All posts by LAFPI

The FPI Files: “Anyone But Me” & “The Oxy Complex” at IAMA

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Sure, it’s been a year of isolation and Zoom overload, and we’re all pretty desperate to get back into a theater. What could possibly make us want to stay home and cozy up with our computers again? Two women: Sheila Carrasco and Anna LaMadrid. These amazing writer/performers have pieces – “Anyone But Me” and “The Oxy Complex” – presented in tandem by IAMA Theatre Company, filmed live at L.A.’s Pico Playhouse and now available for streaming on demand through April 25.

And if there was any way to demand audiences check them out, LAFPI would be leading the charge! Both shows are smart, surprising and so powerful in their ability to transport us – just the ticket, right now. Lucky us, we had the chance to chat with the writer/performers before their shows premiered.

LAFPI: First of all, so excited by this project and so glad to be able to support it! Can you both speak a bit about where and when your pieces started, and did that shift as you moved forward?

Sheila Carrasco
Photo by Dana Patrick

Sheila Carrasco: Margaux Susi, my friend and IAMA Theatre Company member [and Associate Artistic Director], approached me about working together on a solo show last fall. I had been meaning to make a one woman show for years, but I had never taken the leap, so this felt like the right opportunity. I do a lot of sketch comedy characters and so my first instinct was to do a bunch of characters, unrelated to each other and to my life. And then I thought, “Why is that? Why is my default to disappear behind costumes and wigs and voices?” So I started there, and began to build a show around the idea of self-identity, and characters that struggle a bit with this theme. And I ended up with a lot of characters that were way closer to me than I expected.

Anna LaMadrid: The seed for my solo show began in my second year of grad school at University of Washington. I wrote a short piece exploring the ways in which I felt our biology was not keeping up with how technology was disrupting the dating process with apps. (Women tend to jump into bed with men without really knowing them and you become attached to people that might not be the best fit.) At IAMA, [Co-Artistic Director] Stefanie Black was looking to pivot our season into a virtual solo show and I jokingly said I had written something for grad school and wanted to expand it but didn’t know how. She asked to see it and then encouraged me, so I started to shift the lens to look at what it means to go through withdrawal from touch and be isolated with just our thoughts.

LAFPI: Both of these pieces are so distinct and very different, but also share a common thread in that they explore women searching for self in a very complicated world. They really fit together beautifully. Did you two connect while creating them?

Sheila: We actually didn’t know much about each other’s pieces! I purposely didn’t want to read Anna’s play while working on mine so that I wasn’t making creative decisions in a subconscious effort just to be different. In this show, I play about nine different characters. From teenager to elderly, from privileged to working class. I tried to think about each one in a self-contained way while at the same time exploring a range of theatricality and ways of expressing myself and the topic.

Anna LaMadrid
Photo by Jackson Davis

Anna: I think Sheila is a brilliant performer and storyteller. And I will say that I think we maybe have both struggled to fit into this “Latina” box that the media creates. Having been told that we aren’t enough by the industry: Not quite indigenous enough to play the help but not white enough to pass. So identity has always been something that I have contended with. There are characters in my show that represent the struggle I feel as a bi-cultural Latina – the outdated models of how a woman should be according to my mother and me not feeling quite like I own this liberated American woman without feeling guilt.

LAFPI: We love that you are both paired with Latina directors. Had you worked with them before?

Sheila: I had known Margaux Susi for years but didn’t actually know she was Latina until this past year! When I found out, so much about how and why we connect as collaborators made sense. Margaux is half Cuban and I’m half Chilean, and our Latin family has influenced our lives and art in such a huge way. At the same time, we also benefit from white privilege and we had many meaningful discussions about our own accountability in that department. This past year demonstrated how Latinos are not a monolith, and the more we dive into the nuances of our identity and celebrate our diversity within our ethnicity and center and uplift BIPOC voices, the stronger we will all be.

 Anna: I worked with Michelle Bossy a year and half ago when she cast me in a play called There and Back (which we did in Mexico and at Company of Angels here in LA). Michelle and I are from two totally different cultures, but there is a shorthand and that’s nice. I don’t have to explain certain -isms that I had growing up. My culture is a backdrop that adds flavor to the story. However, at the end of the day we are telling a story that is universal for ALL people. How do we deal with our past trauma in order to find a sense of worth that will enable us to be in healthy relationships.

LAFPI: So, in the Covid of it all, what was it like actually performing in a THEATER! Okay. An empty theater. But how did you adjust to the hybrid nature of this?

Anna: We did NOT rehearse in the theater and that was really challenging at times. It was tough to fully just focus on inhabiting the character when something would freeze, or you couldn’t hear the cue, or your earbuds fell out in the middle of a line. It felt like a breath of fresh air to get into the theater to tech and just be the actor in the room. I missed that feeling so much.

Sheila: Rehearsing entirely over Zoom until tech week was so weird, but also really intimate and wonderful and I’ll cherish that rehearsal period forever. Once we got to the theater, it was so soooo wonderful to stretch my muscles again and get physical. But performing for an hour straight with no audience in a silent theater? That was not ideal. It took so much mental energy and stamina to stay in the moment and also be my own scene partner, and also imagine there were laughs to build upon…

Sheila Carrasco in “Anyone But Me”
Photo by Shay Yamashita/TAKE Creative

Anna: Since my piece is a dark comedy, sometimes it was tough to gauge if a joke was working. But I just had to let go of how the audience would experience this and just focus on the story. Because the crew also couldn’t laugh since we were taping. So it feels like you are in a void. And one of my characters is in a void. So you know… I just used it. 

Sheila: I am so grateful I got to make this show and had truly had a blast performing it, but let’s just say I cannot wait to perform this show live one day!

LAFPI: Can you talk a bit about the technical elements you were able to incorporate in a virtual production? 

Anna: I love tech. Which is why I opened my self-tape company, Put Me On Self-Tape, four years ago. Every actor should be comfortable know the business, the craft and the tech. That’s the NEW triple threat. [Check out thenewtriplethreat.com].

But when starting to write The Oxy Complex, I really wanted to take into consideration the amount of pressure put on the performer when we try to recreate the experience of theater over the screen. So Michelle and I leaned into the tech and created a visual language for how the piece would function. I wanted to make sure that visually we are using the frame to keep the audience engaged. I mean we are all so sick of seeing boxes of people. It definitely was an experiment and Michelle treated it like a film shoot. Which was nice. I hope it worked!

Anna LaMadrid in “The Oxy Complex”
Photo by Shay Yamashita/TAKE Creative

Sheila: Aside from Anyone But Me being filmed and available over streaming, I’m hoping it is closer to a theatrical experience than a filmic one. Margaux and I really tried to create that. We wanted it to be as close to pure theater as possible, because it is such a special and unique medium that so many people are missing right now.

So I performed the show as if it were a play, all the way through. There are closeups, however, which you don’t get in a play, so I’m super happy we got to punch in and see more nuance than you would in a theater! Also the show is designed from top to bottom with set design, sound, lighting, costume design… Our designers are all so awesome; we just went to town! We tried to create meaning with even the dumbest of props. (I mean that in a good way). And I hope that the audience enjoys all of the storytelling as much as they would in a theatre.

LAFPI: This production also stood out to us because so many women creatives are on board: both of you as writer/performers, as well as your directors and IAMA Co-Artistic Directors, plus a majority of the designers and crew. What was that like, being surrounded by so much femme energy?

Anna: The rehearsal process was just Michelle, Stage Manager Camella Cooper, Rose Swaddling Krol (Assistant SM) and me for so long and that was really nice. It represented a spectrum of women and when both Camella (who is Black) and Rose (who is white) could relate to something I was saying – or found it funny or heartbreaking – then I knew I was on a good path. It was truly universal. I felt really close to these women because even though the character that I play, Viviana, isn’t all me, it is based on some of my experiences and experiences of other women in my life. Things would get really personal when we dove deep into creating her histories and trauma. So it was nice to feel supported and have that solidarity in the (virtual) room. I felt really safe being vulnerable.

Sheila: Everyone on the team was a true collaborator and really inspiring to work with. What’s cool is that everyone on board related to the characters, regardless of gender. In terms of the rehearsal process, I really valued having a female director and female stage managers because of some of the subject matter we were diving into, but otherwise, every single person’s energy in that theater was incredible and kickass!

For Info and Tickets for “Anyone But Me,” written and performed by Sheila Carrasco and directed by Margaux Susi, and “The Oxy Complex,” written and performed by Anna LaMadrid and directed by Michelle Bossy, visit www.iamatheatre.com.  Both shows stream on demand  through April 25.

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.



The FPI Files: How to Measure Anti-Racism in Theater

by Carolina Xique

Last summer, the murder of George Floyd shook the world and started a long overdue conversation about the history of white supremacy in institutions, especially in the theater. More and more artists who are Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) are sharing their experiences of racism in the arts and calling on theatrical institutions to reform the way we write, direct, cast, work, teach, and perform theater—most notably, the collective “We See You, White American Theater” (weseeyouwat.com).

But what does that reform look like? What can theater institutions do to better represent BIPOC artists? How can theaters measure their level of anti-racism if, historically, theater has never been anti-racist?

One exemplary organization that is doing the work of providing tools for anti-racist self-reflection in theater companies and organizations is based in the LA area: the Joy-Jackson Initiative.

The Joy-Jackson Initiative (JJI) works to build systemic equity in the arts by providing organizations with the guidance necessary to formulate and implement changes to create the safest possible spaces for the BIPOC collaborators who enrich them. JJI is currently creating the Racial Equity Assessment for organizations to take and learn about how they can better represent and care for their BIPOC artists and collaborators. I (digitally) sat with the Initiative’s founder, Gabrielle Jackson, to learn more about what went into creating the Assessment and how the Assessment will be used to introduce a better, more equitable theater culture.

LAFPI: First, can you share briefly how you founded the Joy-Jackson Initiative?

Gabrielle Jackson: The Joy-Jackson Initiative was founded out of a deep sense of disappointment and urgency. Disappointment that, at a time where we were encouraging each other to help flatten the curve and save human life, so many of my friends and colleagues could remain unaware of the violent murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, Ahmaud Arbery and the countless other Black people who have lost their lives to police brutality. The urgency that followed was an understanding that immediate action was required to rectify the rampant white supremacy and willful ignorance that allowed for people in my community and in my industry to witness racial violence and do absolutely nothing.

I was going to do something. I was going to show people that this violence was happening in their own communities, in their own organizations. People had to know that it was so much deeper than a protest or a political movement. This was about real people and real life. 

LAFPI: The Joy-Jackson Initiative’s Racial Equity Assessment is a huge undertaking, yet extremely necessary and relevant, especially after last summer’s call for anti-racist practices in the arts. You have said before that the assessment went under a rigorous review process. In a few words, what was the process like from concept to debut? What kind of collaborations were needed to make all of this happen?

Gabrielle: There’s an African proverb that says if you want to go fast, go alone but if you want to go far, go together. This assessment is the product of so many collaborations and incredible connections. Initially I was using my own personal experience to create the Assessment’s questions. I spoke with some friends after I developed the initial draft and they called in their friends and hooked me up with some really wonderful organizations who were interested in helping me continue to build the work. 

One such org was Black Theatre Girl Magic. With the help of BTGM’s incredible team, we were able to gather a group of incredible Black women from across the professional theater spectrum to review and advise on the initial assessment. We organized a 3-day summit where we story-circled and shared our professional experiences and gathered the information that would help me develop the first Beta Version of JJI’s Assessment.

We beta tested with a small group of theaters from across the country and gathered data and participant feedback.

In a little over two months we had developed and tested a great first draft of the Assessment.  We took this feedback and immediately went back to the drawing board.  I personally read every set of “requemands,” as I like to call them, put out by every collective, organization and student group I could find. These folks were all calling for change and had very incredible plans for progress. I distilled the information from these resources and turned these demands and action steps into questions for the assessment. Then JJI’s Managing Director Julie Oulette, who is one of the most knowledgeable people I know and someone who has really worked in this business from every angle, took the assessment and organized it and edited it so that it was digestible and made sense to people who were leading these orgs that we were addressing.

We then organized another peer and professional review of the assessment with industry vets and folks who really knew the business and the people who made it. We also invited students and entry level professionals who were just starting out and had some really excellent ideas and paths forward. We then hand selected our second beta cohort and conducted a second beta test of the assessment. As with the first Beta test period, we culminated in a data share and town hall where the leaders of participating organizations were invited to share their experience with the assessment. Now we are rounding the corner on our publicly accessible version of the assessment and will, again, be hand selecting a small cohort of organizations from across the country to participate in our first full rollout of the assessment and its accompanying facilitation program.  We could not have done any of this work at this pace without the power of collaboration. We’ve turned something that could very easily be a 10 year undertaking into something that has been vetted by industry professionals and is ready and effective in a very short period of time. 

Online Town Hall with Assessment Beta Testers

LAFPI: Companies will be able to take the assessment and, ideally, commit to implementing more anti-racist culture. What are the next steps after that?

Gabrielle: A huge part of all of the work we did in our last round of beta was holding office hours. Initially, Managing Director Julie and I were only there to answer technical questions. And that’s how it was for the first few days. Participants were in and out asking us questions and giving us great feedback. But about a week in, people were starting to be confronted with some pretty unsettling data. And the fact that these were numbers written out in black and white made it inescapable. There was a shift in the way office hours were happening. People were coming to visit, and vent, and seek community and validation and guidance.

This was no longer just a Q&A. We knew 2 things: the Assessment was working and more space needed to be held for these arts leaders to understand their data and create real solutions. So we went right to work on developing a facilitation program. I went to a leader in the field of Equity, Diversion and Inclusion (EDI) and intimacy and begged up on her guidance and mentorship, I started taking classes and using the office hours as another study, taking every conversation home with me to decompose and explore. We also started developing practical tools, like glossaries and reflection sheets that would help folks find deeper meaning in the concepts they were encountering in the assessment. Now, I can proudly say that what comes after the work with JJI’s Assessment is a fully personalized period of reflection and facilitation guided by myself and other key members of JJI’s team. The work is so delicate and important and we are ready and eager to help unravel the stories behind the numbers and help organizations find new and bold paths forward.  

LAFPI: A huge issue that was raised this past summer was that there are theater companies that have reputations for disregarding and even allowing racist practices, as well as hiring artists who have historically exhibited severe racist behaviors. Are the results of the Assessment meant to solely inform a company about their culture and create a plan to solve it, or will the results also be used to inform outside artists?

Gabrielle: My ultimate goal with this work, once we have collected enough data, is to partner with data analysts and create a report on the macro data from the Assessment. The great thing about a study like this is that each individual theater remains anonymous. We only view the data in aggregate and are able to analyze the numbers on the whole. I think granting public access to the aggregate data – the way we do in our town halls and other online media – will really help to create transparency in our industry. I think once we have all the information and the numbers are clear, we can start getting honest and calling in organizations to make real change. The numbers of course will also help the individual organizations themselves as they will have exclusive access to their own micro data and will have a view of their personal numbers and information. This will help orgs to assess areas for improvement and create space for real and actionable change in their operations. 

LAFPI: What kind of questions can companies expect in the Assessment?

Gabrielle: We’ve tested the efficacy of this Assessment with almost every type of theater company. So we are asking questions about everything from above title billing for theaters who are Tony eligible to whether touring companies are vetting hotels and accommodations for a history of racist action. We’re asking about what Black and Indigenous texts are being used in curriculum, and whether or not there is specific language in an organization’s bylaws that outlines anti-racist policy.

There’s truly  something to be gained for every organization at every level. 

LAFPI: This Assessment, undoubtedly, is aimed to create lasting impact in theater arts culture. Once the Assessment is released and artists can start creating post-pandemic theater, what do you hope theater will look like for theater companies? For BIPOC artists?

Gabrielle: I hope theater companies will use this time to actually do the work of change in their orgs. In the span of 7 months, we’ve been able to accomplish so much. It’s honestly made me realize that there is nothing a well-teamed organization cannot do if they are truly dedicated to their cause. And that’s the thing, right? An organization has to be dedicated to the cause and not just the lip service around it. So, I hope that theaters will have really backed up all those solidarity statements with action and accountability and that they are safe for us to return to when we can.

For BIPOC artists I wish us all the comfort, peace and stability that makes it easy to be choosy.  More than anything, I’ve learned that wherever one or two are gathered, even if it’s in a Zoom room, art can be created. So, we now have this smorgasbord of opportunity in front of us. One of the questions I’ve been pondering in my own creative work is, “What are we going to do with all this future?” I hope that BIPOC artists have the means and the support to seek healing from all the compound trauma stemming from this time in our history and a lifetime of intentional othering by forces of racism and white supremacy. I hope that BIPOC artists find it within themselves to create work that speaks to their souls and sparks joy for them. I hope that Black artists, Indigenous artists, and other artists of color can finally have the space to be truly, truly free.

LAFPI: When will the Assessment be available for companies to take?

Gabrielle: The Assessment will be available to a hand selected cohort in 2021 and is preparing for wide release in 2022. JJI is currently looking for its first cohort of Full Program participants. Anyone interested in taking part in JJI’s 2021 Rollout should contact us through our website at www.joyjackson.org/theassessment

Despite the grave uncertainty American Theater is facing amidst the pandemic and the plummeting economy, one great gift theatermakers have been given is the gift of reflecting on our own internalized racism and white supremacy. There’s no doubt that the Joy-Jackson Initiative’s Racial Equity Assessment will be one of many programs paving the road toward true racial equity in American Theater, so that BIPOC artists may not merely survive, but thrive in an industry that so often uses their voices. It’s not about diversity and inclusion of BIPOC people—it’s about telling stories for us, by us, and with us in mind. And that starts today.

Read More About the Release of JJI’s Racial Equity Assessment Here

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.

Happy 2021!

Wishing you all a VERY Happy New Year, full of femme-tastic creative energy and connections!

Thanks so much to Tamadhur Al-Aqeel, who reached out after she shared her hilarious HOT JOE BIDEN in our Holiday Micro-Read Hook-Up , saying she’d built upon her original 1 page and written the short piece below to say GOODBYE to 2020 and hello to all good things in 2021.

Check it out and thank you to the team of LAFPI Instigators she assembled: Director Kila Kitu and actors Julie Pasco, Nakasha Norwood and Justin Huen (an LAFPI virgin, but he’ll be back…).

Here’s to fantasies in all shapes and sizes, and the women+ artists (and allies) who make them come true!

The FPI Files: Towne Street Theatre Explores Life As We Know It… Now

By Desireé York

Feeling alone, either literally as a result of this quarantine, or in dealing with the unforeseen challenges of life during a pandemic?  Towne Street Theatre, LA’s premiere African-American Theatre Company, will meet you wherever you are with their presentation of Corona and Other Maladies.  Experience the virtual performances of six short plays on Saturday, August 15th at 7PM and Sunday, August 16th at 4PM coming to you LIVE from the sets/homes of over a dozen entertainers attempting to navigate this bizarre time just like you!  This event includes 4 plays by women+ writers, all directed by Nancy Cheryll Davis, Towne Street Theatre’s Artistic Director.  I had the privilege of connecting with Nancy to learn more about this event.

LAFPI: What inspired this event and what makes it unique from other Zoom readings?

Nancy Cheryll Davis

Nancy Cheryll Davis: We had just started our 10 minute Play Festival rehearsals when the pandemic hit, and it became clear that we were not going to be able to return to live theatre anytime soon. After doing our first Zoom event with our Spoken Word program, Sum Poetry, I realized how much people wanted to stay connected. I also realized how important it was for all of us, Company and Audience, to do so.  

In May I came up with the title, Corona & Other Maladies, and asked our writers if they had, or could come up with, some short plays about living through this moment.  We were originally going to do it in June, but after the deaths of Ahmad Aubrey, George Floyd and Breanna Taylor, I decided to postpone our programming and take a much needed pause to reflect on what was happening in our communities across the country.

We really worked on having some movement and semblance of the reality of each piece through the actors’ own home backgrounds.  We used a few virtual ones and rehearsed everything just like we would in real time. 

“Zoombies” by Madeline Puccioni, with Justin Gurbersky, Daphne Jones and Colette Rosario

LAFPI: What did you find the most fun and the most challenging not only directing all six plays, but in this specific format?

Nancy: Towne Street is fortunate to have incredibly talented writers and actors. Each script was so good! The beauty of having a company is that I know the members so well and what they really shine in. It was fun to cast each piece knowing they would all bring their special skills to their roles.  Our production team is also incredibly talented and has fearlessly delved into this unknown world with me. We have all commented on the fact that although we are not doing live theatre, we are still able to practice our craft be it writing, acting, designing or directing, with this platform. 

Directing these plays was like playing in a sandbox for me. The biggest challenge of course is the bandwidth each actor has or doesn’t have, on any given day, and the lack of control over that issue.

LAFPI: How do you feel that these plays “meet” audiences wherever they are and what would you like them to take away from the experience?

“Coming To You Live” by Laurie Allen, with Andrew Cudzilo and Samantha Clay

Nancy: The plays explore so many of the experiences that people are having now. They are beautifully written and acted and despite the title, rather lighthearted. 

I always think finding some joy and laughter in the midst of chaos is critical to the human spirit. I hope for the time they spend with us on either Saturday or Sunday, that they are able to relax for a little bit and just have a good time.  We are having an “After Party” following the performances, and I look forward to sharing some conversation and drinks with all!

For more information and to tune into the live Zoom event visit: tstcorona.eventbrite.com.  To learn more about the work of Town Street Theatre, visit www.townestreetla.org or follow on Facebook and Instagram.

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.

The FPI Files: CoA asks “What’s Going On?”

by Carolina Xique

Is it August already?

2020 feels like the year that’s never going to end. You would think that during a worldwide pandemic, American people could put aside their differences, find compassion, and do a better job of taking care of each other. But, in just two short months after states began enforcing quarantine, the country proved that old habits die hard. In late May, George Floyd, a Black security guard in Minneapolis, Minnesota, was killed by police, and his murder was broadcast throughout social media the following morning in an eight-minute video.

However, George Floyd is not the first Black man to be killed by cops. Hell, he’s not even the first one to be killed by cops​ this year. ​Back in February, Ahmaud Arbery was jogging in his neighborhood when he was shot and killed by three white men claiming, “a civilian arrest.” In April, Breonna Taylor, a Black EMT who was sleeping soundly with her partner in their apartment, was murdered in a flurry of bullets in an unannounced, mistaken drug raid. These three highly profiled murders of Black folks became the catalyst for the newly-revitalized, revolutionary Black Lives Matter movement that we are still experiencing today.

As the country trembles in fear with the reality of their own mortality amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, non-Black folks are now understanding concepts that Black folks everywhere have been screaming from the rooftops: that to be Black in America is to have grappled with your own mortality from that moment you realize your skin color is different. To be Black in America is to have to write social media posts that read, “If I’m ever arrested by cops, and I’m found dead in my jail cell, I would never kill myself. Don’t let them rule it as a suicide.” To be Black in America is not only to be one of the most vulnerable groups amidst a viral pandemic, but to also experience the social pandemic of police brutality.

These murders, paired with the continued protection of police officers against the consequences of police brutality, have coaxed people everywhere to protest, share historical injustices toward Black folks, post resources on social media, and facilitate difficult discussions with their own communities with a question that Black Americans have been asking for the last 400 years: ​When will enough be enough?

And now, since the government is still not listening, since the police have used violence against protesters and killed several more black citizens after George Floyd’s death, Los Angeles artists are taking the movement into their own hands.

This past weekend as well as tonight (August 1 & 8 at 8pm), Company of Angels premieres a virtual play festival titled ​What’s Going On?, inspired by the Marvin Gaye 1970s hit song. According to CoA’s website, “these 5-Minute Plays are set during the uprising in Los Angeles and the world that’s followed the murder of George Floyd by Police in Minneapolis, Minnesota… These plays address not just one aspect of what we’re going through, but rather speak to what happens when you add civil unrest to a pandemic, racism to a quarantine and a mask to social media?” The evenings include the work of 9 BIPOC women+ writers (playwrights & spoken word artists) and 10 female directors.

Playwrights of “What’s Going On?” at CoA

To learn more about these plays and how they speak to the moment, I contacted company member/producers Xavi Moreno & Julianna Stephanie Ojeda.

LAFPI: ​What about the pieces you’re directing/starring in are you most excited for folks to see? What images/questions do you hope they leave with?

Xavi Moreno: ​I’ll be in the final play of the final night, The Stimulus Check by Israel Lopez Reyes. I’m always excited to do plays that the audience can relate to, where they can see themselves saying the words that are coming out of my mouth. So with this play I feel people can put themselves in the shoes of both the characters and connect with it, to take them back to the moment they received the check and what they spent it on instead of what they should’ve.

Julianna Stephanie Ojeda: I directed ​Kiss​ by Diana Burbano and performed in ​Diciest Timeline​ by Howard Ho directed by Joyce Liu-Countryman. I’m most excited for people to see the importance of human connection. In ​Kiss,​ we get to see that with Shae (Taylor Hawthorne) and Loren (Analisa Gutierrez). With ​Diciest Timeline​, we see it through Sarah and Steve’s (Victor Chi) relationship. Both plays have so much heart and I hope people leave feeling that love and connection.

LAFPI: ​Why do you think it’s most important for folks to see this play festival right now, while we’re all dealing with information-overload and overwhelmed emotions?

Xavi: For more than 60 years we’ve had the privilege of sharing the wonder of storytelling together. We’ve persevered through the fire of 1988 that destroyed our theatre, the L.A. Riots, the 2008 recession, and gentrification forcing us to move from theatre to theatre. None of those events has stopped us like Covid-19 has. With What’s Going On?, with doing theatre online we get this opportunity to continue our commitment to support diverse L.A.-based artists and to tell stories from unique underrepresented voices. Plus we get to share it outside of the limits of our physical theatre space in the City of Angels. In our first performance last week, we had performers telling us how friends from college in the east coast watched it, family members who they haven’t seen them in years watching them perform for the first time. That was beautiful.

Julianna: Patricia Zamorano said it best in the live broadcast comments on Facebook, “Bam! It’s possible!” To me that means it IS possible to produce a show that is a true reflection of our city and what we are experiencing. We need that more than ever. That need was reflected in the comments and the feedback we received from the audience. They shared that they felt seen and that they recognized a bit of themselves in our first weekend. Hopefully, the second weekend will be the same!

Catch Xavi Moreno, Julianna Stephanie Ojeda and other talented Los Angeles artists in Company of Angel’s ​”What’s Going On? A Virtual Play Festival.” Streaming live Saturday, August 1 & August 8 at 8pm. For more information and to tune into the Livestreams, visit https://www.companyofangels.org/whatsgoingon​.

“What’s Going On? A Virtual Play Festival” Company

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.

The FPI Files: “Ageless” in a #BraveNewWorld @ Santa Monica Rep

by Carolina Xique

“We’re living in unprecedented times…”

How many times have you heard that in the last two months?

Living in the thick of Los Angeles County, one can’t deny the effects that COVID-19 has had on the LA community, especially within the arts. Before the pandemic, theaters were getting ready to launch their 2020-2021 seasons, clean their venues for incoming Hollywood Fringe productions, and hold long-awaited annual galas, festivals, and workshops. Now? Companies are relying on Zoom and other streaming platforms to continue providing artistic content to the community, including readings, webinars, and even full-blown theatrical productions – some prerecorded, some live!

Because these times are unprecedented, because we’ve never had to bring theater into a virtual space, we’re left with the questions: What is theater now? Is it changing? And what does our future look like now that this has happened?

We (virtually) sat down with Tanya White, artistic director of Santa Monica Repertory Theater, to talk about SMRT’s upcoming 2nd Annual Playreading Festival; the eerie relevance of the Festival’s predetermined theme, #BraveNewWorld; and the reading of AGELESS by Bridgette Dutta Portman, directed by SMRT co-founder and resident director Sarah Gurfield. The Festival, held on May 16th via StreamYard, includes a Special Kick-off Conversation on May 14th, a playwriting workshop, and pre- and post-show discussions concerning Portman’s intriguing piece.

LAFPI: Tell us a little bit about Santa Monica Rep’s mission and why it’s important to you.

Tanya White: Our mission is using theater to tell stories and also engage our community in the process, both in the creation of work and also in the discussion with the artists & production. Whatever it is that we are doing, we always have a post-show discussion.

Tanya White

We’ll be actually talking about why that mission is important at our Kick-Off Conversation next Thursday, preceding our Festival . The panel is going to discuss what theater is and why it matters. I believe that theater is kind of an essential piece of a society that allows people to step out of their own experience and look at something from somebody else’s point of view.

Of course, you have the playwright’s point of view and the director’s perspective of the piece. But what you’re also seeing is walking, talking people who are experiencing things that you can mostly identify with, even if you are different than the character. We all experience the same kinds of feelings. But it’s communal in the fact that we’re all witnessing the same thing. It’s how it’s expressed, I think, that makes us unique.

LAFPI: This is Santa Monica Rep’s 2nd Annual Playreading Festival, spotlighting women artists. What has it been like transitioning from providing the event in-person to providing it online?

Tanya: Before this, we really didn’t focus on recording a live theater event. If we did, usually it’s for archival purposes, not actually to rebroadcast or stream.  People are at different levels of comfortability with technology. So that that’s been challenging.

And one of the things we were challenged with before this pandemic was getting the word out about us. We’re a really small group of people, so our capacity is limited. Our audience has largely been people who have followed us for the 10 years we’ve been in existence, which has been great. But the exciting thing is that now we have more reach. The idea that somebody can be anywhere in the world and see this is really exciting. We can say, “You don’t have to be in Santa Monica to come see us!” So having suddenly having a virtual space is great for us.

LAFPI: The theme of #BraveNewWorld was decided well-before the global pandemic. What kind of new questions do you think have arisen that are going to be a larger part of these conversations because of what’s going on right now?

Tanya:  Right now, we’re having a shared experience. We’re in the same space and time together. I mean, this is not a recording. To engage at this level, we have to be present. And so maybe the question is, “what is space” versus “what is theater?” But that’s what we’re jumping off from. So what is theater? And does this count as theater?

A question that comes up for sure is “how can we help each other?” Not just on an individual level, but also how we talk about theaters. How do we support each other? How do wesupport arts and each other? I feel there’s gonna be a lot more collaboration, a lot more people working together, because there used to be the feeling that everybody’s competing for the same audience, and the idea that that’s a finite thing. Like, if somebody comes to see a play in Santa Monica Rep, they’re not going to go see something at LA Women’s Shakespeare. So I think it is the question of how open and loving people are to helping each other? How can we cross promote? How do we how do we help each other get what we need to keep doing this work?

Maybe people will start also looking again at who our audience is. Because people do target, right? We look at who we’re reaching out to. Or if we’re selling tickets, we get in front of people who can afford to buy them. But the other day a friend of mine was saying how they’ve been to every museum in the world because they can now, virtually. I mean, access becomes a whole a whole new thing.  So now somebody who doesn’t [ordinarily] go see a play has access to theater in this way. We have a Festival ticket where you can participate in a playwriting workshop and a panel with two playwrights, or you can just register for the reading, which is free. You know, we say a suggested donation, but it’s not a ticket price.

LAFPI: What in the programming for the Festival are you most excited for audiences to take part in?

Tanya: The reading of AGELESS. I think we’re using the technology really well (God willing, it works!). I’m really excited about the about how the play translates into a virtual experience, and how we’re using the technology to tell the story. So I’m excited for everybody to log in and be part of that.

And it’s a good play. The subject matter is great and interesting, but it’s a good story. Well-told.

LAFPI: That rolls in right into my next question – Why this play right now?

Tanya: Well, we put the call out to women playwrights to send us stories of dystopia or utopia. We got several plays that we were going to do and, originally, we were set for June. Then we had to pare down and look at taking it online. We decided to do it sooner, not knowing when the stay-at-home order would be lifted, and we picked AGELESS because it had more roles for company members. We always serve our company members first.

And the theme of aging seems to be not just relevant, but especially of interest to women, as well. We’re highlighting plays written and directed by women. And again, it’s a good play. And really that’s always what it comes down to. Also, will it get some discussion going? We like to pick things that we know people want to talk about.

LAFPI: Who should attend this Festival and why?

Tanya: Anybody who’s really interested in examining what our future could look like. Such a great time to do that, when we’re all in a place where we’re reflecting. We have to. We’re alone. And we’re all aging. So I think anybody could come in and find themselves in this play because it follows characters as they age and characters as they don’t physically age, which I think is kind of an LA thing, too. The whole idea of not aging is a big deal.

So, yeah, I really think anybody anybody could enjoy the play. Maybe not young children, but I would say anyone from maybe fifteen or sixteen. But particularly, young women should come,  because the play examines so many women. So who should see it? Everybody. Right? Except toddlers. No toddlers! Don’t bring your toddlers to your Zoom.

Santa Monica Repertory Theater’s 2nd Annual Playreading Festival will start with a Special Kick-Off Conversation on May 14th, and officially begin May 16th at 11am. The Festival features a virtual staged reading of AGELESS by Bridgette Dutta Portman, directed by Sarah Gurfield.  With a $25 Festival Pass, audiences can participate in the Kick-Off and all events. The reading alone is free with a suggested donation. For more information, visit santamonicarep.org/bravenewworld.html

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.

The FPI Files: “Poor Clare” Finds a Home at Echo Theater

by Carolina Xique

You’re driving to Los Angeles on the 101 North Freeway. For most tourists and incoming residents, this drive is the dream: seeing the famous buildings of the LA skyline, zipping under the 10 Freeway overpass, and seeing the light opening up to the concrete jungle of Downtown. With its often-sunny afternoons and the undeniable scent of affluence (or is it the smog?), a Carrie Bradshaw of 2020 could happily look forward to a very West Coast version of Sex and the City.

 Except, when you exit in Arcadia, or drive down Glendale Boulevard, or pass through Echo Park, the same disturbing scene of tent cities overwhelms sidewalks and underpasses. In the safe confines of your car, you can’t help but notice how the homelessness crisis has become synonymous with the city itself. And it feels like there’s nothing any policeman or city official is doing to stop it. So you ask yourself, What can I do?

This is the same question Clare of Assisi asks herself in Echo Theater Company’s production of Poor Clare. We see her journey from being a well-known socialite, to asking a man named Francis about how she can change her ways to be of service to the poor. LAFPI sat down with director Alana Dietze (Dry Land and The Wolves at the Echo), and playwright Chiara Atik (Bump, Women and HBO’s “Girls”) to talk about the inspiration for Poor Clare and how it relates to living in Los Angeles in 2020.

LAFPI: What did you think when you read Poor Clare and what inspired you to direct it, Alana?

Alana Dietze

Alana Dietze: I thought it was extraordinarily funny; that was my very first impression of it. It made me cry laughing. I was also profoundly moved by the ending, which I don’t want to say too much about. Echo always has a post-reading conversation about material, so as we were talking amongst ourselves, I found myself getting very passionate about it. So that was my first clue that maybe I wanted to direct it.

It’s an allegory for homelessness and wealth inequality in modern day using the framework of the lives of Clare of Assisi and Francis of Assisi and I thought it was such a smart way of looking at this huge problem that we have all over the world – but especially in Los Angeles – that keeps growing and feels so out of control. I thought this play profoundly captured a lot of the feelings that I’ve had about it: the anxieties, fears, shame, feeling like I want to help more, but not being able to help. I thought that was a really valuable thing to put onstage.

LAFPI: Why Los Angeles? Why now? Being that it’s set in Italy in medieval times, the story couldn’t be further away from LA in 2020.

Chiara Atik: That’s funny. I was about to say that when I wrote the first draft and started sending it out, I included two pictures to set tone, and one is of, um…

Chiara Atik

Alana: Skid Row.

Chiara: Yeah. One is of Skid Row in Los Angeles, and the other is a Renaissance portrait. I live in New York and was living there at the time [of writing the piece], but I had been spending a lot of time out here and homelessness made a very big impression on me. More so than it does in New York because homelessness in New York is ingrained in the fabric of the city; it doesn’t feel like something new, it feels like something that’s always been there. You just go about your commute and you have to put on blinders, to a certain extent, to not have your heart break at every single moment of every day.

But I’ve come to LA periodically for years and I sort of started to notice it in a way that I hadn’t. I started reading up about this problem that seems to be growing bigger and bigger. It made an impression on me: to be on the freeway and to see every overpass and underpass be covered with tents. It’s that juxtaposition of being hermetically sealed in your car while driving past all of these tent cities. So I think, in that sense, LA’s current situation of how people are grappling with it gave me an inspiration in the play. Also, you get the sense that it’s a growing problem that the characters of the play are dealing with.

LAFPI: And that’s very LA.

Alana: Yes!

Chiara: Another thing that I think is interesting in terms of New York versus LA: in New York, because you’re always walking around or on the subway, the different populations and economic levels actually have to deal with each other and interact. You’re sitting on the subway and people come up to you and you have to make the decision,  “Okay, am I going to give a dollar or pretend not to see this person”; you can’t quite escape it. But in LA, because of the car culture, there’s an extra distance. It’s something that you see and clock, but don’t have to contend with person-to-person.

Alana: Also,  there’s the way that the city seems to be dealing with the problem. I mean, “dealing with the problem,” in quotes, because it doesn’t really seem like they are. I’m not a political expert, I don’t know everything about this issue, but I lived in Echo Park for a really long time, and that was an area specifically where, as the homelessness crisis grew, huge new tent cities would pop up. I would turn a corner and there would be a whole slew of tents that weren’t there the week before. And then a week later, they’d all be gone. It felt to me like the cops were coming through and just moving people along which does nothing to ultimately solve the problem or help anyone. I guess they think they’re helping the residents? But even then, people are just going to come back. There’s nowhere for anyone to go.

LAFPI: Moving people along as a solution –  it’s that class difference, right? They’re placing importance on people who are paying to stay there, instead of those who don’t live anywhere, and telling them to take their problems somewhere else.

Alana:  And the problem is, where would they go?

LAFPI:  Following up on that, Chiara, how did you come up with the concept for Poor Clare?

Chiara: I always knew the story of St. Clare. I found myself in recent years having so many conversations with people where we’d sort of bemoan the state of the world: “Isn’t horrible about the refugee crisis, isn’t it horrible about homelessness,” and this or that. But then I would go home, turn on the TV, and forget about these things. And the ability to worry and empathize but then go home and turn that off and forget about it is such a privilege. I was thinking about the fact that I feel bad about this stuff, but I’m not, like, quitting my job and quitting my life to go out and help.

The story of St. Clare, the real girl, who really did completely change her entire life, is such a radical story. It’s certainly not something that I’m capable of – that most people aren’t capable of – but I was interested in exploring the idea of somebody who really goes so far. And I’m not suggesting that as a solution or saying it’s what we should all be doing. I think that’s why Clare is a saint and most people aren’t. But it’s that journey of someone becoming so radicalized to do something, to take action in whatever way they can… I really underestimated how many people didn’t know of her.

Alana: I didn’t know who she was when I read the play. I knew that there was a St. Francis, but I didn’t really know anything about him.

Michael Sturgis as Francis, Troy Leigh-Anne Johnson as Clare  – Photo by Darrett Sanders

LAFPI: So with this play, what do you hope that audiences learn about St. Clare of Assisi?

Chiara: That she existed. I think her story is cool and relatable. And what we know about her historically is interesting. She was 18, super rich, had a great life, and gave all of that up to take vows of poverty to try to do good in the world. I think that’s a crazy impressive story. That’s like a Kardashian doing that or something. And this is 800 years ago. A girl, definitely braver than I am right now, did that. I hope people will be interested in her story, her conviction, her action at such a young age. She was just a teenager. It’s like if Khloe was, like, “Alright, I’m giving all of this up!”

LAFPI: I still feel like if Khloe did that, for the most part, people wouldn’t initially believe her. Compared to men, I think someone like a Kardashian might be treated differently.

Chiara: I think it’s hard for women, especially young women, to be taken seriously when they decide to do something intensely. If you watch the play, Francis raises his eyebrows, but there’s less at stake for him to go find a religious order. But for her – for a girl to do what he’s doing – the stakes are a lot higher.

LAFPI: Are there any other ways differences in sex and gender function specifically in the play? I noticed in the cast that there are 2 men and the rest are women.

Alana: That was something else that I really love about the play. I wouldn’t say that it’s primarily about gender, but like Chiara said, there are different stakes for Clare than Francis as she goes on this journey, and there are really interesting moments where Francis lets her know that things will be different for her. And those moments help drive her conviction to commit to her beliefs. She has to be more convicted than he is, because it’s harder for her to do what she does.

LAFPI: How much of the play is fact? How much is fiction?

Alana: This comes back to the earlier question of why Los Angeles. The language is all modern day, and it feels like the language of Angelenos. That’s part of what attracted me to it, because I thought, “Oh, these people talk like me.” So in that respect, it’s totally fictional. I don’t know how much really is fact?

Chiara: Definitely little bits from St. Francis’s life trajectory. We knew that Clare and St. Francis knew each other and she really was inspired by him to do this thing. But we, of course, have no idea what their conversations were like or the nature of their relationship, so all of that is fiction.

LAFPI: What questions would you like audiences to be asking by the end of this play? Are there questions women should be asking?

Troy Leigh-Anne Johnson as Clare, Donna Zadeh as Beatrice – Photo by Darrett Sanders

Alana: It feels to me like it’s about highlighting and focusing in on this push-and-pull, this question about what do we do to help? Can we help? Is there such a thing as help? What do you do when you become aware of your own privilege? I feel this juxtaposition of a desire to be moral, to be good, to help other people, to do something worthwhile and meaningful… in contrast with the fact that what Clare does may or may not help anyone. But it’s the thing she must do. To me that’s what’s most interesting and relatable about the play. I hope that the play will help people think about that question for themselves and maybe make a choice.

Chiara: In terms of women specifically, Clare, throughout the play, drastically alters her appearance and goes from caring very much about how she looks to forsaking that along with her wealth and status. That’s something I admire in her character. I almost can’t imagine caring about something so much that I would be, like, “Fuck what I look like.”

LAFPI: And now we live in this world where everything is appearance-based, whether online or in-person. Doing what Clare did is like someone completely going off the radar. Which you don’t see a lot of anymore.

Chiara: Yeah, and I’m not saying that it’s necessary to do in the modern world. But on the other hand, you see her judged for what she looks like throughout the play. It’s interesting to see what it means to her to, like you said, go off the radar: “I’m not giving you this anymore. I’m not presenting like this anymore.”

LAFPI: Which leaves us with the question of whether anyone has a solution for the seemingly-uncontrollable homelessness crisis right now.

Chiara: The play definitely doesn’t.

LAFPI: But it’s good to have the wheels turning!

Previews for “Poor Clare” at Echo Theater Company begin March 11th; the play opens March 14th and runs through April 20th. Ticket and information at echotheatercompany.com.

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.

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.

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

by Carolina Xique

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LAFPI: Has she changed your view of the piece? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Know a female or FPI-friendly theater, company or artist? Contact us at lafpi.updates@gmail.com & check out The FPI Files for more stories.

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.

FILLING THE GAP

by Desireé York

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

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

THE PUPPETEER opens January 9 , 2020 at Detroit Repertory Theatre

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

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

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

Scene from THE PUPPETEER at Futurefest 2017 with Carolyn Seymour

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

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

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

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