San Marcos and the Conference that Can…Part IV: The Black and Latino Playwrights Conference

by Robin Byrd

 

The Texas State Black and Latino Playwrights Conference is in its 12th year.  Eugene Lee is the Artistic Director for the conference.  Mr. Lee is an established actor, director and writer.  I have admired his work as an actor for years.  A fellow LA FPIer, Laura Shamas, told me about this conference and although my play did not get in that year, 2012, it was a finalist which warranted a call from Mr. Lee.  To have someone actually get your story and be able to pick it apart and see things you didn’t know you wrote into the piece was wonderful.

I went to the conference this year because I was needing to be in the room with other artists at work.  I really wanted to see the process.  I am so thankful that I went.  I learned a lot, made some friends and shook whatever that thing was that was on me keeping me from my computer.  I am hoping this conference stays around for a very long time, its a great place to get things done.

One of the first things Eugene Lee said at the conference was that he had all male playwrights but it was not intentional.  What I found very interesting was that all three of the plays were female-centered and very good vehicles for female actresses and the honored playwright’s play was directed by a woman.  It was a very good vibe.   I believe this conference can be great and am hoping that next year, more theater artists show up like I did just to see what they are doing…

The Black and Latino Playwrights Conference was established to fill a void where the voices of Black and Latino playwrights can be heard, nurtured and celebrated.  The plays can be about whatever the playwright deems stage worthy; it’s the voice of that playwright this is most important to this conference.  It’s a place where student artists can become familiar with the other voices that make up American Theater.  In this vein, the most rewarding part of the conference is to hear those diverse voices, to see those playwrights at work at their craft, and to watch the students jump in fully committed to the scripts.  Eugene Lee has a vision for the Black and Latino Playwrights Conference that can change the way minorities are viewed in Theater; his generous nurturing of the artists is greatly appreciated.  And too, the generosity and foresight of Texas State University at San Marcos to seek out Mr. Lee to start such a conference is awesome.  Thank you, Texas State! Thank you, Eugene Lee!

Every culture, in this multicultural place we call America, deserves a seat at the table. It’s places like San Marcos and this conference that can… that make room and give sustenance to playwrights kicking against the pricks….

Associate Artistic Directors for the conference are Joe Luis Cedillo and Nadine Mozon.  Production Manager for the conference is Shannon Richey (AEA).

Black and Latino Playwrights Conference

 

Black and Latino Playwrights Conference

 

San Marcos and the Conference that Can… Part III: Ted Shine

by Robin Byrd

 

The 2014 Black and Latino Playwrights Conference (BLPC) held in San Marcos, Texas at Texas State University honored, Texas playwright, Ted Shine with a Distinguished Achievement Award.

Ted Shine and Eugene Lee, Artistic Director for Black and Latino Playwrights Conference.

Ted Shine and Eugene Lee, Artistic Director for Black and Latino Playwrights Conference.

Dr. Shine is in his eighties now. He preferred ground travel to flying in for the conference; he preferred to let the younger theater artists sit on the panel discussion about “Swimming Up Mainstream” as an artist of color. However, being the hungry little children we were in that room, we begged a little.  No we were not to proud to beg and we were so blessed with his wisdom even if from his seat in the audience. I don’t normally gravitate to people but I really liked talking to Dr. Shine.  He shared a lot of information about perseverance and learning the craft of writing plays.  He was so humble.

“Contribution” by Ted Shine is a play about the Civil Rights movement – the sit-ins to be exact. It is one of three one-acts in a collection titled “Contributions” which includes the plays: Platoon, Shoes and, Contribution. First presented in 1969 by the Negro Ensemble Company, Contribution is a brave piece of literature. Written as a three character female –centered play, Contribution is set in the early 1960s in a small southern town.  It was poignant, it was funny and it was a little sad…

The director Nadine Mozon took a very interesting approach to staging the piece; “she enhanced it,” as Dr. Shine said.  Mozon’s enhancement involved adding a citizens ensemble to give a visual effect to moments of description in the play. None of the authors words were changed.  At that time, I had not read the play and turned to the playwright after the reading, “was that in the play?” “No, but I wish I’d written it that way.” Dr. Shine really appreciated that staging of his play.  Earlier I had asked Dr. Shine how he felt about directors and the way they approached his work. He said that there were directors that he could trust with his work and could just leave them alone and they would always enhance the work but he had found out that there were some who weren’t so trustworthy. A playwright needs someone who understands their play and can elevate rather than diminish the piece. I asked him if he felt Ms. Mozon was one of those directors he could trust and he nodded, “yes” with a smile.

I have to agree.  She lit that stage up with her vision and the actors were on point!   Johnique Mitchell as Mrs. Love* was hilarious and amazing; George James gave a good performance as Eugene; the timbre of his voice worked well to give the words a certain undercurrent to the thought of being a black man during that time but being considered a boy – the absurdity of it, the pain of it… Katy played by Kia Malone held the right amount of fear-bred inactivity to give a full view of the times. The ensemble members: Matthew Drake Shrader, Morgan Macinnes, Taylor Joree Scorse, Ava L’Amoreaux, Vincent Hooper, Kelsey Buckley, and Chas Harvey were all the way LIVE! The sheriff! Stole every moment he was animated…The doctor/store owner, the angry mob, the pantomime of the young men at the counter, these visuals made for very lively storytelling.   Even the stage directions were read excellently.  I loved the surprise in this reading which was more like a production.

 

Director Nadine Mozon, also Associate Artistic Director for the conference (standing far left), Johnique Mitchell (standing fourth from left), George James (standing in white shirt), Eugene Lee, Artistic Director of the Black and Latino Playwrights Conference (standing far right), Kia Malone (in yellow sweater far right), and honored playwright Ted Shine (seated) The ensemble members: Matthew Drake Shrader, Morgan Macinnes, Taylor Joree Scorse, Ava L’Amoreaux, Vincent Hooper, Kelsey Buckley, and Chas Harvey and stage crew.

Director Nadine Mozon, also Associate Artistic Director for the conference (standing far left), Johnique Mitchell (standing fourth from left), George James (standing in white shirt), Eugene Lee, Artistic Director of the Black and Latino Playwrights Conference (standing far right), Kia Malone (in yellow sweater far right), and honored playwright Ted Shine (seated). Stage manager: Tommie Jackson III. Stage directions read by Sloane Teagle and Tony Hinderman. The ensemble members: Matthew Drake Shrader, Morgan Macinnes, Taylor Joree Scorse, Ava L’Amoreaux, Vincent Hooper, Kelsey Buckley, and Chas Harvey and stage crew.


 

Ted Shine and a family member after the reading of his play, "Contribution".

Ted Shine and a family member after the reading of his play, “Contribution”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*(Mrs. Love was played by Claudia McNeil in 1970 (the original Lena Younger from Raisin in the Sun)

 

San Marcos and the Conference that Can… Part II: Harrison David Rivers

“NINA! …NINA! … NINA! … NINA!”  Retha from “sweet” by Harrison David Rivers

 

by Robin Byrd

The Playwright.  How do you repeat the same line four times in a row and make the room move? First you have to have a character that can say it in context without losing authenticity and second, this character has to be written by a playwright who knows how to evoke earthquakes/eyes in a storm/imagery that speaks volumes/…into a still room… with nothing save words and the voices that speak them; Harrison David Rivers is such a playwright.

Harrison started his week explaining to the actors that the women don’t use “periods” and that the actors are to step over “dashes.” Mild mannered but firm, he came to work…

Playwright Harrison David Rivers with actors and director for his play, “sweet”; all eyes on him.  Director David Mendizábal in white hat, Dramaturg Jeremy White (next to Mendizábal).  Picture by Joe Luis Cedillo, Associate Artistic Director.

Playwright Harrison David Rivers with actors and director for his play, “sweet”; all eyes on him. Director David Mendizábal in white hat, Dramaturg Jeremy White (next to Mendizábal). Picture by Joe Luis Cedillo, Associate Artistic Director.

The Play. “sweet” by Harrison David Rivers was read at the Black and Latino Playwrights Conference.  Harrison brought his director,  David Mendizábal, with him and it was very clear that the process of working on the play was greatly enhanced by the way the playwright and director flowed together. Ana Uzule as Retha (pronounced “REE tha”) and Dionna Jenkins as Nina (pronounced “NEE Na”) found the voices and rhythm of their characters from the moment they opened their mouths. Playing off the strong characters of Retha and Nina, George played by Johnny Brantley III also gave a good first read – his first words made you see George right away. I was very moved by the female -centered story. “sweet” is full of emotion, forbidden fruit, and brokenness yet hope and belief that the spirit can and will prevail in the face of any obstacle.  Harrison and Mendizábal both described the play as being about longing, desire and restraint. The play was described in ethereal terms; I found that interesting and different. As the week went on, I could see exactly what this meant. Making the intangible tangible is as much a part of the story of “sweet” as it is the way the play is written.

The imagery of “sweet” is like incense floating heaven-ward with each word. Retha’s handling of laundry creates a visual so strong; the mere mention of laundry conjures up Retha. I wondered what the title meant up until the performance, I had tried unsuccessfully to figure it out then “end of play” was read and I felt that I had just had the sweetest experience of any play I have ever seen. Sweet is the essence that lingers in the room as the characters exist; sweet is the experience that stays with you once the story has been told.

Being around the table.  There was an extra actress in the room from day one, Tiffany, she participated in discussing what the script meant and how the characters appeared to be and she seemed to love just being around the table with the others sharing the moments. On the third day of rehearsals, Harrison stated that he had been contemplating another facet to the play which would add another character or two. So, now, Tiffany was added to the lineup to read. Dramaturg Jeremy White had pulled information for the playwright off the internet including some sound bites/footage about outer space travel. I am not sure if Jeremy was asked to do it or just saw the need to get some data for the playwright to look over; Harrison seemed really pleased and humbled by it. The group did a roundtable read of the extra pages and Harrison said something to the affect of “I’ll decide what I am going to use but it will be somewhere along these lines.” I thought it was risky but it was his play to do with as he chose – it was either going to work or turn his lovely play into a hot mess. Just my thought. Said a little prayer for him and left for the night.

The Actors.  On the third day of rehearsals, I witnessed actress Dionna Jenkins settled completely into her Nina-ness. It was subtle and it was awe-inspiring to see and hear the extra layers of her character come through the lines. She no longer looked like Dionna reading the lines; she looked like Nina sitting at the table having conversations with Retha and George. I could feel the pull – the more Nina, the more new places the other characters were pushed to explore… It started a domino effect. I wanted to ask Dionna what she felt as she was letting go, how she got from one dimension to the next to the next to multidimensional and what the moment felt like to her when she became Nina. You see Nina had a big part to play in the success of the four consecutive, “Nina’s” too. If Dionna doesn’t bring Nina to the stage in a strong enough force, the meaning behind the words would be lost. Like Retha’s laundry, it is Nina’s name that conjures her up.

Nina…Nina; you moved in with the rest of your baggage and planted your feet firmly on the ground.  Third day of rehearsals.  Around the table: Director David Mendizábal (facing the actors), Playwright Harrison David Rivers (next to Mendizábal), student stage manager , Dionna Jenkins, Ana Uzule, Johnny Brantley III, Tiffany, Wesley Johnson and Tia Watson

Nina…Nina; you moved in with the rest of your baggage and planted your feet firmly on the ground. Third day of rehearsals. Around the table: Director David Mendizábal (facing the actors), Playwright Harrison David Rivers (next to Mendizábal), student stage manager , Dionna Jenkins, Ana Uzule, Johnny Brantley III, Tiffany, Wesley Johnson and Tia Watson Picture by Joe Luis Cedillo https://www.facebook.com/joe.l.cedillo.3/

The mispronunciation of Nina: Johnny seemed to be searching up till the end for a way to not mispronounce “Nina” pronounced “Nee-na”. It was only in one place where this occurred. He was thoroughly frustrated about it but he continued to work on it and around it; it seemed every time he got there “Nye-na” would come out. The day of the reading, the way Johnny Brantley III reconciled the pronunciation of her name was as full of all the frustration and ambiguity the spelling of the name brings with it, what he went through to figure out why at that spot he could not seem to get the right pronunciation to come out, what “George” his character was feeling at the moment and what Nina, the character was evoking out of George at that point in the story. I will say the end result was nothing short of brilliant! He twisted that name the same why Nina was twisting George and the audience felt it and knew they felt it. Bravo, Johnny! This is not to say the rest of his performance was not stellar but to say that as I watched all the actors go from a magnificent cold read of the script to dissecting the nuances, what separates out the actors with potential and fire to be great is how they listen to their characters, the words, the moments coupled with the director’s vision for the piece and how they use their craft to make it work. Sometimes, making it work involves some painful stretching…

Homework for Ana Uzule on Thursday night was to find ways to say Nina up to four times with meaning behind it (my interpretation of the assignment). The actress admitted to not having a reference point. Harrison told her to play around with it but not to say more than four as there were only two on the page. She looked bewildered; Harrison and David gave her input on what to pull from, a few others in the room shared but ultimately, Harrison required the actress to rise to the occasion. Was she up to it? I believed she was but it would require some stretching. Harrison believed she was capable, otherwise, he would not have matter-of-factly told her to do it. Night of the reading, she brought the house down; I had chills, pushed back tears and when I looked over at Ted Shine who was sitting next to me. We were both overcome in awe of these young actors who made “sweet” so sweet (pun intended).

Not to leave out Tiffany who sat in character the entire play, only animating to do her radio spots about the moon landing in 1969. Yes, Harrison’s interjection worked! Tiffany was so focused that even the way she sat – motionless – brought a certain fortitude to the play. Her portrayal of the journalist was era specific and profound. I remember those days and she took me back.

Even the stage directions were read well and kept the feel of the play active. Wesley Johnson and Tia Watson did a very good job in that area.

The Director.  David Mendizábal was as enthusiastic about “sweet” as the playwright. His excellent direction brought things out of the young actors that I am sure they will use for the rest of their live. “sweet” took wings and soared. The thing about really good direction is that it does not take away from the piece but brings more out of it – the essence – of the piece… It was so smooth, I had that sit back moment – you know, the moment where you don’t want to leave because you need to savor something? In this case, it was the sweet, oh, so sweet aroma of  Harrison David Rivers play “sweet”.

This play is a must see. Audiences will enjoy it!

The Honored Guest.  I was sitting next to playwright Ted Shine during the performance of the reading and we both agreed that the actors and the play were excellent. Ted Shine, is the Texas playwright honored at the Black and Latino Playwrights Conference 2014; he has been writing plays since the 1950s and after the reading, he wanted to speak to each of the actors about their performance.  He was really blown away at theire talent.  What a treat – another moment that lasts a lifetime.  So, one by one, they came to speak to him…

Ted Shine and Ana Uzule

Ted Shine and Ana Uzule

Ted Shine and Dionna Jenkins

Ted Shine and Dionna Jenkins

Johnny Brantley III

Johnny Brantley III

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ted Shine and Tiffany

Ted Shine and Tiffany

 

 

 

 

 

Actors: Ana Uzule (foreground) “Retha” and Dionna Jenkins “Nina”.

Actors: Ana Uzule (foreground) “Retha” and Dionna Jenkins “Nina”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“sweet” cast and crew after reading.  Dramaturg Jeremy White (second from left back row). Actors: Dionna Jenkins (second from left, front row), Ana Uzule, Wesley Johnson (behind Ana), Johnny Brantley III, Tiffany, Harrison David Rivers, and David Mendizábal (second from right).

“sweet” cast and crew after reading. Dramaturg Jeremy White (second from left back row). Actors: Dionna Jenkins (second from left, front row), Ana Uzule, Wesley Johnson (behind Ana), Johnny Brantley III, Tiffany, Harrison David Rivers, and David Mendizábal (second from right).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

San Marcos and the Conference that Can… Part I: Mando Alvarado

by Robin Byrd

Crickets as big as two inches shared the Super 8 room with me, I sat up all night because I could not fathom sleeping in a bed full of them or other creepy crawly jumpy things. The old worn out and faded carpet looked like a rug that had been stretched to the walls in pretense. The furniture was a hodge-podge of stuff that had been gathered over the years. The tub mat – to keep one from slipping – was so dirty that when the water hit it a rush of mud-like slush immediately filled the bottom of the tub. Had I been able to lock that darn rental car I had (one of those keyless types), I would not have even taken my things inside. It was the night of the Navy versus Texas State football game and all the rooms were taken in San Marcos including one of the nights of my stay at the Viola Street Inn so I had to find elsewhere to stay for that night. There was a rowdy bunch out in the parking lot most of the night after the game; they partied well into the wee hours of the morning. Had they not been there, I probably would have slept in the un-lockable rental car.

The next day was the last day of the Black and Latino Playwrights Conference at Texas State, San Marcos and I was going to be exhausted…

I was really looking forward to hearing Mando Alvarado’s play “(O)n THE 5:31” read. All week he had been rewriting it. I thought he was crazy – certifiable! – the way he was deconstructing his play and reworking it – in a week. Well, Alvarado is an excellent playwright because he not only pulled it off but it read like he had been working on it longer than the few days. Joe Luis Cedillo said it best at the question and answer segment after the reading, and this is how I remember it “just playwright jealousy, I wish I had thought of that. It’s brilliant.”

Directed by Ruben Gonzalez, (O)n THE 5:31 delivered.  Each actor brought their A game.  The reading was so magnetic, audience members were blown away.

Playwright Mando Alvarado seated (in cap).  Director, Ruben C. Gonzalez seated next to the playwright. Artistic Director of the Black and Latino Playwrights Conference, Eugene Lee (standing in striped vest). Cast and Crew of O(n) THE 5:31 with Cedillo in red taking a picture.

Playwright Mando Alvarado seated (in cap). Director, Ruben C. Gonzalez seated next to the playwright. Artistic Director of the Black and Latino Playwrights Conference, Eugene Lee (standing in striped vest). Cast and Crew of O(n) THE 5:31 with Cedillo in red taking a picture.

This play is quick witted and has a tempo that jolts you in your seat. I found that the play hit me like a dream – the flow, cadence, and unique way the story was told kept me in it on a level that I only reach when I pull all nighters in my own writing where I am so drained and bare the only thing that’s coming out of me is the purest part of the story. Alvarado’s play deals with the present, past, and thoughts in between, the story is also centered around a female character.  In less skillful hands, this structure could be confusing to an audience but Alvarado’s writing is very clear. It keeps you in the moment.   Alvarado’s play makes you punch drunk but all your senses are aware of every high and low of the ride he takes you on, a ride like you never thought existed.

During the week, as I watched the rehearsals, actor Bernardo Cubria possessed an innate ability to articulate the playwright’s words no matter how up heaved. Cubria has worked with Alvarado on several of his plays; this familiarity was helpful to the playwright I am sure but also to the other actors. I watched the actresses as they searched for their characters, worked on spot directions and then changed it as the pages changed. The end result of these three thespians navigating the script that resulted was top rate. There is a lot to be said for actors who come ready to work; these actors were a perfect fit for O(n) THE 5:31. This was not a “Latino” play; this was a play by a playwright who happens to be Latino. I for one will be watching for his work from now on. My favorite line in the play, is the title line and I won’t say more. You really need to see this play.

Actors: Emily Reas, Bernardo Cubria and Kaylie Hyman;  Photo by Joe Luis Cedillo, Associate Artistic Director and Dramaturge for (O)n THE 5:31.

Actors: Emily Reas, Bernardo Cubria and Kaylie Hyman; Photo by Joe Luis Cedillo, Associate Artistic Director and Dramaturg for (O)n THE 5:31.

(O)n THE 5:31 actors: Elyssa Trevino and Joseph Paz reading stage directions, Emily Reas as Gina, Bernardo Cubria  as Benny, and Kaylie Hyman as Sandra;  Photo by Joe Luis Cedillo, Associate Artistic Director and Dramaturg for (O)n THE 5:31.

(O)n THE 5:31 actors: Elyssa Trevino and Joseph Paz reading stage directions, Emily Reas as Gina, Bernardo Cubria as Benny, and Kaylie Hyman as Sandra; Photo by Joe Luis Cedillo, Associate Artistic Director and Dramaturg for (O)n THE 5:31.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Facing the ghosts: Eugene O’Neill and Tao House

This wonderful article:

Facing the ghosts: Eugene O’Neill and Tao House

by Laura Shamas can be read on the HOLLYWOOD JOURNAL website under the “Industry Impressions” section.  I found Laura’s article to be well written, informative and to be honest comforting.  We, artists, have our ways of being that make us who we are and who we are is what sets the pitch and frequency of our voices and the stories we tell…  Please go here to read it.

 

http://hollywoodjournal.com/industry-impressions/facing-the-ghosts-eugene-oneill-and-tao-house/20140728/

Get After It…

“Get after it.”  French Stewart

by Robin Byrd

Last month we had a LA FPI Night at the Pasadena Playhouse.   We all went to see STONEFACE The Rise and Fall and Rise of Buster Keaton by Vanessa Claire Stewart on June 13, 2014 and afterwards, there were Micro-Reads with the actors from STONEFACE.  Erica Bennett blogged about it in her article To the Readers! the next day.

It was very hard to select 400 words from a play that gave enough of a storyline, showed the style of the piece, and embodied the essence of the piece and I only wanted to use the female characters. My 400 words were pulled from my play The Grass Widow’s Son. Seema Sueko, Associate Director at The Pasadena Playhouse, did an excellent job of casting it. The actresses, Daisy Eagen, Tegan Ashton Cohan and Rena Strober, with Seema reading the “active” stage directions were excellent in their cold read. The audience clapped – no awkward pause after the reading; I was a happy camper. All of the reads went very well; these thespians knew their craft. It was amazing to watch them deliver on the spot. Their performance in STONEFACE was phenomenal as well.  And, French Stewart’s voice – have you heard it? – reaching the balcony in full resonance – something to behold.   I personally had never seen a play like that in my life. I knew of Buster Keaton; my mother used to talk about the silent film stars who transitioned to talkies and the ones who just faded away. French Stewart’s portrayal of Buster Keaton was like watching the real thing.  It felt as we were all transported in a Pleasantville sort of way back in time. It was a documentary, it was film, it was alive, it was spectacle, it was theater…  I loved the way seeing something new and unexpected made me feel.

I stopped to tell French Stewart how much I enjoyed his stellar performance and to thank him for participating in our micro-reads when he commented about liking my 400 words and said, “Get after it.”

It hit me like an arrow, jump started my heart, woke me up out of a lull.  French Stewart just told me to get after it like he knew I counted, like my 400 words were all he needed to know that I belonged.  I thanked him, wandered about the Carrie Hamilton Theatre area a bit, found myself standing looking down into the courtyard when he approached me again and said, “Get after it!”   Okay, twice in  one night – I heard it!  This was not something I was going to put in the “oh, that was so nice” area of my memory.  I confessed to him how much I needed to hear those words, how much they meant to me, to my soul…

Then, I shook myself and made a conscious effort to get after it…again…  Battle bruises had left me numb – more numb than I realized but  I decided that as long as I do something creative whenever I get the chance, in between submissions and rejection letters/emails and writing, it will keep me from being too vulnerable to the drop-of-water-on-the-soap syndrome.  I bought fabric and patterns to start back sewing, bought more music for my fiddle, bought some running shoes and put more me time in my schedule.  It really helps to be doing something creative – anything creative – at all times…

Funny thing about art, it hurts to do it and it hurts worse not to do it.  Back on point getting after it…

Thank you French Stewart!

 

 

Battle Bruises…

by Robin Byrd

I am not sure what kind of heavy artillery hit me but the bruises have left me sluggish, a little disoriented (darn freeway expansion, nothing looks the same, I never know where I am, blink and I’m lost) and then there is the constant checking of body parts after slamming toes and fingers in any place en route to anywhere not to mention being ticked off about always being caught off guard. I wish somebody had yelled “incoming”.

Every single thing I do to calm myself down, I have been unable to do lately. Being ticked off most of the time is really exhausting. I have got to find another sport that is active after basketball season is over. I promise yelling at games is a really good way to release stress. I am at the point where I want to wrap my ankles and start training for a marathon – that or find a gym so I can pump some iron. I am so on edge, my teeth hurt.

Why all the stress you ask?

Not able to keep writing past 3 am (what can I say, I like the night hours). I weary of having to shut down creative juices so I can go to bed, so I can beat the traffic in the morning (never happens), so I can think about building coordinators and personnel actions and what I am going to eat for lunch (it’s a really big chore) and why my paycheck never gives me a break. I long for change…, long for time to edit little lines of non-rhyming poetry.

I don’t like to rhyme.

Free verse is what I’d rather write.  I get allergic rhyming right.  I just adore the jagged view.  Words without meter, forgive me it’s my park avenue…

I get notes about trying different forms of poetry – the Pantoum and the Villanelle, for instance. I’m trying.  It’s not easy yet; it feels forced.  I figure it’s a good exercise for where I really want to take my poetry.  So, I have been seeking out the work of other poets.  Recently, I was listening to Yusef Komunyakaa on the internet reading some of his poetry, afterwards someone asked him why he didn’t rhyme more often – he said you can only rhyme with rain so many times. (He may have used another word.)  I laughed so hard I almost fell out of my chair which is why I can’t remember the exact word he used.  Apparently that’s about 495 times you can rhyme with rain. I’d be throwing up rhymes all over the floor by 100; none of them worth salvaging for the page.

All I want to do, right this minute is write a totally awesome poem that I don’t have to wonder if it is mediocre or not.

Mediocre.

I loathe that word. Well, not the word but what it means.

Eventually, I want to write an epic poem, line upon line till “the end” so I guess I am training myself to take on another genre – hoping not to keep bruising so easily in the meantime.  Hoping that if I can write enough poems in succession, I’ll get the same adrenaline rush I get off writing plays…

The LA FPI Blog Celebrates 4-Year Anniversary!

Happy Anniversary to the LA FPI Person of Interest Blog!  Today we celebrate four years of blogging.

by Robin Byrd

I have enjoyed our diverse group of voices.  I have enjoyed the moments when after reading these ladies or watching a video or film, I break out into laughter or tears – those moments when I am found….  There is nothing like being in a funk and have someone write “Oink! Oink!” or having to leave my desk to shake myself after reading “When Playwrights Get Old” which came about after “Too old?” left me numb and very contemplative.  When I look in the mirror, I see me and have to remind myself that the first set of students at the university where I work my day job have graduated and are in their thirties now.  The few that have stayed on in employment shock me when I run into them yet when I look in the mirror I don’t see age — I see me.  One wonders if after all the “Taking Stock” we do if a change is gonna come – ever – but we keep hoping and pushing and fighting for that “Stillness” that drives us.

Drive, She Said“.

How much more drive does it take for a woman to succeed than a man?  Can it even be measured?   Who cares?  Trying to keep myself moving.  No time to research how a man does it unless it helps me.

Writers are always “On a new path…” to stay motivated and to be able to encourage oneself to do one’s art which is supposed to lead to “When you hear your words in someone else’s mouth…”  You hope.  One hopes.

The goal is to be a working artist.  By that I mean, you don’t have to have a day job to pay the rent, pay for submission fees, or afford you food while you write.  Living in near poverty to be an artist should be against the law especially because that same art could end up being a national treasure; the following terms are not interchangeable:  “Working Artist – Donating Artist – Surviving Artist“.

 

Zora Neale Hurston author of  Their Eyes Were Watching God died in poverty; her work was rescued from a fire after her death (Florida had a habit of burning the belongings of the dead).  Zora Neale Hurston’s life work is a national treasure…

 

There should be no limitations or rules on where or in what form a writer creates story as there are no rules to who can be “The Happiest Person in America” or one of the happiest people – let us do our art and we are there…   Gender does not dictate what shared work will change the world in some way — “And The Female Play at the Tonys was…” and it should not dictate who has access to the stage, the screen or the bookshelf.  Great stories all start the say way — with words and the “Voice…” of the writer.  All are needed, each soprano, alto, tenor and bass…   There should not have to be “The Bechdel Test for the Stage“; there should not have to be a Bechdel test at all – why can’t all stories worth telling be treated equal?  Why can’t the journey be easier?  Why can’t handling “Our Expectations, Our Fears”  as artists be easier?  Perhaps even this tug-of-war on gender parity fits into the “Everything Is A Creative Act” category; it is, after all, fodder.

I especially like what Pulitzer Prize Finalist playwright Lisa Kron said at the last Dramatists Guild Conference “Having Our Say: Our History, Our Future” about what she does when something rubs her the wrong way “I’m going to write a play about this” — The Veri**on Play is what resulted.

 

Just wondering, do you have any favorite LA FPI blog articles?

 

Bloggers Past and Present:

Jessica Abrams, Tiffany Antone, Erica Bennett, Nancy Beverly, Andie Bottrell, Robin Byrd, Kitty Felde, Diane Grant, Jen Huszcza, Sara Israel, Cindy Marie Jenkins, Sue May, Analyn Revilla, Cynthia Wands and special input by Laura Shamas and Jennie Webb.

 

LA Women’s Theatre Festival–Solo Voices, Solo Bodies, Solely Wonderful

Guest Post by Diane Lefer

The Los Angeles Women’s Theatre Festival came of age last week, marking its 21st year. Given how hard it is to keep an arts nonprofit thriving, it would be remarkable enough that co-founder and president Adilah Barnes has presided over more than two decades of an annual presentation of solo works by women from LA, around the country and sometimes from around the world. The quality of Giving Voice–this year’s offering of  performances from 20 artists at the Electric Lodge in Venice from March 28th-30th–was cause for celebration, too.

Yes, all women. Yes, all solo shows, often excerpted to fit the time, but nothing repetitive about this festival. Just to give some idea of the range and variety, audiences saw Cynthia Ling Lee’s “rapture/rupture” through which she engages postmodern dance with classical Indian dance; Kate Rubin’s multi-character comedy, “How I Died”; spoken word from The Lindz; Tia Matza’s aerialist performance;  Mwanza Furaha’s jazz cabaret; social commentary via physical theatre in Dacyl Acevedo’s personal take on the economic crash, “Will Work For”; and more. Besides stylistic diversity, the festival is committed to racial and ethnic diversity onstage which carried over to the audience where, incidentally–please take note–there was age diversity as well.

On Saturday, putting Ciera Payton and Karen A. Clark on the same afternoon bill was an inspired pairing. Payton’s excerpt from her full-length show focused on her relationship with her incarcerated, crack addicted father. When “Ciera” transformed into her father, she didn’t just put a light blue denim prison shirt over her white tank top. Her voice, her posture, her face transformed as well. Their prison visit captured the complexity of emotion: the joy Ciera feels in her father’s embrace, the awkwardness, the anger, the pain and confusion.

Ciera Payton Photo by SCOTT MITCHELL copyright 2012

Ciera Payton Photo by SCOTT MITCHELL copyright 2012

Here’s where I give a shoutout to the POPS club at Venice High School which offers a platform for creativity to kids with a parent in prison and where I think that onstage, Payton’s joyfilled and charismatic presence provides reassurance that the little girl from New Orleans grew up strong, beautiful, and able to laugh in spite of all the troubles she encountered.

 

Clark, compelling in her own way, proved you don’t have to go through a traumatic or dysfunctional upbringing to have an engaging story to tell. Combining family stories with song, she shared positive memories of family life, a “legacy of love.” Her warm and intimate performance style kept the audience invested in her parents’ happy and devoted 57-year marriage–in spite of which her mother, Ora Christine, kept eight bank accounts in her own name. Her counsel to her daughter, that women should always hold onto some money of their own, led Clark into her own memorable song styling of God Bless The Child.

Karen A. Clark

Karen A. Clark

I felt lucky to have been introduced to their talents, glad they were scheduled alongside the performance that initially brought me to the Electric Lodge: Estela Garcia’s “Remedios Varo, La Alquimista” (in Spanish with projected English supertitles).

Many years ago, I walked into the Museum of Modern Art in Mexico City and was stopped in my tracks by a painting: Mujer saliendo del psicoanalista (Woman Leaving the Psychoanalyst). The woman’s white hair rises, curved, like horns. Her eyes are deepset, haunted. Her face is partly covered, a mask hangs beneath her neck, and another mask or face dangles, about to be dropped, from one hand. I had never before heard of the artist, Remedios Varo.

Garcia’s performance not only filled in much of Varo’s life-story for me, but like the painting, took my breath.

Estela Garcia

Estela Garcia

In a brown, almost monastic robe, she portrayed a woman traumatized by Franco’s dictatorship, war, exile in France and then Mexico, and the submersion of self in her lover’s world. Varo struggles to find her place as an artist and as a woman haunted by “cosmic loneliness.” Garcia leaves the stage to return elaborately masked as the artist/alchemist. Slowly, ceremonially, she brings Varo’s dream imagery to life as she grinds up a star and feeds it to a reluctant crescent moon which she rocks like a baby until the full moon is revealed.

The magical process of creating art brings about theatrical magic. Words capture the artist’s contradictions: the uneasiness of being lonely and the excitement of being alone.

That uneasiness and that excitement–a woman alone on the stage–seem a fitting way to talk about the anxiety and joy at the creative root of the festival’s triumphant solo acts.

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Other performers this year were: Karen Bankhead, Sofia Maria Gonzalez, Ingrid Graham, Jennifer S. Jones, Jozanne Marie, Ansuya Nathan, Marlene Ondrea Nichols, Anita Noble, Sloan Robinson, Lisa Marie Rollins, and Tracy Silver.

You’re too late for 2014 but if this whets your appetite, don’t miss out again next year. The 22nd annual festival is already scheduled for March 26-29.

Artists wishing to perform in 2015 should check out the application requirements at www.lawtf.org/ The deadline for submission is August 31.

After SWAN Day…

SwanLogo2

The SWAN Day Action Fest was a success!

 

We will post highlights in the coming week or so.  The room in Samuel French Theatre & Film Bookshop was packed, the plays were well written, entertaining, thought provoking, etc., etc., etc., the actors were talented and the audience was great!

Thanks to Little Black Dress INK, The Vagrancy Actors, Samuel French Theatre & Film Bookshop for partnering with LAFPI and to everyone who pitched in and participated.   And, a very special thanks to our fearless, faithful, get-it-done leader — Jennie Webb!

 

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