One year. 365 days. How can something that begins with so much potential end with so few achievements to show for it? I suppose perhaps I am not being fair. After all I have managed to pay down some of my debt, and my taxes. I was cast in my first equity play and become an EMC cardholder, performing for my biggest audiences yet. One of my plays got its first public reading in LA, I started teaching a young adults writers group that makes me feel really inspired, I did some commercials, won an award for a commercial I made, and have made some real nice friends. That’s not nothing. So, why do I feel so discouraged? It all goes back to expectations, doesn’t it? There are the expectations we fail due to our own lack of discipline and planning and there are the expectations we fail, though no fault of our own, simply due to how things shake out and the millions of variables that go in to anything that happens in life.
Yet, I’m feeling discouraged. A year here was all I expected it to take to be financially bounced back enough to return to LA. It’s not. It looks like at least one more year here is going to be necessary. I had this timeline of scripts (plays and screenplays) I wanted to get done and I haven’t finished any of them. I desperately have been trying to find a new job because for the last year I’ve worked 60+ hours a week, and written 30,000+ words per month (of medical blog posts), between my jobs in collections and as a freelance writer. The last thing this struggling actor/writer wants to do after all that is sit at her computer and write- but still, I have- not the big goals I expected myself to complete, but small bites of poems, short stories, one acts and short films. What I do want to do after all that, what I crave doing after all that, is ACT. My heart breaks everyday I don’t have a script to chew through, a stage to mount. Recently I auditioned for a play by my favorite playwright in the most beautiful theatre in town. Ever since they had announced it in their season last year I’ve been dreaming about it, though I doubted I would still be here to audition. Then, when it became clear I would be here, I started preparing for the audition. I prepared for a month, even though the audition was a cold read for a community theatre production. It felt terrific. I fought my way into this character that I had never understood fully before and I lived in that space until it became authentic to me. I visualized myself on that stage, as her. The audition could not have gone better. I lived it. Each time. I am almost never happy or confident with my work. This time I was. She was inside me. And I knew it was going to happen. I went home feeling utterly exhausted and fulfilled. I could rest. I could go to my crappy job, I could live in Missouri, I could make it to Christmas- it was all bearable if it meant getting to live in that world, finding all the beautiful nuances of her beating heart and bringing them life for others to behold and come to understand.
But, I didn’t get it. How? Why? I tailspinned. Hard. I had been great, they said, but it was my height that wasn’t; one of those one million uncontrollable variables. I didn’t want anything to do with the world anymore. I had given everything, but it still wasn’t enough. I guess a part of me sort of thought going out of the professional theatre scene and “deigning” to enter back into the community scene, one plus would be avoiding some that “looks” nonsense. It hurt finding out I was wrong, that even in community theatre, you can still be knocking up against those immovable walls beyond your control. I retreated, hid, slept, ate, slept, worked, shouted, cried, slept. Here I am, I thought, stuck in Missouri. Working a job I hate. Two years shy of 30. Single. With the same goal and passion I had at 5, at 15, at 25- to be a working actress/writer. I feel like I’m drowning a bit in quicksand, like life is passing by so quickly and how will I ever reach the place I’ve dreamed of all my life? I don’t like living in a small town in the mid-west. It is not “home” to me. In truth, nowhere feels like home any more. Not LA, not New York, not here. I don’t know where it is or when I’ll get there. And that’s a little scary to admit. The closest feeling to “home” these days is in that magical place- in character. Home is being able to do that work every day. But that is not a place you can move to. You have to build it or be asked in. For now I have less lofty goals to focus on- to pay off my debt, and build up savings so I can venture back out and find my next home. And I do think that is an important goal. Just terribly slow going, and not particularly fun or fulfilling at this time.
I’m sorry this anniversary is so blue to read. I guess, in truth, I just feel sort of lost and I’m having a hard time navigating my way out of it. What routes haven’t I tried? I know I won’t give up, there really is nothing else for me. It’s all I want. Recently I asked my friend if she thought it was better to know what you want in life and never get it or to never know. She said to never know is worse. I’m not sure I believe her, but then, I’ve never known what that feels like. You got any advise? Is it all really just a matter of reigning in expectations, keeping your head down, and plowing on come hell or high water, hoping one day enough things stick to the wall to keep you from drowning?
The inner Mom-alogue my Mom programed into my brain growing up wont let me post this “woe-so-sorry-for-myself” tail of clinging to my loses, without searching inside high and low and coming to terms with the positives. And there are always positives. The truth is I know that I am still very fortunate. Things don’t always/or even usually work out how we want and hope they do, BUT sometimes they do, and when they do- boy, then you know the real meaning of the words “grateful,” “fulfilled,” and “stupid-giddy-HAPPY”! And the story isn’t over when the girl loses her dream in the Second Act- No, every day you have a second chance/a fresh page to do better, improve skill, try harder, try different, learn how to try smarter, grow perspective, gain maturity, practice humility, and always keep fighting to stay grateful for the new day you’ve been given to try and try again.
I’ll leave you with this pep talk I wrote for myself on my lunch break only two months into moving back to Missouri. I hope you find some sunlight in your struggles today. And remember the sad/frustrated/depressed feelings are important and valid too- not to be clung to and dwelled upon, but to observe as a sign of what’s important to you and to keep getting up every day and fighting for what you want. Thanks for letting me share my year with you.Tweet
Guest blog post
I started Green Light Productions in 2003 to create new opportunities for women in theatre. As of 2008, Green Light has exclusively produced plays written and directed by women.
This year, Green Light completed The Shubert Report to examine the 349 theatres that received $16.4 million in grants last year from the nation’s largest private funder of the performing arts. We found that only 26% of the plays being produced were written by women and that 125 of those 349 theatres weren’t producing ANY plays written by women. Foundations, especially those as large as The Shubert Foundation, play a huge role in sustaining American Theatre – most of which is classified as nonprofit. Imagine the impact it’d have if they required applicants to produce seasons that had 50% female writers and directors? Imagine the impact if just one major theatre a year decided to do a season of plays by women. Just that one step…
In 2005, I took that step. Heather Jones sent me her one-act play “Last Rites” about a life-long friendship between two women. It’s a beautiful play and I walked around with Heather’s script in my bag for month thinking about how it could be produced. I had the idea to create a festival of one-act plays all written and directed by women: GLO, Green Light One-Acts. And since the first GLO in, we’ve given world premieres to 15 one-act plays with productions in Philadelphia, New York and now Los Angeles.
In GLO 2014 we introduce to the world 4 new plays written by female playwrights based in Los Angeles – Allie Costa, Jennie Webb, Julianne Homokay and myself – with directors Liz Hinlein, Jen Bloom, Ricka Fisher and Katherine James. I have met the most incredible women just working on this first Green Light show here and I am so excited to plan our next steps here in LA.
Getting here wasn’t easy. While I’ve had the absolute pleasure to work with hundreds of women who support our mission, over the years I heard a surprising amount of negative feedback – much of it from women who felt that the theatre didn’t need companies like Green Light. A female journalist actually responded to one of my press releases with “Do we really need this?”
Yes, we do. And we need YOU!
I hope that by forming new collaborations, asking lots questions, challenging those who need to be challenged and producing work by women, Green Light will continue to have a valuable impact on artists and audiences. And I hope you’ll be part of it.
Mark Your Calendars: November 6-9, GLO 2014, 4 plays written and directed by LA women artists at Miles Memorial Playhouse in Santa Monica. www.greenlightproductions.org.
Be part of Green Light Productions first foray into the LA theater scene (after mixing it up in NY and Philly). Join the FB Invite here (LA FPI tix for only $10!). This femme-fest is Green Light Production’s annual event, but the company is looking for more women artists moving forward. If you’re interested in getting involved, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
by Robin Byrd
The Texas State Black and Latino Playwrights Conference is in its 12th year. Eugene Lee is the Artistic Director for the conference. Mr. Lee is an established actor, director and writer. I have admired his work as an actor for years. A fellow LA FPIer, Laura Shamas, told me about this conference and although my play did not get in that year, 2012, it was a finalist which warranted a call from Mr. Lee. To have someone actually get your story and be able to pick it apart and see things you didn’t know you wrote into the piece was wonderful.
I went to the conference this year because I was needing to be in the room with other artists at work. I really wanted to see the process. I am so thankful that I went. I learned a lot, made some friends and shook whatever that thing was that was on me keeping me from my computer. I am hoping this conference stays around for a very long time, its a great place to get things done.
One of the first things Eugene Lee said at the conference was that he had all male playwrights but it was not intentional. What I found very interesting was that all three of the plays were female-centered and very good vehicles for female actresses and the honored playwright’s play was directed by a woman. It was a very good vibe. I believe this conference can be great and am hoping that next year, more theater artists show up like I did just to see what they are doing…
The Black and Latino Playwrights Conference was established to fill a void where the voices of Black and Latino playwrights can be heard, nurtured and celebrated. The plays can be about whatever the playwright deems stage worthy; it’s the voice of that playwright this is most important to this conference. It’s a place where student artists can become familiar with the other voices that make up American Theater. In this vein, the most rewarding part of the conference is to hear those diverse voices, to see those playwrights at work at their craft, and to watch the students jump in fully committed to the scripts. Eugene Lee has a vision for the Black and Latino Playwrights Conference that can change the way minorities are viewed in Theater; his generous nurturing of the artists is greatly appreciated. And too, the generosity and foresight of Texas State University at San Marcos to seek out Mr. Lee to start such a conference is awesome. Thank you, Texas State! Thank you, Eugene Lee!
Every culture, in this multicultural place we call America, deserves a seat at the table. It’s places like San Marcos and this conference that can… that make room and give sustenance to playwrights kicking against the pricks….
Black and Latino Playwrights Conference
by Robin Byrd
The 2014 Black and Latino Playwrights Conference (BLPC) held in San Marcos, Texas at Texas State University honored, Texas playwright, Ted Shine with a Distinguished Achievement Award.
Dr. Shine is in his eighties now. He preferred ground travel to flying in for the conference; he preferred to let the younger theater artists sit on the panel discussion about “Swimming Up Mainstream” as an artist of color. However, being the hungry little children we were in that room, we begged a little. No we were not to proud to beg and we were so blessed with his wisdom even if from his seat in the audience. I don’t normally gravitate to people but I really liked talking to Dr. Shine. He shared a lot of information about perseverance and learning the craft of writing plays. He was so humble.
“Contribution” by Ted Shine is a play about the Civil Rights movement – the sit-ins to be exact. It is one of three one-acts in a collection titled “Contributions” which includes the plays: Platoon, Shoes and, Contribution. First presented in 1969 by the Negro Ensemble Company, Contribution is a brave piece of literature. Written as a three character female –centered play, Contribution is set in the early 1960s in a small southern town. It was poignant, it was funny and it was a little sad…
The director Nadine Mozon took a very interesting approach to staging the piece; “she enhanced it,” as Dr. Shine said. Mozon’s enhancement involved adding a citizens ensemble to give a visual effect to moments of description in the play. None of the authors words were changed. At that time, I had not read the play and turned to the playwright after the reading, “was that in the play?” “No, but I wish I’d written it that way.” Dr. Shine really appreciated that staging of his play. Earlier I had asked Dr. Shine how he felt about directors and the way they approached his work. He said that there were directors that he could trust with his work and could just leave them alone and they would always enhance the work but he had found out that there were some who weren’t so trustworthy. A playwright needs someone who understands their play and can elevate rather than diminish the piece. I asked him if he felt Ms. Mozon was one of those directors he could trust and he nodded, “yes” with a smile.
I have to agree. She lit that stage up with her vision and the actors were on point! Johnique Mitchell as Mrs. Love* was hilarious and amazing; George James gave a good performance as Eugene; the timbre of his voice worked well to give the words a certain undercurrent to the thought of being a black man during that time but being considered a boy – the absurdity of it, the pain of it… Katy played by Kia Malone held the right amount of fear-bred inactivity to give a full view of the times. The ensemble members: Matthew Drake Shrader, Morgan Macinnes, Taylor Joree Scorse, Ava L’Amoreaux, Vincent Hooper, Kelsey Buckley, and Chas Harvey were all the way LIVE! The sheriff! Stole every moment he was animated…The doctor/store owner, the angry mob, the pantomime of the young men at the counter, these visuals made for very lively storytelling. Even the stage directions were read excellently. I loved the surprise in this reading which was more like a production.
Director Nadine Mozon, also Associate Artistic Director for the conference (standing far left), Johnique Mitchell (standing fourth from left), George James (standing in white shirt), Eugene Lee, Artistic Director of the Black and Latino Playwrights Conference (standing far right), Kia Malone (in yellow sweater far right), and honored playwright Ted Shine (seated). Stage manager: Tommie Jackson III. Stage directions read by Sloane Teagle and Tony Hinderman. The ensemble members: Matthew Drake Shrader, Morgan Macinnes, Taylor Joree Scorse, Ava L’Amoreaux, Vincent Hooper, Kelsey Buckley, and Chas Harvey and stage crew.
*(Mrs. Love was played by Claudia McNeil in 1970 (the original Lena Younger from Raisin in the Sun)
“NINA! …NINA! … NINA! … NINA!” Retha from “sweet” by Harrison David Rivers
by Robin Byrd
The Playwright. How do you repeat the same line four times in a row and make the room move? First you have to have a character that can say it in context without losing authenticity and second, this character has to be written by a playwright who knows how to evoke earthquakes/eyes in a storm/imagery that speaks volumes/…into a still room… with nothing save words and the voices that speak them; Harrison David Rivers is such a playwright.
Harrison started his week explaining to the actors that the women don’t use “periods” and that the actors are to step over “dashes.” Mild mannered but firm, he came to work…
The Play. “sweet” by Harrison David Rivers was read at the Black and Latino Playwrights Conference. Harrison brought his director, David Mendizábal, with him and it was very clear that the process of working on the play was greatly enhanced by the way the playwright and director flowed together. Ana Uzule as Retha (pronounced “REE tha”) and Dionna Jenkins as Nina (pronounced “NEE Na”) found the voices and rhythm of their characters from the moment they opened their mouths. Playing off the strong characters of Retha and Nina, George played by Johnny Brantley III also gave a good first read – his first words made you see George right away. I was very moved by the female -centered story. “sweet” is full of emotion, forbidden fruit, and brokenness yet hope and belief that the spirit can and will prevail in the face of any obstacle. Harrison and Mendizábal both described the play as being about longing, desire and restraint. The play was described in ethereal terms; I found that interesting and different. As the week went on, I could see exactly what this meant. Making the intangible tangible is as much a part of the story of “sweet” as it is the way the play is written.
The imagery of “sweet” is like incense floating heaven-ward with each word. Retha’s handling of laundry creates a visual so strong; the mere mention of laundry conjures up Retha. I wondered what the title meant up until the performance, I had tried unsuccessfully to figure it out then “end of play” was read and I felt that I had just had the sweetest experience of any play I have ever seen. Sweet is the essence that lingers in the room as the characters exist; sweet is the experience that stays with you once the story has been told.
Being around the table. There was an extra actress in the room from day one, Tiffany, she participated in discussing what the script meant and how the characters appeared to be and she seemed to love just being around the table with the others sharing the moments. On the third day of rehearsals, Harrison stated that he had been contemplating another facet to the play which would add another character or two. So, now, Tiffany was added to the lineup to read. Dramaturg Jeremy White had pulled information for the playwright off the internet including some sound bites/footage about outer space travel. I am not sure if Jeremy was asked to do it or just saw the need to get some data for the playwright to look over; Harrison seemed really pleased and humbled by it. The group did a roundtable read of the extra pages and Harrison said something to the affect of “I’ll decide what I am going to use but it will be somewhere along these lines.” I thought it was risky but it was his play to do with as he chose – it was either going to work or turn his lovely play into a hot mess. Just my thought. Said a little prayer for him and left for the night.
The Actors. On the third day of rehearsals, I witnessed actress Dionna Jenkins settled completely into her Nina-ness. It was subtle and it was awe-inspiring to see and hear the extra layers of her character come through the lines. She no longer looked like Dionna reading the lines; she looked like Nina sitting at the table having conversations with Retha and George. I could feel the pull – the more Nina, the more new places the other characters were pushed to explore… It started a domino effect. I wanted to ask Dionna what she felt as she was letting go, how she got from one dimension to the next to the next to multidimensional and what the moment felt like to her when she became Nina. You see Nina had a big part to play in the success of the four consecutive, “Nina’s” too. If Dionna doesn’t bring Nina to the stage in a strong enough force, the meaning behind the words would be lost. Like Retha’s laundry, it is Nina’s name that conjures her up.
The mispronunciation of Nina: Johnny seemed to be searching up till the end for a way to not mispronounce “Nina” pronounced “Nee-na”. It was only in one place where this occurred. He was thoroughly frustrated about it but he continued to work on it and around it; it seemed every time he got there “Nye-na” would come out. The day of the reading, the way Johnny Brantley III reconciled the pronunciation of her name was as full of all the frustration and ambiguity the spelling of the name brings with it, what he went through to figure out why at that spot he could not seem to get the right pronunciation to come out, what “George” his character was feeling at the moment and what Nina, the character was evoking out of George at that point in the story. I will say the end result was nothing short of brilliant! He twisted that name the same why Nina was twisting George and the audience felt it and knew they felt it. Bravo, Johnny! This is not to say the rest of his performance was not stellar but to say that as I watched all the actors go from a magnificent cold read of the script to dissecting the nuances, what separates out the actors with potential and fire to be great is how they listen to their characters, the words, the moments coupled with the director’s vision for the piece and how they use their craft to make it work. Sometimes, making it work involves some painful stretching…
Homework for Ana Uzule on Thursday night was to find ways to say Nina up to four times with meaning behind it (my interpretation of the assignment). The actress admitted to not having a reference point. Harrison told her to play around with it but not to say more than four as there were only two on the page. She looked bewildered; Harrison and David gave her input on what to pull from, a few others in the room shared but ultimately, Harrison required the actress to rise to the occasion. Was she up to it? I believed she was but it would require some stretching. Harrison believed she was capable, otherwise, he would not have matter-of-factly told her to do it. Night of the reading, she brought the house down; I had chills, pushed back tears and when I looked over at Ted Shine who was sitting next to me. We were both overcome in awe of these young actors who made “sweet” so sweet (pun intended).
Not to leave out Tiffany who sat in character the entire play, only animating to do her radio spots about the moon landing in 1969. Yes, Harrison’s interjection worked! Tiffany was so focused that even the way she sat – motionless – brought a certain fortitude to the play. Her portrayal of the journalist was era specific and profound. I remember those days and she took me back.
Even the stage directions were read well and kept the feel of the play active. Wesley Johnson and Tia Watson did a very good job in that area.
The Director. David Mendizábal was as enthusiastic about “sweet” as the playwright. His excellent direction brought things out of the young actors that I am sure they will use for the rest of their live. “sweet” took wings and soared. The thing about really good direction is that it does not take away from the piece but brings more out of it – the essence – of the piece… It was so smooth, I had that sit back moment – you know, the moment where you don’t want to leave because you need to savor something? In this case, it was the sweet, oh, so sweet aroma of Harrison David Rivers play “sweet”.
This play is a must see. Audiences will enjoy it!
The Honored Guest. I was sitting next to playwright Ted Shine during the performance of the reading and we both agreed that the actors and the play were excellent. Ted Shine, is the Texas playwright honored at the Black and Latino Playwrights Conference 2014; he has been writing plays since the 1950s and after the reading, he wanted to speak to each of the actors about their performance. He was really blown away at theire talent. What a treat – another moment that lasts a lifetime. So, one by one, they came to speak to him…
by Robin Byrd
Crickets as big as two inches shared the Super 8 room with me, I sat up all night because I could not fathom sleeping in a bed full of them or other creepy crawly jumpy things. The old worn out and faded carpet looked like a rug that had been stretched to the walls in pretense. The furniture was a hodge-podge of stuff that had been gathered over the years. The tub mat – to keep one from slipping – was so dirty that when the water hit it a rush of mud-like slush immediately filled the bottom of the tub. Had I been able to lock that darn rental car I had (one of those keyless types), I would not have even taken my things inside. It was the night of the Navy versus Texas State football game and all the rooms were taken in San Marcos including one of the nights of my stay at the Viola Street Inn so I had to find elsewhere to stay for that night. There was a rowdy bunch out in the parking lot most of the night after the game; they partied well into the wee hours of the morning. Had they not been there, I probably would have slept in the un-lockable rental car.
The next day was the last day of the Black and Latino Playwrights Conference at Texas State, San Marcos and I was going to be exhausted…
I was really looking forward to hearing Mando Alvarado’s play “(O)n THE 5:31” read. All week he had been rewriting it. I thought he was crazy – certifiable! – the way he was deconstructing his play and reworking it – in a week. Well, Alvarado is an excellent playwright because he not only pulled it off but it read like he had been working on it longer than the few days. Joe Luis Cedillo said it best at the question and answer segment after the reading, and this is how I remember it “just playwright jealousy, I wish I had thought of that. It’s brilliant.”
Directed by Ruben Gonzalez, (O)n THE 5:31 delivered. Each actor brought their A game. The reading was so magnetic, audience members were blown away.
This play is quick witted and has a tempo that jolts you in your seat. I found that the play hit me like a dream – the flow, cadence, and unique way the story was told kept me in it on a level that I only reach when I pull all nighters in my own writing where I am so drained and bare the only thing that’s coming out of me is the purest part of the story. Alvarado’s play deals with the present, past, and thoughts in between, the story is also centered around a female character. In less skillful hands, this structure could be confusing to an audience but Alvarado’s writing is very clear. It keeps you in the moment. Alvarado’s play makes you punch drunk but all your senses are aware of every high and low of the ride he takes you on, a ride like you never thought existed.
During the week, as I watched the rehearsals, actor Bernardo Cubria possessed an innate ability to articulate the playwright’s words no matter how up heaved. Cubria has worked with Alvarado on several of his plays; this familiarity was helpful to the playwright I am sure but also to the other actors. I watched the actresses as they searched for their characters, worked on spot directions and then changed it as the pages changed. The end result of these three thespians navigating the script that resulted was top rate. There is a lot to be said for actors who come ready to work; these actors were a perfect fit for O(n) THE 5:31. This was not a “Latino” play; this was a play by a playwright who happens to be Latino. I for one will be watching for his work from now on. My favorite line in the play, is the title line and I won’t say more. You really need to see this play.
“Everything is copy” — Nora Ephron
We writers soak up the world around us faster than a sheet of Bounty soaks up colored liquid in the commercials we’re all so familiar with. Even if we’re not aware of it, we’re mentally jotting down the conversation where a friend tells us about her failing marriage, or the one between two strangers sitting next to us in the coffee shop who are a million times more interesting than the person we’re actually with. I know I do, and it’s so subliminal that I’m hardly even aware of it until days later when I’m in the shower and a character or even a story comes to life.
We’re voyeurs, we writers, always assuming — rightly or not — that other people are more fascinating than we are. And they may well be, simply because they are just that — other; and inhabiting their minds and bodies allows us to momentarily leave our own ceaseless mental chatter behind and begin a fascinating journey without ever leaving the couch.
But what happens when that rich fodder — a/k/a your friends — is in the audience opening night as your play, the one about a couple whose marriage is falling apart, is having its premiere? What happens when the female half of the couple sees herself being portrayed as harping and controlling and the male half watches himself being an emotional cripple in front of fifty people? Is it worth it?
I have firsthand experience with this dilemma — or rather, I almost did. About five years ago a former (somewhat emotionally unstable) boss was apprehended by the FBI following a bizarre coincidence which involved political pamphlets he authored and a bomb exploding in New York’s Time Square. The story was picked up by some news outlets, but for me it was a personal one, involving a job I loathed at a company in which I was the proverbial square peg and the struggles I was having within myself to find my voice. The boss and the bomb were mere catalysts for that journey.
When The Laughing Cow, the play that sprang forth from that, was in production and I was publicizing the hell out of it on every platform I had within my reach, I worried: my former boss and I were Facebook friends. What would he think of my borrowing his story and building a play around it? To make matters worse, he was — is — a lawyer and all too familiar with issues around intellectual property. I imagined facing off with him at intermission, or getting a scathing email following his having read a synopsis of the play in a local publication.
In the end, nothing happened and I was probably more worried than I needed to be. The truth is, my relationship with my former boss fell into the acquaintance category. What happens when a close friend sees her/himself in your work? Is that worth it?
I have a play I’m itching to write that is directly inspired by a friend’s struggles with a wayward teenage son and a marriage that, not surprisingly in its twenty-something years, has had its share of turbulence. The story burst forth on its own, with a character not unlike my friend in a starring role. The outline wrote itself, now I just need to fill in the words (because, as we know, that’s so easy). But once again, I conjure up images of her sitting in the audience during the New York premiere (she lives in New York) and a sickly feeling gripping her innards when she sees a fun house image of herself on stage. What would it mean to our friendship if I were to usurp her life in that way?
Obviously there are ways to embellish the truth and put fat on fact so that its bones are unrecognizable. But people are a lot smarter than we often give them credit for and friends of writers are known to be extremely smart –which is why we keep them around; in some ways they know we look to them for inspiration and maybe even take a little pleasure in it. Provided the portrayal contains a few flattering qualities.
If not, then maybe a conversation is in order. I have no clue what the answer is. I only know that in my experience real life is always much more interesting than anything I can conjure up; and other peoples’ real lives are endlessly fascinating. How to negotiate the delicate balance between the two is probably just another burden we artists bear as we embark on our journeys and make our way in the world.
by Laura Shamas
The Naked Expedition Theatre Project is a new theatre company in New York, co-founded by Laura Bray and Celestine Rae. Its mission is specific and significant:
“To challenge the perceptions of women and the underrepresented through the voice of theatre and to serve as an advocate for their stories…TNEP strives to inspire writers of all ethnicities, backgrounds, and gender by providing a space for them to develop and share their work. We believe that artists thrive within a community that embraces exploration and the many stages of development and process. Our goal is to provide a platform for non-traditional stories and voices that will ignite conversation, understanding and investigation into the core humanity of women and the underrepresented within the local and global community.”
I was lucky enough to be part of the first evening of their new Reading Series, held at the beautiful Theatre Lab on W. 36th on September 15, 2014. There were five short plays read, all written by women: Femme Noir by Allie Costa; God Don’t Exist For Girls in Brooklyn by Yani Perez; my play The Cumin Guard; Got a Light by Tanya Everett; and Color Blue by Alexis Roblan. The directors were: Tiffany Greene, Julio Monge, and Derrick Anthony. It was a thrilling event; the bright talent of all involved was dazzling. How terrific to see five shows in a row by talented female writers! Personally, I was amazed by the performance of my 10-minute show that evening; all kudos and credit to director Tiffany Greene, and actors Erin Cherry, Suzanne Darrell and Lori Lang! The TNEP Reading Series will continue in coming months.
The atmosphere in any theatre company is fostered by its leaders; the ambience surrounding The Naked Expedition Theatre Project was palpably positive. So I wanted to find out more about Laura Bray and Celestine Rae, and learn about their insights and future plans; I asked them a few questions via e-mail. Check out their inspiring answers, and please don’t miss the announcement of a new submission opportunity at the end.
Celestine Rae and Laura Bray, photo credit: JP Photography NYC
1) When and where did you first become involved with theater?
Celestine Rae: “I was very aware of the need for self-expression at a young age. I was terribly shy as a child but ironically, I was drawn to performing. I began my life in the theater as a dancer. Dancing was a vehicle for me to not only express myself but to tell my own personal story through movement. I was always creating and seeking out new avenues for performing. I began choreographing my own dances, creating my own skits, performing in school plays and dance recitals, and directing all of the children in my neighborhood in productions of my own. I was blessed to dance and train in Philadelphia at dance studios, including the renowned Philadanco (where I also performed as an apprentice company member), under some of the dance masters of our time who were former dancers of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and the Martha Graham Company. These choreographers and teachers were the storytellers I looked up to. They were my August Wilson, Lorraine Hansberry, and Shakespeare. I watched documentaries on the lives of Alvin Ailey, Carmen de Lavellade, and Geoffery Holder and heard them speak of the importance of telling stories that were of their culture and background. And I saw and felt the enormous impact it had on a generation of dancers who were given the platform to share a part of themselves with a world that might not have shown interest were it not for that art form. I recognized what dance and theater did for the artist and for the audience. It was, and is transformative. When I decided to focus primarily on acting, it felt like the natural progression of my career and artistry. I trained at the William Esper Studio under Terry Knickerbocker and began working in off-Broadway theater productions soon after. Continuing my patterns from childhood, I began taking interest in creating my own work and began writing and directing my own plays.”
Laura Bray: “Being in a theatre is one of my earliest memories. My dad was a classical musician with our state orchestra so I remember spending hours in a huge 1000+ seat theatre with no audience and a full orchestra playing and just loving the feeling I had there and feeling really at home and connected with it. My mum is an English teacher so I think that’s where my love affair with words and how they worked together came from. From both of those things stemmed my love of the theatre. Of live connection with an audience and of story telling. I started performing stage as an actor back in Australia when I was about 15, but I really think my love was more with the scripts and hence I left acting for writing and haven’t looked back.”
2) When and why did you decide to form your own theatre company?
“We both initially began as actors and met at The William Esper Studio in NYC. We connected as friends and fellow artists but we definitely shared a desire for more diverse portrayals of women in theater and in entertainment and the media across the board. We came up with the idea to start something… we weren’t sure what… at the beginning of last year. After many meetings and cups of coffee, we came to realize that beginning our own theater company was the direction we wanted to go. We saw a great need for this and began to build it.”
Laura: “I know for me personally, I didn’t often feel that I got to see much of our humanity on stage. I think that is a big driving force behind not only deciding to work together but also to form a company with such a specific mission. Another reason (and this is another important one to me) was to create a community. A community of like-minded artists and thinkers. Dreamers and doers. I think that surrounding ourselves with others that strive and think and challenge is hugely helpful and inspiring. This is something that we would love to achieve with TNEP.”
Celestine: “Humanity is definitely our buzz word. Our desire to show women and other underrepresented people as complex human beings as opposed to stereotypes is at the center of our work. As former actors and emerging writers, we share the desire to tell stories about women, all kinds of women from all kinds of diverse backgrounds. I believe in the cliché motto ‘If you build it, they will come’ and I wanted to move from a place of feeling reactive to proactive. I wanted to stop feeling helpless and disappointed with the limited opportunities for women and begin to empower myself (and others) by building our own platform. I’d say empowerment is another one of our buzzwords for sure.”
3) What are your future plans for The Naked Expedition Project?
“Our long term goal is for TNEP is to expand into a full functioning theater company with a diverse pool of talented, inspired & driven artists. A company that showcases the underrepresented voices so that eventually they will become REPRESENTED. We want to assist in providing opportunities for artists who are struggling to be seen. Our plans for TNEP include producing full productions that reach audiences of all backgrounds and ignite conversation, leading to education, change & unity.
We are incredibly excited about our October reading series as we feature the work of an incredible woman and playwright, Cori Thomas. We are thrilled to be hosting a reading of her play, My Secret Language of Wishes on Monday, October 13th at 7:30 pm at THEATERLAB in NYC. 357 W 36th St.”
4) What is the genesis of your company’s name?
Celestine: “I really love our name! The Naked Expedition Project. It’s provocative. I’m actually really proud of our name. As an actress working in film & TV as well, many of the roles I have been auditioning for have begun to require nudity. The nudity of women on screen is so prevalent and such a complex issue for me. I’d like to believe that the female body is celebrated for its beauty on screen and in the media, however more often than not it is being objectified instead. Being naked, both physically and emotionally is such a vulnerable experience. My acting teacher (Terry Knickerbocker) used to tell us that we had to be willing to be publicly naked (emotionally)– without skin– to be an actor. That stuck with me. I think the same is true for artists of all disciplines and especially in the world of theater. Sharing your voice and art with the world is extremely vulnerable. So- there was a bit of a play on the objectification of the female body and the vulnerability of being naked in an emotional and artistic sense.”
Laura: “Our name really derived from our desire, I think. The desire to find, experience & reveal work that required us to expose & to be exposed. To be naked and truthful. And to be taken on a journey. Or not even on a journey. Something so much bigger than that. An Expedition… I think whatever kind of artist you are, you are required to be bare and naked. With yourself and with your audience. This is kind of work I want to create myself as a playwright & produce within TNEP. The name felt right when we created it.”
5) Are there any upcoming submission opportunities for women playwrights with TNEP?
“We’re excited about February 2015 and the opportunity to be inspired by the great Maya Angelou. We’re seeking submissions from playwrights that are inspired by the works and life of Ms. Angelou. This submission opportunity is open to all playwrights until December 1st, 2014. Short plays 10-15 pages maximum. All submissions can be sent to: email@example.com.”
Thanks, Celestine and Laura, for taking action and leading the way. You can subscribe to their “Spotlight Series page” to stay up to date on everything going on with TNEP via their website. You can find TNEP on Twitter – @NakedExpedition; on Facebook – The Naked Expedition Project; and on Instagram – TheNakedExpeditionProjectNYC. Donations needed: The Naked Expedition Project is fiscally sponsored by Fractured Atlas. Please visit their website for more info on how to donate to TNEP.
Final words from Celestine and Laura: “Show us some love. We’ll love you back.”
Celestine Rae, Laura Bray, TIffany Greene, Yani Perez, Alexis Roblan
September 15, 2014 – Photo Credit: JP Photography NYC.
by Laura Shamas
There’s some excellent news from London this week. From the BBC News article entitled “Theatres Make Gender Equality Pledge“: “Leading English theatres have committed to making changes in their programming and working practices to address gender inequality in the theatre industry.” The theatres involved include “the Almeida, Tricycle and Young Vic theatres in London; the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC); and the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds.” One theatre hopes for new results to be viable within a year. The overall aim is to include more opportunities for women working in all areas of theatre, including acting, writing and directing. “One theatre complex has made a concrete pledge to balance the number of men and women actors in its in-house shows.” Read more at the link above. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if something similar happened in other countries, including the U.S.?
Also, related U.K. news, the reason the pledge came about: The Advance Programme from Tonic Theatre, an intensive, 6-month effort to advance women in theatre, was profiled in The Guardian in an article by Lyn Gardner on Monday, Sept 22, 2014. Only 29% of shows at big theatres in London are directed by women, “but change is in the air.” About the field of playwriting: “among the writers of new plays produced in leading theatres such as the Almeida, Tricycle, Royal Court, Donmar and Olivier and Lyttleton at the National, only 24% were female.”
If you missed it from last week, a new 4-year study was released from the League of Professional Theatre Women, about gender parity Off-Broadway: “Women Hired Off Broadway, 2010 – 2014.” The study was conducted by LPTW members and professional theatre women Judith Binus and Martha Wade Steketee; this study includes new data about women working in all areas of Off-Broadway theatre, including playwriting and directing: “Women playwrights working Off-Broadway ranged from a high of 36% in 2012-2013, to a low of 28% in 2013-2014. Women directors Off-Broadway ranged from a high of 39% in 2012-2013 to a low of 24% in 2011-2012.”
Earlier this month, the LA FPI’s own So Cal League of Resident Theatre [LORT] count for 2014/2015 season was updated: Out of the 57 LORT shows announced for the 2014/2015 Season for the 9 LORT theaters in our area, LA FPI calculates that about 29.5% are female-authored, and about 30.5% are directed by women.Tweet