One hell of a ‘Red Hanky’ granny
Terry Baum brings LESBO SOLO! EXCERPTS FROM A LESBIAN’S LIFE IN THE THEATRE to Beaulah Bar on Thursday. TRACEY SAUNDERS found out more.
WINNING a bid at a charity auction is not the usual way that performers and playwrights make their way to South Africa, but Terry Baum is no ordinary performer. Baum was contacted by a local friend about the possibility of bidding on a return airfare. Speaking from Washington DC before her departure she said: “I didn’t hesitate to say yes, as South Africa has always interested me. When I got to thinking about the holiday I thought I should perform while I was there”.
She began working on a piece which is a montage of excerpts from her various shows including One Fool, Immediate Family and Red Hanky Grannies. “I have become so intrigued with how the show has developed that I plan to continue with it when I return to the USA,” she said, when explaining that this would be the first time she would perform this production.
Baum has a long career in theatre and says: “It is my belief that everyone starts out performing. We spend a lot of our childhoods in theatre, acting out different scenarios, assuming different roles: House, school, cowgirls, army, animals, prince and princess (somehow I wasn’t drawn to that one).
“I spent a lot of my childhood as a dog and a horse, since I wasn’t allowed to have either of them. I see myself as always having been in theatre. I have a BA in theatre, and an MA with an emphasis in directing. I got into directing because I didn’t like depending on someone to choose me in order to act. I wanted to do the choosing. I got into playwriting once I became a feminist and could find almost no plays that reflected my deeper understanding of my own life and of society.”
She founded Lilith, a women’s theatre collective in San Francisco in 1974 and her commitment to community theatre led her to form the Isla Vista Community Theatre. Together with her creative partner, Carolyn Myers, Baum formed Crackpot Crones and they participated in the New York International Fringe Festival in 2012.
Her initial solo career was born more from desperation than desire as she explains:
“I started writing solo plays for myself because it seemed the only realistic possibility of making a living in theatre. At the time, I was working as a temporary secretary and typing students’ papers”, she says.
“It is so difficult to make a living in the arts in the USA. There’s almost no money for the arts. I know that seems strange to others, since it’s the richest country in the world, but it’s a lot easier to live as an artist in other places. I don’t know about South Africa, but everywhere in Europe is better. So I started performing solo in 1981 for economic reasons. At that time, very few people were performing solo.”
Her productions have often dealt with the intersection between the personal and the political. Her play which dealt with a woman wanting to turn off life support to her dying female partner was cited often in the campaign for gay marriage in the USA.
It was no surprise to those familiar with her work when she ran for Congress against Nancy Pelosi in 2004. In 2011 her political career intensified when she was endorsed by the Green Party as mayor for San Francisco. When asked what prompted her decision she replied: “At the time I got into the race, there were many candidates, but none of them had any kind of a left, progressive vision.”
“I’m an active member of the Green Party. I felt there was no candidate to represent my party or me. So I decided to run so that I could get progressive ideas – great public transit, renewable public energy, and subsidised housing, for example – to be part of the political discourse. There were many, many public forums where candidates could articulate their ideas. Although I never had any chance of winning, many of my progressive ideas were adopted by other more well-known candidates. So I felt I was very successful. Plus I had a great time.”
After listening to her plans for the weeks ahead it sounds as if Baum plans to continue the great time while visiting South Africa and will be sharing some of those moments with audiences in Cape Town and Joburg.
Her one performance here will be at Beaulah Bar, 1st Floor, 24 Somerset Road, Green Point.
l Tickets are R20 at the door. Call 021 421 6798.