Category Archives: Female Artists

The FPI Files: East West Players and Fountain Theatre Team Up for Jiehae Park’s “Hannah and the Dread Gazebo”

by Carolina Xique

It’s an exciting time to be an artist. In the last few years, the arts industry has been experiencing a high production value in diverse storytelling aimed toward better representation of people of color, and more specifically, Asian and Asian American representation. With groundbreaking films such as Crazy Rich Asians, Netflix’s Always be My Maybe, The Farewell, as well as the successful theatrical production of Cambodian Rock Band, people everywhere are becoming more exposed to the nuances of the Asian/Asian-American experience.

With a cast that is almost entirely made up of Koreans and Korean Americans, Jiehae Park’s Hannah and the Dread Gazebo takes a family on a funny, heartbreaking adventure to reconnect with their roots in South and North Korea, and also into the forbidden Demilitarized Zone that divides them. Hannah premiered at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in 2017, and is now set to open at the Fountain Theatre in association with East West Players, directed by Jiehae’s longtime collaborator, Jennifer Chang. So we thought we’d grab the chance to talk with them about their own adventure with this play.

LAFPI: First, let us say that we’re thrilled to hear about this new piece and that it’s making its way into Los Angeles!

Jiehae, as playwright, can you talk about how the idea for this play came to you? And Jennifer, as the director, what drew you to take on this piece?

Jiehae Park: I didn’t know I was writing a play! I was primarily a performer at the time.  There were quite a few big questions I was trying to figure out—and I think the unusual shape of the play reflects that. I would sit down and write down stories that came to me in that moment, not realizing it was all going to add up to something bigger.

Jennifer Chang: I am a huge fan of Jiehae’s and have been following her career with personal interest for some time as we share an alma mater: we both went through the MFA Acting program at UCSD and have both diversified our careers.  She is a significant talent and I am so thrilled to have this opportunity to collaborate with her on Hannah and the Dread Gazebo. The musicality of the language and the inherent theatricality that emerges from her ability to weave a multiplicity of thought and theme are all very exciting and honestly a dream to be able to dive into.  Also, I love being able to support the telling of Asian American stories in their universality and three-dimensionality.

Playwright Jiehae Park

LAFPI: What kind of research did you do when writing Hannah, Jiehae?

Jiehae: I didn’t research much initially, but I did do quite a bit before finishing the play (that’s been a recurring pattern in my writing process these last few years). The research didn’t directly go into the play, but provided a richer historical and cultural context that helped me complete it.

LAFPI: A follow-up to that, in terms of your other plays and writing process, was anything different for Hannah and the Dread Gazebo?

Jiehae: Broadly, I seem to have two general types of plays—super-quick, freight-train-speed linear ones; or messier, slower-baking plays where the structure is far less predictable. Hannah is definitely in the latter category.

Director Jennifer Chang

LAFPI: Jennifer, what in your directing process is helping you with Hannah?

Jennifer: Regarding research, the usual dramaturgical work of researching was involved: Korea, the DMZ, politics of North and South and Kim Jong Il. I wanted to lean into the magic-realism of the play, and early on knew that I wanted to consult with an illusionist, and also started doing some research into magic (I’m currently reading Spellbound by David Kwong). It’s been so great to have a cast that is almost entirely Korean and Korean American.  There are some points of commonality amongst Asian Americans, but being able to tap into specific details, nuances, and experiences that the cast has so generously shared with the company and has contributed to the making of the show has been invaluable.  It’s illuminating to discover the tiny nuances of how gestures and thinking sounds differ for Koreans in, and those from, Korea. I love new plays and really view myself as a locksmith in my approach to collaboration.  I want to know what the play wants to be, the playwright’s intentions, what’s resonating with the cast and how they approach the work, and how best to facilitate the conversation and “the ride” so to speak, with the audience.

Actors Monica Hong and Gavin Lee – Photo by Jenny Graham

LAFPI: Where does this piece fit in this new age of Asian/Asian American storytelling? How is it different?

Jiehae: I think it’s an exciting time for bold, uniquely Asian American storytelling that takes up its own space, written for audiences that include—though not exclusively—Asian Americans. Hannah is a play about the in-between-ness of a certain kind of Korean American immigrant identity, where the “homeland” can seem just as foreign as America. It’s written deliberately for a mixed audience—of Korean speakers and of non-Korean speakers—of all ethnicities. A lot of the work I’m excited about lately takes the old binaries and exposes them for what they always were—convenient fictions, with the far richer textures lying in between.

Jennifer:  I think the new age is a function of capitalism producers and production companies are recognizing that an underserved market exists and that if production companies and theaters want to keep making as much money as they have been while building and creating new audiences, the Asian and Asian American audience will have to feel represented in the storytelling.

LAFPI: Is there anything you’d like to share about the casting process?

Jennifer: Only to say that I was looking for actors who could really capture the essence of ‘Han’—which is defined as a certain melancholy that is specific to Korean culture and people. I don’t mean to say that people of other cultures can’t possess Han. A western analogy would be the sadness and longing found in Chekhov’s plays. At its core, the play is about a family and reflecting on what this family’s particular family story is and how inextricably linked it is to the culture upon whose bedrock the family’s roots lay. Everybody comes from some place and has a family story.

Actors Hahn Cho and Monica Hong – Photo by Jenny Graham

LAFPI: We’re looking forward to seeing both sides of the coin of this dynamic show: the funny and the tragic. Jennifer, how does this show find that balance and how do you design that into the show?

Jennifer:  It’s really about honoring the text and mining the emotional wells that exist because of the circumstances that the characters find themselves in. And hopefully the audience can recognize those moments and respond. Laughter and tears are universal and unconscious and bubble up because of a recognition. The company of actors and I are working on the text with an eye and ear on the specificity of the rhythm of the play and essentially choreographing to the music of that language.

LAFPI: East West Players is a theatre company known for its work lifting up Asian-American stories. How do you feel about bringing the LA premiere of Hannah in collaboration with EWP and the Fountain Theatre?

Jiehae: Honored. I had a reading of my very first play—which had been my college thesis—at EWP over a decade ago… In the time since, I figured out I wasn’t a playwright, went to grad school for something else, then re-figured out that I was.  And Stephen Sachs at the Fountain reached out about the play very soon after the OSF premiere—I’ve long admired the scripts he brings to LA area audiences. Additionally, Jen directed an early reading of the play at EWP years ago, and I acted in a show with Jully Lee [who is in the production’s cast]  that Howard Ho (Hannah‘s Sound Design/Composer) music directed when I was right out of school. I’m bummed to not have been able to be out there for rehearsals, but happy that it feels all in the family.

Jennifer: I think it’s really smart theatre-making to cross-pollinate and support the universality of human experiences and good work regardless of color.  A collaboration like this signals that this isn’t just work by people of color, but that it’s good work worth supporting, period.

LAFPI: And what do you want audiences to take with them when they leave the Fountain Theatre after seeing Hannah and the Dread Gazebo?

Jennifer: Garlic in their pockets.

“Hannah and the Dread Gazebo” opens August  17 at The Fountain Theatre, produced in association with East West Players. Visit www.FountainTheatre.com for reservations and more information.

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

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

Donate now!

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

The FPI Files: She NYC Back in LA with Cool Summer Theater Festival

It’s no surprise to any of us in who work the LA Theater scene that the City of Angels is full of major talent – artists who work on and create for the stage, NOT just film and TV. But it’s always satisfying when artists from New York agree with us! Last year, the ladies behind She NYC Arts came to the West Coast to stage their first Summer Theater Festival here under the banner of She LA Arts.

It went so well that they’re back! The 2019  She LA Summer Theater Festival  features productions (not just readings!) of full-length plays by Nakisa Aschtiani, Karen Lukesh, Allie Wittner, Ali MacLean and Tiffani Dean, July 30-Aug 4 at the Zephyr Theatre. So we figured it was about time to have a little chat with the organization’s Artistic Director, Danielle DeMatteo.

LAFPI: Can you talk a bit about how She NYC Arts began? And are the Theater Festivals in NYC and now in LA your main focus?

Danielle DeMatteo

Danielle: She NYC  was founded back in 2015 after I had some experiences in the industry as a young, female composer/ rehearsal pianist that were, to say the least, difficult. When I spoke to other early- to mid-career women writers, composers, musicians, and music directors, I found that we all had really similar experiences. It was great to know I wasn’t alone, but was also infuriating. And that made us want to actually do something to fix it.

We found that as a writer starting out in NYC, you had two options to get your work up in full for an audience: self-produce and potentially empty your savings account doing it, or sell your work to a producer who you may or may not trust (and who were usually rich older men). My colleagues and I wanted to find a way to bridge this gap by giving women a way to self-produce and retain control and agency over their own work, without having to take the huge financial risk. So we built on the idea of a festival, where the writers can share the costs associated with producing, giving everyone subsidized and free resources to get their work fully produced. We do some smaller events throughout the year (short play staged readings, concerts of songs by women composers, etc.), but the Festivals in NYC and LA are our main projects.

LAFPI: And just what was it that brought She NYC Arts out to LA?

Danielle: Our second year in NYC, 3 of our 8 shows flew from California to participate. That made it pretty clear to us that there was a need for a program like this on the West Coast, too, and that there were a ton of talented writers in the Los Angeles area who we could invest in. Our first year in LA, 2 of those 3 writers actually became a core part of our producing team to get She LA up and running.

LAFPI: Was there a learning curve setting up camp on the West Coast?

Tech for “The Legend of Bonny Anne” by Chandler Patton, 2018 She LA Summer Theater Festival

Danielle: In NYC, almost everyone in the theater community has worked on [this kind of] festival at some point (often more than once). So everyone – from writers, to directors, to the actors – fully understands how to put up a show when you have very limited tech and load-in time. In LA, we found that the shows’ teams were not always used to that – and rightfully so, because it’s totally crazy! Because of that, we’ve created more wiggle room in our schedule in LA.

LAFPI: Most new play festivals in LA feature readings or workshops. But you wanted to do more?

Danielle: At She NYC and She LA, our mission is founded on supporting the writers, who are often the first to start work and the last to get paid. When we started in NYC, we had the same situation: There were lots of programs focused on providing staged readings, workshops, or concerts, but no programs that let specifically women writers see their work put up in full. As a writer myself, I know that’s a vital part of the writing process – to see how your scenes work next to each other when you have to do a set change in the middle, or to see how your music works when choreography is added to it.

Carol Weiss conducting her musical “The Door to America,” in rehearsal for the 2018 She LA Festival

We want to provide a platform for writers to be able to take that step in full productions – which we define simply as the cast being off-book – but we encourage our writers to do whatever level of production quality they feel will best help them where they’re at in their writing process. If that means you want to do your show black-box style with just a few chairs and blocks, great! If you feel you really need to see your show done in full period costumes with a 5-piece band, we support that, too.

LAFPI: Each year, you have an open submission call  for scripts. What has been your experience with the plays and artists who have participated in the She LA Festivals?

Danielle: We are so floored by the level of talent in LA. I won’t name names, but my two favorite shows that we’ve ever done on either coast were She LA shows. I think what’s also refreshing about LA is that our artists out here tend to have a lot of fun with their experience. In New York (again, because folks are really used to the festival lifestyle out there), it can sometimes feel like it’s all business. Which is very important! But in LA, our participants are more likely to have lots of fun WHILE doing their business. They’re also great at self-promotion and social media on the West Coast.

LAFPI: What kind of experience and support can female playwrights who participate in a She LA Festival look forward to? 

Danielle: Basically, [for a participation fee] She LA provides all of the technical/logistical things, so the writers can focus on the creative parts of bringing their show to life. The writers provide, and have full control over, their cast, creative team, set design, and costume design. She LA provides the theater space, all of the equipment that goes inside of it (from big things like lights and curtains, to small thinks like spike tape), insurance, and the staff to run their shows.

We provide an amazing Production Manager who runs all tech and performances, as well as her Associate; a Lighting Designer who programs the lights for every show (at the direction of the show’s creative team); front-of-house staff to manage all things that happen in the lobby, including ticketing and printing programs; and a marketing team that helps each creative team promote their own show, as well as making a video ad for each show which we pay to run on social media and other digital outlets. My favorite part of the program, too, is that we provide a Show Mentor to each production. This person is a She LA staff member who is there to guide the writers and their teams through the process, offer advice, help out whenever an extra pair of hands is needed, and make sure they’re prepared and ready to go for their tech and performances.

LAFPI: She LA (and She NYC!) Festivals seem look like they’re very much a team effort. How do you manage to keep a cohesive team together working on either end of the country? 

She LA 2018 Staff

Danielle: “Team effort” is almost an understatement! Pretty much everyone on our team works another day job in the entertainment industry, and we handle She NYC and She LA on the side. On the one hand, that means we’re all crazy busy, with an all-hands-on-deck mentality as we get close to Festival time. On the other hand, it means we all have active contacts in the upper echelons of the entertainment industry, so we can involve some great industry contacts in our program to get our writers’ work in front of them.

For Emily Rellis (the She LA Executive Producer) and I, it’s been a fun ride to build a team in LA. It can be challenging that Emily and I are not on the ground in LA, but they’ve been awesome with being available on the phone, and even FaceTiming us in to a walkthrough of the theater.

LAFPI: Now that the 2nd She LA Summer Theater Festival is around the corner, what are you most looking forward to?

Danielle: This year, I’m very excited that we have one show coming in from Philadelphia (Between the Colored Lines and Other Black Girl Tales, by playwright and poet Tiffani Dean). They actually were a part of the 2018 She NYC Festival, and now are flying out to LA for their West Coast premiere! That’s our first time doing a show on both coasts, and we can’t wait to see how it goes.

That being said, we’re so excited to see all of the shows! We’ve been reading the scripts on paper and talking to the writers via email for so long (we first read their scripts last November!), so finally getting to see them up on their feet is thrilling.

LAFPI: Anything else you want to talk about or share?

Danielle: Thanks to LAFPI for all that you do and all your support! We hope to see you all at The Zephyr Theater. And if anyone wants to get involved with She LA, we’d love to hear from you! Reach us at info@shenycarts.org, and there’s more information about all of our programs at www.SheLAArts.org.

For Tickets and Info about the 2019 She LA Summer Theater Festival, presenting 5 new full-length plays by women writers and composers July 30-August 4, visit www.SheLAArts.org/she-la.

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.

Continuing the Journey of “Rag Head”

By Sundeep Morrison 

On August 5, 2012, a white supremacist entered a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin and opened fire in the main prayer hall and murdered six people. Soon after, I received a frantic call from my younger brother telling me that he was unable to reach our parents. My parents are members of that temple and every Sunday, like millions of their fellow Americans, they go to a place of worship and bow their heads in prayer.

For an hour that felt like an eternity, we were unable to reach them. My younger brother had arrived at the scene – a place that was once filled with calm and solace now reeling with chaos and sadness sectioned off by yellow police tape. I was in LA with my young daughter, feeling completely helpless and preparing myself for the worst. Then finally the phone rang; it was my mother telling me that they had gone to a different temple that morning and she and my father were safe. This would not be the reality for my uncle and several family friends who were shot and killed in the shooting. 

Sundeep Morrison in RAG HEAD

I found myself in a deep state of depression, feeling a mixture of anger and sadness. Having something horrific hit so close to home put me in a constant state of worry over my parents. I picked up my pen and began to write as a release, and as a result, my one woman show RAG HEAD An American Story was born.

Set in a small American town and inspired by actual events, RAG HEAD explores hate, hope and American identity. I portray seven inextricably linked characters whose lives are forever changed by one hateful act. All the characters in the play are inspired my family and friends. It’s a deeply personal piece, about how ignorance can be deadly.

I will be performing the show at the The Complex Hollywood on Saturday July 27th. This performance will be filmed and proceeds will go toward taking my show on the road in hopes to educate and foster understanding about the Sikh community.

Sundeep Morrison portrays a Sikh doctor in RAG HEAD

And on Aug 3 & 4 I will be performing the show at the Broadway Theatre in Milwaukee to support the Interfaith Conference of greater Wisconsin and to honor the seven-year remembrance of the Oak Creek Sikh Temple tragedy.

With your support, you could help raise awareness and become an ally to the Sikh American community. According to the Sikh Coalition there are roughly 500,000 American Sikhs; many of which have been subjected to xenophobic harassment or violence. Sadly over 70% of Americans do not know who Sikhs are or what their faith entails. This is a story that must be shared and with your presence we can spread our message of unity.

Thank you again for your support, I hope to see you at the show.

RAG HEAD An American Story plays in Hollywood Saturday July 27th at 7pm – Tickets tiny.cc/RAGHEAD

SUNDEEP MORRISON is a Punjabi Sikh writer, actress, director, author and activist. A graduate of the American Musical and Dramatic Academy NY, her work focuses on social justice, cultural friction, inter-ethnic family dynamics and feminism. She resides in Los Angeles with her husband and two children.

“Apple Season” Comes Home to LA

by E.M. Lewis

I started writing Apple Season [Moving Arts‘ production opens July 13] about ten years ago, when I was living in Los Angeles. I was invited to write a ten-minute play on, as I recall, the theme of “backyard fruit.” As sometimes happens with a writing prompt, something unlocked inside of me when I put pen to paper. A story about legacies of violence and how to escape them. A story about family and friends, and memory and monsters. All set in an apple orchard in my home state of Oregon, on a farm much like the one where I grew up.

I think it was a darker ten-minute play than the folks at Botanicum Seedlings had in mind, but that was the play their prompt inspired. And those characters continued to clamor for more story, well after our readings there in Topanga Canyon.

Liza Fernandez in rehearsal for “Apple Season” – photo by Cece Tio

Funny how things work.

It seems very right to be here now, telling this particular story. For lots of reasons.

This is a play about coming home. And in every possible way, that’s what I’ve done. I live back on my family farm in Oregon, now, just like one of the characters in the play. I’m back in Los Angeles for this production, working with the theater company I first called home.

One of the reasons is that this is a story with a woman at the center of it. From politics to soccer, there is a rising understanding that women belong at the center of stories.

This is a story that grapples with domestic violence and violence against women. And there is also a rising understanding that the truth of those types of violence, so long suppressed, must come out. We are going to bring them out. Because as much as speaking hurts, silence hurts us more.

This is a story about agency. There are so many things happening right now that make us feel powerless. And overwhelmed. And afraid. But even when our actions are small, they can change the world. One small step at a time.

I’m grateful to my friend, director, and long time collaborator Darin Anthony and my friend, producer, and long time collaborator Cece Tio for bringing Apple Season to Moving Arts. I absolutely adore my cast — Liza Fernandez as Lissie Fogerty, Justin Huen as her brother, Roger Fogerty, and Rob Nagle as Billy Rizzell. Our designers are working magic, over at the Atwater Village Theater, building us an apple orchard full of memories and ghosts.

I hope that you’ll join us for the show!

Moving Arts’ “Apple Season” runs July 13 – August 5 at Atwater Village Theatre, part of a National New Play Network Rolling World Premiere. For Tix & Info visit www.MovingArts.org or call (323) 472-5646.

Justin Huen and Rob Nagle in rehearsal for “Apple Season” – photo by Cece Tio

E. M. LEWIS is an award-winning playwright, teacher, and opera librettist. Her work has been produced around the world, and is published by Samuel French. Plays include: Magellanica, Apple Season (currently having a National New Play Network rolling world premiere at New Jersey Rep, Riverside Theater, and Moving Arts), How the Light Gets In (which will have its world premiere at Boston Court Pasadena this fall), The Gun Show, Song of Extinction, Heads, Infinite Black Suitcase, Goodbye Ruby Tuesday, Reading to Vegetables, True Story, and You Can See All the Stars (a Kennedy Center commission). Awards include: the Steinberg Award and Primus Prize from the American Theater Critics Association, the Ted Schmitt Award from the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle, a Hodder Fellowship from Princeton University, a playwriting fellowship from NJ State Arts Commission, the 2016 Oregon Literary Fellowship in Drama, and the Edgerton Award. Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Fallen Giant, a new opera that Lewis is creating with composer Evan Meier, commissioned by American Lyric Theater, had a piano vocal workshop in New York City in March. Town Hall, an opera Lewis created with composer Theo Popov, was produced at Willamette University in March as well. Lewis is currently working on a big new political play called The Great Divide. She is a proud member of LineStorm Playwrights and the Dramatists Guild, and lives on her family’s farm in Oregon.

All Hail #FringeFemmes! Meet Aisha Kasmir

By Constance Strickland

We know that when there is cultural and racial equality in theatre, it makes room for artists from all walks of life to contribute to the history of theatre. It is vital that we make space, open doors wider for women from all cultures to have a chance to have their voices included in the future of theatre.

Selfie stars Aisha Kasmir, in a cabaret revue honoring the songs of seventies sensation Minnie Riperton. It’s been forty-five years since the hit song “Lovin You” climbed to the top of the Billboard Hot 100 list and forty years since Minnie passed on. This  is an ode to  Minnie and a celebration of Aisha finding her voice and  her way back to herself through the discovery of Minne Riperton’s music. #HFF19’s Selfie promises to take you on a musical ride through self-discovery, self-love, self-actualization and accepting your true identity.

Constance: How long have you’ve been sitting with this work? What led you to Fringe?

Aisha: I started sketching out this cabaret in 2016 when my vocal coach suggested I create a tribute concert to better showcase my vocals. What started as a traditional cabaret – storytelling and singing – became something more avant garde. A friend and stage manager then pushed me to try to put my show up at the Fringe Festival. 90% of the music was done, I was in the middle of writing the talking points, so I said, “It’s now or never.”

Constance: The work is now out there. How does that feel?

Aisha: It feels liberating that I’m no longer the only one hearing the genius of Minnie Riperton and her eclectic music. If at least one person per show starts streaming and downloading her music and keeps her voice alive, I’m happy.

Constance: What are you enjoying most doing your show? What has been the most surprising discovery?

Aisha: I enjoy singing those whistle tones! I guess people really like them and it gives me a heady rush every time. The most surprising discovery is how different each audience is, but I have to remain true to my story and confident in my show. I can’t change tactics because there wasn’t as big a laugh in one show versus another. I like it, and I’m not going to apologize!

Constance: What’s been your biggest challenge in terms of your development process?

Aisha: Getting the music done. Minnie Riperton didn’t leave behind a lot of sheet music or even tracks, so I had to transcribe (with the help of a transcriptionist) and recreate and reproduce all the tracks with my own twist and embellishments. That part took two years to complete.

Constance: What do you hope audience members take away from your show?

Aisha: That expectations and boxes are for test takers and rule makers, and as artists, we have to break free from those constraints, and as audiences, we have to allow people to give us something different.

For more information on SELFIE in HFF19, visit https://fringemeter.hollywoodfringe.org/projects/5758

Aisha Kasmir

All Hail #FringeFemmes! Meet Chi Le

By Constance Strickland

We know that when there is cultural and racial equality in theatre, it makes room for artists from all walks of life to contribute to the history of theatre. It is vital that we make space, open doors wider for women from all cultures to have a chance to have their voices included in the future of theatre.

Introducing the one and only Chi Le! If you happen to be a Toy Story fan, then you most likely know and love the story of Woody and Buzz, yet are unfamiliar with the story of Sid and Andy! No worries, Chi’s got you covered in her adaptation of the Toy Story Fanfic, Under The Table And Dreaming by Holly Combs.  She’s manifested her dreams and directed the #HFF19 production, giving ALL proceeds to the LA LGBTQ Center, an organization that is close to Chi’s heart.

Constance: How long have you’ve been sitting with this work? What led you to Fringe and why now?

Chi: I’ve been working on this for a year now! I had been thinking of adapting Under the Table for a long, long time, but was worried about getting a cease and desist. Then I went to see the extended run of 19 Years Later, the Cursed Child remake! It really encouraged me to just go for it since this was a fanwork that was being showcased!

Constance: The work is now out there. How does that feel?

Chi: It feels really good! When you’ve been working on something for as long as I did, sometimes you feel stuck with it or you lose sight of why you began/fell in love with it in the first place. It’s nice to receive feedback from an audience or just rediscover things about it as the process goes on.

Constance: What has been the biggest discovery doing your show? What are you enjoying most?

Chi: I’m learning a lot about what people take from the story and how difficult but rewarding it is to translate something to stage! It’s also just been such a blast working with my very talented cast, seeing how they change little things every performance and how they just really embody their characters. It’s WILD seeing that happen

Constance: What’s been your biggest challenge in terms of this production?

Chi: Money. Hahahahahahahhaa.

Constance: What do you hope audience members take away from your show?

Chi: I hope that the straight audience members can see a queer story unfold that isn’t tragic or about coming out or even about being queer, necessarily — that we have rich, full lives and that our stories are just regular love stories. And for other queer folk, I hope they get some comfort in the thought of a real, true love and get to see a reflection of themselves in these works.

For more information on UNDER THE TABLE AND DREAMING in HFF19, visit https://fringemeter.hollywoodfringe.org/projects/5904

Chi Le

All Hail #FringeFemmes! Meet Odunayo Majekodunmi

By Constance Strickland

We know that when there is cultural and racial equality in theatre, it makes room for artists of all walks of life to contribute to the history of theatre. It is vital that we make room, make way for women from all backgrounds to have a chance to be included in the future of theatre. It is with great excitement and joy, I introduce Odunayo Majekodunmi, the GIRL FROM SCHENECTADY! Odunayo’s #HFF19 show received an Honorable Mention from the Fringe. Odunayo takes us on a personal journey from her Nigerian roots to finding love in her hometown of Schnetady, NY… in the most unexpected of places. Does losing your virginity need to include true love? 

Constance: How long have you’ve been sitting with this work? What led you to Fringe?

Odunayo: I started writing my show about 8 years ago. I was advised by my director, Danielle Mone’ Truitt,  to open the show at the Fringe. I started attending Fringe one-person shows in 2017 and 2018, which gave me confidence to move forward.

Constance: The work is now out there; you’ve given it away. How does that feel?

Odunayo: It feels amazing! I’m so excited to keep up my show and to continue performing it for audiences. I’m happy with the feedback that I’ve been getting; most of it is from women stating the story is very relatable and they have experienced similar situations. Audience members have also mentioned the story is funny, entertaining and heartfelt.

Constance: What are you enjoying most doing your show? What has been the biggest  discovery?

Odunayo: I am enjoying performing my show and perfecting it each time I get on stage, believing each performance  will be better than the last one. I was nervous about how men would react to the story because I didn’t want them to think it was male bashing of any kind. Luckily, I haven’t received that response from the male audiences.

Constance: What’s been your biggest challenge in terms of the Fringe?

Odunayo:  Producing and marketing the show myself. Writing the script, rehearsing, finding the right director was one thing. However, deciding to produce it and pay for everything was challenging – but I’m so proud of myself that I accomplished it!

Constance: What do you hope audience members take away from your show?

Odunayo: I hope audience members are inspired, encouraged and empowered in their lives, especially in believing in true love – women in particular who have experienced any kind of pain in relationships, or just haven’t had the best luck in finding Mr. Right.

For more information on THE GIRL FROM SCHENECTADY in HFF19, visit  https://www.hollywoodfringe.org/projects/5754

Odunayo Majekodunmi

All Hail #FringeFemmes! Meet Amrita Dhaliwal

By Constance Strickland

We know that when there is cultural and racial equality in theatre, it makes room for artists from all walks of life to contribute to the history of theatre. It is vital that we make space, open doors wider for women from all cultures to have a chance to have their voices included in the future of theatre. I am humbled, inspired and overall ecstatic to introduce Amrita Dhaliwal! Amrita debuted Lady Love in the 2013 Fringe, and now returns for #HFF19 with Gemma Soldati in THE LIVING ROOM, a physical comedy about death that is a modern day reflection on how grief affects one’s soul and body. 

Constance: How long have you’ve been sitting with this work? What led you to Fringe and why now?

Amrita: It’s hard to say how long I’ve been sitting with this work really – perhaps my whole life, death has been there. But I think I can cleanly say that after my mom’s death in November of 2017, I was flattened in a way that I had never experienced. My pain and immense grief felt so universal, and yet in our American world, I felt so alone. I started to see how much we hide death in our culture and communities. Slowly that started to include writing and reading about loss in other cultures and their practices around death. And then very slowly I started having conversations with fellow devising artists about their experiences. And that’s where The Living Room was birthed. My creative partner, Gemma Soldati, also a doula, and I shared a deep curiosity and desire to express this through our work as clowns. Gemma had lost her boyfriend, as well very suddenly, so we shared a deep understanding of each other’s journeys. We started with “work-in-progress” shows in October 2018 in which we asked for feedback from the audience. And through that process  we had a final product by March of 2019. We are taking the show to Melbourne Fringe and Edinburgh Festival Fringe, so the Hollywood Fringe run is really for us to prepare for those festivals.

Constance: The work is now out there; you’ve given it away. How does that feel?

Amrita: It’s strange because to me it doesn’t feel like we give it away, it feels like the audience gives us something every time, too. Because there’s no fourth wall in our work and everything is direct address, it feels as if in every show we – the audience included –  create something together. And we leave it in that space when it ends, but we are changed because of that shared experience. I would love to ask audiences this same question!

Constance: What are you enjoying most doing your show?

Amrita: The play and the growing love, trust and commitment with Gemma. The show requires so much for us to be in sync and really be in alignment and it’s been so deeply rewarding to continue to grow with Gemma, which in turn makes the show so much more powerful, vulnerable and a gift for everyone to unwrap and enjoy.

Constance: What’s been your biggest challenge in terms of this production?

Amrita: As a woman of color doing comedy and self-producing theatre, it is a challenge to exist in these arenas. We do not receive the same systemic support, credibility, respect and access to resources as cis white men. These challenges – again, because they are systemic in nature – exist within the Fringe and will within the ecosystems ahead of us. That is, unfortunately, the nature of our world. However, we have been particularly fortunate to have the support from our community of clowns, Idiots, and artists as we’ve developed the show. What has also really helped us meet these challenges the most have been other women and organizations like LAFPI supporting us and shining a light on our work.

Constance: What do you hope audience members take away from your show?

Amrita: Due to the nature of this work, it’s really up to them what they take or leave with us. We don’t have designs on what they need to feel. If I had to say one thing I hope for, I suppose it’s simply that they go into the world just a little bit more curious about death. And then maybe we as a collective society can have more difficult conversations about our loved ones and our own end. After all, it’s where we’re all going.

For more information on THE LIVING ROOM in HFF19, visit https://www.hollywoodfringe.org/projects/6206

 

Amrita Dhaliwal

All Hail #FringeFemmes! Meet Shari Walker

By Constance Strickland

We know that when there is cultural and racial equality in theatre, it makes room for artists of all walks of life to contribute to the history of theatre. It is vital that we make room, make way for women from all backgrounds to have a chance to have their voices included in the future of theatre. It is my delight to introduce the yummy yummy Shari Walker! Shari continues to defy stereotypes and expectations. A #HFF19 Scholarship recipient, Shari states, “SUGARFREE FOSTER CARE combines the difficult journey of foster youth through my perspective as both a social worker and foster child, using poetry, personal narrative, humor, and real-life experiences.”

Constance: How long have you’ve been sitting with this work? What led you to Fringe?

Shari: The work has been consistently a part of my journey since exiting foster care, and I was inspired to put the work in my heart and mind on paper this past six months because of the high epidemic of homeless foster youth and the lack of housing resources available. As a social worker student interning for United Friends of The Children, working with youth emancipating out of the system, I see that the same obstacles I met are even more difficult for the youth transitioning into adulthood today. I was led to the Fringe by my mentor Kathy Rubin who met me after I had transitioned out of foster care; she shared that my story was powerful and could help bring awareness and create social change. Fringe is such a beautiful place for storytelling, shows, inclusion, and diversity and I just knew SugarFree: Foster Care Cognitive Dissonance would have a place at the Fringe.

Constance: The work is now out there. How does that feel?

Shari: It feels absolutely amazing. I have learned that I am not alone and that many have stories similar to my own; others who do not are open to volunteering with nonprofits and getting involved. I am so grateful. Though each show is difficult because it is my journey, it is also beautiful because it opens the door to others sharing their truth, inspiring the community to take action and support children and youth to push through obstacles and barriers.

Constance:  What are you enjoying most doing your show? What has been the biggest surprise?

Shari: I enjoy being able to see the progress I have made. I am on an emotional rollercoaster with the audience as I share the various impacts on my life before, during and after foster care, and I enjoy the ending. The biggest surprise from the show is that I still have much to learn. Even as a social work student and foster youth advocate, I have in no way arrived. I am am happy to discover that that’s okay as long as I continue to learn, grow and consistently advocate for change.

Constance: What’s been your biggest challenge in terms of your development process?

Shari: Reflecting back on the trauma and going back to some of the most frightening moments in my childhood. I think acting and writing is one thing, but to have my real-life journey and experiences both on the stage and page brings so much up, internally, and requires me to emotionally, mentally and spiritually stay grounded before, during and after each show. I am grateful to have a great support system in my heart parents, Stephanie and Neil, and my amazing husband Matthew.

Constance: What do you hope audience members take away from your show?

Shari: I hope that audience members can hear my journey and take action to volunteer, mentor, donate and outreach to transition age foster youth within Los Angeles County. I also hope that if audience members have experienced or are currently experiencing – or witnessing – abuse, neglect and violence that they will reach out to gather help. At the end of the show, I give out resource booklets from an amazing agency that is located in LA county that can refer emergency services and support that may be needed.

For more information on COMEDY HOE in HFF19, visit https://www.hollywoodfringe.org/projects/5839

Shari Walker

All Hail #FringeFemmes! Meet Crystal Bush

By Constance Strickland

We know that when there is cultural and racial equality in theatre, it makes room for artists of all walks of life to contribute to the history of theatre. It is vital that we make room, make way for women from all backgrounds to have a chance to be included in the future of theatre. It is with great esteem I present Crystal Bush! In her #HFF19 show CHRISSY METH we discover a woman who has come out of the dark into the light. A woman who found her way to herself and shares her story to remind us all that we can rise above our deepest battles and thrive. Crystal, you’re a powerful example of never giving up on oneself.

Constance: How long have you’ve been sitting with this work? 

Crystal: I went into recovery in July of 2003.  So I wanna say somewhere around 2001, when I was right in the thick of my addition, I was trying to capture it.  But I found it very difficult to talk about or regurgitate what was happening as it was happening. And besides, I was in it… so I just couldn’t.  I remember I was living in Oakland, and I did a short stand-up about losing so much weight at the time – I went from a size 14 all the way to a size 0.  But even then it was still very difficult to  tell the story;  I was so in my addiction, that I really could not think clearly.

Constance: The work is now out there, you’ve given it away. How does that feel?

Crystal: Oh, wow. After leaving in a clean and sober house for three years, group therapy, individual counseling, years and years of yoga and prayer, my healing has been profound.  Sitting down and writing my story, acknowledging it and letting it go has lifted a weight that is indescribable. I feel so free, I feel love, I feel peace.  I feel like there is so much more to come: a book, a film, a series. This has definitely been a wonderful surprise.

Constance:  What has been the biggest  surprise or discovery, doing your show?

Crystal: It’s been so  freaking amazing!!  My last show, twenty-six people were in the house;  twenty of those people stood in line to wait to embrace me afterwards. It was so deep; I was stunned at how impactful my story has been for others.  It’s so difficult to know how other people are going to think and feel,  so I was really nervous about putting my story out there.

Constance: What’s been your biggest challenge in terms of the Fringe?

Crystal: Gurrrrl…THAT’S MONEY!  You know, I remember at times when I would always say, “Oh, I can’t do that, I don’t have the money, wow, that’s too expensive, I ain’t got no money,” etc. Not receiving one of the Hollywood Fringe scholarships was definitely devastating. But I knew this story had to be told.  So, despite my own fears, my worry, self sabotage, procrastination… I just put one foot in front of the other, I asked the Universe to please guide me, and some really beautiful angels showed up and helped me financially.  This has never happened to me ever in my life so, needless to say, I am in awe of the entire situation.  It has been a magical journey. But to be clear it was ALL challenging:  Writing, directing, and self producing ain’t no joke, but I did it, and I feel so blessed.

Constance: What do you hope audience members take away from your show?

Crystal: My whole life people have made assumptions about who I am,  and where I come from.  I’ve had some very humble beginnings in my life.  I talk about this in my show – I was abandoned by my mother as an infant, raised by my father’s parents, my father was a heroin addict.  And so I was set on my path in this life and world and I did the best I could do with what I had.  You never know what people have been through, so it is so important to not judge people.  And you never know, you could help save somebody’s life if you just open your heart, and have love and compassion for the other person. I want my audience to walk away with love and compassion, and the will and courage to make an impact and change this world in their own way. 

For more information on CHRISSY METH: A DANCE WITH THE DEVIL AND THE JOURNEY BACK in HFF19, visit  https://www.hollywoodfringe.org/projects/5629

Crystal Bush