Damn them! Just when we’re looking the other way, yet another woman playwright is getting a premiere at The Echo Theater Company, now in residence at Atwater Village Theatre. Over the past three seasons, over 50% of The Echo’s productions have been written by women. And this time out, it’s five women at once.
Nevertheless, She Persisted is an evening of short plays by female writers that explore the treatment of women in today’s political climate. Well. With a kick-ass title and logline like that, we thought it was about time we reach out to The Echo’s Artistic Artistic Director, Chris Fields, and playwright Mary Laws (whose Blueberry Toast premiered with the company last year, and has a piece in the evening) to see just what trouble this femme-friendly company is getting up to, now.
LA FPI: So… Which came first: the title or the plays?
Chris Fields: The title. All the plays were commissioned expressly for this evening. The writers were simply told the title of the night. These are playwrights who we’ve worked with before in different ways and/or wanted to work with. Basically, “on our radar.” We were also aware of how different they are which we welcomed.
LA FPI: Five playwrights–Mary Laws, Charlotte Miller, Calamity West, Jacqueline Wright and Sharon Yablon. How did they each interpret the title?
Chris: We gave the playwrights the title of the evening and, of course, it was very provocative. We said that we weren’t asking for overtly political plays but to please let that phrase percolate. Subsequently, the plays are very diverse in subject, tone, and world, but do consistently reflect some aspect of today’s feminine experience. (You’ll see!)
LA FPI: Which direction did you go in writing your play, Mary?
Mary Laws: I am a thirty-one year old woman, and this is the first time in my life that I have seen our country so divided. I think if we can agree on one thing, we can agree that a lot of people are afraid: of the current administration, of the safety and security of our country, and of the dissolution of our basic human rights. As a woman, the latter is particularly troubling. When organizations like Planned Parenthood are attacked, our reproductive rights are threatened, and The President of the United States makes openly sexist and degrading comments about our female bodies, it’s hard not to ask yourself: who is looking out for me? It’s a scary time, and I wrote my play, yajū, as a response to these fears.
LA FPI: Not only are the plays written by women, but four of the five have female directors. Mary and Sharon are directing their own plays, but how were the other directors chosen?
Chris: I engaged the directors from the company I thought would best serve the plays, basically. [Associate Artistic Director] Tara Karsian directs Charlotte’s play and Ahmed Best, Calamity’s. Teagan Rose had expressed a desire to direct and I thought this program, the play, etc. was the ideal opportunity for her to get started, and Jacquie is wonderful to work with.
Mary: I’ve long wanted to direct my own plays, but in the past when I’ve asked for this opportunity at other theaters or events, I’ve been given a simple and easy no. The reasons have always varied, but none of them ever seemed valid to me. When I told Chris of this desire, he was quick to invite me to direct my own play, once again demonstrating that The Echo is the kind of theater that takes risks on new artists and affords equal opportunity to those who seek it.
LA FPI: How has it been–a room full of women, working together?
Mary: I love working with women. I want to work with women until I die. Women are wickedly smart and unapologetically brave and infinitely strong. Women can do anything.
Chris: Sharon and Jacquie are old colleagues and collaborators, artists I see as very special to the Los Angeles theater community. Mary became part of our “family” last year–Sarah Ruhl sent her to us. Calamity lives in Chicago and is an old friend of Jesse Cannady, our new Producing Director, and we’ve been reading her stuff this year. Charlotte came to us a number of years ago through our connections at the Labyrinth in New York and we’ve been waiting to work with her. And she just moved out to LA.
LA FPI: We love that The Echo seems to have quite the open door policy when it comes to women playwrights! How are you fitting in, Mary?
Mary: The Echo has kept me in the business of writing new plays (which is no small feat in the land of film and television). Not only are they excited to tell my dark and twisted stories, but they’ve done much to support the work of other incredible female writers: Sheila Callaghan, Bekah Brunstetter, Ruby Spiegel, Jessica Goldberg, and Sarah Ruhl, to name just a few. Even more, the majority of the theater’s leadership is comprised of women, from the mainstage directors and producers to the literary manager, Alana Dietze, to the inimitable Jen Chambers who runs the Playwright’s Lab. The Echo is not only “female friendly” but female driven… which is smart, because if you ask me, today’s most thoughtful and provocative theatermakers are women.
LA FPI: Okay, Chris. Are you afraid of getting a rep for staging, god forbid, “women’s plays?”
Chris: Any institution or person who ghetto-izes plays by women is dumb. I revere and cherish talent, no matter who or how it comes.
Nevertheless, She Persisted —An evening of five world-premiere short plays by female writers that explore the treatment of women in today’s political climate, plays from August 24 – September 4.
• yajū, written and directed by Mary Laws
• Sherry and Vince, written by Charlotte Miller, directed by Tara Karsian
• At Dawn, written by Calamity West, directed by Ahmed Best
• Violet, written by Jacqueline Wright, directed by Teagan Rose
• Do You See, written and directed by Sharon Yablon
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.
It’s that time of year again, time for Little Black Dress INK’s annual Female Playwrights ONSTAGE Project to begin!
And that means we are looking for some seriously fabulous female playwrights to participate!
Little Black Dress INK is thrilled to continue creating production opportunities for female playwrights through its Female Playwrights ONSTAGE Project; a short-play festival dedicated to producing peer-selected works by women. In addition to contributing to the selection of plays, participating playwrights are able to review and revise their work during semi-finalist readings, and are encouraged to blog about the process along the way.
Submissions are now being accepted from awesome female playwrights for consideration in this year’s festival! This festival utilizes a peer-review process for evaluating submissions, so please make sure to read over the following guidelines carefully before submitting.
This year’s festival theme is Hot Mess. Playwrights are invited to submit short plays and/or monologues written on this theme. In the past we’ve also had great success with short scenelets (10-minute plays comprised of a couple of scenes, which we can sprinkle throughout the line-up)
LBDI strongly suggests you do not submit plays or monologues longer than ten minutes. Keep in mind that in all instances, shorter truly is better. Plays running longer than ten minutes stand very little chance of making it into the festival, as we strive to produce as many playwrights as possible.
Little Black Dress INK utilizes a peer review process for evaluating plays. By submitting to this fest, you agree to participate in this unique opportunity to help select plays for production.
Once our submission window is closed, you will receive a selection of plays to read and score using the LBDI online eval form. You MUST read and submit your evaluations by the required date in order for your play to remain in consideration.
Submitted works will be read by other participating playwrights and LBDI artistic personnel. By submitting to the festival, you agree to share your work for review in this process.
Submission materials must be emailed to LBDI by December 10th, 2016 and should include:
The following information in the body of your email:
The title of your play
Your contact information *It is very important that you use a reliable email address as all correspondence will be done via email!
A blind PDF of your script – do NOT include your name anywhere on the script!
Email materials to submissions@LittleBlackDressINK.org
LBDI will be producing readings of the top scoring plays at locations nation-wide. The top eight to ten scoring plays will also move on to full production with Little Black Dress INK.
For those who don’t know, I am not only a playwright, but the Artistic Director (slash/Mad Woman) behind Little Black Dress INK – a female playwright producing org that produces an annual peer-reviewed short play fest. Over the years we’ve grown our fest from a small group of playwrights produced in Prescott, AZ, to a now nation-wide new play reading series with productions slated in both Prescott AND Lafayette, LA in 2016. I couldn’t be more proud of all the efforts our supporters, artist, and producers have put into this fest—and I am ecstatic that we continue to grow.
This year, we’re adding an online component to the festival—one that will allow us to produce online versions of full-length plays. It’s called the ONSTAGE: ON-AIR podcast, and our very first one is now live!
Since it’s our inaugural podcast, we chose to focus on interviews with some of our VIP artists, and included excerpts from past ONSTAGE plays. You should definitely check it out – the women we work with are all kinds of amazing! And the great thing about podcasts is that you can listen while you’re working out, driving, cooking, and pretty much anything else-ing!
The travel gods smiled on me this fall, and I’ve been able to catch several new plays that are part of the historic D.C. Women’s Voices Festival, currently running in our nation’s capital. The Festival’s mission, according to their website, is one that I love and support: “To highlight the scope of new plays being written by women, and the range of professional theater being produced in the nation’s capital,” as part of “the largest collaboration of theater companies working simultaneously to produce original works by female writers in history.”
About fifty-two world premieres of female-authored plays and musicals are being produced by 48 D.C. area theaters, a mix of large and small companies (Equity and non-Equity); the launch party was on September 8, and the last show closes on Nov. 22, 2015.
With a budget of over $500,000, co-produced by Nan Barnett (Executive Director of the New Play Network) and Jojo Ruf (Managing Director of The Global Lab at Georgetown University and Executive & Creative Director of The Welders), the Festival was modeled on the 2007 “Shakespeare in Washington” celebration that lasted for six months across the city. Over a two-year period, 7 D.C. area theaters created the Women’s Voices Festival: Arena Stage, Ford’s Theatre, Round House Theatre, the Shakespeare Theatre Company, Studio Theatre and Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company.
Make no mistake about it: the Festival is both a boost to women playwrights and a way to draw attention to the scope of D.C. theaters – a win/win.
I am unable to see even 1/10th of the shows being offered, so I don’t consider myself an expert about the Festival in any way – just a lucky pop-in attendee. Here are some of my informal impressions, with quotes from some of the amazing artists involved in the Festival.
1) WITCHES VANISH by Claudia Barnett
The first play I got to see in the Festival was Witches Vanish by Claudia Barnett, directed by Deborah Randall at Venus Theatre. LA FPI’s own Jennie Webb put Barnett’s play on my radar, and I’m so glad she did. I’ve had a longstanding mythological interest in The Weird Sisters from Shakespeare’s Macbeth, and this play features the archetypal trio as a metaphoric theatrical entity who witness (or sometimes cause?) women vanishing, in real life and in literature. As playwright, Barnett asks from a political, historical and sociological perspective: “Why do women vanish?” With elements of puppetry, dance and fascinating vignettes, Barnett’s script interweaves scenes about “lost” women; it runs 90 minutes without an intermission. I admired the theme and originality of Barnett’s play and Randall’s inventive direction. I admired the all-female cast.
Witches Vanish closed in late September, and I asked Barnett for her thoughts about her play and the Festival: “Witches Vanish gives voices to women who’ve disappeared throughout time—both by telling their (fictionalized) stories and by explicitly naming them in a series of chants between scenes. Given the common theme, it fit the Festival perfectly.”
Barnett described what it was like to be there as a playwright: “The sense of community was amazing, even for an out-of-town playwright who was only in Maryland for four days. One reason was Lorraine Treanor, who introduced the playwrights to each other with her series of interviews, which she distributed to us daily with cheerful emails. (The interviews are posted on the DC Theatre Scene website.) Another reason was the American Theatre photo shoot, where many of us met. I remember the moment when we were all nervously posed on the staircase at the Arena Stage and were told this shot would be the cover of the October issue. First I felt shock, then acceptance, then delight. It’s a tremendous honor to be part of that group.”
Claudia Barnett is the author of No. 731 Degraw-street, Brooklyn, or Emily Dickinson’s Sister: A Play in Two Acts, published in October by Carnegie Mellon University Press.
2) CHIMERICA by Lucy Kirkwood
The next play I saw related to the Festival was Chimerica by British playwright Lucy Kirkwood. Although it was not an official part of it, it was scheduled to “coincide” with the Festival. This is Chimerica’s U.S. premiere. I‘ve wanted to see this play since I’d first heard about its 2013 run in London (and its subsequent wins for Best Play for both The Evening Standard and the Oliver Awards). The title refers to the domination of the U.S. and China in modern geopolitics, covering a span of twenty years. A photographer’s iconic photo taken in Tiananmen Square becomes a catalyst for a mystery that spans generations and cultures. The two-act play, masterfully directed by David Muse, at the Studio Theatre, is ambitious, powerful and quite moving. It was over three hours long but seemed to fly by. Kirkwood’s approach was cinematic in style and epic in scope: I find myself still reflecting about her characters and images more than a month after seeing it. (For more on Studio Theatre’s production of Chimerica, click here.)
3) IRONBOUND by Martyna Majok
Ironbound by Martyna Majok, directed by Daniella Topol, at Round House Theatre was the next show I caught in the Festival. Majok, who was born in Poland, is an award-winning playwright on the rise (New Play Network Smith Prize, David Calicchio Emerging American Playwright Prize, 2015-2016 PONY Award, among others). Majok was inspired to tell the story of Darja, a Polish immigrant who works as a caretaker and factory-laborer, because “poor women” are misrepresented in our theatres; in the video linked below, Majok comments: “I wanted to see my own story on stage.” Ironbound is a 90-minute tour-de-force that takes place mostly at an urban bus stop; it has a cast of four. A huge “X” image in the industrial set by James Kronzer marks the spot; it embodies the protagonist’s economic and emotional quagmire, suggesting a steel cage. The protagonist Darja (beautifully played by Alexandra Henrikson) holds the stage the entire show, and we learn in real time and flashbacks about the key points of her life and relationships in the U.S., from 1992 – 2006. Without giving too much of the plot away, I felt especially lucky that I got to see Ironbound with my mother. It’s ultimately about the bond between mother and son, and the meaning of love.
Ironbound will open next in New York in March 2016, co-produced by The Women’s Project and Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre, again directed by the talented Topol. (For a brief interview with Majok about Ironbound, scroll through this page.)
4) INHERITANCE CANYON by Liz Maestri
I’ve followed playwright Liz Maestri for years on Twitter, and was thrilled to have a chance to see her new play Inheritance Canyon as part of the Festival, directed by Lise Bruneau, produced by Taffety Punk Theatre Company. Maestri is based in D.C. Her most recent projects include the site-specific piece LAZE MAJESTY with Field Trip Theatre, and she was a 2015 O’Neill Playwriting Theatre Conference finalist.
Inheritance Canyon is a zany and thought-provoking look at a scientific experiment and the meaning of life. It takes place in a canyon near a desert, and involves three friends: Shell (Esther Williamson), Sal (Teresa Castracane) and Gary (James Flanagan). They witness a mysterious explosion, and then are put under medical surveillance, a sort of limbo-quarantine, for the rest of the play. This work was commissioned by Taffety Punk and is related to a previous Maestri play, Owl Moon (the program notes describe Inheritance Canyon as an “un-prequel”). I didn’t see Owl Moon, but I did catch that the owl is a major symbol/prop in Inheritance Canyon, and is connected to “doubling.” The play, in two acts, runs about two hours, with intermission.
And speaking of intermission, the character switch that happens (during it?) between the first Shell and the other Shell (Gwen Gastorf) was theatrically fun at the top of Act Two. One of the meta-themes in Maestri’s play was “performance” in modern life: if we “perform” a function, does that mean we become it, Maestri asks? Gary, one of the doomed trio, repeatedly states his longtime dream to be a performer, and rehearses songs, wearing a wig, as he impersonates Olivia Newton-John in anticipation of an audition that never comes. Shell wants to pretend to be a scientist, and in the end, a Camera Kid/Intern comes along to document the “reality” of it all.
I asked Maestri for her thoughts on attending the Festival, as well as being featured in it: “The Women’s Voices Festival has been a powerful and formidable ride so far. I’m very much inspired by all the new and exciting work I’m seeing, the energy around the Festival itself, and the remarkable efforts of Nan Barnett and Jojo Ruf realized. I’m still processing it all–the past few months have been such a whirlwind of new experiences, hard work, and straight-talk about the industry’s commitment to parity. The Festival is churning things up, causing trouble, changing lives, starting conversations, and catapulting new art into the world. I’m proud to be part of it.”
5) QUEENS GIRL IN THE WORLD by Caleen Sinnette Jennings
Playwright Caleen Sinnette Jennings has two plays in the D.C. Women’s Voices Festival. Jennings’ one-person play Queens Girl in the World, directed by Eleanor Holdridge and produced by Theater J, is the last show that I saw.
This play stars the virtuoso performer Dawn Ursula as the young Jacqueline Marie Butler (“Jackie”), during her tween to teenage years–until the mid-1960’s–in Queens. Ursula plays every character in the piece, including her worldly “best friend” Persephone Wilson, Jackie’s parents, young male suitors, the grandfather of a friend who molests her, her teachers, her mixed race middle school friend Doug, Persephone’s mother, and more. Jackie must constantly navigate dual worlds: neighborhood street life versus her stricter home rules as the daughter of a doctor; Queens versus Manhattan, as one of four black students in a progressive Greenwich Village school; leaving childhood/entering adulthood.
Queens Girls in the World depicts in two acts (with the act break serving as a tone shift marker when the script turns from “fun” to “serious”) what it was like for a studious, bright African-American girl to grow up in the Civil Rights era, and to live through its violent days: the 1963 death of Medgar Evers, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. She memorizes the names of the four girls who died in the 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing in Birmingham, Alabama: Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson and Carole Denise McNair. Jackie gets to meet Malcolm X one night, and then, soon after, mourns his death. By the end of the play, Jackie’s parents are so fed up with life in America that they move to Nigeria. The beautiful star-field projected at the end of the show, as they sail away, serves to highlight Jackie’s poignant continuing search for her identity. Everything about the production is top-notch, and the super-talented Dawn Ursula is unforgettable.
One thing I’ve been tracking is the number of excellent female directors working in the Festival. It’s been inspiring to see so many female-helmed productions. I asked Eleanor Holdridge, a director in great demand and the head of the MFA Directing Program at Catholic University, about directing in the Festival: “It has been so thrilling to direct not one but two World Premieres by Caleen Sinnette Jennings in the D.C. Women’s Voices Festival. Just opened her Queens Girl in the World at Theatre J, a semi-autobiographical piece in which the wonderful work of Dawn Ursula evokes a girl coming of age in a very turbulent time. A really remarkable process.”
Holdridge continued: “On October 8, I will embark on rehearsals for Caleen’s Darius and Twig, a TYA show at the Kennedy Center, based on Walter Dean Myers’ stunning young adult novel about two kids growing up in Harlem whose friendship and resilience take them through very difficult times. The current draft gets beautifully at the difficulty and joy of growing up in rough circumstances. And somewhere in the middle of it all, on October 19th, I will direct a reading of a new play by Sarah Gancher at Mosaic Theatre, The Place We Built, about the lives of young people striving for voices and a place of their own in Hungary. It’s a thrilling bi-product of the festival that so many women directors are being brought along for the ride. For my female directing and playwriting students, I find the season a wonderful inspiration for what enriching strength that women theatre artists can bring to the art form in America.”
6) MORE, PLEASE:
I wish I could see many other shows in this Festival, which runs until late November; it is such a rich, thrilling expansive endeavor. I tweeted an inquiry several days ago, to ask if the D.C. Women’s Voices Festival might become an annual event. (Fingers crossed?) They responded: “Great question. At this point it’s still too soon to say. We’ll keep you posted on any updates.” In Holly L. Derr’s recent Howl Round post about the Festival, Nan Barnett mentions plans for a post-Festival handbook that could be used as a guide by other cities to mount their own versions of this kind of festival. Yes, please!
Martha Richards, Founder and Executive Director of Women Arts, attended the first October industry weekend of the Women’s Voices Festival, and was part of a Gender Parity panel on October 4 at Woolly Mammoth Theatre. Richards notes the Festival’s significance: “I think that history will recognize the Women’s Voices Theater Festival as a turning point for women in theater. Gender parity activists have been looking for ways to reach our goal of 50/50 by 2020, and large-scale festivals like this provide a perfect mechanism to push our numbers up quickly. So many women in theatre are fed up with the inequality in our field, and I predict that the Washington role model will inspire them to create similar festivals all over the world.”
7) 2.0 THOUGHTS, TO IMPROVE?
While there are some who feel that the concept of a “Woman’s Festival” is patronizing in and of itself (e.g., shouldn’t “women playwrights” just be considered “playwrights,” after all?), I applaud these innovative producers and theatre-makers in D.C. for taking positive action, and for bringing attention to female writers and the thriving theatre community in our nation’s capital.
In future iterations, one always hopes for improvements. Here are a couple of areas to consider:
a) Inclusion – Playwrights of Color. In the October 2015 article entitled “Women’s Work” by Suzy Adams in American Theatre, Arena Stage’s artistic director Molly Smith regrets that the number of writers of color in this Festival is less than 10 percent: “When we talk about diverse voices, it always has to include race, and I think that’s one thing for me that’s a weakness of this particular festival” (p. 47). That’s an important factor that should be addressed in a future festival incarnation or iteration.
b) Coverage Disparity? It’s so hard to get press for the arts these days, so we’re all grateful for the theatre reviews that are published. But as is standard in reviewing festivals these days, the practice of combining critiques of several shows within the same review seems to infer “competition” among the shows (a “see this, skip this” consumerist tack, sometimes even at the headline level). Also, some plays in the Festival received their own stand-alone reviews, while others didn’t. I don’t know what the remedy to it is from a press perspective, but I’m sure some of the theaters noticed levels of disparity in the coverage. Surely the playwrights noticed, too.
8) LOS ANGELES? EVERY CITY IN THE U.S? AND BEYOND?
Could this festival be replicated/produced/curated in another city? Yes! How about it, L.A.? Why not try to organize a multi-month festival involving fifty (or more) L.A. theaters that’ll produce shows by female playwrights at the same time? Let’s consider this, SoCal theatre-makers. It’s a great way to promote the high talent level of our theaters, large and small, as well as promote the high level of female playwrights who reside and work here.
And beyond L.A., I hope the D.C. Women’s Voices Festival launches a worldwide movement: Women’s Voices Everywhere! Maybe if enough female-focused festivals occur, it will eventually be “normal” to include a 50/50 ratio of female playwrights in all regular seasons on the world’s stages. A playwright can dream, can’t she?
Seriously, June is always one of my favorite (and craziest) months in LA theater. And that’s because of the Hollywood Fringe Festival and – more specifically – the amazing work of women artists at the Fringe, and the community that’s created each year. Yep, the Fringe Femmes. It’s a fabulous, gooey, full-of-kindness-and-generosity-and-inspiration hot mess that I can’t get enough of. It’s a month where women artists laugh at the “You must be threatened by other talented women!” edict that still pops up now and again when we least expect it, and come out of the woodwork to actually SUPPORT each other.
I also find that many of us spend most of June cursing because there’s just too much to see and only so many places we can be – especially me, if I’m to grab any sort of admittedly loose hold on my often questionable sanity.
So good. July means Encore! extensions, and that we have a second chance to catch stuff we missed. (Or see stuff a second time!) Nice to note that nearly half (46%) of the extended shows are written by women. (2016 Encore! producers: 50% please?)
Was really glad to find Abby Schachner’s “U and Me and My Best Friend P” on the extension list, as well. I didn’t make it to Abby’s show last Fringe, so I was truly blown away by her rock-em sock-em performance and smart, insightful, ridiculously funny verses. (What? Just one Encore! date on July 9? Not fair.)
And this year I also became a huge fan of two female directors. The first is Rosie Glen-Lambert, who brought fantastic and fantastical touches to Veronica Tjioe’s evocative “Dead Dog’s Bone: A Birthday Play.” (Will be terrific to see how this transports to Bootleg Theater July 9-11 – love the action there!)
Then there’s my brand new acquaintance Kate Motzenbacker, director of Savannah Dooley’s all-femme “Smile, Baby,” a super savvy snapshot of what it’s like to be woman today in a man’s world. (Relate much?) Kudos to stand-out actors Jessica DeBruin, Sonia Jackson, Linda Serrato-Ybarra, Molly Wixson and Madison Shepard, all puttin’ the V in Versatile. (Only performance is July 3.)
Last (but not least) on my list of “Encore! Shows by Women I (and/or Others) Managed to See” is Megan Dolan’s irresistible “Snack,” directed by Chris Game. (Oh. Chris is a man. But he gets major props on this cracker-jack show.)
Don’t miss SNACK! From the moment I read that Megan Dolan wrote “Writing is an act of defiance” on the top of each page as she penned SNACK I knew I was in for a real treat. The painful yet hysterical tale of Dolan’s childhood connected with my entire sold-out audience on so many levels. If you don’t love this show there must something wrong with you. Thank you Megan Dolan and Christopher Game for bringing SNACK to my world.
We rarely find ourselves aware that every 12.95 minutes a human being commits suicide… unless we experience it directly.
Penny Pollak is a wonderful physical performer who, in her solo show “No Traveler,” combines intensity and prowess as well as having the ability to seem familiar. Watching Penny, you recognize the girl drinking too much who can’t seem to finish the puzzle, you recognize the pain of feeling completely lost. Then all of a sudden you find yourself laughing because that, too, is what occurs when we we are able to step outside ourselves and can see the bigger picture – we laugh, for we have found the humor within our pain.
“No Traveler” reveals what Hell sounds like, how glorious Heaven will ring upon our arrival and the questions that can arise if we find ourselves in Purgatory. Penny goes in between characters with stealth and ease and has a great co-actor in a vintage metal bucket onstage; it was a pleasure to see the bucket have a life of its own – I fully heard it talking.
What “No Traveler” does also does quite powerfully is remind us to listen, really listen, to those around us for we just may have the chance to save a life.
This piece can take many forms from an installation piece to theatrical staging so it will be quite interesting and beautiful to see it adapted into a feature film!
I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “Oh my goodness! Korama! That sounds like a personal problem that you and your writing partners should discuss together.” Ordinarily you would be right. I’m an adult(ish type person) who likes to handle my problems in a (mostly) adult way. Talking to my writing partners would be the adult way to handle any issues. Except that they aren’t just my writing partners – they’re your writing partners too.
“What?” you just exclaimed “I don’t have any writing partners.” Or perhaps you wondered “Why does Korama think Lewis and Clark are d-bags?” (Side note: This imaginary conversation thing is really amusing to me) The particular writing partners I’m talking about are not of the human variety, but the nagging-voice-in-the-back-of-your-head variety; I’m talking about self-doubt and insecurity.
Everyone has self-doubt and insecurity in varying degrees, but the effects are most felt by people who do creative work. You can doubt yourself when you do a spreadsheet, but at the end of the day the spreadsheet reflects facts and figures, not your thoughts and feelings.
I have a particularly hard time with these silent partners – maybe it’s because, despite the fact that I consider myself a creative person, I am most comfortable with facts and figures. I am very clear with right and wrong, black and white, good and bad. Subjectivity scares me. I start to doubt that what I am doing is good or worth anything at all, like Semele started to doubt what she previously knew to be true.
For those of you who need a refresher, Semele was one of Zeus’ many lovers (not to slut-shame him, but good god, who wasn’t one of his lovers?). Hera, jealous of her husband’s human lover (who was pregnant with Dionysus the god of theatre!), disguises herself as an old woman, befriends Semele and convinces Semele to confide in Hera/Old Human Lady that she is banging Zeus. Hera then plants seeds of doubt in Semele’s head. She asks her how she can know it’s truly Zeus if she hasn’t seen him in his godlike form. On the one hand, that’s a valid point because dudes could totally be walking around pretending to be Zeus in an effort to bed women. On the other hand, douche move on Hera’s part because she knew exactly what would happen next. Semele asked Zeus for a favor and he promised, no swore, he would do whatever it was. She asked to see him in his divine form. Zeus reluctantly agreed and obviously seeing him in his true form killed her.
The story has several morals, the strongest of which is that doubt will literally kill you.
It’s hard not to succumb to self-doubt and insecurity – they are strong opponents. What I do these days is remind myself that I’m stronger. I’m not Semele or Hera or Zeus, at least not completely. I have a little bit of all of them: Semele’s humanity, Hera’s ingenuity, Zeus’ strength. All of these things are what makes me, and my writing, special and unique.
It’s easy to get comfortable with the right/wrong, good/bad dichotomies of this world, but if everything is one thing or another it loses part of its rarity. Walt Whitman once said “Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself. (I am large, I contain multitudes)” To allow yourself to exist in the spaces between black and white, to contradict yourself at turns, is to contain multitudinous, enormous beauty. I won’t allow doubt and insecurity to squash that, to make my work ugly with fear.
So screw you, writing partners. I’m working on my own from now on.
Oh wow – who watched the Super Bowl on Sunday? I’ve got to admit, I was less invested this year because the “Defending title team VS a team embroiled in controversy over deflated balls” narrative wasn’t especially gripping. I did, however, get totally into the commercials (as I usually do), and want to talk for a moment about Always’ #LikeAGirl commercial.
I loved this commercial. I think Always struck just the right balance between messaging and emotion, on top of totally owning its brand. Twitter lit up with the #LikeAGirl hashtag afterwards… and then some ass hat self-proclaimed “Meninest” decided that the commercial, by encouraging 50% of the population, was exclusive and unfair to men and started a competing hashtag, #LikeABoy.
I mean, let’s ignore for a moment that the entire freaking Super Bowl is basically penis Mecca—what do these people honestly expect from a company that sells feminine products?
And what does it say about them that a commercial encouraging girls to be awesome would be so threatening that they felt the need to immediately attack it…
I just can’t even.
Except, I produce a female playwrights festival called the ONSTAGE Project, and this year – for the first time – I received submissions from men. At first I thought *maybe* the gents simply hadn’t read the submission details thoroughly enough to understand that by using the words “Female Playwrights Festival” in the event name, we meant this festival is for FEMALE PLAYWRIGHTS.
Until one of them signed his submission email with the following:
P.S. Yes, I am male, but isn’t it about the story and not the gender of the author?
I was gobsmacked. Gobsmacked, I tell you.
And more than a little furious.
Furious because his email not only communicated a total disregard for our company’s mission statement, but a complete disregard for female playwrights’ gender parity struggle at large. Also, it’s a pretty dick move to tell a female playwright that writing a woman character basically negates the need for female writers.
I’m still feeling incredibly growlsome about it.
But isn’t this why we’re talking about gender parity? Isn’t this very issue one of the reasons the LAFPI exists? It’s certainly part of my motivation to increase production opportunities for female playwrights. So I can sit and stew, or I can turn this particular Twitter turn into further grist for the “Get shit done!” mill…
Because I write #LikeAGirl and I’m not afraid to admit it.
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!