Polly Frost – From Writer To Performance Artist

First printed in The Montecito Journal Magazine 2017

A crowd gathers at Buttonwood Farm Winery & Vineyard in artist Seyburn Zorthian’s studio, a last-minute refuge from the rain. Chairs are filled as fast as they are set out and wine bottles emptied. In less than ten minutes, artist Polly Frost will take the stage to perform her one-woman show We Only Get One Father – So Why Was I Given Mine?

A straightforward, emotional narration of one daughter’s relationship with an egocentric father.

Lights dim as I hustle to find a spot.

Polly’s husband, former Newsweek arts reporter Ray Sawhill, waves me over and we settle into two stools in the back, the last seats in the house.

At that moment, the song “This Is A Man’s World” by James Brown melts through the speakers and Polly strides down the aisle, commanding the room with each step.

After a poetic pause, Polly recites, by memory, a slice-of-life poised between heartache, hope, and acceptance.

Within the course of seventy-five minutes, the response from the audience varies between bursts of laughter and gasps of disbelief.

Her monologue resonates. Nerves are touched. Art is made.

The performance ends to a standing ovation.

Art Imitating Life

Much of the material in We Only Get One Father – So Why Was I Given Mine? is set during her childhood in Goleta during the free-love backdrop of the 1960s and 70s.

Eccentricities of the times permeated her life.

Even the house grew up in was built by Frank Robinson, one of the rowdy Mountain Drive scenesters who, as she recounts, once showed up for work clothed only in a pair of pirate boots.

Polly’s interest in wordplay began as early as age seven where she composed short stories and plays mimicking books she read. Even teachers couldn’t help but notice her penchant for humor writing.

But as a teen, with dreams to become a horse trainer or fashion designer (she also modeled and sewed her own clothes), the young wordsmith shelved the idea of writing as a livelihood.

It wasn’t until after time at Santa Barbara City College, UCSB, and taking five years post-college to explore other career options, that her talent for humor and satirical writing could no longer be suppressed.

Bright Lights, Big City

Polly went for the top, submitting works to The New Yorker and, in a major career highlight for any writer, was published.

So Polly did what many brave young artists yearn to do. She made the jump to New York City and, in a fairytale in its own right, was able to support her life through writing film reviews.

Her interest in film – which she credits partly to horror movies and Ingrid Bergman films seen at Santa Barbara’s Riviera Theatre – garnered more than money for rent.

Famed New Yorker movie critic Pauline Kael savored her work and the ladies became fast friends. Pauline even played matchmaker, introducing Polly to writer, native New Yorker, and now husband, Ray Sawhill. 

Artist Polly Frost. Photo by Ahron R. Foster

With her talent embraced, it was clear versatility was a strong point.

Beyond film reviews, her journalistic works covered music and food and she racked up publication credits including humor pieces chosen for The New Yorker’s “best of” collections, features in The Atlantic, The New York Times, Identity Theory, Scene4 Magazine, and Art Design Magazine to name a few.

Erotica? Why not.

But there were more genres in which to dabble. Different itches to scratch.

She released a collection of satirical erotic horror and sci-fi stories titled Deep Inside which Time Out New York labeled one of the ten best erotica books on the market.

Also included in her stock are successful collaborations with her husband.

With Polly’s knack for story hooks and character development and Ray’s flair for description and structure, they developed a comic sci-fi burlesque web series called The Fold, a novel called The Bannings, and several theatre projects.

One such project, entitled Sex Scenes became a recurring show at NYC cultural landmark, The Cornelia Street Café. The same place which launched The Vagina Monologues and where Polly has debuted each of her one-woman shows.

To top it off, a play the couple co-wrote titled, “The Last Artist in New York City” was selected for Narrative Magazine’s “Best American Short Plays 2008-2009” and “Best Monologues from American Short Plays 2013”.

Though the seasoned writer and journalist thrived in her respected fields, she yearned to create a new form of art for herself, one that exists beyond the written word.

“I loved publishing but I felt I had done it and I wanted to connect with this tradition that existed before publishing. Before the printed word. The oral tradition.”

Finding strength in vulnerability is what makes her an artist and it was time to dig deep into emotional familial ties to discover a new voice.

In true form, she found gold. Four times over.

Within five years, she churned out one show after another.

From Page To Stage

First came How To Survive Your Adult Relationship with Your Family, a look into the dynamics of “step-relations, toxic in-laws, and the unpredictable ways in which our closest relationships change.”

Next came Bad Role Models and What I Learned From Them, a tribute to “the less-than-perfect people who taught me most about life, love, and pursuing one’s passions.”

Then the birth of Becoming Ourselves: Why Is It So Damn Hard? observations on the bumpy road to self-realization.

In her most recent piece, We Only Get One Father – So Why Was I Given Mine? Polly speaks directly about her high-powered attorney father whose obsession with ego and public image muddled the relationship between his children.

This particular show was enkindled by a lecture at the Vedanta Temple on Buddhism and forgiveness.

“People mean well, but you know when they say you just have to forgive the person? I started to realize that I could just let that go. I didn’t have to forgive,” she explains.

“What I really needed to do was take my Karma and turn it into something positive. And then I wrote the show.”

The performances can be seen as her expression within the Nouveau arts and crafts movement.

“I wanted to do something analogous to that. Where I did shows in that same kind of spirit of what I love right now which is the locavore movement. The whole, Small Is Beautiful movement.”

And if this long list of creative endeavors weren’t enough, you can often find her in the kitchen cooking exotic meals for friends and family (at the time of writing, she had been up since four in the morning baking bread) and is more often than not seen in clothing of her own making. Ray, too.

Going Back To Cali

Now, after twenty plus years in the city, the literary couple have established a new life together on the West Coast.

Tucked away in a hidden Monetcito gem, they host monthly gatherings for creative friends and friends of friends to congregate, learn, and inspire one another with lots homemade food, wine, and laughs in between.

“We’ve made the most wonderful circle of friends here!” she says. “Our monthly salons are like being in NYC. Only with much better weather.”

Polly’s artistry is a gift that keeps on giving. Through her written works and live performances, she opens dialogue for others to relate and maybe discover feelings they didn’t know existed for themselves.

Expanding her comfort zone gives the audience a chance to expand as well.

Whether performing, writing, cooking, or sewing, she thoughtfully presents each of her works in a way that leaves us inspired for more. 

Polly will tour three of her one-woman shows throughout the country for the next few years. Learn more about the artist and her works by visiting www.pollyfrost.com.

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