All posts by Zury Margarita Ruiz

SPARK: Writing Exercises for your Fuzzy Brain

by Zury Margarita Ruiz

Spark!

Earlier in the week, I worked on a rewrite of a 5-minute play (my contribution for the upcoming Los Angeles Short Play Festival, What’s Going On?, produced by Company of Angels. For more info on this festival, please visit: https://www.companyofangels.org/whatsgoingon) that shouldn’t have taken too long to work on but, in fact, took me almost the whole day. It’s not like re-writes come easy to me (an overthinker) but more so than that, my brain has been a little fuzzy as of late. It’s not hard to believe that with all that’s going on, and is continuing to develop, we (because I’ve heard this from other folks too) might not be as focused on the writing/work before us.

Fortunately, I am working with a really wonderful director, Sylvia Cervantes Blush, who quickly picked up what I was going through and gave me a writing exercise that really helped SPARK (hey, hey, there goes the title of this post!) something for me. This all started making me think of some of my favorite writing exercises that have, in this instance, helped me with the development of a current project, or some of which have just been super memorable because they allowed me to reflect and/or think outside the box. I’d like to share some of those here in hopes that it might help clear your fuzzy brain.

SYLVIA’S EXERCISE

To help me clarify what the message of my play was (because trust me, I lost it for a bit), Sylvia offered an exercise to me that consists of three parts. Part 1 asks you to take 20 minutes to go through your play from beginning to end, including stage directions and highlight the words/phrases that HAVE TO BE IN THE PLAY.

It should be noted that 20 minutes was more than appropriate to actually go through an entire 5-minute play. If you’re working on a full-length, well, than of course, give yourself an appropriate amount of time to go through the play but not so much that you have the time to dwell over every word/phrase you possibly can (assuming you’re an overthinker like me).

Once that time is up, comes Part 2! Here, you will take half the time you took in the first step—so for me that was ten minutes—and re-write the play with just those words. Don’t fret, Dear Reader, you’re not starting from scratch! Essentially, you’re blocking out everything you DID NOT highlight and then observing the play in its new little Frankenstein form.

I have to say, this was personally my favorite part. Reading the words/phrases I highlighted from my 5-minute play, blocked off from all the other clutter, sort of felt like diving into some poetry. 

Now, Part 3 made me a bit anxious. Part 3 asks that without looking at your original and Frankenstein drafts, you re-write the entire play! My hands just got sweaty typing that…

I did this third part in 30 minutes. Again, for folks writing full-length plays, you’re going to want to adjust that time appropriately.

The draft that was developed during this phase was most definitely not the final draft of my play BUT it was super helpful in going back to work on it, as influenced by these new interpretations of it.

LOVELL’S EXERCISE  

While part of the Son of Semele writers group, fellow member, Lovell Holder, gave us an exercise that made me start writing a play I often think about. For this exercise, we were asked to write a two-person narrative (play, prose, or poem—whatever you choose). Through out our writing, the proctor (in this case, Lovell) called out random words that we were to use in our piece. Of course, if you were already on some train of thought with your writing, then the random words were bound to  throw you off, but on the other hand, it could also drive your story somewhere pleasantly surprising, which was the case for me. Definitely a good lesson in rolling with the punches.

LTA/LA WRITERS CIRCLE EXERCISE

As a former member of the Latino Theatre Alliance/LA’s writers group, we would have notable LA playwrights visit our sessions and give us master class/workshop of their choice. This next exercise is from that time BUT, I honestly CANNOT remember WHO gave us this exercise. K sad (“How sad” for all my non-Spanglish readers).

This two-part exercise required that we draw ourselves in a place of emotional significance, but additionally, we are to include someone in that image who may or may not necessarily belong to that space. The second part of the exercise then asks that we then write dialogue between both people in that image, taking the space into consideration. To start you off, the first line of dialogue should be, “Do you really think you know everything there is to know”. Going back to space very quickly– I hate to admit this but I’m not always so good at following directions during exercises like these, either because I didn’t fully grasp what was asked of us or because… I just didn’t want to. I say this because NONE of my dialogue had nothing to do with the location of my play. I can’t say I was a rebel for going against the rules of this exercise, in this instance, I more so just didn’t listen because I got distracted. In any case, this was a super memorable exercise for me because I got to draw myself (in my preferred pants-free state) in my assigned dorm room at the University of Sussex when I was studying abroad. Not to brag, but mine was the BIGGEST dorm room on the floor, so yeah, I was having solo dance parties in there FOR SURE. But back to the exercise… Included in my drawing was my sister’s dog, Lita, who has long been over my shit, so the dialogue portion of the exercise was fun and biting.

This assignment, overall, just did the job of taking me out of my fuzzy brain and putting me in a good mood, so at the very least, I would recommend it for that.

Me and Lita <3

Anyway, if you are experiencing fuzzy brain, I hope that you feel inclined to try one of these exercises. If you do, I hope you’ll let me know how it went.

Creatives Check-In, Part III

by Zury Margarita Ruiz

For the final installment of my “Creatives Check-In” series, we welcome and hear from…

Maia “Vik Floyd” Villa (top left), Lelde Cauka – Bracken (top right), and Nahal Navidar (bottom).

Before we get into the interview, I just want to say how thankful I am to everyone who participated in this series. I know that the times we’re living in are not easy and we’re all in taking in the days as best we can but I am so thankful that you took the time to share your story with me.

Featured Creatives – A Short Bio:

Lelde Cauka – Bracken is a Latvian born visual artist living and working in Los Angeles, CA. Lelde comes from a background of classical fine art training since the age of 10. Her work ranges from a realistic still life and portrait illustrations to exploration of color and shape. Her current work voices abstractionism and simplicity. It is deeply rooted in her northern European upbringing while intertwining with the exposure of her surroundings. Mostly working with watercolor and acrylics, Lelde finds these mediums the most soothing allowing the audience to connect and find harmony through her work.

https://www.visualintermission.com/

Instagram: @visual.intermission

Nahal Navidar is an Iranian-born playwright raised in upstate New York. Her plays are motivated by the exploration of social issues while employing magical elements to embody the expanse of human emotions.  Nahal’s plays have been developed at Boston Court, Silk Road Rising, Ensemble Studio Theatre LA, The Vagrancy, Rogue Machine, Coeurage Theatre, Pasadena Playhouse, Playwright’s Arena, Troy Foundry Theatre, The Last Frontier Theatre Conference, Golden Thread Productions, Company of Angels, The Kennedy Center, and The University at Albany. Nahal holds an MFA in Dramatic Writing from USC and is a member of the Dramatist Guild of America.

www.NahalNavidar.com

Maia “Vik Floyd” Villa is a fifth generation Chicanx Los Angeleno, most at home between taco trucks and boba tea. They’re a lifelong performer and writer, particularly in love with sketch comedy, ancestral reparation, and rock’n’roll. Passionate about liberating marginalized voices through creative expression and cultural enrichment, Maia has worked with various non-profit arts organizations throughout Los Angeles to empower others through storytelling. You can catch them in sketch/improv shows in Hollywood and performing rey metalero drag all over the Eastside—after quarantine that is. 

www.maiavilla.com

Instagram: @maia.villa (For Maia stuff and comedy) and @mx.vikfloyd (For more openly queer, mentally ill stuff—oh and drag!)

How have you been spending your time at home during the quarantine?

Lelde Cauka – Bracken (LCB): Quarantine has certainly raised awareness of what is essential in our lives. Whether it is food or a creative outlet to sustain your mental wellbeing. The current time and circumstances we have discovered ourselves in, is simply another reminder that the beauty of life is its unpredictable ways. Yes, the future may seem uncertain, especially if one’s routine has been disrupted, but it has always been this way! This is how I continue to look at my day-to-day life in the creative field as well as in my domestic life. I try not to put a pause on everything simply because we are leading a more simple and isolated life. In many ways, I find it more inspirational and motivating than ever before despite the crisis. With that being said, I am also aware of the negative side of this virus and the different degrees of impact it’s leaving on so many lives around me – seeing so many people around the world including my family and friends be so deeply affected is heartbreaking without a doubt, but we also have to find a way to function for ourselves and others. I feel like we have been given an opportunity to re-establish values for ourselves and decide how we want to continue this journey. I am a strong believer in “less is more”. Letting go of what I have no control over, is my gasoline that keeps me moving forward. It is also strongly reflected in my artwork. 

This might sound cliché, but I’ve been focusing more on my mental and physical health by staying active through late-night running and my continuous yoga practice as I did before the quarantine. Once you discover it in your own unique way, it really does wonders to your body and mind and this is something I put a big emphasis on because all of these aspects are connected and play a tremendous role not only in my happiness but also in my creative flow. I strongly recommend it!

Being lucky enough to have full-time job during this pandemic, I have also taken the time to get back to my roots and focus more on cooking. I grew up in the luscious Latvia and preparing your daily meal with homegrown ingredients runs in my DNA. It has always been a passion of mine, but now that my current “office” is around the corner from my kitchen, it makes it that much easier and brings me so much joy. This time has most certainly brought renewed love for many simple things in my life and has made me appreciate what I have and how far I have come.

Maia “Vik Floyd” Villa (MVFV): This is almost everything I ever wanted—but with a horrific societal landscape. To explain: Since I was preteen age, I had this recurring vision of a brick wall always slowly moving behind me, as I had to keep up and move forward. In deep spells of depression, I’d get the vision of my little body jogging slowly and getting tired—or worse, falling completely limp in exhaustion as the wall pushed on. 

I grew to realize that this is not only a metaphor about time, but a metaphor on societal pressures—not to mention anything my young psyche had picked up from loving Pink Floyd’s concept of The Wall. 12 years later, I’m grateful we live among communities working and collaborating to decolonize. Now, before you think I’m just going to go into a rant about how white supremacists or capitalism is the root of all evil…well I slightly am, and also very much not. I believe that, in the lifetime of any society throughout history, more often than not the structures used to build a large scale society are the same structures that eventually stop working until the society collapses or revolutionizes itself. 

How is this an answer to your question? HA. 

I do not feel I have extra time. I still feel the wall moving. Above is the beginnings of the thoughts I’ve been having while trying not to let the stress take over too much. Despite being in a personally privileged position (I’m able to work from home, and I am grateful to have time at home because I’m normally running around all over the place), my arms are aching all the time and I do not feel as though I have any extra time to spend. I still feel like there isn’t enough time to release all the spinning thoughts, I still feel like there isn’t enough time to get ahead of that wall, I still feel all the pressures and anxieties — and the silver lining gift is to be able to observe those emotional patterns removed of some factors that normally keep me distracted and busy. 

Did the quarantine affect any of your creative projects or plans? 

LCB: It has most certainly left an impact – public shows in galleries might be out of the question for a while, but this situation has also expanded my creativity and made me search for alternative ways to make my art accessible to others, for example, utilizing the mighty worldwide web, especially social media has been a great tool. I am definitely very thankful for technology. 

Daylight plays an instrumental part in my creative work and it has been wonderful to not spend any time in traffic and have easy access to it daily. So overall, I must say the quarantine has made a positive impact on my workflow.

Nahal Navidar (NN): The world premiere of my play My Dear Hussein was cancelled on what would have been the first preview performance. We were in tech week when we had the initial conversation about COVID-19 and things rapidly unraveled from there.  

MVFV: It pushed forward a plan: to stop doing theatre. I’ve been a “Yes” person in the theatre world for 12 years, and funny thing is that a project was ending on March 10th. So all throughout February and beginning of March, I was telling myself, “March 11th, you start saying no; March 11th, you get rest and focus on your solo work. March 11th you start spending more time at home—“ and WHOOP! Look what happened!

I was about to say no to all creative projects so that I can narrow my focus to a dream that’s been dear to me for a very long time:  I auditioned for and got accepted into Second City Hollywood’s Grad Revue. After 8 levels of improv, this is the final 6-month program in which you build a sketch show with an ensemble. I’m telling you, Zury, this is the number one fucking DREAM—the road to the dream—and I am tearing up that it’s been put on pause. 

I work for a nonprofit I’m very passionate about (I’m an emerging actor who sees having a platform as an opportunity for social progress), so March and April haven’t been easy. Trying to catch relief fund opportunities like flying dodgeballs. I’ve been laughing about the March 11th thing; this is almost what I wanted…But it’s very much not. 

How, if at all, has this time affected your creativity?

NN: With the cancellation of my production, I can’t anticipate when I’ll have the emotional fortitude to write again.  As an immigrant, woman, and artist of color, getting a theater to commit to producing my work has been a grueling task.  To come this close and then watch it fall apart during tech week has been devastating. Unearthing my childhood memories of war for the rehearsal process was intrinsically a trying experience, but the point is to share in the communal experience of catharsis with an audience.  Otherwise, there is no release, like a hand is squeezing my larynx.  My body is anticipating the breath, but my mind knows that air is not coming. I will channel this into my writing one day, but right now I am in shock.

MVFV: I’m being kind to myself. Of course I want to shit out the album, the solo performance, the comedy sketch that will break open our bipartisan divide…I want to create and release and produce all of that. But I can’t have that expectation when this time is uncertain and scary for all of us. It’s tiring. 

I’m allowing myself to take everything slowly. To sit in my backyard and breathe, and instead of having the pressure to practice guitar via scales or metronomes, just deep listening to the sound and to the wind. 

I’m part of the drag community, and I must mention how wildly impressive and beautiful it is how quickly and strongly and innovatively the drag community has created and produced digital drag nationwide. It’s fucking beautiful! It’s been frustrating for artists like me who have more theatrical skill than digital, but all of us punkass bitches at least are enjoying ANY quality of digital drag. I said no to some digital drag opportunities at start, and am now gradually creating some videos whenever I feel the need for release and have the time. What a beautiful action to use this time to join together globally. 

SIDE NOTE, From Maia: I really would love it if people were able to catch the following drag shows, because I am releasing personal healing that I hope is good for everyone else:

May 5th at 7pm, Drag Kings of the World @dragkingsworld

May 7th at 7:36pm (full moon sunset time), Golden Hour @goldenhourdragshow

May 14th at 7pm, Mandemic by @mancandykings

*All streaming on Twitch

Personally, do you feel that it’s necessary/important to keep creative during this time?

LCB: Yes, absolutely! It’s part of my ecosystem. For me, personally, it’s something irreplaceable and essential. It has always been that way.

NN: No. I don’t think it’s important to do anything but follow the stay-at-home order, keep social distance, and be present with the shared trauma that humanity is experiencing. If one wants to process feelings through creativity, then of course, create, but a global pandemic shouldn’t be treated as an extended writer’s retreat.  It’s an offense to the millions of people who have lost their lives, are sick, and to the essential workers who don’t have the privilege to stay at home and protect their families.

MVFV: Hell no. Priority is self-care. Society is not going to go back to “normal” — if you look at the natural course of history, you know that more painful change, more eye opening to weak structures—all of that is coming.  We need rest.  Only rest will make us stronger. If creative collaboration brings you rest, comfort, and strength—great! If spinning around your bedroom throwing paint at a poster brings you, rest, comfort, and strength—great! But is “keeping creative” necessary? Hell no. 

What have you found most frustrating about this time, creatively or otherwise? 

NN: I have a deadline coming up for a commission.  I’m three scenes away from finishing the play, but what I need now is to process the fallout of production and digest the reality of the world around me.  However, my integrity as an artist and commitment to deadlines are very important. It’s a frustrating conundrum.

MVFV: The crowds of people deeply believe that Newsom’s initiatives are a ploy to entrap us in a communist police state. That this can be a global issue—with multiple countries having shelter-in-place guidelines or restrictions—and I still have 2 MAGA family members on both sides who believe this is an exaggeration to fuck with Trump’s election. And even more frustrating, Zury, is that the Democratic Party is a fucking disaster, and I don’t blame anyone who decides to join the #WalkAway movement and become a patriot focused on freedom. Nearly every politician has some personal interest, some money to go into their pocket. I’m losing my mind because we have one side screaming about communists, and the other side screaming about fascists, and all the radicalists are either moving further to the left or further to the right—without anyone finding any common root belief or behavior. 

Once our young nation has citizens who, during a GLOBAL PANDEMIC (geez, I have to say “global” when pandemic does mean global), are holding up protest signs reading, “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death.” Oh, man, it’s over. This country was founded on the concept of Liberty (a false liberty) and no one even knows what liberty means. 

I’ll continue to collaborate with people who will work tirelessly “until justice is truly for all” but I am tired and pessimistic. 

What is something that you’ve learned about yourself during this time?

LCB: I have learned how adaptable I can be to this ever-changing life and cope with disruption. Instead of feeling frustrated about the current situation in the world and any other newness that comes my way, I simply accept the change and most often transform it into a case study, a creative process. Life is constantly full of hidden gems and other rocks. I have learned to appreciate them all equally.

NN: I’m too immersed in the experience and can’t see beyond the muck.  I do feel exhausted and know that we will all feel the impact of this pandemic for generations to come.

MVFV: Observing my bipolar patterns removed of all the busying/distracting factors is pretty fascinating, and also a little scary. On the one week a month that I’m in an optimistic mood, I worry it’s going to spiral into mania, yes, but also my nervous system is just such a fucking nuisance. I’ve been breathing, grounding myself, staying patient and forgiving for the most part. I am in a safe environment, with little stress. Whenever I do have stress spikes where I act grouchy, I am grateful I’m with my family where we’re all just used to our behaviors and laugh at each other. 

I am still worried about my anger. I have been for many years now. So I’ve said Fuck it to traditional workouts, and now I am essentially combining my “at-home gym” time with Viewpoints in order to release anger. 

What is something/someone that has brought you joy during this time?

LCB: I feel extremely lucky to share this time with my partner in creative journeys and life as well as play with our always-comical husky pup. We actually got engaged the other week. This came as a wonderful surprise and is another great example of how to continue your life despite the quarantine.

NN: Making new Iranian recipes I’ve never attempted before.  Reading.  Practicing my violin.  Consuming mindless content.  Spending time with my husband and our new puppy, Pashmak.  Checking in on my cousin, Emily, who is a NYC nurse and texting her silly gifs and YouTube clips.  Being thankful every day for the health of my family and loved ones.

MVFV: My friend Daniel Luna reached out to our team for Borracho: Spanish for Drunken Bum (a play by friend Abe Zapata Jr. I directed in February—I fucking love that play; I’d be tired all over again for that beautiful, hilarious play—) so we could read a script he’s working on all together via Zoom. That was my fave. It was a very low pressure, one-time commitment scenario where we all get to enjoy Daniel’s comedy, and I loved it. (Shout out to @luna.tico and @abe_zapatajr — peeps should follow their work!) Also, I highly recommend taking an incredibly aimless walk around your neighborhood without any technology on you.  

<3

Creatives Check-In, Part II

by Zury Margarita Ruiz

For the second installment of my “Creatives Check-In” series, we welcome and hear from…

Valerie Gibbins (top left), Christine Hamilton-Schmidt (bottom left), and Amanda Harmon Koppe (right).

As relayed in the previous post, my goal with this series is to highlight how creative folks are reconciling with their creativity during this precarious time. In the spirit of creative camaraderie, I aim to highlight creatives from various fields as I strongly believe we fuel each other’s work. I am so thankful for their participation.

Featured Creatives – A Short Bio:

Valerie Gibbins is a textile and industrial designer from Oakland, CA. Her work straddles many disciplines, attempting to highlight the intersections of feminism, sustainability, art, function, and design thinking. 

www.vmgibbins.com / Instagram: @villusionary and @sewdemhanz (Professional Account)

Christine Hamilton-Schmidt is a Los Angeles based playwright and screenwriter. Her work has been developed and produced at Skylight Theatre, Ammunition Theatre Company, Ensemble Studio Theatre/LA, The Blank Theatre, Team Awesome Robot, The Parsnip Ship, and more. Her full-length play, CHARLOTTE STAY CLOSE, had its world premiere production at Ensemble Studio Theatre/LA in September 2019. She is the founder and co-program director of New West Playwrights, which was created to give voice to and foster the work of young playwrights in Los Angeles. More information at www.christinehamiltonschmidt.com

Instagram: @christinehamiltonschmidt / Twitter: @christinejhs

Amanda Harmon Koppe is an Actor, Writer, and LA native. Amanda’s passion lies in empowering others through her art, as well as coaching others to create their own work.  She received her BFA in Performing Arts: Acting from AMDA College & Conservatory of the Performing Arts, has written a feminist-comedy feature film screenplay, as well as the short film Siri 2.0, depicting technology’s intrusiveness in our daily lives. She’s starred in a number of commercials and short films and when she’s not acting or writing, you can find her as a Production Manager, Teaching Artist or Yoga Instructor.  

Instagram: @amanda_harmon 

How have you been spending your time at home during the quarantine?

Valerie Gibbins (VG): There’s been a lot of eating, baking, cooking, staring into space, staring at screens, laundry, watering plants, having no clue what I’m doing, watching ’90s Disney movies, stressing, sewing, making masks, playing with fabric, and eating chocolate. There’s never enough chocolate in this house.

Christine Hamilton-Schmidt (CHS): I go to bed between 1:30 and 2:30am and wake up between 9:00 and 10:00am. I make big batches of cold brewed hibiscus tea and bake cakes. I bought a dry erase board, and I write a to-do list for my weekdays and feel really good every time I cross an item off the list. I write in notebooks in an attempt to spend less time in front of a screen. I talk to my cat a lot and call my mom every day. 

Amanda Harmon Koppe (AHK): I am the kind of person that needs to stay busy and I’m still learning to forgive myself when I don’t finish everything on my to-do list. I started thinking about what I could do from home that would take my mind off of our current global crisis and would help others do the same. I ended up creating Arts & Crafts tutorials on Youtube for kids. I was surprised to put my acting, writing, filming, directing, and teaching skills into use by developing these holistic crafting lessons for children from my kitchen table. 

Amanda’s Arts & Crafts with UPSTAGE.

Did the quarantine affect any of your creative projects or plans?

VG: I teach sewing classes, so those were all cancelled. Thankfully, I did not have any major plans this year since I was looking for full-time work anyway. That effort went down the tubes, obviously. 

CHS: This is WILD, but my “career” has never been better. Quarantine has opened a magical door to working on other people’s projects and being encouraged by others to write. I have collaborators getting in touch with me and giving me deadlines in a way I never have. I feel really lucky, but also tired and worried about letting people down because some days I just can’t write.

AHK: In early March, I had been going on auditions, developing a few TV pilots, working on an ebook and outlining another feature film, but once our reality came to a screeching halt, it was much harder for me to focus on any of my creative endeavors. It was exhausting to even try working on projects I had once been passionate about. Everything I had been doing felt really small in comparison to an overwhelming feeling of uncertainty and dread. It made me think of the John Lennon quote, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” 

How, if at all, has this time affected your creativity?

VG: On one hand, I feel like an amorphous semi-sentient blob most of the time. But then on the other hand, this time has actually pushed me to sew more and look at growing that more as part of my work. It’s given me time to waffle and question, but also time to sit down and sew for hours on end. This is definitely not to say that quarantine = start a business! It’s more about clearing away the cobwebs in my case. Now is not the time to pressure or shame yourself into doing something you do not feel equipped to do. 

CHS: I want to sit around all day. I feel very lucky when I have an urge to write, but most of my writing has been a result of deadlines and I am so grateful to my creative partners for that. I think reading books and scripts and watching film & tv is a way to be creative and so I’ve been indulging in art intake.

AHK: I stopped judging myself for not accomplishing what I had planned on doing and that helped my creativity return in waves. It’s difficult enough for me to keep track of what day it is, so instead of giving myself a usual incentive deadline, I keep all of my projects circulating in the ether of my mind.  Almost everything in my apartment is organized (for my own sanity), but when it comes to my ideas and thoughts– my creativity can get messy. When an idea hits, I write it down on anything I have on hand. If you walked through my front door right now, you would see random post-its, paper towels, napkins and journals floating around everywhere. It feels great to get my thoughts on paper and I could tell you exactly what is written on each one. It’s almost as if I’ve designated different areas of my apartment with a certain idea and when I’m in that area, that project/idea is what circulates in my mind and word vomit comes out. It’s like going to an amusement park and choosing what ride you want to go on that will make you toss your cookies (but for fun).  

Personally, do you feel that it’s necessary/important to keep creative during this time?

VG: This is an absolute given. In normal times, this would be part of a larger conversation on the importance of arts education. Not only is it important to those of us who choose a creative field for work, being creative nurtures the brain and can provide distraction and comfort. For me, just doing something as simple as looking at my fridge or pantry, sparks creative problem solving and switches my brain on. I think it’s so vital to put a creative filter on everything you do—and it just makes everything more fun.

CHS: No. No, no, no. Nothing is necessary other than staying safe. I think it’s important to take time to think about who you are when you aren’t working, what your values are, and how you can contribute. I think it’s important to reach out to people you love. Rest so you can be creative when you’re ready.

AHK: As crazy as my creative process does sound at the moment, if I didn’t have it, I honestly don’t know where I would be putting that frenetic energy. I’m a big advocate for the need to express yourself. I believe it is just as important to be seen and heard at this time of universal societal trauma as it is when dealing with an individual’s trauma. If you can take whatever you are feeling right now and translate that into a drawing or painting or monologue or video, you will find that it is not only healing, but it will connect you to others who feel the same way. No matter how isolated I may feel, I find solace when I remember that I am not alone in this experience.  

What have you found most frustrating about this time, creatively or otherwise?

VG: Oh, well, I mean…the “governance” of this country is utterly enraging. Anger can definitely be a motivator, but it’s turned very obsessive during this time; I’ve had to step away from watching news clips and be very conscientious about the time I spend on the internet. Though, I’m very grateful to even have access to information and the internet (#netneutrality).

Otherwise, I miss hugging my friends and family. It’s very frustrating to not know if they’re sick or I’m sick or if we should be going to the grocery store, etc. Everything and everyone has been in limbo for nearly two months. It’s not a comfortable or natural state for most humans. I think in some ways I had an easier time than most adjusting to sheltering in place because I’m a homebody and because I’ve been in a precarious limbo state (job-wise and mentally/emotionally) for a while. 

CHS: I miss my friends and my family. It frustrates me that I can’t hug them. 

What is something that you’ve learned about yourself during this time?

VG: I am a pretty self-aware person in the first place, so there haven’t really been any new revelations. However, I have definitely started being actively more forgiving and kinder to myself. I would say there’s been a lot more affirmation than fresh learning, which is truthfully what I’ve been struggling with for years. So, I guess, thank you Madame Corona for holding myself accountable to years of therapy!  

CHS: I’m a lazy Taurus. I will always find something to clean. I want to write a novel (I knew this as a joke before quarantine but now I know as a serious thing). 

AHK: I learned to be creative with finding purpose in my life. I never thought I would be making Arts & Crafts videos, but here I am. When it felt like the world was ending, Amanda was crafting. I also learned that it’s ok to not be productive. My body and mind have needed more rest because I’ve been in a constant state of stress since I started self-quarantining. I always thought accomplishing long-term goals was a great achievement, but now I think accomplishing little tasks feels just as great. I had the courage to get up this morning and take out the trash with gloves and a mask– yay, gold star! 

What is something/someone that has brought you joy during this time?

VG: Communication with friends and family has always been number one. The past few years, I’ve cultivated amazing friendships by having epic phone chats and this time has allowed that to blossom since no one has a schedule anymore. I’ve been fortunate that I have been able to see my sister and brother-in-law (we’re basically one “household”) and therefore play with their dog. They joke I only come over to see her, which is not entirely untrue. 

CHS: I don’t play Animal Crossing, but I like to listen to my husband play because the music and the voices of the characters are incredibly soothing. 

AHK: Every Friday night, I visit another era by lighting a pair of candles on my great-grandmother’s candleholders and watch them flicker. I am reminded of how grateful I am for the technology and medicine we have today and that this too shall pass. 

<3

Creatives Check-In, Part I

by Zury Margarita Ruiz

Pretty early on during this time of isolation, something that I quickly came into my attention where social media posts that talked about all the new skills, tasks, and hobbies we should either be mastering, acquiring, or working on all while at home.

At one point I truly started hyping myself up about all the things that I needed to do, but my feelings and energy never seemed to match up with those ideas.  Pandemic aside, its already hard enough to get myself in a creative state, so hearing things like this, even when they are meant to be encouraging, ended up being frustrating, even offensive. I think that everyone has their own unique experience of what’s going on are able to work creatively, or not, from that awareness, so my goal with this and other upcoming posts this week is to highlight just that—how other creative folks are reconciling with their creativity at this time.

For this small series, I wanted to hear from all creative types, as I strongly believe that everyone’s creative work is linked—something another artist might say or do can inspire me (or you, Dear Reader) and vise versa. We all fuel each other, is my point. That all being said, for a little context—these creatives where all messaged the same questions, which I asked them to answer (or not) as they saw fit. Personally, it was great to connect with them at this time, check-in, and read their responses. I’m so thankful they agreed to be part of this series.

Ashley Shine (top left), Margie Gutierrez Lara (bottom left), and Rosie Narasaki & her dog, Sophie (right).

Featured Creatives – A Short Bio:

Ashley Shine – I grew up in San Francisco, I currently live in Santa Monica and will be moving to Boulder CO in August. The outdoors is my happy place, where I find myself again. I currently work as a Strength and Conditioning Coach and I am a full-time student at Colorado State University online program for Human Development and Family Studies. One of my biggest passions in the world is prison reform and fighting social injustice. After I graduate I hope to get a dual degree in law and public policy. 

Instagram: ashshine_

website: www.shinestrengthandconditioning.com 

nonprofit: www.rebuildinformgrow.org

Margie Gutierrez Lara – I am a young at heart forty something year old. I have been acting and doing theatre since the 90’s. I currently working for Kaiser Permanente Educational theatre and have been there for 15 years touring schools from Delano to San Diego. I am a mommy of one energetic 5-year-old boy named Charlie

Rosie Narasaki – Rosie’s theatre highlights include acting in IN LOVE AND WARCRAFT and TWO MILE HOLLOW with Artists at Play, as well as a pre-Greta Gerwig turn as Amy in Playwright’s Arena’s multicultural transposition of LITTLE WOMEN. As a writer, her work has been developed/produced by MeetCute LA, Artists at Play, the Road Theatre Company, and more. In her spare time, she is the managing editor of TotalBeauty.com.

@rosienarasaki

New Play Exchange
IMDb

How have you been spending your time at home during the quarantine?

Ashley Shine (AS): During this quarantine, I have tried to maintain my fitness and continue to workout 5-6 days a week. I also am still working and still balancing being a full-time student. Something I found to be new is that I am letting myself sleep in past 6 am which has been really nice. 

Margie Gutierrez Lara (MGL): I have been working at home trying to create virtual content for our ever changing world and balancing being a mommy/teacher.

Margie, a member of Kaiser Permanente Educational Theatre suggests, “If you are a parent you can follow our Kaiser Permanente Educational Theatre family programs where you can find tips in both English and Spanish on stress management, literacy, and nutrition”.

Rosie Narasaki (RN): For my day job, I work as an editor at a website. Luckily, this type of work translates super well to telecommuting — though I definitely miss my co-workers.

The biggest gap in my life is all my theatre and acting “extracurriculars” — I used to keep pretty busy with auditions, readings, workshops, rehearsals, and classes (and spending hours on the freeway, of course). I felt lonely at first without it all, but I’ve been trying to do online stuff in the interim.

Did the quarantine affect any of your creative projects or plans?

MGL: I was going to start auditioning outside more and then this pandemic happened and I felt like all my creativity left me. I find it hard to create because I have to for work and for my child.

RN: Yes! I spent the first few weeks intermittently moping over a reading of my play that got cancelled… and scolding myself for moping (since I’m super lucky, all things considered). The reading was postponed for fall, and I’ve had other opportunities crop up since, so things are going well (again, all things considered).

@artistsatplayla

How, if at all, has this time affected your creativity?

AS: I have found myself to be going in waves with creativity and work during this time. I either feel incredibly motivated or just want to lie on the floor and not speak. 

MGL:  I just feel down and out and see others creating magic and I’ve just been working at home and dealing with a 5 year old that wants all my attention.

RN: Like a lot of people, I found it hard to work at first. I’m kind of a results-driven person, and with so much uncertainty surrounding the theatre scene/when it’ll reopen, creating stuff right now kind of feels like shouting into the void (even more than it usually does, anyway).

To give myself short-term goals, I enrolled in a couple writing classes, which has been great. I’ve also been meeting with a writing group — New West Playwrights at EST/LA —on Zoom, which has been a real highlight. Oh, and I do weekly play readings with my parents and some family friends.

Personally, do you feel that its necessary/important to keep creative during this time?

AS: I don’t think it is necessary to be anything during this time. Our mental health should always be at the top of our priority list, so I think if anything we should all be constantly checking in with how we are doing. Creating a space of vulnerability and maybe even sometimes set aside to heal from things we haven’t had the chance to face.

MGL: I think it is important to do what you love and share it with others. I love seeing my creative, talented friends posting videos.

Margie Gutierrez Lara plays Giggles in the upcoming comedy horror series, “Bloody Maria”.

RN: I think this is a case of “you do you?” I totally understand that some people feel driven to create to curb their anxiety, fill the gaps in their schedules, etc. But I also get that some people feel kind of overwhelmed by it all. I think I fall somewhere in the middle.

Something I’ve started to accept as I’ve gotten older is that, while it ebbs and flows, creativity is always going to be something that’s part of my life. Some years will be more fecund than others, but I don’t think I’ll ever stop. And that helps me feel better when I’m facing writers’ block and/or an acting dry spell (or, you know, a global pandemic).

What have you found most frustrating about this time, creatively or otherwise?

AS: I have found the pressure to hustle and be this unrealistic person during this time to be so frustrating. It is okay to not be okay and its also okay to just be okay. This new pressure to be creative or fit or whatever all while being locked in the house seems unfair. 

MGL: I’m just busy creating things for work that I haven’t sat down to create something for myself.

RN: Honestly? I’m a bit lonely. Zoom interactions just aren’t the same! And over the past several years, I’ve always kept up a fair amount of momentum with theatre stuff, so it’s been tough feeling literally stuck in one place; static.

What is something that you’ve learned about yourself during this time?

AS: I have learned that I need to take more time to pause and breathe and see what I want out of life. I sometimes forget to evaluate where I am at and am I chasing my dreams or somebody else’s? 

MGL: I’ve learned that I am flexible and willing to pivot and change where our new normal is headed.

RN: I didn’t realize how social I was! I’m not a party animal or anything, but between classes, supporting friends’ projects, and my own gigs, I’d be out 4-5 nights a week on average. Add that to working a 40-hour week, and I was pretty much never home, pre-shelter-in-place.

What is something/someone that has brought you joy during this time?

AS: My girlfriend Kailey has brought me so much joy. Being together 24/7 has given a lot of space for great conversations, planning, bumping heads, etc. We have had to find creative ways to have date nights and all that. She is such an incredible human being and I am nothing short of lucky to spend my time with her. 

MGL: My son Charlie and the tik too queen Rosa aka adamrayokay

RN: My favorite thing about working from home is that I can now stalk my dog full-time. I love her more than she loves me, but we’re both (mostly) okay with that. God, I didn’t realize how creepy this would sound until I started writing it down, but my phone is full of pictures of her sleeping…

<3

If you want to know where to find me…

by Zury Margarita Ruiz

Much like fellow LAFPI blogger, Leelee Jackson, I too was already a homebody and a hardcore introvert. It’s not that I don’t enjoy socializing—I do—but if I overstep my bounds, I can feel depleted of energy, which unlike Leelee, I require to rush home and watch YouTube clips of Sid the Cussing Bunny.

Sid the Cussing Bunny

That all being said, there are most definitely things I miss doing, people I miss seeing and communities (theater and otherwise) I miss congregating with. And so, like a great deal of folks, a lot of my interactions have now happened online. I wasn’t entirely sure how engaged I’d be in these conversations, especially when I have the option to mute myself, turn off my camera, or just get up and walk away for a bit, but I’ve actually been absorbed in these interactions and have found myself participating and expressing my opinion a lot more than I normally would. Additionally, I’ve realized that a lot of these gatherings are not something I would have even been able to attended before because, far more than just my being introverted, I’d been working long hours most every day. There’s been a heavy emphasis on work for me for quite some time, which you know—is necessary, but it has definitely kept me from events and people/communities that matter to me. And so, being able to do that right now—engage with what’s important to me—has definitely been an upside during this time.

On that note, I want to talk about two particular communities with whom I’ve been interacting with which have made me pretty happy during this time. There are still some upcoming events with both of these groups, so links will be provided, in case you’re interested in joining:

East Los Angeles Women’s Center

ELAWC’s model

The East Los Angeles Women’s Center (ELAWC) is an organization that I’ve had the pleasure of training and volunteering with for some time now. With the mission to “ensure that all women, girls and families live in a place of safety, health, and personal well-being, free from violence and abuse, with equal access to necessary health services and social support”, even now through the Covid-19 crisis, the staff of the ELAWC have been honoring their commitments by keeping their hotline running, operating a food pantry program and creating awareness of the distress this time of isolation has had on people experiencing Domestic Violence at home. Additionally, during the month of April—Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM)—the ELAWC has been holding a series of workshops and film screenings via Zoom, ranging from topics like “Coping with Overwhelming Emotions” to “Loving with Consent”.

Tomorrow, 04/30/2020 at 4pm PST, is their final workshop via Zoom for SAAM.

SAAM Workshop: Engaging Boys and Men to end Sexual Assault #2

Tune in to This workshop and discuss the role of boys and men in the fight to end sexual assault. Facilitators: Ozzie Cruz, Prevention Specialist and Luis Mendoza, ELAWC Outreach/Advocate

Here is the link for that event:

https://www.elawc.org/engaging_boys_and_men2?recruiter_id=20799

Please note that although there is a deadline to sign up, there is still some availability!

I also just briefly want to mention that today, April 29th, is Denim Day, so I hope you got to rock a little denim in support! And in case you don’t know what Denim Day is, here is a little backstory: https://www.denimdayinfo.org/history

Latinx Superfriends Playwriting Hour

Can you spot my mug?

Curated by Tlaloc Rivas and peer-produced by HowlRound, Latinx Superfriends Playwriting Hour is a five-week, hour long, playwriting series led by various guest writers/theatremakers throughout the U.S. I have been able to be part of 2 out of three of these workshops so far and let me tell you—they’ve been super fun, engaging, and encouraging. This past Monday’s workshop, led by writer Christina Quintana, was particularly special, as we talked about our inner critic and even gave them a name (mine actually ended up being named after a family member of mine so I’m not going to name any names here). There are only two more workshops left in this series—Monday, May 4th led by Georgina Escobar and Monday, May 11th led by Jose Rivera—I would more than encourage you to take part!

For more information on this series and to sign up for the remaining sessions, check out this link: https://howlround.com/happenings/latinx-superfriends-playwriting-hour

So now, Dear Reader, if you want to know where to find me…

About a Chicana Falsa

by Zury Margarita Ruiz

I was introduced to her work in high school…

I’m not sure how it came about, but the folks at my high school decided that they wanted to have a cultural celebration of sorts. All 45 seniors and 20, or so, underclassmen at our little magnet high school were expected to participate in some capacity. While I was part of a Mexican folkloric dance group at that time, I had no intention of dancing in front of my entire school. As I’d mentioned in a previous post, there was very little fun I took from that endeavor. Additionally, I was still traumatized by the demands of peddling the “joy and skills you too can acquire” of accordion playing to my middle school classmates that I just wasn’t going to put myself out there like that anymore. Still, I was expected to participate.

Unsure of what to do, and with a day to go, my Spanish teacher (who was coordinating this whole ordeal) suggested that I read an excerpt of short story written by a Latin@ author. I hate to admit it but at the time I can’t say that I knew the work of very many Latin@ authors—call it a lack of awareness/exposure, ignorance, what have you, I was drawing blanks.  So my Spanish teacher handed me a few books from his desk and encouraged me to check them out, and from those few, I was immediately drawn to Michele Serros’ Chicana Falsa and Other Stories of Death, Identity, and Oxnard.

Copy of Chicana Falsa

Chicana Falsa was a compact offering of non-fiction and poetry detailing Serros’ complex, comical grappling of her own identity. It was genuine, often times heartbreaking, and funny as hell. It was one of the first pieces of literature that I deeply connected to and made me feel seen. 

Michele Serros reading her work at Lollapalooza.

For our school celebration, I ended up selecting the story “Attention Shoppers”. It was a satirical piece that shows Serros being made aware of the notion that, even within supermarket aisles, discrimination was alive and well. This was proven to her by way of packaging styles for Malibu Style Vegetables vs. Latino Style Vegetables and the connotations each evokes.

“…. look at this, the Latino Style Vegetables are all spilling out of this wicker basket, all overflowing, messy like. Insinuating that we are overflowing, overcrowding what they think is their land. And what’s with this wicker basket?”  

Back in January I had the pleasure of visiting an exhibit at University Hall (Cal State University Chanel Islands) in honor of her life’s work.

I cried when I saw the exhibit.

Most everything that she’d been inspired by and written about was there— the desk her mother gifted her, journals, framed t-shirts, concert tickets, her skateboard…  it was overwhelming. Michele Serros’ work has meant so much to me for a very long time. I often think of her, her writing and the impact her artistic voice has had on me. She’s the writer whose work I most often go back and re-read. I love the familiarity. It feels like home.

I meant to post these photos a while back but it didn’t feel right then. I was writing about loss and it’s not what I wanted to do, especially in a week that already felt so sorrowful. I decided then that I would give it some time and wait until my next go-round on the blog to post them because surely the world would be in a different place from where it was at the time.

And we are, now, in a very different place.

But it feels right to remember the people, places and voices that bring us joy.

In fact, there’s no better time than now.

Music X Writing

My writing tends to be very inspired by music—either because I am listening to my 272-track (19 hours, 51 minute) Spotify playlist, Musica X Escribir (It’s private, so you won’t find it) or because I’ve created a mental playlists that speaks to a certain story I am putting together. For this post, I thought it might be fun to share some of those tracks with you all. Who knows, maybe they’ll become songs you play in the background while you write or, at the very least, fun new contributions to your everyday playlist.

Enjoy!

Immunity – Jon Hopkins

I first heard of Jon Hopkins by way of the film How I Live Now, which he scored. I ended up checking out more of his work and really clicked with his 2013 album, Immunity. The title track is particularly special. I tend not to listen to music with vocals when I’m writing—I know myself, I will stop focusing on the work and sing along—but I somehow never have trouble with this song. That all being said, I want to stress that this IS an electronic music album, so I can’t advise anyone to listen to the entirety of this record when writing. HOWEVER, it is a very good album that I would highly recommend for a listen during a road trip.

It’s Not Your Fault (It’s How Air Works) The Boats

I freaking love the title of this song. It puts a dumb smile on my face for sure, which is probably the main reason I’m listing this specific track. The truth, however, is that unlike the previously mentioned Immunity, the Boats’ Songs by the Sea is definitely an album you can listen to its entirety while you write.  

Songs by the Sea is from 2004 but I did not come in contact with it until three years later when I found a lost ipod on the city bus. Having some time to kill until I made it downtown, I plugged my headphones in and hit shuffle. Musically, that lost ipod was one of the best things that happened to me.

If you’re wondering what happened to that lost ipod… Dear Reader, please know that I tried turning it in to the bus driver who told me to turn it in at the lost and found when we hit the station, but then, I forgot. I’m serious, I forgot!

It’s one of those things that keeps me up at night.

Anyway, Songs by the Sea was one of those albums that I listened to a lot—for writing, for studying—it did and does the trick.

Wede Harer GuzoHailu Mergia & Dahlak Band

Did Beyonce recommend this track somewhere at some time? I only ask because the comments section of this link seem to allude to the fact. Huh.

Anyway, I don’t follow many other accounts on Spotify, mostly because I don’t go looking for them, but the one I do follow belongs to a friend of a friend. We’d all collaborated on a project together and during our lunch break said friend of a friend put on his playlist and this song came up. Something lit up within me. “This will go on my writing playlist”, I thought. And it did. And I’ve played the hell out of it, and maybe Beyonce did. I think you should too. 

La PresumidaTrio Xoxocapa

During my high school years I was part of a Mexican folkloric dance group. I hated it. You had to smile a lot. Not my thing. The music, however, I really appreciated. A few years later, while working on a screenplay, I wrote a character who, unlike me, was really interested in Mexican folkloric dancing but, unlike me, was pretty terrible at it (who am I kidding, I was bad too!). One of the songs that she masters during the course of the story is “La Presumida” (The Conceited Woman). I thought it would fit perfectly for her snooty persona. 

I’m not snooty, you are.

Love Is StrangeBuddy Holly

I don’t know why but I listened the HECK out of this song last summer. I really have no clue where I picked it up from but it seemed to be in my head all of sudden. I can’t say that I actually wrote while I listened to it. It was more like I would write a little and then listen, as some sort of treat. Good writer, good writer.

Mucha MuchachaEsquivel

My earliest recollection of this song is by way of one of my favorite authors, Michele Serros. An early iteration of her website would play this song as an image loaded up of a coquettish Serros concealed by a mound of chicharrones (fried pork cracklings). A banner at the top read, “Mucha Michele”.

Michele Serros

Man, I really miss her. (I could write more about her here but I will save that for a future post I have planned up.)

I remember at the time (how old was I then—14? 15?) I looked up the song, thought it was cool, but sort of left it at that. It wasn’t until the summer of 2018 that I was producing my play, Senorita Monthly Juice, via the Hollywood Fringe Festival that my brother-in-law reintroduced me to the song by way of his interest in its composer, Esquivel (Juan Garcia Esquivel). Often referred to as the “Busby Berkeley of Cocktail Music”, it felt appropriate to use “Mucha Muchacha” for a group dance number in the play.

That summer I ended up going through an Esquivel rabbit hole and started checking out more of his music, some of which I still listen to when I write, if the vibe is appropriate 😉 That being said, I’d like to show you the following song:

Popotito 22 – Burbujas

“Popotito 22” was one of many songs composed by Esquivel for the late 70s Mexican children’s show, Odisea Burbujas (Bubble Odyssey). I mean, how cool is this song?!

First of the Gang to DieMorrissey

This one is hard to write about because man-oh-man: Morrissey, YOU HAVE CHANGED! But I feel the need to include it because this song really sparked something for me during the time I was writing my first play.  I can still remember being sprawled out on the living room floor of my Santa Cruz undergrad residence, feeling stuck in my first draft, when this song came on—I shot up from the floor and knew where the story had to go. 

MossbrakerBroken Social Scene

Broken Social Scene is one of my favorite bands. They have really good energy and I’m glad to have finally seen them live for the first time about two years ago because for a while I didn’t think I’d get the chance. This particular track, Mossbraker, is from their debut studio album, Feel Good Lost. For me, this is a pretty good album to listen to when writing as the instrumentation is gorgeous and there are minimal lyrics. As my pal, Wikipedia, will tell you, this album is very much a stylistic predecessor of work by the band KC Accidental which can be classified as ambient, post-rock. I mention this because its important to note that Broken Social Scene’s style has had its own musical evolution thereafter. Just letting you know in case you go looking at their other records to play while you write.

Unknown KohoutekThe Sun Ra Arkestra

Concert for the Comet Kohoutek by The Sun Ra Arkestra makes me happy. For some reason, this album reminds me of traditional Oaxacan music. I really don’t know why—I don’t have the musical background to be able to explain how that works itself out in my mind, but it just does. So I did a lot of listening to this album when I was writing the screenplay I’d mentioned above. Then I also went back and listened to it when I was working on a play that I’m still not sure how I feel about, so I’ll just leave it at that -_-

In case you’re wondering, here’s an example of traditional Oaxacan music:

MUSICA DE OAXACA GUELAGUETZA EN VIVO (REGION DE TUXTEPEC)

If you cut to the 4 minute, 10 second mark you will hear a song I am expected to dance with my dad at every Oaxacan party we attend because my mom sure isn’t going to.

That’s it for this post!

Please let me know if you listen to any of the tracks and have plans of incorporating them in your life or work, somehow. And please, tell me about the songs that have inspired your writing– I’d love to check them out.

Zury 🙂

How are you, really?

Hi Fellow LAFPI Writers and Readers-

I had not planned for this to be my first post for the second round of my LAFPI blog week, but it felt necessary.

As I’m sure you already know, yesterday the world lost NBA sports legend Kobe Bryant.

All of Los Angeles seemed to be in mourning.

No, not just Los Angeles—this great loss really seemed to cross state lines, team affiliations, sport leagues and art forms. So many folks were deeply affected, including myself.

Being a writer, my gut reaction when attempting to process my feelings is to write, and so I did. I spent a little time journaling last night. While I’ll keep the contents of my writing to myself, what I will say is that it helped a great deal. I do know, however, that there times when words don’t come or cut it, which can feel incredibly isolating.

This has all made me wonder how my fellow writers and creatives are doing during this difficult time.

So, how are you?

How are you, really?

I hope that you all have been able to find some comfort during this difficult time. Maybe you’ve also found yourself putting pen to paper to find peace. I really hope that’s helped, but in the case that it hasn’t, please know I’m here if you’d like to talk.

I’d like to close up this post by sharing this helpful flyer that was created by Wendy C. Ortiz (writer and psychotherapist) whose workshop, Self Care for Writers, I was able to attend via the 2018 Latina Writers Conference. Maybe it will come in handy for you as it has for me.

Zury Margarita Ruiz

*H.A.L.T. = Hungry, Angry, Lonely, and Tired

Climate Change Theatre Action LA: At the Intersection (2019)– Photos from the event

Hello Everyone!

To round up my week of blog posts for the LAFPI– which I’ve had a blast putting together, if you couldn’t tell– I wanted to share some photo’s from yesterday’s event.

A big THANKS to all of you who came out to support these works and spent the day with us at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles!

Until next time,

Zury 🙂

“Can you believe it, Sis? The lot is full!”
Look, Ma. We made it!
Climate Change Theatre Action Co-Founder, Chantal Bilodeau (Left) and Climate Change Theatre Action Los Angeles: At the Intersection Writer-Producer, Paula Cizmar (Right).
From Left to Right: Giovanni Ortega (Director), Zury Ruiz (Me!), Chantal Bilodeau (CCTA Co-Founder), and Paula Cizmar (CCTA/LA Writer-Producer).
And the audience is trickling in…
Visions & Voices in the house!
CCTA/LA Theme Guide, written by Grafton Doyle, Zharia O’Neal, and Katrina Richard.
Artists Bio in Theme Guide
Ilana Gustafson (Manager, Performing Arts at Natural History Museum of Los Angeles) addressing the audience.
Giovanni Ortega and Paula Cizmar welcoming the audience.
Gbeke Fawehinmi in Jennie Webb’s “Beneath the Surface”.
Emma Elliott (Left) and Aliyah Muhammad (Right) in Velina Hasu Houston’s “Ms.Rambo and the Lawn”.
From Left to Right: Aliyah Muhammad, Hong Lei, and Lisa McNeely in Jennifer Maisel’s “Extinct-LA”.
Left to Right: Aliyah Muhammad, Hong Lei, Lisa McNeely, Jonathan C.K. Williams, Emma Elliott, and Gbeke Fawehinmi in Paula Cizmar’s “A Hole in the Sky”.

An Interview with Elizabeth Schuetzle and Jessica Doherty, CCTA 2019 Student Directors

by Zury Margarita Ruiz

The two-day USC Visions and Voices Climate Change Theatre Action (CCTA) events kick off this Friday, November 8th with How To Create Your Own Environmental Justice Event, which will take place at Lewis Hall (RGL), Room 101. In addition to the interactive workshop portion of the event, lead CCTA co-founder Chantal Bilodeau, the afternoon will start off with a student-driven staged reading of several short plays from the 2019 CCTA, now in its third iteration. Directing these plays are Jessica Doherty (double majoring in Theatre and Journalism) and Elizabeth Schuetzle (double majoring in Theatre and Political Economy), both USC seniors who believe theater is an effective method for helping people open up and relate to the realities of climate change.

Jessica Doherty (Left) and Elizabeth Schuetzle (Right), CCTA 2019 Student Directors.

I sat down with Jessica and Elizabeth to talk about their involvement with the CCTA 2019 at USC, their artistic vision for this project, and the difficulty and importance of talking openly about climate change.

How did you become involved in directing the student-driven readings of CCTA (Climate Change Theatre Action) 2019 plays and what drew you to the project?

ELIZABETH SCHUETZLE (ES): We were both referred by our professors.

I always like working on theater that has meaning and impact. I think all art is inherently political. Also, I really liked the plays. I thought they were all so unique and different. Of course, that’s because playwrights from like all over the world wrote them. I enjoyed the variety of voices that were in the mix.

JESSICA DOHERTY (JD): I’ve just been really interested in doing work about climate change recently. As a journalist, I write a lot about the arts, mainly art criticism, but I’m always interested in finding ways to communicate the bigger picture of creative works and document how they’ve influenced people, or made them think differently about a certain topic. I agree with what Elizabeth said, art is inherently political and it can impact people. Storytelling can impact people. Working in the newsroom here, its something that I am very aware of and struggle with—knowing when to cross the line of like, “we need to get people to click on this (article)”, but we also don’t want to sensationalize.

(NOTE: Jessica is the managing editor and writer for Annenberg Media.)

It sounds like you’re both very interested in Social Justice Theater.

ES: Jessica and I actually worked in a social justice theater group on campus, One & All, for like two years. We worked together all the time. This year we both decided not to run it anymore, then when we got this (CCTA) sent our way. Now we’re back together again. It’s kind of funny—this (CCTA) is the kind of event that our theater troupe would have been asked to do.

What kind of work did ‘One & All’ all do?

JD: We (One & All) did a workshop with the School of Social Work at Bovard (Auditorium) that utilized theatre of the oppressed activities to work out scenarios that they (Social Work students) would face out in the field. We did a lot of really fun stuff. It’s under new leadership now because we both were like, “we’re old and tired” but now there are some young bright faces running it. It still lives on.

I’m always interested in finding ways to communicate the bigger picture of creative works and document how they’ve influenced people, or made them think differently about a certain topic… Art is inherently political and it can impact people. Storytelling can impact people.

Going back to the CCTA event—what was the process like for selecting the plays that will be featured during the staged reading?

ES: There were some works that were recommended to us by Paula, which we considered.

JD: But we basically just chose the ones that we liked.

Tell me about some of the plays that were selected. What can we expect?

JD: I really liked directing “It Starts With Me” (Chantal Bilodeau)—it’s basically just a collection of voices, female voices, saying that the climate change movement starts with them. It was inspired by a bunch of different women involved in political activism, which I thought was really neat. I think it’s a really effective play to round out the event. Ending on an empowering note is important to me, and I really liked that this piece deals with empowering yourself to make a change and make a difference. Even if it is a small effort because it can build into something larger.

Another one I’m directing is “A Dog Loves Mango” (Georgina Escobar) which is like a really cute piece that tells the story of a woman who gets stopped by TSA because her shoes are made out of mango leather, which is actually a real material. It’s nice to have like a comedic piece in there as well. A lot of people turn away from climate change news because they’re afraid of it. If you scare people too much, they’re just going to back away and not want to listen to you. So I feel like using theater and comedy as a way to talk about this issue is a really effective way to bring it down to a smaller scale that will help people relate and understand the impact that climate change can have on them at a personal level, rather than at a macro scale which can feel too heavy.

ES: Yeah, I think humor is a great way to reach people. I have a couple comedic pieces. I think the one I really like is “Laila Pines for the Wolf” (Hassan Abdulrazzak). It’s a fractured fairy tale of Little Red Riding Hood with different iterations that show the Wolf having difficulty getting across the bridge to encounter a Little Red Riding Hood because of climate change. The last iteration is really short because there’s no Wolf in it, he couldn’t get there. It made me think of a book I’m reading right now for my Research and Development class called “The Challenge for Africa” by environmental activists Wangari Maathai. In the last chapter of her book she says something like, “The ecosystem is here—it’s always been here—and the environment’s always been here. It’s completely fine without us as people. It could go on forever. It would be okay. But us as people are not okay without the environment”. And we’re slowly destroying it. I thought it was a nice tie in to the fact that the Wolf is no longer present in the story and that the story itself completely falls apart.

It sounds like if you’re both very interested and informed on issues of climate change.

JD:  I follow a lot news outlets, that I trust, that keep me up-to-date with climate change news. I’m also doing a project for one of my journalism classes that focuses on the small changes people can make to live more sustainably. I also attended a town hall about climate change issues—many of the presidential candidates where there. I like knowing where political candidates stand on climate change—I think its one of the most important issues we’re facing right now because it impacts a bunch of different social, political and economic issues that we have, and as climate change progresses, we will ultimately have more of those issues. So it’s important to do this type of work that will help people consider changes they can make in their own lives.

Can you talk to me about the cast and how they were selected for this project?

ES: It is a pretty small cast too. We’re each working with three actors for the six pieces.

JD: We reached out to people we knew who also care a lot about the environment.

What has the rehearsal process been like?

JD: It’s just been really fun because, you know, they’re staged readings so they’re not really technically involved. I’m lucky that my actors care about climate change and are attuned to the issues present in the plays—we even started talking about the issues openly.

What have those conversations been like?

JD: I definitely feel like we’re on the same page a lot of the time.

ES: Same. It’s been pretty casual and fun. I almost feel like, at least in my sect of cultural peer group, I’ve never had incredibly vocal conversations with people about climate change, even though everyone accepts that it’s a big problem, so this is inspiring. It’s kind of crazy because in the class I’m taking right now (Research and Development), so many of the issues discussed are linked to climate change, yet the materials we’re looking at are from like the nineties.

I understand that you’re working with music composer and fellow student, Cyrus Leland, for this project. Can you talk about that collaboration and what brought about the decision to include music?

ES: I know Cyrus because last Fall I directed a production of FUN HOME and he was my music director. He’s always down to compose and collaborate. Staged readings can be a little lame because you don’t have all the technical stuff involved, but I thought incorporating music would make it feel way more elevated.

Also, one of the plays I’m directing, “The Goddess of Mt. Banahaw” (adapted by Giovanni Ortega) has a lot of Tagalog in it. I was very lucky because Cyrus is also a linguist. So I had him come to rehearsal the other night and he helped out the cast.

I almost feel like, at least in my sect of cultural peer group, I’ve never had incredibly vocal conversations with people about climate change, even though everyone accepts that it’s a big problem, so this is inspiring.

Has your engagement in this project encouraged you to continue to be part of the CCTA project?

JD: I didn’t really know much about it (CCTA) before this, but I would be interested in continuing to do work that focus on climate change because it’s something I really care about.

ES: Definitely. From the very beginning, it’s been a really interesting process. When I first got the email, the first thing I did was go in and talk to Paula (Cizmar) for like an hour. She’s just so cool, and has done a lot of interesting work. She’s just so passionate about it (CCTA), which made me passionate about it. So I would love to do more stuff down the line.

What’s up for you next, creatively or otherwise?

JD: I just directed and self-produced a student show here (at USC) and now I’m doing this (CCTA), but since I’m a double major, next semester I need to do a capstone project for my journalism major. So I’ll be working on my capstone project as well as applying to jobs. I’m already applying to fellowships. While I don’t know what lies ahead for me creatively; I’m excited, focused on graduating, and curious to see what comes next.

ES: Next semester I’ll be working with another student-run company on a theatrical project that focuses on intersectional feminism. I’ll be doing a verbatim theater piece about fem and visibility in the queer community. So I’m like really just getting started on that and am hoping to find people to interview. I’ve always really liked verbatim theater but I have never done it before, so I’ll be learning as I go. I’m trying to really enjoy that process– working collaboratively, taking advantage of all resources, trying and failing–while in my last year at college.

Thank you both and good luck!

Don’t forget to check out How To Create Your Own Environmental Justice Event on Friday, 11/8/2019, starting at 2pm at USC Lewis Hall.

Featured plays from the 2019 CCTA are:

Chantal Bilodeau – IT STARTS WITH ME
Paula Cizmar – APPEALING
Giovanni Ortega – THE GODDESS OF MT. BANAHAW
Marcus Youssef – DUST
Alister Emerson – SIX POLAR BEARS FELL OUT OF THE SKY THIS MORNING
Hassan Abdulrazzak – LAILA PINES FOR THE WOLF
Georgina Escobar – A DOG LOVES MANGO

Actors: Juan Dueñas, Grace Power, Jessica O’Connor, Katherine Jacobs, and Karl Kristian Flores

Musicians:  Cyrus Leland and Owen Boxwell

For more information on this FREE event and to RSVP, please visit: http://visionsandvoices.usc.edu/eventdetails/?event_id=30354568958120