Posts tagged: Desiree York

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

 by Desireé York

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

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

LA FPI:  What inspired this piece?

Adrienne Dawes

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

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

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

Rosie Glen-Lambert

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Want to hear from more women artists? Make a Tax-Deductible Donation to LA FPI!

Donate now!

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

The FPI Files: Breaking the Silence–“The House on Mango Street” adapted by Amy Ludwig

by Desireé York

Currently, Amy Ludwig’s adaptation of The House on Mango Street is considered a politically charged play.  Why should this coming of age story about Esperanza Cordero, a young Latina living in the city of Chicago, be the center of such controversy?  Because until recently, Tuscon Unified School District in Arizona had banned the book of the same name by Sandra Cisneros (on which the play is based) along with their Mexican American Studies program.

The voluntary program for K-12 began in 1998 as part of a desegregation lawsuit filed in 1974; studies proved that over the years it had begun to close the achievement gap for the student population whose majority is Latinx. However, in 2010 the state of Arizona passed S.B.2281 which “outlawed any courses that: (1) promote the overthrow of the United States government; (2) promote resentment toward a race or class of people; (3) are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group or (4) advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.” As a result, the Tuscon Unified school district shut down the program and banned books like Cisneros’ for fear of losing State funding.

Fast forward to August 22, 2017 when federal judge A. Wallace Tashima struck down this law stating, “The passage and enforcement of the law against the Mexican American Studies program were motivated by anti-Mexican-American attitudes.”

This verdict came after students of the school district and their parents filed a lawsuit against the Superintendent of the Tuscon Unified School District. The record also declared, “the decisions regarding the Mexican American Studies program were motivated by a desire to advance a political agenda by capitalizing on race-based fears.” These conclusions stand to reason why most educational institutions across the nation include Cisneros’ book as required reading: to prevent this unfounded fear from spreading.

Having originally adapted the play in 1993, LA FPI asked Amy Ludwig what inspired her to write this play and how it has impacted her as an artist. Ludwig responded, “I was the dramaturg for a theater company of women of color in Chicago that was looking for a play that would show off their strengths, and not finding much. I was also studying at Northwestern, which champions the adaptation of many kinds of writing for the stage. So I went to Women & Children First, the amazing feminist bookstore there, and started reading novels. Cisneros’ words just leapt off the page and demanded to be read aloud. I knew I’d found the right piece. It was my first adaptation, and gave me the confidence that I could be a writer myself. Directing it in Chicago and San Antonio put me in collaboration with amazing communities of artists. Seeing it continue to be performed, in East LA, at high schools, or in Spanish – it’s a marvelous and humbling journey.”

Estela Garcia and the company of The House on Mango Street at Greenway Court–photo by Michael Lamont

And in 2017, Ludwig hopes “that audiences will feel the extraordinary humanity of Cisneros’ characters, and realize that no one deserves to be ‘othered’ or called illegal. We’ve all been children. We all have dreams.”

Director Alexandra Meda – who is also the Artistic Director for Teatro Luna: America’s National Latinx + Women of Color Theatre Ensemble and Touring Company – commented in a recent press release that “the special kind of fear and hate that is directed at immigrant families, is a very personal touchstone for so many readers over the last 20 years…The isolation, violence, and limitations that surround the character of Esperanza feel all too familiar in the current state of affairs we find ourselves in today in the United States.”

The House on Mango Street reaches beyond the stage in Los Angeles and into Fairfax High School’s curriculum as part of the educational program GreenwayReads by presenter Greenway Arts Alliance, celebrating its 20th Anniversary this year. Students will have the opportunity to read the novel, see the production and participate in other special events. The play’s powerful message travels next to Dallas, Laredo, and Iowa City. When asked about its future in Arizona, Ludwig shared, “there are no current plans for an Arizona production, but Arizona has a vibrant community of Latinx playwrights who are making exciting work about many issues.”

Elizabeth Nungaray as Esperanza–photo by Michael Lamont

Not only does the play have a politically charged message, but this production promotes gender equity with powerhouse women serving as author, adaptor, director and actors. Ludwig expressed that the response to this female-driven story has been “overwhelmingly positive. The House on Mango Street conveys a specific story in such a heartfelt way that everyone finds something to connect to.” With strong female representation and support such as this, voices like those of Esperanza will surely continue to break the silence.

To stand with Esperanza and the women of this project, please visit: http://www.greenwaycourttheatre.org/now-playing/ 

The House on Mango Street runs through October 28, 2017 at the Greenway Court Theatre in Los Angeles.

 

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

Want to hear from more women artists? Make a Tax-Deductible Donation to LA FPI!

Donate now!

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

WordPress Themes

X