Girl Problems

by Korama Danquah

The other night, I went out for a bite to eat with my friend. We are both dorky weirdos who decided to start asking our server, Jake, about himself.

After some questions about whether or not he was going to Coachella (no) and where he was originally from (Nashville), it came to light that he was involved in musical theatre. Though I don’t write musicals, musical theatre is my first love. I was, understandably, excited. I squealed.

“What’s your favorite musical?!” I asked, loudly.
“Oh that’s way too difficult to answer,” he responded.
“Not for me!” I said. “I love Wicked.”

That’s when I knew Jake and I were not about to become musical theatre buddies. He sort of shrugged and looked down, away from me.

“Yeah, that’s a really popular one,” he muttered.

I’m not unused to this scenario. Wicked is, in the eyes of many, a frivolous, commercial musical for teenage girls. When I first saw Wicked a decade ago, I was a teenage girl. Now, all these years later, it’s still got a place in my heart. Why?

Wicked, though it was originally written (and then later adapted for the stage) by a man, explores a lot of topics that are important to me as a woman.

As a female playwright, I think it’s important to highlight the experiences of women on stage. The unfortunate issue is that often, plays that do this are seen as frivolous or trivial.

Sure there are plays, like Nottage’s Ruined, Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues, and Vogel’s How I Learned to Drive, which get the recognition that they deserve. But these plays deal with especially heavy topics. What about plays that discuss the everyday issues of women? The complexity of female friendships? Work-life balance? The everyday microaggressions that women endure? Trying to succeed in male-driven businesses and industries?

Shows that deal with these issues aren’t the ones receiving acclaim and I believe that a major step toward gender parity in the world of playwriting is for us to normalize these subjects on stage.

If I can watch 8000 plays about a guy who tries to find himself in his art, or through some woman, men can watch a few more plays about how difficult it is to find clothes that fit well.

In Her Own Wright

by Korama Danquah

When I was a kid, I was a great speller. I’m still a great speller. I remember having trouble with two words in particular: Tennessee and Playwright. Tennessee just has too many double letters and is a word I don’t use enough to care how it’s spelled. Playwright, on the other hand, was confusing because you write plays. I didn’t know what “wrighting” was.

It wasn’t until I was much older and learning how to be a playwright that I learned that the word wright was an archaic word for builder. I wasn’t just writing down words, I was building a world. It was a comforting way to think about it. These weren’t my thoughts and ideas being written down for all to judge – it was a world I had built.

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How all my plays look when I start writing them

As a woman, I feel like it’s my duty to build worlds in which women are celebrated and treated with equality and respect, but I don’t always do that. It’s a weird pressure to write this way all the time; if I actually did it, I think everything I wrote would feel a little bit like science fiction. So, what’s the line between writing a positive representation of women and representing the realities that we as women face? I believe in being the wright of a world in which women are respected and and celebrated, but I also think it’s important for playwriting to be current; currently, women face a lot of adversity.

I don’t have an answer yet, but I think that sweet spot I’m looking for lies somewhere in conversation. When I speak with other women and I hear their stories, I know more clearly which stories I want to tell, what worlds I want to build. As female playwrights we owe it to each other to build a community, to talk to each other and to make plays in our own wright.

The Female Science Fiction Writers of Tomorrow

by Korama Danquah

It’s not a secret to anyone that science fiction writing has, in the past, been a boys’ club. I can’t really tell you why. Perhaps it’s a carryover from the gender gap in science education or maybe it’s just that women feel it’s more productive to construct a real-world society of equality before creating elaborate fictional future worlds. Whatever the reason, there are 20 H. P. Lovecrafts for every Ursula Le Guin.

This weekend, however, marks a momentous step forward for women in science fiction writing. Five young women will have staged readings of their science fiction short stories at Sci-Fest LA’s Tomorrow Prize. These LA high school students will have their stories (1500 words or less) read by prominent sci-fi actors and all five finalists are women.

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Finalists from Left to Right: Ashley Anderson, Erica Goodwin, Janeane Kim, Ruby Park, and Athena Thomassian

The five finalists are a beacon of hope for female sci-fi fans. For decades women in science fiction have been seductive aliens and, more recently, captains and starship officers, but we have not often been the authors of these fantastical stories. These finalists and others like them are saying no to the boys’ club of the past and carving a place for themselves in the annals of sci-fi history. It is often said that “you can’t be what you can’t see,” and these young women are making themselves visible for female science fiction writers of today and of tomorrow.

The Tomorrow Prize readings take place on Saturday, May 16th at 4:00 at Acme Comedy Theatre (135 N. La Brea Ave, Hollywood). Tickets are available for $10 online and $15 at the door. All box office proceeds and any additional donations received that day go to the winner’s high school science department. 

My D-bag Writing Partners

by Korama Danquah

I hate my writing partners.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “Oh my goodness! Korama! That sounds like a personal problem that you and your writing partners should discuss together.” Ordinarily you would be right. I’m an adult(ish type person) who likes to handle my problems in a (mostly) adult way. Talking to my writing partners would be the adult way to handle any issues. Except that they aren’t just my writing partners – they’re your writing partners too.

“What?” you just exclaimed “I don’t have any writing partners.” Or perhaps you wondered “Why does Korama think Lewis and Clark are d-bags?” (Side note: This imaginary conversation thing is really amusing to me) The particular writing partners I’m talking about are not of the human variety, but the nagging-voice-in-the-back-of-your-head variety; I’m talking about self-doubt and insecurity.

Everyone has self-doubt and insecurity in varying degrees, but the effects are most felt by people who do creative work. You can doubt yourself when you do a spreadsheet, but at the end of the day the spreadsheet reflects facts and figures, not your thoughts and feelings.

I have a particularly hard time with these silent partners – maybe it’s because, despite the fact that I consider myself a creative person, I am most comfortable with facts and figures. I am very clear with right and wrong, black and white, good and bad. Subjectivity scares me. I start to doubt that what I am doing is good or worth anything at all, like Semele started to doubt what she previously knew to be true.

For those of you who need a refresher, Semele was one of Zeus’ many lovers (not to slut-shame him, but good god, who wasn’t one of his lovers?). Hera, jealous of her husband’s human lover (who was pregnant with Dionysus the god of theatre!), disguises herself as an old woman, befriends Semele and convinces Semele to confide in Hera/Old Human Lady that she is banging Zeus. Hera then plants seeds of doubt in Semele’s head. She asks her how she can know it’s truly Zeus if she hasn’t seen him in his godlike form. On the one hand, that’s a valid point because dudes could totally be walking around pretending to be Zeus in an effort to bed women. On the other hand, douche move on Hera’s part because she knew exactly what would happen next. Semele asked Zeus for a favor and he promised, no swore, he would do whatever it was. She asked to see him in his divine form. Zeus reluctantly agreed and obviously seeing him in his true form killed her.

The story has several morals, the strongest of which is that doubt will literally kill you.

It’s hard not to succumb to self-doubt and insecurity – they are strong opponents. What I do these days is remind myself that I’m stronger. I’m not Semele or Hera or Zeus, at least not completely. I have a little bit of all of them: Semele’s humanity, Hera’s ingenuity, Zeus’ strength. All of these things are what makes me, and my writing, special and unique.

It’s easy to get comfortable with the right/wrong, good/bad dichotomies of this world, but if everything is one thing or another it loses part of its rarity. Walt Whitman once said “Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself. (I am large, I contain multitudes)” To allow yourself to exist in the spaces between black and white, to contradict yourself at turns, is to contain multitudinous, enormous beauty. I won’t allow doubt and insecurity to squash that, to make my work ugly with fear.

So screw you, writing partners. I’m working on my own from now on.

What I Learned About My Writing From A 6 Year Old

by Korama Danquah

Yesterday evening I found a surprise when I walked into my gym’s locker room: a six year-old girl. There were other adults around who seemed to be unconcerned with her presence, so I went with it and said hello. I jokingly asked her if she was there to work out and she told me very matter-of-factly “No, I’m waiting for my Mommy.”

I like kids a lot, so I talked to her as we both waited for the class currently in session to finish. We talked about all sorts of things: birthdays (mine had recently happened and hers is today), our favorite Disney princesses, and her recent trip to Legoland. She was a very polite and talkative young girl. What struck me most about her is the fact that she was an endless font of questions. It started off with my asking my name, guessing (fairly accurately) how old I was, and when my birthday was. But then she began to ask more and more questions: Why do you wear glasses? I have an astigmatism. What’s an astigmatism? It means a part of my eye, called the cornea isn’t shaped right, so my vision is a little blurry. What should it be shaped like? It’s supposed to be round like a basketball, but mine is shaped more like a football. What’s that thing? My asthma medication. What does it taste like? Medicine. Yeah, but what flavor of medicine? And on and on.

A fairly accurate representation of her side of our conversation

 

I wasn’t bothered by her questions. Quite the opposite, actually. I enjoyed conversing with her very much and was sad when her mother came to get her (and not just because it meant that I was about to do what felt like 1,000 burpees). She was fun and engaging in a way that I find adults often aren’t when you first meet them.

Adulthood!

When I was driving home, I realized that I could stand to be a bit more like this little girl I met in my writing. I’m not asking enough questions. Months ago, I started writing a science fiction play called The Fortinian Orbs, but I abandoned it when it started to get difficult for me to continue writing. After my conversation yesterday, I realized that it was only hard because I wasn’t asking myself enough questions; the few questions I was asking, I wouldn’t keep asking until I got the right answer. When I told her that my inhaler tasted like medicine, she kept asking until I gave her an answer she thought was acceptable. There are a hundred different ways medicine tastes and even she knew I was giving a half-assed answer.

I’m going to pick up where I left off with The Fortinian Orbs, ask myself more questions, and give myself more answers. It’s OK if some of the answers are dumb – I’ll just keep asking until I can come up with better ones. And for those of you wondering, my inhaler tastes like chemicals and water that’s been in a plastic bottle in a hot car for too long.

Does Anyone Fly?

by Korama Danquah

I like kids’ movies a lot. Sue me. Please don’t actually sue me as that’s a dumb reason to sue someone and I’m too poor for legal fees. What was my point? Oh right, I like kids’ movies. I think that children’s films present a lot of simple truths in easy to swallow, not quite as grandiose ways. The Lego Movie teaches us that everything is better when you’re part of a team and that by believing you’re “the Special” you can become “the Special.” Side note: If you haven’t seen the Lego Movie you’re wrong. Just wrong. And the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is wrong for not nominating them (I have a lot of Feelings about it).

The first movie I remember seeing in theaters was Toy Story. Buzz Lightyear asserts that he’s not flying, he’s “falling with style.”  That moment is great because you realize that Buzz knows he’s never going to fly and he’s ok with that because damn, can he fall with style.falling

Lately I’ve been wondering if that’s all success is – Falling with Style. I have trouble watching other people fly, not because I want them to fall but because I am ashamed of my own clumsy falling. But perhaps it’s just an issue of style. If anyone can show me how to keep falling, but how to do it with style and aplomb, please let me know in the comment section. Until then, I’m going to watch Tangled for the 1000th time. 

The Best Laid Plans of Mice and (Wo)Men

by Korama Danquah

I am a wonderful person, but even I have flaws. I would go so far as to call myself flawed. One of my main flaws is that I cannot deal with changed plans. I don’t like things that don’t follow my original plan, and I don’t always know how to fit things in or change them around. This is also one of my flaws as a writer.

This week, I was ready and raring to write a bunch of cool funky blog posts about ALL THE THEATRE. I was going to go see a play at some point. I was going to write a bunch of emails to people I had been meaning to contact. I had a list. And then I got sick. As I laid in bed with a 99.5º fever, surrounded by empty 1.75 L orange juice bottles and used tissues, watching my 25th episode of Gilmore Girls in a row (I wish I were exaggerating even a little bit), I started to get mad at myself for not writing all the blog posts about all the theatre and sending emails and whatever else was on that damn list.

When I write and I can’t move forward I have a trick I use. I learned this from a teacher I had in college: write your plot out as though it’s a children’s book. The thing about children’s books is that they’re written for children. Children are known to ask infinite(ly annoying) questions if things don’t make sense to them. So children’s books usually make a lot of sense. They’re very simple and straightforward. Now, not all plot is meant to be linear and flow logically from one thing to another – I love a good avant garde theatre piece as much as the next gal – but if you’re going for a linear plot structure, this trick really helps you find all the tangled bits of your story and smooth them out.

Today, my first day up and at ’em since I got sick on Sunday night, I decided to turn my own life into a children’s story. Once I did, I was able to be less mad at myself. It’s hard to write all the blog posts about all the theatre when you’re floating in and out of fever dreams that all seem to involve Lorelai Gilmore and you can barely sit up for five minutes. We all need to step back from our stories, simplify, and be a little kinder to ourselves. As they say, the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.

Sometimes we just need to remind ourselves that no amount of planning can truly prevent anyone from getting sick during cold and flu season. Plays will still be playing in a week. Emails can be sent over the weekend. Blog posts can be written after fevers break.

And then we can start our lists over.

Vexed and Perplexed

by Korama Danquah

I am not someone who is easily perplexed.

Sure, I find wonder in a lot of different things every day (electricity, ballpoint pens, the dewey decimal system – to name a few), but I don’t often find myself truly genuinely confounded.

Which is why when I saw a play last week that left me baffled it was that much more unnerving.

It wasn’t the plot. I’m usually willing to roll with a weird plot. I’ve seen Blasted by Sarah Kane, so I can handle an unorthodox plot. It was the total and complete lack of agency that was held by the women on stage.

Call me demanding if you want, but when I see a play by a female playwright in particular I expect the female characters portrayed to be, well, characters. In this play, which I won’t name in this piece, the women felt like as thin and stale as the “dough” for a lunchables pizza.

The play, which had six women and two men, featured only three of the women as named characters (Why yes, I am obsessed with the Bechdel Test. How did you know?) The others were models used as set dressing and props. When I say this, I do not mean it in the way that people usually talk about beautiful women – primarily there for ocular enjoyment. I mean that this play featured women as cars, gumball machines, computers and coatracks in place of inanimate objects.

So back to my bafflement. I like this playwright (who is a woman). I saw one of her plays when I was in college and I thought that she was doing something awesome and new and so cool. She has women in her shows and they’re real people. I love that the main character in her newest show is fat. Narratives of fat women are so often erased or only used as a plot device that creates a dilemma for an attractive male character. The last play I interacted with that featured a fat female lead was Neil LaBute’s Fat Pig which I have too many issues with to even begin to touch on here. But it must be said that I was disappointed in this writer. I felt that to take a cast with three times as many women as men ( a real unconventionality in this 5M, 1F world of plays we’re living in) and to use most of the women as literal set dressing was perplexing.

I absolutely know that she is a smart woman and was probably making a commentary on the very issue I mentioned earlier – beautiful women being used solely as eyecandy.

But isn’t it a more powerful statement to just have female characters that have something to say? And should all the onus be on us, the female playwrights? I think that it’s time we hold everyone more accountable for the way we write women for the stage. We can’t hide behind the excuses “he’s a man, he just doesn’t know how to write women well” or “she’s making a statement on the treatment of women by society.” Didn’t Shakespeare and Ibsen, men, write intelligent and complex female characters? And didn’t Audre Lorde tell us that the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house?

I don’t think we – playwrights, producers, actors, directors, and other theatre makers – can comment on the patriarchy by simply portraying it anymore. I think it’s time we comment on the injustices we see in society – sexism, racism, ableism, homophobia – by showing a world without them, by showing a world that makes us perplexed enough to ask “Why isn’t real life like that?”

 

Follow Korama on twitter at @koramadrama for more musings about the patriarchy and life in general.

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