All posts by Ravenchild








by Cynthia Wands

Recently I’ve been looking through family photographs, and I’m astounded what powerful reminders they are. They seem to tell just a momentary fraction of all the worlds that collide in a photograph. There’s an element of disbelief in them (“Did she look like that?” “Wait – wasn’t that in Idaho?” “Who is that person?”).

Very much like the scripts we write and watch and remember, there’s an invisible world that also inhabits those images.

I’m writing something now that could be called “magical realism”.  Or, as I also call it, “real magicalism”.  I’m drawn to those memories in theatre where magic happened, whether it was a beautiful light cue, or an unexpected vision. Or an actor who found a moment of surprising vulnerability.

So now, in my writing, I’m looking to find the magical elements – in life – and onstage.

In my life at home I can find a brief moment of the supremely unexpected, the whimsical, the forcefully alien ideas. There’s also horror, and dark surprises, and a refrigerator that makes sounds at night that makes you think an axe murderer is at the door. (The refrigerator only does this at night.) (That must be it’s magic.)

At the moment I’m watching our tribe of hummingbirds duel over the seven feeders that they visit dozens of times during the day. They glitter like jewels in the full sun, then vanish with a zip toward the next feeder. They squeak and chirp and sound like a squeaky bicycle. But their magic, (flying backwards!), their fierce swashbuckler posturing (“This is mine! All mine!”) and their greedy gusto, is so unexpected and comic. We have names for the some of them: Me Too, Achilles, Tuffie Five, Tuffie Six, Merlin, Big Boy.

So there’s a bit of magic that I’m watching tonight.  I haven’t figured out how I could cast a hummingbird in my play.  But maybe there’s some kind of magic in thinking about it.




A list of what works for you

Photography by Robert Petkoff, March 2018











Recently, a good friend challenged me to come up with a list of those things that made me happy.

I was vexed.

I was annoyed.

And I thought this was a stupid waste of time idea. One of those “The Artist’s  Way” self help kind of indulgent crap ideas. (You can probably tell I’m going through some stressful times here. Hence the negativity.)

But I also know that when I’ve written for my characters in plays, I’ve made lists of what they loved, liked, hated, wanted, and actually, what made them happy.

Part of that research fantasy.

So here is this damn list:

Build a fire in the fireplace

Make home made ice cream

Plant two trees

Visit Huntington Gardens and have Tea in the Tea Room

Make glass art

Read the book “Fools and Mortals” by Bernard Cornwall

Host a Pinot tasting party

Go to The Edison in downtown LA

Listen to more music

Wear perfume

Go to the beach and watch the sunset

Feed the hummingbirds

More writing

Go back to the Sequoia forest

Go see an opera

Put together an irrigation system

Have lunch with Friends

See snow

Burn incense

This list was written on February 22nd.

Since  February 22nd:

A good friend paid for a cord of firewood to be delivered to our house.

I’m slowly reading the book “Fools and Mortals” by Bernard Cornwall – I don’t want it to end.

I started wearing perfume again. Including a new rose perfume from Istanbul, thanks to a friend.

I bought another hummingbird feeder, and now there are six feeders. Many hummingbirds.

We went to see the opera – “Orpeus & Eurydice” at the Dorothy Chandler. It was strange, wonderful, good, bad, compelling and produced with dream like theatricality.

We’re now putting together an irrigation system for the house, hundreds and hundreds of dollars later, after the toilet blew up and the water regulator bit the dust. I didn’t think that would make me happy and it didn’t.

And we burned some incense.

I didn’t think that “things” could make me happy right now.

But on the other side of this damn list, I gave myself the assignment of finding something that I look at, every day, that makes me happy.

Cat paws, chocolate cake, hummingbirds, morning dew on grass, homemade soup, a full moon.

I’m seeing it more as “character development”, than an “artist’s date”.  And that seems to be real progress for me.





Shifting Perspective


Witnessing the Light, artwork by Cynthia Wands, 2018


Just recently, (and I mean just in the last few weeks), I began to feel hopeful about the changes in store for this year.

I started listening to the NPR news on the radio on my drive home from work, after swearing off from it last year.

After a year long quarantine (Eric has been going through a tough chemotherapy schedule), we started going out in the world again. We’ve seen two movies, and went for a long hike. It felt like waking up in daylight after being in the dark last year.


I’m seeing women reach for political office, and stand up with persistence and courage to change our leadership.

And reading the messages about the #MeToo movement, and the illumination of how women have been treated, gives me hope that the world will be seen through different eyes. (“Sunlight is the best disinfectant.”  I don’t know who said that it – but I love that idea.) I can see that audiences and directors and theaters will be changing in the way women are portrayed, and directed and who the leaders are.

So I have to be hopeful. I know that history and health issues can change in a moment, but I’m reaching out in my world to belong to more of the present moment.

(It took me several hours to come up with that last sentence, I kept changing it, so I can see there will be some balancing to be done with that assignment…)

I’m making a plan to see more plays, more readings, more artwork, more friends this year.

I hope this next year finds new adventures for all of you, and I look forward to seeing your work, and watching this year unfold.







Cynthia Wands


2018: Full Moon













I watched the full moon rise on New Year’s Day here in Los Angeles.

It seemed a comforting presence after a year of loss and gain, and I could feel how much I’ve changed just by seeing it again.

2017 was a year of firsts for me: First production of a play I wrote, first hip replacement, first draft of a play based on some rumored family history.

And that first production of my play changed me.

After many years of writing and workshops and reading, I finally had the opportunity for a script of mine to be produced, and it was a surreal experience. I had an incredible director, who was able to see more things in my script than I did. And I was able to travel to the theater to see the auditions, and the table read, and some rehearsals, and the final dress and the opening night. The progression was so…wondrous. I saw the young woman in the play blossom on stage into a character with humor and gumption and vulnerability. She brought things to the role that really delighted me. I was reminded about the gift and generosity of actors.

I also saw the leading young man in the play bring his character to an unexpected performance: he was hilarious. I didn’t know how hilarious the character was until he showed me. A lot of this I bring to the actor’s vulnerability and charm (he doesn’t even know how charming he is – which is why is so charming). But it was also the director’s instincts to pull out this performance – she knew how to bring the subtly and outrageous behaviors together. Her vision of the characters brought them to life – and I know how lucky I am to have had her direct this script.

I didn’t expect to feel such a sense of loss after the play closed, these characters had been running around in my head for years, and then they showed up, celebrated the humor and romance of my imagination, and then they left.

I also had to cope with the focus and limelight of being the playwright, and I found that I need to shoulder that a bit better. I was overwhelmed by the positive experience, it was hard to take it all in. On closing night, the director brought me onstage, and I was able to stand onstage with the cast and the director and bask in the limelight. (Even now as I write this it doesn’t seem real, but there were photographs, so I know I didn’t make that up.)

So a dream came true last year – my work was seen and I heard an audience laugh and groan and applaud the characters.

That was a wonderful part of last year.  I’m so grateful to be able to have had that experience, and it means writing the next script.

More on that later.







I’m the woman in black, with the cane and roses and the lost look on her face.

Cynthia Wands

A Successful Playwright is…







Artwork by Christian Schloe


by Cynthia Wands

A few months ago I read a wonderful account of Sarah Ruhl accepting the Steinberg Distinguished Playwright Award.

This was just a few weeks after the election results and I was fighting through hopelessness and fury. Not great companions – hopelessness and fury. They tend to fuel one another into that other sense:  helplessness.

But her words have stayed with me the last few weeks:

“We write to extend the light of our minds into dark hollows. We write to create and model empathy in a ragged land. We write because our minds can always be free in the face of tyranny. ”

Through this turbulent period of time in our culture, I’m challenged to find that what I’m writing is of value. My humor, my sensibility, my quirks, all seem out of sync with what is happening in our country today, this afternoon, this evening.

But, like most artists I know, I’ve always felt estranged from the mainstream culture – and so I’ll continue on this next writing project – not knowing if it really reflects this period of time we’re going through.

I did want to share one other piece of Sarah’s speech, that reflects the financial reality of today’s successful playwright:

“On the morning of the day when I heard about this award, I realized I was about to bounce a check I’d just made out to my babysitter. Walking to the bank to get her a money order, I thought, oh dear. That afternoon, on the phone, I learned of this award and wept with joy and surprise.”

Sarah Ruhl Speech


First Production: The Lost Years






from Cynthia Wands

In two weeks, I’ll be in another place. I’ll be sitting at a table, listening to the read through for the first production of my play, THE LOST YEARS.

The Contra Costa Civic Theatre is producing a premier of this work – after I’ve stamped through different venues with three staged readings, two workshops and a couple of years of rewrites, it’s really happening.

In one of those mirror like twists of fate, the director is a friend of mine from many years ago. Last year year she directed a staged reading of the play for her theater’s new works project. I saw how respectful she was of the actors during the process, and how she was able to guide nuance and intelligence into lines that didn’t quite look that way when I wrote them.

After the read through, I had to go home and get back on the path of submitting the script to theaters, and workshops, and festivals. I did feel a bit like Mama Rose yelling: Sell it! Dammit, just sell it!

But in the best dramatic fashion, late one night last year I received a phone call. And it was my director, who let me know that a scheduled play for their 2017 season had become unavailable, and could they produce my play instead.

I think I yelled YES. I might have cried, I don’t know how professional that is.  But I was tingling like I had been dusted with lightning. One of the best phone calls I have ever had.

And so, here we are months later, about to embark on this journey with the script.

The play is cast, the other theater artists have been assembled, and now we have the time to read it, and rehearse and learn from one another.  I’ll get to watch a few of the rehearsals.

I’m so grateful to have this experience. I have no idea how it will sound/play/resolve itself. It is after all, a comedy. You know what they say about comedy. (Dying is easy, comedy is hard.)

I’m feeling such a need for important plays in the world right now; about our leadership and our climate and the future of women, that to have a comedy try and tinkle out the laughs, seems a bit off for the times.

But personally, I’m also feeling the effects of compassion fatigue/outrage and I could use a dose of knowing laughter.

So I’m getting a wish to come true. I’d love to hear any advice from other women playwrights about their first production: was there anything you wish had or had not done for your first show?

Critical Mass: the weight of change








I was there, in that picture, just a few weeks ago. The Women’s March. That Saturday, I traveled to Los Angeles, where I used to work, and where I would see plays and opera and dance performances. But that was a long time ago. I didn’t know it until I got there, but I was afraid of downtown Los Angeles. I’d been away too long and I didn’t know it anymore.

But I took my cue from the people around me: I followed them out of the train, and then on to the metro and then out into Pershing Square.  There were outrageous signs, and pink pussy hats, and lots of sunglasses. And people smiling big white teethed smiles.

There were…so many people. So many women. So many races. So many helicopters and pot smoking hipsters and families who brought their small dogs on a leash.

I was, I’ll admit it, worried.

What if there’s an earthquake right now?

I tried to focus on the beauty of the crowd, the amazing women dancing and marching, the men linking arms together and chanting slogans that made you laugh.

Now would be a bad time to have an earthquake.

I could look around and see a lot of children: children in strollers, and carried in backpacks. Children with flags and signs and hats.

It seemed like there were hundreds of people, thousands of people, hundreds of thousands of people. I have never seen so many people together in one place before. The weight of all these people around me, made me feel a little panicked. My chest felt tight, and I could hear my heart beating in my ears. I was supposed to meet friends at eleven o’clock. I think I was ready to leave now, before something bad happened.

But I looked at the parents of all these children – and they didn’t seem worried about an earthquake. They were marching and struggling with water bottles and sunscreen and missing flip flops. The parents seemed to know how to handle this crowded feeling.

Now would be a bad time for a riot.

I stopped and realized, no one would bring their dog to a riot. There were lots of “Excuse me, coming through”, as folks tried wiggling around the marchers. “Sorry, I need to step in front of you here, thank you…” “Love your sign, can I take a picture of it?” “Great!”  “Will you take a picture of me with your sign?” “Look at that sign!”

Now would be a good time for you to kick those fears out of your head.

So I kept breathing, with those 750,000 people there, breathing, and I braved the March for a while longer. And listened.

After a couple of hours I found my friends and we sheltered in the shade, and watched. After a while, the noise started to sound like an enormous beehive, with the music, the sirens and laughter and the drums and shouting.

I was so grateful when we went inside the City Hall building, our friends flashing their City Hall Employee badges to the police ringing the doors.  We climbed the back stairs of the building, past the watchful eyes of more policemen. And with some of the other city staff, we were briefly allowed access in the tower, to look out across the city of Los Angeles. We watched the masses of people, and heard them roar in response to what the speakers were saying, and what they were feeling, and what needed to be heard. I will never forget that noise. Or the weight of all those people, coming together to show up, march, and be counted. I know this moment with 750,000 people will be a part of our culture going forward, part of our theater, our stories, our history. I think there will be more of these, and I intend to be there.

And before I left, I took this photograph from the tower.







From another point of view…

by Cynthia Wands








I’ve read two books recently that remind me of the days of understudies/rotating casts in a show. Those performances when suddenly someone else is saying those things that belonged to someone else.

The first book is Longbourn; a novel by Jo Baker based on the servants in the book , Pride and Prejudice. It’s very much like a look at the back stage of a fancy costume play: yes there are sparkles from the chandeliers, but it’s a life of hard labor and grubby interiors. I really appreciated this back story of the servants, who appeared only as extras in the Jane Austen story. Although not written in Austen’s style, it’s a great read of “backstage” life.

The second book, THE YEAR OF LEAR by James Shapiro, is a treasure. I’ve spent many hours trying to understand the writer William Shakespeare, (this is how I know a multitude of useless bits about the Elizabethan court, and Queen Elizabeth’s favorite Shakespeare play (The Merry Wives of Windsor;), and court gossip about witchcraft and illegitimate children hiding in royal family trees). The Year of Lear reveals the time during King James when Shakespeare was writing King Lear, Macbeth and Antony and Cleopatra.

Shakespeare was writing under the rule of a king who was obsessed with witchcraft; King James had even published his own book on witches, Daemonologie, (a wide-ranging discussion of witchcraft, necromancy, possession, demons, were-wolves, fairies and ghosts, in the form of a Socratic dialogue). (Now there’s a play!) I vaguely knew of some of the historical events, (the Gunpowder Plot, the ongoing issues with Catholics and Parliament); but I didn’t really know of Shakespeare’s world when he was writing some of his best work.

The book is very densely written; I had to come up for air many times while reading it. But I came away with a different view of someone’s life that I thought I knew.  And that is quite a gift.  And it reminds me of the power of theater, when we can illuminate all the characters on stage, not just the leading players.

The New York Times review of THE YEAR OF LEAR by James Shapiro



A Staged Reading

by Cynthia Wands

Wands_16_Shakespeares Understanding of Madness I







In December of this past year, I was given the chance to hear my script, THE LOST YEARS, in a staged reading at the Contra Costa Civic Theatre up in the Bay Area.  The finished script had never been heard, although there had been three readings of the piece in development. And let’s just say that it had been a long time since I had heard the voices of these characters, and I was excited and anxious to be able to hear them again.  Marilyn Langbehn, who directed the reading, is the Artistic Director at the Contra Costa Civic Theatre, and also works with the California Shakespeare Theater. I’ve known Marilyn for many years – and was very happy to have her helm the reading.

I was anxious because I was going to hear the script read out loud by actors I didn’t know (up until this point I’d been involved in the casting/rehearsal/sounds of every actor who had read the script); I was nervous because friends/actresses/kindred spirits were driving over to listen to the reading; I was also fraught that although my loving brother and his wife were coming, my partner, Eric couldn’t be there, (and he has had to live through the development of this script for some time now) and I was blue about that.  I was also back in the land of Berkeley, where I no longer live, although I had fallen in love there and performed there, it isn’t my home base any longer, and that was rather disorienting.  And I wasn’t sure what I would get out of a one night reading:  what if I hated it, or discovered that I needed to rewrite it entirely from another point of view, or – what if.  And then fortune and fate interceded, and my twin sister flew in from New York to come to the reading.  She found us a wonderful place to stay, took me out to dinner with dear friends, and jollied me along.  And, when I came down with a migraine the day before the reading, she tended to me so I could rally and manage it.  So I will say that I was given incredible support to experience the reading, and it went by in an instant.

One moment I was sitting by my friend Ellen at the theatre listening to the script being read out loud by six actors, and then we were out having a beer with some of the friends and family afterwards, and it was done.  That astonished me: that disconnect with time and place had sometimes happened to me in and after performances on stage – I didn’t know it could happen to playwrights.

It was magical to hear the laughter, and the knowing nods from the audience during the reading, and I struggled with some of the – missing bits – that some of the exchanges in the script needed.  But the play itself held up well, and I was so happy to hear those voices again. I was really heartened by some of the characters revelations that I hadn’t seen before, and was able to witness in a reading by the generosity of those that put the reading together.

So, yes.  It was absolutely worth the nerves, and the apprehension and the helplessness I felt in watching those words come to life.  In the mean time, I’ve been able to fine tune the parts of the last scene, and make some minor edits along the way.  It was a wonderful night that gave me a lot of impetus to go another step.

Wands_16_Shakespeares Understanding of Madness III








What happens when an audience member shouts “Kill the playwright” during a show….

By Cynthia Wands

This story brought back memories of doing live theatre.

Kathleen Warnock’s article from Howlround: Shouting “Kill the Playwright” in a Crowded Theatre

A relative from Baltimore_edited-1












I’ve had to improvise when drunk people walked onstage in an outdoor Shakespeare performance I was in, and I watched a fellow actor collapse onstage (I thought he really died in front of us but he survived), and I witnessed a choreographed duel get out of hand and two actors get slashed up (they got stitches), and then there was a special effects coffin that nearly killed the actor who was playing the unfortunate role of Dracula that night. And I’ve sensed annoyance and disappointment in some of the (hostile? feeble?) applause at the end of some of the shows I’ve seen/performed in. I’ve also heard audiences scream obscenities to opera singers at their curtain calls. (really – opera!  boos and yells and slurs like you wouldn’t believe!)

But I realized, I also remember a time when I performed in theatre (and this will date me) before cell phones. Before iPads. Before Apple watches. This was back in a time when the idea that audiences might bring an electronic device to a performance was, well, far-fetched and bizarre, and not real. I remember this as a time that will never happen again: Pandora’s box has been opened and we will never again not know what roaming charges are.

I haven’t read this script,(“The Flick”) nor seen the play, but I did hear from friends who saw the production (which won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and won the 2013 Obie Award for Playwriting and was awarded the 2013 Susan Smith Blackburn Prize ). The only comment I remember about this play is that the running time was over three hours long. (I remember thinking “Three hours? That’s like a Shakespeare? Or a Chekhov? It’s really over three hours long?”)

But I do still wonder about an audience member shouting from the back of the house, (just before intermission):  “Kill the playwright!”

“Kill the playwright” ?

It sounds so theatrical, and far-fetched, and bizarre, of course, it had to happen in real life.