Jun 102011


Sunday May 22nd
My Sunday morning audience:  Eighty beautifully dressed, red-hatted well-fed, fifty years and older lovely ladies of The Red Hat Society (www.redhatsociety.com). I booked this gig at Sze Chwan – a Chinese Restaurant in the Los Angeles suburb of Canoga Park before I was asked to perform two shows two days later in New York City – my hometown – at the Mama Expo (www.mamaexpo.com) on May 24th.  So.  Sunday morning, I load up the car, journey to “the valley” pull up, unload, am surrounded by a sea of red hats, set up, wait for lunch to be over, do the show (which went really well),

strike the set which includes the slide projector, speakers, costumes, props etcetera, get paid, load up and jump in the car – grab a sandwich and head home.  Unpack, re-pack for the New York shows and get it together.

Wake up at 4:00AM – get to the airport at 6AM – for a 7:20AM flight – on which I get stuck in the middle seat.  Torture. But.  I am bringing my show to New York.  Wow.   Schlep schlep schlep the projector, speakers, laptop and few personal items that filled to the max the one carry-on bag and one personal item allowed (could not, would not, did not risk checking my bags).  The plan is to arrive at 4:00PM – go straight to the theater for tech rehearsal.  I am sharing the show night and the rehearsal with another play that follows mine, and we’re both on another show’s set.  For the uninformed, tech rehearsals are traditionally hell and this one did not disappoint.  Months of planning, negotiating and scheduling had gone into this one tech rehearsal. I had shipped my suitcase of props and costumes ahead to my friend Tom who kindly agreed to meet me at the theater with my show in a suitcase.  After my $55 cab ride from JFK, I checked in to the Excelsior hotel on West 81st Street (one street down from the apartment I had lived in for 10 years as a struggling actress!) and immediately lugged my suitcase to the Drilling Company Theater on West 78th.  Two long long flights up I enter the really sweet “intimate” theater.  It is perfect.  There’s Tom!  Yay!  There’s my suitcase with the cables and adaptors and costumes and props.  I begin setting up and spend an inordinate amount of time figuring out where the screen goes which determines where everything else on the stage goes – including me! The blessing and curse of running my own show is I am technologically empowered, do not have to train – or pay – anyone – to run the show, which includes about 100 slides.  There are lots of transitions, cues and music, which I run with my remote from the stage – it is truly a one-woman show.  After a very arduous and typically trying tech, we get the screen set up – the stage set up – am finally happy and immediately strike, pack up and schlep the TWO suitcases down the two flights of stairs and back to the hotel.  I am wiped out.  Dead.  And starving.  I need a glass of wine and some carbs.  The concierge suggests an Italian restaurant and after walking around trying to find a less swanky one, I go in and order my wine and pasta and – I am a new woman!  Back to the hotel – call home and get the girls on the phone.  They are three hours behind.  I was concerned because my 18-year-old, Rose, was working at Banana Republic and I hated my 14-year-old Ruby eating and being alone on a school night.  I have never left my girls alone for this long before and although I knew my “village” was right there – I still felt guilty.  Ahhh, the curse of the working mother.  But turns out Rose’s shift was changed and they were together. I am so relieved.

I re-organize all the suitcases for tomorrow’s double-header – the first show is at 11AM at the conference.  What is MamaExpo?

MAMA Expo & M.O.M. Conference: Modern Ambassador for Maternal Advancement. Raising Awareness the Museum Of Motherhood (M.O.M.) and Women, (M)others and Families Everywhere. Empowered by Mamapalooza & hosted by Marymount Manhattan University, New York Parks Dept.

The conference is organized by a magnificent magnet of all things mothers and marvelous – Joy Rose, the founder of Mamapalooza, (www.mamapalooza.com), and The Museum of Motherhood (www.museumofmotherhood.org). “Just get here, I’ll do the rest.” Joy told me back in January, when she asked me to bring SHE’S HISTORY! to the conference.  So there I was – a “presenter” at the three day Conference – right smack in the middle of all these really fascinating and accomplished and cool cool cool women http://www.motherhoodmuseum.org/ConferenceSchedule_11.html AND she got me an evening show the same night.  I got TWO slots at the conference.

Wake up all excited.  SO excited.  Shower, Pilates, forced some breakfast down and grab the suitcases, a latte, a cab and am on my way to Marymount Manhattan College on East 71st Street.  It is almost 10AM and my cell rings.  It is 7:00AM in L.A. and it is the 18-year old.  “Mom?  I did not sleep – my throat hurts and I’m gonna kill the cat”.  She goes on for a while – I am not focusing as we are nearing the destination.  “Honey, I can’t talk. Gargle with salt and warm water, make the ginger lemon honey drink.   Feel better.”  I feel guilty as I pay the $10 fare.  The helpful young gals at the reception desk have my badge and conference bag and I ask them if they know who the first woman to run for President was.  As usual, no one knows – Geraldine Ferraro’s name is offered and I tell them a bit about the show and am escorted up to the room where I will be presenting.  It is a beautiful room.  There is Joy Rose and six or so other women sitting in a circle.  Their session before mine is still going on and it is the discussion of the ongoing activities and future of The Museum Of Motherhood.  “Come join us” Joy invites me and I can hardly focus on what is a really interesting conversation about the goals and identity and branding of this fabulous museum.  All I can think of is how long it will take me to set up the room. The session ends and I swing into action – setting up the projector, the laptop – the speakers… unpacking the suitcase and setting up the props and costumes.  A nice young college student helps me as does an old friend – Jessica – from my comedy days in NYC who is also in Mamapalooza.  A sociology professor from Hunter College arrives – she is a history buff and feminist and was told about the show.  I greet her.   A few other people show up and there is Joy right in the front row with her phone/camera and beautiful energy.  She introduces me; I take a deep breath and begin.  I love doing the show.  I love watching the audience become entertained and moved and engaged and surprised by all the information and stories.  When I finish, they applaud loud and long and we have a Q&A where older women (pioneers) in the audience typically tell me of the gender discrimination they faced in their lives and brag of their accomplishments and I am once again reminded of why I go to all this trouble.

But – no time for glory basking.  Must turn the room over, so while Joy gets us lunch, I unplug, strike, and pack up, all the while trying to chat with the Hunter College professor who is blown away and keeps telling me what a wonderful teacher I am and that “your performance was an example of creative teaching at its best.”   I am so moved.  We talk about Sojourner Truth (who of course is in the show) and the power of theater.  I feel like I always do after a performance of SHE’S HISTORY!   So high.  So so high.  There is no drug like post performance.

Joy returns and we sit with her conference partner – Lynne – another fabulous female and we talk about how exhausted we are and how fabulous but ambitiously planned and amazingly executed the conference turned out to be.  A beautiful colorfully dressed woman comes in and Joy introduces us.  She is Barbara Glickstein – one of the next presenters.  (Barbara is an RN, MPH, MS, Co-Director of the Center for Health, Media and Policy at Hunter College, a public health nurse, broadcast journalist and global activist).  Joy tells her about SHE’S HISTORY! and when asked which women are in my show (there are about 30) I hand her my playbill.  “Oh”, she says, perusing it.  “Lucretia Mott.  I know her great-great-great-granddaughter” and proceeds to tell me about the yardstick that Lucretia’s father – Thomas Coffin – used to measure cloth.  I am now literally hyperventilating as I ask, “does she live here?” And the next thing I know she promises to try and e-connect us.

Time to go – grab another cab back to the hotel where I return calls, check emails, and actually rest for the two hours until the next show.  I refuel with the help of Starbucks and schlep schlep over to The Drilling Company Theater.  It is 6PM.   Lug lug up the two long flights and no one is in the theater.  Yay!  I set up in silence, happy for the peace and focus.  After a bit I am joined by the owner, Hamilton Clancy, and two theater lovers bond.  Then Joy and Lynne arrive with the wine and cheese.  Sebastian – who is running the lights – arrives and we go over my opening cue.  The audience is now squeezing into the teeny tiny lobby. Space in New York City is the ultimate commodity.   It is 6:40 and I am ready. We need to open the house.   In my Bella Abzug costume, I grab the remote, which I use to run the show, and bolt for the tiny backstage room.  Shut the door.  This is the hard part now.  Waiting.  Waiting and hearing the audience milling and murmuring just on the other side of the door which I open a crack and sneak peeks as friends and family and colleagues make their way up the stairs to be greeted by Joy and Lynne who offer wine and cheese. I love a well-fed slightly buzzed audience. The energy is electric.  I am pacing in circles when I spot the framed poster on the wall.  It is a quote by Margaret Mead.  “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” I am immediately moved to tears. This quote closes the show.  It is a sign.  Grabbing my flip, and with an emotional commentary, I shoot the sign.

It is show time.  Joy has done the intro.  “They are all ready for you,” she says.  I enter the theater, click my remote for the first musical cue (“Que sera sera”) and here we go. The place is packed.  I do my thing and I love it.  They seem to love it too.  As I perform I spot all sorts of people.  My sister Barbara, my former acting teacher Lenore who is helping me develop the show, my friend Jimmy from Long Island who taught me how to French kiss when I was fifteen; my old boyfriend and his lovely girlfriend.

I take my bow – make my speech thanking everyone for coming and explain how I have to turn the theater over immediately to the next show.  With the help of my friend Doug, we strike my stuff and minutes later I am outside with a glass of wine enjoying my friends and sister and so so so happy.

(left to right) Robin – the lovely girlfriend of my former boyfriend Twad (yes that is his name), Twad, Doug, my sister Barbara and behind her Joe- her husband, Tom Corozza, friend Amy Stiller, ME, old friend Bob Greenberg, friend Terrie Mintz and her friend….

Wake up still so so so so happy and craving pancakes.  Grab some and another cab and hightail over to the conference.  It is the last day and the only day for me to attend any sessions.  It was so hard to pick and choose but I chose Elena Skoko.  Here is the description.

Memoirs of a Singing Birth. Singer and artist Elena Skoko shares her life and discoveries on the path to motherhood that takes her from Croatia to Rome, from Rome to Bali in search of the perfect birth. Memoirs of a Singing Birth is a story of a personal quest for natural birth that ends up in a rural village in the heart of the island of Gods with the help of ‘guerrilla midwife’, Ibu Robin Lim. While giving birth, this rock ‘n’ roll woman sang! Her path to motherhood is exotic, adventurous, unusual, but also witty and deeply emotional. This is a story that will leave a trace in your heart changing your perception of birth forever, whether you’re expecting children or not. Memoirs of a Singing Birth is also a personal research of contemporary and forgotten birth practices. You will find out how the author and newborn mother succeeds to overcome the labor pains by using her voice, a practice much easier than one can imagine. The e-book describes in detail and with photos the practice of lotus birth. But most of all, this is a magic love story about a woman, a man and their child. Memoirs of a Singing Birth is published on Smashwords: http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/27398

She sat behind a desk in a classroom and mesmerized me with her story, her singing and especially the bit about eating placenta. She shared the session with writer/performer Anna Fishbeyn
who – like me – has a one-woman show “Sex In Mommyville”.  Here is HER description:

“Sex in Mommyville”. Anna Fishbeyn will perform an excerpt from her show, and discuss the challenges mothers face in maintaining “healthy” sex lives.  “Sex in Mommyville” is a feminist comedy-drama about a neurotic, guilt-ridden, health-conscious, sex-starved Manhattan mom trying to please her high-maintenance children, her lawyer-husband Zeus, and her Russian parents who live upstairs. Add to this mixture failed sex attempts and an article for Bitch Magazine raging against myopic, media-engendered stereotypes and double standards, and you’ve got a fearless portrayal of modern motherhood caught between Feminism and Bridalplasty! www.Sexinmommyville.com

I was SO worried when she began as she was dressed very sexy in a short skirt, fishnet stockings and high heels.  But she totally blew me and everyone else away with her brilliant take on contemporary motherhood and society’s objectifying and devaluing women. I wish I could see the WHOLE show, which she is doing in July at  Manhattan Repertory Theatre.

Anna, Elena and me

The next session was with keynote speaker Phyllis Chessler.
Author of 13 books, feminist, activist and blogger, Phyllis has been active in the women and mother’s movement her entire adult life. This is her third M.O.M. Conference

Mothers On Trial. This is the 25th anniversary edition with eight new chapters. It is still the first and only book of its kind, a book that looks at how women mothers, what happens when good enough mothers are custodially challenged – often by very violent husbands and fathers who prevail more often than not, and whose cause is often assisted by the court system itself. The book documents the heroism and connectedness of mothers, even under tortuous siege. Also this new edition includes chapters which look at legal trends (1986-2011), legal torture, a new chapter about Fathers’ Supremacists groups, an updated international custody chapter, two new chapters about court-enabled incest, a new introduction, a new resources section, and a new closing chapter interview with a leading Manhattan divorce lawyer: “What To Expect When You’re Expecting a Divorce.”

What can I say?  She was brilliant, articulate, passionate, funny, honest, angry and an adoring grandmother!  I could relate so much and felt so validated and supported, as I believe all the mothers in the room felt.  As I have learned from performing “Cheerios In My Underwear” my play about motherhood, there is something so wonderful about being a in a room with people who are going through the same struggle.

Phyllis Chessler and Me!

Maternally and culturally nourished, I went on the next – and last – session of the day.

Ali Smith: Book author, photographer

Momma Love: How the Mother Half Lives. Societies need healthy mothers in order to survive, but they rarely know how to take care of mothers’ needs properly. Momma Love looks at the varying degrees of support that women receive from partners, lawmakers, employers and each other. Photographer Ali Smith shares photographs and the very personal stories of her subjects. The mothers depicted range from famous actors to a survivor of incest who is struggling to put the shattered pieces of herself back together so that she may parent her son well. Through the anecdotal evidence revealed in these women’s stories, greater truths about the way mothers are living and are treated in western society are revealed.

I loved getting to know Ali – who – like me – spent many years in the sexist, ego-driven, male dominated often morally bankrupt music business.  She was in a band; I worked in promotion.  She gave me a signed copy of her wonderful first book “Laws of the Bandit Queens -Words To Live by from 35 of Today’s Most Revolutionary Women”.   What a cool book filled with some of the women I portray in my show and whom she interviewed including Geraldine Ferraro, Pat Schroeder and Alice Walker!  Ali showed us a presentation of her upcoming project Momma Love – about motherhood.

It all ended to soon and exhausted but totally inspired and emotionally overwhelmed – but in a good way – I hugged and kissed all the fabulous females I met and bonded with and hit the hot and crowded streets of Manhattan.

I chilled.  I just chilled.  The whole damned day.  Ahhhhhh.

Great-great-great-great-granddaughter.  I still cannot believe it. Who is Lucretia Mott?  An extremely fabulous female who has a BIG part in my show and in women’s history!  Huge!  A founding mother, famous abolitionist, ordained Quaker minister  – one of the first women in America to preach in public (Anne Hutchinson tried it in the 1600s and she – the mother of the first amendment – was literally run out of town). After a few emails, Lucretia Coffin Mott’s great-great-great-great granddaughter Marianna invited me to her home.  I was so excited I could barely speak. When I emailed asking if I could I bring her coffee, she replied:  “Too damned hot for coffee.  Bring some chips.  We’re having ale”.

Ale?  Ale? With Marianna Mott?  I am plotzing, kvelling, freaking out.  I arrive at her loft, she buzzes me up and I see a mezuzah on her door – which is a sign that a Jew lives there.  A Jew?  Lucretia Coffin Mott was a famous Quaker.  A Jewish Quaker?  Could she get any cooler? A beautiful blonde woman younger than I greets me.  I see Mott in her face.  I feel I am in the presence of royalty.  She turns out to be a gracious, warm, lovely smart, feminist mommy and total girlfriend.  I fall in love with her.  We drink the ale, we eat the chips, we get to know each other.  She shows me Lucretia’s father’s yardstick.  It is engraved Thomas Coffin with the year 1797.  I am moved to tears.  I’m such a wimp. I have never been in the presence of such an artifact.  She shows me more things, a book with letters between Lucretia and her husband James.  Some photographs and an award her teenage son (a history buff!) received.  It was The Mary Wollstonecraft Award for Excellence In History.  Mary Wollstonecraft – our first femisnits writer of also has a nice part in my show.  The whole intense trip was worth this afternoon.  An hour flies by.  We promise to keep in touch and I float away.

Marianna Mott, the Yardstick and me

Marianna Mott, The Yardstick, a picture of Lucretia, and me

I subway it to the Upper West Side where I hit Zabar’s (the greatest deli on Earth) and stock up on bread and cake. I meet my former acting teacher Lenore DeKoven, who takes me out to a real nice Upper East Side restaurant for a real nice dinner. We discuss the future of SHE’S HISTORY!  Lenore is a tough cookie with the highest of standards and has supported this project from the start.

I leave for home the next day.  Sitting in a quiet JFK Airport on the Saturday of Memorial Day Weekend, sipping wine, I am absolutely struck with what I have accomplished.  Three shows, two days, two states, three venues, no roadies, no problems and I am still miraculously alive. This was the first time I brought a show to New York.  The first time I did not SEE a show in New York.  The first time I went to New York and did not have a pizza or knish or Chinese food.   Instead, I did a show – or two, felt more proud of myself than I can articulate and – I had a beer with a Mott.