Archives for the month of: February, 2019
remembrance1

Michael Sylvan Robinson shared his Mourning Jacket for a Sweet Satyr in memory of Eric Ginman at the Bennington Alumni 24 Hour Plays, January 21, 2019 at Lucille Lortel Theatre. Photo by Ellery Schiller ’21

“Spencer saved my life,” I said as I stepped into the gathered circle of (mostly) Bennington alumni of varied generations at the start of the Bennington Alumni 24 Hour Play process. This special event benefits two Bennington College scholarships, the Nicky Martin Performing Arts Scholarship and the Spencer Cox ‘90 Field Work Term Fellowship for Student Activists. “He was the first person to tell me about condom use and safe sex in the 80’s,” and I shared a humorous recollection Spencer and I joked about together when we’d run into each other in the city, “At Bennington Spencer often got the theater roles I wanted, but I got the boys he wanted.”

My heart felt so full, a rising presence as I prepared to share about the art piece in my hands. I’d brought my art memorial garment for Eric Ginman ‘92, and I walked within the circle as I spoke his name, showing the beautiful photos of Eric stitched into the fabric, and the hand-stenciled text honoring his life and death, and our relationship. “Spencer, Eric, Queer Ancestors, dear beloved activists and artists, Bennington alumni brothers, lost to AIDS (and both fought addictions), your work-in-the-world finished too soon. What is remembered lives…

Sometimes one puts the mourning down until there is the space and presence to return to the ache of grief. Sometimes the art-making waits until one day it is time for the work to resume. After two years of not being able to work on this piece, I began again on the Mourning Jacket for a Sweet Satyr, knowing I wanted to share this act of remembrance for Eric J. Ginman: 11/13/69 – 7/19/97

Eric died in the 90’s, as many gay men did, before he reached the age of 30. He died of AIDS right before the advancement in treatment that saved so many others… Like Spencer, Eric also struggled with addiction which left him isolated and vulnerable. Eric and I were lovers/spiritual brothers/friends in those days both before I graduated from Bennington, and afterwards, in NYC. He sent me beautiful self-portraits which I held privately for years and years. I’ve been thinking of him so clearly – the music he made, both in formal and rustic landscapes. The sweetness of his nature and the mischievous Scorpio sensual side. Eric was incredibly talented. What is remembered lives….

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Sharing my Inspirational costume piece at the start of the Bennington Alumni 24 Hour Play event captured in a beautiful photo by Ellery Schiller ’21, thank you!

I see myself here in this photo: midlife Queer artist me sharing my art and activism and love in the way I most want to do. I see myself Here. Surrounded by the collaborative web of Bennington kin, bringing such an intimate personal art offering and honoring of a lost dear beloved, knowing now what magic would come next with skillful craft of playwright Maia Villa ‘15 and director David Drake and their cast, in the creation of a new play, Remembrance; a new play in which Queer Ancestor ghosts arrive artfully dressed for a hauntingly beautiful reunion of parted lovers, one living and one amidst an embodied transformation to the ancestors.

With roots built from shared inspiration, and this memorial garment itself featured so prominently, the play culminated in the jacket being worn for the first time by a dear friend from our shared Bennington past, Julia Prud’homme ’87, in an incredible, evocative performance. It was the first time we’d seen each other in decades, perhaps since we were both last together on campus, but it felt so easy and familiar, not at all like years of distance. I loved the play we got to work on together, and I loved Julia’s great performance as as a Queer Ancestor getting her magic ghost-self suited up for the big transformation of humanness into mystery and spirit in a rite of passage in which her character transformed/evolved into a more embodied Queer Ancestor. I was crazy moved by bringing such an intimate offering to our collaborative circle and to be able to then receive the gift of watching others, dear respected friends and artists, build such artistry from their own inspiration and presence over such an intense, twenty-four process.

OLIVE. (singing) with me, with me… show me you’re here, sweet thing. (beat) Well, elise, there may not be an afterlife, you may not be anywhere, not be anything anymore. I just wish you were. I just wish the moon was a sign, that anything was….

ELISE. …and I miss you… I’m afraid if I touch her, I’ll feel my own guilt.

CROW. Isn’t that a useless emotion? / DOVE. You won’t.

OLIVE. …kiss me in the moonlight, sweet thing… I whispered in your ear, “you rent the U-Haul yet, cutie?”

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Remembrance by Maia Villa ‘15, directed by David Drake, costume design by Michael Sylvan Robinson ‘89, lighting design by Kryssy Wright ‘03 and sound design by Mike Rugnetta ‘06, with AD Emma Welch ‘17, and amazing cast: Julia Prud’homme ‘87, Eben Moore ‘96, Julia Crowley ‘18, Abigail Gampel ‘85.The dress worn for the role of Dove was created by Emily Woods Hogue ‘10. Bennington Alumni 24 Hour Plays: January 21, 2019

My participation as a costume designer for this event was also an action of remembrance and service as we honored the life and career of Danny Michaelson, Bennington faculty member of more than thirty-five years, a wonderful costume designer and teacher, and mentor for this collaborative group of designers bringing their time and skills to each of the new plays. Danny died suddenly this winter, and we shared fond memories of our time in the Bennington costume shop with him and the gifts of that place and faculty mentorship received during our Bennington years and beyond the days on campus.

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Costume design team for the Bennington Alumni 24 Hour Plays: Therese Bruck, Valerie Marcus Ramshur ’89, Michael Sylvan Robinson ’89, Emily Woods Hogue ’10, and Simone Duff ‘06, and Carla Klein ‘89 (not in photo) at the Lucille Lortel Theatre, January 21, 2019. Remembering beloved Bennington faculty member, Danny Michaelson. 

This writing of remembrance begins and ends with Spencer. I had the amazing opportunity on February 11th to attend a glimpse of an important work-in-progress, Euphoria, being developed by Tectonic Theater Project by Moisés Kaufman and Jeffrey LaHoste, that considers “the story of AIDS activist Spencer Cox, whose dedication to getting ‘drugs into bodies’ at the height of the crisis saved countless lives. The play grabbles with the puzzling questions his friends and colleagues were left to confront following Spencer’s death from AIDS-related complications.”  I spoke briefly with Moisés about my friendship with Spencer, and then sat quietly as the short excerpt of the play shared such love and respect for Spencer, highlighting glimpses of his youngster arrival into important AIDS activism and his tremendous impact; the words and memories of the play’s interviewees, some sitting the audience that night, performed by the actors of the show through the unique Tectonic play development process. I am so excited for this developing work, the ways in which Spencer’s life and activism will continue to inspire others, and I know he would be thrilled to receive such a fantastic arrival on the New York theater stages and beyond as this play evolves. Acts of remembrance.

 

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MSRThereWasSadness

“There was a deep sadness found…” Work-in-progress, inside lining for “Melancholy Moonlight,” sculptural garment 12″ x 16″ by Michael Sylvan Robinson (2019)

I heard myself say, “I’m going to follow this thread of sadness in my life down to its root,” and moments later, in the space that opened, I discovered the 2014 obituary for my biological father, a man I’d never met, only a brief series of problematic phone calls and letters shared in the mid-90’s between us. How do I mourn a man whose biggest contribution to my life was his absence, a haunting shadowed presence of his ghost, even as he lived, faced now in the belated news of his death?

“I used the term haunting to describe those singular yet repetitive instances when home becomes unfamiliar, when your bearings on the world lose direction, when the over-and-done-with comes alive, when what’s been in your blind spot comes into view. Haunting raises specters, and it alters the experience of being in time, the way we separate the past, the present, and the future. These specters appear when the trouble they represent and symptomize is no longer being contained or repressed or blocked from view. The ghost, as I understand it, is not the invisible or some ineffable excess. The whole essence, if you can use that word, of a ghost is that it has a real presence and demands its due, your attention. Haunting and the appearance of specters or ghosts is one way, I tried to suggest, we are notified that what’s been concealed is very much alive and present, interfering precisely with those always incomplete forms of containment and repression ceaselessly directed toward us. Haunting is a frightening experience. It always registers the harm inflicted or the loss sustained by a social violence done in the past or in the present…”

~ Avery F. Gordon, Ghostly Matters: Haunting and the Sociological Imagination

There was a shocking return of anger, which surprised me, perhaps after all the years of reflection and therapy and letting go, accompanied by the rush of emotions rising with an inner slide show of childhood longings and unraveled stories. I recognized the finality previously shielded by a unacknowledged delusion that there could be a kind of reconciliation. Immediately I encountered renewed resentments targeting the living, of course, for the long contributing failures, the truths and mistruths, secrets and silences. Under all of it, a deep old hurt caused by the choices of this man, whose genetic lineage I hold; I’m its only actual descendant despite the missing “survived by” designation on the online memorial page. I wondered at his end of life, any reckoning or instinct for amends, or just the long hidden secrets never voiced to those receiving gestures of condolences for the loss of such a giving man?

“The ghost is not simply a dead or missing person, but a social figure, and investigating it can lead to that dense site where history and subjectivity make social life. The ghost or the apparition is one form by which something lost, or barely visible, or seemingly not there to our supposedly well-trained eye, makes itself known or apparent to us, in its own way, of course. The way of the ghost is haunting, and haunting is a very particular way of knowing what has happened or is happening. Being haunted draws us affectively, sometimes against our will and always a bit magically, into the structure of feeling a reality we come to experience, not as cold knowledge, but as a transformative recognition. ”

~ Avery F. Gordon, Ghostly Matters: Haunting and the Sociological Imagination

As I reach for some resolution, some greater agency to the narrative of my origin that felt like it was never really mine to share, revealed in stages throughout a childhood infused with the hidden facts: How do I wrestle against this long secret history while doing no further damage to others? What do I need from the living and the dead?

Healing work, not clear in what form beyond the writing of these first words, might be found in this midlife rite of passage unique in its twisted pathways, but also, not uncommon, inclusive in the wide company of those within families for which one is not of the same blood. I remember the writers and witnessed memories of others, and these shared experiences help me start to trace the path forward from this haunting absence ended.

“The willingness to follow ghosts, neither to memorialize nor to slay, but to follow where they lead, in the present, head turned backwards and forwards at the same time. To be haunted in the name of a will to heal is to allow the ghost to help you imagine what was lost that never even existed, really. That is its utopian grace: to encourage a steely sorrow laced with delight for what we lost that we never had; to long for insight of that moment in which we recognize, as in Benjamin’s profane illumination, that it could have been and can be otherwise… If you let it, the ghost can lead you toward what has been missing, which is sometimes everything.”

~ Avery F. Gordon, Ghostly Matters: Haunting and the Sociological Imagination

 

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