Category Archives: Theatre

On Pilgrimages

by Chelsea Sutton

When I was in France in September for an impromptu trip,  I had about two days to spend in Paris. I’d never been there before, I didn’t speak the language, I had a lot of work I knew I’d be flying home to. I was happy and grateful but stressed.

But there was one thing that I felt drawn to, the thing that I couldn’t leave Paris without doing: visiting the grave of Oscar Wilde in Père Lachaise Cemetery.

It felt like a pilgrimage. I’m not a religious person. I probably couldn’t truly articulate what I believe. Energies, maybe. Ghosts. I don’t know. I’m not even a hard-core Oscar Wilde fan. But I needed to go there.

I didn’t bring the right shoes for the amount of walking I’d been doing all week. My feet and legs ached. I got turned around a dozen times just finding the entrance of the cemetery. Once inside, I wandered for a long time, searching for the exact location of the grave. Père Lachaise is well organized but its long winding paths can play tricks on you.  I could feel every cobble stone under my shoes. It was cold and I was hungry and I felt like I’d never find him.

Obviously people make this trek all the time. I am not unique. Roses and gifts littered his grave. Lipstick marks covered the protective glass installed around the huge grave stone to combat graffiti from adoring fans. Tourists from England and Sweden and Germany paraded by in the half hour or so I spent there, sitting on the curb across the path from the grave. I felt almost embarrassed that I didn’t have a flower to offer. He probably hated that.

Instead, I sat there and asked him questions.

How did you do it? How did you have the confidence? 

I thought about the tragic way his life was cut short. And felt silly for asking him anything, since anything I had experienced is nothing compared to his life. But still, I admitted to him, that while I don’t deserve it, I’d sure like this advice.

Can I do this? This writer thing? 

I feel silly saying I did this. But it was a pilgrimage to connect to something deeper, some sort of literary history, to figure out if I’m crazy for doing what I’m doing, for wanting what I think I want.

I think it is important to find stillness and ask these questions. To a god, to a literary giant, to someone you’ve lost, to yourself. You’ll get an answer if you ask the question. It may not come in the form of words and a life plan, but in the form of a warmness, a feeling in the pit of your stomach, a sudden lightness in your breathe, in your step.

I made my way out of the cemetery, but it wasn’t easy. I was pretty convinced the ghosts wanted to try to keep me there, confusing me, sending me down more painful cobblestone paths to drain me. But then I found the opening.

I spent the rest of the night wandering more streets, eating cheese, reading, and drinking hot chocolate. And felt like myself. And at peace with that feeling.

We’re getting close to the new year. I’m watching friends and family achieve things, get married, have babies, buy houses. Lovely choices and happiness in so many forms. Seeing others’ choice can sometimes make you question your own. So make your own pilgrimage. Maybe not to Oscar Wilde’s grave (if you do, bring shoes that can deal with those cobblestones) but to a place with the energy that will help you focus and ask that question that’s burning in your mind.

And then listen for the answer.

5 Years Later… She Writes A Play!

by Andie Bottrell

Movie Still from Synecdoche New York

I’m writing a gosh-dang play again for the first time in years and finally feel like I am almost legitimate enough to be blogging for the LAFPI! I’ve spent the last two years working on my webseries SEEK HELP, and making a life-changing decision. After completing the webseries, I was contemplating my next big creative project and I landed on this play I started working on back in 2011 or so before abandoning it for other projects.

I’ve had a one-act play performed on stage, and had readings of my full length plays both in public and private workshops, but never had a full length play of mine produced or published and I would love to go on that journey, if that journey will have me. The salivating, desirable thing about a play (done right), as opposed to a film or tv show or book, is:

  • The Immediacy: You get immediate feedback from the audience.
  • The Hostage Component: The audience is trapped, hidden away from the outside world and digital world’s distractions. They are forced to confront the situation presented in front of them and to enter into an imagined circumstance that demands their engagement.
  • The Visceral Exchange: The audience inevitably affects the performance and the performance affects the audience. This exchange of energy can offer a magical high.
  • The Unpredictable Originality: No matter how rehearsed a play, great performers are always still just reacting to what they are given in the moment and great performers are always still searching for new moments and deeper truths throughout the run. So, no matter how rehearsed, every night is a slightly different show. This is an art form that evolves.

In other words, a play is a living, breathing, growing entity. If you want to explore big ideas, ethical dilemmas, flaws in humanity or culture, expand a communities view on something, I can think of no better way than to build a play. As Chelsea wrote about in the post below, nearly all plays have messages, and the best ones, the ones that actually have the ability to open minds or change perspectives or prejudices, do so in a way that is so entertaining that you don’t even notice the medicine the playwright is slipping down your throat as you watch.

The hard and frustrating work of playwriting is trying to turn those big ideas into genuinely good and captivating entertainment…usually while sitting alone in your apartment late at night. The fun and exciting part of playwriting is getting a group of people together to work on the play, to communally birth a piece of art in a collaborative form. The latter being the part that is currently motivating me through the former. I see pieces of the play in my head; I want to see it outside my head. I want to discuss this topic in depth with others. And there, really, I think is the root of why I write. I want to bring people together. I love structured hangs but hate unstructured parties. I want to have deep conversations, not small talk. I want to feel, think, be challenged and examine myself and others and the world. I want to know I am not alone, and I want to understand that which is different from me in a visceral way. I don’t think I am unique in that–I think many writers write because we want to bring people close to us, to invite them over, not just for a cocktail, but to go all the damn way down…down to the colon! I wanna see your shit–the stuff you’re proud of, the stuff you are ashamed of, I wanna see how you navigate big decisions and deal with life’s pain, I wanna feel your laughter, your joy, see how you love, understand a new slice of life better–I wanna experience it all and I want everyone else to experience it to, because I think that’s the most efficient way to build empathy and understanding, and thereby mend differences and cultivate a peaceful respect for each other.

I love theatre. Deeply. I respect it for the power it has and am captivated by it’s magic. I am excited for a more diverse theatre landscape. There are so many stories we haven’t told, haven’t experienced. We think we’ve seen it all sometimes, but there are so many points of view that have not yet been given the opportunity of a stage and an audience. I am excited for more plays by and about women, people of various ethnic backgrounds, from different countries and cultures, of different ages, of all different gender and sexual identities, of various experiences, to create new works set in and about our time. I think now more than ever we could collectively benefit from unplugging and coming together in a dark room to pass the baton and tell each other who we are and what it means.

Wish me luck (ie. motivation, stamina, intelligence, clarity, artistry, articulation, and courage) as I continue on my journey to prove I belong on the LAFPI roster–I mean, to finish this play and work to get it on it’s feet.

 

Let’s Get Radical!

Buckle in, readers!  This post’s soundtrack is LET’S GET RADICAL by Gogol Bordello.

*DISCLAIMER: There is a prominently placed F bomb at the start of this song.*

Did you know the LAFPI is almost 10 years old?  Crazy, right?  On the one hand, it feels like it’s been much longer than that, and on the other is the old adage “Where has the time gone?”

I’m sure there will be much room for discussing what has changed in the ten years since LAFPI started instigating its parity-focused programming, so I’m not going to try to do that here.  BUT, I mention this upcoming anniversary as a precursor to the following question:

What’s next?

Photo by Tyler Nix on Unsplash

And I don’t just mean for the LAFPI, but for female playwrights and theatremakers everywhere.  What are we doing/going to continue to do to make an impact not only for ourselves, but for each other?

This is a question I ask myself a lot—and I’m sure, if I were a more selfish writer, my own playwriting career would be a little more… distinguished.  But I believe I have a responsibility as an artist to not only to make art that makes me happy/fulfilled, but to put my skills as an artist to work in support of a making this world better.

And yes, I know there are a lot of men out there doing great and important things, but this is the LAFPI, so I’m going to focus on the women. I’ve been hugely impressed by the fact that the overwhelming majority of theatremakers who have been joining our producing efforts through Protest Plays Project are women. I’m hardly alone in making this observation when it comes to some of the contemporary socially engaged theatre initiatives of late.

In Chantal Bilodeau’s article, “Why do Women Climate More Than Men?” she notes that the majority of theatremakers involved in supporting the theatrical work she organizes in climate change, are women.  And theatremaker Claudia Alick recently noted in a roundtable discussion I participated in for HowlRound that the majority of organizers applying theatre and art to gun control issues were female.

Its obvious that female theatremakers are engaging in political and socially active theatre in impressive numbers, and no wonder: there are so many problems facing the world, and our nation, right now that it can feel hard to focus on anything else.

And so I ask again:

What’s next?

Photo by Samuel Zeller on Unsplash

I’d love to hear what YOU are scheming up/working on/dreaming about taking action on.  I’ll even start you off with my own #TheatreAction wish list!

  • A nation-wide outreach designed to teach people how to talk to one another again.  Seriously, why isn’t this already a thing?!  We have lost the ability to engage in political discussion without dissolving into partisan mud-slinging and it is tearing us apart!  This project could create collaborative opportunities for theatre makers, psychologists, community organizers, and mediators to develop effective non-partisan programming.
  • An expanded engagement with plays written by playwrights working from a community perspective.  Why aren’t theatres reading more works about their own communities alongside plays about communities in different parts of the nation?  I’ve tried to make some progress on this front with my Heal the Divide/Heal the Divide on Campus projects, but I don’t own a theatre and I don’t have the ear of that many Artistic Directors.  If we all made a concerted effort however…
  • I am currently trying to get theatres to put #TheatreActionVOTE! Plays into their theatres.  These pieces are written to be performed pre-show (they’re only 1-3 minutes long!) and are non-partisan and available royalty free.  It’s harder then you’d think it is to get a theatre to join this effort- even when the message is as non-controversial as “Please Vote!”
  • Why aren’t more theatres collaborating with local non-profits in their communities?  There is such an incredible opportunity not only to increase their community outreach/effectivenss (aka, demonstrate their commitment to non-profit community-centered work) but also to just expand their audiences.
  • Bring theatre to the people!  I wish I could do/see more theatre in unconventional spaces, whether that theatre is entertainment for entertainment’s sake or more efficaciously-minded, the people who need theatre most (and it’s power to teach empathy/compassion) are often the people who see it the least.  Price and access are very real issues, and I love the many organizations who are taking strides to improve access.  I think individual theatremakers have more agency to create theatre in The People’s Spaces than they thing.  You can make theatre anywhere!  If you believed that, where would you make theatre next?

So there are a few ideas from me.  What are YOU working on?  What do you wish you were working on?  Let’s talk in the comments!

~Tiffany

Photo by Anna Sullivan on Unsplash

 

Thanks a lot, Jennie Webb! (Or) How I Got to be SO Busy…

Hey, it’s me, Tiffany! The used-to-live-in-LA-but-now-I-live-in-Iowa playwright who launched Little Black Dress INK, had a baby, and then (because I wasn’t busy enough – duh) started Protest Plays Project too.  I’m pretty much busy ALL THE TIME now, and it got me to thinking…

It’s all Jennie Webb’s fault.

She’s the one who invited me to the first LAFPI meeting all those years ago.  The meeting where I got a taste of she-playwright POWER and decided I needed MORE!  I knew I was moving to AZ, far away from my cherished playwright coven, but what the hell?  If Jennie Webb (with Laura Shamas) could unite the female playwrights of Los Angeles, I could certainly found and operate a female playwright producing company in Arizona, right?!

RIGHT!

And now we’re in our 7th year.  We’ve just announced 2019’s Female Playwrights ONSTAGE Theme. I’ve been privileged to get to know a ton of amazing female playwrights from all around the country (along with some international playwrights as well!)  It’s been a hell of a ride, and a TON of work, but it’s also been totally worth it.

But I wanted to do MORE, remember? Especially since I was politically mortified with the results of the 2016 election.  So I founded Protest Plays Project (PPP).  My initial aim was to collect plays about social issues that theatre-activists could use for protest or fundraising* purposes.  (*Specifically, fundraising for non-profits working for positive social change.)

Well, PPP has been busy.  Super busy.

And I want to take the start of my blogging week to tell you how you can get involved, in case you’re that kind of theatremaker!

First, we’ve got our #TheatreActionVOTE! Initiative going on and all you have to do to get involved is commit to presenting Vote! plays or monologues in your pre-show.

You can write your own piece for this purpose, or select pieces from our Collection.  The plays in our collection are:

  • Non-Partisan
  • 1-3 minutes in length
  • Available royalty free
  • Written to be presented pre-show in whatever location works for your theatre

You can sign your theatre up to participate HERE.  (It’s free, it’s easy, and we won’t spam you!)

We’re also collecting plays on Immigration.  The AMAZING LA playwright, Diana Burbano along with the awesome playwright Ricardo Soltero-Brown, are curating the collection – and we’ll be encouraging theatres to present readings for fundraisers.  You can find more info and send us your play, HERE.

Protest Plays continues to support #TheatreActionGunControl and if you want to put up a reading, we have links to a number of excellent collections on our website!

But does it ever feel like enough?  Does political theatre work?  Can we truly effect change with passionately written, socially conscious plays? I plan on examining these questions later this week, right here, on the LAFPI blog.

So stay tuned, stay connected, and if you see Jennie Webb – hug that wild woman for me!

~Tiffany

 

Adieu to DC’s Theatre Scene

I’ve escaped to the bedroom while a quartet of hardworking young men pack my lamps and my pictures and drag more than a dozen bins of fabric out into the hallway of my high rise. It’s moving day here in Washington. After nearly a decade, living within walking distance of the U.S. Capitol, my husband and I are finally returning to Los Angeles.

It seemed like a good time to look back at my D.C. years as a playwright.

No, Arena Stage did not invite me to participate in their Playwrights Arena playwriting group or commission me for one of their Power Plays. No, Studio Theatre didn’t fall in love with my work. Nor did Olney or Signature or Synetic. In many ways, I felt like I’d arrived in DC about ten years too late. Like the rest of D.C., the theatre scene is very much a relationship game. And those relationships had been formed long before I got here.

But I did find other opportunities. And so could you.

Several D.C. theatres give a nod to local playwrights by selecting new ten minute plays that thematically relate to their mainstage production. My short L.A. riots play got an airing at the Jewish themed Theater J. A development group The Inkwell offers rehearsal space at Wooley Mammoth, actors, a dramaturg, and a director to work on 20 minutes of a full length play. I met my favorite D.C. director Linda Lombardi through this experience. (She was directing one of the other plays.) Another group Theater Alliance hosts what it calls the Hothouse New Play Development Series. It offers a commission, a week of rehearsal, and terrific actors for a one-night staged reading of new full-length work. My full-length L.A. Riots play WESTERN & 96th got an airing there.

That same theatre teamed up with California’s National Center for New Plays at Stanford and Planet Earth Arts to commission playwrights for an evening of ten minute work about the Anacostia River watershed. The plays got a second performance on the Millennium Stage at the Kennedy Center. My new ten minute play KENILWORTH – the story of a woman who fought the government to preserve her water lily farm – was read at that festival. And then the story grew and grew into a full length.

Unlike Los Angeles, where big corporations moved out years ago and took their arts money with them, the D.C. government sets aside a huge amount per capita for arts grants. A grant from the D.C. Arts & Humanities Commission and Planet Earth Arts made it possible to produce a staged reading of what is now called QUEEN OF THE WATER LILIES on Earth Day this spring. The cool part is that it was done in a National Park on the footprint of the house where the heroine lived most of her life, surrounded by the water lily ponds she loved.

The D.C. Arts & Humanities Commission also has an annual award for playwriting. I’ve come in second two times for D.C.’s Larry Neal Award. (First place comes with a nice check. Second place comes with a glass of wine and some cheese at the reception.)

Another commission came my way courtesy of the artistic director of one of the very fine children’s theatres here in D.C. The commission wasn’t for Adventure Theatre.  It was to create a one-person show for an organization called Pickle Pea Walks to be performed every weekend on the grounds around the White House for all those tourists who didn’t get their security clearance. My play QUENTIN is about the youngest son of Theodore Roosevelt on the night before he reports for duty in World War I. He’s hoping to reunite with his pals from the years when he lived in the White House. They don’t show up, so instead he takes tourists down memory lane to help him say goodbye to D.C. This year marks the 100th anniversary of Quentin Roosevelt’s death (his plane shot down by German fliers in World War I) and rangers from Sagamore Hill (the Roosevelt home) are coming to D.C. to see the production this July.

D.C. is also home to the fabulous summer Capital Fringe Festival. As an audience member, I’ve seen an opera based on the War of 1812, a 45 minute version of “Moby Dick,” and more political plays than even Washington could imagine. My own entry was a production of ALICE: an evening with the tart-tongued daughter of Theodore Roosevelt. Alice was famous for her bon mots (“If you haven’t got anything good to say about anyone, come and sit by me.”) and lived most of her life here in Washington. The show played to sold-out houses and was named critic’s pick by The Washington Post.

There are also odd opportunities for playwrights in this town. I was once asked to write a play in 40 minutes based on an audience suggestion. The wonderful artistic director at MetroStage – the first person in D.C. to fall in love with anything I’ve written – invited me to take over her theatre on a Monday night for a public reading of my controversial play with a character in blackface THE LUCKIEST GIRL. I was challenged to write a one minute play for a festival at Roundhouse Theatre – one of dozens being performed for one night only. I knew I wanted mine to stand out, so I wrote a naked play METAL DETECTOR. It was great fun to see the sign warning of “brief nudity” in the box office window.

I also served four years as a judge for Washington’s version of the Tony’s – the Helen Hayes Awards. This meant free tickets to some of the best – and some of the worst – evenings of theatre in America. (I’ve learned to ask: “will blood be spilled on the audience?”)

Finding community has been the most difficult part of living in D.C. Everyone is busy, busy, busy. I was lucky enough to find a writing group – Playwrights Gymnasium – and a terrific crew of writers. Unfortunately, the group has been on haitus the past several years. We’re all too busy. And frankly, all that business has left me lonesome here in D.C.

So I’m coming home.

I’m nervous about rejoining the L.A. theatre community. It’s likely that many of the literary managers reading scripts today were still in high school when I was last living in Los Angeles. Most of the artistic directors I know have retired. Or died. It will be like starting all over again. Just like it was ten years ago when I moved to Washington. But Southern California is home for me. I’m looking forward to re-introducing myself.

List Of Possible Themes For Your Next Artistic Statement

By Chelsea Sutton

This fall, I went back to school. After ten years of day jobs, late-night shows in black box theatres, publications of short stories in tiny journals, bad reviews and “oh-look-how-much-she-tried” reviews, and stealing office supplies and copy machine time from said day jobs (sorry, day jobs), I thought an MFA program was a real cracker jack idea. This of course meant I had to evaluate where I really am as a person and an artist – the least of which not being that I had to get the chicken pox vaccine in order to be allowed on campus because I had apparently never had it or at least it wore off at some point and we all know that chicken pox gets worse as you get older so I could have died, y’all. You know there’s got to be chicken pox hanging out with all the other diseases in those tiny light booths in LA black boxes. Died.

Here lies Chelsea. She was a bit melodramatic. But still.

I also had to write my artistic statement (again). And I don’t know about you, but artistic statements / statements of interest are the worst part of any application to anything. My version of hell would be an eternity of writing new vision statements, probably while having chicken pox and listening to the sound track of the 1967 movie Guns of the Trees – an artsy, dare-I-say pretentious film I had to watch for a film studies class and which made me viscerally and irrationally angry. Welcome to grad school.

I made some shit up of course (can I say “shit” on the blog? I just did.) I got into school, but I was on the waitlist first so let’s not get too puffed up about it or the quality of my statement. I’m very good at almost-winning things. Lesson: I’m never anyone’s first choice but I’m making a career out of profiting off of other people’s passed up opportunities.

Okay, found the door. Where’s the damn key?

My statement is fine. But in my first quarter I really started to understand the different paths we are all on – and knowing where you are and not caring where someone thinks you should be.  That’s the key to a real eduction (inside and outside the classroom) and probably a great vision/artistic/interest statement.

[Full disclosure: I’m actually in the MFA program for fiction. After being waitlisted for playwriting programs twice, I said a big “screw you guys, I’ll figure it out on my own” to the Theatre Gods, and that’s what I did. My fiction needed some love and attention. It always blows my mind how theatre and literature generally know so very little about each other – the communities really should overlap more. But that’s another blog.]

I’m learning to become a new kind of student. It’s grad school. It’s a terminal degree. Grades alone are not going to get me where I want to be. Any other straight-A students out there? This is a big shift in mentality. I am learning how to approach each class now with the mindset of growing as an artist and a person. I’m not here for perfect grades. I’m here to write. I’m tired of trying to figure out what someone else wants me to say – because, news flash, I’ll never get it right. So lets get back to what is true. And I think this mentality can be applied to any opportunity we are applying to that requires us to articulate how and why and who.

On That Note – Optional Themes For Your Next Artistic Statement:

  • I am awesome. Give me money so I can do more awesome.
  • I see multicultural and radical race theory interwoven with the histrionic classical diegesis…(Doesn’t have to make sense as long as it sounds smart.)
  • I’m going to change the world.
  • The world will never change.
  • Puppets!
  • I’m trying to be better.
  • Sometimes it takes a long time to know what you’re trying to say.
  • I want my world to be radical and political and shattering but sometimes that means it’s a quiet story about a quiet person on a quiet but special day.
  • Marches are great, but I want to write about what happens once it is over.
  • Ghosts!
  • Burritos!
  • I almost died from almost getting chicken pox and now I understand this fleeting life we have and I just don’t have time to try to feed into what you think a playwright should be doing or thinking.
  • I can’t wait to get started.

Shifting Perspective

 

Witnessing the Light, artwork by Cynthia Wands, 2018

 

Just recently, (and I mean just in the last few weeks), I began to feel hopeful about the changes in store for this year.

I started listening to the NPR news on the radio on my drive home from work, after swearing off from it last year.

After a year long quarantine (Eric has been going through a tough chemotherapy schedule), we started going out in the world again. We’ve seen two movies, and went for a long hike. It felt like waking up in daylight after being in the dark last year.

 

I’m seeing women reach for political office, and stand up with persistence and courage to change our leadership.

And reading the messages about the #MeToo movement, and the illumination of how women have been treated, gives me hope that the world will be seen through different eyes. (“Sunlight is the best disinfectant.”  I don’t know who said that it – but I love that idea.) I can see that audiences and directors and theaters will be changing in the way women are portrayed, and directed and who the leaders are.

So I have to be hopeful. I know that history and health issues can change in a moment, but I’m reaching out in my world to belong to more of the present moment.

(It took me several hours to come up with that last sentence, I kept changing it, so I can see there will be some balancing to be done with that assignment…)

I’m making a plan to see more plays, more readings, more artwork, more friends this year.

I hope this next year finds new adventures for all of you, and I look forward to seeing your work, and watching this year unfold.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
Cynthia Wands

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Authenticity

by Constance Strickland

Authenticity: Letting the work go.

This is the word that I have lived with and tried to honor over the past few months. The word has become an ode of sorts as my theatre company’s new piece Medea: A Soliloquy or the Death of Medea has undergone a workshop.

Theatre Roscius is me. Although I am lucky to have a loving partner whose consistent help is often needed – for as we know in the theatre the work is continuous, at times overwhelming, when trying to do so much alone, no matter how satisfying or beyond worth the work is.

Entering my first workshop, the process has been a gift as well as a huge adjustment for an independent theatre artist who produces work not so easily defined, who has no artistic home. Nor are there consistent sponsors, donors or a team with whom I work with on a daily basis. Nor is my theatre company a nonprofit… so I’ve learned to do the work my way by any means necessary. Which has its faults while allowing room for magic to manifest in an organic fashion that lacks structure.

Yet the workshop process requires order, roles, structure… all that do not necessarily come together when you are playing all the roles. I have gotten used to writing, producing, directing along with acting in my work. When the work takes a toll on the self it does not allow your best work to shine through. One can also miss what makes theatre so beautiful: The collaboration, the merging and discovery of ideas.

So I have practiced during this workshop giving the work away in order to let it fly. It has not been easy. I have had to ask myself if I am trusting enough? Am I giving pieces of myself, money, giving time, taking time and not trusting the ensemble and director fully? Will I allow the director’s vision to flourish?  Can I allow the piece to develop beyond my images? It has not been easy for me to answer these questions.

During these forty plus fast paced hours of workshop development, the script has morphed into many faces, with the dialogue and movement just beginning to mold as well as fuse into one, yet the conversation is still being had between the two. I have discovered my strengths as an actor, producer and writer. I’m quick on my feet, my body is strong, I give 110% to the space and can adapt to direction. I have also been told and found my weaknesses. As an actor I can be easily distracted, as a playwright I can be defensive and as a producer I procrastinate and can lead with fear instead of fearlessness.  

Workshop is a rigorous process that has allowed the play to reveal itself in many forms that could not have manifested without the players bodies or our director’s leadership. I reached out to everyone I knew. One woman whom I had never encountered before responded to my email, met, and agreed to helm the work. I’ve learned from this gesture deeply when approaching the work inside and out.

Ultimately as playwright I’m excited, uncomfortable, and honored that our director Caitlin Hart, Artistic Director of the Vagrancy Theatre Company along with the players: Carolyn Deskin, Madison Nelson and Meredith Brown have embarked on this experiment together and that we will have a chance to share Medea with an invited audience. This opportunity to hear feedback from audience members on January 22nd after sixty-two hours of development will be quite rewarding. 

As the new year approaches I will not let fear lead the work. None of us must. So let us all Go Big & Be Fearless this 2018!

Constance

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 LAFPI Podcast: “What She Said” – Alyson Mead with Deb Hiett

deb-heitt


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

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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.”

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