In 1975

I saved up enough money to go to Sagaris, a "radical feminist institute' being convened for 2 five week sessions at University of Vermont. I was living in St. Petersburg Beach Florida at the time, Pass-a-Grille, working as a taxi driver on the graveyard shift earning about $1 an hour which was enough to pay the $75 rent on my back-of-the-house small beach shack and keep me in pizza, toast and McD's.

In the year that I lived there I worked as a teaching asst/school bus driver for a special needs school, an apprentice framing carpenter, taxi driver, community shuffleboard court washer/waxer for $10/week. They'd put $10 bill in an envelope with my name on it in one of the lockers in the tiny supplies shack on 10th Ave. Once a week I'd wash and wax the courts, usually about 3am when there were no calls for a taxi and after wrapping the cord back around the household waxing machine, I'd open the locker door, take out the envelope, slip the $10 in my jeans pocket, turn off the stadium lights and head back out to the car.

Sagaris I was the session I went to. Sagaris II exploded into two camps, literally the "yes's" and the "no's" by the end of the first week. Sagaris I managed to last the entire 5 weeks though not without drama. I hitchhiked up from Florida by myself which at the time didn't seem like an adventurous thing to do, just economical.

I had graduated from Northwestern with a degree in Oral Interpretation in December 1973, which is when I drove down to Florida with gas money plus $5. Lots of car breakdowns, volunteer mechanics, black cups of coffee and old-time gospel on the radio between Indiana and Georgia. I hadn't ever considered what I would do or what I wanted to do. Life just came at me in those days and I handled it as best I could.

Sagaris had classes taught by Mary Daly, Rita Mae Brown, Bertha Harris, Charlotte Bunch. Participants included June Arnold, Dorothy Allison, Karen Clark and about another 100 of us. Somewhere in about the third week, a woman named Linda learned that her husband had taken her children and filed suit that as a lesbian, she was an unfit mother. It was the first case I had ever heard of and we rallied round, raising money, awareness and spirits. We scheduled an evening to raise money so she could immediately head back home and start fighting for custody of her children.

Rita Mae Brown said she'd read one of her stories, others signed up to play music. There was more but that's all I remember, except the dilemma of what or if I was going to do anything. I had never willing performed outside of a play or class assignment. Growing up I earned money for college by producing children plays and selling stock to parents of cast members, but there wasn't really a play that spoke to this situation. I had fled from improvisations my whole life. Nothing terrified me more. My brain stopped dead on the few occasions I had to do one. But here I was, wanting to help and no material to match my passion.

And so I signed up as one of the performers, spent about 30 minutes by myself in the space, just before everyone gathered for the evening event, and imagined a 15 minute or so performance. My time came right after Rita Mae, more on that another time, and I did what I had imagined. I moved, spoke, possibly sang, I remember starting with an exaggerated swagger and cowboy spit. I know the material dealt with mothers, and lesbians and being targets and love and a lot more that I don't remember. And that the women were moved, that it did make a difference and that I had survived. That meant a lot to me. It took almost twenty years for me to not have to face the fear of annihilation every time before I performed. Once I was out there, it dissipated.

When I returned to Florida, I was different. I had learned the power of performance. The elemental power. I'd known it, recognized it when very young, but had misplaced it in the Saturday drama classes at the Pittsburgh Playhouse and Mt. Lebanon High School. I started realizing that performance created a form of listening, of connecting that was unlike any other. That big issues could not only be addressed, but resolved. That people who were near at war, could find connection. Not always and not forever, but I hadn't seen anything else come close. So I started performing, for the first time since my final college performance exam - a scene from Harold Pinter's Birthday where I played the old man and Evie played my wife.

There wasn't much call for it but even in our small feminist women's movement in St. Pete, we dealt with the same bloody issues women were dealing with the world over. Death from illegal unsafe abortions, stranger rapes, date rapes, spousal rapes, suicides, beatings from male partners, lesbian bashings, coming out, disownment, loss of jobs, children, police harassment - all that and more. And those were mostly the topics I performed about, but with my own quirky take, humor and grace. I only performed for women and didn't seek opportunities, so there weren't that many performances.

Each one was a unique performance imagined during a two hour time in the various spaces the day of the performance. The ones I remember include the one at Sagaris, two in St. Pete, one at WARM Gallery in Minneapolis, one for an underground feminist collective I was a part of, one at a lesbian conference in York PA, a speakout for Sex Workers at the Women's Coffeehouse in NYC that Sapphire and I performed at, a speakout for a Tribunal on Crimes Against Women that was at the same coffeehouse, at least one if not two for the Heresies Collective which I was a part of and then my last one at Medea Theater, 10 Bleeker Street, NYC.

I called one of them Strategies and included a piece that listed all the different ways I prepared for sudden death or dismemberment growing up. Practicing holding my breath at night in case our car suddenly went off a bridge. Reviewing the known facts about alligators - that their jaw opening muscles were very weak, that they could run very fast but only for a short distance. That if an elevator was plummeting, it might increase your odds for survival if you started jumping up and down, creating a 50% chance you'd be up in the air when the elevator hit bottom. Other pieces of performances I passed out journals and women read excerpts of their own choosing; I changed clothes on stage, from a dress, down to nothing, to pants and a shirt, striving to stay centered and hold for all of us there, the benigness of our physical bodies. I sang America the Beautiful at a time of extreme upset with the government. I performed stories about growing up, of my mother's life which was hyper dramatic and included almost daily pleas for death, fairly regular attempts to kill me, apocalyptic rages about my father and me. In short, a more dramatic version of the rage, despair and anguish felt by many women around the world.

The performances were well-recieved. They moved people. Scared them too. I always began with a physical act that contained the possibility of injury to myself. Hanging from the balcony at WARM Gallery, cutting my hair with scissors at the Heresies retreat, walking a high shallow ledge about 15' up from the stage, all reflecting the terror I had to face in performing at all.

I'm pretty sure that Strategies at Medea Theater in New York City was my last public performance. One of the private performances might have come after, but I was trashed out of the feminist group before 1977 and I think 1977 was the same year we had our Heresies Collective's retreat where I performed. I have some sort of script from many of them, from saving the brown piece of butcher's paper I'd write my notes on in the hours before the performance. I'd also write down what I remembered saying and doing afterwards.

The reason I stopped performing for ten years was that I could tell that the waters I was swimming in during the performances had no bridge back to this world, back to the audience, back to conversations about them. That I couldn't think ahead of what was happening in ways that I needed to if the performances popularity continued to grow. I could do them, out at the edge of what I knew about the world, but I couldn't connect them back to the everyday.

I starting performing again in 1987 at Dixon Place with 'O The Wonder of It All. On my 35th birthday, I had asked myself if there was anything I should be doing that I wasn't. Very Protestant question I suppose. And the answer was immediate – perform. It felt most like picking up a red hot poker with your bare hand, but I knew I had to.

Since then I've done many performances and plays. All scripted with sets, choreography and music, and small bits of improv in them, when it's a one-woman show. In terms of the kind of early improv work I was doing, I've left that particular red hot poker on the ground.