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
It’s worth a plane ticket to Denver once a year to see what other playwrights are writing and thinking. This was my third (or is it fourth?) year I’ve attended the Colorado New Play Summit – a chance to see seven new plays in three days. For invited playwrights it’s an opportunity for them to workshop their pieces for a week with professional actors, directors and dramaturgs, plus get feedback from a live audience. For the uninvited, it’s a chance to talk to other playwrights, to have lunch with literary managers, and to experience COLD weather without strapping on the skis. I particularly enjoy attending because the Colorado New Play Summit makes the uninvited playwrights feel as welcome as those whose works are being put onstage. It’s also like a crash course in playwriting. I always come away with half a dozen new writing tips.
Here’s my overview of what I saw and what I heard:
It was a good year at the New Play Summit. Every one of the new plays was full of promise. Every one of them was unfinished and flawed in some way. Every one of them was exciting and stimulating.
And every one of them taught me something about playwriting.
Here’s what I learned:
“Christa McAuliffe’s Eyes Were Blue” by Kemp Powers is a tough piece about how racism in America affects a pair of biracial twins (one light skinned, the other dark.) The inciting incident of the play takes place the day that the space shuttle Challenger exploded. The question for a playwright is: how much of the gruesome details do you include onstage? Is the audience old enough to have experienced it for themselves? Powers withholds specifics until almost the last scene. And then he lays them on with graphic delight.
Is it more powerful this way? I know that I’m a writer who could stand to go a bit more for the jugular. But I also wonder whether the graphic details about the Challenger disaster overshadowed the larger questions Powers wants to address.
Several plays used the phrase, “did you know…?” or “do you remember…?” It seemed like a lazy way to take care of exposition. I’m going to scour my plays for this lazy playwright way of sharing information with the audience.
In the play “Mama Metallica,” playwright Sigrid Gilmer puts herself front and center, working out her grief at losing her mother to Parkinsons. Sounds dreary, right?
It’s hysterical. Our main character is a playwright and both Tennessee Williams and Eugene O’Neill drop by to chat. The band Metallica also makes an appearance and plays a few numbers. The play is weird and wonderful and funny and touching. It’s truly theatrical. I only wish I’d thought of it. At least now, I’ll ask myself: have I missed an opportunity to make magic onstage?
Two years ago, I saw a reading of José Cruz González’ “American Mariachi.” The reading was more of an ensemble piece. It sported a very large cast of women – something every high school drama teacher in Los Angeles would snap up in a heartbeat.
The full production in Denver focused on a single mother/daughter and father/daughter relationship. The story was easier to follow with a single protagonist and one main conflict. It was as though you could commit to the play because you only had to give your heart to one person onstage.
In the play “Celia, A Slave,” playwright Barbara Seyda took the trial transcript of a young woman hanged for killing her master and turned it into a poetic series of monologues. The language was beautiful, though we heard little from Celia herself. Instead, a cast of thousands told her story. Does a large cast make a play more powerful? Would an audience be more willing to give its heart to Celia if we had more of an opportunity to hear from her?
Sigrid Gilmer had Metallica onstage. José Cruz González had an entire mariachi band! The music was both powerful and exciting. Plus, the musicians became our guide as the play weaved in and out of time and space. And how can an audience not be satisfied when they get a play and a mariachi band for one ticket?
Of course, music can work against you, too. Matthew Lopez’ play “Zoey’s Perfect Wedding” is one of those wedding-gone-wrong stories set in a crummy hotel with an awful DJ playing all the worst hits you can imagine. The groans from the audience were audible. And very funny.
One of my own favorite plays features a main character everybody loves to hate. It’s my orphan play that’s had lots of readings and no premiere. Most of the criticism for “Western & 96th” is directed at the ex-cop-turned-politico Mike Marcott. Me? I love the guy. I can’t understand why my audience doesn’t love him as much as I do. Is that the reason nobody wants to produce the play?
I thought about that watching David Jacobi’s “The Couches” – a piece inspired by the “affluenza” trial. It’s a wonderfully written play, but it’s not pleasant spending 90 minutes with the two main characters. They were horrible human beings. Horrible. I’ll be happy if I never have to spend another moment in their presence. (But I’ll bet Netflix snaps it up as their next series!)
Contrast that with Lauren Yee’s “The Great Leap” – a tale about basketball and Tiananmen Square. I dare you not to fall in love with every one of the characters in her play. I saw a reading of it at last year’s New Play Summit. The minute her characters came onstage, it was like seeing old friends. You actually missed them!
I don’t think it’s necessary to fall in love with all the characters in a play. But it’s sure a lot more fun when you do!
Hope you’ll consider joining me next February in Denver for the next Colorado New Play Summit!
I am a box office manager at a theater. Most of the time, I can handle everything with ease – maybe do a little playwriting during a shift, maybe get in a little reading – loved A Gentleman In Moscow – EXCEPT for twice a year when there is a Children’s Show.
The Youth Show has always had about 20 to 25 children in it – the current production has 36, ages 8 to 14 years – and they are wonderful. They work very hard with energy and joy, shepherded about by a few teenagers, and they continue to amaze me. During the rehearsal period, which uses the entire theater – the rehearsal room, the patio, the auditorium and the lobby, I can hear incessant drumming and lines read and songs sung and one day, somewhere in there, enjoyed the synopsis of Titus Andronicus on someone’s phone – EEW, SO GROSS! Later on, I found out 13 facts about Frederick Douglas because one of the girls was writing a paper on him and my computer was up and running. A small girl told me that 2 negative minus 2 negative is 2 positive. Who knew?
The children are supported by their exceptionally hard working and cheerful parents who build the sets, make the costumes, do the makeup, serve the food and clean up and on and on. And it’s all volunteer.
However, I don’t know if most people know this, but children have not only parents and grandparents but uncles and aunts and school teachers and school friends and neighbors and most of them want to come to one or two or three of the shows or maybe to all of them. Some people will reserve 20 tickets at a time. But the parents who book the tickets are dealing with people who change their minds!
And even though we have listed only 70 seats a performance on the online site – an inefficient operation called Ticket Leap – so that we won’t sell out, when those are gone, the rumor immediately goes round that the show is SOLD OUT even when there are 125 seats in the theater. The parents’ pain is palpable. NO!!!!
I am in a booth that is open to the lobby and inevitably when I come in to work, a parent will follow me. I can be taking off my jacket, putting down my purse, opening the place up and someone will say to me, “I know you’re not open yet but do you have two tickets for the Sunday matinee? Ideally, I’d like four.” There will be somebody behind her who says, “Isn’t that show sold out?” and the first person will say, “How would she know? She’s not even open yet!” And I will say, “That show is sold out,” and will hear “You’re kidding me. Right?” Wrong.
The lobby is adjacent to the box office – there is no door or window separating it – and the crowd is LOUD so that the person shouting through the box office window at show time from outside can’t be heard. Over the years, I’ve become somewhat adept at lip reading but am not always sure what’s been said. Opening night is the most chaotic but you would think after the searching for seats and the fear that we won’t have enough, that everybody would be in and happy by at least ten minutes after curtain – when someone will rush in from the auditorium and demand an answer to “So when did we allow reserved seating?!!!!”
After a stint, I lie in bed, thinking about the Monarch Resort Hotel in Pacific Grove just a block from the sea. I’m there, with my husband, watching the flickering embers from the room fireplace and contemplating the May arrival of the Monarch butterflies, which will fill an adjacent lot – thousands of them – none making a sound. It’s a beautiful dream, broken only by the sound of my husband, who teaches school, muttering in his sleep. “Sit down,” he barks.
by Robin Byrd
What are you working on? That’s a question every artist hears and asks themselves a lot. My answer to that question for the last 10 months has been “everything but my art.” So much so that I have overworked myself to the point of illness. I have not had the flu for over 20 years and this past week, I have been under the weather, medicating per doctor’s order for flu-like symptoms. I am so annoyed with myself. I am supposed to be practicing balance. It used to be my way of life and now I am fighting to get back there. True, I have lost a lot this year and the pressure has sent me into a work-away-the-pain-mode but it doesn’t work away the pain, not really, you’re just tired.
What am I working on? Me writing…writing something every day because writing is the best thing I’ve found for pain. I can’t believe I forgot that… even for a moment.
Balance the art…
Upon Bruno’s sudden and unexpected accidental death on his Yamaha, the world changed in varying degrees. Like a Google Map I am faced with re-centering my life. It’s not our life as a married couple, but my singular life.
My mom gives me a well meaning advice this morning. Remove his clothes from the drawers to make room for yours. I bit my lip and clamped off the Mt. Vesuvius inside of me. If you have an opinion just keep it to yourself I wanted to scream.
People say, “He’d want you to be happy. You have to move on.” My intellect gets it but my heart doesn’t. Better to keep your opinions for later because right now I only need your presence and not your judgments. Be one of my dogs and just sit with me. It’s times like this when there are no words.
As a writer I write to make sense of what’s happening. I want to write but I can’t. My heart is lead and every limb and joint is heavy too. I want him to linger. I want his scent to stay. I cut off the string from the lemon tree where he hung the wasp trap. I save the knot because no one will ever tie a knot like Bruno… the way he would truss a bird before it goes into the oven to feed the lonely hearts and the empty bellies.
There are no words to put order in the midst of chaos. I move like an automaton to survive. Yes I’ve got that. I can’t let the wall of dignity crack lest ‘I lose it.’ Maybe this is why people offer structures to align myself to: “Have you thought about what you’re going to do?” Please don’t ask me this question in a phone call in between errands. It hurts my feelings.
Words create order. A skilled writer and/or speaker can put disorder into order. A meteorologist can enlighten what’s happening in a hurricane. The eye of the storm is the calm surrounded by the vortex of violent forces that destroy what we believed as permanent. No matter how hard I tidy up, sweep the floor, dust the picture frames and put clean laundry in its proper place entropy will rule. It’s a matter of time. How long can I keep up this face of composure like Humpty Dumpty sitting on the wall?
The natural laws of the universe is held in place by a tension… Life is a delicate balance shadowed by that moment of “Time is up. Let’s go. Leave all else behind. You won’t be needing it. You’re a light traveller. You are light.”
On January 15, 2018, Bruno Hervé Commereuc was killed by a hit and run driver at the corner of 54th Street and Arlington in Los Angeles, California. The Los Angeles Police Department is asking for information to help in apprehending the driver of the grey Nissan 370Z (updated vehicle description from the flyer, below) who is still at large.
All of us at the Los Angeles Female Playwrights Initiative send our love to Analyn.
Before I made the decision to stay in Springfield, MO (rather than return to LA) and focus on just making what I want, when I want, rather than chase the praise, validation, money, and reputation of others…I felt constant pressure. I felt I was always behind–since I was a small child! I’ve felt I’ve been failing in my goals for success. I’ve let go of that now. I’ve started focusing on the moment, each day, on recognizing the joys of where I am at, of investing in my community and creating as solely the necessary means of communication and expression that it is for me–rather than sweat the pressure of always working to turn my art into money. Don’t get me wrong, I think that is an admirable trait, honestly. It’s just not in my repertoire–it drains and depresses me. And that’s okay. We’re all calibrated differently! I’m just realizing that I would rather spend my days achieving the happiness of simply expressing my expression as I choose to express it, rather than putting all my life’s worth and value in the pressure of achieving some monetary, American version of “success” or trying to create art that pleases others.
This fall, I went back to school. After ten years of day jobs, late-night shows in black box theatres, publications of short stories in tiny journals, bad reviews and “oh-look-how-much-she-tried” reviews, and stealing office supplies and copy machine time from said day jobs (sorry, day jobs), I thought an MFA program was a real cracker jack idea. This of course meant I had to evaluate where I really am as a person and an artist – the least of which not being that I had to get the chicken pox vaccine in order to be allowed on campus because I had apparently never had it or at least it wore off at some point and we all know that chicken pox gets worse as you get older so I could have died, y’all. You know there’s got to be chicken pox hanging out with all the other diseases in those tiny light booths in LA black boxes. Died.
I also had to write my artistic statement (again). And I don’t know about you, but artistic statements / statements of interest are the worst part of any application to anything. My version of hell would be an eternity of writing new vision statements, probably while having chicken pox and listening to the sound track of the 1967 movie Guns of the Trees – an artsy, dare-I-say pretentious film I had to watch for a film studies class and which made me viscerally and irrationally angry. Welcome to grad school.
I made some shit up of course (can I say “shit” on the blog? I just did.) I got into school, but I was on the waitlist first so let’s not get too puffed up about it or the quality of my statement. I’m very good at almost-winning things. Lesson: I’m never anyone’s first choice but I’m making a career out of profiting off of other people’s passed up opportunities.
My statement is fine. But in my first quarter I really started to understand the different paths we are all on – and knowing where you are and not caring where someone thinks you should be. That’s the key to a real eduction (inside and outside the classroom) and probably a great vision/artistic/interest statement.
[Full disclosure: I’m actually in the MFA program for fiction. After being waitlisted for playwriting programs twice, I said a big “screw you guys, I’ll figure it out on my own” to the Theatre Gods, and that’s what I did. My fiction needed some love and attention. It always blows my mind how theatre and literature generally know so very little about each other – the communities really should overlap more. But that’s another blog.]
I’m learning to become a new kind of student. It’s grad school. It’s a terminal degree. Grades alone are not going to get me where I want to be. Any other straight-A students out there? This is a big shift in mentality. I am learning how to approach each class now with the mindset of growing as an artist and a person. I’m not here for perfect grades. I’m here to write. I’m tired of trying to figure out what someone else wants me to say – because, news flash, I’ll never get it right. So lets get back to what is true. And I think this mentality can be applied to any opportunity we are applying to that requires us to articulate how and why and who.
On That Note – Optional Themes For Your Next Artistic Statement:
by Desireé York
Let’s hear from artists who seem to find a way to do both, like playwright Adrienne Dawes and director Rosie Glen-Lambert, in Denim Doves produced by Sacred Fools, just extended through February 23, 2018 at the Broadwater Mainstage.
LA FPI: What inspired this piece?
Adrienne Dawes: Denim Doves began as a devised piece with Salvage Vanguard Theater in Austin, TX. We started building the play around the summer of 2013, around the time of the Wendy Davis filibuster. It was a gross sort of spectator sport to watch Democratic senators try for nearly 13 hours to block a bill that would have implemented some of the most stringent abortion restrictions in the country. My friends and I felt so incredibly angry… We poured all those feelings, all that “fiery feminist rage,” into creating a new piece.
We knew we couldn’t just scream at an audience for 75 minutes, so very early in the process, we played within comedic structures. How could we sneak very serious conversations into very silly premises? Dick jokes became the sort of “Trojan Horse” into talking about intersectional feminism, fluid identities and an oppressive government that considers female bodies as a commodity. We drew inspiration from Margaret Atwood’s novel “The Handmaid’s Tale”, Suzette Haden Elgin’s novel “Native Tongue” (specifically for her use of the feminist language Laadan), YouTube videos of hand bell choirs, and finger tutting choreography.
LA FPI: Rosie, what attracted you to directing this play?
Rosie Glen-Lambert: I am always on the hunt to direct work that gives a voice to women, queer folk, non-binary folk, people of color and anyone who feels like their “type” isn’t typically represented in casting ads.
But beyond providing a platform to diverse performers, I have a particular attraction to plays that allow anyone besides white men to be “the funny one.” I believe wholeheartedly in the power of comedy. I think it’s a great way to unpack an issue that is challenging or to permeate a hard, un-listening exterior.
LA FPI: How does music play a role in this piece?
Adrienne: Denim Doves is more of a “play with music” than musical. There are specific musical moments that scratch the surface and reveal the darker, more sinister aspects of this world. Cyndi Williams is an amazing performer, playwright and lyricist who was part of the original devising team (she originated the role of First Wife). Cyndi’s writing is incredibly rich and unique. She brings a very serious, Southern Gothic quality that gives us a nice contrast to the lighter, bawdy stuff I bring. Erik Secrest composed the original score (and originated the role of First Son) that was performed by the original cast with church hand bells, the electric guitar and a drum kit that was hidden in plain sight onstage.
For the LA production, Sacred Fools collaborated with composer Ellen Warkentine to develop new music. It was wild to hear those old songs in a completely different way. I hope to find more opportunities to collaborate with female composers in the future.
LA FPI: We love supporting femme-centric projects. What has this experience been like, working with a female majority including writer, director, cast and crew?
Rosie: An unbelievable privilege. Here’s the thing: I believe wholeheartedly that gender is a construct. I believe that men can be soft and compassionate and women can be strong and authoritative. I believe that anyone, regardless of where they fall on the gender spectrum, has the ability to behave in any manner they choose; that how you identify or what you were assigned at birth is not the determining factor in your behavior.
With that being said, many women and femmes are socialized in such a way where they are often allowed to be softer and more empathetic, where men tend to be socialized to disconnect from emotion and consider those qualities as weak. This means that a rehearsal room that is full of women and femmes is often a room that is full of people who are willing to tap into emotion and create a space that is safe and welcoming. A room where someone can say “actually I don’t think my body is capable of doing what you are describing” and rather than a room of people rolling their eyes and a caff’d up male director yelling “just do it,” the team is able to slow down, consider this person’s perspective, and enthusiastically find a solution.
I think that we as humans are all capable of working in this manner, and I believe that by allowing women and femmes to lead by example men are changing their perspective on what a theatrical process should look like.
Adrienne: I was absent for much of the rehearsal process (I’m currently living in Tulsa, OK for a writing residency) but I can say that the rehearsal rooms and processes where I felt I made the most sense have always been led by women+ and people of color. Those are the rooms where I feel like I belong, where I feel like all my differences (all the many ways I am different) are seen as strengths. It’s a huge relief to feel safe and like my voice can be heard without having to yell over another person. In most rooms, it feels like a fight for survival, a fight to belong or to prove yourself. I prefer a room where I feel like my voice is needed and valued.
LA FPI: Amidst today’s politics, what would you like audiences to take away with them?
Rosie: The art that has come out of this past year reflects our national desire to unpack and discuss this past election, and our political climate. This desire is constant, and yet it is exhausting. People who are protected by privilege are able to, at times, disconnect from the insanity and say “I feel overwhelmed, I don’t want to be sad anymore.” And while that is a natural inclination, not everyone is able to make the choice to tap out. Those whose bodies are inherently politicized are never allowed a day off; they are never able to just not be black, or trans, or latinx, or a woman for the day. I believe that this play in particular – which begins farcically, raucously, and which, full disclosure, is just plain riddled with dick jokes – has the potential to trick someone who would never seek out something as serious as the “Handmaid’s Tale” and make them reflect on their privilege and invigorate them to recommitting themselves to a more active dedication to social change. I want people to get in their cars, drive home, kick off their shoes, and wonder if what they are doing is enough.
Adrienne: I hope we can make audiences laugh. I hope to give audiences some relief, some escape from the trash fire that is our current political climate. I also hope that even inside this extremely absurd world, audiences recognize how harmful misogyny and strict gender-based rules/expectations are for everyone. Everyone is hurt, everyone is affected. We imagine a future rebellion that mirrors past resistance movements, one that is led by people of color and trans/queer/non-binary people.
For more information and tickets to Denim Doves, visit: http://www.sacredfools.org/mainstage/18/denimdoves/
Hot jelly and biscuits, is there a lot to talk about!
few weeks months longish time ago, when the LAFPI crew asked if I’d like to get back on the blogging bandwagon, I said “Hell, yes!” because I was feeling productive and all kinds of mouthy with super important sh*t to say. But now my week is here, and it’s almost too much because Little Black Dress INK’s final ONSTAGE lineup from 2017 has a reading on Jan 15, and then a bunch of this year’s ONSTAGE semi-finalists have readings all over the place on Jan 21 as part of International Women’s Voices Day, (oh, I run Little Black Dress INK), plus the Spring semester starts on Weds, and I have a letter of rec to write, revisions to do, and a toddler to keep track of…
So I don’t have time to write the deep, thoughtful, life-changing post I intended to. If I could, though, I would probably have some witty/deep things to say about the following:
The Golden Globes
Were they feminist enough? Too feminist (is that even a thing??) Will Oprah be our new president? Was that woman from 50 Shades of Grey giving Angelina Jolie side-eye during Jennifer Aniston’s speech? I mean, I don’t have cable, but the news coverage is enough to make me want to stuff cotton in my ears and unplug the router for good.
What’s that you say? You don’t believe me? You’re saying that if I haven’t stuffed cotton in my ears and unplugged the router after the monstrous orange shit-show of a year we just wrapped, that I must be engaging in a healthy hyperbolic outburst and nothing more?
You’re probably right.
I’m trying it out. Anyone else write for that site? I like some of the writers a lot… Maybe, if I write some truly epic stuff there, I’ll get more traffic on Medium than I do on my personal blog… sh*t, I don’t have a personal blog anymore? Why not? Oh yeah, because I don’t have time…
Heeeyyyyyy, do you think, MAYBE, that I might have a problem with over-committing myself to things? I mean, could I possible suffer from (faux gasp) Artistic FOMO?
(Yes. The answer is yes, yes I do.)
I love my son. He is the apple of my eye, the sugar on my cornflakes, the laughter in my ears… but he’s also the little tyrant screaming at me to escort him to the washing machine twelve times a day, where he will sit for interminably long periods of time flipping the dials around in abject pleasure, waiting for my eyes to gloss over with boredom so that he can QUICKPUSHTHESTARTBUTTON! before I catch his hand with mine and remind him that he is not yet allowed to do the laundry on his own, and can we please go back to the
living toy room now so that mommy can sit on the couch and check her Facebook for a hot second?
New Year’s Resolutions
Are for chumps. And perfectionists. And people with stronger will-power than I possess. So be nice to yourself, even if you’ve already failed at whatever ridiculous demands you put on yourself last week. I signed up for Red Theater’s playwriting challenge last November and didn’t even make it past the first day. The FIRST DAY. Sometimes you just have to shrug your shoulders and tell your expectations to take a hike.
I’m not too busy to tell you you should check out one of our ONSTAGE readings! If you’re in Los Angeles on Jan 15, make sure you swing by the Zephyr Theatre for the final reading of our 2017 Female Playwrights ONSTAGE Festival: Hot Mess.
And if you’re in Los Angeles (or Bemidji,MN; or Columbus, OH; or Magnolia, AR; or Milwaukee, WI; or Prescott, AZ) on Jan 21st, check out one of our Female Playwrights ONSTAGE Festival: Volume Control readings! They’re sure to be a hoot/make you feel the deep feels (and all that other cathartic magic that theatre does) PLUS you’ll be supporting International Women’s Voices Day, which is all kinds of awesome! Here’s a LINK for more info.
Tune in later this week for more words/sentences composed by me (along with—hopefully—some deeper thoughts)
Witnessing the Light, artwork by Cynthia Wands, 2018
Just recently, (and I mean just in the last few weeks), I began to feel hopeful about the changes in store for this year.
I started listening to the NPR news on the radio on my drive home from work, after swearing off from it last year.
After a year long quarantine (Eric has been going through a tough chemotherapy schedule), we started going out in the world again. We’ve seen two movies, and went for a long hike. It felt like waking up in daylight after being in the dark last year.
I’m seeing women reach for political office, and stand up with persistence and courage to change our leadership.
And reading the messages about the #MeToo movement, and the illumination of how women have been treated, gives me hope that the world will be seen through different eyes. (“Sunlight is the best disinfectant.” I don’t know who said that it – but I love that idea.) I can see that audiences and directors and theaters will be changing in the way women are portrayed, and directed and who the leaders are.
So I have to be hopeful. I know that history and health issues can change in a moment, but I’m reaching out in my world to belong to more of the present moment.
(It took me several hours to come up with that last sentence, I kept changing it, so I can see there will be some balancing to be done with that assignment…)
I’m making a plan to see more plays, more readings, more artwork, more friends this year.
I hope this next year finds new adventures for all of you, and I look forward to seeing your work, and watching this year unfold.