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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
I loved this story by Karen Zacarias – it seems to resonate with my life right now.
As a writer, writing alone, and as an audience member, who doesn’t always feel included in what I’m watching onstage – I loved her story about moving about in the world, and feeling alone.
Recently I met some friends of friends, through our early theater careers, and we traded names like collected baseball cards. We talked about actors and their personal lives and relationships and gossip from decades ago like it was a soap opera happening now.
It reminded me of how attached I’ve become to stories of the past – and how my writing tends to gravitate to some of my own mythology.
What I love about this Ted Talk – is that Karen Zacarias is not a great storyteller. She’s nervous, trips over herself, loses a word and can’t quite keep the thread of the story going. But she’s a writer, not an actor, so there’s an authenticity that’s so heartfelt.
As I said, I would take a special post to highlight the three co-producers of Breakthrough Reading Series because I believe they deserve so much recognition for what they done started, y’all!
I first met Teresa Huang through a mutual friend and prolific, talented artist and illustrator Nidhi Chanani on her visit to LA. Add to the mix another mutual friend and creatress, the marvelous workhorse Cecil Castelluci, and you know I’m sitting up to pay attention about how I could possibly hang in this magnificent mix.
Over the next few years, I’d see and hear about many of Teresa’s ventures, and what stood out was how she would generously inform her communities about networking opportunities, fellowship and scholarship deadlines, casting notices, and more writing gigs. She doesn’t keep anything to herself. She has literally cultivated her community by giving away what keeps coming back to her. This trait has blown me away and kept me watching and learning from her.
Teresa just wrapped on her second show as a staff writer. In 2020, she’ll be fielding new writing opportunities and finishing up the first draft of her sci-fi romance novel. And of course, she churns out great work in volume making BRS her own gym and playground where all are invited to partake.
When Teresa Huang announces that she is taking what’s in her brain and teaching POC how to write a pilot, you sign up. Or apply for the scholarship. Or attend the showcase. Or get one of the students drunk, make them talk and take notes. I had strong motivation to do all of the above, and in the end, was invited to act in the class’s student showcase at East West Players just this past November.
Teresa is no stranger to the lonely grind of LA and says that what’s kept her going is focusing her energy on what’s important outside of her career aspirations. She also draws upon classic wisdom from some modern-day creators:
“I live by two words – gratitude and tenacity. Tenacity gets me where I want to go and gratitude doesn’t allow me to be angry along the way.” ~ Henry Winkler “Stop complaining and just be undeniable.” ~ Sarah Silverman “Be so good they can’t ignore you.” ~ Steve Martin
This woman. This voice. This cosmic cheerleader for artists. Where do we begin? I met Karen at BRS obviously, and we quickly gravitated to each other because that is one positive energy swirl!
Karen is responsible for penning the first piece I ever saw, a rom-com called IN LIKE FLYNN, when BRS was being held at Tom Bergen’s bar in a packed back room in the summer of 2017. What I witnessed was astonishing: A dashing Asian-American actor playing lead to a gorgeous woman and nobody was batting an eye. It was the most natural thing to this room.
Karen likes and marches towards challenges, and she not only casts with actors of color in mind, she actually writes stories about POC. When she spoke to me about a few scripts she’s got in development, she came off so humble and open. For her process, she will make a point to surround herself with people of different backgrounds so that she can display historical/factual accuracy, pepper in cultural insider gems, and approach with sensitivity. Don’t we want more writers like HERR?
Karen also has a collaborative spirit. Not only was she willing to make some time to give me screenwriting notes on a script I will eventually showcase, she came onboard the crew of “What’s In Front Of You?” – seven beautiful one-acts written and directed by Joe Walsh, also a BRS alum, to bring it to the Broadwater stages, and brought me along with her! Because when Karen Herr has you in mind for something, you say YES!
Melissa is the casting powerhouse of BRS. When you come to our room, introduce yourself to her, and let her work you in to the myriad of roles to fill. One of the biggest highlights for me was when she saw me, her face lit up upon recognition from the previous month and she made her way over to hold my hand and eagerly introduce me to a writer.
She knows this part well because she is a brilliant actress herself. She got her start as a young dancer and singer in Australia, booking the starring role in a major musical against all odds. It’s always a treat for the BRS crowd when she takes a role for herself in a piece or two for the evening.
“I was offered The League which is a completely improvised show – no script at all. When I got the offer I said, ‘Who booked me? I don’t know anyone in that casting office!’ Well it turns out I had auditioned for another office and the associate girl BEHIND THE CAMERA whom I barely remembered MOVED to this new office and literally PUT ME UP FOR THIS based on THAT comedy audition. And it turned out to be a beautiful four scenes … and I got to have the last comedic beat of the episode … So it was a foundation for a new found confidence with comedy from which I went on to book Arrested Development, Shameless and Love (Netflix).”
Most recently, Melissa is starring in and producing a short film called Post Sentence produced by Teresa Huang. It was showcased at BRS and it got a fantastic response. She also recently shot an episode of ABC’s Fresh Off The Boat.
Inspired? Of course you are! If you ever have the chance to hang out with, attend an event with, learn from or jump onboard to offer your services to any of these wonderful women, do it. You will grow personally, professionally, and skip away with a sparkling pep in your step.
The next Breakthrough Reading Series will be held February 5, 2020 at the Broadwater (Main Stage). Tickets are being sold now. See Writer Submission details at the same link.
Rasika Mathur is a comedy actress, writer, and yoga instructor. She has tv/film and stage credits but is most proud of being able to have drinks with all these people while holding a Sprite.
It’s Thanksgiving week, and aside from my health, my family and my friends, I must express gratitude for one very special room in Los Angeles filled with some very special people. That room is Breakthrough Reading Series.
What is BRS?
Breakthrough Reading Series is a room that “supports women and diversity in TV & film by highlighting six stellar writers a month at a cold reading event filled with enthusiastic actors. It’s a powerhouse evening of inspiration and elevation.” Writers submit 10 pages at deadline a few weeks prior. Actors jump up the night of the monthly gathering to play in service to writers hearing their work out loud. The room stands out for one incredible reason – it is warm, supportive and known for being a place where everybody makes everybody else look good.
BRS is the brainchild of Teresa Huang, Karen Herr and Melissa Bickerton. I will be highlighting each of these incredible women in a subsequent post.
By attending their monthly event for the last 2.5 years, I’ve witnessed many actual “breakthroughs” in my career life.
Shifted the Work Ethic
Cut to the year 2017. I thought I was done. Washed up. Burned out, figuratively and literally (I’m looking at you, Thomas Fire). I needed to throw myself into the magical, healing powers of the performing arts I’d grown up with and began studying sitcom acting with Tony Rago over at Scott Sedita Acting Studios. Quickly I realized that I also needed a free (ok, $10) way to keep my skills sharp (hey, comedy school is expensive). And Breakthrough Reading Series became my batting practice.
It was a place to apply technique to scripts, try things out, hit my 1’s and 2’s. (Any DJ’s out there?) To practice being gracious and supportive if I didn’t get cast. To practice asking a writer questions about what she wants, about anything that’s not clear, about how she was inspired to write the piece. To practice introducing people to others. (Ok, don’t flog me, I still need tons of help in this area). This room brought me back to life. This room was my comeback.
Shifted the Schmooze
I have never enjoyed networking. I either left events and classes early, or I’d stick around hoping others could give me more, MORE! (Don’t we all want that?) But in this room, I was learning how to actually stay and hear compliments, congratulate anyone who stood out to me, chat about myself as well as the other person. I was learning HOW TO STAY IN THE ENERGY AND SAY YES!
So, when the producers needed help with concessions or ticketing (which some of us would think menial) I cheerfully made it work, which got me an amazing free burrito (but did you have one? Ok then) and an evening of drinks w the co-prods. If you’re awkward like me, this wasn’t something that came easy to you. Normal people may have just taken this initiative a long time ago. But for me, it felt earned, and I was surrounded with genuine support, feeling grateful and humble to Teresa, Karen and Melissa. This is the adjustment my ego needed as an actor who had sadly come to expect overnight results. It helped give me the foundation for learning how long term relationships in this industry are formed, and how to fulfill on some “networking” etiquette I recently read on Linked-In: it’s a two-way street. So I got to do more, MORE! for others, in addition to others naturally doing for me, leaving everybody nourished.
And maybe that first yes earns us the badge of reliability in another’s eyes. So, of course along comes the incredible Karen Herr asking me to please come onboard as her Assistant Stage Manager for a play she was helping to produce, “What’s In Front Of You?” – seven one-acts written and directed by another lovely BRS co-hort, Joe Walsh. TO WHICH I SAID YES.
Now I could really learn to be humble and invisible! These are real-world actor lessons, y’all! How else will we learn to appreciate all the OTHER moving parts of a production or play? And yet, I have never felt so important, the way that generous cast made me feel, citing how integral I was to the show running smooth. Joe and Karen were always on hand to rave about my on-stage talent as well (they did NOT need to do that). And I got paid waaay more than was promised. Life was starting to feel like that song by The Fixx, One Thing Leads To Another.
Shifted How I Saw Myself
Over 2.5 diligent years of attendance, I’d gone from dazzling the room as quirky, cute neighbors and cynical side characters to being asked to play Leading Lady. YEAH. And when you get to play opposite the handsome, uber-talented, “is there any accent he can’t do?” James Tang, it can really feel like dreams come true.
The same night [above] happened, I met a writer-director who wrote a wonderful piece that I wasn’t asked to read for. This didn’t matter. Tricia Lee (Meeting Mommy, Mother-Daughter) and I were so impressed with each other’s work, we kept in touch.
A few days after the event she reached out and it turned out we had a few things in common. Among those, both Canadian, both lovers of family relationship stories, both fans of Dr. Joe Dispenza’s work. But at the end of her note, she asked me to share my goal/dream with her. Well, I have to admit I was still coming out of a creative depression/still feeling skeptical/still kind of fuzzy about all of this. But when someone else asks us, it’s an indicator that it might be time to get clear on it. So I closed my eyes and asked my sweet inner child Rasika what she wanted. And it was really clear, and yeah, she still wanted it. And I shared it with Tricia, and I shall share it with you as well:
To be an Emmy-Award Winning Character Actress on an Emmy-Award Winning Conscious, Ensemble Sitcom or Dramedy That I May or May Not Have Written!
The Last Breakthrough
Now. There was ONE last, sad, nagging thing amidst all this happy that continued to be a huge albatross in my game. And that was that somehow, I still couldn’t seem to translate the confident, creative genius that everyone witnessed at BRS to my auditions.
See, I would experience the kind of auditions that I want to forget but can’t because they’re so traumatizing they’d become an indelible part of my fabric and wiring.
The one that was so insulting because they asked me to instead “try it with an Indian accent.” I cried for 4 hours after (in 2014 for a major network y’all?? UGH.)
The ones I’d prep and prep and feel amazing and bookable and then I get to the waiting room where some sassy pants is chatting everyone up and she looks great and in my mind I cast her and abandon myself
The ones where I’m ready! In the waiting room casting myself! But then I get in the room and the CD feels hot, bored and tired and is looking at her phone the whole time and actually cuts me off! So much for “I own this role”
I brought this problem to each of the co-producers as well, because let’s face it, they’d become my fans and my friends. They each sat there shocked that I was still dealing with this. Here are the amazing words of advice each one gave me.
Melissa: You don’t enjoy being a girl. You always dress tomboy. So either go out for those parts, because you rock at them, or start loving your feminine and dress with that essence.
Karen: You’re so amazing. You have got to start transposing all of our faces cheering you on, on top of the faces of those casting directors. Start imagining all of us there, in the room with you.
Teresa: It’s higher stakes, so somehow you have to trick yourself to thinking it’s no big deal. I know that’s hard when money is on the line. Also, keep writing, because when you have something else going on, it removes the stink of desperation off of you.
So, like batting practice, I tried to transpose, but I got thrown by the waiting room. The next time, I tried to transpose but I got thrown by the thin walls of the casting room. Another time, I tried to transpose but the girl they really wanted had a cute baby in the lobby and an existing relationship with this casting director, so.
Then, finally, the day after the last BRS (see above, with me as Lead Mermaid), I got dressed confidently for my audition with my cute suede power boots worn the night before. I enjoyed doing my curly hair and my glossy lips. I literally had the BRS energy coursing through my veins and fresh photos and likes in my Gram. I also had one last secret weapon: 20 pages of a script I was writing, posted up in the passenger seat like a co-pilot. And what was being asked of me for this audition? IMPROV. Just like a stone cold read, baby.
I got there early, and cool as a cucumber, transposing all on the drive down. And it was still mine no matter how stressed the CDs were about late actors. I went in and was told to drive the scene’s beats while my fellow players asked random questions. I found my game, kept it understated and snuck in my wits in little bits. The other CD was trying to contain himself from cracking up on camera.
I DID IT.
I NAILED WHAT I WAS SUPPOSED TO, AND I HELD IT LIKE A NINJA, LIKE THE PLAYFUL, COOL, RELAXED, RELIABLE ACTRESS THAT I KNEW I COULD BE, THAT I’D SEEN MYSELF BE AT BRS.
So, did I book it?
NO, and that’s totally NOT the point, DAD.
The point, my dears, is that THIS IS A 17-YEARS-IN-THE-MAKING BREAKTHROUGH. Now that I’ve done it, once, it’s right back to swinging so I can increase my averages. Because, and wait for the sport metaphor switch: this is a marathon, not a sprint. Understanding the patience, grace, process and gratitude that is needed now, I feel like I’m actually ready to manifest my dream. And that HAS to be why they call it Breakthrough Reading Series.
The next Breakthrough Reading Series will be held February 5, 2020 at the Broadwater (Main Stage). Tickets are being sold now. See Writer Submission details at the same link.
Rasika Mathur is a comedy actress, writer, and yoga instructor. She has tv/film and stage credits but is most proud of being Canadian.
I have been trying to write this blog post for the past week. I have started and stopped, trying to wrap my head around the subject. Talking to other people and reading things online has made me talk in circles to the extent I don’t know anymore.
What am I talking about? Writing
I still consider myself new to
playwriting regardless of the number of plays I have written and I overthink
everything. When you’re writing your show, you’re thinking about the characters
and who they are, how they sound, look and move in the world. At some point you
have to write the character description. You know, that page right after the
title page where you introduce the reader to your world.
The character breakdown:
Amy: Female, 30s, African-American, Grounded and stern.
But what does it mean? #InsteadOfRedface? Are the playwrights the only ones who have to be Native? Does your cast have to include Native characters as well? If it’s done in a theater class is ok to cast whomever? And is Native not enough? Do we include Indigenous people as well and is it ok for them to play Native roles? And do all the roles have to be actually be played by Native people? And how Native do they have to be? Like I just took a DNA test and I’m 5% Native, so I can play Native roles now ok?