Category: Production

The FPI Files: “Fiery Feminism” and Comedy Collaborate in DENIM DOVES

 by Desireé York

In our current political climate, we need theatre more than ever.  Theatre can reflect the challenges of our current reality or it can invite audiences to escape it.

Let’s hear from artists who seem to find a way to do both, like playwright Adrienne Dawes and director Rosie Glen-Lambert, in Denim Doves produced by Sacred Fools, just extended through February 23, 2018 at the Broadwater Mainstage.

LA FPI:  What inspired this piece?

Adrienne Dawes

Adrienne Dawes:  Denim Doves began as a devised piece with Salvage Vanguard Theater in Austin, TX.  We started building the play around the summer of 2013, around the time of the Wendy Davis filibuster.  It was a gross sort of spectator sport to watch Democratic senators try for nearly 13 hours to block a bill that would have implemented some of the most stringent abortion restrictions in the country.  My friends and I felt so incredibly angry… We poured all those feelings, all that “fiery feminist rage,” into creating a new piece.

We knew we couldn’t just scream at an audience for 75 minutes, so very early in the process, we played within comedic structures.  How could we sneak very serious conversations into very silly premises?  Dick jokes became the sort of “Trojan Horse” into talking about intersectional feminism, fluid identities and an oppressive government that considers female bodies as a commodity.  We drew inspiration from Margaret Atwood’s novel “The Handmaid’s Tale”, Suzette Haden Elgin’s novel “Native Tongue” (specifically for her use of the feminist language Laadan), YouTube videos of hand bell choirs, and finger tutting choreography.

LA FPI:  Rosie, what attracted you to directing this play?

Rosie Glen-Lambert

Rosie Glen-Lambert:  I am always on the hunt to direct work that gives a voice to women, queer folk, non-binary folk, people of color and anyone who feels like their “type” isn’t typically represented in casting ads.

But beyond providing a platform to diverse performers, I have a particular attraction to plays that allow anyone besides white men to be “the funny one.”  I believe wholeheartedly in the power of comedy.  I think it’s a great way to unpack an issue that is challenging or to permeate a hard, un-listening exterior.

LA FPI: How does music play a role in this piece?

Adrienne: Denim Doves is more of a “play with music” than musical.  There are specific musical moments that scratch the surface and reveal the darker, more sinister aspects of this world.  Cyndi Williams is an amazing performer, playwright and lyricist who was part of the original devising team (she originated the role of First Wife).  Cyndi’s writing is incredibly rich and unique.  She brings a very serious, Southern Gothic quality that gives us a nice contrast to the lighter, bawdy stuff I bring. Erik Secrest composed the original score (and originated the role of First Son) that was performed by the original cast with church hand bells, the electric guitar and a drum kit that was hidden in plain sight onstage.

For the LA production, Sacred Fools collaborated with composer Ellen Warkentine to develop new music.  It was wild to hear those old songs in a completely different way.  I hope to find more opportunities to collaborate with female composers in the future.

Meg Cashel, Janellen Steininger and Teri Gamble in “Denim Doves” – Jessica Sherman Photography

LA FPI: We love supporting femme-centric projects. What has this experience been like, working with a female majority including writer, director, cast and crew?

Rosie:  An unbelievable privilege. Here’s the thing: I believe wholeheartedly that gender is a construct.  I believe that men can be soft and compassionate and women can be strong and authoritative.  I believe that anyone, regardless of where they fall on the gender spectrum, has the ability to behave in any manner they choose; that how you identify or what you were assigned at birth is not the determining factor in your behavior.

With that being said, many women and femmes are socialized in such a way where they are often allowed to be softer and more empathetic, where men tend to be socialized to disconnect from emotion and consider those qualities as weak.  This means that a rehearsal room that is full of women and femmes is often a room that is full of people who are willing to tap into emotion and create a space that is safe and welcoming.  A room where someone can say “actually I don’t think my body is capable of doing what you are describing” and rather than a room of people rolling their eyes and a caff’d up male director yelling “just do it,” the team is able to slow down, consider this person’s perspective, and enthusiastically find a solution.

I think that we as humans are all capable of working in this manner, and I believe that by allowing women and femmes to lead by example men are changing their perspective on what a theatrical process should look like.

Adrienne:  I was absent for much of the  rehearsal process (I’m currently living in Tulsa, OK for a writing residency) but I can say that the rehearsal rooms and processes where I felt I made the most sense have always been led by women+ and people of color.  Those are the rooms where I feel like I belong, where I feel like all my differences (all the many ways I am different) are seen as strengths.  It’s a huge relief to feel safe and like my voice can be heard without having to yell over another person.  In most rooms, it feels like a fight for survival, a fight to belong or to prove yourself.  I prefer a room where I feel like my voice is needed and valued.

LA FPI: Amidst today’s politics, what would you like audiences to take away with them?

Rosie:  The art that has come out of this past year reflects our national desire to unpack and discuss this past election, and our political climate.  This desire is constant, and yet it is exhausting.  People who are protected by privilege are able to, at times, disconnect from the insanity and say “I feel overwhelmed, I don’t want to be sad anymore.”  And while that is a natural inclination, not everyone is able to make the choice to tap out.  Those whose bodies are inherently politicized are never allowed a day off; they are never able to just not be black, or trans, or latinx, or a woman for the day.  I believe that this play in particular – which begins farcically, raucously, and which, full disclosure, is just plain riddled with dick jokes – has the potential to trick someone who would never seek out something as serious as the “Handmaid’s Tale” and make them reflect on their privilege and invigorate them to recommitting themselves to a more active dedication to social change.  I want people to get in their cars, drive home, kick off their shoes, and wonder if what they are doing is enough.

Adrienne:  I hope we can make audiences laugh.  I hope to give audiences some relief, some escape from the trash fire that is our current political climate.  I also hope that even inside this extremely absurd world, audiences recognize how harmful misogyny and strict gender-based rules/expectations are for everyone.  Everyone is hurt, everyone is affected.  We imagine a future rebellion that mirrors past resistance movements, one that is led by people of color and trans/queer/non-binary people.

Tyler Bremer, Meg Cashel, Lana Rae Jarvis, Teri Gamble and Jennie Kwan in “Denim Doves” – Jessica Sherman Photography

For more information and tickets to Denim Doves, visit:  http://www.sacredfools.org/mainstage/18/denimdoves/

 

Know a female or FPI-friendly theater, company or artist? Contact us at lafpi.updates@gmail.com & check out The FPI Files for more stories.

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Los Angeles Female Playwrights Initiative is a sponsored project of Fractured Atlas, a non‐profit arts service organization. Contributions for the charitable purposes of LA FPI must be made payable to “Fractured Atlas” only and are tax‐deductible to the extent permitted by law.

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…

WOOF!

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!

Medium.com

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…

Hmmmm…

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.)

Toddlers

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)

 

 

 

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

#FringeFemmes Check-Ins: Herpes: A Love Story

by Terry Holzman

Quick peeks at the work of #HFF17 female playwrights, “Women on the Fringe,” by Fringe Femmes who’re behind the scenes this year. Click Here for all Check-Ins.

Fringe Femmes


WHO: Cherise Pascual

WHAT: Herpes: A Love Story

WHERE: studio/stage

WHY: When I was handed a pink poncho and a condom—branded with the show’s name—along with the program (featuring a picture of the star dressed as a fluffy herpes lesion), I immediately thought “ahhhh, I’m at the Fringe.”

I use the word “branded” intentionally, because that’s how Cherise Pascual (aka “Cherry Cola”) the high-octane star and writer of this inventive solo show felt after being diagnosed with herpes. Sexual secrets are hard to reveal and even though it seems that “everyone has herpes now,” Cherise kept her herpes under wraps for a long time. As she says “herpes isn’t fatal, but it nearly killed me.” Her secret lead to substance abuse, fear of relationships, long-term celibacy, poor self-esteem and self-deprecation. Finally, to forgive herself, to survive, to live a life free of guilt, Cherise HAD to tell her story and she tells it with incredible humor, theatricality, and most importantly, a brave heart.

Directed by the “solo-show whisperer” Jessica Lynn Johnson, the charismatic “Cherry Cola” uses musical parody, projected images, hilarious props; she impersonates boyfriends, doctors, and her mother; and breaks the fourth wall to talk with the audience, all on her journey from self-hate to self-love. I was glad to be along for the ride. (PS: I won’t tell you what the poncho is for….you’ll have to go see for yourself.)

HOW: hff17.org/4504

 

Finding Your Fringe

By Anna Nicholas

In late January, I traveled to Portland, Oregon to see a short play of mine debut at Fertile Ground (http://fertilegroundpdx.org), what Portlandia calls its theatrical fringe festival. Fringe festivals exist in most major cities these days and provide writers, directors and performers of all types, a way to get their work seen. If you’re not fortunate enough to have a pipeline to production, it’s time to consider being on the fringe.

I am a bi-city kind of woman these days, with work in Los Angeles and in Portland, and thus I qualify to submit (Fertile Ground, unlike some fringe festivals, only accepts submissions from those with local ties). Since many Angelenos have ties elsewhere, you too may find yourself with the ability to submit work to fringe festivals outside of LA as well.

The Edinburgh Fringe Festival (https://www.edfringe.com ) is the great mother of theatre festivals. Her origins are humble and date to the 1940s when three London based theatre companies ventured north to Scotland to put on works “on the fringe” of the official Edinburgh International Festival. The “fringe” at the time referred to both geography and subject matter. Since then, Edinburgh has steadily grown to become what a recent edition of The Dramatist magazine intimated was such a huge festival, with so many offerings that it had become overwhelming for both participant and audience member. One woman interviewed said it would be impossible without a cocktail.

Edinburgh’s success has also spawned similar festivals around the world, which are, thankfully, of more manageable size, including Fertile Ground, which began in 2009, and the Hollywood Fringe, (http://www.hollywoodfringe.org) which debuted in 2010 with 130 shows. In 2016, that number swelled to 296, while this year’s Portland fringe was just behind that with 295 works presented.  Both festivals are unjuried; meaning  if your show meets the specs (not too hard) and you pay your fees, you’re in!

Unlike Fertile Ground, anyone anywhere can submit to the Hollywood Fringe Festival, though it still attracts a predominantly SoCal contingent of artists (there is a deep pack of talent here, after all).  But if you want to try your luck elsewhere, similar fests happen annually in San Diego, Tucson, DC, Ft. Lauderdale, Atlanta,  Chicago, Providence, NYC, Cincinnati, and the list continues to grow.  I’m an advocate of not waiting around for someone to discover your work, put a team together for a fringe festival. And by the way, submissions for Hollywood Fringe 2017 are now open.

 

 

Anna Nicholas is a published novelist (The Muffia Series, Homegrown: The Terror Within), produced playwright (Buddha Belly, Petting Zoo Story, Villa Thrilla, Theatre in the Dark, Incunabula) and actress. More info at: annanicholas.com

 

Report from the Colorado New Play Summit

By Kitty Felde

The delicious set for THE BOOK OF WILL by Lauren Gunderson. Set design by Sandra Goldmark.

This is the third year I’ve flown to Denver for the annual festival of new play readings. In the past, I’ve attended Humana, CATF and the National New Play Festival, but the Colorado New Play Summit at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts is my favorite. Seven new plays in three days! It’s like a combination of cramming for midterms, eating everything in sight at a buffet table, and using all your season subscription tickets in a single weekend.

As a playwright, I find it extremely helpful to see that much new work all at once. It allows you to see trends and fall in love with new playwrights and come away with 101 ideas for your own plays.

Here’s a few trends spotted at this year’s Summit:

STRONG WORK

It was a particularly good year for new plays in Denver. Strong writing, big thoughts.

MOST LIKELY TO BE PRODUCED A LOT:

THE BOOK OF WILL by Lauren Gunderson is a love letter for every Shakespeare theatre in America. The late Will’s friends race against time and lawsuits to publish as many of his scripts as possible. It’s a big cast show, a perfect complement to a season of TEMPESTs and HENRY IVs. Round House Theatre in Maryland has already announced it will be part of its 2017-2018 season.

TWO WORD TITLES:

Don’t ask me why, but I’m fascinated with titles. Maybe because I’m so bad at writing them myself. This year, the trend seemed to be plays with two word titles. HUMAN ERROR and BLIND DATE were two of the new plays featured in readings. THE CHRISTIANS and TWO DEGREES were onstage for full performances.

POLITICAL PLAYS

I predicted that we’d get a flood of anti-Trump plays NEXT year, but they were already popping out of printers by the time I got to Denver. Political plays were everywhere.

The cleverest of the bunch was Rogelio Martinez’ play about Ronald Reagan, Mikhail Gorbachev, and the battle to come up with a nuclear treaty in BLIND DATE. Call it ALL THE WAY for the Reagan years. Very well researched, very funny. Martinez carries off an interesting balancing act, portraying a much more savvy and sympathetic Reagan than you’d expect, perhaps looking back at him with different eyes now that there’s a very different sort of president in the White House. Bravo. (I’d vote for a better title, but that’s my only complaint.)

The politics of Nazi Germany were the focus of a play by the man who wrote ALL THE WAY. Robert Schenkkan’s piece HANUSSEN is the tale of a mesmerist who dabbles in Nazi party politics. It has a highly theatrical beginning, and ends with a pretty blatant rant against Donald Trump.

Schenkkan pulled off a very difficult trick: bringing Adolph Hitler onstage and allowing him to come off as a rather likeable character. Perhaps it’s because he followed the Hollywood solution to making villains less unlikeable by giving them a dog. Hitler’s relationship with his annoying dog was quite delightful. (One wag of a fellow playwright at the conference observed that our new standard for unlikeable characters is now to ask: is he/she more or less likeable than Hitler?)

TWO DEGREES by Tira Palmquist is a climate change play. It received a fully staged production this year, after its debut as a staged reading at last year’s festival. It featured a set with panes of ice that actually melted as the play progressed.

There was also a nod to the protestors in pink hats (I actually spotted one or two of those in Denver) with Lauren Yee’s play MANFORD AT THE LINE OR THE GREAT LEAP. It’s a lovely piece about a young man’s search for an absent lost father, basketball, and Tiannamen Square. How can someone that young write that well? MANFORD is terrific and should get productions everywhere.

WHERE ARE THE LADIES?

Two of the five new play readings were by female playwrights, as were two of the three fully staged productions. (Thanks to Artistic Director Kent Thompson who established a Women’s Voices Fund in 2005 to commission, develop, and produce new plays by women.)

Yet, despite the healthy representation of female playwrights, there was a decided lack of roles for the ladies. Of the 34 named characters, fewer than a third were female. And with the exception of the terrific family drama LAST NIGHT AND THE NIGHT BEFORE by Donnetta Lavinia Grays, few plays featured roles of any substance for actresses. Nearly every one flunked the Bechdel test. The sole female in one particular play will likely be best remembered for her oral sex scene. Sigh.

PLAYING WITH TIME AND PLACE

I always come away from new plays with new ideas about what I want to steal for myself. In this case, the overlapping of scenes in different times and places happening at the same time on stage. Lauren Gunderson’s BOOK OF WILL very cleverly juxtaposed two scenes on the same set piece at the same time and it moved like lightening. Look something similar in the play I’m working on.

CHANGE IN THE AIR

The man who made the New Play Summit possible – Kent Thompson – is leaving. Kent’s gift – besides putting together a rocking new play festival – was making playwrights like me – those of us not invited to bring a new play to his stage – feel welcome. At the opening luncheon, all playwrights – not just the Lauren Yees and Robert Schenkkans – are invited to stand and be recognized by the theatrical community with applause from the attendees. That may sound like a small gesture, but it’s symbolic of the open and kind community Kent created. He made every one of us who pound away at our keyboards feel that we are indeed a vital part of the new play community. Thank you, Kent.

PS

In the interest of full disclosure, I will share that I had my agent send my LA Riots play WESTERN & 96th to the New Play Summit this year. It was not selected. I never received an acknowledgment that it was even received or read. But the non-rejection does not diminish my affection and admiration for the Colorado New Play Summit.

New on the LA FPI Podcast: “What She Said” – Alyson Mead with Susan Rubin

 

Alyson Mead speaks with playwright Susan Rubin about life, love, mythology and the devil in her play Liana and Ben, currently playing at Circle X Theatre

Listen In!

 



What conversations do you want to have? Send your suggestions for compelling female playwrights or theater artists working on LA stages to Alyson Mead at lafpi.podcast@gmail.com, then listen to “What She Said.”

Click Here for More LA FPI Podcasts

First Production: The Lost Years


 

 

 

 

 

from Cynthia Wands

In two weeks, I’ll be in another place. I’ll be sitting at a table, listening to the read through for the first production of my play, THE LOST YEARS.

The Contra Costa Civic Theatre is producing a premier of this work – after I’ve stamped through different venues with three staged readings, two workshops and a couple of years of rewrites, it’s really happening.

In one of those mirror like twists of fate, the director is a friend of mine from many years ago. Last year year she directed a staged reading of the play for her theater’s new works project. I saw how respectful she was of the actors during the process, and how she was able to guide nuance and intelligence into lines that didn’t quite look that way when I wrote them.

After the read through, I had to go home and get back on the path of submitting the script to theaters, and workshops, and festivals. I did feel a bit like Mama Rose yelling: Sell it! Dammit, just sell it!

But in the best dramatic fashion, late one night last year I received a phone call. And it was my director, who let me know that a scheduled play for their 2017 season had become unavailable, and could they produce my play instead.

I think I yelled YES. I might have cried, I don’t know how professional that is.  But I was tingling like I had been dusted with lightning. One of the best phone calls I have ever had.

And so, here we are months later, about to embark on this journey with the script.

The play is cast, the other theater artists have been assembled, and now we have the time to read it, and rehearse and learn from one another.  I’ll get to watch a few of the rehearsals.

I’m so grateful to have this experience. I have no idea how it will sound/play/resolve itself. It is after all, a comedy. You know what they say about comedy. (Dying is easy, comedy is hard.)

I’m feeling such a need for important plays in the world right now; about our leadership and our climate and the future of women, that to have a comedy try and tinkle out the laughs, seems a bit off for the times.

But personally, I’m also feeling the effects of compassion fatigue/outrage and I could use a dose of knowing laughter.

So I’m getting a wish to come true. I’d love to hear any advice from other women playwrights about their first production: was there anything you wish had or had not done for your first show?

Harnessing the Power of Fear to Generate Action

by Andie Bottrell

It’s been 9 months since I last blogged for LA FPI and the world feels like a drastically different place…a terrifyingly absurd place…the kind of place that I used to think only existed in dark, independent foreign films (a favorite to watch, though less favored to live in). Through all the political cacophony and “alternative facts,” one real, indisputable fact has emerged: Fear creates action like a motherf*cker. Advertisers, politicians, and religious zealots have harnessed this power for decades…but I’m not here to talk about any of that…I’m here to talk about creating.

It’s a story-line we’re all familiar with: A person has a near-death experience, survives and realizes what really matters to them. They quit their job, get out of that toxic relationship, sell the clutter, and live more simply in pursuit of their legacy. That may mean investing more time into your relationships with your family, or it could mean spending more time creating that masterpiece–or both! Or neither! Or something else entirely! Only your heart knows. The question is: If we all know the story, why aren’t we able to extrapolate the lesson of it without the near-death part?

Fear gets a negative connotation, some of which is justified, but fear is also adrenaline, it is motivation, and it can be the cold, hard hand of reality that slaps you across the face when you’ve tuned out on your life.

If you’re terrified of ending up as the person who always said, “I’m a _____,” or “I’m working on______,” or “I’m going to ________,” and then never became, never did, never got there…then you will do something. When the fear of not doing the thing becomes greater than the fear of trying and failing, you will do the thing. And when you do the thing, you’ll buck head-on with that fear of trying and failing like never before, and finally be forced to confront (ie. breakthrough) that fear. The good news is that the more times you breakthrough that fear, the further you’ll be able to go.

So, my advice? Be afraid, be very, very afraid. And do it anyway. Set yourself up to confront scary situations on the regular. Go take that stand-up routine you’ve got tucked in your pocket up on a stage in front of people and fill the space with your weird ass humor. Don’t just finish that book, put it out in the world–tell people, ask them to read it and tell you what they really think…then, send it to your idols–why not? Produce that play that you’re the most proud of but that no one has said, “yes” to yet. Start that business you’ve been dreaming about for 20 years.

In other words: LIVE LIKE YOU WERE DYING (because you are).

True: You might “fail.” You might fall flat on your face in the most humiliating way. Maybe no one laughs when they’re supposed to…maybe everyone laughs when they’re not. You will cry and there will be sleepless nights. You might go bankrupt. Maybe you go for it with all you’ve got and come up short. Maybe you’ll be forced to realize that you’re not capable of doing what you’ve always wanted to…yet. You could perish mid-pursuit…but, more terrifyingly, you could die never having tried at all–never having spoken your thoughts–never having shared your he(art)–never knowing what could have been…and then, you’ll have no one to blame but yourself.

It’s not hyperbole to say these decisions are life and death. Your life and your death…it’s your legacy in your hands, your decisions plotting your path. It’s a lot of responsibility to admit that to yourself. While “success” is a personally defined moving target–much of which involves timing and luck that is out of your hands…your effort, your output, and your action…well, that’s all on you, kid. Life is so, so weird and no one knows half of what they seem to know…rather than try to make sense of it, embrace the absurdity. Rather than wait for someone else’s validation, proclaim it for yourself: you belong. You’re voice, experience and perspective are the rarest, most valuable assets you have.

ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN! There’s just one catch: You have to try.

I promise you, if you let it, fear can be the biggest gift you give yourself (along with a hardy dose of kindness).

My Top 4 List of Scary Things From The Last 9 Months

1. True Confessions: Goldilocks & the Three Dildos

Back in September I had the opportunity (ie. volunteered) to get up on a mic in front of people and tell a true story from my life. True Confessions is a local storytelling event in the vein of The Moth and provided the perfect opportunity to scare myself shitless. It’s one thing going up in front of people under the illusion of character, costume and set, and another thing entirely to speak truthfully about truly embarrassing parts of your life that you think might be funny and poignant, but that could also just be quietly unacceptable to utter out-loud. I did it though (you can listen at the link above!) and the most surprising thing came from it…I was able to own my story in a way I never was before–always worried what others would think if I shared it…suddenly, that fear had no power over me anymore. I let go of shame and learned, by doing, how to be grateful for every odd, painful quirk of my story…for giving me such a great story to tell.

2. Art Hung on Gallery Walls

Art was always my Mom’s thing. She’s the professional artist. I was the artistic hippie who did all artistic things, but left the “serious” artistic pursuits in my Mom’s lane. I’ve always made art but rarely placed much value on it. It’s “my Mom’s thing.” As if my placing value on my work could in any way take anything away from my Mom–but I so clearly recall an incident in my childhood with a competitive friend when one of us crossed into the other’s artistic lanes and sparks flied. “Hey, that’s my thing!” To my Mom’s credit, she’s never been anything but supportive of my art. She’s even bought (ie. paid real dollar bills, yo) for my art (which is crazy to me–LOVE YOU, MOM). It’s completely my own neurosis. In the last two years, however, I’ve made more art than I have had space for and people started inquiring about buying, so I re-activated my Etsy shop and started reaching out to galleries to do shows. This makes me feel boarder-line legitimate artistically…and that means being vulnerable for my work to be judged through that lens as well…which is scary. In the last 9 months through to the next 9 months my work has shown at (for judgement and purchase) or will be shown at: BookMarx, Springfield Art Museum, Springfield Regional Arts Council, Tea Bar & Bites, and Arts & Letters.

3. LET’S TALK About My Poetry Book

I’ve been writing poetry as far back as I can remember, but like my art I never took it “seriously.” In the last few years, I have become more and more cognizant of the power of representation. The #BodyPositive movement, the #BlackGirlMagic movement, and #effyourbeautystandards among others are powerful because they provide much needed examples of strong, confident, successful, and beautiful that aren’t being shown as regularly in mainstream media and advertising. I’ve realized that my voice and perspective could add to the chorus of voices that have re-shaped my mind and my perspective on others and myself in monumental ways. And what if those people had never seen the value in their voices? My life, undoubtedly, would be vastly different today. This collection, LET’S TALK, has been in the works for the last 2 years and will be available on Amazon later this year through their self-publishing platform CreateSpace. It’s scary putting this book out there–it’s an expense–no, an investment. What if no one buys it? Or what if they do? What if they leave really awful reviews? But, more importantly, what if it helps? Anyone at all, even just a little…to feel less alone in life?

4. SEEK HELP & Seeking Funds

This was the biggest leap. This one was and is the scariest. No question. I wrote a web-series called Seek Help way back in 2012. It came out of me in a huge, easy burst of inspiration and I really loved it–which, if you write, you know how rarely that outcome occurs! I wanted to make it, but it required a specific set and a few other things that I didn’t have access to at the time. Every few years I would pull it out, re-read it and proclaim, “I want to make this!”

Then, this last year I was reading it with my friend Matt and it SPARKED. This was it. The time was now. We talked and decided to do a crowdfunding campaign to raise money to make it–and make it right. I was so scared to do a kickstarter…imagine asking for money for a project you really believe in and finding out just how many people find you or your he(art) project unworthy of giving to. But then I thought about all my friends who had had successful campaigns and how I had happily donated to many of them and I thought…okay, we can do this! People do this!

I made a plan, we made a video, we made a kickstarter, I researched, I submitted, I PR’d and I posted and posted and emailed…and then, I started to panic…like, dry-heaving, crying actual tears, out of my mind SCARED that because not enough people were responding that it meant that no one believed in me. I felt betrayed. I felt embarrassed for trying. I felt briefly like I was not worthwhile. Then, right in the middle of it, the election happened. To be clear, we were not on target for meeting our goal before the election happened, but once it happened, all progress slowed to a complete stop. Understandably people had bigger concerns–as did I.

In a weird sort of way, I found my perspective again. I stopped feeling sorry for myself and started feeling so grateful for everyone who did support me when there are so many other very worthy causes to support. When we failed to make our goal, I wasn’t yet ready to relinquish defeat. When I thought about making it any way we could scrape it together, I felt excitement and peace. When I thought about giving up, I felt depressed and incapable. So, it was simple. I didn’t want to feel depressed and incapable…I wanted to feel excitement and peace. Amazingly, some of the people who’d donated wanted to keep their pledges and help us make it. So, we reconfigured, re-cast, and re-committed. There have been no less than 5 major set-backs (all SCARY) since that decision was made, but this week I finished the rough cut of the first full episode which we shot this past weekend and I haven’t been able to sleep un-medicated since. I’m so incredibly giddy with excitement. I go to bed late and wake up early and don’t feel cranky about it…and this is the thing, guys…

THIS IS THE WHOLE ENCHILADA…

The joy you get from doing the thing? When it’s your thing–whatever that may be–is more than enough to absorb the fear and the setbacks. You only live once (probably)–SO GO FOR IT! And don’t hesitate to reach out to me in the comments if you want an accountability partner, or someone to bounce ideas off of. I love being an accountability and encouragement partner–especially for other strong, creative women! <3

 

PS. You can still donate to help us bring Seek Help to life and to release it out into the world with a bang at:   http://seekhelpthewebseries.weebly.com/about–donate.html

The FPI Files: Playwright Leah Nanako Winkler & Director Deena Selenow

For the past few years, LA FPI has been very much into matchmaking: introducing female playwrights to female directors with an eye on future collaborations. So when East West Players (EWP) invited us to be their Community Partner for the West Coast Premiere of Leah Nanako Winkler’s Kentucky, directed by Deena Selenow, we immediately said, “Hell yes!” And took the opportunity to ask this exciting creative team a few questions.

LA FPI: What brought the two of you together, initially?

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Leah Nanako Winkler

Leah Nanako Winkler: Last summer, I was fortunate enough to work with Artists at Play (AAP), an amazing LA-based theatre company that did a developmental workshop of my play, Two Mile Hollow. They immediately suggested working with Deena because they were confident she’d nail the humor of the piece while maintaining the seriousness of the issues regarding race—and even more so, class—that lurks beneath the surface of the play. I didn’t think twice when they suggested her because: A) I trust everything AAP says since they’re some of the smartest people I’ve ever met; and B) I’ve only heard great things about Deena. I’ve admired her from afar as a fellow mixed-race theater artist.

Deena Selenow: I knew some of the AAP folks from around town, so when they invited me to direct the reading I—of course—said yes. Then I read the script and fell in love. Leah’s writing is so blunt and funny and nuanced and moving. She shifts tone like an acrobat, and it’s so clear that she has fun while she writes. Leah, Julia Cho (AAP producer), and I had a great collaboration leading up to Two Mile Hollow.

LA FPI: Were you familiar with East West Players before this production?

Leah: I’ve known about, admired, and wanted to work with EWP for quite some time. I’ve been immersed and singularly focused in the past decade doing plays in NYC, but it wasn’t until last year that my dream came true and Kentucky was fully produced Off-Broadway. I kind of thought—well, what now? What will happen to me when this is over? So imagine my surprise when EWP Artistic Director Snehal Desai called me to tell me Kentucky was going to be included in East West Players’ 51st Anniversary season. I feel so empowered as a Japanese American artist working with a diverse creative team. I definitely feel like I’ve won the lottery.

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Deena Selenow, photo by Vincent Richards.

Deena: Snehal Desai and I met through the TCG SPARK Leadership Program, which is a branch of Theatre Communications Group’s Equity, Diversity & Inclusion Institute. At that time, he was the Artistic Associate and Literary Manager at EWP (he’s made quite a climb in a short amount of time!). SPARK is a cohort of ten, so we all became close very quickly. Snehal and I are the only two based in LA, so we see each other quite a bit. I think I had seen one show at EWP when I was in grad school, and now I see pretty much everything they do. EWP is a vital American theater, and Snehal is an incredible leader. I’ve loved getting to know Snehal in this creative capacity. Tim Dang has left EWP in good hands.

LA FPI: Leah–what was it about Deena that gave you confidence in her? And Deena–what was it about Leah’s play that spoke to you?

Leah: Deena and I both want the same thing: for the play to be the best it can be. With her, I know that nothing is about ego but for the greater good of the piece. Even in our disagreements or points of confusion, we’re both straightforward and come to a conclusion without any passive aggressive weirdness, which is huge as playwright/director relationships can get complicated in that way fast.

Deena: Leah’s work in general is so very honest and the characters speak their minds. She writes realities in which people don’t self-censor and say what they mean. It’s hilarious and uncomfortable because it’s so familiar. Particular to Kentucky is remembering that moment in your life when you realized you can never go home again. That home moves, and the idea of home changes as you grow up and evolve. Family is complicated, and Leah doesn’t shy away from that.

LA FPI: When did it hit you that you two were a good fit, collaborating on Kentucky?

Leah: I think we had an initial phone call that was supposed to be an hour that turned into four. Our personalities definitely vibe, which is an important foundation. But we both worked actively together on a new nine-person adaptation [the NY production had a cast of 16] and figured out the doubling schemes together. I really felt connected in those moments.

Deena: I love working with Leah. I love how vulnerable she lets herself be in her writing and in the rehearsal room, and it encourages me to let my walls down as well. We worked really closely during pre-production. We took our time, imagined different scenarios, and listened to each other. Leah trusts me, and I can feel it, which gives me confidence. She gives me room to experiment but also doesn’t hesitate to speak up and tell me when I’m off the mark, which I also appreciate.

LA FPI: Kentucky’s director for its Off-Broadway Premiere, Morgan Gould, was a woman, as well. What are your thoughts about what a woman director brings to a female playwright’s work?

Leah: While I know of and work with male directors that bust their ass on a daily basis and deserve every career success that they get, I know that female directors have to work twice as hard to be respected. As “emerging” playwrights, we’re sometimes told to “level up” to a director who’s more famous, and that’s often an older white dude. I think while this tactic is meant to “protect” the young playwright in many ways, it really screws over young female directors that often develop the script for years only to be fired when the show gets picked up.

Kentucky is a huge undertaking with multiple characters, 17 locations, three songs, and complex relationships that need to be dug into with precision, sympathy, and understanding. It takes a BEAST to direct this play. And both Morgan and Deena are BEASTS. It’s incredible and inspiring to watch strong women take total command of a room. They get shit done with the strength of ten thousand men.

Deena: Any time you work with someone who is “like” you in some way or another, there are certain nuances that don’t need discussion and are just inherently there. I work with a lot of women playwrights, but with men as well (albeit not as frequently). Differences are just as important as similarities. There are inequities in every inch of our society, so I work with people who share my core values, and we lift each other up.

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(L-R) Jacqueline Misaye as Sophie and Jessica Jade Andres as Hiro in East West Players’ West Coast premiere of Kentucky by Leah Nanako Winkler. Photo by Michael Lamont.

LA FPI: As women artists, telling a woman’s story, how has your experience been with East West Players–a company that embraces diversity and is presenting a femme-centered season?

Leah: I think “white girl” and “diversity” are often conflated, and I love that EWP is championing women of color. In addition, nobody is the “only one” here, and it’s a gift to be working with not only a cast, creative team, and crew that are diverse, but also producers, board members, and staff as well. I’ve never had that happen to me.

EWP lets us do our work while acting like it’s the most normal thing in the world. By doing that, they universalize our experiences. And you know what? Good. Because our stories ARE universal. We’ve been told that white is normal for so long, and it’s just not true. I love EWP because they acknowledge this naturally in their mission, but it’s still fun and it’s a safe space.

Deena: I’m thrilled that EWP chose to program a women-centered season. They really put their money where their mouth is when it comes to equity and inclusion. We all need to be allies to one another. EWP has a platform for visibility, and they are using it.

LA FPI: As theater artists, how important to you is forming ongoing relationships vs. finding the right person/project?

Leah: I’m still learning about this. I directed my own work for six years and just started working with other directors in the last four. I like working with a lot of different people just to test the waters, and get to know as many people as possible. I love collaborating and finding long term relationships with various people on projects that work for each partnership. Which for Deena and I, ended up being Kentucky.

Dena: Relationships are everything. Theater is a collaborative sport and finding your teammates is key. I’m so glad that Leah and I have found each other. I’m excited for our relationship to grow and to continue. I’ve been really lucky in my collaborations. The dynamic changes with each group of people and each project, and that’s part of the fun.

LA FPI: In seven words or less, what’s your advice to women artists about getting the most out of the collaborative process?

Leah: Communicate. Be assertive. Don’t forget the joy. (Or LADIES, DON’T BRING SNACKS OUT OF OBLIGATION.)

Deena: Listen. Trust your gut. Make a mess.

Kentucky plays through December 11, 2016 at East West Players’ David Henry Hwang Theater.Click Here for information and to purchase tickets.

Know a female or FPI-friendly theater, company or artist? Contact us at lafpi.updates@gmail.com & check out The FPI Files for more stories.

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Los Angeles Female Playwrights Initiative is a sponsored project of Fractured Atlas, a non‐profit arts service organization. Contributions for the charitable purposes of LA FPI must be made payable to “Fractured Atlas” only and are tax‐deductible to the extent permitted by law.

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