you been acting, and what brought you to it? podulke: My life. Since about the age of seven. My mother was involved in the very early days of the Minneapolis Children’s Theater, before it was the Children’s Theater, so it was sort of always an option for me. And I enjoyed it when I first did it. My first play was called “Becky the Half Witch.” I played the wizard. I think I was nine when I first worked outside of my elementary school…at sixteen I was in a theater company in St. Paul, Minnesota, where I grew up. I

Diane Mair and Alex Podulke co-starred in Jane Martin’s “H2O” during CATF’s Season 23. ALL PHOTOS BY SETH FREEMAN.

INTERVIEW BY NANCY MCKEITHEN knew already that I was going to be an actor for life. I had an agent by the time I was 18, I think. She’s the reason I don’t have any tattoos or piercings. And she made me cut my hair, which was long at the time. She told me that anything like that would limit the kind of role I could get. Many years later I was doing a show at the Guthrie with a very heavily tattooed actor. We got in the dressing room and he took a can of something out of his bag, and pzzzz, covered them up. Aw, man! fluent: You could get a tattoo now.

podulke: Yes, but I no longer want one! fluent: Tell me about the play.

podulke: First, I want to say how much I love

Shepherdstown and how intensely welcomed I was last year. I was very moved by it. People, shop owners would come here every week and bring me things. I mentioned offhand to one guy — Lucien Lewin, a longdistance bicycle rider — that there’s a glass company that I love so much in West Virginia that’s very famous for vases. When I was 9, my father took me to see a solar eclipse in Atlanta; we drove from Minnesota and on the way we stopped by this glass place — Blenko —  and as a result of that really magical trip, I’ve always been very interested in glass. I make stained glass windows, and I’ve recently blown my first vase. I mentioned all this to Lucien, and two weeks into the run he brought a vase here. It seems to me that this town has an artistic bent and a curiosity about things, and I like that very u

Barbara Kingsley and Alex Podulke in Thomas Gibbons’ “Uncanny Valley” this season at CATF.

much. It’s cool to see a mix of down-home sensibility, humility and modesty mixed with artistic sensibility. What Ed Herendeen and Peggy McKowen and James McNeel are doing down here is really special. It’s a rare treat to develop new work without the added pressures of doing it in a big city. And they offer a remarkable level of support and respect for the artists they bring down here. I can’t say enough good about them, and I can’t thank them enough. fluent: So, “Uncanny Valley”….

podulke: The play is about this android—I’m

the android—and about this thing called singularity [Wikipedia: a hypothetical moment in time when artificial intelligence, human biological enhancement, or brain-computer interfaces will have progressed to the point of a greater-thanhuman intelligence], which technorobot computational neuroscience people say we’ll have about 2050. What I love about this play is the subject matter. It’s been a blast to be able to sink my teeth into the research aspect of this. It’s mind-blowing. It’s another two-person play, like “H2O.” The first few scenes are very fast. The further the play gets,

40 | fluent

the slower. There are eight scenes in the play, and the eighth one is the last half of the play. fluent: Tell me about your character.

podulke: This android, Julian, is being taught to be

a human. The play starts with his eyes first opening, and the scientist he’s working with is a computational neuroscientist named Claire Hillis. All of his technical stuff has been done and now he just has to turn on, learn how to talk and learn how to move, and she has to teach him how to be like a person. I start off as just the head and shoulders, then as the play progresses I am built on stage — one arm then another arm. Jules needs something to do while Claire’s not in the office because he doesn’t sleep. So she gives him a flute. [Podulke is in his 14th week of flute lessons.] Once he gets legs, the first thing he does is a soft-shoe and a cartwheel. After he’s up and walking around, more elements are introduced into the play: What ethics might be like in a world where androids have consciousness, what a relationship might be like when you’re having a real emotional conversation with a machine…there’s so many fascinating issues.

It’s fun to play around with how robot-y am I. Another fun thing is all they’re doing to help make me a little more robotic — making me a kind of diving suit that constricts me so that I’m always aware of my body. It’s kind of like a man corset that covers my ribcage that I wear in rehearsals. The director is a little on the fence about it because he doesn’t want me to be bulky. And they just got me brown contacts [his eyes are very blue] because they are trying to make me “off ” in very subtle ways. They may do something to my hair to make it not quite human. And then there’s going to be some kind of makeup on my face and wherever my skin is exposed to give it a little bit of “off-ness.” I think they’re going for “indistinguishably off.” fluent: The play asks a lot of questions.

podulke: Yes, and one of the biggest questions

involves childhood. The scientist has an estranged daughter, and in a way this robot that she’s teaching to be a person is another child for her, so that conflict between relationships is happening. And she has a husband who has some degenerative brain disease, like Alzheimer’s. And so there’s a question that is yet unexplored: If to know that you know is part of what makes us human, is an android gaining consciousness more human than a person with early stage Alzheimer’s?

Asuming that it’s an android that has memories—the memories of a real person. fluent: And your co-star?

podulke: My phenomenal co-star, Barbara King-

sley, plays Claire Hillis, the scientist, who’s retiring. She’s 70. We know each other. We’re both from Minneapolis, and I grew up admiring this incredible actor. Unbeknownst to me or anybody, she just randomly auditioned for Ed and she got this role. So I get to work with her again. The last time I did a play with her it was “Romeo and Juliet”; I think that was 2004. Ed called up and said, “Wait till you meet this actress we got for Claire, she’s gonna knock your socks off! Her name is Barbara Kingsley.” fluent: She’s having fun with this one?

podulke: Omigod, yeah. She’s so great. I feel really bad for her actually. You know what they say, never work with dogs and children, cause they never do what they’re supposed to do. She has the same problem with me, because I’m a fuckin’ robot, just doing stupid, stupid stuff. She’s the one doing the real acting. Not until the second half of the play do I get to really flex my muscles at all, aside from the real physical demand and specificity of not doing anything — which turns u

out is hard. But I feel like I don’t really get to do acting until the second half. fluent: You’ve been acting for a very long time….

podulke: I suspect it’s a handicap. One of the things

I admire most about other actors I work with is that they’re able to have full ownership of the thing that they’re doing. I think that when you’re a child actor learning how to act, what you’re trying to do is please the teacher, the director. In this game, if that’s really the thing that you’re doing, then it’s easy to just be a hack. It’s easy to not fully invest yourself but just try to do it right. So I think that my biggest obstacle in my career was to forget all the lessons I learned in the first fifteen years that I was doing this and learn how to flex my own muscles and let other people deal with the consequences, that it was okay for us to fight about that or disagree. In the end, generally, the director is always right unless you’ve got an incompetent director. But it’s important that you have total ownership of what you’re doing. With actors as well as with nonactors, when you’re trying to do it right you’re not ever doing it well. And when you’re just doing it off the cuff in your own way — the way that you like it — it’s always better. It’s the same thing for every artform and form of expression. fluent: Some people are just better actors than oth-

ers. Is that a matter of choice and hard work, or does it require sensibilities that not everyone has? podulke: I believe that once you get a few years past being in school or whatever your training, if you’re not a good actor by that time you would have become a banker or whatever. We go around the country and dedicate our lives to poverty so people can see a play and like it or not like it. It’s this dedication to doing something perfectly and beautifully, and if you’re not good at it, it’s a miracle if you get through school let alone through the first few years after school. It’s my opinion that every actor is a good actor. If you’re at the place [in your career] that you’re coming here [to CATF], there’s no such thing as not a good actor. I think bad acting happens so infrequently that it’s an outlier. Most of the time, it’s great actors trying to do something great with something they’ve been cast in. 42 | fluent

I personally wrangle against the idea that there are bad actors in professional theater, as much as I fight against the idea that there are giants among us. I’ve worked with some great actors and I went to a good school, the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. Some legendary actors were brought in to talk with us there, and they’re just as confused and human as we are. Because that’s what we do, really, try to be human, and that’s muddy. And messy. fluent: How hard is acting?

podulke: It’s hard. To be a stage actor you have to

be smart; you have to be interested in history; have knowledge about the Irish Civil War of 1917 and all of the Elizabethan era and half of the Restoration era, the Jacobean era, artificial intelligence — everything you do. You have to get familiar with everything about the play, as much as you can. fluent: What does the research you do mean to an audience watching you in a performance? podulke: That’s a great question because it’s so fundamental I don’t know how to answer it. Once everybody does the research everybody’s on the same page about what it is we’re talking about. That’s the only conversation really we have for the next three weeks. So it influences everything. It’s the springboard off which everything else follows, I think. We are lucky to have a phenomenal dramaturg in this one — Adrienne Sowers. She’s fantastic. fluent: Without the research, would you sort of feel

like an actor with no clothes on stage? podulke: Absolutely. Also, contrary to public opinion, whether or not you feel a thing on stage doesn’t ever translate to the audience feeling it. So you can go around emoting all you want, butway more important than that is that you know whereof you speak. Only then can you have ideas for a different way to do a thing in a way that might communicate thoughts that the playwright has written down better than the way you were trying to. If you don’t have six or seven of those for every single line done on stage, then the director will have nothing to direct, the play won’t have any place to grow. So, how much work it is to be an actor? Even when you don’t have a role, when you’re just auditioning for a role, say, in NY, if I’m lucky I’ll have three

auditions a week. For each of those auditions, they’ll send me a minimum of six pages and a maximum of fifteen to prepare for the audition. I memorize them, many people don’t. I don’t work well if I don’t. So imagine 45 pages a week, and then also you’re doing construction jobs or whatever. [Podulke runs a handyman service in NY.] And you also have to watch your figure. I do 200 sit-ups and 100 push-ups every day. And the auditions, that’s the free stuff…like you’re volunteering that time. Then you’re cast in the role, and you do all your preparatory work. Many people like to be as offbook as possible before they start re-

hearsals. You do your research, and your nose is in the script a lot. Actors as a bunch are avaricious readers. fluent: So you had committed this play to memory

before you arrived? podulke: Much of it.

fluent: What if there’s rewriting?

podulke: Whenever the playwright is here, there’s

massive rewriting. It’s harder to forget something than to memorize it. Our playwright has been very generous with us. If a moment doesn’t work, he’s u

Growing Up With CATF_________ “You’re the only person I know who knows their state’s birthday.” On June 20th of every year, I seem to hear this. Although my driver’s license has read “State of New York” since 2007, I will always consider myself a West Virginian. I grew up in Charles Town, with new American theater growing up in my own backyard, and I hoped to one day be a part of the magic that happens every summer in Shepherdstown at CATF. That hope became reality when I came to work at CATF as Festival Coordinator for the 2008 season, having completed my first year of graduate study in dramaturgy. My experience working at CATF that summer, coupled with my education and training, gave me the confidence to dive into the exciting, competitive theater scene in New York as I continued my graduate career.

Dramaturg Adrienne Sowers with director Tom Dugdale during a rehearsal of the world premiere of “Uncanny Valley.”

After receiving my MFA, I returned to WV and soon after received a call from Peggy McKowen, Associate Producing Director, inviting me to join the staff of Shepherd University as an adjunct professor in theater. That summer at CATF, I was fortunate to collaborate with Ed Herendeen as his assistant director for the mainstage production of “Bad Dates.” Soon we were discussing my possible return to CATF the following season as dramaturg. In June 2011, I was back at CATF, this time as dramaturg and assistant director for Kyle Bradstreet’s “From Prague.” I had never before gotten to develop a script with a playwright in the room as we prepared a play for its world premiere. That summer, everything burned with an incandescent energy. Fueled by the positivity of the summer, I relocated to NYC, and with a recommendation from Kyle, I began working as Writer’s Assistant for the BBC America series “Copper,” for which Kyle was writing. Working closely with the writers and actors, I grew to understand not only the television industry, but also my own strengths, skills and passion for creating compelling entertainment. The series’ end signaled a new beginning in my life, and I decided to return to Shepherdstown for another wonderful summer before moving west to explore opportunities in LA. I am deeply honored to spend this season as dramaturg and assistant director for “Uncanny Valley” by Thomas Gibbons ….and to delve into this deliciously complex piece. The play is a collaborative effort, and to me, it exemplifies the spirit and passion that CATF has unwaveringly created for 24 seasons. It seems that home is where the art is. — Adrienne Sowers fluent | 43

pretty quick to say, “Well, you don’t have to say it that way, you can say it another way.” Although he’s very particular, very specific as a playwright…always very conscious how he crafts it. As an actor, you’re always in a situation where you’re with other actors talking about acting. Somebody said to me this week here on campus, that if the actor doesn’t remember it three times, it’s not the actor’s fault, it’s the playwright’s fault. Because we’re all good at memorizing stuff — that part of our brain is used to it — if we can’t pick it up, there’s something chunky in it. Then the question is whether the director is willing to give that up. Tom Gibbons — I’ve never worked with him before, but I’m astonished at what a light touch he has. He’s so not heavy-handed with his work. It’s my favorite thing about him. His play is ripe with opportunities to make a point and he doesn’t ever do it. He just lets it be what it is and he doesn’t hit you over the head with a single thing. fluent: Acting sometimes entails a pretty itinerant

lifestyle. Is that true for you, and what tradeoffs does it require? podulke: Children. You don’t get to see your partner much, if you have a partner. When you travel, they 44 | fluent

forget about you in New York. It’s kind of a catch-22. I think it’s possible to get rusty, but I think it’s also important to take breaks. It’s interesting that you can work and do the best work you’ve ever done in your life and then go back to a city where…“oh, yeah, who were you again?” fluent: What would you be if you weren’t an actor?

podulke: I have a lot of irons in the fire because I have a rich other life. I have a brick sculpture thing that I do. I do stained glass. I do carpentry. I like to make stuff, like furniture. I used to identify as a writer. I have a one-man show — “DNA and the Dancing Fool” — that I wrote and did around the country for a while, about a corporate drone who quits his job to become a homeless interpretive dancer. It won the Stephen Klein Award for best new play of the year, presented in conjunction with The Playwrights Center, at the Minnesota Fringe Festival 14 years ago. I think it’s really important to do as many things as you can and to keep your life as full as possible. Partly because that informs the acting later. I definitely don’t want to be the kind of actor who doesn’t know the world, who doesn’t participate in life. I want to stub my toes as often as I can, I want to get in trouble and I want to fall down. fluent


Neil Super | Two Rivers Turnings Specializing in unique turnings, including bowls and vessels with historic or personal “back stories,” all made from responsibly harvested, local wood species.

Find his work at The Bridge Gallery (Shepherdstown), Berkeley Art Works (Martinsburg), The Mountain Heritage Arts and Crafts Festival, and select local art and craft venues.

For information and upcoming events: www.tworiversturnings.com www.facebook.com/tworiversturnings Contact: 304.279.0506

Winner, “Best In Show,” 2013 Eastern West Virginia Juried Art Exhibit, Martinsburg, WV Winner of the April 2014 Entrepreneur’s Café Shepherdstown/Eastern Panhandle

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UNCANNY VALLEY A National New Play

Network Rolling World Premiere by Thomas Gibbons | Directed by Tom Dugdale

The relationship between the creator and the created unfolds in the phenomenon known as the uncanny valley where Claire, a neuroscientist, works with Julian, an artificial being, on becoming human. Drawing on current research and the not-so-distant future, this spellbinding and deeply satisfying new play travels to the ethical heart of humankind’s bid to outrace mortality. How far are we willing to go to forget, while insisting on never being forgotten?


Graham | Directed by Ed Herendeen

Business is falling apart, and so are the walls in this crumbling auto-repair shop on the wrong side of the Boulevard. Three childhood friends and one crusty old man sift through the merits of their floundering lives while confronting the vanishing middle-class around them. But just when the last road to prosperity seems at its deadend, a questionable opportunity unfolds before them: Are they corrupt enough to escape the corruption that’s ruining their neighborhood? This blistering, workingclass comedy aims for the gut and takes no prisoners.

ONE NIGHT By Charles Fuller | Directed by Ed Herendeen

Down on their luck, two Iraq war veterans mysteriously arrive at a seedy motel, looking for a place to hide and start over. They are burdened with secrets from their time in the sandbox and desperate to make sense of life in the here and now. As the trauma of the past blends unflinchingly into the present, this one 46 | fluent

night finds a soldier simmering in her patriotic duty for justice and freedom — her own. Raging against the searing subject of sexual abuse in the armed services, this suspenseful and provocative play asks: “Why am I a hero if I die, and a nuisance if I live?”

DEAD AND BREATHING A World Premiere by

Chisa Hutchinson | Directed by Kristin Horton

Carolyn is a cranky old broad who just wants to die already! She’s gone through almost as many nurses as she has treatments, but just can’t seem to kick the bucket. With her new — profane but God-fearing — hospice caregiver all up in her “lady parts,” she sets about convincing Veronika to help her to just get it over with. Full of surprises, this hilarious exploration into mortality and morality tests the boundaries of faith and forgiveness, prejudice and pridefulness, when the stakes are nothing short of life…and death.

THE ASHES UNDER GAIT CITY A World Premiere by Christina Anderson | Directed by Lucie Tiberghien

When a devastating fire burned Gait City to the ground, the community decided to rebuild. An enduring and noble gesture, but with one crucial oversight: They forgot the black people. A popular internet guru, Simone The Believer, launches a campaign amongst her followers to encourage black Americans to migrate to this town and reclaim their roots. Inspired by the 19th Century exclusionary laws, this play delves into ownership, identity and the power of belief. It dramatically captures the influence of cult behavior, through technology’s lens, while tackling the continued and complicated nature of race in our contemporary world. fluent




** Opening Night, followed by the OPENING NIGHT RECEPTION ^^ These performances will be followed by a POST-SHOW DISCUSSION

THE ASHES UNDER GAIT CITY by Christina Anderson


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UNCANNY VALLEY by Thomas Gibbons

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DEAD AND BREATHING by Chisa Hutchinson



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by Bruce Graham


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ONE NIGHT by Charles Fuller


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10:30 pm WEEK THREE


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PRESENTED FREE OF CHARGE thanks to the West Virginia Humanities Council: LECTURE Distinguished guest speakers discuss issues raised in the plays at the popular Talk Theater Lecture Series at Reynolds Hall, 109 North King Street


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READING Join the CATF company for Stage Readings of new plays in the Marinoff Theater, 62 West Campus Drive

SALON Enjoy a late-night drink, lite fare, and discussion with CATF staff at domestic, 117 E. German Street.


TUES 7/29

WED 7/30

THUR 7/31

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4:30 pm 6:00 pm

304.876.3473 800.999.CATF (2283) www.catf.org

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A scholarly approach to the CATF repertory. Free but requires reservation. CENTER FOR CONTEMPORARY ARTS II


FRI 8/1

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SHOWING UP Shepherd Senior Exhibits By Nancy McKeithen


he dates and the names change by the year, but the right [sic] of passage — known as the Capstone Exhibit—remains. For students in the Department

of Contemporary Art and Theater at Shepherd University in Shepherdstown,

West Virginia, the exhibit is their ticket out of school and into their future. A one-day exhibit that has taken each of them four years to prepare. This is their story — about making art, writing and talking about art... living art. Thirtyseven Shepherd art students received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in May. Meet four of them: two painters, a photographer and a graphic designer.

Images provided by the artists.

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For painter EMILY JONES, the transition from graduation to working artist appears seamless. She’s moving one state over, to Hagerstown, Maryland, to help that city develop a more prominent art scene, notably, by starting a new art gallery. She plans to continue painting, but in a new direction — more illustrative — in anticipation of working as a freelance illustrator in the future. Jones often finds inspiration for her paintings in the books she reads, among them poetry, essay collections and a biology book. Her work is infused with a playfulness that disguises the planning and process she goes through using her chosen medium—watercolor. “You can’t erase or paint over with watercolors,” she says, noting how they can quickly become overworked. “I just spend plenty of time standing back after I paint a layer and envisioning my next one. It’s nerve-wracking, but mistakes are exciting, too.” u "Leaving”

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Graphic designer and painter PETE LYON — who gives names to his paintbrushes — believes his best work is inspired by random serendipity, although he doesn’t just sit around waiting for that to happen. This self-described “late grad” explains that living life fully is not only why it took him so long to graduate, it also helps him understand the human condition: “I think the experiences I’ve had allow me to communicate through imagery and raise an emotional response very effectively.” His work is both intuitive and process-driven. “There is always a lot of planning and restless nights, but many of the choices and edits are based on my personal preferences and keenly honed instincts,” says Lyon. www.allyoucanpete.com 50 | fluent

Painter VALERIE TAGGART-PEREZ finds inspiration in “memories, past experiences, intimate life moments and quiet selfreflection.” Like the painting above, “Molly Heart #2,” much of her artwork revolves around the human form and intimate moments between two people. Taggart-Perez carefully plans each painting, but also allows “spontaneous and intuitive moments of creativity when the mood strikes.” She plans to continue to paint and exhibit her work, intern or work in a gallery, and earn a Master’s in Fine Art. u fluent | 51

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For photographer ADRIENNE PAGE, atmosphere trumps lighting and composition. “I would rather have one of my photographs create an interesting mood than have it be technically composed,” she says. Depending on the piece, she may re-shoot a scene multiple times to create different moods. She’s influenced by the ”dramatic black and white aesthetic” of 1920s– 50s photography. Often, she visualizes a scene she’s shooting in B&W — even when using a digital SLR —  if that’s how she wants the final image post-editing.Page describes her work as “almost fully intuitive,” noting that inspiration is something she both waits for and seeks out. Recent study abroad in London gave her ample opportunity for both, as much of her recent work reflects her travel throughout the UK and Ireland. Having received her BFA in Photography and Digital Imaging, Page is pursuing a job in the field of photography or digital media and plans to attend graduate school. fluent

St. Paul’s Steps fluent | 53


Grace Cavalieri has published several books of poems and seen her plays produced on American stages. She founded “The Poet and The Poem” on public radio 37 years ago, and the series is still going strong, now broadcast from the Library of Congress. She is poetry columnist/reviewer for The Washington Independent Review of Books. She enjoyed a home in Hedgesville WV for 22 years; and was married to the metal sculptor Kenneth Flynn until his death in 2013. They have four children and four grandchildren.

LEARNING FROM BUDDHA The cat likes to lick a piece of butter at the end of a knife propped up by the window so he can watch the birds today I forgot the butter and the knife he didn’t care he knows some days there are no birds.


CONSUMER’S REPORT I thought about it a long time because I ran out of staples so I tiptoed down to his office. I didn’t know what else to do. Next it was the typing paper neatly stacked beside the desk. Thank God he thought ahead with batteries in the drawer for my mouse and keyboard. I used to play office once when I was very young. I’d walk around the street and write down all the numbers that I saw on tiny squares of paper, put in shoe boxes stacked inside the closet wall. But this cannot go on. How long. Today my swimming goggles broke. I know he has two pairs brand new inside his swimming bag. I cannot bear to open it. They are my style, bought the same day as my own. His swim bag zipper is closed all the way. I’ll wear the old ones another day. It’s the same as these seasons that come and go, I steal what I can from him. Shoplifting from the life I loved is no way to live. What will I do when the Azaleas stop blooming ? I stole his bottle of orange flavored gin. What will I do when we run out of supplies.

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Last night it was a new Cardigan you wanted in a Handsome knit Scottish weave $1,080.The amount of my Social Security and how blue You were that I demurred But you can have it now and Even more — you tried To buy me several wools To make up for Your buying yours But I need nothing now and I have no wish to go in stores Or have what would be mine Or even buy you yours My dear dead man so Unfashionable and cold Don’t you know we are each Beyond heat and sweater poor.



The sack dress was in style then with a single strand of pearls. The sack dress was designed to see the body move lightly beneath. That’s why I wore it to my first poetry contest in Philly, leaving my four-month old at home. Of course my husband had to drive, as nervous as I was so he waited in the car all day while I sat in the big room, first time out since I found my mother dead and then had a baby two weeks later. My husband stayed all day in that car in the snow. I won first prize about wanting my mother but It was said much better than this, as you can imagine, to win first. It even began with notes upon a phantom lute, although The Poet said what do we know of lutes now? But what did he know of walking into her bedroom and finding her a pale shade of lilac. That just goes to prove I guess I was talking about the wrong thing in the poem, and The Poet was surely on to something. I have to say I looked wonderful, gaunt with grief and colitis, 1956, hurrying across the street where my husband was waiting to take me home, the first wrong victory in my hand.

Tomato pies are what we called them, those days, before Pizza came in, at my Grandmother’s restaurant, in Trenton New Jersey. My grandfather is rolling meatballs in the back. He studied to be a priest in Sicily but saved his sister Maggie from marrying a bad guy by coming to America. Uncle Joey is rolling dough and spooning sauce. Uncle Joey, is always scrubbed clean, sobered up, in a white starched shirt, after cops delivered him home just hours before. The waitresses are helping themselves to handfuls of cash out of the drawer, playing the numbers with Moon Mullin and Shad, sent in from Broad Street. 1942, tomato pies with cheese, 25 cents. With anchovies, large, 50 cents. A whole dinner is 60 cents (before 6pm.) How the soldiers, bussed in from Fort Dix, would stand outside all the way down Warren Street, waiting for this new taste treat, young guys in uniform, lined up and laughing, learning Italian, before being shipped out to fight the last great war.

“Consumer’s Report” was published in Loch Raven Review. “What I Won” and “Tomato Pies, 25 Cents” are from Sounds Like Something I Would Say, published in 2010 by Casa Menendez Press.

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Floor One Brian expected she would be in bed when he got home. Lying beneath their Egyptian cotton sheets, her body curled in a fetal position, her eyes open. She’d been having a rough day when he left that morning, but most days had been rough recently. He hated leaving her distressed. He hated knowing that, when he returned nine hours later, she wouldn’t have moved much at all. She wouldn’t have gotten dressed or brushed her hair or eaten. There’d be an almost full cup of oily black coffee sitting on the nightstand. Even the Chinese food Brian was holding wouldn’t pique his wife’s interest. She would refuse the crispy coconut chicken. The same chicken she once swore was the single greatest thing she had ever tasted. The scents of pan-fried dumplings and lo mein hovered in the 6 by 6 elevator. One of the lights was flickering. Brian leaned against the wall with his eyes closed and inhaled. She had probably collapsed in bed no sooner than the front door had clicked, her matted brown hair strewn across the dark green pillow she had chosen — quite carefully — for their room. Their room. For the first year and a half of marriage, it had been so fun to be part of a pair. He used to utter words like wife and our or we as often as he could. He didn’t even mind going to Bed, Bath, and Beyond or Williams Sonoma, so long as he could tell his co-workers that his wife had dragged him along. That she thought it was something they needed to do together. He liked having a spouse to follow dutifully through a linen store; loved being just another husband shaking his head at his wife’s extravagant purchases. 56 | fluent

Floor Two He had asked her out originally, been allured by her, because she seemed so multifaceted. She had an inherent eloquence, was lissome and gentle. But she was also sarcastic and, at times, a little aggressive. She was pretty and well put together. She wore her hair in the same style every day, swept up with a clip. She had a mole above her lip that Brian thought was a smudge of chocolate when he saw her for the first time. She was good at being a paralegal, and she was on her way to becoming a lawyer. But she wasn’t nearly as boring as the other ladies in the firm. He had wanted to know more about this woman, who appeared to be a series of contradictions. She said no at first. Not “no thank you,” not “sorry,” just “no.” She wouldn’t date someone she worked with. It was a rule she had set for herself a long time ago. Six months later, she quit with little explanation. Holding a box of supplies in her arms, she had craned her head around his office door. “Hey. You. You busy?” He had in fact, been quite busy that day. He still had some witness testimonials he needed to go over before tomorrow afternoon. But her hair was down, and she looked so hopeful. “Not really.” He closed his laptop. “I just quit, you know. Law lost its appeal. Get it? A little lawyer humor for you. I’m in serious need of a drink. I’ll tell you about it if you buy me a beer.” So he did. Their relationship was gradual. He remembered thinking that, at first, she seemed too comfortable and laid-back when they went out. Like, perhaps, she didn’t

see any real possibility in the evenings. But, eventually he convinced himself that this was just her nature. Floor Three Karen wasn’t the kind to bargain shop. As the oldest of four, she grew up coupon clipping and mending old clothes. As an adult, what she wanted was the lush life, and he loved that he could give it to her. She was prone to carrying ripped magazine pages in her purse with circles around “Kitchen Window Curtain Tiers” in tangerine” or “100% cotton London Luxury Turkish Fringe” bath towels. She refused to settle for the knock-offs. “Brian,” she would say, “Honey, you can’t go through life saying everything is ‘good enough.’ Some things have to be better than okay. Okay?” She would look at him until he nodded. “If you decide something is simply good enough, like discounted bath towels or a cheap rug, you regret it later when they start unraveling.” In stores Karen would march ahead, her fingers gripping the shopping-cart as if it would fly away if she let go. She would give an occasional glance back in his direction, just to make sure he was keeping up. He would roll his eyes and grin at her soldier stance, her determination. It was just a bath towel for goodness sake. But he liked that she was set in her ways — unapologetically determined. The day they bought the now tear-stained pillows, they had gone to two stores to find the right color. Karen had scavenged through the bins searching for the diamond among the drab. “Brian, could you pretend to be interested? Help me look.” He had shuffled cautiously to the bin and pulled out a lime one with Photo by Sterling “Rip” Smith.

yellow dots. Green, just like she wanted. She looked at him incredulously, with the same face she wore the time he suggested they eat her tiramisu on paper plates. When she found the right pillow, she raised it above her head in triumph, hugged it to her body and put it in the cart as if placing the last piece in a jigsaw puzzle. Floor Four Karen used to insist that they host dinner parties. She would take the day to prepare, moving around u

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the kitchen, a lilt to her step. Sometimes she told him to set the table, but usually she wanted no help at all. Brian knew she liked looking back on these successful evenings, knowing that she had constructed them just so. Now, at work, when Mark Flay said his wife would love to get together soon, Brian would nod and bite the inside of his lip until he felt the metallic taste of blood against his tongue. Karen didn’t cook or arrange flowers anymore. It was as if her mind had been infected with ink, imbued with newfound dejection. Brian didn’t know how to explain any of it to his coworkers, and he knew Karen wouldn’t want him to. Instead, over the last three months, he learned to tighten his stomach muscles, to channel his strength, and to push out a grin—one just wide enough to make the dimples in his cheeks appear. Floor Five At work, he struggled to avoid thoughts of Karen. While he attacked law briefs or witness statements, the images of her would barge through his mind. They came in instant blasts like currents of electric shock. He would be speaking to a client or on the phone with a judge when she would appear. Sometimes she was on her knees in the kitchen, hunched over and gasping, an uncooked chicken in her arms. Other times, he would see her sitting in the shower, her chin against her knees, her face contorted and dripping. There was never a discernible catalyst. That’s what Brian found most troubling. Without a problem, there was nothing he could fix. Floor Six In the beginning, Karen would grasp for explanations. Once, when he saw her crying while doing the dishes, she had laughed through the tears. “I’m so hormonal. PMS.” The waves started coming more frequently. “It’s silly,” she said to him once when he walked into their bedroom and found her folding laundry, teary-eyed. “What is?” He sat down next to her on the bed and began rolling two socks together. “This,” she said, holding a hand to her face and then showing him the wetness on her fingertips. “I don’t have a reason to be upset.” She shook her head and laughed, grabbing the socks away from him. “Just because they’re both white doesn’t mean they match.” Her moods were ineffable now. She didn’t try to hide 58 | fluent

them. The sadness didn’t come in sporadic ripples like it used to; it was chronic. She didn’t want to engage in a dialogue about it. She didn’t want him to ask. “Karen, sweetheart. Talk to me.” He felt like he said it almost every day. “There isn’t anything to talk to you about.” She was defensive. “I just feel blue. That’s all.” “I think you should see someone. Talk to someone. Here.” He handed her a card with ‘Dr. Tim Berkshire’ and a phone number scrawled in cursive. “What’s this?” She didn’t look up from the card. Her voice was quiet and monotone. “It’s — It’s a psychiatrist on Pennsylvania Avenue. One of the best. You might as well give this a shot.” She put her hand on his arm and squeezed. “I need you to let me do this my way. I’ll get over this. I’m in a funk. That’s all.” “A funk?” He moved closer to her. “Yes, Brian, a momentary period of ennui. I feel better though, okay? Look.” She pointed at her face and grinned. “It feels like more than ennui to me. Clare says — ” She put her hand up. “You and Clare don’t need to be discussing this.” “Karen, I’m at a loss. Please go see this guy.” He nodded to the card. “Fine. Fine. Okay? Fine.” She ran her fingers through her hair. “Enough.” Floor Seven. He knew that part of this was his fault. He was sure her sisters thought so too. It’s not like he hadn’t had a warning. He should have moved faster, done something when she began feeling her first twinges of sorrow. It was true Karen had told him about it once, when they first started dating. “It was back in college,” she explained, sipping on a gin and tonic. “You know how those years can be so tumultuous and bizarre.” Brian nodded. “I think I just got overwhelmed being on my own. I went home, took a little time, grew up a lot, and got back on track the following year.” She had mentioned her bout with depression casually, using the same tone from minutes before when

she told him she broke her arm ice-skating in the fifth grade. It had been such a brief conversation, but it resonated. After that, when she laughed or smiled, Brian could see, at times, a kind of vague melancholy in her eyes. But it was fleeting, and for the most part in the two years they dated and the first year and a half of their marriage, she had seemed carefree. Floor Eight. She didn’t like to take medicine. In all the time he knew her, she never once popped a pill. She used to tell Brian that all that Advil he took would mess with his system one day. It had been Clare, her oldest sister, who had finally convinced Karen to see a doctor and get a prescription. Karen listened to Clare, valued her words more than Brian’s. He wanted her to get a new job, convinced work was the solution. She didn’t have to be a paralegal. She could do anything. Maybe get a job in a home-goods store or give interior design a whirl. She would have loved that. “It will be a change of pace, some new scenery. I think it will give every day a bit more purpose.” This suggestion had caused both Karen and her sister to stare at him with scorn. Clare looked at him like he had suggested they all go skydiving. “She isn’t in a place where she can go to work.” “Maybe she’s in the place she’s in because she doesn’t go to work,” Brian said. Clare wasn’t listening. She handed him a pill bottle. “Let’s just start with these. We can talk about a job later on.” Brian hated it when Clare spoke about Karen as if she had gone deaf and dumb, like her sister’s condition had permanence. She and Karen were intellectual equals, matching each other in wit when speaking about a book they’d read or a political candidate. They used to get caught up in verbal spars. Now, Clare spoke to her sister the way she spoke to her five-yearold daughter, with a dulcet, maternal tone. That’s how she saw her, helpless and pathetic. That was not his wife. Floor Nine. Karen had ditched the medicine within a few weeks and Brian didn’t want to tell Clare. He wasn’t eager

for her to become involved all over again. Yes, the medication made her functional. True, she would get up and move about the apartment. But it wasn’t making her happy, just numb. Not passionate, as she had been once. “Stable,” Clare had said, “is all we can hope for.” But wasn’t that settling? That could not be the goal. Not feeling didn’t seem much better than feeling badly. Numb was not what Brian had married. With the pills, Karen was dazed, anesthetized. Floor Ten. In the beginning, when there were still both good days and bad days, Brian lived through the periods when his spouse seemed so breakable because he knew she’d be back to normal soon. One day, without warning, she’d be cooking curry with Van Morrison’s Tupelo Honey playing in the kitchen. When the bad days became frequent, and then continual, he still had a glint of hope with each new morning. The medicine took away this stab of hopefulness; it brought on the intensely boring days. While she was taking it, he knew she’d stay as she was, stable and deadened. No downs but no ups, either. Their relationship was tedious, lacking in conversation. She stopped taking her pills without a word. He had reached for the canister one day to call in her prescription, but the bottle was full. “You didn’t want to tell me you decided to stop?” He was holding the bottle up to her, four inches from her face. He shook it. She looked up from her book, her lips thin, her eyes challenging. “It was making my tongue feel thick.” She brought her eyes back to her magazine. He looked around at their apartment, wishing someone, maybe Clare, would materialize to do this part for him. “I didn’t like them for you either. We’ll find another drug.” He blinked at her, pleading. “It’s me Brian. Not we. And I won’t find another one.” He covered his eyes with his hand for a moment, then rubbed at his temple. “It’s going to take more time than that. You have to give it more time.” She shook her head. “It wasn’t working. Drop it.” u fluent | 59

She put the magazine on the couch and stood. She was so thin; her hair was unkempt and straggly. She had new creases by her eyes and forehead, and her lips were chapped. He reached out his arm, beseeching her to let him touch her shoulder, to hug her, something. She swerved out of his reach and walked shakily to the bathroom. She used to do that playfully. She would maneuver out of his grasp, laughing, then return to him with a sly smile. Now, sometimes he would reach for her hand or sit near her on the couch and her body would tighten, her shoulders tense, like a child about to receive a shot. Floor Eleven. There was a time when getting in the elevator meant he could breathe. He had made it through a day of hostile conversations and tedious paperwork. He had only his wife to focus on for the evening. A wife who used to tell him he worked too hard and came home too late. Now, she didn’t care when he arrived, and wanted no attention from him at all. Now, when she could no longer appreciate it, he came home early every evening, always in time for a dinner that would not be made. At work he would make himself believe he was exaggerating all of it in his mind. By the end of the day, he’d decide that everything was being blown out of proportion. Once he got home and saw her face, he’d feel better. Every night he turned the key and pushed the door open slowly, optimistic that some vestige of the old Karen had arrived that day, that she would have been re-possessed. He would enter to find her doing laundry or laughing on the phone with Clare. He was always wrong. As the evening would pass to night, his confidence in her would dissolve. He’d be left with the severe sensation of helplessness. It was the optimism that was so draining. It was making him sick to be hopeful. In court, his words were powerful. His speeches changed lives. He prided himself on his closing statements, which could change the viewpoint of a jury. They could alter a person’s state of mind. He could get them on his side. Why didn’t he have this power with his wife? Her resilience had been part of the reason he loved her. She clung fervently to her ideas. She would not let him take them or change them, and, even if sometimes he thought she was being just plain ridiculous, there was something captivating about a woman who wouldn’t surrender. 60 | fluent

Floor Twelve. At night, he would listen to her breathing; it was strained and erratic. He would lay awake, fretting because he couldn’t identify any source of the depression. It was just a part of her body, a toxic chemical pulsing through her veins. Sometimes, when he looked at her, he thought he could see it; a dark something scraping against her ribs. He thought he could hear it, a heavy kind of pounding. He knew he could feel it in himself, throbbing in his body, his ears, armpits and stomach. Part of the problem, Brian had decided a long time ago, was that Karen was too smart for the world. She had all this brain power that didn’t get invested anywhere. She understood too much. Floor Thirteen. Home. There wasn’t a thing he could do for her. Karen had made it clear that his company, his words, his love, would not cure her. Chinese dinners used to mean Karen gave Brian chopstick lessons or Brian taught his wife the art of rolling a Moo Shu pancake. The bag was growing heavy in his arms. Something had leaked through the bottom, and a brown line had formed down the center of his pearl white shirt. The scent was intoxicating. It smelled like ginger and garlic and relief. The elevator doors opened with a ding. The old Karen would have insisted on removing the stain on his shirt before they sat down to eat. Drawing in his breath, Brian reached for the “door close” button. He exhaled and his body went slack. He pressed his palm against the “emergency stop” button, leaned his back against the wall, and slid to the floor. He sat staring at his reflection in the brassy door—a tired man with a graying beard. He reached inside the bag for a napkin and placed it on his lap. Then, as the alarm blared, he reached for the chopsticks and a carton of coconut chicken. fluent

Rebecca Moore holds an English and Creative Writing major from the George Washington University. She currently lives in Washington, D.C. Her works have appeared or are forthcoming in Five Stop Story, Wooden Teeth and The Whistling Fire.

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Post-Individualism: A Tentative Manifesto BY ED ZAHNISER

“I quote others only the better to express myself.” — Michel Montaigne Someone who knows both Bill Trail and me only too well tells me my best poems are not original. What this person means is that my best work draws on conversations with, by or overheard from Bill Trail — as I call him in my (evidently) best poems. What I don’t tell this someone is that Bill’s real name — in the sense that what your best friends call you may as well be your real name — is Pete. I learned this from “a source close to Bill or Pete” even though this “source close to” lives in a different state, which sounds more original if you say that Bill and this source close to him live on opposite sides of a major river. Until he retired 10 years ago, Bill or Pete owned the local car garage. His garage was in town although across the proverbial railroad tracks. As a used-car user I used to see Bill unusually often. I became a Pepys to his Boswell. Not to wax philosophical — this is a manifesto —  but originality can be construed as a category of individuality. True, groups can be “original,” as in a troupe of talking mimes or a duo of tightrope walkers who forego rope or cable. Nevertheless, I will argue that we have moved beyond individualism to a personhood defined by one’s relationships. Collective originalities (talking mimes and tightrope-less walkers) may not simply question individuality as originality. They may also suggest the new collectivist reality, post-individualism — a redefinition of the person. Ask yourself, for example, “Who is Little Red Riding Hood?” 62 | fluent

In the Charles Perrault telling of this European folk tale, she is simply “a little country girl.” Without a name she comes down to us in history/herstory only as this “little country girl, the prettiest creature who was ever seen.” A grandmother who doted on her even more than did her mother — who is described as “excessively fond of her” — has a little red riding hood made for this girl. Unfortunately, from the girl’s point of view, the little red riding hood “suited the girl so extremely well that everybody called her Little Red Riding Hood.” This was before the Age of Self-Esteem, which may explain why this tale has fallen out of favor with post-Baby Boomer generations like Gen X and Y and the Millennials. Try to imagine, for example, this tale as a segment on the late “Mr. Rogers Neighborhood” TV show. Never happen. Even metaphorically, to have your grandmother eaten alive by a wolf may be too much like network TV news or the darker side of the Twitterverse. Not to mention that the wolf also gobbles up the girl. Besides, there is no chase scene. To summarize: We have a nameless girl known only by her very becoming little red riding hood in a story that contains no riding, only walking. It was Bill Trail who laid out for me the underlying ironies of this apparently tidy folk tale. This was on a Tuesday several years ago. Bill had just broken the news to me that my carburetor was and had been missing some parts. He told me he had no idea how it had worked even before it quit working. I think his explicating the folk tale was a distraction ploy. In the Charles Perreault telling of “Little Red Riding Hood,” the tale ends abruptly with: “And,

saying these words, this wicked wolf fell upon Little Red Riding Hood, and ate her all up.” Imagine! Already the wolf had eaten the doting grandmother so he could cross-dress (both speciesand gender-wise) to fool the nameless little girl. Compare that story to the radical shift, in my own lifetime, in the protocol of kid birthday parties. When I was a kid — I’m no Methuselah — the birthday girl or boy got the gifts, all the gifts. In the new protocol every kid at the party gets a goody bag. Driven by consumerism, the goody bag largesse assumed the proportions of an entire Halloween night’s haul. Consumerism and self-esteem make a perilous marriage.

Works Progress Administration poster by Kenneth Whitley, 1939.

Library of Congress

“Don’t you call me little red riding hood. My name is Leroy. I’ll stick this goody bag over your head until you suffocate.” As if to pre-figure the Age of Self-Esteem, the brothers Grimm didn’t end their version of the folk tale with the deaths of grandma and the little girl. They carried the story to a happy ending. This has been a popular ploy ever since a later editor of the Book of Job in the Hebrew Scriptures tacked on Job’s restoration. Job had lost everything — family, farm and livestock — and ended up sitting on a dung heap, scratching his boils with a potsherd. What that said about God, the later editor must’ve thought, needed serious PR work. After all, God had pronounced Job blameless. Could Job really be left hopeless on a dung heap? Just so with the brothers Grimm in their version, called “Red Cap.” After the wolf eats first grandma and then Red Cap, he takes a nap, still cross-dressed in grandma’s outfit. But a hunter has been hunting this very wolf and happens by grandma’s house. “He thought it strange that the old woman was snoring so loudly, so he decided to take a look.” The hunter cuts open the wolf ’s belly with scissors, liberating first Red Cap and then grandma. Then the hunter and Red Cap fill the wolf ’s belly with heavy stones. When the wolf wakes up and tries to flee, the stones cause him to fall down dead. No implicit moral dangles here as in the Perrault version, which ends kerplunk with the deaths of grandma and Little Red Riding Hood, begging explanation. Instead, the brothers Grimm offer premonitions of the Age of Self-Esteem. Poets often live in the tension between their person and the putative persona of their poem. Suppose you write a biography of George Carlin, and your readers assume that whatever you write about Carlin, you are really writing about yourself. Literary theory might theorize this as “All biography is autobiography.” Readers then attribute to you known Carlinisms like “Boomerangs are coming back.” This class of readerly mistake might make more sense for a biography of u fluent | 63

Socrates, because all we know about Socrates is what Plato wrote that Socrates said. Idealist philosophers assert that reality, or reality as we can know it, is fundamentally mental or mentally constructed. They probably think Socrates did not exist. (Was Socrates made of Play-doh®?) Other idealist philosophers scratch their heads over the phrase “fundamentally mental or mentally.…” Philosophy may have no consistent answers about individuality. Think of your own experience. You get a cold call from a salesperson — it’s dinnertime — even though you’re on the no-call list. The salesperson peppers the spiel with your legal first name. She or he has no inkling that you’ve been using your nickname — which is not ipso facto illegal — since middle school, which did not exist when you were that age. It was junior high school. But there’s no distracting this cold-caller’s pitch. As the syncopated staccato delivery of your full first name starts ricocheting relentlessly about your bony brain box, you begin to mind the intrusion less and less. Why? Because the message begins to frame itself as gossip about a third party, someone you do know after a fashion, your alter ego. This aura of gossip creates sufficient space for self-interest to flip over as a perverse partial other-interest. (Also, you fixed broccoli for dinner, out of dietary duty imposed by “The Dr. Oz Show,” and as long as you’re on the phone you’re not eating broccoli.) The late blind folksinger the Rev. Gary Davis exemplified having this auxiliary persona. As Davis sang on a street corner in New York City, a passerby remarked that he sounded a lot like the Rev. Gary Davis, and did he, Davis, know the singer? Davis, his ego long subdued by the interiority of spiritual practice, replied, “Yes, indeed. I know him well.” The passer-by smiled and passed by, missing an authentic autograph. When our younger son left home he abandoned his high school soccer jacket. It is insulated and warm. I probably paid for it, so now I wear it in cold weather. The name “Eric” adorns the front. I love it when a person I don’t know but who wants to be personable looks down at my chest after a few sentences and then begins peppering their conversation with calling me “Eric.” The extra persona brings relief for a poet: It’s 64 | fluent

one that others can agree may also be you but still need not be the voice in your poem. Video artist Ryan Trecartin and his creative partner, artist Lizzie Fitch, both age 33, have had their work in major museums and galleries in the United States, Canada and in Europe — France, Italy, Germany, Netherlands, Norway, Turkey. You can see their work on vimeo.com/trecartin. Trecartin has said he didn’t know museums even showed videos! Writing in “Art in America,” Sarah Lehrer-Graiwer says that, “There is nothing else in today’s art world even remotely like Ryan Trecartin’s videos. Copying and pasting a crazy collage of dialects and accents, the protagonists… deliver compu-pop poetry about their chronic over existence.” In The New Yorker Magazine, Calvin Thomkins describes their work as “breaking news about the future,” “a melodrama of solipsism,” “reality is peripheral” and, importantly, “consistently not boring.” But the duo’s co-creative work is doubtless the background to Trecartin’s view of the shift in personal identity: “…what identifies people is not necessarily their bodies anymore;” he says, “it’s all the relationships they maintain with others. You are your area, rather than you are yourself.” Think of your person as a repositionable Post-It within a definable page of your relationships with others. Trecartin tells Lehrer-Graiwer: “You can do so much more with someone else than you can alone. One person’s ideas become less important, and it’s the exchange that matters. I’m not interested in one-toone ratios, but in what happens when many people’s associations merge in unexpected combinations.” You might dismiss this as a simplistic extrapolation of the world-view of social media as a metaphor for identity. But it just might provide a loosening of the sense of self, the ego even, in favor of whatever community is formed by the “relationships [you] maintain with others.” This also implies a more ecologically informed community — not as in green or not-green, but in the sense that ecology studies how things cohere. Community coherence trumps individuality for its own sake. This might be our Declaration of Dependence and Interdependence as well as our insistent independence. This just might be post-individualism. fluent


Musing Around

“Fredo/Stripes” by Emily Vaughn, 9 x 12 inches. Ink, watercolor and gold leaf on paper. Fredo the Dachsund: Personal Muse to the artist. See more of the artist’s work at emilyvaughnfineart.com.

“How Well Do You Know Your Art History” Answers:

1–N, 2–H, 3–D, 4–O, 5–E, 6–G, 7–A, 8–J, 9–F, 10–S, 11–I, 12–M, 13–P, 14–L, 15–B, 16–R, 17–C, 18–Q, 19–K

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