Category Archives: Theaters

Why go to the theatre?

By Kitty Felde

Years ago, my mother and I shared season subscriptions to the Mark Taper Forum. Few plays stick in my memory – “Children of a Lesser God” and “The Robber Bridegroom” come to mind.

But it wasn’t the plays that my mother loved.

As a mom of seven who lived in the suburbs that straddled LA and Orange County, my mother relished the trips to “the city” where she would put on her bohemian clothes and devote as much attention to the audience as she would to the plays. “I’ve never seen such ugly people in all my life!” she’d say.

My mom’s been gone for more than 20 years. And as I sit through too many mediocre productions, I think back on what it was that she loved about going to the theatre: the drama, the spectacle, the unpredictability of real people. She wanted to be surprised, delighted, amused, amazed. How often do we get that onstage? Is this why theatre is in danger of dying?

This year, I saw one truly amazing production. It was an import from England, the Kneehigh Theater, on tour in DC. The company took an arthouse classic, “Brief Encounter,” David Lean’s film about an affair at a train station and made magic onstage. The movie was based on a one-act Noel Coward play from the 1930’s called “Still Life,” but I can’t imagine the original was anything like the Kneehigh production.

The story was simple: ordinary people stuck in middle-aged ennui who hit it off in a train station tea room. But out of that simplicity, the company invented four different ways to put trains onstage – including smoke and sound, and a marvelous toy train that circled the stage. The most dramatic was a film of a racing train, projected onto a scrim that was half the height of the stage, stretched out from wing to wing by a cast member running past, with another cast member closing down the scrim as the train chugged by.

There was levitation in the play – characters being lowered from the upper levels of the set by fellow cast members. There was music and dancing. There were puppets playing the heroine’s children.

It was the most magical theatrical experience I can remember.

It perfectly fit everything my mother loved about going to the theatre: drama, spectacle, unpredictability.

That’s what I want to create: a reason for people to come to the theatre, to be surprised, delighted, amused, and amazed.

What was the most magical, memorable night in the theatre for you?

Send me some plays!

by Tiffany Antone

Hello Lady Playwrights!

What great timing to be called to the LAFPI blog just as I’ve released the Little Black Dress INK submission guidelines for our 2015 ONSTAGE Project.

Planting the Seed Fest PosterSome of you may remember a lot of cross-promotion between LBDI and the LAFPI as we worked together on that very awesome SWAN Day fest last March.  At the same time I was helping wrangle plays for SWAN day, I was also hot and heavy into coordinating LBDI’s semi-finalist readings, which were going up in multiple locations across the country.

Well, I’m pleased to say that the 2014 festival readings went really well, and now we are in rehearsals for the production going up in Prescott, AZ on January 2nd and 3rd.

I’m super excited and cannot wait to see these 11 plays brought to life!

Yay!

And while we’re gearing up for production, I’m already laying the groundwork for our 2015 festival, which will feature 3 additional reading locations – I’m so excited!

So without further ado, let me share the 2015 ONSTAGE Project guidelines with you, and remember – Little Black Dress INK utilizes peer review to select plays, so sharing your work with us doesn’t just end when you hit “send”; instead, you get to play a crucial part in the festival’s development and final outcome.  I hope you’ll consider participating, and I look forward to reading your work!

Download (PDF, 190KB)

 

 

 

What I Learned from Kevin McCarthy About Being a Successful Playwright

by Kitty Felde

I should be writing about THE LIST. The Kilroys’ list of plays by female writers that have so far gone unloved. There have been multiple rants on Twitter and Facebook and I suppose I should add my voice to the wailing and gnashing of teeth. But it won’t help my plays to get added to the list.

Instead, I was distracted for most of the week by my day job. The unexpected primary loss in Virginia of Republican Eric Cantor set off a backstage campaign for his job of Majority Leader worthy of any Shakespeare play.

And then it occurred to me: what could I learn about PROMOTING my plays from this 49 year old kid from Bakersfield’s amazing rise in power?

1) Research

Kevin McCarthy loves technology. And data. He finds out – and keeps notes on – the birthdays and anniversaries of his colleagues. He sends cards, even flowers. Back in the days when he was in the state legislature, one California lawmaker’s wife called her husband to gush about the bouquet that had been delivered. He had to sheepishly admit that he hadn’t sent them: McCarthy had.
I may not be calling Jacob Maarse for a floral delivery, but I can certainly do some theatrical homework.
How much research do I do before I pop a play into the mail? What shows from earlier seasons reflect my work’s sensibilities? What’s the background of the literary manager? Artistic director? How much intelligence do I have ahead of time? Do I perform a Google search before heading off to the theatre? Since the pre-curtain speech about unwrapping candy and signing up for season tickets seem to be delivered these days by the AD or some other bigwig at the theatre, it would be helpful to at least introduce myself to them before finding my seat in the theatre.

And when I open yet another rejection email, I don’t see it as a “no.” Instead, it’s an invitation to have a conversation with that literary manager, intern, dramaturg, etc. I add the name to my data list. I send invitations to readings and postcards with a note when there’s a production. My carefully kept notes in Excel allow me to add something personal.

2) Find Out What They Want
McCarthy is famous for taking his GOP colleagues on long bike rides through Rock Creek Park, chatting them up in the House gymnasium, hosting movie nights. He finds out what issues are important in their neck of the woods and has an almost encyclopedic knowledge of factoids about each member’s district. He finds out what they want and is often able to help out – in exchange for getting something he wants.

What does a theatre really want?

Certainly most regional theatres don’t want my nine actor war crimes drama. Too expensive and too depressing to sell to season subscribers. But it’s perfect for college campuses where “A Patch of Earth” has found a home. College drama teachers love it because the cast can grow or shrink according to available actors. There’s plenty of good, rich female parts. Most of the characters are the same age as college students. College kids feel they’re doing something important, telling a true story that few know about that happened in THEIR lifetime. The play has been performed from Pretoria to Sussex to Detroit and Costa Mesa. It’s what college theatre departments really want.

3) Play Nice
Kevin McCarthy’s current job is the #3 leadership position among the House GOP: Whip. It’s the same job Frank Underwood had in the first season of “House of Cards.” Kevin Spacey even tailed McCarthy on his rounds of the Capitol as research for the role.
McCarthy is just as good as Frank Underwood at working the deals behind the scenes. But he’s never going to push a reporter in front of a passing subway car to get what he wants. McCarthy’s a nice guy. People genuinely like him.

People usually like me, too. But like Frank Underwood, I have a dark side. I’m not going to get a literary manager drunk and lock him in the garage with the SUV’s motor running. But when I see lousy plays get full productions, I admit that I think about it.

But what does it get me?

I’m tired of being an angry playwright. I’ve figured out what I really want is some quite writing time in the morning and the opportunity at least once a year to be in a rehearsal room with actors and a director working on one of my plays.
I may not ever become the Majority Leader of produced plays in America. But you never know, do you?

Doing Theatre in Missouri

by Andie Bottrell

When I was getting ready to move back to Missouri last October, I remember crying to my Mom about how I was scared that this financially forced hiatus would be a huge backtrack in my struggling career as an actor/writer/filmmaker. My Mom tried to comfort me by telling me I could do community theatre. I scoffed and later laughed about the possibility to my professional theatre friends. I couldn’t imagine going back to small-town community theatre after working with people who’s whole lives were the theatre. I was being a through and through theatre snob.

Four months after moving back, I auditioned for play at a local community theatre. The show was Love, Loss, And What I Wore by Nora and Delia Ephron put on by the Springfield Contemporary Theatre – which is a terrific theatre that puts on satisfyingly well-rounded seasons and had just moved into its new home, one that would make many of LA’s 99 Seat Theaters jealous. I would say the day I found out I was cast in the show, my snob immediately began to shrink. After the first week of rehearsals, it was all but disappeared, and by opening weekend, I had fallen in love with the show and my cast and the whole experience. For one, because I got to be an actress again- JUST an actress. I wasn’t a producer/social media/photographer/videographer/editor/actress, I wasn’t expected to bring in a certain amount of audience, I wasn’t expected to do anything but be the best actress I could be and it was utterly liberating. I got to fall in love with the experience and challenge myself and experiment and PLAY. 10003502_10152357462399122_972772685_n The play, if you are unfamiliar, is kind of a Vagina Monologue type of show, if you substitute vagina’s with clothes. It tells the stories of several women and the things they experienced in their lives. While I had a blast with my more comedic pieces and playing with accents, mannerisms and facial expressions; my favorite scene was the one I played closest to myself. The character’s name was even Amanda, my birth name, and she is talking about her wedding day. On the other side of the stage my cast mate, Adie, playing a butch lesbian, talks about her wedding. As the scene goes on, you start to realize they are talking about the same wedding and we turn to each other to say our vows and kiss. This scene performed in Los Angeles or New York City does not have the same type of impact it does performing it in the Bible belt for a white haired, post-church matinee. There were nights where the audience mostly awwwed with wet eyes as Adie’s Mother asks “Why did they have to do this?” and Amanda’s Mother answers “To honor their relationship.” There were also nights were you could feel disgust and eye averting, and those nights felt the most important.

This same theatre company is putting up The Normal Heart this season- 25 years after it was first produced here in 1989, where there were protests enough to get National Coverage and one of the actor’s houses was burnt down. It’s this kind of passion and bravery that has me excited about doing more theatre here- audiences here need it more than they do in Los Angeles and New York. To identify with characters in a play when you are stuck in a dark theatre and realize you are more like them than you could ever have known in the light of day, is one of the magical, transformative powers of theatre.

What’s more, my second theatre audition here was for Tent Theare’s 2014 Summer Season. Tent Theatre is a Summer Tradition held outside on the Missouri State University campus with seating capacity in the 300’s. They present two musicals and a comedy playing in repertory for six weeks with a specially selected company of students and guest artists. Notable Tent Theatre performers include John Goodman and Kathleen Turner. And I was cast in You Can’t Take It With You, which will be my first Equity Show! For the month of June, I’ll get to leave my cubicle prison and be a full-time, paid actor and I couldn’t be happier or more impatient for June to get here!

I would say the LA theatre snob in me has been rightly put in her place and while my finances are still struggling to recover from yet another punch in the gut tax season, at least one of my goals has come true- I’m falling in love with acting again.

In Which I Ask A Lot Of Questions

By Tiffany Antone

Something about my previous post stuck with me this week… I couldn’t quite put a pin in it until today.  At the end of the piece, I mentioned “I can’t presume to tell a woman of color about her own life anymore than a WoC should be telling a transgender white woman about hers.”

It stirred the question, “Where do transgender playwrights fall in this fight for gender parity?”

Does our drive for equal representation on stage scuttle transgender authors into Male/Female categories, or do we recognize them with a third gender category, thus indicating that an ideal season would include plays by men, women, and transgender playwrights?  And, if so, how would those genders break down from there?  Does a truly balanced season include an exact number male/female/transgender playwrights of color/queer/disabled/et al distinctions?

I guess what I’m getting at here is that in our bid to be better represented on stage, we become but one segment of an assembly of segmented voices demanding to be heard.

So…

What does this mean for theatres on the grand scale?   Should they try to appease each and every piece of these divided masses?  Could they?  What would a season look like if they did?

And what does this mean for playwrights on an individual level?  Is it possible to fully engage theatres en masse, or do we ultimately split time between our soap boxes and our desks, desperately self-promoting our own brand of whatever it is we’re selling whenever we’re not talking about everyone else in our “group”?

Is this just the way of things?  Are we all really just choosing the battles that lie closest to us, and to hell with the rest?

And if so, how can theatres – besieged with criticisms from so many groups – be expected to satisfy everyone?

Unfortunately, the answer for theatres is they cannot.

In order to “revolutionize” their production schedule in a manner that would satisfy our collectively diverse demands, theatres would need to be indifferent (at best) about alienating their patron base.  (The bigger the theatre, the more true this statement.)  A regional theatre that has primarily produced classic works by white men, for instance, would face a marketing and attendance nightmare were it to do a complete 180 – because it takes time (not decades, granted, but time) to grow new audiences*.

Smart purposefully-diverse substitutions in a theatre’s season, on the other hand, can serve to satisfy a theatre’s established audience as well as bring in new audiences previously deterred by what may have been perceived as static programming.   And when I say “smart” I mean searching for work that will challenge your theatre’s audience without alienating it.  If your theatre is in a city with a strong Latino community, and that community isn’t frequenting your theatre,  finding/producing work by Latino artists could be the first step your company takes towards diversifying your season.  If your company exists in a community with a large gay/lesbian population, but that population doesn’t visit your theatre, you should be seeking out playrights who can speak to that audience over and beyond playwrights that wouldn’t.  And if you’re one of those theatres producing Neil Simon after Mamet after Donald Margulies, you might be able to spice things up without mystifying your (probably) primarily white audiences just by bringing in some Sarah Ruhl or Theresa Rebeck.

Yes, adding one new voice to your season – new to your theatre and to your audience – could quite the change make.

In each instance, you are working towards a more balanced and robust season one new play at a time without moving too far beyond the circles of what you know your community will support.  You are contributing to a shifting theatrical landscape that continues to diversify and grow at a pace that allows audiences and hesitant administrators to keep pace.

Yet, would such incremental season changes be enough to make us happy?  If a regional theatre includes two plays by white women in their season where before they had no women at all, do we credit them as moving closer to gender parity, but berate them for ignoring playwrights of color?  Or do we decide on an individual level whether or not the fact that they are producing two works by women is satisfying and encouraging “enough” to us as women playwrights that we sort of “settle” down for a bit and direct our energies elsewhere?  Do we then look at other artists demanding the theatre give voice to their cause and say “Good luck!” or do we allow their fight to color our “victory” less victorious?

Which brings me back to my initial query – when we say we are asking for “gender parity”, what does that really mean?  And does it supercede or walk in step with the fight for diversity on stage in total?

Do we, in aligning ourselves with the fight closest to us, become a hindrance to those walking beside us?  Or can we all fight for our chosen “team” and still fight for all of us together?

It seems to me that the answers to these questions help us decide how we talk about gender parity/racial diversity/etc. with theatres and with one another, and it decides what we want to happen as a result of those discussions.  If we can agree that diversity at large is the goal, then we can work to encourage theatres to adopt changes in programming that best reflect the communities surrounding them by giving voice to the artists who serve those communities.  This might be a more realistic and attainable goal than asking theatres to give stage time to all of our voices at once.

So, the question becomes, is it a goal we can all work towards together?

 

* The topic of growing new audiences is worthy of a deeper discussion in and of itself  – of which there have been many.  For a fresh take and very insightful article on the topic, check out David Schultz’s Soil, Sunshine, Fresh Air, and Water on HowlRound

 

 

“Chicago Meet and Greet” hosted by the Chicago League

by Robin Byrd

There was a “Meet and Greet” hosted by the Chicago League; it was a one-hour hit-every-table kind of deal. A wonderful addition to the Dramatists Guild Conference “Having Our Say: Our History, Our Future” this table hopping and it was a great experience.  I am not usually a meet and greet kind of person but I met a lot of people and it wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be.  Although the first table was really difficult but I missed my flight printing business cards so you best believe I was handing them out.  Then I got the hang of it when I decided to really look at the theaters and find out about them.  I could hear John F. Kennedy in my subconscious saying, “Ask not what your country can do for you — but what you can do for your country”, so it became about the theaters and less about me.  They do some interesting theater in Chicago.

On Sunday, I am going to see Nothing Without A Company’s “Alice” in Lincoln Park.  The audience will travel as a group to each location as the play is performed.  How neat is that?  I only ran into one table where they dealt with Chicago or Illinois writers only.  I met Babes with Blades; and we talked character, fights… At the Clockwise Theatre table, I met a guy from my hometown; they do theater that is diverse and adventurous – literally, culturally, and theatrically.

I met 20% Theatre Company Chicago, a company started like LA FPI in response to the New York study on gender bias.  They are running their 8th Annual Snapshots, A 10-Minute Play Festival now, during the DG Conference August 22-25, 2013 at the Cornservatory (4210 N. Lincoln Ave).

There was Light Opera Works for musical theater; Midwest New Musicals is an arm of Light Opera Works and is run by John Sparks – if his name sounds familiar, it’s because he is the Founding Director of LA’s Academy for New Musical Theatre – small world.

Writers Theatre was there; it’s all about the writer.  Stockyards Theatre Project was there — their mission: “to give volume to the voices of women by creating positive, substantial roles in plays for female performers”.  Underscore Theatre Company was there; they do musicals but will take plays with music as they are interested in the relationship between words and music and how the use of music can underscore a story.

Other theaters with information at the Meet and Greet were:

The Ruckus does such diverse theater, you can tell right off by the type of productions they have in a given season and by the credits.

The Side Project Theatre Company — exploration of the power of hyper-intimate theatre.

TimeLine Theatre Company – deals with plays about history and has two plays by women in its 2013/2014 Season: “A Raisin in the Sun” by Lorraine Hansberry and “The How and The Why” by Sarah Treem.  (50/50)

Northlight Theatre has two plays by women in it 2013/2014 Season:  “4000 Miles” by Amy Herzog (ranked #1 play in 2012 by New York Times) and “Detroit ’67” by Dominique Morisseau (which I just happened to read recently – an era with stories that need to be told).  (50/50)

Pavement Group is searching for fresh plays, check them out to see if you’re a match…

Pride Films & Plays is looking for well crafted stories, check them out to see if you’ve got something they’re interested in…

Chicago Dramatists has ways for writers outside Chicago to participate.  Check them out.

DreamStreet Theatre Company is a new company looking for family oriented stories.  I talked with the founder who is really interested in doing great theater.  The “times up” call was given in the middle of my conversation so I found myself rushing to get the last bit of information from the remaining tables.

American Blues Theater — (Isn’t that the coolest name?) illuminates the American ideas of freedom, equality, and opportunity… Our hour was up and we were being shooed out the door when I was handed a card, “I didn’t get to talk to you,” she said.  Isn’t that the coolest thing?  Turns out I was just looking at their Blue Ink Playwriting Award submission guidelines…

In all and I may have missed some theaters, I had a really good time meeting the theater reps.