Coming of age at 50 is different from coming of age as a young woman. And coming home at the age of 50 has a power all of its own. After experiencing a sell-out run in Monterey—with standing ovations following each performance—local playwright and performer Patrice Vecchione says of her new one-woman show, “Now I’m ready to bring this home.”
Vecchione’s multi-media stage play, “A Woman’s Life in Pieces,” opens Friday, June 25, at Actors’ Theatre in Santa Cruz, where it will play for three performances throughout the weekend. Directed by Rosemary Luke and starring Vecchione as the bawdy, ballsy Calla Lily Russo, this “memoiristic” play is based on moments from Vecchione’s own life. But that doesn’t mean it’s autobiographical. Part of the fun is in telling a lie that reveals a truth.
“There’s definitely truth in the story,” says Vecchione who is a playwright, fiction writer, poet, collage artist and teacher. “But it’s not the story of my life. I may take a nugget of something that happened then build a story around it.”
Perhaps Calla Lily Russo says it best, in one of her lines from the play: “If I take a collection of random pieces, fragments of life—cresting waves, an Egyptian bowl, questions thought but never asked—fragments— which is all we have till the end, and rearrange them, could I make a new story?”
As she makes the significant transition between the age of 49 and 50, Calla Lily is searching for meaning in her life. During this process, she examines all aspects of everyday living from her sagging chin-line and love affair with chocolate to feelings of helplessness in a world of poverty.
“This spunky gal swears like a sailor and takes the side of children and small animals in all matters,” says Vecchione. “In other words, Calla Lily is an ordinary woman celebrating the extraordinary in daily life.”
As much as Vecchione uses multiple forms of media to tell her stories, Calla Lily’s story is told with not only acting, but also through a collage of images projected onto a larger than life-size hand of a woman and video footage that depicts her growing up in an Italian-American family.
Born in New York City, Vecchione moved to Santa Cruz when she was 11 and credits this seaside town for much of her early inspiration—as well as salvation—in the world of art. Specifically, she credits her former teachers at Santa Cruz High School.
“I had a great English teacher, Arlene Hankins,” says Vecchione. “I am eternally grateful to her. Also Cathy Gill—she taught me to read literature. I was doing drugs, cutting school, and my parents weren’t getting along. Life wasn’t easy for me.
“Here I was really floundering and these teachers knew it. Arlene Hankins told me, ‘Write poetry.’ I used to cut class and the dean would find me outside the music building, writing poetry on paper the size of a postage stamp because my self esteem was that small.”
The days of writing on postage stamps long gone, Vecchione has authored two books, the poetry collection “Territory of Wind” and the nonfiction book “Writing and the Spiritual Life: Finding Your Voice by Looking Within,” as well as edited numerous acclaimed anthologies.
She has also become well-known in the greater Monterey Bay Area for the creative writing workshops she teaches for both adults and children in her program
“The Heart of the Word: Poetry and the Imagination, a Writing and Literature Program.”
“As much as this play is about anything, it’s about making a life out of art,” Vecchione says. “It’s also about making art out of life. Somebody said women have more than one life. When I came of age as a young woman, I had the confidence of a fly that was squished on a window. I had passion, vision, desire, but I was terrified all the time. I invented a life that I made up out of desperation and creativity.”
Now, in the dawn of her fifties, Vecchione speaks for both herself and Calla Lily, “I’m just coming into myself. Coming of age at 50 is about feeling free from any limitations. I have a lot less self-doubt. This is my life. I feel time moving. I look in the mirror and see time written all over my face. So I better not sit on the sidelines.”
While she creates art to understand what she sees and experiences around her, most importantly, Vecchione creates art to make connections with others. “The bottom line is that it’s about wanting to shorten the distance between human beings,” says Vecchione. “The responses I got from people (after the first run of ‘A Woman’s Life in Pieces’) totally rocked me to the core—mostly women, but men too, coming up to me after the show, throwing their arms around me and saying, ‘Thank you. You told my story.’”
If there’s one thing that Vecchione has learned in her 50-plus years of living, it’s this: That life is made of stories. “When you read headlines, you don’t feel connected, you feel distant,” she says. “But when someone gets up to tell their story, you realize that we’re all connected. In the play I almost literally run into a soldier on the street. What I realize is that he could have been my son. It’s not somebody else’s war, it’s my war. It’s not somebody else’s cancer, it’s my cancer. We’re all so interconnected. Without that connection, without our stories, we’re sunk. By virtue of telling our stories, we can’t be numbers. We’re able to maintain identity and humanity.”
“A Woman’s Life in Pieces” opens at 7:30 p.m. Friday, June 25, and continues with two additional shows at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, June 26 and 2 p.m. Sunday, June 27 at Actor’s Theatre, 1001 Center St., Santa Cruz. Tickets are $20 and available at Bookshop Santa Cruz (423-0900) or at the door one hour prior to the performance. For more information, call 426-6387.