The FPI Files: Kate McAll’s “Frankenstein” at LA Theatre Works Breathes Life Into Mary Shelley’s Timeless Words

By Chelsea Sutton

Frankenstein is having a moment.

If you trace the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of adaptations just in the last 100 years or so, it is easy to see that the classic story never quite went out of style. It is beyond trend. It is the origin story of our collective unconscious.  

LA Theatre Works is bringing its own voice to the cannon this month with its upcoming radio drama production of Frankenstein, adapted by former BBC producer Kate McAll. The audio format allows McAll and LA Theatre Works to get back to the language of the book itself, and offer a version of the story that strips away the visual influences of television and film that have created the pop culture ideas of what we assume Frankenstein to be. 

“I like to get to the heart of the original material,” says McAll about her approach to adapting work for the radio. “My adaptation uses Mary’s structure and language. If she saw it – or heard it – she would recognize it.”

McAll, like myself and like many people who consume pop culture, didn’t read the book until she dove into the work of the adaptation, and so her cultural touchstones were mainly based in the movies. When she began talks with LA Theatre Works to do this adaptation, she thought this might be a great opportunity to try something new – last year she adapted A Room With A View which had a lot of comedy in it and made people laugh. This was a moment to do something scary. But when she read it, she completely changed her mind about it. 

“I found it to be about something else altogether,” says McAll. “My version of it was not going to be like the classic scary monster thing. Because that’s not what I found in the book.” 

Kate McAll

What did she find in it? Not the same horror box in which we tend to place the Frankenstein of pop culture. “There are horror moments in it but they are not at all like the movies…The book is surprisingly poetic,” says McAll. “It is very powerfully about loss.  It is really about seeing Frankenstein descend into the deepest, most scary depression and obsession after the loss of his mother.”

That’s the heart of what the story is about for McAll. Grief. And that’s what keeps it so fresh and timeless. It’s this very personal story about grieving, about fighting against death, about abandonment (which grief often feels like), and how different characters deal with this process – for better or for worse.

McAll has been personally coping with grief over the last two years, “so it was quite strange to come to this and find that’s what Frankenstein is about. It’s got immense emotional maturity given that Mary was only 19 years old when she wrote it.”

Connecting the storytelling style in the book to the genre of radio drama has been the structural exploration of this adaptation. “I’ve just let the storytellers tell their stories….in its purest form. I haven’t imposed anything on it, ” says McAll. 

The process of adapting Frankenstein and leaning into this kind of oral storytelling tradition reminded McAll of a memory she’d forgotten, a pure enchantment with storytelling before she was old enough to think about a career at the BBC – or any career at all: “It made me think of when I was little…there was a show on the radio called Listen with Mother…My mother was pregnant with my younger sister, so I must have been four. We’d lie down on the floor and I’d curl into her tummy, and we’d drift off together, listening. It was lovely to have that memory back.”

Based in the UK, McAll has come out to the US every year for the last 20 years. Perhaps fittingly for the theme of her current adaptation, the first project she pitched for production in the U.S., a possible adaptation of the book The Blood of Strangers, began with a phone call asking for advice with the actor Martin Jarvis on September 11…2001.  The news was only just breaking and she pointed out to Martin, who was in LA at the time and just waking up, that there seemed to be something happening in New York. 

And so grief seems to follow us.

Frankenstein feels very relevant for the times we live in.  Many of us are dealing with a kind of political grief. It’s a state of shock,” says McAll. “Grief for how you believed the world was. And as you get older and the losses become more likely, this kind of story just makes you think about it all.”

Stacy Keach stars as the Creature in LA Theatre Works upcoming “Frankenstein” – Photo by Brian Cahn

McAll is a freelance producer, director and writer working mainly for BBC Radio 4, which produces new radio dramas daily. While radio dramas mostly died out in the U.S. with the introduction of television, that didn’t happen in the UK. “Radio stayed. It’s always been strong,” says McAll. “In radio, the most important thing is to keep people listening. There are a million ways they can stop and switch off. You might have 30 seconds when they’ll concentrate. You’ve really got to capture them from the start and hold onto them.”

McAll didn’t always know that her place was in radio drama. “I came from a very working class background where nobody was educated past the age of 16.  I remember one day at school, then I was about 9, the teacher said we were going to create a radio drama complete with sound effects – coconut shells for horses hooves and everything…I remember being very fired up at being introduced to this world of imagination. It was different from books. That stayed with me for a long time.” 

McAll was the first to go to university in her family. “After I graduated, I didn’t know what I wanted to be or could be. I sort of reverted to being this child of a working class family. I couldn’t imagine having a profession.  I just didn’t have a template for it in my head.”

She started with a “very very boring job” working as a secretary for the head of engineering at the BBC, but realized Radio 4 was just across the car park. “I smoked at the time, and a lot of the radio producers smoked, so they were the first people I met – in the smoking area! It was as if a light went on. It was so thrilling and exciting,” says McAll. “I managed to find where I was meant to be, figured out how it worked, applied for jobs since I was already in the door, and worked my way up from secretary to a producer in just over a year.”

With her 30 year career in radio documentary and drama, McAll knows the importance of voice actors, and the LA Theatre Works production of Frankenstein is pulling no punches with Stacy Keach in the role of “The Creature” and Adhir Kalyan (Arrested Development) playing Dr. Victor Frankenstein. “If anybody can tell you a story, Stacy can,” says McAll. Radio acting takes an abundance of talent: “You’ve got to keep people absolutely enchanted with what you’re saying.” 

Actors Mike McShane (Whose Line Is It Anyway), LA Theatre Works favorite Darren Richardson, Seamus Dever and Cerris Morgan-Moyer round out the cast;  LA Theatre Works associate artistic director Anna Lyse Erikson directs. “Actors who do comedy are really great at drama because they have the timing,” says McAll. “They know exactly how something should be. If you can do comedy, you can do anything.”

Cerris Morgan Moyer – Photo by Matt Petit

Watching live foley, amazing actors, and listening to a classic tale in an LA Theatre Works show is more than enough for a great evening at the theatre, but it is the heart of the story that will stay with anyone listening – the purity of how Mary Shelley describes and explores the idea of birth and death and our own grieving for both moments. “How the Creature describes what it was like for him to come into being is so beautiful and thoughtful,” says McAll. “And if you’re coming to this with the movies in your head, it is so unexpected.”

McAll writes in her introduction to the play how the original novel was birthed from the most primitive and important rituals of human experience – telling stories around a fire to ward off the darkness. “There have been many adaptations of this tale, and it’s a daunting task to present another, but what I have wanted to keep in mind is that this was originally a story told in a single voice, from a young girl’s imagination; that it was born of a waking dream, and recounted in a creaky old mansion, on a dark, cold, rainy, candle lit night.”   

Frankenstein runs Friday February 28 – March 1, presented by LA Theatre Works at the James Bridges Theater UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television, 235 Charles E. Young Drive Los Angeles, CA 90095. Call 310-827-0889 or visit www.latw.org for information and reservations.

Know a female or FPI-friendly theater, company or artist? Contact us at lafpi.updates@gmail.com & check out The FPI Files for more stories.

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Ruthless, The Musical

by Diane Grant

Theatre Palisades just finished a run of Ruthless, The Musical,  by Joel Paley (book and lyrics) and Marvin Laird (music).  It’s a dark comedy about a ruthless little girl who would do anything ANYTHING to play Pippi Longstocking in the school play.  And she does, of course. 

Spoiler.  Bodies all over the place at the end!

When I heard about the play, I was drawn to it immediately because my daughter and I watched all (I think all.  I’d hate to think we missed any) of the Pippi Longstocking movies.  For those deprived of that pleasure, I must tell you that Pippi is a little Swedish girl with amazing powers.  On fact, she is the world’s strongest girl.  She can leap from the ground and into a high tree branch just like that!  She has red hair and a gap tooth and a father who is at sea.  

Her Mother is no longer living and Pippi lives in her house with only her horse and her monkey.  She has two other best friends, too, her neighbors, Tommy and Annika, and they all have many adventures together. (Wikipedia tells me that the original Swedish language books set Pippi’s full name as Pippilotta Viktualia Rullgardina Krusmynta Efraimsdotter!)

You can see that it would be a thrill to play such a girl in the school play.  More importantly, it is the lead in the school play.  The LEAD! 

The little girl in Ruthless is nothing like Pippi.  She is much more like the girl in The Bad Seed.  (The writers couldn’t get the rights to that and just ran with the idea!)

The music seems to come from the heart of the writers and one of the songs, in which a third grade teacher sings about being a third grade teacher as “something to fall back on” sent all the show biz aspirants, in the theater, including me, into a swoon.

It started me thinking.  Wouldn’t be wonderful to invent a girl protagonist, people would fall in love with and want to follow through many adventures?  Anne of Avonlea?  Ramona Quimby? Nancy Drew? Harriet, the Spy?

Where do these characters come from?  Beverly Cleary said that she heard her neighbor calling her little girl, Ramona, and Ramona Quimby was born.  Nancy Drew was a detective in a mystery series created by publisher Edward Stratemeyer, ghostwritten by a number of authors and published under the pseudonym Carolyn Keene. She was the counterpart to the Hardy Boys series.  

In 1908, Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery, was published by a company in Boston and sold just under 20,000 copies in under half a year.  Montgomery had made notes as a young girl about a couple who were mistakenly sent an orphan girl instead of the boy they had requested and the notes became the inspiration for the book.

In 1964, Louise Fitzhugh created eleven-year-old Harriet M. Welsch.  Harriet is an aspiring writer who lives in New York City.  She’s precocious, ambitious and enthusiastic about her future career. Encouraged by her nanny, Catherine “Ole Golly,” Harriet carefully observes others and writes her thoughts down in a notebook as practice for her future career, to which she dedicates her life. She follows an afternoon “spy route”, during which she observes her classmates, friends, and people who reside in her neighborhood.

In 1990, J.K.Rowling was on a train from Manchester to London when the idea for Harry Potter suddenly “fell into her head”. Rowling gives an account of the experience on her website saying:  “I had been writing almost continuously since the age of six but I had never been so excited about an idea before. I simply sat and thought, for four (delayed train) hours, and all the details bubbled up in my brain, and this scrawny, black-haired, bespectacled boy who did not know he was a wizard became more and more real to me.”

I don’t have a train to take but can invent my own spy route.  I’ll just be more observant on my daily walks, maybe even change the route a little.  Diane, the Spy.  (It could work!  No?)

Remember that writing is to put love in the world, not to use against your friends. But to yourself you must tell the truth.” –Ole Golly, Harriet the Spy, Louise Fitzhugh

it’s storytime

ICYMI, the Academy Awards were last Sunday and all week I have been seeing post after post about Taika Waititi and quotes from his speech. 

“I dedicate this to all the indigenous kids in the world who want to do art and dance and write stories,” Waititi said in his acceptance speech. “We are the original storytellers and we can make it here as well.”

A well deserved reactions considering how long we have been telling our stories.  

Storytelling is part of who we are, regardless of indigeniety.  Every culture, race and ethnic group has some kind of tie to it.  Otherwise how would we, today have a link to our past.  Sometimes, we live so deeply in these stories they consume us.  Once just a tale to pass the longs and nights and to entertain, we now believe wholeheartedly in them.  We give them power and when someone tries to disprove the story; we fight for it and cling to it like bubblegum stuck to your shoe on a hot summer day.

As a child, my father ran the summer camp program, where we he would take the group camping for a night.  Although not that deep into the woods, yet a good 20 minutes outside of town, we would camp next to the rapids.  At night while roasting smores, dad would spin yarns that still make me think twice before I jump into a lake. 

Growing up I never considered the history of my people’s stories, I have never really thought of where they come from, or who they come from, until now.  I remember my dad telling stories around the campfire during summer camp.  Sitting around the fire, roasting smores, while he told of water monsters and things that live in the woods.  Which as a kid that was afraid of the dark and hated bugs did not bode well.  My favourite was of the a creature that lived in the water and always made me pause before I jumped off the high rock into the water.  

It wasn’t until I started writing that my dad told me we come from storytellers, that was who our family was an I am finally coming home by writing. In telling stories, I am torn.  By myth, tradition and technology.  I live in social media, not realizing that these snippets of life give a glimpse into stories, made to look pretty with filters and the right angle,  cultivating, creating a new story, a myth so we can carry on with the day.

As I look back to this story my dad would tell and I remember, I wonder the true meaning of it is as it most likely been re-told and distorted through time by the lens of the teller.

Jennifer Bobiwash

Music X Writing

My writing tends to be very inspired by music—either because I am listening to my 272-track (19 hours, 51 minute) Spotify playlist, Musica X Escribir (It’s private, so you won’t find it) or because I’ve created a mental playlists that speaks to a certain story I am putting together. For this post, I thought it might be fun to share some of those tracks with you all. Who knows, maybe they’ll become songs you play in the background while you write or, at the very least, fun new contributions to your everyday playlist.

Enjoy!

Immunity – Jon Hopkins

I first heard of Jon Hopkins by way of the film How I Live Now, which he scored. I ended up checking out more of his work and really clicked with his 2013 album, Immunity. The title track is particularly special. I tend not to listen to music with vocals when I’m writing—I know myself, I will stop focusing on the work and sing along—but I somehow never have trouble with this song. That all being said, I want to stress that this IS an electronic music album, so I can’t advise anyone to listen to the entirety of this record when writing. HOWEVER, it is a very good album that I would highly recommend for a listen during a road trip.

It’s Not Your Fault (It’s How Air Works) The Boats

I freaking love the title of this song. It puts a dumb smile on my face for sure, which is probably the main reason I’m listing this specific track. The truth, however, is that unlike the previously mentioned Immunity, the Boats’ Songs by the Sea is definitely an album you can listen to its entirety while you write.  

Songs by the Sea is from 2004 but I did not come in contact with it until three years later when I found a lost ipod on the city bus. Having some time to kill until I made it downtown, I plugged my headphones in and hit shuffle. Musically, that lost ipod was one of the best things that happened to me.

If you’re wondering what happened to that lost ipod… Dear Reader, please know that I tried turning it in to the bus driver who told me to turn it in at the lost and found when we hit the station, but then, I forgot. I’m serious, I forgot!

It’s one of those things that keeps me up at night.

Anyway, Songs by the Sea was one of those albums that I listened to a lot—for writing, for studying—it did and does the trick.

Wede Harer GuzoHailu Mergia & Dahlak Band

Did Beyonce recommend this track somewhere at some time? I only ask because the comments section of this link seem to allude to the fact. Huh.

Anyway, I don’t follow many other accounts on Spotify, mostly because I don’t go looking for them, but the one I do follow belongs to a friend of a friend. We’d all collaborated on a project together and during our lunch break said friend of a friend put on his playlist and this song came up. Something lit up within me. “This will go on my writing playlist”, I thought. And it did. And I’ve played the hell out of it, and maybe Beyonce did. I think you should too. 

La PresumidaTrio Xoxocapa

During my high school years I was part of a Mexican folkloric dance group. I hated it. You had to smile a lot. Not my thing. The music, however, I really appreciated. A few years later, while working on a screenplay, I wrote a character who, unlike me, was really interested in Mexican folkloric dancing but, unlike me, was pretty terrible at it (who am I kidding, I was bad too!). One of the songs that she masters during the course of the story is “La Presumida” (The Conceited Woman). I thought it would fit perfectly for her snooty persona. 

I’m not snooty, you are.

Love Is StrangeBuddy Holly

I don’t know why but I listened the HECK out of this song last summer. I really have no clue where I picked it up from but it seemed to be in my head all of sudden. I can’t say that I actually wrote while I listened to it. It was more like I would write a little and then listen, as some sort of treat. Good writer, good writer.

Mucha MuchachaEsquivel

My earliest recollection of this song is by way of one of my favorite authors, Michele Serros. An early iteration of her website would play this song as an image loaded up of a coquettish Serros concealed by a mound of chicharrones (fried pork cracklings). A banner at the top read, “Mucha Michele”.

Michele Serros

Man, I really miss her. (I could write more about her here but I will save that for a future post I have planned up.)

I remember at the time (how old was I then—14? 15?) I looked up the song, thought it was cool, but sort of left it at that. It wasn’t until the summer of 2018 that I was producing my play, Senorita Monthly Juice, via the Hollywood Fringe Festival that my brother-in-law reintroduced me to the song by way of his interest in its composer, Esquivel (Juan Garcia Esquivel). Often referred to as the “Busby Berkeley of Cocktail Music”, it felt appropriate to use “Mucha Muchacha” for a group dance number in the play.

That summer I ended up going through an Esquivel rabbit hole and started checking out more of his music, some of which I still listen to when I write, if the vibe is appropriate 😉 That being said, I’d like to show you the following song:

Popotito 22 – Burbujas

“Popotito 22” was one of many songs composed by Esquivel for the late 70s Mexican children’s show, Odisea Burbujas (Bubble Odyssey). I mean, how cool is this song?!

First of the Gang to DieMorrissey

This one is hard to write about because man-oh-man: Morrissey, YOU HAVE CHANGED! But I feel the need to include it because this song really sparked something for me during the time I was writing my first play.  I can still remember being sprawled out on the living room floor of my Santa Cruz undergrad residence, feeling stuck in my first draft, when this song came on—I shot up from the floor and knew where the story had to go. 

MossbrakerBroken Social Scene

Broken Social Scene is one of my favorite bands. They have really good energy and I’m glad to have finally seen them live for the first time about two years ago because for a while I didn’t think I’d get the chance. This particular track, Mossbraker, is from their debut studio album, Feel Good Lost. For me, this is a pretty good album to listen to when writing as the instrumentation is gorgeous and there are minimal lyrics. As my pal, Wikipedia, will tell you, this album is very much a stylistic predecessor of work by the band KC Accidental which can be classified as ambient, post-rock. I mention this because its important to note that Broken Social Scene’s style has had its own musical evolution thereafter. Just letting you know in case you go looking at their other records to play while you write.

Unknown KohoutekThe Sun Ra Arkestra

Concert for the Comet Kohoutek by The Sun Ra Arkestra makes me happy. For some reason, this album reminds me of traditional Oaxacan music. I really don’t know why—I don’t have the musical background to be able to explain how that works itself out in my mind, but it just does. So I did a lot of listening to this album when I was writing the screenplay I’d mentioned above. Then I also went back and listened to it when I was working on a play that I’m still not sure how I feel about, so I’ll just leave it at that -_-

In case you’re wondering, here’s an example of traditional Oaxacan music:

MUSICA DE OAXACA GUELAGUETZA EN VIVO (REGION DE TUXTEPEC)

If you cut to the 4 minute, 10 second mark you will hear a song I am expected to dance with my dad at every Oaxacan party we attend because my mom sure isn’t going to.

That’s it for this post!

Please let me know if you listen to any of the tracks and have plans of incorporating them in your life or work, somehow. And please, tell me about the songs that have inspired your writing– I’d love to check them out.

Zury 🙂

How are you, really?

Hi Fellow LAFPI Writers and Readers-

I had not planned for this to be my first post for the second round of my LAFPI blog week, but it felt necessary.

As I’m sure you already know, yesterday the world lost NBA sports legend Kobe Bryant.

All of Los Angeles seemed to be in mourning.

No, not just Los Angeles—this great loss really seemed to cross state lines, team affiliations, sport leagues and art forms. So many folks were deeply affected, including myself.

Being a writer, my gut reaction when attempting to process my feelings is to write, and so I did. I spent a little time journaling last night. While I’ll keep the contents of my writing to myself, what I will say is that it helped a great deal. I do know, however, that there times when words don’t come or cut it, which can feel incredibly isolating.

This has all made me wonder how my fellow writers and creatives are doing during this difficult time.

So, how are you?

How are you, really?

I hope that you all have been able to find some comfort during this difficult time. Maybe you’ve also found yourself putting pen to paper to find peace. I really hope that’s helped, but in the case that it hasn’t, please know I’m here if you’d like to talk.

I’d like to close up this post by sharing this helpful flyer that was created by Wendy C. Ortiz (writer and psychotherapist) whose workshop, Self Care for Writers, I was able to attend via the 2018 Latina Writers Conference. Maybe it will come in handy for you as it has for me.

Zury Margarita Ruiz

*H.A.L.T. = Hungry, Angry, Lonely, and Tired

Putting Words to Work in 2020

Why not use my blog week to shout out about a new writing opp?

Plays Project is launching a new #GetOutTheVote initiative and invites playwrights to draft short (1-10 minute) plays/monologues/musicals on the theme HINDSIGHT IS 2020.  We would like interested writers to consider the following:

This is a forward-looking project = Speculative fiction! 

Imagine the world AFTER the 2020 election and what it might look like without a change in leadership.  We are looking for thoughtful pieces that demonstrate consideration into the myriad different ways four more years of current GOP leadership might manifest.

We invite interested playwrights to consider the following:

  • Voter turnout is vital to a thriving democracy, and yet only 54.7% of eligible voters participated in the 2016 election.
  • There are several pressing issues at stake in the 2020 election—which issues should we be most concerned with?  What do our lives look like post-2020 election, if these issues continue to go unchecked/unaided?
  • What do reticent voters need to hear in order feel motivated to vote – especially if their ideal candidate isn’t the nominee?
  • What regrets will people have if they abstain from voting in the 2020 election?  How might abstaining effect their day-to-day lives/kid’s lives/etc.?
  • Humor is an excellent delivery mechanism – don’t be afraid to make us laugh!
  • We love a good expletive, but for this project are hoping to have broad audience appeal – if you are an F-bomb expert, please provide alternative options for public spaces J

Selected plays will be featured on a special Protest Plays Project podcast Our goal is to also make these plays available to theatremakers across the nation in the hopes that they will put them to work as motivational theatre aimed at rallying voters!

Scripts will be accepted through March 10th – Please use the Google upload form on this page (which will become available Feb 1st)

Questions? You can email us at ProtestPlays@LittleBlackDressINK.org

Happy New Year!

by Leelee Jackson

Celeste once told me, “Leelee, your life change every week.” 

She said this after our sociology class when we learned about the perpetual violence of the prison industrial system and I said, “The reading for today’s lecture changed my life.” And it did. However, I hadn’t realized I said it so often but my dear friend (who listens to me even when I don’t listen to myself) picked up on this pattern. And it’s true, I do change a lot. I think my life changes every day. And to be honest, I enjoy that flexibility. Change is valuable. Change is good. That sounds common, chiche, easy, but it is so true. However, change is very hard. Sometimes, I want to change and can’t and other times, I don’t care to change yet I am completely transformed. The most consistent force of change I’ve experienced in my life (other than death) has to be reading. When I read a good ass book, article, or essay I start to think different and talk different and to me, it feels so damn good. I’m offered language and gain insight from someone else’s discovery of new and old worlds. I also gain insight to myself, insight that I would not have access to without spending intentional time with words. And it’s hard to change someone. Most people will say it’s impossible.

“You can’t make someone change if they don’t want to change.” 

But that’s not true! I’ve approached books as skeptic, critic. Prepared to find error with all the skills I paid handsomely for in the university. I’m never trying to change, I just do. I didn’t read as a child. To be honest, I didn’t know how to read. I would remember books by heart. Books like The Stinky Cheeseman. I’d study every page intensely, grateful for illustrations (and it’s a paradoy picture book about how stupid fairytales are, even for kids). I remembered each story from times teachers or daycare staff read it out loud (after I demanded of course). But I don’t have strong memories of reading the words myself until I came across the book as an adult. I didn’t know how to read. Not really. I could read words but in 3rd grade, I read at a 1st grade level and my comprehension was shot. It was so bad my parents figured I better get checked out. They weren’t sure if I was just actin’ up in class or if this was serious. I was diagnosed with ADHD. That explained why it was so hard for me to hold information. Why I would struggle to read a sentence out loud and forget it as the words escaped my mouth. Gone, as if it were never there. 

And then it happened. 

13 years old, I met Lorraine. 

It was in Oakland California at Calvin Simons Middle school. Though the copy of A Raisin in the Sun had no photos, I remember deviating from my normal group of friends and retreated to a desk in the back. This class was like Sister Mary Clarence’s music class from Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit  but before she turned it around. It was wild. But I found something… someone. And she had changed me. I have no idea why I took to that book more seriously than the others our english teacher tried to get us to read. It would be another 9 years before I picked up a different  play (Doubt by John Patrick Shanley). I had no relationship to theatre at the time nor had I ever read a book on my own. But, Hansberry demands attention and I had no choice but to give it to her. 

ADHD: Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder 

She achieved what I had been told was impossible. She held me and my deficiencies and showed me I’m wasn’t alone. I can be alright even when things ain’t… alright. At the time, me and my family were living with my grandmother and cousins. A bunch of us slept on the floor in the small three bedroom apartment. In total, there were 9 of us there and this book gave me the space I needed at that time. I read about a family who lived with family. No space, but the 5 of them still managed to have hope, dreams and love for one another. I remember reading some of the scenes faster than others because I wanted to get to the parts with Beneatha. I wanted to be Beneatha so damn bad. My hair, like hers was thick, course, nappy and there was something about her acts of resistance that drew me in and reminded me that it is okay to claim the nappy. Embrace the nappy. That nappy hair is okay. 

Even if you’re judged for it. 

Change is good. 

Most recently, I’ve been changed by Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower and now I’m preparing myself for the revolution and apocalypse.  I’m currently being changed by both Gloria Anzaldùa’s book Borderlands La Frontera the New Mestiza and SOS- Calling All Black People: A Black Arts Movement reader. I take it personal that all of this work was not only created for me to enjoy, but also to grow, learn, and forever be changed. 

Why I Don’t Write

It’s been 5 days or more that this task has been haunting me.  What should I write about? What do I want to write about? A slew of ideas come to me, but I am not able to piece any of it together.  Why? Why? Why?

Oh forget the why’s.  Just do it.

So I pop open my laptop, a dinosaur of a Mac OS 10.6.8.  

First the battery had died so I plugged it in. I am baffled, at first, as to which port the power fits into without ruining the jacks.  Hours later, the green light goes on. Yay! Screen displays, password verification… Uh-oh. Oh sh-t. I type in tentatively a few guesses and the screen responds with a terrifying tremble.  Eventually I do get in, feeling guilt. If I did this more often, then all this would be in my bones. Ah well, it’s a new year, I promise to be better. Tally on.

Click on Pages… another hurdle –  ‘Enter your purchased iWork ‘08 serial number’.  Has it been that long? I’ve either misplaced or tossed out the box.  I should’ve saved the number in a file somewhere. Oh well, another one to work on getting better at.  Continuous improvement, right?

Be resourceful.  Ok, got it. Google Docs!  Click on the Safari icon. What now?  “This version of Safari is no longer supported.  Please upgrade to a supported browser…” I press on, hoping I can fool this stupid software.  I tap on the “W” and pops open a dialog box telling me “Unable to load file. Try to load it again or send an error report.”  a big bold pushbutton “Reload” is below the polite words. I am feeling it, like Captain Pickard. “Make it so, Number 1”. This action clears away the dialog box thus inviting me to tap the next letter “h”, and there it is again – “Reload”.  The booming command reminds me of cannons that I feel like aiming aiming at my screen.

Be patient and calm.  Just do it.

I choose to shift courses and use Chrome.  Click. Search for Google Docs, and click again to find a login screen for my Google account – pinky hovers over the ‘a’ of the keyboard, then press and nothing.  Let’s do this again. Pinky hovers over the ‘a’ then down. Nien. Huh? Okay. I now vaguely remember why I haven’t been using this laptop. The ‘a’ letter is no longer functional.  I ingeniously remembered my ‘work around’ for this problem. Open a virtual page and highlight the letter ‘a’, and copy it to the clipboard. Whenever I need the letter ‘a’ then I do quick “Command+V”, and there’s an ‘a’.

Voila!  Fait accompli.

Now just save this puppy and post it. 

The most unexpected things can inspire one to write.  For me it was the briefest email from a friend who sent me a comic strip, saying that he saw “this” and it reminded him of me.

2020 Resolutions to Keep … or Break

Kitty interviewed Marie Kondo for LA Talks Live on Spectrum Cable.
Do half-written plays spark joy?

by Kitty Felde.

There’s something about a new year. It’s a new start, a “do-over,” a chance to be a better version of ourselves. As playwrights, it’s a good time to set a few goals.

Or not.

May I offer my own Top Ten List for 2020.

1. Stop being so hard on myself.

Last year, there was too much chaos in my life to even think about writing a new play, let alone revising an old draft or sending out scripts. And the fact that there wasn’t enough bandwidth in my brain to think about theatre in 2019 doesn’t mean I’m a bad person or a lousy playwright. Life happens. I vow to do better this year. But if life throws a curveball, I will be forgiving and kind and encouraging: the same way I am to every other writer but myself.

2. Write 500 words a day, five days a week.

I think I can commit to this goal. Five hundred words may not sound like much, but those words add up. They don’t even have to be any good. But as Jodi Picoult famously says, “you can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.”

3. Submit.

The same way you can’t edit a blank page, you can’t get a play produced if you don’t show it to someone. Send it out. Set a goal of 20 rejections in 2020! Or 100 rejections!

4. Look at ALL of my unfinished, bad drafts, ideas. Decide which are worth my time.

This is a great way to cheat. I may not have a new play dying to be written, but I know I have a decent first act in some computer file somewhere. If I can find it, and find a way to finish it, half my work is done. Or I can look at it and decide to trash it and move on. Either way, it feels very Marie Kondo of me to pick up a piece of old writing and ask myself whether it still “gives me joy.”

5. Go see more theatre.

We are blessed with dozens of terrific theatres in Los Angeles. How many have I visited? Not enough.

I know traffic is horrible and most theatres seem to be on the other side of the hill. But last year, I started making the rounds, seeing some terrific shows in 3 new-to-me theatre spaces. I will continue to make my way around town in 2020.

6. Read other people’s plays.

This is not only polite, it’s also a great way to see how other writers construct an evening of theatre.

It’s also a way of creating community. Writing is lonesome work. Knowing that someone else is laboring to create good work is a small comfort. There’s even a Facebook group that reads plays and makes recommendations. So far, I’ve been a lurker in the NPX Challenge Group. This year, I’ll start reading and recommending.

7. Celebrate the small victories.

I need to count all of my blessings, large and small. It may not be a Tony Award, but my day got a whole lot better when my cleaning lady showed me the book report her granddaughter wrote about MY book. I felt like a New York Times bestselling author. Yay.

8. Have coffee with people.

I used to tell my summer interns back in Washington that D.C. was a coffee kind of place. I’ve sat in Starbucks and Caribou Coffee and Coffee Bean stores all over DC, overhearing job interviews, congressional staff meetings, even lobbyist meet and greets. If you want to do business there, you start with “a coffee.”

To re-establish myself here in Los Angeles, I need to follow my own advice and start setting up coffee dates.

9. Think outside the box.

I’ve never really been interested in pop culture. I was the odd kid who organized the “Save Star Trek” campaign in elementary school, got busted in high school for wearing skirts that were too LONG, and became a groupie for “Bonanza” star Pernell Roberts because “every balding middle aged actor should have one diehard fan.”

So why did it surprise me to look at everything I’ve written over the years and discovered that none of it was “top ten list” material. It’s all quirky, quiet, and important to me.
So why am I kicking myself that none of my work is being picked up by Signature Theatre in New York or South Coast Rep in Costa Mesa or any of the other well-established theatres across the country?

I realize that my longest running play isn’t being performed in a theatre at all. It’s a commission I got to write a one-man show about Theodore Roosevelt’s youngest son Quentin and it’s been running every weekend for years, playing on the sidewalks around the White House. I’ve directed plays performed in people’s living rooms, written a play performed in a D.C. National Park that celebrates water lilies, and this past summer, penned an audio play (THE FINA MENDOZA MYSTERIES) that was taped in a library, the L.A. Zoo, and in the middle of a jazz concert in a park.

This year, I vow to continue to look for unusual spaces where I can put my work before an audience. Got any suggestions?

10. Be Persistent. And if the door keeps getting slammed in your face, try another door. Or keep knocking.

For most of 2019, I’ve been trying to get the LA Public Library to carry my book “Welcome to Washington, Fina Mendoza.” It’s carried by lots of other library systems (L.A. County and the DCPL to name but two) but I’ve been hitting my head against the way trying to get LAPL to put the book on their shelves. Today I sent yet another email to their acquisitions person, fully expecting to get yet another rejection. But I asked myself: what did I have to lose? It’s a definite “no” if I don’t follow up. Maybe this time will be different. Maybe.

Five minutes ago, I got a response: “Done!” The book will be on LA Public Library shelves by the end of the month! Maybe 2020 won’t be so bad after all.

Do you have resolutions for 2020 that you’re willing to share?

LEVEL UP


Bet on yourself in 2020. The number one thing I will not allow to occur in 2020 is working with anyone who doesn’t or cannot LEVEL UP! I’m begging you to do the same.

I know more often than not, many of us just want to get the work started and that can make you to reach out to past creative partners, unreliable creators, or make excuses for why you cannot start the work alone instead of trusting yourself and betting on your talent, skills, and network.

The work will always be emotional, yet do not hold yourself back by settling for anything less than your best this decade. It’s vital that you continue to bet on your work. That means not settling on projects that do not capture your heart, for it will not be worth your long days or sleepless nights.

I know leveling up can seem impossible when grant funding is low or nonexistent, when sponsorship is not enough or when the vision of that dream theatre space seems financially unattainable. But keep believing in your work. Leveling up begins with one action that leads you to your next step.

Everyone is in a rush, which often causes a lack of truth and depth within the work. Instead, what manifests are pieces of the truth – a veil between the work and the audience… this new, hurried, smothered truth.

The work need not take years, by any means but allow it to gestate before pushing it out into the world.

Do not give up! Level up!
I’m not saying you need to post more via social media, nor am I saying you need to network at more events. I am saying believe in your ideas, stories, visions… all while moving forward and taking only those with you who can see the bigger picture. The next level.

As Ciara says, “Be your own boss, love yourself, get up and dance. Level up!”

By Constance Strickland