I make my way back to earth borne tragedies, dimly lit pathways, and houses full of clutter
I would run but my knees ache and I am tired of the
I would rest but pine needles are sparse in this part of the forest
The Wind says something’s coming
The cold is like ice on my bones, joints crackling louder
than whatever that is that’s following me
I would be afraid but I have an urgent need to draw blood
The years have changed me and I can no longer hide the warrior
side of me
Let it come
I will be as Simeon and Levi against Shechem
I will roar like Judah
My yell will topple the trees for I am, indeed, Judah’s daughter
A double portion I was given and I shall draw blood
Let it come, quickly in this thick solitude that blankets the night
Let it wake the birds and startle the muffled river for I am full of righteous indignation
I need to fight, I’m not running anymore
Shall the uncircumcised overtake me? Shall they make sport of me?
Nay; it will go another way this day
If I make the clearing before the attack
I will wade into the river and draw it in after me where my
hands shall drag it beneath to the water’s bed and I will break it like a stick
If I must fight in this forest
I will stand here, in the middle, like Shammah, son of Agee
the Hararite when the Philistines came and he stood in the middle of the lentil
field and fought victoriously, he took his stand and defended the field and
struck them down
I too shall defend and strike down —
This thing that follows me, hunts me like prey, taunts my life ,
Will do so no more for I shall be a terror to it this day…
Which way? It’s almost midnight And I just lost my shovel There is zero visibility in this fog And it’s rolling rolling in like gangbusters with diarrhea
liquefying in this heat, sticking like honey on skin soaking my clothes and hair Taking up all the air Congested, I can’t breath anyway except through my mouth Open to flying particles of fecal matter landing on my tongue and tonsils I won’t be eating nothing till I can scrub the Hell out of my mouth
It’s above ground if you didn’t know; it ain’t underground no more It ain’t an imaginary place
I need the shovel. Give me a shovel please
He said he was sorry He should have begged me to forgive him but it wouldn’t have mattered I still wanted him gone Poof…splat..splam…. Gone – like dead gone
If I got to carry this body till the limbs fall off, he got to be dead And I ain’t doing no backtracking to pick up litter either Limbs be damned Rapists need to lose something too
They need to get first class tickets to the fiery pit That big unknown called Hell And they need to go covered in hot shit mixed with gasoline
I have not remembered…. I have held my peace and kept time by the PTSD manager on my phone Been holding it all inside the holes in my teeth Losing them one by two by three
If silence is the enemy then you are the monster under the bed Grabbing at my hands, waking me up So I can never sleep through the night
I refused to remember… I have pushed that dunghill many a day to the fourth corner of the earth And left it there with the full and ugly memory of you and your touch Nearly comatose for decades by the weight of it all, by weight of you Hardly breathing Hardly living, hardly able to think Above the maddening secret That Flashbacks never leave you They mutate like sketchy thoughts after a head injury Leave you sinking in mire The sill clinging to your knees and thighs
I have sat in the troubled waters Broken from the top down Soaking my big toes and the place between my thighs scarred like burnt skin And lost dreams The smell unearthingly foul yet familiar Bone tired and nodding like an addict mid-fix Hoping to Forget-it-all Slowly embracing the lull and hum of stagnation
Then Byron died and the flood came and the chickens Well they came home, flatfooted and tough from age They came home like they belonged to me 3 months later, they are roosting
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 podcastFighting 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.”
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.
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.