Persons of Interest Blog


Thanks for checking out the LA FPI “tag team” blog, below, handed off each week from one interesting female playwright to another.

Who are they?  Click Here


The FPI Files: The Very Merry Journey of “Ashes to Ashes”

The road to creating a new play is often fraught with challenges, seemingly insurmountable obstacles, and, well, lots of drama – the offstage kind that none of us wants, but theater seems to attract.

So it’s very nice to chat with Debbie Bolsky and Katherine James, a playwright and director team who seem to have found just the right mix of work and play while mounting Debbie’s Ashes to Ashes with The Athena Cats, premiering at The Odyssey Theatre December 9-January 14.

LA FPI: Ashes to Ashes is, in itself, a wild ride of a play – we follow the characters as they travel from country to country. What was the starting point for this play?

Debbie Bolsky: I’ve always said that when I die, I want to be cremated and have my ashes sprinkled in specific spots, so I came up with the idea of writing a romantic comedy about two people who can’t stand each other having to sprinkle their best friends’ ashes around the world.

Katherine James: My favorite thing about the path the characters take is that it is not a logical sequence on a map. In other words, if a travel agent mapped this as your journey you would assume that they were off of their meds. Rather, each country that is visited traces the journey of the heart – the steps in a relationship that test true love.

Debbie Bolsky and Katherine James at rehearsal with actors Kevin Young and Lena Bouton

Debbie: Ashes to Ashes is a wild ride, fun and zany, but it’s also touching at times. The characters are an ex-couple, and in the play they are forced into situations where they face their biggest fears and have to depend upon the person they can’t stand the most to get them through.  But they are also on the journey of discovering things they didn’t realize about each other, things they didn’t know about their deceased friends and finally things they didn’t admit about themselves.

LA FPI: And tell us a bit about where the two of you have traveled, in terms of this collaboration.

Katherine: I had the great pleasure of starting this journey with Debbie in an amazing workshop [Theatricum Botanicum Seedlings’ Dramaturgy Workshop, run by LA FPI co-founder Jennie Webb]. So as we workshopped it and rehearsed it we worked very hard on the emotional journey of the play, how it built, and how each step was a step of growth and intensity.

Debbie: Our collaborative process was phenomenal.  Katherine came up with the idea of workshopping it for a week this past summer with actors (two of whom are still in the play) and that’s when the development started going at hyper speed.  The actors took ownership of the characters. Collaborating with Katherine and the actors – Lena Bouton, Kevin Young and Michael Uribes – has helped me write a richer play and probably become a better writer.

Lena Bouton, Michael Uribes, Kevin Young – Photo by Ed Krieger

Katherine: Collaboration is the name of the game for me. Also, to work with a collaborator like Debbie who is so trusting of this process is rare and welcome.

Debbie:  I love working with Katherine!  But for me, the biggest and most pleasant surprise is how well we all worked together – we are a team.

LA FPI: And of course we love how femme-centric this all is. The Athena Cats is a collective of Southern California female playwrights and directors; for this play you’ve got a woman playwright, director, producers…

Debbie: And a lot of the crew are female as well.  A great thing about this experience is that there is very little ego involved.  All of us working on this have the same goal, to bring Ashes to Ashes to the stage in the best way possible.

Katherine: I think that one of the big differences between men and women in management and leadership is that men tend to work on tasks from a top-down pyramid. Women create things in a circle with everyone in the circle having his/her say and all contributions are honored. It is amazing what a circle of big creative brains can accomplish when nurtured and encouraged to give their best to a project.

Debbie: The Athena Cats has been around for about two years now and this is our second production; in 2016 we produced Laurel Wetzork’s Blueprint for Paradise. [Laurel and Debbie are co-founders of The Athena Cats, and active LA FPI Instigators!] We also had a New Works Festival earlier in the year showcasing works written and directed by women. There are a lot of talented female writers and directors out there who are not getting an equal shot at getting their works seen.  The whole idea of the Athena Cats is to get more works written and /or directed by women onto Southern California stages.

Katherine: Without The Athena Cats, I never would have been given the opportunity to direct this amazing romp. I don’t think that without LA FPI that I would have ever met Laurel and Debbie. Thank  you, LA FPI, for being a cornerstone of my creative life!

 LA FPI: Thank you for being part of an incredible creative team, putting women to work! To continue the love fest, let’s include the audience: When people come to see Ashes to Ashes, what do you want to share with them… and have them take away?

Debbie: Even though Ashes to Ashes starts out with a death, it is really about love, friendship and peace.  We live in incredibly stressful times right now and I think laughter is sorely needed.

Katherine: The holiday season is a perfect time to laugh, sigh, fall in love all over again and go for a great ride. And in this dark time in our country’s history, where better to do this than in the theater?

Michael Uribes, Lena Bouton. Kevin Young – Photo by Ed Krieger

The Athena Cats’ Ashes to Ashes by Debbie Bolsky, directed by Katherine James, opens as a visiting production at The Odyssey Theatre on December 9, 2017 and runs through January 14, 2018. For tickets and information visit www.AshesToAshesThePlay.com or call 323.960-.4443.

 

Know a female or FPI-friendly theater, company or artist? Contact us at lafpi.updates@gmail.com & check out The FPI Files for more stories.

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Staged Readings

I might had written about this before. It’s been a while and I’m glad we’re all back. Thank you lafpi!

The Palisades Playwrights Reading Festival will be in its ninth year next April. It is produced at the community theater in the Pacific Palisades and for three Tuesdays in April 2018, it will again be presenting staged readings of three new plays.

We ask for submissions until January the 1st and every submission is read by the committee and discussed.

No playwright is paid, and the only money that changes hands is a five dollar fee at the door, which covers the wine and refreshments. The festival now has a growing number of people who come to the readings, which are really well received with a Q&A afterwards, if the playwright wants one. And everybody has a good time.

All of the plays have something interesting about them, the subjects are diverse, and some stick in the mind long after. We had a play about a submarine crew underwater after a nuclear war called The Letter Writer, by Steve Yusi, that people still ask
me about. We’ve had romantic comedies, one by Don Gordon, about the issue of two license plays marked PANACHE, one by Jim McGinn, called Vincent O’Shea about a man who never looks older; a look at end of life issues called Reprieves, by David Reuben, a gerontologist as well as a playwright, and a dark comedy by Virginia Mekkelson, called The Losers Club, about an office, a crocodile and Bad Bosses.

Which brings me to the crux of the matter. The theater will not consider producing any of these plays! I don’t think it is because it is a community theater, although it may be. But it is reflective of such a large problem for all of us. I have a play called The Last of The Daytons, which is read over and over. Years ago, it had a wonderful reading at Theatricum Botanicum as part of their Seedlings program. (Thank you, Jennie Webb.)  It’s had several staged readings since and an almost production in Memphis.

This year it won the PlayFestSantaBarbara. First place, with prize money! The festival was a weekend affair of workshops and readings of new pieces and the company at Santa Barbara presented a brilliant reading after a very helpful rehearsal with a skilled director. It was one of the best experiences I’ve had in the theater and I’m so grateful for it.

(Check out their website for new submission dates. The competition is closed for 2018 but will probably be taking 2019 submissions in the New Year.)

So, The Last of the Daytons is ready to go, as are the others we’ve read. The trick is finding the production company that loves it, wants it, and has the money and time to produce it. I’m looking.

Submit, Diane, submit!

In the meantime, if anybody would like to submit a play the Palisades Reading Festival, send it to me at grantdiane04@gmail.com.

Writing About Death…

by Robin Byrd

Death, spirits, the ghosts of memory, these are the things that turn up in my plays.  I used to think that I was weird, not that weird is a negative word to me.  I am peculiar and I am okay with that.  In Proof by David Auburn, Catherine states while talking about her dad, “He’d attack a question from the side, from some weird angle, sneak up on it, grind away at it.”  I love that sentence, it’s all we can do in our world of doing art – attack from our perspective and grind away…

I have been reading The Art of Death: Writing the Final Story by Edwidge Danticat. What I mean is I have read it several times 4 and a half times to be exact.  I am working out the processing of my mother’s death.  She left this earth in April of this year.  It has been difficult to write it yet write it I have – to request to drop classes I was in at the time of her death, classes I have had to repeat and get past the point of her death in each of them. One, I made it through, weary but victorious, the other, I am still weathering.  It is amazing the depth of grief.  I read somewhere that grief causes forgetfulness, that and the lack of sleep…   Except I know the forgetfulness of sleepless nights well and this thing – it is scary and it is a demon whose head I am chopping off with a twice dull blade.  I will be rid of it.  I have found comfort in the stories that Danticat shares in The Art of Death; at one point, she asks her mother, “Did you rage enough?” this in response to Dylan Thomas’s poem “Do not go gentle into that good night:

“…Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” by Dylan Thomas

Similarly, before the thin veil of denial left me, before I bought the ticket and made the journey home, I spoke to my mother’s spirit, “Mommy, do not go gentle into that good night wait for me, I’m coming home…”  And, I watched her fight until the end unsure of the road…  She almost died 3 days before, we sat in the nursing home around her bed for hours but she would not leave.  She wanted a reprise.  She wanted to be bathed… Almost like a baptismal service, two young nurses, bathed my mother from head to toe in preparation for the day.  She lay there knowing it would be her last bath with breath in her body, resolved to meet the day…clean….  Clean from the blood that had begun to seep from her body in clots of pain, clean from the last of things no one can carry with them into the presence of God. I took to sitting through the night with her, on guard.  I did not want her to die alone.  I blessed the room and sealed it (in the name of Jesus) from anything that was not like God…so she could rest in peace until that appointed time. I had asked God to let me be there and had traveled from Los Angeles on a ‘red eye’ to make sure I was there the entire month of April.  I asked Him, rather demanded that He let me be there, “I want to see her when she leaves, not in a dream, like with Dad, and the others, I want to see her!  I must be there, it will not be alright if I am not there.  I do not want to get that call.”  So, there I was by the grace of God, sitting beside my mother’s deathbed…taking notes in my spirit… and then it happened, and God let me see:

I saw her when she left, the lift off, her eyes shown like glassy circles of pure glee, the hologram of her Self barely visible but not her smile, it was wide and happy because she knew I saw…my mother, my mother – the wind of God…

I wrote and read a poem on behalf of my mother at her funeral titled, “Getting it Right” – the thing my mother had on her mind the last days of her life.  I had sat by her bed every day from April 1st till she passed at the end of the month, 2 days before her 83rd birthday.  She continually told me to “Pay attention Robbie, you’re going to have to write about this…  We got to get this right.”  How could I fail?  “A mother’s song should be heard in the voices of her children”…it should never be lost to time.  I found her song in the space where breath had left her and became her voice for a time…  I could feel her there with me… adlibbing…

Part of getting it right is forgiving and letting things go.  We all must do it…

It is difficult…these days… not because I do not know that my mother is with Christ…

“…We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with Christ.” Paul the Apostle, II Corinthians, chapter 5, verse 8

It is difficult because the moments have germinated and taken root and are sprouting trees so tall it is hard to see the sky.  It is renewing and stripping but best of all, I did not lose on the moments that the last of things said to me by my mother set in stone her confidence in who I am – a Writer…

 

Yoga and Writing: Playing with Your Edges.

By Analyn Revilla

Do a search on the internet with the words “yoga and creativity writing” and a plethora of websites for “writing & yoga retreats” will cascade down the page. I’ve written in a past blog of how yoga has helped me through chaotic times in my life. I teach yoga to young children (ages 2 to 5), seniors and at a Pilates studio or anybody else who’ll listen to me expound the benefits of the practice. Now, I want to teach it to fellow writers because of the parallel universes of writing and yoga.

Yoga is an exploration to our inner territory using our mind, our breath, our awareness and our body as it moves together into a pose (or ‘asana’ in Sanskrit). It’s the same journey with writing. My first writing teacher in Vancouver warned her students to be careful with their bodies as they write, because the energy of the thoughts and words is cathartic and moves along the tissues of our bodies and breathes out through the pores of the skin. Writing moves the molecules of our breath, whether its held and waiting for release or the replenishing cycle of intake, then over and over again, till we say it is done. In another writing workshop here in LA, I shared with my group that I always felt lethargic when trying to get some tracks down on the paper. Some writers understood what I was experiencing. The teacher said that the process is natural, because we were working through some sludge, and it’s not unusual to sleep a lot working through the heavy lifting of writing about it. It does take courage to write some things; and beyond that it takes endurance to get through it. I’m still working on both.

Courage and endurance is part of regular yoga practice. It’s not always easy to show up on the mat (or be in that quiet space) where you decide to work it out. Some days you try out a new pose that looks gorgeous, but when you imagine and assemble the different parts of your body to fit the pose, it’s a wobbly faulty towers. It’s the same with writing too. There are some things I want to say but the assembled words are not expressing the essence, so I let it go. Perhaps try again another time. Or I may decide after further attempts that I’m not yet ready. It’s the same with yoga. Sometimes I have to let go and admit that an asana is not for me, not yet anyway. “Adho Mukha Vrksasana” (translates to Downward-Facing Tree Pose or Handstand) is a mouthful for me, and I’m not ready to try it, because, because… fear. I’m afraid that I don’t have that upper body strength, I don’t have the technique, or that it’s not worth the effort today. Maybe someday I’ll get around to it. Yoga is not about the body fitting into the asana, rather it’s the asana fitting the body. Yoga and writing is about expression and the honesty of the expression.

Check out this 3 minute tutorial on the Adho Mukha Vrksasana:
Beyond Fear – Adho Mukha Vrksasana (Handstand)

I like how the yoga teacher, Sarah, tells her story about the Handstand: “that this is the scariest pose for me”, and that “for many years I just avoided it”, and that “now a days I just try a little bit every day”, and that “to be okay with where I’m at”, and finally, “to learn compassion for yourself”.

Were I to introduce yoga to writers I would start with chest opening and hip opening asanas. If you’ve heard of the expression ‘issues in your tissues’ or ‘biography is your biology’ then I’d start with these parts of our anatomy because we carry our grief, joy and stresses in these areas. I am inviting you to join me in a yoga and writing practice. Are you interested to try this? I’m game if you are.

Namaste

Missing Stuart

By Analyn Revilla

It was a visit from the SPCA that prompted the owner to remove Stuart from the junkyard. The officer had asked the man living next to the place if he knew the owner. “Soul” (aka Michael) told the officer he didn’t have the guy’s information, but he did know that the dog is neglected. It was only through the constant care of neighbors that kept the dog fed and watered. Those who were aware of the situation couldn’t fathom why the dog was “guarding” a junkyard littered with old dump trucks, pickups, and broken concrete and 2 by 4s with exposed rusty nails. The dog, Stuart, slept under the belly of a dump truck.

When I first noticed Stuart it was he who made eye contact with me. His expressive brown eyes looked into mine when I walked by casually with my two dogs, Goliath and Molly (a mix breed of Rottweiler & German Shepherd and a purebred Cocker Spaniel). Stuart didn’t pounce and bark at us. He sat on a mound under the trees, about 10 yards from the chain wire fence that would eventually become the only means we could touch one another. A few more times after that first meeting, I came around to observe what the deal was. I talked to Soul and the old man who owned the house next to the junkyard. The owner comes once in a while to feed the dog, and only slips the food under the solid metal fence. He never takes the dog out for a walk. The first time I approached the owner I broached the idea of adopting Stuart. “He’s lonely” I told him. “Yeah, but I need him,” he countered. It was beyond arguing with a man who needed a dog to guard scrap metal. There’s a mental illness that can’t be reasoned with when someone has a need to sacrifice the life of a living creature to protect material objects that are no longer in use.

After I overcame the initial fear of slipping my hands under the metal gate to check on the food and water, I was horrified and disgusted to find the water bowl filled with slimy water and dotted with furry blackish mold. I took it home, scrubbed it clean with bleach and brought it back to the yard refreshed with clean water. When Stuart recognized I was a friend he let me touch him through the eyelets of the fence. I became a habitual visitor bringing food, water and giving him cheese at night as a ritual of putting him to bed. I came so often (2 – 3X during the day on my way to and from work and once again at night) that people living nearby started to ask if I was the owner. On other occasions people would stop in their car and said “you’re doing a good thing.” They were aware and grieved by Stuart’s solitary confinement. In the mornings he would sit by the fence and watch the traffic go by. At sundown he would do the same thing as though appreciating the beauty of the changing lights. At nights I would rouse him from sleep to give him cheese like the chocolate placed on the pillow in the nice hotels when they turn down the bed. I waited for him to crawl out from under the dump truck, worried that if there was an earthquake he would be crushed. He accepted the cheese then wandered back to being sandwiched between the cold earth and the belly of the dump truck.

One day, Soul came to ask me, “Do you want the dog?”. I said yes. He would do it for a fee. I said I’ve already offered $500 to the owner to take the dog from his hands, but he won’t have it. So Soul said he would steal the dog for me if I gave him $600. I didn’t want anyone to break the law. The dog is a personal property. As much as I wanted to free Stuart from his miserable incarceration I couldn’t face up to the consequences of something like that. I emailed Peta (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) about the situation complete with pictures. They replied that the South LA Animal Services is a “tricky” jurisdiction. I surmised that when the Stuart’s owner told me he knew some folks at the Animal Services that they condone the situation. So my next step was to contact the German Shepherd Rescue Society. They were more helpful than Peta. They advised me to report the situation to Animal Services while they also came around to check out the situation. Upon seeing Stuart’s living condition they filed their own complaint to Animal Services.

I was so absorbed by this situation that I talked to anyone and everyone about Stuart. My dental hygienist also called Animal Services and she had the right intuition to call SPCA (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals). Eventually, Animal Services and the SPCA did their own separate investigations and reached out to the owner to fix the problem. They posted letters on the metal fence and buggered the people living next door to the yard to get the owner’s contact information. I started to feel good about the possibility that Stuart would be relieved from having to endure the jail yard. I continued to nurture him with food, water and affection. I was really loving this dog, because he was such a beautiful spirit.

One Saturday morning I had to get up at 4 o’clock to drive my husband to work. On my way back home I had stopped by the yard to say hi to Stuart. It must’ve been around 5 in the summer. The sun was already rising and Stuart was up and sitting by the fence. He looked regal and guru-like as though a Bodhisattva communing with the gods in meditation. When I came to the fence he walked up and rolled on his side, belly exposed. I stroked him and we sat together in silence, comforted by the companionship and friendship. I said I’d be back later. I went home to sleep. I dreamt about Stuart. He and I were frolicking down a hillside of a meadow in a starburst sun. I woke up happy and looked forward to giving him his food and water. I had been experimenting with the law of attraction, and divined that if I imagined it hard enough then I can manifest what I want. I wanted Stuart to be part of my family and to be free. When I returned to the yard, he didn’t come around to eat. He was gone. I worried that he might be hurt somewhere in the yard, and I couldn’t see him or get to him. I searched around and asked people if they knew what happened to Stuart.

It’s been almost 3 months since Stuart disappeared from the junkyard in late August. I called Animal Services and SPCA and was baffled by their response. Both groups said once the dog has been removed from the place then they do not follow up on his condition. I felt I knew what it must be like for a parent to have a missing child, not knowing their offsprings whereabouts or condition. The child has gone missing. Missing is a deep longing for reuniting. I’ve since tried to reconcile myself with living without knowing what happened. I still call Animal Services to find out what’s happened, but they’ve turned a deaf ear to my inquiries because they’re too busy with other cases. I wonder how many missing cases they’ve accumulated. The SPCA officer has also closed the case. Call back, I’m told, if I see the dog turn up at the junkyard again.

Stuart the German Shepherd in his Jail Yard

Be Aware

By Analyn Revilla

At dinner last night, my husband said, ‘how lucky we are to have so much food.’ I asked where his comment came from, because we were talking about something different. ‘It’s all related,’ he said. He observed that I had refilled my wineglass; we were talking about the probability that this might be the last Thanksgiving for two of our friends, because of cancer; we remembered that it was at our home where another friend had celebrated their last Thanksgiving before dying from a heart attack. ‘Don’t tell anyone that,’ he teased ‘or nobody will come.’ All joking aside he recognized that we were blessed with the company of friends, family and we can gather and celebrate with plentiful of good food and spirits. He said, ‘just be aware.’

‘Awareness’ seems to be popping up in books I’ve been reading, conversations I’ve engaged in and in practicing something religiously like yoga and meditation. In metaphysical writings by Eckhart Tolle, Deepak Chopra and BKS Iyengar they describe awareness as the true self. It’s always there, but it is overshadowed by the eye of the ego, the one we identify with as “I am” this or that.

When I’m writing I’ve started to sift through the impulse of the words. Is it my ego expressing itself, or is it my consciousness (awareness) that’s speaking? I’ve been struggling with my identity since I quit my long-time career in a corporation. I wonder if I’m reconnecting to my truth or if I’m reassembling what I am. I’ve experimented with burning my ‘stream of consciousness’ writing based on the advice of John Rogers (of “Spiritual Warrior”). His idea is that ‘free-form writing (with a pen and paper) is a kinesthetic activity: The neural impulses from the fingers are sent back to the brain so that writing actually releases and records the patterns of the unconscious… called ‘beach balls’, those things we have suppressed for a long long time and have expended energy to keep under the surface.” Following the free-form writing then “do not read it over. Rip up what you have written and burn it”. He recommends not to read over and look for the beautiful writing bits, because the energy and negativity released onto the paper can return to you if you reread it.

I tried this exercise of free-form writing and burning it up, and it wasn’t easy to do the second part. I’ve been journaling since I was a teenager, and I’ve hauled my collection of notepads and diaries in different shapes and sizes wherever I’ve camped. I thought about Anais Nin’s diaries and wondered if she had ever considered or experimented with burning her writing. When I’m doing stream of consciousness writing it’s a lot of crap that comes out. Often, I’ve come to accept, that I write to normalize my mind, body and spirit. It’s all these parts of me that are competing for self-expression without fear of judgement. Writing is an exploration and not necessarily the truth of what is. It’s a process of seeking out the truth.

I remember two occasions when someone invaded my privacy by reading my journals on two separate occasions. The first was when I was breaking up with my first husband. He tore the red hard-covered journal from my hands and looked for ‘evidence’. The evidence being my thoughts. The other occasion of invasion of my privacy was when I asked a friend to clean up the hard drive of my Sony Vaio and he came upon some stream of consciousness writing. When I came back from Japan my ‘friend’ was cool and distant towards me. It was much later in the relationship he divulged reading my writing. I tried to explain to him that it was just stream of consciousness stuff – things I’m working out.

Anyways, I’m still on the bench as to the validity of ‘truth’ in free-form (‘stream of consciousness’) writing. It’s a dance between my ego and my awareness. It’s all of me that is coming together to confer what is the truth. This truth can shift based on the parameters at hand. It’s very much aligned to the principles of the physics of quantum mechanics and relativity. There is truth in both sides of the argument. The shift of which is truer than the other is the degree of awareness. I can be convinced that your argument against mine is allowable based on how illumined my mind is to your perspective. And this can happen on your side of the camp where your awareness shifts and you can say ‘you’ve got a point’.

I’ll tie this all up with a link to a Youtube video of a song written by Burt Bacharach & Hal David. By the way, I was so lucky to have the opportunity to watch Burt Bacharach perform his music live at UCLA last summer. The guy is a legend whose music spans 6 decades and he’s still writing cool tunes. The song “Be Aware” was written to be sung by Barbara Streisand, but I like Dionne Warwick’s version better. Here it is: “Be Aware” written by Burt Bacharach & Hal David; sung by Dionne Warwick

“Be Aware”

When the sun is warm where you are
And it’s comfortable and safe where you are
Well it’s not exactly that way
All over

And
Somewhere in the world
Someone is cold, be aware.
And while you’re feeling young
Someone is old, be aware.
And while your stomach is full
Somewhere in this world
Someone is hungry
when there is so much
should anyone be hungry?

When there’s laughter all around me
and my family embraces surround me
If I seem to be forgetful
Remind me

That
Somewhere in the world
People are weak, be aware.
And while you speak your mind
Others can’t speak, be aware.
And while your children sleep
Somewhere in this world
The child is homeless
When we have so much
Should any child be homeless?
Homeless?

No, not even one child!
Be aware…

Heat is Transformative

By Analyn Revilla

The best temperature to heat milk to is 140 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s the optimal temperature for ‘milking’ the flavor out of the moo juice, because it’s when the sugar (lactose) has been broken down to the simple sugars of sucrose & glucose. To go higher in temperature breaks down the sugar further to its less than sweetest point. Milk also has fat and protein. The temperature rising breaks down the chains of protein molecules which can either blend with the melted fat or go out into the air to escape the water. Have you noticed the rim of bubbles as the milk goes up in temperature – and if you happened to turn away during the critical moment – the whole thing inflates like a hyperbole’d soufflé.

So it was at 2 this morning when I decided to make hot chocolate after the dog woke me up with its pacing to let me know it needs to go out. I’ve been an addict of hot cocoa lately. It’s just a phase (I think) with the weather being cold and the season getting festive. I was contemplating adding a splash of Cointreau into my cocoa. Then my mind wandered about the transformative property of heat as I waited for the magic. I whipped the milk with the chocolate, played with the temperature knob impatient to have my cocoa.

My writing can be impatient too. I want magic without the work of blood and guts. In writing the journey is about the transformation. I write because I’m curious about something. In my exploration I can transform my perspective. In story telling the journey is a transformative experience for both the writer and the audience with the vehicle of change being the plot, the characters and the process. In cooking it’s also the cast of the ingredients and the process of applying the heat that transforms everything into a magical melange.

Heat isn’t just a physical property. There’s heat when there’s interaction between the two sexes. There’s heat when there’s a debate between opposing camps. Heat transforms life. Without the light and warmth of the sun there wouldn’t be life on the third rock from the sun. Another concept of heat is used in yoga. “Tapas” (not the delightful Spanish word for appetizer or snack) is a Sanskrit word meaning “to burn”, originating from “tap”. There are yogic breathing exercises that uses bodily locks (akin to lifting the pelvic floor like Kegel exercises) to burn impurities in the body. Tapas is a philosophy dictated in the yoga bible, Patanjali’s “Yoga Sutras”. It is through tapas – the fiery discipline, passion and courage – that impurities can be burned off physically, mentally and emotionally to regenerate life like nature’s wisdom of forest fires to recycle and give new life to the earth.

“A worthy aim makes life illumined, pure and divine. Without such an aim, action and prayer have no value. Life without tapas is like a heart without love.” – BKS Iyengar

Here’s another example of heat… Check out this solo from Monte Montgomery with his song “All On Men”. He’s cooking something soulful on his Alvarez guitar https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8KiUnGVOY1A ; at around the 5 minute mark of this video he turns up the heat. Watching an artist unleash that passion in his instrument is transformative. It makes me aspire to that height; it makes me want to be in the presence of the guitar god like him. I believe this is one of the attractions of going to live performances because its transformative to be part of the magic making. It’s the reason we also gather for rituals of the holidays because it renders the ordinary to extraordinary; a meal isn’t just something to get through. It’s the preparation and the celebration of life which renders it holy and sacred.

A gathering of bodies generates heat. Friction generates heat. Zeal and passion is heat. In what seams like the bleak and lifeless cold of winter there’s heat in the DNA of the trees that knows to “turn on” when the conditions are just right. So how do I turn on the heat in my writing? The question contains the answer – Patanjali’s sage advice is to tap, tap, tap on the keyboard through discipline, passion and courage. This practice of discipline, passion and courage is love. The secret to good cooking is love; and the love of doing what we do is what transforms something good into something soulful that aspires our spirit to align to our highest self.

But first, another sip of hot cocoa with a dash of Cointreau.

“It’s Chaos. Be Kind.”

by Andie Bottrell

The truest words I’ve heard all year have come from Patton Oswalt, quoting his late wife Michelle McNamara:

 “It’s chaos. Be kind.”

In his latest Stand-Up special for Netflix, Oswalt recounted that she hated the phrase “everything happens for a reason.” She would say, “It’s all chaos, it’s all random, and it’s horrifying. And if you want to try and reduce the horror, and reduce the chaos, be kind. That’s all you can do. It’s chaos. Be kind.”

Be kind. Be gentle. Be forgiving. I’ve been echoing these words to myself all year–both in regards to others and myself. Stay open. Stay vulnerable. Stay tender. I’ve been thinking about my clenched fists. The way they tighten both to keep things in, that maybe I should have let go of (like a dream being realized in a specific way), and the way they tense up in defense, when perhaps they should reach out to and for help and resolutions instead.

I came back to Missouri from LA not really by choice, and never planned to stay more than a year.  Four years after coming here, I finally felt financially stable enough to start planning my return to the coast, or a coast anyway. I remembered my time in New York fondly and thought maybe I should go back there. So, I went and visited. And it didn’t feel right. So, I decided LA made the most sense. I made a lot of logical, sound arguments for it in my head, but some part of me was hesitant. I didn’t understand why. I worried that hesitation was just fear–fear of repeating my first 6 years and never progressing further. Fear of financially floundering again, of not being able to act as much as I have been here, of being away from my Mom. I didn’t want to be motivated by fear. So, I told myself: I’m moving back to LA in September. I started telling friends and family and my boss. I got boxes for packing.

Then, the possibility of making season two of my webseries Seek Help came up. I wanted to make it, and it seemed like we might be able to–so I decided to stay past September, and since I was staying past September, I auditioned for the play Good People and got cast. And since I was staying for those things, I had to renew my lease and they didn’t give me a 6 month option like I was hoping, it was 1 year or pay a lot more and do month to month. So I signed a 1 year lease. I told my boss and he said, “That’s got to be awful for you–having to defer the move 6 months longer than you wanted.” And I realized it wasn’t awful for me. It was easy.

I took some time after that to sit quietly alone with my thoughts and journal. And I had an epiphany. This was my epiphany: Acting is not EVERYTHING. I still feel blasphemous even saying that because I wouldn’t want anyone for one second to doubt how incredibly important it is to me or think that I’m saying that I’m giving up on my dreams of being a working actor. I’m not. However, life goes SO quickly. For 31 years (give or take a childhood), I’ve pursued whatever avenues I could to become a working actor on TV, Film and Theatre. I thought it would happen before I ever got to high school. It didn’t. I thought it would happen in my 20’s. It didn’t.

“It” being a regular on a TV show or consistently working on TV, Film and Theatre–the shows/films people all over the country know about and watch. Anything short of that…I never allowed to feel like “success.” I was grateful for every opportunity and job, but in my mind, I was still failing. And at 31, the thought of going back to LA and knocking on doors and getting all those “No’s” and “You’re great, but too tall”…even the thought of achieving my dream now as I always dreamed it…I just started questioning how fulfilling that would really be? I love the work, but the work is always the work no matter where you do it. I love working with people who are great at what they do and challenge me to be better. That would be great, no question. I would love to be respected and known (and paid!) as a full-time storytelling vessel. But I also know that sometimes you try and try and try and it never “works out” how you wanted or thought it would.

For a decade I’ve been saying that I want to get involved with CASA (court appointed special advocate–they speak for the child going through foster care in court) and fostering/adopting. I always said, you know, someday….when/if I am ever stable enough financially and in one place long enough. Everything hinged on achieving my acting dream in this one specific way–a way that most people never do, no matter how incredibly gifted they are or how diligent their hustle. Life is an expansive tapestry of experiences–and I’ve been zeroed in on just one thing for so long, never even considering the possibility that maybe if I un-clinch my fists just a little, I could hold some other things in my hands, in my life. I could make a little room and be a part of something bigger than myself.

Maybe it’s my age, but I crave community these days…I want to build a family, a group of close friends and collaborators. I’ve long had more love to give than people in my life to give it to. I’ve spent a lot of time alone in my apartment, hogging resources I could be contributing. Forgive the length of this post–I just want you to understand that when I say that I am not moving back to LA, I am staying in Springfield, MO, that you know that it is not about fear or trepidation. It is not a giving up on my dreams–they are still very much in the forefront of my mind, still daily on my to-do’s–rather, this decision is one to expand my life in new ways that I hope positively contributes to my community, and enriches the work and stories I am able to tell.

My dream now looks a little like this: Buy a house, make it a home. Get involved as a volunteer advocate for Foster Kids and eventually foster to adopt. Continue to make my own projects and try to improve with each one–try to get my scripts sold or made and audition for projects (only the ones I really, deeply want). I hope to travel to the coasts semi-regularly. I hope for many more lunch dates with my Mom and many more collaborations with my friends and artists I look up to.

After I made this decision, I told no one…for weeks. I sat with it, waiting to see if I would change my mind again. But I pretty much knew it was the right decision when, the day after, as I was driving to a work event, I started crying…they were tears of a mixed bag of emotions: relief at no longer living a life solely in pursuit of “yes’s” that may or may not ever validate me in the way I always dreamed, sadness and acceptance of letting go of that expectation, and excitement for all the new dreams I could now dream. It’s a little corny, but for the first time in my life, I felt like a “full-grown woman.”

Life’s not working out how I thought it would…mostly, honestly, it’s been chaos. And in that chaos you have one choice that belongs to you alone and is totally in your control, and that’s how you respond to the chaos. You can project meaning onto it, you can let it disorient you, you can fight the chaos and try to control it, or you can adjust your perspective and your goals, and look for ways to grow with each new challenge and curve that gets thrown at you. You can loosen your fists and let life flow through you.

“It’s chaos. Be kind.”

This weekend my friend, Lisa Murphy, who plays my wife in Seek Help was saying how “it” was going to happen for me. And I said that it didn’t matter anymore whether or not “it” did…it didn’t matter because I was already doing “it.” I don’t need anyone’s permission to live my life how I want. I’m going to act, and write, and create my whole life and that’s more than enough. Let me tell you, finally being able to say that and know it and mean it feels amazing. And what’s perhaps most incredible, is that this gift was a gift I gave myself. It was “just” a perspective change, but one that took me a couple decades and a whole lot of failed attempts at controlling the chaos to realize was always there just waiting for me to see it, claim it, and be free.

PS. My poetry and art collection book “Let’s Talk” is now available on Amazon.com, and in my Etsy shop for 20% off!

Ghost in the Warehouse

by Chelsea Sutton

Possession has been on my mind for the last year. Possession of the spirit, of the body, and possession of one’s own art. How to possess a thing, and how to let it go.

Since last fall, I’ve been working with fellow playwright Lisa Dring to write an immersive, site-specific show with Rogue Artists EnsembleKaidan Project: Walls Grow Thin, an adaptation of ancient Japanese ghost stories set in an old warehouse.

This was not our intention. The project came to us sideways, yet naturally. Like we were meant to work on it together.

From Kaidan Project: Walls Grow Thin. Photo by Rebecca Bonebrake.

Kaidan is a project that has long been brewing in the bowels of Rogue Artists Ensemble and East West Players—the idea itself was never ours, though the words, the shape, the adaptation of the stories themselves certainly were born of our brains. You can blame a lot of it on us.

But true possession of the work, so to speak, was already in question from the beginning. We were asked to take this on. The ownership of the stories were transferred to us, were lent to us, but it has never been ours alone, which has its own kind of freedom.

All stories are borrowed, lent, and passed along, in one way or another.

As the project progressed, we began to focus our main story on a single woman, Kana Mori—a woman who is very much possessed literally by a spirit and emotionally by a dark past. Kana’s journey—in which she loses control, fights for possession of her own will, struggles to center herself in an ever-changing landscape—began to mirror our own experience as writers. Not only were we in deep collaboration with a creative group of designers and actors with their own points of view about what the show should be, but we were coming to terms with the role of the audience in the piece. This is, first and foremost, an immersive theatre experience—meaning the audience is part of the story. They are active in what is going on, which makes Kaidan the audience’s play as well. Our possession over the play was schizophrenic on its best days.

From Kaidan Project: Walls Grow Thin. Photo by Rebecca Bonebrake.

We labored over every word, every beat (just ask our lead actresses, who may have memorized nothing short of 20 versions of their monologues), every transfer of information. We threaded the connective tissue lightly, then sharply, then hit the audience over the head with it, then lightly again. We argued for days about two or three words in the ending scene.

And yet. And yet. And yet.

In the end, we had to let it go. All shows always end up belonging to the actors after opening night, and to the audience. But here, with Kaidan Project: Walls Grow Thin, this is even more pronounced. The actors and audiences are actively engaging with it every night. No one person has the same experience. Some retain the words we sculpted, others are focused on the mask design, others are wondering how long they are going to sit in the dark and if a ghost is sneaking up behind them. Others will remember the moment they had candy with a monk, and nothing else.

From Kaidan Project: Walls Grow Thin. Photo by Rebecca Bonebrake.

I stand outside the warehouse at the box office. I welcome guests, fret about tickets and audience numbers (we can only fit 12 people per performance). I can’t even hear what is going on inside. But that’s okay. It is no longer mine.

In the end, with all art, we cannot fully possess what we create if we are going to share it with others. It doesn’t mean we don’t have a voice, or something to fight for, or are free from blame when something isn’t perfect.

But sometimes it is better to swallow the idea of full possession. Lisa and I wrote something that is a piece of us—but now it belongs to you. We’re just ghosts in the warehouse.

Kaidan Project: Walls Grow Thin has extended through November 19. Visit RogueArtists.org for information and tickets.

The FPI Files: Solo Queens Fest @ Bootleg

Three Queens visiting Northeast LA. A good reason to head to Bootleg Theater. (As if you needed one!)

Solo Queens Fest brings together three acclaimed solo shows playing in rep – Kristina Wong’s Wong Street Journal, Elizabeth Liang’s Alien Citizen: An Earth Odyssey and Valerie Hager’s Naked in Alaska: The Behind The Scenes True Story of Stripping in the Last Frontier – in addition to workshops for writers and performers.  With (what?!) free childcare during Sunday matinees.

Yep. This is the brainchild of producer Jessica Hanna, fantastic femme queen of all things Bootleg. Well, we couldn’t pass up the chance to chat with the newly appointed sovereigns before the (inaugural? fingers crossed) Fest is underway.

LA FPI: So! What are you ladies queen of?

Elizabeth (Lisa) Liang: I’m individually the queen of 50% anxiety/50% grit; collectively we’re the queens of telling and supporting women’s unique stories with fierce honesty, vulnerability, and unpredictable humor, together at the Bootleg in the city of angels.

Valerie Hager: I am the queen of moving my body – it’s where I find my deepest flow.

Kristina Wong: This week I am the queen of cutting and pasting the link to my show all over the internet.  So much so that I’ve been banned by Facebook from posting in Facebook groups for the next week.  Marketing is hard yo.

Kristina Wong in THE WONG STREET JOURNAL

LA FPI: But we so love the Fest Hashtag: #QueenSaysWhat! What would you say your show is about, in 140 characters or less?

Kristina: A jaded Asian Am social media activist goes to Northern Uganda to volunteer with a microloan organization only to record a hit rap album.

Lisa: Alien Citizen: AEO is a funny and poignant one-woman show about growing up as a dual citizen of mixed heritage in six countries.

Valerie: Naked is a fearless look at the objects we make of ourselves to fit in and the buried truths we must face to have a chance at coming home.

LA FPI: Each of these shows has toured across the country and internationally. Where was the first public performance, in any incarnation?

Valerie: TheaterLab, NYC in late 2012. Interestingly, TheaterLab has a similar mission to Bootleg: to develop and present new and experimental work in theater, music, and visual arts.

Kristina: I showed this as a work in progress in Burlington, Vermont at the Flynn Center for Performing Arts in January 2015. They were one of the four National Performance Network Creation Fund commissioners for this show.  I’ve cut a few scenes since then and the show definitely sits better in my body from touring it the last few years.  I’m still finding ways to make the material more relevant and more alive.

Lisa: I performed one 12-minute segment at the first annual “5,000 Women” Festival at Wesleyan University in 2011.

Valerie Hager in NAKED IN ALASKA

 LA FPI: And thematically, each of your shows covers a lot of territory. Can you talk about where your show begins? Or the journey we’ll take?

Valerie:  Naked In Alaska begins when I’m 15 and living in my childhood home in San Diego. At that time, I didn’t have a lot of social and emotional tools to work through issues I was experiencing at home and school, so the coping mechanisms I created—like becoming a bulimic, cutter, and meth addict—laid the psychological foundation for experiencing stripping as the most exciting and fulfilling adventure I could possibly imagine when I discovered it—it truly gave me the family feeling I had been longing for all my life.

Lisa: My show’s starting point is an Alien (Martian-style) on Earth, trying to answer supposedly simple questions: Who are you? Where are you from? What are you?

Kristina: I have yet to see Valerie and Elizabeth’s shows, but what all our shows definitely have in common is that we are women who traversed incredible distances as we find out who we are.  I would say there are two journeys in my show.  One is obvious journey is from my armchair in America to Northern Uganda.  The other is the journey from a fight-happy Twitter activist out to call out anybody who has ever been a colonial asshole, to reconciling that I myself am guilty of being a colonial asshole.

LA FPI: Tell us a bit about your workshops, which sound incredible.

Valerie: SOLOfire [Sat. 11/4 at 1 pm] is a workshop series I developed over many years that takes a movement-based approach to discovering and creating new work. I lead students through physical exercises that combine both group and partner work, as well as stretching, character discovery, and vocal release.  The whole mission of SOLOfire is to shake the bullshit off and get to the raw, unvarnished truth.

Elizabeth Liang in ALIEN CITIZEN

Lisa: I’ve been leading my Solo Show & Memoir [Sat 11/11 at 1 pm]  workshop for 4 years on college campuses (Princeton, DePaul, CSULA), at conferences, in private in L.A. and via Skype with participants all over the world. Anyone who grew up or is currently living between or among different worlds, as a bridge or an island or both (whatever that may mean to them), will get a lot from this workshop. But all are welcome! I hope that anyone who’s been yearning to tell their own story but has been afraid or unsure of how to begin will take this workshop.

Kristina:  I’ve been mostly teaching workshops in social justice settings or as a guest at a university. It’s been a while since I’ve taught for individuals interested in making their own work and I’m so excited. The last few years of making work for harsh critics (professional and otherwise) has really taught me how to build a thicker skin and just “do the damn thing.” My workshop is called “How to Be a Badass Bitch” [Sat 11/8 at 11 am] and I really want to get participants to approach hard topics without fear.

Q:  Bootleg says it has “a fierce belief in the power​ ​of​ ​women​ ​in​ ​Art​ ​to​ ​create​ ​change​ ​in​ ​the world​.” How will you use your powers?

Kristina: There’s a great shift happening now with the harassers of Hollywood getting called out on their BS and women are speaking out about their harassment experiences with #MeToo. But theater has been one of the spaces where I first witnessed women call out their harassers and stand their own ground.  As we head full speed into some apocalyptic time, I want to hold the space for women to keep telling their stories.

Valerie: I will use my power to promote greater vulnerability within ourselves and with one another – to tell the truth out loud, all of it, and stand with an open heart and strong. This is also the power that naturally comes out in Naked In Alaska. I hope that when someone leaves the show, they feel a surge of that power within them, and they never look back. I call it the power of cracking open. It is where all hope lives.

Lisa: To create and connect via truthful storytelling on stage and page, building bridges between people, helping others to do the same, casting lifejackets to those who thought they were drifting alone (especially women)…and heal the world.

Solo Queens Fest plays from October 26 – November 19 at Bootleg Theater, 2220 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90057. For Festival Passes, Info & Tickets to Individual Shows and Workshops Visit www.bootlegtheater.org.

 

Know a female or FPI-friendly theater, company or artist? Contact us at lafpi.updates@gmail.com & check out The FPI Files for more stories.

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Los Angeles Female Playwrights Initiative is a sponsored project of Fractured Atlas, a non‐profit arts service organization. Contributions for the charitable purposes of LA FPI must be made payable to “Fractured Atlas” only and are tax‐deductible to the extent permitted by law.

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