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


Get After It…

“Get after it.”  French Stewart

by Robin Byrd

Last month we had a LA FPI Night at the Pasadena Playhouse.   We all went to see STONEFACE The Rise and Fall and Rise of Buster Keaton by Vanessa Claire Stewart on June 13, 2014 and afterwards, there were Micro-Reads with the actors from STONEFACE.  Erica Bennett blogged about it in her article To the Readers! the next day.

It was very hard to select 400 words from a play that gave enough of a storyline, showed the style of the piece, and embodied the essence of the piece and I only wanted to use the female characters. My 400 words were pulled from my play The Grass Widow’s Son. Seema Sueko, Associate Director at The Pasadena Playhouse, did an excellent job of casting it. The actresses, Daisy Eagen, Tegan Ashton Cohan and Rena Strober, with Seema reading the “active” stage directions were excellent in their cold read. The audience clapped – no awkward pause after the reading; I was a happy camper. All of the reads went very well; these thespians knew their craft. It was amazing to watch them deliver on the spot. Their performance in STONEFACE was phenomenal as well.  And, French Stewart’s voice – have you heard it? – reaching the balcony in full resonance – something to behold.   I personally had never seen a play like that in my life. I knew of Buster Keaton; my mother used to talk about the silent film stars who transitioned to talkies and the ones who just faded away. French Stewart’s portrayal of Buster Keaton was like watching the real thing.  It felt as we were all transported in a Pleasantville sort of way back in time. It was a documentary, it was film, it was alive, it was spectacle, it was theater…  I loved the way seeing something new and unexpected made me feel.

I stopped to tell French Stewart how much I enjoyed his stellar performance and to thank him for participating in our micro-reads when he commented about liking my 400 words and said, “Get after it.”

It hit me like an arrow, jump started my heart, woke me up out of a lull.  French Stewart just told me to get after it like he knew I counted, like my 400 words were all he needed to know that I belonged.  I thanked him, wandered about the Carrie Hamilton Theatre area a bit, found myself standing looking down into the courtyard when he approached me again and said, “Get after it!”   Okay, twice in  one night – I heard it!  This was not something I was going to put in the “oh, that was so nice” area of my memory.  I confessed to him how much I needed to hear those words, how much they meant to me, to my soul…

Then, I shook myself and made a conscious effort to get after it…again…  Battle bruises had left me numb – more numb than I realized but  I decided that as long as I do something creative whenever I get the chance, in between submissions and rejection letters/emails and writing, it will keep me from being too vulnerable to the drop-of-water-on-the-soap syndrome.  I bought fabric and patterns to start back sewing, bought more music for my fiddle, bought some running shoes and put more me time in my schedule.  It really helps to be doing something creative – anything creative – at all times…

Funny thing about art, it hurts to do it and it hurts worse not to do it.  Back on point getting after it…

Thank you French Stewart!

 

 

Zombies, Regency and Women on the Fringe 2014!

by Sue May

I was excited to be back at the Fringe viewing new work by women playwrights for LA FPI’s Women on the Fringe. And thank you Hollywood Fringe for having us (LA FPI) back.

Susan Sassi is one hard-working writer, producer and actor!  Sassi’s Victorian Courting & Zombies is a hilarious musical romp where zombies run amok amongst aristocrats of the Regency period.  Much like we all (projecting) run amok at the Fringe while trying to dodge traffic, find parking and our seats (with camera in tow) in the nick of time, but in much more comfortable clothing.

Due to the Regency period’s societal hierarchy, the upper class were most often viewed by the common folk as sublime and fantastical, fiction-like, or in this case, as zombies who run with the “in crowd.” Inspired by Jane Austin, the work structurally and ideally mimics the period by using fantastical creatures who rub elbows with Dukes, attend formal balls and even propose all in zombie-like fashion.

I loved the comedic timing of this work. The actors’ chemistry and energy billowed throughout the audience and beyond, making me want to jump right in and sing along (something I never think of or happens!).

Susan, thanks for the great writing and fun times with the Funktard sisters.  I can’t wait to see what happens to them next!  I could watch your show again and again. What can I say, I’m a sucker for zombies.  Enjoy the video.

A special thank you to Susan Sassi and the cast and crew.

Directed, Shot and Edited by Sue May

Produced by Simplexity MediaWorks

 

Writing About Writing

By Jessica Abrams

Whenever I submit a play to a festival or fellowship and that cunning little box pops up in the submission form asking to discuss what you hope to achieve if awarded this fellowship or what, specifically, would you like to work on in your play?, a sinking feeling starts to creep into my stomach because I have no idea what I’m going to say.  I do know that it will require pulling something out of thin air that will take more effort than the actual writing of the play did.

In short, I will have bad flashbacks of high school English all over again.

A little about me and my relationship to institutionalized learning: I pretty much hated it.  Sure, I loved when the teacher asked us to be creative and use the material on the reading list to write our own interpretation of the story; but to discuss and dissect something as directed by someone who was often no more interesting than the cardboard holding the pages together caused me to compulsively doodle or get lost in the hairstyle of the person sitting in front of me.  I never understood why we were being led through the beautiful forest and, instead of simply going where instinct took and enjoying the experience, had to keep our heads down and study the compass the whole time.

That’s what these questions feel like; and I’m completely willing to admit these are very much my own issues coming up.

How to answer questions like, “What do you hope to achieve if awarded this fellowship?”  I hope to work with great people who can help me take my writing to the next level.  “What would you like to work on in your play?”  Anything that is keeping it from being the fully-formed, fleshed-out piece of theatre that I originally set out to create.  I don’t mean to be snarky or arrogant.  I really don’t.  I am genuinely flummoxed by these questions, especially when they require an entire paragraph of answer.

But last week I filled out one of these forms.  It took three days.  And something happened: I found myself taking the time to really give these questions some thought — not just so that I would sound erudite and thoughtful and everything that, on a good day, I’d like to think I am, but so that maybe, just maybe, I would find something that I could take with me regardless of the outcome of the application process.

And maybe, in the end, that’s what I hope to get out of this: learning.  A little or a lot.  About me, about others.  About what we do and why and how we do it.  And how that learning can help us grow — not just into the artists we want to be, but into the people we want to be.

Masks

Claire with mask inside 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

by Cynthia Wands

Claire with a Mask Outside, July 2014

Many years ago I was in a production of ANTIGONE that made all the actors perform wearing full face masks – a nightmare for diction and a weird foray in acting without a face to express a performance.

I remember lots of drooling and sweating and mumbling behind those masks. I couldn’t wear to tear it off after the show and bang it on the dressing room table, a certain enemy for being understood on stage.

But I also remember the eyes of the other performers during the show – how much electricity was shared in the gaze with one another. Often times their eyes looked like wild animal eyes, blazing out of a dead mask on their face. I don’t know what the audience got out of that performance, but I hated doing it.

Years later, I saw TANTALUS, by the Royal Shakespeare Company, and those actors were also asked to wear full face masks in performance. I understood every word the actors said (some with a plummy British accent) and the mask work was amazing. I loved seeing it. And I know that most of the actors in that production hated their masks too.

I was reminded of that memory of TANTALUS when my niece Claire wore a couple of masks this past weekend; she loved hiding/posing/playing with them.  And I loved the visual of her bright blue eyes peeking behind the mask. I’m rethinking what masks are in performance.

Robert Petkoff as Achilles in TANTALUS, with the Royal Shakespeare Company, an amazing performance behind the mask.

Robert Petkoff in Tantalus

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Between 98 and 4 Years old

Sisters in the Woods II

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

by Cynthia Wands

Sisters in the Woods, artwork by Cynthia Wands, 2014.

 

I found this interview by Olivia de Havilland, who turns 98 years old today.  I love the look of her in this interview. Her age and her dignity, reminded me so much of my own grandmother, who passed away some years ago. I don’t get to spend much time with women who are this old, and I miss that.  Her story of working with a new director, and her emotions and concerns about her work, was fascinating.

In the past, I’ve found myself working with people I didn’t want to work with, and yet they have informed me and shaped me in ways I never anticipated.

I did a photography shoot with my young nieces this past week, and they were very – enthused – for short bursts of time – and challenging to direct.

But I also learned a lot about the way that they imagine things, and the way that they play, and create characters they enjoy interacting with. Actually, I think I learned a lot working with them.

Olivia de Havilland Interview

When you want the same thing

get-attachment

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

by Cynthia Wands

I have twin nieces, Jeanne and Claire.  They are four and they are connoisseurs of costumes. Their mother is French and my brother is not. Julie (my sister in law) is beautiful, clever, warm, and very French. She can put on a burlap sack and a scarf around her neck and she could go to a cocktail party at the Met.  She understands that her daughters, my nieces, love costumes. But only certain colors. And with certain trims.  They are, after all, half French.

I started buying them costumes when they were very small. All kinds of costumes in all kinds of colors and trims.  But Jeanne, the oldest twin, only loves the blue dress. The blue dress has been worn for the past year, and is now a rather grey, torn, dirty, ragamuffin blue dress. That does not matter to Jeanne. She prefers it to all the other costumes and will wear it when no one is looking.  I purchased several other costumes this week, and yes, included princess dresses for the girls to try on.  They would not even attempt the “Jasmine” (Aladdin Princess) harem pants outfit.  They both wrinkled their noses. They murmured something in their four year old French about the color.  I still don’t know what they said about it, but the color was so unfortunate, that they could not try it on.  “Mais non, ” was all I could get out of them about this particular costume. And unfortunately for my brother (who does not like this princess dress attachment) I also bought a larger size of the dreaded “blue dress” for Jeanne.

When Jeanne saw the new “blue dress” she immediately shot her hands in the air, to be changed immediately out of her current costume, so she could try on the familiar dress. She wore it most of the weekend. With pearls, with a stuffed dog, and also with a purple floral fan.  But no other dress was worn, or even considered. Claire, her sister, wore a variety of the costumes I brought for them.  She seemed enthused, but never expressed any interest in her sister’s blue dress.

I marvel at this attachment to an idea, a costume, a color, a dress.  I wonder how many of my old ideas, about myself, my writing, the plays I have loved, I continue to wear. I became really aware of the contrast of embracing a new idea with an old idea, when I saw Jeanne’s old dress lying on the floor next to the new one.  How much love and energy and time had been spent in the old dress.

Write What You Know

by Cynthia Wands

I have taken some writing classes that have pointed the way to “write what you know”, “write with your authentic voice”,  or “write what you feel”.

I stopped writing plays and novels and stories in February when I was diagnosed with breast cancer.

That wasn’t the “write what you know” that I intended.

I started writing a blog about cancer. But its far away and less about other people and ideas and plays – than about me. It doesn’t even seem dramatic.  It’s more of a conveyor belt.

Now my life has two people in my household with cancer, and writing seems….more about taking the steps to finding a way through it.

I’m more than halfway through my chemotherapy, then I have 5-7 weeks of radiation.  Then, maybe, later, I will get to have hair again. Having loved the script “Wit” (about a woman fighting cancer, chemo and being bald), I thought being bald might make me look…smarter? More intellectual.  More like a playwright. Instead, I do rather resemble a human light bulb. Or a large hard boiled egg. Or more accurately, Uncle Festus from “The Addams Family”. Not that much more like a playwright.

But I’ve changed, and I don’t quite know how I will write with that.  I wasn’t sure I should about that here. But it’s what I know to be true.

I will say that I am, more than ever, interested in the stories from women.  And that’s why I wrote this. Please keep writing.

March 31 2014 Two Nudes Mirror 1















The Last Train – A Thriller to Mine for the Heart

by Analyn Revilla

James Svatko, the producer of the play, “The Last Train” has taken this French written play and produced its first English and North American performance at the Hollywood Fringe Festival. He found the play in Stage32 and contacted the playwright, Natacha Astuto, who lives and works in Switzerland, and they worked together on the translation. After that, it was James who completed the work with his actors and director to present the truth of this psychological thriller.

In James’ own words, “There is no one truth but a series of truths that one often has to follow to get to the truth” With that, the team has been through a major revision since after the premier of the play at Schkapf Theatre last June 5th. As any living work of art, it will continue to evolve. Starting with the writer’s initial impulse, Natacha was curious about writing a play set in an enclosed environment. Her imagination brought her to two characters, incarcerated for at least 20 years, bunked in the same cell. She layered the secrets that the men keep to themselves which are the subtexts in every word uttered and every gesture displayed. This is neatly packaged by the careful surveillance of a female guard, who controls what passes in and out of the cell. However, this situation is incited by external forces – a storm and a visit from an unknown woman with unknown motives.

When James embarked on the journey, perhaps he had a roadmap at hand, or maybe he had a sketch of where he wanted to go with it. Upon reading the story, it was clear that the play would be demanding for any actor who is chosen for any one of the four characters. Though tempted to wear the hats of the producer, the actor and the director, he chose to give up the role of the director so that he could focus on playing the lead character of Jack.

Natacha was comfortable to allow the artists to interpret the play as they imagined it. She expressed her curiosity as to how her words would be acted upon on stage, and also what an American’s perspective could be. After the first two performances at the Fringe, she and her husband Cedric arrived from Switzerland. They decided to get involved by giving the cast and crew a little push (a la Natacha, “un petit coup de pouce utile”) to help them further along in translating and rendering the performance closer to the essence of the story. A psychological story is as complex as any human being.  This story is a stew of four distinct personalities confined in a jail cell for an unbeknownst period of time, reigned upon by a freak thunderstorm that has knocked out the power and renders the doors of the cells inoperable. (It is in modern time as the cells are opened with a swipe card, and not the traditional keys.)

When I saw the premier of The Last Train on June 5th, James commented that he was just happy and relieved to get the first one out there, because of the anticipation and ‘premier’ jitters (par for the course). His main thrust in producing this play is to make an impact on people, to make them think and wonder to the point that they are drawn in, so that they have a conversation with the actors, at the end of the show, while they are still in character. This is a wonderfully creative way to evolve the story.

I told James that I wish I had not read the play before seeing the premier, because I had set myself up with expectations. I walked out of the theatre feeling, ‘huh…, so that’s how it was interpreted on stage.’ I had hoped for more, and it’s not fair to hope for more, because I had already built the story in my imagination from my first absorption. I suppose it is like the first time you make love. Subsequent experiences after the first time will be different.

So, I was enthusiastic to see the noticeable differences between the first performance and the one that had been tailored with insight and suggestions by Natacha and Cedric. The first was Robert, played by Benjamin Mitchell. In the premier he bolted like a young and unbridled colt dissipating energy; while in the second interpretation he started as smoldering embers building up to a fury. I found this was powerful, because it built up the suspense.  Benjamin commented that he had contemplated on the cue that Robert is a ticking time bomb, so he adjusted his tempo to be a slowly burning fuse.  Jack was also more defined personality in the revised version.  These adjustments help us, the audience, to perceive these psychological phases roll out, like wheels moving forward on pavement. Each revolution is the same, but different in space in time. It is Jack, but it’s not the same Jack in the previous scene.

In the first 3 scenes, the interactions between Robert and Jack, establishes that Jack is the reasonable, mature and mothering type. When the conversation tilts on being out of control, he is quick to diffuse a potential heated situation with ‘Want some tea?’ He appears as the normal one who can gauge situations, have perspective and act with reason. He shows his capacity for compassion when he appears concerned over Robert’s attempted suicide, and possibilities of him trying again with success. He bides his time with the hope of getting out on early parole for good behavior. His character could be described by someone from the parole board as a ‘well-adjusted’ individual.

James clarifies the psychological stages that the character of Jack transmutes from beginning to end, starting with the nurturing type with Robert.  Upon the arrival of the mysterious and provocative Louise (played by Victoria Hopkins), who insists to meet the men in the cell, and to conduct her interview in the cell, he changes to contemplation then suspicion. Why would she want to expose herself to two strangers incarcerated for manslaughter in a confined room? Her questions are strangely non-threatening and almost pointless: “How long have you been incarcerated?”, “What’s your schedule on a typical day?” Has she not done her homework before hand; looked at their files to know the answers to these questions? Her motive becomes apparent only after she’s alone with Jack.

The scene, before the last, reveals the true nature of Jack’s illness. As he answers her questions in the midst of the brewing storm that knocks down the power, he decides that she is not someone from the parole board evaluating his mental fitness to be released from incarceration, so he seizes the chance to incite Robert by taunting him as being paranoid. James aptly describes the last phase as the realization phase, because Jack goes into action upon recognizing Louise Dupont. “Dupont. You could have found something better”.

The movements between the phases happen quickly in a 1 hour play. It takes thought, technique and execution to convey the psychological moments in live theatre, in the absence of the omniscient narrator, and the team has done this all very well.

Just as Benjamin had made adjustments to his character then this also affects the other characters. Victoria (Louise) toned down her sexual allure between the premier and the 5th performance. I thought this was also powerful, because it complimented Robert’s slow burn. Though conscious of Robert’s sexuality and veiled threats; her target is Jack, and she needs to preserve herself for that purpose. Louise is a mother who suffers, and she needs vengeance to appease her loss like the Greek goddess Demeter who walks and searches under every rock for her daughter Persephone. Jack is not compliant, as he distances himself to assess the situation so that he can navigate the situation to his advantage.

Marianne (played by Jennifer Lewis) upped her ante in the game in the revised performance. She was more invested, and this was important, because she needs to expound that she is the figure of authority in this menagerie. Marianne oversees the two men, and has probably known them for as long as they’ve been in jail. She’s a woman in an all-male environment, and she’s proud of it, as though only she has the capacity for this work. In her mind, in her unique position, she has to prove that she is in control at all times.

I asked James if there were purposeful crossovers of elements of a Greek tragedy in this particular production. His response was only in the direct violence that plays out between Louise and Jack. I also noted hubris, because Robert is a proud man. His pride is his downfall in that he overlooks other possibilities that he is the normal one, and that he is worthy of being free again. His pride keeps him strong to accept his sentence.  He is dynamic because he struggles with his conscience, whereas  Jack does not.  He is purposeful and ruthless to achieve his goal.  C’est fait accomplit.  He is not capable of transformation.  He can only show his character’s chameleon abilities - to hide the truth and is therefore evil natured. Natacha made the point in our interview that we don’t know where evil lies, and so we can be duped by appearances.

By now, as we are near the close of the festival, and The Last Train is at the eve of its last performance the cast, the director, Justin Morosaand Natacha and Cedric are transformed by this worthy journey of bringing us this well thought out and performed work. Justin described that with each performance he wants to get closer to the truth. The Last Train IS a heart-full performance, and the team has given us the opportunity to mine deeper into the human heart. Last performance is tomorrow night at 10:15 at Schkapf Theatre.

What I Learned from Kevin McCarthy About Being a Successful Playwright

by Kitty Felde

I should be writing about THE LIST. The Kilroys’ list of plays by female writers that have so far gone unloved. There have been multiple rants on Twitter and Facebook and I suppose I should add my voice to the wailing and gnashing of teeth. But it won’t help my plays to get added to the list.

Instead, I was distracted for most of the week by my day job. The unexpected primary loss in Virginia of Republican Eric Cantor set off a backstage campaign for his job of Majority Leader worthy of any Shakespeare play.

And then it occurred to me: what could I learn about PROMOTING my plays from this 49 year old kid from Bakersfield’s amazing rise in power?

1) Research

Kevin McCarthy loves technology. And data. He finds out – and keeps notes on – the birthdays and anniversaries of his colleagues. He sends cards, even flowers. Back in the days when he was in the state legislature, one California lawmaker’s wife called her husband to gush about the bouquet that had been delivered. He had to sheepishly admit that he hadn’t sent them: McCarthy had.
I may not be calling Jacob Maarse for a floral delivery, but I can certainly do some theatrical homework.
How much research do I do before I pop a play into the mail? What shows from earlier seasons reflect my work’s sensibilities? What’s the background of the literary manager? Artistic director? How much intelligence do I have ahead of time? Do I perform a Google search before heading off to the theatre? Since the pre-curtain speech about unwrapping candy and signing up for season tickets seem to be delivered these days by the AD or some other bigwig at the theatre, it would be helpful to at least introduce myself to them before finding my seat in the theatre.

And when I open yet another rejection email, I don’t see it as a “no.” Instead, it’s an invitation to have a conversation with that literary manager, intern, dramaturg, etc. I add the name to my data list. I send invitations to readings and postcards with a note when there’s a production. My carefully kept notes in Excel allow me to add something personal.

2) Find Out What They Want
McCarthy is famous for taking his GOP colleagues on long bike rides through Rock Creek Park, chatting them up in the House gymnasium, hosting movie nights. He finds out what issues are important in their neck of the woods and has an almost encyclopedic knowledge of factoids about each member’s district. He finds out what they want and is often able to help out – in exchange for getting something he wants.

What does a theatre really want?

Certainly most regional theatres don’t want my nine actor war crimes drama. Too expensive and too depressing to sell to season subscribers. But it’s perfect for college campuses where “A Patch of Earth” has found a home. College drama teachers love it because the cast can grow or shrink according to available actors. There’s plenty of good, rich female parts. Most of the characters are the same age as college students. College kids feel they’re doing something important, telling a true story that few know about that happened in THEIR lifetime. The play has been performed from Pretoria to Sussex to Detroit and Costa Mesa. It’s what college theatre departments really want.

3) Play Nice
Kevin McCarthy’s current job is the #3 leadership position among the House GOP: Whip. It’s the same job Frank Underwood had in the first season of “House of Cards.” Kevin Spacey even tailed McCarthy on his rounds of the Capitol as research for the role.
McCarthy is just as good as Frank Underwood at working the deals behind the scenes. But he’s never going to push a reporter in front of a passing subway car to get what he wants. McCarthy’s a nice guy. People genuinely like him.

People usually like me, too. But like Frank Underwood, I have a dark side. I’m not going to get a literary manager drunk and lock him in the garage with the SUV’s motor running. But when I see lousy plays get full productions, I admit that I think about it.

But what does it get me?

I’m tired of being an angry playwright. I’ve figured out what I really want is some quite writing time in the morning and the opportunity at least once a year to be in a rehearsal room with actors and a director working on one of my plays.
I may not ever become the Majority Leader of produced plays in America. But you never know, do you?

5 Things the OJ Trial Can Teach Playwrights

by Kitty Felde

It’s anniversary time. NPR called last week, wanting me to reminisce about covering the “Trial of the Century” – the murder trial of Nicole Simpson and Ron Goldman. I spend nine long months trapped in that 9th floor courtroom in downtown Los Angeles. I rarely think about it anymore. I even gave away all of my OJ memorabilia and cartoons and press passes to the Newseum.

But as I put together my notes for the interview, I started thinking about the trial as theatre. Which led me to think of theatrical lessons for playwrights from the entire experience.

So here goes:

1) The Power of Raw Emotion

The strongest memory I have from sitting in that courtroom all those months was the pure rage and anger of Fred Goldman. Hate and fury radiated from the grieving father of the murdered waiter Ron Goldman. He wanted more than justice. He wanted an eye for an eye. I have thought about him over the past two decades. I’ve actually prayed for him – not that he can ever find forgiveness, but some peace.

How often do we dare to put that raw emotion on stage? It’s not polite, it makes an audience uncomfortable, but it gets to the heart of what makes us human beings.

Shakespeare did it often. I’ll always remember Kevin Kline’s performance in “Henry V” in Central Park, interrupted several times by thunderstorms. And then during the St. Crispin speech, he just raged at the heavens as water poured down, lightening turning the night bright as day. He was as electric as the storm: pure, raw emotion on stage.

2) Structure Your Plot

The prosecution got off on the wrong foot in the Simpson case when it failed to share information with the defense about its domestic violence evidence. Judge Lance Ito punished the district attorneys’ office by requiring attorneys to hold off on presenting that evidence until the end of the trial. That meant the prosecution’s motive for the killing was missing until so late in the trial that the jurors didn’t care.

I saw a production recently that was structured very much like the Simpson trial. The action exploded at the very end of the play with no denouement. As an audience member, I felt cheated and angry.

It’s our job as playwrights to create characters that give an audience a reason to love or hate, lead them along with the promise that their time will not be wasted, and deliver on that promise.

3) Shiny, Pretty Things

I argued against covering the trial to my then-boss. “It’s all about celebrity!” I told her. She argued that the Simpson trial was about race and domestic violence. But if that’s what she wanted to cover, I told her, there were a hundred other cases in that same criminal courts building that were much more about those two topics. I lost that argument.

That trial was – I think – the beginning of our modern-day celebrity culture. In fact, the lead KCBS reporter on the trial Harvey Levin went on to launch TMZ, an entire empire of celebrity reporting. It’s a shiny, pretty thing we can’t take our eyes off of. And we can’t ignore it as playwrights.

I’m still a grump about my plays. I write about “serious” topics like war crimes and urban unrest and racial stereotypes. But for a theatre to sell tickets to any of these plays, they also need their own shiny, pretty things. It’s what gets an audience through the door.

It could be turning the set into a giant wrestling ring like “The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity” by Kristoffer Diaz. Or building a play around the creation of a beloved cartoon hero in Natsu Onoda Power’s “Astro Boy and the God of Comics.”

A really good title can qualify. Like “We Are Proud To Present A Presentation About The Herero Of Namibia, Formerly Known As South West Africa, From The German Sudwestafrika, Between The Years 1884-1915 “by Jackie Sibblies Drury. I love that title. I wish I’d thought of it. And I love “Six Degrees of Separation” by John Guare and “Playboy of the Western World” by JM Synge.

My own best title came from an artistic director who warned me he couldn’t sell tickets to the play “Erdemovic.” “Nobody buys tickets to a play they can’t pronounce.” He renamed it after a line in my play about how much blood a patch of earth can absorb. “A Patch of Earth” has been performed around the world and has been published in a collection with a pretty good title of its own: “The Theatre of Genocide.”

4) Wardrobe

I wonder how many great suits Johnnie Cochran owned. Every day, he’d come to court in a different, fabulously tailored suit and memorable tie. Cochran’s wardrobe screamed self-confidence. No one in that courtroom could compete. Except maybe the jury, which would wear black or some other color to illustrate its mood. They even wore California Pizza Kitchen tee shirts one day.

It’s helpful to me as a playwright to find the one item of wardrobe that defines a character. Mike Marcott, ex-cop-turned politician, wears nothing but starched, white shirts to project that Marcott the Hero image, masking the darker side underneath. Betsy’s mother Babs first appears in her Code Pink tee shirt, leaving the audience no doubt about her political persuasion and activism. They say on a job interview, you have on opportunity to make a first impression. The same is true for our characters.

5) It’s Still A Boys Club

I spent part of my day in the courtroom, the other part writing scripts in the 12th floor media room. Radio reporters were tucked away in the corner in tiny three foot by four foot cubicles. I was one of the only radio “girls.” My gender normally didn’t matter. Until the day one of my compadres posted pictures from one of the tabloids of prosecutor Marcia Clark’s topless beach outing. It was annoying and insulting and the guys didn’t understand why. Finally, only the words “sexual harassment” were enough to have the offensive picture taken down.

It’s still a boys club in theatre. The annual number of plays produced by male and female writers remind us of that fact. It’s annoying and insulting. And on days when I look at Tony nominations or look at a season ticket brochure for a local theatre, it’s maddening. We do our own agitating – creating the Lily Awards and the LAFPI and see some progress some years in the numbers. But on those days when I open the rejection email, I find it helpful to remind myself: it’s not your talent. The things you find important to write about are not necessarily the things a person of another gender thinks are important.

If the play don’t fit, you must acquit … the guys making the decisions. At least until the retrial.

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