Category Archives: playwriting

Unearthing a Voice from June 2010 – Louisiana Stories

By:  Analyn Revilla

Nearly six months since Bruno died, I want time to stand still.  Everything of his still remains as it was the day he died.  Now I know that scene in the movies when the camera takes the audience into the bedroom of the departed, and in the past I wondered what it was all about.  Now I know.

I was reminiscing about Bruno’s 50th birthday in 2015.  For his gift, I offered him a trip in to one of my favourite cities, New Orleans.  I am resurfacing something I wrote to a friend in an email.  I was digging up emails with “New Orleans” as part of another project related to trips with Bruno and came upon “Louisiana Stories”.  Back in June 2010 I travelled to New Orleans to investigate what was happening to the city after Katrina and what had been the recent BP Oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

I read the stories and was surprised at my writing voice then.  I kinda miss that voice just as much as I miss Bruno’s voice with that heavy French accent.  New Orleans and the surrounding towns and cities has many ghosts and where time simply stands still…

I got back from my trip last night.  One day you’ll find your way to that great city with its deep roots and soul.  I’ve been sending you a couple of updates via phone.  I’m writing to you in retrospect after some of the experiences have sunk into my bones.

It’s easy to meet folks and strike up a conversation with locals.

Monday Afternoon –

They have a special way of listening and responding to you.  I stopped at a mechanic’s garage to ask for directions in Gretna (just south of the city on the other side of the Mississippi.)  An old man sitting at door of the opened bay door watched me get out of the car.  His eyes were soft and brown, his skin wrinkled and dark like a purple prune.  The whites of his eyes were yellow and stood out like embers glowing from a soft flame.  I was in the presence of a saint, and perhaps he was, after all the things he’d endured as a black man in the deep south.

He spoke while his hands rested on the cane between his legs.  He’s imagining the pawn shop as he describes how I can find it.  “There’s a seafood place across the street… It’s on Van Kempf.”  We exchanged few words, but we shared so many thoughts in between.  I’ve met this soul before, perhaps he is knowing of the suffering we all endure, and he reaches out with his grace… I know.  I know.  It’s alright.

Sunday night –

One of Jonathan’s homeboys told him about this new hookah bar, so my housemates and I see what it’s about.  We get out of the parked car in an alley in the French Quarter and walk to non-descript warehouse door.  At the lobby three young black men welcome us.  One of them has shiny shoulder length braids.  He pointed up the stairs and we go on up to find the booze bar to the left and the hookah bar to the right.  Low couches and tables all around with burning scented hookahs.  It’s crowded enough that Jonathan asks a couple if they wouldn’t mind if we shared their space.  While Jonathan gets our hookahs the couple introduces themselves as Paris and Shanikah.  They offer Josh and me tokes from their hookah.

Later, we now have three hookahs at the table.  We’re smoking, chilling, and getting to know one another.  Paris is funny and quite good looking.  It’s their second date, and she looks goddess like in her turquoise dress.  She wants to dance, but Paris doesn’t.  I guess he might get offended if she asked either Josh or Jonathan to dance so she asks me.  We do the salsa, and she’s teaching me most of the steps.  She’s a teacher from Boston.  She likes it here in New Orleans, but the challenge as a teacher is to motivate the kids.  But once she found that once she gains the student’s trust that they’ll do anything for her.  I thought about it then said… “When you believe in them then they are inspired to do.”  “Yes!” she agreed whole-heartedly.

Wednesday morning –

I got three hours of sleep before the alarm went off at 4:30 am.  I wanted to watch the sunrise over the Mississippi delta, but I got there late.  The nose of the rental car faced due south in Venice at around 8 am.  (I had left the city around 5:00 and drove around somewhat lost which I didn’t mind because I was exploring to find the I-10 West / I-90 West.  I finally walked into a Starbucks in the Garden District to get coffee and ask for directions at 5:30 am.  I’d been wandering for about 1/2 hour looking for the onramp to freeway.)

LA 23 into Venice goes from a two lane highway to a single road that forks into little harbors.  The road is level with the water and the long-necked birds are extensions of graceful water plants.  They sway gently with the breezes.  The waters out here are still protected from the oil spill I am happy to find out.

I spoke to a few locals to hear about their laments about the BP oil spill.  As one local put it “They cut off our right hand, and now they want to cut off our left hand.”  He refers to the moratorium on the oil wells.  Everyone is waiting to get out and work on the clean up.  Every tool is commissioned to help out: trucks, boats, helicopters, oil spill separators.  Right now most of the effort is to put out booms or pick them up.  It is literally ant work.  Helicopter trails dot the skies as they carry booms one-by-one to the Deepwater Well, and return boom-less ready to pick up another.

I got back into the car and headed north on LA 23.  On the way I stop at Buras where hurricane Katrina began in 2005.  I to get some oyster gumbo, but “Camp’s” had closed after the hurricane.  The firehall station where I got married a long time ago is replaced by a modern red brick building.  The JP’s office had transferred to Port Sulphur, just north of Buras.  The only place to get something good to is “Black Velvet”.  I stopped by at 10 but they didn’t open till 11.  I smelled the bacon fat cooking which is a key ingredient in the gumbo.  “Nothing’s ready yet,” was the answer from the waitress, “I’m sorry.”

Before leaving Los Angeles, someone had told me everything happens for a reason, and I remembered this as I drove the lazy road back to New Orleans.  I thought of my blessing to have had the opportunity to go back and revisit a place that was the birth of many pains.  I discovered there wasn’t any pain anymore when I retraced steps to the past.  This is the grace of this place.  I look to the side to catch the name of a road “Grace Harbor”.  I think it’s another sign that I’m going in the right direction.  I’m approaching Home Place, a small town that dots the LA 23.

Before crossing the bridge back to the city I stopped at Gretna again to pay a visit to the saint, but he wasn’t around.  I asked the man there if he could give the old man these fresh peaches and Creole tomatoes I picked up on the way.  He looked at me funny and grateful.  I told him, how the old man “made an impression on me”, and that I wanted to see him again and say “thanks.”  I found the pawn shop and got what I was looking for.  I bought an old guitar.  It was beat up but its sound resonated deeply like an old soul, and I felt kinship with.

#HFF18 #FringeFemmes: Making It Count

by Jennie Webb

Well, this year’s Hollywood Fringe Festival is over… although the energy is still palpable along Theatre Row, what with the great group of shows extended in Encore! performances through July.

And, yeah, there are SO many shows that I missed during #HFF18, which I swore I’d catch if they were extended but… Argh. July was supposed to be saner than June!

But enough of that. (Why are we always obsessed about what we don’t manage to do?)

This year during the Fringe, as in years past, the work and camaraderie of women artists was pretty damn impressive. Those amazing Fringe Femmes wasted no time kicking ass big time. So great seeing LA FPI badges and logos all over the place in June – thank you for all the love!

Also great to be able to give LA FPI’s “Most Wanted Awards” again at the HFF18 Awards Ceremony to venues who staged 50% or more works by women onstage during the Fringe. (Many thanks to fabulous presenters Fiona Lakeland and Katt Balsan, and Olivia Butaine and Lisa K. Wyatt who helped tally to find this year’s figures!)

Fiona Lakeland & Katt Balsan – Thx Matt Kamimura for this super shot!

And now, the numbers.

The “Most Wanted” Awards went to 12 venues this year: 2nd Stage, Actors Company, Art of Acting Studio, Assistance League Playhouse, Lounge Theatre, Stephanie Feury Studio Theatre, Studio C, studio/stage, The Broadwater, The New Collective, Theatre of NOTE and Thymele Arts.

Also pretty pleased that 70% of the community-voted “Fringe Freak” Awards went to works created by women. And 53% of the Sponsored Awards were given to femme-penned projects, including “Fort Huachuca” by Ailema Sousa, receiving The Inkwell Playwright’s Promise Award.

And then there were the overall numbers. This year, 49% of the scripted Fringe shows were written by women.

So a big yay there, considering the year-round #LAThtr average is probably still around 20%.

But I was a bit bummed that we didn’t hit 50%, a bar we’ve reached for the last two years. Hmph. Sure, the percentage is up from 39%, when we started counting. And I don’t know if 49% vs. 50% is statistically significant; last year we did hit 52%. However, as far as I’m concerned, it’s an important reminder: We still have work to do, ladies… and allies!

Right. We, as theatermakers, must make a conscious effort to put more diversity onstage. And we, as artists, must take positive action so that untold stories are heard and celebrated, in all shapes and forms.

Because here’s another number: only 47% of the Producers’ Encore! Awards, with extensions, went shows by female playwrights. Grrr.

So who’s with me? We continue to spread the #FringeFemmes energy & support each other as a community throughout the year so that we get our voices out there, and our plays into the hands of decision-makers!

Aaron Saldana & Kelly Egan at Theatre of NOTE (proudly displaying a “Most Wanted” Award – love it!)

5 Years Later… She Writes A Play!

by Andie Bottrell

Movie Still from Synecdoche New York

I’m writing a gosh-dang play again for the first time in years and finally feel like I am almost legitimate enough to be blogging for the LAFPI! I’ve spent the last two years working on my webseries SEEK HELP, and making a life-changing decision. After completing the webseries, I was contemplating my next big creative project and I landed on this play I started working on back in 2011 or so before abandoning it for other projects.

I’ve had a one-act play performed on stage, and had readings of my full length plays both in public and private workshops, but never had a full length play of mine produced or published and I would love to go on that journey, if that journey will have me. The salivating, desirable thing about a play (done right), as opposed to a film or tv show or book, is:

  • The Immediacy: You get immediate feedback from the audience.
  • The Hostage Component: The audience is trapped, hidden away from the outside world and digital world’s distractions. They are forced to confront the situation presented in front of them and to enter into an imagined circumstance that demands their engagement.
  • The Visceral Exchange: The audience inevitably affects the performance and the performance affects the audience. This exchange of energy can offer a magical high.
  • The Unpredictable Originality: No matter how rehearsed a play, great performers are always still just reacting to what they are given in the moment and great performers are always still searching for new moments and deeper truths throughout the run. So, no matter how rehearsed, every night is a slightly different show. This is an art form that evolves.

In other words, a play is a living, breathing, growing entity. If you want to explore big ideas, ethical dilemmas, flaws in humanity or culture, expand a communities view on something, I can think of no better way than to build a play. As Chelsea wrote about in the post below, nearly all plays have messages, and the best ones, the ones that actually have the ability to open minds or change perspectives or prejudices, do so in a way that is so entertaining that you don’t even notice the medicine the playwright is slipping down your throat as you watch.

The hard and frustrating work of playwriting is trying to turn those big ideas into genuinely good and captivating entertainment…usually while sitting alone in your apartment late at night. The fun and exciting part of playwriting is getting a group of people together to work on the play, to communally birth a piece of art in a collaborative form. The latter being the part that is currently motivating me through the former. I see pieces of the play in my head; I want to see it outside my head. I want to discuss this topic in depth with others. And there, really, I think is the root of why I write. I want to bring people together. I love structured hangs but hate unstructured parties. I want to have deep conversations, not small talk. I want to feel, think, be challenged and examine myself and others and the world. I want to know I am not alone, and I want to understand that which is different from me in a visceral way. I don’t think I am unique in that–I think many writers write because we want to bring people close to us, to invite them over, not just for a cocktail, but to go all the damn way down…down to the colon! I wanna see your shit–the stuff you’re proud of, the stuff you are ashamed of, I wanna see how you navigate big decisions and deal with life’s pain, I wanna feel your laughter, your joy, see how you love, understand a new slice of life better–I wanna experience it all and I want everyone else to experience it to, because I think that’s the most efficient way to build empathy and understanding, and thereby mend differences and cultivate a peaceful respect for each other.

I love theatre. Deeply. I respect it for the power it has and am captivated by it’s magic. I am excited for a more diverse theatre landscape. There are so many stories we haven’t told, haven’t experienced. We think we’ve seen it all sometimes, but there are so many points of view that have not yet been given the opportunity of a stage and an audience. I am excited for more plays by and about women, people of various ethnic backgrounds, from different countries and cultures, of different ages, of all different gender and sexual identities, of various experiences, to create new works set in and about our time. I think now more than ever we could collectively benefit from unplugging and coming together in a dark room to pass the baton and tell each other who we are and what it means.

Wish me luck (ie. motivation, stamina, intelligence, clarity, artistry, articulation, and courage) as I continue on my journey to prove I belong on the LAFPI roster–I mean, to finish this play and work to get it on it’s feet.

 

Finding Meaning

by Chelsea Sutton

“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.

Pick a frame.

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.

And it is always relevant.

 

#FringeFemmes Check-Ins: I Came to Make Noise

by Chris Farah

Quick peeks at #HFF18’s “Women on the Fringe” by Fringe Femmes who are behind the scenes this year. Click Here for all Check-Ins

Fringe Femmes

WHO: Carrie Mikuls

WHAT: I Came to Make Noise

WHERE: Lounge Theatre 1 6201 Santa Monica Blvd. LA, CA 90038

WHY: Hurry! Only 1 more performance left of this fringe diversity scholarship winning feminist show! Powerfully blending beautiful choreography, spoken word and a fierce yet supportive beatboxer, I Came to Make Noise speaks to the struggle, diversity and universality of the American woman. Get tickets now for Saturday, June 23, 6:00 PM and you can get 20% off with discount code: MAKENOISE

HOW: http://www.hollywoodfringe.org/projects/4903

Thanks a lot, Jennie Webb! (Or) How I Got to be SO Busy…

Hey, it’s me, Tiffany! The used-to-live-in-LA-but-now-I-live-in-Iowa playwright who launched Little Black Dress INK, had a baby, and then (because I wasn’t busy enough – duh) started Protest Plays Project too.  I’m pretty much busy ALL THE TIME now, and it got me to thinking…

It’s all Jennie Webb’s fault.

She’s the one who invited me to the first LAFPI meeting all those years ago.  The meeting where I got a taste of she-playwright POWER and decided I needed MORE!  I knew I was moving to AZ, far away from my cherished playwright coven, but what the hell?  If Jennie Webb (with Laura Shamas) could unite the female playwrights of Los Angeles, I could certainly found and operate a female playwright producing company in Arizona, right?!

RIGHT!

And now we’re in our 7th year.  We’ve just announced 2019’s Female Playwrights ONSTAGE Theme. I’ve been privileged to get to know a ton of amazing female playwrights from all around the country (along with some international playwrights as well!)  It’s been a hell of a ride, and a TON of work, but it’s also been totally worth it.

But I wanted to do MORE, remember? Especially since I was politically mortified with the results of the 2016 election.  So I founded Protest Plays Project (PPP).  My initial aim was to collect plays about social issues that theatre-activists could use for protest or fundraising* purposes.  (*Specifically, fundraising for non-profits working for positive social change.)

Well, PPP has been busy.  Super busy.

And I want to take the start of my blogging week to tell you how you can get involved, in case you’re that kind of theatremaker!

First, we’ve got our #TheatreActionVOTE! Initiative going on and all you have to do to get involved is commit to presenting Vote! plays or monologues in your pre-show.

You can write your own piece for this purpose, or select pieces from our Collection.  The plays in our collection are:

  • Non-Partisan
  • 1-3 minutes in length
  • Available royalty free
  • Written to be presented pre-show in whatever location works for your theatre

You can sign your theatre up to participate HERE.  (It’s free, it’s easy, and we won’t spam you!)

We’re also collecting plays on Immigration.  The AMAZING LA playwright, Diana Burbano along with the awesome playwright Ricardo Soltero-Brown, are curating the collection – and we’ll be encouraging theatres to present readings for fundraisers.  You can find more info and send us your play, HERE.

Protest Plays continues to support #TheatreActionGunControl and if you want to put up a reading, we have links to a number of excellent collections on our website!

But does it ever feel like enough?  Does political theatre work?  Can we truly effect change with passionately written, socially conscious plays? I plan on examining these questions later this week, right here, on the LAFPI blog.

So stay tuned, stay connected, and if you see Jennie Webb – hug that wild woman for me!

~Tiffany

 

#FringeFemmes Check-Ins: The Runaway Clone

by Chris Farah

Quick peeks at #HFF18’s “Women on the Fringe” by Fringe Femmes who are behind the scenes this year. Click Here for all Check-Ins

Fringe Femmes

WHO: Pam Eberhardt

WHAT: The Runaway Clone

WHERE: The Broadwater (Second stage) 6320 Santa Monica Blvd

WHY: In the textbook definition of an absurd, wickedly funny and original fringe musical, writer/actress Pam Eberhardt shines as mad supervillian CEO of “The Agency,” Laura, who matches people with clones. Then one day newish clone Margot, played by the vocally gifted Katharine Washington, starts to have memories of her original life and escapes. What ensues is mayhem, catchy counterpoint songs, and fabulously snappy dialogue, all in a fast-paced rollercoaster as each character’s wants and dreams collide. You don’t want to miss this show!

HOW: http://www.hollywoodfringe.org/projects/5208

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Magic

 

 

 

 

 

 

by Cynthia Wands

Recently I’ve been looking through family photographs, and I’m astounded what powerful reminders they are. They seem to tell just a momentary fraction of all the worlds that collide in a photograph. There’s an element of disbelief in them (“Did she look like that?” “Wait – wasn’t that in Idaho?” “Who is that person?”).

Very much like the scripts we write and watch and remember, there’s an invisible world that also inhabits those images.

I’m writing something now that could be called “magical realism”.  Or, as I also call it, “real magicalism”.  I’m drawn to those memories in theatre where magic happened, whether it was a beautiful light cue, or an unexpected vision. Or an actor who found a moment of surprising vulnerability.

So now, in my writing, I’m looking to find the magical elements – in life – and onstage.

In my life at home I can find a brief moment of the supremely unexpected, the whimsical, the forcefully alien ideas. There’s also horror, and dark surprises, and a refrigerator that makes sounds at night that makes you think an axe murderer is at the door. (The refrigerator only does this at night.) (That must be it’s magic.)

At the moment I’m watching our tribe of hummingbirds duel over the seven feeders that they visit dozens of times during the day. They glitter like jewels in the full sun, then vanish with a zip toward the next feeder. They squeak and chirp and sound like a squeaky bicycle. But their magic, (flying backwards!), their fierce swashbuckler posturing (“This is mine! All mine!”) and their greedy gusto, is so unexpected and comic. We have names for the some of them: Me Too, Achilles, Tuffie Five, Tuffie Six, Merlin, Big Boy.

So there’s a bit of magic that I’m watching tonight.  I haven’t figured out how I could cast a hummingbird in my play.  But maybe there’s some kind of magic in thinking about it.

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#FringeFemmes Check-Ins: Charlotte’s World

by Constance Strickland

Quick peeks at #HFF18’s “Women on the Fringe” by Fringe Femmes who are behind the scenes this year. Click Here for all Check-Ins

Fringe Femmes

WHO​: Fiona Lakeland 

WHAT: Charlotte’s World or The Lone Terrarium

WHERE: Theatre of NOTE

WHAT​: There is something special about walking into a tiny theatre knowing you are about to see a new work created in the DIY style. This is how theatre magic manifests, in simple sets, props created by the actor, a body willing to walk into the unknown… the non-predictable physical journey is thrilling. This is what Fiona gives to her work, gives to her audience: All of herself. All of her fears. All of her excitement.

Even the way her right hand shakes in a moment reveals an indescribable energy that travels and affects the heart in a subtle way. I swear your breath will find stillness as you witness a swing, swaying back and forth onstage.  Even without Fiona sitting upon the swing, it takes you back to the days of your childhood when you ran free with no worries, and fears never settled in the mind too long. You didn’t need to think about it,  it just was a way of living… because you believed anything was possible. You didn’t have to seek out confirmation or read daily affirmations that you would be all right. You just knew you could do anything once you put your mind to it! What a gorgeous reminder for the adult heart, mind and soul.

Go witness. Go live in Charlotte’s World! I even have the audacity to say this is the Spirit of Fringe 2018.

HOW: To purchase tickets and learn more about the play visit http://hff18.org/5006

 

#FringeFemmes Check-Ins: Play On!

by Chris Farah

Quick peeks at #HFF18’s “Women on the Fringe” by Fringe Femmes who are behind the scenes this year. Click Here for all Check-Ins

Fringe Femmes

WHO: Laura Jo Trexler

WHAT: Play On! A Musical Romp with Shakespeare’s Heroines

WHERE: The Hobgoblin Playhouse (Main Stage) 6520 Hollywood Blvd.

WHY: Laura Jo commands a stage with this nuanced and beautifully simple show full of original songs based on Shakespeare’s women. She bounces from the minds and desires of sweet Juliet (“I Shouldn’t Look at You”), to saucy Olivia (“Let’s Get a Room”), then delivers an unrelentingly devious and desperate Lady Macbeth Monologue in what feels like one long swimmer’s breath. With abundant ease and passionate soul, this master pianist/songwriter/vocalist/actress has created a fringe show NOT TO BE MISSED. I am a fan, you will be too and you’ll want her CD too. Get thee to Hobgoblin Playhouse for her last three performances!

HOW: http://www.hollywoodfringe.org/projects/5402