Thanks for checking out the LAFPI “tag team” blog, below, handed off each week from one interesting female playwright to another.
Who are they? Click Here
Thanks for checking out the LAFPI “tag team” blog, below, handed off each week from one interesting female playwright to another.
Who are they? Click Here
One, among many, memories of my father was he was a collector of things! He collected books, collected coins, watches – he just never threw anything away. But his worst collection was his video recording machines (Beta and VHS) and they were all hooked up to the TV – all seven or eight of them. It was way too many for one household and one man. He was the master of these machines, and no-one was allowed to use them. This irked me to the max, and I asked him why he needed so many video recorders and pretty much alluded that it was a kind of sickness. Needless to say, you can picture, that he and I butted heads on everything.
So what I was trying to tell my Dear Father was to get perspective. Perspective is everything in terms of figuring out if you’re crazy, normal or out of this world.
A few days ago I commented to someone, “Hey, there must’ve been many periods in history when there’s been a pandemic, and probably complicated by social issues. With my limited knowledge of history my example is the Middle Ages with the Bubonic Plague and the land owners and serfdom. Here we are again, pretty much playing the same story.
I am not downplaying the personal stories of loss, humiliation and suffering. We are all experiencing the effect of the freak show. Each and every story is real and deserve empathy. How else can we grow as individuals and as a community of human beings? We have the capacity to evolve because we’re gifted with tools to be more than what we think we are. But we have to use those tools to transform to a higher level of consciousness. Again, imagination is a tool, and another one is perspective.
Without perspective we can lose ourselves in the vortex of emotions and confusion. Meditation is another tool to observe from within what’s happening inside and out; and outside and in. Knowledge is another tool. Having a perspective of history and the movement of humans from hunters to gatherers to information workers, artists, farmers and service providers allows us to let go of the fear that we’re not enough, and there’s not enough to go around.
A recent make-over of my abode in South Los Angeles resulted in sorting through boxes of books, memorabilia, clothes, shoes, CDs, laptops, musical instruments (including seven guitars and downsized from a larger collection). Now talk about the fruit not falling far from the tree. I am my father :-). I’m able to recognize the heap of things I’ve collected and see that I am repeating the same story.
And I can actually relax and let go of my anxiety that I’m not normal. My father was normal. I’m OK and he was OK and you’re OK too.
A friend of mine and I have been exchanging a daily list of 5 things we’re grateful for via email. We’re now on our 7 month, and I hope we continue this for the rest of our lives. One time he listed “Imagination”.
Thinking about the meaning of imagination I begin to understand that imagination is a tool we all have access to only if we allow ourselves the luxury of time to practice it. It is a practice, like other forms of discipline.
Imagination allows us to to go places where we physically can’t go – the outer edges of the universe. Imagine.
With our imagination we have created other tools to give body to something we’ve imagined. For example, math and science to map the galaxies. With imagination we think about the possibilities of life on other planets other than our own. Statistically, scientists have hypothesized that the probability of life beyond the Milky Way is possible. So we endeavor to explore and build spacecrafts and probes and radars to reach out. “Hey, is there anybody out there?”
With imagination we can empathize and know what it’s like to be in someone else’s position – their joy, pain, sorrow, guilt, shame, contentment, dreams. It is effort to practice imagining a situation; it is a form of surrendering our ego to something beyond ourselves.
You’ve probably heard someone say “I can’t imagine…” after telling them a story that is either unbearable or unbelievable. Then you say, “It’s true. It really happened.” And the other person still can’t accept the story as a possibility. Later on, she may think further about it, and allow her imagination to go there and then start to believe in the possibility. And tendrils of sympathy may grow from empathy into believing.
Yes. Imagination is something to be grateful for.
How else could we have hope to get through this period of isolation and uncertainty. Just imagine it without having an imagination.
by Kitty Felde
There’s only one thing worse than trying to write a synopsis of your play: writing the cover letter that goes with it.
Many theatres and contests have moved to online submissions with no place to fill in the extras that don’t fit the categories in the form. That’s a shame. Standardized submission forms eliminate any opportunity for you to show more of yourself, making it more difficult to stand out from the crowd.
But if you’re given the opportunity to submit by email – or even help the U.S. Postal Service survive by sending a paper script – you need a great cover letter.
For years, I dashed off a couple of paragraphs in the “enclosed please find a copy of my play XZY for your reading pleasure.” Then my editor – the guy I married a million years ago – read me the riot act. I got a half hour lecture on the importance of cover letters. He should know. He spends days crafting the perfect submission letter to go with his book manuscripts. So I asked him to help me with my submission email for a new Fina Mendoza mystery novel. As a result, I got two kind, but personal rejections, but also a pair of “send me more”s.
Children’s books are not plays, but the cover letter format works for both. I’ve pasted my latest cover letter below and highlighted the elements that (I think) make it work.
Dear Mary Jane, – I think in this day and age, we can get away with first names.
I’m Kitty Felde, author of “Welcome to Washington, Fina Mendoza” and host of the Book Club for Kids and producer of The Fina Mendoza Mysteries podcast. – It never hurts to lead with your most recognizable credit. Since publishers are looking for writers with their own “brands” these days, this is what I chose to include at the top. For a play, I might instead list my most current production or the best-known theatre or director.
Now you get to brag for a paragraph or two:
These months of lockdown have at least been good for both my writing and my podcasting. – Because Covid has changed everything, especially live theatre, do acknowledge the existence of the pandemic.
On my multiple award-winning Book Club for Kids podcast, a trio of young readers discuss a novel, interview the writer, and hear a passage from the book read by a celebrity. When the schools shut down this spring, both teachers and parents discovered the podcast. Our episode downloads exploded, jumping more than 200%. Then The New York Times profiled us, writing: “This virtual gathering space for young readers feels more vital than ever in the social distancing era.” And even before the pandemic, The Times of London named us one of the top ten kidcasts in the world. – Go ahead and include links to your reviews and website. Why not? They don’t have to click on it, but they might.
I also adapted “Welcome to Washington, Fina Mendoza” into an episodic podcast. This summer, I was invited to make a presentation at the high-profile Bay Area Book Festival – virtually – to talk about both the book and the process of turning it into a podcast. In addition, right before the entire city shut down, the Los Angeles Public Library hosted me at a live author event. And then after the shutdown, I was featured in a “LAPL Instagram Live Author Conversation.” – Don’t be a “girl,” too humble to talk about your accomplishments. Brag, brag, brag. Nobody else is going to toot your horn for you.
Now, in my old journalism days, this would be called “burying the lede.” You may want to put this paragraph at the top, but like any good playwright, I chose instead to set the scene, introducing the characters (me) and then launch into the story – or in this case, the reason for writing:
I have completed the second book in my Fina Mendoza mysteries series set on Capitol Hill. My contract with my current publisher just expired at the end of August. The rights to the first book in this series reverted to me at the end of the contract.
And here’s where I mention the specifics about why this particular publisher – or theatre – is perfect for my work.
I’d very much like to bring both books, and subsequent ones in the series, to a new publisher – one with a track record of getting books into libraries and classrooms.
I’m quite proud of my work on the first book in the series. I secured fine blurbs from the chief tour guide of the U.S. Capitol Historical Society, several members of Congress, NPR First Lady Susan Stamberg, and children’s writers Leah Henderson, Wendy Wan-Long Shang, and Gail Carson Levine. I did more than a dozen book talks at various venues in both Washington and Los Angeles. And I got a terrific review from Kirkus. – More bragging. It may be overkill, but if you’ve got it, flaunt it.
Here’s where you pitch the play or book itself. Note that I didn’t give a blow-by-blow of all the action in the story, just the highlights:
The second book is called State of the Union: A Fina Mendoza Mystery. In “Welcome to Washington, Fina Mendoza,” 10-year-old Fina, a recent transplant from Los Angeles to Washington, solves the mystery of the legendary Demon Cat of Capitol Hill. In “State of the Union,” our intrepid young detective must track down a mysterious bird who poops on the president’s head during the State of the Union address. It’s also the tale of tensions in the Mendoza family as Fina’s outspoken grandmother joins the family in Washington, combat in Congress as lawmakers struggle with immigration reform, and even rivalries between a pair of congressional dogs that Fina walks after school.
When you submit a non-fiction proposal, you include an extensive marketing plan. Do you have a marketing plan for your work? Something that – besides the excellence of the writing – will help a theatre sell tickets? Or in this case, sell books?
I believe this series can be quite successful for three reasons. First, it fits solidly into the middle-grade mystery novel genre. Second, our protagonist is a smart, strong, brave young Latina who can serve as a role model at a time when many parents – Latinx and otherwise – are looking for such a heroine. Third, it’s just the thing for parents who want their children to learn a little something about the U.S. Constitution and national politics and the ways of Washington. There’s quite a dearth of books for young readers, both fiction and non-fiction, that tackle the workings of our government. That’s why the Library of Congress, the gift shop for the House office buildings, and at least three of D.C.’s independent bookstores carried the first book in the series.
Got a second play that a theatre might be interested in? Why not pitch it, too? You never know if they a project under contract that’s too similar to your first masterpiece that you pitched earlier in the letter:
I also wanted to let you know that in addition to my Fina Mendoza mysteries, I’ve been working on a second mystery series also set in Washington, DC. This one takes place at the turn of the last century. Our amateur detective is Quentin, the youngest child of President Theodore Roosevelt. He terrorized the White House with spit balls on the Andrew Jackson portrait, bringing a pony up to the second floor in the elevator to visit a sick sibling, and dropped snowballs on the heads of the Secret Service. I’ve finished the first few chapters of Murder on the Potomac: A Quentin Roosevelt Mystery.
Get personal. Don’t be afraid to show something about yourself. This paragraph includes a bit of bragging, a bit of marketing, and an admission that I’m new at this genre:
This mystery writing thing is a sort of second act for me. I had a long career as a public radio journalist, with NPR and KCRW and KPCC in Southern California, including stints as a field reporter, U.S. Capitol correspondent, and talk show host. Three times my journalist peers named me the “Los Angeles Radio Journalist of the Year.” And I’d like to think I’m still something of a public figure in Southern California – which, as you know, is both the largest book market in the country and home to millions of Latinx.
Remind them to look for the attachment:
I’m attaching an e-manuscript for the second Fina Mendoza mystery. I would also be happy to snail mail you a copy of “Welcome to Washington, Fina Mendoza.”
It’s always nice to end with a compliment:
Thanks so much for your consideration. I’ve so enjoyed diving into the mystery genre. And I would love to continue to build my writing career with the help of a wonderful agent like you at XYZ Representation.
Don’t be afraid of length in your cover letter. What’s the worst that can happen? They’ll just skim to get to the bottom.
These are just my thoughts about what to put in a cover letter. I’d love to see what works for you!
Granny passed away Saturday, September 5th, 2020 in the evening surrounded by her kids, grandkids, and great-grandchildren. A Titan who only spoke truth and never bent on who she was. A powerful woman who worked hard her whole life, but I didn’t know her whole story. I listened and knew the basics and granny never spoke the whole past, it came in pieces and I never got her full story. I can only honor my granny by urging other women to tell their stories. Do not leave your story up for grabs nor to be washed away by time. As I continue to absorb my mother’s story; I find and tell my story and through those actions, I may just tell my granny’s story too. Tell your story even if it seems you have no story at all. Archive your life, leave it for the future, leave it for those who come after. Undisputedly.
I come from a stock of women who tell their own stories in code.
Each never fully aware of their self-power.
Who walk with their ideas of freedom stamped upon their foreheads.
I paint my face to reveal the brutal scars of war.
The mirror no longer my enemy-
is now, my friend.
I recognize the contour features of my ancestors,
My reflection revealing how much I can bear.
Memories of tribal wars, broken stories, and abandon homes.
Yet, what still to lives in memory is
the deep crescendoing laughter of song, and dance filled with hope.
I fight to eat and the chance to dance.
I begin to realize my reflection is her face.
I know the woman who appears before me.
Silent. She does not speak.
Silent. I do not speak.
This stranger so familiar
I can’t touch her.
She is cold. I reach out to hold her
I can’t reach her…
who looks like me.
What lingers, a women’s fear of death and life?
She still remembers:
There once was a time when she came through space like fire!
A bright, fierce, unstoppable Afro haired girl
covered in wildflowers-
a tattered dress, listening to an old beat-up boombox.
I’ve been having a hard time focusing my thoughts lately. When they do coalesce, they tend toward the negative. My ego has been battered and beaten in the wind. About a year and a half ago, I had a decent sense of who I was, what I wanted to do, and where I was going.
Now? I spend most days swirling in negative thoughts.
I’m very sure my friends are tired of asking how I am and what they get is a heavy sigh and a “Oh, I’m fine…” thick with the drama of someone who has just survived an island of dinosaurs.
And while negative thinking does not help one feel particularly motivated or empowered to write that next Great American Play that could not possibly be produced before 2025 at this point, positive thinking feels rather naive right now.
But it is not positive thinking I need. I’m realizing that before the pandemic – and actually months before that, in spring 2019 – I was doing okay because I had ritual and routine in my life.
I grew up Lutheran and did the Confirmation thing and the teaching Vacation Bible School thing and mostly hated it all, but continued to pray up until maybe my early 20s. Theater became my new church around that time – it was my ritual, my routine, the way I connected with myself. And now…?
Before the pandemic, I was struggling with finding some solid ground in this new chapter of life. But one thing I kept doing was driving to my grandmother’s house is Anaheim once a week and spending 12 hours shopping, cleaning, doing laundry, etc. She needed the extra help, and I felt useful. Since the pandemic, she is living at my parents’ house (which was always the plan) and that routine fell away…
I didn’t stop praying because I stopped believing in God or the interconnectedness of the universe or ghosts or whatever. I’m skeptical, but I also just bought two Tarot decks and watched the whole of the new Ghost Hunters on Hulu. So, you do the math. But the ritual of praying stopped having meaning for me. Before the pandemic, going to a theater had started to wane in meaning too. Even the act of writing feels more like work than magic.
I’ve defined my life in terms of being “a writer.” My whole identity is wrapped in that. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But when certain things don’t work out, when Theatre seems to have said “no thank you” to me in general, and when our industry is on a perpetual pause, AND the film industry, AND all of our terrible dirty laundry is being aired out, one has to wonder if defining oneself by THIS is such a good idea.
My routine these days is just my to do list. Endless check boxes that lead to nothing.
When all your meaning, ideas of success, and curiosity is wrapped up in things that are outside your control, where does that leave you?
We are in a period of self destruction. And rebuilding. On both macro and micro levels.
I have had these three tabs open for the last couple days in preparation of writing this blog.
Highest grossing movie this week was Jurassic Park. A movie nearly 30 years old. An indication that the Hollywood machine has halted….and that stories of self destruction are pretty damn relevant.
The PEN America Emerging Voices Fellowship, which was a life-changer for my career and, well, life, has been canceled for next year. It’s unclear if there will ever be the money and support to get it going again.
These are all twisted up together in my head. It has something to do with finding meaning and priorities and community. Something to do with a ritual of destruction. Something to do with the T-Rex in Jurassic Park actually being a hero and not the villain like we are led to believe.
Last time I was at my grandmother’s house, I found this photo (below). This, perhaps, more than anything else right now, feels like this moment to me. A world overexposed and erased. But enough of an airplane left to fly into the fog.
Life finds a way.
THE LONG HOT SUMMER
At rise, inside a 1960s apartment building. Hundred-degree days, a waning water supply and the dire need to stay in a creative space, the protagonist gathers the almost empty bottles; she pours them into one bottle, scavenges for more in bags around her home. She can make it to the day before payday if she rations herself… Inside an old purse she finds a five-dollar bill stuck between two receipts. PROTAGONIST breaks out in a victory dance, slow and off beat, dehydration is cruel.
HOT DAMN, WATER, WATER
WHAT? WHAT? WATER, WATER
I could have never imagined that the world would start to have hints of the BIRD BOX or the BOOK OF ELI real time and that in the midst of “working from home,” the competing stress factor would be water or the lack thereof. So yes, I danced around a bit then promptly left for the store to restock.
The dehydration lasted a few days longer than expected, symbolically tied to the minimal writing I have been doing. My whole self has been crying out for community… I took a webinar on grief through Hedgebrook just for that reason. The Webinar, “The Sixth Stage: Possibilities for Awe and Wonderment When Writing Grief” with Idrissa Simmonds-Nastili, and its ‘holding space’ was a profoundly refreshing experience. Hedgebrook offers a lot of webinars that can be a source of gathering during this time. This was my first one which I took on grief because I seem to be living there as of late. Grief encompasses real estate like a swarm of bees heading home to the honeycomb looking for the sweet refuge of its cavernous walls. Hovering over loss like a tornado, it’s the bitch that won’t go away easily, not without a fight, not without drawing the last bit of blood. With the death of one of my cousins and one of my dear friends, my body which has been keeping score has begun to scream, “do over, do over.” There’s no such pleasure…
What’s left is what’s left. Or, is there a way to change something – some part – of this madness?
Maybe the do over is in the expelling of the stinger and the adding of salve and alcohol. It does help when you write about it. Even when there’s so much of it that it can fill two lifetimes, writing moves it on it way.
I am missing the pieces of me frozen in the walls, my fingers and toes have started tingling, waking up, moving, they don’t know there’s no such thing as do over’s. Maybe I won’t tell them, maybe I’ll just wait and see if this leads to deep welled water… deeper than this grief. Maybe it’s flowing upward from underground just waiting for me to believe so it can burst forth…
There is a wonderful article “Letter from Oakland: Black Motherhood in Sleepless Times by Idrissa Simmonds-Nastili on the Literary Hub site at https://lithub.com/letter-from-oakland-black-motherhood-in-sleepless-times/
by Cynthia Wands
It’s been an amazing experience to listen to all the women’s voices during the Democratic Convention. Women who are journalists, broadcasters, politicians, a woman who works as security in a high rise elevator, sisters, mothers, Nancy Pelosi, and citizens.
I didn’t hear much authority in women’s voices when I was growing up. The nuns at Catholic school were characters, some brash, some almost invisible, but they were never heard from in the congregation at mass. They could sing in the choir. But they didn’t have voices that you could hear as an individual or participating as an equal in the church hierarchy.
As a playwright, I think back to all the characters I wanted to be as a young girl: a lion tamer, the first person who could fly without wings, an eccentric artist who kept a large menagerie of exotic animals, or a lawyer, like Katherine Hepburn in ADAMS RIB. I loved mouthy, extroverted, fearless, confident women who were fierce.
I’m looking at all the women who are running for office this election, and the voices of women interjecting their issues into the fabric of our chaotic American life right now. And I’m relieved to see that the centuries of women’s silence is coming to an end. I also see the pushback and disrespect and misogyny and violent objection to women in power, using their voices.
So I’m encouraged. For our voices as women, as characters, as people.
I wanted to share a bit of a giggle. This is a bit of diversion taped by the BBC, and the actors are having a bit of fun with our Zoom culture. I love it. I hope you do too. It’s about three minutes.
by Cynthia Wands
I was watching the Democratic National Convention last night, and I’m still thinking of all the faces and voices from the Americans who appeared during the states roll call.
I’ve watched it three times since last night, and I’m still very moved by it.
I loved seeing the faces, and hearing their individual voices: some of them polished and confident, others were quirky and spontaneous and awkward. It’s a great melange of the people who care to be involved in this difficult period of time.
I miss being part of audiences, crowds, spectators, and feeling like I belong to a large group, a clutch, of people.
Last year I flew over to the MUNY theater to see a production of 1776, a musical I’d never seen onstage before, and I didn’t know much about it. It certainly reflects the time in which it was written, almost a piece of amber with flecks of culture embedded in it. And I still think about it, and the music, even today.
What I also remember about that production was the audience of 11,000 people who saw the show.
I wonder when we will ever get to feel that thrill of being together to celebrate en masse and to carry with us the contact high of belonging to such a large animal group.
I will say, that watching the close ups of people’s faces last night on the television, was rewarding and intimate. And it makes me wonder about the scale of what we’ll get to experience in the future.
By Desireé York
Feeling alone, either literally as a result of this quarantine, or in dealing with the unforeseen challenges of life during a pandemic? Towne Street Theatre, LA’s premiere African-American Theatre Company, will meet you wherever you are with their presentation of Corona and Other Maladies. Experience the virtual performances of six short plays on Saturday, August 15th at 7PM and Sunday, August 16th at 4PM coming to you LIVE from the sets/homes of over a dozen entertainers attempting to navigate this bizarre time just like you! This event includes 4 plays by women+ writers, all directed by Nancy Cheryll Davis, Towne Street Theatre’s Artistic Director. I had the privilege of connecting with Nancy to learn more about this event.
LAFPI: What inspired this event and what makes it unique from other Zoom readings?
Nancy Cheryll Davis: We had just started our 10 minute Play Festival rehearsals when the pandemic hit, and it became clear that we were not going to be able to return to live theatre anytime soon. After doing our first Zoom event with our Spoken Word program, Sum Poetry, I realized how much people wanted to stay connected. I also realized how important it was for all of us, Company and Audience, to do so.
In May I came up with the title, Corona & Other Maladies, and asked our writers if they had, or could come up with, some short plays about living through this moment. We were originally going to do it in June, but after the deaths of Ahmad Aubrey, George Floyd and Breanna Taylor, I decided to postpone our programming and take a much needed pause to reflect on what was happening in our communities across the country.
We really worked on having some movement and semblance of the reality of each piece through the actors’ own home backgrounds. We used a few virtual ones and rehearsed everything just like we would in real time.
LAFPI: What did you find the most fun and the most challenging not only directing all six plays, but in this specific format?
Nancy: Towne Street is fortunate to have incredibly talented writers and actors. Each script was so good! The beauty of having a company is that I know the members so well and what they really shine in. It was fun to cast each piece knowing they would all bring their special skills to their roles. Our production team is also incredibly talented and has fearlessly delved into this unknown world with me. We have all commented on the fact that although we are not doing live theatre, we are still able to practice our craft be it writing, acting, designing or directing, with this platform.
Directing these plays was like playing in a sandbox for me. The biggest challenge of course is the bandwidth each actor has or doesn’t have, on any given day, and the lack of control over that issue.
LAFPI: How do you feel that these plays “meet” audiences wherever they are and what would you like them to take away from the experience?
Nancy: The plays explore so many of the experiences that people are having now. They are beautifully written and acted and despite the title, rather lighthearted.
I always think finding some joy and laughter in the midst of chaos is critical to the human spirit. I hope for the time they spend with us on either Saturday or Sunday, that they are able to relax for a little bit and just have a good time. We are having an “After Party” following the performances, and I look forward to sharing some conversation and drinks with all!
For more information and to tune into the live Zoom event visit: tstcorona.eventbrite.com. To learn more about the work of Town Street Theatre, visit www.townestreetla.org or follow on Facebook and Instagram.
In 2016, I had was a writer in the PEN America Emerging Voices Fellowship. It was a life changing experience for me. I had always been a fiction writer, but that Fellowship gave me tools and confidence to finally embrace that part of my career.
Of course I have this whole other “career” as a playwright too. And I have been wondering, since 2016, how I could find ways to merge the two worlds and help amplify the program and the writers involved.
So last fall I pitched an idea to Amanda Fletcher, the Emerging Voices Fellowship Manager, for a live reading night called Puppets & Prose – during which we could get puppets and puppeteers to read written work from EV alum. It would be the weirdest reading night ever, but we were both super excited about it.
And then a pandemic hit. And there would be no live in-person puppet shows for a while…
But then…why not do it online?
So in April, when all the world was shutting down, I poked and prodded at Emerging Voices writers to send me some 1-3 min written pieces. And I worked with Rogue Artists Ensemble and the LA Guild of Puppetry to put a call for puppeteers, performers and visual artists who might want to take a piece and interpret the work into a short video.
The response was overwhelming – so much so that each of the 17 written pieces I got had TWO artists assigned to it – resulting in 33 final micro films. It took me almost a week to figure out the pairings!
All the films still live on our website and YouTube channel – but I wanted to share with you a few pieces that ended up being very fem-tastic – the writers and artists identify as female artists, and the results are amazing…
Granted, all I ever wanted were a few weird puppets looking into the camera and reading poetry to me, so maybe I have a low bar. But I think you will enjoy.
No video is over 5 minutes – so enjoy. And if you like these, watch the rest on the Rogue Artists Ensemble website.