by Diane Grant
I’ve been the box office lady at Theatre Palisades now since 1988, saying over and over into the phone, “$22 regular, $20 for seniors and students.”
Fifty years ago, I met my husband when I was a member of Toronto Workshop Productions in Ontario, Canada, with George Luscombe, producer and director. The company produced plays that were often improvised and written from contemporary and archival material.
We played in several cities in Canada, in Venice, Boston, and New York, and thought ourselves as being wild radicals, engaged in the world and dedicated to change of a positive kind. Among many others, we wrote a play called Mr. Bones, about the assassination of Lincoln, produced a Durrenmatt play called A Visit From An Old Lady and a new play about people moving back to East Berlin (not out of but back!).
One of our members was from Chicago and had a friend who passed him the transcripts from the trial of the Chicago 7, activists who were arrested and accused of inciting a riot at the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago. ( They were originally 8 – Bobby Seale was bound and gagged and removed from the courtroom for calling Judge Hoffman a racist and a pig. Over and over.)
Along with testimony from witnesses like Abbie Hoffman, Allen Ginsberg and Jerry Rubin, we incorporated Alice in Wonderland into the play, interjected vaudeville and dance, and turned the trial into performance art. I played Linda Morse, who was on the Student Mobilization Committee against the Vietnam War. She was passionate and articulate. I also played the entire jury, an elementary school teacher, and Alice. The judge objected to some of the clothing the witnesses wore so there was, of course, a fashion show, too.
My husband, Kerry Feltham, loved the play and made it into a film called The Great Chicago Conspiracy Circus which was invited to the Berlin Film Festival in 1971.
Fifty years later, this February, he was invited back. The film was to be shown again – twice!
We were thrilled and went to Berlin in February for the festival where I had the best time I think I’ve ever had in my life!
We were treated with such kindness and courtesy and were put up at the beautiful spacious Berlin Hotel (room 547) which had two huge white ceramic bears at the front door, a delightful lobby with a curved staircase up to the upper floors, and a buffet dining room. It was just down the block from the huge and beautiful Kino Arsenal and the Berliner Kunst Museum, where the film was shown with a Q&A to follow.
The audiences were warm, knowledgeable and attentive. They liked the film.
I must confess, I was in the theater, but couldn’t watch the film. I was shell shocked, I think, by the prospect of seeing myself fifty years ago. I could do the Q&A however and was asked if American politics had changed much since that time. (Not much, I think.)
It was so wonderful to feel like a performer again. To feel that creative spirit surge. I was asked for my autograph. Whoa! Not once did I say, “$22 regular, $20 for seniors and students”.
I think we’ll get the film up on the web, just for fun and history’s sake. Am looking forward to actually seeing it again.