A few weeks ago, I put some things on my “to do” list that I want to finish or start before the new year and took a look around at the space I am in (physical, mental, and creative). I have been here before at this crossroad but didn’t stay long enough to make tracks. This time I am already knee deep in the snow, climbing for the sake of sanity.
I see story in everything. It could be called a haunting but it’s what I live for. Unexpectantly, a coworker and I had a wonderful conversation about writing and how most everyone has at least one story in them. We talked about oral storytelling and the way it becomes theatrical if done right. ALAP (Alliance of Los Angeles Playwrights) has an event called “In Our Own Voices” where the playwright must be the reader or one of the readers in 5 minutes of their work. I have participated twice and am always rejuvenated to the nth degree afterwards. This coworker is not a writer per se but stories are starting to peek out at him. I encouraged him to write them down.
I have work to do as well.
I have been torn between creating new work or tweaking old work but like reading my work aloud, creating new worlds and characters on the page is being reborn every time; it is flying high – up to meet the sun.
The end of this year finds me writing and reading and exploring new ways to hear my words out loud. How about you?
The things that make us who we are and the fodder that fills our pens can be some very scary stuff.
‘Succinctly’, that is not a word that describes how trauma behaves in the lives of the traumatized. It is not a brief episode; it will not go away momentarily. Trauma lingers for a lifetime informing the world of those affected by it and it is not neat – it leaves dregs all over the place.
I like to write about secrets, this has been mine. Not that it unknown just not something I shared openly, outside of a story or a poem.
Recently I shared that I suffer from PTSD (Post-traumatic Stress Disorder). Decades after the traumatic events that caused it, I said it out loud in a full sentence – “I suffer from PTSD.” One person asked me, what caused that? My next words were, “I am a rape survivor – a several*-time rape survivor.” I have no idea why after 40 years (from the first event) that I suddenly could say that PTSD is a factor in my life. It is a breakthrough for me and a big one. Dealing with trauma is a 24/7, 365/day affair. One cannot put a band-aid on it, take two aspirins and call it life.
It is never that simple. I came into puberty fighting off hands…
The first 5 years after the rapes, I suffered horrific flashbacks every day. I would sleep run… I found myself on a few occasions in the middle of the road in front of my father’s house, dashing toward the busy street lights. Mid-stride I would stop in the pitch black, not knowing why I was running, what I was running to, and how I got out of the house. I really had to pray about that. I prayed that God would wake me up and He did, I started waking up at the door, then in the room and then the running stopped altogether. Flashbacks are few and far between because I know to try hard to veer away from triggers.
Flashbacks show up in my work. I was once told that writers should not use flashbacks. I am unable to follow that rule. Writers tend to write what they know.
It is a journey – a long one. There is a book, “When Bad Things Happen to Good People” by Harold S. Kushner, that I read, after the dung hit the fan, that kept me from dwelling in the land of, “Why me?” This book has some good points in it. Another book, “The Body Keeps the Score (Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma)” by Bessel Van Der Kolk, M.D., that I have read recently, several times, has been instrumental in me getting to the point of being able to claim the monster. In the section titled “Breaking the Silence,” Van Der Kolk says, “If you’ve been hurt, you need to acknowledge and name what happened to you… The critical issue is allowing yourself to know what you know. That takes an enormous amount of courage.”
I am striving for a fierceness in my work and that takes courage to do also. So, what now? Same as always, I continue to press toward the mark…because I refuse to stop…
I am writing my world whole…
To others on this or similar journeys toward wholeness…Blessings…
On Sunday afternoon, I had a chance to listen to a reading of my new script.
Ouch. Opps. Really. What.
That voice! That actress! Love that guy who’s reading. Wow. Oh – I hadn’t thought of that line that way. What? These actors: wow.
Wait. Where’s that scene? Did I drop that scene? That’s right, I dropped that scene. Maybe I don’t need that scene. Do I need this scene? Where is that scene, the other one – did I even write that other scene?
It was, as is usual for me, an astonishing and brief and intense experience to hear imagined words read out loud. I was alternately delighted and horrified by what I’ve written, and what I heard. I’ve learned to expect to be overwhelmed by staged readings of my work – and I was.
And the comments afterwards – I wrote them down in snippets so I can remember them, as I tend to rephrase them in my own memory. And it really helps to have a gifted moderator manage the conversation, – Jennie Webb helped guide the talk so I could hear/rather than react to the thoughts about the script.
And the best part about hearing really gifted actors read your script out loud:
They bring their feelings about lost love and attachment and isolation and they’re able to articulate what that sounds like. They can make a phrase really zing. And if it doesn’t, and you hear that it doesn’t, you hear that too.
I love seeing actors create characters out of memories and hopes and sadness. I’m grateful to hear the voices of longing and anger and jealousy and vulnerability.
At the end of the day, I felt a bit pixie mazed. But that’s a good thing. It’ll help with this next rewrite. My cat, Ted, will be in his chair next to me listening to his rain song.
It was quite the weekend of theatre for me as an audience member
I finally saw “Hamilton” at the Kennedy Center. Yes, it was a road show, where the singers cheated on the high notes and the very pretty fellow who played the title role kept blending into the scenery. Oh, but the actor who played Aaron Burr made me believe the show was named after him! A fine production viewed from a fine seat on the first balcony.
It was fabulous. To quote from the aforementioned show, “Pirates” “blew us all away.”
The reason: the decision to put the audience at the heart of the action.
The experience began the minute you walked through the theatre door. Every cast member was onstage, singing not Gilbert & Sullivan, but beachy standards like “Sloop John B” and “Margaritaville.” A tiki bar was located on one side of the stage and remained open for business throughout the entire show. A batch of beachballs were flying overhead – audience members batting them at actors, musicians, and each other. I thought I was at a Dodger game.
The audience – an equal mix of senior citizens, 20-somethings, and parents with dozens of very small children – was invited to take a seat onstage.
Oh, sure, some of us fuddy duddies sat on chairs safely away from the action, but most of the audience was happy to plop down on painted wooden benches and ice chests and kiddie wading pools that filled the stage. They were instructed that whenever the action moved to the exact space where they were seated, they’d be politely tapped on the shoulder. This was their invitation to get out of the way. Fast. At times, it looked like a giant game of musical chairs as grownups and kids scrambled to find another seat.
Several members of the audience were recruited to actively participate in the play by holding up the Union Jack or the skull and crossbones of a pirates’ flag. Each was printed on giant beach towels. Parasols were handed out to young ladies who dutifully twirled them this way and that, trying to keep up with the cast member.
The smallest of kids congregated atop the lifeguard station at stage center. It was a magnet for them. Rather than making them scoot, the actors acknowledged their presence. The Pirate King and Frederic would declare that they were entirely alone – and then roll their eyes at the 3 year olds who surrounded them. The rest of the audience was delighted – when they weren’t scared half out of their wits that one of those toddlers would fall off the platform.
The evening was amazing. The energy bounced off the walls.
What a pity when those youngest of audience members discover that all theatre isn’t like this.
Which makes me ask: why not?
Playwriting can feel like such a selfish act. Yes, we have “important stories” that we believe must be shared with the world. But they are our stories. We hope they will resonate with the world in some way, and sometimes they do. (A young man told me that seeing my war crimes play “A Patch of Earth” was the reason he became an attorney specializing in international law.) But usually, it’s a bunch of people sitting in the dark watching a bunch of actors pretending to be imaginary people we made up.
I’ve been thinking hard the past week about the role of the audience in theatre and what I can do as a playwright to make the theatrical experience more about US and less about ME.
I have no immediate solutions, but just asking the question is a start. So I’ll also ask it of you: is it our responsibility as playwrights to also consider the audience? How can we bring them into the theatrical experience? Do we want to? Does the audience want to? How does that change the work?
The mission statement of The Hypocrites is to “re-introduce communal connection into contemporary theater by embracing the desire of all people to bond with each other, especially while experiencing the same event.” The House Theatre wants to “explore connections between Community and Storytelling through a unique theatrical experience.” What’s my mission statement as a playwright?
Which brings me back to “Hamilton.”
Most of the Kennedy Center audience was as familiar with the lyrics of Lin-Manuel Miranda as the actors onstage. Here and there, you could hear someone two seats over whisper, “teach ‘em how to say goodbye, say goodbye” or “never gonna be satisfied.” We all wanted to sing along. It was a show that did speak to us personally and we wanted to be part of it.
But we were at the Kennedy Center, not a black box theatre in rural Maryland. We knew that if we broke into song, a gray-haired, red-coated usher would find us and take us away.
Now that I’ve seen this production of “Pirates,” I’m never going to be satisfied to sit quietly in the dark.
Playwright Kitty Felde is also host of the award-winning Book Club for Kids podcast. Her play about the LA Riots “Western & 96th” will be workshopped this September at DC’s Spooky Action Theater and its New Works in Action series.
Buckle in, readers! This post’s soundtrack is LET’S GET RADICAL by Gogol Bordello.
*DISCLAIMER: There is a prominently placed F bomb at the start of this song.*
Did you know the LAFPI is almost 10 years old? Crazy, right? On the one hand, it feels like it’s been much longer than that, and on the other is the old adage “Where has the time gone?”
I’m sure there will be much room for discussing what has changed in the ten years since LAFPI started instigating its parity-focused programming, so I’m not going to try to do that here. BUT, I mention this upcoming anniversary as a precursor to the following question:
And I don’t just mean for the LAFPI, but for female playwrights and theatremakers everywhere. What are we doing/going to continue to do to make an impact not only for ourselves, but for each other?
This is a question I ask myself a lot—and I’m sure, if I were a more selfish writer, my own playwriting career would be a little more… distinguished. But I believe I have a responsibility as an artist to not only to make art that makes me happy/fulfilled, but to put my skills as an artist to work in support of a making this world better.
And yes, I know there are a lot of men out there doing great and important things, but this is the LAFPI, so I’m going to focus on the women. I’ve been hugely impressed by the fact that the overwhelming majority of theatremakers who have been joining our producing efforts through Protest Plays Project are women. I’m hardly alone in making this observation when it comes to some of the contemporary socially engaged theatre initiatives of late.
In Chantal Bilodeau’s article, “Why do Women Climate More Than Men?” she notes that the majority of theatremakers involved in supporting the theatrical work she organizes in climate change, are women. And theatremaker Claudia Alick recently noted in a roundtable discussion I participated in for HowlRound that the majority of organizers applying theatre and art to gun control issues were female.
Its obvious that female theatremakers are engaging in political and socially active theatre in impressive numbers, and no wonder: there are so many problems facing the world, and our nation, right now that it can feel hard to focus on anything else.
I’d love to hear what YOU are scheming up/working on/dreaming about taking action on. I’ll even start you off with my own #TheatreAction wish list!
A nation-wide outreach designed to teach people how to talk to one another again. Seriously, why isn’t this already a thing?! We have lost the ability to engage in political discussion without dissolving into partisan mud-slinging and it is tearing us apart! This project could create collaborative opportunities for theatre makers, psychologists, community organizers, and mediators to develop effective non-partisan programming.
An expanded engagement with plays written by playwrights working from a community perspective. Why aren’t theatres reading more works about their own communities alongside plays about communities in different parts of the nation? I’ve tried to make some progress on this front with my Heal the Divide/Heal the Divide on Campus projects, but I don’t own a theatre and I don’t have the ear of that many Artistic Directors. If we all made a concerted effort however…
I am currently trying to get theatres to put #TheatreActionVOTE! Plays into their theatres. These pieces are written to be performed pre-show (they’re only 1-3 minutes long!) and are non-partisan and available royalty free. It’s harder then you’d think it is to get a theatre to join this effort- even when the message is as non-controversial as “Please Vote!”
Why aren’t more theatres collaborating with local non-profits in their communities? There is such an incredible opportunity not only to increase their community outreach/effectivenss (aka, demonstrate their commitment to non-profit community-centered work) but also to just expand their audiences.
Bring theatre to the people! I wish I could do/see more theatre in unconventional spaces, whether that theatre is entertainment for entertainment’s sake or more efficaciously-minded, the people who need theatre most (and it’s power to teach empathy/compassion) are often the people who see it the least. Price and access are very real issues, and I love the many organizations who are taking strides to improve access. I think individual theatremakers have more agency to create theatre in The People’s Spaces than they thing. You can make theatre anywhere! If you believed that, where would you make theatre next?
So there are a few ideas from me. What are YOU working on? What do you wish you were working on? Let’s talk in the comments!
Hey, it’s me, Tiffany! The used-to-live-in-LA-but-now-I-live-in-Iowa playwright who launched Little Black Dress INK, had a baby, and then (because I wasn’t busy enough – duh) started Protest Plays Project too. I’m pretty much busy ALL THE TIME now, and it got me to thinking…
It’s all Jennie Webb’s fault.
She’s the one who invited me to the first LAFPI meeting all those years ago. The meeting where I got a taste of she-playwright POWER and decided I needed MORE! I knew I was moving to AZ, far away from my cherished playwright coven, but what the hell? If Jennie Webb (with Laura Shamas) could unite the female playwrights of Los Angeles, I could certainly found and operate a female playwright producing company in Arizona, right?!
And now we’re in our 7th year. We’ve just announced 2019’s Female Playwrights ONSTAGE Theme. I’ve been privileged to get to know a ton of amazing female playwrights from all around the country (along with some international playwrights as well!) It’s been a hell of a ride, and a TON of work, but it’s also been totally worth it.
But I wanted to do MORE, remember? Especially since I was politically mortified with the results of the 2016 election. So I founded Protest Plays Project (PPP). My initial aim was to collect plays about social issues that theatre-activists could use for protest or fundraising* purposes. (*Specifically, fundraising for non-profits working for positive social change.)
Well, PPP has been busy. Super busy.
And I want to take the start of my blogging week to tell you how you can get involved, in case you’re that kind of theatremaker!
First, we’ve got our #TheatreActionVOTE! Initiative going on and all you have to do to get involved is commit to presenting Vote! plays or monologues in your pre-show.
You can write your own piece for this purpose, or select pieces from our Collection. The plays in our collection are:
1-3 minutes in length
Available royalty free
Written to be presented pre-show in whatever location works for your theatre
You can sign your theatre up to participate HERE. (It’s free, it’s easy, and we won’t spam you!)
We’re also collecting plays on Immigration. The AMAZING LA playwright, Diana Burbano along with the awesome playwright Ricardo Soltero-Brown, are curating the collection – and we’ll be encouraging theatres to present readings for fundraisers. You can find more info and send us your play, HERE.
Protest Plays continues to support #TheatreActionGunControl and if you want to put up a reading, we have links to a number of excellent collections on our website!
But does it ever feel like enough? Does political theatre work? Can we truly effect change with passionately written, socially conscious plays? I plan on examining these questions later this week, right here, on the LAFPI blog.
So stay tuned, stay connected, and if you see Jennie Webb – hug that wild woman for me!
I have been wanting to talk to Mommy, forgetting she is gone. Such an odd thing to have a thought, “I need to talk to mother about that” then remember as soon as the thought hits space, that I can’t because she is gone. That whole week between the date of death, her birthday, and the date of burial, I longed for her, could not get out of bed the day before and day of her birthday. I have a blanket of hers that I have begun to wrap up in, lay my head on, carry in the back of my car – just to be near something of hers.
Trying not to lose myself, I took a seminar in poetry – not sure if it worked.
This shaking off of depression is hard. One year later and I still can’t believe you are gone. Thanks for coming to see me on your birthday. I know I can’t stay here. Seems counter-intuitive – I know you are in a better place. I just did not know how much I loved you and that the hole would be so large.
I did not know you were like air and heartbeat
And blood and bone to me
That the touch of your skin was home to me
(the child who was not breastfed because you had an infection – that used to bother me but mothers must always do the best for their children or at least try. it did not make you love me any less – the old wives tale that breastfed children are closer to their mothers – just not true…)
I am needing to crawl up beside you and kiss the north, south, east and west of your face
Upon Bruno’s sudden and unexpected accidental death on his Yamaha, the world changed in varying degrees. Like a Google Map I am faced with re-centering my life. It’s not our life as a married couple, but my singular life.
‘dBruno Hervé CommereucMy mom gives me a well meaning advice this morning. Remove his clothes from the drawers to make room for yours. I bit my lip and clamped off the Mt. Vesuvius inside of me. If you have an opinion just keep it to yourself I wanted to scream.
People say, “He’d want you to be happy. You have to move on.” My intellect gets it but my heart doesn’t. Better to keep your opinions for later because right now I only need your presence and not your judgments. Be one of my dogs and just sit with me. It’s times like this when there are no words.
As a writer I write to make sense of what’s happening. I want to write but I can’t. My heart is lead and every limb and joint is heavy too. I want him to linger. I want his scent to stay. I cut off the string from the lemon tree where he hung the wasp trap. I save the knot because no one will ever tie a knot like Bruno… the way he would truss a bird before it goes into the oven to feed the lonely hearts and the empty bellies.
There are no words to put order in the midst of chaos. I move like an automaton to survive. Yes I’ve got that. I can’t let the wall of dignity crack lest ‘I lose it.’ Maybe this is why people offer structures to align myself to: “Have you thought about what you’re going to do?” Please don’t ask me this question in a phone call in between errands. It hurts my feelings.
Words create order. A skilled writer and/or speaker can put disorder into order. A meteorologist can enlighten what’s happening in a hurricane. The eye of the storm is the calm surrounded by the vortex of violent forces that destroy what we believed as permanent. No matter how hard I tidy up, sweep the floor, dust the picture frames and put clean laundry in its proper place entropy will rule. It’s a matter of time. How long can I keep up this face of composure like Humpty Dumpty sitting on the wall?
The natural laws of the universe is held in place by a tension… Life is a delicate balance shadowed by that moment of “Time is up. Let’s go. Leave all else behind. You won’t be needing it. You’re a light traveller. You are light.”
On January 15, 2018, Bruno Hervé Commereuc was killed by a hit and run driver at the corner of 54th Street and Arlington in Los Angeles, California. The Los Angeles Police Department is asking for information to help in apprehending the driver of the grey Nissan 370Z (updated vehicle description from the flyer, below) who is still at large.
Hot jelly and biscuits, is there a lot to talk about!
A fewweeksmonths longish time ago, when the LAFPI crew asked if I’d like to get back on the blogging bandwagon, I said “Hell, yes!” because I was feeling productive and all kinds of mouthy with super important sh*t to say. But now my week is here, and it’s almost too much because Little Black Dress INK’s final ONSTAGE lineup from 2017 has a reading on Jan 15, and then a bunch of this year’s ONSTAGE semi-finalists have readings all over the place on Jan 21 as part of International Women’s Voices Day, (oh, I run Little Black Dress INK), plus the Spring semester starts on Weds, and I have a letter of rec to write, revisions to do, and a toddler to keep track of…
So I don’t have time to write the deep, thoughtful, life-changing post I intended to. If I could, though, I would probably have some witty/deep things to say about the following:
The Golden Globes
Were they feminist enough? Too feminist (is that even a thing??) Will Oprah be our new president? Was that woman from 50 Shades of Grey giving Angelina Jolie side-eye during Jennifer Aniston’s speech? I mean, I don’t have cable, but the news coverage is enough to make me want to stuff cotton in my ears and unplug the router for good.
What’s that you say? You don’t believe me? You’re saying that if I haven’t stuffed cotton in my ears and unplugged the router after the monstrous orange shit-show of a year we just wrapped, that I must be engaging in a healthy hyperbolic outburst and nothing more?
You’re probably right.
I’m trying it out. Anyone else write for that site? I like some of the writers a lot… Maybe, if I write some truly epic stuff there, I’ll get more traffic on Medium than I do on my personal blog… sh*t, I don’t have a personal blog anymore? Why not? Oh yeah, because I don’t have time…
Heeeyyyyyy, do you think, MAYBE, that I might have a problem with over-committing myself to things? I mean, could I possible suffer from (faux gasp) Artistic FOMO?
(Yes. The answer is yes, yes I do.)
I love my son. He is the apple of my eye, the sugar on my cornflakes, the laughter in my ears… but he’s also the little tyrant screaming at me to escort him to the washing machine twelve times a day, where he will sit for interminably long periods of time flipping the dials around in abject pleasure, waiting for my eyes to gloss over with boredom so that he can QUICKPUSHTHESTARTBUTTON! before I catch his hand with mine and remind him that he is not yet allowed to do the laundry on his own, and can we please go back to the living toy room now so that mommy can sit on the couch and check her Facebook for a hot second?
New Year’s Resolutions
Are for chumps. And perfectionists. And people with stronger will-power than I possess. So be nice to yourself, even if you’ve already failed at whatever ridiculous demands you put on yourself last week. I signed up for Red Theater’s playwriting challenge last November and didn’t even make it past the first day. The FIRST DAY. Sometimes you just have to shrug your shoulders and tell your expectations to take a hike.
I’m not too busy to tell you you should check out one of our ONSTAGE readings! If you’re in Los Angeles on Jan 15, make sure you swing by the Zephyr Theatre for the final reading of our 2017 Female Playwrights ONSTAGE Festival: Hot Mess.
And if you’re in Los Angeles (or Bemidji,MN; or Columbus, OH; or Magnolia, AR; or Milwaukee, WI; or Prescott, AZ) on Jan 21st, check out one of our Female Playwrights ONSTAGE Festival: Volume Control readings! They’re sure to be a hoot/make you feel the deep feels (and all that other cathartic magic that theatre does) PLUS you’ll be supporting International Women’s Voices Day, which is all kinds of awesome! Here’s a LINK for more info.
Tune in later this week for more words/sentences composed by me (along with—hopefully—some deeper thoughts)
These days, I produce a podcast called the Book Club for Kids. A trio of middle graders discuss a novel, there’s an interview with the author and a reading from the book by a “celebrity.”
Last month, I blew it. I was a no-show at a scheduled taping. More than a dozen young readers were waiting for me that Sunday afternoon and I stood them up.
I could use the excuse that I was jet lagged, arriving after midnight the night before from a cross-country flight. Or I could plead that Sundays I take a tech Sabbath, not looking at my phone – and its calendar – at all. But excuses didn’t make any difference to the dozen or so disappointed young readers awaiting their chance at podcast stardom…and their angry parents who’d driven for miles to get their kids to the bookstore for the taping.
It was then that it became very clear that I needed to get organized.
I’m not the only one – particularly at this time of year. You can’t even go in to the Home Depot without stumbling over a display of 2018 calendars for sale. At Fed Ex, pickings were slim among the display of pretty, fat calendar books with floral motifs. Even my husband gets into the act every December, watching the mailbox for the one thing on which he spends an absurd amount of money: the new filler for his portable paper calendar book.
Then I stumbled across Bullet Journals. There’s an enormous cult following for “BuJo” as the aficionados call them. Invented by a digital designer named Ryder Carroll, Bullet Journals seem to have captured the imagination.
The basic idea is simple: a blankish book and a variety of colored pens and perhaps a ruler are all it takes. I say blankish because “BuJos” prefer blank pages with dots that they can use as grid makers to create weekly or monthly pages full of “things to do” lists and food diaries and weather reports and words of the day.
Things get more extravagant after that.
Some “BuJos” fight on social media about page thickness and the bleed level of pens. They proudly show off their collection of highlighter pens. (Who knew there was a gray highlighter pen?) There’s a debate about whether stickers are appropriate. I counted eight different groups on Facebook devoted to Bullet Journals, including the Minimalist Bullet Journal group that still seems overly complicated to me. Pinterest, as you can imagine, has hundreds of pictures of Bullet Journals.
Buzz Feed has an article to tell you what your style of Bullet Journaling says about you. I realized my style says I am not a Bullet Journaling kind of girl. I can’t draw. I never scrapbooked in my life. And why would I spend hours drawing in the dates of a 2018 calendar when I can get a perfectly good one at any store in America?
I think the BuJo serves the same purpose for visual people as my Morning Pages do for a word person like me. Julia Cameron’s classic “Artist’s Way” assignment has always helped me untangle my disorganized brain. Sitting down first thing in the morning to scribble away for three pages in a cheap composition book – part diary, part writing ideas, mostly things to do lists – grounds me and helps me sort out what’s important in my life and what to let go. Obviously it wasn’t enough to keep me from missing an important appointment.
So I bought a nice, light paper calendar that fits in my handbag. I’ve started marking it up with travel plans and podcast tapings. More important, I vowed to look at it every day. Even on my tech Sabbath.
What about you? How do you keep organized? Please share your secret!