ARTS | CULTURE | EVENTS
Summer 2015 | Vol 4 No 1
Bruce Fransen: Creating Visual Rhythm Peggy McKowen and the Art of Costuming Five Playwrights, Five Voices: Interviews by Sharon J. Anderson The Age of Missing Information: A Collaboration of Art & Poetry Showing Up: Shepherd Senior Exhibits Eyes, Ears & Soul Lucia Valentine Ed:Cetera: Emerson’s Method of Prose Composition and Yours Fiction: “Where Are We Now” Coda: Rolling Rembrandts
“Red Tide” by Bruce Fransen
Bruce Fransen: Creating Visual Rhythm
Peggy McKowen and the Art of Costuming
Five Playwrights, Five Voices: Interviews by Sharon J. Anderson
The Age of Missing Information: A Collaboration of Art & Poetry
Showing Up: Shepherd Senior Exhibits
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Letter From the Editor Building Tradition
Ears, Eyes & Soul Lucia Valentine
Fiction: Where We Are Now Zach Davis
Coda Rolling Rembrandts
Ed:Cetera Emersonâ€™s Method of Prose Composition and Yours
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C O N T R I B U T O R S 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.” She has received more than 40 industry awards, including a New York Film Festival Award (non-broadcast) for Short Documentary, three Gold Addys and two Silver Addys. 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.
Mark Muse says he is “an explorer first, a printmaker second and a photographer last who uses the camera to explore.” He has participated in numerous regional group exhibits, and two-person and solo exhibits. His work has been acquired for many personal and institutional collections, and has been published nationally and internationally. Muse lives near Shepherdstown
Todd Coyle is a journeyman musician 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.
AFTER 30+ YEARS IN THE CORPORATE WORLD,
Catherine Baldau is a writer, editor, and project manager. As the Publications Specialist for the Harpers Ferry Historical Association, she has edited and designed numerous books, including the award-winning
Judy Olsen, a Washington, DC, native residing in Shepherdstown, WV, has had a love affair with photography since her TEENS.
Zach Davis is an award-winning writer whose work has appeared in numerous publications in print and online, such as CARVE, THE FIRST LINE, BARTLEBY SNOPES, DRUNK MONKEYS and numerous volumes of the ANTHOLOGY OF APPALACHIAN WRITERS. He is the Fiction Editor of FLUENT MAGAZINE.
T H E
Sheila Kelly Vertino associate editor Kathryn Burns visual arts editor Zachary Davis Fiction Editor Ginny Fite Poetry Editor Todd Coyle Music Editor Sarah Soltow Proofreader
Sheila Vertino is returning to her roots as a freelance writer and journalist, after a career as a magazine editor-in-chief and book and research publisher. Based in Shepherdstown, she describes herself as a culturally curious word nerd.
Curt Mason, Mark Muse, Judy Olsen,
Ed Zahniser’s poems have appeared in 5 books, 5 chapbooks, 10 anthologies, and over 150 magazines and other venues. He is coeditor of IN GOOD COMPANY, an anthology of area poets celebrating Shepherdstown’s 250th anniversary. His recent poetry book is THOMAS SHEPHERD LOVES DANSKE
Amy Mathews Amos, Catherine Baldau, Paula Pennell, Ed Zahniser Contributing Photographers
Smith, Hali Taylor Submissions For information on submitting unsolicited fiction, nonfiction, plays and poetry, please see the website: Please submit events and arts news to email@example.com. Fluent Magazine is published quarterly and distributed via email. It is available online at www.fluent-magazine.com. www.fluent-magazine.com/subscribe
C O V E R
Mark Muse Photographs “Local Color” Art Exhibit & Sale CATF Identity Crisis
Keron Psillas, Carl Schultz, Sterling “Rip”
DANDRIDGE AND THE SHEPHERDSTOWN
A D V E R T I Z E R S
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Nancy McKeithen editor & publisher
“Red Tide,” of Box Elder wood, photographed by Mark Muse. In keeping with the sculptor’s philosophy of play and interactivity, this piece can be displayed in upright position (shown) or either of two horizontal positions. Says Fransen, “People should play with their art. Why should the artist have all the fun?”
Berkeley Art Works 8 The Old Opera House 9 Bistro 112 15 The Bridge Fine Art & Framing Gallery 15 Hobday Custom Homes, LLC 17
Summer 2015 | Vol 4 No 1
she rediscovered her passion and enjoys capturing the world of light and shadow that will never come again in exactly the same way.
HARPERS FERRY UNDER FIRE: A BORDER TOWN IN THE AMERICAN CIVIL WAR.
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All rights reserved. No portion of this publication may be duplicated or reprinted without permission from the publisher. © 2015 Fluent Magazine Jefferson County, WV is a Certified Arts Community.
Building Tradition My cousin Gayle says that when you do something two years in a row, it becomes tradition. So in this fourth summer edition of fluent, writing about the Contemporary American Theater Festival (catf) and the Shepherd Senior Exhibits is tradition. As is publishing Sharon Anderson’s interviews with this year’s five catf playwrights. Tradition, it seems, is woven through this issue, not by intent but by lovely coincidence. Lucia Valentine, an aspiring singer/songwriter and the daughter of well-known local musician Dominic Valentine, is carrying on a family tradition of music. Todd Coyle interviews her in “Ears, Eyes & Soul.” This issue, we’ve also broken tradition. The Poetry column is on summer hiatus and in its place is a feature that combines poetry and art. Poet Ed Zahniser and artist Tom Taylor have collaborated on works that speak: to social media, to memories, to family and to conservation. A hallmark shared by several artists in this issue is a kind of creative multi-tasking. Bruce Fransen is a sculptor/arborist/musician — he plays clarinet, saxophone and flute — who has been known to paint as well. Catherine Baldau writes about Fransen in “Creating Visual Rhythm.” Peggy McKowen is a producing director, costume designer and teacher. Sheila Vertino writes about McKowen in “The Art of Costuming.” And painter/designer Tom Taylor occasionally writes poetry, as you’ll see in “The Age of Missing Information: A Collaboration of Art & Poetry.” Whew.
“Sun and shade were playing off the copper siding,” says Judy Olsen. She took the photo in 2013 as the Marinoff Theater, CCA II was nearing completion.
Nancy McKeithen Editor & Publisher
Photo by Judy Olsen
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EARS, EYES & SOUL
Lucia Valentine: Inspired by a Tradition of Songwriting By Todd Coyle
FLUENT: Where did your love of music begin?
LUCIA VALENTINE: My earliest musical memories are
listening to music on car rides all tucked into my car seat. Apparently, I used to fight going to sleep and music was the only thing that would put me out. Most nights I still fall asleep listening to music. It’s hard to tell the exact moment when you become aware of how much you love music. It feels like music has always been a part of who I am. I guess it has a lot to do with my parents, who always had music playing or were playing music themselves. I am sure there are some genetics involved, too. I feel lucky that I received from the universe a talent for music, although at this point in my musical journey there are a lot of hours spent perfecting the craft, searching for the right lyrics, deciding what kind of songs to write, learning how to write with others—all those things as well as improving my ability to sing from a place that moves me and others—it all needs attention and takes time to develop. I want it to be as good as I can make it. FLUENT: Your dad is a well-known local musician.
What role did he play in your development as a player? LV: I have been watching my dad write songs and perform since I can remember. I guess it’s a huge combination of nature and nurture. He is always there guiding me, offering advice and weighing in on the material. I am sure I learned a great deal about writing songs by listening and watching him play a chorus over a thousand times, working out parts and the like. We enjoy working together. We have a creative shorthand with each other. He encourages me to keep going further and has surrounded me with many talented people 6 | fluent
who have become a part of the process. I have been teasing him to get me a record deal for years. When I first told him I wanted to pursue music, he told me to go write some songs and then we could talk about it. He is a great writer and talented producer, and I am proud of the work we have done together. Having a supportive home base means so much when you are pursuing a career in the arts. I am doubly blessed because my mother is also supportive and a music lover. FLUENT: Who are your influences and why?
LV: Besides my mother’s musical collection and my
dad’s musicianship, Alison Krauss was the first musical influence. My first concert was an Alison Krauss show. I began taking fiddle lessons after that performance. I loved that she sang and that she played an instrument; it made me eager to do the same. As I grew older and grew as an artist, my style became more rooted in soul and R&B. Greats like Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, the Supremes, Whitney Houston, and more contemporary soulful piano-pop melodies of singer-songwriters Alicia Keys and John Legend have influenced me creatively. FLUENT: What inspires you to write songs? What’s a
typical songwriting session like for you? LV: Love and life inspire me to write songs. My ultimate aim is to communicate my emotions and experiences truthfully to others in a way that strikes a common chord, allowing a sense of connection and understanding to develop between my listeners and me. Songwriting sessions aren’t always the same. Usually, I write from the piano. I will record a melody idea or a
vocal riff onto my phone. Then I send those to my dad and we choose which ones we will develop. Sometimes they might only need a bridge or some lyrics and other times they need a whole lot more or he will have an idea about how to develop the song in a different way. There are times when my dad may record a groove with a song progression and I will add a melody and a hook. We almost always flesh out the lyrics together. More recently, we have been writing with other writers, but the process is basically the same. There is the genesis of a song and everyone chimes in until it is done. It’s all a little new to me but I am enjoying the process. When I get the melody right things roll smoothly; sometimes they come easy to me and others I have to work at, but I always have experienced help when I need it. FLUENT: Where was your first gig? What was it like?
LV: My first gig was at the Entler hotel [in Shepherdstown]. My mom booked it for me and my dad accompanied me on guitar. It was a wake party for an older gentlemen. Everyone was very complimentary and that always feels good. FLUENT: Most musicians seem to be artistically
inclined. Any other artistic dreams for Lucia?
Photo by Piccadilly Posh
LV: Nope. Just music. Although someone once told me
living life right is an artful endeavor. I try to be a good person, take care of myself, challenge myself spiritually and mentally, and love those around me for who they are and what they stand for.
FLUENT: Tell us about your latest release. Who plays
on it? Where can folks listen to it, and buy it? LV: We released a sample of the work we have been doing over the last year. I am very proud of the work we have done. Everything you hear on the EP was done by myself, my dad and Scott Smith from the Wood and Stone Room in Baltimore, MD. My dad and Scott produced three of the tracks, and Scott and Todd Wright wrote and produced “Magic.” “Constant Battle” and “Weakness” are Valentine/Valentine compositions, and “Saying Goodbye” we wrote with Scott and his wife, Jen. Both are fabulous writers and people, part of the creative team that we have in place. Right now people can download the EP for free by going to my website, LuciaValentine.com, and scrolling down to the music tab; or they can go to Noisetrade.com and search for Lucia Valentine. We have had a tremendous response to the EP, including being nominated to the New & Notable section of Noisetrade. We had over u
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a thousand downloads in the first week. It’s a great way to build an audience. We are planning a full-length release later this year, probably around Christmas. FLUENT: Who’s in your band? Or who are your regular
LV: Depending on the show, I have a slew of great
musicians available to me. On small shows, it may just be me and my dad on guitar. Just recently, I performed at the Opera House with the Young Artists Series where we had a full horn section, dad on bass, Scott Smith on guitar, Jamie Leonard on drums, Justin Eller on sax, The YAS horns, and Donnie Walton on keys. Ha. Basically, the Johnny Neel backing band. I am fortunate to be able to play with some very talented and experienced musicians who are also just really good people. We have a rule: No A#%holes. FLUENT: What’s Lucia like to do when she’s not playing
music? Hobbies? What’s your perfect nonmusical day? LV: My perfect nonmusical day? Honestly, just hanging out with my friends and family. In my spare time my friends and I love to take day-trips to cities like DC and Baltimore and always enjoy going camping, hiking and seeking out other outdoor activities. I spend a lot of time with my two sisters, Josie and Grace. We’re always going off on adventures and testing our parents’ nerves…life’s a lot of fun. FLUENT: About future plans, where are you going and
what do you want to do? LV: My immediate plans are to keep writing, improve my craft, keep working toward the perfect song, striving to make my performances immediate and present, and keeping an open mind and heart to the world. I will also be studying music at Shepherd University in the fall. The next local show will be the Young Artist Series on August 1st at the Shepherdstown Opera House. It’s always great to hear what people have to say about the music, so spread the word! I encourage people to check out the EP and my website. fluent
LuciaValentine.com | firstname.lastname@example.org www.facebook.com/LuciaValentineMusic Twitter: @LuciaV_music | Instagram: luciamae
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July and August dates: Acrylic Painting - 7/7, 8/1 Drawing - 7/7, 8/15 Colored Pencils - 7/11, 8/14 Oil Painting - 7/14, 8/6 Watercolor - 7/18, 8/8 Pastels - 7/17, 8/8 Mixed Media Techniques - 7/14, 7/18, 8/6, 8/15 Times, descriptions on the website: www.berkeleyartswv.org
2015 EXHIBITS In our Gallery Now: “Photo15” Juried Exhibition - through July 12 Opening July 15: “Crit Group Works” open Wed-Thu 11-5, Fri 11-8, Sat 10-5, Sun 11-3
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Follow that rabbit to a delightful, entertaining world of childhood fantasies.
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July 23 & 24 at 7:30pm July 25 & 26 at 2:30pm
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www.OldOperaHouse.org 204 N. George St., Charles Town, WV
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by Catherine Baldau
Bruce Fransen: Creating Visual Rhythm
ruce Fransen has discovered a way to marry two diverse disciplines into a unique art form. An arborist for nearly four decades, Fransen understands the characteristics of tree species, their properties and behavior, and most importantly, he knows how to find the aesthetic treasures buried deep inside their grain. As a professional musician (playing woodwinds, coincidentally—saxophone, flute and clarinet), he is conscious of pattern, improvisation and resolution. His experience in both fields converges in Bruce Fransen Creations: exquisite wood vessels and sculptures that have what he likes to call a “visual rhythm.”
An Eco-artist Fransen uses only local, indigenous wood—all “scraps” from his tree business. In this he considers himself a “green artist.” He prefers the more intriguing woods: black walnut, cherry and maple. And their natural process of aging works to his advantage. “The black contrasting lines in the maple pieces are called spalting—the tree’s way of reacting to fungus,” Fransen explains. “Spalting occurs in most woods, but is perhaps easiest to produce in maple. Some artists even bury the log to encourage the process.” The red stain in the locally abundant box elder is actually a chemical reaction to protect itself from the 10 | fluent
ambrosia beetle. “The tree compartmentalizes the problem, walling off the invader and growing around it.” Almost magically, Fransen transforms these chunks of dead wood into delicate and evocative scenes of nature. Lapping waves, an oyster cluster, seashells, a curling leaf. Each piece originates at the woodpile, with perhaps the least graceful, most grating of instruments: the chain-saw.
“New Growth No. 8,” Spalted Maple, 11-1/2 x 11 x 5 in.
Bruce Fransen’s studio sits appropriately on a hilltop, surrounded by trees. Here, the woodcutter has taken a discarded tree limb and roughed out a preliminary shape. This first draft will be moved to the worktable where it will be carved, sanded— perhaps re-envisioned—and polished into an elegant vessel.
”Fransen’s pieces are rarely predetermined. Rather, they evolve. And there are no mistakes. If his hand slips or a piece of wood cracks, he simply re-envisions the finished product and changes direction. In musical terms, he improvises. Accidents have created some of his best pieces. “Sometimes the finished piece was never my intent,” he says, “but that’s what came out.” The sculpting can be a physical challenge. Holding the heavy piece of wood in one hand and manipulating the power tool in the other taxes the hand and arm muscles. Fransen’s passion usually pushes him through the pain, however, and hours can pass before he stops. “It’s a meditative process,” he says. “I usually zone out.” The open, flatter pieces typically take six to eight hours spread over a week to complete, while the larger pieces can take months. He’s always spinning several works-in-progress. “I may lose wind on one project, then get excited by another. I’ll leave a piece for a while, but always go back to it.” u Photo by Mark Muse
Inspiration from the Woodpile “If I find something that inspires me, I first use a chain-saw to cut out a rough shape. Then I take a smaller chain-saw with a carving bar attachment to do the interior cuts and plunging.” The work then moves to the sawdust-filled workshop, where drills and rotary tools dangle above a work table. Fransen practices a reduction carving method, much like sculpting marble. “Nothing is attached,” he says. “It is a singular piece that is shaped by burrs, angle grinders and mainly a 5-inch disc on a drill. Then 600-grit sandpaper to get the polished finish.” A commercial oil finish or varnish protects the final product. “Wood still moves and breathes, even when it’s dead. You need a moisture barrier polish to slow the expansion and contraction.
“This piece, ‘Square Dance,’ made of Cherry, started cracking seriously in two places on the edge,” explains Fransen. “I modified the cracks to make the edges look like they overlapped, thereby using the crack as a design element. There are always surprises in every sculpture. My job is to maximize the beautiful surprises and downplay or incorporate the unfortunate surprises in an artful manner.”
The Journey to the Trees Fransen grew up on Long Island, New York, just a mile from the sea. He spent his summer days on the beach, among the sea shapes that would later inspire his forms. Music, art and woodworking were an intrinsic part of his upbringing. His mother, Isabell, was an artist, often painting seascapes, and in her 60s taking up marble carving. Fransen’s father, Herb—a champion swimmer, musician and craftsman—built a house without a single power tool. When Herb was finishing their basement, 8-year-old Bruce whittled a leftover piece of cedar paneling into the shape of a gun. He even attached a trigger mechanism from a toy gun so he could emulate his hero at the time, Davy Crockett. And when he found an old clarinet in a closet, his father showed him where to put his fingers. As young Fransen “squeaked and squawked,” a love for music began.
Photo by Mark Muse
This close-up of a piece in Fransen’s private collection shows the “bird’s eye” grain in Slippery Elm. “Often burls have many small sprouts growing out of them,” says Fransen. “When you cut a slice of the burl perpendicular to the sprouts, the center of each sprout becomes the bird’s eye. The dark area at the edge of the piece is polished bark.”
This piece is titled “Box Elder Pedestal” and is also Box Elder. The red stain is natural and is a reaction to an invasion by the ambrosia beetle, which is probably a vector for a fungus. The tree reacts to this stress by chemically walling off the affected areas and creating the red stain. The stain comprises Phenols, which are inhospitable to life and thereby compartmentalizing the problem. Spalting (the black pencil line thickness often seen in distressed wood) is another example of trees chemically walling off problems. Photo by Mark Muse
After high school, Fransen studied art and architecture at the Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, VA, but soon made a bohemian move back to New York to pursue music. In South Huntington, Long Island, he played music, drove a cab and shared a two-bedroom apartment with eight other people. In 1972, a friend from college called with a better offer. “He asked me to join his band in Maryland where I could live for free for a year on a 330-arce farm. And so with $60 in my pocket, I moved to Maryland.” Of course, the band broke up within months. Out of a job, Fransen walked down the lane and knocked
on the farmer’s door. He helped the farmer build a milk house and then milked cows until he saved enough money to buy a Volkswagen. It was time to move again. Fransen was offered a job in a small tree-pruning business in Monrovia, MD. Here, his life took the turn that would eventually inspire his woodworking craft. Fransen’s home and workshop are now in Harpers Ferry, WV.
The Rhythm in the Wood As Fransen begins a piece, he is very conscious of the lines in the wood. “I think of the form as a series of lines that intersect. I may smooth them, but I u
“Colony,” Cherry, 16 x 11 x 7 inches.
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“Chocolate Splash,” Black Walnut with Cork Screw Willow Stone.
know they are there.” He plays with the undulations, working them and working them until they look convincing. Only intuitively does he know when it’s right and when it’s not. “The curves want to resolve,” he says, comparing the music theory of resolution to his sculpting. There is a starting point or chord. Suspense is created as the lines begin to curve away, but by the end they “resolve” back to the starting point. The end result is a visual, rather than audio, piece of rhythm. Just as important as line and resolution is touch. The smoothness is meant to be felt and played with. Instead of a “Do Not Touch” sign at his showings, Fransen’s sign reads “Touching is Mandatory.” “People should be able to play with the piece,” Fransen says. With a smile he adds, “Why should the artist have all the fun?” fluent
All photos not credited were provided by Bruce Fransen.
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Bruce Fransen Creations Over the Mountain Studio Tour, Summer Preview Shepherdstown, July 24–26 Summer Exhibit, The Bridge Gallery, July 11–Aug 3. Gallery Talk, The Bridge Gallery, July 19, 1–2 Gallery Open by appointment: 301-524-2440 or BruceFransen@gmail.com View online at www.brucefransencreations.com Where to hear Bruce’s music Bruce Fransen Quartet Jazz Night at Café Nola, Frederick, MD 7:30 to 10:30 pm (first Wednesday of each month) Bruce Fransen Trio Sunday Jazz Brunch at Beans in the Belfry, Brunswick, MD (every other month)
PHOTOS BY CHRIS WEISLER
A Fun Place to Dine Before or After the Show In the Heart of Historic Shepherdstown
304-876-8477 • 112 West German Street • www.bistro112.com
The Bridge Fine Art & Framing Gallery
Summer Exhibit, Jul 11–Aug 3: Bruce Fransen, Seth Hill, Jacob Stilley, Ed Praybee, Evan Boggess. Bruce Fransen Gallery Talk, Jul 19, 1–2 pm, with music by Bruce Fransen & Paul Chauvette.
8566 Shepherdstown Pike, Shepherdstown WV 25443 • 304.876.2300 Fine Art, Ceramics, Photography & Custom Framing
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click on any cover to read the issue. 16 | fluent
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Peggy McKowen and the Art of Costuming
by sheila kelly vertino | photographs by judy olsen
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skirt in catf’s 2013 production of “Scott and Hem in the Garden of Allah,” which McKowen designed. In McKowen’s hands, the choice of fabric is almost limitless. She is known for her use of unusual materials, once designing a suit of armor out of bamboo because she liked the way the vertical lines of the wood
Costume designers imply a character’s strength by using vertical lines, like those in Scott’s (actor Joey Collins’) trousers. The curvy, figure-hugging lines of Ms. Montaigne’s (actor Angela Pierce’s) skirt and sweater clearly send a sensual message. Costume designs by Peggy McKowen, “Scott and Hem in the Garden of Allah,” CATF 2013 Season. Photo by Seth Freeman
eeper and deeper she goes with each reading. Might take 10 or even 20 times reading a play before Peggy McKowen, Associate Producing Director for catf, feels that she intimately understands all of the characters and the time and place in which they exist. In her role as costume designer, McKowen uses “the elements of design and evocative qualities to create something about the character in the story.” A well-designed costume allows the actors to portray their characters authentically, both emotionally and physically. To fully understand and capture the era a play is set in, McKowen performs weeks of research, both online and print. “I’m looking for images of real people, in the real environment. For example, ‘computer workers in an actual office back in the 1970s.’ ” Soon her sketches start to flow, eventually revealing a costume board for each character. She uses line to communicate: Should a costume fit closely or loosely, be smooth and flowing, sharp and jagged, or perhaps exaggerate the body in some way? Horizontal lines can give a sense of passivity, McKowen explains, while vertical lines come across as strong. And curvy lines? Well, to understand just how sensual those lines can be, think back to Ms. Montaigne’s figure-hugging
communicated strength. And although McKowen is known for her ability to draw complex, subtle moods from neutral color palettes, she once designed a production of “Mother Courage” all in tones of red! For the 2015 catf Season, McKowen is designing the costumes for “Everything You Touch,” a dark comedy by Sheila Callaghan. Set in the fashion industry of the 1970s, the play follows Victor, a ruthless fashion designer; Esme, his glamorous lover and muse; and Louella, a Midwestern outsider. The story shifts back and forth in time and follows the journey of Jess as she travels through the world of fashion. McKowen has decided to clothe the play’s “real” characters in color “to communicate their reality” and the fashion models in neutrals “to communicate their other-worldliness,” she notes. The models’ outfits will be runway-bizarre, 1970’s style. McKowen plans to build one of the skirts with a train made of plastic ring carriers, in keeping with the character Victor’s esthetic. “He kind of gathered trash and created elegant, beautiful stuff,” she says. “This has to be a very, very long train that this model wraps herself in. Once we figure out how to do it, we are going to ask for volunteers u
Above right, for a “runway bizarre” look in this season’s “Everything You Touch,” McKowen is combining non-traditional materials with fabrics, creating costumes out of plastics and other throw-away items. fluent | 19
to come in and sit. It’s going to take days to put together!” For other costumes, “I’m going to have to sculpt them on [the actors’] bodies. I’ll figure out by draping it to see how it moves, and then make alterations.” For costumes as unusual as this, McKowen will also In the CATF costume shop, a team works non-stop, creating costumes for all five plays. Pictured clockwise from top right: Lena, David, Jason, Stephanie. Not shown: Birdie, Lydia. Dressers Katharine, Tess and Jenny will join the team at rehearsals.
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have to coach the actors in how to wear them and become comfortable moving on the stage. Channeling the fashion industry in the 1970s excites McKowen. “What I like best is when I can take a period and sort of mix it with other things. Eve Adamson, one of McKowen’s artistic mentors, used to say, “I want it to look ‘Then and Now.’ ”
Fringe made from magazine pages will create a unique costume detail.
“That’s challenging, and sort of fun. I like to mix things up. I’m not very excited when I’m stuck in a period. Even in Scott and Hem, I tried to be as honest with the period as I could be, but I still took some liberties here and there,” McKowen admits with a sly smile. The final challenge of the costume design phase is knowing when to stop. McKowen takes her cue from another mentor, Dr. Paul Rhinehardt, former professor from the University of Texas, who encouraged her to cultivate a more minimalist style — to design using the fewest number of items, each deeply rich in meaning.
From Clarity of Concept to Organization For such a complex process, it is perhaps surprising to learn that much of the design process is done longdistance. McKowen and the producer communicate via email, telephone and Google Hangout. Spreadsheets are created to catalog full costume items for each character, scene by scene. The spreadsheets include information about what each character wears in each scene, how long they have to change between each scene and where on-stage that change needs to happen. Budgets, build lists and construction calendars are also pieces in the vast amount of paperwork.
Build, Buy or Pull After several weeks, the design moves into the build, buy or pull stage. If possible, McKowen will find a perfect item to pull from CATF’s wardrobe closet or borrow from another theater company. But more often than not, to get exactly the right look, items will have to be bought or built, first from a muslin mockup and then custom fitted to the actor. A costume shop of eight people from all over comes to Shepherdstown each summer to build the show and then stay through the season. “I try to get the costume shop supervisor involved as early as I can. It’s going to be up to her to get this show through the shop and ready for dress rehearsal!” And at last, come July, the research, sketches and spreadsheets will have been transformed into costumes, and the worlds created by the designers will come alive in each theater. fluent
To explore the role of costume and set designers, attend catf in Context: catf Designers, a roundtable discussion with the designers behind the many elements of the work seen onstage. Saturday, July 11, 10 am, CCA II Room G03. This is a free event, but you must register for it on the ticket order form. fluent | 21
Mark Muse – Photographs Fine Art Photography and Printmaking •
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[\ firstname.lastname@example.org markmusephotographs.com
“Local Color”: An Exhibition of Paintings, Prints & Turned Wood by Susan Carney – Rhonda Smith – Neil Super Shepherdstown Community Club, July 30 – August 2
“Local Color”: An Exhibition of Paintings, Prints & Turned Wood
THU / FRI 10 AM–8 PM, SAT 9 AM–9 PM, SUN 9 AM–5 PM • OPENING RECEPTION SAT, AUG 1, 5 PM–9 PM 22 | fluent
2015 World Builders by Johnna Adams • Everything You Touch by Sheila Callaghan • On Clover Road by Steven Dietz • WE ARE PUSSY RIOT by Barbara Hammond The Full Catastrophe by Michael Weller 2014 The Ashes Under Gait City by Christina Anderson • One Night by Charles Fuller • Uncanny Valley by Thomas Gibbons North of the Boulevard by Bruce Graham • Dead and Breathing by Chisa Hutchinson 2013 A Discourse on the Wonders of the Invisbile World by Liz Duffy Adams Modern Terrorism, or They Who Want to Kill Us and How We Learn to Love Them by Jon Kern • H2O by Jane Martin • Heartless by Sam Shepard • Scott and Hem in the Garden of Allah by Mark St. Germain 2012 Gidion’s Knot by Johnna Adams • The Exceptionals by Bob Clyman • In a Forest, Dark and Deep by Neil LaBute • Captors by Evan M. Wiener • Barcelona by Bess Wohl 2011 From Prague by Kyle Bradstreet • Race by David Mamet • Ages of the Moon by Sam Shepard • We Are Here by Tracy Thorne
The Insurgents by Lucy Thurber
2010 Lidless by Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig • White People by J.T.
Rogers • The Eelwax Jesus 3-D
Pop Music Show by Max Baker & Lee Sellars • Inana by Michele
Lowe • Breadcrumbs by Jennifer
Michael Weller • Farragut North by Beau
2009 Yankee Tavern by Steven Dietz • Fifty Words by
Willimon • Dear Sara Jane by Victor Lodato The History of
Light by Eisa Davis 2008 A View
of the Harbor by Richard Dresser • The Overwhelming by J.T.
Rogers • WRECKS by Neil LaBute
Pig Farm by Greg Kotis • Stick Fly by Lydia R. Diamond 2007
1001 by Jason Grote • Lonesome
Hollow by Lee Blessing • The Pursuit of Happiness by Richard
Dresser • My Name is Rachel
Corrie by Rachel Corrie 2006 Sex, Death and the Beach
Baby by Kim
Merrill • Mr.
by Noah Haidle
2005 The God
of Hell by Sam
Shepard • Sonia Flew by
American Tet by Lydia
Stryk • Father
Joy by Sheri Wilner
2004 Flag Day
Blessing • Rounding
Third by Richard Dresser
by Stuart Flack • The Rose of
Corazon by Keith
Glover 2003 Whores by Lee
Blessing • The
Last Schwartz by Deborah
Bright Ideas by Eric Coble
Wilder by Erin Cressida Wilson 2002 Thief River by Lee Blessing • Silence of God by Catherine Filloux • The Late Henry Moss by Sam Shepard • Orange Flower Water by Craig Wright 2001 Tape by Stephen Belber • The Ecstasy of Saint Theresa by John Olive • The Occupation by Harry Newman • The Pavilion by Craig Wright
2000 Hunger by Sheri Wilner • Mary and Myra by Catherine Filloux • Miss Golden Dreams, A Play Cycle by Joyce Carol Oates • Something in the Air by Richard Dresser
1999 Compleat Female Stage Beauty by Jeffrey Hatcher • Coyote on a Fence by Bruce Graham • Tatjana in Color by Julia Jordan • The Water Children by
Wendy MacLeod 1998 BAFO by Tom Strelich • Carry the Tiger to the Mountain by Cherylene Lee • Gun-Shy by Richard Dresser • Interesting Times by Preston Foerder
1997 Below the Belt by Richard Dresser • Demonology by Kelly Stuart • Lighting Up the Two Year Old by Benjie Aerenson 1996 Bad Girls by Joyce
Carol Oates • Octopus by Jon Klein • The Nina Variations by Steven Dietz • The Nose by Elizabeth Egloff • Tough Choices for the New Century by Jane Anderson
1995 Betty the Yeti by Jon Klein • Maggie’s Riff by Jon Lipsky • Psyche Was Here by Lynn Martin • Voir Dire by Joe Sutton 1994 Forgiving Typhoid Mary by Mark St. Germain • Shooting Simone by Lynne Kaufman • Spike Heels by Theresa Rebeck • What are Tuesdays Like? by Victor Bumbalo 1993 A Contemporary Masque by Stephen Bennet • Alabama Rain by Heather McCutchen • Black by Joyce Carol Oates • Dream House by Darrah Cloud 1992 Static by Ben Siegler • Still Waters by Lynn Martin • The Baby Dance by Jane Anderson • The Swan by Elizabeth Egloff 1991 Accelerando by Lisa Loomer • Welcome to the Moon by John Patrick Shanley
1 1 0 P L AYS P R O D U C E D / 4 0 W O R L D P R E M I E R E S / 1 0 C O M M I S S I O N S
contemporaryamericantheaterfestival AT SHEPHERD UNIVERSITY
THE 25TH SEASON: JULY 10 – AUGUST 2, 2015 CATF.ORG 800/999-2283
INSIDE CATF: SEASON 25
EVERYTHING YOU TOUCH CATF: In the interest of full disclosure, I don’t know a
thing about fashion. A client once asked me if my shoes were Ferragamos. I replied, “No, they’re mine.” Would you recognize a pair of Ferragamos? SHEILA CALLAGHAN: No. I’m not a fashion maven. I’m pretty ignorant when it comes to labels. I know names, and I kind of stalk people on the Internet who have a fashion fetish. I’m sort of a voyeur of people who appreciate such things, but I am not an active appreciator myself. I don’t own one designer thing.
CATF: The following is from the opening to “Every-
Five Playwrights Five Voices By Sharon J. Anderson
thing You Touch.” Victor, a ruthless fashion designer, is addressing a model: “When the model spits with rage, I want to feel that spittle. I want to smell your sweat. I want to taste your bile. I want my blood to boil. And I want to feel too overwhelmed after the experience to speak. This, to me, is the power of fashion.” Is this the power of fashion? SC: No, it’s the power of art. Throughout the play, Victor sees what he does as a form of expression and a way of coping with a pretty devastating past rather than actually building clothes for people to put on their bodies. The play isn’t really about fashion even though fashion is the vehicle through which the play is communicated. It’s about family and art and what we compromise with one and what we sacrifice with the other. CATF: TimeOut New York said that “Everything You Touch”
has a “contagious nausea about women’s self-hatred.” SC: Through the character of Jess, we are coping with our own self-loathing. Jess’s self-loathing is partially brought about by societal expectations of what makes an acceptable female and partially because of her upbringing at the hands of a fairly toxic parent who was suffering.
Researched, interviewed and edited by Sharon J. Anderson, CATF Trustee/Professional Story Listener and Creative Director. sharonjanderson.com Interviews reprinted with permission from catf. Graphics provided by catf. 24 | fluent
CATF: Your play has been described as “the struggle to
find an identity that is more than skin deep.” Have you found your identify? SC: I find one every day. Part of my job is to inhabit
the psychic space of different individuals in order to accurately communicate them. I feel like if I’m not
because we are more used to seeing it, I think. We find the penis shocking because we still think of it as a weapon. We have the issues of rape in this country. It can be a dangerous thing. It’s easier to objectify a female body because it’s not necessarily associated with violence. CATF: You have said that the theater that most people
“Everything You Touch” playwright Sheila Callaghan
doing that with a whole heart and clear eyes, then I’m not necessarily doing my job right. CATF: Anna Wintour, the editor of Vogue, said, “The
notion that a contemporary woman must look mannish in order to be taken seriously as a seeker of power is frankly dismaying. This is America, not Saudi Arabia.” SC: That last little bit is a little irritating, but I do think that there’s been a shift in women’s fashion regarding how people view power and femininity. Look at somebody like Hillary Clinton who continues to “masculate” herself because she wants to be either unthreatening or of the same echelon as her male counterparts. That was something in the 80s and 90s for women who wanted positions of power. Nowadays, people like Marissa Mayer, the CEO of Yahoo, and other women CEOs wear designer clothes. They tend to bring in their femininity and are not necessarily fearful of being perceived as a threat because in the past, female sexuality and female power have been perceived as threatening. But it’s changing. Mayer is very feminine and has been a very powerful model for women who are also mothers in the workplace. CATF: The designer Tom Ford has said: “I’m an equal
opportunity objectifier. I’m just as happy to objectify men. The thing is, you can’t show male nudity in our culture in the way you can show female nudity. We’re very comfortable as a culture exploiting women, but not men. But I don’t think of it as exploitation either way.” SC: It’s true. On my Showtime show, “Shameless,” we show male and female genitalia. It’s just rarer than breasts. We are more comfortable with female nudity
like, including you, “is this thoughtful, plodding, plot and plod build of character and story, until you’re full of the play.” SC: Oh, I love plays like this, but I also think a lot of people love it to the exclusion of other types of plays. As a theater-going culture, we’re not comfortable with “outside-the-box” storytelling. We’re just not accustomed to seeing it. I like to be comfortable and amazed in a theater, but I also like to be uncomfortable and provoked. There’s less of a tolerance in our culture for that. But the more diverse and different the plays are, the more vibrant the field is. CATF: You’ve said that you “like the feeling of having
the play race out in front of you and you have to catch it.” That you like “speedy, flip-flop theater.” SC: I do, and I like writing it, too. u
CATF: One collaborator said that you have “one foot
in the literary theater and the other in the avant-garde world. It’s really her love of both that makes her work so strong.” SC: It also makes it a challenge. I tend to get mixed reviews. People like to walk out of the theater knowing exactly why they were there, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I prefer spending two hours in a theater being rattled and the next day asking myself, “What were my limitations in receiving the work?” rather than “What were the limitations in the work itself?” A work never exists in one acceptable realm. I like to walk away wondering about what the fuck I just saw and feeling a little angry about it. But sometimes I want to feel like I just ate a giant turkey dinner and all I have to do is just sit there and digest it and it’s gone out of my body the next day. Most mainstream theatergoers want the turkey dinner rather than the aggravation because there’s enough aggravation in people’s lives. CATF: The poet John Ashbery said, “Most reckless
things are beautiful in some way, and recklessness is what makes experimental art beautiful, just as religions are beautiful because of the strong possibilities they are founded on nothing.” SC: To sit down and write art is a reckless impulse. You are trying to capture something unspoken, something completely inarticulate-able; and even when you’ve done it, it’s probably still incomprehensible in some way. There’s that impulse that you can’t necessarily contain with words or song or poetry or visuals, but you keep trying and trying and trying. That struggle is something that continually feels like trying to cope with a life force versus the desire to extinguish oneself to avoid feelings. That is something that feels human versus something that reaffirms what we already believe in the world that can pacify us, which is also valid. Religion is a valid way to cope with pain. CATF: Anne Sexton said, “One can’t build picket
fences to keep nightmares out.” There was a white picket fence around the house in “The United States of Tara” — a show you wrote for…. SC: I think people build white picket fences to keep their hearts protected.
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CATF: Gertrude Stein said, “Is it worse to be scared
than to be bored, that is the question.”
SC: I would 100 percent rather be scared than bored,
but then again you have to be held accountable for what you do when you are scared. There’s an irrationality that comes with a fight or flight response. Boredom allows you a little distance and a soft envelope within which you can make logical and measured choices. CATF: You’ve said, “I’m drawn to anything where
language comes alive. I don’t want language to feel strenuous. I like it to feel kind of magical with juxtapositions you wouldn’t expect popping out. Language works differently in space, much differently than it works on the page.” What do you mean by that? SC: When you are reading poetry, you can have your own perception of it. You can absorb it, you can think about it, you can digest it, masticate it. You can go away from it, go back to it, read it over and over and over again. When you’re in a theater, you really can’t come and go. It’s just you and me. It almost has the effect of fireworks. The words are exploding in your face and then they are gone. I like fireworks.
CATF: You say that you write plays because, “I must.
A yawping, bottomless cavern in my soul compels me thusly” and “because I am waiting for someone to tell me to stop.” SC: I was being cheeky when I said that first part. The second part is what is really true — nobody has told me to stop. I don’t know what else to do. I’ve got all this bottomless shit in my head. I started teaching yoga recently to get out all that extra energy. I write to get out all the trauma. CATF: You recently tweeted, “Please make sure my
tombstone reads, “Brilliant but cancelled.” SC: My impulse is to die before I fizzle. I know that sounds really dark, but maybe the brighter way of looking at that is that I hope I’m never irrelevant. A common art fear is that you stop understanding what makes people interested. I’d rather be brilliant but cancelled than mundane and long running.
CATF: Is there one question I could ask you that you
would never answer? SC: “Do you believe in God?”
CATF: Is there one question you’re dying for someone
to ask you?
SC: “How do you remain so stunning?” CATF: What’s unique about producing a play with the
Contemporary American Theater Festival? SC: We have access to Shepherd University, so we have many more resources at the ready. I’ve never done a show in rep before, so it’s interesting to create this kind of theater community. They’ve also been very generous with approaching artists with whom I might want to work.
CATF: The playright Barbara Hammond ended a piece
she wrote, entitled “How to Stay a New York Playwright,” with this: “Now close your eyes again, envision a stage, and watch someone walk on from stage left. Get that pencil and write down what she says.” My last question to you: Close your eyes, someone is walking on from stage left. What is that person saying? SC: “Oh fuck, wrong door!”
ON CLOVER ROAD “On Clover Road” playwright Steven Dietz. CATF: After I finished reading “On Clover Road,” I
wanted to ask you this question: “Do you like the smell of napalm in the morning?” STEVEN DIETZ: One thing theater can do is truly surprise us; truly shock us in a way that might be unique to this art form and is different from where we’ve come now to expect our shocks: film or TV or, to a lesser extent, the pages of a book from time to time. I have never, until “On Clover Road,” attempted to write a play in a classic single-set, five-character thriller format. It’s really damn hard.
CATF: How would you describe the world of “On
Clover Road?” SD: It’s a dangerous, claustrophobic world and an invented, artificial world in the sense that someone is trapped in a very real place and for very real reasons. By “artificial,” I mean the world that is being invented by the pressures the characters put on each other. In some ways, we’re in a bit of a purgatory that is the status quo, and it is dangerous and full of portent.
Plays like this are built to make members of the audience certain they know what is going to happen and instead something wholly different happens. CATF: How does writing a thriller differ from writing
other types of plays? Are there certain thriller conventions? SD: Stage thrillers that I admire, such as “Wait Until Dark,” “Dial M for Murder,” “Veronica’s Room,” and “Deathtrap,” do have conventions. These conventions create the box, then the box frames the moment in time and in a location, and then it does what time and location do in all of our plays: It puts pressure on the characters.What I attempted to do in “On Clover Road” is give the story certain parameters of a thriller. Once I had a working architecture, I then contrived to write a drama that has the emotional resonance of a woman trying to reunite with her daughter. Along the way, I try to deliver some thrills. u fluent | 27
CATF: Is this the mother’s play or the daughter’s play?
SD: I respectfully will not answer that question. That
answer wouldn’t help me if I were directing the play or revising the play. I would say that it interests me when people share a story but they are in different plays. The mother is in a reunion play. I’ve tried to put the daughter not in a reunion play. The cult deprogrammer has a certain agenda. I don’t want to privilege one character’s agenda over another. CATF: Here’s a quote from the play: “People think
children are made of rubber. That they can bounce back from anything. But children are made of glass. Children shatter.” SD: My two kids — both 15 — are slightly younger than the woman who appears in this play, so certainly some of this is driven by watching, in particular, my daughter come of age. I’m delighted to say that this play has nothing to do with the specifics of her life or mine. However, I know the lengths I would go to protect my daughter if she were in danger — that notion is in this play. Until the moment she was born, I never understood anger. In the past, I would mitigate anger, but as a parent my anger becomes very purposeful when I imagine a child of mine in danger. That anger shows up in “On Clover Road” more as obsession. This is a woman who hasn’t seen her daughter in four years and that thought alone drives her obsession. It may be irrational obsession, but those are the lengths I would go to to get my daughter back. I don’t walk around thinking my kids are rubber and can bounce back from anything. I walk around hoping I can continue to do those small things that keep the world from shattering them.
CATF: Is this play about religion or family?
SD: The cult is the driving force of the play, but it
is not what the play is about. It’s the circumstance of the play. This girl has been in the cult and we are witnessing a deprogramming in a motel room. But fundamentally, it’s about trying to put a family back together. As it turns out, the mother is not the only person in this play trying to put a family back together. CATF: In Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood and the
Prison of Belief, Lawrence Wright says, “Religion is always an irrational enterprise, no matter how 28 | fluent
ennobling it may be to the human spirit.” Is religion always an irrational enterprise? SD: It’s not my place to say that about anybody’s religion. I would say that when a religion manifests itself in a way that is negative to its adherents, then it deserves criticism. To the mother in “On Clover Road,” the thing that has taken her daughter away from her is absolutely irrational. But this play became a better play when the characters became more complex. There are no straight-up good characters and no straight-up bad cult characters. CATF: Yes, but there are restless and edgy characters…. SD: I like to think of myself as a centered and rational
person, but I also believe as a dramatist, what I have to do and what I get to do is write at the edge of the characters. I don’t want to live at the very edge of my life. I want to live in the center of my life. I don’t want my characters to live in the center of their lives. I want them on the edge.
CATF: You have said that, “The American theater needs
fewer chestnuts and more grenades.”
SD: The chestnuts are basically the “tried and the true”
plays; the plays that we’re all completely familiar with or the plays that cost us very little to go to. I have some sweet little love story plays that I’m completely proud of, but they are not the plays that Ed Herendeen will produce. Herendeen will wait for me to write “On Clover Road” — something’s that going to stir up trouble. When I wrote that essay in American Theater (where you found the quote in your question), all I saw around me was familiar not so much in terms of narrative, but in terms of the traditional white male canon. I think we’ve made some progress. I hope the playwrights in the generation after me just blow me out of the water. I hope that they are more rigorous and more adventuresome than I’ve been. I am hoping to still write plays with that kind of fire. CATF: You have said that you have “chosen a profes-
sion in which it is your mandate to be an explorer, not a curator of society.” You’ve also said, “The driving force in my plays is to get people interested in the world.” SD: Fundamentally, this moment hasn’t been written. No one has lived this very day. There is something radical about the present moment. Admittedly, the theater is not a headline art form. It can’t share its artistry as quickly as Twitter or Facebook, but I do think one of the successes of theater over the last 20 years is how it is responding — sometimes quickly — to popular public events and making you talk about them. I would not be alone among writers who express frustration when audiences or theaters say, “Oh, we already did an Iraq play” or “We already did an AIDS play” or “We already did our play about racism.” That’s ridiculously small-minded. All of these topics are an ongoing conversation in the culture and should be an ongoing conversation in the theater. I still definitely think of that as my mantra. CATF: You’ve said, “playwriting chose me….”
SD: I had no theater in my upbringing. I didn’t see a
play until I was in high school. In the early 80s, I was directing plays at The Playwrights’ Center in Minneapolis when August Wilson, Jon Klein, Barbara Field, Lee Blessing, and other terrific playwrights were there. It’s purely happenstance that I was working with their plays during those particular years. By osmosis, I found an avenue for my writing.
I wish I could give my terrific MFA grad students the naiveté I had early in my career because my students understand the art form and the business which means they also understand how ridiculously hard it is to get your plays produced. Part of my great good fortune is that I had no idea how you got plays done, so I didn’t think it was impossible. CATF: You have said that theater audiences should “De-
mand fun. Demand fury. Getting your money’s worth is not enough. We must get our heart and mind’s worth.” SD: I don’t want to have a benign experience when I go to the theater. I want to laugh my ass off or I want to be shocked and surprised or I want to be infuriated. There is enough entertainment in the culture that is designed to placate me. The plays I love are the ones in which I’m trapped in a room and something happens that disrupts my habitual life. If I am going to share two hours of my life with the actor on stage who is sharing the exact same two hours of their life with me, the situation is already charged. The audience in me and the playwright in me want to take that charge and not let it dissipate. Think about how you feel when the houselights dim and the theater goes dark. Think about that amazingly beautiful moment, that moment of engagement when you say to yourself, “Oh my God, here we go!” I try to build my plays from that moment. CATF: What is unique about producing a play at the Con-
temporary American Theater Festival?
SD: It’s a hot house. Ed Herendeen is certainly unique.
They broke the mold on that guy in terms of what he’s built. I also love that it’s a repertory Festival — this creates that hot-house atmosphere that produces exciting work in actors. That it is outside the hub of a big city in a retreat setting is unique. I can fully immerse myself in my plays in a dynamic way that I can’t in other settings. CATF: The playright Barbara Hammond ended a piece
she wrote, entitled “How to Stay a New York Playwright,” with this: “Now close your eyes again, envision a stage, and watch someone walk on from stage left. Get that pencil and write down what she says.” My last question to you: Close your eyes, someone is walking on from stage left. What is that person saying? SD: That person is asking the audience, “Can you tell me who I am?” u fluent | 29
WORLD BUILDERS CATF: Where did you get the idea for “World Builders?”
JOHNNA ADAMS: I have a friend with schizoid
personality disorder, and I have a bipolar disorder as do several members of my mother’s family. I think every writer has a touch of the kind of disorder that the two main characters in “World Builders” — Whitney and Max — have. I became very obsessed with this idea of people who can create their own imaginative worlds. CATF: You have said that you write about what you’re
learning rather than about what you know. What did you learn from writing, “World Builders?” JA: I had the opportunity to explore schizoid personality disorder. The questions in this play are: “Is mental illness really so bad?” “At what point is mental illness productive or even superior to normal interactions in the world?” “Who’s allowed to make that judgment call?” “Is the patient allowed to say, ‘I’m not suffering. I’m kind of enjoying my mental illness’?” At what point does it become obviously unhealthy, insane behavior? There’s some validity to that type of argument. My characters are exploring that concept. They don’t mind their mental illnesses. Learning to live with something like a bipolar disorder means looking for the positive. I know that I wouldn’t have my playwriting career without my illness, so I try to embrace it as much as I can. At the same time, I would probably have done some better things in my life if I didn’t have it. Often, it’s a negotiation. The play is a dramatization of that, of me exploring that idea. CATF: Do you identify with one character over the
other — Whitney or Max? JA: Probably Whitney. Max is a lot more regimented and trapped by his disorder. Whitney is too, but not to the same extent. CATF: The two worlds these characters build could not
be more different. Whitney’s is vast and complex and Max’s is small and dark. JA: This play explores the process of poetry in the realms of the vast and the miniature. Gaston Bachelard is a literary critic who wrote Poetics of 30 | fluent
“World Builders” playwright Johnna Adams.
Reverie: Childhood, Language, and the Cosmos. This work constantly inspires my writing because it attempts to create a poetics and a logic for essentially a reverie state…everything from the kind of reverie you experience when you’re reading a book and your mind wanders in between a period and the next space, to daydreaming — when you flat out get lost in memories or fantasies. What happens to you? What triggers that? One of the concepts Bachelard explores is the effect of immensities and miniatures on poetic ideas. Think of the ocean — the type of poetry that immensity inspires in the body. On the other hand, think of a doll house — all the miniature furniture or a city built inside a nutshell…the type of reverie that triggers is just as strong and intense, but completely different. Whitney and Max have different poetics that are complementary but are also diametrically opposed. The type of feeling Whitney likes to create with her world is an expanse in herself. Max is compulsively recreating the ideas of control and miniature and containment. CATF: In your play “Gideon’s Knot” and now “World
Builders,” you make a fierce case for protecting the imagination. What’s so important about the imagination?
JA: I couldn’t get through my life without it or without
being able to indulge it. Another idea behind “World Builders’ is this: What if George R.R. Martin decided one day that he wasn’t going to finish his books, i.e., “My relationship with my wife is suffering. It’s not healthy to be so immersed in the world of ‘Game of Thrones.’ I’m just going to stop.” Some psychiatrist might applaud that, but the rest of the world would want to storm his house like angry peasants and demolish it. They would be furious because that imagined world is so important to so many people. How much of American culture — especially with the rise of episodic television — is dominated by fantasy world building and imagination scapes? I, like everyone else, am increasingly dependent on it. World building fulfills a rich, wonderful need for storytelling. I worry about the kind of life I would live in the absence of all that richness. CATF: You have said, “Stifle the imagination and lose
one of the greatest assets of humanity.” JA: I stand by it.
losing my bipolar edge. I wouldn’t want to lose my disorder entirely even though I would probably have a more productive, healthier and happy life without it. The feelings you can get in the mania part help me to write and complete my plays. They help me to come up with the worlds in my plays. CATF: You have said, “You can only be defeated by
invisible demons if you believe in them and let them work on you.” JA: The problem of being afraid of a mental condition is worse than the condition itself. When I stopped being afraid of potential occurrences of my mania, it made all the difference. Then it was incredibly easily managed, but it’s the fear that’s not manageable. I equate fears with demons. CATF: In the play, Whitney tells Max that she doesn’t
like that her drugs are “substituting feelings for other people in place of our worlds…if the pills work, I’ll be someone without a heart.” u
CATF: Is a wild imagination better than no imagination
at all? For example, the writings of James Holmes, the Aurora, Colorado theater shooter, are very, very wild. JA: Absolutely, a wild imagination is better than no imagination at all. The flatness of the world and of existence without imagination is just hard to contemplate. Imagination is not a bad thing. I get very worried when people claim that the imaginations of serial killers or mass murderers triggered that type of tragedy. You are looking in the wrong places. Look instead at a frustrated outlet for feelings they can’t understand and how, over time, it explodes. CATF: Are psychotropic drugs bad for the imagination?
JA: I’m not going to fly in the face of modern psychia-
try and say these drugs are bad. I’ve had moments with my bipolar disorder where that kind of medicated dullness is preferable to the alternative. I’m in a good place right now and not on medication, but I have been. The medication I was on didn’t deaden me completely, but I know a lot of them do. I know many bipolar people who worry that through medication, they may lose the benefits of the condition of being bipolar. I would very much mourn
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JA: This is a play of extremes. The idea is this: “Is love
worth killing two entire worlds over?” The conclusion of the play is, no, it really isn’t. Max and Whitney love these worlds. To them, these worlds are not bizarre or strange or dark and disordered daydreams. They have a reality that we really don’t understand just watching them. To Whitney, this is absolutely her life. Every relationship she’s ever had as an adult had to fit into her world with her characters.
CATF: In an interview in 2010, you said, “It takes time
to get your playwriting to come from your subconscious and for your fingertips to understand your plays as well as your imagination. Your imagination is inert, but your fingers are agile little workers. Fingers actually do things, fantasies don’t. Your plays live there, not in your head.” JA: If I were Max or Whitney, I would sit in a room and be perfectly happy just having my plays in my head. But I’m not. I’m a playwright and I need my fingers to work. I need to actually turn on the computer and write. I’d be much happier if I could just look in my head and say, “That’s great! That’s lovely!” But I can’t. That’s the big trick of writing. Getting a play from your head to the page. In order to get there, you need audience feedback. You need to learn how to listen very intently while an audience is watching your plays. Once that alchemy happens, then you can correctly translate what’s in your head. However, it’s still not a sure thing. I still only hit it once every other play. CATF: Your plays are not afraid of the dark….
JA: The successful ones are dark. I have to keep myself
entertained while writing and something dark and sort of forbidden keeps me interested. Dark things tend to be secretive things; they tend to be things we don’t discuss in public settings, and that creates a very interesting atmosphere in the theater. Like somebody screaming in church or somebody doing something inappropriate in a courtroom. If you simply gather people in a room and reconfirm everything they believe, you haven’t created good theater. Theater seems to work best when something is slightly inappropriate to the setting. CATF: You said that the theater that excites you
is “the theater that makes you laugh a lot, and then unexpectedly cry. You can feel the air leave the room
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for a minute and the audience holds their breath.” JA: Your primary tool for fixing your plays is being an audience member, and being hyper-aware of how an audience perceives your play. I get 99 percent of my feedback for rewrites by listening to the plays. I put a lot of pauses in plays for the audience because I like those moments of stillness where you can feel anyone around you coming to the same conclusion about what was just said on stage; we’ve all come to some mutual understanding none of us could articulate if we tried. I listen for a real sense of communion. CATF: Sounds sacred.
JA: Yes, there is something to it that’s sacred. CATF: The playwright Barbara Hammond ended an
article she wrote, entitled “How to Stay a New York Playwright,” with this: “Now close your eyes again, envision a stage, and watch someone walk on from stage left. Get that pencil and write down what she says.” My last question to you: Close your eyes, someone is walking on from stage left. What is she saying? JA: Is this a verbal writing prompt? I don’t have a good character coming in right now on my mental stage. That’s hard for me, finding the right place to invite those characters in. That’s not something I would do too lightly. If I’m going to create somebody walking in from stage left, I need to be in a sacred place to do it.
THE FULL CATASTROPHE
CATF: The Full Catastrophe is the middle book in The
Jeremy Cook Novels by David Carkeet. Why write a play adapted from this book? MICHAEL WELLER: The book was brought to me as a film project by the producer Merle Kailas, who had seen a play of mine and thought I was very good writing about marriage. The novel had had a big life with the Hollywood studios when it was first published, but no one had been able to figure out how to do it as a movie. I read the book and realized it would make a terrific play. CATF: Why do you write marriage really well?
MW: Good question. I’m married, and I notice it.
CATF: But why write about it?
MW: Drama is about conflict and the solution to the
conflict and renewed conflict. Isn’t that another way of describing marriage? It seems like a fairly natural thing to put on stage. One of the basic rules of drama is pick something everyone knows. Marriage is something that everyone knows. CATF: Jeremy Cook, the main character in “The Full Ca-
tastrophe,” is a linguist. So marriage is about semantics? MW: That’s the joke, and it’s a wonderful one. The lovely conceit of the book is that a crackpot, mysterious researcher called Roy Pillow thinks he’s solved the problem by what turns out to be a linguistic mistake of his own: thinking that communication means better grammar. It’s of course about something very different, but the misunderstanding is, for me, one of those profoundly brilliant comic conceits that yields all sorts of dramatic possibilities.
“The Full Ctastrophe” playwright Michael Weller.
CATF: Roy Pillow, the “crackpot, mysterious researcher”
said in this play: “There is a horror at the heart of every marriage and it’s the same horror.” Is there a horror at the heart of every marriage? MW: So he says.
CATF: Do you think there is?
MW: No, not really. I think that he thinks so and his
marriage record certainly bears that out. It’s not a horror, but what’s puzzling about marriage is that we’re so drawn to it and it’s such a source of discomfort when it’s bad and such a source of support and joy when it’s good. And we just can’t figure that out, why it can’t be simpler, like an ATM machine. Marriage is a total swirl — call it a “horror” if you want. For me, it’s a comedy if you simply exaggerate what is really the case. CATF: I asked the playwright Bruce Graham, who
had a comedy at CATF last year, about Coleridge’s perspective that comedy was “more useable and more relevant to the human condition than tragedy.” What do you think about that? MW: It depends on where you’re sitting and how you’re doing in life. People whose wives are taken away by invading armies or who die of horrible diseases or work long, long hours every day would feel that tragedy is a comfortable portrait of their destiny. But a comedic outcome feels far more real in America, where we tend to go to therapists when we’re on the u fluent | 33
verge of some personal catastrophe and they help us talk ourselves out of it. CATF: One of the lines in this play is “Recognize
love in time or you’ll lose it.” What’s the secret to recognizing love in time? MW: You have to have the courage to risk love at all times. If you hedge your bets because you think this isn’t right or that isn’t right about another person, then you really will misunderstand which part of that complicated feeling toward them is the important one.
CATF: So love is worth it?
MW: I think it is. I just don’t understand an approach
to life that doesn’t involve trying to communicate completely with another person — or with a lot of people. Otherwise, why would I be a playwright? I’m there trying to reach a lot of people because I think feelings inside me that ordinary, day-to-day interchange don’t allow to come out easily can be beautifully achieved on stage. And they can be beautifully achieved in an intimate relationship if it’s a good one. CATF: You have said that when you work on a play
you’re on a journey of some kind. “It’s where I am in the bigger journey of a play and what I’m trying to work out in it that matters to me.” What kind of journey are you on in “The Full Catastrophe?” MW: “The Full Catastrophe” is a commission, so my quote doesn’t entirely apply here. Generally, when I’m working on a play of my own, I don’t know why the journey calls me to take it. Once the journey starts, I’m following a series of unstated questions inside myself. Not questions like “What’s green and has three eyes?” but rather, “What can happen in a scene by the time it’s over that I will think is true and will persuade and satisfy me?” Usually it involves something deep inside me that I can’t talk about any other way. CATF: An October 2008 New York Times review of
your play “Fifty Words” says that your plays are “propelled by a longing to be alone and a longing to never ever be alone.” With that in mind, how do you respond to this line from David Hare’s 1985 movie, Wetherby: “If you’re frightened by loneliness, never get married.” 34 | fluent
MW: That’s very David. The writer’s dilemma is that
they want by turns to be completely known and they want to remain completely concealed. There’s a push-pull at the center of the act of writing that’s inherent. I think it’s cavalier of David to put it that way but I know how he does his business in a play and that’s a likely statement from him. I just don’t agree with him and on some very fundamental level. He and I are totally opposite human beings in the way we experience the world. CATF: Do you ever wake up and say, “Who the hell is
this person next to me?” MW: Oh no. I understand and know my wife very well. I do sometimes ask, “Why the hell is she like that? Why can’t she see that? This is ridiculous what she’s doing.” But I know exactly why she’s doing it. At least I’ve explained it to myself. I spend a lot of my time observing people. This is the cruel thing about being a writer. You do watch people carefully and you sometimes come to understand them very well. But I never ask, “Who is this?” It would be very, very difficult for my wife to completely surprise me. She often surprises me in small ways, but if she did something entirely out of character, I would really be thrown by it.
CATF: In “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf ?” the
character George Washington describes his relationship to Martha as “Dashed hopes and good intentions: Good, better, best, bested.” What do you think of that? MW: I know Edward Albee a little, and I understand how he arrives at that idea. That’s just not my experience. As an outsider to marriage — Albee saw his own parents’ marriage through the eyes of an adopted child, and that’s a very specific perspective to bring into the world…my experience of life is not that.When you become close to somebody and you truly love them, there’s a part of you that’s sometimes startled by the fact that they don’t understand how both godly and how flawed you are. They don’t always bring exactly the right amount of respect and comfort you expect. That’s a very useful thing because it helps you see that sometimes you’re an arrogant asshole and you really need to be humbled a little bit and be glad that somebody’s so willing to remain with you.
CATF: This play makes several references to
listening — “We should all listen more carefully.” How has listening helped your marriage and your craft? MW: Listening helps everything. People are amazed when you listen. When you hear beyond what they are trying to say to what they are trying to say underneath, it’s a big gift for them. But it’s also a big gift for you. From a writer’s point of view, we’re dealing mainly with the visible universe. We’re reporting what can be observed. But we’re also always trying to suggest the shimmer behind it. If you listen carefully for the little doors that open in a conversation, doors to what you know someone is not telling you, you get better at creating a world with surfaces that suggests a lot of unstated intention beneath and behind the words. Audiences like that. CATF: You have said that the mirror neurons in the
brain are more powerfully activated by a play than by other media. MW: If you see a photograph of somebody being killed by another person, it’s shocking. But if you actually see the person killed, it’s devastating. A live experience is inescapable. In film you’re so used to seeing those images you tend to dismiss it as just another image. But when a person’s in front of you impersonating the emotion and the action — even though you know they’re faking it — you get completely lost in their act of doing it because they are physically in front of you, embodying it. Theater is a tribal act. We’re doing something very primitive during a live performance: We’re tracking game. We watch actors on stage, and we become hunters watching characters who don’t know we can see them. Of course, we know they know, but at the moment we are completely engaged with them, we are stalking prey, watching every move to see which way they’re going to go. Watching live action is very, very primitive. CATF: What’s distinctive about producing a play with
the Contemporary American Theater Festival? MW: It’s a theater with a real artistic director. Ed reads every play. He doesn’t give it to a committee. His taste is so wonderfully eclectic, and he loves theaters and plays. It’s the way the great artistic directors that I love have operated — Joe Papp, etc. They had a theater, they
knew what they loved and didn’t apologize for it. They put it out there and the only common thread was that there was a strong personality making all the choices. I love being a part of the family of choices he makes. CATF: The playright Barbara Hammond ended a
piece she wrote, entitled “How to Stay a New York Playwright,” with this: “Now close your eyes again, envision a stage, and watch someone walk on from stage left. Get that pencil and write down what she says.” My last question to you: Close your eyes, someone is walking on from stage left. What is that person saying? MW: I have no idea. Until there is a context, I don’t know where to begin. For me, until there’s a situation, there’s no drama. I think the world is a set of conditions into which you put a disruption and then…you watch.
WE ARE PUSSY RIOT CATF: Why Pussy Riot?
BARBARA HAMMOND: Pussy Riot hit a nerve, not
only in Russia but also, maybe even more so, in the West. They are contemporary artists posing as a feminist punk band. One of the brilliant things about Pussy Riot is that they are so outrageous and kind of “bad” at what they do — and I mean that as a compliment — no one but themselves could have thought of it. The CIA would never have orchestrated something as original as Pussy Riot. CATF: It’s an irony that Pussy Riot is homegrown. BH: Yes, absolutely. I was also attracted to them
because they are girls. I like calling them girls. There’s something playful, even innocent, about their actions, though they are obviously very intelligent and at least two of them are mothers. “Girls” is a good word that has been taken away from us. CATF: They’re like Pippi Longstocking or Scout from
To Kill A Mockingbird? BH: Well, I think they’re in the tradition of young women who stand out because they don’t behave like young women are told to behave. u
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video and images and quotes. In my play, I’m moving beyond the news story — I’m using the story of Pussy Riot to examine an aspect of our culture. CATF: Are you writing a play about Pussy Riot the way
Pussy Riot would? BH: No. Pussy Riot wouldn’t write a play. Pussy Riot’s actions are spontaneous, public and often get them arrested. CATF: You want us to be Pussy Riot, don’t you?
BH: I want you to ask yourselves if you are or not.
CATF: But the name of your play is, “We Are Pussy
“We Are Pussy Riot” playwright Barbara Hammond.
Kathleen Hanna — one of the founders of the Riot Grrrl Movement, which happened in the 90s in the northwest United States and influenced Pussy Riot — said, “Women make natural anarchists and revolutionaries because they’ve always been secondclass citizens, having to claw their way out.” It’s true — we have Joan of Arc, Mary Magdalene and Malala Yousafzai…people respect and gravitate toward women who speak their minds. These women often pay a heavy price for that attention (like being burnt at the stake or labeled a whore) but they are often admired and celebrated. Women’s power in their own culture, in any human culture on earth, has a complicated history. Women can make a claim to be outsiders in their own countries, since they rarely wrote their founding documents, or fought the wars that determined borders, or won the elections that determined the nation’s shape and values. I appreciate looking at the world from the outside. Outsider status can be a luxury. CATF: How does a play, specifically, enlighten the story
of Pussy Riot in a way a documentary or another genre can’t? BH: Each audience member will answer this for themselves after they see this play. “Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer” was a great documentary that reports what happened in Moscow in 2012 and tells its story with 36 | fluent
Riot....It’s not “Are We Pussy Riot?” BH: I would say, and I think they would say, we can all be Pussy Riot — and if we’re not, why aren’t we? Are we happy with the status quo? Do we value order and tradition more than self-expression? They are all questions worth asking. One of my working titles for the play was, “We Are All Pussy Riot.” Another was “Everything is PR.” The acronym PR is perfect for Pussy Riot. “Public Relations” is just another word for Propaganda. Pussy Riot self-consciously made themselves undeniable, first of all, with their name. If they had called themselves “Feminists Against Putin” we would never have heard of them. “Everything is PR” still might be the best title for this play. CATF: Describing the lessons of Anna Akhmatova’s art,
the poet Joseph Brodsky said: “The comprehension of personal drama betters one’s chances of weathering the drama of history.” Have you comprehended the metaphysics of your personal drama? BH: You should read my “Eva Trilogy.” I could not have written “We Are Pussy Riot” without having written “The Eva Trilogy.” I heard a war correspondent I know tell a young journalist that the suffering in the world won’t make sense to you until you can access and have compassion for your own suffering. It’s understandable to run away from it. It is not something where you suddenly go, “Ah-ha! Now I understand my personal drama.” It unfolds throughout one’s life. CATF: The documentary “Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer”
opens with this quote from Bertolt Brecht: “Art is not a mirror to reflect the world, but a hammer with which to shape it.” How does this contrast with this quote
from John Updike: “Art begins with a wound. Art is an attempt to learn to live with the wound.” BH: I would word it differently than either one and say the purpose of art is to expose the wound. You expose the wound and then it’s up to the participant in the art whether they are going to live with it or smash it. I don’t think the artist is holding the hammer. The audience decides what they want in their hands. They can have a scalpel or a hammer —or a tourniquet. My job is to expose the wound. CATF: During the 48 seconds those members of Pussy
Riot performed at the altar in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior, they sang this: “Shit! Shit. It’s God’s shit!” Is shouting/singing that in a church appropriate? BH: I don’t think they would have done it if it was appropriate — so no, it was absolutely inappropriate! CATF: In the documentary, one of the members of
Pussy Riot said that talk and compromise get you nowhere, only riot and revolution.
BH: I believe whichever member of Pussy Riot said
this was referring to the totalitarian state in which she lives. Sometimes talk and compromise can get you somewhere. Riot and revolution, too, have gotten people places. The United States, for example, wouldn’t exist if we hadn’t had a revolution. CATF: Flannery O’Connor, a devout Catholic, said, “I
have found that violence is strangely capable of returning my characters to reality and preparing them to accept their moment of grace. Their heads are so hard that almost nothing else will work.” Is the “in-yourface” strategy of Pussy Riot a form of verbal violence? BH: A cousin who plays piano in a chamber choir watched the Pussy Riot video and afterwards sent me an email: “I’m an atheist, but I love choral music and it killed me to listen to Pussy Riot destroy Rachmaninoff in a loud ugly punk mash-up. It killed me.” There are many legitimate reactions to what Pussy Riot did in that cathedral. Pussy Riot brought attention to the fact that the head of the Russian Orthodox Church stated that Putin is a “miracle of God” and that believers should vote for him. I believe that the girls did not intend to hurt the feelings of believers. Maybe they didn’t care about those feelings, but the message they were sending was intended as a political statement, not a statement against the Orthodox faith. CATF: You said once, “I used to get joy from freedom,
and now I find it in intimacy.” How would members of Pussy Riot respond to this? BH: Give them 20 years and see what they say. CATF: You end a piece you wrote entitled “How to Stay a New York Playwright” with this: “Now close your eyes again, envision a stage, and watch someone walk on from stage left. Get that pencil and write down what she says.” My last question to you: Close your eyes, someone is walking on from stage left. What is she saying? BH: “Why can’t it always be like this?” fluent
The Contemporary American Theater Festival’s 25th Season: July 10–August 2, 2015. catf.org After-play Salons hosted by Bistro 112: Jul 18 & 25, Aug 1 fluent | 37
Itâ€™s the Dickens of a time Itâ€™s not the best of times or the worst of times but our times as we live in our Age of Missing Information where what passes for news packs less consequence than the background noise of the multi-verse with its ninety-some percent of nothing and where a Kardashian Klan can irrupt onto the flat screen of public unconsciousness because the father played ball with the so-called Dream Team that got O.J. Simpson off his murder rap although he lost hands-down in civil court and now does jail time for armed robbery and why do we live in the Age of Missing Information you ask and the answer is that opposable thumbs did not in fact evolve so you could text your anti-social media friends while driving but rather to feel and manually fall in love with the actual stuff of Earth and life and all the things implied by poet Terence Winch who once confided in me that the Universe of Real Things matches your white socks.
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A Collaboration of Art & Poetry
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Direct dial I key the 800 number for my Sam’s Club calling card and punch in my pin number then dial my sister’s UK country code and add her London home phone number. Maybe I can tack on a few more digits and ring my father, dead these 50 years.
Advertising designer Tom Taylor and writer–editor–poet Ed Zahniser—both retired—began collaborating in 2014. They have worked from poem to artwork and artwork to poem and may soon try collaborating from brainstorming.
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Manholes Giant iron-skinned voodoo drums played 24/7 by traffic
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What the water in the Ogallala Aquifer said They told us our job was to flow to the sea but weâ€™ve sat here underground since the last ice age and no new water has joined us for ten thousand years now this dark one long black veil as memories of bubbling and rushing in the back-and-forth of light and dark beneath the dome of sky recede and with them wonders of brushing against stone beds of streams and rivers we were back then whereas we now sit static like a barren womb of time punctuated here and there by pipes that lower our level year by year by year but still no word of the sea no word of jostling freely happy again beneath the dome of sky bound for the sea again then back to clouds and then to fall again as rain to pool and feel Earthâ€™s strangely steady pull to seaward no more this fossil life but the wondrous cycle alive again to the pull of Earth to the pull of sky.
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SHOWING UP Shepherd Senior Exhibits By Nancy McKeithen
Each year, the dates and the names change, but the Capstone Exhibit remains — that annual right [sic] of passage for graduating seniors in the Department of Contemporary Art and Theater at Shepherd University in Shepherdstown, West Virginia. For each student, this one-day exhibit — drawn from their story of living and learning art, of making art, of talking about art — has taken four years to prepare. For some, it’s their farewell to school; for others, their ticket to graduate study; for all, entry into their future. Fortyfive Shepherd students received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in May. Meet seven of them: two graphic designers, two painters, two photographers and one sculptor.
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Art has been part of Melanie Judd’s life since she was very young — ”something I did to make others happy, a selfsoothing tool...my voice.” Now it’s her career. Judd has accepted a graphic design position with a local company. Her style of line work, composition and color handling makes her work uniquely her own, but what sets it apart from the work of others, she says, is conceptulization. Her creative process is a mix of intuition and thought. “The process of making is spontaneous, while the meaning behind the imagery is highly thought out. I try to give viewers an impartial illustrated view on the issue”— like homelessness, war, overconsumption. “Consumptopus” (above) is “bright and colorful and might inspire a sense of beauty and excitement, but…one can see the downfalls of overconsumption.” mjudd206.wix.com/work u fluent | 49
The work of Wilson Gross is very recognizable. Gross credits that to the energetic and aggressive marks he makes, and “the contrast between realism, expression and illustrative qualities.” While he tends to work intuitively, Gross carefully plans his compositions, “but my process is heavily reliant on chance and experimentation.” The two pieces above—”The Boy Who Destroyed The World” (top) and “CantSeeEm”—are “components to an altar piece I created to relate the contemporary youth experience to a broader interpretation of the human condition,” says Gross. “I sought to juxtapose themes of apathy and dejection with an introspective sense of hopefulness.” For Gross, his finished work needs to achieve a balance between detail and expression. “I have always found that I am able to communicate through art-making in ways that I cannot do with just words.” Post-graduation, Gross plans to continue developing his painting, both conceptually and technically. wilsongross.com 50 | fluent
“Painting for me is really a way to express my own experience and viewpoint...a way for me to communicate how I view the world in terms that I understand,” says Mindy Sizemore, who has been painting since she was 11. Sizemore grew up in rural West Virginia, an area she considers to be largely misunderstood. “My painting gives a vibrant and honest look at the Appalachian region, allowing the viewer to see the area with fresh eyes.” Painting also allows Sizemore to process her emotions. “This body of mixed-media work is very personal,” she says [below top: “Corn Dogs and Snow Cones” and “It’s a Thrift Store Now”]. “The bright colors and some of the material choices throughout my work really convey a joyful absurdity that channels the child-like wonder and love I have for the place.” Currently, Sizemore is developing ideas for community-based art projects and plans to start graduate school in the fall. mindy09.wix.com/mindysizemore u
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Despite the validation of her BFA degree from Shepherd, Samantha Jones says she remains baffled that she can do something she loves and make it her profession as well. Jones loves the challenges that come with producing both design and traditional art, in part because no two days are alike. â€œArt for me is focused around conceptualization,â€? says Jones, noting that she likes to produce work that has depth and meaning. She draws inspiration for her art from the places she travels, conversations with others and keeping up with professionals in diverse fields. www.sjdesignco.com 52 | fluent
Lauren Xenos likes using her photography to bring people together. “No matter where you are from or what language you speak, art always can bring different types of people together,” she says. Xenos shares credit for her images with the people in them—below “Alyssia”—by letting them choose the location, or pose they way they’re most comfortable. “By doing this, I let not only my style show through but theirs as well.” Because she gives her subjects some amount of control, her shooting is largely intuitive, “but all my editing is carefully thought out. Her inspiration generally comes from current events or happenings in her own life. Xenos’ future plans include graduate school, with an eye to teaching photography to high school students. www.xenos.photo u
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For Kelsey DiSano, making art is her way of showing who she is to people. “Talking about the things I care about and giving people hints about my voice—it’s the way I communicate.” She uses her knowledge of photography to create more than photographs. For the work shown here, part of her Capstone Exhibit, DiSano didn’t touch her camera. Much of her work deals with caring for “things that people don’t seem to care about. I show people that these items left and forgotten on the ground as trash can become something beautiful,” says DiSano, who is taking a break to work on her art and prepare for an upcoming exhibit at the NoPo Gallery in Hagerstown, MD in late July. Her future plans include a return to school for an Arts Administration degree. www.kdisanophoto.com
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Having graduated from Shepherd, sculptor Skyler Lewis wants to teach art-making processes through grassroots workshops. His own creative process is both intuitive and carefully considered: “characterized by the material choices and the refreshing focus on formalist principles, as well as an objective take on design and aesthetics.” Lewis first envisions a work, then “makes a ‘thing’ and from there I appraise whether what I have made meets the standards I set for my work.” But that doesn’t mean it’s done. “To be truthful, I never feel as though my artwork reaches a level of completion.” He likens it to scientific method, where everything is an experiment. “Nothing becomes a solid fact until there is evidence proving my decisions work.” Meanwhile, Lewis looks forward to honing his skills, and to “creating objects that challenge people’s perceptions or understanding of what can be deemed beautiful.” For him, that’s fun. And it drives his passion for art. Above: “Apart” www.skylerbentonlewis.com
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Emerson’s Method of Prose Composition and Yours By Ed Zahniser One of the nation’s pre-eminent stylists, Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–1882) devised a prose method of quilting strings of aphoristic sentences into paragraphs. You may find that this takes too long — to craft sentences that read with the authority of a one-sentence advice column. Indeed, Emerson did not suffer daily loads of e-mails nor have to check Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and LinkedIn before he got down to his own writing. But you can achieve the Emersonian effect in your prose. Simply tack on your concerns to existing snippets of Emerson. For further authenticity, toss in the occasional semi-colon, little-used today. Do be careful to avoid anachronisms. Do not begin your sentence quoting Emerson citing birchbark canoes, for example, and then suggest that one should store one’s memoirs securely in the Cloud.
ach day is a god/ess. We live in a parallel duoverse as well as a multiverse. Phenomena experience themselves in us. So be shameless and have no secrets from your self. The slaughter will be huge but not impersonal. You create that self; you don’t inherit it. This is an extremely selfish enterprise. The divine progression, however, is from conflict to paradox to revelation. Keep your erasers in order. Sooner or later words condense desire until it becomes palpable. To be yourself in a world that constantly tries to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment. To be modern means to admit you have nothing to lean on. Imagination is like a baton. Already the orchestra has picked up on whistling “Dixie.” By contrast, the poetry of fishes makes their chief use, not their flesh, which is the lowest use.
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A tree that stands by itself takes on a different profile than the same species of tree that stands in a grove or copse. Likewise, the purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, honorable, and compassionate and to make the fact that you have lived count. Thereby you may quit your constant migrations and become an inhabitant. Champions of lost causes explain their impending martyrdom to their posterity. The tragedy of life is not what we suffer but what we miss. Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Nothing sends you into the neon wilderness faster than to leave the dice in Las Vegas. Noise is the exception to the rule of silence. What details resonate with your obsessions? It is not as important to know what the hobo is worth as it is to know that he or she is hungry. Such coincidences are the stuff of soap opera and reality shows. Somewhere someone reads your soul to you aloud. Don’t wait to listen until you need a hearing aid. Only in our dreams do we lose our way home: Where the corpse is, there vultures gather. Nevertheless, we must cultivate respect for other ways of moving toward perfection with only one carrion bag each. Memories get pruned from one meaning and grafted onto another to produce their strange fruit. The energy concentrated in exactness is a natural resource. Every act of recognition implies that something like this has gone viral. Poets exist so the dead get to vote. Humanity is a support function, not a control function. Get on with it. When it is dark enough, you can see the stars, even the light of those so distant they have been dead for eons.
A topic sentence, like an education, should state the premise or beg it. Nothing is well begun that has no future, except a poem or pilot TV show. Ideas gather around a well-expressed idea like flies around cow pies. Harvest ideas and you grasp their future. This may or may not prove to be a paragraph, much less a novella. Self-model certitude by adopting the modus operandi of nutrition research. Then watch the relative health merits or demerits of oleomargarine and butter flip-flop repeatedly over time like competing politicians with much to hide. Don’t put great stock in stocks unless the result promises homemade soup. Beware of anything — the cyber world excepted — that creates its own language. Obfuscation is sure to follow, with a proliferation of academic publications that signify little or nothing. Watch out especially for terms like normativity and privileging. Behind them lie platitudes or confusions of the obvious in the grasping at tenure. Follow the leads of Ecclesiastes regarding putative newness or of Diogenes regarding the search for the good person. Do not go where the path may lead, go
instead where there is a sure-bet stock option. That’s new. And it is one of the blessings of good persons — like old friends — that you can afford to be stupid with them on serial hate radio shows. Wear your child-rearing ideas lightly. Everybody at the birthday party will not forever get a goody bag. The Age of Self Esteem will one day revert to honoring only the honoree. Meanwhile, hold the candle by its middle when you burn it at both ends. Count your blessings if your child-rearing itself lasts no more than 25 years. Today’s child emulates the boomerang. Do not look for fortune cookies in a gifted horse’s mouth. For every minute you are angry you lose sixty seconds of positive endorphins. We are placed on Earth for a purpose. Now go and find it. A person’s years may well be that person’s years. Go and find your own. Hitch your dreams to an orbiting satellite but pack motion-sickness pills. No one by doing so has ever failed to achieve a life beyond their wildest expectations. Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Martin Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and George W. Bush, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderestimated for the affect of your strateegery. Therefore, make your own Bible. Collect all the words and sentences from your reading that sounded like trumpet blasts. Don’t sweat it that you can’t remember what books you’ve read. Like meals, they have made you nonetheless. It is not the length of life, but the depth. So maybe you can afford to go hunting with Dick Cheney. fluent fluent | 57
Where We Are Now By Zach Davis
As she sat in the waiting room outside the ER, waiting for the doctors to finish sewing up her husband, Charlene said to herself “I’m done.” She wasn’t sure whether or not this was true, and as was typical when she let these words slip, there was no one around but her to hear them. It was true that she had found herself saying the words with increasing frequency as of late, but she had not yet contemplated their full weight and meaning. It was strange, she thought, how they became easier to say each time, and it was also remarkable how little saying them affected her anymore. The first time, she said it unthinkingly, and for days afterward she assured herself she hadn’t really meant it, that it had only been a slip of the tongue. This was shortly after Robert had announced — without introduction or preamble — that he would no longer be taking his medications. They left him, he’d said, feeling lifeless and dull, but during their argument, Robert had proven to be as reliably cutting and focused as he always was. After he finished elucidating his points — which left Charlene thinking of a long, didactic lecture or sermon — Robert had returned to his study. Charlene stood at the kitchen sink, turning the argument they’d just had over and over again in her mind, saying aloud the points and counterpoints that she had been unable to say at the time. Charlene had picked up this habit out of necessity, as Robert would never have allowed such arguments to be presented if he were around to hear them. It was pointless to argue with him. Robert’s rhetorical tech58 | fluent
nique was, as he called it, “thorough,” but it seemed to Charlene more sweeping and encyclopedic than anything else. It was highly developed — a product of his many years in the classroom — but it was also intimately attuned to not only prove Charlene wrong in any given circumstance, but to also elaborate — in extensive, exhaustive detail — just how wrong she was on each point. Robert always seemed to be prepared for a fight, as if he spent the time he and Charlene weren’t together thinking of ways to defend his points of view while attacking those of anyone else. He had a way of ridiculing an opposing argument to such an extent that others were often left feeling stupid for ever having held their opinions in the first place. As she finished retracing the argument she and Robert had just had, Charlene said “I’m done.” At first, she told herself that had merely been her way of pronouncing an end to her shadow argument. A second possibility crept into her mind, though, and Charlene quickly cut it off before following the thought to its logical conclusion. Just a slip of the tongue. It doesn’t mean anything, she thought. It had used to excite Charlene, seeing her husband always come out victorious in a battle of wits, but it had been a long time since Robert had battled against anyone but her. It was odd how Robert only seemed to truly come alive and be present in the moment when he was arguing. When delivering stinging verbal barbs, Robert was revivified and full of a rousing passion that he was unable to muster up for anything else in life. Charlene, on the other hand, felt drained any time
they argued. It was as if Robert siphoned off her energy to sustain himself, like an emotional vampire. All Charlene could think about in those moments was how much she wanted the argument to be over, so Robert would return to his semi-hibernation in the study. Robert spent the majority of his days in the study, sometimes typing away furiously and producing what seemed to be — judging by the sound his fingers made as they flew across the keyboard — innumerable words and potentially brilliant turns of phrase. There was even the chance, perhaps, that he was coming close to finishing that book he had spent the last 8 years writing and re-writing. Sometimes, though, there were no sounds coming from the study at all. Charlene always felt panic, then, trying to decide whether or not to go into the study and check on Robert. The majority of the time, he was fine — as fine as a person silently staring at a wall can be — and he was angry at the “interruption.” Robert was never so busy that he couldn’t take the time to harangue Charlene and let her know that each time she interrupted him, she stole away from the stores of his creative energy that were preciously little stocked as it was. The other times, though, there was a definite need for her interruptions. The first time Robert had tried to kill himself, he used what he would later refer to from his hospital bed as “the elegant, more feminine approach to putting a permanent end to your being.” u fluent | 59
The pills had rendered him unconscious with rapid ease, and if Charlene had not first knocked on the door to his study several times, then entered after there was no reply, Robert’s first attempt would also have been his last. Robert left a note, in the form of a sonnet. Charlene didn’t know why at the time, but she felt it was vitally important to hide the note before the paramedics arrived. She tucked it away into her jeans pocket and read it as she waited outside the ER. Robert had obviously worked quite hard on it, judging by the crossed out lines and fill-ins on the page, searching for the perfect combination of words and phrases to serve as his last thoughts on life. He had even titled it, apparently taking the name from the final couplet:
On such wretched things, I’ll no longer dwell. Heaven’s long past, where we are now is Hell.
The rest of the sonnet, as was typical of Robert’s work, was filled with complex allusions to the Bible— some of which Charlene readily understood—and classical mythology—many of which were unfamiliar to her. As if he were unsatisfied with incorporating themes and ideas from works the majority of people were, at best, passingly familiar with, Robert’s work tended to require the reader to have an in depth knowledge of esoteric myths and arcane legends. Once, when they were first married, Robert had asked Charlene to read a new poem he had just finished writing, after a marathon 72-hour session behind the closed and locked study door. “What do you think?” Robert asked, stressing the last word. “I don’t know,” she said. “I’m not sure I’m the right audience for it.” “What do you mean? The poem is about life and humanity. How can you not be the right audience?” “I don’t really get it, I guess.” “Once again, the poem is about life. Who the hell does ‘get’ life? It’s not as if it’s completely nonrepresentational. The words are in precise order, and I wrote it in English. I’m not sure what you’re not ‘getting’ about it.” “I understand the words. That’s not the problem. You go on and on with these similes, these long digres60 | fluent
sive references to stories and things I’ve never heard of. It’s like, for me to understand this, I’d have to know everything you know and think exactly like you do. I think that’s a lot to ask of your audience. It doesn’t allow the reader to bring anything to the poem.” Robert was silent for a moment, his mouth partially open, obviously not having prepared himself for any reaction other than enthusiastic praise. “What? What would they be bringing?” “It seems like, in every really great work of art, there’s a collaboration between the creator and the people experiencing it, and the experience of it is equally important to the thing’s creation. That’s what gives the thing meaning. The creator steers you in a certain direction, but you have to get there on your own. It’s like, you’re doing everything, here, so there’s nothing for the audience to engage with, almost like you’re the audience for your own poem.” Charlene smiled a little, to show that she meant her criticism in the best possible way and to let Robert know he had been taking himself too seriously. Robert took the smile as instigation. His eyes widened, but he did not appear to be angry. Rather, his eyes seemed expectant, even joyful, as if to say Finally, a challenge. “That’s a pretty flawed theory, at best,” Robert said, his voice steady and loud, as if he was delivering a lecture in a large, crowded auditorium, “seeing as how every great work of art is a singular vision of the person who made it. There is no collaboration on a great work of art. There is appreciation. There is reverence, which is required for that appreciation. If the greatest poem ever written was never read by anyone, it would still be the greatest poem ever written. The quality of the construction exists outside of—beyond, really—its appreciation. You can’t say that art exists solely for some phantom audience’s enjoyment.” “Then why create it?” “Because it’s a wild howl at the infinite blackness, a declaration to a hostile, impersonal universe that I am here and I matter.” “Ok, but when you shout into the abyss, the only measurable thing you get from it is the sound of your own voice echoing back at you, right?” The argument lasted for 3 days. Robert cited authoritative sources. He read aloud passages from favorite authors. He did not seem to sleep, and when
Charlene finally rolled over in bed on the third night to discover that Robert was still awake, highlighting passages from Nietzsche, she finally broke down and agreed with him. Robert accepted her acquiescence, but he never again showed her anything else he was writing, except for his suicide notes. The second note had been a floridly written, densely symbolic prose letter, which ran for 15 pages in longhand. Like the first note, it contained numerous corrections and rewritten passages. Charlene found the note after she got home from the hospital, having earlier that day cut the tie Robert had looped around his neck and tried to hang himself with. The most recent note had been written in the style of Dr. Seuss.
As you can see, this is no fun. Perhaps next time I’ll try a gun.
The note was typed on the computer screen in large, bold font. Robert sat in his chair, his wrists slashed and rivulets of blood flowing down his hands. He was unconscious and pallid, his natural color having drained out of his body through the wounds on his wrists and onto the floor below. Charlene had screamed, as she always did. She hurried, as she always did, phone in hand. Reading the computer screen, though, Charlene paused for an instant, her panic replaced by anger. It wasn’t until she got Robert to the hospital and was seated outside the ER that she realized why she had been angry. It was his wording in the note, the cutesiness of the writing belying the implied promise that there would, in fact, be a next time. There would be another frantic 911 call, another hospital visit, another note to read. As she sat waiting for a doctor to come out and tell her how many stitches her husband’s wounds had required to close, Charlene thought Next time, maybe I won’t call an ambulance. I might not tell a soul. I’ll get a glass of wine, and I’ll sit with you, holding your hand until I’m sure it’s over. She wondered how she had gotten to this point, how the thought of Robert finally finishing himself off was almost as much of a relief as it was a terror. She knew she couldn’t be angry with him—not really— because he had a condition, but it was hard to stay sympathetic to that, sometimes.
Robert had always been moody—his disposition could sour without notice or fanfare—but it had never been quite this bad before they were married. There had been ambition, once, determination and drive, or at least there had seemed to be. Robert had things that he used to enjoy. For a time, one of those things was sex. Robert and Charlene had wonderful rhythm together, able to lose themselves in each other. Around the third year of marriage, Robert’s interest waned, and their sessions became perfunctory and joyless. Previously spontaneous and wild, they now had sex only on Tuesdays, and only after 9 pm. Many Tuesdays came and went with no little to no physical contact at all. Once, Charlene was getting out of the shower when Robert walked into the bathroom. “Sorry,” he said, obviously embarrassed, then he backed out and closed the door. What the hell has happened to us? Charlene thought. Are we required to feel ashamed when we see each other naked now? Eventually, they stopped having sex altogether. When Charlene asked why they never seemed to make time for each other anymore, Robert said “It hasn’t been that long since we were intimate.” Charlene had always hated the phrase being intimate. It was almost as bad as making love. Neither phrase truly expressed the reality of the act, and they both seemed like puritanical linguistic dodges, as if sex was a bad word. She let that slide, however, to focus on the conversation at hand. “Yes, it has. It’s been a really long time. We haven’t had sex so far this year. Not one time. We haven’t even touched each other. The last time I touched you was by accident—I was half asleep and looking for the remote.” “So, it would appear that it has been quite some time since we joined the ranks of the perennially unlaid.” “I don’t think it’s funny.” “I didn’t say it was. I’m not laughing.” “I don’t think it’s poetic, either.” “Everything is poetic, Char.” “I’m trying to have a conversation with you. Can you please engage with me?” “Well, what do you expect? With these goddamn pills that leave me drifting through existence like a somnambulist.” u fluent | 61
“This started before you began taking the medication—” “And the therapy! Some halfwit with an MA from a technical college psychoanalyzing me to probe my deepest, darkest feelings about my mother. Is that sexy to you, dear? Does that put you in the mood for love?” “Maybe therapy would be helpful if you engaged with that, too.” “Would it, really? Have you ever tried it? Do you think you could remain engaged and ‘in the moment,’ as you like to say, when you know—down to the absolute core of your being—that it’s not going to help? It’s a waste of time and money.” “You have to want help, though. You have to be open to it.” “If I have to do all the work, then what’s the point? That’s not useful to me, if I’ve already got everything I need. Is this what you really wanted to talk about? Did you bring up sex to try and talk about therapy, like a good little Freudian acolyte?” “I wanted to talk about us, about why we never have sex anymore, and how we just seem to share a house, like we’re roommates that don’t particularly like each other but both our names are on the lease.”
“That’s what marriage is, Char. It’s like Sexton said: strangers in a two-seater outhouse, eating and squatting together, forced to share the same space.” That had been just a few days before Robert had tried to kill himself for the first time. Charlene had sat in this very same chair outside the ER—she was beginning to think of it as her chair, perfectly contoured to her body. Thinking back on what Robert had said that night, Charlene thought that the outhouse analogy wasn’t quite right. To her, marriage was more like one person trying to keep another from drowning. This is where we are now, she thought. Two people trapped in a turbulent sea, one of them trying like hell to keep both heads above the death surge while the other drags them both down because he has a mad need to kiss the sea, to breathe it deep into his lungs. Charlene sat in her chair, in her accustomed spot outside the ER, waiting for the doctor to come out and let her know how serious Robert’s injuries were, and how long his recovery time would be. That will start the countdown, Charlene thought, until I’m here again. If I let it. “I’m done,” she said, louder this time, and now sure of the truth of the words. fluent
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Saturday August 8th, 2015
6th annual identity crisis IS going sci-fi.. Shepherdstown, WV purpose: fundraiser Supporting Breast Cancer Awareness Cumberland valley
more data and tickets: facebook.com/IdentityCrisisWV
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Photo by Tom Taylor. A composite of images taken at the Wiltshire Road RR crossing beside Black Dog Coffee on old Route 9, Kearneysville, WV.