First stop, Philadelphia, home of the Liberty Bell, a city in which I have never before spent time, but where my father and grandfather were raised.
I was invited to perform My Stroke of Luck at Pennoni Honors College, Drexel University, by the Dean, Paula Marantz Cohen, PhD. What an honor! Thank you, Paula. She saw my show at a sold out performance at United Solo Theater Festival Off Broadway in New York City last September, where ishow won Best Storytelling Script! She accompanied her husband, Dr. Alan Penziner, a retired Hematologist / Oncologist, who was my classmate at Yale Medical School. ( Photo credit above: Alan.)
Paula, along with former classmates from elementary, high school, college and medical school, took over a private dining room at nearby Chez Josephine, for dinner (delicious!) and post performance Q & A!
Not having had a wedding, and not one to give big parties, never in my life have I had – or dreamed of having - so many people from so many different parts of my life together in one place celebrating me! What a delightful pleasure!! Thank you, all who were a part of that very enchanted evening!
Paula loved the show, invited me to perform at Pennoni!!! YES!!!! AND THANK YOU, THANK YOU!
Before long, we an agreement and a date!
Brian Kantorek, MS/LIS, Assistant Director, Marketing & Media for Pennoni College, and Executive Producer of The Drexel InterView, an interview program hosted by Paula, handled the details! That in itself was a joy! As an unknown solo artist, I am usually responsible for much of the publicity and outreach for my performances. So often, I am torn between the creative (fine tuning script, rehearsing, character development, finding accents, movement, creating and handling props, drilling down on moments, bringing show back to performance readiness or writing something new) and what for me feels mundane and against the grain, marketing (emails, phone calls, attending events this introvert would never attend to network, handing out cards and flyers, Facebook posts, Tweeting, etc.)
So to have Brian and his crack team do all the heavy lifting? Color me over the moon with joy and gratitude!
Brian’s 40 detail clarifying emails provide an index of how many moving parts are involved in co-ordinating a performance- from artist relations, to theater arrangements, program and publicity. And those only covered things for which I needed to be in the loop! After I arrived, Brian texted public transport details, met me at the bus stop, walked me to the theater! Above and beyond! I am so grateful!!! Since my stroke, I am detail and directionally challenged, so Brian’s ministrations were most welcome.
Above, performance venue, The Black Box Theater, URBN Center, co-sponsored by Westphal College of Art and Design.
My only obligations: arrive in town performance ready, get myself and my suitcase of props to the theater for tech rehearsal, breathe, then just do it!
Full disclosure: Pennoni performance was actually the 2nd time I’ve had that luxury!!
First time was earlier in May. Playwright Lynne Kaufman (Acid Test: The Many Incarnations of Ram Das, Two Minds, Sex Scandal) who teaches at The Fromm Institute, a prestigious life long learning center in University of San Francisco, “A University Within A University”, invited me to perform My Stroke of Luck for her class, “The Art of Storytelling: 8 Live Performances!” In the series, I joined esteemed Bay Area Equity Actors, W. David Keith (who brought Ram Dass to The Marsh) and Lorri Holt (Colette), Comedian Marga Gomez (Latin Standards), Charlie Varon (Feisty Jew, Story Borsht, Rush Limbaugh in Night Scnool,), journalist and comedianne Maureen Langan (of KGO Radio and Daughter of a Garbageman, political satirist Will Durst (Durst Case Scenario: Elect to Laugh and Midterm Madness) and Steve Budd (What They Say About Love)!
Added bonus, performance was at class time, 11 AM - early matinee. Works for me, no nap required!
And what a blast!!
Lynne’s assistant, Carla Hall, coordinated all the details and ran tech!!! THANK YOU! Fromm audience was engaged, rapt, and responsive! Standing ovation, insightful questions in the guided talk back about the creative process lead by Lynne, wonderful personal sharing in the line afterwards. Thank you, Lynne and Carla!
Lynne’s Art of Storytelling class will be offered again at Fromm next year, with 8 new performances. And her hit play, ACID TEST: THE MANY INCARNATIONS OF RAM DASS with David Keith returns to The Marsh SF Sept 9-Nov 4.
But back to Philadelphia.
Added pleasure: Paula and Alan host me in their downtown Philly apartment, a spacious, well appointed gem in a landmark building! All the comforts of home with none of the mess! Fruits from the Farmer’s Market, oatmeal, teas, veggies, The New York Times print edition, and a morning cuppa from a mug with the best quotes about doctors: “Never go to one whose office plants look sick” Smallwood, great company, tokens for the bus and then some!
As if that wasn’t enough, Alan took me for a guided tour of downtown Philadelphia, where murals and public art are ubiquitous.
Images below: from Top LT Constitution Hall, Mural, The Women's Guild sign,
The Rat - arrives at worksites using non union labor, street mosaic, mural,
mural, early Wells Fargo Deposit Box, City Hall in the middle of the street
Gorgeous, underrated city! Will definitely return! (Has me thinking I need to visit Detroit, another city whose fortunes changed, allowing artists to move in and transform!)
2 murals, utility box, bus stop, mural, mosaic
Then to lunch at the Franklin Inn Club dedicated to meals, camaraderie and discussion of current events. It was Alan’s turn to choose a recent topical article – his choice: David Brooks on the death of liberal arts - and moderate the ensuing discussion. Lively! Guess it couldn’t be any other way with retired academics, writers, thinkers, and a Nobel laureate!
The club, which initially required members be published authors, has bookshelves full of member’s first editions dating back over a century and an eclectic art collection. My favorite: this original illustration, Coming Home From Church, by “Golden Age of American Illustration” color blind artist, A.D. Frost. He worked through Jim Crowe error, but clearly, had heart and soul. (Under glass, can't kill reflections.)
Then more Alan guided walking tour...
Sadly, not enough time to hit the museums, not even the Barnes! Next time!
Note last name on sign of Philadelphia Sketch Club.
Then time for dinner with Paula and Alan (had the world’s best scampi), where our waiter knew some of Paula’s best students. Small world! On the stroll back to their apartment, Rita’s for a gelato fix!
Next morning, day of performance, tech rehearsal.
Many theaters and festivals give performers a very limited time block (time is money) for tech rehearsal. Tech includes sound, light and blocking (movement of actor in the space, and must be tweaked, depending on stage size and shape and audience configuration). Maybe the allotted time is enough, maybe not. So often, one pares show down to the bare essentials. After doing Fringes and festivals, I had enough tech time to explore and expand, adding sound and light cues for the first time at The Marsh. But at Pennoni for the first time ever, I had more than one tech: one in the sound/light control booth, one calling cues (pictured above) and a floating supervisor (YES!)! We finished in less than half the time allotted.
Needless to say, performance was a joy! Tech smooth, great audience - engaged and on the ride- you could hear a pin drop. Standing O! YES!!! Thank you!
At Q & A, first question was from an elegant, silver-haired African American woman, probably five years older than I, a three-year stroke survivor. Her question was about rehab and recovery. When I told her that I was in some form of rehab for 8 years, that some people stay in rehab for the rest of their lives she was a babe in the recovery woods, she smiled, laughed, then said, “Well, then I don’t feel so bad!” The audience thundered in applause! She went on to ask a few more questions (sadly, not recorded and too in the moment for my internal video to click record), then shared that she was writing a children’s book about her experience!
“Congratulations,” I said. “That’s the beauty, the silver lining of stroke. We find new selves we didn’t know were inside us. I salute and honor you. Keep at it.”
We exchanged a heartfelt, double sisterhood hug!
Many said that interaction was an unbelievably inspiring and poignant coda to my show. Really brought the message home and elevated the experience. So to you, Mystery Lady, I say, “BIG THANK YOU! Keep on keeping on!” Sadly, did not get her contact info. Out of the marketing/self promo mode, had no mailing list sign up sheet, flyers or cards. (Introverts will never rule the world!)
Then on to the reception.
Oh, my! Already past my intended word count. And we haven’t even left Philadelphia!!!
So I’ll close this with big Gratitude to Dean Cohen and each and every one of you who have ever come out to my show, eagerly, willingly, or dragged!
More next week!