Romulus Linney – Losing One Of Our Own

Playwright Romulus Linney passed away yesterday. Like Tennessee Williams, he too was a writer’s writer. Romulus wrote every day. And for 42 of those days he wrote at the Hermitage. One of the plays he worked on while with us was Love Drunk, mentioned in today’s New York Times obituary to which we have a link below.

Romulus Linney listens to playwright Dennis Green read from his work in the Hermitage House

When playwright Tennessee Williams died at age 71 in 1983 reporter Mike Wallace delivered a most moving tribute to him in a radio eulogy. In this essay, Wallace described a writer (Williams) whose greatest gifts had long ago been exhausted but in spite of all that had happened to him, in spite of repeated public failure and public rejection, he described a writer who got up every morning, and wrote. Every morning. He was a writer’s writer. Writing wasn’t what Tennessee Williams did, it was who he was.

Playwright Romulus Linney died yesterday. Like Tennessee Williams, he too was a writer’s writer. Romulus wrote every day. And for 42 of those days he wrote at the Hermitage Artist Retreat. One of the plays he worked on while with us was Love Drunk, mentioned in today’s New York Times obituary to which we have a link below.

In the spring of 1990, Romulus Linney gave me one of my seminal theatrical experiences – one of the three or four experiences in the theatre, which I will never forget. It was at the Humana Festival of New Plays, produced by Actors Theatre of Louisville in Louisville, KY. The play was simply named “2.” It was the story of Hermann Goering, Hitler’s number 2 man, and it was set during the Nuremburg Trials. Florida Studio Theater subsequently produced the play in 1997.

My experience seeing “2” was transformational – I had never seen a play affect an audience, and felt a play affect me in quite the same way. At the end of the play, the audience finds itself in a very different place, from the place it expected to be. The play transforms from an artifact of history – the tale of what happened to a certain (monstrous) person at a certain time in history, to a visceral connection between the audience and the monster we have seen on stage. And the connection is made in a stunning, theatrical moment at play’s end. Breathtaking. When I asked him about the play during his Hermitage residency, he gave the credit to his Louisville actor, William Duff-Griffin. He said something like “When you have someone like Bill Griffin in the role, you just get out of the way.”

Generosity of spirit was characteristic of this southern gentleman. He was a committed believer in artist communities, and a former board member of Yaddo, where he often went to write. “Artist communities, writer’s colonies, save lives,” he told more than one Sarasota County audience, “they saved mine.” At a low point in his young career, he went to Yaddo, an artist community in Saratoga Springs, NY, where he found the encouragement of fellow writers restored his confidence and resolve. It fed him what he needed to go on. So he did.

Romulus was an unpretentious man with unlimited intellectual gifts, and down-to-earth tastes. He loved diner food. While at the Hermitage, he was a regular at the Hungry Hound Café, a hole-in-the-wall hidden in a strip mall in Englewood, Fl. As far as I know, once he found it, he took every evening meal there. He took everyone else he could get to go with him, too. When he left the Hermitage for the last time, we gave him a Hungry Hound T-shirt.

The generosity, which defined Romulus at the Hermitage, was most evident with how he interacted with some of the younger artists who shared their time with him. Both composers and painters sat at his feet, anxiously seeking his opinion and advice, which he gave honestly but with care.

When asked about his creative process, we would say with the twinge of a southern lilt, “I tell my subconscious that I plan to be at my desk at 8am, and I invite it to meet me there.”

As his New York Times obituary observes, Romulus never achieved the household recognition of a Neil Simon or a David Mamet. His one Broadway play closed in five days. But he was universally admired by his peers for his craftsmanship, scholarship, and his prodigious ability to mine the deep humanity of his characters. He loved history and used it often to write about his time.

“When this is all over, my writing will add up to the sum total of me,” he said in an interview quoted in the Times. “The choices I make with my writing have a lot to do with myself as an unfolding personality, so that in the end your writing is really your destiny. It’s a question of finding that central thing that’s yours to say and yours alone.”

Like Tennessee Williams, writing wasn’t what he did, it was who he was. He was a talent of our time, and his loss is shared by us all.

The full New York Times obituary can be found at:
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/15/arts/16linney.html?ref=arts

Hermitage Artist Shows in New Jersey

We are proud that Hermitage Fellow Barbara Ellmann, an artist who worked at the Hermitage in Encaustics (pigment infused wax) has opened a show featuring work she completed during her Hermitage residency.

We are proud that Hermitage Fellow Barbara Ellmann, an artist who worked this past year at the Hermitage has opened an exhibition featuring work she completed during her Hermitage residency. Entitled “WHAT I SAW: Paintings from the Hermitage, Gulf Coast, Florida” the show opened on November 12, and will continue to December 18th in the Tomasulo Gallery in the MacKay Library of the Cranford campus of Union County College, New Jersey.

Read all about the exhibition in New Jersey Today

Greenfield Prize winner Sanford Biggers from Brazil to Switzerland

If you are in NYC, see Sanford’s art at the Rubin Museum of Art in Grains of Emptiness: Buddhism-Inspired Contemporary Art.

After two months of filming a new project in Salvador da Bahia, Greenfield Prize winner Sanford Biggers went to Lucern, Switzerland to install Creation/Dissipation at the Kunstmuseum Luzern. Soon after, he had the honor of presenting the keynote speech/performance at the 5th Annual Buddhist Film Festival.

Tom Sleigh at Historic Asolo on Thursday

The Hermitage Artist Retreat, in partnership with the Historic Asolo Theater of the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art are bringing you the chance to meet an extraordinary American poet and writer. Tom Sleigh will read from his work and talk about his incredible life as a writer at the Historic Asolo on Thursday, November 11 at 7:30 pm.

The Hermitage Artist Retreat, in partnership with the Historic Asolo Theater of the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art are bringing you the chance to meet an extraordinary American poet and writer. Tom Sleigh will read from his work and talk about his incredible life as a writer at the Historic Asolo on Thursday, November 11 at 7:30 pm. Call the Historic Asolo Theater at 941.360.7399 for reservations.

Tom wrote us this note about his life:
You could say that my life has resembled a double feature, plus the newsreel.

When I was a kid, the first feature was of me going to the movies every night because my parents owned a drive-in movie theater out in east Texas, red clay and piney woods country. My mother worked the snackbar, my father the projector. That was my first experience of poetry: enormous shadows on a screen, voices coming from the grille of the metal speaker like voices from other worlds.

The second feature was about a man who travelled to some of those worlds—like San Cristobal de Las Casas in southern Mexico, where I worked with the anthropologist and photographer, Gertrude Blom. At Na Balom—which means in Mayan the House of the Jaguar—I worked with the Lacandon Indians, the tribe most like the ancient Maya. And let’s not forget the newsreel: in the last few years, I’ve been to Lebanon and Syria, as well as to Kenya, where I’ve seen the lives of Palestinian and Somali refugees up close.

Throughout both features and “the newsy” as we used to call it, I’ve tried to write as closely to the bone as I could: Marilyn Monroe getting a massage, the greenish haze of teargas, cats lounging on tanks, a Somali poet singing a song for me. And more ordinary moments: the experience of finding my father’s Army records when he went to flight school, the way my mother’s dog looks at her sometimes, the sound of kids yelling their heads off as they splash naked in a pond.

Tom is the author of more than half a dozen volumes of poetry. Space Walk (2007) won the 2008 Kingsley Tufts Award, a prize worth $100,000, and earned Sleigh considerable critical acclaim. Referring to this collection, poet Philip Levine noted, “Sleigh’s reviewers use words such as ‘adept,’ ‘elegant,’ and ‘classical.’ Reading his new book, I find all those terms beside the point, even though not one is inaccurate. I am struck by the human dramas that are enacted in these poems, the deep encounters that often shatter the participants and occasionally restore them. What delights me most is seeing a poet of his accomplishments and his large and well-earned reputation suddenly veer into a new arena of both our daily and our mythical lives. For the writer, such daring may be its own reward; for the reader, it is thrilling to overhear a writer pushing into greatness.” Sleigh has also received the Shelley Award from the Poetry Society of America, an Individual Writer’s Award from the Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Fund, a Guggenheim grant, two National Endowment for the Arts grants, and an Academy Award from the Academy of American Poets.

Justice Served for Playwright

Catherine Filloux: Seeking justice, she finds it.

Playwright Catherine Filloux seeks justice in her plays while she deeply explores distress and ugliness in her literary realm of human rights and female genocide. As deeply as she sees and feels those horrors, she saw and felt the beauty of the Hermitage Artist Retreat. While at the Hermitage, it was clear in her eyes, her voice, and her whole expression, that she emotionally absorbs nature’s contrasting serenity and marvel, just as fully as she takes in the cruelty of the lifescapes of Cambodia and Bosnia.

“Justice” is Catherine losing herself in a well-deserved beach run, a luxurious swim, and a breathtaking sunset.

Catherine Filloux at her beach reading
The Sunset after Catherine's beach reading

Photos by Kathye Faries

The Privilege of our Work

We at the Hermitage are blessed to have this work. Not only do we have what may be the best offices in Florida – at least if you’re a beach person, but we get to spend time with the smartest, most talented people on the planet. We get to chat with them about their work, we get to have dinner or go out for a drink with them, and sometimes, like today, we get to see them in rehearsal.

Eve Beglarian in rehearsalWe at the Hermitage are blessed to have this work. Not only do we have what may be the best offices in Florida – at least if you’re a beach person, but we get to spend time with the smartest, most talented people on the planet. We get to chat with them about their work, we get to have dinner or go out for a drink with them, and sometimes, like today, we get to see them in rehearsal.

Composer Eve Beglarian has been with us this past week. Eve won the 2009 Greenfield Prize in Music which resulted in a $30,000 commission for a new work, a Hermitage residency, and a partnership with a regional arts organization to help develop the work. In this case, Eve is working with the Sarasota Orchestra. Today we got to attend some of her rehearsal with her musicians. While at the Hermitage last week, she composed a new piece that she got to try today.

Last year Eve had an adventure. She decided to paddle a red kayak from the headwaters of the Mississippi River, to New Orleans. Occasionally artists have to do these kinds of things – it’s “filling the well.” The New York Times wrote a wonderful story of her trip. And now she’s writing music influenced by music she heard, people she spoke with, and sounds she encountered paddling and camping her way down the river.

Today we got to hear her rehearse some of it, and talk about it. What a treat. And what a treat the Sarasota audience is in for on March 26th when the Sarasota Orchestra premieres the piece, one of two works that will be the result of the Greenfield Prize commission. Then, on March 26th, it will be your privilege to meet Eve, to discover for yourself what an exceptional human being and inspired composer and musician she is. And you will join with us in thanking Bob and Louise Greenfield and the Greenfield Foundation for the gift of the Greenfield Prize which has brought us Eve and which will continue to bring extraordinary people and the work they create to our community.

Sarasota Friends – Have a sailboat?

The Hermitage is looking for a Sarasota-based sailor to offer sailboat rides to artists. From a sunfish to a 64 footer, if you’ve got one, let’s talk. It’s a great opportunity to spend time with a Hermitage Artist.

While artists and writers are in residence at the Hermitage, we want to let them experience all that Florida has to offer. Many times these side trips turn into scenes in a book, or steps in a dance. If you are willing to offer sailboat rides, please let us know. We have several powerboat volunteers, but no sailboats. This week, we have a special request for a sail. If you can help, please call 475-2098 to make the arrangements. If you can’t do it by Sunday, talk to us anyway. This particular artist will return in March, and there may be similar requests by others.

Sanford Biggers’ Billboard

Sanford Biggers, winner of the 2010 Greenfield Prize at the Hermitage Artist Retreat, was commissioned for this billboard currently up on La Brea Ave. in Los Angeles. What do you think?

Sanford Biggers, winner of the 2010 Greenfield Prize at the Hermitage Artist Retreat, was commissioned for this billboard currently up on La Brea Ave. in Los Angeles. What do you think?

Greenfield Prize Gears Up

No sooner is one Greenfield Prize awarded than the process to select the next one begins. The next prize, to be awarded at the Greenfield Prize Award Dinner on March 27th, 2011, will be a commission for a new play. The special jury to make that selection has been constituted, and the first meeting will be held in the fall.

No sooner is one Greenfield Prize awarded than the process to select the next one begins. The next prize, to be awarded at the Greenfield Prize Award Dinner on March 27th, 2011, will be a commission for a new play. The special jury to make that selection has been constituted, and the first meeting will be held in the fall.

Each prize commission has two years to be completed, and this year the Sarasota Orchestra will premiere Eve Beglarian’s chamber music composition on the evening of March 26th, the evening before the dinner. So save the dates for a Greenfield weekend – a concert on Saturday evening and a celebration dinner with a major national speaker on Sunday. Ahh, life in Sarasota!

Fellows in the News

Congratulations to Hermitage playwright Elaine Romero whose play, Wetback was selected by the Arkansas Repertory Theatre for inclusion in “Voices At The River,” a new play development program for African American and Latino playwrights. The reading was held on July 16th at the theatre in Little Rock.

Congratulations to Hermitage playwright Elaine Romero whose play, Wetback was selected by the Arkansas Repertory Theatre for inclusion in “Voices At The River,” a new play development program for African American and Latino playwrights. The reading was held on July 16th at the theatre in Little Rock.