Category Archives: LAFPI

Sounds Like Theatre to Me

by Kitty Felde

I spent my entire summer doing theatre. None of it was in a black box. It was a summer of theatre for the ears, running around with a microphone, taping the sound of footsteps and cell phones and veterinarian offices. We spent a 102 degree day at the zoo, snuck into the only public library open on a Sunday to record a scene, and lingered for many hours in a spooky clubhouse that echoed like the U.S. Capitol Crypt. It was a summer of making a theatrical podcast come to life.

But it all started with the script.

Back in May, I wrote a blog post about the art of adapting a book for children into an episodic podcast for girls … and political junkies. The book was “Welcome to Washington, Fina Mendoza.” After the first blush of publication, I kept asking myself what else I could do to spend more time with these characters. I have a few skills. After years in public radio, I can write for the ear. I also know my way around a flash recorder and editing software. So I decided to try transforming the book into a radio drama. It became The Fina Mendoza Mysteries.

The experience was an absolute joy – the most fun I’ve had doing theatre since the old 99 seat “let’s put on a show” days. I reached out to actors from college, looked up a guy I knew from improv class, and dragged radio colleagues out of retirement. I saw a terrific college production of “In the Heights” and found my lead actress. I even convinced a few kids from the neighborhood to play a few roles.

Perhaps you’ve considered adapting one of your plays to radio drama format. I thought it might be helpful to hear from other podcast story producers about their best tips on writing for the ear.

Paul Cheall produces the World War II British podcast Fighting Through. Even though it’s more memoir than fiction, Paul still has to adapt prose to audio. He says he starts with language: avoiding passive expressions in favor of active ones, “so the listener doesn’t get distracted by unnecessary verbiage.”

Graz Richards from the Audio Drama Hub on Facebook says sound effects are the key. He remembers an “old” Superman audio drama that had “far too much exposition.” Something like, “Hmm, I think I’ll just…have a shave and…hmm, it’s not easy, the bristles are…oh, I’ve broken the shaver!” Graz says we all knew Superman, so all you really needed was the sound of running water in a sink, the buzz of a shaver, the sound of snagging, and …”Oh, okay, not that then.” Graz says, “We get the same visual scene without everything being signposted.”

But Angela Ferrari, creator of the Story Spectacular podcast, says her younger audience needs more context. Contrary to what you’d think, Angela says she needs to include more exposition rather than less. Dialogue must also be extra descriptive. Angela says she also uses sound effects and songs to help “illustrate” her stories.

If you’re writing a script, but not producing it yourself, sound designer Gilly Moon says more the more detail the better. “I love when writers or visual artists provide a ton of details, and not necessarily sound ones,” she says. “If I know what kind of shoes someone is wearing and what floor they are walking on, I can make a sound for that particular character’s footsteps.”

On the other hand, not every detail is helpful. Russell Gold, who produces web comics, says writers will often include comments about what characters are doing or seeing. “It might help performances a bit,” he says, “but mostly it leads the writer to forget that the audience won’t see those notes.”

My own advice: listen to as many shows or recordings as possible. LA Theatre Works has over 500 recordings of more traditional plays. And there are hundreds of dramatic podcasts out there as well – everything from Young Ben Franklin to Welcome to Night Vale.

And if you’re a girl or a political junkie or both, please subscribe to The Fina Mendoza Mysteries on your favorite podcast player.

Erica’s List

E.h. Bennett
…was also an actress…

“…during the Q&A session after the reading…that my mother was moved enough to then share a personal story with a group of friends and strangers…was truly a profound afternoon of theater for me.”

about the play WATER CLOSET

Erica Bennett…

Erica Bennett
(July 29, 1961 – May 4, 2019 )

The playwright E.h. Bennett has died.  Erica Harriet Bennett passed away after a long illness on May 4, 2019.  She was a LA FPI blogger since 2010 – from the very start of our blog.  Her very first blog was full of spunk. She was brave so brave…in her work and in her life.  Her first blog post, 1.PHISHING (2008) introduced us to her frank, unapologetic, sharing. She gave us a week, non-stop of her thoughts on injustices in theater.  I liked her right off.  She scared me a bit but she also made me laugh – genuinely.  I admired her attitude.  She was sweet and brilliant and full of words and worlds she wanted to share.  Erica’s last blog entitled YOU is simply, elegantly profound ….as was she.  She stopped blogging because she had to be about her writing, her time was running out and she knew it.  Erica was prolific; she accomplished so much in the time she had left with us. She is missed dearly but she is also still here… in her work.  I hear her voice as I read her work and I feel her presence.  This is Erica’s week to blog. 

You can read all of E.h. Bennett’s blogs at http://lafpi.com/author/ehbennett/.

Ending and Beginning…

by Robin Byrd


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?

Have a happy and prosperous new year.

Succinctly…

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…

 

 

A Reading

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Cynthia Wands

On Sunday afternoon, I had a chance to listen to a reading of my new script.

Ouch. Opps. Really. What.

Intermixed with:

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.

And also:

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.

 

 

 

 

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Consider the Audience by Kitty Felde

It was quite the weekend of theatre for me as an audience member

The Well-Heeled Audience at the Kennedy Center for “Hamilton”

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.

The night before, I was at a different theatre, seeing an old favorite: “The Pirates of Penzance.” It, too, was a touring production from a pair of Chicago theatre companies – The Hypocrites and The House Theatre.

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.

Let’s Get Radical!

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:

What’s next?

Photo by Tyler Nix on Unsplash

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.

And so I ask again:

What’s next?

Photo by Samuel Zeller on Unsplash

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!

~Tiffany

Photo by Anna Sullivan on Unsplash

 

Thanks a lot, Jennie Webb! (Or) How I Got to be SO Busy…

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?!

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:

  • Non-Partisan
  • 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!

~Tiffany

 

Shaking Off This Sadness…

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.

Mommy.

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

I am needing you

And all the remembrances

Needing to shake off this sadness