Category: Theatre

Ghost in the Warehouse

by Chelsea Sutton

Possession has been on my mind for the last year. Possession of the spirit, of the body, and possession of one’s own art. How to possess a thing, and how to let it go.

Since last fall, I’ve been working with fellow playwright Lisa Dring to write an immersive, site-specific show with Rogue Artists EnsembleKaidan Project: Walls Grow Thin, an adaptation of ancient Japanese ghost stories set in an old warehouse.

This was not our intention. The project came to us sideways, yet naturally. Like we were meant to work on it together.

From Kaidan Project: Walls Grow Thin. Photo by Rebecca Bonebrake.

Kaidan is a project that has long been brewing in the bowels of Rogue Artists Ensemble and East West Players—the idea itself was never ours, though the words, the shape, the adaptation of the stories themselves certainly were born of our brains. You can blame a lot of it on us.

But true possession of the work, so to speak, was already in question from the beginning. We were asked to take this on. The ownership of the stories were transferred to us, were lent to us, but it has never been ours alone, which has its own kind of freedom.

All stories are borrowed, lent, and passed along, in one way or another.

As the project progressed, we began to focus our main story on a single woman, Kana Mori—a woman who is very much possessed literally by a spirit and emotionally by a dark past. Kana’s journey—in which she loses control, fights for possession of her own will, struggles to center herself in an ever-changing landscape—began to mirror our own experience as writers. Not only were we in deep collaboration with a creative group of designers and actors with their own points of view about what the show should be, but we were coming to terms with the role of the audience in the piece. This is, first and foremost, an immersive theatre experience—meaning the audience is part of the story. They are active in what is going on, which makes Kaidan the audience’s play as well. Our possession over the play was schizophrenic on its best days.

From Kaidan Project: Walls Grow Thin. Photo by Rebecca Bonebrake.

We labored over every word, every beat (just ask our lead actresses, who may have memorized nothing short of 20 versions of their monologues), every transfer of information. We threaded the connective tissue lightly, then sharply, then hit the audience over the head with it, then lightly again. We argued for days about two or three words in the ending scene.

And yet. And yet. And yet.

In the end, we had to let it go. All shows always end up belonging to the actors after opening night, and to the audience. But here, with Kaidan Project: Walls Grow Thin, this is even more pronounced. The actors and audiences are actively engaging with it every night. No one person has the same experience. Some retain the words we sculpted, others are focused on the mask design, others are wondering how long they are going to sit in the dark and if a ghost is sneaking up behind them. Others will remember the moment they had candy with a monk, and nothing else.

From Kaidan Project: Walls Grow Thin. Photo by Rebecca Bonebrake.

I stand outside the warehouse at the box office. I welcome guests, fret about tickets and audience numbers (we can only fit 12 people per performance). I can’t even hear what is going on inside. But that’s okay. It is no longer mine.

In the end, with all art, we cannot fully possess what we create if we are going to share it with others. It doesn’t mean we don’t have a voice, or something to fight for, or are free from blame when something isn’t perfect.

But sometimes it is better to swallow the idea of full possession. Lisa and I wrote something that is a piece of us—but now it belongs to you. We’re just ghosts in the warehouse.

Kaidan Project: Walls Grow Thin has extended through November 19. Visit RogueArtists.org for information and tickets.

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

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Alyson Mead speaks with playwright Deb Hiett about development, trusting “the soup,” and the alternate universes of game shows in her new work The Super Variety Match Bonus Round, a Rogue Machine Theatre production currently playing at the Met Theatre in Hollywood

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

We’re Not Playing, and we want YOU to join us!

Last week a lot of us watched in horror as Donald Trump, a misogynistic, xenophobic, and wildly ignorant human (we think…) man, was elected to be President of these United States.

I’ve been spending a lot of time since then working through all my feelings on the subject, and I’ve managed to boil all my rage, disappointment, and shock into two major thinking points:  “We have to do better!” and “Fuck that guy!”

(Obviously the former is a more actionable frame of mind to be in, but I’d be lying if I said the latter thought didn’t help fuel my desire to follow through on the first)

So I’ve been doing a lot of writing… and not in the “Wow, I’m making some great art from this!” kind of writing (yet).  More like, “Umm, I think I’m writing a mission statement” kind of writing, and it’s based on the following:

We need to heal our divided nation and We need to make our objections to Trump’s dangerous policies heard.

I’m working on strategies for the first, but Little Black Dress INK already had a jump start on the second – and we’d like you to you to join us!

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Little Black Dress INK invites you to take action by participating in the 
We’re Not Playing initiative.  This initiative began as a way for us to support female voices who were speaking out on important issues through their work as playwrights – and now it’s time for these voices be heard!

Theatres and theatre practitioners across the nation are invited to hold readings of these plays, royalty free, Friday, January 20, 2017 – Inauguration Day.  The only caveat is that we ask any/all monies raised be donated to the ACLU, Planned Parenthood, and/or NRDC – organizations we believe will be integral to fighting the dangerous policies which the incoming administration intends to implement.

Little Black Dress INK will continue to post socially-conscious/politically-inspired plays between now and January for interested theaters to select from – or you can challenge your own circles of fabulous playwrights to write plays that inspire action.  Let’s just do something to help process the rising tides of panic gripping the nation.

Let us make our objections loud and clear, and let us put our humanity center stage on January 20th, 2017.

We can be better.  Let’s be better.  Let’s invite our audiences to be better with us.

Want to get involved?  Sign our pledge at www.LittleBlackDressINK.org  Then start reading and selecting plays from those we’ve published, or invite other awesome female playwrights in your area to contribute work!

And if you’re a female playwright who wants to contribute short plays or monologues to the initiative, please send them, along with a photo and brief paragraph explaining what inspired you to write the piece to Submissions@LittleBlackDressINK.org – make sure your subject line reads: WE’RE NOT PLAYING SUBMISSION.

#WereNotPlaying #WritingForChange #TheaterCanHeal

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Little Black Dress INK is now accepting submissions!

female-playwrights-onstage-cropIt’s that time of year again, time for Little Black Dress INK’s annual Female Playwrights ONSTAGE Project to begin!

And that means we are looking for some seriously fabulous female playwrights to participate!

Little Black Dress INK is thrilled to continue creating production opportunities for female playwrights through its Female Playwrights ONSTAGE Project; a short-play festival dedicated to producing peer-selected works by women.  In addition to contributing to the selection of plays, participating playwrights are able to review and revise their work during semi-finalist readings, and are encouraged to blog about the process along the way.

Submissions are now being accepted from awesome female playwrights for consideration in this year’s festival!  This festival utilizes a peer-review process for evaluating submissions, so please make sure to read over the following guidelines carefully before submitting.

  • This year’s festival theme is Hot Mess.  Playwrights are invited to submit short plays and/or monologues written on this theme.  In the past we’ve also had great success with short scenelets (10-minute plays comprised of a couple of scenes, which we can sprinkle throughout the line-up)
  • LBDI strongly suggests you do not submit plays or monologues longer than ten minutes. Keep in mind that in all instances, shorter truly is better.  Plays running longer than ten minutes stand very little chance of making it into the festival, as we strive to produce as many playwrights as possible.
  • Little Black Dress INK utilizes a peer review process for evaluating plays.  By submitting to this fest, you agree to participate in this unique opportunity to help select plays for production.
  • Once our submission window is closed, you will receive a selection of plays to read and score using the LBDI online eval form.  You MUST read and submit your evaluations by the required date in order for your play to remain in consideration.
  • Submitted works will be read by other participating playwrights and LBDI artistic personnel.  By submitting to the festival, you agree to share your work for review in this process.
  • Submission materials must be emailed to LBDI by December 10th, 2016 and should include:
    • The following information in the body of your email:
      • Your name
      • The title of your play
      • Your contact information *It is very important that you use a reliable email address as all correspondence will be done via email!
      • A blind PDF of your script – do NOT include your name anywhere on the script!
      • Email materials to submissions@LittleBlackDressINK.org

LBDI will be producing readings of the top scoring plays at locations nation-wide.  The top eight to ten scoring plays will also move on to full production with Little Black Dress INK.

For more information, visit www.LittleBlackDressINK.org  
We look forward to working with you!

What I Learned Writing for Toddlers

Tomorrow my first play for Very Young Audiences – A Bucket of Blessings – will close at the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta after a one month sold-0ut run. The play is an adaptation of the best selling children’s book written by Surishtha Sehgal and Kabir Sehgal, and as a TVYA play, is meant for an audience of 0-5 year olds. A Bucket of Blessings was directed by the ridiculously brilliant Rosemary Newcott, and I developed it in the rehearsal room with Rosemary, our cast, our choreographer, designers, and of course, our multiple adorable test audiences.

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Me, top right, with our lovely cast.

It was a very intensive writing process, perhaps the most intensive theatre project I’ve done so far.

Here are the two things I want to take with me from that experience into future plays.

1. Theatre as service.

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Theatre for very young audiences is, more than anything else, 100% about the audience and only the audience. There’s no room for the artist’s ego, the artist’s special voice, for flourishes, for statements. The only thing that matters is the audience. For a TVYA writer, this comes from a point of love. How could you not love these little ones? How could you not desperately care for them, and want with all your heart for them to have a safe, enriching, adventurous time in the theatre?

Now let’s take that same sacrifice of ego and unhesitating love for the audience to our work for grown ups as well.

2. Every second counts. Every line matters.

When children are that young, and their attention spans so brief, we are aware that every second we have with them is precious. The work we did in rehearsal was the most precise, exacting writing I have ever done. We worked hard on crafting every single moment to mean something, to engage the audience, and to carry the story forward.

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Let’s be as ruthless as that with our writing for adult audiences. Even when we don’t have to be.

We must admit that playwrights are often coddled. What we lack in monetary compensation we make up for in creative control, but sometimes that can get indulgent. So the next time we’re in a room with our collaborators, let’s take our play to task, moment by moment. Is every single line crafted in the exact way required to communicate the story to the audience? Is every pause earned? Every word vitally necessary?

Seriously, what if our audience had the attention span of a toddler? Would our play still work? Have we built something captivating enough, engaging enough, to truly serve the audience that’s spending their precious time with us?

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We should be doing these things anyway, but nothing brings it into perspective like trying to keep a room full of 2 year olds inside the world of your story.

Have you seen or worked on a play for very young audiences? What did you take away from the experience?

 

And now for something new…

For those who don’t know, I am not only a playwright, but the Artistic Director (slash/Mad Woman) behind Little Black Dress INK – a female playwright producing org that produces an annual peer-reviewed short play fest.  Over the years we’ve grown our fest from a small group of playwrights produced in Prescott, AZ, to a now nation-wide new play reading series with productions slated in both Prescott AND Lafayette, LA in 2016.  I couldn’t be more proud of all the efforts our supporters, artist, and producers have put into this fest—and I am ecstatic that we continue to grow.

This year, we’re adding an online component to the festival—one that will allow us to produce online versions of full-length plays.  It’s called the ONSTAGE: ON-AIR podcast, and our very first one is now live!

ON-AIR poster-new-webSince it’s our inaugural podcast, we chose to focus on interviews with some of our VIP artists, and included excerpts from past ONSTAGE plays.  You should definitely check it out – the women we work with are all kinds of amazing!  And the great thing about podcasts is that you can listen while you’re working out, driving, cooking, and pretty much anything else-ing!

Listen to the first ONSTAGE: ON-AIR podcast HERE

~Tiffany Antone

Women’s Voices Theater Festival: Getting a Piece of Real Estate

by Jami Brandli

For those of you who may not know, the two-month long Women’s Voices Theater Festival in the Washington D.C. area has officially begun. Over fifty of the region’s professional theaters (including Baltimore and northern Virginia) are producing over fifty world premiere plays written by over fifty female playwrights. This is an unprecedented event, and I am beyond thrilled to be one of the female playwrights to have my world premiere of Technicolor Life produced at participating theater REP Stage (which is producing an all-female season by the way). I also had the good fortune of being able to attend the invitation-only kickoff gala on the evening of Tuesday, September 8th at the National Museum of Women in the Arts. You can read about the seven originating theaters here, but I first want to give a huge, heartfelt shout-out to the festival’s producers, Nan Barnett and Jojo Ruf. Without these two rock stars, this monumental event would not be possible.

Here’s how my day went:

I arrived early in Washington D.C. with my director and co-AD of REP Stage, Joseph Ritsch. He had some meetings, which meant I had most of the day to myself. I decided to check out the collection at the National Museum of Women in the Arts since I knew that I’d be schmoozing and cocktailing later that night. I thought I’d spend about an hour there, but I wound up spending nearly three. Their all-female permanent collection is simply mind-blowing, as some of their paintings go as far back as the Middle Ages when women were not allowed professional training in the arts. Rather, a female artist was seen as a curiosity (why oh why would a woman want to create art?!). And if she did get any training, she received it from male relatives. These are female artists I have never heard of—Lavinia Fontana, Louise Moillon, Clara Peeters, Judith Leyster—and their paintings are absolutely stunning. As I moved from the Seventeenth Century to the Eighteenth to the Nineteenth, absorbing breathtaking landscapes and Vermeer-like portraits, I became angry. Strike that. I became really f’ing pissed. Women were still mostly excluded from professional training, and if they were accepted into an institution, they couldn’t study the naked human form until the end of the Nineteenth Century. Because of this patriarchal fear and ignorance, we—the collective human we—have been denied our female Renoirs, van Goghs, Picassos and so on. Because these female artists were denied their fair share of the art “real estate,” we have been denied paintings and sculptures that could have transformed individual lives and influenced cultures. Which brings me to…

Female playwrights’ fair share of the American theatre real estate.

Since the birth of American theatre in the 1750s, white male playwrights have successfully dominated the stage and won prestigious prizes with their white male (mostly straight) stories. This is fact. The more a culture sees and experiences a particular kind of story, the more it is considered the standard. This could be deemed as theory, but let’s get real here, this is fact. But I want to be clear. I’m not bashing the white male experience—so many plays that have moved and inspired me have been written by white males. (Our Town and Death of a Salesman kill me every time I read them.)  BUT the result of white male stories taking up all the prime real estate for the last 260 or so years is that all other types of American voices and stories have been marginalized. The only way for parity to be gained is to give the marginalized voices center stage for as long as it takes for them to no longer be marginalized. This is where the Women’s Voices Theater Festival comes into play. ALL of the theatre real estate is going to be given to female playwrights for the next two months. Which means our stories will be the standard. Yes, it’s for two months in the D.C. area, but the festival is getting national attention and there is great power in this.

As I left the National Museum of Women in the Arts and made my way back to the hotel, I kept thinking about this power and all the future possibilities it holds. One possibility is that the festival will be insanely successful and cause a ripple effect where twenty cities hold their own women’s voices theater festival over the next few years. This would then inspire ALL theaters to make the conscious effort to share the prime real estate in their upcoming seasons. But my dream? My dream is that ALL theaters will actually want to do this and there will no longer be a need for a women’s voices theater festival. I’m not sure if this dream will happen in my lifetime, but I know as sure as I’m typing this blog, I will proactively work toward making parity happen.

But back to the gala…

The night started with all the playwrights, artistic directors and other VIPs opening up the gala’s program and seeing Michelle Obama’s welcome letter. Alas, Ms. Obama, the festival’s Honorary Chair, couldn’t attend, but she was certainly there in spirit as you can see from my photo below.

Michelle Obama letter.9.8.15

Next, NPR’s Susan Stamberg interviewed the Tony Award-winning force of nature that is Lisa Kron. In case you missed it, you can watch it at Howlround TV. (Please note: You absolutely should watch this interview.)

Here are three of Lisa Kron’s gems from the interview:

“Unless you believe men are better writers than women, there’s an inherent bias. This isn’t a feeling women have. The numbers are there.”

“Women playwrights have the same authority to write about the world the way male playwrights have authority to write about the world. But we see the world from a different vantage point.”

“The definition of parity is that there will be as many bad plays by women as great plays…that women will produce great plays in the same proportion as everyone else.”

That last one really made me think. Because it’s the truth. As much as I hope for this to not be the case, there will be less than successful plays at the festival. But as Lisa stated, true parity means women should have the same opportunity to fail as well as to succeed.

After the interview, we all made our way into the main space of the museum where the rest of gala attendees were festively drinking champagne and eating creme brulee. They were waiting to celebrate us, our plays, and this revolutionary collective achievement to highlight female playwrights. I was filled with pure exuberance as it finally hit me. This festival is actually going to happen and history is about to be made! So I grabbed a glass of bubbly and celebrated with this fabulous group of women and men until last call…

And I would like to think that the spirits of the female artists in this museum—the ones who were denied to fully express their creative selves all those years ago—were celebrating with us, too.

5 Things Learned from the Other Side of the Footlights

by Kitty Felde

I started out as an actor. For ten years, I’d drive the freeways of Los Angeles for auditions for commercials and sitcoms, spending my evenings onstage in tiny theatres all over town. When I hit my 30’s, the jobs for women started drying up and I put my heart into the writing.

Now, decades later, I’m back on stage – again, driving all over town to perform on small stages, this time in Washington, DC instead of Los Angeles. It’s great fun. But I’m finding I’m learning more about the writing from the other side of the footlights.

As playwrights, nothing helps like hearing our words out loud – whether it’s a group of friends, happy with many bottles of wine and beer, who read a new draft in the living room; or onstage, standing behind music stands, before a small audience for a staged reading. Hearing those words spoken out loud is a completely different experience than staring at them on a laptop screen.

But now that I’m memorizing someone else’s lines, standing on stage, exposing my inner actor to the world, I’m finding new lessons in playwriting. I’m in a new play by a fine writer, D.W. Gregory called “Salvation Road” – the tale of a college kid trying to rescue his sister from a cult. I play the hip Catholic nun Sister Jean – part mentor, part nudge, battling her bishop and “that vow of obedience thing.”

Here’s what I’m learning about playwriting from the experience:

1 – Specific lines that are hard to memorize are usually because the actor can’t find a connection between what happens directly before the line and what happens after.

I watch this happen in rehearsal over and over again. There’s always one line that every actor stumbles over every time. Why? The logic of the lines is clear to the writer, but not to the actor.

Note to my playwright self: watch for these lines, rewrite to make the connections clear. Actors aren’t sitting with you at the computer, following your logic.

2 – Watch out for repetition.

My Skype playwriting pal Ellen Struve always says we writers say things three times – just in case the audience isn’t listening. True.

In rehearsal, there are certain words or phrases that are used repeatedly – toxic and hypocrite come to mind. They are perfectly fine words for a playwright to use – strong and clear words. But an actor’s brain scrambles them and the lines are often transposed from one scene to the next.

Note to my playwright self: look at repetition, but don’t let lazy actors be the reason you change them if that’s the word you need.

And yes, an audience sometimes does need to hear something three times.

3 – Actors hate stage directions. And punctuation. Especially punctuation.

I know as a writer, I want my lines to be performed the way that I hear them in my head. How do you communicate that to an actor? Sentence structure and punctuation can help.

As an actor, this is driving me crazy! My phrasing of a thought doesn’t want to come to a halt at the period in a particular sentence. I want to let this character speak the way she wants to speak! But I’m an actor, not a writer and it’s my job to bring the script to life the way the writer wants it. Sigh.

Note to my playwriting self: Trust your actors to bring meaning to your words.

4 – Acting is more difficult than writing.

I don’t really believe this. Writing, staring at that blank screen, battling all the demons that scream at you inside your head that you have no talent, nothing to say, and your play will never get produced anyway – that’s hard. Coming up with believable characters and scenes and a satisfying ending? That’s even harder.

But acting is hard work, too. I forgot how difficult memorization can be! And standing up in front of an audience is nerve wracking! I had my first Equity audition in decades and went up on my lines! I hadn’t been that nervous in forever. And there’s that baring one’s soul business. It’s easier to do it while typing than saying it out loud.

Note to playwriting self: when the writing is tough, remind yourself that nobody’s watching you fail in real time. It’s just you and the machine. The audience – and the critics – are a million miles away.

5 – It’s still all about that time in the rehearsal room.

It’s always been my favorite part of theatre. Yes, I love the opening night applause, overhearing the chatter at intermission, getting flowers when my husband remembers to get them. But the real joy in theatre – both as an actor AND as a playwright – is the work in that rehearsal room. “An effemeral art” as Cash Peters described it – here today and gone at the end of the evening. But what magic happens in that room! That’s the joy of the theatre.

Note to playwriting self: find more opportunities to BE in that rehearsal room. Get back in the regular habit of sending out plays. Self-produce. Find other writers who need a reading. Volunteer to read for them.

Note to acting self: see above.

“Salvation Road” opens Saturday, July 11 at the Capitol Fringe Festival in Washington, DC.

5 Sirens: Women Rock!

By Guest Blogger Alex Dilks Pandola 

I’ve produced over 10 productions that feature short plays written and directed by women. So, I was intrigued by 5 Sirens: Beware of Rocks and excited to learn more about the 5 playwrights (all women) who joined forces to produce this show.

Graduates of the USC Master of Professional Writing Program, the 5 Sirens are: Sarah Dzida (Don’t Panic), Autumn McAlpin (Ten Years Left), Kiera Nowacki (Spock at Bat), Caron Tate (Whatever Works) and Laurel Wetzork (Out of Here). They realized that by pooling their resources and sharing in the production responsibilities they had the skills to tackle everything from advertising and publicity to fundraising (check out their super-successful Indiegogo campaign) and contracts on their own.

5 Sirens: Beware of Rocks features 5 10-minute plays centered around theme of miscommunication and longing for connection. What’s wonderful about the production is that the audience is treated to five distinctly different styles and approaches to the theme.

Director Laura Steinroeder had previously worked with Laurel Wetzork and came on board to direct the five plays. Wetzork says, “she was very brave to take on five different, very strong women and make this show work.” Though directed by one person, Steinroeder allows each piece to live in its own world, so that the audience can experience the progression of a debilitating disease through a rhythmic pattern in one play (Ten Years Left) and move seamlessly into the next play about the inter-species communication between intelligent and not-so-intelligent life (Out of Here).

What I find most inspiring about 5 Sirens: Beware of Rocks is that these five women, a group as diverse as can be, banded together as a community to support each other and produce their own work. Now, they are confident that they can produce a Fringe show on their own, individually. I’m certain that whatever productions they do in the future, 5 Sirens: Beware of Rocks will be an experience that proves to be both unforgettable and invaluable. Through June 27th at Theatre Asylum.

One-Woman Fringe

By Guest Blogger Alex Dilks Pandola

The Hollywood Fringe Festival is a fringe-purist’s dream where content is queen and storytellers work their spreadsheets to self-produce their show.

The first play I produced for Green Light Productions was for the 2003 Philadelphia Fringe Festival. It was a two-person show about the tumultuous and creative relationship between Zelda Sayre and F. Scott Fitzgerald called Boats Against the Current. From rehearsals in living rooms, costumes from Goodwill and one-hour techs to packed houses and standing ovations, I learned how to create magic on a shoestring budget by putting the story first.

This year there are over 20 one-woman shows in the Hollywood Fringe Festival.

At the last LAFPI meeting at Samuel French I was treated to a preview of Snack by Megan Dolan. In the hysterically funny world of Snack, Dolan traces the roots of her smoothie addiction back to her childhood, posing the question “How do you parent yourself and your kids at the same time?” Snack runs until 6/27 at Theatre Asylum.

This weekend I saw Jennifer Bobiwash’s Indians in a Box: There’s No “I” in NDN where Bobiwash sets out on a journey to discover what it truly means to be a modern American Indian. Through the laughs of Bobiwash’s story, we begin to understand the many complexities of her identity and how it’s shaped her life. NDN runs until 6/17 at Lounge Theatre.

There is an electric energy during the fringe, as artists become Olympians and audiences become active participants in the creation of these raw, intimate, now-or-never productions. Check out the “one woman show” tab on the HFF site where you’ll find an amazing group of storytellers who are the true heart and soul of this year’s fringe.

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