Category: playwriting

Getting Organized

       It all started when I missed an appointment.

These days, I produce a podcast called the Book Club for Kids. A trio of middle graders discuss a novel, there’s an interview with the author and a reading from the book by a “celebrity.”

Last month, I blew it. I was a no-show at a scheduled taping. More than a dozen young readers were waiting for me that Sunday afternoon and I stood them up.

I could use the excuse that I was jet lagged, arriving after midnight the night before from a cross-country flight. Or I could plead that Sundays I take a tech Sabbath, not looking at my phone – and its calendar – at all. But excuses didn’t make any difference to the dozen or so disappointed young readers awaiting their chance at podcast stardom…and their angry parents who’d driven for miles to get their kids to the bookstore for the taping.

It was then that it became very clear that I needed to get organized.

I’m not the only one – particularly at this time of year. You can’t even go in to the Home Depot without stumbling over a display of 2018 calendars for sale. At Fed Ex, pickings were slim among the display of pretty, fat calendar books with floral motifs. Even my husband gets into the act every December, watching the mailbox for the one thing on which he spends an absurd amount of money: the new filler for his portable paper calendar book.

Then I stumbled across Bullet Journals. There’s an enormous cult following for “BuJo” as the aficionados call them. Invented by a digital designer named Ryder Carroll, Bullet Journals seem to have captured the imagination.

The basic idea is simple: a blankish book and a variety of colored pens and perhaps a ruler are all it takes. I say blankish because “BuJos” prefer blank pages with dots that they can use as grid makers to create weekly or monthly pages full of “things to do” lists and food diaries and weather reports and words of the day.

Things get more extravagant after that.

Some “BuJos” fight on social media about page thickness and the bleed level of pens. They proudly show off their collection of highlighter pens. (Who knew there was a gray highlighter pen?) There’s a debate about whether stickers are appropriate. I counted eight different groups on Facebook devoted to Bullet Journals, including the Minimalist Bullet Journal group that still seems overly complicated to me. Pinterest, as you can imagine, has hundreds of pictures of Bullet Journals.

Buzz Feed has an article to tell you what your style of Bullet Journaling says about you. I realized my style says I am not a Bullet Journaling kind of girl. I can’t draw. I never scrapbooked in my life. And why would I spend hours drawing in the dates of a 2018 calendar when I can get a perfectly good one at any store in America?

I think the BuJo serves the same purpose for visual people as my Morning Pages do for a word person like me. Julia Cameron’s classic “Artist’s Way” assignment has always helped me untangle my disorganized brain. Sitting down first thing in the morning to scribble away for three pages in a cheap composition book – part diary, part writing ideas, mostly things to do lists – grounds me and helps me sort out what’s important in my life and what to let go. Obviously it wasn’t enough to keep me from missing an important appointment.

So I bought a nice, light paper calendar that fits in my handbag. I’ve started marking it up with travel plans and podcast tapings. More important, I vowed to look at it every day. Even on my tech Sabbath.

What about you? How do you keep organized? Please share your secret!

Jump Start Creativity

Sometimes facing a blank page on your laptop can be the most depressing sight on planet earth.

Nobody said playwriting was going to be easy. But the email rejections, the harsh feedback from your writing group, the statistics on the tiny number of new plays that get produced every year (and the even smaller number by female playwrights not named Lauren Gunderson) can just shut you down. Or, as I put it, take the heart out of the writing.

How do you get your mojo back?

 

I had the pleasure of interviewing writer Laurel Snyder whose middle grade novel “Orphan Island” is a very odd book – orphan kids on a desert island who come as toddlers and depart as teenagers to parts unknown. Needless to say, it’s not like anything else Laurel has previously written.

She says the book started as her own prescription for writers block. She was stuck in the “business” of writing and forgot about the joy. So she bought herself some toys – markers and paint and notebooks and her favorite mechanical pencil. She vowed to write the entire project in longhand and take the time to illustrate the characters. She drew islands and maps. She drew animals that didn’t exist that didn’t make it into the book. She had fun – the same fun she felt when she started writing when she was eight years old.

She promised herself that she wouldn’t show the project to anyone until it was done and if it didn’t get published, that would be okay, too. She would write a book just for herself.

Laurel got back in touch with the reason she started writing in the first place. She was writing out – putting on paper something inside of her that needed to get out in the world. In the process, she rediscovered the joy.

And of course, the book she created was so unique, it made the longlist for the National Book Award.

We’re not guaranteed such a reward of public recognition, but we can at least make the journey more enjoyable. Slow down. Buy a fabulous red gel pen with sparkles for the editing process. Find some fun stickers and reward yourself when you put down 500 words. Take yourself out for an outrageously fattening Toasted White Chocolate Mocha at Starbucks when you’ve written every day for a week. Give yourself permission to watch hours of Hallmark Christmas movies. Find a way to make the writing fun again.

And share YOUR secrets with us.

You can hear the whole interview with Laurel Snyder here. You can even hear kids dissect the book on this episode.

Staged Readings

I might had written about this before. It’s been a while and I’m glad we’re all back. Thank you lafpi!

The Palisades Playwrights Reading Festival will be in its ninth year next April. It is produced at the community theater in the Pacific Palisades and for three Tuesdays in April 2018, it will again be presenting staged readings of three new plays.

We ask for submissions until January the 1st and every submission is read by the committee and discussed.

No playwright is paid, and the only money that changes hands is a five dollar fee at the door, which covers the wine and refreshments. The festival now has a growing number of people who come to the readings, which are really well received with a Q&A afterwards, if the playwright wants one. And everybody has a good time.

All of the plays have something interesting about them, the subjects are diverse, and some stick in the mind long after. We had a play about a submarine crew underwater after a nuclear war called The Letter Writer, by Steve Yusi, that people still ask
me about. We’ve had romantic comedies, one by Don Gordon, about the issue of two license plays marked PANACHE, one by Jim McGinn, called Vincent O’Shea about a man who never looks older; a look at end of life issues called Reprieves, by David Reuben, a gerontologist as well as a playwright, and a dark comedy by Virginia Mekkelson, called The Losers Club, about an office, a crocodile and Bad Bosses.

Which brings me to the crux of the matter. The theater will not consider producing any of these plays! I don’t think it is because it is a community theater, although it may be. But it is reflective of such a large problem for all of us. I have a play called The Last of The Daytons, which is read over and over. Years ago, it had a wonderful reading at Theatricum Botanicum as part of their Seedlings program. (Thank you, Jennie Webb.)  It’s had several staged readings since and an almost production in Memphis.

This year it won the PlayFestSantaBarbara. First place, with prize money! The festival was a weekend affair of workshops and readings of new pieces and the company at Santa Barbara presented a brilliant reading after a very helpful rehearsal with a skilled director. It was one of the best experiences I’ve had in the theater and I’m so grateful for it.

(Check out their website for new submission dates. The competition is closed for 2018 but will probably be taking 2019 submissions in the New Year.)

So, The Last of the Daytons is ready to go, as are the others we’ve read. The trick is finding the production company that loves it, wants it, and has the money and time to produce it. I’m looking.

Submit, Diane, submit!

In the meantime, if anybody would like to submit a play the Palisades Reading Festival, send it to me at grantdiane04@gmail.com.

Writing About Death…

by Robin Byrd

Death, spirits, the ghosts of memory, these are the things that turn up in my plays.  I used to think that I was weird, not that weird is a negative word to me.  I am peculiar and I am okay with that.  In Proof by David Auburn, Catherine states while talking about her dad, “He’d attack a question from the side, from some weird angle, sneak up on it, grind away at it.”  I love that sentence, it’s all we can do in our world of doing art – attack from our perspective and grind away…

I have been reading The Art of Death: Writing the Final Story by Edwidge Danticat. What I mean is I have read it several times 4 and a half times to be exact.  I am working out the processing of my mother’s death.  She left this earth in April of this year.  It has been difficult to write it yet write it I have – to request to drop classes I was in at the time of her death, classes I have had to repeat and get past the point of her death in each of them. One, I made it through, weary but victorious, the other, I am still weathering.  It is amazing the depth of grief.  I read somewhere that grief causes forgetfulness, that and the lack of sleep…   Except I know the forgetfulness of sleepless nights well and this thing – it is scary and it is a demon whose head I am chopping off with a twice dull blade.  I will be rid of it.  I have found comfort in the stories that Danticat shares in The Art of Death; at one point, she asks her mother, “Did you rage enough?” this in response to Dylan Thomas’s poem “Do not go gentle into that good night:

“…Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” by Dylan Thomas

Similarly, before the thin veil of denial left me, before I bought the ticket and made the journey home, I spoke to my mother’s spirit, “Mommy, do not go gentle into that good night wait for me, I’m coming home…”  And, I watched her fight until the end unsure of the road…  She almost died 3 days before, we sat in the nursing home around her bed for hours but she would not leave.  She wanted a reprise.  She wanted to be bathed… Almost like a baptismal service, two young nurses, bathed my mother from head to toe in preparation for the day.  She lay there knowing it would be her last bath with breath in her body, resolved to meet the day…clean….  Clean from the blood that had begun to seep from her body in clots of pain, clean from the last of things no one can carry with them into the presence of God. I took to sitting through the night with her, on guard.  I did not want her to die alone.  I blessed the room and sealed it (in the name of Jesus) from anything that was not like God…so she could rest in peace until that appointed time. I had asked God to let me be there and had traveled from Los Angeles on a ‘red eye’ to make sure I was there the entire month of April.  I asked Him, rather demanded that He let me be there, “I want to see her when she leaves, not in a dream, like with Dad, and the others, I want to see her!  I must be there, it will not be alright if I am not there.  I do not want to get that call.”  So, there I was by the grace of God, sitting beside my mother’s deathbed…taking notes in my spirit… and then it happened, and God let me see:

I saw her when she left, the lift off, her eyes shown like glassy circles of pure glee, the hologram of her Self barely visible but not her smile, it was wide and happy because she knew I saw…my mother, my mother – the wind of God…

I wrote and read a poem on behalf of my mother at her funeral titled, “Getting it Right” – the thing my mother had on her mind the last days of her life.  I had sat by her bed every day from April 1st till she passed at the end of the month, 2 days before her 83rd birthday.  She continually told me to “Pay attention Robbie, you’re going to have to write about this…  We got to get this right.”  How could I fail?  “A mother’s song should be heard in the voices of her children”…it should never be lost to time.  I found her song in the space where breath had left her and became her voice for a time…  I could feel her there with me… adlibbing…

Part of getting it right is forgiving and letting things go.  We all must do it…

It is difficult…these days… not because I do not know that my mother is with Christ…

“…We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with Christ.” Paul the Apostle, II Corinthians, chapter 5, verse 8

It is difficult because the moments have germinated and taken root and are sprouting trees so tall it is hard to see the sky.  It is renewing and stripping but best of all, I did not lose on the moments that the last of things said to me by my mother set in stone her confidence in who I am – a Writer…

 

Yoga and Writing: Playing with Your Edges.

By Analyn Revilla

Do a search on the internet with the words “yoga and creativity writing” and a plethora of websites for “writing & yoga retreats” will cascade down the page. I’ve written in a past blog of how yoga has helped me through chaotic times in my life. I teach yoga to young children (ages 2 to 5), seniors and at a Pilates studio or anybody else who’ll listen to me expound the benefits of the practice. Now, I want to teach it to fellow writers because of the parallel universes of writing and yoga.

Yoga is an exploration to our inner territory using our mind, our breath, our awareness and our body as it moves together into a pose (or ‘asana’ in Sanskrit). It’s the same journey with writing. My first writing teacher in Vancouver warned her students to be careful with their bodies as they write, because the energy of the thoughts and words is cathartic and moves along the tissues of our bodies and breathes out through the pores of the skin. Writing moves the molecules of our breath, whether its held and waiting for release or the replenishing cycle of intake, then over and over again, till we say it is done. In another writing workshop here in LA, I shared with my group that I always felt lethargic when trying to get some tracks down on the paper. Some writers understood what I was experiencing. The teacher said that the process is natural, because we were working through some sludge, and it’s not unusual to sleep a lot working through the heavy lifting of writing about it. It does take courage to write some things; and beyond that it takes endurance to get through it. I’m still working on both.

Courage and endurance is part of regular yoga practice. It’s not always easy to show up on the mat (or be in that quiet space) where you decide to work it out. Some days you try out a new pose that looks gorgeous, but when you imagine and assemble the different parts of your body to fit the pose, it’s a wobbly faulty towers. It’s the same with writing too. There are some things I want to say but the assembled words are not expressing the essence, so I let it go. Perhaps try again another time. Or I may decide after further attempts that I’m not yet ready. It’s the same with yoga. Sometimes I have to let go and admit that an asana is not for me, not yet anyway. “Adho Mukha Vrksasana” (translates to Downward-Facing Tree Pose or Handstand) is a mouthful for me, and I’m not ready to try it, because, because… fear. I’m afraid that I don’t have that upper body strength, I don’t have the technique, or that it’s not worth the effort today. Maybe someday I’ll get around to it. Yoga is not about the body fitting into the asana, rather it’s the asana fitting the body. Yoga and writing is about expression and the honesty of the expression.

Check out this 3 minute tutorial on the Adho Mukha Vrksasana:
Beyond Fear – Adho Mukha Vrksasana (Handstand)

I like how the yoga teacher, Sarah, tells her story about the Handstand: “that this is the scariest pose for me”, and that “for many years I just avoided it”, and that “now a days I just try a little bit every day”, and that “to be okay with where I’m at”, and finally, “to learn compassion for yourself”.

Were I to introduce yoga to writers I would start with chest opening and hip opening asanas. If you’ve heard of the expression ‘issues in your tissues’ or ‘biography is your biology’ then I’d start with these parts of our anatomy because we carry our grief, joy and stresses in these areas. I am inviting you to join me in a yoga and writing practice. Are you interested to try this? I’m game if you are.

Namaste

Missing Stuart

By Analyn Revilla

It was a visit from the SPCA that prompted the owner to remove Stuart from the junkyard. The officer had asked the man living next to the place if he knew the owner. “Soul” (aka Michael) told the officer he didn’t have the guy’s information, but he did know that the dog is neglected. It was only through the constant care of neighbors that kept the dog fed and watered. Those who were aware of the situation couldn’t fathom why the dog was “guarding” a junkyard littered with old dump trucks, pickups, and broken concrete and 2 by 4s with exposed rusty nails. The dog, Stuart, slept under the belly of a dump truck.

When I first noticed Stuart it was he who made eye contact with me. His expressive brown eyes looked into mine when I walked by casually with my two dogs, Goliath and Molly (a mix breed of Rottweiler & German Shepherd and a purebred Cocker Spaniel). Stuart didn’t pounce and bark at us. He sat on a mound under the trees, about 10 yards from the chain wire fence that would eventually become the only means we could touch one another. A few more times after that first meeting, I came around to observe what the deal was. I talked to Soul and the old man who owned the house next to the junkyard. The owner comes once in a while to feed the dog, and only slips the food under the solid metal fence. He never takes the dog out for a walk. The first time I approached the owner I broached the idea of adopting Stuart. “He’s lonely” I told him. “Yeah, but I need him,” he countered. It was beyond arguing with a man who needed a dog to guard scrap metal. There’s a mental illness that can’t be reasoned with when someone has a need to sacrifice the life of a living creature to protect material objects that are no longer in use.

After I overcame the initial fear of slipping my hands under the metal gate to check on the food and water, I was horrified and disgusted to find the water bowl filled with slimy water and dotted with furry blackish mold. I took it home, scrubbed it clean with bleach and brought it back to the yard refreshed with clean water. When Stuart recognized I was a friend he let me touch him through the eyelets of the fence. I became a habitual visitor bringing food, water and giving him cheese at night as a ritual of putting him to bed. I came so often (2 – 3X during the day on my way to and from work and once again at night) that people living nearby started to ask if I was the owner. On other occasions people would stop in their car and said “you’re doing a good thing.” They were aware and grieved by Stuart’s solitary confinement. In the mornings he would sit by the fence and watch the traffic go by. At sundown he would do the same thing as though appreciating the beauty of the changing lights. At nights I would rouse him from sleep to give him cheese like the chocolate placed on the pillow in the nice hotels when they turn down the bed. I waited for him to crawl out from under the dump truck, worried that if there was an earthquake he would be crushed. He accepted the cheese then wandered back to being sandwiched between the cold earth and the belly of the dump truck.

One day, Soul came to ask me, “Do you want the dog?”. I said yes. He would do it for a fee. I said I’ve already offered $500 to the owner to take the dog from his hands, but he won’t have it. So Soul said he would steal the dog for me if I gave him $600. I didn’t want anyone to break the law. The dog is a personal property. As much as I wanted to free Stuart from his miserable incarceration I couldn’t face up to the consequences of something like that. I emailed Peta (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) about the situation complete with pictures. They replied that the South LA Animal Services is a “tricky” jurisdiction. I surmised that when the Stuart’s owner told me he knew some folks at the Animal Services that they condone the situation. So my next step was to contact the German Shepherd Rescue Society. They were more helpful than Peta. They advised me to report the situation to Animal Services while they also came around to check out the situation. Upon seeing Stuart’s living condition they filed their own complaint to Animal Services.

I was so absorbed by this situation that I talked to anyone and everyone about Stuart. My dental hygienist also called Animal Services and she had the right intuition to call SPCA (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals). Eventually, Animal Services and the SPCA did their own separate investigations and reached out to the owner to fix the problem. They posted letters on the metal fence and buggered the people living next door to the yard to get the owner’s contact information. I started to feel good about the possibility that Stuart would be relieved from having to endure the jail yard. I continued to nurture him with food, water and affection. I was really loving this dog, because he was such a beautiful spirit.

One Saturday morning I had to get up at 4 o’clock to drive my husband to work. On my way back home I had stopped by the yard to say hi to Stuart. It must’ve been around 5 in the summer. The sun was already rising and Stuart was up and sitting by the fence. He looked regal and guru-like as though a Bodhisattva communing with the gods in meditation. When I came to the fence he walked up and rolled on his side, belly exposed. I stroked him and we sat together in silence, comforted by the companionship and friendship. I said I’d be back later. I went home to sleep. I dreamt about Stuart. He and I were frolicking down a hillside of a meadow in a starburst sun. I woke up happy and looked forward to giving him his food and water. I had been experimenting with the law of attraction, and divined that if I imagined it hard enough then I can manifest what I want. I wanted Stuart to be part of my family and to be free. When I returned to the yard, he didn’t come around to eat. He was gone. I worried that he might be hurt somewhere in the yard, and I couldn’t see him or get to him. I searched around and asked people if they knew what happened to Stuart.

It’s been almost 3 months since Stuart disappeared from the junkyard in late August. I called Animal Services and SPCA and was baffled by their response. Both groups said once the dog has been removed from the place then they do not follow up on his condition. I felt I knew what it must be like for a parent to have a missing child, not knowing their offsprings whereabouts or condition. The child has gone missing. Missing is a deep longing for reuniting. I’ve since tried to reconcile myself with living without knowing what happened. I still call Animal Services to find out what’s happened, but they’ve turned a deaf ear to my inquiries because they’re too busy with other cases. I wonder how many missing cases they’ve accumulated. The SPCA officer has also closed the case. Call back, I’m told, if I see the dog turn up at the junkyard again.

Stuart the German Shepherd in his Jail Yard

Be Aware

By Analyn Revilla

At dinner last night, my husband said, ‘how lucky we are to have so much food.’ I asked where his comment came from, because we were talking about something different. ‘It’s all related,’ he said. He observed that I had refilled my wineglass; we were talking about the probability that this might be the last Thanksgiving for two of our friends, because of cancer; we remembered that it was at our home where another friend had celebrated their last Thanksgiving before dying from a heart attack. ‘Don’t tell anyone that,’ he teased ‘or nobody will come.’ All joking aside he recognized that we were blessed with the company of friends, family and we can gather and celebrate with plentiful of good food and spirits. He said, ‘just be aware.’

‘Awareness’ seems to be popping up in books I’ve been reading, conversations I’ve engaged in and in practicing something religiously like yoga and meditation. In metaphysical writings by Eckhart Tolle, Deepak Chopra and BKS Iyengar they describe awareness as the true self. It’s always there, but it is overshadowed by the eye of the ego, the one we identify with as “I am” this or that.

When I’m writing I’ve started to sift through the impulse of the words. Is it my ego expressing itself, or is it my consciousness (awareness) that’s speaking? I’ve been struggling with my identity since I quit my long-time career in a corporation. I wonder if I’m reconnecting to my truth or if I’m reassembling what I am. I’ve experimented with burning my ‘stream of consciousness’ writing based on the advice of John Rogers (of “Spiritual Warrior”). His idea is that ‘free-form writing (with a pen and paper) is a kinesthetic activity: The neural impulses from the fingers are sent back to the brain so that writing actually releases and records the patterns of the unconscious… called ‘beach balls’, those things we have suppressed for a long long time and have expended energy to keep under the surface.” Following the free-form writing then “do not read it over. Rip up what you have written and burn it”. He recommends not to read over and look for the beautiful writing bits, because the energy and negativity released onto the paper can return to you if you reread it.

I tried this exercise of free-form writing and burning it up, and it wasn’t easy to do the second part. I’ve been journaling since I was a teenager, and I’ve hauled my collection of notepads and diaries in different shapes and sizes wherever I’ve camped. I thought about Anais Nin’s diaries and wondered if she had ever considered or experimented with burning her writing. When I’m doing stream of consciousness writing it’s a lot of crap that comes out. Often, I’ve come to accept, that I write to normalize my mind, body and spirit. It’s all these parts of me that are competing for self-expression without fear of judgement. Writing is an exploration and not necessarily the truth of what is. It’s a process of seeking out the truth.

I remember two occasions when someone invaded my privacy by reading my journals on two separate occasions. The first was when I was breaking up with my first husband. He tore the red hard-covered journal from my hands and looked for ‘evidence’. The evidence being my thoughts. The other occasion of invasion of my privacy was when I asked a friend to clean up the hard drive of my Sony Vaio and he came upon some stream of consciousness writing. When I came back from Japan my ‘friend’ was cool and distant towards me. It was much later in the relationship he divulged reading my writing. I tried to explain to him that it was just stream of consciousness stuff – things I’m working out.

Anyways, I’m still on the bench as to the validity of ‘truth’ in free-form (‘stream of consciousness’) writing. It’s a dance between my ego and my awareness. It’s all of me that is coming together to confer what is the truth. This truth can shift based on the parameters at hand. It’s very much aligned to the principles of the physics of quantum mechanics and relativity. There is truth in both sides of the argument. The shift of which is truer than the other is the degree of awareness. I can be convinced that your argument against mine is allowable based on how illumined my mind is to your perspective. And this can happen on your side of the camp where your awareness shifts and you can say ‘you’ve got a point’.

I’ll tie this all up with a link to a Youtube video of a song written by Burt Bacharach & Hal David. By the way, I was so lucky to have the opportunity to watch Burt Bacharach perform his music live at UCLA last summer. The guy is a legend whose music spans 6 decades and he’s still writing cool tunes. The song “Be Aware” was written to be sung by Barbara Streisand, but I like Dionne Warwick’s version better. Here it is: “Be Aware” written by Burt Bacharach & Hal David; sung by Dionne Warwick

“Be Aware”

When the sun is warm where you are
And it’s comfortable and safe where you are
Well it’s not exactly that way
All over

And
Somewhere in the world
Someone is cold, be aware.
And while you’re feeling young
Someone is old, be aware.
And while your stomach is full
Somewhere in this world
Someone is hungry
when there is so much
should anyone be hungry?

When there’s laughter all around me
and my family embraces surround me
If I seem to be forgetful
Remind me

That
Somewhere in the world
People are weak, be aware.
And while you speak your mind
Others can’t speak, be aware.
And while your children sleep
Somewhere in this world
The child is homeless
When we have so much
Should any child be homeless?
Homeless?

No, not even one child!
Be aware…

Heat is Transformative

By Analyn Revilla

The best temperature to heat milk to is 140 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s the optimal temperature for ‘milking’ the flavor out of the moo juice, because it’s when the sugar (lactose) has been broken down to the simple sugars of sucrose & glucose. To go higher in temperature breaks down the sugar further to its less than sweetest point. Milk also has fat and protein. The temperature rising breaks down the chains of protein molecules which can either blend with the melted fat or go out into the air to escape the water. Have you noticed the rim of bubbles as the milk goes up in temperature – and if you happened to turn away during the critical moment – the whole thing inflates like a hyperbole’d soufflé.

So it was at 2 this morning when I decided to make hot chocolate after the dog woke me up with its pacing to let me know it needs to go out. I’ve been an addict of hot cocoa lately. It’s just a phase (I think) with the weather being cold and the season getting festive. I was contemplating adding a splash of Cointreau into my cocoa. Then my mind wandered about the transformative property of heat as I waited for the magic. I whipped the milk with the chocolate, played with the temperature knob impatient to have my cocoa.

My writing can be impatient too. I want magic without the work of blood and guts. In writing the journey is about the transformation. I write because I’m curious about something. In my exploration I can transform my perspective. In story telling the journey is a transformative experience for both the writer and the audience with the vehicle of change being the plot, the characters and the process. In cooking it’s also the cast of the ingredients and the process of applying the heat that transforms everything into a magical melange.

Heat isn’t just a physical property. There’s heat when there’s interaction between the two sexes. There’s heat when there’s a debate between opposing camps. Heat transforms life. Without the light and warmth of the sun there wouldn’t be life on the third rock from the sun. Another concept of heat is used in yoga. “Tapas” (not the delightful Spanish word for appetizer or snack) is a Sanskrit word meaning “to burn”, originating from “tap”. There are yogic breathing exercises that uses bodily locks (akin to lifting the pelvic floor like Kegel exercises) to burn impurities in the body. Tapas is a philosophy dictated in the yoga bible, Patanjali’s “Yoga Sutras”. It is through tapas – the fiery discipline, passion and courage – that impurities can be burned off physically, mentally and emotionally to regenerate life like nature’s wisdom of forest fires to recycle and give new life to the earth.

“A worthy aim makes life illumined, pure and divine. Without such an aim, action and prayer have no value. Life without tapas is like a heart without love.” – BKS Iyengar

Here’s another example of heat… Check out this solo from Monte Montgomery with his song “All On Men”. He’s cooking something soulful on his Alvarez guitar https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8KiUnGVOY1A ; at around the 5 minute mark of this video he turns up the heat. Watching an artist unleash that passion in his instrument is transformative. It makes me aspire to that height; it makes me want to be in the presence of the guitar god like him. I believe this is one of the attractions of going to live performances because its transformative to be part of the magic making. It’s the reason we also gather for rituals of the holidays because it renders the ordinary to extraordinary; a meal isn’t just something to get through. It’s the preparation and the celebration of life which renders it holy and sacred.

A gathering of bodies generates heat. Friction generates heat. Zeal and passion is heat. In what seams like the bleak and lifeless cold of winter there’s heat in the DNA of the trees that knows to “turn on” when the conditions are just right. So how do I turn on the heat in my writing? The question contains the answer – Patanjali’s sage advice is to tap, tap, tap on the keyboard through discipline, passion and courage. This practice of discipline, passion and courage is love. The secret to good cooking is love; and the love of doing what we do is what transforms something good into something soulful that aspires our spirit to align to our highest self.

But first, another sip of hot cocoa with a dash of Cointreau.

Ghost in the Warehouse

by Chelsea Sutton

Possession has been on my mind for the last year. Possession of the spirit, of the body, and possession of one’s own art. How to possess a thing, and how to let it go.

Since last fall, I’ve been working with fellow playwright Lisa Dring to write an immersive, site-specific show with Rogue Artists EnsembleKaidan Project: Walls Grow Thin, an adaptation of ancient Japanese ghost stories set in an old warehouse.

This was not our intention. The project came to us sideways, yet naturally. Like we were meant to work on it together.

From Kaidan Project: Walls Grow Thin. Photo by Rebecca Bonebrake.

Kaidan is a project that has long been brewing in the bowels of Rogue Artists Ensemble and East West Players—the idea itself was never ours, though the words, the shape, the adaptation of the stories themselves certainly were born of our brains. You can blame a lot of it on us.

But true possession of the work, so to speak, was already in question from the beginning. We were asked to take this on. The ownership of the stories were transferred to us, were lent to us, but it has never been ours alone, which has its own kind of freedom.

All stories are borrowed, lent, and passed along, in one way or another.

As the project progressed, we began to focus our main story on a single woman, Kana Mori—a woman who is very much possessed literally by a spirit and emotionally by a dark past. Kana’s journey—in which she loses control, fights for possession of her own will, struggles to center herself in an ever-changing landscape—began to mirror our own experience as writers. Not only were we in deep collaboration with a creative group of designers and actors with their own points of view about what the show should be, but we were coming to terms with the role of the audience in the piece. This is, first and foremost, an immersive theatre experience—meaning the audience is part of the story. They are active in what is going on, which makes Kaidan the audience’s play as well. Our possession over the play was schizophrenic on its best days.

From Kaidan Project: Walls Grow Thin. Photo by Rebecca Bonebrake.

We labored over every word, every beat (just ask our lead actresses, who may have memorized nothing short of 20 versions of their monologues), every transfer of information. We threaded the connective tissue lightly, then sharply, then hit the audience over the head with it, then lightly again. We argued for days about two or three words in the ending scene.

And yet. And yet. And yet.

In the end, we had to let it go. All shows always end up belonging to the actors after opening night, and to the audience. But here, with Kaidan Project: Walls Grow Thin, this is even more pronounced. The actors and audiences are actively engaging with it every night. No one person has the same experience. Some retain the words we sculpted, others are focused on the mask design, others are wondering how long they are going to sit in the dark and if a ghost is sneaking up behind them. Others will remember the moment they had candy with a monk, and nothing else.

From Kaidan Project: Walls Grow Thin. Photo by Rebecca Bonebrake.

I stand outside the warehouse at the box office. I welcome guests, fret about tickets and audience numbers (we can only fit 12 people per performance). I can’t even hear what is going on inside. But that’s okay. It is no longer mine.

In the end, with all art, we cannot fully possess what we create if we are going to share it with others. It doesn’t mean we don’t have a voice, or something to fight for, or are free from blame when something isn’t perfect.

But sometimes it is better to swallow the idea of full possession. Lisa and I wrote something that is a piece of us—but now it belongs to you. We’re just ghosts in the warehouse.

Kaidan Project: Walls Grow Thin has extended through November 19. Visit RogueArtists.org for information and tickets.

The FPI Files: LA Broads – Doing More Than Just Talking

LA FPI is pleased to be partnering with our friends at Broads’ Word Ensemble for LA Broads, a reading festival of short plays by (go figure!) LA female playwrights, directed by women. We love Broads’ Word – a group of femmes who truly walk the walk – and are looking forward to hearing stories of “perseverance, recovery, and unconventional podcasts.” We also (of course!) wanted to find out more about the writers. So we handed it over to the Broads’ Word ladies to come up with questions, and put them to the six ladies with works in the festival: Nayna Agrawa (Slut), Tiffany Cascio (Popcast & About Your Mother),  Allie Costa (How I Knew Her), Aja Houston (Remembrance), Uma Incrocci (Roadside Alice) and Starina Johnson (Border Towns & All Kinds).

Broads Word Ensemble: What’s your experience been like, being an playwright (who happens to be a woman) in Los Angeles?

Nayna Agrawal

Nayna Agrawal: Humbling! Particularly as a chubby Asian gal with a mustache.

Tiffany Cascio: I have found the theatre scene in Los Angeles to be very welcoming. I moved here four years ago and was lucky to meet the wonderful and supportive playwrights and actors of LAFPI & PlayGround LA right away. This year I participated in Hollywood Fringe which opened my world up to even more fabulous theatre makers, including the Broads’ Word Ensemble team, so I definitely feel like I’m part of a community now. I’m incredibly inspired by them and feel very encouraged to keep writing!

Allie Costa: I’ve been a performer and a storyteller since day one. As a kid, if I wasn’t acting, singing, or dancing, I was writing, reading, or directing. The same can be said today. There’s nothing I love more than being on set or on stage. I moved to Los Angeles to pursue my career because there are multiple opportunities here for multi-hyphenates. I am grateful for those who have paved the way, and I try to pay it forward and hire other women every chance I get.

Aja Houston: I am blessed to be a part of a great cohort of talented, supportive grad students at USC. I love having the safe space to create fearlessly. Since being in Los Angeles, for a year now, I have had a play commissioned for a rehearsed reading at Playwright’s Arena and a short play, Floating on Credit,  published by The Dionysian Literary Magazine. I am still very aware that as a Black female playwright there is a lot of work to do and I am more than up to the task!

Uma Incrocci

Uma Incrocci: Although I’m an LA native, I’m new to playwriting in LA as my writing has only been produced in New York so far. I’m excited to be kicking off my Los Angeles experience with this reading!

Starina Johnson: I’ve somehow managed to surround myself with very thoughtful, supportive, and positive people in the world of Los Angeles playwrights. I think I’ve been very lucky in that regard.

Broads’ Word: In 6 words or less, what are your plays about?

Nayna: Post-abortion, practicing English to Wheel of Fortune

Tiffany: Love, loss and podcasting. And family secrets spilled.

Allie Costa

Allie: Strangers cross paths in a graveyard.

Aja: A couple’s rituals of grief.

Uma: First woman to drive across America

Starina: For Border Towns – Living. And for All Kinds – Being true to yourself.

 Broads’ Word: How did this topic come up for you and evolve into this play?

Nayna: Personal experience (sigh).

Tiffany: Popcast was my response to people labeling the dumped “crazy,” just because they can’t get over their exes.  And  family secrets and “choosing” your family is something I write about quite a bit; About Your Mother was me having fun with that.

Allie: The idea for this script came to me while I was watching the television show Rectify. There was a scene in which the main character visited a graveyard, and I thought, What if someone had been at the grave when he arrived? And the rest is history.

Aja Houston

Aja:  I wrote this play four years ago because I needed healing from the trauma of the killings of so many black boys like Trayvon Martin. I wanted to assert their humanity, their souls, their right to love, their right to live, and to be more than a body to be discarded like refuse.

Uma: At the Smithsonian, I noticed this small plaque about Alice Huyler Ramsey – the first woman to drive across the USA. There was this amazing photo of her and the other women who made the trip in 1909, in an open car on a dusty road in their dresses and flowered hats. I quickly became fascinated with her and her story.

Starina: Border Towns was a concept I’d had for awhile, but couldn’t quite figure out how to make it work. It was a short play notice that made me realize the best way to put the idea on the page.

Starina Johnson

The story the doctor tells at the end is 100% true; I actually said that to one of the resident doctor’s when my mother was dying and made him cry. I still feel really bad about that. I don’t think anyone likes making people cry, but I like to think that conversation with me gave him a different perspective on the concept of treating patients.

All Kinds actually started out as a short film that I thought would have more impact as a play. I like to think of terrible situations then try to figure out what could possibly make that situation worse. For me this is the worst case scenario for these characters.

Broads’ Word: Do you have any upcoming productions or news to share? And if LA theatermakers want to reach out about your plays, where would they find more information about you?

Nayna: I just had a reading (on October 8th) at the Bootleg Theater of Catcall, a full length play. For more, visit  Naynaagrawal.com.

Tiffany Cascio

Tiffany: No new productions yet, but hopefully soon. And please do reach out! I’m @tiffanycascio on Twitter and my website is tiffanycascio.com.

Allie: My plays Unfinished Business and Safe Distance were both selected for The Fear Festival, running October 20th through October 22nd at Roebuck Theater in New York City.  For more info, visit www.alliecosta.com, connect @allieacts  or find my plays here: newplayexchange.org/users/995/allie-costa

Aja: I have a developmental production at The Inkwell Theatre of my play Journey to Alice, in February 2018. My website is www.ajahouston.net.

Uma: I organize a monthly reading series of new plays and screenplays at For Actors By Actors, an acting school in Hollywood. We are always looking for new scripts to read and would love to hear from LA writers. My screenplay Kris & Noelle (a holiday movie about how Santa and Mrs. Claus first met) will be performed on December 10th. Visit umaincrocci.com.

Starina: My short play, Static, is featured in NEO Ensemble Theatre’s production Tales from the Scrypt, running October 6th-22nd at The Underground Theatre. Tickets and more information are available here: www.neoensembletheatre.org  And for more information about me, go to www.StarinaJohnson.com or www.ChickPeaProductions.com

Broads’ Word Ensemble’s Executive Director Tara Donovan produces LA Broads; the plays are directed by Elkin Antoniou, Lesley Asistio, June Carryl, Gloria Iseli, Rachel Manheimer & Rasika Mathur.  Performances are Saturday, October 14th at 8:00 pm and Sunday, October 15th at 2:00 pm at the Flight Theater at The Complex Stages in Hollywood. For tix and info visit www.BroadsWordEnsemble.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.

Want to hear from more women artists? Make a Tax-Deductible Donation to LA FPI!

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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.

 

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