Women writers aren’t afraid to ask the tough questions and neither is Wendy Graf in her play Exit Wounds, one of two recipients of the Moss & Kitty Carlisle Hart New Play Initiative Silver Medallion, playing through December 16 at GTC Burbank. So LAFPI decided to ask Wendy some questions of our own.
LAFPI: What inspired you to write this play from this perspective?
Wendy Graf: I became interested in what happens to the families and love ones of evil people and/or people who commit evil acts. I started watching a number of documentaries like Hitler’s Children. Then there was, of course, another mass shooting and that story opportunity kind of clicked in my head. I wondered what if anything was the effect on the shooter’s loved ones and families and if that effect bled out to future generations. I also felt it was a vehicle for me to vent my anger and frustration and desperation about the ongoing lack of gun control in this country, even in the face of every day tragic massacres.
LAFPI: We love when women writers tackle current social issues from a woman’s perspective. How do you view gun violence as a feminist issue?
Wendy: I view gun violence as an EVERYONE issue. As a mother I suppose I view it through a feminist lens, for when I see all those children and families affected I do relate to it as a mother and as a writer, putting myself in their shoes. But please let’s not make it only a feminist issue. If we do that I’m afraid that, sadly, it will be diminished in the eyes of the gun lobby and supporters, for whom it is already so diminished and dismissed. Attention must be paid!
LAFPI: How do you see the nature/nurture debate playing a role in your play?
Wendy: One of the things I was also interested in exploring in this play was the notion of viewing a family member through a lens of another family member. Is this legitimate, do they actually see these qualities in another family member or are they projecting these qualities onto them? In the case of Exit Wounds, does the father actually see the qualities of the troubled brother in his son or is he projecting in hopes of early identification? Does the past dictate the future? These are the questions I love exploring!
LAFPI: What message would you want victims of mass shootings to receive from this play?
Wendy: I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry we could not do enough to stop this madness, but we will keep trying in every way possible.
LAFPI: The woman character of this play shares certain rules to live by which were passed down to her from her father. Do you think there are still universal rules which have molded the current culture of American society and what rules do you live by?
Wendy: I think there are definitely rules that have molded the current culture of America, but the trouble is we are not in sync anymore in America about what those rules are. We no longer agree what universal rules are molding us and which we are adhering to. It’s like my character in the play says “Guns are a Rorsharch test, Danny. Or like one of those drawings that you see one thing when you look at it one way and then you turn it, look at it from another angle, and you see something else.” Sadly I’m afraid we have come to a point in America where the “universal rules” are like that. We seem to be seeing different things completely. I feel like my universal rules are moral and based on life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all, as we all are created equal, but the other side feels those are their universal truths, yet they see things completely differently. We have hit a very tragic time in America when we don’t all see our universal, fundamental truths as being the same.
LAFPI: What would you like audiences to take away from this play?
Wendy: I don’t presume to offer answers, only questions. I have no agenda for what I want the audience to take away, other than to see the truth of human behavior and something of their own humanity. To see something of themselves reflected in the characters and, without necessarily condoning or accepting them, to somehow understand their actions. I leave it up to the audience to answer the questions. I hope it will start conversations about why, and maybe if we can talk about why and try to understand, change will become possible. Maybe we can move toward seeing our fundamental, universal truths closer to being the same.
LAFPI: Is there anything else you would like to share with your fellow artists of LAFPI?
Wendy: Keep on writing. Keep on questioning. Keep on asking “what if”?
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.
Alyson Mead interviews playwright Inda Craig-Galván about questionable mothers, Carrie as a role model, and a better Scott Baio. The Playwrights’ Arena premiere of I Go Somewhere Else plays at the Atwater Village Theater through September 17th.
And, yeah, there are SO many shows that I missed during #HFF18, which I swore I’d catch if they were extended but… Argh. July was supposed to be saner than June!
But enough of that. (Why are we always obsessed about what we don’t manage to do?)
This year during the Fringe, as in years past, the work and camaraderie of women artists was pretty damn impressive. Those amazing Fringe Femmes wasted no time kicking ass big time. So great seeing LA FPI badges and logos all over the place in June – thank you for all the love!
Also great to be able to give LA FPI’s “Most Wanted Awards” again at the HFF18 Awards Ceremony to venues who staged 50% or more works by women onstage during the Fringe. (Many thanks to fabulous presenters Fiona Lakeland and Katt Balsan, and Olivia Butaine and Lisa K. Wyatt who helped tally to find this year’s figures!)
And now, the numbers.
The “Most Wanted” Awards went to 12 venues this year: 2nd Stage, Actors Company, Art of Acting Studio, Assistance League Playhouse, Lounge Theatre, Stephanie Feury Studio Theatre, Studio C, studio/stage, The Broadwater, The New Collective, Theatre of NOTE and Thymele Arts.
Also pretty pleased that 70% of the community-voted “Fringe Freak” Awards went to works created by women. And 53% of the Sponsored Awards were given to femme-penned projects, including “Fort Huachuca” by Ailema Sousa, receiving The Inkwell Playwright’s Promise Award.
And then there were the overall numbers. This year, 49% of the scripted Fringe shows were written by women.
So a big yay there, considering the year-round #LAThtr average is probably still around 20%.
But I was a bit bummed that we didn’t hit 50%, a bar we’ve reached for the last two years. Hmph. Sure, the percentage is up from 39%, when we started counting. And I don’t know if 49% vs. 50% is statistically significant; last year we did hit 52%. However, as far as I’m concerned, it’s an important reminder: We still have work to do, ladies… and allies!
Right. We, as theatermakers, must make a conscious effort to put more diversity onstage. And we, as artists, must take positive action so that untold stories are heard and celebrated, in all shapes and forms.
Because here’s another number: only 47% of the Producers’ Encore! Awards, with extensions, went shows by female playwrights. Grrr.
So who’s with me? We continue to spread the #FringeFemmes energy & support each other as a community throughout the year so that we get our voices out there, and our plays into the hands of decision-makers!
WHY: Hurry! Only 1 more performance left of this fringe diversity scholarship winning feminist show! Powerfully blending beautiful choreography, spoken word and a fierce yet supportive beatboxer, I Came to Make Noise speaks to the struggle, diversity and universality of the American woman. Get tickets now for Saturday, June 23, 6:00 PM and you can get 20% off with discount code: MAKENOISE
WHY: In the textbook definition of an absurd, wickedly funny and original fringe musical, writer/actress Pam Eberhardt shines as mad supervillian CEO of “The Agency,” Laura, who matches people with clones. Then one day newish clone Margot, played by the vocally gifted Katharine Washington, starts to have memories of her original life and escapes. What ensues is mayhem, catchy counterpoint songs, and fabulously snappy dialogue, all in a fast-paced rollercoaster as each character’s wants and dreams collide. You don’t want to miss this show!
WHAT: There is something special about walking into a tiny theatre knowing you are about to see a new work created in the DIY style. This is how theatre magic manifests, in simple sets, props created by the actor, a body willing to walk into the unknown… the non-predictable physical journey is thrilling. This is what Fiona gives to her work, gives to her audience: All of herself. All of her fears. All of her excitement.
Even the way her right hand shakes in a moment reveals an indescribable energy that travels and affects the heart in a subtle way. I swear your breath will find stillness as you witness a swing, swaying back and forth onstage. Even without Fiona sitting upon the swing, it takes you back to the days of your childhood when you ran free with no worries, and fears never settled in the mind too long. You didn’t need to think about it, it just was a way of living… because you believed anything was possible. You didn’t have to seek out confirmation or read daily affirmations that you would be all right. You just knew you could do anything once you put your mind to it! What a gorgeous reminder for the adult heart, mind and soul.
Go witness. Go live in Charlotte’s World! I even have the audacity to say this is the Spirit of Fringe 2018.
WHY: Laura Jo commands a stage with this nuanced and beautifully simple show full of original songs based on Shakespeare’s women. She bounces from the minds and desires of sweet Juliet (“I Shouldn’t Look at You”), to saucy Olivia (“Let’s Get a Room”), then delivers an unrelentingly devious and desperate Lady Macbeth Monologue in what feels like one long swimmer’s breath. With abundant ease and passionate soul, this master pianist/songwriter/vocalist/actress has created a fringe show NOT TO BE MISSED. I am a fan, you will be too and you’ll want her CD too. Get thee to Hobgoblin Playhouse for her last three performances!