Climate Change Theatre Action LA: At the Intersection (2019)– Photos from the event

Hello Everyone!

To round up my week of blog posts for the LAFPI– which I’ve had a blast putting together, if you couldn’t tell– I wanted to share some photo’s from yesterday’s event.

A big THANKS to all of you who came out to support these works and spent the day with us at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles!

Until next time,

Zury 🙂

“Can you believe it, Sis? The lot is full!”
Look, Ma. We made it!
Climate Change Theatre Action Co-Founder, Chantal Bilodeau (Left) and Climate Change Theatre Action Los Angeles: At the Intersection Writer-Producer, Paula Cizmar (Right).
From Left to Right: Giovanni Ortega (Director), Zury Ruiz (Me!), Chantal Bilodeau (CCTA Co-Founder), and Paula Cizmar (CCTA/LA Writer-Producer).
And the audience is trickling in…
Visions & Voices in the house!
CCTA/LA Theme Guide, written by Grafton Doyle, Zharia O’Neal, and Katrina Richard.
Artists Bio in Theme Guide
Ilana Gustafson (Manager, Performing Arts at Natural History Museum of Los Angeles) addressing the audience.
Giovanni Ortega and Paula Cizmar welcoming the audience.
Gbeke Fawehinmi in Jennie Webb’s “Beneath the Surface”.
Emma Elliott (Left) and Aliyah Muhammad (Right) in Velina Hasu Houston’s “Ms.Rambo and the Lawn”.
From Left to Right: Aliyah Muhammad, Hong Lei, and Lisa McNeely in Jennifer Maisel’s “Extinct-LA”.
Left to Right: Aliyah Muhammad, Hong Lei, Lisa McNeely, Jonathan C.K. Williams, Emma Elliott, and Gbeke Fawehinmi in Paula Cizmar’s “A Hole in the Sky”.

An Interview with Elizabeth Schuetzle and Jessica Doherty, CCTA 2019 Student Directors

by Zury Margarita Ruiz

The two-day USC Visions and Voices Climate Change Theatre Action (CCTA) events kick off this Friday, November 8th with How To Create Your Own Environmental Justice Event, which will take place at Lewis Hall (RGL), Room 101. In addition to the interactive workshop portion of the event, lead CCTA co-founder Chantal Bilodeau, the afternoon will start off with a student-driven staged reading of several short plays from the 2019 CCTA, now in its third iteration. Directing these plays are Jessica Doherty (double majoring in Theatre and Journalism) and Elizabeth Schuetzle (double majoring in Theatre and Political Economy), both USC seniors who believe theater is an effective method for helping people open up and relate to the realities of climate change.

Jessica Doherty (Left) and Elizabeth Schuetzle (Right), CCTA 2019 Student Directors.

I sat down with Jessica and Elizabeth to talk about their involvement with the CCTA 2019 at USC, their artistic vision for this project, and the difficulty and importance of talking openly about climate change.

How did you become involved in directing the student-driven readings of CCTA (Climate Change Theatre Action) 2019 plays and what drew you to the project?

ELIZABETH SCHUETZLE (ES): We were both referred by our professors.

I always like working on theater that has meaning and impact. I think all art is inherently political. Also, I really liked the plays. I thought they were all so unique and different. Of course, that’s because playwrights from like all over the world wrote them. I enjoyed the variety of voices that were in the mix.

JESSICA DOHERTY (JD): I’ve just been really interested in doing work about climate change recently. As a journalist, I write a lot about the arts, mainly art criticism, but I’m always interested in finding ways to communicate the bigger picture of creative works and document how they’ve influenced people, or made them think differently about a certain topic. I agree with what Elizabeth said, art is inherently political and it can impact people. Storytelling can impact people. Working in the newsroom here, its something that I am very aware of and struggle with—knowing when to cross the line of like, “we need to get people to click on this (article)”, but we also don’t want to sensationalize.

(NOTE: Jessica is the managing editor and writer for Annenberg Media.)

It sounds like you’re both very interested in Social Justice Theater.

ES: Jessica and I actually worked in a social justice theater group on campus, One & All, for like two years. We worked together all the time. This year we both decided not to run it anymore, then when we got this (CCTA) sent our way. Now we’re back together again. It’s kind of funny—this (CCTA) is the kind of event that our theater troupe would have been asked to do.

What kind of work did ‘One & All’ all do?

JD: We (One & All) did a workshop with the School of Social Work at Bovard (Auditorium) that utilized theatre of the oppressed activities to work out scenarios that they (Social Work students) would face out in the field. We did a lot of really fun stuff. It’s under new leadership now because we both were like, “we’re old and tired” but now there are some young bright faces running it. It still lives on.

I’m always interested in finding ways to communicate the bigger picture of creative works and document how they’ve influenced people, or made them think differently about a certain topic… Art is inherently political and it can impact people. Storytelling can impact people.

Going back to the CCTA event—what was the process like for selecting the plays that will be featured during the staged reading?

ES: There were some works that were recommended to us by Paula, which we considered.

JD: But we basically just chose the ones that we liked.

Tell me about some of the plays that were selected. What can we expect?

JD: I really liked directing “It Starts With Me” (Chantal Bilodeau)—it’s basically just a collection of voices, female voices, saying that the climate change movement starts with them. It was inspired by a bunch of different women involved in political activism, which I thought was really neat. I think it’s a really effective play to round out the event. Ending on an empowering note is important to me, and I really liked that this piece deals with empowering yourself to make a change and make a difference. Even if it is a small effort because it can build into something larger.

Another one I’m directing is “A Dog Loves Mango” (Georgina Escobar) which is like a really cute piece that tells the story of a woman who gets stopped by TSA because her shoes are made out of mango leather, which is actually a real material. It’s nice to have like a comedic piece in there as well. A lot of people turn away from climate change news because they’re afraid of it. If you scare people too much, they’re just going to back away and not want to listen to you. So I feel like using theater and comedy as a way to talk about this issue is a really effective way to bring it down to a smaller scale that will help people relate and understand the impact that climate change can have on them at a personal level, rather than at a macro scale which can feel too heavy.

ES: Yeah, I think humor is a great way to reach people. I have a couple comedic pieces. I think the one I really like is “Laila Pines for the Wolf” (Hassan Abdulrazzak). It’s a fractured fairy tale of Little Red Riding Hood with different iterations that show the Wolf having difficulty getting across the bridge to encounter a Little Red Riding Hood because of climate change. The last iteration is really short because there’s no Wolf in it, he couldn’t get there. It made me think of a book I’m reading right now for my Research and Development class called “The Challenge for Africa” by environmental activists Wangari Maathai. In the last chapter of her book she says something like, “The ecosystem is here—it’s always been here—and the environment’s always been here. It’s completely fine without us as people. It could go on forever. It would be okay. But us as people are not okay without the environment”. And we’re slowly destroying it. I thought it was a nice tie in to the fact that the Wolf is no longer present in the story and that the story itself completely falls apart.

It sounds like if you’re both very interested and informed on issues of climate change.

JD:  I follow a lot news outlets, that I trust, that keep me up-to-date with climate change news. I’m also doing a project for one of my journalism classes that focuses on the small changes people can make to live more sustainably. I also attended a town hall about climate change issues—many of the presidential candidates where there. I like knowing where political candidates stand on climate change—I think its one of the most important issues we’re facing right now because it impacts a bunch of different social, political and economic issues that we have, and as climate change progresses, we will ultimately have more of those issues. So it’s important to do this type of work that will help people consider changes they can make in their own lives.

Can you talk to me about the cast and how they were selected for this project?

ES: It is a pretty small cast too. We’re each working with three actors for the six pieces.

JD: We reached out to people we knew who also care a lot about the environment.

What has the rehearsal process been like?

JD: It’s just been really fun because, you know, they’re staged readings so they’re not really technically involved. I’m lucky that my actors care about climate change and are attuned to the issues present in the plays—we even started talking about the issues openly.

What have those conversations been like?

JD: I definitely feel like we’re on the same page a lot of the time.

ES: Same. It’s been pretty casual and fun. I almost feel like, at least in my sect of cultural peer group, I’ve never had incredibly vocal conversations with people about climate change, even though everyone accepts that it’s a big problem, so this is inspiring. It’s kind of crazy because in the class I’m taking right now (Research and Development), so many of the issues discussed are linked to climate change, yet the materials we’re looking at are from like the nineties.

I understand that you’re working with music composer and fellow student, Cyrus Leland, for this project. Can you talk about that collaboration and what brought about the decision to include music?

ES: I know Cyrus because last Fall I directed a production of FUN HOME and he was my music director. He’s always down to compose and collaborate. Staged readings can be a little lame because you don’t have all the technical stuff involved, but I thought incorporating music would make it feel way more elevated.

Also, one of the plays I’m directing, “The Goddess of Mt. Banahaw” (adapted by Giovanni Ortega) has a lot of Tagalog in it. I was very lucky because Cyrus is also a linguist. So I had him come to rehearsal the other night and he helped out the cast.

I almost feel like, at least in my sect of cultural peer group, I’ve never had incredibly vocal conversations with people about climate change, even though everyone accepts that it’s a big problem, so this is inspiring.

Has your engagement in this project encouraged you to continue to be part of the CCTA project?

JD: I didn’t really know much about it (CCTA) before this, but I would be interested in continuing to do work that focus on climate change because it’s something I really care about.

ES: Definitely. From the very beginning, it’s been a really interesting process. When I first got the email, the first thing I did was go in and talk to Paula (Cizmar) for like an hour. She’s just so cool, and has done a lot of interesting work. She’s just so passionate about it (CCTA), which made me passionate about it. So I would love to do more stuff down the line.

What’s up for you next, creatively or otherwise?

JD: I just directed and self-produced a student show here (at USC) and now I’m doing this (CCTA), but since I’m a double major, next semester I need to do a capstone project for my journalism major. So I’ll be working on my capstone project as well as applying to jobs. I’m already applying to fellowships. While I don’t know what lies ahead for me creatively; I’m excited, focused on graduating, and curious to see what comes next.

ES: Next semester I’ll be working with another student-run company on a theatrical project that focuses on intersectional feminism. I’ll be doing a verbatim theater piece about fem and visibility in the queer community. So I’m like really just getting started on that and am hoping to find people to interview. I’ve always really liked verbatim theater but I have never done it before, so I’ll be learning as I go. I’m trying to really enjoy that process– working collaboratively, taking advantage of all resources, trying and failing–while in my last year at college.

Thank you both and good luck!

Don’t forget to check out How To Create Your Own Environmental Justice Event on Friday, 11/8/2019, starting at 2pm at USC Lewis Hall.

Featured plays from the 2019 CCTA are:

Chantal Bilodeau – IT STARTS WITH ME
Paula Cizmar – APPEALING
Giovanni Ortega – THE GODDESS OF MT. BANAHAW
Marcus Youssef – DUST
Alister Emerson – SIX POLAR BEARS FELL OUT OF THE SKY THIS MORNING
Hassan Abdulrazzak – LAILA PINES FOR THE WOLF
Georgina Escobar – A DOG LOVES MANGO

Actors: Juan Dueñas, Grace Power, Jessica O’Connor, Katherine Jacobs, and Karl Kristian Flores

Musicians:  Cyrus Leland and Owen Boxwell

For more information on this FREE event and to RSVP, please visit: http://visionsandvoices.usc.edu/eventdetails/?event_id=30354568958120

An Interview with CCTA/LA Playwright and Producer, Paula Cizmar

by Zury Margarita Ruiz

Paula Cizmar is an award-winning multi-genre writer, associate professor of theatre practice in dramatic writing at the USC School of Dramatic Arts, CCTA/LA producer and my former professor. I LOVE HER!

Paula Cizmar <3

As she powers through the week, continuing to organize and promote Climate Change Theatre Los Angeles: At the Intersection and its sister event,  How To Create Your Own Environmental Justice Event: A Workshop with Chantal Bilodeau, I sat down with her to discuss her involvement with Climate Change Theatre Action and how its inspired the development of the aforementioned two-day Visions & Voices events.

Can you talk to me about Climate Change Theatre Action (CCTA)?

Climate Change Theatre Action is a grassroots event that happens every two years and it always coincides with the UN’s International Conference on Climate Change, which this year is in Santiago, Chile.

Chantal Bilodeau

Chantal Bilodeau, a native of Canada who was writing climate change plays, wrote a beautiful play called SILA and in the process of doing that, set up a kind of grassroots list of playwrights who were also writing climate change plays. In maintaining that list,  she realized there were a lot of writers doing this work and that a climate change theater action would be a really good thing to do. And so, what she does every two years is commission 50 playwrights to write very short plays that are then made available to anyone who wants to do them, free of charge. The playwrights represent 20 different countries and their own different languages—some of the ones that aren’t in English have been translated and others aren’t. Anybody who wants to do a Climate Change Theatre Action can just sign up and do one. If you go on the website I think you’ll see that they are being performed in 20 different countries and almost all 50 states. People can do a major production and turn it into a fancy theater event or they can do readings in their classrooms. It’s very grassroots.

How did you become involved?

In 2017, I got invited to go to Pomona College to talk about one of my plays, THE CHISERA, which is about climate change and I worked with Giovanni Ortega (CCTA/LA: AT THE INTERSECTION director, 2019) there. He also brought on Chantal as a guest speaker so I connected with them. Then I went to an Earth Matters On Stage conference, which is a conference of theater people who do climate change work, and forged more of a relationship with Chantal.

I also did a Climate Change Theatre Action event with my graduate seminar in eco-theater (2017). We just performed the plays in our classroom and then we took them outside and performed them on campus.

This year, for the 2019 Climate Change Theater Action, Chantal asked me to be one of the playwrights that were commissioned to write a play, but I also decided that I wanted to do something that was a lot more elaborate, so I applied for a Visions & Voices grant and got the funding.

And what is that elaborate undertaking? 😉

We’re doing a two-day climate change event. This coming Friday’s event (HOW TO CREATE YOUR OWN ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE EVENT, 11/8 at 3pm) is on campus. I would love for people to attend this first event because this one has the CCTA plays from around the globe. Of the 50 plays that were commissioned, six of those are being performed.

The really cool thing is I put the word out to some of my colleagues and asked if they thought there were any students who might want to direct these and two wonderful young undergraduates, Elizabeth Schuetzle and Jessica Doherty, stepped up and are directing three plays each. They’re also working with their friend, music composer and fellow student Cyrus Leland, whose created music for this student-driven event.

After the performances, Chantal will speak about how to create your own climate change—or any kind—of social justice event because these things don’t require money, they just require commitment and time.

Awesome. I think Chantal will be a great resource for anyone interested in creating social justice theater.

Absolutely. And, I think this is something all playwrights, and everybody, should step up and do at least once—create some kind of grassroots action to make the world a better place. If you sit around and wait for someone else to do it, they’re not going to. It’s important for us as playwrights to not sit around and wait. I understand the impulse, because playwrights like to be left alone. We like to be alone in our rooms, and we tend to be passive but every once in a while we have to come out of the cave and not be passive.

I’m in my cave now.

After this, I’m going into the cave.

Let me reel it back in—What is the second event? 🙂

The Saturday (CLIMATE CHANGE THEATRE ACTION LA: AT THE INTERSECTION, 11/9 at 2pm) event is all Los Angeles playwrights and what that one addresses is not just climate change around the globe but specific issues that affect Los Angeles directly. The climate change issues in Los Angeles are very different from say the issues in the Pacific Northwest or the issues in India or Costa Rica. I wanted to pay attention to that because I think a lot of times people don’t think climate change is an urban problem but its actually really important to urban areas and its particularly important to neighborhoods of color and people who come from low-income neighborhoods because they don’t have the political clout to fight.

I consulted with some people from the Program for Environmental and Regional Equity (USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts & Sciences) about what the chief LA climate change issues were and they enumerated air quality, incompatible land-use, unfair distribution of water, the feast or famine problem of water in LA, and drilling , fracking and the storage of liquid natural gas. And added to that is our unique geography.  

Definitely! With this past week’s fires, I keep thinking about one of the pieces in particular.

Yes. It’s really interesting. Julie Taiwo Oni wrote a piece (ROOMIES) about the fires. Interestingly enough, when she turned that one in back in June I was glad someone took that (issue) on but didn’t think it was particularly relevant, and then last week happened. Suddenly, Julie’s is the most relevant of all of them. Not that they aren’t all relevant, they’re all interconnected.

Can you talk to me about the event’s subtitle, AT THE INTERSECTION?

One of my major issues is that people tend to think of climate change as a white middle class issue, and they also think of it as something that is distant in time. The fact of the matter is that environmental catastrophe affects low-income people more than it affects anyone else because they don’t have the means to buy their way out of it. It also affects people with very little political clout because they don’t have the means to influence their way out of it. I’m interested in intersectionality, hence, AT THE INTERSECTION, which is kind of a play on words. It’s not just that LA is a city of freeways, streets and lots of intersections, but I see this as “at the intersection” of art and science, and also at the intersection of many other cultural and identity movements. I think climate change is a feminist issue, I think it’s a racial issue… it’s definitely a status and economic issue. So that’s where the At the Intersection comes from.

It occurred to me that if I really wanted to see these works, I had to do it. I was probably the only person that was going to.

So, I know you primarily as a playwright, but here you’re taking on the role of producer. How did that come about?

Being a female playwright in America is kind of thankless. There are few opportunities. And being an older female playwright makes it even worse. And also the idea of trying to interest a theater in plays about important social justice issues or environmental justice—they honestly just don’t care. They may pay lip service to it, but we don’t see them producing these plays. It occurred to me that if I really wanted to see these works, I had to do it. I was probably the only person that was going to. I tried to interest other people in doing it and got no response, so I had to step in. I’ve produced with Visions and Voices before, on campus, but usually on a smaller scale. This one has been really challenging. Of course, Gio (Ortega), Simon Chau (production stage manager) and the people at the museum have been really helpful.

Yes. The Natural History Museum! How did they get involved? Did you reach out to them?

I did. I thought “you know, we could do this on-campus”, but then I thought, “Who else is doing this kind of work?” And what’s really wonderful about the Natural History Museum is that they take the city of Los Angeles and its diversity very seriously, and by diversity I don’t just mean in terms of population but also the diversity of its interests and topics. So climate change is one of the things that they actually have programs about. I figured that if I could get them to partner with us, then we would have a really interesting performance space.

And we do! We’ll be at the Hall of Mammals.

Yes, it’s going to be in front of, you know, those dioramas of the mountain goats… North American mammals.

*I do a happy dance on the inside and think about selfies with said mountain goats*

So yeah, I brought it to them, and lo and behold, they said yes. The really cool thing about this event is that it’s free to the public. That also means that if you make a reservation for the event, you get in free to the museum. You literally could spend the day at the museum and see all the really cool things that they’re doing there. They’re not just a museum of dinosaurs, they’re a museum of the natural history of Los Angeles, which is fascinating.

Meme by Moi with image from Getty images Plus

They’re actually trying to pay attention to what this city really is and where it grew from. They also have a climate change program now that they’re starting to develop. I’m very happy that we’re partnering with them.

How were the writers and production team selected?

A lot of the writers on this list were already writing about climate change, so I didn’t have to go out of my way and try to find LA writers that I was going to force into this topic. These are already people who are concerned about this and are writing about it. It’s interesting to me that there are a lot of women doing it. I also wanted to make sure that I had young and old represented, and I wanted to hit the culture of Los Angeles, so we have—Latinx writers, Asian American writers, black writers, white writers, and mixed race writers. I’m trying to re-create the community of Los Angeles via the playwright’s voices. 

Gio (Ortega) has been interested in climate change—its one of the topics that he takes on. He’s into social justice theater too. And that’s really what this is, social justice theater. Gio is the director in town that I know for whom this work matters. He’s traveled and done research on this work, leads a program at Pomona College’s theater department that also does a climate change theatre action in Pomona. He was a natural person to choose. 

I’ve worked with Simon Chau and Alex Rehberger (Production and stage management) in the past. They’re both USC grads. And Howard Ho is our go-to sound guy. That’s the team.

Talk to me about the short, original works that have been created for this event. What can we expect?

We have plays about children being affected by the toxic waste in their neighborhoods. Plays about gentrification. Plays about the Los Angeles River—the rehabilitation of it and the pollution in it. Plays about low-income people who have pumpjacks in their neighborhoods. Plays about trees and how LA needs to be more proactive about planting them because not only do they create shade, thereby lowering the temperature of the city, but they also help clean the air. We have plays about all of these topics, including incompatible land use, which you would think “How the hell would you write about that?”

Yes! But also, it wasn’t t only a matter of how to approach these topic that I found challenging, but the short format too. These pieces are each roughly 3-4 minutes long. So even though I wrote a play, it also felt like I was writing narrative poetry.

That’s really wonderful. Almost everyone addressed them poetically. And in fact, a couple of people have actually written spoken-word. We have this really wonderful mix of plays that are scenes, and some that are either wonderful comedic monologues or spoken-word kind of chats. It’s all really neat.

There’s also a micro opera.

That just happens to be mine. I work with this wonderful composer, Guang Yang—we have a full-length opera we’re working on—and I thought “we like to work together”,  so I asked her if she wanted to do a piece for this and she said yes. We took on the impossible topic of incompatible land-use. Ours is about a little girl whose school is under a freeway—because we don’t have zoning to protect kids, schools and playgrounds from being near a landfill or toxic waste or freeways. So the little girl comes home from school and tells her mother that she learned there’s a hole in the sky and her mother doesn’t want to hear about it. She doesn’t want to hear the bad news. So the little girl spins a fanciful tale of a Chinese goddess who’ll fix the hole in the sky, which helps the mother come around. It’s really neat. It’s a very experimental opera. The full length opera that Guang and I wrote has ten-singers, is orchestrated for an orchestra… but this little short opera is just one instrument—a keyboard—and some percussion sounds on a computer.

(Note: Paula’s full-length opera is being done in Pittsburg next summer!)

Can you talk a little about the theme guide created for this event?

My graduate students from my first year 574A (Dramatic Writing Across Media) class stepped up to create this. One of the media I’d pointed out to them is multiplatform media—creating theme guides and websites that have hyperlinks embedded in them so that people could go and see a video and get more resources. What they did was create theme guides for this entire event that has articles about environmental justice, the issues in LA, and organizations that you can support and join to help make change. It’s a really wonderful, colorful, beautifully printed guide that will be about 5-6 pages long and will include the program.

I could keep doing it (CCTA/LA) but then I’m the one that keeps learning these things and its time for somebody else to step up and learn about not only how to do this but also about the issues.

Is CCTA/LA something you’re hoping to continue to do every two years?

I would love for that to happen and I would love to be the guide and the advisor, but I would let somebody step up and take over. I think that’s one of the important things about being a playwright in America and that is that you don’t sit around and wait. And I also feel as if I could keep doing it but then I’m the one that keeps learning these things and its time for somebody else to step up and learn about not only how to do this but also about the issues. The best way to learn about them is to be directly involved. 

Final question—what excites you the most about the CCTA/LA: At the Intersection event?

What excites me the most, and I hope this happens, is that regular visitors to the museum, who are strolling through the galleries with their kids, drop in and see something happening. My dream is that we see little families seeing that there’s a theater event going on and that they stop and take it in so that they are, as a family, not only introduced to theater, but also introduced to the issues. I think its great that people are making reservations, I love that, but I also would love for all the casual passerby’s get drawn into it because I think it will be fun.

Thank you, Paula!

You’re very welcome.

Don’t forget to check out the CCTA /LA events!

References:

Paula Cizmar

http://paulacizmar.net/

Climate Change Theatre Action

http://www.climatechangetheatreaction.com/

Chantal Bilodeau

https://www.cbilodeau.com/

Earth Matters On Stage

https://www.earthmattersonstage.com/

Visions and Voices

visionsandvoices.usc.edu

How To Create Your Own Environmental Justice Event: A Workshop with Chantal Bilodeau

http://visionsandvoices.usc.edu/eventdetails/?event_id=30354568958120

Climate Change Theatre Action LA: At the Intersection

https://nhm.org/calendar/climate-change-theatre-action-la-intersection

Program for Environmental and Regional Equity

https://dornsife.usc.edu/pere

Climate Change Theatre Action 2019 – The Claremont Colleges

http://www.climatechangetheatreaction.com/event/climate-change-theatre-action-2019-the-claremont-colleges/2019-11-12/

Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County

https://nhm.org/

Giovanni Ortega

https://giovanniortega.com/

Perfect Timing

Hello, Everyone. Welcome! My name is Zury Margarita Ruiz and this is my LAFPI Blog Week!

While my scheduled week was randomly selected (at least to my understanding) by the LAFPI team, it seems to have been bestowed upon me at the perfect time because *DRUMROLL*… I HAVE SOMETHING TO PROMOTE!

This coming Saturday, November 9th at 2pm, USC Vision & Voices, in partnership with the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles, presents Climate Change Theatre Action LA: At the Intersection—a presentation of short play performances, spoken word pieces, and a micro opera that will “explore the effects of climate change on Los Angeles communities” with the aim to use theatre to start a conversation about they ways in which climate change is impacting our neighborhoods.

Playwrights include: Velina Hasu Houston, Tira Palmquist, Diana Burbano, Mary Kamitaki, Amanda Black, Jennie Webb, Jennifer Maisel, Carlyn Flint, Paula Cizmar, Julie Taiwo Oni, EM Lewis, and ME! 🙂

All works will be presented at the Hall of Mammals at the Museum, which personally, I think is very cool.

This event is free of charge, family friendly (my 4-month-old niece and three-year-old nephew will be there and I’m beyond happy to share my work with them, even if they won’t remember it down the line) and includes entrance and access to the museum! All that is required is that you RSVP, and you could do so here: https://nhm.org/calendar/climate-change-theatre-action-la-intersection

<3

In support of Climate Change Theatre Action LA: At the Intersection and its related event, How to Create Your Own Environmental Justice Event: A Workshop with Chantal Bilodeau, my articles this week will be highlighting members of its creative team, their work in putting these events together, and documenting the brand spanking new short-plays (all written by LA-based, female playwrights) that will be presented at the Natural History Museum of LA County on the 9th of this month.

I hope you will come out and support these events!

Collaborative Playwriting

by Tiffany Antone

If you read my first post this week, you know I’ve been asking some questions about playwriting. One of the things I promised I’d talk about was a project called 45’s 24—a collection of monologues written by thirty female playwrights inspired by the twenty four (at the time) sexual misconduct allegations against the president.

The project itself is interesting and the collection of monologues super powerful and moving—and I encourage anyone who wants to read the script to register for a copy on the Protest Plays Project site. I’m also working on a collaborative writing project with seven other AMAZING female playwrights right now, and although it’s less centered on a specific topic, it’s been a really cool process of sharing the “mic” so to speak.

Photo by Perry Grone on Unsplash

So, for my last post of the week, I’m going to talk a little about those processes of collaborative writing, and how it’s been a really exciting and rewarding experience. And—full disclosure—I’m writing this on cold medicine and very little sleep… so buckle up, it could get bumpy.

45’s 24

45’s 24 was inspired by a FB friend posting an article about all twenty four of Trump’s accusers and tagging me in it with a note that “You should turn this into a play or something in order to amplify these women’s stories” He was right, and I was immediately like “I’m ON IT!” Because of my work through Little Black Dress INK, I know some pretty cool female playwrights I thought might be interested. I’ve also initiated a number of theatre actions with some awesome writers through Protest Plays Project. So I sent out an email invite to people I thought might be interested… and then I posted the invite to Twitter too, because maybe there would be more people wanting to get involved. There were!

The nice thing about this project is that I had a very clear roadmap for the process. Essentially, I created a Google sign up sheet where writers could select a woman to write about, then linked to the article about the accusers. Each writer then had a few weeks to research and write a 1-3 minute monologue inspired by each woman’s story. Because we had thirty writers working on the project, each piece took on it’s own voice – this is exactly why I wanted this to be a collaborative project. Who am I to try to write 24 monologues about/inspired by these real women? But together, the collection sounds like a group of individuals—and that’s awesome.

Another great thing about writing this piece collaboratively? We got it all written and assembled in just a little over six weeks! And, honestly, the hardest part was me finding the time to write the stitching—that’s what I call the interstitial bits that create the frame around the monologues—and formatting the dang thing! I write in Final Draft, but for this, everything had to come in Word… and nobody formats the exact same way, soooo = AAAGH! I’m NOT an editor at heart. If I was, the whole thing would have been done a lot sooner.

Anyway, the process of working on this piece with such a large cadre of passionate playwrights was inspiring, motivating, and empowering. I am so incredibly proud of the final collection – and it’s set for at least three readings in the coming months, which feels incredible because nobody ever writes a play just to have it sit in a drawer somewhere. Especially when the play is, at its heart, a protest piece.

Untitled Collaborative Writing Project

The other collaborative writing project I’m working on involves seven other female playwrights. It’s essentially the thing I’m devoting time to this year instead of doing another ONSTAGE fest. That decision, while difficult, was a really good move personally as I was starting to feel like ONSTAGE was sucking me dry. I worked work on that festival all year long for nine years, and although I love producing, it took a lot of energy and focus from my own creative projects.

However, as I said before, I haven’t been writing much lately. I’ve become very action-focused and playwriting feels kind of passive. This project, on the other hand, is itself a sort of theatre action because I am working with others to create a collaborative script that isn’t just all about me, my vision, or my perspective. instead, it is intentionally designed to allow for a multitude of voices.

We’re still in the “Seeding” phase of the work, and I have no idea of this experiment will result in a final script, or if it will instead result in some sort of collaborative folio of scripts. But I can tell you how we’ve been working in case anyone else wants to do something similar.

We started off by sharing questions we were interested in exploring, articles we found inspiring, and themes we were curious about. Then (almost) every week I send out an email with a new writing prompt, found artwork, and musical inspiration. We also spend some time doing a sort of chain-email kind of writing project where we each write a page, then send just that page to the next person to add a page, and so on. The results have been a lot of really cool, weird, interesting monologues and scenes that we will then look at building on. We may decide to write a play around one of these scenes, or to stitch several of these pieces together, or we may do something else entirely. And as someone who is usually very much in charge of projects, this new place of discovery and shared responsibility is a very cool place to be!

Whew.

That’s it. I made it to the end of my blogging week with three articles written, plus the children and cats are all still alive and fed. Three of us have colds however, and everyone in my house is exhausted because when the kiddos have colds, none of us sleeps, but I’m happy I was able to check in and share some thoughts with all of you. And if you’re interested in writing socially aware short plays, we’ll be launching two new #TheatreActions from Protest Plays Project soon. Follow us on Twitter and FB to be notified when they launch. All it takes to collaborate with us is a collaborative spirit and desire to effect change!

A HERoic Season: Female Playwrights Onstage in Iowa

by Tiffany Antone

Last year I started working at Iowa State University, and kind of can’t believe how amazing my colleagues are. The theatre department has begun focusing on citizen artistry, which has anchored our season selection planning process in a much more socially aware methodology. I was thrilled when I came on board and found out that the department was committed to gender parity moving forward, and to celebrate that fact, they were going to do a whole season of works by female playwrights.

YES.

I know.

It’s AMAZING.

What was interesting, as we set about reading and researching plays, was just how few other organizations seemed to be making the same choice. We are fast approaching 2020, after all, and according to the Dramatists Guild’s most recent Count, we’re a far cry from that 50/50 gender parity goal set so long ago. (*Do you even remember where you were when the 50/50 in 2020 initiative was launched way back in 2010?)

Since we’re a university, we knew we had to serve our students first and foremost, but it also felt imperative that we begin to “Walk the Walk” of the citizen artist. Addressing gender parity for playwrights turned into just the start of our ambitious sea-change. We also decided to hire female guest artists as designers and directors, and to create a year-long symposium on gender parity.

The outreach to other departments on campus yielded a number of exciting partnerships – we aren’t the only field with a parity gap! – and this collaboration led to a very busy and thrilling season of work across many mediums and fields of study.

The result is our (very busy and very awesome) HERoic season! All it took to make it happen was a desire and willingness to DO THE WORK.

Now, we’re still in the middle of our first semester – two shows into our season, and four more productions to go—but the thrill of the work is contagious!

Something I’ve found very interesting during our process is that although gender parity onstage is a very important issue for us as artists and theatremakers, audiences aren’t nearly as concerned or aware of this gap. And why would they be? How many audiences are really that tuned in to the world of theatre to begin with? Aren’t most just kind of renting space with us for an evening or matinee and then going back to their normal routines?

So what we considered a very proactive and exciting selling point to our season—all works by female playwrights—has seemingly been less important to our audiences than we thought it would be.

Again and again, in discussions around gender parity and our season, we’ve heard audiences claim they don’t give a hoot who wrote the play. All they’re looking for is a “Good” story. Now, these are discussions have been held with theatre majors, minors, and non-theatre students alike – but I’d wager that the same holds true for most non-student audience members too. What people are looking for is TITLE recognition. Is the show a big enough deal to have pierced the non-theatre-maker’s bubble? Have they heard good things about the title from friends who “saw it on Broadway”? And have our theatremakers heard good things from reviews/fellow theatremakers who were involved a production of the show somewhere else?

In general, playwright names and gender identity haven’t been anywhere on their radar. Now, I don’t know about you, but as a playwright, I felt a little more than bummed that we’re so unimportant to audiences, lol. But again and again, this discussion point has led us to mine a number of follow-up questions with our students about who the Gatekeepers are who get to decide which plays make it “Big” and how do we decide what a “Good” story is.

And that’s a great discussion to have with students and non-students alike.

We’re going to keep the conversation going with audiences and students, and I’m sure we have a ton more to learn from this ambitious year, but I know one thing for sure: Nothing changes without first taking a leap. ISU Theatre is taking some big leaps, and it’s a very exciting place to work and create. I hope other universities and theatre companies take up the 50/50 challenge because it is totally doable, it does make a difference, and it’s important if we want to get more stories heard.

“If you’re only telling one story, it’s not a story, it’s propaganda.” – Michael Goeble, Assistant Teaching Professor, Women’s and Gender Studies, ISU

I haven’t been writing lately…

by Tiffany Antone

Let me fill you in on a little secret: I haven’t been writing lately.

Photo by Brandi Redd on Unsplash

I’m just not into it. 

I could blame the new baby (who is a precious bundle of awesomeness) because, come on, he takes up a LOT of time and he wakes up at least once a night to demand I feed him with my body (being a human is weird). But blaming him would be kind of disingenuous because I have found plenty of time to create a number of dumb and ugly doodles that I share on Instagram, so obviously that’s time I could have been putting into my craft…

I could blame my teaching load, but that wouldn’t be fair either because—although time-consuming—being a college professor gives me way more time to be creative than my old freelancing and adjuncting life did, and I managed to get a LOT of writing done then.

I could blame the world…

Oh, yeah.

Actually, that’s it.

Because, well, the world is kind of a hot flaming mess right now, isn’t it? And, well, if I’m honest, I’m just not sure words are capable of putting the fire out.

I love writing plays.  I love telling stories.  And I think I do it pretty well (let’s not talk about how much I suck at the whole “Getting my work in front of people” part though).  Almost all of my works center on messy humans dealing with the complexities of being alive today, but—even if they were getting produced on stages around the world (Dear Universe, I wouldn’t mind it!)— would they DO anything to help the world?

I don’t know.

Maybe I’m having a bit of a mid-life crises about the purpose of theatre, and about the value of toiling away at scripts intended to land a production so that I can talk to people through characters and metaphor about things I think are important.

What would happen if I just talked to people instead?

A few weeks ago I did just that. 

I went to a local library board meeting at the behest of a FB post notifying us that a republican group was planning on storming the meeting to demand the library stop hosting an All Ages Drag Show.  I got so fired up about it that I wrote, essentially, a spoken word piece that I then read when my name was called to speak.  The issue wasn’t even up for a vote that night – it’s a popular event that already happens! – but there were a number of us there that night whose aim was to prevent the speakers of intolerance from winning the mic.

It felt great.

Not only was I able to take speaking time away from indignant and ill-informed haters that night, but I felt a sense of community amongst the rest of the drag show supporters that was incredibly uplifting. 

(I should clarify here, I have been to the All Ages Drag Show and found it to be very fun, but I am not a part of that community—just a fan.  The community I felt in the board room was of the kind created by a group of people standing together against intolerance.)

And this feeling of community got me thinking: Does theatre create community?  I mean, outside its walls… We say it does.  Hell, there are theatres all over the country who call themselves community theatres.  And I believe fervently that the theatrical community to be found within those walls is a wondrous, loving, crazy, and invaluable sort—but it’s a rare thing to see a theatre create community beyond the theatremakers/volunteers who make the “product” that those theatres “sell”.

Rather, it seems like most theatres have a primarily transactional relationship with their communities: More of a “We think you’ll like this show, so please buy a ticket! And while you’re here, maybe you want to buy a season pass/some theatre merch/a season program as well?” type of relationship. Theatres offer talk-backs and talk-forwards, and try to select seasons of work that will get more people to buy more tickets… but what are they doing to build community beyond the theatremaker kind?

And aren’t most audience members tjust here to see the show, have a glass of wine, and leave anyway?  Maybe they’ll talk about the show with their friends, recommend it to their co-workers, but they sure do like to bristle at the neighbor who unwraps a cough-drop mid-show. They growl at the young couple who dares to bring their children along. They glare at the student who arrives late. They chastise the women who laugh too loud… 

That’s not community.

And I really think, now more than ever, that we need to cultivate a greater sense of connection and community within AND without our theatrical structures.

But that’s a hard thing to do when you’re just a playwright.

Fortunately, I’m not “Just” a playwright…

I’ve been really fortunate to get hired at Iowa State University where we have dedicated our 2019-2020 season to work by female playwrights.  Not only that, but we’ve hired female guest designers and directors, and we’ve created an entire symposium to look at/discuss gender equity.  We’re also dedicated to gender parity in our season selection moving forward, and are participating in Jubilee next year. We’re doing the work, and we’re asking some big questions about theatre and citizen artistry along the way.  I’ll talk about more about our work in my next post. But it’s an exciting place to be teaching, working, and building community.

I’ve also organized a series of initiatives through Protest Plays Project and Little Black Dress INK (I’m the crazy person behind both orgs) that address social issues.  I’ll talk more about our latest project later this week. But both of these parts of my life allow me to do more than just scribble words… they help me connect and build community with other playwrights and theatremakers, and the kinds of work we are doing invites audiences to take action with us. It’s exciting.

There are more ways I’m working on taking action as an artist and a human, but I honestly don’t have enough time to write about all of it—what with the new baby and all 😉 

But I encourage you to hang in there with me this week and to think about how you can do more with your words, your voice, and your actions, dear playwrights.  I promise I’ll ask some good questions for you to ponder.

And if you’re wondering, here’s the statement I wrote in support of the All Ages Drag Show at our very awesome library:


Fear is a powerful, and primitive, human emotion.

So is love.

Fear alerts us to the presence of danger. 
A safety mechanism, designed to keep us safe from peril.
Fear helps us survive…

But…

Love, a safety mechanism in itself,
Gives us reasons to survive.
And unlike fear,
Love… Well, Love helps us to thrive.

Biochemical or Emotional, both fear and love ride our senses hard, confusing and elating us.
Biochemical responses are universal. 
We all know the feeling of a heart pounding, of sweat dripping, of stomachs dropping…

Is it fear?

Is it love…

How can the two look, feel, taste, so similar?
Emotional responses are individual. 
So what you,
and you,
and you,
and I fear,
What you, and you, and you, and I love…

The pieces of this world that create our biochemical and emotional responses –
Are rarely exactly the same.
It is a universal truth that we are none of us guaranteed to agree.
But we have built a society which allows for this difference,
A democracy built on the notion that there is no ONE right way to BE.
Because it is vital if any of us wishes to thrive,
That we continue to allow individuals to be

Individuals.

A community that celebrates the individual is a community centered on love.
A community that celebrates only one type of individual? The “Right” kind of individual?
Well that’s not love.
That’s not community.
That is fear in action.
That is fear in control.
That is a community in crisis.

Hearts beating
Sweat dripping
We are all of us here tonight sharing biochemical reactions, though the reasons are different.

My heart pounds because I do not want to be party to a community where you are not free to be you, and I am not free to be I. 

Where the deciders of WHO can BE, use religion or politics to outline what is “CORRECT”

My adrenaline surges because to hear how ferociously some are willing to condemn others creates in me a palpable fear…

A fight or flight kind of fear…

That those who want to condemn are unwilling to open their hearts to the love in this room
In this community
In the hearts and souls of those who have been finding and building community through an
All ages drag show.
Really?

Really?

I will not fly from this issue.
We will not fly from the community that has been built here.

Those of you who are in the room tonight
Afraid of
An all ages drag show:
Have you become fear junkies?

So acclimated
So indoctrinated
By a party that uses fear to separate and alienate and attain power through division-
Do you really think that diversity in your community means you can’t continue to be you?
That by allowing others to celebrate their individuality
You are somehow losing out?

Let me share with you a secret…

You are not losing anything.

But by trying to take this away?
An event born of incredible love and joyfulness and inclusivity?
You are the takers.
Aiming to create absence in the hearts and lives of others.

I’ll share another secret with you:
The adrenaline you feel in pursuit of punitive action-
The adrenaline you feel while attacking that which is different from yourself
Is NOTHING like the adrenaline of love.

That adrenaline…

The adrenaline of putting aside warring labels,
—Democrat vs. Republican, this kind of Christian vs. that kind of whatever—
In order to reclaim the I, the ME, and the US in this room?
The adrenaline of deciding to be a community of love
And to let go of fear…
Of the hate that fear sows
Of the intolerance that fear grows-

That is the biochemical
emotional
Response
Of a healthy
Thriving
Community.
And that is what we should all be working towards

Together.

Tonight.

Thank you.

Establishing Boundaries

This relationship is difficult.  
The one between you and I. 

And I know I’m supposed to be used to it by now. I’m all over the internet. It would take so little effort for you to find a baby photo of me just by typing my name in a search engine. It’s unsettling that now I have a consistent platform to express thoughts and I suddenly can’t think of anything to write, which never happens. Something’s wrong. I must be suppressing myself or thinking too much or just uncomfortable but either way, there is something in me that feel the way I did as a child. Confronted by my mother or father and afraid to tell the truth with fear of getting my ass beat or worse, shamed… so I’d lie. 

That is the feeling you evoke in me because even though you may know me you don’t know me like that. 

No one does. 

Not even me. 

I’m not a child no more though. I don’t have to lie to get my way, I have words now. Words that I did not have access to when I could have used them way back when. But communication is a luxury I do not take for granted. That is why I said yes to the opportunity to write on this public form alongside a community of very talented writers who have deep thoughts and something to offer. I have to make an active choice to believe that I too have something to offer. That I deserve a seat at the table. 

But you must understand something, I’ve sat at a lot of tables that were unstable with chairs that can’t hold me. Opportunities that I worked hard to be invited to just to get there and realize that it’s not cracked up to what I thought it would be. I have to approach tables with apprehension and chairs with suspicion just because of who I am. 

Black. 

Fat. 

Queer. 

Anxious. 

Some of you can imagine the pressure I must be under all the time. A seat at the table has the capacity to sucks the life out of m when everyone wants a sip, a bite, a nugget of knowledge.Wanting me and not wanting me at the same damn time. But I don’t grow on trees.

I am the tree. 

And before we move on in our relationship it’s important to establish boundaries. I need you to know that to cut me down is a threat to the entire earth and humankind. And yes, the wood provides. The dining table, chairs and a crackling fire to keep you warm, but I’m not ready to be cut. 

So I ask that you are patient with me. I will be using this platform to share plays that I write, thoughts that I have, and most importantly, to wander. 

APPROACH WITH CAUTION!

by Leelee Jackson

The FPI Files: Antaeus Introduces LA to Two Brand New Classsics

Luisina Quarleri & Denise Blasor in “The Abuelas”; photo by Jenny Graham

As theater-makers, we gotta love the classics.  And in all honesty, it’s often the artists with a background in Shakespeare, Shaw, Hellman, etc. that bring that extra something to the table when working on any play. But as playwrights, how much do we love that Antaeus, a theater in town known for its kick-ass classical productions, is shifting gears and producing new plays that they’re putting out there as “future classics?” A lot!

Oh. And add to that that these two works are by LA female playwrights, nurtured by Antaeus’ in-house Playwrights Lab, and directed by women. YES!

So we couldn’t pass  up the chance to talk to Stephanie Alison Walker and Jennifer Maisel, friends and colleagues whose plays “The Abuelas” and “Eight Nights” are sharing the Antaeus stage. 

LAFPI: These new plays are a bit of a departure for Antaeus! How does it feel being the first new plays coming through the company’s Playwrights Lab chosen for production?

Stephanie Alison Walker: I keep pinching myself. I was at the very first meeting of the Antaeus Playwrights Lab back in 2013; it was to be a place to come together and exercise our craft. Back then it was made pretty clear that Antaeus wouldn’t produce plays that came out of Lab because that wasn’t their mission. But the idea of “future classics” struck a chord, I guess. To have a theater like Antaeus producing new work is such a win for playwrights. I love the trust it shows in lab. I love that I get to share this with my friend whose play I love so much. I’m so proud.

playwright Jennifer Maisel; photo by Christopher Bonwell

Jennifer Maisel: I’m so moved Antaeus chose our plays as their first to go on this adventure with. Of course, having a play produced by a theatre I’ve loved and respected for so long is just a playwright’s dream, but this is even more dreamy because Stephanie and I have been working on these plays somewhat in parallel, and have been supporting each other through their development processes as playwrights, peers and friends. She’s a playwright whose work I adore and it’s a thrill to journey this road together.

LAFPI: These plays were both developed by Antaeus, but where did each of your plays begin? What’s the journey to production been like for each of you? 

Jennifer:  After the last election I – like many other writers and an artists – felt blocked.  The world had changed so much, I felt an imperative to think differently about what I was going to write next. I had been thinking about how I had never seen a Chanukah play and I loved the idea of eight scenes over eight nights but had thought it would be eight nights spanning the same holiday and family.  But then I started to think about how spaces hold memory and family and are characters in and of themselves and thought that these nights of Chanukah should be over the span of a life.  I still didn’t know my way in, however.  Then in January of 2017 someone started tweeting the manifest of the St. Louis – each tweet talked about a person or a family who got sent back – who survived, who did not. I started digging deep in research and found that the articles about the “Jewish Refugee Problem” in the 30s seemed to be the same articles we were reading right now – only now it was the “Muslim Refugee Problem”.   It spurred me into thinking about the circles of history and also thinking about a question I had long had – about how people move on from such great trauma to live their lives and the great bravery and resilience it takes to do that.  The inauguration came towards the end of January, and the next day, the Muslim ban – and I started writing the play that day.

After writing the first draft of Eights Nights in the 2017 Playwrights Union challenge [to write a new play in the month of February], I brought in scenes of it to Lab. That feedback was invaluable. I had an in-house workshop at Playmakers in North Carolina and  I went to the Berkshire Playwrights Lab where I did a five day workshop of it.  [Director] Emily Chase and I did two more readings in LA with Antaeus  and one with Moving Arts and I also had workshops at Bay Street Theatre on Long Island in their Title Wave series and at the Gulf Shore New Play Festival, so I had the good fortune to work on the play with several different directors and casts and audiences and get different feedback on each one.

playwright Stephanie Alison Walker

Stephanie: I saw a reading of Eight Nights in the library at Antaeus  and sobbed through pretty much the whole thing. It’s such a beautiful work and so powerful and truly reached my soul. I’m incredibly honored to share this with Jennifer and her gorgeous play.

I wrote the first draft of The Abuelas in 2016 during the month of February as part of the Playwrights Union’s challenge. While writing it, I was bringing pages into Playwrights Lab to hear them out loud.  I was very fortunate that the Ashland New Plays Festival selected it last year and that Teatro Vista in Chicago had already agreed to produce it. So, my director from Chicago – Ricardo Gutierrez – came with me to Ashland and we had the opportunity to begin our collaboration in Ashland in advance of the World Premiere in Chicago in February at Victory Gardens, produced by Teatro Vista. I did a lot of rewriting during that process so once we started rehearsals at Antaeus in August, the play was pretty set. I mostly was focusing on cutting and fine-tuning for this production.

LAFPI: Each of your plays deals with pretty huge issues through a very personal lens. Can you talk a bit more about what’s at the heart of your play and what drew you to it?

Stephanie: In 2015, I wrote my play The Madres, a play set in 1978 in Buenos Aires during the military dictatorship. I was drawn to the subject matter because I grew up with an Argentine stepmom, have Argentine family and spent a lot of time during my childhood in Argentina. After college, I was living and working in Buenos Aires and I began to learn more about what happened during the dictatorship. Friends shared jaw-dropping stories with me that I had never before heard. One friend was doing a documentary on the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo and I went with her to march with them one Thursday. When I came back to the States, I was shocked that no one here really knew about what happened in Argentina during that period. Over the years I would read and watch everything I could find about the Disappeared. It took me a long time, but I eventually found my way to write about it once I was a mother myself.

After the first reading of The Madres, I realized that I wasn’t done and that I would write The Abuelas. I set it 37 years later, because this is an ongoing story. It’s not in the past. It’s present and very real. So many years after the dictatorship, lives are still being torn apart. I was wanting to explore this very emotional and difficult question of identity and what happens when you find out you’ve been lied to your entire life? For every nieto (grandchild) discovered, it’s a different experience and process. Some absolutely do not want to know the truth about their identity. It takes some people many years to confront it. It’s a very difficult, complex, emotional and painful process. That’s what drew me to this story. These “children” (also referred to as the “living disappeared”) are now in their early forties. They have lived entire lives with one identity. And to discover now that their real parents were in fact disappeared… it’s unfathomable.

For anyone wanting to learn more about Las Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo and their work to restore the identities of their missing grandchildren, here is their website: abuelas.org.ar.

Jennifer: I feel – on many levels – that Eight Nights  is the play that I’ve been researching my whole life.  I found as I was writing it that there were elements of history I knew, even though I couldn’t pinpoint how I knew them or where I first learned of them. So I wrote and then researched more to verify and fill out what I had written.

This play reflects my fascination with how we treat other humans who we perceive as being unlike ourselves in this (and other) countries –  the refugee, someone of a different religious belief or ethnicity, someone with a different upbringing or background.  How we need to embrace the unfamiliar rather than marginalize it or dismiss it and how our traumas may differ greatly and we must respect that,  but if we share them with each other, perhaps healing together could make all of us strengthen ourselves against hate.

I also want to say a few words about a specific project that’s been going on with Eight Nights. In the wake of the Tree of Life Shooting last year in Pittsburgh, where the shooter called out the temple’s position on supporting refugees, producer Rachel Leventhal came to me. [As a benefit for HAIS], “8 Nights of Eight Nights” is readings and panel discussions in eight different cities over the course of this year, including Denver, NY, DC, Stowe, Chicago, San Francisco, Davis and (upcoming) San Diego and Seattle.  Using my play for social change is hugely gratifying.  It’s been an amazing experience.

LAFPI: Your plays are very different in style and specific subject matter, but what similarities have you discovered?

Stephanie:  I love this question. I keep saying that yes, our plays are very different, but they are both about murderous dictatorships and the long, devastating and far-reaching repercussions. They speak to each other thematically, for sure. I don’t think there is any order one should see them. But, yes: See both! I think both Jennifer and I are telling these stories because we both feel that they are important so that the lessons are not forgotten. As they say in Argentina: Nunca Más.

Jennifer: The plays both deal with the legacy of inherited trauma and they do complement each other beautifully. It’s also an expression Jews have used about the Holocaust:  Never Again.

Stephanie: And of course, not only are both plays written and directed by women, both plays feature very strong roles for women. Complex women. From a strong female point of view. I love this. I celebrate this. And I’m grateful for this!

“Eight Nights” actors Karen Malina White, Tessa Auberjonois & Arye Gross; photo by Jenny Graham

LAFPI:  Yes, we’re VERY pleased to see female directors on board. How have you worked collaboratively with your directors and other artists during this process?

Jennifer: Well, I’m insanely fortunate to not only be working with a female director (Emily Chase) and a female dramaturg (Paula Cizmar) but that they are two people who I have known a long time as friends, peers and collaborators.  It has made the process intimate and joyful (even in the painful writer moments of rewriting). Emily is bringing so much to the play with her director lens that I don’t even contemplate as a playwright; she’s added layers of complexity with how she directs the actors and what she envisions on the stage.  There’s a fullness that comes to the work because of her.  Paula is incisive and has an enormous gift for seeing ways to solve problems that come to light in a scene; it’s just wonderful to have another set of eyes focused solely on the text along mine but the fact that they’re Paula’s eyes is a beautiful thing for me.

Stephanie: This is my first time collaborating with director Andi Chapman. I was a huge fan of her direction on Nambi Kelley’s Native Son at Antaeus so when the Artistic Directors suggested they reach out to her, I was very excited. And even more so after meeting with her and hearing her vision for my play. Her eye for the theatrical is so brilliant. She brought all of her passion and artistry to this project and the results, in my opinion, are stunning. She assembled a powerhouse cast – including a couple of Antaean members and a three Argentine actors – who do such amazing work; it’s so complex and nuanced.

Andi also has an amazing design team who brought so much to the storytelling. I’m just sitting there like an idiot with a giant smile on my face when I watch the show. That’s not always the case. I just feel very happy with how everything has come together. Edward E. Haynes Jr. is our scenic designer and I’m a fan. Big, big fan. I literally cried when I saw his initial images of the set. I can’t wait to see what he creates for Eight Nights!

Jennifer: We’re just about to go into tech but I’m thrilled to see what the designers have been talking about.  Ed’s conception for the two sets is so brilliant.  I cannot wait to see it all put together.

Seamus Dever, Luisina Quarleri & Denise Blasor in “The Abuelas”; photo by Jenny Graham

LAPFI: And we can’t wait to congratulate Antaeus on supporting new work and producing your plays! Do you think this may be a direction the company will continue in?

 Stephanie: From my point of view, it does seem like Antaeus as a company is very excited about this new endeavor. I felt that excitement on opening night, especially.  I can’t get over it and you can’t make me. 😉

I can’t speak for the future of Antaeus, but what I can say is that I hope that The Abuelas and Eight Nights will be successful not only artistically, but also financially so that they feel emboldened to continue. There is SO MUCH EXCITING WORK coming out of the Playwrights Lab, I can only hope that some of that amazing work finds its way to the Antaeus stage in the future. They are doing another “Lab Results” Reading Festival this winter. So, keep a look-out for that.

Jennifer:  I think moving into the realm of new work is brave and I certainly hope Antaeus continues (of course, since I’m a creator of new work) – but also because I think it’s the way to expand the canon for future generations. How does a play ever become a classic? Someone has to be the first one to produce it.  And Antaeus is leaping into the fray.

“The Abuelas,” written by Stephanie Alison Walker and directed by Andi Chapman, plays October 3 – November 25 and “Eight Nights,” written by Jennifer Maisel and directed by Emily Chase, plays October 31 – December 16 at Antaeus Theatre Company. For information and tickets visit at  antaeus.org.

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