Tag Archives: female playwrights

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

Thankful

Hey hey, it’s Turkey Day!  Er, Day Before Black Friday-day? Get Drunk With Your In-Laws Day?

Oh – haha – it’s Thanksgiving day.  And there is SO much to be thankful for!

So aside from the usual gratitude points like family and friends and food and shelter and chocolate, there are things going on in the playwriting world that merit some LAFPI thanks.

Gender Parity it making progress.  Kitty Felde did a nice write up about the DC/VA/MD theater commitment to producing female playwrights, and American Theater Magazine recently shared the list of most produced plays for 2013-14 of which HALF are by women!

This is good news.

Additionally, there are a host of female playwright centered festivals offering opportunities to lady scribes, so there’s really no excuse NOT to be writing, submitting, and submitting some more.

So let’s spend some time in gratitude land this afternoon for all that is good and evolving!

~Tiffany

 

Sigh

I hate writing about this. But it should be known that the Great Plains Theatre Conference has become a much lesser plains for the ladies.

I’m a big fan of GPTC. My play KIGALI was chosen several years ago to be one of the mainstage shows. I had an entire week to work on rewrites, working with terrific director Sonia Keffer and wonderful actors like Amy Lane and Terry Brannen. A year later, I was invited back to give feedback to other actors and hear another great reading of my short play TOP OF THE HOUR.

I didn’t apply this year. It’s just as well, apparently.

That first year I participated, more than half the shows chosen for mainstage readings – five of the eight chosen that year – were written by women. This year, there is just one play by a female writer on the mainstage. 26 other writers were invited to participate in the conference PlayLabs. Of them, seven are women.

And this in the year GPTC is honoring the wonderful writer Connie Congdon.

Artistic leaders say the selections are blind.

I don’t argue for a quota system. But when the numbers look like this, it begs a closer look at who is making those blind selections. And what criterea they are using. How blind is blind?

Or perhaps it just means we don’t write very well.

Crazy Schemes Produced

So, I’m a pretty active person, playwright, and dreamer… I like to keep busy and I like to feel productive.  I think it’s one of the reasons I was SO excited about the LAFPI starting up… I mean, a group of kick-ass playwrights all working towards gender parity in theater?  AND we get to have fun mixers and support each other and address important issues in theater?

Count me IN!

And over the past year (+) I’ve been super happy to see all the strides we’ve made – the very important LAFPI study helmed by the amazing Miss Ella Martin, the Women on the Fringe work that honored theatres who produce female playwrights, and the all encouraging and inspiring support that this site has offered for countless other female playwrights who want to get involved and join the revolution.

It’s been amazing.

But I’ve been watching a lot of it from AZ – where I’m now stationed – and I’ve been ants-in-my-pants-to-the-extreme for more ground-work than I can actually do from afar…

Until I realized that my new stomping grounds include an amazing community theatre and quite a few talented and accomplished female playwrights of its own…

And then I realized that I could support female playwrights by actually producing them.

So I started up Little Black Dress INK (www.LittleBlackDressINK.org), sent out invitations to some awesomely talented women, had a thrilling meeting with the head of the theatre here who said “YES!” to my crazy scheme, and got the ball rolling…

Now, a few months later, I find myself in the home stretch of a most passionate project:  Dirty Laundry, a ten minute play fest benefitting the Prescott Area Women’s Shelter and including plays from 9 awesome female playwrights!  There are also 7 female directors helming each of the plays, and a WAY talented team of actors bringing these plays to life.

So that ants in the pants feeling I was complaining about?  It’s settled down a little bit, appeased that I’m making something happen instead of waiting for it to come to me…

And isn’t that what the LAFPI is all about?

Becoming an “Instigator” is a call to arms!  All it takes is some daring, some passion, some wild-eyed-scheming, and a shared vision.

I might be one tired puppy at the end of this week, but I will be sleeping happy 🙂

~Tiffany

Size Matters

It really does.

I mean, there’s no need to get pink in the cheeks, I am talking about theater here, after all – and really, the play is the thing.  But, unlike the world’s grotesque obsession with mammoth manly pieces, it seems the theatre world is dead set against that which looms huge… So what does one do when one writes “large” plays?

My first grad-school play, In the Company of Jane Doe, called for a cast of 12 (or 8, if you got creative) but the first time we produced it, we cast 14.  And the script (not I, oh no) asked for some pretty interesting effects like  “A row of Clones spill out and around” the main character.  And it called for a large voluminous womb.

Fun for designers… better yet for designers with a nice little glorious budget… budget… budget  (from the echoes of an empty purse)

So the next play I wrote, I limited myself to four characters and wrapped them around a kitchen sink… but wouldn’t you know it if one more showed up, and those characters insisted on clamoring about the place… the living room, the garden, and the attic.   Still, at the end of the day, I felt I had done a lot to curb my “big thinking”  So much so in fact that I set out to write a THREE person play… It would be minimal. it would be clean… it would be: The most expensive play I’ve imagined to date. There are multi-media projections, a fire-breathing closet, five characters, and some of them fly in and off stage or hover “Above their own bodies.”

And I wonder sometimes if I am just hell-bent on making the most of this struggling artist thing by writing these monstrously theatrical shows that make dreamers giggle and realists cringe: “How can we produce this when you’re still just a pipsqueek in the theater world?”  I guess the economic crisis hasn’t done much to endorse the gambling spirit.

That, and the fact that in addition to my affinity for theatricality, I also write primarily about (wait for it….) WOMEN.

And if there’s one thing that seems to scare the Powers that Be more than big casts or fire-breathing budgets… it’s a “feminine” story.

But why?

I can’t figure it’s got any firmer basis in anything other the fact that many, many plays hover around or originate with men, and if there’s one thing people dread in any sort of business it’s untested change… Change brings uncertainty, and uncertainty breeds nervous pocket-books, and we all know that when the pocket-books get nervous, not a whole heck of a lot happens by way of taking chances.  Soooo, if the standard is “Male playwrights and male-centered plays sell tickets” then we are quite literally going up against “The Man” when we send in our materials.

And it’s crazy frustrating!  Especially when there are some kick-ass female playwrights out there creating all kinds of exciting theater.

So a playwright is faced with questions – Does she write smaller shows?  Does she try her hand at commiserating with a Manly public and changed “Sallie” to “Doug”?

Just what is a playwright’s responsibility to the yawning public (or frightened Producers) to give them what seems to be selling… or try to sell them what should?

Possibly, the solution is to set yourself some guidelines and then test them- my “Three person, one-set, super-clean” play ballooned into one of the biggest (And I think most beautiful) plays I’ve ever written.  It’s received oodles of praise, and I believe it WILL get produced (eventually) it’s just too exciting not to.  But I wouldn’t have written the thing if I hadn’t started out with that mindful, business-like plan of writing something “Small”…

What budgetary/production-ary/mind-set-ary do you take into consideration when inspiration strikes?

~Tiffany