Medea, 2022. Digital art by Juli Kearns, based on a personal photo taken of William Wetmore Story's sculpture at the High Museum of Art, combined with a public domain image of "Fragmentary marble head of a girl" AD 138-161 at the MET, Accession Number: 11.212.5.
Header image at top of page: Televised Dinner Theater of Mortals and Gods Featuring Janus, 2015, by Juli Kearns
THE EYE OF THE MATADOR
by Juli M. Kearns
A play in 2 acts
Director: Guy Taylor
Medea: Brenda Bynum
Steve Lindsley: Jason / Aeson
Don Smith: Theseus
George Nikas: Nestor / The Jester
Presented by Seven Stages in a workshop production at the June 1987 Atlanta New Play Project
EYE OF THE MATADOR (2 acts, 3 scenes each) was sponsored by 7 Stages for what was a workshop production, rather than a staged reading, at the June of 1986 9th Atlanta New Play Project that was directed by Frank Miller, who was, by the way, a very nice person to me, and I well appreciated this then and still do. If I said "All that I have that remains of that production are a couple of news items announcing the plays" that would be a lie, for I had to take a hesitant breath and search for them on the internet beyond the wall of an archival news service. There are a lot of facts and memories I didn't intentionally mean to shed concerning my theater productions, but for decades I dealt with my world by purging reminders of the past as a matter of habit, a way of navigating life I'd adopted as a child, because even an apparently innocuous landscape could be loaded with triggers that would domino associations back to hell. There was a program. Shouldn't I have at least kept the program? At some point, did it remind me of something I didn't want to be reminded of and out it went? No, wait--we've had several apartment moves over the past few years due dastardly and grievous gentrification--and if I dig deep into the living room closet I find at the bottom of everything, all taped up, a box in which, there it is, a blue program recording those involved.
What's past is past. Except, of course, it is not. If I return to examine and discuss what happened with these plays, it's because they are part of the voyage that resulted in my later work.
I don't know who supplied the news teaser for EYE OF THE MATADOR, though it would have been someone associated with the theater, but not only does it not do anything for describing the play, it works against it, so bland, curt, and vague it almost reads as dismissive, or simply at a loss for words, which is more likely the case.
..."Eye of the Matador", "a re-telling of the Medea legend that looks at the early stages of her relationship with Jason.
To say the play was "a re-telling of the Medea legend that looks at the early stages of her relationship with Jason" comes close to depicting the play as a relationship issues drama, which is a very popular form of theater, sometimes crossing over into the camp of social issues drama, because theater about current affairs elevates the stage above only frivolous entertainment and means being able to provide audience and press a very focused target, "This is what we are doing. It is about this news-worthy issue, that is in the news, therefore we should be news-worthy as we are here to inform and educate the community about it in a theatrical way that will connect with your emotions and intellect." Theater in the U.S. of A., as we all know, has been in crisis for a very long while, and this approach appears to make theater relevant and worthy of being salvaged as an art form, as if it is the live stage that is best for exploring social issues due its immediacy. I'm not saying such theater doesn't have its critical place (please remember that I said and believe this, and that I can also argue that relationship and social issues dramas, no matter how abstracted, constitute the totality of theater) but I wonder about that place when too often it becomes feel-good theater. The theater feels good about addressing issues and the audience feels good when they leave because they paid their ticket price toward another course in continuing education, they are eating the right things, they can credit themselves with being more aware, but they can credit themselves already with being aware supporters of causes and the arts or else they wouldn't be there. One could make a comparison to the Roman Catholic church's rite of confession in which one enters a closet, asks forgiveness for those sins that don't warrant a mug shot, and walks out with a few Hail Marys to recite as penance, prescribed by god's representative who was in a neighboring closet, listening in through a grating that gives the pretense of anonymity, but the priest almost certainly knows who you are and you know who the priest is (a relationship that is complicated if he has abused you). By proxy, the stage is a revelatory device of expiatory confession for the community. The stage is not only this, by any means, but this is often how it's used. However, it is rare that the audience is compelled to identify so intimately that they comprehend the mousetrap, the play within the play, that is the theater's heart. The audience instead acts as witness to the story, then priestly judge and jury congregants who determine whether the staged situation is worthy of being served, whether it exacts due penance of its characters, whether absolution is appropriately conveyed and wholly digestable. Pick up a multiple-choice form and check off the boxes as one makes their way to the wine bar. Has one been entertained? Does one feel educated? Both? As I discuss the productions of my plays, I may return to these issues and the problem of essential digestibility that demands a two sentence synopsis and an uplifting message that finds righteous approval in "we've done our part" applause.
EYE OF THE MATADOR was not any kind of relationship issues drama, and I shouldn't be surprised it would have been described as such, as no one knew how to describe my plays, not even the individuals who produced them, and I didn't help matters as I am helpless at writing synopses of my work.
This wasn't a "southern" play, I wasn't born and raised in the south, I wasn't interested in "southern" writing, and I had to fight the expectation that every piece of literature and theater that came out of the south was southern-oriented and had a southern voice.
The play was heavily influenced by surrealism. Why wasn't it described as being surreal? Maybe it was, just not in the news release, and I don't recollect. But there's a reason I'm not confident about this, and which I will discuss when writing about the production of THE ONION OPERETTA. In connection with anything but the visual arts, the word "surrealism", in connection with theater, was almost not to be found in the Atlanta Journal Constitution for the years in which I was in theater.
EYE OF THE MATADOR was based on the myth of Medea and Jason, after they've acquired the Golden Fleece which Medea gave Jason the means to steal from her father by magic, after Medea helps Jason to escape her father by killing her brother and then dropping pieces of him in the sea which halted her father's pursuit of them as his journey became one of gathering the remains of his son, before Jason and Medea have the children she will purportedly kill when he abandons her to marry the King of Corinth's young daughter, Glauce. I'd long been fascinated with Medea and the number of different ways her story had been and could be interpreted. Their deeds are irreconcilable with what we expect of human sympathies, but then neither does instruction expect one to take seriously their travails, for we are self-centered in our anthropomorphism of even cosmic forces and decorate the sun with a happy smile. My approach now would be different, but at the time I wanted to explore their bloody, murderous beginnings as both factual and symbolic, explicable through the mystic ritualism that is more than hinted at in the story, but not excusable. They existed in the world of myth and symbol, but in my play they were presented in modern attire, in a modern situation, however dream-like and surreal, and I wanted the struggle of integrating what these individuals had done as both acceptable and absolutely abhorrent and criminal. That was the experience desired, which says nothing about how I treated this as a resurrection mystery. I had seen Paolo Pasolini's 1969 film, Medea, and been awed, but THE EYE OF THE MATADOR was not that. For setting and feel, had EYE OF THE MATADOR been fully staged, I had in mind a bare bones, black-and-white broadcast I'd seen of Antigone when I was very young. Part of its power was in the emphatic impression I'd had of the play being a past world running forever parallel the consequential modern world as it unfolded, unresolved stories that were so important they must keep repeating themselves. The play was not filmed on celluloid, it was either live in a television studio or was a very low fi videotape recording and had a sense of great immediacy, of occurring in the moment, but in a place separated from me by a veil, the static that came and went. This wasn't the "Great Performances" presentation of Jean Anouilh's play, nor was it the 1961 film of Sophocles' play featuring Irene Papas. The setting was entirely indoors and less claustrophobic than stripped of what might give any visual read of era or personality. The environment reminded me of a bomb shelter, which for a child who grew up in Cold War America was a place where people went to separate themselves off from the exterior world in order to survive nuclear war, but in this situation was as an eternal underworld from which these myths and archetypes spiritually communicated. There are things in THE EYE OF THE MATADOR that would seem to be influenced by Jean Cocteau's Orpheus, but they were ideas that had come to me already as I watched that performance of Antigone on the television when I was twelve or fifteen years of age. Instead of the car radio communicating poetry to Orpheus in Cocteau's film, or as a horse tapping out messages in his play, the spirits were on the other side of the television glass, their time separated from mine by clouds of static against which and through their voices pulsed. It was hypnotic. The side of the screen on which I was seated was no longer the "real" world, instead truth was wherever this play resided, whatever the magic was that had first conjured it. I used to have a knack for walking into these bomb shelters and on first try being able to voice the singular resonant tone that would make the space came alive and sang it back. Only I had not manufactured this, instead, I had only unlocked what was there.
In 2015, I would return to the idea of the television in my Televised Dinner Theater of Mortals and Gods series of digital art based on photos I had taken, at the Fernbank Museum, of statues from the Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Florence.
The image above is Nero, adrift in the eternal, which is suggested with clouds, the eternal often suggested with clouds in films and photos and paintings, but I've separated Nero from the clouds because clouds aren't eternal, they are phantasms of water and dust that have only come to represent the heavens as homes for disengaged, immortal spirits. Or, if they are eternal, it is in the way of Taliesin's survival through metamorphosis. Ultimately we may be all things. Clouds come and go and are always changing their form yet are always clouds. Taliesin is all things and yet is Taliesin.
Qualis artifex pereo.
"What an artist dies in me", Nero, a despotic emperor who was loved by the people, nephew of Caligula, son of the vicious Agrippina the Younger (he killed her) is given as having said at the bitter end of his young life, in self-aggrandizement of his skills as a poet, musician, and singer, but there are various translations of those three words so we are unsure as to exactly what he was saying. what he meant. It was demeaning for a member of the elite to aspire to be an artist, so it's peculiar that history has attached these final words to him.
Below is another image from my Televised Dinner Theater of Mortals and Gods series, based on one of my photos of a bust only described as a Flavian woman. She is known for her hair style. There were many busts of Flavian women and they almost all had this hair style. She captured the lighting as remembered from the televised performance of Antigone, so harsh as to cut with deep shadows and despite this a flattening of the scene.
I've found that I do have a copy of the old script, though not the one used in rehearsals that would show any changes made for the workshop production, and that's the script that woud be interesting to have. In it I describe this chamber much as given here. I also have a later version in which I relate it as being an ancient, concrete battery, but with water seeping through the cracks in the walls, as if it should rest inside a great, ancient ship. Medea was a magician in my play--one who performed facile tricks--and the most significant prop was her trunk which served as table, and later as a bath and cauldron. I'd written this trunk should have the vague appearance of the ship in which they supposedly rode, its great prow the leviathan of a sea-monster, a man half dead in its mouth.
I envisioned no clouds for Jason and Medea, but they lingered in the eternal, playing Scrabble at the opening of the play (Medea would partly win because of having memorized the woodgrain on the backs of the pieces, but in context of the play one might be reminded of surrealist games), surrounded by the kind of detritus appropriate for refugees stuck too long between wherever they were and wherever they're going. More properly fugitives. Without a country, homeless. That is where they are at play's opening, and that is where they are at it's end.
How do you make physical actors transcendent? How do you make actors, used to doing theatrical realism, transcendent? Other-worldly? They must become, despite physicality, unreal. I wanted them just enough unreal, timing and voice enough off-kilter from the expected that they would become out-of-sync with ordinary expectations. They needed to become surrealist poets.
A playwright loses control of their work when it leaves their hands, which meant that I needed to be present for all rehearsals as I had a different style of theater in mind, a different method, and even a different informing goal than what was the aesthetic on the Atlanta stage. This may sound grandiose, when it isn't, especially when surrealism and its sibling movements had been around and influential since the 1920s. I said earlier that the play was heavily influenced by surrealism, but I might have been myself hesitant to outright call it surrealist as the surrealists, as a movement, were proprietary, and even despite the fact, and for which reason their splintering into different groups, rather like the Protestant church kept fracturing after its big split from Roman Catholicism. By the 80s, there were people who even decried surrealism as not even a "present" movement, much less one with a future, instead old news, outdated, innate prejudices against feeling thus free to trash it as a deservedly failed experiment that had ultimately collapsed into a mud heap of anarchic dissolution. Decades later, having a socialist son who does surrealist work, and having not departed from my (frustrated) belief that there must be a peaceful socialist revolution, and fashioned my literary art as a place that has myriad doors that open out of traditional and authoritarian boxes, and my picture arts as places that give space for the surreal to constellate, I feel it appropriate and even necessary to go ahead and examine how surrealist mysticism, jousting with symbolism, tempered with absurdism, has been my life. Surrealists can have a way of disappearing, not being recognized, when they don't produce works that can be instantly stamped as surrealist, and yet what they do is by reason of surrealist roots and comprehensions that have undergone the trials of personal experience.
We will go way back, and then back even further. The college I'd attended had limited offerings. I had done a surrealist film that had as its introduction a poem by a French surrealist, and had been accepted to NYU's film school but due to medical catastrophe, as a result of a job accident that altered my husband's life, and mine, not just for a projected year of healing but from then on, was unable to go. That is life. It chooses many of your struggles for you. In that case there are no regrets except that we were young and stupid and didn't sue the employer, who was negligent, because he was a friend of my husband's parents and we went with their wishes we not do so. My husband and I had married early--he was 20, I was 18--and were from that moment self-sufficient, and my only desperate concern was to make enough money on my minimum wage jobs to be able to feed my husband what those without money find to be luxuries--fresh vegetables, fruits, good protein--and see him up walking again. I was already a socialist and that incident and the branch of life it took us off on, decided it. I'd initially been writing fiction anyway, had planned to be a writer and artist (film had been my marrying the two) so I went with a concentration on writing fiction, and translating hundreds of pages of French surrealist poets and playwrights in independent study with a female Parisian professor who loved that I loved surrealism and loved my translations. Had I liked the art department I would have taken my double in art, but I realized there was nothing for me there and was delighted by what evolved with the translations. I had read the playwrights that were considered canon in the 1970s, all of them American, English and French, I had already plowed through many of them in junior high and high school, but with the exception of a few they were mostly filed in my brain under things I didn't want to do. I had been introduced to surrealism in high school, though not via any of my studies in high school, and after years of pedagogy on ordered thinking and how to write papers, paragraphs, dissecting sentences (difficulties were had due my dyslexia, something else I passed along to my son), and years of rigorous self-training with the reading of everything I could get my hands on, wasn't it just the right time to find some freedom in everything that was surrealism. Which is, I suspect, how it is for many teenagers. At first brush with surrealism the room to breathe is returned, to play, to give dreams a place, investigate the random rather than discarding it as waste. To repeat myself, I was a voracious reader, for whatever reason even making my way through Aristotle in the 10th grade, and Shakespeare's sonnets, the "whatever reason" being that what I learned along the way became pavement for what came later. My father only sometimes read science fiction, and my mother read nothing, there were no books on our bookshelves and my parents purchased me none, so I was always the lone student devouring the school library. I consumed volume upon volume of poets, appreciating free verse, but only inspired to write fiction until reading the surrealists, whereupon I fell in love with language all over again. Oh, how ancient is this personal history, returning to my 16th year, sitting on the living room's beige carpet at the coffee table that was set under the picture window, tap tap tapping away at the typewriter. I don't like it at all. I was exhilarated with how playful and fun surrealism could be, but even those few good memories of exploration, of novelty, are ruined. There's nothing good here in this suburban wasteland of house in which we lived during my preteen and teen years. It's a place I refuse to think about.
As I am writing about how surrealism impacted me when I was a youth, then I need to write about how it, not alone but in combination with several other things, saved my life when I was seventeen. This may seem an extreme sidestep intrusion but it's important and I'll try to be brief. My home had been a nightmare of exceptional abuse and neglect from the time I was born, my mother very mentally ill, and my father her enabler and likely sociopathic. One can be mentally ill and have the capacity for love, and if a parent did their bad best but the child at least knows the parent loved them that can make a great difference. But there are people who are incapable of love. I was beaten daily until I was old enough to realize the sexual aspect of it and told my father if he touched me again I'd kill him. There was virtually no escape as my existence was almost solely to take care of my younger siblings, as well as babysit my mother, who from when I was seven years of age until I waas thirteen was often in the hospital for months at a time. When she was home I was the buffer between her and the children, tasked with keeping them quiet, occupied, and invariably I would fail and be blamed when she returned to the hospital. Whatever prescription drugs she was on, she and my father were additionally both heavy drinkers, and I'm not sure I ever saw her sober unless it was at breakfast, but then, when I was about thirteen and she started getting out of bed for breakfast (before then, making sure the children had cereal for breakfast and sandwiches for lunch was up to me) she began her day with a beer which she said the doctor had told her she should have for hypoglycemia Before, she would generally hold off on the beer until early afternoon, around lunch. She was drunk on wine by mid-afternoon, abstaining from mixed drinks until late afternoon. There was a sweet spot in her drunkenness, where I would try to keep her floating on laughter with jokes, but every day things would invariably deteriorate, often suddenly, with no warning, and I'd be running from her, aware I was protecting us both from her catching and perhaps actually killing me this time. If I had no other option and she was holding something dangerous, I would flee outside into the street, where I knew she wouldn't follow, and then would be confined to the yard, staying in the crawl space under the house when it was cold or raining, waiting for my father to get home, who was someone I couldn't run from. He would take me in my room for the daily ritual of stripping me down and whipping the living hell out of me for thirty minutes. I would struggle to get away, and I'd be whipped up and down my spine, so it seemed I had explosions in my brain. And, for some reason, I laughed throughout, even as the poster was broken off my bed as I tried to hang onto it, and the closet doors were broken as I fell into them. I'd laugh until I was too dazed with all the electric shocks going off in my brain and feel I was going to start convulsing. Afterward, I had to immediately pull myself back together because he and my mother would again tax me with babysitting while they went out to a bar to relax, or they would go to the bedroom for sex before heading out to the bar, my instructions being to keep the kids from bothering them or I'd get it again, and so I would desperately try to keep them from banging on their bedroom door for attention. This was pretty much my daily life, 365 days a year, for years. We had no fun times, I have no good memories. It was a prison for me. There was nothing about our lives that was normal, loving, or even vaguely interested in the nourishing of a child. None of this was ever discussed or admitted, it all simply never happened. Twenty-four hours a day we were gaslit with contrary, alternative stories about everything, even things that seemed innocuous. There were no truths upon which to stand. I knew things were bad when I tried to run away at three, afraid my mother was going to end up killing me, and no one took me seriously when I said I needed a place to stay with my little suitcase, which was when I took it for granted no one would ever believe me. But I didn't realize my mother was drunk-as-a-state-of-being until a friend came over, then never again, for they were weirded out by her talking about how she didn't wear underwear, asking if they wore underwear, and encouraging them to make fun of me for my insistence on wearing underwear. (And then there was my father, who made another friend so uncomfortable, she wouldn't say how, that she called her parents to come get her and also never came over again.) "Is your mom always drunk?" I was asked. Oh? That level of drunk was to me normal behavior. I thought I knew what drunk was, how embarrassing was it for me that I didn't. Was this why, when I was younger, neighbor children weren't permitted by their parents to come over when we lived elsewhere. I thought it had been because my mother was in the hospital and they suspected she was on the mental ward, though I would tell them she wasn't when they they asked because I had been told not to tell anyone else our business. In the meanwhile, I had problems at school because...of course. The only normal spot in my life was I had violin lessons--because my mother had been a pianist but had wanted to play violin--but I couldn't practice because every time I tried she would grab my bow and start whipping me with it because she couldn't stand it not being perfect. I somehow had to be perfect without practicing, and I did the best I could.
Then even though my father's beatings stopped when I was twelve years of age and I told him I'd kill him if he touched me again--and I had been in earnest, I had planned it all day at school, and all the way home, gathering up my courage to tell him I would kill him, preparing myself, fully expecting that my challenge would be followed with a battle to the death for one of us, and when he had taken me, as he did daily, to my room, and locked the door, and had taken off his belt and told me to take off my pants, I gathered all the courage I could muster and told him, "No, I will kill you if you ever touch me again", and he had said he had every right to discipline me as my father, and I said, "No, I will kill you if you ever touch me again," and I forget what else I said, it may have been as simple, as "You know why," but he turned and stormed out of the room--and even though the beatings stopped, things took a completely unexpected turn and became even more nightmarish, horrible, twisted. I'll skip over that confusion to when I was seventeen and my parents tried to kill me.
When I was in high school I began winning awards for my writing, and was bewildered that it was allowed to slip through the cracks into the outside world because of some of the psychic terrors I was describing in it, however camouflaged. I was surprised that my parents left my writing alone. The awards gave me confidence to imagine I might be a real human being. Then, in my senior year, as I tried for some independence, and then some more, only a modicum of what peers I knew had. The little independence I'd had before was from babysitting for other families since, when I was twelve, my parents had told me they couldn't support me any longer and that I would have to pay for everything from now on, including my clothes. Which was fine, they never bought me anything anyway, and the few clothes my mother purchased were always ones she wanted, not what I liked. So I bought jeans and supplies for art and paper and typewriter ribbons for writing and books, and, yes, gifts for my parents in the hope of appeasing them and making them happy with me, even furnishings, and linens and things for my room as they didn't purchase these either. Now I was seeking the independence to do things and meet people, and at first I was given some, I was even paying for independent art lessons, then the iron curtain dropped and my parents wouldn't permit me to do anything, they were cutting me completely off from the world, and the understanding came to me that I had to get out of the house right then, as soon as possible, because I realized my parents had no future in mind for me, and it worried me that I might somehow possibly end up dead. But I couldn't leave and then be forcibly taken back or returned to them, then I would be certainly lost. At school, I pretended to be sick and went to the nurse's office where I called around and was directed to a legal service that informed me in Georgia a male of 17 could not be legally independent, but a female could though she was not yet considered fully an adult. What a fantastic stroke of luck. Did this mean I couldn't be forced to return home? Yes. I made arrangements that day for a couch to crash on and moved out with my few belongings. My father came to school to speak with me and I went out to the car with him. He said he knew things had always been hard, and difficult with my mother being ill, and that everything would be all right now. He said my siblings missed me. He convinced me to move back home, I trusted what he said, just like the only time he ever in my life did anything with me, taking me out unexpectedly one night for an ice cream cone in the car, in junior high, and telling me he knew things were tough but if I held on and kept taking care of the kids then he'd make sure I got to go away to college (then he'd never mentioned college again). He always had a way of making me feel sorry for him. I moved my things back that day, and no sooner was the door closed than they sat me down at the kitchen table, one of those formica bars on a cabinet (their liquor cabinet), and spent the rest of the night trying to get me to take Drano by my own hand. At first my mother kept telling me to take it, to stand, to go to the sink, to open it and take it, and my father, throughout, only repeated, over and over again, in a monotone, "Juli, do what your mother says". Horrified, I kept saying, no, it would kill me. My mother kept saying, no, it wouldn't kill me, that I was bad and needed to be cleaned out. This went on for several hours of them trying to wear me down before it became a physical battle, my mother dragging me across the kitchen to the sink where she wanted me to open the Drano with my own hands and take it. I was confused as to why I must be the one to open and take it, but somewhere along the way I had realized that the reason I was supposed to take the Drano by my own hands was because they could say I had committed suicide. That was why their hands couldn't touch it. That's why I had to be the one to do it. They were trying to kill me. I never screamed, not if I couldn't help it, because I was trained to not attract attention. I didn't want neighbors to hear because I still didn't want to get my parents in trouble, I didn't want to hurt them, I just wanted to escape. She'd get me to the sink and keep trying to press my hands around the Drano and I kept fighting. Back and forth across the kitchen floor we went, my mother yelling at my father to help her, but he just sat there hypnotically intoning, over and over and over, "Juli, don't fight your mother, do what your mother says." And I didn't fight her like I was fighting for my life because I didn't want to risk hurting her, I didn't hit her, I didn't scream. I just struggled, keeping my hands off her, trying to get free of her. Finally, my mother couldn't continue, and she stopped, also frustrated and angry with my father that he wouldn't join in the physical battle to make me take the Drano. Instead, I was to go to my room, but my mother declared I should now be examined by my father (who was a psychiatrist) to see if I was a virgin. She called all my siblings out from the back of the house, where they'd been in their bedrooms while this went on, and made it a game, yelling at them, "Tear off her clothes! Tear off her clothes!". It was horrifying, as I was now trapped against the family room wall as they piled on me, and I thought I'd go mad. The examination didn't happen, my father refused to do it, my mother furious and arguing about this, why shouldn't I be examined, what made me so special that I shouldn't be examined. But he refused, and sent me to my room, calling off my siblings--who can't be faulted as they were young, younger than me, they bear no responsibility, they'd been trained to see me as an enemy, the bad one in the family, that my mother would have called them out and encouraged them to do this was horrendous. The next morning my parents informed me they had burned all my writing, my stories, all my poetry. They said it was all evidence of a sick mind. They said that I was to go to school and not talk to anyone, and when I got home they would have made preparations for me to go to the state mental hospital in Milledgeville where they said I would be kept the rest of my life. My father was a psychiatrist and they said they could and would make this happen because he would be believed. (My father had returned to medical school to become a psychiatrist after my mother had declared she would never go in the hospital again, and I always believed he did so in order to prescribe her medications. She was on enough medication, when she later had plastic surgery, that she first had to be weaned off of some of them, for she was told the amount of anesthesia they'd have to give her would kill her.) We were standing in the hall outside of the bathroom, which I'd had to use with the door open, so they would make sure I wouldn't escape, and I was told they would make sure that no one would ever remember I even had existed, not even my own siblings. Those are words you don't forget, "No one will ever remember you existed, not even your siblings. We will wipe any memory of you from their minds." In a state of shock, I went to school and said nothing all day, not a word to anyone. There was nothing left in me. I was finally, completely beaten. Then I went home, I rode home on the bus, and as I walked up to the back door of the house, nothing more than a zombie, I passed the family station wagon in the car port and saw in it some of my writing, my poems, resting on the front seat. So, they hadn't burned all my writing? I saw the car door was unlocked. Could I open it and grab my writing without being heard? I did, and fled two doors down to the house of girl who had once been my friend, and whose mother had, when I was twelve, told me she could hear me screaming at night, and asked me if anything was wrong, that it was all right to tell her if anything was wrong, I wouldn't get in trouble. I had told her no, there wasa nothing wrong, I hadn't wanted to get anyone in trouble. Five years later, I went down there. I said I needed their help, that I was leaving home, could I make a phone call for a ride, and would they please not tell my parents I had been there.
They lied about everything always. In this case, I was fortunate to find out they'd lied about burning all my writing. They hadn't. There was no reason for me to have even seen through the car window those few poems sitting on the car seat, it was a matter of chance, the white of the paper caught my eye as I passed, but those few pages broke my shock and gave me the will to flee. I don't know what would have happened to me had I gone back inside that house.
Years later, I destroyed the poetry that I'd salvaged from the back seat. I couldn't bear to read it. But one could say that it had done its job.
I told less than a handful of people about my parents, and very little. At school, I only said that I was no longer living at home. The abuse didn't stop as my parents found out where I lived, somehow they got my number, and my mother called and called, telling me that I would never know when it would happen, but one day, when I least expected it, they'd kidnap me, no one would see me again, and there was nothing I could to stop it from happening. She'd yell at me over the phone and laugh that there was nothing I could do to stop them. So I lived uncertainly, afraid that one day I'd disappear.
A couple of years later my parents wrote me to tell me they had a new baby girl and that she was very ill and dying. Of course I got back together with them, only to find out they had lied. She was fine. She had never been ill. But the deed was done, and I reasoned I'd stay in contact to make sure she wasn't being abused. I hadn't worried about my siblings being abused, because it all had fallen on my shoulders, but I had been severely depressed with having lost my siblings, and now we were in contact again I found they had no use for me. This contact period lasted a few years before I was forced to break off again, the next time for twenty years. It happened just a few months before the workshop production of EYE OF THE MATADOR. Contact broken, my family learned of the production, and a sibling came to my apartment as representative, to order me to not do the play. "What makes you think you have anything to say? What makes you think you're so special anyone wants to hear what you have to day? You're not special. No one wants to hear you. You will stop this and be a secretary." That was the last contact I had with a sibling for 20 years, with any of my siblings, as well as my parents, despite the fact I had only announced I was breaking contact with my mother.
Right before my ZURAMA play was staged, my mother called and told me she knew I had a play going on and that they were going to show up--this said as a threat--and that there was nothing I could do to keep them away. She laughed the same way she had when she said there was nothing I could do to stop them from kidnapping me and making me disappear.
My father died in 2020, and I no longer fear harming him by telling the truth, and I no longer fear his hurting me if I tell the truth. We're past that now. But the first week after his death, when I was going to sleep and the closet door in my bedroom creaked open by itself, I had a panic attack and thereafter went into full meltdown, because despite being rationally confident he was gone, suddenly there was the irrational prospect his spirit was free to roam and simple physical distance no longer kept me safe.
There, now. I felt it was important to get that out of the way, a bit of history revealed, which is relevant history because art isn't created in a vacuum. And because it feels odd to be an outsider to surrealism when it has played a crucial role in my life.
My line of inspirational descent in theater was from the ancient Greek playwrights to...well, Faust., then surrealist and absurdist poetry, books, films, and plays, with an appreciation for Artaud's so-called Theater of Cruelty, about which I had my own ideas, as well as about the sacred function of ritual that in college I had been told was apart from the secular function of ritual in theater and never the twain should meet, whereas I argued that institutionalized religious orthodoxy had killed the mystical function of sacred ritual and that so-called secular theater was where that sacred function of transformation might be realized. I said the definitions being taught were fossilized, dogmatic academics. I remember a very big argument. I remember deciding fuck your academics.I was 19 or 20 and was rightly angry about a lot of things to do with college as I was in my final year, having pushed hard to get through it, and was in the process of being forced out due to sexual harassment, but that's another story. I had, however, had enough of academics. Had I been in a different school and had different experiences, I might have felt differently. Had I not fled home at seventeen because of a lifetime of severe physical and emotional abuse, I might have handled things differently. I was terrified of the professor who was going after me, who I had met when I was sixteen and who I had come to count as a friend. In fact, the one time before the harassment began, when I worried he might have made a move on me, he must have sensed my discomfort because he'd brought up how he felt like a father to me, watching me grow up the past few years. I felt bad that I would have been suspect of him. But then the sexual harassment began, and it became ugly. When he did make his move in earnest, it was totally unexpected, I was blindsided, I had frozen, unable to breathe, and he held me there for what seemed forever, not releasing me, with me not breathing, staring at the door, my lungs feeling like they would explode, waiting for my opportunity to flee. It was an automatic reaction, as if my body was afraid to move for fear of what he might do. Like I was a rabbit and if I breathed would the hawk devour me? How many minutes did he hold me there, trying to persuade me, I don't know, but all I could think of was how I needed to breathe or I'd pass out. When he told me I was to forget the whole thing and promise to not tell anyone, I finally moved, I slightly nodded my head in the affirmative. He released me, and I was out the door. But, thereafter, all I had to do was hear his voice and I would stop breathing. I couldn't help it. It was infuriating. I didn't know if it was purposeful, but he knew where I lived, just a few blocks away, and I heard him outside my apartment one day, when he'd never been outside the building before, he had been stopped in the driveway by my landlord, another professor, and they stood in the driveway under my window talking. I carefully crouched down under the air conditioner, as if I didn't dare stir an atom of air or else he'd sense I was there, and I hid, quiet, quiet. Was he stalking me? I didn't know. He had told me to forget and not tell anyone. I had told no one except my husband, and had almost not told him because I had promised not to tell anyone, I had promised to forget. People began to treat me differently. Nastily, it seemed. It was bizarre. My French professor guessed what was happening, having overheard threatening remarks he had made, telling the other professors that I'd had it too easy, that I'd been treated with kid gloves as the star student, and it was time to come down hard on me. She came to me, told me what was happening, and offered to go to the dean, but it was the late 1970s, and I feared going through the additional hell of not being believed. I was already so terrified of him I was withdrawing from activities in which was involved, and my relationships with others were already being ruined and I didn't know why, I didn't know what might have been said to them. Plus, he had a family. I worried about his family. I felt sorry for his family. I didn't want them to have to go through trauma because of this. He had the responsibility of children, I didn't. But every time I even heard him I couldn't breathe, and he was threatening. So I quit. For that, and many other reasons survivors of abuse will have for running, I quit. Withdrawing from school, I had to fill out papers giving my reasons why, and, peculiarly, stupidly, unable to write the real reason, I remember devoting my remarks to my animosity for what was being taught in theater, and, less stupidly, my scorn for the power games in academia.
Why go into the above? Because I had no idea, really, what it would mean to me to not finish and get my degree as far as opportunities in literature and theater. But the professor who went after me knew. Who sat and smiled when I quit the literary magazine just a couple of days before I left school. When I was asked why I was quitting, I don't recollect what I said, but I didn't reveal how it was because of him, and he looked on and grinned. I go into it because I have also chosen to give here the history of how I had survived extreme childhood abuse, and how that had its effect on how I behaved as I did and fled. There was another young woman who was on the literary magazine who had come in under his mentorship, and as I stood there I saw how she was regarding me with hostility, and it occurred to me, "He's groomed you, too." When I gave my spurious response, whatever it was, she declared, "Get off your high horse!" I looked at the professor, and looked at her, and all I could think was how I couldn't tell the truth. I should have had the strength to tell the truth, but I couldn't do it. It was all I could do to try not to reveal how terrified I was as I stood there before him, to try to keep my breath, to keep my voice from breaking, to hope he couldn't tell I was shaking. I later learned, from another young woman, that he had seduced her and they'd been involved for a time, but though she was a student she wasn't a student of his when it happened. She was another one who'd had family problems of some sort, her parents divorced and an alcoholic mother overwhelming her. He had known I left home because of some problems but I had never revealed my story. I realized he must be able to pinpoint vulnerabilities and this bothered me.
I was strongly drawn to the surrealists that came out of WWI, I think, partly because of how they tackled pain and horror and beauty, in a way that I resonated with deeply, and understood and appreciated why the investment in the psychological, the spiritual, the critical and essential exposure of the unseen. And they were anti-authoritarian by the very nature of their craft. Never mind how they weren't anti-authoritarian as well, and kept banishing one another. They were conflicted and untidy, of course they were. The very nature of their craft and experiments, as I would learn, and sensed from the beginning, meant that they were a platform for a leap, and what happened after that leap, with each individual, would mean. as they transformed, a departure from that platform. Certain things given as essential, core values, would shift and change for one consequently, but they were still there as essential, core values because they were the platform for the leap. I do think that what separates surrealists absolutely from some other encroaching genres is a sense of purpose in craft, and that it is not only personal, it is political. They may not agree on political aims, but at root is the revolt against the tyranny of an insane world built upon thousands and thousands of years of sick controls masquerading as "truth". The artist who makes things that have a surrealist flavor is not a surrealist if that desire for freedom from the above-described tyranny is not a part of their world view. The mystic, as well, may appear surrealist, but may have no interest in their fellow human-beings. In this way, surrealism is both inward and outward seeking and motivated. Does this mean that surrealist work must be recognizably political? No. The surrealist sets a trap door through which someone, not everyone, maybe only one person, may trip and fall into a question that will eventually lead to another question and then experiences that couldn't have been had while one wore the blinders of certain pedagogical landscapes of "truth". No one trap door is enough. There must be many trap doors. One certainly doesn't have to be a recognized surrealist to be setting trap doors. The surrealist doesn't have to have a plan either in the creation of a possible trap door, or should we instead simply say portal, as it's a matter of mindset. All of the above In My Humble Opinion, of course.
As I wrote above, this was my idea for the play:
Their deeds [Medea's and Jasons's] are irreconcilable with what we expect of human sympathies, but then neither does instruction expect one to take seriously their travails, for we are self-centered in our anthropomorphism of even cosmic forces and decorate the sun with a happy smile. My approach now would be different, but at the time I wanted to explore their bloody, murderous beginnings as both factual and symbolic, explicable through the mystic ritualism that is more than hinted at in the story, but not excusable. They existed in the world of myth and symbol, but in my play they were presented in modern attire, in a modern situation, however dream-like and surreal, and I wanted the struggle of integrating what these individuals had done as both acceptable and absolutely abhorrent and criminal. That was the experience desired, which says nothing about how I treated this as a resurrection mystery.
I wanted to waken an irritation with individuals being reminded that they couldn't rationalize the Jason and Medea of myth. That they were a mystery.
At twenty-eight, without a degree, with THE EYE OF THE MATADOR, and a vision constellating of what I wanted to do, I suddenly appeared at theater's doorstep. I was ill-prepared in that I had little regard for a good deal of the academic world, and things were increasingly shifting so there wasn't a single medium of art, with the exception of some pools of music, where academic degrees and credentials weren't considered essential. No degree? What do you think you're trying to do in any of the arts? Right understanding belongs to a diploma. Just as in the church, the power of the priesthood descends person to person through the institution founded upon Peter, so too is the artist's legitimacy communicated through the official degree, without which one is a naive trespasser. But at the beginning, with THE EYE OF THE MATADOR, I got lucky. I handed it over, it was accepted, I stepped across the threshold, and I loved it. I loved everything about it. The process. The rehearsals. The actors. I loved working with actors. I loved their enthusiasm and devotion to their craft.
For THE EYE OF THE MATADOR, there was great enthusiasm, which surprised me, and was fulfilling. A couple of high profile Atlanta actors had been pulled in for the leads. If their acting style initially worked against the aesthetic of what I'd intended, this was the problem of the "I am a play on a stage" style of acting that was not only popular in Atlanta, it was simply popular in theater, and how I wrote was meant to be a jarring mix of the poetic with the mundane, naturally played, sometimes flat, hypnotic, delivery disrupted with occasional explosions of emotion. The actors were consumate professionals, I was often told how fortunate I was to get the cream of Atlanta's crop for a reading, and they and the director were actually eager to realize the play as I'd written it. They liked the play, that's why they were doing it. They said they loved the language of the play, its richness, they spoke about this a good deal. I was present for all rehearsals as an observer, and respected the working relationship between the director and actors, but my input was also desired. When I said, "That acting style is not for this play", they wanted to get it right, and we worked it and worked it, stripping it down, making it sharper, both less theatrical and more outrageous. As rehearsals went on, the director pulled the actors closer and closer to what it should be, and by the time of the reading it was just close enough. I was happy. But habits die hard and in front of an audience the actors drifted back to the style with which they were more familiar, which was inevitable though we'd had at least a couple weeks rehearsal and they were securely off book. They reflexively drifted back to a style that they were used to delivering to an audience, one they knew the audience was used to receiving, one with which the audience could familiarly relate. I don't credit this with the vanity of wanting to play it safe, it's instead physical memory and the natural reflex of the entertainer, but it ceased to be the play I had written. The thing is, they were still great, they connected with the audience, If you hadn't known what was in my head, you would have thought this was exactly how it was supposed to be as it worked. it was a success.
When I was later asked by the director, a professor at a college, if he could use the play with his theater classes, I said no, because I wouldn't be involved and I was worried about the play continuing to become something other than what it was written to be. I believe I said that I wanted to work on it some more, I don't know, and I probably was thinking of doing so. The more distance I got, in time, the more I regretted that refusal, accepting that when things are out of your hands they are out of your hands, appreciative that he had wanted to use it, but when the request was made I was just too close to the reading, which people had liked, which people had felt was successful, but I had hard reservations. Though this was not a full production, the play had, in fact, worked. At the time of the reading I only expressed gratitude, and I was grateful. Hard effort had gone into this. I was appreciative. I remember being elated with how certain aspects went. I am only writing about the larger experience now, decades later.
Photos were taken at the Q&A after the reading and I was kindly given a handful, but art doesn't happen in a vacuum, earlier that year I had nearly died of peritonitis coincident with a ruptured appendix that had gone undiagnosed for ten days, then there was the dissociating again from my birth family and I was having to cope with the fallout from that. I was smiling for the camera, but death was haunting me. I threw the photos away. We are physical, art isn't created in a vacuum.
I ended up not pursuing the play any further after the reading, because time moves quickly and in some respects I felt I was being pressed away from pursuing it, so I left it behind, despite a fairly successful reading,
Shame. I keep thinking about how I had been ill before the reading, and that I had a horrible cough, complicated by my asthma. It was a gut-wrenching croop-like cough, and it attacked me at some point during the reading. I was desperate to get out and of the theater before I began coughing, and was just barely able to contain it until I was just outside the doors, at which point the cough loudly erupted and held me frozen in the hall, hacking away, which I knew was loud enough to be disruptive and was humiliating. I made it outside, calmed the cough and eventually was able to return. We are physical, art isn't created in a vacuum. Still, that was something that I really wished hadn't happened and always felt an unreasonable shame over it. Maybe it will be gone now that I've written about it, maybe not.
A thing for which I didn't feel I needed to apologize at the time, because it simply couldn't be helped, was my inability to speak in a public situation. I simply hadn't the experience. There was a question and answer session afterward, and I wasn't frightened, I didn't have any anxiety about it. I was relaxed enough that I made a joke as I entered and sat down, but a woman stared at me like I was expected only to be serious and I realized I'd erred. Questions began and there was something about it all where I quickly became uncomfortable. The observations and questions baffled me. There were remarks like, "It's a lot like Shakespeare except people don't move around so you can't tell as well what's going on." But it wasn't like Shakespeare at all, the language was just poetic at times, balanced with the mundane, and this was a workshop production, not a fully staged play. I wanted to be earnest in my engagement, to answer each question authentically, and I became lost in my attempts to do so. The woman who had zapped me with a sour look when I had made a joke eventually undid me, asking me what it all meant, in a tone that struck me as almost hostile. I felt it my duty to answer but my mind raced trying to think of what was the most appropriate thing to say to someone who had not understood at all what they'd just seen. Then it seemed to me that the time had passed where an answer was needed or warranted, and I simply did not respond, and if there was a moderator (there must have been, but I don't remember one) they didn't do their job and step up and assist, filling the dead air time that kept stretching on as the querants stared at me and I simply sat there staring back at them. One of the actors stepped up and gave a rather scolding rebuke to the questions that had been like this, asking if they hadn't just watched the play, regaling us all for several minutes with a very eloquent response. I know I was wonderfully impressed and grateful. And after that it was over. I hadn't intended to be difficult, but I wasn't cut out for handling an audience, or at that stage in my life I was unprepared. I know people who have never been in front of an audience but when given the opportunity get up and handle it naturally and wonderfully, very engaging, energized by it all. My intention wasn't to be an ass. But there was an air of hostility there that shut me down, and on reflection I still believe it was honestly there or the actor wouldn't have spoken up and given what turned out to be a scathing rebuke.
OK, now for the big question. Was the play any good? I damn well thought it was at the time. My actors said it was, but then actors can be self-delusional, at least for a period of time, about a piece to which they've devoted themselves. Some people said it was good. The below short review gave a "Nay".
THE EYE OF THE MATADOR, by Juli M. Kearns, is less about Spanish bullfighters than Bulfinch's mythology. The myth under examination is Jason and Medea. Kearns takes an unusal approach to the material by exploring Jason and Medea's early relationship. She fails to dramatize the conflicts, and the plot remains murky to even people who know the classics. Sponsored by Seven Stages, the play does display a gift for language. Kearns had a fine cast...
I'm not going to state who wrote the above review for Creative Loafing as the individual went after my play, ZURAMA, with such an acid and inflammatory remark that I wondered at what she might have had against me, though I didn't personally know her. As for the reviews she gave of the other plays at the same play project as EYE OF THE MATADOR she tended to the critical, not effusive with praise except to state when actors did well, and would be dubious about stageability.
I am generally unable to be objective about my own work--writing, art, or photography--after the fact, when I'm done with it. I believe in what I don't toss. I pour my soul into it. But then with my writing I can't revisit it after the final rewrite. With images, it's the same. I believe in them when I do them. After? I anguish.
From the AJC, an article on the Atlanta New Play Project which gives some good space for observations by Frank Miller.
The program. I didn't write the bio, and it's just kind of weird. We didn't have Nessa, the Irish Setter, when we came up to Atlanta, and though we did have cats when we moved to Atlanta, they weren't Stevie, the young maniac of a cat we'd recently acquired. It purports to list off where I grew up but leaves off Richland, Washington. I disliked ever associating myself with Augusta and yet there it is. It may be that Nancy Kearns, then literary manager at Seven Stages, wrote it and that's why it leads off with our not being related. I mean, I'm not good at writing bios now and would have been awful at it then, but I wouldn't have written that.
Another clipping, transcribed:
Atlanta Festival Fosters New Productions
Now in its ninth year, the Atlanta New Play Project is rededicating itself to its original mission— to foster the production of new plays by area theatres. This year, the Festival's scope is broadening to include works that represent all stages of the playwriting process. As in years past, the bulk of the Festival will be given over to staged readings and workshop productions. Two of this year's scripts, however, are in very early stages of development. Festival attendees will get to hear portions of these plays, followed by discussions of where the writer hopes to go with the material. Conference registrants this year also will be given the option of purchasing tickets at a reduced rate for as many as two productions of new scripts at area theatres.
The nine new scripts to be read at this year's Festival are:
AMANITA by Frank Martignon — an exploration of the tangled emotions underlying a man's search for his wife's murderer.
CHAMBER MUSIC by Andrew C. Ordover — a play in two parts about a family whose members have lost all sense of communication and a group of strangers forced into communicating with each other.
THE EYE OF THE MATADOR by Juli M. Kearns — a re-telling of the Medea legend that looks at the early stages of her relationship with Jason.
FROM TYBEE LIGHT by Bonnie Pike — a Southern Gothic comedy about murder, sex and dreaming set on Tybee Island near Savannah. The first act of this work in progress will be read at the Festival.
THE NUNNEHI and THE UKTENA by Gary Carden — two plays that combine storytelling and mime to re-create Cherokee myths and legends.
PARTNERS by Geralyn Horton — a contemporary comedy about the changes in the relationship of upwardly mobile young couple.
SURVIVORS by Kent Whipple — a one-man, multi-character study of the survival instinct. A reading of this one-act work in progress will be followed by a discussion of the author's plans for expanding it into a full-length play.
TO GLEAM IT AROUND TO SHOW MY SHINE by Bonnie Lee Moss Rattner — an adaptation of Zora Neale Hurston's classic novel THEIR EYES WERE WATCHING GOD, a poetic comedy about a black woman's quest for a satisfying life in 1920s Florida.
Outside productions for which Conference registrants will be able to purchase tickets are June Jordan's BANG, BANG UBER ALLES at Seven Stages, Frank Wittow's HEADLINES at the Academy Theatre and Tom Huey's THROUGHLINE at the Alliance Studio Theatre.
In addition to the new scripts scheduled for readings, the Festival will include discussions of the plays read and workshops will be two guest facilitators: Suzanne Bennett, Literary Manager for the Women's Program at the American Place Theatre in New York, and Jeffrey Sweet, playwright, critic and Associate Editor of the Dramatists Guild Quarterly.
Festival participants will also be able to attend a free workshop presented under the auspices of the National Archives Atlanta Branch and the Society of Georgia Archivists. BEFORE THE PLAY'S THE THING: Archival Research for Playwrights will intro- duce playwrights to the availability of archival materials at govern- ment and private collections for use in general period research or in researching specific topics. Among the materials on file at the National Archives-Atlanta Branch are reports dating back to the 19th century from Cherokee reservations in the Southeast and TVA cultural studies of Appalachian life.
The1986 Festival of Plays will take place at Georgia State Uni versity in downtown Atlanta. The campus is within walking distance of the Five Points MARTA Station and on several bus lines. All read ings will be held in the Alumni Hall Auditorium at Courtland and Auditorium Drive. The Archival Re- search Workshop will be held at the Georgia State Archives at 330 Capitol Ave.. SE.
Uploaded March of 2022. 11,500 words approx. 22 pages.
Closing Image: Televised Dinner Theater of Mortals and Gods, Satyr, 2015, by Juli Kearns