The Year I Was Gifted

The anthemic song 'We've Gotta Get Out Of This Place' by The Animals sets the scene for this one-woman, biographical monologue by the writer and performer Monica Bauer. It's 1969: the world is divided between Protesters and the Establishment, Vietnam is going down badly and a 15 year old Bauer is determined not to spend her 16th birthday stuck in the Polish district of Omaha, Nebraska. Instead of living where the unprocessed detritus of the animal slaughterhouses flows straight into the Missouri River, she's desperate to 'find her tribe' in what she already terms 'Arts Land'.

The possibility of escape materialises, against all the odds, in the shape of the then Interlochen Arts Academy (now Interlochen Center for the Arts) in northwest Michigan. It's far from easy for the 15 year old Bauer to apply, not least because she has to be slightly 'inventive' with the truth of her talents and interests. She is amazed to be accepted on a scholarship, albeit one which only covers half the cost, requiring some creative searches for money elsewhere. That she does eventually reach the institution - its motto, 'Guiding America's Gifted Youth' - isn't the end of her troubles, however. At times feeling like Piggy in The Lord of the Flies, it takes the support of gay student Bill Sherwood (who would direct the film Parting Glances) to see her through the worst.

The crux of this story is not simply about a poor working class girl trying to make it in the arts; it's the personal dilemma she faced, aged just 16, at the close of the academic year. Essentially, it was whether she should censor herself (with the chance of ensuring her continued attendance at Interlochen) or stand up for the 34 of her fellow students who were expelled on account of their homosexuality (this is 1969, remember: even the arts weren't so liberal then). It's the moment when Bauer had to decide what kind of artist - what kind of person - she wanted to be.

Bauer is an engaging enough performer, though there are some notable writerly ticks on display, such as her repeating of certain phrases with the emphasis on different words, as if trying to drain every last meaning out of them. The staging too is minimal, though there are two somewhat puzzling fade-to-blacks during which Bauer slips behind the black curtain, only to re-emerge seconds later unchanged. There seems no real reason for this; surely just simple actorly pauses would been sufficient to signify her story's change of place and time and would have been far less distracting.

Reviews by Paul F Cockburn

Multiple Venues

Nests

★★★
Dundee Rep Theatre / Macrobert Arts Centre

The Yellow on the Broom

★★★
Underbelly, Bristo Square

Tom Neenan: It's Always Infinity

★★★★
Assembly George Square Studios

Police Cops in Space

★★★★★
Gilded Balloon Rose Theatre

Rik Carranza: Still a Fan

★★★★
Gilded Balloon Rose Theatre

Marmite

★★★★

Performances

The Blurb

Working class girl lies her way into prestigious performing arts school. Should she betray her beliefs to stay there? True life story from writer of 2012 Fringe hit Made for Each Other. ‘Extraordinary’ ***** (SGFringe.com).