Collaborative Playwriting

by Tiffany Antone

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

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

Photo by Perry Grone on Unsplash

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

45’s 24

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

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

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

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

Untitled Collaborative Writing Project

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

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

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

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

Whew.

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

A HERoic Season: Female Playwrights Onstage in Iowa

by Tiffany Antone

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

YES.

I know.

It’s AMAZING.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I haven’t been writing lately…

by Tiffany Antone

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

Photo by Brandi Redd on Unsplash

I’m just not into it. 

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

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

I could blame the world…

Oh, yeah.

Actually, that’s it.

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

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

I don’t know.

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

What would happen if I just talked to people instead?

A few weeks ago I did just that. 

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

It felt great.

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

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

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

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

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

That’s not community.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Fear is a powerful, and primitive, human emotion.

So is love.

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

But…

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

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

Is it fear?

Is it love…

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

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

Individuals.

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

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

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

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

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

A fight or flight kind of fear…

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

Really?

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

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

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

Let me share with you a secret…

You are not losing anything.

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

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

That adrenaline…

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

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

Together.

Tonight.

Thank you.

Establishing Boundaries

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

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

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

No one does. 

Not even me. 

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

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

Black. 

Fat. 

Queer. 

Anxious. 

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

I am the tree. 

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

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

APPROACH WITH CAUTION!

by Leelee Jackson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

playwright Jennifer Maisel; photo by Christopher Bonwell

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

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

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

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

playwright Stephanie Alison Walker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Want to hear from more women artists? Make a Tax-Deductible Donation to LAFPI!

Donate now!

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.

Veritas

Veritas is the logo of Harvard. Its meaning is “truth”.

What is truth? Could it be that it is the convergence to a point from different directions and planes; a traveler through space and time; the weaving in and out of needlepoints that evolve stories depicted in a tapestry?

The majestic tree stood resilient, with its gnarled roots and knotted trunk. Its boughs were heavy with magnolia buds and waxen leaves. This tree will not be moved, unless it fell to blows of external power – mechanical or through an act of nature. This tree is truthful.

October 9th, 2019 was the 50th anniversary of The Harvard Independent newspaper. It is the second newspaper of Harvard, second in its inception to The Harvard Crimson. The first president of The Harvard Independent Morris Abram Jr., gave a remarkable speech that had three parts:  a recognition of the architects and builders of the newspaper; remembrance of the good times and hard times; finally a plea to build a new and permanent home for the staff of the paper.  Morris recounted how the idea of a second newspaper in Harvard was formulated on a napkin in the cafeteria between himself and Mark Shields, a senior, while Morris was a sophomore. Between the two men they recognized the oxymoron of what they had: • no funding • no experience or idea about starting or running a weekly newspaper • no advertising • no staff  – All these combined was a big laugh. “Ha! But we’re still gonna do it” kind of attitude.

The two men had a lot of youthful dreams fueled with energy, humor, boldness and above all – a passion for the truth. In Morris Abram Jr.’s words, “If one paper is good then two is better”, this was the impulse that provided the forum for expression of all views. Past contributors to The Harvard Independent included luminaries such as: Samuel Huntington (Historian), David Riesman (Sociologist) and Noam Chomsky (Linguist/Political Philosopher).

“I” recognize that truth is an unfolding, like a rose opening each petal in due time. The whole truth and nothing but the truth is a process of awakening as the fog of sleep lifts; and the lens of bias is stripped away.

Through persistence and immunity to resistance, The Harvard Independent has thrived for 50 years. I imagine that one day, LAFPI will also be celebrating its 50th anniversary with the founding members and future staff raising a toast together – to recognize the blood, sweat and tears that is drawn from the artist to manifest the human condition on-stage and off-stage. Jennie Webb courageously brought us together as a community of writers who has made the public aware of the gender parity issue in theater. She awakened in us that we are empowered. We can’t wait any longer to be granted the light to shine upon us. We are light in ourselves. Let us shine.

LAFPI started with Jennie Webb and its original members gathered in a darkly lit house in Topanga Canyon. Outside, it was gloomy and raining, but inside, together, we huddled and shared stories, warmed by the communion of minds and hearts.  We sensed being part of something bigger than our individual selves.  It was for the cause of expressing our truth. After that day, were follow-up meetings with Jennie coaxing or delegating jobs as “instigators”, “editor”, “website architect”… AND we had LAFPI badges to distribute to theatres to spread the word about who we were and what we were about.

The tree observes and absorbs everything under the sun and below the ground. I think with my heart and feel with my brain. This slows me down from jumping to conclusions to make space for growth, because truth is not stagnant. It is not static, but it flows dynamically, evolving yet rooted to its source.

The current staff of The Harvard Independent continue with this new Harvard tradition of a newspaper that is dedicated to publishing work that could be eye-brow raising and bold. The Anniversary issue published, “66 Years of Political Integrity – an Interview with Professor Harvey Mansfield”, known as the “last conservative Professor” on campus. The interview covered topics of: affirmative action, the role and place of women and feminism within the college, partisanship among the Professors and political correctness.

LAFPI is also a new tradition. We serve the community by our stories that turn over every rock to see what lies beneath; and perhaps even break rocks to determine what stuff it is made of. I’ve had my imagination intrigued with some of the most creative ideas I’ve seen on stage that were produced, written, directed and supported by women. But we’re not exclusive to only women anymore. I’ve noticed men coming out to our Christmas shindig at Sam French. We’re gaining tracks of followers and members – one tie at a time till we have a railroad from here to the East Coast!

The Harvard Independent is fondly spoken of by both the old and new members a home away from home. It was home because it was comfortable. I imagine that the sense of comfort comes from being welcome for being who you are. It is what you make of it. The only mold there is is the breaking of existing molds which makes space for evolution. This newspaper has been a launching pad for individuals who continued to have successful careers in journalism (writers for The Washington Post, New York Times, NPR and others) and other paths.

LAFPI continues to nurture seasoned and amateur female writers who need a home to express their stories in drama form, blogging, and above all having a community of writers with the understanding that we recognize each other as worthy.

After all, who do not look to the stars and wonder:   
D’ Ou’ venon-nous? Que sommes-nous? Qu’ allons-nous?
Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going?

“In searching for ourselves and a vision, we find greater meaning in all things. It is “art of enduring interest”, that addresses these questions. – Morris Abram Jr. (Class of 1971)

 A story from the 50th edition of The Harvard Independent

Reflecting upon the stature of the tree, it persists. It evolves each season, another ring to add to its solid girth. If I think I know the truth, then I recognize that I am wrong in my knowing. The tree rises above all this knowing by its being. Being is a process. Being is truthful.

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?