Somewhere between writing and producing, Stephanie Weisman and her performance piece, Aphrodisia, ended up in The Marsh.
This is where the tale gets sticky. Because the marsh is, first of all, a real one in Delaware; then, it’s also The Marsh, “a breeding ground for new performance,” the project Weisman founded in 1989 for theatrical development and showcasing solo performances that have blossomed into Marshes in San Francisco, Berkeley and affiliates in the North Bay—and also refers to the poem and resulting performance piece finally receiving its premiere at the Berkeley Marsh on June 1 that Weisman first wrote almost 20 years ago about her experience on that Delaware marsh ... that led to her founding of The Marsh.
Weisman, who originally hails from Newburgh, N.Y., was trained as a singer until the age of twelve. She attended the State University of New York at Buffalo as both undergrad and graduate student, teaching small press publication and editing the Black Mountain 2 poetry review, with poet Robert Creeley (who died last year) as advisor.
“He was my mentor,” Weisman said. “We met weekly for three years, and he taught me everything I needed to know about the creative process. I didn’t really have a theatrical background, but teaching small press publishing—providing the tools and venue, showing that everybody can publish, setting up collaboration—gave me what I needed to be a producer.”
But Weisman’s own work was always on hold.
“I was not much into sending my own work out,” she said. “Joan Murray, a poet friend of mine, finally came to my house and took the manuscript of Dancemasters to the Buffalo Literary Center—and I got a State Council Award. I made it into a performance, and produced it myself, did the posters and postcards, got the people and filled the house. I felt I was a natural producer, but had no experience. ... Someone said, in advance of the performance, ‘So what’re you doing about lights?’ and I said, ‘What?’ Turned out she liked to do the lights.”
After 11 years at Buffalo came Weisman’s illuminating experience—three months living on the marsh.
“It was the first time in my life when I could just sit and do nothing but write,” she said. “I was living with an artist who saw technique and aesthetics on the same level, and was interested in life cycles, which we had all around us on the marsh, and always talked about. The house was up on stilts, and the water came up underneath when there were storms. It was fall, nobody was around. After an urban life, I was so affected by the elements, the migration of birds—yet out on the beach I’d see military jets flying overhead from Dover, and really saw that planes came from people watching birds.”
After moving to Berkeley in 1988, and having another peak experience “getting my voice back” with the Roy Hart Theatre in France, Weisman founded The Marsh and her own creative plans went on hold.
Then, not long ago, she found herself singing the text to Aphrodisia. Composer Ellen Hoffman worked with her to annotate and arrange the melody into a choral piece with chamber music for cello, bassoon, violin and clarinet. The finished piece is performed by Deborah Gwinn, with Ellen Webb’s choreography danced by Damara Vita Ganley, and sung by Voci women’s vocal ensemble, conducted by Jude Navari, with lights by Joan Arhelgar.
Another triumph of collaboration, like the many that Weisman has guided through The Marsh.
“Even my husband, Richard DiLeo, built the sets,” she said. “I needed a landscape architect—it’s a marsh, right? And the show’s been put together from an original that was only 12 minutes long. The first act is a set of women’s choral pieces throughout history. It’s a vision of the whole process—from coal to diamonds. Coming from an Eastern European Jewish background, the future is the hardest thing to conceive of. What I came to understand from the experiences Aphrodisia is all about is that time really is a continuum. And that’s what The Marsh is all about: it might be the best idea in the world, but how do you do it? What does it take?”
7:30 p.m. Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, 4 p.m. Sundays through June 10 at The Marsh Berkeley in the Gaia Arts Center, 2118 Allston Way. For more information see www.themarsh.org or call (415) 826-5750.