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“CATF at 24” by Scott Cawood

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The author: Scott Cawood

The late Gabriel Gracia Marquez begins his novel “One Hundred Years Of Solitude” by describing a ragged band of gypsies setting up camp on the edge of a village each spring and who, with great fanfare, would display the new inventions of the world.  When their leader, Melquides, demonstrated his magical irons (magnets) he proclaimed, “Things have a life of their own. It’s only a matter of waking up their souls.”

Twenty four summers ago a ragged band of gypsies showed up on the edge of Shepherdstown with enough clang and clatter and lightning and thunder to wake the town dog sleeping in the middle of German Street. And as it has come to pass, Shepherdstown has never been the same. I was lucky enough to find their camp early on courtesy of OG, (original gypsy) Mollie Brown, who led me by way of a complimentary ticket to a series of Sam Shepard vignettes in which she and fellow OG Joe Costa were performing.  And I was stunned! Just as stunned as those villagers who had witnessed the miracle of magnets…and Melquides turned out to be Ed Herendeen. But it wasn’t science or inventions he was demonstrating; no, it was the raw, searing power and sweeping range of human emotion caught up and twisted by life, and played out on stage. As I say, I was stunned; so much so that afterwards I went out and read everything Sam Shepard ever wrote. But even larger is that I saw theater completely different from that moment on; no longer as entertainment but, in a deeper sense, as Art. I had felt the direct and unmistakable gut churning power of Art. And it changed my life as that was the tipping point in which I realized that I, too, had the heart of a gypsy, an artist. Such is the magic of gypsies.

Nowadays the gypsies are a bit more polished, one could say (a few lost ponytails included), but I don’t hold that against anyone and it certainly hasn’t affected their ability to bring the magic. And true to those very first plays in the un-air conditioned old gym with a complimentary bottle of spring water and a wish for a cool breeze to arise out of nowhere, right on through to the contemporary ambience of the new Marinoff Theater, the festival’s mission of developing cutting edge contemporary storytelling has not waivered one iota. That’s twenty four solid years of addressing current issues, gloves off and daring to focus on often overlooked and uncomfortable facets of our contemporary existence. This is Art by mirror and what we see may not be pretty, but it is beautiful in that it touches us and makes us think… and that is a gigantic accomplishment. That’s why this Festival is so important and that’s why it increases the quality of life for everyone who attends, especially those folks who live right here in Shepherdstown.

I’ve watched Shepherdstown grow with the festival and I’ve watched as summers have gone from overloaded hay wagons meandering down German Street, dodging sleeping dogs, to this lively and exciting arts scene with galleries and restaurants and venues of all shapes and sizes swept up in the excitement. The whole town buzzes and talk on the street centers on the plays. Creativity is everywhere.  I’ve come to see this festival as a celebration of Truth played out by gypsies who come every summer and bring with them this huge swirling ball of creative energy. It’s very exciting to be around a group of dedicated, professional artists and to feel their energy and share creative exchanges; not many small towns can offer that.

Another endearing aspect of CATF for me has been the many great friendships I have developed with other professional artists over the years including writers, techies, designers, directors, and actors. Many of whom I remain close with even after all these years. It’s the closest I get to having a feeling of belonging to a family of artists; and since all artists (and gypsies) are basically self-imposed orphans, those friendships bring me much joy and comfort.

And while you can plainly see the beneficial effects CATF has had on local businesses, the local Art scene and the University, I think the largest, most positive and far-reaching effect CATF has had is on the thinking of the individuals who have attended plays or spent the summer as part of the theater company. I personally feel like my decision to become a full time artist was greatly influenced by my interaction with CATF, and that was the most positive decision I’ve ever made.  While I don’t believe or expect that everyone finds those kinds of seeds there, CATF is one of the few places I know of where they are made readily available if you care to gather and plant them. I have to wonder how many other souls have carried away with them some sort of inspiration which, in turn, has expanded their thinking to a much larger understanding. I’ll wager many….many, many. And believe it or not, that is the true beginnings of a better world.

Nearly a quarter of a century ago this was all set into motion by the vision and determination of one man, Shepherdstown’s own King Of The Gypsies, Ed Herendeen, who like Melquiades, has proven that things do have a life of their own and that it is only a matter of waking up their souls. That’s no small feat. And Ed has done it by starting this creative fire, and then nurturing it, and then feeding it as much fuel as it can stand… and then looking for more to burn.

So Thank You Ed, for twenty four years of gypsies, inspiration, and fire….and for waking up souls. Especially mine.

-Scott Cawood
July 2014

Scott is a self-taught artist and nationally recognized steel sculptor from right across the river in Antietam, MD. Past CATF exhibitions include: 1996 Flames; 1998 East West Highway (commissioned visual component to Carry The Tiger To The Mountain); 2007 A Retrospective; and now this year’s Scrap Yard Salon. www.cawoodart.com

His work can currently be seen during the Festival in Room 113 of the Center for Contemporary Arts/I (92 W. Campus Drive). The gallery for the “Scrap Yard Salon” is open before and after performances of Uncanny Valley by Thomas Gibbons.

Chisa! The Playwright of ‘Dead and Breathing’ (part one)

Researched, interviewed, and edited by Sharon J. Anderson, CATF Trustee/Professional Storyteller

 

CATF:  Whenever you describe the play “Dead and Breathing” you say, “It’s a comedy.  Swear.” What’s funny about being in a hospice for two years dying of cancer?

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Chisa Hutchinson. Photo by Seth Freeman.

CHISA HUTCHINSON: Exactly.  There’s really nothing funny about it. Whenever I tell people what the play is about, it always sounds so heavy and bleak. If you’re living in hospice or a hospice worker, you cannot be in that space all the time.  It would be exhausting. Hospice workers have to have a sense of humor otherwise they would scratch their eyes out and never come out into the light of day.

Comedy is a defense mechanism.  It’s the way we survive.  If people who are suffering just dwelt on the suffering, it would be totally exhausting and unpleasant.  If you plan on living, you’ve got to have a sense of humor.

 CATF: One of the characters in “Dead and Breathing” is based on your favorite aunt.

CHISA:  When I finished this play, I was so excited to send it to my aunt to get her stamp of approval. She loves it and has shared it with everybody.  She’s a nurse who has seen a lot of suffering, yet she is probably one of the funniest women I know.  She’s got such a wry sense of humor and is relentless with her comedy. She is a joy to be around, and I hope that the audience will find her as enthralling as I do.

 CATF:  Did you follow her around with a tape recorder or a pad and pencil? How much of this play is comprised of her actual words?

CHISA: It’s more that the characters are inspired by her.  It’s more like I’m asking, “What would my aunt do if she were in this position?”  Yes, I’m transplanting her into this fictitious situation, but the character is very real with my aunt’s attitude, her humor and her quickness.

CATF: What would your aunt say was your greatest strength and what would she say chisa threewas your greatest weakness?

CHISA: She would say that my greatest strength is loving and my greatest weakness is loving.

CATF:  You have said that your plays are about three things: race, sexuality and gender.  Is this true about “Dead and Breathing”?

CHISA: I always have an agenda, but I don’t like to beat people over the head with it. Whenever you have to give your pet a pill for medication, they won’t swallow it.  But if you stick the pill in a piece of cheese or wrap a piece of chicken around it, they’ll eat it.  I feel that way with plays that have messages. If you wrap the message in something else — like a narrative about mortality and morality, faith and forgiveness – it makes a message about race or gender easier to swallow.

CATF: Is the play more about the relationship between the two women or about death and assisted suicide?

CHISA: The relationship is the vehicle that carries the message.  How can men in your audience come to care about women? How can you make them give a shit about gender issues?  They won’t if you don’t give them something broader to relate to. How can I write a play about race that people who do not identify as people of color can relate to? The trick is to focus on the human relationships and present another angle to sneak the message in.

Chisa four CATF: For being so young [34 years old], you seem like an old soul.

CHISA: I hear that a lot.

 CATF: Why is someone as young as you dealing with assisted suicide?

CHISA: I have multiple sclerosis, and I wonder sometimes – and this is kind of morbid – when I’m going to die. I have fears and concerns about how MS will affect my breathing or my heart or some other function that I really need. Right now it’s just in my legs.  I wonder if it ever got to the point where I was unable to function, if I would decide, “Wow, this is not really the quality of life I want.  I really would rather not go on like this.”  I wonder if I would decide that, but I don’t think I have the courage.

 CATF: Here’s an excerpt from a short story called, “Go Like This” by Lorrie Moore. The story is about Elizabeth, a married writer with one child who has been diagnosed with terminal breast cancer and announces to her friends and family that she has decided to end her life: “I tell them the cancer is poisoning at least three lives and that I refuse to be its accomplice.  This is not a deranged act, I explain. Most of them have known for quite a while my belief that intelligent suicide is almost always preferable to the stupid lingering of a graceless death.”  What do you think of that description?2014_CATF_ABSOLUTE_FINAL_Dead_Breathing--2-17-2014 copy

CHISA:  Wow.  Wow.  That is the best articulation of that I have ever heard. This applies directly to “Death and Breathing” because it is the struggle between this nurse whose job is to nurture life, and the patient who asks her to end it. It goes against what the nurse believes.  Her function is to tease out the difference between intelligence – as in intelligent suicide – and ingratitude for life. The nurse feels like this woman who has been in hospice for two years has had two years of life. The nurse can’t shake the feeling that this woman is totally ungrateful and has wasted two years worth of life.

This play is a question: Is there a difference between that intelligence and that ingratitude? Between rationally wanting to end your life and being ungrateful for the life you’ve been given?

CATF:  Are you grateful for the life you’ve been given?

CHISA: I am absolutely grateful for the life I’ve been given.  Every day.  Every day. I sometimes wonder if there will come a time when I’m not grateful or when I will say, “Okay, time for that intelligence.  Time for the intelligent suicide that could be a grateful way of going.”

Read Part Two of CATF’s interview with Chisa Hutchinson here.

Visit the interviewer’s website here.

Charles Fuller.

So, the 2014 Season is live. Tickets are for sale. The buzz is buzzing.

2014_CATF_ABSOLUTE_FINAL_One_Night--2-17-2014 copyWe had the — and I’m being hyperbolic-free here — life-changing opportunity of hosting Pulitzer Prize-winning dramatist Charles Fuller with us this weekend as we announced this year’s line-up of plays.  He was, frankly, incredible  at the Shephedstown Opera House on Saturday.  He spoke from the heart and had the audience eating out of his hand. He has a genuine commitment to telling America’s story, warts and all, and to make the country a better place. If art can change the world–and we think it does–he has every intention of doing so. The standing ovation at the end of his talk with Ed could have gone on all night had he not insisted on stepping down from the stage.  Mr. Fuller has something important to say with his new play ONE NIGHT and he certainly intends on disrupting the universe a little bit with this production, as well he should. (It premiered this past fall at my old haunt, Cherry Lane Theatre in Greenwich Village. Cherry Lane, under the leadership of Artistic Director Angelina Fiordellisi, commmissioned the play and co-produced it with Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre.)

The evening included Ed intorducing the full slate of plays on tap this summer (more to follow in a separate post on that front), a terrific clip from Mr. Fuller’s film adaptation of Pulitzer Prize-winning play, A SOLDIER’S STORY (the movie, with a young Denzel Washington, is called A SOLDIER’S STORY and is definitely worth checking out), and then an hour-long conversation tracing his career, time in the military, and the impetus behind this new script. It was deeply moving and inspirational.

What an artist and what a patriot. Thank YOU, Mr. Fuller, for giving us the opportunity to meet you and produce your work. Ed will be directing this second production in the Frank Center and it will open the Festival on Friday, July 11th.

Here’s a terrific article in DC Theatre Scene by Mark Dewey about the evening and the roll-out of the ’14 season: http://dctheatrescene.com/2014/03/04/catf-makes-belief-shepherdstown-wv-announcing-season-24/

And a couple of photos of Mr. Fuller:

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Playwright Charles Fuller talks with CATF Producing Director Ed Herendeen, Saturday, March 1, 2014, at the Shepherdstown Opera House.

 

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Playwright Charles Fuller, winner of the 1982 Pulitzer Prize, with members of the Eastern Panhandle Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta sorority. March 1, 2014.

Charles in Ed's Office

Prior to the Season Announcement, Charles Fuller met with Ed Herendeen about the script and process for ONE NIGHT. Note Ed’s original copy of Mr. Fuller’s A SOLDIER’S PLAY on the table. March 1, 2014.

-jkm

SATURDAY: WE ANNOUNCE

From a staff perspective, we’ve known the five plays that will occupy our lives for the next six months for a while now. But it never seems real until they flash across our website, show up on Google Alerts, and the–hopefully–constant buzz of the box office phones kicks in.  We’re no different than other theaters in, that, the selected season–the chosen few–dominates our hearts and minds: they are, for an appointed amount of time, our singular purpose, our motivation, our full-time occupation. But unlike more traditonal theaters that stretch out their season over, say, 10 months, we keep ours super compact–as a package, a bundle of explosive activity that bursts on the scene, and then is gone just as quickly. As far as we are concerned, in our CATF lives, these are the most important plays in the world. And we will give them our all.

We finally get to let you in on the secret we’ve been keeping since December. That’s not to say we have just been resting on our laurels, waiting around for an opportunity to make some noise and get some press.  We’ve been busy getting ourselves ready to launch this 24th repertory–some of it sexy, a lot of it not. And we’re almost ready. It’s exciting. It’s a little nerve-wracking. It’s why we do this.

I think you’re going to like the plays Ed has selected. I think you’re going to like them a lot. On Saturday, we will officially reveal them to anyone and everyone who cares to know how we’ll be devoting our time and treasure from now until early August. And “devoting” is right: this is a devotion for us. For Ed, Peggy, and me. For Patrick and Trent and our production staff. For Gaby talking to you as you sort out your ‘ultimate theater experience’. For our support teams who design our graphics, insure our stages, and balance our books. For our extraordinary board. For our donors and funders. And for you, I hope, our patrons.

We make art because we have to–nothing else compares. And you allow us the extaordinary privilege to create theater for a living. It’s a honor we do not take for granted. Thank you.

So, please join us this weekend as we announce the 2014 season and welcome the esteemed American playwright Charles Fuller to Shepherdstown. Once we unveil the season, it’s going to be a mad sprint to the finish line. Hang on tight.

-jkm

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