Category Archives: playwriting

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!


In The Lobby

I am a box office manager at a theater.  Most of the time, I can handle everything with ease – maybe do a little playwriting during a shift, maybe get in a little reading – loved A Gentleman In Moscow – EXCEPT for twice a year when there is a Children’s Show.

The Youth Show has always had about 20 to 25 children in it – the current production has 36, ages 8 to 14 years – and they are wonderful. They work very hard with energy and joy, shepherded about by a few teenagers, and they continue to amaze me. During the rehearsal period, which uses the entire theater – the rehearsal room, the patio, the auditorium and the lobby, I can hear incessant drumming and lines read and songs sung and one day, somewhere in there, enjoyed the synopsis of Titus Andronicus on someone’s phone – EEW, SO GROSS!  Later on, I found out 13 facts about Frederick Douglas because one of the girls was writing a paper on him and my computer was up and running. A small girl told me that 2 negative minus 2 negative is 2 positive. Who knew?

The children are supported by their exceptionally hard working and cheerful parents who build the sets, make the costumes, do the makeup, serve the food and clean up and on and on. And it’s all volunteer.

However, I don’t know if most people know this, but children have not only parents and grandparents but uncles and aunts and school teachers and school friends and neighbors and most of them want to come to one or two or three of the shows or maybe to all of them.  Some people will reserve 20 tickets at a time.  But the parents who book the tickets are dealing with people who change their minds!

And even though we have listed only 70 seats a performance on the online site – an inefficient operation called Ticket Leap – so that we won’t sell out, when those are gone, the rumor immediately goes round that the show is SOLD OUT even when there are 125 seats in the theater. The parents’ pain is palpable. NO!!!!

I am in a booth that is open to the lobby and inevitably when I come in to work, a parent will follow me. I can be taking off my jacket, putting down my purse, opening the place up and someone will say to me, “I know you’re not open yet but do you have two tickets for the Sunday matinee? Ideally, I’d like four.” There will be somebody behind her who says, “Isn’t that show sold out?” and the first person will say, “How would she know? She’s not even open yet!” And I will say, “That show is sold out,” and will hear “You’re kidding me. Right?” Wrong.

The lobby is adjacent to the box office – there is no door or window separating it – and the crowd is LOUD so that the person shouting through the box office window at show time from outside can’t be heard. Over the years, I’ve become somewhat adept at lip reading but am not always sure what’s been said. Opening night is the most chaotic but you would think after the searching for seats and the fear that we won’t have enough, that everybody would be in and happy by at least ten minutes after curtain – when someone will rush in from the auditorium and demand an answer to “So when did we allow reserved seating?!!!!”

After a stint, I lie in bed, thinking about the Monarch Resort Hotel in Pacific Grove just a block from the sea. I’m there, with my husband, watching the flickering embers from the room fireplace and contemplating the May arrival of the Monarch butterflies, which will fill an adjacent lot – thousands of them – none making a sound. It’s a beautiful dream, broken only by the sound of my husband, who teaches school, muttering in his sleep. “Sit down,” he barks.

In the Monarch Sanctuary

Balance the Art…

by Robin Byrd

What are you working on?  That’s a question every artist hears and asks themselves a lot.  My answer to that question for the last 10 months has been “everything but my art.”  So much so that I have overworked myself to the point of illness.  I have not had the flu for over 20 years and this past week, I have been under the weather, medicating per doctor’s order for flu-like symptoms.  I am so annoyed with myself.  I am supposed to be practicing balance.  It used to be my way of life and now I am fighting to get back there.  True, I have lost a lot this year and the pressure has sent me into a work-away-the-pain-mode but it doesn’t work away the pain, not really, you’re just tired.

What am I working on?  Me writing…writing something every day because writing is the best thing I’ve found for pain.  I can’t believe I forgot that… even for a moment.

Balance the art…

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.

Five Things I Would Write More About if My Toddler Would Let Me…

By Tiffany Antone

Hot jelly and biscuits, is there a lot to talk about!

A few weeks months longish time ago, when the LAFPI crew asked if I’d like to get back on the blogging bandwagon, I said “Hell, yes!” because I was feeling productive and all kinds of mouthy with super important sh*t to say.  But now my week is here, and it’s almost too much because Little Black Dress INK’s final ONSTAGE lineup from 2017 has a reading on Jan 15, and then a bunch of this year’s ONSTAGE semi-finalists have readings all over the place on Jan 21 as part of International Women’s Voices Day, (oh, I run Little Black Dress INK), plus the Spring semester starts on Weds, and I have a letter of rec to write, revisions to do, and a toddler to keep track of…


So I don’t have time to write the deep, thoughtful, life-changing post I intended to.  If I could, though, I would probably have some witty/deep things to say about the following:

The Golden Globes

Were they feminist enough?  Too feminist (is that even a thing??) Will Oprah be our new president?  Was that woman from 50 Shades of Grey giving Angelina Jolie side-eye during Jennifer Aniston’s speech?  I mean, I don’t have cable, but the news coverage is enough to make me want to stuff cotton in my ears and unplug the router for good.

What’s that you say?  You don’t believe me?  You’re saying that if I haven’t stuffed cotton in my ears and unplugged the router after the monstrous orange shit-show of a year we just wrapped, that I must be engaging in a healthy hyperbolic outburst and nothing more?

You’re probably right.

Our President

Ugh.  Next!

I’m trying it out.  Anyone else write for that site?  I like some of the writers a lot…  Maybe, if I write some truly epic stuff there, I’ll get more traffic on Medium than I do on my personal blog… sh*t, I don’t have a personal blog anymore?  Why not?  Oh yeah, because I don’t have time…


Heeeyyyyyy, do you think, MAYBE, that I might have a problem with over-committing myself to things?  I mean, could I possible suffer from (faux gasp) Artistic FOMO?

(Yes.  The answer is yes, yes I do.)


I love my son.  He is the apple of my eye, the sugar on my cornflakes, the laughter in my ears… but he’s also the little tyrant screaming at me to escort him to the washing machine twelve times a day, where he will sit for interminably long periods of time flipping the dials around in abject pleasure, waiting for my eyes to gloss over with boredom so that he can QUICKPUSHTHESTARTBUTTON! before I catch his hand with mine and remind him that he is not yet allowed to do the laundry on his own, and can we please go back to the living toy room now so that mommy can sit on the couch and check her Facebook for a hot second?

New Year’s Resolutions

Are for chumps.  And perfectionists. And people with stronger will-power than I possess.  So be nice to yourself, even if you’ve already failed at whatever ridiculous demands you put on yourself last week.  I signed up for Red Theater’s playwriting challenge last November and didn’t even make it past the first day.  The FIRST DAY.  Sometimes you just have to shrug your shoulders and tell your expectations to take a hike.

BUT, Seriously…

I’m not too busy to tell you you should check out one of our ONSTAGE readings!  If you’re in Los Angeles on Jan 15, make sure you swing by the Zephyr Theatre for the final reading of our 2017 Female Playwrights ONSTAGE Festival: Hot Mess.

And if you’re in Los Angeles (or Bemidji,MN; or Columbus, OH; or Magnolia, AR; or Milwaukee, WI; or Prescott, AZ) on Jan 21st, check out one of our Female Playwrights ONSTAGE Festival: Volume Control readings!  They’re sure to be a hoot/make you feel the deep feels (and all that other cathartic magic that theatre does) PLUS you’ll be supporting International Women’s Voices Day, which is all kinds of awesome!  Here’s a LINK for more info.

Tune in later this week for more words/sentences composed by me (along with—hopefully—some deeper thoughts)




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


2018: Full Moon













I watched the full moon rise on New Year’s Day here in Los Angeles.

It seemed a comforting presence after a year of loss and gain, and I could feel how much I’ve changed just by seeing it again.

2017 was a year of firsts for me: First production of a play I wrote, first hip replacement, first draft of a play based on some rumored family history.

And that first production of my play changed me.

After many years of writing and workshops and reading, I finally had the opportunity for a script of mine to be produced, and it was a surreal experience. I had an incredible director, who was able to see more things in my script than I did. And I was able to travel to the theater to see the auditions, and the table read, and some rehearsals, and the final dress and the opening night. The progression was so…wondrous. I saw the young woman in the play blossom on stage into a character with humor and gumption and vulnerability. She brought things to the role that really delighted me. I was reminded about the gift and generosity of actors.

I also saw the leading young man in the play bring his character to an unexpected performance: he was hilarious. I didn’t know how hilarious the character was until he showed me. A lot of this I bring to the actor’s vulnerability and charm (he doesn’t even know how charming he is – which is why is so charming). But it was also the director’s instincts to pull out this performance – she knew how to bring the subtly and outrageous behaviors together. Her vision of the characters brought them to life – and I know how lucky I am to have had her direct this script.

I didn’t expect to feel such a sense of loss after the play closed, these characters had been running around in my head for years, and then they showed up, celebrated the humor and romance of my imagination, and then they left.

I also had to cope with the focus and limelight of being the playwright, and I found that I need to shoulder that a bit better. I was overwhelmed by the positive experience, it was hard to take it all in. On closing night, the director brought me onstage, and I was able to stand onstage with the cast and the director and bask in the limelight. (Even now as I write this it doesn’t seem real, but there were photographs, so I know I didn’t make that up.)

So a dream came true last year – my work was seen and I heard an audience laugh and groan and applaud the characters.

That was a wonderful part of last year.  I’m so grateful to be able to have had that experience, and it means writing the next script.

More on that later.







I’m the woman in black, with the cane and roses and the lost look on her face.

Cynthia Wands

Holiday writing

The holidays are a time for rest, relaxation and reflection. It’s also a time for travel for some, especially since you live far away from family. This year instead of spending it with family, I decided to take time to finish some writing and house sit for a friend. A quiet three weeks of walking the dog and taking care of me.

The first days in a new city my head was abuzz with how I needed to get out and visit the city. Thoughts and story ideas that normally fill my groggy morning head were non-existent. Long walks in the park with the dog still gave rise to no new advancements in my stories that I promised myself that I needed to finish. Instead I turned to further research. Which, for me, leads to a rabbit hole of clicks and a gazillion tabs being opened on my laptop and even more story ideas.

I’ve always wondered what people do when they get a writing residency. Sure, some people write. But if you don’t have a daily practice of writing, sitting down at your desk with either your computer or notebook takes a lot of willpower. Even the thought of writing a blog post filled me with dread. I can’t even finish, much less start a thought of my own, what was I thinking?

So, I read. That can’t get me into trouble. I began reading a Playwriting seminar book, which gave me a place to start. Usually, when starting a new project I have a purpose. To submit to a particular company. But this writing, just for me, seemed frivolous. I kept reading. The further I got in the chapter, the deeper I was descending into a new rabbit hole. Structure. It stopped me dead in my thoughts. What? Now I’m thinking of how to write a play and adding to my already picky self editor, and I’m only on page 2. I am reviewing all my plays that I have started and judging them from a mere few scenes. I just need to finish one story, that’s all I-

by Jennifer Bobiwash


by Constance Strickland

Authenticity: Letting the work go.

This is the word that I have lived with and tried to honor over the past few months. The word has become an ode of sorts as my theatre company’s new piece Medea: A Soliloquy or the Death of Medea has undergone a workshop.

Theatre Roscius is me. Although I am lucky to have a loving partner whose consistent help is often needed – for as we know in the theatre the work is continuous, at times overwhelming, when trying to do so much alone, no matter how satisfying or beyond worth the work is.

Entering my first workshop, the process has been a gift as well as a huge adjustment for an independent theatre artist who produces work not so easily defined, who has no artistic home. Nor are there consistent sponsors, donors or a team with whom I work with on a daily basis. Nor is my theatre company a nonprofit… so I’ve learned to do the work my way by any means necessary. Which has its faults while allowing room for magic to manifest in an organic fashion that lacks structure.

Yet the workshop process requires order, roles, structure… all that do not necessarily come together when you are playing all the roles. I have gotten used to writing, producing, directing along with acting in my work. When the work takes a toll on the self it does not allow your best work to shine through. One can also miss what makes theatre so beautiful: The collaboration, the merging and discovery of ideas.

So I have practiced during this workshop giving the work away in order to let it fly. It has not been easy. I have had to ask myself if I am trusting enough? Am I giving pieces of myself, money, giving time, taking time and not trusting the ensemble and director fully? Will I allow the director’s vision to flourish?  Can I allow the piece to develop beyond my images? It has not been easy for me to answer these questions.

During these forty plus fast paced hours of workshop development, the script has morphed into many faces, with the dialogue and movement just beginning to mold as well as fuse into one, yet the conversation is still being had between the two. I have discovered my strengths as an actor, producer and writer. I’m quick on my feet, my body is strong, I give 110% to the space and can adapt to direction. I have also been told and found my weaknesses. As an actor I can be easily distracted, as a playwright I can be defensive and as a producer I procrastinate and can lead with fear instead of fearlessness.  

Workshop is a rigorous process that has allowed the play to reveal itself in many forms that could not have manifested without the players bodies or our director’s leadership. I reached out to everyone I knew. One woman whom I had never encountered before responded to my email, met, and agreed to helm the work. I’ve learned from this gesture deeply when approaching the work inside and out.

Ultimately as playwright I’m excited, uncomfortable, and honored that our director Caitlin Hart, Artistic Director of the Vagrancy Theatre Company along with the players: Carolyn Deskin, Madison Nelson and Meredith Brown have embarked on this experiment together and that we will have a chance to share Medea with an invited audience. This opportunity to hear feedback from audience members on January 22nd after sixty-two hours of development will be quite rewarding. 

As the new year approaches I will not let fear lead the work. None of us must. So let us all Go Big & Be Fearless this 2018!