Category Archives: News

The Gathering

 

This blog is not about the latest ad campaign from the Irish Tourism Board.

Hello LAFPI, I’m back blogging. This is my 13th week blogging for LAFPI, and thirteen is a good number for me. No, not superstitious at all. Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Also Happy Inauguration Day.

Back on January 12th, I went to the LAFPI gathering at Samuel French in West Hollywood, and it made me all perky and happy. Maybe it was the abundance of sweets on the food table. Maybe it was all the books. I like to think it was all the great people I met. We all got to introduce ourselves. Some of us read work, but the whole proceeding had a nice casual feel to it. I also got to meet the Bitch Pack, and they’re really nice. They’re not Bitches at all. Also, the Vagrancy Theatre was there too, and it’s okay, they do have homes.

Ideas were exchanged along with cards (gotta get some of those) and fliers. What’s cool is that so many writers from so many places can come together and drink wine and eat brownies and exchange ideas. Meanwhile, on one of the bookshelves, Judi Dench looked out from the paperback cover of her memoir and smiled.

Special thanks to Jennie Webb and Laura Shamas, Bitch Pack’s Thuc Nguyen and LA FPI/The Vagrancy’s Sabina Ptasznik for organizing the gathering (or could we call it a salon, does that sound too pretentious?).

There is talk of another gathering in March for Swan (Support Women Artists Now, not the bird) Day or maybe in April for the third anniversary of LAFPI.

As for me, my plan is to blog everyday Monday through Friday this week, so check back for more fun stuff. I plan to talk about my latest conspiracy theory, minimalism, actors, and other wacky playwriting stuff.

Alpha Beta

I just read this article, through a tweet from Etta Devine. It is truly not to be believed.

“I don’t want to publish reviews of films where women are alpha and men are beta.

where women are heroes and villains and men are just lesser versions or shadows of females. 

i believe in manliness.” 

Read in full:

http://blogs.suntimes.com/foreignc/2012/11/post-2.html

The Bechdel Test Talks continued

The Bechdel Test Talks began HERE, on LA FPI, in June.

Now a monthly series where my co-hosts and I look at various types of entertainment through the lens of The Bechdel Test. Etta Devine & Caroline Sharp join me every month!

The Bechdel Test asks 3 basic questions for every story (originally applied to film):

1. Is there more than 1 female character (with a name)?

2. Do they talk to each other?

3. About anything besides men?

These perimeters are not meant to be judgement calls, but simply starting points for discussion.

Today at 4pm PT, we’ll discuss Fantasy & Science Fiction!

[Video link available at 3:55pmPT]

Watch Bechdel Test Talk Ep3: Children’s Stories

Watch Bechdel Test Talk Ep4: Who’s Breaking the Gender Glass Ceiling?

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See the full schedule

Subscribe to YouTube
http://bit.ly/theCMJstoriesBLOG

Facebook.com/theCMJstories

Don’t miss a segment @CindyMarieJ

How Much Is That Playwright In the Window?

 

Usually a week before my blog week on LAFPI, I open up the yellow idea folder and start compiling the blog postings. I try to find a nice mix of entertainment, theory, criticism, and stuff that’s happening to me.

Last week, a really nice bloggable topic fell out of the New York Times and into my lap. The article in Saturday’s Times was about the Drama Book Shop having playwrights sit in their front window and work.

Perfect! I thought. I loved the absurdism of it.

Then, I realized that it was a sincere project.

Oh, you’ve got be kidding. I thought.

But the New York Times does not kid.

The project is called Playwright Working (which reminds me of Dead Man Walking), and Playwrights sit for two hours at a time in the window and work or browse facebook or play spider solitaire. Yes, it’s playwriting as reality TV without the TV part.

Am I jealous that these writers get to show the world how they pursue the glamorous art of playwriting? Uhm. No.

I wonder how much performing instead of actual writing the playwrights are doing. In such a situation, I would not be writing. I would be Jen pretending to write. In other words, I would be acting. Why would I want to do that? Acting is even less glamorous than playwriting. You have to put a lot of junk on your face when you act.

The whole reason I became a writer was that I didn’t want to deal with people. If it works for some writers, fine. Personally, I would rather write alone. I can play with my hair.

Mary Steelsmith Goes To Sweden

When: August 15 – 20, 2012
Where: Riksteatern, Stockholm, Sweden
What: The 9th Women Playwrights International Conference
Why:  From the WPIC website: “The conference will be an opportunity to meet and to create genuine, lasting contacts between women playwrights and other theatre professionals. The conference’s aim is to have a supporting impact on collaboration and to build bridges between people from different parts of the world.”
Who: Women playwrights from around the world, including LA FPI’s own Mary Steelsmith.
Mary’s play Isaac, I am will be featured at WPIC 2012 on Saturday afternoon, August 18, 2012.

Award-winning dramatist Mary Steelsmith and her highly-lauded play Isaac, I am will be featured at the upcoming 2012 Women Playwrights International Conference in Stockholm, Sweden.  It’s a six-day conference with international focus, filled with lectures, workshops, and most of all, performances of works by women. This year’s theme is “The Democratic Stage.” The WPI Conference moves around the world: it’s held every three years in a different city. In 2015, it will be held in Cape Town, South Africa. For more on Women Playwrights International, and to join, visit their website.

107 plays from around the world will be featured at WPIC 2012, and Mary is thrilled: “What an honor it is to have Isaac, I am chosen to be presented at this conference! The opportunity to meet with and learn from so many female dramatists from other countries and cultures is a rare and wonderful one. While it will be an expensive journey, the experience of this conference in beautiful Stockholm will be priceless.” Only fourteen women playwrights from the U.S. were selected to attend. (To see the complete list of selected plays and playwrights, click here.)

Steelsmith’s Isaac, I am is a story of love, life, death and AOL. A winner of the Helford Prize (and she’s only female playwright to win it), Steelsmith also lists productions of Isaac, I am at the Racounteur Theatre in Columbus, Ohio, and most recently, here in Los Angeles at the Women’s Theatre Organization at the University of Southern California.

Steelsmith has won other playwriting awards, including the Eileen Heckart Drama for Seniors Competition and the Hewlett-Packard Action Theatre Prize (Singapore).

Would you like to help Mary Steelsmith get to Sweden? On Saturday, July 14, 2012, 2 p.m., there’s a benefit performance of 5 short plays by Steelsmith  at Vidiots Video, 302 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica, CA, 90402. She’s also selling copies of her work on Amazon.

For more info, go to marysteelsmith.com.

A Love Vaccine: Believers by Patricia Milton

One of my favorite writing subjects is myth and fairy tale adaptation. Robin Byrd, whose new play The Grass Widow’s Son is part of the DC Black Theatre Festival on 6/28/12, kindly blogged here about a talk that I gave on the topic at the Dramatists Guild National Conference last year.

Award-winning Bay Area playwright Patricia Milton has a new comedy opening in August in San Francisco titled Believers. It’s a fairy tale adaptation, and sounds fascinating—about a love vaccine. I interviewed Patricia via e-mail to learn more about her new show and her fairy tale adaptation process.

Q: Please tell us about your new play Believers. What’s it about?

Milton: In a remote pharmaceutical lab, brain researcher Rockwell Wise works to develop a love vaccine so he will never again suffer the pain of heartbreak. His ex-lover Grace Wright shows up to lead his drug development team, bringing her own agenda — her plan to create a love activator. Their maneuvers to achieve their own aims result in unexpected side effects.

Q: A love vaccine. What sparked the idea? How’d you come up with it?

Milton: I read an article in the NY Times about the brain synapses involved in romantic love, and was intrigued by the article’s assertion that if a love vaccine were made, there is already a large market for it. I immediately wanted to write about this: I think it is funny and touching to follow a protagonist whose desperate, heartfelt goal is totally wrong for her or him. I wanted to adapt a fairy tale as a couple’s backstory. I also was eager to explore the notion of pharmaceutical side effects. Brain-altering drugs are a boon for many people, but when their side effects are ignored or concealed, there are tragic results. In a similar way, sometimes our own actions produce unintended consequences that hurt the ones we love.

Q: Sounds like so many people can relate to this play! When did you start it and what’s your development process been like?

Milton: I’ve been working on it for about two years. I developed it in several writers workshops, including at Playwrights Foundation and Central Works writing group. It has had three public readings: at Playwrights Center of San Francisco, Playwrights Revolution, Capital Stage Company, Sacramento, and Wily West Productions, San Francisco. From the last reading, Wily West decided to produce it. As a side note, the Playwrights Revolution reading was directly as a result of Twitter: Stephanie Gularte, artistic director of Capital Stage, read my tweet about the play and asked to read it.

Q: That’s great that social media helped you get a reading. Speaking of readings, what’s their value in terms of a play’s development?

Milton: I learned so much from each reading. Believers is a comedy, so sitting in the middle of the theatre, listening for the laughter, told me a lot about what was working in terms of what was funny. The play explores a complex mash-up of ideas, and has an intricate plot, so I asked a lot of questions in talk-backs to make sure audiences were following the action. There’s still some juicy ambiguity, but the action has become clearer with each rewrite.

Q: Believers is based on a fairy tale. Please tell us about your fairy tale adaptation process.

Milton: Fairy tales are fascinating to me: layered, deep, and speaking directly to the unconscious. Many of the fairy tales we know here in the U.S. have been “Disney-ized,” removing some of the darker elements.  In “The Frog King,” a princess promises to love the Frog King forever and ever if he will rescue her gold ball from a pond. When he delivers the ball, she refuses to keep her promise. Now, many of us know a version where the princess kisses the frog to change him into a prince. But in the fairy story I found, the princess changes him by throwing the frog against a wall!  To me, this version is not about physical violence. It depicts the power of love to completely, often fiercely and uncomfortably, shatter our psyche as it transforms us. I was challenged to figure out how Grace “throws Rocky against the wall” to bring him to his fully realized self. One other aspect of the play is that the frog is both a religious symbol (as in Egypt’s plague) and a fairy tale symbol. I was prompted to explore the apocalyptic side of the frog as well as its fairy tale side.

Q: Any thoughts on writing comedy you can share with us?

Milton: I want to put in a good word for romantic comedies. For centuries, all comedies were romantic comedies. Hollywood, with its frequent use of stale formulas and generic couples, has somewhat tarnished the rom-com. I’m doing my part to reclaim the genre for smart people. I’d like to also make a plug for Wily West: a fantastic production company, employing talented women artists like our director, Sara Staley, Lead Designer Quinn Whitaker, and Executive Producer Laylah Muran de Assereto, as well as many other talented actors and design professionals. Founded by Morgan Ludlow, Wily West Productions produces only local SF Bay Area playwrights.

Q) A female-driven production company? We certainly want to support that. Thanks, Patricia, for all the good information. Congratulations and we can’t wait to hear more about your show.

Wily West Productions presents the world premiere apocalyptic comedy, BELIEVERS, by Patricia Milton, directed by Sara Staley. August 2-25, 2012. Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays at 8 p.m. at StageWerx, 466 Valencia Street, between 15th and 16th Streets, San Francisco. For more information: www.wilywestproductions.com 

 

fringey females

I started an experiment this Hollywood Fringe Festival: live broadcast interviews via Google+. You can watch them live on Bitter Lemons , You Tube or Google+, and each is archived for later, too.

Here is a selection of female-helmed Fringe shows who I got a chance to interview. I decided to start with pieces that pass a modified version of the Bechdel test*; essentially, the subject matter does not revolve around men and relationships. I don’t have a problem with those topics, and they can be very interesting, but there is plenty else out there.

*The Bechdel test is meant for film, so the three criteria are: 1) more than 1 female characters (with names), 2) who talk to each other, 3) about something besides men. For plays, specifically some that are only one woman on stage, I modified the definition. It’s still up for discussion, but that’s the best I could create after a lengthy twitter discussion on the topic.

More will be posted soon along with personal commentary on the state of female characters………

 

An Evening with Marie Curie: Rogue Scientist

This one is sort of cheating, because it specifically deals with challenges of a female scientist. Yet not cheating, because she breaks the mold (or at least tries). I’m seeing it this Thursday!

Ciera Payton on her show Michael’s Daughter

Her story centers around her parents, including an incarcerated father, but she also portrays other women who discuss much more than that. One character includes Marie Laveau, and from talking with her, it seems like New Orleans herself is a character.

 

Naomi Bennett, director of Tearing the World Apart

What will it take for you to actually change your life and overall purpose?

…..And that’s it. Out of 35 + interviews, those are the four I can distinguish are not solely about men and a female’s relationship to them. This is not a judgement call, and I am seeing some wonderful shows that revolve around relationships. I just find it very interesting and something to consider. What do you think?

Oh I Could Never Why The Heck Not

Or the post where I try to be inspirational.

I am trying to eliminate the phrase, Oh I Could Never, from my mental vocabulary. It’s not in my writing process, but I’ve been trying to eliminate it from my life thought process as well.

Oh I Could Never. It’s such a simple thought. It can be used ethically. Oh I could never shoot someone. That’s a good thought to have. Please, my friends, never stop thinking that thought.

But Oh I Could Never could also be used in negative ways to eliminate possibility. Oh I could never go and try that new thing. Oh I could never go two days without a shower.

We all have standards that we hope to live our lives by. But what about the possibility of something new? What if I stepped off the curb of Oh I Could Never into the puddle of possibility?

So whenever I think Oh I Could Never, I add the phrase Why The Heck Not. I prefer heck to hell because in this context, heck reminds me that it’s so simple that I don’t have to swear.

Oh! I almost forgot. I have to plug stuff today.

If you are in Prescott, Arizona in April, my monologue “Cake” is being performed by fellow LAFPI blogger Tiffany Antone as part of an evening called Love Makes The World Go Round. Here’s the website.

I will not be in Arizona in April, but I’m sure it will be a fun night.

 Speaking of Tiffany (who is definitely in the WTHN zone), she’s producing another festival of women’s plays. I recently blogged over on her website.

 

A New Play From The Other Side

Out of nowhere I got a directing job.

The last couple of years I focused on my outreach and writing, with a few small self-produced  projects along the way. I purposely wanted a break from the rehearsal room and it was a good one. The last year I’ve written more than the five beforehand, and in that time fell in love with the whole idea of the new play.

Howlround and the formerly-Arena Stage-now-Emerson-College newplay initiative did a lot for me. So did the myriad of new work I saw during the Hollywood Fringe Festival. Part of my own odyssey involves ongoing class with the LA Writers Center, an inspirational incubator for new works. Not to mention being part of creating genre-defining projects last year while at The Indy Convergence. And of course, finding a community among this group, the Los Angeles Female Playwright’s Initiative.

So out of the blue is this opportunity, and it happens to be a play I really dig. I thought long and hard about what it would take for me to want to direct again, and I’d say 90% of my personal requirements are met.

In between meeting the wonderful playwright and making my decision, I saw friend Brian Polak’s reading as part of EST-LA’s Winterfest. I walked into the large black box with hidden rooms that create magic. I walked across stage and took my seat, turning off my phone. As I got comfortable, saying hellos and catching up with colleagues, I breathed it all into myself. I missed the potential inherent with only a space, actors, music stands, words and people to listen to them.

So here I am, flexing my directing muscles again, bringing a new play to life.

This afternoon I hear a new draft out loud for the first time. It’s more exciting a prospect than I thought, even after I’d made the decision.

Raise a glass to new works, folks. Keep the juices flowing.

Do Something For a Change

I bought a bumper sticker back in 2004 and loved it:

Do Something For a Change

Unfortunately the car that hosted it is gone, but the phrase still sticks with me.

I began obsessing over outreach and consulting for nonprofits when I saw an incredible, invisible gap: the disconnect between nonprofits or civics leaders and the people they serve. This gap is not always a result of lack of trying, but very often due to a lack of time, objectivity, funding….choose one.

More on that gap later, but the connection between it and the bumper sticker is a simple one. While you are busy changing the world, I help you reach as many people as possible. This is what attracts me to nonprofits like The Global Theatre Project. How Bari Hochwald does what she does is not simple, but her mission can boil down to:

creative engagement and collaboration that will unite American theatre artists and students with their international counterparts positively affecting the communities where they work

I know from some time overseas – and across the country – that travel and true creative collaboration is the key to an open and receptive mind. I feel it greatly affects my ability to adjust to new situations, embrace new tools, and understand the world a little more.

When the opportunity to work with Bari on a fund-raiser for The Global Theatre Project arose, I couldn’t believe my luck. Honestly, I still can’t. I learned many lessons through past campaigns similar to this, and relish the chance to improve and aid in their fund-raising outreach efforts. Amanda Aitken wrote this great article on framing and tuning yourself to attract the right collaborators to your work. I truly feel that my work with The Global Theatre Project is exactly why I started consulting in the first place.

Did I also mention that I wouldn’t know Bari if it weren’t for LA FPI? Oh, that little detail!

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“This is the power of art” – Interview with Jessica from our partner Amnesty Int’l

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