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[[bold]] "Agnes of God [[italics]] is about the terrible dangers of dogma and arrogance. It's about life and death, God and sex." [[/italics]] [[/bold]]

They were the people who taught at the Neighborhood Playhouse, where I took classes. Many of them were the dominant artists in the theatre who had been purged by the McCarthy Witch Hunt for being 'Commie, pinko faggots.' The only way they survived was by teaching. And they taught us to respect art and disrespect systems. They taught us that the standard was higher than 'Do it this way because they tell you to.' They taught us standards in everything. Not many people get that kind of training," Ashley says, as she leans forward with animation. "Consequently, I felt I knew what was good. I was grateful for success, but I was taught to respect achievement, not success. We are not business people. We are not in the mainstream of society. We are artists. We are emotional insurrectionists, and I have a passion and an outrage for my work. My work gives me [[italics]] everything [[/italics]] that I respect professionally in my life.
     "Listen," Elizabeth Ashley says, checking her animated zeal by encircling her bent knees with the hands she so easily lets fly, like birds set free into the air. "There is a responsibility to doing this. In this economy, we better be worth the price of admission. We'd better get our act together, and not produce musical theatre that's a mutant form just one step beyond lounge piano.
     "It's up to us to put it all together, shake it all up and come up with new forms. The last forum left is the LIVE forum. We have to make things happen. Theatre is exciting and dangerous. It's all the lights going down in a jam-packed Madison Square Garden, everybody holing his breath in expectation, and the announcer saying, 'Ladies and Gentlemen: The Rolling Stones.'
     "Anyway," she says, flailing her arms into the air, "getting back to my role as the heretic ... If I could be nice, I would be. But the theatre is not nice. It's mean and tough and hard. Theatre is not white gloves and school ties. It's mainstream, high roller, full-tilt boogie. And if I'm going to take responsibility working in it, I've got to have not just the responsibility ... the name above the title and a percentage of the gross. I'm going to have to have the power, too. And there's the fight, not so much with men as with women. If I talk about eyelashes and costumes, they let me. If I say, "Hey, cut here, tighten the show there; rewrite here' ... well, then I'm being difficult. But I must be listened to. It must be done," Ashley assures in a voice low with warning and intent. "I make sure that for every inch of responsibility I get, I have an inch of power."
     Being branded the renegade doesn't seem to phase Elizabeth Ashley much. "Ha!," she laughs, "I have been called difficult and temperamental for years. I think I could walk into a theatre and act like...Helen Hayes, for God's sake...and they'd still call me difficult.
     "I'm not ambitious for things I'm supposed to be ambitious for," Ashley continues. "I want to change the world using art like a weapon for wood and against evil. I'm 43 years old, and I want, eventually, to grow up to be an artist. By that, I mean, I want to have a body of work to look back on. And I must begin now. I must be serious. I've been a movie star [[italics]] (The Carpetbaggers, Ship of Fools, Coma), [[/italics]] I've been rich, a reprobate, a slattern, and now it's time for the artist. I don't have a lot of money now. I live away from progress, in the Caribbean. I sail when I'm not working. I need to be away when I'm not working because I catch anxiety and weirdness like others catch the flu. When I play," Ashley says through a broad smile, "I play hard. And when I work...I work hard. I have to take things a little more seriously now. I have to become adult, economically, so
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[[image: color illustration of a white house in the mountains, next to a lake in which the label of J&B Scotch is reflected]]
[[bold]] J&B. It whispers. [[/bold]]
86 Proof Blended Scotch Whisky. © 1982 The Paddington Corp. NY
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