Persons of Interest Blog


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

Who are they?  Click Here


The glamour of producing

by Jennifer Bobiwash

These first few months of this year have proven to have made an exciting year so far.  If you’ve read my bio you saw that I call myself an accidental producer.  I say accidental because it was never something I sought out for myself.  I realized early on in my entertainment career, that if I wanted to be seen as a particular type, I would have to do it myself if Hollywood couldn’t see it.  I never thought of that as producing, it was just something I had to get done.  After that, projects just seemed to find me.  I have had the opportunity to work on non-conventional theater projects and because of my love of social media, I end up wearing several different hats over the course of the production.  The theater gods mock me though.  The first 2 months of this year have already pooped mecheering-concert-dancing-sml out.  When saying yes to project, I look at my schedule and never double book myself.  But as the production world goes, changes happen on a dime and my events thus far seem to launch or end at the same time.   I have had to hone my time management skills to ensure that the indiegogo campaign information went out on time (yes, we reached our goal) as I tried to drum up an audience for opening night, while trying to figure out the audition dates for the second production of the season.  It does certainly make for an interesting day, as well as a better understanding of what you need to do as an actor.  The actor in me can now appreciate when a project opens and people are in the audience or even that I get paid.  I understand the single-mindedness of the actor, because that’s what you want to do with your life, why would you concern yourself with the rest of your work environment, and the trials and tribulations of other’s jobs in your “office”?  But these past two months have given me more insight into the variety of personalities that exist on a set.  The bad thing about how I work is that I have no concept of job description boundaries and working with new people makes for an interesting first day.

I would continue on with my plight but I need to get to dress rehearsal for a show that opens this weekend, as I try to squeeze out a few last tweets about my other show closing.

This is the glamorous life.  I love this business!

If you’re a producer reading this, leave a comment on what your job description is.

Big Miigz!

The Quest for Conflict

by Kitty Felde

It’s the first thing we learn about drama: conflict is the engine that drives the train. So why is it so hard for some writers (ME!) to create and intensify conflict?

The truth is, I don’t like torturing these wonderful characters I’ve created. And I don’t like conflict in real life.

It’s not that I roll over and give up. Instead, I analyze the situation, try to charm my way out of it, win the other person over to my side. I’ll even fight back when I’m mad enough.

If I look at myself as a protagonist, I AM taking action. But it’s not very interesting to an audience.

My most produced play “A Patch of Earth” was all about conflict: a 20-something kid Drazen Erdemovic who found himself in an impossible situation, forced to make an impossible choice. I didn’t create that conflict. It was handed to me on a silver platter, testimony from the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. It was his story, the story of a Bosnian Serb who served on all sides during the war, finding himself in a corn field outside Srebrenica, learning how to shoot large numbers of people in a short period of time. He didn’t want to do it and told his commander he wouldn’t shoot. “Then stand up with them and we’ll shoot you,” he was told. “And then we’ll go to your village and shoot your wife and young son.” The audience is put into that impossible situation, asking themselves what would THEY do? And arguing about what the just punishment would be for someone who confessed to killing “no more than 70” of the twelve hundred people killed in that cornfield, yet was the first person to tell the outside world about the massacre at Srebrenica.

But what do you do when you don’t have a civil war to create conflict?

It always comes back to the question: “what does my character want?”

If that “want” is small potatoes, nobody cares. It’s got to be important enough to the character to face all odds, go the distance, sacrifice anything, to achieve the goal. It’s got to survive the “so what?” test. If the main character doesn’t get what she wants, so what? The sun will come up tomorrow morning, babies will continue to be born, tea will still take 3-5 minutes to steep.

This is the challenge of a romantic comedy I’ve been fighting with for months. The “so what?” test. So what if Betsy doesn’t get the big story? Does she lose her job? Lose the guy? And if her “want” is so small, why should we care about her? Why should anyone pay $15 (let alone $115!) to see a show where the stakes are undefined? Why should they emotionally invest in a character who’s wants are just “meh”?

It’s time for me as a writer to become brave enough to torture my characters. Give Betsy impossible odds. Trying to overcome those odds will give her more backbone, give her action that will propel the action forward. She’ll survive. (After all, that is the rule of comedy: everyone lives happily ever after.) But make her earn that happy ending.

I suppose that’s the same message to me, the writer: make this play worth the struggle to write it and write it well so that I can earn my happy ending – otherwise known as “end of play.”

The Self Production Series with Anna Nicholas: #6 The Where…

#6. The Where — Selecting a Venue

by Guest Blogger Anna Nicholas

To many a playwright, choosing where her play gets produced is no more difficult than selecting a brand of toilet paper. She thinks all she has to do is get her play on a stage and people will come. Maybe this is true when she’s in her 20s and, possibly, 30s but soon after, just like forgoing that sixth story walk-up apartment, she needs to think about the experience she’s asking people to endure.

The sheer act of putting on a play is not going to put butts in seats—at least not for any sort of extended run beyond which point your friends refuse to drive 60 miles in 2nd gear traffic to see your show again. Where you put your show up is important. On the other hand, IF you can get a great review by the mainstream press of your no-name-cast experimental comic melodrama having a run in an abandoned missile silo in Chatsworth, yeah, you might get an audience and I take it all back. One good thing about Chatsworth is there’s lots of free parking. But I digress…sort of.

I selected my space the way a bride’s mother might choose a wedding venue so it’s a good thing I had a son. There were a lot of considerations. I wanted lots of free, safe and easy parking, I wanted clean bathrooms and separate dressing rooms for men and women. I wanted the theatre to be close to people who might come. Pretty simple criteria, right? Wrong. You cannot believe all the tiny, uncomfortable (for both cast and audience) rentable spaces there are in LA located in areas you wouldn’t want to walk at three in the afternoon! And you will be walking because there’s no parking. When I go see a show, I don’t want part of my theatre experience to include hoping somebody will pull away from the curb within five blocks of the theatre. Unfortunately in LA, mass transit is difficult at best so the reality is people drive and need to put their cars somewhere while they see your show. You may think I’m being overly picky but I’m not alone. Part of the reason Elin Hampton selected the Greenway Arts Theatre for her Bells of West 87th was because there’s a dedicated parking lot and good bathrooms!

And there are other things to consider:

How large a playing area do you need? For Villa Thrilla, we wanted a stage with height and breadth to create the illusion of a grand, 2-story house. But perhaps if we’d been more creative, we could have reimagined it. I’m thinking about Alan Aykbourne’s play, Taking Steps, which is set in a 3-story structure but in the playing of it, the actors never climb a stair.

Can you rehearse in the performance space? For actors, being able to rehearse on the stage they’ll be performing on makes them more comfortable and often saves time not having to adjust after rehearsing in your apartment for a month. But this is a luxury and can increase the budget substantially. I do recommend trying to load in at least 10 days prior to opening so everyone can get comfortable.

Will you be sharing the theatre with others either during the day/evening when you’re not using it?

This isn’t a huge deal but it can present scheduling headaches if the space is booked solid with classes, meetings and the like and you need more rehearsal than you bargained for. Try to negotiate to “own” the space 10 days prior to opening for whatever might come up.

How big do you want your “house”? Obviously, theatres with fewer seats are easier to fill. In fact I’m convinced one theatre company in town creates madness around its shows because there are only 29 seats. They always get to say “Sold Out!” Yes you’ll bring in less money but better to sell all of those 29 seats than sell only 29 in a 99-seat house.

As you start thinking about where to do your play, draw up a priority list of what is most important to you and your prospective audience. There will be tradeoffs—easy parking vs. lousy bathrooms; getting to rehearse in the space vs. far from your hoped-for audience. Thinking through what you want will help focus your search and decide what’s most critical for you. Start by approaching theatres/ theatre companies you like and ask them if they rent space. Many do. Getting the choice 6-week slots will be costly ($1500-$2500/week) but sometimes you can get a deal for a weekend or two, sandwiched between the larger productions. I’ve known ambitious playwrights for whom this scenario has worked well. They have been able to generate buzz over a short run and use it to move their shows to bigger, better theatres.

Often, when a show is successful, where it’s being performed truly doesn’t matter to most. “They” will come. But why not choose a venue that will give your show the best chance of becoming successful with the resources you have? Don’t be afraid to negotiate for the deals you want. Life is a negotiation and you’re an artist. Negotiate creatively.

Next Week: Finding your Director

Modeling my addiction

How I write: In spurts. But, always, I am writing. And, always I am composing in my mind, if not performing the physical act of writing itself. It is my perfect sickness because I ache when I am too long away from it. I grapple with this addiction. I push it aside because I love my other work. Even so, I eventually listen to it, because if I don’t it springs into life anyway, into some type of form, and it’s better when I direct it’s being. Take a juicy apple. Bite off a larger piece than you can easily handle.

Don’t wait for somebody to tell you it’s okay. Just chew.

And, so, it grows.

By Erica Bennett

 

I. I know my life will end

Like my voices told me,

At twenty when I first learned

Someday, I’d die.

 

II. They came upon me

While bathing, like Undine

Rising from the waters

In search of her soul.

 

III. They stayed to taunt me,

Leading me forward and beside,

Never showing me a clear path,

But, a gravel road instead.

 

IV. I couldn’t decipher their intent

In my youth, yet my compass led me

Beyond the sandstone blocks

Of Southern California.

 

V. I drove north westerly,

Made the city my own.

Down Santa Monica Boulevard

In a hazy orange VW dreamscape.

 

VI. I stayed, maybe fifteen years.

And then, waited five more

For the cancer to leave me

Before I rode those voices hard.

 

VII. I find myself now

Aged distinctively by the sun,

My face a craggy coastline,

No cream can soften the blow.

 

VIII. Yet, I fear not this time.

I have not faded.

And hot pink streaks my hair,

No ma’am am I.

 

IX. My voices speak lively words

Inside my head

Not that I could distinguish them

Until those twenty years went by,

 

X. When I finally put pen to paper

Fingertips to keyboard

And spoke their words aloud

For the first time.

 

XI. It was then I heard

The interior life of an aging,

Overweight ingénue, ripen with age.

Growing ever more bold and imperfect.

 

XII. And, I introduced myself

To Angry Old Woman,

Whose guttural English and sailor mouth

Belie a golden heart.

 

XIII. I’ve always wondered

Where the nasty comes from…

But, as long as I let her speak,

Her words on paper, no one is hurt.

 

XIV. There is separation in ink

That the spoken word cannot penetrate.

It is as if evidence of worth

Is only in the recording of them.

Do you hear them, too?

By Erica Bennett

I. I know my life will end

Like my voices told me,

At nineteen when I first learned

Someday, I’d die.

 

II. I fear not this time

I have not faded

And hot pink streaks my hair

No ma’am am I.

 

III. My voices speak lively words

Inside my head

Not that I could distinguish them

Until nineteen years went by,

 

IV. When I put pen to paper

Fingertips to keyboard

And spoke their words aloud

For the first time.

 

V. I introduced myself to angry old woman,

Whose guttural English

And sailor mouth

Belie a golden heart.

 

VI. I’ve always wondered

Where the nasty comes from…

But, as long as I let her speak,

Her words on paper, no one is hurt.

 

VII. There is separation in ink

That the spoken word can’t penetrate.

It is as if evidence of worth

Is only in the recording of them.

Write #LikeaGirl

By Tiffany Antone

Oh wow – who watched the Super Bowl on Sunday?  I’ve got to admit, I was less invested this year because the “Defending title team VS a team embroiled in controversy over deflated balls” narrative wasn’t especially gripping.  I did, however, get totally into the commercials (as I usually do), and want to talk for a moment about Always’ #LikeAGirl commercial.

I loved this commercial.  I think Always struck just the right balance between messaging and emotion, on top of totally owning its brand.  Twitter lit up with the #LikeAGirl hashtag afterwards… and then some ass hat self-proclaimed “Meninest” decided that the commercial, by encouraging 50% of the population, was exclusive and unfair to men and started a competing hashtag, #LikeABoy.

Gag.

I mean, let’s ignore for a moment that the entire freaking Super Bowl is basically penis Mecca—what do these people honestly expect from a company that sells feminine products?

And what does it say about them that a commercial encouraging girls to be awesome would be so threatening that they felt the need to immediately attack it…

I just can’t even.

Except, I produce a female playwrights festival called the ONSTAGE Project, and this year – for the first time – I received submissions from men.  At first I thought *maybe* the gents simply hadn’t read the submission details thoroughly enough to understand that by using the words “Female Playwrights Festival” in the event name, we meant this festival is for FEMALE PLAYWRIGHTS.

Until one of them signed his submission email with the following:

P.S. Yes, I am male, but isn’t it about the story and not the gender of the author?

WOW.

I was gobsmacked.  Gobsmacked, I tell you.

And more than a little furious.

Furious because his email not only communicated a total disregard for our company’s mission statement, but a complete disregard for female playwrights’ gender parity struggle at large.  Also, it’s a pretty dick move to tell a female playwright that writing a woman character basically negates the need for female writers.

I’m still feeling incredibly growlsome about it.

But isn’t this why we’re talking about gender parity?  Isn’t this very issue one of the reasons the LAFPI exists?  It’s certainly part of my motivation to increase production opportunities for female playwrights.   So I can sit and stew, or I can turn this particular Twitter turn into further grist for the “Get shit done!” mill…

Because I write #LikeAGirl and I’m not afraid to admit it.

#FemalePlaywrightsROCK!

The Self Production Series with Anna Nicholas: #5 Budgeting…

#5. Budgeting

by Guest Blogger Anna Nicholas

There’s a basic rule in budgeting—at least for Equity Waiver theatre in Los Angeles where I live and work: A third of your budget buys your set, a third goes to theatre rental and a third to everything else. Presumably if you are paying market rates and you figure out what a third of the troika will cost, you’ll know how much money you’ll need for your show. Of course if somebody tells you that you can use their theatre for $500, throw out the rule.

I started with a vague idea that my show would cost about $35,000. Where did I get that number? From asking other self-producing playwrights what they spent. Everyone I asked said $30-$40,000. Damn, that’s alot. But it seemed to be another rule. These same playwrights were also very generous about showing me their physical budgets, which helped me prepare for the little details like Dry Cleaning and Bulb Replacement, which I never would have thought to include. Having it all in print, also showed me who I’d need to hire and how much it would cost. I didn’t know, for example, that lighting designers, who often quote their fee in the neighborhood of $1500 to “design” don’t always hang their own lights. Who knew I’d need to hire another person? My friends did.

Clearly, LA is only one market but wherever you are, you can start to get an idea of what specific line items will cost by asking people who’ve gone before you. Theatre people are usually generous with their time unless they’re in the midst of producing themselves. You can also get alot of information online. Get hold of a sample theatre budget that shows the specific line items. Then search in your area. (e.g., “Costume Designer, Baltimore.”) Call people and ask for a resume and what they charge; take meetings. Another way to go is the names of “play consultants” in the back of The Dramatists Guild Magazine. But get their credentials and make sure they know what you need to find out before hiring them. It might turn out they only know about producing plays in Cincinnati.

Once you’ve allocated the money you have to spend across all your anticipated costs (all those line items filled in with a dollar amount) you’ll start your hires. There aren’t a lot of people who will work for nothing and you do get what you pay for. But everything’s a negotiation and as you begin to talk and meet with designers, contractors, etc., do ask if they’ll take less. Maybe you’ll catch them when they aren’t busy and they’ll accept a lower rate. Maybe your show is so interesting and you have an awesome cast lined up that will make people want to be involved. Or perhaps you can pull in a favor. No matter what– write things down! Write down the duties and fees you’ve agreed upon. Eric Rudnick, who produced his own Day Traders, to great acclaim, said his biggest budgetary mistake was the one he didn’t get a quote for. He never pinned down one of his key designers and the budget ballooned. And don’t pay anybody everything up front. Put that in writing too.

If you’re working with union people (Actors Equity, Union of Stage Directors) there are contractual amounts and schedules you’ll need to adhere to—all very obtainable info online or by calling. But make sure you budget for this if you want union people.

And as a budget should reflect what might come into your bank as well as what leaves, I’m linking to a piece by Steve Apostolina, an LA based actor/writer/ director/ producer. It originally appeared as a Facebook post in response to the current threat to what’s known here as LA’s 99-Seat plan. It addresses budgets, actors expectations and will go a long way toward helping self-producers understand what to expect.

https://www.facebook.com/groups/1507815836104686/permalink/1613642405522028/

The last “rule” I’ll mention, which also, funnily enough, applies to building a house: Things always cost more than you think and take longer to complete. So prepare, get things in writing and give yourself the time to satisfy those line items before crunch time. The good news is, no matter how many things might go wrong on your road to getting your play onstage, the miracle of theatre is the show comes together just when you need it to.

The next installment: Choosing your venue.

Breathing Room

by Diane Grant

Every once in a while, you come across a work that knocks your socks off.

In September of last year, I saw a performance of Mary Lou Newmark’s Breathing Room at the Zephyr Theatre on Melrose. The play was filled with beautiful music. The language and situations were fresh and arresting and I still think of that evening with pleasure.

Billed as A Chamber Symphony for Two Actors and a Musician in Four Acts, it was written and composed by Mary Lou, directed by Dan Berkowitz, with movement by Gary Thomas.

The other two performers were Joshua Wolf Coleman and Eileen T’Kaye who played two neighbors in a Los Angeles suburb – Marilyn, an artist, and the Professor, a high school science teacher.

This is from her website: The two of them struggle with “modern technologic vertigo” as they negotiate living with hummingbirds, meatball eating bears, coyotes and backyard chickens. With evocative music performed live on stage by Mary Lou, they explore personal relationships with nature, quantum physics and embodied spirituality through playful, humorous storytelling.

(Shallow creature that I am, I particularly enjoyed a segment on Bed, Bath and Beyond.)

Mary Lou plays a green acrylic 5-String Electric Violin and uses an Eventide Ultra-Harmonizer.

Here’s a photo so you can see that wonderful violin.

The neon green electric violin

Mary Lou Newmark and the neon green electric violin

In a clip from Breathing Room on her website, you can also see the instruments that stand in for an entire orchestra.

Here’s the link: http://www.greenangelmusic.com/breathing-room.php

Breathing Room was at the Zephyr for only one night and Mary Lou is looking for a long run. I hope she finds that production because I’d like to see it again.

 

 

Writing Lyrics

by Diane Grant

Did I talk about this before? It’s still on my mind.   I teamed up with a composer, Andy Chukerman, and have been writing lyrics for a play that he’ll put music to. We’re transforming my romantic comedy, The Piaggi Suite, into a play with music. Andy says that a musical has a formula that a play with music need not have. “It’s new,” he says. “It’s fresh.”

So I’ve been traveling into new territory.

Writing lyrics hasn’t come easy. I don’t know why. I sing. I write poetry. But for this exercise, the words have incubated for a long time. My admiration for Paul Simon, which has always been great, is now huge. And how did Billy Joel come up with “car” and ‘guitar” (easily) but “Zanzibar?”

So, of course, I used the rhyming dictionary on the Web and have spent hours looking at it, just because it is so much fun. There are words of one syllable that rhyme, two syllables, three syllables, words that almost rhyme but not quite, words that sounds like others, etc.

Here’s just one example:

Words and phrases that rhyme with love:   (89 results)

1 syllable:

dove, glove, gov, of, shove

2 syllables:
above, all of, belove, deneuve, free of, golf glove, kid glove, kind of, labov, labove, lot of, most of, o’glove, one of, out of, part of, proud of, rid of, rock dove, sick of, some of, sort of, speak of, suede glove, talk of, thereof, think of, vanhove, void of, write of

3 syllables:
abreast of, a lot of, barren of, baseball glove, batting glove, bereft of, boxing glove, conceive of, consist of, deprived of, devoid of, dispose of, empty of, fall short of, get hold of, get out of, get rid of, hand and glove, hand in glove, in awe of, in front of, in terms of, let go of, made use of, metal glove, mourning dove, patient of, take hold of, talk out of, the end of, the likes of, the rest of, tired of, undreamed of, walk out of

4 syllables:
a couple of, admitting of, allowing of, destitute of, impatient of, innocent of, neglectful of, permitting of, pull the leg of, suggestive of, think the world of, unworthy of

5 syllables:
indicative of, intolerant of, reminiscent of, symptomatic of, under the thumb of, undeserving of

7 syllables:
uncharacteristic of

Example from “MOST LIKELY YOU GO YOUR WAY” by Bob Dylan:

You say you love me
And you’re thinkin’ of me

 1 of 100 examples  >

89 Results!  I wish I had needed to use uncharacteristic of.

(Whoever wrote this particular rhyming dictionary was crazy about Bob Dylan and used his songs all the time.)

However, in order to rhyme something, you have to have other words for words to rhyme with. How to say in song what you want to say? What do you want to say?

I asked for advice. A colleague from ALAP, Eugenie Trow, advised me to write everything in prose first, then go for the rhyme and rhythm after. The composer said to use dialogue already in the script.

There’s advice you can buy – books on Amazon like Successful Lyric Writing by Sheila Davis, Writing Music for Hit Songs by Jai Josefs, Writing Better Lyrics by Pat Pattison.

I found a terrific book online called Teach Yourself Songwriting by Sam Inglis. He talks about hooks, those lyrical phrases that repeat in the chorus or open the song that catch you – that hook you. Like The Beatles singing Let it Be, or Kate Perry’s You’re Hot, Then You’re Cold, Whitney Houston’s I Will Always Love You. The hooks have to fit the rhythm, the melody, and the mood of the song. They’ll tell you what the song is about and if they’re good, they’ll stick with you.

Start with the hook, he advised, and go from there. Listen for them in music and conversations, look for them in the news, hear them in your head.

So, I started listening for the hooks.

This is one of my favorites:

 

Hooks were just the start but I now have 8 finished lyrics and hope they’re good. Sugar, yes, please.

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