White Blackbird: a rare and improbable creature.

Before Les Nickelettes were launched at the People’s Nickelodeon 1972 I was doing experimental plays with college friends. We had recently graduated from the theater department at San Francisco State University, and were itching to create new forms of drama. Every time we crafted an original play, we changed the name of the group, as though each new venture demanded a new label. So, we were the Mandala Theatre Company, then the Blue Lantern Theater, then the Fantasy Theater. Being in our early twenties, the point was to indulge in a purely artistic lifestyle. Money and fame were not the goal. Our playwriting process explored rituals, myths, archetypes, dreams, and devised characters that bubbled up from the depths of our own unconsciousness. We read voraciously about alternative theater, and stayed up late into the night drinking wine, smoking pot, and discussing Jungian theory.

The three women in group, Janet, Karin and I, bonded over the diaries of Anais Nin, and developed a play called White Blackbird. We condensed the themes of the Nin diaries into the embodiment of the three characters we played: June Miller (wife of Henry Miller), Antonin Artaud, and Anais herself. Presenting our work onstage, we promoted it with this description: “White Blackbird is lyrical, using a mixture of dance and drama to present a poetic unfolding metaphor of a physical and spiritual act of giving birth.” Heavy-duty deep stuff. And we took our artistic creation very seriously.

In the middle of this undertaking, Les Nickelettes were born. An accidental birth. Suddenly, a different zeitgeist was unleashed from our unconscious – a wild, crazy, bawdy, sometimes barely coherent women’s lib spirit, that erased all polite societal norms. “What fun,” exclaimed other women watching from the audience, and immediately asked to jump on board for the ride. And, before we knew it, a group of women – buoyed by each other’s support – said and did things onstage they never imagined. A uniquely female form of fun and laughter escaped from Pandora’s Box and no one could shove it back in again.

Below is a publicity photo for White Blackbird with me, Karin, and Janet channeling our experimental, but tame, lyrical spirits.

Contrast that to these photos of the three of us shortly afterwards letting our Nickelette spirit out of the bottle.

Denise
Karin
Janet

Girls having fun. Note: One of the girls in the background, Debbie, is channeling her inner dog spirit wearing a frilly formal. Read more in Anarchy in High Heels.

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