By Theresa Puskar
September 10, 2016 – Chicago Dramatists Theater, Chicago, IL
Long ago, and oh so far away, I was a professional actress. I remained in the industry for 15 years, until I reached a point at which I felt discouraged and disempowered. It was a precarious lifestyle – I’d get an acting job on a tv show or on the stage, and I’d feel like I was on top of the world. Then I’d get nothing for months, and would feel frustrated, and emotionally drained. While I loved it (and I’m so glad that I lived it), it was a difficult life. I left the business in 1999, but felt that one day I’d end up re-visiting it again on my own terms. Now here I am 17 years later, and I feel the performance bug knocking on my door once again.
I have been working with a writing instructor for the past three years at Chicago Dramatists. Her name is Arlene Malinowski, and she is a one-of-a-kind mentor and coach. One of the classes she offers advanced writers is aptly titled, From Page to Stage. The writers in the class have three days where we share our scripts with each other, and based on colleague feedback, we rewrite them (and rewrite, and rewrite…). Then we have a short one-and a-half hour rehearsal with a director, and end the course with a staged Saturday afternoon reading at the Chicago Dramatists Theater.
There is something very sacred about performing on the stage, especially when sharing a piece that you wrote yourself. I was privileged to share the stage with six other talented writers/performers, each of whom had their own unique voice, and remarkable stories to tell.
Ralph Gerbie opened the show with a reading from his wonderful piece, Growing Up Gyne. The wit, humor, imagery, and punch with which he performed this heartwarming ode to his father really set the audience up for an afternoon of delicious and delightful drama. The next piece was a reading of I’m a Writer by my dear friend, Doug Widowski. I’ve known Doug for three years, and I’ve grown to really enjoy his intelligent writing style and his dry wit. He’s a man who has been through the wringer, and still manages to see the wonder in everything. Next up was R.C. Riley. She did a stellar job of performing a segment from her solo show, Wrong Way Journey. The piece was extremely painful and powerful. Like all great writing, she masterfully mixed humor with pathos, and pain with laughter. Her writing was raw, and her performance courageous and very inspiring. I was the fourth performer to take the stage, with a reading from my work in progress, Truth Be Told… It’s a fun, yet poignant adventure in which I share my spiritual musings in India with the insights that fairytale characters share as they incessantly drop into my meditations. Several who know my story say that it is reminiscent of the book, Eat, Pray, Love. In actuality, I think it would more aptly be titled Starve, Pray, and Work Super Hard to Love! One of the audience members took me aside at the end of my performance, and thanked me for having the courage to share my craziness on the stage. I think that says it all. The next performance was an incredibly touching piece by Margaret Ghielmetti, entitled Burning Bright. I watched her perform this ode to her mother twice yesterday; in rehearsal and performance, and I wept both times. She really touched my heart – taking me back to memories of my own childhood, as she morphed into the zany world of her own childhood imagination. Her piece drove home the power that our mothers have over us, and is a poignant reminder of how important it is for us to move through the pains of childhood, so that we can close the circle of life, and be fully present with our dying parents. The next piece, Ode to Pain, was written and performed by Kathleen Kollar. Passionately performed, it was a sobering reminder of the power that pain and pills can have over us. The final piece was Santa’s Last Christmas! performed by Raymond Wohl. What a delightful way to end the show! Ray’s Santa fills whatever space he inhabits – page or stage – with the joy and laughter that only Santa can exude! As audience members, he gave us permission to forget our adult woes, and see life through the eyes of a child, if only for 15 minutes, and it was magical!
I believe we are all heroes on our own epic journeys. We need to recognize that, honoring ourselves, and our life stories. What’s your story? Have you taken the time to write it down? If you’re not a writer, you can always purchase voice recognition software, and record your story. This software will translate your recording to print. There’s so much clarity, insight, and healing that comes from telling your story, and even more so with sharing it. This power-packed production, From Page to Stage made crystal clear that our stories are splendidly unique. They are a heartfelt gift to all who are privileged to bear witness to them.
If you follow my column, you will know that this year I’ve made choices that support my commitment to my own self-care. Performing in this show is another step I’ve taken towards that goal. To further this initiative to fruition, I’ve committed to performing the show in its entirety within the next year.
Theresa Puskar, our All About Town contributor, is a writer, trainer, speaker, and inspirational audiobook producer. She authored The “Terri” Series – seven children’s books that focus on a variety of social and emotional issues. She also recorded a powerful experiential audio program, How to De-Clutter Your Mind and Live a Heart-Centered Life. To place an order or learn more, log onto her website, theresapuskar.com.