Call of the Valley: Tamara Rothman reflects on theater, Black Mountain
Tamara Rothman has always found a place in her life for the special reverberations live theater has to offer. For instance, in middle school in Hampshire, Alaska, she was totally taken just upon entering the little theater:
“I just loved the space,” she said. “The long aisle that went down to the apron, what happened when people gathered. It was filled with this sense of possibility and freedom. Though the school itself was very conservative, here there was permission to try new things and be creative.”
The first part she played was that of a 92-year-old woman. “Riffing” on her great aunt, she was amazed that she played the role so well even her own father didn’t recognize her. Though she had a self-image of a shy person, she discovered she possessed an entire range of people she could relate to and fully express.
From lighter fare, Rothman went on to play parts in high school that enabled her to delve deeper, especially when she was cast in a play about the Holocaust entitled “I Never Saw Another Butterfy.” She felt every word and found the experience moving as she read poems written by children who eventually died in the concentration camps.
From this point, she spent her first two years in college in Colorado, missed the creative pull of theater and transferred to Bennington College in Vermont, where her horizons again continued to expand. She studied under a professional actor from New York doing improv and becoming aware of where she was coming from, where she was going, fully being in the moment in between feeding off one another. Rothman and her fellow students spent their last semester in London under the influence of the Royal Shakespeare Company, furthering their training, learning how to physically inspire movement on the stage.
Later, she joined an improv company in San Francisco and was featured in Desdemona (a variation of Othello) on tour in Alaska. Over time, however, she became disenchanted with the commercial practices of the industry. Five months before the pandemic, Rothman moved to this area to be closer to her mother. And here she was asked to play the lead in the play "Wit" at the Black Mountain Center for the Arts.
“In performance I again fully inhabited the role,” she said. “Being in a wheelchair, facing my mortality, dropping deeply into it and feeling that special human connection with the audience.”
Living in Black Mountain and going through COVID, she recently was apprised of a special project. Chicago theater professional Michael Cotey’s "Enough, End Gun Violence" was an outreach to middle school and high school students around the country seeking submissions of 10-minute plays to voice their experience and concerns over violence. As a result, eight chosen scripts will be read around the country to raise awareness on April 20, the anniversary of the 1999 mass murder at Columbine High School in Colorado.
Rothman was immediately taken with the venture and brought it to Lori Cozzi, the director of the Black Mountain Center.
“I thought it was amazing right away and was so glad Tamara brought the idea to us, someone dedicated from our community whom we’ve worked with before," Cozzi said. "I was very affected by the death of Riley Howell from Asheville who was killed at UNCC trying to protect his fellow classmates, so the project was even more personal because it was so close. As a former principal at Artspace, I’ve had experience with lockdown and the pressure and fear of protecting the students. I knew I had to help in some way but didn’t know how. Now we can all be involved and we have the facility to do it.”
And so Rothman is busy seeking readers from a diverse local group of middle, high and college students willing to rehearse and perform in this fundraiser. She feels this is part of an abiding need for people to come together to deepen their human connection over a worthwhile narrative that binds us all.
Proceeds from the $10 admission charge will go to the Riley Howell Foundation.