GLO (Green Light One-Acts), featuring 5 new plays by local women, runs at The Miles Memorial Playhouse November 5-15th. For more information and tickets please visit: www.greenlightproductions.org.
All About Harold and Me by Diane Grant
All About Harold is one act play that eventually became a two act play called HasAnybody Here Seen Roy?
It began with my daughter who used to work for a visually impaired woman, named Jean, who had been married to a man named Harold. Jean had many stories about him and the one I loved the most was the one about the big black Cadillac. That triggered the play. Harold also conjured up in my memory a man named Roy who once picked me up in the university cafeteria, chatted me up, wooed me, and then set me up with his friend who was 5’4”. (I have never topped 5’. Indeed, it’s stretching it to say I’m 4’11”). And then Roy disappeared. Like Harold.
I don’t know if either Harold or Roy sang but I’ve always felt in my heart of hearts that most male singers, tenor or baritone, are just a bit treacherous.
I started to write when I was very young and began with stories. The first one was about my piano teacher who would excuse herself from the music room to take some of her medicine. When she returned, her breath always smelled somewhat different. Sweeter. Stronger. My second teacher enjoyed a sherry with my Mother after my lessons, which got shorter and shorter. Somewhere around Chopin’s Nocturne #2 in E Flat Major and the last glass of sherry, I stopped taking lessons but am still writing.
Although I was part of a radical troupe of actors in Canada, called Toronto WorkshopProductions, and threw myself into political writing and performing, I’ve always loved and written comedy. The humor in my plays is always about something underneath, something that keeps us going or stops us from living fully. And I hope it makes people laugh.
About the same time I worked with Toronto Workshop, two amazing and energetic women, Francine Volker and Marcy Lustig, asked me if I wanted to join them in forming the first professional women’s theatre in Canada. I did and we called it Redlight Theatre and wrote about women! Most of my protagonists are still women because, well because I’m a woman, and because they are interesting and funny and complex and bound to run up against a man or two.
I’m so pleased to be part of GLO, and thank them for giving women a voice and the joy of working together.
(Article written by the playwright: Diane Grant Article also (posted/to be posted) at “Lightbulbs” on the Green Light Productions website www.greenlightproductions.org.)
I have enjoyed our diverse group of voices. I have enjoyed the moments when after reading these ladies or watching a video or film, I break out into laughter or tears – those moments when I am found…. There is nothing like being in a funk and have someone write “Oink! Oink!” or having to leave my desk to shake myself after reading “When Playwrights Get Old” which came about after “Too old?” left me numb and very contemplative. When I look in the mirror, I see me and have to remind myself that the first set of students at the university where I work my day job have graduated and are in their thirties now. The few that have stayed on in employment shock me when I run into them yet when I look in the mirror I don’t see age — I see me. One wonders if after all the “Taking Stock” we do if a change is gonna come – ever – but we keep hoping and pushing and fighting for that “Stillness” that drives us.
The goal is to be a working artist. By that I mean, you don’t have to have a day job to pay the rent, pay for submission fees, or afford you food while you write. Living in near poverty to be an artist should be against the law especially because that same art could end up being a national treasure; the following terms are not interchangeable: “Working Artist – Donating Artist – Surviving Artist“.
Zora Neale Hurston author of Their Eyes Were Watching God died in poverty; her work was rescued from a fire after her death (Florida had a habit of burning the belongings of the dead). Zora Neale Hurston’s life work is a national treasure…
There should be no limitations or rules on where or in what form a writer creates story as there are no rules to who can be “The Happiest Person in America” or one of the happiest people – let us do our art and we are there… Gender does not dictate what shared work will change the world in some way — “And The Female Play at the Tonys was…” and it should not dictate who has access to the stage, the screen or the bookshelf. Great stories all start the say way — with words and the “Voice…” of the writer. All are needed, each soprano, alto, tenor and bass… There should not have to be “The Bechdel Test for the Stage“; there should not have to be a Bechdel test at all – why can’t all stories worth telling be treated equal? Why can’t the journey be easier? Why can’t handling “Our Expectations, Our Fears” as artists be easier? Perhaps even this tug-of-war on gender parity fits into the “Everything Is A Creative Act” category; it is, after all, fodder.
I especially like what Pulitzer Prize Finalist playwright Lisa Kron said at the last Dramatists Guild Conference “Having Our Say: Our History, Our Future” about what she does when something rubs her the wrong way “I’m going to write a play about this” — The Veri**on Play is what resulted.
Just wondering, do you have any favorite LA FPI blog articles?
Bloggers Past and Present:
Jessica Abrams, Tiffany Antone, Erica Bennett, Nancy Beverly, Andie Bottrell, Robin Byrd, Kitty Felde, Diane Grant, Jen Huszcza, Sara Israel, Cindy Marie Jenkins, Sue May, Analyn Revilla, Cynthia Wands and special input by Laura Shamas and Jennie Webb.
I think we are all born to tell stories and to listen to them. Leslie Marmon Silko says “I will tell you something about stories. They aren’t just entertainment. They are all we have to fight off illness and death. You don’t have anything if you don’t have stories.”
1. How did you become a playwright?
As I child, I learned to love stories. My father was a wonderful storyteller who could take the ordinary events of family and of daily life and spin them into something that always made us laugh. My Aunt, my dad’s sister, also told stories. She was the National Secretary of the Women’s Temperance Union in Canada and would travel from town to town with her felt board, speaking and reciting. I was very impressed.
When I was in middle school and I can still remember being mesmerized by hearing a performance of The Highwayman by Alfred Noyes. Our school auditorium was full of rowdy students when suddenly a man dressed all in black appeared on the stage and began….
“The wind was a torrent of darkness among the gusty trees.
The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas….”
It’s hard to imagine now but that auditorium was utterly quiet until he came to the end. I thought, “Oh, I want to write something like that.”
I’m a Canadian from Vancouver, British Columbia, and my desire to write was reinforced every time my mother, grandmother and I would go to Theatre Under theStars, an outdoor musical theatre in Vancouver’s gorgeous Stanley Park, where the singers had to compete with the seals barking and the peacocks screeching. Magic!
2. What is your favorite play of yours?
I just did a performance of my one act comedy, Rondo a la Condo, with The Kentwood Players, which remains my favorite play. I don’t know why, except that I’m crazy about the characters, who are all trying to find a little peace and quiet but who keep each other on high alert much of the time.
3. I loved a production of another short play of mine, called Sex and Violence. It’s a difficult play to do because the comedy is dark. The protagonist has grown slightly mad and his wife, who despises him, has to be played as a cold, ambitious woman, indifferent to his pain. This production captured all of that and got all the laughs that were there, too.
4. What play by someone else has moved you the most and why?
One of the plays that most moved me was The Glass Menagerie, which I grew to know well because I played Amanda Wingfield in two different productions. I hate productions of it in which Amanda is played as a self centered shrew. Her story is so contemporary. She’s a single mother, abandoned by her children’s father. She makes terrible mistakes but she loves her children and tries to keep everything afloat in a time of depression. Her son also deserts her and his sister, and his guilt is at the heart of the play. And the language is superb.
5. Who is your favorite playwright? Why?
I have a few favorites. Right up there is Shakespeare with his wit and insight and gorgeous language. It’s amazing that so many of his words and thoughts are still part of our lives. I wonder how many books there are with titles taken from his plays. Tom Stoppard’s sophistication and crisp language is thrilling. (I keep looking for revivals of Arcadia. Saw a very moving production at Vox Humana a few years ago.) Ann Jellicoe was an early influence. I admire her immediacy, sense of place and culture, her zest for life. She also plays with style and is not afraid to work outside a conventional framework. Shelley or The Idealist is one of my favorite plays.
6. How has your writing changed over the years?
I’ve learned to cut, cut, cut. I still overwrite and am fortunate to have a husband who is a fine editor and who spots every comment on a situation, every repetition. I’ve also learned to enjoy rewriting. And rewriting.
7. What type of plays do you write?
Although I’ve written plays with political themes and dramas, generally speaking I write comedies. I like to call them “profound comedies.” And I don’t know if I’m joking about that. I don’t start out to write in any style. Comedies are just what happens. I often use music, too, and like the way it enlivens the proceedings.
What also influenced my style was working in a company that built new plays from research, documentary material, and improvisation. We’d write as we sat on the stage, put the pages on their feet and go.
8. Do you write in any other literary forms?
I write poetry on occasion. I’ve used poems in my plays but have usually turned them into songs. My husband and I used to write screenplays, which involved a lot of walking around the block.
9. Why did you become a blogger for the lafpi?
The fab trio, Jennie Webb, Ella Martin, and Laura Shamas asked me to become part of the lafpi and I was absolutely delighted. Women are still not adequately presented and represented in the theatre and we need to raise our voices. I don’t know if I volunteered or was drafted to blog.
10. What is your favorite blog posting?
Catching Up, which is about my fellow bloggers. The bloggers’ voices are so diverse and wide ranging. I like getting to know their different worlds and approaches to writing and life.
11. Who do consider an influence where your writing is concerned? And why?
My first mentor, George Luscombe, the Artistic Director of Toronto Workshop Productions, encouraged me to write.
12. When did you find your voice as a writer? Are you still searching for it?
I think I found it early on but couldn’t describe it. I’ve been criticized for being too implicit but I like nuance, subtext, and irony, and have been writing like that for a long time.
13. Do you have a writing regimen? Can you discuss your process?
I used to write every day and kept a daily journal but have found that the business of marketing has intruded something fierce and I write more sporadically. I just read a quote from Bertolt Brecht that says, “It’s not the play but the performance that is the real purpose of all one’s efforts,” but he doesn’t say tell you how you get to the latter.
14. How do you decide what to write?
I don’t think about it consciously. When I have made a conscious decision, it has often been the wrong one. I tried for over a year to write about the friendship between Paul Robeson and Albert Einstein before I realized that I’d never be able to make it work.
15. How important is craft to you?
It’s key for me. Searching for conflict, clarity, a character to root for, a beginning, middle, and end are what I look for when I rewrite.
16. What other areas of the theater do you participate in?
I’m an actress. At one of the lafpi meetings at Theatricum, I got to stand on the Theatricum stage and thought I’d die from joy.
17. How do you feel about the theater community in Los Angeles?
I’ve seen some great plays and some rotten ones but there is always something going on that’s interesting. The Black Dahlia’s production of The Last Days of JudasIscariot was out of this world and I still think of a number of plays I saw at the Odyssey, Tracers, to name one, with real pleasure.
18. How do you battle the negative voice?
The negative voice is my default position, so I deep breathe and walk a lot. It’s thematic in my life, walking.
19. Do you have a theme that you come back to a lot in your work?
I realized recently that I write a lot about betrayal and abandonment. But I also write about love, and betrayal and abandonment are part of that.
20. I have three rewrites that I’d like to settle down and work on. When those are finished, I hope that an idea will immediately attack and start the words flowing again.
Diane Grant is an award winning playwright and screenwriter, whose film Too Much Oregano won the Cannes Film Festival Jury Prize.
She was a co-founder of Redlight Theatre, the first professional women’s theatre in Canada. Her plays, which have been produced and published in the US and Canada, include Nellie!How The Women Won The Vote,Sunday Dinner, Sex and Violence, The Piaggi Suite, Four Women In Search Of A Character,Rondo a la Condo, A Dog’s Life; and The Last Of The Daytons, a semi-finalist for the 2007 National Playwrights Conference at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center.
Will To Win, a documentary on the Southern California Shakespeare Festival, written by Ms. Grant, and produced by filmmaker Kerry Feltham, previewed in Los Angeles and the Folger Shakespeare Library in 2007 and is recommended by the Royal Shakespeare Company of London.
Ms. Grant has performed at the Stratford Festival and the National Arts Centre of Canada. She was Literary Manager of the Los Angeles Write Act Repertory Company, a mentor for the young playwrights’ group HOLA, and a member of Los Angeles’ Wordsmiths. She’s a member of the Dramatists Guild, The Playwrights Guild of Canada, the International Center for Women Playwrights, and is Vice-Chair of the Alliance of Los Angeles Playwrights.
It’s hard to believe that the lafpi is already moving into its third year and I’d like to thank Laura, Jennie and Ella, who got us all together. I’ve met some terrific people as a result of this supportive group and am grateful for it.
The Holidays for me are always a time for thinking about family and old and new friends with gratitude and fondness. It’s a joy to reconnect with the good people who helped us keep going when we were watering the soup, and the ones who stuck around when we’d fattened up a bit, the ones with whom we share old stories and plot new adventures, who like to laugh.
That’s why I ask, “Why oh why are we supposed spend the holidays hitting the stores to buy, buy, buy?” (I know the answer to that. I’m just whining.) But, I mean, really. Television would have me believe that we are all going about giving new cars to our newest and dearest. With big red bows on the roofs. Whoa. Or purchasing big glittery pieces of jewelry. And big red toolboxes and big bottles of cologne and vodka (vodka, I can see.)
And why oh why oh why aren’t there more Holiday songs? Or fewer? (I know the answer to that, too.) When I’ve heard Winter Wonderland or worse, Deck the Halls, or even worse, Rudolph, the Rednosed Reindeer, over and over and over again in Ralph’s and Macy’s (you have to do a little shopping) on the TV and radio, or blaring from loudspeakers in open air malls, when I can’t wait for January, when I have to staunch my screams, I remember that there’s an antidote.
I go home, have a cup of tea and listen to Pete Seeger’s Precious Friend.
Now that’s a song for the Holidays. Come to think of it, for all seasons.
I first heard about the Alcyone Festival from fellow lafpi instigator Ellen Lewis’s blog. It is produced by the Halcyon Theatre in Chicago to celebrate female playwrights.
(I’ve always like the word halcyon but also have always been a bit hazy about its meaning. So, I looked it up. Alcyone is the daughter of Aeolus who, in grief over the death of her husband Ceyx, threw herself into the sea. Zeus had punished him for blasphemy. Both Alcyone and Ceyx were turned into kingfishers, so metamorphosis is the origin of the etymology for halcyon days, the seven days in winter when storms never occur, the seven days each year during which Alcyone, as a kingfisher, lays her eggs on the beach and during which her father Aeolus, god of the winds, calms the waves so she can do so in safety. Now halcyon days describes a peaceful time generally. A better meaning, however, is that of a lucky break, or a bright interval set in the midst of adversity.)
Halcyon is run by Artistic Director Tony Adams and his wife, Associate Artistic Director Jenn Adams, and they are in their fifth season. In 2008, they decided to do something about the fact that the percentage of women produced on Broadway hasn’t changed in a hundred years, and that only twenty percent of plays produced throughout the country are written by women. That summer, they mounted the first Alcyone festival, producing the works of ten early women writers, seldom or never seen today.
In 2009, they attacked the myth that women write only small domestic dramas, and picked as the festival’s theme, terrorism, the cult of martyrdom, and its effects on the innocents. In 2009, they chose from women playwrights all over the globe and in 2010, featured the works of Maria Irene Fornes.
This year, Ellen Lewis was chosen, along with four other contemporary women playwrights. She and J. Nicole Brooks, Coya Paz, Caridad Svich and Jennifer Fawcett, (who is based in L.A), were to adapt, leap off from, reinvent, reenvision, and/or be inspired by works from a wide range of classical texts. The only rules they had were that they had to be inspired by a female playwright’s works, written before 1870, and be ready to go into rehearsal in April.
What a heady assignment! A lucky break, a bright interval.
They chose plays by Pauline Hopkins, Charlotte Mary Sanford Barnes, Hrosvitha, Anna Cora Mowatt, and Maria de Zaya y Sotomayor.
The plays chosen are diverse and I’d love to have seen them. J. Nicole Brooks’s Shotgun Harriet was inspired by PeculiarSam by Pauline Hopkins; Jennifer Fawcett’s The Invaders, from The Forest Princess by Charlotte Mary Sanford Barnes, EM Lewis’s Strong Voice from the works of Hrosvitha, Coya Paz’s Fashion, adapted from Anna Cora Mowatt’s Fashion; and Caridad Svich’s A Little Betrayal Among Friends, from Maria de Zaya y Sotomaoyr’s, La Traicion en la Amistad.
The festival ran from June 9 through July the 10th.
What if theatre weren’t seen as a luxury but as central to the fabric of our country?
The Theatre Communications Conference is asking this question and more from June the 16th through the 18th at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, the Biltmore; and the Central L.A. High School #9, for the Visual and Performing Arts.
LAStageAlliance is sponsoring the conference, which is also celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of TCG. The national organization for the American theatre, their website says, was founded in 1961 with a grant from the Ford Foundation to foster communication among professional, community and university theatres, and now has nearly 700 member theatres and affiliate organizations and more than 12,000 individuals nationwide.
There are 1,084 attendees signed up – playwrights, artists and members of theatres from all over the country – and the TCG has teamed with Radar L.A which will be presenting its plays at the same time, including Moving Arts’ Car Plays, L.A., and a CalArts’ adaptation of Gertrude Stein’s play, Brewsie and Willie.
Here are some of the other questions the conference is asking:
What if artists and other theatre leaders talked regularly and openly about art and aesthetics?
What if theatre institutions and their boards committed to hiring more people of color in leadership positions?
What if a group of billionaires created a “Giving Pledge” initiative for theatre?
What if the US became more embedded in wars around the globe – what would become the role of theatre and artists?
What if there were a new audience engagement model as powerful as the subscription model?
What if theatres and artists could commit to each other for multiple years?
What if we could solidify new business models that would truly lead to the sustainability of our theatres?
Here’s one I wish it was asking. What if more artistic directors were committed to producing plays by women?
However, women and the LAFPI are represented. Hooray! Instigator Laura Shamas, and Paula Cizmar are asking “What if…Social Activism Could Inspire New Models of Theatre?” on Thursday, June 16th at the Biltmore Hotel from 2:30 to 4:00, and instigator Dee Jae Cox is moderating a panel called “What if Women Ruled The World?” on Saturday, June 18th at the Central L.A. High School from 11 to 12:30.
I can’t attend the conference but am part of the National Playwrights Slam on the 19th from 9 pm on at the Biltmore Tiffany Room and will report back. I’ve bought a pair of sandals and may break down and buy a new outfit as well. (Maybe, maybe not. I’m a rotten shopper.)
I know that one rarely makes contacts at any conference that lead on to fame and fortune. (I went to one a while back that was called Reinventing the Future. I’m still reinventing and thank God the future is always a day away.) But the panels sound interesting and may lead to some positive changes, and the explosion of the L.A. Theatre surrounding the conference is exciting.
I imagine that a great schmoozefest will be the heart of the affair. And that sounds like fun. With one thousand and eighty four people there, everyone is bound to meet a few simpatico persons, exchange some good ideas, and have a few laughs.