WHY: Because you’ll see a young artist use her voice and body to heal a pain you can’t name at first. Because when Charlotte morphs into her mother, in voice and posture, the familiarity nearly broke my heart. Because I understood the anger, the grief and the empathy involved in accepting a once-healthy mother’s new physical reality. Because Charlotte reminded us that the loss of a loved one will touch us all and how we respond to that loss matters – community matters. Because when Charlotte begins to sing, a light shines from her whole being and we see her, we hear her, we are her.
In a time where all seems woeful, it felt good to bear witness to another human’s story of resilience – right here in your own neighborhood there is someone always finding ways to live a full life. May director Debra De Liso’s Theatre of Compassion continue to bring forth original projects from the voices of those who are not always heard.
Fringe Femmes 2022 are a bold cohort of women who are presenting new plays, original works and solo shows that have raised the bar on what it means to be an artist, tell one’s story and continue the work by any means necessary. Each year I am reminded that no matter the obstacles or the times in which we live, you cannot stop theatre as an art form from expanding, thriving and being a vessel to reveal, heal and nurture. LAFPI has the special ability to connect women from a wide variety of cultures and experiences together in their shared love of theatre.
This year continues to expand on that legacy and I am thankful to be able to introduce Fringe Femme Charlotte Galbreath. Charlotte’s Looking Past Lossis a personal and vulnerable solo show that explores the traumas that simmer beneath the surface, yet eventually always rise to the surface. How did COVID-19 force you to reckon with yourself and old traumas? Charlotte investigates her own family stories and what she discovers may be a lesson for us all.
Constance Strickland: What’s been your biggest battle in terms of your development/process?
Charlotte Galbreath: My biggest battle has been honoring the accuracy of my relative’s stories and experiences while exercising my own artistic freedom in the process. With an autobiographical show that features key figures in my own life, I want to do justice to their trauma while also serving the play and message being sent at large. Thus, I’ve had to navigate that balance of preserving their truths while expressing mine as well.
Constance: After the lights and the audience disappear what do you hope one takes away after seeing your show?
Charlotte: I hope that my audience takes away the power of what loss can do for us. While it is undoubtedly a painful part of life, it yields new meaning to our existences if we let it, so I encourage the audience to reconsider how the darkness in their own lives can be turned into a motivating factor that gives us a profound sense of purpose in life.
Constance: What joy did you discover when creating your show?
Charlotte: I discovered the joy of life and the preciousness of it throughout my process. Having to reflect on my losses and trauma has allowed me to have a greater appreciation for everyone in my life. It also has reframed my interactions with others as I’m constantly thinking about how I can be the light in other people’s lives. It was definitely a challenging feat having to reflect upon these losses in my life, but it’s also served as a healing process.
Constance: What has been the most delicious discovery as you created your original work.
Charlotte: As an actor, I’ve always been drawn to the power of theater to enact change, but as I’ve created my work, I’ve realized the extent to which I can reach and move audiences. My solo play that explores different memories of loss highlights the highs and lows of this journey, and guides the audience to the light at the end. Bringing the audience on this ride with me, they’re able to see for themselves how to reframe the darkness we feel during the lows, giving hope to a world that has felt so hopeless the past couple of years.
Constance: How does it feel to have an opportunity to share your work with an in-person audience?
Charlotte: It is an incredible opportunity finally sharing this with an in-person audience because it brings everyone together on this journey, creating a support network amongst the entire audience experiencing these memories simultaneously. Since many of these memories are painful to live through, I recognized the importance of finding levity throughout to make the piece more digestible and to capture the highs and lows of this whole process.
Constance: What influenced this new work? How long have you been sitting with this work? Why now?
Charlotte: I have been working on this solo play for the past couple of years, but had a change in perspective on how I wanted to end the performance and the message I wanted to leave the audience with over the past year. With Covid, all the political tension, racial discrimination, and losses we’ve all experienced over the past couple of years, I feel like this story needs to be told in order to give hope to our world and show that there is a way out of all the darkness. Theater has the power to take audiences on a journey and make them consider how the story being portrayed and message being sent can translate to their own lives, and this is crucial right now with the play I’m performing.
We forget that the shutdown delayed medical care for other ailments. No second opinions, no early detection or preventive treatment; everything was on hold for a year. Two years later – all things exacerbated by time – we grieve the more and COVID-related takes on a deeper meaning.
I lost a cousin this month – one of the greatest minds I have ever known. I wanted more time…
Myself, I am going through the results of delayed care. The stress of it is stifling. The constant search for water – spiritual, physical and emotional is stretching me beyond my limits as I blindly believe for a new day. I don’t recognize myself in the mirror, I don’t turn on the camera during Zoom meetings, I rarely go out. Groundhog Day.
I dream I am writing… I wake to find I am not…
I am imploding with all the words…the words…the words…
Fifty years from now, what will literature say about us? Will it be a balanced story?
I am hoping that the travailing in the spirit that I have been doing will break something up. I don’t have it in me to compromise on what stories want to come out of me. I am learning to not subconsciously self-edit.
This pandemic has changed me; I have an even lesser tolerance for inauthenticity in any way. It’s been a battle and a journey to learn where and how grief has touched my work – changing it forever; instead of trying to muzzle it, I’ve learned to embrace it. There is a sound to loss, an indelible mark, an imprint, a key, as it were, that opens one up to hidden jewels. Regaining the parts of myself so covered in stones, it took this pandemic to unearth them. I have literally found snippets of writing while going through a box under a box under a box. This snippet of writing is exactly what is needed in a play, “Sweet Lorraine’s Bag of Water,” that I’ve decided to revisit. I remembered writing it and it was on my mind. I was annoyed that it was lost to me, finding it by chance was delightful. I wrote it while attending a theater conference some years ago. It will be nice to get back to attending in-person conferences one day, they are a great source of inspiration. There is nothing like being around a large group of theater artists.
It is good to know that I am finding more balance in myself and looking forward to seeing the change it brings to my work…
Happy New Year, may it bring you joy and many opportunities to share your work.
At rise, inside a 1960s apartment building. Hundred-degree days, a waning water supply and the dire need to stay in a creative space, the protagonist gathers the almost empty bottles; she pours them into one bottle, scavenges for more in bags around her home. She can make it to the day before payday if she rations herself… Inside an old purse she finds a five-dollar bill stuck between two receipts. PROTAGONIST breaks out in a victory dance, slow and off beat, dehydration is cruel.
HOT DAMN, WATER, WATER
WHAT? WHAT? WATER, WATER
I could have never imagined that the world would start to have hints of the BIRD BOX or the BOOK OF ELI real time and that in the midst of “working from home,” the competing stress factor would be water or the lack thereof. So yes, I danced around a bit then promptly left for the store to restock.
The dehydration lasted a few days longer than expected, symbolically tied to the minimal writing I have been doing. My whole self has been crying out for community… I took a webinar on grief through Hedgebrook just for that reason. The Webinar, “The Sixth Stage: Possibilities for Awe and Wonderment When Writing Grief” with Idrissa Simmonds-Nastili, and its ‘holding space’ was a profoundly refreshing experience. Hedgebrook offers a lot of webinars that can be a source of gathering during this time. This was my first one which I took on grief because I seem to be living there as of late. Grief encompasses real estate like a swarm of bees heading home to the honeycomb looking for the sweet refuge of its cavernous walls. Hovering over loss like a tornado, it’s the bitch that won’t go away easily, not without a fight, not without drawing the last bit of blood. With the death of one of my cousins and one of my dear friends, my body which has been keeping score has begun to scream, “do over, do over.” There’s no such pleasure…
What’s left is what’s left. Or, is there a way to change something – some part – of this madness?
Maybe the do over is in the expelling of the stinger and the adding of salve and alcohol. It does help when you write about it. Even when there’s so much of it that it can fill two lifetimes, writing moves it on it way.
I am missing the pieces of me frozen in the walls, my fingers and toes have started tingling, waking up, moving, they don’t know there’s no such thing as do over’s. Maybe I won’t tell them, maybe I’ll just wait and see if this leads to deep welled water… deeper than this grief. Maybe it’s flowing upward from underground just waiting for me to believe so it can burst forth…
I needed a lifeline and a buoy to stay afloat and to anchor myself to another reality of some sort.
The therapist recalled that I stood out from the crowd because he saw that I was in a deep trance. I wondered perhaps if my consistent meditation practice is the reason for this ability to lapse into a different mode. I booked a private session to address the weight that I had been unable to unload without professional help. I was tailspinning into a depression over the loss of my husband Bruno Herve Commereuc in a motorcycle accident this past January. So we begin.
I am lying down comfortably with my eyes closed and listening attentively. My body is deeply relaxed. He suggests that I relinquish my analytical left brain and allow my superconscious to take care of everything. The superconscious knows everything – more than the left-brain modality which sorts, judges and focuses only on what’s at hand, while the right brain has the detailed roadmap to everything the subconscious has recorded.
I am aware that I take deep breaths now and again. I move my head to release the tension on my neck. My body is dead weight. My awareness is acute. I am tuned in to his every word and other noises in the room and beyond its doors and walls. I feel the movement and temperature of the surrounding air. I sense the modulation of his voice and the fine-tuning of my bodily states, mostly heavy and limp and my eyes feel stretched out. What a strange state of awareness – fully awake and yet, under the spell of a suggestive voice. I go down an elevator, then I walk down the stairs to a garden.
What is this garden? The sunlight is softly filtered perhaps by an early morning mist and there’s a tree in the middle. A pathway surrounds the tree and one by one, my loved ones from previous times appear. The first to appear is my dog, Chloe. Not far is my Beloved Bruno. He wears the shirt I gave him for Christmas in 2014. He loved that shirt. Then others appear one by one: my cousin Sonny, my father Andre, my elderly best friend Helen, Bruno’s father, Christian, whom I never met, Bruno’s friend Hiep, and Bruno’s surrogate mother at the farm in Brittany. Her name was Helen also. Then I see David and Valentine – the dog and cat under the fig tree. After a brief conversation with each one or just looking into each others’ faces, I stand back and watch both sides of our families and friends mingle. It is a garden party. I don’t really know what to say or ask them so the therapist suggests to me to ask Bruno what lessons he was supposed to teach me and what did he learn from me.
Bruno to me: “Take a bite out of life”. “Don’t live with regrets.”
What he learned from me: “Sweetness”, “Gentleness”, “Happiness in each others’ company”
This is just the beginning of the journey. Later I am drifting with a light energy to meet my spiritual guide. I know his face. It is also the spiritual guide of Paramahansa Yogananda. Now I understand why I had an affinity to Sri Yukestewar. He was in the pages of “Autobiography of a Yogi”. He was the brightest star in Paramahansa Yogananda’s life. And I find out now that he too was my karmic spiritual guide. He had saved me from poverty in the streets of India. I was an orphan begging at the railway station. I moved from homelessness to live in his orphanage where I was nourished with food and love. Then I grew up there and became part of its foundations to help other orphans survive and thrive.
After an hour of past life regresion I come back to 2018 in my body, in the same room where I entered the garden and later I turned towards the staircase that lead away from the garden. Upon leaving the garden I said to Bruno “I have to go”. This is quite the opposite of what had happened in January with his unexpected and sudden death. This time it is me saying to my Beloved I am going. I am leaving the realm of the superconscious to return to a shallower realm of the consciousness – the realm of problem-solving, questions (lots of it), judgements, loneliness and occasional breakthroughs to the underlying reality that we are all one. We are energy condensed into matter with a veil of separateness because of ego and free will.
I recognize that it would be hard to convince anyone of you readers about this visceral experience. What led me to this particular path of exploration? Why? And where to now? My deep interest in metaphysics is what attracted me to attend a workshop sponsored by the Edgar Cayce Association for Research and Enlightenment (ARE) with the featured speaker Gregg Unterberger M.Ed, LPC. The topic was “Edgar Cayce on The Unseen Worlds – Past Lives, Future Lives, the Afterlife”. The timeliness of this workshop was a god-send for someone like me who needs to tether to another realm of truth for answers to questions that this day-to-day reality cannot provide so readily. That answers the What and Why. Where to now? I have a sense of hope, a lightness of being after being unburdened with the questions. At least, I had a chance to see and talk to my Beloved (even if perhaps it was in my imagination). But it was real. I know it. I am moving a little more forward and treading the earth a little lighter. That mountain of grief doesn’t appear so tall and unsurmountable. There is a path.
On this path I carry a book written by Gregg Unterberger. The book is titled “The Quickening”. In my own words it describes proven techniques for spiritual awakening based on scientific research and deep soul searching from an educated and compassionate healer. From my experience, it is the reality-shattering experiences such as a trauma that can jar a person into waking up from a recurring nightmare of flatlining to ennui or meaninglessness. I did recognize I needed help and so I reached out for it. I am grateful that I found this modality of help that is inline with my personal belief system.