Sounds Like Theatre to Me

by Kitty Felde

I spent my entire summer doing theatre. None of it was in a black box. It was a summer of theatre for the ears, running around with a microphone, taping the sound of footsteps and cell phones and veterinarian offices. We spent a 102 degree day at the zoo, snuck into the only public library open on a Sunday to record a scene, and lingered for many hours in a spooky clubhouse that echoed like the U.S. Capitol Crypt. It was a summer of making a theatrical podcast come to life.

But it all started with the script.

Back in May, I wrote a blog post about the art of adapting a book for children into an episodic podcast for girls … and political junkies. The book was “Welcome to Washington, Fina Mendoza.” After the first blush of publication, I kept asking myself what else I could do to spend more time with these characters. I have a few skills. After years in public radio, I can write for the ear. I also know my way around a flash recorder and editing software. So I decided to try transforming the book into a radio drama. It became The Fina Mendoza Mysteries.

The experience was an absolute joy – the most fun I’ve had doing theatre since the old 99 seat “let’s put on a show” days. I reached out to actors from college, looked up a guy I knew from improv class, and dragged radio colleagues out of retirement. I saw a terrific college production of “In the Heights” and found my lead actress. I even convinced a few kids from the neighborhood to play a few roles.

Perhaps you’ve considered adapting one of your plays to radio drama format. I thought it might be helpful to hear from other podcast story producers about their best tips on writing for the ear.

Paul Cheall produces the World War II British podcast Fighting Through. Even though it’s more memoir than fiction, Paul still has to adapt prose to audio. He says he starts with language: avoiding passive expressions in favor of active ones, “so the listener doesn’t get distracted by unnecessary verbiage.”

Graz Richards from the Audio Drama Hub on Facebook says sound effects are the key. He remembers an “old” Superman audio drama that had “far too much exposition.” Something like, “Hmm, I think I’ll just…have a shave and…hmm, it’s not easy, the bristles are…oh, I’ve broken the shaver!” Graz says we all knew Superman, so all you really needed was the sound of running water in a sink, the buzz of a shaver, the sound of snagging, and …”Oh, okay, not that then.” Graz says, “We get the same visual scene without everything being signposted.”

But Angela Ferrari, creator of the Story Spectacular podcast, says her younger audience needs more context. Contrary to what you’d think, Angela says she needs to include more exposition rather than less. Dialogue must also be extra descriptive. Angela says she also uses sound effects and songs to help “illustrate” her stories.

If you’re writing a script, but not producing it yourself, sound designer Gilly Moon says more the more detail the better. “I love when writers or visual artists provide a ton of details, and not necessarily sound ones,” she says. “If I know what kind of shoes someone is wearing and what floor they are walking on, I can make a sound for that particular character’s footsteps.”

On the other hand, not every detail is helpful. Russell Gold, who produces web comics, says writers will often include comments about what characters are doing or seeing. “It might help performances a bit,” he says, “but mostly it leads the writer to forget that the audience won’t see those notes.”

My own advice: listen to as many shows or recordings as possible. LA Theatre Works has over 500 recordings of more traditional plays. And there are hundreds of dramatic podcasts out there as well – everything from Young Ben Franklin to Welcome to Night Vale.

And if you’re a girl or a political junkie or both, please subscribe to The Fina Mendoza Mysteries on your favorite podcast player.

LA Has a Theatre Problem

PART B
by Constance Strickland

LA has a theatre problem. We live in a city where hundreds of theatre artists are cooped up in small spaces trying to find ways to create new work.

We are lacking hub spaces, safe spaces such as the Judson Church, BAM, Performance Space122, HERE and GIBNEY – all in New York – where one can develop new works. We need to continue to build houses that allow artists room to take risks while naturally creating work that reflects the people in our city.

In approaching the communal arts space Hauser & Wirth to present work, I was told that their relationship focuses on residencies with CalArts students and alumni. REDCAT’s quarterly studio program has a history of featuring new works by CalArts alumni. But it is vital that local institutions, theatre houses, and galleries open their doors to independent artists not affiliated with academic institutions. The more academic qualifications get in the way of the arts, the more we we lose the organic expansion and find that the same artists in rotation at the same spaces are the only ones getting supported.

We have programs that are being funded by the Center Theatre Group (CTG) and the City’s Department of Cultural Affairs (DCA), including the DCA COLA Fellowship program, providing support to individual artists who can show 15 years showing on their resume or emerging artists – choreographers or dancers who went to post-secondary instruction only need to show 8 years on their submission resume. Yet we still need to make room for independent theatre artists who are not affiliated with a theatre and have not received extensive support.

The DCA also has the Performing Arts Programs, where they currently manage four City-owned theatres: the Warner Grand Theatre (San Pedro), the Vision Theatre (Leimert Park), the Barnsdall Gallery Theatre (East Hollywood), and the Madrid Theatre (Canoga Park). I addition, they oversee two City-owned, operator-managed theatre: the Nate Holden Performing Arts Center (West Adams, managed by Ebony Repertory Theatre) and the Los Angeles Theatre Center/The NEW LATC (Downtown Los Angeles, managed by the Latino Theater Company). Yet how much are these theatre houses charging to rent out space to independent theatre artists?

The rising cost of renting space is the number one battle theatre artists are facing. Many of us are hustling – using parks, our houses, gyms, or begging to use educational spaces. Yes, everyone has to pay the rent but what can the City do to make these City-managed theatres more affordably accessible to theatre artists building new work? The conversation in theatre for a long time has been, “How do we get people into the seats? How can our audience members reflect our city?” The question now needs to be: How can we support independent theatre artists, many of whom are artists of color and already underserved, and underrepresented in the arts? Many of us have only been surviving by the constant support we receive from our communities, but how do theatre artists here who have no support and are not being nurtured via theatre houses have the chance to rise to the next level? We need even more City and State funding that understands not all theatre artists are part of a non-profit, have fiscal sponsorship, or can show a fifteen-year producing resume.

Congratulations to A Noise Within for taking a risk on its community of storytellers with Noise Now. This is a pioneering move that is leading the way to break monopoly within our theatre community. Theatre companies throughout the State should be finding ways to create programming that makes way for new voices. It is not enough to just add “diverse” programming to your season with the same playwrights being continuously being redirected. We need to widen the lens of what theatre is and can be. The times are changing and artists and audiences of all backgrounds are hungry to hear new voices that capture the human spirit. It’s no secret that we are losing a generation of artists due to theatre artists having no time, space, and financial resources to imagine, experiment, develop, then share with our communities.

We are missing theatre artists Made in LA., local playwrights writing beautiful plays, avant-garde artists daring to create socially relevant, brave new works… who are able to get suitable financial support for doing it. What are the programs that are out there, and how much actual funding do they give artists? It is vital to the City that politicians find a way to say our theatre artists matter, too. Queens, New York offers the Artists for the Creation of Original Artistic Work Grant. From Minnesota to Seattle, we’re seeing artists given the opportunity to grow and contribute their voices on a variety of local stages. What will LA do rise to the occasion?

I’m calling on the LA City politicians to step up funding for independent theatre artists and to nonprofit theatres who do not usually get any funding at all so they can risk helping new artistic voices. I’m calling on Mitch O’Farrell, David Ryu, Mayor Eric Garcetti, Governor Newsom, Senators Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris to focus, invest and fight for the arts and artists living in Los Angeles.

I’ll say it again. We are losing a generation of artists to other professional fields, or who are moving to affordable states. Or they stay and struggle to create what they can with the little resources available and their own funds. With this becoming a regular occurrence, we are not able to gauge the times accurately – a multitude of artist’s voices are not being cultivated. There are state grants available but the scope is not wide enough and the requirements can often be limiting, leaving many artists out of the application pool.

There are days I find myself scared, terrified that the work will not get done. That my ideas will disappear with time and memory if there is not a change in how we consider, support and nurture theatre artists.

Diep Tran recently stated in American Theatre Magazine, “The price for total and complete artistic freedom is that almost nobody makes a living wage, let alone a living, doing it. If they do, they either have personal money or they have a partner who can support them and allow them to do the work.” This is true, and if this continues to be so, we will be left with a skewed perspective of our artistic truth during the 21st century. 

Department of Cultural Affairs Grant + Richard Sherwood Grant Links for Individual Artists:

http://dcaredesign.org/cola/

https://www.centertheatregroup.org/programs/artists/sherwood-award/

How Are You Surviving

PART A
by Constance Strickland

It’s no secret that L.A housing is skyrocketing while continuing to affect the most vulnerable of our communities. Single-parent homes, college students, our elderly along with low-income households, but without pause, I will shout ARTISTS are included in this category. We are losing a generation of artists due to theatre becoming more and more inaccessible to Artists. 

We often hear of Artists living in roommate situations, working two or three side jobs, needing government assistance or worst of all, must quit creating new work, no longer able to tell stories due to an ever-expanding culture that increasingly finds new ways to silent and deem unworthy the truth seekers of our society. Boldly telling the future being an ARTIST can only be sustainable if you fit into pop culture.

I know for myself I’ve applied to hundreds of part-time jobs that end in “no’s” or the good ole, “you’re overqualified” or that magic nothingness. I’ve had to clean houses, work day labor jobs or hope I received a phone call from the long list of staffing agencies signed up with.

Yes. We are living in provocative times. Yet the voices who are trying to find the truth within the noise are being considered not worthy enough.

How do we come together to find new ways our communities can thrive, grow and reach new levels while also creating sustainability for those who try to capture the heart of the times we are living in?

How Are You Surviving

What jobs or gigs are you doing that are solely allowing you to pay bills so that you can create work, eat oh and have a roof over your head?! How are you finding time to create new work & produce your work within a constant battle of survival?  


The Last Cover Letter I Ever Want to Write

by Chelsea Sutton

Dear Job/Writing Opportunity I Really Want,

I was excited to see your posting for a new [insert job vaguely tangental to my dreams here] and I know I could contribute through many avenues in this position. I have over 10 years of experience working in nonprofit performing arts marketing and administration, two years working with grade school and undergraduate writing education, and am a fiction writer, playwright, and screenwriter who just graduated with an MFA in Creative Writing from UC Riverside – so I think this background both in administration and creativity could be an asset to your company.

I have so many ideas.

I guess you want me to explain why? Oh lord, I can’t anymore.

Do you know this is the 200th cover letter I’ve written since July? Jobs, fiction submissions, playwriting submissions, more jobs. And more jobs. I just can’t anymore.

Except I have to. Okay. So. Why? Why should you hire me/give me this opportunity? Why why why…well, I’ve taught in an 8th grade classroom! I’ve taught literature to undergrad science students! I’ve directed actors! I’ve directed MALE actors! I once directed a MALE ACTOR who was ALSO a cardiologist….and I’M A WOMAN! So whatever amount of shit and ego you think you’re going to throw at me, I’ve already been through worse.

[Clearing throat] Anyway.

I’ve worked in small theatres and at universities for over 10 years in Los Angeles, creating marketing plans, branding, graphic design, social media strategy, public relations, website design and upkeep, email campaigns, and building audience for the arts. And I’m tired of it. I really am. I shouldn’t tell you that, but I’ve been having this argument for MORE THAN 10 YEARS – the “WHY should I come see this art show when I could just as easily NOT do that” argument. In the end, there’s one thing I’ve learned about marketing: the BEST way to sell a thing is word of mouth. And to get word of mouth, you have to create something that means something and excites people and that sometimes means taking risks. Which I know you don’t want to because you’re a midsized theatre/corporation/dog walking service and you just want to stick with what you know. Which is cool. Cool cool cool cool.

Sorry. Back on track.

I’ve also organized fundraising events, readings, and new play festivals, so administration, organization, and follow-through are second nature to me. Who is the person that does all the work nobody wants to? Probably me. And remember, when I say I was a “Marketing Director” or “Marketing Manager” what that really means is I did EVERYTHING a team of 10+ people normally would.  I’ve left jobs that then replaced me with 6 different people just to function somewhat normally for a while before they hire the 4 other people they need. Did I get paid as if I were a multi-headed goddess of efficiency? No. Probably I was paid like I was half a person who only needed half a room in half an apartment and ate half a burrito while I drove my half car to my second or third job.

I’m off track again. See? I am self-aware and am not afraid to correct course. I’m a self-starter!

I’ve been published! In a few journals that slowly start going defunct. But let’s not talk about that. The New Yorker once gave me a rejection letter when it clearly states on their website that they don’t have time to respond to everyone. So that’s something!

I’ve been produced! But at least one of them was self-produced and the others were with the theater company where I’m an ensemble member so I was also doing marketing and box office and merch and whatever and DEFINITELY CRIED from exhaustion at all the opening nights…And I know I shouldn’t tell you about the self-production stuff. I learned that at a writers conference last year. I was talking with some playwrights about those beautiful exchanges you can have with audience members – and I was telling my story, which began with me selling T-shirts in the lobby before the show. And the playwrights were like…”but why were YOU selling T-shirts.” And that’s when it hit me. Somehow being involved in the production as more than a writer was shameful. Self-producing doesn’t count. I guess? If that’s true then I’m really in the shit hole of my own creation.

Add that to my special skills list!

I hope you don’t look at my resume and think that, just because I seem to have a specific journey of a so-called “career,” that it doesn’t mean I can’t sell books, or walk a dog, or learn how to make a great cup of coffee, or manage your podcast content, or whatever and fucking LOVE it while doing it. But it also doesn’t mean this job is going to be my priority. Sorry to burst your bubble. But to quote Amanda Palmer, I’ve already spent too much time doing things I didn’t want to. I take pride in the work I do, which often leads to me putting the job first before the projects or people I’m passionate about. And enough of that. Will I be a good employee and do the work the best I can? You bet. Will I sign over my soul or promise you this is a career change while also continuing to write on the side and hope that this is all temporary before I’m finally free? Nope.

I’m tired of feeling over-qualified and under-qualified at the same time, all the time.

So interview me and string me along for months. Send me a rejection. Ghost me. Whatever. I’ve got other cover letters to write.

I would love the opportunity to talk with you more about this position. In the meantime, I’m going to try to forget that I sent this to you, because the moment I start really wanting something and throw that energy at it, is the moment I don’t get it.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Best,
Chelsea

Erica’s List

E.h. Bennett
…was also an actress…

“…during the Q&A session after the reading…that my mother was moved enough to then share a personal story with a group of friends and strangers…was truly a profound afternoon of theater for me.”

about the play WATER CLOSET

Erica Bennett…

Erica Bennett
(July 29, 1961 – May 4, 2019 )

The playwright E.h. Bennett has died.  Erica Harriet Bennett passed away after a long illness on May 4, 2019.  She was a LA FPI blogger since 2010 – from the very start of our blog.  Her very first blog was full of spunk. She was brave so brave…in her work and in her life.  Her first blog post, 1.PHISHING (2008) introduced us to her frank, unapologetic, sharing. She gave us a week, non-stop of her thoughts on injustices in theater.  I liked her right off.  She scared me a bit but she also made me laugh – genuinely.  I admired her attitude.  She was sweet and brilliant and full of words and worlds she wanted to share.  Erica’s last blog entitled YOU is simply, elegantly profound ….as was she.  She stopped blogging because she had to be about her writing, her time was running out and she knew it.  Erica was prolific; she accomplished so much in the time she had left with us. She is missed dearly but she is also still here… in her work.  I hear her voice as I read her work and I feel her presence.  This is Erica’s week to blog. 

You can read all of E.h. Bennett’s blogs at http://lafpi.com/author/ehbennett/.

The FPI Files: Laughing and Crying Through Treya’s Last Dance

by Carolina Xique

Amongst dating, career, passions, failure and menstrual cycles, what woman can say her life is perfect all the time? It’s always more interesting and truthful to see women on film, stage and television having the same messy moments that we experience in real life. Shyam Bhatt took it upon herself to create a role for herself that’s this kind of woman in her first play, a solo show, “Treya’s Last Dance.”

“Treya’s Last Dance” premiered in Los Angeles at the 2015 Hollywood Fringe Festival, then traveled to New York and London. Now back in LA at  the Hudson Guild Theatre, opening September 18, the play explores LGBTQ+ issues, feminism, and discrimination as Treya navigates through her dating life, her passion for dance and her family’s struggles. We were glad to get the chance to talk to Shyam about her – and Treya’s –  journey before opening night. 

LAFPI:  I have to say, Shyam, that Treya’s Last Dance was a perfect blend of the humorous and tragic experiences that come with grief. How did this story come to you?

Shyam Bhatt: It’s totally fictional. Treya is a character who gets to be a little bit awful and awkward and prone to emotional outbursts in the worst, funniest and most heartbreaking ways. She gets to be a strong, full woman on stage. That was the sort of character I wanted to play and the character I wasn’t seeing written for people like me. And, in writing her, she just happened to have this event in her life that was pulling her through the play. That’s pretty much how it came about.

LAFPI: After reading the play, I’m most excited to see how the hilarity and the grief come together in your performance. Was it difficult to find a way to co-mingle the two in your writing process?

Shyam: I’ve always been one to try to see the humorous parts in life. These days, it’s so important to always maintain face in front of everyone, like you always have to have an amazing façade. And life will always get in the way of that. Life will always make sure that you have something spill on your white shirt before your interview or you’ll trip and rip your dress before you meet a date or something like that. I find that funny and great and part of the joy of being a human being: nothing is perfect.

So to co-mingle the grief and the humor wasn’t that difficult in the writing. What I’m finding now in the rehearsal process is that it’s much more difficult to move between those two as a performer fluidly, without creating a jarring effect. That’s an interesting thing that we’re finding now, my director and me.

Shyam Bhatt in “Treya’s Last Dance” – photo by Abs Parthasarathy

LAFPI: What has it been like working with Poonam Basu as director? 

Shyam: It’s been fantastic, really fantastic. I had worked with Tiffany Nichole Greene as director for the premiere of this play and it has changed quite a bit since then. Poonam is bringing a really new, fresh perspective to the whole thing.  She is an actress/director and she’s got a fantastic insight into both how it feels to perform and how it looks to the audience. She’s pulling out threads that weren’t obvious to me and making them really heightened on stage.  And she’s been really instrumental in the question you just asked, in how to bring together the grief and the humor.

LAFPI: Do you feel like she elevates your vision, to make it a great experience for you as a performer and make sense to the audience?

Shyam: Yeah, she’s got this bigger-picture perspective and she sees the play as a whole – making sure that we hit those beats, and refining it into a really nice theatrical production, in essence. It’s just very joyful to see the way that she shapes it. You’ll see, you’ll see when you come.

LAFPI: Has she changed your view of the piece? 

Shyam: She’s emphasizing things I would not have chosen to emphasize and that is creating a different mood than I had anticipated, one very beautiful in slightly different ways. But very good ways! It’s a very lovely process to be involved with Poonam because the way that she works is very involved and extremely supportive.

LAFPI:  One of the themes I felt was most prevalent in your play was societal pressure – not just affecting Treya’s love life, but also her brother’s sexuality. What made you decide to integrate the story of her brother’s passing with struggles in her dating life?

Shyam: Treya is a figurehead for all the stupid things that women go through.  The ridiculousness of dating highlights the dark, horrible thing that Treya is going through at home; and the stark, terrible tragedy at home highlights the utter frivolity and silliness that happens in dating. And the fun of dating, actually. The two can’t be without each other; you can’t have sadness without happiness and vice versa.

LAFPI: It makes the funny moments hilarious and the tragic moments heartbreaking.

Shyam: And that’s one thing that Poonam is being extremely helpful with. As I said, it’s difficult to move between those two. And it’s really difficult, I think, as an audience member to give yourself permission to laugh at bits that come straight after something horrible. What she’s doing is managing those parts and the performance so the two punch each other up.

LAFPI: This play comments on the cultural differences between immigrants and the children of immigrants, as well as repressed sexuality due to Indian cultural pressures. What about Indian culture makes diverse sexuality so taboo, and what perspective shifts does this play suggest?

Shyam: Treya is Indian and British, but I think it’s a universal issue that crosses cultures. When people immigrate and have children in new countries, there’s a weird generational difference in understanding each other between the parents and the children – they’ve grown up, in essence, in different cultures, separated not only by time, but by space and culture and everything else.

Within traditional Indian culture, sexuality is not talked about and diverse sexualities are simply not thought to exist. I wanted to draw attention to the fact that not talking about them or allowing them to exist makes things extremely difficult for everyone involved.

I also wanted to highlight the fact that it’s not everyone who’s like this; it’s a community feeling. My own personal suspicion is that it comes from fear. Change is scary and change in a new country is really scary because you want to keep your inner circle close around you and have everything be the same as how it was. And that’s human nature, I think. But we’re moving into new – hopefully more accepting – diverse world. So these things can, should and will change. I hope.

LAFPI: I noticed specifically that Treya’s parents were supportive, and recognized that I’m not used to having diverse sexuality presented onstage with supportive parents. I really commend you on that

Shyam: Thank you. It’s so lovely to see shows where you have supportive parents because they exist, right? You always get the parents vilified and I thought, “I have a really nice set of parents.” I wouldn’t want to write a play where I even hint that we don’t have a nice relationship.

A scene from “Treya’s Last Dance” – photo by Abs Parthasarathy

LAFPI:  We see Treya’s grief process through a series of memories and adventures that remind her of her brother’s passing. How do you think that grief process fits into the new age of online communication and dating, which can be a little more alienating?

Shyam: That’s a really interesting question. I don’t know, but I will say that I feel very inspired by a play called The Nether by the American playwright Jennifer Haley. The play is set in the future and also in the Dark Net of the future. It questions what we become when the lines become blurrier between real life and simulated life.

I think in terms of grief and all human emotion, we are entering this superbly fascinating arena where we need to deal with these emotions by ourselves, and there’s also this open arena [online] where people can talk with each other and share those emotions. I find it interesting and a little but scary that, often, when you get people to talk about an emotion, the emotion may be heightened and become something else.

We’re already seeing that online [in discussion forums], you get people with a complaint and they build each other up until the complaint becomes huge. And yeah, a problem shared in a problem halved, and all of that, but also, maybe sometimes a problem shared is a problem squared.

LAFPI: I noticed when reading the script that there are many intentional pauses and breaks. For you, what makes these important to Treya’s character?

Shyam: That’s the other thing that was on my mind while I was writing: Both “Scrubs” and “Ally McBeal” have women who have these daydreams constantly, daydreams that just carry on while they’re living their lives. Everybody has daydreams, everyone just goes off in their own world when they’re trying to listen to something. And I wanted Treya to have that experience in some way.

As for the pauses, who has a completely wrinkle-free life? Everyone pauses, everyone is waiting, watching, wondering what’s going to happen next, not sure of the next step. We all have to take a breath sometimes. And that’s built in to show that Treya is a real, full-fledged human being who doesn’t always know – actually, pretty rarely knows – exactly what to say. And even then, often puts her foot in her mouth.

LAFPI: She seems a lot less polished than a lot of women are portrayed on screen or on stage.

Shyam: Yes, I wanted her to be the opposite of polished. She is supposed to be not perfect. Imperfect. And have quite a raw feeling to her.

LAFPI: So in an imperfect world, is is there anything you want the audience to know before they see Treya’s Last Dance?

Shyam: It’s been a really awesome journey writing this and performing this in a variety of places and they should come in with their minds open and enjoy themselves. Enjoy the play in the spirit with which it was written: one of joy.

“Treya’s Last Dance,” written and performed by Shyam Bhatt and directed by Poonam Basu, runs Wednesdays at 8 p.m., September 18 through October 23 at the  Hudson Guild Theatre For information and tickets visit at  www.onstage411.com or (323) 965-9996.

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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FILLING THE GAP

by Desireé York

Until I’m actually sitting in the audience and watching it with my own eyes, I don’t think I will truly believe that my play, THE PUPPETEER, is receiving a professional production this January!  I can remember when it took its first steps as a short play in college six years ago.  Since then it’s been expanded, transformed, torn apart, pasted back together and now, it’s finally all grown up, standing on its own and ready to begin a new journey. 

Though many of us encounter the same road blocks, unexpected bends and dead ends, the path to production is unique to every playwright.  For me, it’s the people I’ve met along the way who offered directions not only to navigate the obstacles, but find shortcuts, enjoy the detours and explore new destinations who made all the difference.  They celebrated each step of the process with me, however small. 

THE PUPPETEER opens January 9 , 2020 at Detroit Repertory Theatre

One of my first steps came with two college professors who recognized my passion for storytelling and nurtured it by creating a safe environment to take bold risks and fail – and boy did I fail!  Thankfully, around the same time, I discovered the following quote by Ira Glass:

“All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste.  But there is this gap.  For the first couple of years you make stuff, it’s just not that good.  It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not.  But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer.  And your taste is why your work disappoints you… It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions.”  (Click here for expanded quote.)

With that knowledge and the continued support of teachers, collaborators, friends and family, I persevered. But when I discovered that the heart of my work was grounded in social justice, I waivered again. I longed to advocate for women and minorities, but was afraid of misrepresentation.  However, through one of the opportunities provided by my college to meet industry professionals, a serendipitous meeting occurred with a much admired African-American playwright whose work shared the same objective. When I told him my apprehension, he said, “You have to write what’s on your heart.” He challenged and inspired me to be true to my voice and fearless in my storytelling.

Scene from THE PUPPETEER at Futurefest 2017 with Carolyn Seymour

The next step was even more daunting: learning to self-advocate. Originally from a religiously conservative, small farm town in Pennsylvania, the idea of talking about myself was intimidating enough, let alone approaching complete strangers as an unknown writer. I knew the key was to find my tribe; a message readily preached at my university. Many of my classmates formed their own, but I remained an outsider.The most non-traditional of non-traditional students, I was over a decade older than the average freshman, recently moved to California with my husband who I had just put through college back home, and now it was my turn, after a fourteen year hiatus, to obtain not an advanced degree, but my bachelor’s… in theatre no less! Needless to say, I became the responsible older sister to everyone, but not one of the gang.

The first time I identified my tribe was when I attended an LAFPI meeting at the Samuel French Bookstore the year after my graduation. Suddenly I found myself surrounded by women of all ages who celebrated every voice and invited me to share my stories. This community of talented artists connected, advocated and emboldened me to jump headfirst into the crowd.  I still get knots in my stomach at times, but take confidence in those who have blazed the trail before me.

Their steps have brought me here, so I celebrate this journey with each person who has and continues to walk it with me. I guess that’s why this next step, though a big one, feels like the start of a new adventure instead of an ending.  Because I still have many more to take before filling that “gap,” but I can’t wait to travel the distance with each person I meet along the way.

Desireé York’s play, THE PUPPETEER, will receive its world premiere at the Detroit Repertory Theatre, running for ten weeks from January 9-March 15, 2020.  For more information, visit: http://www.detroitreptheatre.com/thepuppeteer  or www.desireeyork.com

The FPI Files: Femme Voices Speaking Up in the OC, Page to Stage

We love it:  Women making things happen. And we’re now adding the Curtis Theatre in the City of Brea and Project La Femme to our list of thumbs-up-theatermakers.

The two OC organizations are teaming up to produce the first Page to Stage Playwrights Festival… with an all female line-up. What’s even more exciting to us is that out of almost 400 submissions from playwrights across the country, the works of five local playwrights were chosen: Synida Fontes’ “Butterfly in the Ashes,”  Dagney Kerr’s “Deanna and Paul,” Emily Brauer Rogers’ “The Paper Hangers,” Kate Danley’s “Bureaucrazy” and Diana Burbano’s “Gargoyles.” So we couldn’t pass up the chance to talk to the writers about the Festival, and their plays.

LAFPI: How did you find out about and get involved with Page to Stage?

Synida Fontes: Through the LAFPI eBlast, of course!

Dagney Kerr: I saw the posting through the Playwrights Center and submitted my play. I didn’t know anyone.

Emily Brauer Rogers

Emily Brauer Rogers: I have worked with the founders of Project La Femme on other theater projects before and was excited when they announced this Festival. Page to Stage, Curtis Theatre and Project La Femme have been very welcoming and I’m always happy when there are more opportunities to celebrate female artists!

Kate Danley: Pure luck!  I was just doing a search for playwriting opportunities and stumbled across it.  It was like kismet or something!

Diana Burbano: I was familiar with Project La Femme and I submit to everything I’m qualified for, so it was very nice to get a hit in my own backyard.

LAFPI: Where in your play’s journey are you – and what role will this Festival play in that journey?

Synida: The very end, I hope this baby is almost legal drinking age!

Dagney Kerr

Dagney: My play has been chosen for a few readings: at AboutFace Theatre in Dublin, Ireland; The Cell Theatre, NYC;  and the Road Theatre Summer Playwrights Festival in LA.  It also just won the WordWave Festival in Lake Tahoe and will have a reading in September.  The only reading I’ve seen is at the Road.  It was lovely and a great opportunity to see what worked and what didn’t. This festival will be another opportunity with new actors, director and audience.

Emily: For The Paper Hangers, this is the first reading of the script, so I’m excited to develop it and then begin the process of where it might best fit for a production.

Kate: I wrote this play in 2017 and hosted a small reading on my own. It then proceeded to sit on a shelf for over a year. I submitted it over 117 times and no one would touch it. But suddenly in 2019, within the span of about three weeks, three different theaters asked if they could host a reading, and it was offered a World Premiere at Grande Prairie Live! in Grande Prairie, Canada.  This is the final reading before that premiere, so the script that comes out of this process will be the one that is presented to the world.

Diana: I JUST squeaked a second draft under the wire. It’s a very VERY new piece and I’m still not quite sue of the tone or style yet. I’m exploring a historical period that I’m very interested in and I want to honor the period, while distressing the constraints.

Synida Fontes

LAFPI: One of the great things about a festival environment is making connections, and finding (or re-connecting with) collaborators. Can you talk a bit about the artists who are working on your play?

Synida: I have met my director, Heather Enriquez, but I am mostly happy to stay out of it and let these artists be, and see what they create. I am hoping to watch a rehearsal with the dramaturg [William Mittler] present. But for me, it’s really Heather and the actors doing their thing while I sit tight and then show up on performance night, prepared to be amazed.

Dagney: I’ve been pretty hands off.  The director [Angela Cruz] was chosen by La Femme and the actors were chosen by my director.  She has worked with them many times in the past. All the staff at the Curtis and the other playwrights are lovely.

Emily: I’ve worked with my director, Katie Chidester, on several plays and love how she is able to visually interpret text onto the stage. The actors in my piece are all new collaborators, but they already have brought amazing ideas about the piece and their characters so I’m excited to see how the work will develop with their insight.

Kate: Rose London is my director, and she works frequently at the Long Beach Playhouse.  We met for the first time at the first organizational meeting and completely hit it off.  I think this is what makes this festival so special – this team has worked so hard to play matchmaker and connect the perfect teams.

Diana Burbano

Diana: I have a fantastic cast of Latinx actors, really brilliant people, directed by Rosa Lisbeth Navarrete. It’s my pleasure to write smart, fun, glamorous women for Latinas, who don’t often get seen that way. I think we have some BRILLIANT young actors coming out of the Latinx community (Boyle Heights, Santa Ana…) who, because they don’t conform to what is considered “normal standards,” don’t get to play roles with depth to them. I come at writing not from an academic world, but from the trenches of the acting community. I started writing for myself, but soon discovered that my passion, what I feel moved to do as a playwright, is writing for other Latinx women.

LAFPI:  You’re all female playwrights based in Los Angeles and Orange Counties. What’s your relationship with the OC theater community, and with one another?

Synida: This is my first OC-specific project as a playwright, although as an actor I just closed Water By The Spoonful in Long Beach.  I made the acquaintance of Diana Burbano when I performed her one-woman short play “Linda” (named for Lindas Ronstadt and Carter), directed by my good friend Kitty Lindsay, for LAFPI’s SWAN Day 2017. Unfortunately, no opportunities to connect in between.

Dagney:  It’s such an honor to have your play chosen and to meet other female playwrights. I didn’t know any of the other writers and  I knew nothing about the OC theater community before, so it’s been fun getting to know everyone – just like any other theatre community, we do it because we love it.

Emily: I have been active in the OC theater community since I first moved to California in 2002. Friends that worked at Hunger Artists Theatre Company welcomed me to join the company and I served as the managing director from 2006-2008. Through my work there, I’ve seen terrific shows at theaters across the County and love how many of them champion new plays. I know a few of the other writers by reputation, but am thrilled that I was able to meet them and find out more about their work. It’s great to connect with a community of other women who are telling important stories that need to be seen.

Kate Danley

Kate: I was a performer in a fantastic show called Blake… da Musical! in Garden Grove many years ago, but other than that, my work has all been in the Los Angeles area.  It is a thrill to finally get to work with the OC community!  It’s one of those things I’ve always wanted, but never achieved.  Everyone is completely new in my circle of friends, and I love that!  How exciting to have a festival bring so many unconnected people together and suddenly open the world up to us!

Diana:  Our initial meeting was a blast, and I loved being in the room with so many amazing creators. I think ours is the new wave. I want to hear these words, I feel like I’m finally able to breathe with characters, that I understand them better because they are written from something other than a male POV.

LAFPI: And last but not least, tell us about your play. In five words or less.

Synida: Mexicans, mental illness, surreal, hysterical.

Dagney: Poetic. Quirky. Romantic.

Emily: Freeing herself from society’s expectations.

Kate: Death, raisins, and funny ladies.

Diana: Love in the time of monsters.

The inaugural Page to Stage Playwrights Festival – three days of new plays by women, August 30 – September 1, 2019 – is directed by Heather Enriquez and produced by the Curtis Theatre in partnership with Project La Femme. For tix and info visit projectlafemme.com/page-to-stage

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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Los Angeles Female Playwrights Initiative is a sponsored project of Fractured Atlas, a non‐profit arts service organization. Contributions for the charitable purposes of LAFPI must be made payable to “Fractured Atlas” only and are tax‐deductible to the extent permitted by law.