Old Friends. New Friends.

In the summer of 2016, I had just finished my first draft of a musical I had been working on and had sent the script to my friend Miriam Kook so she could begin composing the music. I was considering what to tackle next. One friend insisted that my next writing project should be about “the gals,” my incredible group of friends, self described as “The Ms. Guided (est. 2009).” A blend of natives and transplants, we had found one another on meetup.com and become fast friends.

Our backstories were fascinating and varied. We had lived in several countries, pursued intriguing careers, had married for better or worse and most had raised now-adult children. What was clear to us all, as we navigated our advancing years, was that no matter how the world regarded (or ignored) us, we were NOT done yet.

What was keeping me from writing about the gals was that there was no story. No plot. No high stakes. No narrative arc. So, I made one up.

“The Wood$tock Tontine” throws a handful of these gals into a fictional premise:

Five women who met in Woodstock in August of 1969 are reunited nearly 50 years later at the funeral of the group’s emotional pulse, Valerie. She is the one who had originally gathered the gals together at the festival and she was the glue who kept the diverse group in touch. The gals include:

BJ, a black women adopted by Jewish parents.

VERONIKA, a self-effacing immigrant, raised in post WW2 Germany.

SHELLEY, who’s libidinal juices remain as reliable as a maple in the spring.

TRUDY, the world traveler and self-appointed moral compass.

And ROBERTA, who brings them the idea of the tontine—a way to help the gals literally invest in their friendship. It is a proposal both tantalizing and morbid.

One by one, the group dwindles, but not before learning much about one another and, even more, about themselves. The blessing of their friendships is how they are able influence each other’s lives. Willing to invest and take the risks that friendship requires, they are also able to net the rewards only real relationships can provide.

I have learned this from the gals of the “Ms. Guided.” I hope others will enjoy the joys, tragedies, bumps and bruises that come with real friendships through the incredible ladies of “The Wood$tock Tontine.”

I am grateful to the Women’s Theatre Festival NC for featuring the festival premier of “The Wood$tock Tontine,” and especially to director Lucia Foster, the devoted actors and the crew. As a rookie playwright, I took what I learned from this early iteration and proceeded to rewrite, edit and shorten the script considerably. Following further readings, the stakes have been raised and the characters have taken some turns of their own — much to my surprise! It’s a better story and, hopefully, it will find its way to other venues, as we pay homage to Woodstock and to the generation whose lives were forever changed!

—Steffi Rubin