Persons of Interest Blog

Thanks for checking out the LA FPI “tag team” blog, handed off each week from one interesting female playwright to another.

Who are they?  Click Here

Delivering cake for gender parity!

As an LAFPI blog reader, you are probably already familiar with The Kilroys, the gang of 13 Los Angeles-based playwrights and producers who, in their own words, “are done talking about gender parity and are taking action.” They make news every year when they publish The Kilroy’s List, an aggregation of the most recommended unproduced or underproduced plays by women and trans playwrights. In a way, they do this to call out any theatre that’s lagging in gender parity – simply by saying, hey, look, we did the work for you. Are you saying you can’t find great plays by women or trans writers? Produce one of these plays, to start with.

But the cool thing about The Kilroys is that they also show appreciation where it’s due. Hence the 2015 Kilroy Cake Drop for Gender Parity.


Earlier this week Joy Meads emailed and asked if I could do The Kilroys a favor – could I deliver a chocolate cake to the Los Angeles Theatre Center on Thursday? It would be part of a nationwide celebration – thirteen theaters around the country would get delicious cake delivered to them by an ambassador playwright, to celebrate their leadership and commitment to gender parity.

As it happens, I have a special connection with the LATC myself since they co-produced my play In Love and Warcraft this season, in association with Artists at Play. I was thrilled to do it.

So along with twelve other playwrights across the country, I picked up a specially baked cake and delivered it to a theatre that means a lot to me. The lovely people at LATC, under the leadership of Jose Luis Valenzuela and Evelina Fernandez, are doing excellent work for under-represented communities, and they deserve cake every day! (Or whatever treat they please, this cake was DELICIOUS but I might not be able to have it every day.)

Check out all the photos from the various cake drops today by following the hashtag #parityraid and #cakedrop on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

In closing I’d like to echo the request that The Kilroys have made today.

Don’t see your favorite parity-achieving theater on the list? We hope you’ll show them some love. Send a social media shout-out (or a cake!) and buy a ticket to celebrate their commitment to producing work by women and trans* writers.

Let’s get to it then. The work continues!



Cast Control

by Kimberly Shelby-Szyszko

As I go into casting on two vastly different and equally challenging projects, and that familiar dread/anxiety rolls in, followed by sprinkles of guilt and self-chastisement for my being so—arguably—maniacal on this issue, I am comforted and, one could say, absolved by the following quotes.

(And yes, a few are of film fraternity, but the sentiment is transferable.)

“Necessarily, I’m always involved in casting, as any playwright is, because the whole process of putting on a play is a collaborative, organic effort on the part of a bunch of people trying to think alike.”
-David Ives

“For it is not enough to know what we ought to say; we must also say it as we ought…proper method of delivery; this is a thing that affects the success of a speech greatly;…”

“There are always going to be more actors than anybody can ever use.”
-Edward Albee

“My secret to all casting, and specifically kids, is cast good human beings.”
-M. Night Shyamalan

“Casting is everything. Getting the person that you imagined is this character and then seeing what they bring to it.”
-Steve Buscemi

“Casting is storytelling.”
-Joss Whedon

“Casting is…90+ percent of the creative choices…”
-Alan Rudolph

Coincidentally, a known playwright has this week voiced concerns regarding an unanticipated casting choice. Different, this, in that it was a school production with which she had limited to no involvement and the concerns had to do with race.

Here is the Huffington Post piece referencing Katori Hall’s take on Kent State University’s production of her play, “The Mountaintop.”

Whether one agrees with the playwright’s perspective here or not, it’s a reminder of how significant the assigning of lines to a performer who would seem to embody and satisfactorily flesh out the character envisioned, created and first voiced by his or her author can be.

That said, I am reminded of a quote by southern novelist, Ellen Glasgow, which would, if subscribed to, tend to ameliorate any pains associated with this issue. “Doesn’t all experience crumble in the end to mere literary material?”

No One Likes a Bitter Playwright

Kevin Sloan Artwork

Kevin Sloan Artwork











HowlRound recently published their notice for a Jubilee in 2020:

“We plan to celebrate this vision with a Jubilee year in 2020, in which every theatre in the United States of America produces only works by women, people of color, artists of varied physical and cognitive ability, and/or LGBTQA artists.” (See more at: HowlRound Jubilee)

Then the comments started. Oh the comments.  Let’s just say there were lots of…objections to this idea. I won’t list them, but you can find them at the bottom of the article.

And the follow up articles started appearing:

“As someone for whom the Jubilee proposal might (might) open a door or two, I read it with great interest and a gleam of hope. For those who might see a door or two temporarily closing, I heard some trepidation and some outright fury. Who will Jubilee close doors for, albeit at just some theatres for just one season? Straight white non-disabled cisgendered men. The biggest constituency on American stages today and yesterday and the day before that and many tomorrows.”

Howlround: You Don’t Have To Be An Ally But Don’t Be An Enemy

But a couple of the comments in this response really resonated with me:

“I’ve never read a call for submissions that openly stated “there will be one slot held for a female playwright, unless we just don’t feel like it this year.” But look through enough festival histories and the four-guys-one-woman pattern is a well-established thing. The mainstage is even worse. That’s the reality. When I go for an opportunity, I’m really competing for a much smaller, much more limited slice of the pie than advertised. It’s the same (and worse) for artists of color. Apparently, nobody means to do this, but it’s done. And really, don’t bother denying it. Since The Count, no one with any sense is buying that argument”

“OK, you’re still mad that Jubilee is not for you. I get it. I’m an American playwright and the American theatre has been telling me it’s not for me all my life. So throwing a tantrum is not a crazy response, but consider: when women and POCs speak up about systemic sexism and racism, we are risking our careers. We get labeled as bitches and whiners (see recent yellowface Mikado flap or any online forum on any topic in which any woman dared voice an opinion ever). Check out the nasty backlash and consider: do you want this?”

And then, my favorite comment:  “Because as much as I like a bitter drink or a bitter green, no one likes a bitter playwright.”

I saw this some of this reaction to the OSF Announcement to translate/adapt the Shakespeare plays  (OSF Facebook Page).

And I marvel that opportunities can bring out the worst in us, when we feel excluded.
















A One Woman Show in New York City

by Cynthia Wands

Sylvia Milo as Nannerl Mozart in THE OTHER MOZART


I’ve been following some of the posts here about challenges of producing/performing in solo performances, and I wanted to share the experience I had earlier this year when I went to New York and I had a chance to see “THE OTHER MOZART”, written and performed by Sylvia Milo.  This play is the story of Nannerl (yes, that is the real spelling of her name) Mozart, the sister of Amadeus – she was a prodigy, keyboard virtuoso and composer, and performed throughout Europe with her brother.  I had never heard of her, although I recall seeing her portrait in a painting with her brother and father some time ago.

It was one of the best things I have ever seen – and I’m still thinking about this play, months later.

Sylvia  performed the piece in a stunning 18-foot dress (designed by Magdalena Dabrowska from the National Theater of Poland). The original music was written for the play by Nathan Davis and Phyllis Chen – featured composers of Lincoln Center’s Mostly Mozart Festival, BAM and the International Contemporary Ensemble – for the instruments Nannerl knew intimately, such as clavichords, music boxes, and bells, as well as teacups, and fans.

The performance was held in one of those New York black box performance spaces, with creaky folding chairs surrounding a rather ratty looking stage. But the vision and creative ingenuity to produce this piece really affected the audience; and I still remember the intense curiosity and focus that we felt watching this story unfold in front of us.

This interview gives some background on Sylvia’s journey to create and produce this story:  Article in The Guardian September 8,2015: The Lost Genius, the other Mozart

This show won  several awards this year, and I would encourage you to see it if you get the chance.  Here is more information on this production:  The Other Mozart website

Mozart family portrait by Johann Nepomuk della Croce



Re-Branding McShakespeare

by Cynthia Wands

Artwork by Cynthia Wands

Artwork by Cynthia Wands











Both McDonalds (French fries, Ronald McDonald, Cheeseburgers) and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (Hamlet, Macbeth, King Lear) have a problem.  They’re both trying to rebrand their image to the public, and oh the noise.

McDonalds recently broadcast that they are no longer using margarine, they’re now using butter.  And furthermore:  “The company announced recently that it would stop selling chickens that have been raised with antibiotics that could affect human health, and milk from cows that had been treated with growth hormones. They introduced low-calorie “artisan grilled chicken” sandwiches..”  The New York Magazine, November 2, 2015: Freedom From Fries

And then the Oregon Shakespeare Festival announced it would launch a new project:  “The Oregon Shakespeare Festival has decided that Shakespeare’s language is too difficult for today’s audiences to understand. It recently announced that over the next three years, it will commission 36 playwrights to translate all of Shakespeare’s plays into modern English.”  The New York Times, October 7, 2015: Shakespeare in Modern English

The artistic director of the Festival, cited his deep interest in rewriting the plays of Shakespeare: “My interest in the question of how to best create access to these remarkable works is life-long,” OSF Artistic Director Bill Rauch said. “As a seventh grader, I translated Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream into contemporary English for my classmates to better understand it. I am delighted that the Play on! translations will give dramatists a deep personal relationship with Shakespeare’s words and that they will give artists and audiences new insights into these extraordinary plays.”  Broadway World Article, September 9, 2015: OSF to Translate Shakespeare’s Plays for Modern Audiences

And The New Yorker chimed in:  “Last week, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival announced that it had commissioned thirty-six playwrights to translate all of Shakespeare’s plays into modern English. The backlash began immediately, with O.S.F. devotees posting their laments on the festival’s Facebook page. “What a revolting development!” “Is there really a need to translate English into Brain Dead American?” “Why not just rewrite Shakespeare in emoticons and text acronyms?” Beneath the opprobrium lay a shared assumption: that Shakespeare’s genius inheres not in his complicated characters or carefully orchestrated scenes or subtle ideas but in the singularity of his words. James Shapiro, a professor of English at Columbia University, used a regionally apt analogy to express this opinion: “Shakespeare is about the intoxicating richness of the language,” he told Oregon Public Broadcasting. “It’s like the beer I drink. I drink 8.2 per cent I.P.A., and by changing the language in this modernizing way, it’s basically shifting to Bud Light. Bud Light’s acceptable, but it just doesn’t pack the punch and the excitement and the intoxicating quality of that language.”  The New Yorker, Why we Mostly Stopped Messing with Shakespeare’s Language

Afterwards, Bill Rauch wrote an essay,  American Theatre Magazine, October 14, 2015: Bill Rauch Why We’re Translating Shakespeare, giving more insights as to the project:  “First of all, I question the dangerously elitist assumption that old language is superior and new forms of language are somehow inferior. Shakespeare brilliantly invented new words at an alarming rate, sometimes daringly mashing up language from the streets with heightened poetry. I am not the first to observe that Shakespeare would probably have been a hip-hop artist were he alive today.”

If this project needed more buy-in, Mr. Rauch also plugged the culture correctness of the casting of the players on the project.  “The Play on! project, by commissioning more than 50 percent women writers and more than 50 percent writers of color, will bring a range of diverse voices and perspectives to the works of Shakespeare…” (Will we ever get to a time in our history when this is a given, and not a promotional note?)

The comments at the end of the American Theatre Magazine article were fully of noise, fury and some enthusiasm and defensive wordsmithing.

It is rather disconcerting to hear that the Artistic Director still references his seventh grade translation of “A Midsummer’s Night” so his classmates could better understand it. I’m not sure that’s a real recommendation (unless, of course, we can find some of his seventh grade classmates and ask them to weigh in on this project.) And somehow, likening Shakespeare to a hip-hop artist makes me rather tired. Yes, or course, Shakespeare was a man of his time. I just don’t know that he would have that whole hip-hop thing down.

What I’m more interested in are the original plays that OSF is developing –  the American Revolutions: The United States History Cycle, a 10-year commissioning program of 37 plays that spring from moments of change in U.S. history. And yes, one of those plays, All the Way, won the Tony Award for Best Play in 2014.

So, in three years, OSF will have 36 new (adaptations? translations? or per Bill Rauch: “specify up?”) Shakespeare plays.  And in ten years, we’ll have 37 original plays.

I sense a culture of Hollywood’s sequel-madness in this Shakespeare adaptation / translation / mash up.  (“The Avengers: 4”; “Fast and Furious: 7”; “Mission Impossible”: 8). I did wonder what they will title the “newly adapted”, “translated” (mashed up?) Shakespeare plays.


So I offer you possible titles of the upcoming plays at OSF:

“Twelfth Night” now known as “11.5 Night”

“The Tempest” or “The Very Bad Storm”

and lastly:

“Two Gentleman of Verona” now appearing as “Two Millennials Try Hooking Up Without That Iambic Pentameter”


And after I read all this press, I found the blog Bitter Gertrude, which has some great comments at the end of her article, including a comment from the man who is subsidizing the series, (Dave Hitz).

Bitter Gertrude, October 13, 2015: The Problem with the Shakespeare Translation Controversy

And then I read this in the Bitter Gertrude blog: “OSF has no plans to stage them either, apart from the developmental readings.”

Oh. So these are developmental readings. Not scheduled stage productions. All of this press, all this angst, is about a series of developmental readings. It does seem more than much ado about nothing.













Words from GLO 2015 Playwright: Robin Byrd

GLO (Green Light One-Acts), featuring 5 new plays by local women, runs at The Miles Memorial Playhouse November 5-15th. For more information and tickets please visit:


Why Fiddlin’ on the Mountaintop…  by Robin Byrd

Lulla Bell Jury has lost her momma; all she has left is the fiddle her mother gave her and the beauty and pain of life in the Appalachian mountains. Sometimes you lose so much it’s hard to see what you’ve gained. Fiddlin’ on the Mountaintop is an Appalachian tale of music, loss, family, and land.

Robin Byrd

Robin Byrd

About Fiddlin’ on the Mountaintop: The piece began as a short story created while I was a student at Indiana University; it consisted of only the first scene which you will see here in GLO 2015 (Green Light One-Acts), the remainder of the play is scheduled for development, so stay tuned.

The short story was written in a creative writing class. Writers tend to work out things in their writing as a way to find answers and closure; I was working out my own sense of loss and Lulla Bell became my voice. In a very broad sense, this piece is semi-autobiographical. Universally, it is a story many can connect with as we all struggle with loss and the journey that life puts us on after that loss.

Part of my family originates from Appalachia which I only learned of in the last few years when writing another story set in the area and looking at the map of the Appalachian region of the United States. One of my grandfathers and an uncle worked the coal mines before migrating to the Midwest. My other grandfather still has family as well as a family cemetery located in the region. I think my comfort of putting Lulla Bell on a mountain came from an ancestral/genetic memory of place; it’s like muscle memory for a violinist/fiddler, any musician – there are songs that come through my fingers that I have forgotten I knew how to play and sometimes that I have only sang and never played before but they start to play themselves because the memory of these songs is more alive than even I am fully conscious of.

From short story to stage play: Ben Harney (Tony Award Winner for the original Broadway production of “Dreamgirls”) developed the short story for performance (at the time, aptly entitled “Me, My Fiddle an’ Momma”). Upon reading the piece, Ben suggested that it was a theatre piece that should be staged and I should perform it. It was at this time, Lulla Bell Jury’s story became stage worthy. Ben encouraged me to rework it and flush out areas that I eluded too but did not go into fully. He taught me to attack it from several point of views – the audience’s, the actor’s as well as the writer’s – making sure that the scenes were rearranged in the right order. I learned as much about writing as I did about acting. The exhilaration of performing her on stage was as wonderful as creating her on the page. I am forever grateful to Ben for his mentoring.

Expansion: Over the years, Lulla Bell Jury has made it known to me that she was not finished talking. Taking my cue from Lulla, I began to expand the piece which became Fiddlin’ on the Mountaintop. In Fiddlin’…, I tune back into Lulla Bell Jury to see how her life is going and how she has weathered the storms. In Fiddlin’ on the Mountaintop, I would like to share just what weathering storms means…

About the Playwright: I am a product of the Midwest, mine is a Midwestern voice with flavors of the South. I am a playwright, poet, screenwriter and actor. I love to incorporate authentic regional flavor into my work. Growing up in Indianapolis (sometimes referred to as the northernmost southern city), attributes to my affinity toward southern themes and language in some of my pieces. My work also deals with things of the spirit; I am known for sifting through memories and ghosts and other intangible things for stories… I have studied acting to enhance my voice as a writer. I play the violin; I am more comfortable calling myself a fiddler.


(Article written by the playwright:  Diane Grant  Article also (posted/to be posted) at “Lightbulbs” on the Green Light Productions website

The aftermath

by Jennifer Bobiwash

After the last performance of my solo show, I was spent.  I couldn’t believe that I had written this piece, then performed it for an audience.  There are still parts of it I am trying to refine, because even after workshopping it, having someone else perform it, it took me finally performing to see the holes.  Of course these realization occurred while I was on stage mid-performance and by the time I got to the end of the show, I’d forgotten what the change was.  So I moved on to part 2 of my show.  Writing and re-working the beginning.  Trying to capture that magic that I felt during the first show.  Bad thing about that was that it took me quite a while to actually muster the courage to complete the play.  Filled with mixed feelings and emotions about the truth of a solo show pained me at every turn.  Show #2 is going to be completely fictional, what are the craziest, most outlandish scenarios I want to discuss, that was going to be this show.  So here I am, 3 different beginnings and no further than 10 pages in.

As a new writer, I am still making discoveries on my writing style.  I contemplate the correct way it should start.  My mind gets caught up in getting it perfect the first time around, instead of the messy first draft it should be.  To help me with this, I attend table reads and writers groups to help me feel inspired.  While listening to the works of others, I learn different styles and ways of telling a story.  During the discussion after the read, I listen as playwrights and audience share their opinions and thoughts.  I watch the writer during the comment section.  I take note at how they  take in each statement, nodding their head, taking notes.  From being in the room, I know what types of questions to ask and how to ask them when asking for feedback.  What drew you in? What took you out? What do you want to more about?  It’s somewhere to start.  So I guess I’ll get back out there and write.  I have a million ideas and some great opportunities coming up.  No time to waste.

When you’re listening to a script for the first time, what’s the first thing you comment about?


Words from GLO 2015 Playwright: Diane Grant

GLO (Green Light One-Acts), featuring 5 new plays by local women, runs at The Miles Memorial Playhouse November 5-15th. For more information and tickets please visit:


All About Harold and Me by Diane Grant

Diane Grant

Diane Grant

All About Harold is one act play that eventually became a two act play called Has Anybody Here Seen Roy?

It began with my daughter who used to work for a visually impaired woman, named Jean, who had been married to a man named Harold. Jean had many stories about him and the one I loved the most was the one about the big black Cadillac. That triggered the play.   Harold also conjured up in my memory a man named Roy who once picked me up in the university cafeteria, chatted me up, wooed me, and then set me up with his friend who was 5’4”. (I have never topped 5’. Indeed, it’s stretching it to say I’m 4’11”). And then Roy disappeared. Like Harold.

I don’t know if either Harold or Roy sang but I’ve always felt in my heart of hearts that most male singers, tenor or baritone, are just a bit treacherous.

I started to write when I was very young and began with stories. The first one was about my piano teacher who would excuse herself from the music room to take some of her medicine. When she returned, her breath always smelled somewhat different. Sweeter. Stronger. My second teacher enjoyed a sherry with my Mother after my lessons, which got shorter and shorter. Somewhere around Chopin’s Nocturne #2 in E Flat Major and the last glass of sherry, I stopped taking lessons but am still writing.

Although I was part of a radical troupe of actors in Canada, called Toronto Workshop Productions, and threw myself into political writing and performing, I’ve always loved and written comedy. The humor in my plays is always about something underneath, something that keeps us going or stops us from living fully. And I hope it makes people laugh.

About the same time I worked with Toronto Workshop, two amazing and energetic women, Francine Volker and Marcy Lustig, asked me if I wanted to join them in forming the first professional women’s theatre in Canada. I did and we called it Redlight Theatre and wrote about women! Most of my protagonists are still women because, well because I’m a woman, and because they are interesting and funny and complex and bound to run up against a man or two.

I’m so pleased to be part of GLO, and thank them for giving women a voice and the joy of working together.


(Article written by the playwright:  Diane Grant  Article also (posted/to be posted) at “Lightbulbs” on the Green Light Productions website

Words from GLO 2015 Playwright: Karen Howes

GLO (Green Light One-Acts), featuring 5 new plays by local women, runs at The Miles Memorial Playhouse November 5-15th. For more information and tickets please visit:


On Writing “Gentleman’s Pact” by Karen Howes

Karen Howes

Karen Howes

The tap on the keyboard that began the writing of “Gentleman’s Pact” was a desire to take a new look at the age-old “affair.” For good reason, adultery is typically kept a secret, so I wondered what would happen if the secret was made known and the person who was the “outsider” took an action that changed everyone’s roles. Enter the meek “other man” to ask his friend if he can marry his wife. What would be the response? How would the play go? I wondered the effect that such a proposal would have on the relationships of the people involved and I wondered what it would do to each person as an individual.

As a playwright, I was most interested in the dialogue. I enjoy getting to know characters by listening to how they respond and speak, so writing this play was a lot of fun. I came to know the characters as I would real people. What they said, even though sometimes a lie, was a building block that enabled me to understand what they really wanted. It was an intriguing process to be involved in a chess game between three characters who had a lot at stake. I was curious as to how the friendship, marriage and affair would devolve, and I was eager to see a love triangle in which the power and sides would continually shift.

As an unexpected plus — the rehearsal process with the play’s director, Michelle Joyner and the actors at Green Light Productions enabled me to go deeper into this play and discover the threads that weave the larger tapestry. The experience has given me the insight to develop the play into a full length, which I have already begun.


(Article written by the playwright:  Karen Howes.  Article also (posted/to be posted) at “Lightbulbs” on the Green Light Productions website

The Most Organized Writer in America

by Kitty Felde

No, it’s not me.

I’m of the messy desk set, the folks who find that filing something away means I’ll never think of it again, or even more likely, won’t be able to find it again. I like everything I need to deal with spread out in front of me, where I can touch it and move it around, and feel the satisfaction of tossing it in the trash.

Last night, I heard a talk by writer Mindy Klasky. She writes a little of everything – romance, baseball, middle grade novels, and “how to get organized” strategies for writers. She’s a former attorney who was used to billing by the hour and a former librarian, one of the most organized professions in the world.

Mindy is a great believer in spread sheets. Now, I use a spreadsheet to keep track of my play submissions and responses. But Mindy takes it half a dozen steps further. She uses spread sheets, not just for tracking her submissions and publication schedules, but also for keeping her metadata information organized – everything from an up-to-date bio to reviews to key words for Google searches. She uses them to create a business plan. And most interesting to me, she uses them to create a strategic plan for writing.

That strategic plan starts with setting her writing goals for the year. In other words, how many books, essays, short stories, etc. does she plan to write this year? And then she uses her spreadsheets to set out a 12 month schedule with specific page goals that must be met each week.

How productive is she? She averages 400,000 words a year – 5,000 words a day! Last year, she wrote nine 40,000 page novels in nine months. Yet, she only writes three days a week – Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Tuesdays and Thursdays are left for the business of writing, running errands, and having lunch with friends. She takes the weekends off – unless she didn’t meet her page goals for the week.

I’m not Mindy Klasky. I don’t think I’ll ever fall in love with spread sheets. And I certainly don’t have the stamina to write 5,000 words a day. But I like the idea of setting goals.

Playwright Jose Rivera advises those of us who toil in the theatre to write one new full-length play a year. Every year.

I think I can do that. No, wait. I know I can do that.

So here is my plan: tomorrow I get on an airplane and will have five-plus hours of flight time when I can think. I’m going to think hard about my schedule, about committing to regular writing time, about setting page goals and play goals and sticking to them. I may not open a spread sheet to map out my writing plans for 2016, but I will write them down.

How about you? Do you map out your writing life? What works best? What organizational tools do you use?

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