A writer friend recently had a zoom performance of her play, a lovely piece about the power of grief and recovery. The last scene is a reprise of the top of the play, flashed back in time, full of the ugly and raw emotion of loss. Several “critics” urged her to expunge the scene. “It isn’t needed,” said one. “Anticlimactic,” said another. What they were saying was that the script didn’t follow the classic Greek model of rising action, climax, and denouement. Or, the penis model, as I like to call it.
Instead, the writer used a circular structure for the play. Which, some argue, is a more organic way of writing for the female storyteller. Yes, you start at point A and return there, but the protagonist hasn’t necessarily “learned something” or “changed,” which are requirements for the official “circular” plot. The writer just finished the story. Period.
The writer rejected the criticism, by the way.
Sticking to the Aristotelian structure has become even more formulaic in recent decades, something I call the “Save the Cat” effect. The popular book by Blake Snyder has become a template for most movies and far too many plays. It’s gotten to a point that I can pretty much predict exactly what will happen next – something I do, by the way, that drives my husband crazy.
It’s a South Korean episodic drama about a poor little rich girl out paragliding and gets blown across the DMZ to North Korea. It’s wonderful – funny, not too scary, full of social and political commentary, but mostly a love story. It’s also incredibly well written by veteran screenwriter Park Ji-Eun.
The show is a worldwide hit. Viewers in India are reportedly learning Korean. A fan in the Phillipines has written a song about the show. Even Chicago Cubs Manager David Ross is a fan.
And here’s the thing: I could never predict what happens next. I was continuously surprised and delighted. As a writer, I kept asking myself, “how did she do that?”
It’s not just me. A playwriting pal had exactly the same reaction. Neither of us can figure out the structure of the story, yet we couldn’t stop watching. What magic is Park Ji-Eun using? And more importantly: can we steal it?
My playwright pal and I have decided to make a formal study of the series, each of us taking one episode and dissecting it, then comparing notes. We’ll likely be applying whatever structure secrets Ji-Eun uses in our next plays.
And here’s the good news: there’s rumors of a second season!
Are you a circular writer? Have you rejected Aristotle’s triangle of plot structure? Have you gotten pushback? Is there a better way to tell a story?
And can you figure out the structure in “Crash Landing on You” on Netflix?
Kitty Felde is a playwright, podcaster, and children’s mystery writer. Her second book in The Fina Mendoza Mysteries series State of the Union comes out this summer.
For the final installment of my “Creatives Check-In” series, we welcome and hear from…
Before we get into the interview, I just want to say how thankful I am to everyone who participated in this series. I know that the times we’re living in are not easy and we’re all in taking in the days as best we can but I am so thankful that you took the time to share your story with me.
Featured Creatives – A Short Bio:
Lelde Cauka – Bracken is a Latvian born visual artist living and working in Los Angeles, CA. Lelde comes from a background of classical fine art training since the age of 10. Her work ranges from a realistic still life and portrait illustrations to exploration of color and shape. Her current work voices abstractionism and simplicity. It is deeply rooted in her northern European upbringing while intertwining with the exposure of her surroundings. Mostly working with watercolor and acrylics, Lelde finds these mediums the most soothing allowing the audience to connect and find harmony through her work.
Nahal Navidar is an Iranian-born playwright raised in upstate New York. Her plays are motivated by the exploration of social issues while employing magical elements to embody the expanse of human emotions. Nahal’s plays have been developed at Boston Court, Silk Road Rising, Ensemble Studio Theatre LA, The Vagrancy, Rogue Machine, Coeurage Theatre, Pasadena Playhouse, Playwright’s Arena, Troy Foundry Theatre, The Last Frontier Theatre Conference, Golden Thread Productions, Company of Angels, The Kennedy Center, and The University at Albany. Nahal holds an MFA in Dramatic Writing from USC and is a member of the Dramatist Guild of America.
Maia “Vik Floyd” Villa is a fifth generation Chicanx Los Angeleno, most at home between taco trucks and boba tea. They’re a lifelong performer and writer, particularly in love with sketch comedy, ancestral reparation, and rock’n’roll. Passionate about liberating marginalized voices through creative expression and cultural enrichment, Maia has worked with various non-profit arts organizations throughout Los Angeles to empower others through storytelling. You can catch them in sketch/improv shows in Hollywood and performing rey metalero drag all over the Eastside—after quarantine that is.
Instagram: @maia.villa (For Maia stuff and comedy) and @mx.vikfloyd (For more openly queer, mentally ill stuff—oh and drag!)
How have you been spending your time at home during the quarantine?
Lelde Cauka – Bracken (LCB): Quarantine has certainly raised awareness of what is essential in our lives. Whether it is food or a creative outlet to sustain your mental wellbeing. The current time and circumstances we have discovered ourselves in, is simply another reminder that the beauty of life is its unpredictable ways. Yes, the future may seem uncertain, especially if one’s routine has been disrupted, but it has always been this way! This is how I continue to look at my day-to-day life in the creative field as well as in my domestic life. I try not to put a pause on everything simply because we are leading a more simple and isolated life. In many ways, I find it more inspirational and motivating than ever before despite the crisis. With that being said, I am also aware of the negative side of this virus and the different degrees of impact it’s leaving on so many lives around me – seeing so many people around the world including my family and friends be so deeply affected is heartbreaking without a doubt, but we also have to find a way to function for ourselves and others. I feel like we have been given an opportunity to re-establish values for ourselves and decide how we want to continue this journey. I am a strong believer in “less is more”. Letting go of what I have no control over, is my gasoline that keeps me moving forward. It is also strongly reflected in my artwork.
This might sound cliché, but I’ve been focusing more on my mental and physical health by staying active through late-night running and my continuous yoga practice as I did before the quarantine. Once you discover it in your own unique way, it really does wonders to your body and mind and this is something I put a big emphasis on because all of these aspects are connected and play a tremendous role not only in my happiness but also in my creative flow. I strongly recommend it!
Being lucky enough to have full-time job during this pandemic, I have also taken the time to get back to my roots and focus more on cooking. I grew up in the luscious Latvia and preparing your daily meal with homegrown ingredients runs in my DNA. It has always been a passion of mine, but now that my current “office” is around the corner from my kitchen, it makes it that much easier and brings me so much joy. This time has most certainly brought renewed love for many simple things in my life and has made me appreciate what I have and how far I have come.
Maia “Vik Floyd” Villa(MVFV): This is almost everything I ever wanted—but with a horrific societal landscape. To explain: Since I was preteen age, I had this recurring vision of a brick wall always slowly moving behind me, as I had to keep up and move forward. In deep spells of depression, I’d get the vision of my little body jogging slowly and getting tired—or worse, falling completely limp in exhaustion as the wall pushed on.
I grew to realize that this is not only a metaphor about time, but a metaphor on societal pressures—not to mention anything my young psyche had picked up from loving Pink Floyd’s concept of The Wall. 12 years later, I’m grateful we live among communities working and collaborating to decolonize. Now, before you think I’m just going to go into a rant about how white supremacists or capitalism is the root of all evil…well I slightly am, and also very much not. I believe that, in the lifetime of any society throughout history, more often than not the structures used to build a large scale society are the same structures that eventually stop working until the society collapses or revolutionizes itself.
How is this an answer to your question? HA.
I do not feel I have extra time. I still feel the wall moving. Above is the beginnings of the thoughts I’ve been having while trying not to let the stress take over too much. Despite being in a personally privileged position (I’m able to work from home, and I am grateful to have time at home because I’m normally running around all over the place), my arms are aching all the time and I do not feel as though I have any extra time to spend. I still feel like there isn’t enough time to release all the spinning thoughts, I still feel like there isn’t enough time to get ahead of that wall, I still feel all the pressures and anxieties — and the silver lining gift is to be able to observe those emotional patterns removed of some factors that normally keep me distracted and busy.
Did the quarantine affect any of your creative projects or plans?
LCB: It has most certainly left an impact – public shows in galleries might be out of the question for a while, but this situation has also expanded my creativity and made me search for alternative ways to make my art accessible to others, for example, utilizing the mighty worldwide web, especially social media has been a great tool. I am definitely very thankful for technology.
Daylight plays an instrumental part in my creative work and it has been wonderful to not spend any time in traffic and have easy access to it daily. So overall, I must say the quarantine has made a positive impact on my workflow.
Nahal Navidar (NN): The world premiere of my play My Dear Hussein was cancelled on what would have been the first preview performance. We were in tech week when we had the initial conversation about COVID-19 and things rapidly unraveled from there.
MVFV: It pushed forward a plan: to stop doing theatre. I’ve been a “Yes” person in the theatre world for 12 years, and funny thing is that a project was ending on March 10th. So all throughout February and beginning of March, I was telling myself, “March 11th, you start saying no; March 11th, you get rest and focus on your solo work. March 11th you start spending more time at home—“ and WHOOP! Look what happened!
I was about to say no to all creative projects so that I can narrow my focus to a dream that’s been dear to me for a very long time: I auditioned for and got accepted into Second City Hollywood’s Grad Revue. After 8 levels of improv, this is the final 6-month program in which you build a sketch show with an ensemble. I’m telling you, Zury, this is the number one fucking DREAM—the road to the dream—and I am tearing up that it’s been put on pause.
I work for a nonprofit I’m very passionate about (I’m an emerging actor who sees having a platform as an opportunity for social progress), so March and April haven’t been easy. Trying to catch relief fund opportunities like flying dodgeballs. I’ve been laughing about the March 11th thing; this is almost what I wanted…But it’s very much not.
How, if at all, has this time affected your creativity?
NN: With the cancellation of my production, I can’t anticipate when I’ll have the emotional fortitude to write again. As an immigrant, woman, and artist of color, getting a theater to commit to producing my work has been a grueling task. To come this close and then watch it fall apart during tech week has been devastating. Unearthing my childhood memories of war for the rehearsal process was intrinsically a trying experience, but the point is to share in the communal experience of catharsis with an audience. Otherwise, there is no release, like a hand is squeezing my larynx. My body is anticipating the breath, but my mind knows that air is not coming. I will channel this into my writing one day, but right now I am in shock.
MVFV: I’m being kind to myself. Of course I want to shit out the album, the solo performance, the comedy sketch that will break open our bipartisan divide…I want to create and release and produce all of that. But I can’t have that expectation when this time is uncertain and scary for all of us. It’s tiring.
I’m allowing myself to take everything slowly. To sit in my backyard and breathe, and instead of having the pressure to practice guitar via scales or metronomes, just deep listening to the sound and to the wind.
I’m part of the drag community, and I must mention how wildly impressive and beautiful it is how quickly and strongly and innovatively the drag community has created and produced digital drag nationwide. It’s fucking beautiful! It’s been frustrating for artists like me who have more theatrical skill than digital, but all of us punkass bitches at least are enjoying ANY quality of digital drag. I said no to some digital drag opportunities at start, and am now gradually creating some videos whenever I feel the need for release and have the time. What a beautiful action to use this time to join together globally.
SIDE NOTE, From Maia: I really would love it if people were able to catch the following drag shows, because I am releasing personal healing that I hope is good for everyone else:
May 5th at 7pm, Drag Kings of the World @dragkingsworld
May 7th at 7:36pm (full moon sunset time), Golden Hour @goldenhourdragshow
May 14th at 7pm, Mandemic by @mancandykings
*All streaming on Twitch
Personally, do you feel that it’s necessary/important to keep creative during this time?
LCB: Yes, absolutely! It’s part of my ecosystem. For me, personally, it’s something irreplaceable and essential. It has always been that way.
NN: No. I don’t think it’s important to do anything but follow the stay-at-home order, keep social distance, and be present with the shared trauma that humanity is experiencing. If one wants to process feelings through creativity, then of course, create, but a global pandemic shouldn’t be treated as an extended writer’s retreat. It’s an offense to the millions of people who have lost their lives, are sick, and to the essential workers who don’t have the privilege to stay at home and protect their families.
MVFV: Hell no. Priority is self-care. Society is not going to go back to “normal” — if you look at the natural course of history, you know that more painful change, more eye opening to weak structures—all of that is coming. We need rest. Only rest will make us stronger. If creative collaboration brings you rest, comfort, and strength—great! If spinning around your bedroom throwing paint at a poster brings you, rest, comfort, and strength—great! But is “keeping creative” necessary? Hell no.
What have you found most frustrating about this time, creatively or otherwise?
NN: I have a deadline coming up for a commission. I’m three scenes away from finishing the play, but what I need now is to process the fallout of production and digest the reality of the world around me. However, my integrity as an artist and commitment to deadlines are very important. It’s a frustrating conundrum.
MVFV: The crowds of people deeply believe that Newsom’s initiatives are a ploy to entrap us in a communist police state. That this can be a global issue—with multiple countries having shelter-in-place guidelines or restrictions—and I still have 2 MAGA family members on both sides who believe this is an exaggeration to fuck with Trump’s election. And even more frustrating, Zury, is that the Democratic Party is a fucking disaster, and I don’t blame anyone who decides to join the #WalkAway movement and become a patriot focused on freedom. Nearly every politician has some personal interest, some money to go into their pocket. I’m losing my mind because we have one side screaming about communists, and the other side screaming about fascists, and all the radicalists are either moving further to the left or further to the right—without anyone finding any common root belief or behavior.
Once our young nation has citizens who, during a GLOBAL PANDEMIC (geez, I have to say “global” when pandemic does mean global), are holding up protest signs reading, “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death.” Oh, man, it’s over. This country was founded on the concept of Liberty (a false liberty) and no one even knows what liberty means.
I’ll continue to collaborate with people who will work tirelessly “until justice is truly for all” but I am tired and pessimistic.
What is something that you’ve learned about yourself during this time?
LCB: I have learned how adaptable I can be to this ever-changing life and cope with disruption. Instead of feeling frustrated about the current situation in the world and any other newness that comes my way, I simply accept the change and most often transform it into a case study, a creative process. Life is constantly full of hidden gems and other rocks. I have learned to appreciate them all equally.
NN: I’m too immersed in the experience and can’t see beyond the muck. I do feel exhausted and know that we will all feel the impact of this pandemic for generations to come.
MVFV: Observing my bipolar patterns removed of all the busying/distracting factors is pretty fascinating, and also a little scary. On the one week a month that I’m in an optimistic mood, I worry it’s going to spiral into mania, yes, but also my nervous system is just such a fucking nuisance. I’ve been breathing, grounding myself, staying patient and forgiving for the most part. I am in a safe environment, with little stress. Whenever I do have stress spikes where I act grouchy, I am grateful I’m with my family where we’re all just used to our behaviors and laugh at each other.
I am still worried about my anger. I have been for many years now. So I’ve said Fuck it to traditional workouts, and now I am essentially combining my “at-home gym” time with Viewpoints in order to release anger.
What is something/someone that has brought you joy during this time?
LCB: I feel extremely lucky to share this time with my partner in creative journeys and life as well as play with our always-comical husky pup. We actually got engaged the other week. This came as a wonderful surprise and is another great example of how to continue your life despite the quarantine.
NN: Making new Iranian recipes I’ve never attempted before. Reading. Practicing my violin. Consuming mindless content. Spending time with my husband and our new puppy, Pashmak. Checking in on my cousin, Emily, who is a NYC nurse and texting her silly gifs and YouTube clips. Being thankful every day for the health of my family and loved ones.
MVFV: My friend Daniel Luna reached out to our team for Borracho: Spanish for Drunken Bum (a play by friend Abe Zapata Jr. I directed in February—I fucking love that play; I’d be tired all over again for that beautiful, hilarious play—) so we could read a script he’s working on all together via Zoom. That was my fave. It was a very low pressure, one-time commitment scenario where we all get to enjoy Daniel’s comedy, and I loved it. (Shout out to @luna.tico and @abe_zapatajr — peeps should follow their work!) Also, I highly recommend taking an incredibly aimless walk around your neighborhood without any technology on you.
For the second installment of my “Creatives Check-In” series, we welcome and hear from…
As relayed in the previous post, my goal with this series is to highlight how creative folks are reconciling with their creativity during this precarious time. In the spirit of creative camaraderie, I aim to highlight creatives from various fields as I strongly believe we fuel each other’s work. I am so thankful for their participation.
Featured Creatives – A Short Bio:
Valerie Gibbins is a textile and industrial designer from Oakland, CA. Her work straddles many disciplines, attempting to highlight the intersections of feminism, sustainability, art, function, and design thinking.
Christine Hamilton-Schmidt is a Los Angeles based playwright and screenwriter. Her work has been developed and produced at Skylight Theatre, Ammunition Theatre Company, Ensemble Studio Theatre/LA, The Blank Theatre, Team Awesome Robot, The Parsnip Ship, and more. Her full-length play, CHARLOTTE STAY CLOSE, had its world premiere production at Ensemble Studio Theatre/LA in September 2019. She is the founder and co-program director of New West Playwrights, which was created to give voice to and foster the work of young playwrights in Los Angeles. More information at www.christinehamiltonschmidt.com
Amanda Harmon Koppe is an Actor, Writer, and LA native. Amanda’s passion lies in empowering others through her art, as well as coaching others to create their own work. She received her BFA in Performing Arts: Acting from AMDA College & Conservatory of the Performing Arts, has written a feminist-comedy feature film screenplay, as well as the short film Siri 2.0, depicting technology’s intrusiveness in our daily lives. She’s starred in a number of commercials and short films and when she’s not acting or writing, you can find her as a Production Manager, Teaching Artist or Yoga Instructor.
How have you been spending your time at home during the quarantine?
Valerie Gibbins (VG): There’s been a lot of eating, baking, cooking, staring into space, staring at screens, laundry, watering plants, having no clue what I’m doing, watching ’90s Disney movies, stressing, sewing, making masks, playing with fabric, and eating chocolate. There’s never enough chocolate in this house.
Christine Hamilton-Schmidt (CHS): I go to bed between 1:30 and 2:30am and wake up between 9:00 and 10:00am. I make big batches of cold brewed hibiscus tea and bake cakes. I bought a dry erase board, and I write a to-do list for my weekdays and feel really good every time I cross an item off the list. I write in notebooks in an attempt to spend less time in front of a screen. I talk to my cat a lot and call my mom every day.
Amanda Harmon Koppe (AHK): I am the kind of person that needs to stay busy and I’m still learning to forgive myself when I don’t finish everything on my to-do list. I started thinking about what I could do from home that would take my mind off of our current global crisis and would help others do the same. I ended up creating Arts & Crafts tutorials on Youtube for kids. I was surprised to put my acting, writing, filming, directing, and teaching skills into use by developing these holistic crafting lessons for children from my kitchen table.
Did the quarantine affect any of your creative projects or plans?
VG: I teach sewing classes, so those were all cancelled. Thankfully, I did not have any major plans this year since I was looking for full-time work anyway. That effort went down the tubes, obviously.
CHS: This is WILD, but my “career” has never been better. Quarantine has opened a magical door to working on other people’s projects and being encouraged by others to write. I have collaborators getting in touch with me and giving me deadlines in a way I never have. I feel really lucky, but also tired and worried about letting people down because some days I just can’t write.
AHK: In early March, I had been going on auditions, developing a few TV pilots, working on an ebook and outlining another feature film, but once our reality came to a screeching halt, it was much harder for me to focus on any of my creative endeavors. It was exhausting to even try working on projects I had once been passionate about. Everything I had been doing felt really small in comparison to an overwhelming feeling of uncertainty and dread. It made me think of the John Lennon quote, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”
How, if at all, has this time affected your creativity?
VG: On one hand, I feel like an amorphous semi-sentient blob most of the time. But then on the other hand, this time has actually pushed me to sew more and look at growing that more as part of my work. It’s given me time to waffle and question, but also time to sit down and sew for hours on end. This is definitely not to say that quarantine = start a business! It’s more about clearing away the cobwebs in my case. Now is not the time to pressure or shame yourself into doing something you do not feel equipped to do.
CHS: I want to sit around all day. I feel very lucky when I have an urge to write, but most of my writing has been a result of deadlines and I am so grateful to my creative partners for that. I think reading books and scripts and watching film & tv is a way to be creative and so I’ve been indulging in art intake.
AHK: I stopped judging myself for not accomplishing what I had planned on doing and that helped my creativity return in waves. It’s difficult enough for me to keep track of what day it is, so instead of giving myself a usual incentive deadline, I keep all of my projects circulating in the ether of my mind. Almost everything in my apartment is organized (for my own sanity), but when it comes to my ideas and thoughts– my creativity can get messy. When an idea hits, I write it down on anything I have on hand. If you walked through my front door right now, you would see random post-its, paper towels, napkins and journals floating around everywhere. It feels great to get my thoughts on paper and I could tell you exactly what is written on each one. It’s almost as if I’ve designated different areas of my apartment with a certain idea and when I’m in that area, that project/idea is what circulates in my mind and word vomit comes out. It’s like going to an amusement park and choosing what ride you want to go on that will make you toss your cookies (but for fun).
Personally, do you feel that it’s necessary/important to keep creative during this time?
VG: This is an absolute given. In normal times, this would be part of a larger conversation on the importance of arts education. Not only is it important to those of us who choose a creative field for work, being creative nurtures the brain and can provide distraction and comfort. For me, just doing something as simple as looking at my fridge or pantry, sparks creative problem solving and switches my brain on. I think it’s so vital to put a creative filter on everything you do—and it just makes everything more fun.
CHS: No. No, no, no. Nothing is necessary other than staying safe. I think it’s important to take time to think about who you are when you aren’t working, what your values are, and how you can contribute. I think it’s important to reach out to people you love. Rest so you can be creative when you’re ready.
AHK: As crazy as my creative process does sound at the moment, if I didn’t have it, I honestly don’t know where I would be putting that frenetic energy. I’m a big advocate for the need to express yourself. I believe it is just as important to be seen and heard at this time of universal societal trauma as it is when dealing with an individual’s trauma. If you can take whatever you are feeling right now and translate that into a drawing or painting or monologue or video, you will find that it is not only healing, but it will connect you to others who feel the same way. No matter how isolated I may feel, I find solace when I remember that I am not alone in this experience.
What have you found most frustrating about this time, creatively or otherwise?
VG: Oh, well, I mean…the “governance” of this country is utterly enraging. Anger can definitely be a motivator, but it’s turned very obsessive during this time; I’ve had to step away from watching news clips and be very conscientious about the time I spend on the internet. Though, I’m very grateful to even have access to information and the internet (#netneutrality).
Otherwise, I miss hugging my friends and family. It’s very frustrating to not know if they’re sick or I’m sick or if we should be going to the grocery store, etc. Everything and everyone has been in limbo for nearly two months. It’s not a comfortable or natural state for most humans. I think in some ways I had an easier time than most adjusting to sheltering in place because I’m a homebody and because I’ve been in a precarious limbo state (job-wise and mentally/emotionally) for a while.
CHS: I miss my friends and my family. It frustrates me that I can’t hug them.
What is something that you’ve learned about yourself during this time?
VG: I am a pretty self-aware person in the first place, so there haven’t really been any new revelations. However, I have definitely started being actively more forgiving and kinder to myself. I would say there’s been a lot more affirmation than fresh learning, which is truthfully what I’ve been struggling with for years. So, I guess, thank you Madame Corona for holding myself accountable to years of therapy!
CHS: I’m a lazy Taurus. I will always find something to clean. I want to write a novel (I knew this as a joke before quarantine but now I know as a serious thing).
AHK: I learned to be creative with finding purpose in my life. I never thought I would be making Arts & Crafts videos, but here I am. When it felt like the world was ending, Amanda was crafting. I also learned that it’s ok to not be productive. My body and mind have needed more rest because I’ve been in a constant state of stress since I started self-quarantining. I always thought accomplishing long-term goals was a great achievement, but now I think accomplishing little tasks feels just as great. I had the courage to get up this morning and take out the trash with gloves and a mask– yay, gold star!
What is something/someone that has brought you joy during this time?
VG: Communication with friends and family has always been number one. The past few years, I’ve cultivated amazing friendships by having epic phone chats and this time has allowed that to blossom since no one has a schedule anymore. I’ve been fortunate that I have been able to see my sister and brother-in-law (we’re basically one “household”) and therefore play with their dog. They joke I only come over to see her, which is not entirely untrue.
CHS: I don’t play Animal Crossing, but I like to listen to my husband play because the music and the voices of the characters are incredibly soothing.
AHK: Every Friday night, I visit another era by lighting a pair of candles on my great-grandmother’s candleholders and watch them flicker. I am reminded of how grateful I am for the technology and medicine we have today and that this too shall pass.
And I don’t know about you but I can’t live like that. Mind you, I have enough tomboy in me for two more lifetimes and one final incarnation, but I still have a soft fragile gooey inside that gets high off of helping post-rain snails who show up on my doorstep, taking long naps, and laughing with other people in very public spaces. I’m pretty gathery.
If you’ve witnessed recent road rage or more recent panic buy, you’ve probably concluded that we can’t afford to lose that balance. That would be devolving. And how much of the mess our natural world is currently in can be traced back to the hands of hunting gone awry?
I think right now Is about being smart. But not paranoid. I was there, vascillating this week between the two.
Tuesday can’t do it, I need to act normal.
Wednesday paranoid from WHO.
Thursday can’t do this, just wanna touch my eyes!
Friday the scene at Trader Joe’s Silverlake GEEEEEEEZ.
And today, I woke up to the grey (perfect timing this rain, eh?) lockdown feelings, thinking, “I can’t write like this. I can’t be creative, I can’t be productive, I can’t be present. What can I even say? Oh, great, I’m the guest this week, holding the mighty blog pen of LAFPI. What a waste this must be for them.”
And then, I realized, “Yup. It got me.” The other virus. The one that lowers my humorous system, tugs my love vibration to come crashing down, and dents my ability to be of service.
So I am choosing to acknowledge my fear, not of the virus, but of the powers who could create such things.
How evil hearted do you have to be to think it’s okay to release a bunch of disease all over people (during rainy weather.) Vulnerable people. Fry their insides w technology. Fill us with forced vaccine/gunk? Declare us the enemy while we go on about our lives making small, sometimes big differences but not once prioritizing harm to others. Who are these people and why do we constantly give them the keys to the most important kingdoms of our minds and our loyalty? Haven’t a handful of Extremely Sadistic Hunters messed all this up badly and bigly enough?
When NBA, NHL, Disneyland, Hollywood Productions, and other huge organizations in arts, sports & entertainment began to shut down Wednesday…I could feel the seriousness — of course, we worry about our individual ability to pay the bills, but the bigger suggestions were to “flatten the curve” of an easily-spread, often deadly nuisance, as a collective, and I was all for that. All for that. Like, wow, we can all actually get on the same page about something. We passed those ideas on to our own yoga studios, school and class communities, small events, clubs and show outings — mostly met with shock, heavy hearts and initial resistance. What’s the big deal? People are panicking… but everyday more of a tipping point to comprehend the urgency of containment. I mean, how can I not be upset about some of the most biggest, baddest, most conscious and beautiful gatherings that have touched my life having to PAUSE if not STOP ENTIRELY?
So. Now what? I’ve literally admitted I’m powerless over all of this. Where is my power? I need some of my power back. What can I do?
There’s two viruses at play here.
The physical one, which is about being cautious and clean. I can keep sensible regarding that virus. Do all the things, the no face-touching, no going-outing, constant hand-washing things.
And the second one, which is designed to attack our mental and emotional state. I can keep monitoring how I’m allowing myself to be run by fear and negativity and collective panic.
So after waking up to media media social media, and articles, and government actions and lots of different points of view, I felt the itch to just go out, get shit done, and live.
I needed to breathe and let go. How? Because sometimes our anxiety can’t just be breathed away, right? I’m sensitive. I understand. I got you.
I look around. (like the Calm app says)
I see the beautiful Tibetan bowl gifted to me last night from my friend, Jodi. (Get present to my immediate environment)
I play it. (Sound healing)
I light incense. (Magical smells)
I make the bed. (Routine) (Touching soft, cozy blankets)
Put on my hat that says “hat” (Nobody ever laughs at that)
Go outside. Breathe. Pick oranges off the tree. (Vitamin D, Vitamin C)
Drive to a DIFFERENT Trader Joe’s for my Indian frozens dammit, and take the scenic route. (Calm preparation)
Play either beautiful music by Tycho that brings my cells and DNA back to the best times of my life – or grounds me back to that young, innocent person that I was growing up in Houston, TX with my sister during our school years, Erasure on loop (Remember who you are)
I overzealously wave to other drivers as I pass them. With this simple act, my sense of humanity returns. In an attempt to be sane, I look totally insane. I feel like Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker dancing on the stairs after he…well, y’know. Except what I’d brutally murdered were my thoughts of paranoia and other-ness! (Reaching out)
Choose to not text back a few people because I don’t wanna talk about IT, just wanna keep my vibe high (Shielding/Protection)
After doing all these things, this article began to write itself. My thoughts relaxed as I thought about you, receiving on the other end. I realized I could use the power of words today to comfort, relate and entertain. I started to feel like me again. And the cashier AND bagger guys at Awesome, Plentiful Trader Joe’s actually acknowledged and loved HAT!
I’m gonna leave you with the best viral links I’ve seen this week that have helped me to turn the corner on my self-care. Leave your favorite ones in the comments below. We are all aching in some way, and we need to stockpile the good vibes, and safely feel one another. You’re not alone, sweet friend.
And finally, as a former step-mom and current nanny, tutor and favorite Auntie, to the parents who are stressing about what to do with your kids this week? You can tell me to shove it, but YOU DO have the exclusive privilege and an unprecedented opportunity of being on the frontlines of teaching this next generation how to not become self-absorbed assholes who balk everytime they don’t get their way or think something is being taken from them, lest they grow up to pursue a career in revenge against the entire human race. What a great week to gather ye little ones and teach them how to sit w themselves and meditate. With you. That way I don’t have to teach them when they’re 21 and they walk into my drug rehab because they never learned how to sit with themselves and their never-ending thoughts and desires. What a wonderful time to interrupt the nonsense and say, “hey this is important. I want you to come over here and sit with me because there’s bigger things going on right now than you not getting that toy” and “It’s okay to be scared, I’m scared too, let’s be scared together” and teach them there are people, places and things in the world we cannot always control but we can sure control how we react and respond.
Thanks for letting me write in this community-focused, virtual gathering space of like-minded, wonderfully artistic souls.
I’ll be over here gathering up my oranges and shiitake noodles with sprinkled bee pollen and cumin for flavor because I’m going to get reeeeallly creative with all these random foods, teaching a few healthy people yoga and deep breathing for anxiety, making myself laugh, and Trusting that I’m being taken care of.
Rasika Mathur is a writer and yogi. She is always living the dream.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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!
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.
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 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).”
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.
Last year I started working at Iowa State University, and kind of can’t believe how amazing my colleagues are. The theatre department has begun focusing on citizen artistry, which has anchored our season selection planning process in a much more socially aware methodology. I was thrilled when I came on board and found out that the department was committed to gender parity moving forward, and to celebrate that fact, they were going to do a whole season of works by female playwrights.
What was interesting, as we set about reading and researching plays, was just how few other organizations seemed to be making the same choice. We are fast approaching 2020, after all, and according to the Dramatists Guild’s most recent Count, we’re a far cry from that 50/50 gender parity goal set so long ago. (*Do you even remember where you were when the 50/50 in 2020 initiative was launched way back in 2010?)
Since we’re a university, we knew we had to serve our students first and foremost, but it also felt imperative that we begin to “Walk the Walk” of the citizen artist. Addressing gender parity for playwrights turned into just the start of our ambitious sea-change. We also decided to hire female guest artists as designers and directors, and to create a year-long symposium on gender parity.
The outreach to other departments on campus yielded a number of exciting partnerships – we aren’t the only field with a parity gap! – and this collaboration led to a very busy and thrilling season of work across many mediums and fields of study.
The result is our (very busy and very awesome) HERoic season! All it took to make it happen was a desire and willingness to DO THE WORK.
Now, we’re still in the middle of our first semester – two shows into our season, and four more productions to go—but the thrill of the work is contagious!
Something I’ve found very interesting during our process is that although gender parity onstage is a very important issue for us as artists and theatremakers, audiences aren’t nearly as concerned or aware of this gap. And why would they be? How many audiences are really that tuned in to the world of theatre to begin with? Aren’t most just kind of renting space with us for an evening or matinee and then going back to their normal routines?
So what we considered a very proactive and exciting selling point to our season—all works by female playwrights—has seemingly been less important to our audiences than we thought it would be.
Again and again, in discussions around gender parity and our season, we’ve heard audiences claim they don’t give a hoot who wrote the play. All they’re looking for is a “Good” story. Now, these are discussions have been held with theatre majors, minors, and non-theatre students alike – but I’d wager that the same holds true for most non-student audience members too. What people are looking for is TITLE recognition. Is the show a big enough deal to have pierced the non-theatre-maker’s bubble? Have they heard good things about the title from friends who “saw it on Broadway”? And have our theatremakers heard good things from reviews/fellow theatremakers who were involved a production of the show somewhere else?
In general, playwright names and gender identity haven’t been anywhere on their radar. Now, I don’t know about you, but as a playwright, I felt a little more than bummed that we’re so unimportant to audiences, lol. But again and again, this discussion point has led us to mine a number of follow-up questions with our students about who the Gatekeepers are who get to decide which plays make it “Big” and how do we decide what a “Good” story is.
And that’s a great discussion to have with students and non-students alike.
We’re going to keep the conversation going with audiences and students, and I’m sure we have a ton more to learn from this ambitious year, but I know one thing for sure: Nothing changes without first taking a leap. ISU Theatre is taking some big leaps, and it’s a very exciting place to work and create. I hope other universities and theatre companies take up the 50/50 challenge because it is totally doable, it does make a difference, and it’s important if we want to get more stories heard.
“If you’re only telling one story, it’s not a story, it’s propaganda.” – Michael Goeble, Assistant Teaching Professor, Women’s and Gender Studies, ISU
When I was in France in September for an impromptu trip, I had about two days to spend in Paris. I’d never been there before, I didn’t speak the language, I had a lot of work I knew I’d be flying home to. I was happy and grateful but stressed.
But there was one thing that I felt drawn to, the thing that I couldn’t leave Paris without doing: visiting the grave of Oscar Wilde in Père Lachaise Cemetery.
It felt like a pilgrimage. I’m not a religious person. I probably couldn’t truly articulate what I believe. Energies, maybe. Ghosts. I don’t know. I’m not even a hard-core Oscar Wilde fan. But I needed to go there.
I didn’t bring the right shoes for the amount of walking I’d been doing all week. My feet and legs ached. I got turned around a dozen times just finding the entrance of the cemetery. Once inside, I wandered for a long time, searching for the exact location of the grave. Père Lachaise is well organized but its long winding paths can play tricks on you. I could feel every cobble stone under my shoes. It was cold and I was hungry and I felt like I’d never find him.
Obviously people make this trek all the time. I am not unique. Roses and gifts littered his grave. Lipstick marks covered the protective glass installed around the huge grave stone to combat graffiti from adoring fans. Tourists from England and Sweden and Germany paraded by in the half hour or so I spent there, sitting on the curb across the path from the grave. I felt almost embarrassed that I didn’t have a flower to offer. He probably hated that.
Instead, I sat there and asked him questions.
How did you do it? How did you have the confidence?
I thought about the tragic way his life was cut short. And felt silly for asking him anything, since anything I had experienced is nothing compared to his life. But still, I admitted to him, that while I don’t deserve it, I’d sure like this advice.
Can I do this? This writer thing?
I feel silly saying I did this. But it was a pilgrimage to connect to something deeper, some sort of literary history, to figure out if I’m crazy for doing what I’m doing, for wanting what I think I want.
I think it is important to find stillness and ask these questions. To a god, to a literary giant, to someone you’ve lost, to yourself. You’ll get an answer if you ask the question. It may not come in the form of words and a life plan, but in the form of a warmness, a feeling in the pit of your stomach, a sudden lightness in your breathe, in your step.
I made my way out of the cemetery, but it wasn’t easy. I was pretty convinced the ghosts wanted to try to keep me there, confusing me, sending me down more painful cobblestone paths to drain me. But then I found the opening.
I spent the rest of the night wandering more streets, eating cheese, reading, and drinking hot chocolate. And felt like myself. And at peace with that feeling.
We’re getting close to the new year. I’m watching friends and family achieve things, get married, have babies, buy houses. Lovely choices and happiness in so many forms. Seeing others’ choice can sometimes make you question your own. So make your own pilgrimage. Maybe not to Oscar Wilde’s grave (if you do, bring shoes that can deal with those cobblestones) but to a place with the energy that will help you focus and ask that question that’s burning in your mind.
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou
Here’s the thing. We all want our plays to mean something. In political times like these (or, if we’re being real, at just about any political time ever), the writer stands at the precipice of a canyon of noise and anger and disruption. And we think – how can I possibly make a blip in this mess?
As both a marketing person and a playwright, I’ve spent a lot of time trying to convince people about why a play is “relevant” – and more than that, why theatre is “relevant” – and why they should spend this amount of money and this amount of time buying into a false reality and be moved in some way, to be challenged or questioned.
It is exhausting.
In our struggle to be “relevant” (a word I might actually despise right now) – we playwrights sometimes produce “message” plays – plays that tend to hit on a topical conversation (gay marriage, terrorism, gun control, abortion) but not only hit on it, hit it right on the damn nose. There’s usually a moment when the playwright-thinly-veiled-as-a-character has a speech that describes why their view on the topic is the correct one. We all have one of these plays because the topic is important to us, because we are trying to be heard above the noise, because goddamnit, art can mean something.
The problem with message plays is that they tend to preach to the choir. My opinion is not going to be changed because you deliver a monologue in my direction. Chances are, if I’m in the audience of your message play, I already agree with you. It’s the algorithm. It is everywhere.
But, I will question my point of view if you give me characters I can relate to and love, a situation that is relatable or complicated and tense, and a slice of humanity that perhaps I had never considered before. Show me the grey area I’ve been ignoring. I might not change my opinion, but perhaps now I can see through the clutter and the postulating, all the way to the person on the other side.
Theatre has to work harder, to be more than a Facebook or Twitter argument. Give me a message, but dip it in character and setting and poetry and beauty and darkness and comedy first. Coat it on thick, pull all the threads together, and make me swallow it with a smile on my face or ugly tears in my eyes. And I will digest that message over the next day or week or months or years – I will feel it there, even if the words don’t come right away.
I don’t want a thesis statement. I don’t want to be able to describe in a sentence what your play was about after I’ve walked out. Make me feel it, show me what its about. Audiences are smarter than you think. Make them work. Even when they are being entertained, put them to work. This is not a passive art. It is not a passive life. We cannot be passive.
Here’s the thing. There are plenty of people out there who say that art is irrelevant (and plenty of those people are in power right now), or that they don’t take meaning from art and that art is not there to mean something. But art always means something, even if you don’t realize what it is telling you. We consume stories and art constantly, even if we never step foot in a theatre.
So I suppose all plays are message plays. But it is how we choose to frame it that makes the difference. Take your message and frame it in different ways. See what life it takes on.
We cannot measure our worth as writers based on the number of minds that are changed after two hours of the theatre. Minds are far too stubborn. Instead, we should challenge ourselves to let our hearts explode onto the page and the stage, and hope somehow, somewhere, a shard of the heart lodges into another person, and you are intrinsically linked for the rest of your lives.
The world is changed by marches and strikes and wars and protests and hitting the pavement, but also by one shard of one heart in one stranger.
Here’s the thing. It is exhausting. It is indescribably messy.
There’s a system to these things. You sit in a room alone and create something. Let’s call it a “play.” If you’re lucky or have some friends who will hang out with you for some free pie, you get actors to read that “play” either in your living room or in a little black box theatre or a rehearsal room downtown. If you’re super lucky, maybe you get a “workshop” of the “play” where people walk around and maybe hold props or something. And then, if the theatre gods are smiling upon you, you get that premiere.
Most of the time, we’re stuck in a revolving door of readings and rewrites, with no premieres in sight. And if the premiere does happen, it feels as if everything is riding on that one production. One false step, and that’s the end of that.
The point of course is that a second production is often a unicorn. This is why the National New Play Network and Block Party and all that are so sought after. When the unicorn comes around, it is a gift for the art-making.
I’m in the middle of rehearsals for a show I wrote with Rogue Artists Ensemble, Wood Boy Dog Fish – a dark reimagining of the Pinocchio story first produced in 2015. As a playwright, this first production was unique and full of struggles. Though the company had been working on versions of the show for many years, the time from when they brought me on as the playwright and when we started rehearsals was about nine months. It was a very short gestation period in playwright years. The premiere was already looming. The “play” and I were never alone together. We skipped that entire step.
Rehearsals were lots of new pages (so many pages), rewrites in the room, changes to whole plot lines and concepts. I was tweaking up until opening week. And still. While we overcame a lot of obstacles in the way of the show, and created something to be proud of, it always felt like there were things we had to ignore or let go of because there wasn’t time. Because we were CREATING. When you’re giving birth, you’re not worrying about the name of the kid or whether they are going to like Spiderman or My Little Pony. You’re just hoping it enters the world alright and you both survive.
So now it’s round two. Wood Boy is rising from the ashes for a new production at the Garry Marshall Theatre in Burbank. Since 2015, I’ve rewritten almost every page of the script with the exception of maybe one or two pages in Act Two. We cut songs and added new ones (writing songs with composer Adrien Prevost is a joy.) Puppets and masks and costumes and props and sets are being reimagined, upgraded, polished. Dances are being tweaked and perfected and laser-tight on the storytelling. And we’re doing it with less rehearsal time, less prep time, even MORE obstacles, all of it. But there’s no longer a question of WHAT story we’re trying to tell, which is what premieres are so often about. Now we’re focused on HOW we want to tell it, and HOW to improve and deepen our choices from 2015. The choices, I think, are smarter now, more specific, more grounded in the heart of the play.
This path to a second premiere was not a traditional one, nor was the play’s birth, but I am learning how vital it is to the life of any new play. It’s all about the details now. It no longer needs me or any of us to figure out how to breathe. It’s ready to get out there and LIVE. I hope more theatres are willing to take chances on new plays – and if they don’t land right away, I hope they get a second shot. Don’t we all deserve one?
Rogue Artists Ensemble’s Wood Boy Dog Fish is being presented at the Garry Marshall Theatre in Burbank, May 12 – June 24. Info and tickets here!
I watched the full moon rise on New Year’s Day here in Los Angeles.
It seemed a comforting presence after a year of loss and gain, and I could feel how much I’ve changed just by seeing it again.
2017 was a year of firsts for me: First production of a play I wrote, first hip replacement, first draft of a play based on some rumored family history.
And that first production of my play changed me.
After many years of writing and workshops and reading, I finally had the opportunity for a script of mine to be produced, and it was a surreal experience. I had an incredible director, who was able to see more things in my script than I did. And I was able to travel to the theater to see the auditions, and the table read, and some rehearsals, and the final dress and the opening night. The progression was so…wondrous. I saw the young woman in the play blossom on stage into a character with humor and gumption and vulnerability. She brought things to the role that really delighted me. I was reminded about the gift and generosity of actors.
I also saw the leading young man in the play bring his character to an unexpected performance: he was hilarious. I didn’t know how hilarious the character was until he showed me. A lot of this I bring to the actor’s vulnerability and charm (he doesn’t even know how charming he is – which is why is so charming). But it was also the director’s instincts to pull out this performance – she knew how to bring the subtly and outrageous behaviors together. Her vision of the characters brought them to life – and I know how lucky I am to have had her direct this script.
I didn’t expect to feel such a sense of loss after the play closed, these characters had been running around in my head for years, and then they showed up, celebrated the humor and romance of my imagination, and then they left.
I also had to cope with the focus and limelight of being the playwright, and I found that I need to shoulder that a bit better. I was overwhelmed by the positive experience, it was hard to take it all in. On closing night, the director brought me onstage, and I was able to stand onstage with the cast and the director and bask in the limelight. (Even now as I write this it doesn’t seem real, but there were photographs, so I know I didn’t make that up.)
So a dream came true last year – my work was seen and I heard an audience laugh and groan and applaud the characters.
That was a wonderful part of last year. I’m so grateful to be able to have had that experience, and it means writing the next script.
More on that later.
I’m the woman in black, with the cane and roses and the lost look on her face.