Shirley Kaplan can enter a room and tell you instantly how many people are there -- without blinking! She has an uncanny spatial ability to scan an area and capsulize what is taking place from a "you are here" perspective. She is not a cut and paste, there it's done, how do you like it talent. She is multi-faceted, complex, funny, generous, well-adjusted, smart and has enough energy to light up Manhattan. Or Paris.
Before there was a Thelma and Louise or a Butch and Sundance, there was a Stagedoor Shirley and a Magazine Irene who dashed through the 1960s New York City scene together. Shirley adored the theater, performance and Pop Art and all that was new and exciting. I preferred a beautifully produced book or magazine filled with fascinating people, places and unusual circumstances to inspire me. We both wanted to experience all the societal changes going on around us -- to see, hear, protest or participate in all that was happening -- Beatnicks, Hippies and beyond. We loved to attend the happenings, plays and performance art of Off-Broadway. The offerings were unique -- no two performances were the same and the smaller venues were much more intimate. We would share a cab, buy our tickets at the box office and find seats in the last row where we could be inconspicuous. During the performance, an emcee, narrator or central character would stop the play, peer out into the audience and announce, "The two ladies in the last row, please come up onstage. We need a little help." After that happened a couple of times, we tried sitting in the center (never on the aisle). The same thing would happen -- no matter where we chose to sit they spotted us. We became participants in far too many productions without getting reviewed nor paid.
Shirley was living in a landmark building, on the top floor, with an awe-inspiring view of Central Park. When she moved to more spacious digs on a lower floor our good friend, author/playwright Robert Thom, moved into Shirley's penthouse. Bob, Shirley, my husband Ed and I held memorable parties up there. We especially enjoyed watching the Academy Awards together -- sitting on the floor, sharing pizza and beer -- shouting back at Hollywood.
Shirley's career evolved and snowballed rapidly. She was painting, sculpting and performing in the Paper Bog Players (the most innovative children;s theater group in the country). Her personal life took a few lumps but never her art. She eventually moved to a large loft in the Village where she had ample room for her work and living space. She settled in and invited Bob, Ed and me for a house-warming dinner. We packed up bottles of wine and books and traveled down to the Village. We found her address and rode a scary cage elevator up to her floor. A dog was waiting for us and entered with us. Bob asked, "Whose dog is this?" Shirley smiled, "He's mine." Bob was surprised by her answer and asked, "Why didn't he bark at us?" Shirley continued her big, open smile, "He's a Bisengi. His breed doesn't bark." Bob shook his head and remarked, "You are the only person I know who would have a watchdog who doesn't bark."
Shirley Kaplan remains true to herself and her art. She will always be unique -- a singular, multi-faceted talent -- who leaves her imprint on society as well as in our hearts and minds. Brava!