Online Playwriting Parity Initiative Turns Four: #52playsbywomen

by Laura Annawyn Shamas

Staying in and need something to read? Want to keep pushing gender parity in theater while theaters are closed? Please participate in #52playsbywomen. It was started on Twitter in 2016, inspired by Women in Film’s #52filmsbywomen.  Since then, over 2,000 plays by women (defined as woman, womxn, woman+) playwrights have been discussed at the hashtag on Twitter. (Note: this is for Twitter only – not on FB or IG). 

Last year, 524 women playwrights were mentioned, and 668 female-authored plays were listed at the hashtag. In 2020, the initiative is facilitated by Vivian Brown (@ve_brown) through June; Dr. Jennifer Goff (@ProfGoff) will take over from July through December. We’re trying to highlight even MORE plays by women this year. And there are two new facilitators already signed on for 2021.

The rules for #52playsbywomen initiative are easy! Basically, it’s just see/hear/read a play (of any length) written by a woman once a week, and post a tweet with a title and playwright’s name. Repeat for a year. But, in truth, you can post as frequently or infrequently as you’d like; if you have a slow week for posting, you can catch back up the week after, etc. You can start at any time, any date. Some participants use their tweets to display a photo of a playbill or book cover; others use the space to write a mini-blogpost. The idea is that if you go to #52playsbywomen, you can learn about lots of plays. This contributes to social media buzz about plays by women.

So where can we find plays online to read during this time of social distancing? There are some good sources for classical plays by women in the public domain. For contemporary plays, there’s always the New Play Exchange! The Los Angeles Public Library has an accessible e-collection. Here are some suggestions to get started:

1) History Matters/Back to the Future Play Library

2) Visit The Gutenberg Project to find numerous historical plays by Aphra Behn, Susanna Centlivre, Mercy Otis Warren, Lady Augusta Gregory, Fanny Burney, and many more.

3) Miss Lulu Bett by Zona Gale (the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama)

4) Trifles by Susan Glaspell

5)  A Sunday Morning in the South by Georgia Douglas Johnson

6) Blackout by Lawenda Jones

7) Rutherford and Son by Githa Sowerby

8) Recent plays by women may be found on Audible, too.

And of course, if you see any online readings or performances that are female-authored, those count for the #52playsbywomen initiative!

See you at the hashtag! Find us on Twitter @52playsbywomen. 

But does it matter?

by Chelsea Sutton

It’s the usual setup for a scene (these days): two friends are on a Skype hangout on a Saturday morning. One friend proposes to the other this question: does any of these things we do in our lives (our successes, relationships, failures) really, ultimately, matter?

It’s a question that I think about a lot, especially when it comes to things. The stuff we collect, pin up on our bulletin boards, pack into scrapbooks. I’ve spent that last year systematically going through my grandmother’s stuff and (with her) deciding what should stay and what should go. All these things that were once so important being packed away, sold for pennies, sent to the dump.

I just spent this Pandemic Sunday cleaning through my desk, reorganizing my space for increased at-home work, and doing a similar exercise. My apartment has a grandma feel to it – there are lots of things around (though I like to think that I have arranged them in more of an “artistic” way than a “ohmygodtheclutteryouhoarder” way). I tend to hold onto notes and photos, gather small items or images from my travels, buy books I have no time to read. I like having things around me that remind me of beautiful times, of people I love, of the person I hope I’m becoming. And I often think of the day I die – someone coming into my space and seeing the same things and seeing mostly junk, wondering why I would hold on to these things. I imagine all of these precious items being thrown into the dump.

My current bulletin board after a purge.

And certainly the meaning of some things change. I just tossed away some letters from grad school that already gave me what I needed (but the emotion attached to them a year ago – can you imagine!) My grandmother and I threw out a lot of things she gathered on her travels (who knew porcelain plates used to be the BIG thing in souvenirs?) And now, those things are just in the way, signifying nothing.

What’s that Macbeth quote?
“It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.”

But I often hold onto things because I don’t trust my memory. I want to be reminded – I need my memory backed up to a hard drive of sorts. Journals can do this, I suppose, but even as a writer I started to feel how little a simple journal could hold.

And in some way, the work we do as writers is reaching for that – the holding on to some Beauty or Truth or Whatever and preserving it and preserving ourselves in some way too. We all want to create something that matters.

But it is debilitating and useless for that to be the goal. It is too big, too nonspecific to be helpful.

So, back to the scene on Skype. Back to the question: does any of these things we do in our lives (our successes, relationships, failures) really, ultimately, matter?

If the moment we’re in now tells us anything it’s that our choices have ripple effects. How we choose to conduct our lives affects others. Our world has taught us to be so focused on individual success, to place us in constant competition, we forget that we do, ultimately, matter to each other.

Are we all going to be Superman and single-handedly save New York? No. And why would you want that? Sounds exhausting. I’d much rather be the Guardians of the Galaxy, fighting alongside friends, for better or worse.

Saw these guys in San Francisco before the pandemic.
Sometimes its not worth being preserved forever.

So does any of it matter? Yes and no.

Yes because the work we do, what we put out into the world – you don’t know who its going to change, affect, transform, inspire, scare, motivate.

No because each individual thing is just part of your longer story. When we read or watch stories and fall in love with characters – remember that we tend to not judge characters so much on their failures, but on what they choose to do in the collective whole.

It is all equally meaningless and meaningful, beautiful and two feet away from the dump.

But I think that’s why it is all meaningful. Because it can all be taken away so quickly and become so meaningless.

That’s why I hold onto that rock I found on the beach on the Isle of Mann, or those plastic pearls my grandmother used to wear all the time, or the Valentine my mom wrote me just a month ago.

So go make something meaningless.

Year Without A Spring

by Chelsea Sutton

1816 was a miserable year. Known as the Year Without A Summer, global temperatures decreased thanks to a large volcanic eruption, leading to failed crops and famine, and…wait for it…disease.

It was also the year Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was born.

Many of us have heard the story. A group of friends, shut in from the cold, locked away from much of civilization, haunted by their own individual fears and worries and distractions, challenge each other to a ghost story contest.

Here is what Mary writes about that challenge, which eventually led to a nightmare that eventually led to Frankenstein:

I busied myself to think of a story, —a story to rival those which had excited us to this task. One which would speak to the mysterious fears of our nature, and awaken thrilling horror—one to make the reader dread to look round, to curdle the blood, and quicken the beatings of the heart. If I did not accomplish these things, my ghost story would be unworthy of its name. I thought and pondered—vainly. I felt that blank incapability of invention which is the greatest misery of authorship, when dull Nothing replies to our anxious invocations. Have you thought of a story? I was asked each morning, and each morning I was forced to reply with a mortifying negative…Invention, it must be humbly admitted, does not consist in creating out of void, but out of chaos; the materials must, in the first place, be afforded: it can give form to dark, shapeless substances, but cannot bring into being the substance itself. 

We have officially entered our own Year Without A Spring with the COVID-19 pandemic. The sun may shine, rain may fall, the mayor of LA is THIS CLOSE to mandating hikes. The shelves may be empty but food is being delivered. It is not the desperate darkening of the Earth in the same way as 1816 – but 1816 and 2020 are kindred spirits. People are still dying. People are isolated. People are not supported by the systems we swore were solid weeks before.

There is a general chaos, a general undercurrent vibration of uncertainty and anxiety and fear. If you don’t believe me, spend 5 minutes on Facebook.

There is also a lot of hope and community support. Artists coming together. Creating things. Certainly I’ve seen the story of how Shakespeare wrote King Lear during a plague. Ugh. As if we weren’t under enough pressure already.

And then of course here I am offering up Mary Shelley writing Frankenstein during another deadly year. But I don’t offer up this story as an example of unending production. I don’t want to say, “Hey, this is our chance! Write that Great American Rona Play/Novel!” Just because we are locked in our homes does not mean what we produce must be a novel that transcends 200 years of literary history.

Instead, reread that quote from her introduction. Invention comes out of chaos. It comes out of the moment of change, of wonder, of fear. All you may accomplish right now is a lot of walking around in silence, a lot of nightmares. But that, too, is creation.

I went to a writing residency in 2017 in the month between leaving my day job and going off to grad school. As much as I wanted to, I could not turn off the world. I was in a tailspin of work and change and uncertainty. And I was at a beautiful place where I was supposed to be writing. I did, a little. But my writing to-do list was barely touched. Instead I went on walks, hikes, cried into oysters, had nightmares. I felt lonely. I was alone.

When I talked to others who had been in similar situations, I heard many a story of writers going to residencies and writing little to nothing – only taking the time to sit and breathe and try to remember what it was that was interesting or terrifying or beautiful to them….the thing that led them to writing in the first place.

So I think that’s all we can ask now. Wander around your gothic mansion/studio apartment and indulge in a little ghost story challenge. Gather around the fire and let the nightmares play and dance and then burn out. If something lingers on, maybe you got something.

Work-at-Home-Parent Hacks: 5 Ways to Involve Your Child in Your Career

Thanks to longtime LAFPI Instigator Cindy Marie Jenkins for this post , which we thought might speak to writers at home right now with kids!

By Cindy Marie Jenkins

“These are new books we just got,” I hear my five-year-old tell his friend in the pantry, otherwise known as my office. “My Mommy has a story she wrote in there. It’s about losing things. I helped her with it.”

My heart beat faster. For weeks I’d been telling him about this anthology and the story I wrote for it. He sat doing puzzles next to me while I drafted it, did bedtime with his Dad for a week while I finished it, and “helped” me set up marketing emails and social posts for the week that it was published.

Hearing him tell his friend about this, my first story published in a physical book, took me by surprise. He’s proud of me, I thought. He feels ownership of it, because of the time that he gave me to work and the ways I was able to involve him in my success.

Thinking back, I’ve included him since the day I started working again, three weeks after he was born. It wasn’t a traditional 9-5 job. I ran a small team of reviewers for the Hollywood Fringe Festival, and part of our job was to pitch our services to the artists and publish micro interviews on their shows. I attended a workshop for the theater artists with my three-week-old baby in a Moby wrap, also learning how to navigate a bathroom decidedly not designed to change a diaper. When it came to my turn to speak, he was nursing, so I just stood and pitched this review site to over fifty people while my son happily drank milk from inside his wrap. Some people realized what was happening and cheered me on, but many didn’t notice and just thought I was wearing some elaborate infinity scarf.

I’ve continued to work from home as a writer and arts communicator. It isn’t always as easy as that first day, but I have found some interesting ways to involve my children and make it work as a work-at-home-parent, which is my motto. I hope you can apply a few of these hacks to your writing life!

  1. Clearly designate work time from non-work time. I go into this in more detail on my blog, but you can use clocks and timers to your advantage. Count down to the time that you will work, prepare snacks beforehand, and set a timer so they can see exactly how long it will take. Then the important part: that timer goes off and you immediately give your patient children a good tickle or cuddle! The instant connection helps them understand that it is family time once again.
  2. Create their own work to do along with you. They got into a big maze phase, so when I had a deadline, we made a challenge. Who can finish more mazes correctly in thirty minutes? A bonus tip here is to get the dry erase puzzle books for very busy work weeks on a budget. When I really needed to write and they really needed my attention, I folded construction paper in half and encouraged them to draw their own stories. Once they drew on every page of their book, I would write the words with or for them. That gave me twenty more minutes to write that day!
  3. Answer their questions, satisfy their curiosity, and they’ll happily give you time. One day, I sat down to write content for a website. My five-year-old son crawled inside my hoodie (a sure sign he needs connection) and asked what I was doing. Then he asked: “What’s a website?” Then he wanted to make his own. By taking twenty minutes to connect, show him how to write a short story and put it into a website, he was thoroughly satisfied and drew pictures beside me for the rest of the hour I set aside for work. He may never touch that website again, but it’s there for him.
  4. Involve them in research. I write a lot of marketing copy for live shows. When appropriate, I show my kids the video clips or pictures and talk to them about the shows while I take notes. Another example is that I’m writing a retelling of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”. While researching how long it would really take to travel from Wittenberg to Denmark, we made it a mini geography and math lesson. We watched the first scene of Hamlet together from five different film versions and talked about which “ghost stories” were scariest and why. Then they wanted to make their own ghosts and I pulled out construction paper, glue and cotton balls. That activity gave me an extra thirty minutes after we researched together.
  5. Spend time at the beginning of your work-time to explain what you are doing and why you need that time. Involve them in your long-term goals. We go to the library and bookstore a lot, so one day I was trying to tell my three-year-old why it was important to focus without answering his deep questions about Bob the Builder. “What do you see when we go to the library and the bookstore? What are on the shelves?”

“Books.”

“That’s what I’m writing right now. And if I get the time to work on my book, then one day we will walk into the library, and the bookstore, and see your Mommy’s books on the shelf. You can point to them, and say that you Mommy wrote that book. Won’t that be cool?”

“Wow, Mommy. Yeah!”

That will be cool. And he’ll feel like he helped, that it’s as much of his success as mine.

This article was originally published at Writer’s Atelier in October 2019.

Cindy Marie Jenkins is currently a write-at-home mom in Beijing for [NDA Redacted]. Cindy’s editorials and articles have been published at The Mary Sue, StarTrek.com, Theatre Communications Guild, The Clyde Fitch Report, The Mom Forum, No Proscenium, Dwarf+Giant (a blog of The Last Bookstore), Better Lemons, Theatre @ Boston Court, and more. You can find more at her website, Patreon, Facebook and Twitter.

If They Stop Us From Gathering, We All Become Hunters

by Rasika Mathur

And I don’t know about you but I can’t live like that. Mind you, I have enough tomboy in me for two more lifetimes and one final incarnation, but I still have a soft fragile gooey inside that gets high off of helping post-rain snails who show up on my doorstep, taking long naps, and laughing with other people in very public spaces. I’m pretty gathery.

Can I get you a shell, sweet friend?
Or just freeballing it today?

If you’ve witnessed recent road rage or more recent panic buy, you’ve probably concluded that we can’t afford to lose that balance. That would be devolving. And how much of the mess our natural world is currently in can be traced back to the hands of hunting gone awry? 

I think right now Is about being smart. But not paranoid. I was there, vascillating this week between the two.

Monday paranoid.

Tuesday can’t do it, I need to act normal.

Wednesday paranoid from WHO.

Thursday can’t do this, just wanna touch my eyes!

Friday the scene at Trader Joe’s Silverlake GEEEEEEEZ.

Who can we credit for “PANIC ROOM 2020” ???

And today, I woke up to the grey (perfect timing this rain, eh?) lockdown feelings, thinking, “I can’t write like this. I can’t be creative, I can’t be productive, I can’t be present. What can I even say? Oh, great, I’m the guest this week, holding the mighty blog pen of LAFPI. What a waste this must be for them.”

And then, I realized, “Yup. It got me.” The other virus. The one that lowers my humorous system, tugs my love vibration to come crashing down, and dents my ability to be of service.

So I am choosing to acknowledge my fear, not of the virus, but of the powers who could create such things.

How evil hearted do you have to be to think it’s okay to release a bunch of disease all over people (during rainy weather.) Vulnerable people. Fry their insides w technology. Fill us with forced vaccine/gunk? Declare us the enemy while we go on about our lives making small, sometimes big differences but not once prioritizing harm to others. Who are these people and why do we constantly give them the keys to the most important kingdoms of our minds and our loyalty? Haven’t a handful of Extremely Sadistic Hunters messed all this up badly and bigly enough?

TRIGGER WARNING WITH THIS LINK: MAY CONTAIN INFORMATION.

When NBA, NHL, Disneyland, Hollywood Productions, and other huge organizations in arts, sports & entertainment began to shut down Wednesday…I could feel the seriousness — of course, we worry about our individual ability to pay the bills, but the bigger suggestions were to “flatten the curve” of an easily-spread, often deadly nuisance, as a collective, and I was all for that. All for that. Like, wow, we can all actually get on the same page about something. We passed those ideas on to our own yoga studios, school and class communities, small events, clubs and show outings — mostly met with shock, heavy hearts and initial resistance. What’s the big deal? People are panicking… but everyday more of a tipping point to comprehend the urgency of containment. I mean, how can I not be upset about some of the most biggest, baddest, most conscious and beautiful gatherings that have touched my life having to PAUSE if not STOP ENTIRELY?

Lightning In A Bottle!
A cheaper Burning Man!

So. Now what? I’ve literally admitted I’m powerless over all of this. Where is my power? I need some of my power back. What can I do?

There’s two viruses at play here.

The physical one, which is about being cautious and clean. I can keep sensible regarding that virus. Do all the things, the no face-touching, no going-outing, constant hand-washing things.

And the second one, which is designed to attack our mental and emotional state. I can keep monitoring how I’m allowing myself to be run by fear and negativity and collective panic.

So after waking up to media media social media, and articles, and government actions and lots of different points of view, I felt the itch to just go out, get shit done, and live.

I needed to breathe and let go. How? Because sometimes our anxiety can’t just be breathed away, right? I’m sensitive. I understand. I got you.

I look around. (like the Calm app says)

I see the beautiful Tibetan bowl gifted to me last night from my friend, Jodi. (Get present to my immediate environment)

My friends get me.

I play it. (Sound healing)

I light incense. (Magical smells)

I make the bed. (Routine) (Touching soft, cozy blankets)

Put on my hat that says “hat” (Nobody ever laughs at that)

Go outside. Breathe. Pick oranges off the tree. (Vitamin D, Vitamin C)

Drive to a DIFFERENT Trader Joe’s for my Indian frozens dammit, and take the scenic route. (Calm preparation)

Play either beautiful music by Tycho that brings my cells and DNA back to the best times of my life – or grounds me back to that young, innocent person that I was growing up in Houston, TX with my sister during our school years, Erasure on loop (Remember who you are)

I overzealously wave to other drivers as I pass them. With this simple act, my sense of humanity returns. In an attempt to be sane, I look totally insane. I feel like Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker dancing on the stairs after he…well, y’know. Except what I’d brutally murdered were my thoughts of paranoia and other-ness! (Reaching out)

THE LIGHT IN ME SEES AND HONORS THE LIGHT IN YOU,
FELLOW CITIZEN!

Choose to not text back a few people because I don’t wanna talk about IT, just wanna keep my vibe high (Shielding/Protection)

After doing all these things, this article began to write itself. My thoughts relaxed as I thought about you, receiving on the other end. I realized I could use the power of words today to comfort, relate and entertain. I started to feel like me again. And the cashier AND bagger guys at Awesome, Plentiful Trader Joe’s actually acknowledged and loved HAT!

I’m gonna leave you with the best viral links I’ve seen this week that have helped me to turn the corner on my self-care. Leave your favorite ones in the comments below. We are all aching in some way, and we need to stockpile the good vibes, and safely feel one another. You’re not alone, sweet friend.

VIDEO: Quarantined Italians Sing Together – Its like Life Is Beautiful!

For the Starseeds & Dreamers, click here
Watch Ralph Smart if you’re looking a bit shaky, baby
For my Thinkers

And finally, as a former step-mom and current nanny, tutor and favorite Auntie, to the parents who are stressing about what to do with your kids this week? You can tell me to shove it, but YOU DO have the exclusive privilege and an unprecedented opportunity of being on the frontlines of teaching this next generation how to not become self-absorbed assholes who balk everytime they don’t get their way or think something is being taken from them, lest they grow up to pursue a career in revenge against the entire human race. What a great week to gather ye little ones and teach them how to sit w themselves and meditate. With you. That way I don’t have to teach them when they’re 21 and they walk into my drug rehab because they never learned how to sit with themselves and their never-ending thoughts and desires. What a wonderful time to interrupt the nonsense and say, “hey this is important. I want you to come over here and sit with me because there’s bigger things going on right now than you not getting that toy” and “It’s okay to be scared, I’m scared too, let’s be scared together” and teach them there are people, places and things in the world we cannot always control but we can sure control how we react and respond.

My friend Nidhi Chanani reframes lockdown in a lovely way

Thanks for letting me write in this community-focused, virtual gathering space of like-minded, wonderfully artistic souls.

I’ll be over here gathering up my oranges and shiitake noodles with sprinkled bee pollen and cumin for flavor because I’m going to get reeeeallly creative with all these random foods, teaching a few healthy people yoga and deep breathing for anxiety, making myself laugh, and Trusting that I’m being taken care of.

Rasika Mathur is a writer and yogi. She is always living the dream.

The FPI Files: “Poor Clare” Finds a Home at Echo Theater

by Carolina Xique

You’re driving to Los Angeles on the 101 North Freeway. For most tourists and incoming residents, this drive is the dream: seeing the famous buildings of the LA skyline, zipping under the 10 Freeway overpass, and seeing the light opening up to the concrete jungle of Downtown. With its often-sunny afternoons and the undeniable scent of affluence (or is it the smog?), a Carrie Bradshaw of 2020 could happily look forward to a very West Coast version of Sex and the City.

 Except, when you exit in Arcadia, or drive down Glendale Boulevard, or pass through Echo Park, the same disturbing scene of tent cities overwhelms sidewalks and underpasses. In the safe confines of your car, you can’t help but notice how the homelessness crisis has become synonymous with the city itself. And it feels like there’s nothing any policeman or city official is doing to stop it. So you ask yourself, What can I do?

This is the same question Clare of Assisi asks herself in Echo Theater Company’s production of Poor Clare. We see her journey from being a well-known socialite, to asking a man named Francis about how she can change her ways to be of service to the poor. LAFPI sat down with director Alana Dietze (Dry Land and The Wolves at the Echo), and playwright Chiara Atik (Bump, Women and HBO’s “Girls”) to talk about the inspiration for Poor Clare and how it relates to living in Los Angeles in 2020.

LAFPI: What did you think when you read Poor Clare and what inspired you to direct it, Alana?

Alana Dietze

Alana Dietze: I thought it was extraordinarily funny; that was my very first impression of it. It made me cry laughing. I was also profoundly moved by the ending, which I don’t want to say too much about. Echo always has a post-reading conversation about material, so as we were talking amongst ourselves, I found myself getting very passionate about it. So that was my first clue that maybe I wanted to direct it.

It’s an allegory for homelessness and wealth inequality in modern day using the framework of the lives of Clare of Assisi and Francis of Assisi and I thought it was such a smart way of looking at this huge problem that we have all over the world – but especially in Los Angeles – that keeps growing and feels so out of control. I thought this play profoundly captured a lot of the feelings that I’ve had about it: the anxieties, fears, shame, feeling like I want to help more, but not being able to help. I thought that was a really valuable thing to put onstage.

LAFPI: Why Los Angeles? Why now? Being that it’s set in Italy in medieval times, the story couldn’t be further away from LA in 2020.

Chiara Atik: That’s funny. I was about to say that when I wrote the first draft and started sending it out, I included two pictures to set tone, and one is of, um…

Chiara Atik

Alana: Skid Row.

Chiara: Yeah. One is of Skid Row in Los Angeles, and the other is a Renaissance portrait. I live in New York and was living there at the time [of writing the piece], but I had been spending a lot of time out here and homelessness made a very big impression on me. More so than it does in New York because homelessness in New York is ingrained in the fabric of the city; it doesn’t feel like something new, it feels like something that’s always been there. You just go about your commute and you have to put on blinders, to a certain extent, to not have your heart break at every single moment of every day.

But I’ve come to LA periodically for years and I sort of started to notice it in a way that I hadn’t. I started reading up about this problem that seems to be growing bigger and bigger. It made an impression on me: to be on the freeway and to see every overpass and underpass be covered with tents. It’s that juxtaposition of being hermetically sealed in your car while driving past all of these tent cities. So I think, in that sense, LA’s current situation of how people are grappling with it gave me an inspiration in the play. Also, you get the sense that it’s a growing problem that the characters of the play are dealing with.

LAFPI: And that’s very LA.

Alana: Yes!

Chiara: Another thing that I think is interesting in terms of New York versus LA: in New York, because you’re always walking around or on the subway, the different populations and economic levels actually have to deal with each other and interact. You’re sitting on the subway and people come up to you and you have to make the decision,  “Okay, am I going to give a dollar or pretend not to see this person”; you can’t quite escape it. But in LA, because of the car culture, there’s an extra distance. It’s something that you see and clock, but don’t have to contend with person-to-person.

Alana: Also,  there’s the way that the city seems to be dealing with the problem. I mean, “dealing with the problem,” in quotes, because it doesn’t really seem like they are. I’m not a political expert, I don’t know everything about this issue, but I lived in Echo Park for a really long time, and that was an area specifically where, as the homelessness crisis grew, huge new tent cities would pop up. I would turn a corner and there would be a whole slew of tents that weren’t there the week before. And then a week later, they’d all be gone. It felt to me like the cops were coming through and just moving people along which does nothing to ultimately solve the problem or help anyone. I guess they think they’re helping the residents? But even then, people are just going to come back. There’s nowhere for anyone to go.

LAFPI: Moving people along as a solution –  it’s that class difference, right? They’re placing importance on people who are paying to stay there, instead of those who don’t live anywhere, and telling them to take their problems somewhere else.

Alana:  And the problem is, where would they go?

LAFPI:  Following up on that, Chiara, how did you come up with the concept for Poor Clare?

Chiara: I always knew the story of St. Clare. I found myself in recent years having so many conversations with people where we’d sort of bemoan the state of the world: “Isn’t horrible about the refugee crisis, isn’t it horrible about homelessness,” and this or that. But then I would go home, turn on the TV, and forget about these things. And the ability to worry and empathize but then go home and turn that off and forget about it is such a privilege. I was thinking about the fact that I feel bad about this stuff, but I’m not, like, quitting my job and quitting my life to go out and help.

The story of St. Clare, the real girl, who really did completely change her entire life, is such a radical story. It’s certainly not something that I’m capable of – that most people aren’t capable of – but I was interested in exploring the idea of somebody who really goes so far. And I’m not suggesting that as a solution or saying it’s what we should all be doing. I think that’s why Clare is a saint and most people aren’t. But it’s that journey of someone becoming so radicalized to do something, to take action in whatever way they can… I really underestimated how many people didn’t know of her.

Alana: I didn’t know who she was when I read the play. I knew that there was a St. Francis, but I didn’t really know anything about him.

Michael Sturgis as Francis, Troy Leigh-Anne Johnson as Clare  – Photo by Darrett Sanders

LAFPI: So with this play, what do you hope that audiences learn about St. Clare of Assisi?

Chiara: That she existed. I think her story is cool and relatable. And what we know about her historically is interesting. She was 18, super rich, had a great life, and gave all of that up to take vows of poverty to try to do good in the world. I think that’s a crazy impressive story. That’s like a Kardashian doing that or something. And this is 800 years ago. A girl, definitely braver than I am right now, did that. I hope people will be interested in her story, her conviction, her action at such a young age. She was just a teenager. It’s like if Khloe was, like, “Alright, I’m giving all of this up!”

LAFPI: I still feel like if Khloe did that, for the most part, people wouldn’t initially believe her. Compared to men, I think someone like a Kardashian might be treated differently.

Chiara: I think it’s hard for women, especially young women, to be taken seriously when they decide to do something intensely. If you watch the play, Francis raises his eyebrows, but there’s less at stake for him to go find a religious order. But for her – for a girl to do what he’s doing – the stakes are a lot higher.

LAFPI: Are there any other ways differences in sex and gender function specifically in the play? I noticed in the cast that there are 2 men and the rest are women.

Alana: That was something else that I really love about the play. I wouldn’t say that it’s primarily about gender, but like Chiara said, there are different stakes for Clare than Francis as she goes on this journey, and there are really interesting moments where Francis lets her know that things will be different for her. And those moments help drive her conviction to commit to her beliefs. She has to be more convicted than he is, because it’s harder for her to do what she does.

LAFPI: How much of the play is fact? How much is fiction?

Alana: This comes back to the earlier question of why Los Angeles. The language is all modern day, and it feels like the language of Angelenos. That’s part of what attracted me to it, because I thought, “Oh, these people talk like me.” So in that respect, it’s totally fictional. I don’t know how much really is fact?

Chiara: Definitely little bits from St. Francis’s life trajectory. We knew that Clare and St. Francis knew each other and she really was inspired by him to do this thing. But we, of course, have no idea what their conversations were like or the nature of their relationship, so all of that is fiction.

LAFPI: What questions would you like audiences to be asking by the end of this play? Are there questions women should be asking?

Troy Leigh-Anne Johnson as Clare, Donna Zadeh as Beatrice – Photo by Darrett Sanders

Alana: It feels to me like it’s about highlighting and focusing in on this push-and-pull, this question about what do we do to help? Can we help? Is there such a thing as help? What do you do when you become aware of your own privilege? I feel this juxtaposition of a desire to be moral, to be good, to help other people, to do something worthwhile and meaningful… in contrast with the fact that what Clare does may or may not help anyone. But it’s the thing she must do. To me that’s what’s most interesting and relatable about the play. I hope that the play will help people think about that question for themselves and maybe make a choice.

Chiara: In terms of women specifically, Clare, throughout the play, drastically alters her appearance and goes from caring very much about how she looks to forsaking that along with her wealth and status. That’s something I admire in her character. I almost can’t imagine caring about something so much that I would be, like, “Fuck what I look like.”

LAFPI: And now we live in this world where everything is appearance-based, whether online or in-person. Doing what Clare did is like someone completely going off the radar. Which you don’t see a lot of anymore.

Chiara: Yeah, and I’m not saying that it’s necessary to do in the modern world. But on the other hand, you see her judged for what she looks like throughout the play. It’s interesting to see what it means to her to, like you said, go off the radar: “I’m not giving you this anymore. I’m not presenting like this anymore.”

LAFPI: Which leaves us with the question of whether anyone has a solution for the seemingly-uncontrollable homelessness crisis right now.

Chiara: The play definitely doesn’t.

LAFPI: But it’s good to have the wheels turning!

Previews for Poor Clare at Echo Theater Company begin March 11th; the play opens March 14th and runs through April 20th. Ticket and information at echotheatercompany.com.

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

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Oddities of Writing…

by Robin Byrd

The hardest thing about writing is that you must write to get better at it. One must invest time. There is no substitution for doing the work. One must actively make time to write. One must put words down on the page.


Although…


Spoken Word drills are great for getting the blood flowing, bring a tape recorder into the mix and all the brilliant impromptu lines are not lost. I have been running drills all week. I just haven’t worked out the conscious effort to record myself yet.


Verbal writing is a real thing… I use it mostly when writing poems but sometimes it just happens when I am writing other things. The more stuff going on in my world, the more I tend to blurt out snippets and tidbits.

The odd thing about that is my whole being seems to be calling me to steal away to do the work. Steal away to write…steal away, the words are calling…

peace is calling

and that is the oddest thing about writing, it brings me peace in the midst of my storms…

LAFPI Congratulates Madhuri Shekar, Recipient of the 2020 Lanford Wilson Award!

Madhuri Shekar is the 2020 recipient of the Lanford Wilson Award. She is a former blogger for LAFPI. We celebrate her! Congratulations, Madhuri! May you continue to soar…

LAFPI

You can read the February 28, 2020 Press Room announcement on the Dramatists Guild website at www.dramatistsguild.com.

Madhuri Shekar

An Immersive Performance

by Cynthia Wands

Years ago, I was involved in a kind of “immersive theatre” – portraying living suffragette characters from history when I lived in Boston. It was more of a “yelling at people” kind of theatre – any interaction from the audience was viewed as a disruption. I was painfully reminded of those characters during the recent Democratic debates. I did, in fact, turn off the television and did not watch the rest of the last debate when the candidates started screaming at one another.

But it did remind me of this style of performing – a sort of living out loud conversation with the audience. This was a kind of “passionate role playing” that attempted to share the experience and rage of the women’s movement in the early 20th century. Mostly what I remember is that I blew out my vocal chords, (not using the right kind of vocal training here), and that I wore a really uncomfortable corset that squeezed me like a lemon.

Cynthia Wands as Lucy Stone, A Suffragette from Massachusetts

Here is a link with a 22 minute video that shares some of the performers/creators of some of the current immersive style theatre being performed in New York City. The folks that I know that have gone to see “SLEEP NO MORE” have really enjoyed the experience (with some reservations). I think there is a kind of intimacy, not just physical, but energetically, that connects people to this style of performance. It speaks to how our audiences need to feel connected to the world and what they feel.

https://allarts.org/programs/immersive-world/immersive-theater-qy9hup/?fbclid=IwAR2SorOmunyEJoKmguJOpWKPLPBsieS_5HtMK-uU9RtsSTYICpgrAVJcyJo

That First Broadway Show

by Cynthia Wands

Last week, my twin sister took me and our ten year old twin nieces to see FROZEN on Broadway. We could have seen some other shows: WICKED, THE LION KING, the Harry Potter play. (I have yet to see HAMILTON. I’m saving up my big bucks for that).

But when our nieces were three years old, I gave them the unfortunate Christmas gift of FROZEN dresses that would light up and sing “LET IT GO”. I kid you not.

Yes, I bought into the commercialization of our American Theater. Worse, I seared the memory of that damn song into our entire family’s collective memory, as we had to listen to that melody over and over again during that Christmas.

So here we are, some seven years later, and this is the first time that our nieces have been in New York City. We were destined to see FROZEN, the musical that they had memorized the songs and dialogue since they were three.

The evening that we went to the show, a new cast of leading characters were put into the show – the previous contract had ended for the year, and this was the opening night for this new group. The house was sold out, and filled to capacity with a kind of hysteria that was a little unnerving.

We were sitting way, way up in the last balcony, and the stage seemed very far away and below us. The announcements were made, the house lights dimmed, and the music started. And I have to tell you: it was incredible. The music especially, for actors who were going on for the first time in these roles on Broadway – their confident and beautiful voices filled the house. (We couldn’t see any of the details of the microphones or sound system – but it was beautifully balanced between the orchestra and the performers.). The special effects were outrageous, and the characters were easy to follow in the fairy tale genre.

I wondered if our nieces were a bit too old, at ten years old, to be watching this, but every time I glanced over at them, they were in the grip of a fierce and rapt attention mesmerized by the performers. They had that kind of laser beam focus on what they were watching that had them completely in the moment. (Albeit with a singing snowman puppet, and a reindeer named Sven.) I saw them completely in love with the spectacle. The crisis for a musical character that is saved by a sister’s love. Feisty young girls that have secret powers. All that.

A friend of my sister’s was in the show, and afterwards, he graciously gave us a tour backstage, and he chatted with our nieces about the mechanics of the costumes changes and the evolving casts. He treated them as though they were part of theatre community, and they were in turn, were shy and fiercely inquisitive about how things worked onstage. (“What is the snow made of?” “How did she change her dress so quickly?” “How does the snowman walk around?”) At the very end of his tour, he discovered that they spoke French, (he does too) and they had a brief, charming conversation in French. He gave them autographed photographs from the show, and they floated out of the theatre like helium balloons.

I had a couple of thoughts about the evening, the production, the connection with the people onstage. As a ridiculously over produced, absolutely expensive, wildly imaginative production – the audience loved it. They were charged as if they were at a football game. The cheers at the end of Act One were cathartic. There was a reminder at the beginning of the show that the audience was prohibited from singing or talking during the show. Even with that admonishment, during the show I could see audience members mouthing the words to the songs. Small children were crying out for Anna during her dying by poison scene. There was yelling and crying at the curtain call.

The human contact backstage after the show was the real highlight of the evening. Watching our nieces as they were included in the conversation about the performances onstage, and to be able to pick up a prop and feel that it’s real: that was the real magic. It’s a reminder for me, that the human connection to our artwork, whether or not it includes singing reindeers, is a part of our place in this.