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Sunday, June 14, 2009

I'm not sure what if anything compares to the feelings associated with being able to share in the creative process of others ... .

Whether it's the yard sale fundraiser held yesterday at NIAD (National Institute for Artists and Disabilities) where I was assigned to the check out table for a couple of hours while Dorian folded for sale shirts and sweaters on the tarp spread out on the asphalt, or later at the Berkeley Repertory rehearsal studios on Center Street in Berkeley for two exciting hours of theater-in-the-making in the afternoon -- it was a Saturday well-spent.

Many months ago I'd been visited by Patrick Dooley, Artistic Director of The Shotgun Players; Playwright Marcus Gardley, graduate of the Yale School of Drama and recipient of the prestigious Eugene O'Neill scholarship; Director Aaron Davidman, and Musical Director Molly Holm, jazz singer and collaborator with Bobby McFerrin, creator of Voicestra. The company was at the beginning of the process of creating a theater piece based on Rosie the Riveter of WWII fame. This was the conceptual stage and the Richmond-born author (now teaching at Columbia University) was seeking information and inspiration in order to begin the work of bringing this brand new work to life.

Over several visits to tour the scattered sites of the park, the group met and interviewed surviving Rosies and hosted a lovely luncheon at Saluté restaurant on the shoreline. They were able to gather up research materials (including some of my own writings from short essays written over time); and begin their work. Marcus returned to the east coast for another year of teaching, and recently returned at the end of the school year to cast and stage their production to be premiered locally in September as a part of the upcoming Home Front Festival season.

Upon return from Mendocino, I'd found an invitation to attend their first complete read-through being held yesterday afternoon. It runs two full hours with one intermission. This was the time to meet the cast of 9 talented young women, and to get a sense of the story and original musical score that was now ready for final editing. What an afternoon!

The WWII story, "This World in a Woman's Hands," was complete -- in all of its complexity around the issues of roles, race, and gender. The sense of the times was well-captured and the history accurately documented. I'm not at all sure what I expected, but by the time the final lines were spoken I was more deeply-touched than I could ever have imagined. Aspects of the several story-lines were a surprise to me -- moving into life stories of those historic young home front workers that I'd never really considered. The play opened new doors of understanding that I'm not sure I was even aware had been sealed over all those years.

There were a few unclear transitions in time and place that will surely be smoothed out when all of the magic of "theater" is applied; lighting, costumes, sets, etc., (which I'm guessing will be minimal -- abstract). The dialogue is rich and colorful and revealing of the times and the casting is superb, consisting of 5 women of color - one Latina and four African American; and four white young women -- all of exceptional talent.

... and ... best of all ... I felt myself an active element in their creative process; as an essential living bridge between the generations, helping to bring life to an era of critical importance to history. Sound pompous? You betcha! Pomposity goes right along with my recent stated intention of speaking only in declarative sentences in these final years. These days I'm thoroughly enjoying the feeling of my own weight in my shoes; finally.

Fortunately, I'd thought to invite my 11 year-old granddaughter, Tamaya, to come along, and, as the only child in the room -- her presence provided a symbol of future woman adding to the power of the moment. She also served to anchor me to reality so that her grandma didn't blissfully levitate up into the ceiling from the sheer wonder of it all!

The play will probably undergo minor continuing editing changes over the coming weeks, but I can hardly wait to experience the final production. (I need to clarify whether Marcus is aware that the explosion at Port Chicago occurred at 10:30 at night and not in the morning -- or did I misunderstand something? Also, I'm unclear about what happened to Gloria Cutting's husband, eventually... or was that deliberately left unresolved?)

Photos: top photo, Patrick Dooley, Molly Holm, bottom left, Marcus Gardley.

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