Category Archives: Female Artists

The Search for Water…

THE LONG HOT SUMMER

At rise, inside a 1960s apartment building.  Hundred-degree days, a waning water supply and the dire need to stay in a creative space, the protagonist gathers the almost empty bottles; she pours them into one bottle, scavenges for more in bags around her home.  She can make it to the day before payday if she rations herself…  Inside an old purse she finds a five-dollar bill stuck between two receipts.  PROTAGONIST breaks out in a victory dance, slow and off beat, dehydration is cruel.

PROTAGONIST (singing)

HOT DAMN, WATER, WATER

WHAT? WHAT? WATER, WATER

                           (pause)

——–

I could have never imagined that the world would start to have hints of the BIRD BOX or the BOOK OF ELI real time and that in the midst of “working from home,” the competing stress factor would be water or the lack thereof.  So yes, I danced around a bit then promptly left for the store to restock.

The dehydration lasted a few days longer than expected, symbolically tied to the minimal writing I have been doing.  My whole self has been crying out for community…  I took a webinar on grief through Hedgebrook just for that reason.  The Webinar, “The Sixth Stage: Possibilities for Awe and Wonderment When Writing Grief” with Idrissa Simmonds-Nastili, and its ‘holding space’ was a profoundly refreshing experience.  Hedgebrook offers a lot of webinars that can be a source of gathering during this time.  This was my first one which I took on grief because I seem to be living there as of late.  Grief encompasses real estate like a swarm of bees heading home to the honeycomb looking for the sweet refuge of its cavernous walls.  Hovering over loss like a tornado, it’s the bitch that won’t go away easily, not without a fight, not without drawing the last bit of blood.  With the death of one of my cousins and one of my dear friends, my body which has been keeping score has begun to scream, “do over, do over.”  There’s no such pleasure…

What’s left is what’s left. Or, is there a way to change something – some part – of this madness?

Maybe the do over is in the expelling of the stinger and the adding of salve and alcohol.  It does help when you write about it.  Even when there’s so much of it that it can fill two lifetimes, writing moves it on it way.

I am missing the pieces of me frozen in the walls, my fingers and toes have started tingling, waking up, moving, they don’t know there’s no such thing as do over’s.  Maybe I won’t tell them, maybe I’ll just wait and see if this leads to deep welled water… deeper than this grief. Maybe it’s flowing upward from underground just waiting for me to believe so it can burst forth…

There is a wonderful article “Letter from Oakland: Black Motherhood in Sleepless Times by Idrissa Simmonds-Nastili on the Literary Hub site at https://lithub.com/letter-from-oakland-black-motherhood-in-sleepless-times/

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

by Carolina Xique

“We’re living in unprecedented times…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tanya White

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LAFPI: Who should attend this Festival and why?

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

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

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

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

Want to hear from more women artists? Make a Tax-Deductible Donation to LAFPI!

Donate now!

Los Angeles Female Playwrights Initiative is a sponsored project of Fractured Atlas, a non‐profit arts service organization. Contributions for the charitable purposes of LAFPI must be made payable to “Fractured Atlas” only and are tax‐deductible to the extent permitted by law.

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

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.

If They Stop Us From Gathering, We All Become Hunters

by Rasika Mathur

And I don’t know about you but I can’t live like that. Mind you, I have enough tomboy in me for two more lifetimes and one final incarnation, but I still have a soft fragile gooey inside that gets high off of helping post-rain snails who show up on my doorstep, taking long naps, and laughing with other people in very public spaces. I’m pretty gathery.

Can I get you a shell, sweet friend?
Or just freeballing it today?

If you’ve witnessed recent road rage or more recent panic buy, you’ve probably concluded that we can’t afford to lose that balance. That would be devolving. And how much of the mess our natural world is currently in can be traced back to the hands of hunting gone awry? 

I think right now Is about being smart. But not paranoid. I was there, vascillating this week between the two.

Monday paranoid.

Tuesday can’t do it, I need to act normal.

Wednesday paranoid from WHO.

Thursday can’t do this, just wanna touch my eyes!

Friday the scene at Trader Joe’s Silverlake GEEEEEEEZ.

Who can we credit for “PANIC ROOM 2020” ???

And today, I woke up to the grey (perfect timing this rain, eh?) lockdown feelings, thinking, “I can’t write like this. I can’t be creative, I can’t be productive, I can’t be present. What can I even say? Oh, great, I’m the guest this week, holding the mighty blog pen of LAFPI. What a waste this must be for them.”

And then, I realized, “Yup. It got me.” The other virus. The one that lowers my humorous system, tugs my love vibration to come crashing down, and dents my ability to be of service.

So I am choosing to acknowledge my fear, not of the virus, but of the powers who could create such things.

How evil hearted do you have to be to think it’s okay to release a bunch of disease all over people (during rainy weather.) Vulnerable people. Fry their insides w technology. Fill us with forced vaccine/gunk? Declare us the enemy while we go on about our lives making small, sometimes big differences but not once prioritizing harm to others. Who are these people and why do we constantly give them the keys to the most important kingdoms of our minds and our loyalty? Haven’t a handful of Extremely Sadistic Hunters messed all this up badly and bigly enough?

TRIGGER WARNING WITH THIS LINK: MAY CONTAIN INFORMATION.

When NBA, NHL, Disneyland, Hollywood Productions, and other huge organizations in arts, sports & entertainment began to shut down Wednesday…I could feel the seriousness — of course, we worry about our individual ability to pay the bills, but the bigger suggestions were to “flatten the curve” of an easily-spread, often deadly nuisance, as a collective, and I was all for that. All for that. Like, wow, we can all actually get on the same page about something. We passed those ideas on to our own yoga studios, school and class communities, small events, clubs and show outings — mostly met with shock, heavy hearts and initial resistance. What’s the big deal? People are panicking… but everyday more of a tipping point to comprehend the urgency of containment. I mean, how can I not be upset about some of the most biggest, baddest, most conscious and beautiful gatherings that have touched my life having to PAUSE if not STOP ENTIRELY?

Lightning In A Bottle!
A cheaper Burning Man!

So. Now what? I’ve literally admitted I’m powerless over all of this. Where is my power? I need some of my power back. What can I do?

There’s two viruses at play here.

The physical one, which is about being cautious and clean. I can keep sensible regarding that virus. Do all the things, the no face-touching, no going-outing, constant hand-washing things.

And the second one, which is designed to attack our mental and emotional state. I can keep monitoring how I’m allowing myself to be run by fear and negativity and collective panic.

So after waking up to media media social media, and articles, and government actions and lots of different points of view, I felt the itch to just go out, get shit done, and live.

I needed to breathe and let go. How? Because sometimes our anxiety can’t just be breathed away, right? I’m sensitive. I understand. I got you.

I look around. (like the Calm app says)

I see the beautiful Tibetan bowl gifted to me last night from my friend, Jodi. (Get present to my immediate environment)

My friends get me.

I play it. (Sound healing)

I light incense. (Magical smells)

I make the bed. (Routine) (Touching soft, cozy blankets)

Put on my hat that says “hat” (Nobody ever laughs at that)

Go outside. Breathe. Pick oranges off the tree. (Vitamin D, Vitamin C)

Drive to a DIFFERENT Trader Joe’s for my Indian frozens dammit, and take the scenic route. (Calm preparation)

Play either beautiful music by Tycho that brings my cells and DNA back to the best times of my life – or grounds me back to that young, innocent person that I was growing up in Houston, TX with my sister during our school years, Erasure on loop (Remember who you are)

I overzealously wave to other drivers as I pass them. With this simple act, my sense of humanity returns. In an attempt to be sane, I look totally insane. I feel like Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker dancing on the stairs after he…well, y’know. Except what I’d brutally murdered were my thoughts of paranoia and other-ness! (Reaching out)

THE LIGHT IN ME SEES AND HONORS THE LIGHT IN YOU,
FELLOW CITIZEN!

Choose to not text back a few people because I don’t wanna talk about IT, just wanna keep my vibe high (Shielding/Protection)

After doing all these things, this article began to write itself. My thoughts relaxed as I thought about you, receiving on the other end. I realized I could use the power of words today to comfort, relate and entertain. I started to feel like me again. And the cashier AND bagger guys at Awesome, Plentiful Trader Joe’s actually acknowledged and loved HAT!

I’m gonna leave you with the best viral links I’ve seen this week that have helped me to turn the corner on my self-care. Leave your favorite ones in the comments below. We are all aching in some way, and we need to stockpile the good vibes, and safely feel one another. You’re not alone, sweet friend.

VIDEO: Quarantined Italians Sing Together – Its like Life Is Beautiful!

For the Starseeds & Dreamers, click here
Watch Ralph Smart if you’re looking a bit shaky, baby
For my Thinkers

And finally, as a former step-mom and current nanny, tutor and favorite Auntie, to the parents who are stressing about what to do with your kids this week? You can tell me to shove it, but YOU DO have the exclusive privilege and an unprecedented opportunity of being on the frontlines of teaching this next generation how to not become self-absorbed assholes who balk everytime they don’t get their way or think something is being taken from them, lest they grow up to pursue a career in revenge against the entire human race. What a great week to gather ye little ones and teach them how to sit w themselves and meditate. With you. That way I don’t have to teach them when they’re 21 and they walk into my drug rehab because they never learned how to sit with themselves and their never-ending thoughts and desires. What a wonderful time to interrupt the nonsense and say, “hey this is important. I want you to come over here and sit with me because there’s bigger things going on right now than you not getting that toy” and “It’s okay to be scared, I’m scared too, let’s be scared together” and teach them there are people, places and things in the world we cannot always control but we can sure control how we react and respond.

My friend Nidhi Chanani reframes lockdown in a lovely way

Thanks for letting me write in this community-focused, virtual gathering space of like-minded, wonderfully artistic souls.

I’ll be over here gathering up my oranges and shiitake noodles with sprinkled bee pollen and cumin for flavor because I’m going to get reeeeallly creative with all these random foods, teaching a few healthy people yoga and deep breathing for anxiety, making myself laugh, and Trusting that I’m being taken care of.

Rasika Mathur is a writer and yogi. She is always living the dream.

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

by Carolina Xique

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

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

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

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

Alana Dietze

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

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

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

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

Chiara Atik

Alana: Skid Row.

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

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

LAFPI: And that’s very LA.

Alana: Yes!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chiara: The play definitely doesn’t.

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

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

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

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Let it Come…

by Robin Byrd

In the green and blue mist

I make my way back to earth borne tragedies, dimly lit pathways, and houses full of clutter

I would run but my knees ache and I am tired of the switchbacks

I would rest but pine needles are sparse in this part of the forest

The Wind says something’s coming

The cold is like ice on my bones, joints crackling louder than whatever that is that’s following me

I would be afraid but I have an urgent need to draw blood

The years have changed me and I can no longer hide the warrior side of me

Let it come

I will be as Simeon and Levi against Shechem

I will roar like Judah

My yell will topple the trees for I am, indeed, Judah’s daughter

A double portion I was given and I shall draw blood

Let it come, quickly in this thick solitude that blankets the night

Let it wake the birds and startle the muffled river for I am full of righteous indignation

I need to fight, I’m not running anymore

Shall the uncircumcised overtake me?  Shall they make sport of me?

Nay; it will go another way this day

If I make the clearing before the attack

I will wade into the river and draw it in after me where my hands shall drag it beneath to the water’s bed and I will break it like a stick

If I must fight in this forest

I will stand here, in the middle, like Shammah, son of Agee the Hararite when the Philistines came and he stood in the middle of the lentil field and fought victoriously, he took his stand and defended the field and struck them down

I too shall defend and strike down —

This thing that follows me, hunts me like prey, taunts my life ,

Will do so no more for I shall be a terror to it this day…

Let it come

Judah’s girl is woke and pissed the Hell off….

Spotlight on Three Fabulous Women of Breakthrough Reading Series

Teresa Huang, Karen Herr & Melissa Bickerton

As I said, I would take a special post to highlight the three co-producers of Breakthrough Reading Series because I believe they deserve so much recognition for what they done started, y’all!

Teresa Huang

Is she looking at you like that because you’re
inspiring another story idea?

I first met Teresa Huang through a mutual friend and prolific, talented artist and illustrator Nidhi Chanani on her visit to LA. Add to the mix another mutual friend and creatress, the marvelous workhorse Cecil Castelluci, and you know I’m sitting up to pay attention about how I could possibly hang in this magnificent mix.

Over the next few years, I’d see and hear about many of Teresa’s ventures, and what stood out was how she would generously inform her communities about networking opportunities, fellowship and scholarship deadlines, casting notices, and more writing gigs. She doesn’t keep anything to herself. She has literally cultivated her community by giving away what keeps coming back to her. This trait has blown me away and kept me watching and learning from her.

A quick glance at her social media reveals how many have been touched by her generous spirit

Teresa just wrapped on her second show as a staff writer. In 2020, she’ll be fielding new writing opportunities and finishing up the first draft of her sci-fi romance novel. And of course, she churns out great work in volume making BRS her own gym and playground where all are invited to partake.

I’m playing the essence of a 13 year old Chinese-American girl and Aimee McCrary is playing the essence of a traditional Chinese grandfather. Clearly this is a game of heart and soul.

When Teresa Huang announces that she is taking what’s in her brain and teaching POC how to write a pilot, you sign up. Or apply for the scholarship. Or attend the showcase. Or get one of the students drunk, make them talk and take notes. I had strong motivation to do all of the above, and in the end, was invited to act in the class’s student showcase at East West Players just this past November.

Laying the groundwork for more diverse stories on TV

Teresa is no stranger to the lonely grind of LA and says that what’s kept her going is focusing her energy on what’s important outside of her career aspirations. She also draws upon classic wisdom from some modern-day creators:

“I live by two words – gratitude and tenacity. Tenacity gets me where I want to go and gratitude doesn’t allow me to be angry along the way.” ~ Henry Winkler
“Stop complaining and just be undeniable.” ~ Sarah Silverman
“Be so good they can’t ignore you.” ~ Steve Martin

Lucky for us Karen and Teresa love working together

Karen Herr

In an alternate universe, Karen is a hair care commercial model

This woman. This voice. This cosmic cheerleader for artists. Where do we begin? I met Karen at BRS obviously, and we quickly gravitated to each other because that is one positive energy swirl!

Karen is responsible for penning the first piece I ever saw, a rom-com called IN LIKE FLYNN, when BRS was being held at Tom Bergen’s bar in a packed back room in the summer of 2017. What I witnessed was astonishing: A dashing Asian-American actor playing lead to a gorgeous woman and nobody was batting an eye. It was the most natural thing to this room.

Happy faces that frequently show up in my gram ~ Karen, Aimee, actress Megan Barker

Karen likes and marches towards challenges, and she not only casts with actors of color in mind, she actually writes stories about POC. When she spoke to me about a few scripts she’s got in development, she came off so humble and open. For her process, she will make a point to surround herself with people of different backgrounds so that she can display historical/factual accuracy, pepper in cultural insider gems, and approach with sensitivity. Don’t we want more writers like HERR?

Karen also has a collaborative spirit. Not only was she willing to make some time to give me screenwriting notes on a script I will eventually showcase, she came onboard the crew of “What’s In Front Of You?” – seven beautiful one-acts written and directed by Joe Walsh, also a BRS alum, to bring it to the Broadwater stages, and brought me along with her! Because when Karen Herr has you in mind for something, you say YES!

Cast & Crew of What’s In Front of You? Can you spot the photoshopped people?

Melissa Bickerton

It’s the eyes. No wait, the smile. No wait…

Melissa is the casting powerhouse of BRS. When you come to our room, introduce yourself to her, and let her work you in to the myriad of roles to fill. One of the biggest highlights for me was when she saw me, her face lit up upon recognition from the previous month and she made her way over to hold my hand and eagerly introduce me to a writer.

Melissa spearheads the casting of 60+ roles
each month at BRS

She knows this part well because she is a brilliant actress herself. She got her start as a young dancer and singer in Australia, booking the starring role in a major musical against all odds. It’s always a treat for the BRS crowd when she takes a role for herself in a piece or two for the evening.

I mean would you pass up the chance to play in a project by Chriselle Almeida called SHAKESPEARE’S HEROINES AT THE GYNECOLOGIST? Me thinketh not.

With such a full roster of TV/Film appearances under her belt, Melissa shared some of her triumphs in this business and told me this very inspiring story:

“I was offered The League which is a completely improvised show – no script at all. When I got the offer I said, ‘Who booked me? I don’t know anyone in that casting office!’ Well it turns out I had auditioned for another office and the associate girl BEHIND THE CAMERA whom I barely remembered MOVED to this new office and literally PUT ME UP FOR THIS based on THAT comedy audition.  And it turned out to be a beautiful four scenes … and I got to have the last comedic beat of the episode … So it was a foundation for a new found confidence with comedy from which I went on to book Arrested Development, Shameless and Love (Netflix).”

Getting in on quality shows is a career dream fulfilled

Most recently, Melissa is starring in and producing a short film called Post Sentence produced by Teresa Huang. It was showcased at BRS and it got a fantastic response. She also recently shot an episode of ABC’s Fresh Off The Boat.

Inspired? Of course you are! If you ever have the chance to hang out with, attend an event with, learn from or jump onboard to offer your services to any of these wonderful women, do it. You will grow personally, professionally, and skip away with a sparkling pep in your step.

The next Breakthrough Reading Series will be held February 5, 2020 at the Broadwater (Main Stage). Tickets are being sold now. See Writer Submission details at the same link.

Rasika Mathur is a comedy actress, writer, and yoga instructor. She has tv/film and stage credits but is most proud of being able to have drinks with all these people while holding a Sprite.