by Susan Gage

[run time: 13:07]


In most theatrical productions the only players with lines are the ones who have been cast in a role. Sound is used as an effect: the ringing of a telephone . . .

SFX: telephone ring

. . . or the creaking of a door.

SFX: door creaks open

But if the show tells a story of a love of radio… sound HAS to take on a role of its own. And since I am a public radio reporter at heart, my performance piece titled Susan Gage: Term-Limited needed to use sound to tell my story to local Tallahassee audiences. To explain in more detail to the listeners why I transitioned from being an intrepid radio reporter who pestered politicians to the more tranquil existence of licensed massage therapist. In some ways I really HAD to do the show because there were a lot of public radio junkies who were . . . well . . . angry at me. I had one woman accost me in an Office Depot, demanding why I had left the public to fend for itself in the quest to separate truth from fiction. When I tried to explain that I needed to make a change, and that I was now a massage therapist, she scoffed: “Massage therapists are a dime a dozen in this town! What we need are good reporters!”

Guess that meant, I had some ‘xplainin to do.

I wanted the audience to hear the things that I heard as a reporter—and in a context where as listeners they REALLY heard this stuff and weren’t dealing with distractions in their house or their car. I figured, maybe if I cast members of the legislature in my show—using their own words, their own voices from real legislative debates— helping to drive the script, the public might share my view of my experience.

Excerpt from show rt: 1:00 oc:”O, God!”

“From the insane Capitol, Susan Gage, formerly of the Florida Public Radio Network brings you…Crazy Capitol Quotes (theme music, then Marian Lewis) I’d like to ask the members many of whom said they’ve visited these migrant labor facilities and camps…how many of you have gone to the migrant camps when they were brand new? (laughter) And then how many of you went back three months later when they were demolished by these people? (some laughs, more groans) How many of you went back six months later when the migrants had torn out the toilet facilities, when they have sold the stoves, where they have torn out the plumbing. And this is the reason that many of you go back and find that they don’t have adequate facilities. (more groans) Because those people have not lived in places with plumbing lots of times (hissing). Now that isn’t true of all of them, but it true of many of them. (audible gasps and “Oh, my Gods”)

That was Marian Lewis, a Republican who represented the parts of Florida where farmers grow sugar cane, and, in some cases, used migrants as indentured servants, housing them in dilapidated huts at night, and spraying them with pesticides as they worked during the day. It would have been easy for me to mimic Representative Lewis. But, mimicry would have turned her into a caricature…instead of a true character. And my imitation would have lost some of her sincerity in her own beliefs. Better to let her speak for herself.

Of course, I couldn’t resist doing some mimicry. It is one of the things I do , and it was one of the ways I used to survive the two month legislative session. I’d entertain my colleagues and friends with a mock Senate debate.

Excerpt from show rt 2:10 oc: applause out:

‘Good evening, everyone. Former Senate President Toni Jennings here. How y’all?(laughter) My staff has cut out my horoscope for me. Let’s see here…mmm this print is so gosh durn tiny .(laughter) Today is a blockbuster day for the Florida legislature. You will create more categories of third degree felonies, continue to give more money to the wealthy, and divide and conquer as much as you can for yourselves. All in the name of meeting the needs of the people of Florida. Yup. It sure does sound like us doesn’t it? (laughter) Madame Secretary, you ready? OK. Read the first bill:

Committee Substitute for Committee Substitute for House Bill 19-71 An act allowing for the incarceration of children who don’t clean their plates.(much laughter)

There’d be a sponsor who’d give some bullshit explanation about why this was important, Something like this would be sponsored by a Ginny Brown-Waite:

“Thank you, madam President. (laughter) Our staff did an interim study over the summer and we’ve determined we have to incarcerate children who don’t clean their plates. (laughter)

There would then be a debate between the pros and the cons. On the pro side you’d have somebody like Mario Diaz-Balart:

Members, this bill is a priority! (laughter) We have to teach children to be responsible and clean their plates! Why would we be afraid to do this?(more laughter)

Then, you’d have the other side represented usually by somebody like Betty Holzendorf…

Madame President, I don’t understand why we are do this. (more laughter) I mean we have real problems out there (laughter) like guns without trigger locks and we are talkin’ about incarcerating children for leaving some scraps of food on their plates?!!

Reason would lose. Insanity would win. Ginny Brown-Waite passes bullshit legislation.(deadpanned) For Florida Public Radio, this is Susan Gage.(laughter and applause…fade out) For a Tallahasse audience, that sort of schtick worked well because they recognized the pattern of the legislative play and all the characters in it…right down to the reading clerk. But I was also poking fun and making an extreme example of the debates from the legislative sessions. And my mimicry can’t always match the pathos of the real thing.

Excerpt from show rt: ~1:30 oc: laughter out

Y’know I had an Aunt Tillie and she had this dog. And the dog died. It was a German Shephed. She didn’t know what to do with the dog. So she called up her son in Staten Island. And her son said: “put the dog in a suitcase, come to Staten Island, and bring the dog to Staten Island and we’ll bury it here.”. So Aunt Tillie took that dog, put in a big suitcase and went to the Staten Island ferry. (more laughter) Now, anyone who knows what the Staten Island ferry is like, there’s this big escalator that goes all the way up. And she took this heavy suitcase with the dead dog in it up on that escalator. And what do think happens? Typical of New York: when she was on the escalator, a nice man came behind her. And when she got to the top, this man stole her suitcase! (guffaws) That got rid of her problem because she didn’t have to worry about getting rid of a dead dog (more laughter). But it was probably a surprise for the person who opened that suitcase. (more laughter) But it was probably more of a problem for the person who had to get rid of another dead dog in the city of New York! (prolonged laughter)

And that, ladies and gentlemen, was state Senator Anna Cowin’s explanation for why we should support school vouchers (much laughter).

The debates at the state Capitol aren’t always humorous—and they are seldom innocuous. That was the critical point I wanted to make to the audience. For every silly moment where lawmakers would make some absurd, almost other-worldly, argument for or against legislation… the debates became mean. Let’s face it: there were plenty of times where the subject was serious—Life or Death. And it was important to me, in explaining my exit from public radio, that the audience get a sense of the near mental breakdown I went through in covering the death penalty, and the mounting problems with Florida’s capital punishment system. I had witnessed the execution of John Earl Bush in the electric chair. I played a portion of a commentary I had done on my experience, thus creating a situation where I was not only acting and interacting with political sound bites . . . but also with my own voice.

Excerpt from show rt: 4:19 oc: any more

SFX: “Cah-Chunk” with electrical humming.


Music fades out, Susan turns around to audience.

Susan: What I had just been through didn’t really hit me until I was on the road back to Tallahassee. At seven o’clock… I saw a black man enter a room and nine minutes later… this same man was dead… still strapped to the chair.

I know that Frances Slater…Bush’s victim… I know her last moments in this life had to be terryifying. But I wouldn’t want to die the way John Earl Bush did: with a room full of strangers staring and watching you die. This image has stayed with me.

Sound of a mix of reports that I did on the death penalty starts.

Susan: And it began to fuel a passion that became a reporting obsession about the death penalty.

The mix of sound turns to individual sound bites from politicians and others with Susan responding to what’s being said.

Sen. Locke Burt: There’s an enormous amount of litigation over did they consider mitigation, why did the judge override, he didn’t put his order in within 30 days, I mean they’ve had an enormous amount of frivolous litigation in this area…

Susan: Frivolous? No! You don’t like it because it was successful!!

Attorney General Bob Butterworth: I don’t disagree that the electric chair has uh uh a certain amount of pizazzaz to it and I remember making a comment about a couple years ago on it and it sort of made headlines…

Susan: Yeah, because you made us look like barbarians!

Gov. Jeb Bush: By allowing convicted murders sentenced to death to file their post-conviction appeasl after their direct appeal, we essentially stack them up one on top of the other causing years of delay..

Susan: Oh, that’s not the reason for the delay, Jeb, and you know it!!

Sen. Ron Silver: There is something about the electric chair that puts a little bit of fear into the individual over lethal injection. I don’t think people like going to the electric chair. I’m not sure they’d like to, you know, be put on the gurney and have something injected into them and they’re not going to wake up. But that’s like a common every day experience. People go into the hospital get a needle stuck into them (audience laughter obscuring quote) the difference is these folks don’t wake up again.

Susan: Yeah, because they’re dead, Ron!!

Sen. Skip Campbell: Really, the best way to execute is…kill’em the way they killed their victims…that would be the best way

Susan: Oh, great. Here’s your Democrat for Attorney General…

Campbell continues: and I passed a note to Sen. Brown-Waite this on morning on this and what did you say?

Sen. Ginny Brown-Waite: I said, “And do it in the public square!”

Campbell: Yeah.

Supreme Court Justice Leander Shaw “We’ve had screams…

Susan: Jerry White!

Shaw: scalding

Susan: Pedro Medina!

Shaw: flames coming out of the head!”

Susan: Jesse Tafero!

Shaw: blood flowing from the nose

Susan: Tiny Davis!

A new mix of sound bites begins.

Assistant Attorney General: An execution is going to involve certain things…

Susan: What does it involve, Richard? Tell me! What does it involve?

The sound bites begin to come fast and furious, and they start to overlap in such a way that you can only make out a few key words here and there. Some of the quotes are from victims families, politicians, lawyers, protestors, as well as the sound of Susan’s voice reporting. The cacophony of sound is so much, and is coming so quickly that Susan is unable any more to respond because it’s too overwhelming. Finally, a break!

Susan: Wait!!! Let’s hear from somebody who was on death row for a crime he didn’t commit!!

SFX: Voice of Freddie Lee Pitts, released from death row and pardoned:

Make anyone as a juror who votes for the death penalty by law must be the witnesses to that execution. Then we’ll find out how many people really want the death penalty. And another thing, if it’s a deterient (sic) to crime, why not let’s broadcast it on statewide television…live and in color…like any other sporting event? And then you’ll hear all these same people who are anti-crime, anti-violence “Oh, we don’t’ need that on television! It’s too violent!” But yet it’s alright to do it in your name.

Susan: Maybe he’s right. Maybe you should all watch an execution. But I wouldn’t want to put anyone through what I went through. And I just couldn’t take the savagery any more.

The quiet in the room told me that I had made my point. The audience got it. They could appreciate that I needed to stop the madness of being their public radio crusader for truth, justice and the American way because I am not a superhero. I am a person longing for the truth that comes in the calm of touch. And once the audience could let go of who I was, it gave me room to be who I am. And now I can shop at Office Depot in peace.

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