An Evening with Jane Juska and Sharon Gless
Monday 11 January 2010, Z Space, Theater Artaud
San Francisco's Z Space is one of the nation's leading laboratories for the development of new voices, new works and new directions in American theater. The workshop production of A Round-Heeled Woman, starring Sharon Gless, was produced by Z Space in association with West End Producer Brian Eastman and Richmond Theatre Productions. On Monday 11 January 2010 Z Space hosted a benefit event with Sharon Gless, who plays Jane Juska, and Jane Juska in conversation. The audience were invited to ask questions afterwards. The event was moderated by KRON TV’s Jan Wahl, and took place on the bookcase-lined set of the play on the stage of Z Space's Theater Artaud.
(L to R) Jane Juska, Sharon Gless, Jan Wahl, and a representative from Z Space on Theater Artaud's set of A Round-Heeled Woman
The event opened with Jan addressing a question to Jane. Both Sharon and Jane went to respond – Sharon explained that she was so identified with the character she thought it was being addressed to her.
Jane Juska and Sharon Gless share the joke
Jane said that when she’d put the ad in The New York Review of Books she’d expected around 6 replies [she got 63], didn’t think she’d ever get to New York, and didn’t think it would result in her writing a book.
Most of the people who responded, she said, had never heard of Trollope the author. “That worked... not in my favor”.
She said she wanted to be like men were... to have sex and not worry about all the other stuff. She just wasn’t very good at it: she always “got entangled”.
Sharon said that what impressed her most was Jane’s courage, the fact that she "had the balls to take out the advertisement".
Regarding orgasm, Jane said “If you don’t, then it’s your fault. So... what was I doing wrong?” Sharon added “We have that scene in the play!”
There was a discussion about the provenance of the play, and how it came about that although the first production was taking place in San Francisco, it had a British producer and playwright. Sharon explained that she had optioned the rights to the book and had eventually won out against a major studio. She had tried initially to get it made into a TV series, but found “people in America very reticent to photograph a subject like this.”
Sharon was asked if she went to the UK to realize the play because there were TV shows there with really interesting characters played by the likes of Helen Mirren and Judi Dench. She explained that the reason had been to ask the advice of friend and playwright Jane Prowse, who had in due course replied "Not only must it be done, but by me". Sharon said she thinks that Maggie Smith, Julie Walters and Judi Dench, amongst others, are all older women who are "sexy, funny, hot, wonderful. And so it is hoped that this play would open up new thinking."
Sharon explained, to the audience’s amusement, regarding the central character being an ‘older woman’: “20 year olds: I think they’re pretty. But I don’t really think they’ve got a lot of information... ”
Jane spoke about many women asking her advice now about if they should do what she’d done. She felt she would not tell anybody to go ahead and do this, “Unless they want to make their lives interesting”.
People told her it was dangerous to get on a train to New York, meet strange men. She was asked if she had gotten into any dangerous situations herself. She replied, “Not physically. What’s a broken heart here and there... every other block.” She’d learned New York was a great place to cry. And one where despite the sometimes-public locations, no one noticed it when she did so.
Jane told Sharon, regarding the play “I had misgivings before I heard you read [it]... the minute I heard you I thought, “’well, what’s to worry about’”.
Sharon Gless listening to Jane Juska
Jane noticed that the set was book-lined and exclaimed with a gesture which encompassed the generous extent of it, and obvious delight, “It’s so wonderful to see!”.
She was asked if there was one pattern she noticed with men. She replied no, “I was more worried about getting undressed”.
The play is about your journey to fulfil yourself, a quite universal theme.
The women were asked the difference between older men and women having sex. Sharon said, "men are not criticised". Jane said, "they are not self-conscious".
It didn’t matter if they were naked, that was just the natural way to be.
Jane told the audience that Sharon had given her a first edition of Trollope’s Miss Mackenzie, “and I’m not over it yet”. She had told Barney Rosenzweig [Gless’ husband] “if there were a fire I know what I would take... and it would be that”.
Jane Juska, Sharon Gless, and Jan Wahl
Sharon described the occasion on which she’d presented Jane with the book. She was waiting in line at a signing, and Jane’s sister was there and warned her that it might be a long wait. Sharon said she just wanted to give Jane a gift. When Jane’s sister heard what it was she said to Sharon: "WAIT THERE!". Sharon gave the book to Jane, “and she opened it and she said – she started to cry – and said: “Everything I have been through is worth it, tonight.”
Sharon thanked the play's Producer Brian Eastman, who was in the audience, for having the vision and courage to take on the play, and to audience applause she continued gleefully, “He thinks women our age are HOT”.
Producer Brian Eastman and Sharon Gless on the set of the first production of A Round-Heeled Woman at Z Space's Theater Artaud, 11 January, 2010
There was some discussion about a quote, attributed by a member of the audience to Jeanne Moreau, saying that after 65 it’s vulgar to have sex.
A member of the audience asked Sharon: when she was on stage, how much of the character was Jane’s personality and how much Sharon’s. Sharon replied “I have the honour of saying Jane Juska’s words out of my voice and my body. Every part I play I really learn... Cagney & Lacey, I didn’t have to fight men for parts... unless they want to wear a dress.” In Queer as Folk she’d been surrounded by a large gay community, “I always think the gay community has a lot more fun than us. I learned all about the fun, heartache, injustices”.
Lydia from the audience asked Jane if the men characterised in her book were coming to the play. Jane explained that they all know about it. Andy her son wasn’t coming, and hadn’t read the book (“which I think is very smart .. does he really want to know about his mother’s sexuality and all of this stuff?”) Graham was “just here” and isn’t coming... he has to work.
She said, “I’m friends with several of the men and that’s been one of the nice things. With Trollope, what I got was conversation”.
Debra, a gynaecologist in the audience, explained that she talked to women all the time and was aware of very few – only 2 over 50 – who have much libido. She asked if Jane had had any problems and Jane said no, none at all... she did have, at one point "... and so I changed partners”. Jan retorted, “You SO just became my role model”.
A young man in the audience said that Jane had been “very ahead of the game” and that now people his age were putting themselves out there online, looking for love, sex etc. He asked if Jane had any advice. She said that one must think carefully what is the effect on other people – think about what to do about that, and then just go out there and have a good time.
Asked of her plans for the future she said she was now writing her fifth book. She asked the questioner for clarification: “Do you mean [future plans] for men... am I still fooling around? Not really. What I do is write. Freud says, “Liebe und Arbeit”... what you need is work and love."
"And I have them.”
She explained that the oldest of the men whose answers she’d chosen had been 84 (“oh my God!” was heard from the audience), and the youngest 32. She said “I have often been asked how you got undressed in front of the 32 year old, and my answer is, "FAST"! And I got very good at that. I was careful, discreet, and fast”.
Ray Reinhardt, the actor who plays Jonah and Sidney in the play, was asked about his feelings about being in the show. He described going to the audition, being handed the lines "which were very graphic” and wondering, “How am I going to do this? I realised... make a wish list."
He said: "Sharon has just put me so at ease. These two parts are now in my top-ten list”.
Jane Juska, Sharon Gless and Jan Wahl listening to Ray Reinhardt's account of his experience as a cast member.
A woman in the audience commented how excited she was that it’s the first time that older women have the same sense of sexuality as men have in society. Jane said that men and women compliment each other and “I like being in the company of a man”.
Sharon was asked the difference between acting on stage and on TV and responded, “I’m more comfortable in front of a camera. It’s frightening to me... it’s scary, it takes courage to come out every night... I can’t yell ‘cut’ if I make a mistake. I’m always nervous. But I do it... that’s sick, isn’t it?!”
A man asked what was the most shocking response Jane got to her ad. Jane thought for a bit and answered, a man had sent her a photograph of himself in a park, in a raincoat. “You can imagine what he was doing. That shocked me and I didn’t answer, and sent the photo back”.
Ron in New York had sent a 2-page poem about having sex with an older person... ”it was filthy – REALLY disgusting”. Sharon mentioned “we do a bit of it in the play”. Jane was asked to elaborate what was disgusting about it: “It was disrespectful... his description of the ugliness – his description of ‘nailing’ an old woman.”
Jane and Sharon were warmly thanked for their participation and were each presented with a bunch of flowers.
Warm applause from members of the audience lucky enough to attend the event in person.
Photographs and article (c) Jacqueline A Danson, 2010