Posts tagged: Katherine James

The FPI Files: The Very Merry Journey of “Ashes to Ashes”

The road to creating a new play is often fraught with challenges, seemingly insurmountable obstacles, and, well, lots of drama – the offstage kind that none of us wants, but theater seems to attract.

So it’s very nice to chat with Debbie Bolsky and Katherine James, a playwright and director team who seem to have found just the right mix of work and play while mounting Debbie’s Ashes to Ashes with The Athena Cats, premiering at The Odyssey Theatre December 9-January 14.

LA FPI: Ashes to Ashes is, in itself, a wild ride of a play – we follow the characters as they travel from country to country. What was the starting point for this play?

Debbie Bolsky: I’ve always said that when I die, I want to be cremated and have my ashes sprinkled in specific spots, so I came up with the idea of writing a romantic comedy about two people who can’t stand each other having to sprinkle their best friends’ ashes around the world.

Katherine James: My favorite thing about the path the characters take is that it is not a logical sequence on a map. In other words, if a travel agent mapped this as your journey you would assume that they were off of their meds. Rather, each country that is visited traces the journey of the heart – the steps in a relationship that test true love.

Debbie Bolsky and Katherine James at rehearsal with actors Kevin Young and Lena Bouton

Debbie: Ashes to Ashes is a wild ride, fun and zany, but it’s also touching at times. The characters are an ex-couple, and in the play they are forced into situations where they face their biggest fears and have to depend upon the person they can’t stand the most to get them through.  But they are also on the journey of discovering things they didn’t realize about each other, things they didn’t know about their deceased friends and finally things they didn’t admit about themselves.

LA FPI: And tell us a bit about where the two of you have traveled, in terms of this collaboration.

Katherine: I had the great pleasure of starting this journey with Debbie in an amazing workshop [Theatricum Botanicum Seedlings’ Dramaturgy Workshop, run by LA FPI co-founder Jennie Webb]. So as we workshopped it and rehearsed it we worked very hard on the emotional journey of the play, how it built, and how each step was a step of growth and intensity.

Debbie: Our collaborative process was phenomenal.  Katherine came up with the idea of workshopping it for a week this past summer with actors (two of whom are still in the play) and that’s when the development started going at hyper speed.  The actors took ownership of the characters. Collaborating with Katherine and the actors – Lena Bouton, Kevin Young and Michael Uribes – has helped me write a richer play and probably become a better writer.

Lena Bouton, Michael Uribes, Kevin Young – Photo by Ed Krieger

Katherine: Collaboration is the name of the game for me. Also, to work with a collaborator like Debbie who is so trusting of this process is rare and welcome.

Debbie:  I love working with Katherine!  But for me, the biggest and most pleasant surprise is how well we all worked together – we are a team.

LA FPI: And of course we love how femme-centric this all is. The Athena Cats is a collective of Southern California female playwrights and directors; for this play you’ve got a woman playwright, director, producers…

Debbie: And a lot of the crew are female as well.  A great thing about this experience is that there is very little ego involved.  All of us working on this have the same goal, to bring Ashes to Ashes to the stage in the best way possible.

Katherine: I think that one of the big differences between men and women in management and leadership is that men tend to work on tasks from a top-down pyramid. Women create things in a circle with everyone in the circle having his/her say and all contributions are honored. It is amazing what a circle of big creative brains can accomplish when nurtured and encouraged to give their best to a project.

Debbie: The Athena Cats has been around for about two years now and this is our second production; in 2016 we produced Laurel Wetzork’s Blueprint for Paradise. [Laurel and Debbie are co-founders of The Athena Cats, and active LA FPI Instigators!] We also had a New Works Festival earlier in the year showcasing works written and directed by women. There are a lot of talented female writers and directors out there who are not getting an equal shot at getting their works seen.  The whole idea of the Athena Cats is to get more works written and /or directed by women onto Southern California stages.

Katherine: Without The Athena Cats, I never would have been given the opportunity to direct this amazing romp. I don’t think that without LA FPI that I would have ever met Laurel and Debbie. Thank  you, LA FPI, for being a cornerstone of my creative life!

 LA FPI: Thank you for being part of an incredible creative team, putting women to work! To continue the love fest, let’s include the audience: When people come to see Ashes to Ashes, what do you want to share with them… and have them take away?

Debbie: Even though Ashes to Ashes starts out with a death, it is really about love, friendship and peace.  We live in incredibly stressful times right now and I think laughter is sorely needed.

Katherine: The holiday season is a perfect time to laugh, sigh, fall in love all over again and go for a great ride. And in this dark time in our country’s history, where better to do this than in the theater?

Michael Uribes, Lena Bouton. Kevin Young – Photo by Ed Krieger

The Athena Cats’ Ashes to Ashes by Debbie Bolsky, directed by Katherine James, opens as a visiting production at The Odyssey Theatre on December 9, 2017 and runs through January 14, 2018. For tickets and information visit www.AshesToAshesThePlay.com or call 323.960-.4443.

 

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About the Baby…

by Robin Byrd

I almost died having the baby.  Feet.  Breached.  Early.  Late.  Viable.  I almost died…  I was alone and scared to push.  She weighed 8 pages when born.  Serious little thing.  Made such a fuss to get here – weeks of labor pain, decades in the womb.  She made me read to her and talk to her.  She requested Nikky Finney’s poem The Afterbirth, 1931; she said you’re trying not to say it.  Say it!  And Dael Orlandersmith, she said, look at her –  good – does she look like she messes around with plays?  Tell it!  And Charlayne Woodard, do you remember the expression on her face when you mentioned me…remember how even now that look makes you cross your fear…Write it! Straight – no chaser…

She seemed to gain strength there at the end – the baby – even though she almost aborted when Mr. Albee passed, screaming and flipping herself feet first so she could push better, wanted to be standing soon after her toes hit air.  You been digging the same well since you met him, time you hit water – it’s a gusher.  She pushed and leaned and pushed and leaned…  All that leaning on my rib cage made me ill but when she was born, I understood why the labor pains were so great.

She had talked nonstop that last month, and I wrote till I couldn’t write no more then she plopped out, feet first and stood before me, naked and unafraid.  She was beautiful, covered in afterbirth,  and I am not just saying that because she’s mine…it’s true…she’s been aching to be born…and she wears herself well…

Ever birth a play like that?  Hard to write but it won’t let you water it down, won’t let you go till you write it?  Because…you have to write it, even if it is a piece at a time.  Some plays are just meant to be…  Only you can write yours so —

Do your art.  You never know how it’s going to shake out or who it will inspire or who it will help survive the storms of life….  In hindsight, I realize that I gravitated to Albee because he distracted me in a the middle of a traumatic time in my life and made me think of better days…and possibilities…  The women — Nikky, Dael, Charlayne — they make me want to fly….

 

“I hope that in the year ahead the art you create makes our country a better place.  We need you.” Katherine James, playwright, actor

 

Words from GLO 2015 Playwright: Katherine James

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.

 

The Plan by Katherine James

Katherine James

Katherine James

The characters in my play The Plan are young women I have met in every decade of the six decades of my life. Young women who put their hopes and dreams aside for the hopes and dreams that others have for them.

This would be sad enough.

What is truly amazing to me is that the hopes and dreams that supersede their own have been the same two over 60+ years: marriage and working for the family business.

It didn’t strike me hard until my older son (who is now 36) was 18 and I met yet another “Anna” who was his contemporary. Anna is the character whose parents have come from another country to the United States to make a better life for themselves and their children. Their success here depends on this child giving her life to the family business with the promise of her own child some day being allowed to have the right to her own hopes and dreams. The “Anna” who was the contemporary of my son’s had not been able to take the S.A.T.’s because her family made sure she was working in the family restaurant that day. As they did every day. I looked back and realized I had met that same girl again and again from the time I was little. I have continued to meet her since, the latest “Anna” a brilliant actress whose parents didn’t want her to get an MFA. They needed her to run the family business and to translate for them.

Will I ever stop meeting “Kiki”? The girl whose family wants her to marry the nice guy and put her hopes and dreams on hold while she helps him achieve his? I hope so. But so far so bad.

What I hope The Plan does is to wake us all up to the fact that our young women with hopes and dreams need to be mentored by those of us who have realized our hopes and dreams. The most soul searching part of the play for me is when the audience realizes that these girls had mentors. Mentors who didn’t follow up with them.

Some women who have read The Plan don’t believe that family pressure to abandon hopes and dreams still exists. They think that when The Feminist Movement of the 20th Century “was no longer needed” it was largely because girls like Anna and Kiki no longer existed. Of course I would say they were wrong on both counts – Feminism is still needed and in large part because Anna and Kiki still are struggling.

I say about today’s Annas and Kikis, “They are our girls.” Let’s give them the encouragement that their families might not be able to. Let’s help them reach their “American Dream”.

 

(Article written by the playwright:  Katherine James.  Article also (posted/to be posted) at “Lightbulbs” on the Green Light Productions website www.greenlightproductions.org.)

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