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Fierce, Fabulous, and Sure-footed— from Grace Gonglewski

Jilline was always the smartest person in the room.

Her Bryn Mawr pedigree, love of the Greeks, inexhaustible knowledge of movies and songs from bygone eras as well as religious iconography was inspiring.

I think of that 1970’s Enjoli perfume commercial, where a sexy woman in purple sauntered toward the camera with a frying pan while a songstress crooned, ‘I can bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan, and never let you forget you’re a man.’

Jilline had access to it all:  amazing chef, chanteuse, and crossword puzzle maven.

To be the smartest one in the room comes with responsibilities. Jilline advocated for those of us who were stupider than she, less politically astute, less erudite. She invited us into her kitchen/cabaret space, politely assuming we were as smart as she was. She forced us to question the status quo and dig deep, into our psyches, our educations, our hearts.

After her death, friends wanted to send her off to the afterlife in a style that celebrated her dynamism. We created a cabaret-style memorial at the Trocodero, an old burlesque house in Philadelphia’s Chinatown. We dubbed it “Requiem For An Amazon” with music by Big Mess Orchestra, songs by some of Jilline’s closest friends and plenty of raised glasses.

Friends asked that I lead a Quaker meeting as a way to allow people to process their grief together. We settled into the silence and invited people to speak, sing, dance, share a memory or story. Funny, poignant, tender and tragic, it was like a long form poem for our beloved friend who was gone too soon.

Jilline was very close to her mother. They shared recipes, secrets, and a deep Catholic spiritual moral correctness (although Jilline loved to challenge and stray from that path). Jilline lost her mother to breast cancer several years before she succumbed to the disease herself. This influenced Jilline’s creativity, and perhaps her most beloved work, Mondo Mangia, was a love letter to her mother and grandmother. So when this year’s particular group of women came together for the 2017 Solo Performance Fund, it seemed fitting that each piece was, in its own way, about grief.

When we met on the final day to see what had been going on all week there was a tension in the air. Jen had given me a call and said she was going to be late and would I welcome everyone and begin the evening. I felt led to begin with a moment of silence in the Quaker manner. You could feel the settling of nerves, as people closed their eyes and focused on why we were together.

And then … poignant, funny, tender, tragic stories were shared.

The women of this year’s program are fierce, fabulous, sure-footed, and challenging themselves to stretch in ways they never have before. They are in good company. Many years later, Jilline continues to inspire.

(Find out more about The Jilline Ringle Solo Performance Program, including application dates and guidelines, here.)

Left: Grace Gonglewski and Jilline Ringle. Right: The residents of the Jilline Ringle Solo Performance Program, 2017. (Jennifer Blaine with her collaborator Karen Getz, Rahnda Rize with her collaborator Medea Brooks, Kristin Finger with her collaborator Mary Carpenter, and Jess Conda and her collaborator Mary Tuomanen.)