Performing Ruth At Essene, November 2014, Photo By Alex Lowy
When I was 16 years old my mother took me to see “The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life,” starring Lily Tomlin. As I watched Lily inhabit multiple personae, the audience absorbed in the many layers of her invented world, I heard a voice from deep inside me say “I do that!” For the past several years I’d been performing on the Speech and Debate team at Stuyvesant HS, inhabiting a number of characters in 10 minute play excerpts as an opportunity to show off my range. But watching Tomlin inspired a whole new possibility of what was possible for me as a performer.
Thus began my 27 year journey to what may be the most important one-woman show performance of my life. In March 2015 I will be performing Dirty Joke, at The Annenberg Center For The Arts. I was chosen to perform in this prestigious venue because this year they are featuring the solo performer. So far the first one-woman show has been presented starring Mary Tuomanen, next they will feature dancer, Amy Lynne Barr, and in February poet, Ursula Rucker. The purpose of the series is to put an end to the idea that one person shows are not engaging. I will be the closing act in this By Local series and although, it is not until March, I need to start preparing now.
I have been performing full-length, original one woman shows for the past 20 years. My first at The Samuel Beckett Theatre on theatre row featured characters based on the type of people that I grew up with in my neighborhood. “Take Another Little Piece of My Heart” also debuted one of my original characters that has become a central character in various shows, Danny. Danny sexually harasses women in the audience verbally and more often than not, they turn the tables on him, leaving the audience laughing at his comeuppance.
I left NYC to live in Philadelphia 18 years ago. When the original reason for the move no longer existed, I realized I was not done with Philly. It was the perfect place to live as an artist and create new works while also enjoying a comfortable lifestyle. I loved the fact that I could perform for such appreciative audiences. As a highly practical person, I stayed!
I created a new show just about every year from 1997-2006. In addition, I toured throughout the country, to colleges and women’s theatre festivals. I performed a mix of stand-up comedy and original characters. I made strangers laugh and reflect on challenging issues with my shows. I loved to tell people “I am a one-woman show.” I loved to entertain, educate and inspire people and I often did.
Then I had my daughter Lily. Guess what? She is not named after Ms. Tomlin, but rather my grandfather – who was named Lily! Okay, his name was Lou, but you get the point. I devoted most of my waking moments to being with Lily and creating our incredible relationship. During this time I also continued to coach women and men all around the world, book voice overs, while producing three original, one woman shows and a play with a cast of seven actresses. I have not, however, fully devoted myself to sharing my solo work on the level I’d like to achieve.
This booking at The Annenberg Center represents so much for me. It represents going to the next level, it represents being valued as an artist in my city, Philadelphia, it represents being a leader and inspiration for women, the elderly, activists and artists since the show champions all of those, and it represents my paying homage to my incredible grandfather who told me many of these dirty jokes starting from the time I was three. I am using the dirty joke as a way to bring attention to the inequity suffered by women, the elderly, and activists who I believe are heroes meant to inspire all of us.
I always said I wanted to have a show great enough to tour and eventually have a run in NYC at a reputable theatre. This engagement represents that, and now that it is getting closer I am feeling excited and nervous. What if I can’t get ready in time? What if the show is not as strong as I want it to be? What if I am not as good as I want to be? What if the audience does not come? What if this doesn’t change my career and I still live in semi-obscurity? What if this changes everything and I begin at last to really contribute to empowering people in a bigger way with my art and entertainment?
I am overwhelmed by all these questions, my fears, my hopes, my doubts. And on some level I am ready to begin this process too. I have been training for decades to be the woman and performer I am now.
The Annenberg Center show is not just a booking to me. It is the beginning of my biggest dreams coming true.