This is Marta Becket, one of my earliest inspirations not only as a dancer but as an artist in general. I first heard about Marta when I was five years old. I’d come home from kindergarten, and my mother was serving me lunch. She was talking to a neighbor, but that woman’s face is blurred in my memory. I wonder if the herald to our call to adventure is often painted faceless?
At the time, we lived in the California desert. To this day, I have not been able to drive through that area of the United States without seeing the magic of childhood, Sam Shepherd plays, the migrant workers of The Grapes of Wrath and Marta Becket. I still see their stories mingled with mine in the tiny square houses painted the same color as the sand. Very little is built to stand out in a place most people come to disappear.
That day in my little kitchen with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, my mother and our neighbor were discussing a woman in Death Valley who went to her little theater and danced every day, even if no one came to watch her. That woman was Marta Becket.
“Why would anyone want to dance in the hot desert with no one watching?” My neighbor pressed her now-blurry mouth into a disdainful frown. “What a waste of time.”
And that is the moment Marta Becket became my first muse. What my neighbor saw as a waste of time, I saw as the most beautiful mystery ever laid in front of me.I couldn’t believe something so wonderful was happening less than an hour from where I lived! A dancer who performed because her soul demanded it, not because someone else asked her. A dancer who performed in her own theater by her own terms. I couldn’t form the words when I was five, but this is what I felt. Marta had called to me, and I could not forget.
Marta will never let me forget, though many times I have tried, that we have lost what it really means to make art. Art isn’t about where you live, it is about the individual creative stamp you put on the place you find yourself. Our creative power does not reside in a certain city. It is not made valid by a certain critique. It can never really be bought or sold. We become powerful when we make an appointment with ourselves, not our audience, to create something out of nothing every day.
The most important part of making art is showing up.