RAIN

by Diane Grant

It’s the New Year and yesterday it was raining!  Hooray!

It wasn’t a big rain. There was a sprinkling on the windows and the roads are getting slick, but I’m not breaking out the umbrella yet.  (I always keep one by my desk at work – an old habit.)

When I was a kid in Vancouver, B.C., Canada, rain was a good part of my life.  I had a beautiful white slicker, red gumboots, and many different colored bandanas.  Ready for anything, hoping for a squall. 

One of the delights of childhood was in watching the worms in the rain puddles (cheap fun for all and of course, the boys would jump on them.) And it was so lovely and comforting at night, lying warm and cozy in bed, listening to the pounding on the windows.

No one ever said, “Help, it’s raining.”  We said, “There’s a bit of a mist today.  Better take an umbrella.” And we said that about seven months of the year.   I remember more than one of those umbrellas being blown inside out by the wind and rain working together.  Great fun!

 One of my favorite movies of all times is Singing In The Rain

Perfect casting, great plot, and dancing to die for. (I saw one interview with Debbie Reynolds, who said that they rehearsed the dancing until her feet bled.)   Every once in a while, my brain starts “Moses supposes his toeses are roses” and I feel happy.

THE NEXT Day

Well, that was wishful thinking.  It’s another beautiful clear day without a hint of mist!  But I’m hoping.

And, of course, I can go for a walk in the sun!

Love to all,

Diane

The FPI Files: How to Measure Anti-Racism in Theater

by Carolina Xique

Last summer, the murder of George Floyd shook the world and started a long overdue conversation about the history of white supremacy in institutions, especially in the theater. More and more artists who are Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) are sharing their experiences of racism in the arts and calling on theatrical institutions to reform the way we write, direct, cast, work, teach, and perform theater—most notably, the collective “We See You, White American Theater” (weseeyouwat.com).

But what does that reform look like? What can theater institutions do to better represent BIPOC artists? How can theaters measure their level of anti-racism if, historically, theater has never been anti-racist?

One exemplary organization that is doing the work of providing tools for anti-racist self-reflection in theater companies and organizations is based in the LA area: the Joy-Jackson Initiative.

The Joy-Jackson Initiative (JJI) works to build systemic equity in the arts by providing organizations with the guidance necessary to formulate and implement changes to create the safest possible spaces for the BIPOC collaborators who enrich them. JJI is currently creating the Racial Equity Assessment for organizations to take and learn about how they can better represent and care for their BIPOC artists and collaborators. I (digitally) sat with the Initiative’s founder, Gabrielle Jackson, to learn more about what went into creating the Assessment and how the Assessment will be used to introduce a better, more equitable theater culture.

LAFPI: First, can you share briefly how you founded the Joy-Jackson Initiative?

Gabrielle Jackson: The Joy-Jackson Initiative was founded out of a deep sense of disappointment and urgency. Disappointment that, at a time where we were encouraging each other to help flatten the curve and save human life, so many of my friends and colleagues could remain unaware of the violent murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, Ahmaud Arbery and the countless other Black people who have lost their lives to police brutality. The urgency that followed was an understanding that immediate action was required to rectify the rampant white supremacy and willful ignorance that allowed for people in my community and in my industry to witness racial violence and do absolutely nothing.

I was going to do something. I was going to show people that this violence was happening in their own communities, in their own organizations. People had to know that it was so much deeper than a protest or a political movement. This was about real people and real life. 

LAFPI: The Joy-Jackson Initiative’s Racial Equity Assessment is a huge undertaking, yet extremely necessary and relevant, especially after last summer’s call for anti-racist practices in the arts. You have said before that the assessment went under a rigorous review process. In a few words, what was the process like from concept to debut? What kind of collaborations were needed to make all of this happen?

Gabrielle: There’s an African proverb that says if you want to go fast, go alone but if you want to go far, go together. This assessment is the product of so many collaborations and incredible connections. Initially I was using my own personal experience to create the Assessment’s questions. I spoke with some friends after I developed the initial draft and they called in their friends and hooked me up with some really wonderful organizations who were interested in helping me continue to build the work. 

One such org was Black Theatre Girl Magic. With the help of BTGM’s incredible team, we were able to gather a group of incredible Black women from across the professional theater spectrum to review and advise on the initial assessment. We organized a 3-day summit where we story-circled and shared our professional experiences and gathered the information that would help me develop the first Beta Version of JJI’s Assessment.

We beta tested with a small group of theaters from across the country and gathered data and participant feedback.

In a little over two months we had developed and tested a great first draft of the Assessment.  We took this feedback and immediately went back to the drawing board.  I personally read every set of “requemands,” as I like to call them, put out by every collective, organization and student group I could find. These folks were all calling for change and had very incredible plans for progress. I distilled the information from these resources and turned these demands and action steps into questions for the assessment. Then JJI’s Managing Director Julie Oulette, who is one of the most knowledgeable people I know and someone who has really worked in this business from every angle, took the assessment and organized it and edited it so that it was digestible and made sense to people who were leading these orgs that we were addressing.

We then organized another peer and professional review of the assessment with industry vets and folks who really knew the business and the people who made it. We also invited students and entry level professionals who were just starting out and had some really excellent ideas and paths forward. We then hand selected our second beta cohort and conducted a second beta test of the assessment. As with the first Beta test period, we culminated in a data share and town hall where the leaders of participating organizations were invited to share their experience with the assessment. Now we are rounding the corner on our publicly accessible version of the assessment and will, again, be hand selecting a small cohort of organizations from across the country to participate in our first full rollout of the assessment and its accompanying facilitation program.  We could not have done any of this work at this pace without the power of collaboration. We’ve turned something that could very easily be a 10 year undertaking into something that has been vetted by industry professionals and is ready and effective in a very short period of time. 

Online Town Hall with Assessment Beta Testers

LAFPI: Companies will be able to take the assessment and, ideally, commit to implementing more anti-racist culture. What are the next steps after that?

Gabrielle: A huge part of all of the work we did in our last round of beta was holding office hours. Initially, Managing Director Julie and I were only there to answer technical questions. And that’s how it was for the first few days. Participants were in and out asking us questions and giving us great feedback. But about a week in, people were starting to be confronted with some pretty unsettling data. And the fact that these were numbers written out in black and white made it inescapable. There was a shift in the way office hours were happening. People were coming to visit, and vent, and seek community and validation and guidance.

This was no longer just a Q&A. We knew 2 things: the Assessment was working and more space needed to be held for these arts leaders to understand their data and create real solutions. So we went right to work on developing a facilitation program. I went to a leader in the field of Equity, Diversion and Inclusion (EDI) and intimacy and begged up on her guidance and mentorship, I started taking classes and using the office hours as another study, taking every conversation home with me to decompose and explore. We also started developing practical tools, like glossaries and reflection sheets that would help folks find deeper meaning in the concepts they were encountering in the assessment. Now, I can proudly say that what comes after the work with JJI’s Assessment is a fully personalized period of reflection and facilitation guided by myself and other key members of JJI’s team. The work is so delicate and important and we are ready and eager to help unravel the stories behind the numbers and help organizations find new and bold paths forward.  

LAFPI: A huge issue that was raised this past summer was that there are theater companies that have reputations for disregarding and even allowing racist practices, as well as hiring artists who have historically exhibited severe racist behaviors. Are the results of the Assessment meant to solely inform a company about their culture and create a plan to solve it, or will the results also be used to inform outside artists?

Gabrielle: My ultimate goal with this work, once we have collected enough data, is to partner with data analysts and create a report on the macro data from the Assessment. The great thing about a study like this is that each individual theater remains anonymous. We only view the data in aggregate and are able to analyze the numbers on the whole. I think granting public access to the aggregate data – the way we do in our town halls and other online media – will really help to create transparency in our industry. I think once we have all the information and the numbers are clear, we can start getting honest and calling in organizations to make real change. The numbers of course will also help the individual organizations themselves as they will have exclusive access to their own micro data and will have a view of their personal numbers and information. This will help orgs to assess areas for improvement and create space for real and actionable change in their operations. 

LAFPI: What kind of questions can companies expect in the Assessment?

Gabrielle: We’ve tested the efficacy of this Assessment with almost every type of theater company. So we are asking questions about everything from above title billing for theaters who are Tony eligible to whether touring companies are vetting hotels and accommodations for a history of racist action. We’re asking about what Black and Indigenous texts are being used in curriculum, and whether or not there is specific language in an organization’s bylaws that outlines anti-racist policy.

There’s truly  something to be gained for every organization at every level. 

LAFPI: This Assessment, undoubtedly, is aimed to create lasting impact in theater arts culture. Once the Assessment is released and artists can start creating post-pandemic theater, what do you hope theater will look like for theater companies? For BIPOC artists?

Gabrielle: I hope theater companies will use this time to actually do the work of change in their orgs. In the span of 7 months, we’ve been able to accomplish so much. It’s honestly made me realize that there is nothing a well-teamed organization cannot do if they are truly dedicated to their cause. And that’s the thing, right? An organization has to be dedicated to the cause and not just the lip service around it. So, I hope that theaters will have really backed up all those solidarity statements with action and accountability and that they are safe for us to return to when we can.

For BIPOC artists I wish us all the comfort, peace and stability that makes it easy to be choosy.  More than anything, I’ve learned that wherever one or two are gathered, even if it’s in a Zoom room, art can be created. So, we now have this smorgasbord of opportunity in front of us. One of the questions I’ve been pondering in my own creative work is, “What are we going to do with all this future?” I hope that BIPOC artists have the means and the support to seek healing from all the compound trauma stemming from this time in our history and a lifetime of intentional othering by forces of racism and white supremacy. I hope that BIPOC artists find it within themselves to create work that speaks to their souls and sparks joy for them. I hope that Black artists, Indigenous artists, and other artists of color can finally have the space to be truly, truly free.

LAFPI: When will the Assessment be available for companies to take?

Gabrielle: The Assessment will be available to a hand selected cohort in 2021 and is preparing for wide release in 2022. JJI is currently looking for its first cohort of Full Program participants. Anyone interested in taking part in JJI’s 2021 Rollout should contact us through our website at www.joyjackson.org/theassessment

Despite the grave uncertainty American Theater is facing amidst the pandemic and the plummeting economy, one great gift theatermakers have been given is the gift of reflecting on our own internalized racism and white supremacy. There’s no doubt that the Joy-Jackson Initiative’s Racial Equity Assessment will be one of many programs paving the road toward true racial equity in American Theater, so that BIPOC artists may not merely survive, but thrive in an industry that so often uses their voices. It’s not about diversity and inclusion of BIPOC people—it’s about telling stories for us, by us, and with us in mind. And that starts today.

Read More About the Release of JJI’s Racial Equity Assessment Here

Non-Resolution Resolutions

by Zury Margarita Ruiz

I stopped making New Year’s Resolutions a long time ago. I like the idea of them—aspirations are important—but they always felt a little too simplistic and therefore faulty and doomed.

But there are two non-resolution resolution-like motivations I’ve taken on, and I like them. They are considered, stable and communal, all of which I’m sure we could all use a little more of during this time.

The first of the two is… intention bracelets.

It was actually late 2019 when they came into my radar. My sister kept asking me to think of a word, an intention I had for the upcoming year, and so I took my time and thought about it. For the majority of 2019 I’d kept my head down—working a lot, volunteering almost every weekend, taking classes… I can sincerely say that I had no downtime and did very little socializing on purpose. And so, going into the next year, I wanted things to change up. I wanted to meet new people, have a social life again, not solely focus on work, go out a little more, and be more accepting of whatever comes my way. I ended up selecting the word OPEN, and my sister—being the sweetheart she is—ended up gifting me my intention bracelet for 2020.

Yes, we all know what went down in 2020, but it was always good to have a physical reminder of the intention I made at the beginning of the year. In a way, it helped ground me whenever I was feeling overwhelmed and pushed me to try to find ways to keep my intention going.

I liked it so much I decided to keep going for 2021. It’ll now be two years in a row, so… I guess it’s a tradition now.

The second non-resolution resolution-like motivation I’m taking part of I was actually invited to participate in by a dear friend I made in 2020 (yes, I met and befriended people last year like I intended to.) This particular project I am very much looking forward to.

Essentially, a friend asked us to submit either a four-step process/breakdown of a goal we’d like to thoughtfully achieve, or just words of encouragement we’d like to receive quarterly.

While this Non-Resolution has the backing that a regular resolution lacks, I still didn’t feel like there was the ONE thing I wanted to focus my energy in getting done.

Instead, I thought about what I’d want to see more of in my life for 2021 and that would be INSPIRATION, because I know that when I’m inspired I want to create. Therefore, what I decided to do was ask to receive poetry by snail mail. I can’t tell you how excited I am about this. I really feel that when each of those four poems are delivered, it’s just going to make my day.

Do you have anything like this, Dear Reader—Non-Resolution Resolution-like Motivations? Or if you don’t, is this something you think you’d want to implement in your own life?

I know we’re already 12 days into this year, but I hope it’s a better one for us all and that we each find ways to keep motivated.

Kitchen Sink Trauma

by Leelee Jackson

I’ve always  hated the  term Kitchen Sink Realism. Not that I  hate the plays that fall under the category but that’s not my reality. I keep coming  back to this hard truth. The reality that I am a person who has lost love over dirty dishes. It is the most embarrassing reality I’ve had to face in my adult life, and I’ve endured some major failures. But this by far towers over them all. 

So I want to write about it. 

I used to consider myself a pretty clean person. It was clearly subjective, because of course I think that, I’m supposed to think that. No one’s ever like, “i’m hella dirty, lol, wanna live together?” That would be stupid. But over the years I’ve learned that being clean (or not so clean) is not only subjective, it can also be a response to trauma. 

If you grew up in a working poor family and identify as a person of color, being home alone might feel  like a for real luxury, because growing up, rarely ever was the home empty. Cousin need a place to crash until they can get back on they feet and there’s a couch and shelf in a closet so there’s space. Uncle just got out of prison and grandma begged your parents to take him in because her house is full and the foster people don’t allow former convicts in the house with kids anyways. Brother got his  girlfriend pregnant and her parents kicked her out. And the babies sleep in the other room gon be there until we find where they mama or daddy is. 

I grew up  with at first two working parents, and then just 1. As my father’s physical health declined, he was forced to leave the workforce and remain on disability for a great portion of my life. From ages 11 until 23, I saw my  dad cook, clean everything (or yell at us for not cleaning everything) and watch grandbabies. I was fortunate  to get to see him in that way. See him all the time at home, watching tv. Even with  my dad being at home all the time,  we (whoever was living there) was expected to clean up after ourselves. Though, we did not. 

The year was 1998. I was was 9 and my sister was 11. My grandmother fostered a kid who was between the age of my sister and I and at the time, we lived in my maternal grandma’s house, with  a bunch of uncles and cousins. And of course, we were responsible for cleaning the kitchen. In my family, cleaning the kitchen is washing the dishes, every single one of them, cleaning the counters and stove top, sweeping and mopping the floor and taking out all the trash. Nothing should be left out. Nothing should be sticky. My paternal grandma, she didn’t play the whole dishes in the sink game. She didn’t play none that dirty shit. I honestly loved going over my grandma’s house in Oakland (paternal) partly because she let us eat whatever we wanted and I never had to clean the dishes. But my maternal grandmother cooked every meal and with so many people living in one house, the dishes quickly piled, spilling out the sink onto the countertop and floor like a neglected infection. From breakfast to lunch, it would look like a restaurant scene in a movie where the caught dine and dashers have to roll up their sleeves and bust some suds. And every evening, guess who had to clean it? The preteens. Not my brothers and older cousins who were in high school at the time, and not my little cousins who were too young to clean right. The big kids. Personally, as a 31 year old, I wouldn’t trust a 9 year old to clean dishes right. And I didnt! I would throw away dirty dishes to avoid cleaning them and not bother to even rinse off the stubborn fruity pebbles before I put the bowl in the dishwasher (yes I grew up with dishwashers) which doesn’t clean but santizes. I left all tupperware in the sink to “soak” and I’d always have to redo the dishes in the morning for doing such a bad job in the evening. And still, I was expected to do a good job. But this one time, my sister was washing, I was rincing, and Sean, (the fostered 10 year old boy) was supposed to be putting the dishes away and wiping down the counters, helping. But he was in the den with the bigger kids talking about some, “clean my dishes woman” and all them foo’s was laughing and carrying on. My sister was so mad. She said, “As soon as I finish this last dish, Ima just take off on him.” I was going much slower then she was and had already thrown away a few knives anyways so I didn’t care too much that he wasn’t helping. I knew my grandma was gonna give him a whoopin for showing out like that. I couldn’t wait to tell. But my sister was serious. After tossing the last fork in the murky rinse water,  with soap up to her elbows, she went in there and beat his ass. I remember her shadow from the  den,  bleeding  in the  kitchen like a Kara Walker art  piece that made you feel pain and pleasure.  And all the big kids laughing at Sean getting whopped by a girl. She beat that boy so bad, my grandma had to take him to the hospital. 

After moving out of my grandmas house (that time) we got a little two bedroom apartment. I have 7 brothers and sisters. At any given moment, with cousins, friends and girlfriends, we would have up to 13 people staying with us at one time. Again, a lot of dirty dishes. My parents tried to assign days and weeks but it didn’t  work. They’d come home to not one clean cup to drink water from. They would go off on one of my brother’s and he would go off on me. Toss me around. Force me in the kitchen and block the entry way until I cleaned every dish. I’d throw things at him and punch him as hard as I could but he wouldn’t budge and he wouldn’t let me out until I had to take out the trash (again, full of dirty dishes). And no matter how many times they told us not to at church, I knew then what hate felt like. I hated being in that kitchen, screaming and crying until I lost my voice. And I hated my brother for forcing me to stay there. 

My sister and I often reminisce about our first apartment together, “I hated living with you. You never cleaned the kitchen.”I argue with her and tell her that it’s not true. That I would clean the kitchen all the time and didn’t have a problem with cleaning it and she retorts “when you feel like it. NOT when it needs to get done.” which is true. I don’t like to be forced, (ya think?!) but I didn’t have the language then to explain  something as simple and real as my feelings. 

Later in life, my housemate at the time (and my favorite cousin on my dad side) would talk to me often about cleaning up after myself. She would never yell or anything but I’d get really anxious and start accidently breaking dishes and scrubbing them really fast and hard to the beat of my heart. 

In undergrad, I had a housemate  who brother lived with us on campus. She would clean up after him and sometimes we let the dishes get crazy (no dishwasher). I remember calling a house meeting to strategize what would work best and she just started cleaning everything all the time. I think she felt bad that her brother was kind of messy and he was living there rent free. So she went into overdrive and became really clean and particular about everything. He moved out after the first quarter and I felt like it was because of me, or she felt like it was because of me. But instead of talking about it, she just got upset when I left dishes in the sink or smoked on the balcony or had friends over. But it was all taken out on the dishes that I didn’t clean. 

For a long time, I thought I was just lazy. That’s all I had known lazy was, a person who didn’t clean up after themselves. I accepted but I didn’t feel like a lazy person. Maybe messy, but not lazy. I had issues with being told or forced to clean up after myself. When I lived in an international housing community for a few years, we also had days of the week where one person was responsible for cleaning the kitchen (though we all were responsible for taking care of our dishes and our guest dishes). It sometimes worked and sometimes it didn’t. Maybe I had finals and wouldn’t even think about doing my day, or a different housemate who was a teacher, would not even bring her dirty dishes from her car the first few weeks of the school year. So we didn’t expect her to clean the kitchen and because there were 6 to 7 people living there, we were pretty flexible. It often got dirty but never too dirty, restaurant dirty. Every Monday evening after dinner, we all cleaned the kitchen together. All of us. One washing, one drying, one collecting dirty dishes and one putting away the leftover food. We would all clean the kitchen and I never felt angry, or hate or forced. I honestly felt good. Whenever I go over a friend’s house, I always offer to clean the kitchen, like I want to do it. I love serving them in that way, especially after I ate all they food. I didn’t feel lazy then. But I felt lazy in my home. 

Lazy- feeling your heartbeat out your chest and being so exhausted with the thought of being in the kitchen that you need to sleep it off for a while. Work up some courage. 

I didn’t have the language then to know that I was responding to a traumatic experience over and over again. It wasn’t until my last housemate (and one of my best friends) moved out and though he didn’t tell me, I know it was partially because of how fucked up the kitchen would get and for how long it remained that way. I’d sometimes wake up in a panic, feeling  like I needed to clean the kitchen before he saw it, just to see that he cleaned it already. I hated that he cleaned the kitchen, I mean I was grateful he was doing something I didn’t (and sometimes couldn’t) do, but in a way I felt like that was a soapy fist to my jaw. I’d swear to myself it wouldn’t happen again, like a triflin man trying to get back with his girl after breaking what’s left of her heart, “baby please, I won’t do it no mo’!”…until I do. 

My housemates had nothing to do with my trauma, though I can see how they must have felt disrespected by my lack of action. Maybe even like I was trying to attack them personally when I was just trying to defend myself. I had no clue. I didn’t mean to. I  honestly just thought I was lazy. 

In a workshop I attended led by poet Morgan Parker, as a writing prompt, she asked us to write about the room we were in. It could be any room from any time and we  had to write a poem about it. What it looks like. How it smells. I was transported to the hall leading to the kitchen I was trapped in as a child. All the doors were shut and the black trash bags of dirty clothes enveloped me. It  smelled like mildew. The only  safety was the  kitchen. A tiny window on the wall for fresher air. I thought I’d rather be here, but I should have known. 

Trauma is the worst! My friends who I lived with, who I don’t talk to anymore and who I once called love, I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean for my trauma to get on you. I’ve always hated the term kitchen sink realism anyways. They say it  as if kitchen is a neutral location. A place where women gossip and men eat and ponder big  decisions. But what about the fights that broke out over  stained pots and pans? The punches thrown with no resolution? After the food’s gone and the audience has left, who’s  stuck with the mess? 

I have so many stories that flood my memory about  fights breaking out over in the kitchen  or  over some dirty dishes.  First fights  and screaming matches that on stage would feel like a  bad play  you wanna  get out of. I don’t have a healthy solution. Other than writing and  going to therapy, I often have to remind myself that if I do it wrong or later, I won’t be punished. I ask for help if I need it and try not to get upset. I put on music and dance, liberating my body’s inner child and soaking last night’s dinner plate, telling her, “see it aint so bad sometimes.”. Decolonizing the space and my body that has to be there.  

Happy 2021!

Wishing you all a VERY Happy New Year, full of femme-tastic creative energy and connections!

Thanks so much to Tamadhur Al-Aqeel, who reached out after she shared her hilarious HOT JOE BIDEN in our Holiday Micro-Read Hook-Up , saying she’d built upon her original 1 page and written the short piece below to say GOODBYE to 2020 and hello to all good things in 2021.

Check it out and thank you to the team of LAFPI Instigators she assembled: Director Kila Kitu and actors Julie Pasco, Nakasha Norwood and Justin Huen (an LAFPI virgin, but he’ll be back…).

Here’s to fantasies in all shapes and sizes, and the women+ artists (and allies) who make them come true!

All I Want for Christmas

If seeing is believing then all I want for Christmas is that we see…

It is the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

There’s Christmas music 24 hours of the day (radio, TV, internet, on the streets, in your head, the one that you hum unconsciously).

There are Christmas lights and decorations on lawns and stoops of homes along the quietest streets and the busiest corners.

There’s anticipation in the air for some mystery and wonder.

There is a Santa Claus that lives in everyone’s heart.

Though without the means or the money, and there are miles, rules, illnesses and the pandemic that separate us from our loved ones, there is still the wish, hope and desire in our hearts and imagination to make dreams come true.

Believe.

Peace Y’All.

Painting by Tom Browning. Courtesy of Santa’s Time Off.

I See Therefore I am

Today was the second day of winter, December 22nd, 2020.  Yesterday, the Winter Solstice, also the shortest day of the year was when two planets (Jupiter and Saturn) appear closer than it has ever been since 800 years ago.  It is known as “The Star of Bethlehem” (aka “The Great Conjunction” – During the 2020 great conjunction, the two planets were separated in the sky by 6 arcminutes at their closest point, which was the closest distance between the two planets since 1623).

When I was a very young girl my dream was to be an astronaut.  In 2nd grade, during class, I stared out the window and imagined being in space, while the teacher’s voice droned on like an unidentified buzz. I looked towards the azure and wondered what’s out there? and where and how do I fit in in this enormous puzzle?

Funny, many many decades later, I am still the same in my thinking, though the desire to be an astronaut has long passed.  What do I dream and hope for now?  I am at the arc in my life, the shooting star no more, and the trajectory is the downward bend.  This is a combination of losing momentum and gravity pulling my mass towards the center of the earth.

This is life.  Decay is inevitable.  I accept… though I still struggle.  Surrender is not easy when I remember how I used to climb tall mountains, and ran down the trail fast – hopped from rock to rock, light on my feet and my shirt drenched from clean sweat.  These days, I sit in front of a laptop with a tape over the camera, hiding from unknown intruders while my fingers hop over letters and special characters that decorate virtual documents and pages.

One definition of life is a measurement of time.  In the obit section, a name is listed with a date of birth and a date of death.  There was a beginning and then an end.  Between the bookends describes what the person did and who was left behind.

Imagine a straight beam of light shooting out of a super giant star, like “Deneb” (10 to the 5th degree in solar units luminosity).  Its light has been traveling for several light years to reach our eyes.  One day, the bright light of “Deneb” will fade and die.  But we wouldn’t know this in our human life, because the light reaching us now is a view of the past.  “When we look out across the Universe, we’re also peering back in time.” – Ethen Siegel, Forbes https://www.forbes.com/sites/startswithabang/2020/09/07/are-any-stars-visible-in-the-night-sky-already-dead/?sh=287b5f77809f 

As a kid looking towards the stars I was seeing myself but not recognizing myself.  I was searching for the self, when I already am the self. I see therefore I am.

Adventures in Self-Publishing

by Kitty Felde

Two of my plays have been published. My one act adaptation of Nikolai Gogol’s short story “The Nose” is available from YouthPLAYS, and my Bosnian war crimes play “A Patch of Earth” is included in a pricey collection from the University of Wisconsin Press with the sexy title “Theatre of Genocide.”

Over the years, Im always happy to send pdfs of various other titles. But now, I’ve taken the plunge and started self-publishing my work.

It started when an old public radio pal Cash Peters asked me why everything I did was ephemeral. Radio stories went out over the air and disappeared into the ether. Plays came alive before an audience for a limited number of nights and then the lights went out. Where was tangible evidence of my creativity?

He wasn’t the only one who thought that way. The general public seems to take “authors” more seriously. When my first children’s mystery “Welcome to Washington Fina Mendoza” was published two years ago, friends and family suddenly took me more seriously. I was a BOOK author. I had tangible evidence of my creative output, something they could hold in their hand and put on a bookshelf and wrap up in pretty paper to give to a favorite child.

Of course, given the state of the publishing industry, getting our plays and books published is a gigantic crapshoot. The “Big Five” publishers in New York have again consolidated to become the “Big Four.” Covid has shut down not just Broadway, but Lort houses, community theatres, even high school drama programs across the country, dealing a severe blow to publishers of plays. I felt fortunate that any of my plays came out in print.

But that was then. This is now. I hate waiting for somebody else to say “yes” to my work. I’ve self- produced several of my plays. Why not self-publish?

Last week, my acting edition of “A Patch of Earth” went live on Amazon, published by Chesapeake Press, a publishing house named after my warrior cat who lost her life to a coyote.

Also live, a Teacher’s Guide to my first Fina Mendoza mystery. This wonderful publisher (me) then decided that the first Fina book deserved a second edition with a better cover and a more user-friendly size. It also deserved a hardback version from a distributor that could get it into libraries – something my first publisher was unable to do.

Are you tired of waiting around for someone else to believe in your work? Are you ready to join the legions of writers who are publishing their own stories? Here’s my step-by-step guide to publishing your own plays. I will warn you: the software requirements are a pain in the neck.

There are two main players in the self-publishing game: Amazon and Ingram. The latter is not just a printer, but also the distributor that most libraries use to purchase books. (It also costs $25-$50 to use while Amazon is free.) If you have a play that you want to see on library shelves, you’ll need to use Ingram. I use both.

  1. Since you’re your own copy editor, carefully look through your script for errors. And look again. I promise you: there will be mistakes.
  2. Sign up for KDP on Amazon and/or Ingram Spark’s self publishing platform. There are many, many pages of information you’ll have to supply, including an ISBN number. (NOTE: Amazon will give you a free one, but then they end up as the publisher of record. I purchase my own ISBNs at a website called Bowker. They also sell the barcodes that go on the back cover.) There are also categories to choose to optimize searches, keywords, etc. (This is more important for books than plays, but there’s a wonderful software program that will help you identify these keywords and categories.)
  3. Download Amazon’s free interior book templates.
  4. Pick the 6” by 9” version for Word.
  5. Cut and paste your script into the template, using standard script formatting. (I use the old fashioned version with character names in caps at the left margin.)
  6. Print out a copy and look for errors – a missed word, bad formatting, etc.
  7. Sign up for Adobe Acrobat Pro DC’s free trial period and change your play from Word to a PDF. (NOTE: just printing as a pdf from word doesn’t work for some reason.)
  8. Upload the pdf to Amazon and/or Ingram.
  9. Design a cover using the templates provided by Amazon and Ingram or hire a designer. You can also noodle around on Canva’s book cover creator. The only problem is that it only creates a front cover, not the back. (Reedsy is a great place to find design professionals for covers or even interior layout. It also offers a free software program that will turn your print script into an e-version.)
  10. Publish!

You can purchase discounted author copies of the scripts, though you have to pay for shipping, even if you are an Amazon Prime member. And you have to do all your own marketing (another topic for another day). But now you have a printed script that actors can use for rehearsals, a professional looking paperback that you can hand to a director or producer, and tangible evidence that indeed, you are a playwright. You can even wrap it up in pretty paper and give it to your parents to prove it.

Leaning In

by Constance Strickland

There is no secret to doing. I have found over the past few months- almost a year now, that Sister Corita wasn’t lying when she said, “The only rule is the work.” I have found that leaning in and reaching out to colleagues, other artists of color and those who call themselves “allies” more often than not is not a great use of time and that most often or not it leads to no action. That often it can become a distraction in the way of doing the work. Now as I say this I will contradict as I have learned many lessons from that Art of Leaning In and Reaching Out. It was an idea I took seriously when I heard Sheryl Sandberg discuss this topic with journalist Norah O’Donnell in 2013 just as I was starting to take my idea of Theatre Roscius and birth it. It was perfect timing as I wanted to learn how to build a theatre company with a new perspective on how it could exist. I knew for me I wanted to absorb the minds of the women who had already paved a way and the women who were finding new ways of approaching the work in real time. And so I emailed. I called. I listened. I asked friends of friends. I leaned in at every corner and I learned how I needed and wanted Theatre Roscius to exist. 

In working with a myriad of women as well as men, I discovered feelings may get hurt, and egos will be tested in the face of miscommunication, yet the work is the tie that binds and uplifts us. I also discovered that you can lean in and you will receive no reply, no answer, no support and you will have to find ways to continue your work. You will need to conjure and create your own new ways to continue to make and manifest those ideas that simmer in the back of your mind. That you will have to use all your energy and lean in to yourself. This is most certainly true for Women of Color who most often will be overlooked when “leaning in” occurs at arts organizations, theatre castings, or writer development workshops where often one Woman of Color seems to be “good” enough. Those will be the times when leaning into yourself and digging deep into your superpowers you’ve been gaining over the years will be fully tested and put into glorious use. 

Although there is a new awakening occurring in the world of theatre and new ways of “leaning in” are being done, it may take years for change to fully open its doors to new ways of how theatre can live, for we know there must be visionary ways of bringing in new voices to expand on how the American Theatre can be. Leaning in requires focused intention and commitment; it will not sustain band-aid fixtures but will require consistency, thinking beyond along with bold moves and brave hearts. 

I write this with the focus that although “leaning in” is vital it can not distract us from doing the work-alone if necessary. I am inspired as I see Artists go out of the box and risk it all for the work. I am excited for what the end of the year brings to the world of theatre and what will come in 2021 for all us who write down ideas in the midst of a fire and turn them into tangible magic. For those of us who find ways to tell stories when traditional spaces are not an option. I write this for those of us who do not focus on securing a seat at the table or being in the room where it happens because you are creating a new seat at a new table in a new room where new ways of making work are happening. 

This is the sad post.

by Chelsea Sutton

Yesterday I wrote a happy post. I warned you there’d be a sad post.

This is it.

As writers, we are trained to find patterns and story in our everyday tragedies and tribulations. We look for meaning. We look for bad guys and good guys. We look for connections, arcs, morals, lessons.

This is both a blessing and a curse.

Theatre artists will work long hours for little to no pay because we believe in what we do. Because we think we’re lucky. Because we have glorified the starving artist trope. Because we have to pay our dues, which we have interpreted to mean that we have to be okay with being treated like shit or underpaid or burnt out and so exhausted from working on other people’s visions that we have no time for our own.

There’s a whole thing going down about The Flea in New York right now, about their practices doing exactly what I described. I never worked with them, have no intimate knowledge of what happened. But this particular exchange hit me as truthful in a universal way:

I used to wonder if I should have moved to New York to be a playwright. At some point I blamed my choice for staying in Southern California as the reason I had no real playwriting career. Whatever the hell that means….I mean really. I don’t know. Do you? I used to think playwriting could be a career and now I’m not so sure.

I stayed here for many reasons. Not the least of which I was afraid, yes. But I also had a grandmother who I was very close with, already in her 80s by the time I graduated college. And a younger brother turning 7. I wanted to be a part of their lives. For her, it was the last decade of her life. I was already projecting into a future of grief, and I wanted to plan for that. I could be a granddaughter and sister across the country. But not in the way I wanted to. I figured I could still be a playwright here just as well and still be the person I wanted to be. So I stayed.

I used to wonder if I should have gone to NY to work at places like The Flea. But if I had made that choice, 13 years ago when I was leaving undergrad, I would still be here, in the middle of a pandemic, the whole industry shut down and scrambling, and sins surfacing because we no longer have anything to lose.

And I’d be alone in a little apartment in NY. Maybe with another production or two under my belt. Maybe. But just as broke and confused and wondering if I should have stayed in LA all those years ago.

And I’d be grieving my grandmother just the same.

Because she died yesterday.

It’s a long story that I don’t think anyone wants to read. But she and I both contracted COVID from her caregiver, who we had just hired to come in to my parents home, where my grandmother was now living, to help her exercise and eat and be well a few times a week. I’d met the caregiver that first day and spent a lot of time showing her around. She didn’t know she’d been exposed before coming to us.

So my grandmother and I both got sick. It has been a very long month.

Here is where the blessing of the writer species comes in. I look at the whole arc of the story, and I’m grateful I stayed close by. I was able to be close with her, help her where I could, and be next to her while she died at home yesterday afternoon. So many people do not get that small gift right now. To be able to say goodbye. To know you did something, even if it was not enough to conquer death. I’m glad I did not give up who I hoped I could be for the chance to work at The Flea.

Here’s the curse.

I’m angry. I’m angry at everyone refusing to wear masks, who take risks that are intentionally exposing others. For companies who do not, after 9 months in a pandemic, have even the minimal amount of education and systems to at least find proper protection.

I’m angry at the idea that art can only be made on a little island on the east coast. I’m angry at everyone who has exploited others, including myself for buying into it and working in that system.

In my happy post, I wrote that the pandemic has shown how racist, selfish, lazy, entitled, self-driven rather than community driven we all are. And I stand by that. And I’m angry about it.

But, my default is to look for meaning and clarity in all this, to organize it into a story I can understand. But my anger does not work like that. I am going to spin my wheels on that search for years. I will never have an answer that feels like enough.

I think every grief is different. For each person, and each loss.

We’ve been grieving the loss of theatre for 9 months. It has looked different for everyone.

I’m still figuring out what my grief looks like right now. It has been almost 28 hours.

This is going to take a long time.