Category Archives: playwriting

Happy New Year!

by Leelee Jackson

Celeste once told me, “Leelee, your life change every week.” 

She said this after our sociology class when we learned about the perpetual violence of the prison industrial system and I said, “The reading for today’s lecture changed my life.” And it did. However, I hadn’t realized I said it so often but my dear friend (who listens to me even when I don’t listen to myself) picked up on this pattern. And it’s true, I do change a lot. I think my life changes every day. And to be honest, I enjoy that flexibility. Change is valuable. Change is good. That sounds common, chiche, easy, but it is so true. However, change is very hard. Sometimes, I want to change and can’t and other times, I don’t care to change yet I am completely transformed. The most consistent force of change I’ve experienced in my life (other than death) has to be reading. When I read a good ass book, article, or essay I start to think different and talk different and to me, it feels so damn good. I’m offered language and gain insight from someone else’s discovery of new and old worlds. I also gain insight to myself, insight that I would not have access to without spending intentional time with words. And it’s hard to change someone. Most people will say it’s impossible.

“You can’t make someone change if they don’t want to change.” 

But that’s not true! I’ve approached books as skeptic, critic. Prepared to find error with all the skills I paid handsomely for in the university. I’m never trying to change, I just do. I didn’t read as a child. To be honest, I didn’t know how to read. I would remember books by heart. Books like The Stinky Cheeseman. I’d study every page intensely, grateful for illustrations (and it’s a paradoy picture book about how stupid fairytales are, even for kids). I remembered each story from times teachers or daycare staff read it out loud (after I demanded of course). But I don’t have strong memories of reading the words myself until I came across the book as an adult. I didn’t know how to read. Not really. I could read words but in 3rd grade, I read at a 1st grade level and my comprehension was shot. It was so bad my parents figured I better get checked out. They weren’t sure if I was just actin’ up in class or if this was serious. I was diagnosed with ADHD. That explained why it was so hard for me to hold information. Why I would struggle to read a sentence out loud and forget it as the words escaped my mouth. Gone, as if it were never there. 

And then it happened. 

13 years old, I met Lorraine. 

It was in Oakland California at Calvin Simons Middle school. Though the copy of A Raisin in the Sun had no photos, I remember deviating from my normal group of friends and retreated to a desk in the back. This class was like Sister Mary Clarence’s music class from Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit  but before she turned it around. It was wild. But I found something… someone. And she had changed me. I have no idea why I took to that book more seriously than the others our english teacher tried to get us to read. It would be another 9 years before I picked up a different  play (Doubt by John Patrick Shanley). I had no relationship to theatre at the time nor had I ever read a book on my own. But, Hansberry demands attention and I had no choice but to give it to her. 

ADHD: Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder 

She achieved what I had been told was impossible. She held me and my deficiencies and showed me I’m wasn’t alone. I can be alright even when things ain’t… alright. At the time, me and my family were living with my grandmother and cousins. A bunch of us slept on the floor in the small three bedroom apartment. In total, there were 9 of us there and this book gave me the space I needed at that time. I read about a family who lived with family. No space, but the 5 of them still managed to have hope, dreams and love for one another. I remember reading some of the scenes faster than others because I wanted to get to the parts with Beneatha. I wanted to be Beneatha so damn bad. My hair, like hers was thick, course, nappy and there was something about her acts of resistance that drew me in and reminded me that it is okay to claim the nappy. Embrace the nappy. That nappy hair is okay. 

Even if you’re judged for it. 

Change is good. 

Most recently, I’ve been changed by Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower and now I’m preparing myself for the revolution and apocalypse.  I’m currently being changed by both Gloria Anzaldùa’s book Borderlands La Frontera the New Mestiza and SOS- Calling All Black People: A Black Arts Movement reader. I take it personal that all of this work was not only created for me to enjoy, but also to grow, learn, and forever be changed. 

Why I Don’t Write

It’s been 5 days or more that this task has been haunting me.  What should I write about? What do I want to write about? A slew of ideas come to me, but I am not able to piece any of it together.  Why? Why? Why?

Oh forget the why’s.  Just do it.

So I pop open my laptop, a dinosaur of a Mac OS 10.6.8.  

First the battery had died so I plugged it in. I am baffled, at first, as to which port the power fits into without ruining the jacks.  Hours later, the green light goes on. Yay! Screen displays, password verification… Uh-oh. Oh sh-t. I type in tentatively a few guesses and the screen responds with a terrifying tremble.  Eventually I do get in, feeling guilt. If I did this more often, then all this would be in my bones. Ah well, it’s a new year, I promise to be better. Tally on.

Click on Pages… another hurdle –  ‘Enter your purchased iWork ‘08 serial number’.  Has it been that long? I’ve either misplaced or tossed out the box.  I should’ve saved the number in a file somewhere. Oh well, another one to work on getting better at.  Continuous improvement, right?

Be resourceful.  Ok, got it. Google Docs!  Click on the Safari icon. What now?  “This version of Safari is no longer supported.  Please upgrade to a supported browser…” I press on, hoping I can fool this stupid software.  I tap on the “W” and pops open a dialog box telling me “Unable to load file. Try to load it again or send an error report.”  a big bold pushbutton “Reload” is below the polite words. I am feeling it, like Captain Pickard. “Make it so, Number 1”. This action clears away the dialog box thus inviting me to tap the next letter “h”, and there it is again – “Reload”.  The booming command reminds me of cannons that I feel like aiming aiming at my screen.

Be patient and calm.  Just do it.

I choose to shift courses and use Chrome.  Click. Search for Google Docs, and click again to find a login screen for my Google account – pinky hovers over the ‘a’ of the keyboard, then press and nothing.  Let’s do this again. Pinky hovers over the ‘a’ then down. Nien. Huh? Okay. I now vaguely remember why I haven’t been using this laptop. The ‘a’ letter is no longer functional.  I ingeniously remembered my ‘work around’ for this problem. Open a virtual page and highlight the letter ‘a’, and copy it to the clipboard. Whenever I need the letter ‘a’ then I do quick “Command+V”, and there’s an ‘a’.

Voila!  Fait accompli.

Now just save this puppy and post it. 

The most unexpected things can inspire one to write.  For me it was the briefest email from a friend who sent me a comic strip, saying that he saw “this” and it reminded him of me.

2020 Resolutions to Keep … or Break

Kitty interviewed Marie Kondo for LA Talks Live on Spectrum Cable.
Do half-written plays spark joy?

by Kitty Felde.

There’s something about a new year. It’s a new start, a “do-over,” a chance to be a better version of ourselves. As playwrights, it’s a good time to set a few goals.

Or not.

May I offer my own Top Ten List for 2020.

1. Stop being so hard on myself.

Last year, there was too much chaos in my life to even think about writing a new play, let alone revising an old draft or sending out scripts. And the fact that there wasn’t enough bandwidth in my brain to think about theatre in 2019 doesn’t mean I’m a bad person or a lousy playwright. Life happens. I vow to do better this year. But if life throws a curveball, I will be forgiving and kind and encouraging: the same way I am to every other writer but myself.

2. Write 500 words a day, five days a week.

I think I can commit to this goal. Five hundred words may not sound like much, but those words add up. They don’t even have to be any good. But as Jodi Picoult famously says, “you can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.”

3. Submit.

The same way you can’t edit a blank page, you can’t get a play produced if you don’t show it to someone. Send it out. Set a goal of 20 rejections in 2020! Or 100 rejections!

4. Look at ALL of my unfinished, bad drafts, ideas. Decide which are worth my time.

This is a great way to cheat. I may not have a new play dying to be written, but I know I have a decent first act in some computer file somewhere. If I can find it, and find a way to finish it, half my work is done. Or I can look at it and decide to trash it and move on. Either way, it feels very Marie Kondo of me to pick up a piece of old writing and ask myself whether it still “gives me joy.”

5. Go see more theatre.

We are blessed with dozens of terrific theatres in Los Angeles. How many have I visited? Not enough.

I know traffic is horrible and most theatres seem to be on the other side of the hill. But last year, I started making the rounds, seeing some terrific shows in 3 new-to-me theatre spaces. I will continue to make my way around town in 2020.

6. Read other people’s plays.

This is not only polite, it’s also a great way to see how other writers construct an evening of theatre.

It’s also a way of creating community. Writing is lonesome work. Knowing that someone else is laboring to create good work is a small comfort. There’s even a Facebook group that reads plays and makes recommendations. So far, I’ve been a lurker in the NPX Challenge Group. This year, I’ll start reading and recommending.

7. Celebrate the small victories.

I need to count all of my blessings, large and small. It may not be a Tony Award, but my day got a whole lot better when my cleaning lady showed me the book report her granddaughter wrote about MY book. I felt like a New York Times bestselling author. Yay.

8. Have coffee with people.

I used to tell my summer interns back in Washington that D.C. was a coffee kind of place. I’ve sat in Starbucks and Caribou Coffee and Coffee Bean stores all over DC, overhearing job interviews, congressional staff meetings, even lobbyist meet and greets. If you want to do business there, you start with “a coffee.”

To re-establish myself here in Los Angeles, I need to follow my own advice and start setting up coffee dates.

9. Think outside the box.

I’ve never really been interested in pop culture. I was the odd kid who organized the “Save Star Trek” campaign in elementary school, got busted in high school for wearing skirts that were too LONG, and became a groupie for “Bonanza” star Pernell Roberts because “every balding middle aged actor should have one diehard fan.”

So why did it surprise me to look at everything I’ve written over the years and discovered that none of it was “top ten list” material. It’s all quirky, quiet, and important to me.
So why am I kicking myself that none of my work is being picked up by Signature Theatre in New York or South Coast Rep in Costa Mesa or any of the other well-established theatres across the country?

I realize that my longest running play isn’t being performed in a theatre at all. It’s a commission I got to write a one-man show about Theodore Roosevelt’s youngest son Quentin and it’s been running every weekend for years, playing on the sidewalks around the White House. I’ve directed plays performed in people’s living rooms, written a play performed in a D.C. National Park that celebrates water lilies, and this past summer, penned an audio play (THE FINA MENDOZA MYSTERIES) that was taped in a library, the L.A. Zoo, and in the middle of a jazz concert in a park.

This year, I vow to continue to look for unusual spaces where I can put my work before an audience. Got any suggestions?

10. Be Persistent. And if the door keeps getting slammed in your face, try another door. Or keep knocking.

For most of 2019, I’ve been trying to get the LA Public Library to carry my book “Welcome to Washington, Fina Mendoza.” It’s carried by lots of other library systems (L.A. County and the DCPL to name but two) but I’ve been hitting my head against the way trying to get LAPL to put the book on their shelves. Today I sent yet another email to their acquisitions person, fully expecting to get yet another rejection. But I asked myself: what did I have to lose? It’s a definite “no” if I don’t follow up. Maybe this time will be different. Maybe.

Five minutes ago, I got a response: “Done!” The book will be on LA Public Library shelves by the end of the month! Maybe 2020 won’t be so bad after all.

Do you have resolutions for 2020 that you’re willing to share?

LEVEL UP


Bet on yourself in 2020. The number one thing I will not allow to occur in 2020 is working with anyone who doesn’t or cannot LEVEL UP! I’m begging you to do the same.

I know more often than not, many of us just want to get the work started and that can make you to reach out to past creative partners, unreliable creators, or make excuses for why you cannot start the work alone instead of trusting yourself and betting on your talent, skills, and network.

The work will always be emotional, yet do not hold yourself back by settling for anything less than your best this decade. It’s vital that you continue to bet on your work. That means not settling on projects that do not capture your heart, for it will not be worth your long days or sleepless nights.

I know leveling up can seem impossible when grant funding is low or nonexistent, when sponsorship is not enough or when the vision of that dream theatre space seems financially unattainable. But keep believing in your work. Leveling up begins with one action that leads you to your next step.

Everyone is in a rush, which often causes a lack of truth and depth within the work. Instead, what manifests are pieces of the truth – a veil between the work and the audience… this new, hurried, smothered truth.

The work need not take years, by any means but allow it to gestate before pushing it out into the world.

Do not give up! Level up!
I’m not saying you need to post more via social media, nor am I saying you need to network at more events. I am saying believe in your ideas, stories, visions… all while moving forward and taking only those with you who can see the bigger picture. The next level.

As Ciara says, “Be your own boss, love yourself, get up and dance. Level up!”

By Constance Strickland

This is me. A chonky, angry seal pillow.

by Chelsea Sutton

It’s been almost exactly six months since I graduated grad school.

I apologize right now to everyone I have interacted with during this time. I have this thing where, when someone asks how you are, I don’t like saying just “fine” or “good,” especially when that’s not true and especially if the question is sincere. I’ve also been told multiple times that not only are my characters WITHHOLDING, so am I.

So unfortunately, in the spirit of being HOLDING or whatever the hell is the opposite of WITHHOLDING, I’ve tried to articulate this feeling of post-grad uncertainty in a multitude of ways. Often this will manifest in extremes: either totally depressing or completely manic.

There have been people I’ve had long meals with who have witnessed the manic. And I’ve apologized afterwards.

I only just apologized on Friday to a new friend and director I’m working with for being so damn negative the ENTIRE length of the times we’ve hung out.

My emotions live in extremes right now, or at least extremes for me. I’m either riding high and so excited about what’s happening, or my life is an endless desert of capital S Sad and I’ve made all the wrong decisions, every time, for every thing.

Which means I’ve been spending much of my time NOT writing and instead looking at animal videos on Facebook. For a brief period over the last six months, in my desperate attempt at finding a job, I even tried to get a part time job walking dogs or taking care of kittens or cats in shelters, or even starting as an apprentice dog trainer because those seemed at least mildly meaningful comparatively when you consider my other career is writing plays no one comes to or no one wants to produce and writing stories no one wants to publish.

And then Facebook starting advertising this product to me:

The algorithm is getting scary.

Obviously, I know how the algorithm knew how many EXACT seal videos I looked at or shared over the last six months. How may seal GIFs I’ve used.

But did the algorithm read my cover letter to the animal shelter in response to their call for a “Cat Caretaker” that I wrote desperately and passionately into Indeed one night? Or the various descriptions of how my 34-years of having dogs around, of feeding dogs, of having a dog die IN MY ARMS should qualify me to be able to walk a few of them around the block for an hour for minimum wage?

Did the algorithm hear ME calling MYSELF names like fat and lazy and talentless?

Did the algorithm see my whiskey-fueled bedtime crying-myself-to-sleep routine?

Because it’s like looking in the mirror. We’re in some uncanny valley territory here where I could buy a life-size version of myself and cuddle with it (angrily) after a hot toddy.

But, in an attempt to be POSITIVE, it seems the algorithm has solved my problem for me of articulation.

What has post-grad been like, you ask?

This. This right here. This is post-grad. This is my life right now. And, I suspect, this is just being a writer, forever and ever.

I am this chonky, angry seal pillow.

The Unpredictability of Story…

by Robin Byrd

This week, I was experimenting with imagery and symbols to find character and story. I approached it like a dump cake or stew, tossing the random images into the pot and stirring. I did not expect the story that unfolded. I did not expect it to come out in poetry nor did I expect the poems to connect over the days. I simply wrote the images I heard or saw. I did not tame the words or dispel the ghosts.

On my journey to write fiercely, I hope I am making progress. This was an interesting week in writing for me.

Thoughts?

By Sunset…

by Robin Byrd

Home


Getting out of these bloody clothes speckled with foliage
Hair’s trying to dread
Can’t stay here either
Got to keep moving
Space too closed in – in this place of whispering walls
Damned if the shower ain’t broke again
Jug filling time if I want to rinse ‘cause what I don’t want to sit in this mess
Looking up at mildew growing across the ceiling
and upper part of the walls
Or down at the filth in the water
I’d have to drain and refill too many times
I want it to come off and stay off and not soak into me
Caking conditioner in my hair, it’ll loosen this shit up, make it easier to wash out

Free but still peeling off the residue of the past

  Wash me Lord, restore me, give me 
  peace and strength to finish the 
  course 

It’s coming off good
Gonna use my new towels then I will break bread to commemorate this day
I have killed goliath and his brothers
I have won the battle and the war

Starving, funny how hungry you get after battles

Frig is broke got to thaw to eat, thank God the stove works


Packing at first light, out of by sunset…

I Need a Shovel…

by Robin Byrd

Which way?
It’s almost midnight
And I just lost my shovel
There is zero visibility in this fog
And it’s rolling
rolling in like gangbusters with diarrhea


Shit everywhere


liquefying in this heat, sticking
like honey on skin
soaking my clothes and hair
Taking up all the air
Congested, I can’t breath anyway except through my mouth
Open to flying particles of fecal matter landing on my tongue and tonsils
I won’t be eating nothing till I can scrub the Hell out of my mouth

It’s above ground if you didn’t know; it ain’t underground no more
It ain’t an imaginary place

I need the shovel. Give me a shovel please

He said he was sorry
He should have begged me to forgive him but it wouldn’t have mattered
I still wanted him gone
Poof…splat..splam….
Gone – like dead gone


If I got to carry this body till the limbs fall off, he got to be dead
And I ain’t doing no backtracking to pick up litter either
Limbs be damned
Rapists need to lose something too


They need to get first class tickets to the fiery pit
That big unknown called Hell
And they need to go covered in hot shit mixed with gasoline


Give them all window seats

and a book of matches

The Chickens Came…

by Robin Byrd

I have not remembered….
I have held my peace and kept time by the PTSD manager on my phone
Been holding it all inside the holes in my teeth
Losing them one by two by three

If silence is the enemy then you are the monster under the bed
Grabbing at my hands, waking me up
So I can never sleep through the night


I refused to remember…
I have pushed that dunghill many a day
to the fourth corner of the earth
And left it there with the full and ugly memory of you and your touch
Nearly comatose for decades by the weight of it all, by weight of you
Hardly breathing
Hardly living, hardly able to think
Above the maddening secret
That Flashbacks never leave you
They mutate like sketchy thoughts after a head injury
Leave you sinking in mire
The sill clinging to your knees and thighs


I have sat in the troubled waters
Broken from the top down
Soaking my big toes and the place between my thighs scarred like burnt skin
And lost dreams
The smell unearthingly foul yet familiar
Bone tired and nodding like an addict mid-fix
Hoping to Forget-it-all
Slowly embracing the lull and hum of stagnation


Then Byron died and the flood came
and the chickens
Well they came home, flatfooted and tough from age
They came home like they belonged to me
3 months later, they are roosting

WHEN A PLAY BECOMES A TWITTER STORM

By Cynthia Wands

Behind the Myth of Benevolence by Titus Kaphar
as seen in the National Portrait Gallery

I’ve been watching the news about “THE SLAVE PLAY”. Friends saw this show when it played off-Broadway, before it’s current run at the John Golden Theatre on Broadway. It’s been fueled by controversy and personal reactions, but the twitter/news storm that I’ve been following came from an audience talk back with the playwright on November 29.

This first video shows a portion of the talk back with the playwright, Jeremy O. Harris, who is addressing a screaming white woman in the audience. It’s a very intense exchange, and it’s created it’s own media storm.

Broadway World: Video of Disruption of THE SLAVE PLAY

This article appeared today, and By Allegra FrankAja Romano, and Constance Grady talk about their reactions to the play.

VOX Article on THE SLAVE PLAY

And then there is another article on the audience member, now called “Talk Back Tammy” on Twitter:

The Mary Sue article on “Talk Back Tammy” at THE SLAVE PLAY

And lastly, there is the Broadway World Chat Board, which now has the audience member listed as “DO NOT SEE THE SLAVE PLAY” heading.

Broadwayworld Chat Board: Do Not See THE SLAVE PLAY

I’ll be following the life of this play; it closes on January 19, 2020. If you happen to see or saw this play, I would love to hear your comments about it.