ADAPTING FOR THE EAR

by Kitty Felde

As a playwright, I’ve had a bit of experience adapting everything from court transcripts to Russian short stories into an evening of theatre. And after decades in public radio, I’ve written non-fiction radio scripts till my fingers fall off.

So you’d think it would be a breeze to adapt a novel to an episodic podcast. Not so.

That’s what I’ve been doing the past month or so, turning my first mystery “Welcome to Washington, Fina Mendoza” into a 6 or 8 episode dramatic podcast for kids. It’s been exciting, frustrating, and a real learning experience. Let me share some of the results from my school of hard knocks.

You might not even be aware that there’s a growing catalogue of episodic fiction podcasts for kids. They range from “The Unexplainable Disappearance of Mars Patel” and “The Alien Adventures of Finn Caspian” are some of the early shows. A new one “Timestorm” is also set in outer space. Mine is not. It’s a family story about recovering from loss woven around a mystery set on Capitol Hill. My job: minus robots or aliens, how do you keep your audience from falling asleep?


PLOT, PLOT, PLOT

All those wonderful, heartwarming scenes of family life, all those wry comments on how Congress works, all those classroom scenes: gone. There’s so little time for texture and backstory in this genre. Like Charles Dickens, you’ve got to hook the audience so that they’ll want to come back for the next episode.

WHAT THE HECK IS GOING ON?

I’ve got a lot of dog walking scenes in the book version. They don’t translate particularly well to the audio version: there’s just so many times you can jingle a collar and dog tags before a listener wants to tear her hair out.

Sometimes, the obvious helps, as in: “Hey, who’s walking who here?” Sometimes, an obvious sound effect such as answering a telephone or a teacher calling on a class can help the audience figure out where the scene takes place. The challenge is to remind yourself that the only cues the audience will get about your story comes from their ears.

DIALOGUE, CONFLICT, YOU GET THE IDEA

The easiest thing to adapt is dialogue from the book. Duh. If you’re a playwright, you’re already pretty good at writing dialogue. I discovered that you also need to write additional dialogue to bring the listener quickly into the scene.

And what kind of dialogue pops? Dialogue with conflict (the older sister letting her father know just how much he ignores his kids) or emotion (the sisters remember a trip to the cemetery to visit their mom’s grave for Dia de los Muertos) or excitement (when the Demon Cat pounces.)

Again, as a playwright, this should be obvious to all of us. Drama is drama whether on the stage or in your ear.

FIRST PERSON VS THIRD PERSON

Most audio podcasts rely on narration – at least in part. Now I know why. All those internal monologues I put in the book would be great if the podcast was in first person. But I want the audience to experience the action WITH my main character Fina. It’s a puzzlement.

Luckily, my main character talks to everyone and every thing – including the scary statue of Caesar Rodney in the U.S. Capitol and the all-knowing cat down the street. And in some cases, they talk back. We’ll see how it works.

KILLING YOUR DARLINGS

Even with six or eight episodes, there is SO MUCH you have to leave on the cutting room floor. This is not an audio book, I keep reminding myself, this is theatre for the ear. If the audience wants to know about the advice from the professional dog walker, they’ll just have to read the book.

The plan is to have a production-ready script by the end of the month, tape with actors over the summer, and edit and release the show in the fall, just in time for Halloween.

Got any suggestions of your own on adapting for audio? Please send them my way!

Kitty Felde’s first middle grade novel is “Welcome to Washington, Fina Mendoza” (Black Rose Writing, 2019)

The FPI Files: “Mama Metal” is Ready to Make Some Noise

by Desireé York

Sigrid Gilmer

Sigrid Gilmer’s “Mama Metal” packs an emotional punch.  A testimonial to a life turned upside down, Sigrid takes us on a raw, unapologetic journey full of vulnerable heartbreak, stabbing humor and cold metal fury.   “Mama Metal,” presented by IAMA Theatre Company, runs May 23-June 23 at Atwater Village Theatre.  LAFPI was fortunate enough to speak with this hard rock writer before opening night.

LAFPI:  How did your partnership with IAMA ignite and can you share  this play’s development process?

Sigrid: I wrote “Mama Metal” in 2017, when I was a member of the Humanitas’ PlayLA Writer’s Group. About six of us would meet monthly for a year to write on a new play.  At the end of the process we were paired with a local theatre and I had the good fortune to team up with IAMA Theatre Company. Then I began my magnificent collaboration with director Deena Selenow and she staged a beautiful reading at Open Space Cafe on Fairfax. 

LAFPI:  Why did you choose to tell this intimately personal story now? 

Sigrid: Five years ago my step-father died suddenly and my mom was diagnosed with Lewy-Body Dementia/Parkinson’s. I went from being a struggling – albeit carefree – artist, to being my mother’s primary caregiver.  “Mama Metal” was written four years into that journey. The process of watching my mother decline, called anticipatory grief – thank you therapy – was disorienting. My emotions were constantly shifting – sadness, rage, confusion, guilt. Memories were assaultive and relentless. Everything was surreal, overwhelming and terribly funny. What makes you laugh will make you cry, right? That openness, when we laugh or cry feels like the same emotional neighborhood and I was living in that raw, emotionally naked terrane. I wrote the play to navigate, sort and understand that landscape.

LAFPI:  Why heavy metal?  How were you introduced to it and how does/did this style of music speak to you? 

Sigrid: I like metal for its naked aggression, rhythm and rage: that’s what I feel like on the inside. I think my attraction to metal started when I was about 7 or 8.  I had a babysitter who constantly played rock – Journey, ELO, Styx, the Eagles, The Stones, The Beatles, Queen, Kiss, etc.  From there it was just a slippery slope to Metallica, Sabbath, and Maiden.  I like any music that rages against the machine.  Metal also has a strong theatrical element; it is over the top, deeply orchestral and complicated.  Different melodies and rhythms running throughout them all coalescing into this magnificent tapestry of sound.

LAFPI:  What advice do you have for your fellow women playwrights, advocating for their voices to be heard onstage?

Sigrid: Write plays. Then write more. Send your work everywhere. Say yes to gigs. Get your plays up, by any means necessary. Self-produce. Find your artistic tribe. Write and write and write. Develop your own voice and view of the world until it screams. Until it is undeniable. Nurture your desires and idiosyncrasies. Create your own space. Write. Write. Write.

Cast members Chris Gardner, Jamie Wollrab, Lee Sherman, Courtney Sauls, Graham Sibley, Rodney To. Photo by Jeff Lorch

For tickets and more info about “Mama Metal,” visit iamatheatre.com

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 LAFPI must be made payable to “Fractured Atlas” only and are tax‐deductible to the extent permitted by law.

On Theme Parks + Story

By Chelsea Sutton

As a Southern California kid, theme parks have been a part of my identity, for better or worse. Most kids, no matter where you lived, probably got a chance to go to their local carnival, or their local amusement park or one of the thousands of odd ball parks across the U.S., or even made it to Disneyland on a family trip if they were lucky.

So I say theme parks have been part of my identity not as a way to say I’m unique in this, because I’m not. But as a way to think about how someone can absorb not only story but the structure and artifice of story in different ways. There’s a beautiful thing that happens, when you accept the construct of a fake world built on taking your money. And you believe in it anyway. And hard.

You can hear the Disneyland fireworks from my grandmother’s backyard. Back when it was affordable, my mother would take me out of school for mid-week, rainy-day Disneyland trips with our annual passes. My mother was cast as Snow White (though opted to take a job in nursing instead). The place was part of my routine. Being immersed in story was my routine.

Amusement parks are fun and all, but it is theme-parks that have my heart – the ones that tell a story with its immersion, rides, and games, giving the illusion that you are in this world and are part of the story. You are an adventurer, a pirate, a space traveler, a princess. You are part of the story being told. I was never one for thrills for thrill’s sake. I want a thrill because it is part of a story. Don’t just let me drop from a high peak. Tell me why I had to jump and what I have to do to land.

Hogwarts Castle at Universal Studios, Hollywood

I recently went to Universal Studios Hollywood – which has become a part of my routine as well during this part of my life, as I live about ten minutes away and almost every theatre person I know has worked there, is working there, or is trying to work there. At 33, I’m cynical as hell – I look at the throngs of people with their giant Simpsons donuts and plushies, their Jurassic Park uniforms, their Harry Potter robes and wands and wonder at how silly we all look, dressed up in our respective fantasies. Are we wasting our days? I don’t care how punk rock you are, you are decidedly less badass when you wear your Ravenclaw robes and wait in line for a 2 minute ride on a Hippogriff.

But then I remember – who wants to be a badass anyway, if it means not being able to dream?

I spent considerable time during my day at the park dreaming up what the themed land would look like if I could create the seaside town from one of my plays. In my fiction class last week, I made my students walk around for ten minutes as their characters, experiencing the drab creative writing building through the eyes of someone (or something) else. As writers we spend so much time in our heads, that the physicality of something can sometimes be the key we need to unlock the connection we so desperately want.

Theme parks are crowded, hot, and annoying. They are overpriced, often disappointing, and I know enough from my friends who have worked behind the scenes and from watching endless hours of the Defunctland YouTube channel that the politics and economics behind many of the choices are infuriating, to say the least.

But nothing beats being able to walk through the physical landscape of your chosen fantasy and imagine what your story might be in this place. The best thing I did the last time I visited Hogsmeade in the Harry Potter land of Universal was a fifteen minute conversation with a shop worker at Ollivanders Wand Shop about who I am and what I hope to be in order to fit me with the proper wand. Yes it was $52 and I did not buy it. But I will, dear reader, I will eventually.

Because I’m a sucker.

I watched the new projection/light show in Hogsmeade (twice) – The Dark Arts at Hogwarts Castle – and couldn’t help letting my mind wander to the darkness we all fight every day, the real evil stuff we have to combat that is not cloaked in black robes or maniacal laughter. Does a light show fight any of that? Hell no. Does it sorta help me imagine a better, more courageous version of myself that would fight a dark wizard and maybe actual real bad stuff in the world? Yes, a bit. Does it make me wish I was that person and give me something to work for? I think so.

When the shop worker at Ollivanders asked what my favorite subject would have been if I went to Hogwarts, I answered Defense Against the Dark Arts almost immediately. I had never thought about it before that moment, but I knew it instinctively.

And I feel like that is what most of us are doing, in one way or another, as we write. It is a constant training in Defense Against the Dark Arts. Looking for hope wherever we can find it.

Asking Questions

by Cynthia Wands
Two Reliquaries by Eric Boyd

I’ve been watching this glass artwork take shape for the last five months. It’s a commissioned piece for a reliquary. The two vase like urns are small containers that hold the ashes of someone who was a woman, a mother, a wife, a daughter, a person. I didn’t know her, but the artist, my husband Eric, did. And for five months, I’ve been watching him design and create these whimsical and pieces. Today Eric was able to deliver them to their owners, the two surviving daughters of the woman who inspired these pieces.

This journey of creating a form, out of glass, to hold a memory of a person, captured in dust, has been a profound experience. I didn’t expect the process to resonate so much with playwriting, but it did.

Very much like creating a character for the stage, I saw that the initial design sketches were about the purpose of the pieces: what should it hold? How tall? What colors? To what intent?

The next several weeks were all about questions. Does this glass work, what temperature does the flame work need, how do the two shapes interact with one another.

I saw a central design element, which was expensive and time consuming and complicated become a trap for the design of the piece. And then Eric threw it out. After it was put together and the effect was seen – he went in a different direction. What is it that we hear in playwriting: “You must kill your darlings.” Well, I watched him do it. I was bugged eyed but quiet about it. (I must admit I was also annoyed, frustrated and exasperated watching him do this. “Really? After all that work? All those materials and time and effort?”)

Throughout the process, I saw his questions about the effect of the materials, the way the seals worked, the color of the copper. And lots of questions about the overall effect. Eric struggled through some doubts and judgements about the process, but finally was reconciled to what he could do, and what could be done.

Just like our writing and rewriting and staging and listening process to creating our work onstage, there is this shared process of asking questions, risking answers that don’t work, and going in a different direction. Eric’s work made me think about the ashes in my work, how the words hold them, and the risks in asking questions.

Fear (or was that anxiety)

by Cynthia Wands

The artist is Christian Schloe

Here ‘s a wonderful interview with James Grissom with  the late Marian Seldes. She was a force of nature, and someone who was a fearless artist. Here she talks about some of the facets of fear. And it’s amazing to see that it’s so connected to the process of sharing our work, as artists.

Mandala, original artwork Cynthia Wands

I asked Marian Seldes what she most wanted to teach her students, and she stopped me and said there was something she most wanted to teach everyone. This is what she told me in July of 2008. Always make sure that fear is fast on its feet around you. That’s something Garson [Kanin] told me. You can be afraid, but you can’t stay afraid. Deal with the fear, and I always dealt with it by recognizing immediately how I could vanquish it. Someone somewhere–nearby–is ready to help you with what frightens you, if only because they recognize the fear you currently have. They’ll remember feeling it, and they’ll remember how they got rid of it. Sometimes the fear disappears simply by reaching out to someone else for relief. We are not alone. We are all connected. In an acting situation, I always wanted students–and those with whom I was working as an actress–to firmly believe that I knew they belonged where they were: They had talent and worth and placement. If you make a mistake–even if you fail completely, as we all have–you still have merit and talent and are able to move on. Never be afraid of the work: You can be respectful of the task; you can want very much to live up to the expectations of the writer and the director and your peers, but fear is not a part of this. Fear is poisonous. I can always lose my sense of fear by looking at my partners and remembering that they have talent and resources, and they are my shore, my sturdy foundation on which I can stand. I need them, and they need me. In this sense of trust, great work can be made, and lovely friendships can be built. I heard someone say the other day that greatness lies beyond your greatest fear, and I think that’s true, but that greatness is what you find when you conquer the fear, throw it to the side. Fear tells us to protect a child, ourselves, a neighbor, an idea, but the greatness–or what I call our basic humanity–comes through when we help the child, the neighbor, repeat the idea, get back to work. Maybe fear is our conscience. Just a tap on the shoulder or a still voice reminding us what we should do, but our job is to still the voice, do the task. If we allow the fear to remain and grow, we become mean and suspicious, and we kill everything. Fear destroys us. Fear destroys everything. I think we were put here to restore and protect others, so I always remind people how quickly we have to dispatch fear and help each other and get on with the work. © 2018 James Grissom

Mandala, Original artwork, Cynthia Wands

Fear seems like such deep and overwhelming emotion to me; I think of characters on stage as experiencing fear as a mortal vulnerability. Some of the characters I’ve written seem to experience anxiety, more than fear, and it seems to lower the stakes for the outcome. I’m still thinking about fear. And feeling it too.

Other People’s Process

by Cynthia Wands

This interview for the Clubbed Thumb production of PLANO brought up a lot of feelings regarding the noisy (and public) collaboration of a director and new works.

Other People's Process, Original Artwork, Mixed Media, Cynthia Wands 2019
Other People’s Process, Original Artwork, Mixed Media, Cynthia Wands 2019

The interview from the magazine:

Director Taylor Reynolds on Plano, Clubbed Thumb, The Movement Theatre Company, and More

April Fish

by Cynthia Wands.

I meant to do some research on a current writing project this evening.

“APRIL FISH”

But no. My sister reminded me that today is April 1st. April Fools Day.

And so, instead of researching my play, I fell into the internet and found out that today is April Fish Day.

Okay I’m exaggerating a little bit.

Actually it’s not April Fish Day. It’s a day where strangers can yell “April Fish” to you on this day. Really.

In France.

This is what happens when you need to write more on your play but you find out about the April Fish Day story.

Some history suggests that April Fools’ Day dates back to 1582, when France switched from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar. Now the New Year would start on January 1, rather than the last week of March through April 1.

But for those poor dullards who failed to recognize that the start of the new year had now moved to January, they now became the butt of jokes and hoaxes on April 1. (Leading to our culture’s shout out to “April Fools”.)

Throughout France (though mostly among children) April Fools’ Day is observed by sneakily sticking a paper fish to someone’s back. These pranks are referred to as “Poisson d’Avril” (April fish), and are said to symbolize a young, easily caught fish and a gullible person.

When the hapless victim discovers the prank, (meaning that they discover that there is a paper fish on their back) the successful prankster will yell out “Poisson d’Avril”  which means “April Fish!”

I have never had anyone yell out “April Fish” to me. Mostly, I suppose, because I have never been in France on April 1, and therefore the French pranksters couldn’t find me.

(Can I use this in a script somewhere? I will have to file it in my folder called “Holidays” and then never find it again.)

I also found out that April Fools’ Day is linked to a Roman festival called Hilaria, (now there’s a theatrically festival day: Hilaria). This was celebrated in ancient Rome at the end of March and involved people dressing up in disguises. (Again, another holiday note for the archive.)

But one of the best stories about these first days in April come from Scotland. In the 18the century April Fools’ Day spread through Scotland, and the tradition became a two-day event, starting with “hunting the gowk” day, in which people were sent on phony errands (gowk is a word for cuckoo bird, a symbol for fool).

This is followed on April 2 by Tailie Day, which involves pranks played on people’s derrieres, such as pinning fake tails or “kick me” signs on their rear ends.

So on my day of research, where I meant to find very different stories, I found stories about April Fish, Hilaria the Festival Day of Disguises, Hunting The Gowk Day, and lastly, Tailie Day.

I will be checking in mirrors tomorrow to make sure that I don’t have a fake tail pinned to me. Or a paper fish on my back. And then maybe I’ll be able to get back to writing again and not looking up stories on the internet…

Day 4 of everything

Well, maybe those serene views and walks and this blog have been helping me. I am at Day 4 of writing, as well as Day 4 for of my 90-day playwriting. I decided to re-visit the book, as I will soon be without internet (heaven forbid) and what will I do with all my spare time. I mean aside from perform, which I was hired to do on this wild and crazy trip, what should I be doing? Also, after much pondering, and let’s face it, procrastinating, I really want to write. I have stories I want to share. I’m sure if you’ve read my other posts, somewhere along the way I have said that I am afraid of the comments. Ooops, and if I didn’t, cats outta the bag now. You know the conversations that happen, hopefully after your show, and not during intermission while people are walking out wondering “what the heck” that was and how they lost their mind wanting to come and see new work. “No, no honey, let’s stick to the classics, I don’t understand the crap some people write.”

Back to the beach….

Ok, peaceful moment taken. I’m back.

I just have to keep reminding myself that people don’t really care. Sorry if that’s a shock to you, but I think on some level it’s true. Let’s take my one-person show. I wrote what turned out to be a very personal story, something I had not intended, about my life, sprinkled with some truth and some fiction, but nonetheless as it was being performed I realized “Holy heck, people are going to think this is how I think, that I did this that or the other thing…etc. And lets face it, it was too late at that point. But for all the worrying I did about what people were going to say and not agree with me, all the thoughts I had put in my head, none of it happened. Ok, it may have happened but no one talked to me about it, so it didn’t happen. I was ready for the conversations I had imagined my work would provoke and nada, zip, zero, zilch. What did happen was a pleasant conversation with a lovely elderly couple who identified with my 8-year old character. Something totally unexpected! So, see. It wasn’t about me, or even the story I had imagined I was telling. This couple spoke of how this little 8-year old girl made them feel. And in my head she was talking about her culture, her loss of it, her finding it, and how she identified in the world as a NATIVE person. Yet this couple was non-Native and saw themselves in her. I try to prepare myself for conversations that I am trying to ellicit from the audience with my work. I think of both sides of the argument so as to have a well rounded view and informed opinion, but the conversations and comments I imagined never happen.

People are going to come into your show with whatever baggage has happened to them that day and they’re going to watch your show and put whatever their worldview is on it and their ain’t a damn thing you can do about it.

So just take a breath. Clear your mind of worry, and write. That’s what I’m going to try to do. ON TO DAY 5!

I wish you happy writing!

Jennifer

Checking in

Ok. So it’s now the end of March. It has been roughly 60+ days since my last post and my grand ambitions of 2019 goals. I just looked at my last post Moving On and I am taking a moment to review my list. Truth be told, it’s a list I had forgotten I made. You see, I have been here

ALASKA, BEACH

since my last post. How can you get anything done when this is your view? I am still here, working on a new project and I was reviewing my note book, where I put my January Goals. Yup, my 2019 plan was to write down monthly goals to keep me on task. But as I turned the pages, I found no February or March goals. Oops. I have written a few things. Daily musings of life on the road but no finished play like I had hoped. The 90-day play book I had started, still on day 3, the daily writing I wanted to do, of anything, non-existent.

But with this new project, came encouragement from the playwright in the form of a blank journal. I had just been shopping for a new notebook and here one presented itself. The perfect size, 6×8 lined and stapled. The notebook I had brought with me, found at the Dollar Tree I think, is falling apart. This one is ready for a new adventure. So, yesterday while taking my daily walk on the above mentioned beach, listening to a podcast and running lines, thoughts and stories running through my head, I pulled out my shiny new notebook, found a relatively dry log on the edge of the sand and started writing. Day 1 done and in the books.

How has the first quarter of 2019 been treating you? Hopefully better than mine. But I would love to hear how it’s going. Inspiration. Motivation.

I wish you happy writing!

Jennifer