A Celebration of All Things Cultural, Artistic, and Entertaining in Madison
Aug 6, 2010
In Wisconsin more than probably anywhere else, we place importance on the fact that Georgia O’Keeffe was born in Sun Prairie. The artist grew up on a farm here in the late 1800s before her career took her from Chicago to New York City to the dessert of New Mexico.
Local playwright Heather Renken knew O’Keeffe hailed from Wisconsin, but it was when she learned about the artist’s relationship with Alfred Stieglitz that she found inspiration to write a new play. A Woman on Paper opens today and runs through September 12 at Broom Street Theater.
O’Keeffe met Stieglitz, an internationally known photographer who ran an influential avant-garde gallery, in New York in 1916. He began promoting her work and the pair married in 1924. While her play starts with O’Keeffe’s origins, Renken centers the plot on O’Keeffe and Stieglitz, as well as the art they created in the 1920s and ’30s and beyond.
“I found them to be quite fascinating and the time to be quite fascinating,” she says. “Mostly I focus on their relationship and I focus on the art, mainly because that’s what they focused on.”
Interspersed into the dialogue of the play, which features a cast of nine actors, are words taken directly from letters O’Keeffe and Stieglitz wrote to one another. In these letters, they shared feelings and details about their days.
“It was very interesting to read their correspondence,” Renken says. “They’re beautiful.”
The play is set over four seasons—winter, spring, summer and fall— corresponding with four artistic qualities of line/form, color, space and texture. The plot moves from O’Keeffe working in charcoal, then watercolor and finally in oil at the urging of Stieglitz. An openness of space occurs when O’Keeffe begins depicting the southwest, and pottery and texture become important toward the end of her life when her sense of sight declines.
While there’s organization inherent in this treatment, Renken also switches up the timing to make the storyline less linear. “The play deals with abstract art, so some scenes are abstract,” she says.
Although O’Keeffe’s Wisconsin roots aren’t the focus of A Woman on Paper, Renken, who also serves as director of the play, says the artist’s upbringing had an impact throughout her life.
“She was a solid Midwestern girl who worked,” she says. “That’s a hallmark of her whole life.”
Renken hopes audiences enjoy learning more about O’Keeffe and Stieglitz through her play. And she has broader-reaching goals, too.
“I do hope they’ll look at art in their own lives and possibly develop an appreciation for living artists in our own community,” she says. “We could have another Georgia O’Keeffe on our hands.”
A Woman on Paper runs August 6–September 12 at Broom Street Theater. Performances are Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., and Sunday at 2 p.m. For more information, call 244.8338 or visit broomstreet.org.
Watch a trailer of A Woman on Paper here.
Photo by Ben Wydeven and courtesy of Heather Renken.