Category Archives: Theatre

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.

Wrapping Up ONSTAGE and (nearly) on to 2016!

By Tiffany Antone

I’m going to let you in on a little secret: I used to hate 10-minute plays.

I don’t know why exactly… perhaps it’s because—as a playwright—I found it a real challenge to create a satisfying story in just 10 pages.  My first 10-minute play attempts always seemed to bleed into more pages, and felt unsatisfying in their rapid resolutions.  But as I’ve gone on to do more and more with short plays, I realize that the thing that used to bother me about 10 minute plays was that I just wasn’t very good at them yet.

I’d like to think I’ve gotten better writing short pieces—of conserving space and creating tighter, more exciting worlds—and that by becoming more aware of the real-estate value a blank page actually represents, my longer pieces have become tighter, more exciting, and richer as well.

And as a result, I’ve become a huge fan of these tasty little 10-minute morsels of playwright excellence.  So much so, that I dedicate a sizable portion of my year to supporting and producing other short pieces… and yesterday I saw 15 truly awesome short plays brought to life here in Waco and can’t believe that I have to winnow this list down to just 11 or 12 pieces for production.

I’ve written a lot about producing from a playwright’s perspective this week, and I hope it was helpful to those of you who—like myself—have felt stuck, frustrated, or fed up with the stasis of waiting.  But I also hope that, even if you have no intention of ever donning a producer’s cap, that you feel like you’ve gotten a little insight how/why some of these festivals work the way they do.  We’re all in theatre because we love something about it’s incredible contradictions and magic, but the true power of theatre is the unity of intention it requires on all who come together in order to make it happen.

With that, I’m wrapping up my blogging week in love of writing, writers, and all who take joy from the realization of imagination!  If you want to stay in touch, you can follow me @LadyPlaywright or you can follow Little Black Dress INK @LBlackDressINK – we’ll be posting more updates on this year’s fest as it heads to LA for a reading of our winning plays at Samuel French Book Shop on July 11th, and then production in Prescott, AZ August 6-9.

And then we’ll get started on the 2016 Fest, and do it all over again!

 

Creating an Awesome Festival Line-up

By Tiffany Antone

Female-Playwrights-ONSTAGE-cropI got started in theatre as an actress.  I loved being on stage, but I hated auditioning because that very necessary internal confidence that keeps a persom from being a neurotic mess was rarely in full bloom for me.  Instead, I’d pretend I felt confident at auditions and then quietly go home where I could pick apart every choice I’d made and obsess in peace.

Then I directed my first show, which meant I was casting a show for the first time, and in so doing, I had a revelation: for the first time, I understood just how much time I had wasted locked in actor anxiety about things I had very little control over.  After that experience, I auditioned with a lot more boldness, confidence, and less personal worth on the line.  It was freeing.

I woke up this morning reflecting on this, because we at Little Black Dress INK recently announced our ONSTAGE Finalists and I thought it might be interesting to know how I came to narrow down what was a very awesome list of 36 plays to just 15.

First, it’s important to know that we use a peer review process to select our initial semi-finalists, so all of our participating playwrights are responsible for determining the first cut. After that, I consider peer-review scores and Partner Producer nominations along with the points I’m outlining below to create what I hope will be an awesome and successful line-up.

So, in the interest of helping alleviate some writerly anxieties, I’d like to talk today about what I’ve learned—as a playwright—in the five years I’ve been producing new plays:

  1. First, proofing your work is important, but a typo here or there won’t sink the ship!  I can’t believe how many playwrights send in work that just looks like a hot mess.  If you don’t take my time as a reader seriously, why should I take your play seriously?  Make your plays easy to read – format it in a way that is friendly to the eye and go over it for typos and grammar!  BUT, that said, if a play is truly unusual, gripping, or awesome, I’m much more likely to excuse a few formatting hiccups.  That’s just the way it is.  I would never not-produce a piece that I loved just because there were a few misspelled words.  On the other hand, most of the time, the work that is the most compelling is usually also in top readable shape.
  2. Contrary to popular belief, we don’t just select the “very best” pieces.  If I’m creating a festival line-up, I’ve got to build a satisfying one – and that means a mix of genres and topics and tones… I may have nine FABULOUS dramas, but if I produce an entire evening of dramas, my audience is going to be exhausted.  The same holds true if I have multiple pieces that tackle the same subject: even if they’re fantastic, I’m only going to put one of those in the line-up because including too many similar pieces in one night can feel redundant.
  3. I like to use monologues in my fest, so I do.  Monologues have been a really nice addition to our festivals – they are perfect curtain pieces that keep the audience engaged while we set the stage for the next piece.  So, when I select my final line-up, monologues are something I put a lot of energy into.  The other  fabulous discovery I’ve made as a producer is how incorporating short scenelets (a 10-minute play comprised of several mini-scenes) into our fest between plays can provide a delightful through line in what is usually a fractured event. This is just my own preference – and other producers will have theirs.  The reason I mention it is that if I’m selecting 5 monologues to help cover set changes, I might not be able to include that 9th totally awesome play in the line-up.
  4. “Best” is relative.  This one is a no-brainer, but I still mention it because I think even though we all know it, it helps to be reminded once in a while.  Personally, I like plays that feel like they can only live on the stage.  I like plays that challenge or delight me, plays that feel fresh and unique and unlike anything I’ve seen or read before… But what’s the common thread in all that?  Me, myself, and I.   What’s “fresh” to me isn’t guaranteed to feel fresh to she/he/you – so it’s an unpredictable factor that a playwright can’t control and shouldn’t fret over.  What I like about our peer-review process is that it identifies a broad spectrum of work that is outstanding – not just from my own personal perspective, but from a variety of eyes – but as I winnow that list down to the final selection, my perspective comes back to fore.  You could take our same group of 2015 semi-finalists and create a multitude of awesome festival line-ups, each uniquely reflective of what different producers were looking for… and there’s just nothing a writer can do to change that.  Which is why the best thing a writer can do is write work they believe in, send that work out in the best shape they can get it into, and repeat.  Meanwhile, we’ll be here sifting through the incredible amount of awesome work, trying our best to create a line-up that we feel best matches our mission, our audience, and—sometimes—our own personal aesthetic.

And there it is – my ten cents on festival selection.  I hope it’s of interest and of help to you, my fellow writers!

 

The Female Science Fiction Writers of Tomorrow

by Korama Danquah

It’s not a secret to anyone that science fiction writing has, in the past, been a boys’ club. I can’t really tell you why. Perhaps it’s a carryover from the gender gap in science education or maybe it’s just that women feel it’s more productive to construct a real-world society of equality before creating elaborate fictional future worlds. Whatever the reason, there are 20 H. P. Lovecrafts for every Ursula Le Guin.

This weekend, however, marks a momentous step forward for women in science fiction writing. Five young women will have staged readings of their science fiction short stories at Sci-Fest LA’s Tomorrow Prize. These LA high school students will have their stories (1500 words or less) read by prominent sci-fi actors and all five finalists are women.

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Finalists from Left to Right: Ashley Anderson, Erica Goodwin, Janeane Kim, Ruby Park, and Athena Thomassian

The five finalists are a beacon of hope for female sci-fi fans. For decades women in science fiction have been seductive aliens and, more recently, captains and starship officers, but we have not often been the authors of these fantastical stories. These finalists and others like them are saying no to the boys’ club of the past and carving a place for themselves in the annals of sci-fi history. It is often said that “you can’t be what you can’t see,” and these young women are making themselves visible for female science fiction writers of today and of tomorrow.

The Tomorrow Prize readings take place on Saturday, May 16th at 4:00 at Acme Comedy Theatre (135 N. La Brea Ave, Hollywood). Tickets are available for $10 online and $15 at the door. All box office proceeds and any additional donations received that day go to the winner’s high school science department. 

2nd Annual SWAN Day Action Fest – A Success!

Saturday’s LA FPI SWAN Day Action Fest was packed!SwanLogo2

 

The City Garage Theatre is a lovely space.

Each reading was fantastic.  The talent in the room was magnetic -even the micro-reads which are done with minimal if any read-throughs prior to reading them in front of the audience were exciting!  Such FUN.

Thank you to everyone who made this event a success – you rock!

 

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The Quest for Conflict

by Kitty Felde

It’s the first thing we learn about drama: conflict is the engine that drives the train. So why is it so hard for some writers (ME!) to create and intensify conflict?

The truth is, I don’t like torturing these wonderful characters I’ve created. And I don’t like conflict in real life.

It’s not that I roll over and give up. Instead, I analyze the situation, try to charm my way out of it, win the other person over to my side. I’ll even fight back when I’m mad enough.

If I look at myself as a protagonist, I AM taking action. But it’s not very interesting to an audience.

My most produced play “A Patch of Earth” was all about conflict: a 20-something kid Drazen Erdemovic who found himself in an impossible situation, forced to make an impossible choice. I didn’t create that conflict. It was handed to me on a silver platter, testimony from the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. It was his story, the story of a Bosnian Serb who served on all sides during the war, finding himself in a corn field outside Srebrenica, learning how to shoot large numbers of people in a short period of time. He didn’t want to do it and told his commander he wouldn’t shoot. “Then stand up with them and we’ll shoot you,” he was told. “And then we’ll go to your village and shoot your wife and young son.” The audience is put into that impossible situation, asking themselves what would THEY do? And arguing about what the just punishment would be for someone who confessed to killing “no more than 70” of the twelve hundred people killed in that cornfield, yet was the first person to tell the outside world about the massacre at Srebrenica.

But what do you do when you don’t have a civil war to create conflict?

It always comes back to the question: “what does my character want?”

If that “want” is small potatoes, nobody cares. It’s got to be important enough to the character to face all odds, go the distance, sacrifice anything, to achieve the goal. It’s got to survive the “so what?” test. If the main character doesn’t get what she wants, so what? The sun will come up tomorrow morning, babies will continue to be born, tea will still take 3-5 minutes to steep.

This is the challenge of a romantic comedy I’ve been fighting with for months. The “so what?” test. So what if Betsy doesn’t get the big story? Does she lose her job? Lose the guy? And if her “want” is so small, why should we care about her? Why should anyone pay $15 (let alone $115!) to see a show where the stakes are undefined? Why should they emotionally invest in a character who’s wants are just “meh”?

It’s time for me as a writer to become brave enough to torture my characters. Give Betsy impossible odds. Trying to overcome those odds will give her more backbone, give her action that will propel the action forward. She’ll survive. (After all, that is the rule of comedy: everyone lives happily ever after.) But make her earn that happy ending.

I suppose that’s the same message to me, the writer: make this play worth the struggle to write it and write it well so that I can earn my happy ending – otherwise known as “end of play.”

Playing Local!

By Tiffany Antone

I’m just going to go ahead and make a grumpy sounding statement here that might make some of you shake your head, but then I’m going to explain why I feel this way, and maybe some of you will agree with me on this:

I think the Film, Television, and music industries have neutered community talent.

How?  Well, by placing a few really-well-paid stars in the sky (stars whose light shine all over the world at all hours of the day/night), it’s altered our ability to perceive, appreciate, and develop local talent.

Let me back up.

Before entertainment was mass-marketed to every corner of the globe, local artists were oftentimes average and hard-working people who made theatre or wrote poems or played the piano on the side.  I’m sure a lot of those people dreamed about what it would be like to be able to quit their full time jobs and take their talents on the road – and many an early artist did just that.  But their measure for talent was a local one.  They were the “Best in town” or the “Best on their block” and they weren’t comparing themselves to a few celebrities living glamorous lifestyles far, far away…

Nowadays, however, pre-packaged entertainment is piped in and available everywhere.  Talent shows are held in which the judges mimic Simon Cowell and compare competitors to people like Adelle, even though the competitors are 35 year-old SAHMs who’ve never had a singing lesson in their life.

And theatre audiences are shrinking because why go see your Aunt Sally in a community theatre production of Streetcar when you can see Interstellar on the IMAX in 3-D?

Do you see where I’m going with this?  Our local enthusiasm and gusto for local artists is in direct competition with the incredibly alluring and pre-approved “Celebrity”, and that puts us in a super awkward position as artists.

And none of this is new ground – the Arts are very much aware of the fight for audiences in today’s mass-market, but I’m not talking about audiences here… I’m talking about us.  And I can’t help but wonder what more we can do on an individual level as artists to strengthen and celebrate the arts on smaller, more local scales.

What can we do to help nurture local talent, just as your local chamber of commerce supports local businesses?

So I’ll just ask:  When is the last time you went to a show at your local community theatre and didn’t spend the drive home comparing it to professional shows you’ve seen?  When’s the last time you sat in a room full of part-time writers who write with unbridled (and probably untrained) passions and celebrated them without comparing their work or their intentions to that of the “professionals”?

For some of you, the answer will be “Last week, cranky-pants!” but for some of you, I bet the answer is “Ummmmmm…. let me think….” because as artists and writers who are pursuing our dream, I think it’s only natural that some of us get so caught up in the path we are pursuing that we: A – forget that “passion” and “profession” shouldn’t necessarily be judged side-by-side, and B – that in remembering to celebrate the small, joyful, local moments of artistry, we are doubling down on the meaning of art as a form of self-expression, rather than as an act of commerce.

So what does this have to do with being a female playwright?

Well, I think it comes down to staying connected with your community, even as you write in pursuit of NY, Chicago, or LA.   We can’t expect audiences to demand theaters perform our work if we’re not out there supporting them right back!  Also, I don’t live in NY, Chicago, or LA, so if I make those target cities my sole focus and don’t engage with the community in which I actually live, aren’t I being grossly self-obsessed and foolhardy?

So I attend community theatre, I go to college shows, I attend youth scholarship events when I can, and I work at staying connected to the arts scene back home that has supported me so very, very much – because I believe in them too!

And perhaps this is a long, twisting post about tired topics, but I do hope that it creates within you a reflective “How can I get more involved with local artists?” because as artists ourselves, we need to continue to challenge ourselves to learn and grow, while also giving back and engaging with the very communities we hope to someday entertain and challenge with our written work.

Because art is not only art when called so by a critic, right?  Art can be found anywhere and comes in all shapes and sizes and forms.  And the accessibility of it is every bit as important as those de rigour moments of small audience “brilliance” some artists achieve.   Just look at this video of a musician who has figured out how to turn a carrot into a clarinet.  Watch it all the way through – that’s art, people!  It’s amazing – and it’s not a super expensive, hard to come by instrument he’s playing, it’s a mother f***ing carrot!  Talk about local… he doesn’t have to go farther than his local grocery store to create music.  He’s engaged in creating unique and accessible opportunities, and in so doing he’s created some genuine theatre magic!

And that’s something to celebrate.

~Tiffany

Compartmentalizing and the Female Brain

by Tiffany Antone

Have you read this post about women and submissions on Donna Hoke’s blog yet?  It’s super interesting.  In it, she talks about how women statistically submit fewer plays than men do, and so how in the world can we hope to achieve gender parity when we’re not even kicking out as many plays as they are?  She posits a few ideas as to why we’re not submitting as much work as men, one of which might be that we’re simply not writing as many plays as they are (while admitting she’s not quoting scientific data on the subject) and I think that she’s probably on point with some of it.

Because her thoughts echo thoughts that I’ve been personally mulling over (and freaking out about) the past few months – and it all comes down to a very self-judgmental “Why haven’t I been writing as much as I know I should be/want to/need to if I’m going to reach my goal of becoming a real-live playwriting SUPERSTAR (hahahaha) sometime soon?!”

Tina knows what I’m talking about… I think

I mean, I’ve got time.  I’ve got actual time in my schedule to write right now, and instead of being a hyper-productive story machine, I’ve been dragging my feet, occasionally circling the creative drain, and beating myself up about it every step of the way.

And I know that part of my problem is that I’m never JUST thinking about playwriting… When I’m dragging my feet on my written work, I’m dragging my feet on ALL of my work.  When I feel creatively stumped, I feel stumped about life.  I’ve been down and out and confused about just what the hell was wrong with me for months – which was of course not helping me write anything – and then it hit me:

I don’t know how to turn off the very loud, very panic-stricken part of my brain that is constantly worried about finances and health insurance and the unreliability of my fragile adjunct positions and whether or not I’m making something of myself fast enough to save myself from a life of obscure forgotten penury…

Ever find yourself pulling one of these as you just walk into the bank?

And this monumental (and very loud) worry about my own survival has been clouding the creative waters from which I work. This worry about unmet goals and far-off dreams has been pressurizing every unrealized sentence, turning them into huge ugly stones of depressing non-accomplishments that I don’t know how to move.

And once I realized this, the solution seemed clear:  I needed to chill the f*** out!  But how?

Maybe I need to look to some of my male contemporaries who have a (seemingly) easier time compartmentalizing tasks and worries.

I imagine inside every guy there is a Peter Griffin telling him when he’s approaching critical mass.

Because I really think that the gents are better at turning off parts of their brains in order to focus on each thing in turn, one at a time.

What a concept.

I mean, I have always considered my ability to juggle multiple ideas/projects/and thoughts at once as one of my biggest assets, but when the juggling gets out of control, it’s no longer a strength but a very paralyzing weakness.

And I don’t think I’m the only woman out here trying to do too many things at once while mentally beating myself up at each step for not being able to give any one of those tasks my full, undivided attention.  I feel guilty writing because I’m not out earning money by picking up extra paid freelancing gigs, and I feel guilty working on those paid gigs because they are doing absolutely nothing to move me further up the theatrical or academic pipeline.  I worry that the things I want to do aren’t yet earning me a living, and yet I know that they’ll never ever earn a living if I don’t continue to labour away at them in the un-paid now.

But what if I put some of this obsessively negative energy to work through focus.  What if I could shut up the Chicken Little part of my brain and double down on patience and faith in myself and learn to work on one thing at a time?  What if I can learn how to tell my constantly-thinking-worrying-about-3-different-things-at-once mind to let go of some of those worries for a little while, and to believe that putting down a few of my “balls” for a little while won’t bring down the entire circus.

This cat knows what I’m talking about

What if I can cultivate a practice of healthy compartmentalization?

What do you think?

~Tiffany

Equality Pledge for U.K. Theatres and More

by Laura Shamas

There’s some excellent news from London this week. From the BBC News article entitled “Theatres Make Gender Equality Pledge“: “Leading English theatres have committed to making changes in their programming and working practices to address gender inequality in the theatre industry.” The theatres involved include “the Almeida, Tricycle and Young Vic theatres in London; the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC); and the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds.” One theatre hopes for new results to be viable within a year. The overall aim is to include more opportunities for women working in all areas of theatre, including acting, writing and directing. “One theatre complex has made a concrete pledge to balance the number of men and women actors in its in-house shows.” Read more at the link above. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if something similar happened in other countries, including the U.S.?

Also, related U.K. news, the reason the pledge came about: The Advance Programme from Tonic Theatre, an intensive, 6-month effort to advance women in theatre, was profiled in The Guardian in an article by Lyn Gardner on Monday, Sept 22, 2014. Only 29% of shows at big theatres in London are directed by women, “but change is in the air.”  About the field of playwriting: “among the writers of new plays produced in leading theatres such as the Almeida, Tricycle, Royal Court, Donmar and Olivier and Lyttleton at the National, only 24% were female.”

If you missed it from last week, a new 4-year study was released from the League of Professional Theatre Women, about gender parity Off-Broadway: “Women Hired Off Broadway, 2010 – 2014.” The study was  conducted by LPTW members and professional theatre women Judith Binus and Martha Wade Steketee; this study includes new data about women working in all areas of Off-Broadway theatre, including playwriting and directing: “Women playwrights working Off-Broadway ranged from a high of 36% in 2012-2013, to a low of 28% in 2013-2014. Women directors Off-Broadway ranged from a high of 39% in 2012-2013 to a low of 24% in 2011-2012.”

Earlier this month, the LA FPI’s own So Cal League of Resident Theatre [LORT] count for 2014/2015 season was updated: Out of the 57 LORT shows announced for the 2014/2015 Season for the 9 LORT theaters in our area, LA FPI calculates that about 29.5% are female-authored, and about 30.5% are directed by women.