Let it go!

First off, let me start by apologizing if you have “that” song stuck in your head.  But it is something I have been thinking about lately.  Letting go and just how you do it.  After having some deep thoughts about what to write about next, I find old starts to plays that I never got around to finishing.  Be it from losing interest in the subject, or getting lost down the rabbit hole of research, these tiny gems of writing deserve to see the light of day.  Or do they?

When I started them, I was passionate about the story and felt I needed to tell it.  But as interest waned, so did the story.  I did not love it as much anymore, so I stopped writing. At times I thought I should just push through the pain and agony I felt of writing, but other times I would think why work on something you don’t love.  And if the latter is the case, will I fall in love with it again?

As I sit here sorting through my note cards of brilliance (as I like to call them) I feel the sparks of love that were once there.  But will the spark turn into a forest fire, or just fizzle out in a light breeze?

The next thoughts that seep into my brain are:  “Well, this story is kinda current in the news right now; maybe I should finish this piece”.  Again is that a good enough reason to look into? There is no burning desire to work on it; it’s just “yeah, it’s there”.  But I also don’t have anything burning a hole in my notebook that I must write about.  (Sidebar: what’s with all this burning?)

Why do I even worry about this?  Why am I now expending so much energy on this topic?

I am thinking about this, not only for my writing, but other aspects of my life as I take a look at what I have done thus far this year and how I’m stacking up with my to-do list.  Looking at new job possibilities and the freelance lifestyle that I currently have going on. When is enough enough? When do you shut down these passion projects that were once integral parts of your life, as expiration dates creep up, you start evaluating whether you want to go on or not.

So I ask you, when is it good to “Let it Go” and when do you push through for writings sake?

Keep writing!

by Jennifer Bobiwash

Done!

by Jennifer Bobiwash

I had forgotten the exhilarating feeling of enjoyment of writing. I have been working in a supervisory roll, meaning I sit back and wait for something to happen, and most days I literally just sat there. I could bring other work if I wanted, but I chose to sit there, glancing occasionally at my phone and social media, but that got boring after a while. This of course was after clearing out my podcast backlog. Who knew it was that easy to go through 100+ episodes of just one.  I had to start looking for other things I was interested in. I cannot tell you what a motivator this was to me and it made overseeing the job not so quiet.  I could sit there with my phone on speaker or just one ear bud in, and take notes of the interesting points of view from that day’s topic.  It also helped my writing. When I write, I try to work out all angles.  I play my own devil’s advocate. I should look at it as giving my characters different points of view and more depth, but for me it was to try and hit both sides of the argument, because even though I might share only point of view, I tried to construct how my argument would happen.  I never thought of this as dialogue, I just wrote it out, but realistically, that what it is. Giving my characters depth and being able to present current issues in a well rounded point of view.

After a few days of procrastinating and working things out in my head, I finally narrowed down what I wanted to say.  I also only had 2 days until the submission deadline. What made it easier for me was to write out the rant(s) that my character needed to say.  After listening to the variety of podcasts though, the rants were all over the map.   When I was finally sitting down writing out the scene, all the things I wanted to say were distilled and my protagonist found her voice.

Next problem, was figuring out how I wanted it to end.  I finished it and submitted it with a whole day left to spare.  It was like a weight had been lifted and I wondered why it had taken me so long to write this 10 minute play, but it felt so good!  The only drawback now, what’s next?

How do you feel when you’ve finished that first draft?

Let’s write! Right?

Ok, so you’ve finished a play.  You feel super excite and ready to write more.  You are wondering what the next project is and why you have not been doing this more.  Then you get so excited that you start Googling and researching (which, let’s face it is your demise, because you get so into your research, that you aren’t actually writing anything) and then the hammer drops and you need a glass of whine wine because you now feel down about yourself because you are finding all these people you know that have been writing and working, while you have been hiding from everything and listening to way too many self-help books that gave you a shot of encouragement, yet fed your love of knowledge and made you read more about self-confidence instead of actually writing (which is what is was supposed to do). You are seeing all your peers (right? they are your peers because you’re both writers) getting stuff done and you feel like an imposter.  Wait, did I just say that twice?

Ok, unpack that for a second.  Because we are super self-aware society (at least people want to think “they would never do that – I know myself”) we don’t think we are good enough, or that someone will find out that we are not “qualified”.  I say, we, but it’s the royal “we”.

Where was I going with this?  Oh yeah, get it done! So for this week, I hope you will enjoy my journey and I invite you to comment on the struggles you’re facing.  That’s why I blog about the ugly stuff, because I want to connect to others out there who are having similar issues (I was going to say problems, but I’m trying to stay positive). I would read other writer’s blogs in the hopes that I would be able to relate, and most times I just found writing tips, which were super helpful, but not in the ways that I needed help.

So I will post a blog everyday and stop starting every sentence with the word so.

See you tomorrow, and keep writing!

by Jennifer Bobiwash

Consider the Audience by Kitty Felde

It was quite the weekend of theatre for me as an audience member

The Well-Heeled Audience at the Kennedy Center for “Hamilton”

I finally saw “Hamilton” at the Kennedy Center. Yes, it was a road show, where the singers cheated on the high notes and the very pretty fellow who played the title role kept blending into the scenery. Oh, but the actor who played Aaron Burr made me believe the show was named after him! A fine production viewed from a fine seat on the first balcony.

The night before, I was at a different theatre, seeing an old favorite: “The Pirates of Penzance.” It, too, was a touring production from a pair of Chicago theatre companies – The Hypocrites and The House Theatre.

It was fabulous. To quote from the aforementioned show, “Pirates” “blew us all away.”

The reason: the decision to put the audience at the heart of the action.
The experience began the minute you walked through the theatre door. Every cast member was onstage, singing not Gilbert & Sullivan, but beachy standards like “Sloop John B” and “Margaritaville.” A tiki bar was located on one side of the stage and remained open for business throughout the entire show. A batch of beachballs were flying overhead – audience members batting them at actors, musicians, and each other. I thought I was at a Dodger game.

The audience – an equal mix of senior citizens, 20-somethings, and parents with dozens of very small children – was invited to take a seat onstage.

Oh, sure, some of us fuddy duddies sat on chairs safely away from the action, but most of the audience was happy to plop down on painted wooden benches and ice chests and kiddie wading pools that filled the stage. They were instructed that whenever the action moved to the exact space where they were seated, they’d be politely tapped on the shoulder. This was their invitation to get out of the way. Fast. At times, it looked like a giant game of musical chairs as grownups and kids scrambled to find another seat.

Several members of the audience were recruited to actively participate in the play by holding up the Union Jack or the skull and crossbones of a pirates’ flag. Each was printed on giant beach towels. Parasols were handed out to young ladies who dutifully twirled them this way and that, trying to keep up with the cast member.

The smallest of kids congregated atop the lifeguard station at stage center. It was a magnet for them. Rather than making them scoot, the actors acknowledged their presence. The Pirate King and Frederic would declare that they were entirely alone – and then roll their eyes at the 3 year olds who surrounded them. The rest of the audience was delighted – when they weren’t scared half out of their wits that one of those toddlers would fall off the platform.

The evening was amazing. The energy bounced off the walls.
What a pity when those youngest of audience members discover that all theatre isn’t like this.

Which makes me ask: why not?

Playwriting can feel like such a selfish act. Yes, we have “important stories” that we believe must be shared with the world. But they are our stories. We hope they will resonate with the world in some way, and sometimes they do. (A young man told me that seeing my war crimes play “A Patch of Earth” was the reason he became an attorney specializing in international law.) But usually, it’s a bunch of people sitting in the dark watching a bunch of actors pretending to be imaginary people we made up.

I’ve been thinking hard the past week about the role of the audience in theatre and what I can do as a playwright to make the theatrical experience more about US and less about ME.

I have no immediate solutions, but just asking the question is a start. So I’ll also ask it of you: is it our responsibility as playwrights to also consider the audience? How can we bring them into the theatrical experience? Do we want to? Does the audience want to? How does that change the work?

The mission statement of The Hypocrites is to “re-introduce communal connection into contemporary theater by embracing the desire of all people to bond with each other, especially while experiencing the same event.” The House Theatre wants to “explore connections between Community and Storytelling through a unique theatrical experience.” What’s my mission statement as a playwright?

Which brings me back to “Hamilton.”

Most of the Kennedy Center audience was as familiar with the lyrics of Lin-Manuel Miranda as the actors onstage. Here and there, you could hear someone two seats over whisper, “teach ‘em how to say goodbye, say goodbye” or “never gonna be satisfied.” We all wanted to sing along. It was a show that did speak to us personally and we wanted to be part of it.

But we were at the Kennedy Center, not a black box theatre in rural Maryland. We knew that if we broke into song, a gray-haired, red-coated usher would find us and take us away.

Now that I’ve seen this production of “Pirates,” I’m never going to be satisfied to sit quietly in the dark.

 

Playwright Kitty Felde is also host of the award-winning Book Club for Kids podcast. Her play about the LA Riots “Western & 96th” will be workshopped this September at DC’s Spooky Action Theater and its New Works in Action series.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg

By Diane Grant

I just saw the documentary “RBG,” by Betsy West and Julie Cohen, about 85 year old Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg who took the oath of office on Aug. 10, 1993, becoming the second female jurist on the nation’s highest court.

(Even though Sandra Day O’Connor sat on the U.S. Supreme Court for twelve years before Ruth Bader Ginsburg was appointed, the court did not have a women’s bathroom until Ginsburg pointed it out.)

The documentary blew me away! It is so positive – a testimony to responsibility, persistence, intelligence and grace, and an inspiration for us all. I have the book Notorious RBG on hold at the library and am waiting eagerly for a feature film called “On the Basis of Sex,” with Felicity Jones as Ruth and Armie Hammer as Marty Ginsburg, her husband, scheduled for the fall.

Justice Ginsburg’s life is so full and her career and family life so successful (her husband was the first boy she had ever gone out with “who cared that I had a brain.”) that I’ll leave it to people to see and read about.

Just a few things. She became the director of the Women’s Rights Project at the ACLU.   She was a top student at Cornell and Harvard and became a member of the Harvard Law Review.

It’s the gender equality cases that she argued that so interested me. She won five of the six cases at the Supreme Court that aimed at laws that treated men and women differently and her work has changed lives for us all, dealing with instances when not only women but also men and families were victims of discriminatory laws.

She experienced discrimination herself. While at Harvard Law she and the few other female students were asked how it felt to be taking up the spots of more-deserving, qualified males. Upon graduation, many firms were not interested in hiring her, despite her high honors. She would later write, “The traditional law firms were just beginning to turn around on hiring Jews. But to be a woman, a Jew, and a mother to boot—that combination was a bit too much.”

One of the cases she won involved a portion of the Social Security Act that favored women over men because it granted certain benefits to widows but not widowers. She wrote the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in United States v. Virginia, which held that the state-supported Virginia Military Institute could not refuse to admit women.

In the Trumpian pro-deportation era, she played a hand in striking down legislation that allows certain noncitizens to be expelled and at 85, she continues on the Court,working sometimes until four in the morning and continuing to make a positive difference in our lives.

I’ll stop going on. Go see the movie!

Listen to this achiever on What It Takes

Unearthing a Voice from June 2010 – Louisiana Stories

By:  Analyn Revilla

Nearly six months since Bruno died, I want time to stand still.  Everything of his still remains as it was the day he died.  Now I know that scene in the movies when the camera takes the audience into the bedroom of the departed, and in the past I wondered what it was all about.  Now I know.

I was reminiscing about Bruno’s 50th birthday in 2015.  For his gift, I offered him a trip in to one of my favourite cities, New Orleans.  I am resurfacing something I wrote to a friend in an email.  I was digging up emails with “New Orleans” as part of another project related to trips with Bruno and came upon “Louisiana Stories”.  Back in June 2010 I travelled to New Orleans to investigate what was happening to the city after Katrina and what had been the recent BP Oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

I read the stories and was surprised at my writing voice then.  I kinda miss that voice just as much as I miss Bruno’s voice with that heavy French accent.  New Orleans and the surrounding towns and cities has many ghosts and where time simply stands still…

I got back from my trip last night.  One day you’ll find your way to that great city with its deep roots and soul.  I’ve been sending you a couple of updates via phone.  I’m writing to you in retrospect after some of the experiences have sunk into my bones.

It’s easy to meet folks and strike up a conversation with locals.

Monday Afternoon –

They have a special way of listening and responding to you.  I stopped at a mechanic’s garage to ask for directions in Gretna (just south of the city on the other side of the Mississippi.)  An old man sitting at door of the opened bay door watched me get out of the car.  His eyes were soft and brown, his skin wrinkled and dark like a purple prune.  The whites of his eyes were yellow and stood out like embers glowing from a soft flame.  I was in the presence of a saint, and perhaps he was, after all the things he’d endured as a black man in the deep south.

He spoke while his hands rested on the cane between his legs.  He’s imagining the pawn shop as he describes how I can find it.  “There’s a seafood place across the street… It’s on Van Kempf.”  We exchanged few words, but we shared so many thoughts in between.  I’ve met this soul before, perhaps he is knowing of the suffering we all endure, and he reaches out with his grace… I know.  I know.  It’s alright.

Sunday night –

One of Jonathan’s homeboys told him about this new hookah bar, so my housemates and I see what it’s about.  We get out of the parked car in an alley in the French Quarter and walk to non-descript warehouse door.  At the lobby three young black men welcome us.  One of them has shiny shoulder length braids.  He pointed up the stairs and we go on up to find the booze bar to the left and the hookah bar to the right.  Low couches and tables all around with burning scented hookahs.  It’s crowded enough that Jonathan asks a couple if they wouldn’t mind if we shared their space.  While Jonathan gets our hookahs the couple introduces themselves as Paris and Shanikah.  They offer Josh and me tokes from their hookah.

Later, we now have three hookahs at the table.  We’re smoking, chilling, and getting to know one another.  Paris is funny and quite good looking.  It’s their second date, and she looks goddess like in her turquoise dress.  She wants to dance, but Paris doesn’t.  I guess he might get offended if she asked either Josh or Jonathan to dance so she asks me.  We do the salsa, and she’s teaching me most of the steps.  She’s a teacher from Boston.  She likes it here in New Orleans, but the challenge as a teacher is to motivate the kids.  But once she found that once she gains the student’s trust that they’ll do anything for her.  I thought about it then said… “When you believe in them then they are inspired to do.”  “Yes!” she agreed whole-heartedly.

Wednesday morning –

I got three hours of sleep before the alarm went off at 4:30 am.  I wanted to watch the sunrise over the Mississippi delta, but I got there late.  The nose of the rental car faced due south in Venice at around 8 am.  (I had left the city around 5:00 and drove around somewhat lost which I didn’t mind because I was exploring to find the I-10 West / I-90 West.  I finally walked into a Starbucks in the Garden District to get coffee and ask for directions at 5:30 am.  I’d been wandering for about 1/2 hour looking for the onramp to freeway.)

LA 23 into Venice goes from a two lane highway to a single road that forks into little harbors.  The road is level with the water and the long-necked birds are extensions of graceful water plants.  They sway gently with the breezes.  The waters out here are still protected from the oil spill I am happy to find out.

I spoke to a few locals to hear about their laments about the BP oil spill.  As one local put it “They cut off our right hand, and now they want to cut off our left hand.”  He refers to the moratorium on the oil wells.  Everyone is waiting to get out and work on the clean up.  Every tool is commissioned to help out: trucks, boats, helicopters, oil spill separators.  Right now most of the effort is to put out booms or pick them up.  It is literally ant work.  Helicopter trails dot the skies as they carry booms one-by-one to the Deepwater Well, and return boom-less ready to pick up another.

I got back into the car and headed north on LA 23.  On the way I stop at Buras where hurricane Katrina began in 2005.  I to get some oyster gumbo, but “Camp’s” had closed after the hurricane.  The firehall station where I got married a long time ago is replaced by a modern red brick building.  The JP’s office had transferred to Port Sulphur, just north of Buras.  The only place to get something good to is “Black Velvet”.  I stopped by at 10 but they didn’t open till 11.  I smelled the bacon fat cooking which is a key ingredient in the gumbo.  “Nothing’s ready yet,” was the answer from the waitress, “I’m sorry.”

Before leaving Los Angeles, someone had told me everything happens for a reason, and I remembered this as I drove the lazy road back to New Orleans.  I thought of my blessing to have had the opportunity to go back and revisit a place that was the birth of many pains.  I discovered there wasn’t any pain anymore when I retraced steps to the past.  This is the grace of this place.  I look to the side to catch the name of a road “Grace Harbor”.  I think it’s another sign that I’m going in the right direction.  I’m approaching Home Place, a small town that dots the LA 23.

Before crossing the bridge back to the city I stopped at Gretna again to pay a visit to the saint, but he wasn’t around.  I asked the man there if he could give the old man these fresh peaches and Creole tomatoes I picked up on the way.  He looked at me funny and grateful.  I told him, how the old man “made an impression on me”, and that I wanted to see him again and say “thanks.”  I found the pawn shop and got what I was looking for.  I bought an old guitar.  It was beat up but its sound resonated deeply like an old soul, and I felt kinship with.

#HFF18 #FringeFemmes: Making It Count

by Jennie Webb

Well, this year’s Hollywood Fringe Festival is over… although the energy is still palpable along Theatre Row, what with the great group of shows extended in Encore! performances through July.

And, yeah, there are SO many shows that I missed during #HFF18, which I swore I’d catch if they were extended but… Argh. July was supposed to be saner than June!

But enough of that. (Why are we always obsessed about what we don’t manage to do?)

This year during the Fringe, as in years past, the work and camaraderie of women artists was pretty damn impressive. Those amazing Fringe Femmes wasted no time kicking ass big time. So great seeing LA FPI badges and logos all over the place in June – thank you for all the love!

Also great to be able to give LA FPI’s “Most Wanted Awards” again at the HFF18 Awards Ceremony to venues who staged 50% or more works by women onstage during the Fringe. (Many thanks to fabulous presenters Fiona Lakeland and Katt Balsan, and Olivia Butaine and Lisa K. Wyatt who helped tally to find this year’s figures!)

Fiona Lakeland & Katt Balsan – Thx Matt Kamimura for this super shot!

And now, the numbers.

The “Most Wanted” Awards went to 12 venues this year: 2nd Stage, Actors Company, Art of Acting Studio, Assistance League Playhouse, Lounge Theatre, Stephanie Feury Studio Theatre, Studio C, studio/stage, The Broadwater, The New Collective, Theatre of NOTE and Thymele Arts.

Also pretty pleased that 70% of the community-voted “Fringe Freak” Awards went to works created by women. And 53% of the Sponsored Awards were given to femme-penned projects, including “Fort Huachuca” by Ailema Sousa, receiving The Inkwell Playwright’s Promise Award.

And then there were the overall numbers. This year, 49% of the scripted Fringe shows were written by women.

So a big yay there, considering the year-round #LAThtr average is probably still around 20%.

But I was a bit bummed that we didn’t hit 50%, a bar we’ve reached for the last two years. Hmph. Sure, the percentage is up from 39%, when we started counting. And I don’t know if 49% vs. 50% is statistically significant; last year we did hit 52%. However, as far as I’m concerned, it’s an important reminder: We still have work to do, ladies… and allies!

Right. We, as theatermakers, must make a conscious effort to put more diversity onstage. And we, as artists, must take positive action so that untold stories are heard and celebrated, in all shapes and forms.

Because here’s another number: only 47% of the Producers’ Encore! Awards, with extensions, went shows by female playwrights. Grrr.

So who’s with me? We continue to spread the #FringeFemmes energy & support each other as a community throughout the year so that we get our voices out there, and our plays into the hands of decision-makers!

Aaron Saldana & Kelly Egan at Theatre of NOTE (proudly displaying a “Most Wanted” Award – love it!)

5 Years Later… She Writes A Play!

by Andie Bottrell

Movie Still from Synecdoche New York

I’m writing a gosh-dang play again for the first time in years and finally feel like I am almost legitimate enough to be blogging for the LAFPI! I’ve spent the last two years working on my webseries SEEK HELP, and making a life-changing decision. After completing the webseries, I was contemplating my next big creative project and I landed on this play I started working on back in 2011 or so before abandoning it for other projects.

I’ve had a one-act play performed on stage, and had readings of my full length plays both in public and private workshops, but never had a full length play of mine produced or published and I would love to go on that journey, if that journey will have me. The salivating, desirable thing about a play (done right), as opposed to a film or tv show or book, is:

  • The Immediacy: You get immediate feedback from the audience.
  • The Hostage Component: The audience is trapped, hidden away from the outside world and digital world’s distractions. They are forced to confront the situation presented in front of them and to enter into an imagined circumstance that demands their engagement.
  • The Visceral Exchange: The audience inevitably affects the performance and the performance affects the audience. This exchange of energy can offer a magical high.
  • The Unpredictable Originality: No matter how rehearsed a play, great performers are always still just reacting to what they are given in the moment and great performers are always still searching for new moments and deeper truths throughout the run. So, no matter how rehearsed, every night is a slightly different show. This is an art form that evolves.

In other words, a play is a living, breathing, growing entity. If you want to explore big ideas, ethical dilemmas, flaws in humanity or culture, expand a communities view on something, I can think of no better way than to build a play. As Chelsea wrote about in the post below, nearly all plays have messages, and the best ones, the ones that actually have the ability to open minds or change perspectives or prejudices, do so in a way that is so entertaining that you don’t even notice the medicine the playwright is slipping down your throat as you watch.

The hard and frustrating work of playwriting is trying to turn those big ideas into genuinely good and captivating entertainment…usually while sitting alone in your apartment late at night. The fun and exciting part of playwriting is getting a group of people together to work on the play, to communally birth a piece of art in a collaborative form. The latter being the part that is currently motivating me through the former. I see pieces of the play in my head; I want to see it outside my head. I want to discuss this topic in depth with others. And there, really, I think is the root of why I write. I want to bring people together. I love structured hangs but hate unstructured parties. I want to have deep conversations, not small talk. I want to feel, think, be challenged and examine myself and others and the world. I want to know I am not alone, and I want to understand that which is different from me in a visceral way. I don’t think I am unique in that–I think many writers write because we want to bring people close to us, to invite them over, not just for a cocktail, but to go all the damn way down…down to the colon! I wanna see your shit–the stuff you’re proud of, the stuff you are ashamed of, I wanna see how you navigate big decisions and deal with life’s pain, I wanna feel your laughter, your joy, see how you love, understand a new slice of life better–I wanna experience it all and I want everyone else to experience it to, because I think that’s the most efficient way to build empathy and understanding, and thereby mend differences and cultivate a peaceful respect for each other.

I love theatre. Deeply. I respect it for the power it has and am captivated by it’s magic. I am excited for a more diverse theatre landscape. There are so many stories we haven’t told, haven’t experienced. We think we’ve seen it all sometimes, but there are so many points of view that have not yet been given the opportunity of a stage and an audience. I am excited for more plays by and about women, people of various ethnic backgrounds, from different countries and cultures, of different ages, of all different gender and sexual identities, of various experiences, to create new works set in and about our time. I think now more than ever we could collectively benefit from unplugging and coming together in a dark room to pass the baton and tell each other who we are and what it means.

Wish me luck (ie. motivation, stamina, intelligence, clarity, artistry, articulation, and courage) as I continue on my journey to prove I belong on the LAFPI roster–I mean, to finish this play and work to get it on it’s feet.

 

Finding Meaning

by Chelsea Sutton

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou

Here’s the thing. We all want our plays to mean something. In political times like these (or, if we’re being real, at just about any political time ever), the writer stands at the precipice of a canyon of noise and anger and disruption. And we think – how can I possibly make a blip in this mess?

As both a marketing person and a playwright, I’ve spent a lot of time trying to convince people about why a play is “relevant” – and more than that, why theatre is “relevant” – and why they should spend this amount of money and this amount of time buying into a false reality and be moved in some way, to be challenged or questioned.

It is exhausting.

In our struggle to be “relevant” (a word I might actually despise right now) – we playwrights sometimes produce “message” plays – plays that tend to hit on a topical conversation (gay marriage, terrorism, gun control, abortion) but not only hit on it, hit it right on the damn nose. There’s usually a moment when the playwright-thinly-veiled-as-a-character has a speech that describes why their view on the topic is the correct one. We all have one of these plays because the topic is important to us, because we are trying to be heard above the noise, because goddamnit, art can mean something.

The problem with message plays is that they tend to preach to the choir. My opinion is not going to be changed because you deliver a monologue in my direction. Chances are, if I’m in the audience of your message play, I already agree with you. It’s the algorithm. It is everywhere.

But, I will question my point of view if you give me characters I can relate to and love, a situation that is relatable or complicated and tense, and a slice of humanity that perhaps I had never considered before. Show me the grey area I’ve been ignoring. I might not change my opinion, but perhaps now I can see through the clutter and the postulating, all the way to the person on the other side.

Theatre has to work harder, to be more than a Facebook or Twitter argument. Give me a message, but dip it in character and setting and poetry and beauty and darkness and comedy first. Coat it on thick, pull all the threads together, and make me swallow it with a smile on my face or ugly tears in my eyes. And I will digest that message over the next day or week or months or years – I will feel it there, even if the words don’t come right away.

I don’t want a thesis statement. I don’t want to be able to describe in a sentence what your play was about after I’ve walked out. Make me feel it, show me what its about. Audiences are smarter than you think. Make them work. Even when they are being entertained, put them to work. This is not a passive art. It is not a passive life. We cannot be passive.

Here’s the thing. There are plenty of people out there who say that art is irrelevant (and plenty of those people are in power right now), or that they don’t take meaning from art and that art is not there to mean something. But art always means something, even if you don’t realize what it is telling you. We consume stories and art constantly, even if we never step foot in a theatre.

So I suppose all plays are message plays. But it is how we choose to frame it that makes the difference. Take your message and frame it in different ways. See what life it takes on.

Pick a frame.

We cannot measure our worth as writers based on the number of minds that are changed after two hours of the theatre. Minds are far too stubborn. Instead, we should challenge ourselves to let our hearts explode onto the page and the stage, and hope somehow, somewhere, a shard of the heart lodges into another person, and you are intrinsically linked for the rest of your lives.

The world is changed by marches and strikes and wars and protests and hitting the pavement, but also by one shard of one heart in one stranger.

Here’s the thing. It is exhausting. It is indescribably messy.

And it is always relevant.

 

Let’s Get Radical!

Buckle in, readers!  This post’s soundtrack is LET’S GET RADICAL by Gogol Bordello.

*DISCLAIMER: There is a prominently placed F bomb at the start of this song.*

Did you know the LAFPI is almost 10 years old?  Crazy, right?  On the one hand, it feels like it’s been much longer than that, and on the other is the old adage “Where has the time gone?”

I’m sure there will be much room for discussing what has changed in the ten years since LAFPI started instigating its parity-focused programming, so I’m not going to try to do that here.  BUT, I mention this upcoming anniversary as a precursor to the following question:

What’s next?

Photo by Tyler Nix on Unsplash

And I don’t just mean for the LAFPI, but for female playwrights and theatremakers everywhere.  What are we doing/going to continue to do to make an impact not only for ourselves, but for each other?

This is a question I ask myself a lot—and I’m sure, if I were a more selfish writer, my own playwriting career would be a little more… distinguished.  But I believe I have a responsibility as an artist to not only to make art that makes me happy/fulfilled, but to put my skills as an artist to work in support of a making this world better.

And yes, I know there are a lot of men out there doing great and important things, but this is the LAFPI, so I’m going to focus on the women. I’ve been hugely impressed by the fact that the overwhelming majority of theatremakers who have been joining our producing efforts through Protest Plays Project are women. I’m hardly alone in making this observation when it comes to some of the contemporary socially engaged theatre initiatives of late.

In Chantal Bilodeau’s article, “Why do Women Climate More Than Men?” she notes that the majority of theatremakers involved in supporting the theatrical work she organizes in climate change, are women.  And theatremaker Claudia Alick recently noted in a roundtable discussion I participated in for HowlRound that the majority of organizers applying theatre and art to gun control issues were female.

Its obvious that female theatremakers are engaging in political and socially active theatre in impressive numbers, and no wonder: there are so many problems facing the world, and our nation, right now that it can feel hard to focus on anything else.

And so I ask again:

What’s next?

Photo by Samuel Zeller on Unsplash

I’d love to hear what YOU are scheming up/working on/dreaming about taking action on.  I’ll even start you off with my own #TheatreAction wish list!

  • A nation-wide outreach designed to teach people how to talk to one another again.  Seriously, why isn’t this already a thing?!  We have lost the ability to engage in political discussion without dissolving into partisan mud-slinging and it is tearing us apart!  This project could create collaborative opportunities for theatre makers, psychologists, community organizers, and mediators to develop effective non-partisan programming.
  • An expanded engagement with plays written by playwrights working from a community perspective.  Why aren’t theatres reading more works about their own communities alongside plays about communities in different parts of the nation?  I’ve tried to make some progress on this front with my Heal the Divide/Heal the Divide on Campus projects, but I don’t own a theatre and I don’t have the ear of that many Artistic Directors.  If we all made a concerted effort however…
  • I am currently trying to get theatres to put #TheatreActionVOTE! Plays into their theatres.  These pieces are written to be performed pre-show (they’re only 1-3 minutes long!) and are non-partisan and available royalty free.  It’s harder then you’d think it is to get a theatre to join this effort- even when the message is as non-controversial as “Please Vote!”
  • Why aren’t more theatres collaborating with local non-profits in their communities?  There is such an incredible opportunity not only to increase their community outreach/effectivenss (aka, demonstrate their commitment to non-profit community-centered work) but also to just expand their audiences.
  • Bring theatre to the people!  I wish I could do/see more theatre in unconventional spaces, whether that theatre is entertainment for entertainment’s sake or more efficaciously-minded, the people who need theatre most (and it’s power to teach empathy/compassion) are often the people who see it the least.  Price and access are very real issues, and I love the many organizations who are taking strides to improve access.  I think individual theatremakers have more agency to create theatre in The People’s Spaces than they thing.  You can make theatre anywhere!  If you believed that, where would you make theatre next?

So there are a few ideas from me.  What are YOU working on?  What do you wish you were working on?  Let’s talk in the comments!

~Tiffany

Photo by Anna Sullivan on Unsplash