The Pioneer Award from AFO Theater – my thank you speech

DSCN2151I received the Pioneer Award from All For One Theater this week, and here’s the acceptance speech I gave.

I have loved being a part of the NYC solo show community since 1996, when I wrote my first solo show. That year I kissed my 13-year standup career goodbye, and started acting. I knew I had found my place, and that theater – solo shows in particular – was my life.

I’ve been watching Art in the 21st Century, a PBS series, and just last week I watched Episode 7.  I want to share with you a quote from that show. Leonardo Drew, a sculptor, said,“No matter what materials you end up using, once you find your voice, that’s it.” I believe that in my work on solo show and other theater in NYC, I have found my voice.

It’s been a long and joyful road for me. For the past 15 years, I’ve been immersed in solo shows – curating, writing, performing and directing them, all over the country and at my venue Stage Left Studio. So I can, without reservation, accept some praise for being a pioneer. Thank you, Michael Wolk, and other AFO people, for choosing me to receive this.

Solo show artists are unique – it takes a special kind of courage to walk that tightrope alone on stage, knowing that it’s all coming out of you – all the characters, all the momentum, all the drama. The writing of a solo show can be a tense standoff between too much sharing and too much hiding. But it’s a journey well worth taking.

New York City is full of pioneers, people who work hard, spend lots of money and who make a big difference in the lives of others and in the theater scene. All of us who create solo shows are pioneers, in that we take raw stuff, work it up, put it out there, support it, and endure whatever hardships we have to to make it happen. So, here’s to you, other pioneers, and may you live long and prosper. And may you have audiences at your shows, and venues to work at, venues that you can afford.

Which brings me to another point – the affordability of our profession. None of us got into theater because we thought it was a money maker. We did it because we have to, because our passions are large, and our vision is far, and doing it feels better than not doing it, regardless of the cost. But for me, the cost of doing it in NYC has become too much. My theater, my pride and joy, has also become a burden. Paying rent and getting audiences gets harder every month, and the job of marketing too unrelenting. I have become convinced that a better way exists. I have resolved to break the tether that holds me to New York City.

This coming summer, I will embark upon a year-long journey, traveling around the country to stay with friends, and working with them on their art projects – solo shows, photography shows, plays, standup acts, you name it. I’ll be taking the experience and knowledge I’ve gained by being a pioneer in NYC and playing Johnny Appleseed with it. I feel like I’m a caterpillar, long attached to the branch of NYC theater, and now I’m about to move into my butterfly phase.

Back to Leonardo Drew, the sculptor I mentioned earlier. He also said, “There’s the artwork that you physically make but there’s also the journey you make on the inside.”  We all become obsessed with the art that we are making, but I think an examination of the journey on the inside is just as important. It’s easy in NYC to see no further than how to get our audience, or how to manage this sound design, but that’s not all there is. I am now deeply into examining the journey I am making on the inside. And I am longing to make a journey on the outside too.  I now want to move out into the world, into other situations, with other materials, and see where my artistry takes me. Everything I do is essentially a solo show, and in my year on the road, I intend to write in my blog, and create one show for each season, and to feature the people and the work I will be doing – in my travels to Maine, Florida, Virgin Islands, England, Mexico, California, New Mexico, Georgia, and about another dozen states, and with over two dozen artists.

Finally, I want to share this remark, made by a woman, who was looking at Thomas Hirschhorn’s monumental work in the Bronx. She said, “Now I understand what a monument means. It’s something that stays in your heart and in your memories because they only have it once.” I am so grateful for the memories.



6 thoughts on “The Pioneer Award from AFO Theater – my thank you speech

  1. Dearest Cheryl,

    This is a brilliant, eloquent, moving speech — which should be adapted to run as an Op Ed piece for the NY Times.

    Your generosity and awareness is such a gift to us all.

    I am so sorry I couldn’t be there on Tuesday to bask in the communal glow of you receiving this abundantly well-deserved honor.

    Love, Flash

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