Category Archives: Playwright

An Interview with CCTA/LA Playwright and Producer, Paula Cizmar

by Zury Margarita Ruiz

Paula Cizmar is an award-winning multi-genre writer, associate professor of theatre practice in dramatic writing at the USC School of Dramatic Arts, CCTA/LA producer and my former professor. I LOVE HER!

Paula Cizmar <3

As she powers through the week, continuing to organize and promote Climate Change Theatre Los Angeles: At the Intersection and its sister event,  How To Create Your Own Environmental Justice Event: A Workshop with Chantal Bilodeau, I sat down with her to discuss her involvement with Climate Change Theatre Action and how its inspired the development of the aforementioned two-day Visions & Voices events.

Can you talk to me about Climate Change Theatre Action (CCTA)?

Climate Change Theatre Action is a grassroots event that happens every two years and it always coincides with the UN’s International Conference on Climate Change, which this year is in Santiago, Chile.

Chantal Bilodeau

Chantal Bilodeau, a native of Canada who was writing climate change plays, wrote a beautiful play called SILA and in the process of doing that, set up a kind of grassroots list of playwrights who were also writing climate change plays. In maintaining that list,  she realized there were a lot of writers doing this work and that a climate change theater action would be a really good thing to do. And so, what she does every two years is commission 50 playwrights to write very short plays that are then made available to anyone who wants to do them, free of charge. The playwrights represent 20 different countries and their own different languages—some of the ones that aren’t in English have been translated and others aren’t. Anybody who wants to do a Climate Change Theatre Action can just sign up and do one. If you go on the website I think you’ll see that they are being performed in 20 different countries and almost all 50 states. People can do a major production and turn it into a fancy theater event or they can do readings in their classrooms. It’s very grassroots.

How did you become involved?

In 2017, I got invited to go to Pomona College to talk about one of my plays, THE CHISERA, which is about climate change and I worked with Giovanni Ortega (CCTA/LA: AT THE INTERSECTION director, 2019) there. He also brought on Chantal as a guest speaker so I connected with them. Then I went to an Earth Matters On Stage conference, which is a conference of theater people who do climate change work, and forged more of a relationship with Chantal.

I also did a Climate Change Theatre Action event with my graduate seminar in eco-theater (2017). We just performed the plays in our classroom and then we took them outside and performed them on campus.

This year, for the 2019 Climate Change Theater Action, Chantal asked me to be one of the playwrights that were commissioned to write a play, but I also decided that I wanted to do something that was a lot more elaborate, so I applied for a Visions & Voices grant and got the funding.

And what is that elaborate undertaking? 😉

We’re doing a two-day climate change event. This coming Friday’s event (HOW TO CREATE YOUR OWN ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE EVENT, 11/8 at 3pm) is on campus. I would love for people to attend this first event because this one has the CCTA plays from around the globe. Of the 50 plays that were commissioned, six of those are being performed.

The really cool thing is I put the word out to some of my colleagues and asked if they thought there were any students who might want to direct these and two wonderful young undergraduates, Elizabeth Schuetzle and Jessica Doherty, stepped up and are directing three plays each. They’re also working with their friend, music composer and fellow student Cyrus Leland, whose created music for this student-driven event.

After the performances, Chantal will speak about how to create your own climate change—or any kind—of social justice event because these things don’t require money, they just require commitment and time.

Awesome. I think Chantal will be a great resource for anyone interested in creating social justice theater.

Absolutely. And, I think this is something all playwrights, and everybody, should step up and do at least once—create some kind of grassroots action to make the world a better place. If you sit around and wait for someone else to do it, they’re not going to. It’s important for us as playwrights to not sit around and wait. I understand the impulse, because playwrights like to be left alone. We like to be alone in our rooms, and we tend to be passive but every once in a while we have to come out of the cave and not be passive.

I’m in my cave now.

After this, I’m going into the cave.

Let me reel it back in—What is the second event? 🙂

The Saturday (CLIMATE CHANGE THEATRE ACTION LA: AT THE INTERSECTION, 11/9 at 2pm) event is all Los Angeles playwrights and what that one addresses is not just climate change around the globe but specific issues that affect Los Angeles directly. The climate change issues in Los Angeles are very different from say the issues in the Pacific Northwest or the issues in India or Costa Rica. I wanted to pay attention to that because I think a lot of times people don’t think climate change is an urban problem but its actually really important to urban areas and its particularly important to neighborhoods of color and people who come from low-income neighborhoods because they don’t have the political clout to fight.

I consulted with some people from the Program for Environmental and Regional Equity (USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts & Sciences) about what the chief LA climate change issues were and they enumerated air quality, incompatible land-use, unfair distribution of water, the feast or famine problem of water in LA, and drilling , fracking and the storage of liquid natural gas. And added to that is our unique geography.  

Definitely! With this past week’s fires, I keep thinking about one of the pieces in particular.

Yes. It’s really interesting. Julie Taiwo Oni wrote a piece (ROOMIES) about the fires. Interestingly enough, when she turned that one in back in June I was glad someone took that (issue) on but didn’t think it was particularly relevant, and then last week happened. Suddenly, Julie’s is the most relevant of all of them. Not that they aren’t all relevant, they’re all interconnected.

Can you talk to me about the event’s subtitle, AT THE INTERSECTION?

One of my major issues is that people tend to think of climate change as a white middle class issue, and they also think of it as something that is distant in time. The fact of the matter is that environmental catastrophe affects low-income people more than it affects anyone else because they don’t have the means to buy their way out of it. It also affects people with very little political clout because they don’t have the means to influence their way out of it. I’m interested in intersectionality, hence, AT THE INTERSECTION, which is kind of a play on words. It’s not just that LA is a city of freeways, streets and lots of intersections, but I see this as “at the intersection” of art and science, and also at the intersection of many other cultural and identity movements. I think climate change is a feminist issue, I think it’s a racial issue… it’s definitely a status and economic issue. So that’s where the At the Intersection comes from.

It occurred to me that if I really wanted to see these works, I had to do it. I was probably the only person that was going to.

So, I know you primarily as a playwright, but here you’re taking on the role of producer. How did that come about?

Being a female playwright in America is kind of thankless. There are few opportunities. And being an older female playwright makes it even worse. And also the idea of trying to interest a theater in plays about important social justice issues or environmental justice—they honestly just don’t care. They may pay lip service to it, but we don’t see them producing these plays. It occurred to me that if I really wanted to see these works, I had to do it. I was probably the only person that was going to. I tried to interest other people in doing it and got no response, so I had to step in. I’ve produced with Visions and Voices before, on campus, but usually on a smaller scale. This one has been really challenging. Of course, Gio (Ortega), Simon Chau (production stage manager) and the people at the museum have been really helpful.

Yes. The Natural History Museum! How did they get involved? Did you reach out to them?

I did. I thought “you know, we could do this on-campus”, but then I thought, “Who else is doing this kind of work?” And what’s really wonderful about the Natural History Museum is that they take the city of Los Angeles and its diversity very seriously, and by diversity I don’t just mean in terms of population but also the diversity of its interests and topics. So climate change is one of the things that they actually have programs about. I figured that if I could get them to partner with us, then we would have a really interesting performance space.

And we do! We’ll be at the Hall of Mammals.

Yes, it’s going to be in front of, you know, those dioramas of the mountain goats… North American mammals.

*I do a happy dance on the inside and think about selfies with said mountain goats*

So yeah, I brought it to them, and lo and behold, they said yes. The really cool thing about this event is that it’s free to the public. That also means that if you make a reservation for the event, you get in free to the museum. You literally could spend the day at the museum and see all the really cool things that they’re doing there. They’re not just a museum of dinosaurs, they’re a museum of the natural history of Los Angeles, which is fascinating.

Meme by Moi with image from Getty images Plus

They’re actually trying to pay attention to what this city really is and where it grew from. They also have a climate change program now that they’re starting to develop. I’m very happy that we’re partnering with them.

How were the writers and production team selected?

A lot of the writers on this list were already writing about climate change, so I didn’t have to go out of my way and try to find LA writers that I was going to force into this topic. These are already people who are concerned about this and are writing about it. It’s interesting to me that there are a lot of women doing it. I also wanted to make sure that I had young and old represented, and I wanted to hit the culture of Los Angeles, so we have—Latinx writers, Asian American writers, black writers, white writers, and mixed race writers. I’m trying to re-create the community of Los Angeles via the playwright’s voices. 

Gio (Ortega) has been interested in climate change—its one of the topics that he takes on. He’s into social justice theater too. And that’s really what this is, social justice theater. Gio is the director in town that I know for whom this work matters. He’s traveled and done research on this work, leads a program at Pomona College’s theater department that also does a climate change theatre action in Pomona. He was a natural person to choose. 

I’ve worked with Simon Chau and Alex Rehberger (Production and stage management) in the past. They’re both USC grads. And Howard Ho is our go-to sound guy. That’s the team.

Talk to me about the short, original works that have been created for this event. What can we expect?

We have plays about children being affected by the toxic waste in their neighborhoods. Plays about gentrification. Plays about the Los Angeles River—the rehabilitation of it and the pollution in it. Plays about low-income people who have pumpjacks in their neighborhoods. Plays about trees and how LA needs to be more proactive about planting them because not only do they create shade, thereby lowering the temperature of the city, but they also help clean the air. We have plays about all of these topics, including incompatible land use, which you would think “How the hell would you write about that?”

Yes! But also, it wasn’t t only a matter of how to approach these topic that I found challenging, but the short format too. These pieces are each roughly 3-4 minutes long. So even though I wrote a play, it also felt like I was writing narrative poetry.

That’s really wonderful. Almost everyone addressed them poetically. And in fact, a couple of people have actually written spoken-word. We have this really wonderful mix of plays that are scenes, and some that are either wonderful comedic monologues or spoken-word kind of chats. It’s all really neat.

There’s also a micro opera.

That just happens to be mine. I work with this wonderful composer, Guang Yang—we have a full-length opera we’re working on—and I thought “we like to work together”,  so I asked her if she wanted to do a piece for this and she said yes. We took on the impossible topic of incompatible land-use. Ours is about a little girl whose school is under a freeway—because we don’t have zoning to protect kids, schools and playgrounds from being near a landfill or toxic waste or freeways. So the little girl comes home from school and tells her mother that she learned there’s a hole in the sky and her mother doesn’t want to hear about it. She doesn’t want to hear the bad news. So the little girl spins a fanciful tale of a Chinese goddess who’ll fix the hole in the sky, which helps the mother come around. It’s really neat. It’s a very experimental opera. The full length opera that Guang and I wrote has ten-singers, is orchestrated for an orchestra… but this little short opera is just one instrument—a keyboard—and some percussion sounds on a computer.

(Note: Paula’s full-length opera is being done in Pittsburg next summer!)

Can you talk a little about the theme guide created for this event?

My graduate students from my first year 574A (Dramatic Writing Across Media) class stepped up to create this. One of the media I’d pointed out to them is multiplatform media—creating theme guides and websites that have hyperlinks embedded in them so that people could go and see a video and get more resources. What they did was create theme guides for this entire event that has articles about environmental justice, the issues in LA, and organizations that you can support and join to help make change. It’s a really wonderful, colorful, beautifully printed guide that will be about 5-6 pages long and will include the program.

I could keep doing it (CCTA/LA) but then I’m the one that keeps learning these things and its time for somebody else to step up and learn about not only how to do this but also about the issues.

Is CCTA/LA something you’re hoping to continue to do every two years?

I would love for that to happen and I would love to be the guide and the advisor, but I would let somebody step up and take over. I think that’s one of the important things about being a playwright in America and that is that you don’t sit around and wait. And I also feel as if I could keep doing it but then I’m the one that keeps learning these things and its time for somebody else to step up and learn about not only how to do this but also about the issues. The best way to learn about them is to be directly involved. 

Final question—what excites you the most about the CCTA/LA: At the Intersection event?

What excites me the most, and I hope this happens, is that regular visitors to the museum, who are strolling through the galleries with their kids, drop in and see something happening. My dream is that we see little families seeing that there’s a theater event going on and that they stop and take it in so that they are, as a family, not only introduced to theater, but also introduced to the issues. I think its great that people are making reservations, I love that, but I also would love for all the casual passerby’s get drawn into it because I think it will be fun.

Thank you, Paula!

You’re very welcome.

Don’t forget to check out the CCTA /LA events!

References:

Paula Cizmar

http://paulacizmar.net/

Climate Change Theatre Action

http://www.climatechangetheatreaction.com/

Chantal Bilodeau

https://www.cbilodeau.com/

Earth Matters On Stage

https://www.earthmattersonstage.com/

Visions and Voices

visionsandvoices.usc.edu

How To Create Your Own Environmental Justice Event: A Workshop with Chantal Bilodeau

http://visionsandvoices.usc.edu/eventdetails/?event_id=30354568958120

Climate Change Theatre Action LA: At the Intersection

https://nhm.org/calendar/climate-change-theatre-action-la-intersection

Program for Environmental and Regional Equity

https://dornsife.usc.edu/pere

Climate Change Theatre Action 2019 – The Claremont Colleges

http://www.climatechangetheatreaction.com/event/climate-change-theatre-action-2019-the-claremont-colleges/2019-11-12/

Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County

https://nhm.org/

Giovanni Ortega

https://giovanniortega.com/

A HERoic Season: Female Playwrights Onstage in Iowa

by Tiffany Antone

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.

YES.

I know.

It’s AMAZING.

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

I haven’t been writing lately…

by Tiffany Antone

Let me fill you in on a little secret: I haven’t been writing lately.

Photo by Brandi Redd on Unsplash

I’m just not into it. 

I could blame the new baby (who is a precious bundle of awesomeness) because, come on, he takes up a LOT of time and he wakes up at least once a night to demand I feed him with my body (being a human is weird). But blaming him would be kind of disingenuous because I have found plenty of time to create a number of dumb and ugly doodles that I share on Instagram, so obviously that’s time I could have been putting into my craft…

I could blame my teaching load, but that wouldn’t be fair either because—although time-consuming—being a college professor gives me way more time to be creative than my old freelancing and adjuncting life did, and I managed to get a LOT of writing done then.

I could blame the world…

Oh, yeah.

Actually, that’s it.

Because, well, the world is kind of a hot flaming mess right now, isn’t it? And, well, if I’m honest, I’m just not sure words are capable of putting the fire out.

I love writing plays.  I love telling stories.  And I think I do it pretty well (let’s not talk about how much I suck at the whole “Getting my work in front of people” part though).  Almost all of my works center on messy humans dealing with the complexities of being alive today, but—even if they were getting produced on stages around the world (Dear Universe, I wouldn’t mind it!)— would they DO anything to help the world?

I don’t know.

Maybe I’m having a bit of a mid-life crises about the purpose of theatre, and about the value of toiling away at scripts intended to land a production so that I can talk to people through characters and metaphor about things I think are important.

What would happen if I just talked to people instead?

A few weeks ago I did just that. 

I went to a local library board meeting at the behest of a FB post notifying us that a republican group was planning on storming the meeting to demand the library stop hosting an All Ages Drag Show.  I got so fired up about it that I wrote, essentially, a spoken word piece that I then read when my name was called to speak.  The issue wasn’t even up for a vote that night – it’s a popular event that already happens! – but there were a number of us there that night whose aim was to prevent the speakers of intolerance from winning the mic.

It felt great.

Not only was I able to take speaking time away from indignant and ill-informed haters that night, but I felt a sense of community amongst the rest of the drag show supporters that was incredibly uplifting. 

(I should clarify here, I have been to the All Ages Drag Show and found it to be very fun, but I am not a part of that community—just a fan.  The community I felt in the board room was of the kind created by a group of people standing together against intolerance.)

And this feeling of community got me thinking: Does theatre create community?  I mean, outside its walls… We say it does.  Hell, there are theatres all over the country who call themselves community theatres.  And I believe fervently that the theatrical community to be found within those walls is a wondrous, loving, crazy, and invaluable sort—but it’s a rare thing to see a theatre create community beyond the theatremakers/volunteers who make the “product” that those theatres “sell”.

Rather, it seems like most theatres have a primarily transactional relationship with their communities: More of a “We think you’ll like this show, so please buy a ticket! And while you’re here, maybe you want to buy a season pass/some theatre merch/a season program as well?” type of relationship. Theatres offer talk-backs and talk-forwards, and try to select seasons of work that will get more people to buy more tickets… but what are they doing to build community beyond the theatremaker kind?

And aren’t most audience members tjust here to see the show, have a glass of wine, and leave anyway?  Maybe they’ll talk about the show with their friends, recommend it to their co-workers, but they sure do like to bristle at the neighbor who unwraps a cough-drop mid-show. They growl at the young couple who dares to bring their children along. They glare at the student who arrives late. They chastise the women who laugh too loud… 

That’s not community.

And I really think, now more than ever, that we need to cultivate a greater sense of connection and community within AND without our theatrical structures.

But that’s a hard thing to do when you’re just a playwright.

Fortunately, I’m not “Just” a playwright…

I’ve been really fortunate to get hired at Iowa State University where we have dedicated our 2019-2020 season to work by female playwrights.  Not only that, but we’ve hired female guest designers and directors, and we’ve created an entire symposium to look at/discuss gender equity.  We’re also dedicated to gender parity in our season selection moving forward, and are participating in Jubilee next year. We’re doing the work, and we’re asking some big questions about theatre and citizen artistry along the way.  I’ll talk about more about our work in my next post. But it’s an exciting place to be teaching, working, and building community.

I’ve also organized a series of initiatives through Protest Plays Project and Little Black Dress INK (I’m the crazy person behind both orgs) that address social issues.  I’ll talk more about our latest project later this week. But both of these parts of my life allow me to do more than just scribble words… they help me connect and build community with other playwrights and theatremakers, and the kinds of work we are doing invites audiences to take action with us. It’s exciting.

There are more ways I’m working on taking action as an artist and a human, but I honestly don’t have enough time to write about all of it—what with the new baby and all 😉 

But I encourage you to hang in there with me this week and to think about how you can do more with your words, your voice, and your actions, dear playwrights.  I promise I’ll ask some good questions for you to ponder.

And if you’re wondering, here’s the statement I wrote in support of the All Ages Drag Show at our very awesome library:


Fear is a powerful, and primitive, human emotion.

So is love.

Fear alerts us to the presence of danger. 
A safety mechanism, designed to keep us safe from peril.
Fear helps us survive…

But…

Love, a safety mechanism in itself,
Gives us reasons to survive.
And unlike fear,
Love… Well, Love helps us to thrive.

Biochemical or Emotional, both fear and love ride our senses hard, confusing and elating us.
Biochemical responses are universal. 
We all know the feeling of a heart pounding, of sweat dripping, of stomachs dropping…

Is it fear?

Is it love…

How can the two look, feel, taste, so similar?
Emotional responses are individual. 
So what you,
and you,
and you,
and I fear,
What you, and you, and you, and I love…

The pieces of this world that create our biochemical and emotional responses –
Are rarely exactly the same.
It is a universal truth that we are none of us guaranteed to agree.
But we have built a society which allows for this difference,
A democracy built on the notion that there is no ONE right way to BE.
Because it is vital if any of us wishes to thrive,
That we continue to allow individuals to be

Individuals.

A community that celebrates the individual is a community centered on love.
A community that celebrates only one type of individual? The “Right” kind of individual?
Well that’s not love.
That’s not community.
That is fear in action.
That is fear in control.
That is a community in crisis.

Hearts beating
Sweat dripping
We are all of us here tonight sharing biochemical reactions, though the reasons are different.

My heart pounds because I do not want to be party to a community where you are not free to be you, and I am not free to be I. 

Where the deciders of WHO can BE, use religion or politics to outline what is “CORRECT”

My adrenaline surges because to hear how ferociously some are willing to condemn others creates in me a palpable fear…

A fight or flight kind of fear…

That those who want to condemn are unwilling to open their hearts to the love in this room
In this community
In the hearts and souls of those who have been finding and building community through an
All ages drag show.
Really?

Really?

I will not fly from this issue.
We will not fly from the community that has been built here.

Those of you who are in the room tonight
Afraid of
An all ages drag show:
Have you become fear junkies?

So acclimated
So indoctrinated
By a party that uses fear to separate and alienate and attain power through division-
Do you really think that diversity in your community means you can’t continue to be you?
That by allowing others to celebrate their individuality
You are somehow losing out?

Let me share with you a secret…

You are not losing anything.

But by trying to take this away?
An event born of incredible love and joyfulness and inclusivity?
You are the takers.
Aiming to create absence in the hearts and lives of others.

I’ll share another secret with you:
The adrenaline you feel in pursuit of punitive action-
The adrenaline you feel while attacking that which is different from yourself
Is NOTHING like the adrenaline of love.

That adrenaline…

The adrenaline of putting aside warring labels,
—Democrat vs. Republican, this kind of Christian vs. that kind of whatever—
In order to reclaim the I, the ME, and the US in this room?
The adrenaline of deciding to be a community of love
And to let go of fear…
Of the hate that fear sows
Of the intolerance that fear grows-

That is the biochemical
emotional
Response
Of a healthy
Thriving
Community.
And that is what we should all be working towards

Together.

Tonight.

Thank you.

Sounds Like Theatre to Me

by Kitty Felde

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

But it all started with the script.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Erica’s List

E.h. Bennett
…was also an actress…

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

about the play WATER CLOSET

Erica Bennett…

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

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

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

“Apple Season” Comes Home to LA

by E.M. Lewis

I started writing Apple Season [Moving Arts‘ production opens July 13] about ten years ago, when I was living in Los Angeles. I was invited to write a ten-minute play on, as I recall, the theme of “backyard fruit.” As sometimes happens with a writing prompt, something unlocked inside of me when I put pen to paper. A story about legacies of violence and how to escape them. A story about family and friends, and memory and monsters. All set in an apple orchard in my home state of Oregon, on a farm much like the one where I grew up.

I think it was a darker ten-minute play than the folks at Botanicum Seedlings had in mind, but that was the play their prompt inspired. And those characters continued to clamor for more story, well after our readings there in Topanga Canyon.

Liza Fernandez in rehearsal for “Apple Season” – photo by Cece Tio

Funny how things work.

It seems very right to be here now, telling this particular story. For lots of reasons.

This is a play about coming home. And in every possible way, that’s what I’ve done. I live back on my family farm in Oregon, now, just like one of the characters in the play. I’m back in Los Angeles for this production, working with the theater company I first called home.

One of the reasons is that this is a story with a woman at the center of it. From politics to soccer, there is a rising understanding that women belong at the center of stories.

This is a story that grapples with domestic violence and violence against women. And there is also a rising understanding that the truth of those types of violence, so long suppressed, must come out. We are going to bring them out. Because as much as speaking hurts, silence hurts us more.

This is a story about agency. There are so many things happening right now that make us feel powerless. And overwhelmed. And afraid. But even when our actions are small, they can change the world. One small step at a time.

I’m grateful to my friend, director, and long time collaborator Darin Anthony and my friend, producer, and long time collaborator Cece Tio for bringing Apple Season to Moving Arts. I absolutely adore my cast — Liza Fernandez as Lissie Fogerty, Justin Huen as her brother, Roger Fogerty, and Rob Nagle as Billy Rizzell. Our designers are working magic, over at the Atwater Village Theater, building us an apple orchard full of memories and ghosts.

I hope that you’ll join us for the show!

Moving Arts’ “Apple Season” runs July 13 – August 5 at Atwater Village Theatre, part of a National New Play Network Rolling World Premiere. For Tix & Info visit www.MovingArts.org or call (323) 472-5646.

Justin Huen and Rob Nagle in rehearsal for “Apple Season” – photo by Cece Tio

E. M. LEWIS is an award-winning playwright, teacher, and opera librettist. Her work has been produced around the world, and is published by Samuel French. Plays include: Magellanica, Apple Season (currently having a National New Play Network rolling world premiere at New Jersey Rep, Riverside Theater, and Moving Arts), How the Light Gets In (which will have its world premiere at Boston Court Pasadena this fall), The Gun Show, Song of Extinction, Heads, Infinite Black Suitcase, Goodbye Ruby Tuesday, Reading to Vegetables, True Story, and You Can See All the Stars (a Kennedy Center commission). Awards include: the Steinberg Award and Primus Prize from the American Theater Critics Association, the Ted Schmitt Award from the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle, a Hodder Fellowship from Princeton University, a playwriting fellowship from NJ State Arts Commission, the 2016 Oregon Literary Fellowship in Drama, and the Edgerton Award. Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Fallen Giant, a new opera that Lewis is creating with composer Evan Meier, commissioned by American Lyric Theater, had a piano vocal workshop in New York City in March. Town Hall, an opera Lewis created with composer Theo Popov, was produced at Willamette University in March as well. Lewis is currently working on a big new political play called The Great Divide. She is a proud member of LineStorm Playwrights and the Dramatists Guild, and lives on her family’s farm in Oregon.

People need people…?

Do we? Do we really need others?

I think I have always been a writer. From the angsty teen poems that I would submit to the slew of teen magazine without a second thought to the angsty adult ruminations that will never see the light of day. I started writing years ago when a friend wanted to write a play. We called ourselves “writing partners” and met once a week for hours at a time. We sat around the dining room table discussing our latest thoughts for the week, then would set the timer and just write. I miss that. I miss the accountability of sitting with a someone, anyone and writing. I don’t really have to share my work, I just want a place to write with others, and no going to a local coffee shop where other aspiring writers are working doesn’t count. I want the possibility of being able to discuss a thought and I don’t think that would go over well in Starbucks.

My writing partner moved away, yet we still meet once a week via Skype. We catch up on our week, then set a timer and write. Having someone to write with is a gift. Sometimes I just need to say things out loud, to a person, so I am not losing my mind. The person doesn’t necessarily have to respond, because sometimes at these moments, my thoughts are like fragile pieces of glass that will break with the slightest breeze, yet I say them all the same. I guess I’m not that afraid to share. Sorry for that, I just had a moment of clarity while I was typing. If you’ve read my other posts, you get it. But if I can say things out loud to someone who actually supports me without worrying what they have to say, why should it stop my writing. Yeah! Heck yeah. Sorry again, more epiphanies of courage.

You see my writing partner is a long time friend, but we share differing opinions, and sometimes I feel my opinions may hurt her feelings, so I don’t say them. But when I do share them, yes I sometimes regret them because my thoughts…whoa, that’s another post, we have a deep thoughtful conversation about it and it helps round out my opinion, even if at the end of it we don’t agree.

So verdict in. I need a writing partner. Or even a writing group. I need a place of accountability every week, aside from checking in with my local barista. So if you know of one, please share!

Happy Writing! Jennifer

Ending and Beginning…

by Robin Byrd


A few weeks ago, I put some things on my “to do” list that I want to finish or start before the new year and took a look around at the space I am in (physical, mental, and creative). I have been here before at this crossroad but didn’t stay long enough to make tracks. This time I am already knee deep in the snow, climbing for the sake of sanity.

I see story in everything. It could be called a haunting but it’s what I live for. Unexpectantly, a coworker and I had a wonderful conversation about writing and how most everyone has at least one story in them. We talked about oral storytelling and the way it becomes theatrical if done right. ALAP (Alliance of Los Angeles Playwrights) has an event called “In Our Own Voices” where the playwright must be the reader or one of the readers in 5 minutes of their work. I have participated twice and am always rejuvenated to the nth degree afterwards. This coworker is not a writer per se but stories are starting to peek out at him. I encouraged him to write them down.

I have work to do as well.


I have been torn between creating new work or tweaking old work but like reading my work aloud, creating new worlds and characters on the page is being reborn every time; it is flying high – up to meet the sun.


The end of this year finds me writing and reading and exploring new ways to hear my words out loud. How about you?

Have a happy and prosperous new year.

New on the LAFPI Podcast: “What She Said” – Alyson Mead with Jami Brandli

Jami Brandli

December, 2018

Alyson Mead speaks with Jami Brandli about Greek mythology, theatrical mash-ups and manners in the time of Trump in her play Bliss: Or Emily Post is Dead!Moving Arts premiere at Atwater Village Theatre. (Her new play Sisters Three opens in LA on December 14th,  produced by Inkwell Theater at VS. Theatre.)

Listen In!

What conversations do you want to have? Send your suggestions for compelling female playwrights or theater artists working on LA stages to Alyson Mead at lafpi.podcast@gmail.com, then listen to “What She Said.”

Click Here for More LAFPI Podcasts