Here we are. Existing in a new time. Living in a world that is no longer able to sustain itself on old pains.
I know I’ve been asking myself how am I making way for BIPOC Artists? What am I doing to be sure that I’m including, reaching out and making way so that a variety of stories for the American Theatre exist? I ask white artists to take time to see if you are truly hearing and how are you leaning in, pushing open doors, and connecting + including BIPOC into safe theatre spaces where they can develop and flourish.
I also challenge BIPOC to ask themselves, what am I doing to not be the only one in the room. Am I helping + contributing to new BIPOC voices being included in the American theatre canon? How are we preventing tokenism in the theatre?
I’m excited! We are in a new awakening. How will we all move into the future to build our Los Angeles theatre community into an interconnected haven?
Restore your energy & Self-Care for the future of American Theatre will need us all.
I seem to have forgotten – stuck here like I am in the hardly bearable heat of these walls and the “go nowhere” doors from sun up to moon down. I tell myself that I am not going to faint or lose heart, that I am going to subdue this beast one hour at a time, one day at a time, by the Grace of God…
but I really want flight, I yearn for air… I want wings and I want wind to ride. I been looking for signs of movement, looking for a great big wind to come skip-to-my-lou all through this mess, dislodge some rivers for baptisms, root up healing herbs and toss some around for everybody to have.
I want to relax, I want to float like a leaf and land picturesquely on the grass showing off the beautiful colors of my whole self. I don’t want to apologize for nothing not for floating, landing or seeking air. If I push myself, I bet I can land far enough away from here so I can breathe new/fresh pockets of wind…bet I can land somewhere east of here, near appalachia, up where lavender lilies bloom, where rose of sharon sings…
I can’t breathe here no more in this heavy porous atmosphere, it’s dropped down way too low, to the little grassy piece of earth I live on and I just can’t breathe. I thought I was imagining it but it’s real – the air is thick; thick and sticky like a glob of peanut butter caught in the throat daring you to drink water, threatening to thicken regardless…
I need air and space and
God cracking the skies…
Oh, God, blow on us, shower us with rain and the latter rain, deliver us, heal this land…
Heal the land, Father… we humble ourselves and pray
We dream of riding the night winds again, of sleeping well and waking rested
send Your wind, help us fly
lift us up high enough to catch hold
let us mount up with wings as eagles — send the wind, Lord, send the Wind…
But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.
But I’m also remembering what it was like to be in an audience, alive with energy that creates a cathartic performance. I found this YouTube video of Patti LaBelle singing “You’ll Never Walk Alone” from CAROUSEL. And, yes, it is over the top, way over the top, and it could only happen in a theatre with an audience that was unafraid of being together.
I don’t know about you, but I find I get perturbed when I look at my own face on a Zoom call. If the call includes a lot of people, and I’m looking at the group on a “Gallery” view, I have a face the size of a postage stamp, and I’m fine with that.
But I get disoriented when it’s a Zoom conference with just a few people, and there is my face, hanging on my monitor screen, like a lost animal in a cage at the animal shelter. I see my Pursed Lips Reaction when I’m skeptical of something that’s said. Then there’s my Upward Facing Eyebrows when I’m surprised or combative or uncomprehending. The Eyebrows get a lot of the facial reaction exercises.
I don’t like being surprised by my own facial contortions. I’ll hear someone say on the call: “Cynthia, you seem surprised.”
I don’t hear that very often in my life. I’m like a Girl Scout: I’m prepared, I’m motivated, and I adapt. But don’t call me surprised.
And I get thrown about what I looked like when I was surprised. (Was it the mouth? The eyebrows? A slight frown on the forehead?)
Usually I’ll try for a reply that diverts the attention. (“No, no, not at all; I’m not really surprised, but I am very interested in what you were saying. What were you saying?”)
So, I’ve come to realize that there are facial consequences to zooming: you’re seen in a spontaneous, perhaps faux dimensional reality that can catch you in unexpected moments. A little bit like real conversations in real time with real people.
The attached article by Dipika Guha about our current awareness of how theater artists live is a great read. Even with some surprises.
Can You Hear Me?
By Dipika Guha
“Suddenly everyone in the world is discovering how theater artists have always lived. From month to month, with no financial security, making our own schedules, relying on our own motivation, seeking solace with our friends and leaning hard on our networks without whom we are nothing- as artists or as people. Little has changed for us in some ways. We were born, raised and sustained in a field in scarcity and crisis. Some questions thoughts and questions remain the same, others are a virtue of the moment… “but it was broken to begin with” and “will anyone want to reconvene in a closed space together?”- “Perhaps we all will? Perhaps we absolutely won’t.” “Perhaps we should make stories and film them with our cell phones at home and upload them to YouTube.”
“Can you hear me?” and “Is anyone there?” is the refrain of Zoom calls and conference calls and Skype calls with friends, collaborators, and colleagues. What is clear is yes we are, in fact, here for each other. Our instinct is to connect- and to keep connected. Where once square boxes held the ephemeral – it is now the territory of the daily. We’ve all had a lifelong practice with sitting with the temporary present- the heightened moment that hangs pure in memory.”
The world seems small these days. Although we’ve been living a quarantine style life here in my house for quite a while, it aches to see the rest of the world in such subdued, grieving and restrained circumstances. But here’s a surprise.
I discovered a woman who makes sugar roses in Amsterdam, and she spoke directly to my idea of writing plays. (The capriciousness of inspiration…) This Instagram posting spoke to me how tediously long the rewriting process is, how you risk experimenting with unknown characters, without names or a history as you try to create their world and identity.
I used to work in a French Bakery in Berkeley many years ago – the French Confection on Hopkins Street. We made cakes for grand events, following the recipes in the tradition of French chef Alain Ducasse. I peeled apples. Strained raspberries. Rubbed the skins from hazlenuts. I loved the architecture and the formality of the cakes made there: Boule de Niege, The Marjolane, The Polonaise, The Nuit St. George. All created from a history of risk, experimenting, and the revelation of a surprise or two in the final form. I was an actress working to get my SAG card, happy to have a job that helped subsidize my struggling actor lifestyle. I had no idea of the impact of working in that bakery: how the impression of discipline, form and generous artistry would follow me in my future.
I found this inspiration in an Instagram article, written by Natasja Sadi, the force behind an account called cakeatelieramsterdam
She collects bouquets of flowers, and photographs them, and uses them for inspiration in her sugar work. Her sugar work is impossibly beautiful, unworldly and inspired. The world seems a little more wide-reaching today.
Here is the posting from Natasja Sadi:
The world’s most exclusive tulips at my table. I’m still dreaming of all the fields I was so fortunate to visit. (Thank you @passionfortulips for the tour and meeting all the amazing Dutch breeders at 1.5m/6ft distance.) I was so lucky to go home with these incredible tulips.
Some tulips here are straight from the grounds of what they call the breeding chambers. Bulbs that are still in their experimental phase. Some seen here don’t even have a name yet. Only a number. Did you know that it takes 5 years for a bulb to become a new tulip and another 10 years to hit the market? These breeders taught me an incredibly important lesson. Patience. I sometimes get restless planning ahead. Thinking of projects that will take several months.
These breeders work so hard, take an incredible risk cultivating new tulip variations and know that they are in this for the long run. 15 years… They are in no rush. They just continue with their passion to produce the most exclusive, most beautiful tulips the world has seen…
Spring in Holland is like nothing else. A magic carpet of colors everywhere. A fairytale that sometimes seems too unreal, the mind doing it best to process all the beauty…
Where has the time gone? In March I was poised, full of energy chomping at the bit to write a post, with a week’s worth of ideas and thoughts and here it is the weekend and my time is almost done. I am always at a loss of what to share and what to write about playwrighting. But this go round, I have so much to say I can’t contain it and it is coming out in bits and pieces.
I never really thought much of the difference of Introverts and Extroverts, thinking of it as if it were some placebo affect that I was feeling and acting upon. I didn’t want to read of what an Introvert was because then, of course I would think I was. And I really never thought of myself as an Extrovert, but could certainly embody some of the characteristics should the occasion present itself. But with the world closing its doors and forcing people inside the definitions came screaming out. People needed an outlet to share their energy and ease their anxiety. I could clearly see the defining line in people and myself and how we are dealing with it all.
Depending on the class I’m in, I wonder how this would be different if it were in person. Does it change the dynamic of the class because we can see each others faces as opposed to sitting in classroom style. Do people hesitate to talk and be the first to talk because they are truly an introvert, or are they just feeling the effects of quarantine.
I hesitate to share my joy of writing as I know of others who have be stymied by this time. The weight of the world on our shoulders and anxiety of it creeping in. For me writing during this time has been marvelous. I have always been a stickler for rules and following how-tos, so the mechanics of playwrighting always hampered me. I am thankful for the teachers out there who reached out and shared their classes I would not have otherwise been able to attend. The joy of sitting at home in L.A. and attending a class in NYC with far-away friends was freeing. Being able to connect with people outside of my sphere and being able to explore writing has been a treat. So much so that I have written two short plays. I found the joy and laughter again of why I want to write. Tips and tricks to get past the rules of structure I suffered with and to just sit down and write. A mantra I try to repeat to myself as a quiet motivation and just now realizing the flippantness of the statement.
I am wondering if I am an Extrovert because of all the classes I’ve been taking and all of the participating I have been doing. My head is full of information and my computer holds bits and pieces from a variety of classes. My notebook, that I usually carry with me and takes months to fill, has only a few blank pages left. Full up from a month of opportunity and ideas and unfinished scenes.
Lessons learned during this time:
Set aside 15 minutes to write and do it daily. Consistency helps.
If you’re looking for something to write about – think “what am I curious about?”
Think of the intention of every scene. What do your character(s) need?
What is the action of your scene? Your character needs something from the other.
Now when I get lost in the weeds, I just start out with a random line that I’ve collected from the books I read. I usually write these sentences down because as I’m reading them a voice is commenting on them in my head and they speak to the subjects of my current writings. As I write the scene I consider what do the characters want to get to the end of the scene. The plays that I have finished during this time had constraints that had to be included in the play, which made it fun and I included things that made me giggle, like lines from 80s movies.
I gotta go. I have to finish some homework for class and I’m entering another #Bakeoff and it’s due tomorrow.
How many times have you heard that in the last two months?
Living in the thick of Los Angeles County, one can’t deny the effects that COVID-19 has had on the LA community, especially within the arts. Before the pandemic, theaters were getting ready to launch their 2020-2021 seasons, clean their venues for incoming Hollywood Fringe productions, and hold long-awaited annual galas, festivals, and workshops. Now? Companies are relying on Zoom and other streaming platforms to continue providing artistic content to the community, including readings, webinars, and even full-blown theatrical productions – some prerecorded, some live!
Because these times are unprecedented, because we’ve never had to bring theater into a virtual space, we’re left with the questions: What is theater now? Is it changing? And what does our future look like now that this has happened?
We (virtually) sat down with Tanya White, artistic director of Santa Monica Repertory Theater, to talk about SMRT’s upcoming 2nd Annual Playreading Festival; the eerie relevance of the Festival’s predetermined theme, #BraveNewWorld; and the reading of AGELESS by Bridgette Dutta Portman, directed by SMRT co-founder and resident director Sarah Gurfield. The Festival, held on May 16th via StreamYard, includes a Special Kick-off Conversation on May 14th, a playwriting workshop, and pre- and post-show discussions concerning Portman’s intriguing piece.
LAFPI: Tell us a little bit about Santa Monica Rep’s mission and why it’s important to you.
Tanya White: Our mission is using theater to tell stories and also engage our community in the process, both in the creation of work and also in the discussion with the artists & production. Whatever it is that we are doing, we always have a post-show discussion.
We’ll be actually talking about why that mission is important at our Kick-Off Conversation next Thursday, preceding our Festival . The panel is going to discuss what theater is and why it matters. I believe that theater is kind of an essential piece of a society that allows people to step out of their own experience and look at something from somebody else’s point of view.
Of course, you have the playwright’s point of view and the director’s perspective of the piece. But what you’re also seeing is walking, talking people who are experiencing things that you can mostly identify with, even if you are different than the character. We all experience the same kinds of feelings. But it’s communal in the fact that we’re all witnessing the same thing. It’s how it’s expressed, I think, that makes us unique.
LAFPI: This is Santa Monica Rep’s 2nd Annual Playreading Festival, spotlighting women artists. What has it been like transitioning from providing the event in-person to providing it online?
Tanya: Before this, we really didn’t focus on recording a live theater event. If we did, usually it’s for archival purposes, not actually to rebroadcast or stream. People are at different levels of comfortability with technology. So that that’s been challenging.
And one of the things we were challenged with before this pandemic was getting the word out about us. We’re a really small group of people, so our capacity is limited. Our audience has largely been people who have followed us for the 10 years we’ve been in existence, which has been great. But the exciting thing is that now we have more reach. The idea that somebody can be anywhere in the world and see this is really exciting. We can say, “You don’t have to be in Santa Monica to come see us!” So having suddenly having a virtual space is great for us.
LAFPI: The theme of #BraveNewWorld was decided well-before the global pandemic. What kind of new questions do you think have arisen that are going to be a larger part of these conversations because of what’s going on right now?
Tanya: Right now, we’re having a shared experience. We’re in the same space and time together. I mean, this is not a recording. To engage at this level, we have to be present. And so maybe the question is, “what is space” versus “what is theater?” But that’s what we’re jumping off from. So what is theater? And does this count as theater?
A question that comes up for sure is “how can we help each other?” Not just on an individual level, but also how we talk about theaters. How do we support each other? How do wesupport arts and each other? I feel there’s gonna be a lot more collaboration, a lot more people working together, because there used to be the feeling that everybody’s competing for the same audience, and the idea that that’s a finite thing. Like, if somebody comes to see a play in Santa Monica Rep, they’re not going to go see something at LA Women’s Shakespeare. So I think it is the question of how open and loving people are to helping each other? How can we cross promote? How do we how do we help each other get what we need to keep doing this work?
Maybe people will start also looking again at who our audience is. Because people do target, right? We look at who we’re reaching out to. Or if we’re selling tickets, we get in front of people who can afford to buy them. But the other day a friend of mine was saying how they’ve been to every museum in the world because they can now, virtually. I mean, access becomes a whole a whole new thing. So now somebody who doesn’t [ordinarily] go see a play has access to theater in this way. We have a Festival ticket where you can participate in a playwriting workshop and a panel with two playwrights, or you can just register for the reading, which is free. You know, we say a suggested donation, but it’s not a ticket price.
LAFPI: What in the programming for the Festival are you most excited for audiences to take part in?
Tanya: The reading of AGELESS. I think we’re using the technology really well (God willing, it works!). I’m really excited about the about how the play translates into a virtual experience, and how we’re using the technology to tell the story. So I’m excited for everybody to log in and be part of that.
And it’s a good play. The subject matter is great and interesting, but it’s a good story. Well-told.
LAFPI: That rolls in right into my next question – Why this play right now?
Tanya: Well, we put the call out to women playwrights to send us stories of dystopia or utopia. We got several plays that we were going to do and, originally, we were set for June. Then we had to pare down and look at taking it online. We decided to do it sooner, not knowing when the stay-at-home order would be lifted, and we picked AGELESS because it had more roles for company members. We always serve our company members first.
And the theme of aging seems to be not just relevant, but especially of interest to women, as well. We’re highlighting plays written and directed by women. And again, it’s a good play. And really that’s always what it comes down to. Also, will it get some discussion going? We like to pick things that we know people want to talk about.
LAFPI: Who should attend this Festival and why?
Tanya: Anybody who’s really interested in examining what our future could look like. Such a great time to do that, when we’re all in a place where we’re reflecting. We have to. We’re alone. And we’re all aging. So I think anybody could come in and find themselves in this play because it follows characters as they age and characters as they don’t physically age, which I think is kind of an LA thing, too. The whole idea of not aging is a big deal.
So, yeah, I really think anybody anybody could enjoy the play. Maybe not young children, but I would say anyone from maybe fifteen or sixteen. But particularly, young women should come, because the play examines so many women. So who should see it? Everybody. Right? Except toddlers. No toddlers! Don’t bring your toddlers to your Zoom.
Santa Monica Repertory Theater’s 2nd Annual Playreading Festival will start with a Special Kick-Off Conversation on May 14th, and officially begin May 16th at 11am. The Festival features a virtual staged reading of AGELESS by Bridgette Dutta Portman, directed by Sarah Gurfield. With a $25 Festival Pass, audiences can participate in the Kick-Off and all events. The reading alone is free with a suggested donation. For more information, visit santamonicarep.org/bravenewworld.html
Los Angeles Female Playwrights Initiative is a sponsored project of Fractured Atlas, a non‐profit arts service organization. Contributions for the charitable purposes of LAFPI must be made payable to “Fractured Atlas” only and are tax‐deductible to the extent permitted by law.
I’ve been the box office lady at Theatre Palisades now since 1988, saying over and over into the phone, “$22 regular, $20 for seniors and students.”
Fifty years ago, I met my husband when I was a member of Toronto Workshop Productions in Ontario, Canada, with George Luscombe, producer and director. The company produced plays that were often improvised and written from contemporary and archival material.
We played in several cities in Canada, in Venice, Boston, and New York, and thought ourselves as being wild radicals, engaged in the world and dedicated to change of a positive kind. Among many others, we wrote a play called Mr. Bones, about the assassination of Lincoln, produced a Durrenmatt play called A Visit From An Old Lady and a new play about people moving back to East Berlin (not out of but back!).
One of our members was from Chicago and had a friend who passed him the transcripts from the trial of the Chicago 7, activists who were arrested and accused of inciting a riot at the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago. ( They were originally 8 – Bobby Seale was bound and gagged and removed from the courtroom for calling Judge Hoffman a racist and a pig. Over and over.)
Along with testimony from witnesses like Abbie Hoffman, Allen Ginsberg and Jerry Rubin, we incorporated Alice in Wonderland into the play, interjected vaudeville and dance, and turned the trial into performance art. I played Linda Morse, who was on the Student Mobilization Committee against the Vietnam War. She was passionate and articulate. I also played the entire jury, an elementary school teacher, and Alice. The judge objected to some of the clothing the witnesses wore so there was, of course, a fashion show, too.
My husband, Kerry Feltham, loved the play and made it into a film called The Great ChicagoConspiracy Circus which was invited to the Berlin Film Festival in 1971.
Fifty years later, this February, he was invited back. The film was to be shown again – twice!
We were thrilled and went to Berlin in February for the festival where I had the best time I think I’ve ever had in my life!
We were treated with such kindness and courtesy and were put up at the beautiful spacious Berlin Hotel (room 547) which had two huge white ceramic bears at the front door, a delightful lobby with a curved staircase up to the upper floors, and a buffet dining room. It was just down the block from the huge and beautiful Kino Arsenal and the Berliner Kunst Museum, where the film was shown with a Q&A to follow.
The audiences were warm, knowledgeable and attentive. They liked the film.
I must confess, I was in the theater, but couldn’t watch the film. I was shell shocked, I think, by the prospect of seeing myself fifty years ago. I could do the Q&A however and was asked if American politics had changed much since that time. (Not much, I think.)
It was so wonderful to feel like a performer again. To feel that creative spirit surge. I was asked for my autograph. Whoa! Not once did I say, “$22 regular, $20 for seniors and students”.
I think we’ll get the film up on the web, just for fun and history’s sake. Am looking forward to actually seeing it again.