Category Archives: Playwright

Where is the end?

I like to call myself an accidental writer.  I didn’t start out wanting to write plays, blog postsr essays, but I always wrote.  I don’t know if I’ve  told you this before, but I, up until recently, had a 3-inch binder full of hand written things on different sizes paper with different incarnations of my handwriting.  It wasn’t like a scrapbook, more of a reminder of what I used to do for fun.  A collection of angsty teen poems that now make me laugh and smile as the memories of those people come flooding back.  This collection is now housed on my hard as I scanned it all to make moving easier and lighter and instead of a binder I now have a collection of tiny notebooks that I bought on sale at Vromans.  I couldn’t pass up the crying tiger.
These notebooks are littered with with half started ideas, and notes from books and websites I have read all in the hopes of finishing something.  I bought four of them in the hopes they would fill quickly with new musings as my hopes to write daily.  Years later I’m finally on my 4th notebook.  It has taken me a long time to get here.  I went through book one the other day and wondered who this author was?  I must have copied “that” from somewhere, I think as I read it.  Who is this person?  Then as I read on, I find the sarcastic humour and inside jokes that I tell and I am reminded that yes, Jennifer you have some moments and why aren’t you sharing this with the world.  What is stopping you?  I also realize that I have to quit thinking of things as accidents.  Writing has obviously always been a part of me, as witnessed in the binder and notebook collection.  I hesitate to call myself a writer because nothing has ever felt finished.  It’s a wonder I finish blog posts. Or maybe I don’t even finish those, come to think of it…Because there is always more to the story that I start writing about and then get caught up in my thoughts and hems and haws and never quite feel complete.  I am getting better.  I think.  Instead of one hapless page of notes, I now try and complete a thought before I stop writing. Maybe I am subconsciously wanting to engage the reader?  Wanting to talk about the world around us in a non-threatening way, and in this digital age it is so much easier to hide behind the anonymity of the internet.  To hide behind an avatar or a picture of you from 5 years ago.  To feel warm and safe when the trolls come out to play.  Maybe that’s why I don’t finish anything?  Because my fear of the discussions I want to have are outweighed by the fear of someone actually reading my stuff…
Yet here I am getting ready to hit “post” on this mishmosh of thoughts.

Until next time,

Jennifer

Adieu to DC’s Theatre Scene

I’ve escaped to the bedroom while a quartet of hardworking young men pack my lamps and my pictures and drag more than a dozen bins of fabric out into the hallway of my high rise. It’s moving day here in Washington. After nearly a decade, living within walking distance of the U.S. Capitol, my husband and I are finally returning to Los Angeles.

It seemed like a good time to look back at my D.C. years as a playwright.

No, Arena Stage did not invite me to participate in their Playwrights Arena playwriting group or commission me for one of their Power Plays. No, Studio Theatre didn’t fall in love with my work. Nor did Olney or Signature or Synetic. In many ways, I felt like I’d arrived in DC about ten years too late. Like the rest of D.C., the theatre scene is very much a relationship game. And those relationships had been formed long before I got here.

But I did find other opportunities. And so could you.

Several D.C. theatres give a nod to local playwrights by selecting new ten minute plays that thematically relate to their mainstage production. My short L.A. riots play got an airing at the Jewish themed Theater J. A development group The Inkwell offers rehearsal space at Wooley Mammoth, actors, a dramaturg, and a director to work on 20 minutes of a full length play. I met my favorite D.C. director Linda Lombardi through this experience. (She was directing one of the other plays.) Another group Theater Alliance hosts what it calls the Hothouse New Play Development Series. It offers a commission, a week of rehearsal, and terrific actors for a one-night staged reading of new full-length work. My full-length L.A. Riots play WESTERN & 96th got an airing there.

That same theatre teamed up with California’s National Center for New Plays at Stanford and Planet Earth Arts to commission playwrights for an evening of ten minute work about the Anacostia River watershed. The plays got a second performance on the Millennium Stage at the Kennedy Center. My new ten minute play KENILWORTH – the story of a woman who fought the government to preserve her water lily farm – was read at that festival. And then the story grew and grew into a full length.

Unlike Los Angeles, where big corporations moved out years ago and took their arts money with them, the D.C. government sets aside a huge amount per capita for arts grants. A grant from the D.C. Arts & Humanities Commission and Planet Earth Arts made it possible to produce a staged reading of what is now called QUEEN OF THE WATER LILIES on Earth Day this spring. The cool part is that it was done in a National Park on the footprint of the house where the heroine lived most of her life, surrounded by the water lily ponds she loved.

The D.C. Arts & Humanities Commission also has an annual award for playwriting. I’ve come in second two times for D.C.’s Larry Neal Award. (First place comes with a nice check. Second place comes with a glass of wine and some cheese at the reception.)

Another commission came my way courtesy of the artistic director of one of the very fine children’s theatres here in D.C. The commission wasn’t for Adventure Theatre.  It was to create a one-person show for an organization called Pickle Pea Walks to be performed every weekend on the grounds around the White House for all those tourists who didn’t get their security clearance. My play QUENTIN is about the youngest son of Theodore Roosevelt on the night before he reports for duty in World War I. He’s hoping to reunite with his pals from the years when he lived in the White House. They don’t show up, so instead he takes tourists down memory lane to help him say goodbye to D.C. This year marks the 100th anniversary of Quentin Roosevelt’s death (his plane shot down by German fliers in World War I) and rangers from Sagamore Hill (the Roosevelt home) are coming to D.C. to see the production this July.

D.C. is also home to the fabulous summer Capital Fringe Festival. As an audience member, I’ve seen an opera based on the War of 1812, a 45 minute version of “Moby Dick,” and more political plays than even Washington could imagine. My own entry was a production of ALICE: an evening with the tart-tongued daughter of Theodore Roosevelt. Alice was famous for her bon mots (“If you haven’t got anything good to say about anyone, come and sit by me.”) and lived most of her life here in Washington. The show played to sold-out houses and was named critic’s pick by The Washington Post.

There are also odd opportunities for playwrights in this town. I was once asked to write a play in 40 minutes based on an audience suggestion. The wonderful artistic director at MetroStage – the first person in D.C. to fall in love with anything I’ve written – invited me to take over her theatre on a Monday night for a public reading of my controversial play with a character in blackface THE LUCKIEST GIRL. I was challenged to write a one minute play for a festival at Roundhouse Theatre – one of dozens being performed for one night only. I knew I wanted mine to stand out, so I wrote a naked play METAL DETECTOR. It was great fun to see the sign warning of “brief nudity” in the box office window.

I also served four years as a judge for Washington’s version of the Tony’s – the Helen Hayes Awards. This meant free tickets to some of the best – and some of the worst – evenings of theatre in America. (I’ve learned to ask: “will blood be spilled on the audience?”)

Finding community has been the most difficult part of living in D.C. Everyone is busy, busy, busy. I was lucky enough to find a writing group – Playwrights Gymnasium – and a terrific crew of writers. Unfortunately, the group has been on haitus the past several years. We’re all too busy. And frankly, all that business has left me lonesome here in D.C.

So I’m coming home.

I’m nervous about rejoining the L.A. theatre community. It’s likely that many of the literary managers reading scripts today were still in high school when I was last living in Los Angeles. Most of the artistic directors I know have retired. Or died. It will be like starting all over again. Just like it was ten years ago when I moved to Washington. But Southern California is home for me. I’m looking forward to re-introducing myself.

Shaking Off This Sadness…

I have been wanting to talk to Mommy, forgetting she is gone.  Such an odd thing to have a thought, “I need to talk to mother about that” then remember as soon as the thought hits space, that I can’t because she is gone.  That whole week between the date of death, her birthday, and the date of burial, I longed for her, could not get out of bed the day before and day of her birthday.  I have a blanket of hers that I have begun to wrap up in, lay my head on, carry in the back of my car – just to be near something of hers.

Trying not to lose myself, I took a seminar in poetry – not sure if it worked.

Mommy.

This shaking off of depression is hard.  One year later and I still can’t believe you are gone.  Thanks for coming to see me on your birthday.  I know I can’t stay here.  Seems counter-intuitive – I know you are in a better place.  I just did not know how much I loved you and that the hole would be so large.

I did not know you were like air and heartbeat

And blood and bone to me

That the touch of your skin was home to me

(the child who was not breastfed because you had an infection – that used to bother me but mothers must always do the best for their children or at least try.  it did not make you love me any less – the old wives tale that breastfed children are closer to their mothers – just not true…)

I am needing to crawl up beside you and kiss the north, south, east and west of your face

I am needing you

And all the remembrances

Needing to shake off this sadness

The FPI Files: Femmes Working It Onstage and Off at Theatre of NOTE

 by Desireé York

A production composed of bad-ass broads on and off the stage?  We are there!  LA FPI caught up with playwright Gina Femia and asked her about her play For The Love Of (or the roller derby play)receiving its  West Coast Premiere of at Theatre of NOTE in Hollywood, directed by Rhonda Kohl with an all-female cast and design team.  Come join the brawl!

LA FPI: Did you set out to write a play with an all-woman cast?

Gina Femia:  Yes, I absolutely did!  My one regret was not being able to fit in a tenth woman to make it an even number which is why it’s so thrilling that Rhonda had the brilliant idea to add Refs as characters to bring the total up to 14!  I always knew that I wanted to write a play about a female roller derby team and, as it was a sports play, knew that it should have a larger than average cast.  It was important for me to have a cast of women because representation matters and we need more plays that have large casts for women which contain fun, meaty, deep roles for them to inhabit.

LA FPI: With such a diverse cast of characters, was it your intention to give as many women from different walks of life a voice?

Playwright Gina Femia

Gina: Feminism needs to be intersectional and I wanted to include as many voices as possible.  I also wanted the team to be an accurate representation of people who live in Brooklyn, from age to race to interests and class. I think every play should be as diverse as this one so we can continue to give as many women as possible opportunities to have their voices represented in theatre.

LA FPI: Does all this bad ass roller derby action come from personal experience?

Gina: I have never played roller derby; I am actually one of the most least athletic women on the planet!  But I am a huge fan of roller derby.  Within the first second of seeing my first game, I fell in love with everything about it.  The sport is jam-packed and action-filled, but one of the most exciting things about it is seeing powerful women being powerful.

LA FPI: How did you come up with the brilliant idea to portray the roller derby sequences using dance?

Crystal Diaz, Cassandra Blair, Alina Phelan (& company) in FOR THE LOVE OF. Photo by Darrett Sanders

Gina: My intention was never for actors to be on roller skates; it’s just too dangerous and I think would be ultimately distracting from the play.  But it was always important to me for physicality to be represented in some way.  The sport is a physical sport and I needed that to be part of the play. I wanted the dance to move the action forward, just like how action moves a derby bout forward.  We don’t often get the chance to see women be physical on stage and I’m thrilled this play gives us a chance to witness that

LA FPI: What inspired this play?

Gina: Aside from roller derby, I really wanted to write a love story about a person coming into herself.  I think it’s important that we don’t define ourselves by the relationships we are in; we shouldn’t stay with a person because we’re used to them.  If they’re keeping us from growing, or if we are keeping them from doing the same, then we should let them go.

LA FPI: What would you like audiences to take away with them from this play?

Gina: Roller derby is a fun sport and there’s a lot of fun to be had during the course of this play (and Rhonda has definitely made it a FUN production!).  But I also hope audiences take away some personal inspiration; we are all always fighting for something.  Sometimes it’s hard to remember why we follow the passions we have, but if it’s something that makes you happy – I think that’s a reason we should fight for it.

Gina Femia with FOR THE LOVE OF cast and crew Opening Night at NOTE

For more information and tickets to FOR THE LOVE OF (or, the roller derby play) visit theatreofnote.com

Know a female or FPI-friendly theater, company or artist? Contact us at lafpi.updates@gmail.com & check out The FPI Files for more stories.

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Los Angeles Female Playwrights Initiative is a sponsored project of Fractured Atlas, a non‐profit arts service organization. Contributions for the charitable purposes of LA FPI must be made payable to “Fractured Atlas” only and are tax‐deductible to the extent permitted by law.

On Second Productions

by Chelsea Sutton

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.

Wood Boy Dog Fish, 2015

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!

Playwright School: Report from the Colorado New Play Summit 2018

It’s worth a plane ticket to Denver once a year to see what other playwrights are writing and thinking. This was my third (or is it fourth?) year I’ve attended the Colorado New Play Summit – a chance to see seven new plays in three days. For invited playwrights it’s an opportunity for them to workshop their pieces for a week with professional actors, directors and dramaturgs, plus get feedback from a live audience. For the uninvited, it’s a chance to talk to other playwrights, to have lunch with literary managers, and to experience COLD weather without strapping on the skis. I particularly enjoy attending because the Colorado New Play Summit makes the uninvited playwrights feel as welcome as those whose works are being put onstage. It’s also like a crash course in playwriting. I always come away with half a dozen new writing tips.

Here’s my overview of what I saw and what I heard:

It was a good year at the New Play Summit. Every one of the new plays was full of promise. Every one of them was unfinished and flawed in some way. Every one of them was exciting and stimulating.

And every one of them taught me something about playwriting.

Here’s what I learned:

  • Decide what to leave out

“Christa McAuliffe’s Eyes Were Blue” by Kemp Powers is a tough piece about how racism in America affects a pair of biracial twins (one light skinned, the other dark.) The inciting incident of the play takes place the day that the space shuttle Challenger exploded. The question for a playwright is: how much of the gruesome details do you include onstage? Is the audience old enough to have experienced it for themselves? Powers withholds specifics until almost the last scene. And then he lays them on with graphic delight.

Is it more powerful this way? I know that I’m a writer who could stand to go a bit more for the jugular. But I also wonder whether the graphic details about the Challenger disaster overshadowed the larger questions Powers wants to address.

  • Bad exposition

Several plays used the phrase, “did you know…?” or “do you remember…?” It seemed like a lazy way to take care of exposition. I’m going to scour my plays for this lazy playwright way of sharing information with the audience.

  • Take theatrical chances

In the play “Mama Metallica,” playwright Sigrid Gilmer puts herself front and center, working out her grief at losing her mother to Parkinsons. Sounds dreary, right?

It’s hysterical. Our main character is a playwright and both Tennessee Williams and Eugene O’Neill drop by to chat. The band Metallica also makes an appearance and plays a few numbers. The play is weird and wonderful and funny and touching. It’s truly theatrical. I only wish I’d thought of it. At least now, I’ll ask myself: have I missed an opportunity to make magic onstage?

  • Let your protagonist be the star

Two years ago, I saw a reading of José Cruz González’ “American Mariachi.” The reading was more of an ensemble piece. It sported a very large cast of women – something every high school drama teacher in Los Angeles would snap up in a heartbeat.

The full production in Denver focused on a single mother/daughter and father/daughter relationship. The story was easier to follow with a single protagonist and one main conflict. It was as though you could commit to the play because you only had to give your heart to one person onstage.

In the play “Celia, A Slave,” playwright Barbara Seyda took the trial transcript of a young woman hanged for killing her master and turned it into a poetic series of monologues. The language was beautiful, though we heard little from Celia herself. Instead, a cast of thousands told her story. Does a large cast make a play more powerful? Would an audience be more willing to give its heart to Celia if we had more of an opportunity to hear from her?

  • The power of music

Sigrid Gilmer had Metallica onstage. José Cruz González had an entire mariachi band! The music was both powerful and exciting. Plus, the musicians became our guide as the play weaved in and out of time and space. And how can an audience not be satisfied when they get a play and a mariachi band for one ticket?

Of course, music can work against you, too. Matthew Lopez’ play “Zoey’s Perfect Wedding” is one of those wedding-gone-wrong stories set in a crummy hotel with an awful DJ playing all the worst hits you can imagine. The groans from the audience were audible. And very funny.

  • Do you have to like everybody onstage?

One of my own favorite plays features a main character everybody loves to hate. It’s my orphan play that’s had lots of readings and no premiere. Most of the criticism for “Western & 96th” is directed at the ex-cop-turned-politico Mike Marcott. Me? I love the guy. I can’t understand why my audience doesn’t love him as much as I do. Is that the reason nobody wants to produce the play?

I thought about that watching David Jacobi’s “The Couches” – a piece inspired by the “affluenza” trial. It’s a wonderfully written play, but it’s not pleasant spending 90 minutes with the two main characters. They were horrible human beings. Horrible. I’ll be happy if I never have to spend another moment in their presence. (But I’ll bet Netflix snaps it up as their next series!)

Contrast that with Lauren Yee’s “The Great Leap” – a tale about basketball and Tiananmen Square. I dare you not to fall in love with every one of the characters in her play. I saw a reading of it at last year’s New Play Summit. The minute her characters came onstage, it was like seeing old friends. You actually missed them!

I don’t think it’s necessary to fall in love with all the characters in a play. But it’s sure a lot more fun when you do!

Hope you’ll consider joining me next February in Denver for the next Colorado New Play Summit!

Order in the Face of Chaos

By Analyn Revilla

Upon Bruno’s sudden and unexpected accidental death on his Yamaha, the world changed in varying degrees.  Like a Google Map I am faced with re-centering my life. It’s not our life as a married couple, but my singular life.

‘dBruno Hervé CommereucMy mom gives me a well meaning advice this morning. Remove his clothes from the drawers to make room for yours. I bit my lip and clamped off the Mt. Vesuvius inside of me. If you have an opinion just keep it to yourself I wanted to scream.

People say, “He’d want you to be happy. You have to move on.”  My intellect gets it but my heart doesn’t. Better to keep your opinions for later because right now I only need your presence and not your judgments. Be one of my dogs and just sit with me. It’s times like this when there are no words.

As a writer I write to make sense of what’s happening. I want to write but I can’t. My heart is lead and every limb and joint is heavy too. I want him to linger. I want his scent to stay. I cut off the string from the lemon tree where he hung the wasp trap. I save the knot because no one will ever tie a knot like Bruno… the way he would truss a bird before it goes into the oven to feed the lonely hearts and the empty bellies.

There are no words to put order in the midst of chaos. I move like an automaton to survive. Yes I’ve got that. I can’t let the wall of dignity crack lest ‘I lose it.’ Maybe this is why people offer structures to align myself to: “Have you thought about what you’re going to do?” Please don’t ask me this question in a phone call in between errands. It hurts my feelings.

Bruno

Words create order. A skilled writer and/or speaker can put disorder into order. A meteorologist can enlighten what’s happening in a hurricane.  The eye of the storm is the calm surrounded by the vortex of violent forces that destroy what we believed as permanent. No matter how hard I tidy up, sweep the floor, dust the picture frames and put clean laundry in its proper place entropy will rule. It’s a matter of time. How long can I keep up this face of composure like Humpty Dumpty sitting on the wall?

The natural laws of the universe is held in place by a tension… Life is a delicate balance shadowed by that moment of “Time is up. Let’s go. Leave all else behind. You won’t be needing it.  You’re a light traveller.  You are light.”

 

On January 15, 2018, Bruno Hervé Commereuc was killed by a hit and run driver at the corner of 54th Street and Arlington in Los Angeles, California.  The Los Angeles Police Department is asking for information to help in apprehending the driver of the grey Nissan 370Z (updated vehicle description from the flyer, below) who is still at large.

Click Here for a Flyer of the Community Alert Notification and Reward for Information.

All of us at the Los Angeles Female Playwrights Initiative send our love to Analyn.

List Of Possible Themes For Your Next Artistic Statement

By Chelsea Sutton

This fall, I went back to school. After ten years of day jobs, late-night shows in black box theatres, publications of short stories in tiny journals, bad reviews and “oh-look-how-much-she-tried” reviews, and stealing office supplies and copy machine time from said day jobs (sorry, day jobs), I thought an MFA program was a real cracker jack idea. This of course meant I had to evaluate where I really am as a person and an artist – the least of which not being that I had to get the chicken pox vaccine in order to be allowed on campus because I had apparently never had it or at least it wore off at some point and we all know that chicken pox gets worse as you get older so I could have died, y’all. You know there’s got to be chicken pox hanging out with all the other diseases in those tiny light booths in LA black boxes. Died.

Here lies Chelsea. She was a bit melodramatic. But still.

I also had to write my artistic statement (again). And I don’t know about you, but artistic statements / statements of interest are the worst part of any application to anything. My version of hell would be an eternity of writing new vision statements, probably while having chicken pox and listening to the sound track of the 1967 movie Guns of the Trees – an artsy, dare-I-say pretentious film I had to watch for a film studies class and which made me viscerally and irrationally angry. Welcome to grad school.

I made some shit up of course (can I say “shit” on the blog? I just did.) I got into school, but I was on the waitlist first so let’s not get too puffed up about it or the quality of my statement. I’m very good at almost-winning things. Lesson: I’m never anyone’s first choice but I’m making a career out of profiting off of other people’s passed up opportunities.

Okay, found the door. Where’s the damn key?

My statement is fine. But in my first quarter I really started to understand the different paths we are all on – and knowing where you are and not caring where someone thinks you should be.  That’s the key to a real eduction (inside and outside the classroom) and probably a great vision/artistic/interest statement.

[Full disclosure: I’m actually in the MFA program for fiction. After being waitlisted for playwriting programs twice, I said a big “screw you guys, I’ll figure it out on my own” to the Theatre Gods, and that’s what I did. My fiction needed some love and attention. It always blows my mind how theatre and literature generally know so very little about each other – the communities really should overlap more. But that’s another blog.]

I’m learning to become a new kind of student. It’s grad school. It’s a terminal degree. Grades alone are not going to get me where I want to be. Any other straight-A students out there? This is a big shift in mentality. I am learning how to approach each class now with the mindset of growing as an artist and a person. I’m not here for perfect grades. I’m here to write. I’m tired of trying to figure out what someone else wants me to say – because, news flash, I’ll never get it right. So lets get back to what is true. And I think this mentality can be applied to any opportunity we are applying to that requires us to articulate how and why and who.

On That Note – Optional Themes For Your Next Artistic Statement:

  • I am awesome. Give me money so I can do more awesome.
  • I see multicultural and radical race theory interwoven with the histrionic classical diegesis…(Doesn’t have to make sense as long as it sounds smart.)
  • I’m going to change the world.
  • The world will never change.
  • Puppets!
  • I’m trying to be better.
  • Sometimes it takes a long time to know what you’re trying to say.
  • I want my world to be radical and political and shattering but sometimes that means it’s a quiet story about a quiet person on a quiet but special day.
  • Marches are great, but I want to write about what happens once it is over.
  • Ghosts!
  • Burritos!
  • I almost died from almost getting chicken pox and now I understand this fleeting life we have and I just don’t have time to try to feed into what you think a playwright should be doing or thinking.
  • I can’t wait to get started.

The FPI Files: “Fiery Feminism” and Comedy Collaborate in DENIM DOVES

 by Desireé York

In our current political climate, we need theatre more than ever.  Theatre can reflect the challenges of our current reality or it can invite audiences to escape it.

Let’s hear from artists who seem to find a way to do both, like playwright Adrienne Dawes and director Rosie Glen-Lambert, in Denim Doves produced by Sacred Fools, just extended through February 23, 2018 at the Broadwater Mainstage.

LA FPI:  What inspired this piece?

Adrienne Dawes

Adrienne Dawes:  Denim Doves began as a devised piece with Salvage Vanguard Theater in Austin, TX.  We started building the play around the summer of 2013, around the time of the Wendy Davis filibuster.  It was a gross sort of spectator sport to watch Democratic senators try for nearly 13 hours to block a bill that would have implemented some of the most stringent abortion restrictions in the country.  My friends and I felt so incredibly angry… We poured all those feelings, all that “fiery feminist rage,” into creating a new piece.

We knew we couldn’t just scream at an audience for 75 minutes, so very early in the process, we played within comedic structures.  How could we sneak very serious conversations into very silly premises?  Dick jokes became the sort of “Trojan Horse” into talking about intersectional feminism, fluid identities and an oppressive government that considers female bodies as a commodity.  We drew inspiration from Margaret Atwood’s novel “The Handmaid’s Tale”, Suzette Haden Elgin’s novel “Native Tongue” (specifically for her use of the feminist language Laadan), YouTube videos of hand bell choirs, and finger tutting choreography.

LA FPI:  Rosie, what attracted you to directing this play?

Rosie Glen-Lambert

Rosie Glen-Lambert:  I am always on the hunt to direct work that gives a voice to women, queer folk, non-binary folk, people of color and anyone who feels like their “type” isn’t typically represented in casting ads.

But beyond providing a platform to diverse performers, I have a particular attraction to plays that allow anyone besides white men to be “the funny one.”  I believe wholeheartedly in the power of comedy.  I think it’s a great way to unpack an issue that is challenging or to permeate a hard, un-listening exterior.

LA FPI: How does music play a role in this piece?

Adrienne: Denim Doves is more of a “play with music” than musical.  There are specific musical moments that scratch the surface and reveal the darker, more sinister aspects of this world.  Cyndi Williams is an amazing performer, playwright and lyricist who was part of the original devising team (she originated the role of First Wife).  Cyndi’s writing is incredibly rich and unique.  She brings a very serious, Southern Gothic quality that gives us a nice contrast to the lighter, bawdy stuff I bring. Erik Secrest composed the original score (and originated the role of First Son) that was performed by the original cast with church hand bells, the electric guitar and a drum kit that was hidden in plain sight onstage.

For the LA production, Sacred Fools collaborated with composer Ellen Warkentine to develop new music.  It was wild to hear those old songs in a completely different way.  I hope to find more opportunities to collaborate with female composers in the future.

Meg Cashel, Janellen Steininger and Teri Gamble in “Denim Doves” – Jessica Sherman Photography

LA FPI: We love supporting femme-centric projects. What has this experience been like, working with a female majority including writer, director, cast and crew?

Rosie:  An unbelievable privilege. Here’s the thing: I believe wholeheartedly that gender is a construct.  I believe that men can be soft and compassionate and women can be strong and authoritative.  I believe that anyone, regardless of where they fall on the gender spectrum, has the ability to behave in any manner they choose; that how you identify or what you were assigned at birth is not the determining factor in your behavior.

With that being said, many women and femmes are socialized in such a way where they are often allowed to be softer and more empathetic, where men tend to be socialized to disconnect from emotion and consider those qualities as weak.  This means that a rehearsal room that is full of women and femmes is often a room that is full of people who are willing to tap into emotion and create a space that is safe and welcoming.  A room where someone can say “actually I don’t think my body is capable of doing what you are describing” and rather than a room of people rolling their eyes and a caff’d up male director yelling “just do it,” the team is able to slow down, consider this person’s perspective, and enthusiastically find a solution.

I think that we as humans are all capable of working in this manner, and I believe that by allowing women and femmes to lead by example men are changing their perspective on what a theatrical process should look like.

Adrienne:  I was absent for much of the  rehearsal process (I’m currently living in Tulsa, OK for a writing residency) but I can say that the rehearsal rooms and processes where I felt I made the most sense have always been led by women+ and people of color.  Those are the rooms where I feel like I belong, where I feel like all my differences (all the many ways I am different) are seen as strengths.  It’s a huge relief to feel safe and like my voice can be heard without having to yell over another person.  In most rooms, it feels like a fight for survival, a fight to belong or to prove yourself.  I prefer a room where I feel like my voice is needed and valued.

LA FPI: Amidst today’s politics, what would you like audiences to take away with them?

Rosie:  The art that has come out of this past year reflects our national desire to unpack and discuss this past election, and our political climate.  This desire is constant, and yet it is exhausting.  People who are protected by privilege are able to, at times, disconnect from the insanity and say “I feel overwhelmed, I don’t want to be sad anymore.”  And while that is a natural inclination, not everyone is able to make the choice to tap out.  Those whose bodies are inherently politicized are never allowed a day off; they are never able to just not be black, or trans, or latinx, or a woman for the day.  I believe that this play in particular – which begins farcically, raucously, and which, full disclosure, is just plain riddled with dick jokes – has the potential to trick someone who would never seek out something as serious as the “Handmaid’s Tale” and make them reflect on their privilege and invigorate them to recommitting themselves to a more active dedication to social change.  I want people to get in their cars, drive home, kick off their shoes, and wonder if what they are doing is enough.

Adrienne:  I hope we can make audiences laugh.  I hope to give audiences some relief, some escape from the trash fire that is our current political climate.  I also hope that even inside this extremely absurd world, audiences recognize how harmful misogyny and strict gender-based rules/expectations are for everyone.  Everyone is hurt, everyone is affected.  We imagine a future rebellion that mirrors past resistance movements, one that is led by people of color and trans/queer/non-binary people.

Tyler Bremer, Meg Cashel, Lana Rae Jarvis, Teri Gamble and Jennie Kwan in “Denim Doves” – Jessica Sherman Photography

For more information and tickets to Denim Doves, visit:  http://www.sacredfools.org/mainstage/18/denimdoves/

 

Know a female or FPI-friendly theater, company or artist? Contact us at lafpi.updates@gmail.com & check out The FPI Files for more stories.

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Los Angeles Female Playwrights Initiative is a sponsored project of Fractured Atlas, a non‐profit arts service organization. Contributions for the charitable purposes of LA FPI must be made payable to “Fractured Atlas” only and are tax‐deductible to the extent permitted by law.

Shifting Perspective

 

Witnessing the Light, artwork by Cynthia Wands, 2018

 

Just recently, (and I mean just in the last few weeks), I began to feel hopeful about the changes in store for this year.

I started listening to the NPR news on the radio on my drive home from work, after swearing off from it last year.

After a year long quarantine (Eric has been going through a tough chemotherapy schedule), we started going out in the world again. We’ve seen two movies, and went for a long hike. It felt like waking up in daylight after being in the dark last year.

 

I’m seeing women reach for political office, and stand up with persistence and courage to change our leadership.

And reading the messages about the #MeToo movement, and the illumination of how women have been treated, gives me hope that the world will be seen through different eyes. (“Sunlight is the best disinfectant.”  I don’t know who said that it – but I love that idea.) I can see that audiences and directors and theaters will be changing in the way women are portrayed, and directed and who the leaders are.

So I have to be hopeful. I know that history and health issues can change in a moment, but I’m reaching out in my world to belong to more of the present moment.

(It took me several hours to come up with that last sentence, I kept changing it, so I can see there will be some balancing to be done with that assignment…)

I’m making a plan to see more plays, more readings, more artwork, more friends this year.

I hope this next year finds new adventures for all of you, and I look forward to seeing your work, and watching this year unfold.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
Cynthia Wands

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