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
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
A couple of days ago, a friend at work gave me a book by Agatha Christie called Passenger To Frankfurt. And I thought, “Goody. I can romp through that.” In the Introduction, I found one of the best articles I’ve read on how to write.
I think most of us forget that Christie was a woman playwright. She’s become more of an institution than a writer. People say, “Oh, an Agatha Christie play, ho hum,” as if they know all about it – dated, formulaic, boring. Community theater. “I mean, The Mousetrap,” they mutter. (Not long ago, I wrote a ten minute play called Name Recognition, in which I trashed all those community theaters that refuse to look at a new play and instead produce The Mousetrap over and over.)
She wrote nineteen plays, eighty crime novels and short story collections, two memoirs, and six novels under another name. She invented characters that stick in your mind, Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple to name only two.
How did she do that? This same friend who gave me that book, also came up with a quote from Christie about how to start to write. “All I needed was a steady table and a typewriter.”
To the question of “Where do you get your ideas from?” Christie answers, “You merely say firmly, ‘My own head.’” You look. You listen. You keep up with what is going on in the world – the great events and the passing events of the day – bad and good.
She insists that the setting in any work is real. It can be described. It can be felt and seen.
She goes for a ride on the Orient Express. Ah hah!
She has tea in a Chelsea cafe. In the cafe, she sees one girl pull out a handful of another girl’s hair.
The setting is real – the cafe. The characters will be invented. The girls become hers. Who are they and what were they quarreling about? She begins to have an idea about them. If an idea seems attractive, she tosses it around, works it up and gets it into shape.
And then hard part begins – writing it down and turning it into a plot. But she has something to work with, something to build on.
It doesn’t happen overnight. In her autobiography, Christie talks about how strange it feels to have a book growing inside you, building up all the time. For one of her books, she says, it took six or seven years before it all fell into place. Suddenly, the characters were already there, in her head, just waiting in the wings, and she wrote the book in just three days.
I’d forgotten the thrill of observing something, some interaction, some conversation, some quirk, some incident, and putting it in my notebook for use later until suddenly, it becomes insistent. (Agatha Christie sometimes had five or six notebooks!) I’ve been thinking instead, “I have nothing to say, nothing to write about.”
So, thanks for Agatha Christie, I’m getting out my notebook again. If only I could take a ride on The Orient Express. Well, there is always the Metro line. There are lots of stories there.
I have been wanting to talk to Mommy, forgetting she is gone. Such an odd thing to have a thought, “I need to talk to mother about that” then remember as soon as the thought hits space, that I can’t because she is gone. That whole week between the date of death, her birthday, and the date of burial, I longed for her, could not get out of bed the day before and day of her birthday. I have a blanket of hers that I have begun to wrap up in, lay my head on, carry in the back of my car – just to be near something of hers.
Trying not to lose myself, I took a seminar in poetry – not sure if it worked.
This shaking off of depression is hard. One year later and I still can’t believe you are gone. Thanks for coming to see me on your birthday. I know I can’t stay here. Seems counter-intuitive – I know you are in a better place. I just did not know how much I loved you and that the hole would be so large.
I did not know you were like air and heartbeat
And blood and bone to me
That the touch of your skin was home to me
(the child who was not breastfed because you had an infection – that used to bother me but mothers must always do the best for their children or at least try. it did not make you love me any less – the old wives tale that breastfed children are closer to their mothers – just not true…)
I am needing to crawl up beside you and kiss the north, south, east and west of your face
I am needing you
And all the remembrances
Needing to shake off this sadness
By: Analyn Revilla
On my desk are two books that have “Mindful” in the titles: “Mindful Meandering” by Laura Lee Fritz. It’s a workbook containing 132 original continuous-line quilting designs. The second book is “Mindful Reflections – Patterns of Hope” by Antoineta Edwards. It is a journal for reflection, growth and relaxation. Interestingly, both use quilt patterns and mindfulness concepts. A copy of the May issue of LA YOGA is close by. Inside is an article on a “Call for Education Around Mindful Communication”, by Adam Avin, a 14-year old who founded the Wuf Shanti Program. The theme of mindfulness abounds.
I express a deep gratitude to Alex who has helped me deal with all of the motorcycle work and dealing with the situation of Bruno’s fatal accident on his bike. Alex is a solution to the problem of a free society. He made a positive difference in my life and that will have domino effect that I can make a positive effect on others too.
by Desireé York
A production composed of bad-ass broads on and off the stage? We are there! LA FPI caught up with playwright Gina Femia and asked her about her play For The Love Of (or the roller derby play), receiving its West Coast Premiere of at Theatre of NOTE in Hollywood, directed by Rhonda Kohl with an all-female cast and design team. Come join the brawl!
LA FPI: Did you set out to write a play with an all-woman cast?
Gina Femia: Yes, I absolutely did! My one regret was not being able to fit in a tenth woman to make it an even number which is why it’s so thrilling that Rhonda had the brilliant idea to add Refs as characters to bring the total up to 14! I always knew that I wanted to write a play about a female roller derby team and, as it was a sports play, knew that it should have a larger than average cast. It was important for me to have a cast of women because representation matters and we need more plays that have large casts for women which contain fun, meaty, deep roles for them to inhabit.
LA FPI: With such a diverse cast of characters, was it your intention to give as many women from different walks of life a voice?
Gina: Feminism needs to be intersectional and I wanted to include as many voices as possible. I also wanted the team to be an accurate representation of people who live in Brooklyn, from age to race to interests and class. I think every play should be as diverse as this one so we can continue to give as many women as possible opportunities to have their voices represented in theatre.
LA FPI: Does all this bad ass roller derby action come from personal experience?
Gina: I have never played roller derby; I am actually one of the most least athletic women on the planet! But I am a huge fan of roller derby. Within the first second of seeing my first game, I fell in love with everything about it. The sport is jam-packed and action-filled, but one of the most exciting things about it is seeing powerful women being powerful.
LA FPI: How did you come up with the brilliant idea to portray the roller derby sequences using dance?
Gina: My intention was never for actors to be on roller skates; it’s just too dangerous and I think would be ultimately distracting from the play. But it was always important to me for physicality to be represented in some way. The sport is a physical sport and I needed that to be part of the play. I wanted the dance to move the action forward, just like how action moves a derby bout forward. We don’t often get the chance to see women be physical on stage and I’m thrilled this play gives us a chance to witness that
LA FPI: What inspired this play?
Gina: Aside from roller derby, I really wanted to write a love story about a person coming into herself. I think it’s important that we don’t define ourselves by the relationships we are in; we shouldn’t stay with a person because we’re used to them. If they’re keeping us from growing, or if we are keeping them from doing the same, then we should let them go.
LA FPI: What would you like audiences to take away with them from this play?
Gina: Roller derby is a fun sport and there’s a lot of fun to be had during the course of this play (and Rhonda has definitely made it a FUN production!). But I also hope audiences take away some personal inspiration; we are all always fighting for something. Sometimes it’s hard to remember why we follow the passions we have, but if it’s something that makes you happy – I think that’s a reason we should fight for it.
For more information and tickets to FOR THE LOVE OF (or, the roller derby play) visit theatreofnote.com
By: Analyn Revilla
I am self-conscious in my new outfit, a widow of a tragic accident, but my self-awareness is still intact. I will shush the self-conscious one and let the self-aware wise woman on the hill write so that I can get on with the task of living authentically.
The last three and half months has been an inward and outward journey. I feel I’ve exploded and imploded at the same time. To make sense of death the way it came upon Bruno and our life is still beyond making sense to me. Maybe someone else has the answers so I talk to others who’ve been through this and I read a lot. I found a copy of “Further Along The Road Less Traveled” by psychiatrist and educator M. Scott Peck. The third chapter, “The Issue of Death and Meaning”, speaks how society has a tendency to turn away from the reality of death. He observed, “Of course, most people have very little taste for struggling with the idea of their death. They do not even want to think about it. They want to exclude it from their awareness thereby limiting their consciousness.”
Yesterday, Monday morning, I racked my head for what to blog about. I struggled with not writing from the shoes I’m wearing; one who has just lost a dear loved one, my husband. But nothing else has occupied my mind other than that loss. What can I contribute from my perspective? I asked myself. At this moment I can share that the pain, suffering and sorrow have expanded my consciousness. It is a loss of innocence, not unlike losing one’s virginity that opens a new dimension to living and dying. Losing sexual innocence is not just the ecstasy of a sexual relationship but the wholeness of losing oneself in a relationship – the whole gamut of sharing inner and outer space together with someone you’ve chosen and whose chosen you.
There was supreme joy in finding that special one, Bruno, who loved me for who I am and not what I am. His joie de vivre and compassion attracted all kinds of people and he accepted them all. We were enthralled by his burning bright flame till one day that light was snuffed out. The pain of the loss is confounded by the suffering of the suddenness and unexpected death; and deepened by a hit and run accident on his motorcycle, only five minutes away from home. All that is a tape that plays over and over. I get relief by meditating, gardening, eating, drinking and trying to get on with life again.
Death is a shadow on my shoulder, but I don’t carry it in a morbid sense. I appreciate the circle of support I’ve received from friends and family. I encounter loving and caring words and gestures from strangers whose heard about it, or with whom I’ve shared the news with directly.
In Elizabeth Kubler Ross’ book, “On Death and Dying” she identifies the stages a person who is dying can experience and these are: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance. These stages are also the same process that a person experiences in steps towards psychological or spiritual growth.
I cannot say it better than how M. Scott Peck ends the third chapter other than to quote him directly:
It is not an easy journey. The tentacles of narcissism are subtle and penetrating and have to be hacked away day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, decade after decade. Forty years after first recognizing my own narcissism, I am still hacking.
It is not an easy journey (he repeats), but what a worthwhile journey it is. Because the further we proceed in diminishing our narcissism, our self-centeredness and sense of self-importance the more we discover ourselves becoming not only less fearful of death, but also less fearful of life. And we become more loving. No longer burdened by the need to protect ourselves, we are able to lift our eyes off ourselves and to truly recognize others. And we begin to experience a sustained, underlying kind of happiness that we’ve never experienced before as we become progressively more self-forgetful and hence more able to remember God.
I hack away at the weeds daily, throughout the day and the night, hoping and hoping that light will pour in through the crack.
Someone recently gave me a beautiful compliment after my performance in The Christians. They said, “Some day in the not so distant future, I’ll be in a nursing home and you’ll come on the TV, winning an award for acting or writing or directing, and I’ll say, ‘I worked with her once.’ And the nurse will say, ‘Yeah, yeah, eat your soup.'”
While I found the sentiment touching… deep in the pit of my stomach, something sank as I realized I no longer believed in that vision I use to play over so many times in my head. I no longer believed in my ability to actualize it, nor in its ability to fulfill or validate my existence or artistic merit. At first this realization sunk me into the pit of despair, but then, I started to find it freeing. Since making the decision not to move back to Los Angeles or New York, but stay in the mid-west and create on my terms, something has changed inside me that has impacted many aspects of my life.
I’m sure it’s not just this decision, but my years of work as an actor that’s enabled me to finally live those Meisner lessons drilled into me a decade ago at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. I’m finding it easier to let go of my desire to control the beats of the scene, and instead enjoy riding the wave of moment-to-moment work. It’s honestly so liberating. I used to hate myself after every performance because I didn’t hit this beat or that beat like I wanted to or if I didn’t feel fully present the whole time. Now I understand that sometimes you’re fully immersed and sometimes you’re not–and when you’re not…well, that’s why you build up the technical skills to fake it convincingly. I’m much better at trusting my ability to fake it convincingly now and this ability to forgive myself in the moment for not being fully present is what actually enables me to find my way back “in” much sooner and stay out of my head far longer. This progress has made the work all the more enjoyable, and a whole lot less neurotic.
I lost hope in controlling the performance, and just started existing in the performance.
And this lesson is what’s happening in my life off the stage as well. I’ve lost hope in becoming a “successful” actor/writer/creator, but it’s not as dire as it seems. I’m much more focused in on the moments of each creation. I’m not holding out for some bigger payoff, because I know this is the payoff. This moment. If this is as good as it gets–this has to be enough. So, make it enough. Fill each moment to the brim. I’m not trying to control the outcome anymore, I’m just trying to be as honest and as full as I can in each process. And I believe now that that is where fulfillment and validation as an artist actually lies. Not in the amount of a paycheck or the number of views or the prestige of awards, but in the integrity of the process of the work. This has been a surprisingly hidden benefit of becoming hopeless–the gift of living in the moment, of appreciating each gift for what it is, rather than what it may one day hope to become.
Here are some moments coming up that I am really looking forward to living in:
This Monday, April 30th the second season of my webseries SEEK HELP comes out. We’re having a local screening at my favorite theatre Moxie Cinema. You’ll also be able to watch it all online here: www.SeekHelpTheWebseries.com
On Thursday, I’m going to Oklahoma to represent the short film GOOD GIRL I acted in a few years ago at a film festival. Later this summer, I’m starring in a short film by the same director.
And in August, I’ll be coming back out to LA (!!!) for the first time since I moved four years ago, to act in and help in the production of a TV pilot I co-created/co-wrote and have been developing for the last 7 years with Heather Milam.
In the meantime, I am getting back to work on a play I started writing back in 2012 that I recently rediscovered and fell in obsession with again. I look forward to developing it further, and workshopping it. Beyond that… who knows! But you better bet I’ll be mining each moment along the way.
Que sera sera!
I’ve been having a lot of conversations with fellow playwrights and students about the demands put on a new play. There can only be such-and-such amount of characters. There can only be this many locations. There can be only this amount of demanding tech requirements like puppets or sets or costumes or music (see: zero). The play must address this or that “issue” and let’s make sure there’s a long speech explaining exactly what that issue is and how we should feel about it.
Here’s the thing. The plays that get me excited tend to scoff at all these rules. They have just as many characters as they should have. They go to far away locations and very intimate spaces. They have puppets and video and music and sets that break your heart. They are about something, sure, but they don’t cram it down your throat. They have spectacle or sometimes they don’t – whatever they have is in service to the story. If it needs an empty stage or a ten foot puppet – great. Bring it on.
The plays I’m talking about are the “impossible” plays. And so often in MFA programs and the like, we’re told we have to keep our imaginations and character lists in check. Don’t go too crazy, we’re told – you want to get produced, don’t you?
In undergrad, as I was working on my first one act play, I found myself thinking as a director or producer. In my play , there are day-dream sequences – the main character can’t express her emotions clearly to a friend she’s with as they are waiting for a train at Union Station – so she goes into fantasies. And crazy things happen in these fantasies. And I was scared of them.
Mostly I was scared someone would read it and say “there’s no way to do that on stage.” And then the play would never have a chance. I wrote a fantasy scene in which she sings a song and it starts raining and there’s a orchestra comes on stage or something – and I wrote long stage directions explaining to the reader exactly HOW they could do this easily and simply. I wanted to make sure they knew it was possible.
My teacher at the time, Naomi Iizuka, seemed to know exactly what I was doing. She pointed that scene out and told me to relax, to not feel like I have to do the work of the directors and designers. She said to not be afraid to write “the impossible thing” for the stage. If it needs to rain, say it rains. If the whole theatre needs to turns inside out, then write it. There is always a way to do it. If it is important to the story, it will happen.
And that’s when I let go and began to write that way. My first full length play had a sea monkey and a guardian angel, and an invisible friend for characters and the play was called 99 Impossible Things (see what I did there?) The show I’m working on now opening May 12, Wood Boy Dog Fish, has an underwater dance with fish. It has a marionette show. Kids turn into donkeys. A puppet comes to life. Someone dies, someone is burned up, a trip in a carnival ride is the climax. It is completely impossible. And yet. And yet.
And I’m not saying every play needs spectacle and chaos. Some plays need a living room. Some plays needs an empty chair. But some plays need the Abominable Snowman or upside down world or a runaway train. And that’s okay.
Do me a favor. Don’t be afraid to write the impossible play. Because it doesn’t exit.
There’s a system to these things. You sit in a room alone and create something. Let’s call it a “play.” If you’re lucky or have some friends who will hang out with you for some free pie, you get actors to read that “play” either in your living room or in a little black box theatre or a rehearsal room downtown. If you’re super lucky, maybe you get a “workshop” of the “play” where people walk around and maybe hold props or something. And then, if the theatre gods are smiling upon you, you get that premiere.
Most of the time, we’re stuck in a revolving door of readings and rewrites, with no premieres in sight. And if the premiere does happen, it feels as if everything is riding on that one production. One false step, and that’s the end of that.
The point of course is that a second production is often a unicorn. This is why the National New Play Network and Block Party and all that are so sought after. When the unicorn comes around, it is a gift for the art-making.
I’m in the middle of rehearsals for a show I wrote with Rogue Artists Ensemble, Wood Boy Dog Fish – a dark reimagining of the Pinocchio story first produced in 2015. As a playwright, this first production was unique and full of struggles. Though the company had been working on versions of the show for many years, the time from when they brought me on as the playwright and when we started rehearsals was about nine months. It was a very short gestation period in playwright years. The premiere was already looming. The “play” and I were never alone together. We skipped that entire step.
Rehearsals were lots of new pages (so many pages), rewrites in the room, changes to whole plot lines and concepts. I was tweaking up until opening week. And still. While we overcame a lot of obstacles in the way of the show, and created something to be proud of, it always felt like there were things we had to ignore or let go of because there wasn’t time. Because we were CREATING. When you’re giving birth, you’re not worrying about the name of the kid or whether they are going to like Spiderman or My Little Pony. You’re just hoping it enters the world alright and you both survive.
So now it’s round two. Wood Boy is rising from the ashes for a new production at the Garry Marshall Theatre in Burbank. Since 2015, I’ve rewritten almost every page of the script with the exception of maybe one or two pages in Act Two. We cut songs and added new ones (writing songs with composer Adrien Prevost is a joy.) Puppets and masks and costumes and props and sets are being reimagined, upgraded, polished. Dances are being tweaked and perfected and laser-tight on the storytelling. And we’re doing it with less rehearsal time, less prep time, even MORE obstacles, all of it. But there’s no longer a question of WHAT story we’re trying to tell, which is what premieres are so often about. Now we’re focused on HOW we want to tell it, and HOW to improve and deepen our choices from 2015. The choices, I think, are smarter now, more specific, more grounded in the heart of the play.
This path to a second premiere was not a traditional one, nor was the play’s birth, but I am learning how vital it is to the life of any new play. It’s all about the details now. It no longer needs me or any of us to figure out how to breathe. It’s ready to get out there and LIVE. I hope more theatres are willing to take chances on new plays – and if they don’t land right away, I hope they get a second shot. Don’t we all deserve one?
Rogue Artists Ensemble’s Wood Boy Dog Fish is being presented at the Garry Marshall Theatre in Burbank, May 12 – June 24. Info and tickets here!
Timing is everything.
An hour ago, my toddler wouldn’t have let me sit down with my laptop.
A week ago, I wouldn’t have had time to blog ANYTHING.
A month ago, I wouldn’t have been able to talk about Protest Plays’ new #TheatreActionVote initaitive.We can write all the socially engaging work in the world, but if our audiences aren’t registered to vote/aren’t showing up at the polls, our work/our audiences’ work is only going to reach so far. But when we shout out – and take action – together, we can create change on the macro level.
And let’s be honest—we need MACRO changes right now.
I hope you’ll join us in our effort to get audiences to the polls! Plays/monologues must be 1-3 minutes in length and non-partisan. Their goal should be to activate audiences to register/to vote. It’s that simple!
It’s also that exciting!
visit www.ProtestPlays.org for details/submission form
Recently, a good friend challenged me to come up with a list of those things that made me happy.
I was vexed.
I was annoyed.
And I thought this was a stupid waste of time idea. One of those “The Artist’s Way” self help kind of indulgent crap ideas. (You can probably tell I’m going through some stressful times here. Hence the negativity.)
But I also know that when I’ve written for my characters in plays, I’ve made lists of what they loved, liked, hated, wanted, and actually, what made them happy.
Part of that research fantasy.
So here is this damn list:
Build a fire in the fireplace
Make home made ice cream
Plant two trees
Visit Huntington Gardens and have Tea in the Tea Room
Make glass art
Read the book “Fools and Mortals” by Bernard Cornwall
Host a Pinot tasting party
Go to The Edison in downtown LA
Listen to more music
Go to the beach and watch the sunset
Feed the hummingbirds
Go back to the Sequoia forest
Go see an opera
Put together an irrigation system
Have lunch with Friends
This list was written on February 22nd.
Since February 22nd:
A good friend paid for a cord of firewood to be delivered to our house.
I’m slowly reading the book “Fools and Mortals” by Bernard Cornwall – I don’t want it to end.
I started wearing perfume again. Including a new rose perfume from Istanbul, thanks to a friend.
I bought another hummingbird feeder, and now there are six feeders. Many hummingbirds.
We went to see the opera – “Orpeus & Eurydice” at the Dorothy Chandler. It was strange, wonderful, good, bad, compelling and produced with dream like theatricality.
We’re now putting together an irrigation system for the house, hundreds and hundreds of dollars later, after the toilet blew up and the water regulator bit the dust. I didn’t think that would make me happy and it didn’t.
And we burned some incense.
I didn’t think that “things” could make me happy right now.
But on the other side of this damn list, I gave myself the assignment of finding something that I look at, every day, that makes me happy.
Cat paws, chocolate cake, hummingbirds, morning dew on grass, homemade soup, a full moon.
I’m seeing it more as “character development”, than an “artist’s date”. And that seems to be real progress for me.