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Charlie Vernon

Laura Molzahn: What was the motive for starting Links?

Charlie Vernon: It was extremely simple and selfish: I needed space to create work and so did others. Amy Osgood saw the “For Rent” sign; this would probably have been in the fall of 1978. We looked at how to make payments monthly of $250, which may seem inexpensive now but was no small commitment at the time. Wendy Taucher (who like Amy had her own company), Bob Eisen, Carol Bobrow, and I agreed to take responsibility for the lease, which I think included the heat. We looked at the number of rentable hours in each week and took a chance that we would find others willing to pay $5/hour—if memory serves—to help us cover the costs.

A space for dancers to rehearse and develop work—that was the goal, nothing more. We had no more formal document than that lease—no rules, no partnership agreement, no paid staff, no not-for-profit status.

What were the early days like at Links?

The floor was covered with many coats of paint and there were no lights for performing. A favorite memory was painting the ceiling with a very shaky ladder, having consumed too many beers. Of course, we had no office space at first—that would happen during the 80s. The fixed risers were built much later—we had years in which the chairs could have been placed anywhere in the space.

Many times you walked into the studio knowing nothing of what lay ahead other than that there were four or five dancers arriving who would expect something of you: now what? The gift of time is an almost inconceivable thing today: who gives so freely? Many hours were donated by many people and many wonderful moments took place.

What is your background, and when did you leave Links?

I graduated from University of Illinois with a BFA in dance in 1976 and started writing dance criticism for the Reader in the fall. Over the next year and a half, it became clear that I wanted to make my own work, not just write about others.

[For more on some of these works, click here.]

I left Links pretty much at the end of 1983, which is the year I started selling real estate. (Bob Eisen stayed on as manager.) I had very little interaction until I joined the Links Hall board for a two-year period ending in January 2008. At that time I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and spent six months in chemotherapy—which seems to have been successful! I have been married for 30 years to Marybeth Schroeder, with whom I have three sons and now a granddaughter.

What do you miss about Links?

Links was a place where you could get lost in a moment of creation. It was also an amazing place to teach and learn—intimate, very nearby to everything, and yet very removed. Links had a sense of seriousness, of purpose, earnest involvement, a belief that things you did and thought mattered. Movement was metaphor, and we were making statements that needed to be heard. The modern dance was distinct and separate with its own history, language, and meaning, and we were in the world to promote it, to recruit converts, and to indoctrinate the enlisted.

Links was a clubhouse for the marginalized artist, who was forced to admit that during Ronald Reagan’s presidency, there wasn’t much time for art. The Reagan-era attack on the National Endowment for the Arts was, for me, the first wake-up call about what a struggle the life of artistic begging would be.

In 1983, I was releasing—lying on my back and meditating—with Bob Eisen and I said: “We have to figure out how to make this fun again.” I couldn’t quite picture doing this at 50 or 55. I was not Merce Cunningham, after all.

Will you be performing at the anniversary celebration?

At present I do not expect to have a new work ready.

Interview conducted via email August 17, 2009 and edited by Laura Molzahn.

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