For performer, struggles pave way to new success
Tricia Rose Burt, who is gaining national acclaim, to hold event in Hancock
HANCOCK — Tricia Rose Burt’s one-woman show used to be titled “I Will Be Good.” Now it has a catchier title — “How to Draw a Nekkid Man” — and Burt is getting wide attention with her story of how a Southern girl who was raised to conform went north, became successful in the corporate world, then threw that life aside to follow her urge to create art. She’s become a featured storyteller with The Moth, a New York City storytelling collective, appeared on its radio show, the Moth Radio Hour, and had a podcast downloaded more than a quarter million times. She also appeared at the New York International Fringe Festival in 2011 and the Fringe NYC Encore Series, performing throughout New England and the South.
And on Thursday, she’ll be reading from her upcoming memoir, also titled “How to Draw a Nekkid Man” at 7 p.m. at the Hancock Town Library.
Her naked man story (“Nekkid” is how Burt pronounces the word in her distinctive Southern accent, which she’s retained despite living most of her adult life in New York City, Boston, Ireland and New Hampshire) is a vignette about one of the key moments in Burt’s life, as she describes her first encounter with a nude model in a class at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.
“It’s about a pivotal moment, when I step into becoming an artist,” Burt said last week. “It’s about finding redemption in an otherwise broken family. The whole show is about being raised one way, as a good girl in the South, and realizing I wasn’t being authentic.”
Burt was raised in Tampa, Fla., and went to Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., graduating in 1982.
“My family was always in business. That was how I was raised, to be a success,” Burt said. “After college, I moved to New York City, went into public relations. I was very unhappy. I moved to Boston and went to a career counselor.”
Burt said career testing showed that she was “off the charts, artistically.” Her counselor advised her to consider becoming an artist.
“I promptly ignored her and took a job in corporate communications for a financial services firm,” Burt said. She got married and had a successful career but eventually enrolled as a part-time student at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts. She was there for three years, while she tried to figure out how she could make art fit into her life. That didn’t happen until she made a drastic change in the mid 1990s.
“I left my job, divorced my husband, sold my car and went to Ireland. I had to dismantle everything and start over,” Burt said. “I was there about four years. I wrote and painted. Fiscally, it wasn’t the wisest thing I ever did. For my soul it was absolutely the best thing.”
Burt returned four years later with an Irishman, Eric Masterson, who is now her husband and works at the Harris Center for Conservation Education. They lived first in Peterborough, where Burt held a variety of jobs, working as an art gallery director, a personal assistant to friends and a part-time typist for the Ledger-Transcript while working on her visual art projects.
“It’s hard to keep the momentum going as an artist and still make ends meet,” said Burt. “I worked as a visual artist for about 10 years, but then the market crashed and I stopped. I really miss making visual work, but it’s not the right time for me.”
Instead, she started to write about her life.
“I’d had this one-woman show in my head for years,” Burt said. “I’d been in public relations and communications. Now instead of telling other clients’ stories, I started telling my own.”
Burt did a 55-minute version of “I Will Be Good” at the now-defunct Redmond Bennett Gallery in Dublin in December 2008. In 2010, she went to New York City to tell her story at The Moth.
“They have story slams once a week,” Burt said. “ I went to the Bitter End, put my name in the hat and they pulled it out. I had to go up on stage and tell a story.”
Her tale about how she coped when confronted with the naked model was a hit that night, and Burt said opportunities began to open up in New York. She’s now featured regularly at Moth events in Boston and New York, sometimes doing private and corporate events. She also had the pleasure earlier this month of telling a story at the Nashville home of country music stars Amy Grant and Vince Gill after Grant, who had been a classmate at Vanderbilt, heard Burt perform during their 30th college reunion.
Burt was also a keynote speaker at a recent Better After 50 event in Boston, where she spoke to an audience of women about making changes in life.
“This is important. I didn’t start this performing stuff until I was 48,” she said. “My stories are about transformation. They are stories that need to be told. They are from my personal experience but the more specific you get, the more universal they become.”
In addition to her performing and speaking engagements, Burt writes a weekly blog at www.triciaroseburt.com. That site also includes a connection to a website called Indiegogo, where Burt is running a campaign to raise $16,000 in tax-deductible contributions. That amount, she said, would be sufficient to support her for a sabbatical year, through June 2013, during which she hopes to complete her memoir. She said she was inspired by the story of Harper Lee, author of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” who had been working as a airline ticket agent before friends gave her the equivalent of a year’s wages so Lee could finish her book.
“For an artist, it’s a struggle,” Burt said. “ I’d love to be able to have the space I need to finish writing this book. It’s an enormous job.”
Thurday’s reading in Hancock will included readings from the memoir and a question and answer session. The program is free.
Dave Anderson can be reached at 924-7172, ext. 233 or email@example.com. He’s on Twitter at @DaveAndersonMLT.