Category Archives: LGBTQ

Spotlight on Three Fabulous Women of Breakthrough Reading Series

Teresa Huang, Karen Herr & Melissa Bickerton

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

Teresa Huang

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Laying the groundwork for more diverse stories on TV

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

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

Lucky for us Karen and Teresa love working together

Karen Herr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Melissa Bickerton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Getting in on quality shows is a career dream fulfilled

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

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

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

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

Whose “Approval” Matters & Why?

by Andie Bottrell

Whether you’re submitting a new play or coming out to your family–the goal is same: approval. Approve of me, validate me, recognize the work it took for me to get here, be kind, see me and hear my words in the way they were intended.

I’m dating a woman. I’m bisexual, and I’ve known and been open about it for well over a decade, but this is the first time I’ve dated a woman. Not uncharacteristic for me–it took 29 years for me enter a relationship with a man.

The play I was working on has been paused as I found there were not enough hours in the day to work two jobs, launch and run a business, be a person, and finish a play. So, in leu of playwriting anecdotes and stories, all I’ve got is my life. I hope that’s a satisfactory enough offering. I believe playwriting anecdotes can still be made (see: first paragraph). I’m nothing if not a terrific multitasker.

Approval. The word has been beating against my brain all week after having been told I did not have someone’s approval in regards to my dating women. I hadn’t asked for their approval. In fact, I’d wrongly assumed I had it, in so much as one person has any kind of right to “approve” of another’s life in these matters. It had caught me off guard and has been eating away at me–my brain launching into hypothetical arguments in a constant subconscious stream throughout the day.

As any kind of creative knows, living your life in constant search for approval is the surest way to burn out and begin to hate the very thing you love. At a certain point, you have to turn that off–that search for validation–and you have to find ways to validate yourself, to make the kind of art that you are proud of, to live the kind of life and be the kind of person that you need to be in order to have pride and peace within yourself.

If you go through life only creating art intending to please this person or theatre or that, or to live a life that this person or that approves of, all the while denying your own vision, truth, passion, and violating your own morals…well, what a waste of talent, time, and life! Let those people do the things they need to do to be authentic in their lives and art, and if you don’t understand it or think it’s weird or wrong…don’t do it, but also, maybe examine why you think that and find out more about it because we are so quick to judge things that are different to what we’ve been exposed to as “evil” or “bad” (Fun example from our local mega-church this past month: https://www.news-leader.com/story/news/local/ozarks/2018/11/12/james-river-pastor-yoga-has-demonic-roots-springfield-yogis/1897249002/) that we close down any chance for communication that could allow us to understand each other and learn how to care for one another in more helpful and healthy ways.

I’ve only recently gotten to a point in my life where I am able to be proud of who I am, to love who I am, to feel good in my skin and know that even if someone rejects me, it doesn’t change my value as a human being. I am whole and stable and fulfilled on my own, whether I am in a romantic partnership with another person or not (and whether or not those I love and trust are able to see and accept me as I am — oof, okay still working on that one).

It’s a good place to be. And I feel stable in that–even as I wrestle with that ole bugaboo of approval again. I admit, I want that approval, I try really, really hard to get approval, I have anxiety around not being accepted (who doesnt?!) but at the end of the day, I have to come back to myself. Can I lay my head on my pillow at night and be proud of my actions? That approval trumps any other, because if I can’t do that then I won’t sleep and if I don’t sleep, I won’t function, and I won’t live.

So, whether you’re struggling with feelings of inadequacy or acceptance in your writing or in your personal life–I hope this post will encourage and remind you to take a minute, take an afternoon, heck, take a lifetime (!) and pause to look within and ask yourself if you approve. If your actions are in line with your morals, if you are being authentic, if you are creating honest art, if you are proud of the human you are becoming…and, if the answer is YES, how much it really matters if others don’t agree.

Dang, I do believe I straddled that fence quite nicely, eh? I guess, in the end, playwriting and being queer really were one in the same. Wow.

#FringeFemmes Check-Ins: MexiStani!

by Terry Holzman

Quick peeks at the work of #HFF17 female playwrights, “Women on the Fringe,” by Fringe Femmes who’re behind the scenes this year. Click Here for all Check-Ins.

Fringe Femmes


WHO: Sofie Khan

WHAT: MexiStani! Growing Up Mexican & Pakistani in America

WHERE: studio/stage

WHY: One of the ten Fringe Scholarship winners (awarded to shows that expand and diversify the Fringe community), charismatic comic Sofie Khan grew up with a Mexican Catholic mother and a Pakistani Muslim father in a predominantly Black and Puerto Rican Chicago neighborhood. Such a multi-culti stew makes for a deliciously funny and poignant solo show.

Sofie’s warm, relaxed, upbeat stage presence immediately invites the audience into her world. I love her positive motto: “If you judge a book by its cover, you miss out on the story.” And Sofie tells her story very well, relating the many instances where her “cover” has indeed been judged—by cashiers, TSA agents, White House staff (to name a few). Her story is both unique yet highly relatable as our country becomes even more of a melting pot and we’re all “mixed” in some way (mine is a strict Catholic mom and Atheist dad, which was difficult in its own way.)

Sofie reads our minds by answering such questions as: Does she identify more with her ‘Mexi’ side or her ‘Stani’ side? Has she been a victim of a hate crime? What holidays does she celebrate? All these questions and many more are answered along with her imparting sincere wisdom about all of us being part of the World Community, and wanting to create a “safe space and understanding for all…especially for LGBTQ and Muslim individuals”. (To that end, Sofie has partnered with the Naz & Matt Foundation which tackles “homophobia triggered by religion to help parents accept their children”. Brava.)

Though Sofie is “charismatic AF” (to quote the kids today), a compelling performance and a well-told tale is often not enough to make a solo show riveting. It must be theatrical as well. Otherwise, I could just listen to “The Moth” on the radio. I love seeing solo shows at the Fringe and how they run the gamut from basic stand-up to the use of multi-media, props, and other elements to amp up the show. Tightly directed by solo show dynamo Jessica Lynne Johnson, MexiStani! makes use of projections, audience participation, impersonations, and Sofie even performs a rap song. All of the elements add up to a theatrical and highly entertaining show. So entertaining that the serious themes slipped right by my brain and straight into my heart and had me thinking about them days later.

One final note: Sofie is offering a free 90- minute Fringe workshop with the right-to- the-point title: “Getting to Your Authentic Happy Self When You Feel Like Shit”. It’s at the Asylum Underground Theater, June 10 at am. Maybe I’ll see you there! 

HOW: http://hff17.org/4431

#FringeFemmes Check-Ins: In the Valley of the Shadow

by Terry Holzman

Quick peeks at the work of #HFF17 female playwrights, “Women on the Fringe,” by Fringe Femmes who’re behind the scenes this year. Click Here for all Check-Ins.

Fringe Femmes


WHO:  Katherine Cortez

WHAT:  In the Valley of the Shadow

WHERE:  Rogue Machine at the MET

WHY:  Not all of Fringe can be fun-and-games. Audiences (like me!) adore fun but we also want theater that helps us to understand what’s going on IRL (in real life).  This thought-provoking world premier ensemble drama was inspired by the 2016 shootings at the LGBT Pulse nightclub in Orlando on “Latin Night” in which 49 (mostly Latino) people were murdered by a single gunman.  The play explores how “fundamental belief systems can give a perverse inspiration to the execution of hate in the name of ‘love’.”

The play opens in chaos—projections of people dancing are quickly replaced by screams and panic.  Something horrific has happened and I was on the edge of my seat as the layers of what happened slowly unfold.  The focus is on Rafi (short for Raphael), a handsome, young man in a blood-spattered t-shirt who grimly stares into the distance.  He’s in shock, trying to understand and piece together the events of the evening.  Carmen, another survivor, shuffles in, missing a shoe.  A gentle detective arrives to comfort them, along with a uniformed cop (who is more judgmental than comforting).  Eventually Rafi’s fundamentalist Christian mother comes to take Rafi home and though she’s ecstatic her son is alive, she cannot contain the multitudes of bias she holds within.

Rafi also takes us into his recent past.  Questioning his sexuality and how he came to be at the Pulse nightclub that night and meeting a man there who is not who he seems.  In Rafi’s memory, we meet his eclectic club friends; foremost is Enrique (a hot, Latin charmer Rafi encounters at an AA meeting).  All good drama contains a mystery and this play has many.  The obvious question is: “Where’s Enrique?”  Rafi will not leave until he finds his lover and I was holding my breath, waiting…

The title comes from Psalm 23:4  “…though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me…” and refers to a Higher Power’s presence during death; but Katherine Cortez gives it another meaning—finding strength in love, all love. “Love is Love is Love” one of the characters says.   Cortez’s writing is entertaining, and thought-provoking. A good thing as I was afraid a play based on such a tragedy could be depressing.  And yes, it stirs up “the feels”, posits many questions, and  calls out for more understanding—from the characters and the audience.  And while the story made me sad, angry, and challenged, I was never depressed.  I felt the “thin edge of the wedge” of hope, hope that things can change with love.

There is much humor to balance the horror, especially among the supporting characters, including a laughing-through-her-tears compassionate trans woman.  Five actors played dual roles—each one wildly different from the other. (Especially impressive was Tania Verafield who plays the quiet Carmen but who quickly flips her hair to expose a shaved temple.  She adds a long feathered earring and fully embodies butch bartender Hawk.)  Special kudos to the Femme production members Heather Tyler (producer), Elina De Santos (director), Stephanie Kerley (set—her clever use of the standing set for Rogue Machine’s current production is outstanding).

One final note:  There will be a special performance and reception on the one-year marker of the Pulse nightclub tragedy on Sunday, June 11, 7:30 pm.  Proceeds will benefit the LGBT Center.  Parking at the MET is difficult, give yourself time to get there.  Your patience will be rewarded.

 HOW:  http://hff17.org/4749