Zale Writer-in-residence

DEB MARGOLIN is a playwright, performance artist and founding member of the Split Britches Theater Company. Her play CRITICAL MASS, a comedy that explores people's love of telling each other everything that's wrong with them, was produced by New York City's Performance Space 122 in March of this year and received great critical acclaim. O WHOLLY NIGHT AND OTHER JEWISH SOLECISMS, a solo performance piece which she will perform during her residency at Newcomb, was commissioned in 1996 by The Jewish Museum in New York, and subsequently enjoyed a lengthy run at the Interart Theater, also in New York City; she also recently performed her CARTHIEVES! JOYRIDES! at New York's HOME for Contemporary Theatre and Art.

Deb has four other full-length solo shows in repertory: OF ALL THE NERVE, 970-DEBB, GESTATION and OF MICE, BUGS AND WOMEN, which have run in New York and throughout the country. Her television credits include segments for HBO Downtown and Comedy Central.

As a 1980 founding member of Split Britches, the 3-woman touring repertory company, she was a writer, actor and collaborator on its several original pieces performed throughout Europe and the United States. The Company won a Villager Award for Excellence in Theatre in 1982 and an OBIE Award in 1986. SPLIT BRITCHES: LESBIAN PERFORMANCE/FEMINIST PRACTICE, an anthology of Split Britches plays edited by Sue Ellen Case was published in 1996 by Routledge Press. Additionally, company members have been artists-in-residence at the University of Hawaii and Hampshire College (where Ms. Margolin was invited back as the Keynote Speaker for its 1990 commencement exercises).

A selected anthology of Ms. Margolin's performance texts, entitled OF ALL THE NERVE: DEB MARGOLIN SOLO, edited and with commentaries by Lynda Hart, will be published by Cassell PLC, a division of the London-based Wellington House, in 1998.

A recipient of a 1990/91 Fellowship in Performance Art from the New York Foundation for the Arts, Ms. Margolin teaches Performance Composition in New York University's graduate Performance Studies Department, and is a frequent guest lecturer at colleges and universities throughout the country.


From commencement at Hampshire College:

"I wish someone had told me that life just doesn't have any time-outs."

From "A Perfect Theatre for One: Teaching 'Performance Composition'." The Drama Review 41, 2 (T154), Summer 1997:

"Performance is a theatre of inclusion -- anyone can do it! You see all sorts of people doing it, not just little cuties or big hunks or people of just one hue! Anyone can do it! You can be large or gay or weird! You can be Jewish! You can have a fat rear end! You can be tone deaf, starstruck, hamstrung, anything! Performance is a theatre of inclusion. If you have a body, a memory, and a big endless desire: Performance. And you don't have to audition in a little outfit; just find a place on the street, an open mike, a coffee house, a living room. Performance."


"Since I have defined performance for myself as both deeply personal and inherently political, a perfect Theatre for One, and since I have claimed for myself the right to talk in the theatre about my own tiny life as though it were final and monumental and to layer myself off in transparent veils, I ry to take on Performance Composition as a chance to put the word out that we all have this right, and we should seize it. Performance Comp is a journey into the provinces of this terrible liberation. It's gross. Although I have neither the scholarship nor the interest to pursue the analogy too far, I must say that this journey has about it similar qualities to psychotherapy, in that the material it calls upon comes from inside, is old, remembered, semiotic, filamentous, and sometimes disgusting, and that it is most successfully approached without judgement and without regard for its literal sense. There is something terribly radical about believing that one's own experience and images are important enough to speak about, much less to write about and to perform (the analogy to therapy returns again, in that one of the curative aspects of "the talking cure" is the feeling of acknowledgement that comes from being asked to talk; from being listened to, a feeling which is a distant cousin of being unequivocally loved). Achievement of this realization, which I consider to be my sacred obligation to each student, changes people for good and ever. One of my jobs as a teacher of Performance is to elevate students' consciousness to the burgeoning existence of a level in themselves where a constant stream of fresh, deeply individual imagery resides, and to the beauty and viability of this imagery as art. It's my job to create a class atmosphere in which such consciousness can best be evoked and maintained (an atmosphere of neutrality, respect, and clinical love), and to teach methods for converting that consciousness into theatre."

In an interview with Douglas Langworthy (American Theatre, vol. 13, May/June 1996: 38-40) [Excerpt used with permission of Deb Margolin]:

Langworthy: Performance artist. Solo artist. Solo performer. Playwright. Do any of these categories completely describe what it is that you do?

My education in the theatre, which came from Split Britches, focused very much away from defining oneself as this or that. But I have always loved writing, that was really my origin in the theatre. Then, once I started performing solo, all of a sudden I was labeled a performance artist. At first I really resented that: I thought I was a playwright who wrote little plays for herself and performed them. But I have come to accept and embrance the term. I see how performance differs from theatre, and I like that distinction.

And what are the differences?

As a performance artist, there is a certain rebellion against and abandonment of the conceits of theatre: the proscenium, the fourth wall, the way Jeremy Irons comes out and plays Claus von Bulow, and you're not expected to think of Jeremy Irons, you're expected to think of Claus von Bulow--whereas in a performance, we see all the way from the character through to the actor. It's a transparent series of layers that protects the actor from his or her character, and I like that.
Also, I am an in-your-face performer. In the proscenium theatre, you are physically prevented from doing that. No, I don't let them escape. I share the awkwardness of performance with the audience.

What is the relationship for you between writer and performer?

For me, the performance impulse is really an extension of the writer's impulse. It's hard to separate the two. On the other hand, as I stand up to perform my material for the first time, I am at my best approaching it as if someone else had written it. The actor in me needs to find a thousand reasons to say what I have written. So there is this polarity that is very healthy, I think.

In my piece Chelsea Coffee, there's a waitress who refuses to take an order, and ends up saying, "Yes, I love language. Of course I love language. How else are you going to scream for help? You've got some terrible emergency. Maybe you were born with it. And your back stiffens and your heart rate triples, and you raise your arms and you open your mouth and...something! You have to say something!"
We all live this screaming sort of solitude, and I have an image of language as a sort of lifeline. There's the part of me that always wants to turn and say "Did you see that? Didn't you see that?" I use language as a way to feel less alone with the constant, intense and beautiful and humorous and ridiculous experiences that I have.

Love and identity seem very interconnected in your work. You deal with love in a way that is very mature.

We're so afraid of sentiment, we run from it. I feel if you're too afraid of the soppy Hallmark thing, you can't get at the other thing. You have to get over your fear of sentimentality to get at sentiment.

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