Posts tagged: Los Angeles

Theater and Film: Sara Israel

Playwright, Screenwriter and Director Sara Israel was one of our first bloggers here at LA FPI. Blogs by Sara.  (http://lafpi.com/author/sara-israel/).  She is also a filmmaker.  The thing I like most about Sara is her focus on her art.  It is intense and contagious; you talk to her you will walk away inspired.  We miss her voice on the blog but are so proud of her accomplishment.  Congratulations, Sara!

Please support Sara by attending a screening of her award winning film “The Happiest Person in America”.

Seattle & Los Angeles Screenings in February!

Seattle Asian American Film Festival:  screening Sun. February 9th at 2PM.  Director Q&A to follow.

Asians On Film Festival (North Hollywood):  screening Sat. February 15th at 1PM.  Director Q&A to follow.

 

View this full flyer with a note from Sara in your browser

www.TheHappiestPersonInAmerica.com

 

Leaving LA

Recently, a writer friend and I started talking about LA. Do we really need to be in LA? We asked each other and ourselves.

The beauty of being a writer is that you can write anywhere and you don’t have dress to go to work. You just need a place that inspires you. So what do you do when LA is no longer inspiring? What do you do when the bright sunshine is too bright and the lack of rain is a little obnoxious? What do you do when sitting in traffic is no longer amusing?

Is there a point when you should leave LA? Someone once said that you should leave New York before you get too hard and you should leave LA before you get too soft. I don’t consider myself a bathroom towel, but is there some truth to that?

Really, what is here? No matter how much we try to build it up, it is a theatrical hinderland. Sure, there’s probably the largest pool of actors in the world here, but how many can really do stage acting? Sure, as a dramatic writer, you can work in film and TV. Nice work if you can get it.

Yes, there are theatres and writer groups. There are odd spaces with strange parking and plastic cups of cheap white wine. There are little cliques of self-congratulation and tiny bubbles of hot air.

Folks don’t come to LA to do theatre. Folks come to LA to surf and get famous. I’m not famous and I don’t surf. What the heck am I doing here? What else is out there?

Taking Stock

(Guest Blogger This Week – Laura A. Shamas, LA FPI Co-Founder and National Outreach Agent)

The Los Angeles Female Playwrights Initiative, as a grassroots movement dedicated to the cause of achieving gender parity for women playwrights (and all female theatre artists), has been around for awhile now. Inspired by the advocacy efforts by women playwrights in New York, Jennie Webb and I had our first conversation about it in September 2009 over lunch at the Marmalade Café on Ventura Blvd. In November 2009, we put up a temporary website, begged Ella Martin to head a study of L.A. female playwrights’ activities in the first decade of the 21st century, and tried to figure out how to organize a community-wide outreach to the hundreds of female dramatists here (and those who love them)—not an easy feat when you consider SoCal’s 500 square miles.  But we knew lots of people here cared about this issue and wanted to do something about it. We had our first official meeting in March 2010 at Theatricum Botanicum during a major storm; it seems like a metaphor, looking back. Still, many talented women and men trekked to Topanga Canyon during the torrential rain, and spoke from the heart about how and why this cause—and theatre as an art form—matters.

That initial wet chilly meeting seems like ancient history now; so much good work has happened in the past 2+ years. There’s a long list of artist-volunteers who have contributed to the LA FPI mission. Some highlights include: the creation of this website by Jennie Webb, sponsored by Katherine James; the award-winning staff of playwright-bloggers (Tiffany Antone, Erica Bennett, Nancy Beverly, Robin Byrd, Kitty Felde, Diane Grant, Jen Huszcza, Sara Israel, Cindy Marie Jenkins, Analyn Revilla, and Cynthia Wands) who are featured daily in this space, expertly managed by editor Robin Byrd; Ella Martin’s historic 2011 study results; Alyson Mead’s podcasts with inspiring women playwrights; the Women at Work Onstage page (still the only weekly list of female-authored shows in L.A.), created/maintained by Laurel Moje Wetzork; the bi-monthly e-mail blasts that include member news and submission opportunities, curated by Erica Bennett, then Helen Hill (we’re now looking for communication help!); the support from Larry Dean Harris, who wrote about us for The Dramatist—and gave us a spotlight, featuring Janice Kennedy, at a 2010 regional Dramatists Guild meeting (followed by a panel slot for us at 2011 National DG Conference); the new venture with Tactical Reads launching this week, connecting women playwrights to female directors, originated/helmed by Sabina Ptasznik; the spread of our badges on the Web and in person (a branding scheme with an important meme); an annual look at LORT seasons and stats in SoCal as related to gender parity and playwriting; the enthusiastic LA FPI support for female artists in the Hollywood Fringe Festival in 2011 & 2012 (lead by Cindy Marie Jenkins, Jennie Webb, Jan O’Connor, Alyson Mead, Kat Primeau, and Jessica Abrams); sharing scenes via social media in order to increase accessibility and visibility; approaching theaters to ask how we can build relationships, fostered by Debbie Bolsky and Tami Tirgrath; meet-ups to see plays by women, coordinated by Task Force leader Diane Grant; online discussions, such as the fascinating one just hosted by Cindy Marie Jenkins with guests Etta Devine and Carolyn Sharp, about applying the Bechdel Test to the stage—a streamed broadcast that may (fingers crossed!) evolve into an ongoing monthly LA FPI/TV theatre conversation; etc. We have more people following us on Twitter, domestically and worldwide, than ever before. Lots of folks “Like” us on Facebook. And it’s all been created and executed by volunteers of professional theatre artists, for free!

Whew!

But has anything really changed? “Has LA FPI made any difference at all?” It’s a question I’m frequently asked and asking. When we compiled the SoCal LORT stats in May/June this year, for a while it looked as if there might be small gains of +1.5% or even +3.5%, in terms of female-authored shows for the 2012-2013 professional seasons. But then, in the end, it was pretty much the same as it ever was: still around 22% (or slightly less). Discouraging! “Is consciousness-raising effective anymore?” we wonder. Why doesn’t the excellent LA FPI blog have more commenters, at the very least?

In these moments, I have to remind myself: Statistics don’t tell the whole story—only part of it. Things have changed in this way: we are not sitting around and ignoring “the problem” any more. We were cautioned in the early days of LA FPI not to confuse “Activity” with “Progress.” Maybe not, but when you have this much ongoing work towards a goal (see above), there’s a shift of some sort—of attitude, of creativity, of focus, of opportunity, of spirit. It may take many more years before we achieve true gender parity for female theatre artists in the English-speaking theatre (or for women in the world at large). But we’re pretty sure that more Angelenos are aware of the issue and are working towards the goal of parity now. Solved? No. Better? Definitely.

Female theatre artists in New York continue to advocate for gender parity; the 2012 Lilly Awards held on June 4, 2012, at Playwrights Horizons, and the upcoming “We Are Theatre” protest on September 24, 2012, at the Cherry Lane Theater (organized by the Guerrilla Girls On Tour!, 50/50 by 2020, Occupy Broadway, and the Women’s Initiative members of the Dramatists Guild) are two timely examples.

Recent reports from the U.K. and Australia also mirror our struggles. Lyn Gardner, writing from London in The Guardian in February 2012, wonders if a universal blind submission policy is a possible remedy. A new report, “Women in Theatre,” released April 2012 by the Australian Council for the Arts, details the status of Australian women playwrights and female theatre artists. Those who authored the report found “no progress over the decade since 2001 and there is evidence that the situation for women in creative leadership deteriorated over that time” (pps 4-5). It’s a thorough, well-crafted study, and on page 49, there’s a “cross-sectoral approach” that suggests three pathways towards improvement in the professional theatre arena:

1) Information
2) Accountability
3) Vigilance

These points really resonated with us because they align with so much of our LA FPI work thus far. And it’s reassuring to know that others in the arts, including the Australian Council, recognize that the problem of gender parity in theatre is a grave one and must be remedied.

Here’s our promise. We will continue to spread the word; we are taking stock. And of this you can be certain: we won’t give up.


What are your ideas about how to create equal opportunities for women playwrights and female theatre artists? Join us on Wednesday, June 27, 7 p.m., for our next LA FPI gathering to share ideas and network, followed by an 8 p.m. reading of Paula Cizmar’s new play Strawberry, directed by Sabina Ptasznik in the new Tactical Reads program
. And please share your thoughts in the comments section below. 

 

To Fee or Not To Fee?

Full Disclosure: I do not pay submission fees. At first it was mostly because I don’t budget for it, but the more I submit to play-writing contests, the more it just doesn’t jive with me. I liken it to the nearly-only-in-LA procedure of dues-paying ensemble companies. More full disclosure: I used to work for one and was partly responsible for collecting said dues.

It makes my stomach turn.

Submission fees for playwrights isn’t as sickening to me. I understand fees are sometimes considered part of the beast. I mentioned this topic to my husband and he automatically assumed you paid for your play to be in the contest, not just considered. The wide eyes when I explained…

Many people have differing opinions, so instead of this being merely my thoughts, I want to share what I learned as I investigated across multiple social media platforms.

It all starts on Twitter: Local LA playwright Brian Polak was the first to answer my general inquiry.

I detest submission fees. Producing entities unfairly pass the burden of contests and productions on to prospective writers. I believe if you want to have a contest or do a production, fundraise for it. Don’t make writers pay to play.

Brian doesn’t agree that submission fees are equivalent to dues-paying companies however, a situation I could not resolve in 140 characters or less .

Gedaly Guberek of Coeurage Theatre Company quickly agreed, as did Louise Penburthy who added:

I don’t pay submission fees anymore, except for prestigious places with work-shopping. Otherwise it’s obnoxious, [in my humble opinion].

The idea of a play getting work-shopped or a production seemed to matter to some people. Through Linkedin I found the following comments:

Vic Cabrera in LA:  I would, and have, if I get a critique back.

Donald Drake & Evan Guilford-Blake both said yes because the returns can be beneficial. Evan: Last year I paid about $900 and won $3600.

Donald has also gotten more prize money with contests that charge, and sees another benefit: One of my best experiences in the theater came from a competition I paid to enter – the O’Neill, which provided me with a wonderful month in Waterford, Ct. with incredible actors and directors and a wonderful staged reading of my play. I can understand why small theaters can’t afford to pay for running a competition and I see the submission fee as a business expense on my part.

Honestly, the Playwrights Group on Linkedin is so interesting and varied that I encourage everyone to read it.

Ian Hornby‘s perspective was especially interesting: Having run a playwriting competition on behalf of The Playwrights’ Co-operative, there are two edges to this topic. We started with a small entry fee ($10), purely to fund a decent prize at the end. But we had so many sites that would not list us because we had an entry fee that we dropped the fee and made it free entry. What a mistake we made. Although it’s not the right kind of filter and has so many undertones of not providing equal opportunities for those unable to afford the fee, at least it was a filter. We were completely snowed under with entries, and our panel of judges didn’t have time to do anything more than speed-read all entries so as to arrive at a shortlist, which could then be read in detail. Without doubt we’d have missed some gems.

Regardless, he does applaud contests without a fee.

Tony Earnshaw from the UK has an interesting perspective: …in the poetry world it’s difficult to find any contests which don’t have a fee attached and I’ve heard no grumbles. I’ve recently entered a short play for a competition run by a small theatre and am one of the winners (there are ten of us). The read through, at which I met the other writers, the directors and the casts, was worth it in itself.

Anyway, 5 on Linkedin from all over the world say YES, 9 say NO and 1/3 of the NO’s will make exceptions in rare cases.

Gregory Fletcher believes: If a theater company wants to attach their name to my play as the premiere producer, then figure out how to evaluate my play without charging me. Do painters, musicians, dancers, actors, or anybody else in the arts pay to have their work considered for production?

The answer to that, of course, is yes, in some cases.

I then took to Facebook. The results are as follows:

Prefer not to, but will if the contest interests me enough: 17 votes
No, because I usually can’t afford it: 6 votes
No. I am philosophically opposed to fees: 5 votes
Also much more interested if the outcome is a production: 1 vote
Yes, it is just part of the beast: 1 vote
I don’t even read those submissions: 0 votes
I don’t mind and have submissions fees in my ‘expenses’ budget: 0 votes
I don’t mind at all; I just want my work produced: 0 votes
Adam Szymkowicz : Only for Sundance and O’Neill.
Edith Freni : All others I’ll ask for a waiver.
Here is the thing. (We’re back to my opinion now.) Regarding my more recent experiences:
Last summer, I self-produced a Fringe show I wrote with under $500 budget. I felt shame every single time we cut corners, every time I saw how very hard these wonderful actors and director worked for nothing more than a hug and immense gratitude. We had an incredibly supportive and hard-working awareness team as well, who donated their time for some experience and the cause of the piece.
There was a chance to remount and I had to turn it down for many reasons. I knew the team was happy and willing, but I just couldn’t look these artists in the eye and ask them to work for free again. I also have had some fights in my day with supervisors on Equity rules for actors and the worth of one designer versus others.
What’s changed? I often work freelance and negotiate my contracts. On a weekly basis I tell someone my worth and stick by it. When I began working for myself, I undercut my rate. That changed pretty quickly.
I also see way too many people pay upwards of $30/month to join an ensemble company; sometimes I’ve heard of $85/month. Actors may have their reasons – and I fully admit I have it easier as someone who can create my own work – but honestly, I’m fed up.
If you don’t have the money or means to produce a show, you shouldn’t do it. I have done it myself and will not do it again. Personally, it demeans everything in the work that has value, be it the writing, directing, performances, dramaturgy, design, right up to the viewing audience who pays money (in most cases) so that the artists involved may at least get nice thank you gifts.
This is a personal decision after years of self-producing and co-producing. As an extension, I refuse to pay a submission fee. If your readers (and Lord knows, I’ve donated my own time to reading plays) need money, raise the money. If you can’t produce without artists paying into the production in order to be considered, don’t produce.
Some excellent and imaginative pieces don’t “need” money. Artists involved should still be paid.
Yes, it’s hard. So is writing and acting and directing and designing….
Find the people who will donate to your work. They are out there. They are hard to find. They are hard to woo.
Art ain’t easy.
I do not mean any of this as a judgement on those who choose to pay fees and who choose to join ensemble companies, nor do I want to demean the artists who have worked for free on my work over the years. They hopefully got enough in return out of the investment.
They deserve better.
I also know for a fact there are plenty of playwrights out there who will happily pay fees for their own reason. No theater company is crying right now that they won’t get the chance to consider my plays for their competition.
Every even mild success I have from last June onward rests squarely on the backs and pocketbooks of the actors who braved traffic in LA, subways in NY, missed opportunities elsewhere or felt guilty for skipping rehearsal to audition for a commercial (they shouldn’t).
I don’t feel the need to go further into production teams’ sacrifices; just know I married a designer and learned everything about negotiating a contract from friend Cricket S. Myers. By the way, she was nominated for a Tony last year and will walk away from a job rather than accept a mediocre situation.
Often times, she is my hero.
Some may think these arguments are separate. I do not. Every time we de-value our work, an arts education program dies. After all, what value is there in it? Arts advocates are saints. Not all producers or self-producers are money-grubbing and selfish either. Many produce for the sheer joy of art, some for profit, numerous others simply because they’re good at it and theatre needs producers. It’s unfortunate that the most meager of producing codes must dictate paying actors gas money.
That is all.

Think local, write local

I continue my discovery of theatres around the Washington DC area and always compare them to our companies in LA. Last night, I saw a new show “Resurrectionist King” by a local DC writer Stephen Spotswood, at a theatre near the University of Maryland called Active Cultures Theatre.

Was it a perfect play? No. Was it a darned good attempt? You betcha. And creatively directed and pretty well acted.

But here’s the thing that impressed me: the play was commissioned by the theatre company Active Cultures.  It was based on a true story that someone had read in the local free weekly paper, about a local “celebrity” – a guy who dug up bodies for medical students to examine. The Resurrectionist King he called himself. And he did a one night show at a theatre near Ford’s Theatre (where Lincoln was shot) showing the audience the art of his craft.

Active Cultures worked for about a year with the playwright, developing the piece.  And then, instead of just a reading, they actually produced it!  What a concept.

The audience LOVED the fact that it was a story about their own community. They could identify with the places and some of the characters.

How many great stories are untold in LA? And why isn’t there a company commissioning local writers to write them?

Entry Level

Yesterday I published an article for Bitter Lemons on the amazing way that Arena Stage, 2amtheatre and LA Stage Alliance* are working together to widen the dialogue on new plays.

That’s fascinating in and of itself – not my article, but all the detail and coverage that Arena Stage created and is creating, so that artists know what people are talking about and can contribute in a meaningful way.

Remember that.

Cut to later that day, and Dennis Baker announces that the LA satellite convening was relocated because of high attendance. It happened to be relocated to four blocks from my house, the site of the new Atwater Village Theatres, home to EST-LA and Circle X.

Not just convenient for me, but I amended the original article and then could post it on Atwater Village Now, gaining more exposure for both the event and the neighborhood. While writing it, though, I thought of my audience for Atwater Village Now and decided they might have no idea why a convening on new plays is important. If my goal was to interest those outside of theatre practitioners to find interest in the art and the craft, then I needed to write an entryway into the article. The Editor suggested I give some history, a small idea of how important this dialogue is for the national community, the theatrical community, and in some way give a larger importance to our community.

This was my introduction. I welcome feedback and suggestions in the comments:

With Broadway focused on revivals and musicals based on movies and star vehicles, new plays often go by the wayside. If you are an unknown playwright, it’s nearly impossible to be produced.

Not so at The Arena Stage, however, and they’ve been working intensely for a national dialogue that includes all voices – new playwrights, established playwrights, and the people who decide which plays are produced. Arena Stagey began a New Plays Convening yesterday in DC, and Los Angeles participates on Saturday, in our brand new Atwater Village Theatre!

*Full Disclosure: I also write for the LA Stage Times.

How do you invite laymen into the theatrical experience?

Hats off (no, really) to Committees

“A camel is a horse designed by committee” – Vogue, 1957

Mayhaps you’re all watching what is happening on The Hill… a room full of (mostly) men are sitting firm on their political high-horses, battling over what IS and IS NOT good for the American public…  They’re making decisions based on what they deem “right” (OR) “left” and the rest of us restlessly sit and wait.

Anybody else find this macrocosm representational of the more mundane parts of life?  Anybody ever scratch their heads at the “people in power” and wonder just “How in the hell” they became the megaphone for our “Voice”?

I’m interested in the parallels in politics between “their” and “here” – the White House to Theatre House -because it seems that I’ve been privy to a few conversations lately that make me wonder just when it was that these people lost touch with the world and began, for lack of classier language, touching only themselves.

I think it has something to do with hats.

You see… I’m broke.  And I live IN the world.  I’m not shoveling gravel, or hauling garbage… no, those blue-collar citizens might look at my liberal artistic self and roll their hard-working eyes.  But I am struggling, I am walking around in the shoes of the well-traveled and hungry.  And I’ve got about a dozen or so hats to juggle as a result.

Which means I can’t ever get too comfortable in just one.

I write, I teach, I tutor, I am the web-master/social media maven for my current employer – I also blog (for my own sake and as the occasional guest) and edit a LosAngeles centric webzine.  I am a daughter, friend, and (yippee) girlfriend – which means I am involved in the lives of those around me and I have a stake in their happiness as well as my own.  I work with students and faculty, and I do my own friggin’ laundry… I drive a beat up little Hyundai and my “grand” dreams of upgrading involve another… wait for it… Hyundai.

So, you see, I wear a lot of hats…

And I live a pretty down-to-earth existence.

But the people in “power” seem to have forgotten what it is like to live like this

It requires compromise… it requires flexibility and ingenuity…

It requires the ability to put oneself in other’s shoes.

But instead, we get people wearing their “Control” hat (the one that shoots you the whammy if you disagree) and folded arms, standing atop their pillars of salt as though it’s all going to go their way or no way at all.

Mayhaps, and here’s the theatrical segue, the answer is to tear down and start over.

Whoa, whoa, wait a minute!  WHAT?

Just hang in here with me a moment longer…

I hear a lot of chit and a lot of chat about theatre companies NOT producing enough: new work, work by women, culturally specific work, devised work, political work, etc.   I hear a lot of theatre companies turn around and bemoan the lack of quality in said work, the lack of faith, and the lack of $$…

The people in charge, are dealing with budgets and spreadsheets, and trying to read the minds of their paying audiences and benefactors and otherwise worrying about keeping the “business” afloat, while the people creating the art are dealing with paying rent, trying to get produced, struggling to be relevant, and worrying about keeping their lives afloat.

What would happen if the two switched places for a while?

Probably something on par with what would happen if our Congress and Senate switched places with some “real folks” for a while:  Total and complete madness, followed by a (gasp) revolution of thought and of practice.

I mean, I am talking about some good old fashioned Freaky-Friday changes in perspective here, people!

Might we not all be able to head back to our “tired, stuck-on, and stubborn” hats with a little more perception?  Might we possibly come back to our “positions” (as power-player or peon) with a little more flexibility and ingenuity?

Or would it only strengthen our resolve to lock ourselves away in our tight little corners, unwilling to trust or listen to those we stand among, atop, and for?

(sigh)

It’s all really a bit of a mess, isn’t it?

Kind of like the camel…

The Thought My Soul Appalls

buddhas celebrate My childhood playmates were Gilbert & Sullivan*.

My family saw shows together. That’s what we did. We saw and       produced shows. We subscribed to ART (American Repertory  Theatre) in Cambridge and The Huntington Theater in Boston. We traveled hours to see the College Light Opera Company and drove back the same night. On vacations, we’d squeeze the Baseball Hall of Fame in between Glimmerglass Operas in Cooperstown.

If Gilbert & Sullivan played within three hours of us, we saw it. We bundled in the car, return trip full of patter songs and arguments on the character interpretation or a set piece. I auditioned for NYU with Pinter and was accepted, mostly because I astonished the Dean with my resume, listing only male roles and whores.

Not finding my voice in New York City, I got my license – didn’t really learn how to drive – and ended up in Los Angeles. List of jobs in roughly chronological order: QA for a lotion and scrub factory, personal assistant, Equity Stage Manager, customer service for adult products while stage managing, staffing assistant, director, staffing supervisor, clutter-clearer, recruiter at a not for profit school for kids with special needs, teaching artist, playwright, artistic associate, producer, bum, outreach chair, representative-at-large, career coach, resume re-vamper, consultant, writer.

I know we all mostly are slashers (actor/writer/producer, for example), but this list just feels ridiculous.

As much as some of those day jobs were hated, they fuel my creative bank. Who doesn’t like a good story about temping in an adult products factory? Seriously. Everyone in LA has the crazy day job story. It’s a rite of passage here, like visiting the Getty for the first time or realizing you can’t get to the 101 south from the 134 west.

In May it all added up, when I started calling myself a Storyteller. The title encompasses all the ways I tell stories: outreach, novel, poem, play, PR, resume, blog, branding – and now, I tell stories all day. It’s pretty cool. Honestly, it’s the only thing I actually know how to do. (Did I mention both my parents are also librarians?)

Now that I love every hour of my work, I hope I won’t lose that connection to completely random people in Los Angeles brought only by the day job. That would be a shame. Most of my stories originated within the hours when worth is measured by a time-clock. At least that’s the story I tell myself when I need a temporary gig.

*in case you want more Gilbert & Sullivan – and who doesn’t? Click here.

Part 4 (or) In Which we Juggle…

I’ve always been a big advocate of “Competition of Self” – what I mean by this is that as I navigate the playwright’s landscape, I may see many people winning accolades that I myself covet, but I truly believe that the only course of action from such observations is to learn from these talented writers as I myself strive to top my last work with the new.  I may feel a flash of jealousy or of heartache, but I never think to myself “They won!  They beat me!”  Instead, I think to myself “DAMNIT!  (sigh) Alright… well, what can I learn from this writer so that I can do better next time?”

It’s one of the things that keep me sane.

But, in exploring this week’s train of thought, I have to ask myself who my scripts are in competition with…  It’s certainly not the brain-child of Sarah Ruhl or Martin McDonough!  While I like to think I write on par with them (don’t we all) and while I have been influenced by both, no theater in their right mind is currently weighing my playscript and one of, oh, say David Lindsay-Abaire’s, in their hands wondering “Gee, I wonder which we should go with.”   Because I’m simply not a big enough fish yet to be part of that kind of decision.  Instead, my scripts are sitting in piles with other “emerging” playwrights – those that have a few awards under their belts, but no BIG productions… yet.  We are engaged in silent battle for desk space and shelf space… We go head-to-head for literary manager’s time and interest…

Every.

Single.

Day.

We playwrights just aren’t present to witness the literary carnage.

And so, we send out scripts to various competitions, hoping that we’ll win a reading or a ribbon, or, if we’re lucky, some kind of travel or monetary prize… OR, if we’re really lucky, an airline ticket stuffed with cash all wrapped in ribbons and trade magazine announcements exclaiming our brain-child a total GENIUS…

Yeah, that happens.

But the point is, we hope we will win accolades so that we can use the 5-seconds of fame to edge out the other scripts in that “emerging” pile to the left of the Lit Manager’s elbow.  (The pile that sits depressingly close to the lip of the desk and the gaping mouth of the trashcan…)

So what happens when a theatre company run by someone like that first artistic director endeavors to fill slots according to a cross-cultural quota?    Does such thinking narrow the question from “Who’s the best playwright?” to “Who’s the best Latino playwright?  Who’s the best Woman playwright?” or “Who’s the best transgender-African -American-who-walks-with-a-limp playwright?”

And is it helpful?

I don’t know the answer… I wear enough hats to recognize that it’s overly complicated.  There have been times when, in reading a winning script, I’ve scratched my head and thought to myself “Jesus, I wish I had thought of this!”  And there have been times when I’ve looked over lists of contest winners that read like a United Nations meeting, but included plays that I had actually turned away for (what I perceived to be) poor writing.  I’ve been on both sides of the selecting and entering… and I still don’t have an answer.

Because I want to believe that the best man or woman will reach the stage.  I want to believe that if I keep growing as an artist, if I keep writing and dreaming and running this race, that my work will be recognized, produced, and applauded regardless of my gender or (lack of) ethnicity.  I want to believe that I will get there on merit…

But as a woman playwright who is all-to-aware of the numbers before her, I will also take any advantage I can get.

I will enter contests designed to honor female playwrights, and I will challenge any contest or theatre company that seems to eschew balance in (perceived) favor to male playwrights over female.  I will also look at a list like that one from the “UN” and sigh with frustration – What were the parameters of their evaluation if not totally and irritatingly PC?

Because I want it both ways.

And it all speaks to the one achingly human truth – no matter the rules or the designations, we are all of us reaching and scraping for the finish line.  It’s a business, it’s a dream, it’s a damned difficult trail.  We try to find the best shoes to get us there… sometimes they’re ugly, but if they get us there…

Well, more often than not (and no matter their “how”) we will defend those shoe’s merits to the death.

Because that goal, that gold, that rising above the tides to be seen, heard, my GOD, produced?  Doesn’t it seem built on a lot of hard spilt blood and tears all the same?  Isn’t it the mountain we look down on, and not our feet, even as we focus our eyes on the next looming peak?

(Tomorrow: Part 5 (or) Some and Summation )

Part 3, or The Angry White Woman…

Fast forward 6 years to yet another literary job, wherein I’m actually the person in charge this time – Yes, I reported to an artistic director, but this time I was running the literary department, which consisted of… oh…  wait a minute, it was just me again.

Hmmm, maybe “being in charge” was really just a nice way of dressing up an otherwise low paying pile of responsibility :)

In any case, I was a woman on a mission!

This theatre company was also dedicated to Los Angeles writers, but specifically plays by, for, and about culturally diverse peoples.  This time it was written into the mission statement, I had a very clear understanding of what they wanted and I loved the energy and the people responsible for this theatre.

I read a ton of beautiful plays (and not-so beautiful, of course) in my time there; all written by playwrights with something to say and with dreams of being heard.  I learned a great deal about the art of the submission, I also learned a little bit more about those who submit…  Particularly in the case of my first nasty email; a vociferous letter written to me by a white female playwright who had read over our submission guidelines and found them lacking.

Among it’s many blistering accusations, the following stood out as the writer’s main beef with me and the theater: “How nice of you to support female playwrights of color… what a shame the rest of us are left out in the cold.”

I sat in shock for a good 10 minutes after I read the thing, wondering how in the world I would respond…   Wasn’t it the theatre company’s prerogative to decide what its mission would be? And had they really denied “white women” a slot in its mission anyway?  In their drive to represent diversity in LA, surely women as a whole were included as an under-represented people… or were we?

I wrote back to this woman in the kindest words possible “Thank you for your interest in our company, and for sharing your heartfelt opinions.  While I, a female playwright as well, hear your frustrations, I encourage you to seek out more opportunities for women playwrights on the web, as there are quite a few…”

What else could I say?  I certainly wasn’t going to ask her for her script- she had been ridiculously spiteful.  She had also signed her email anonymously as “an angry female playwright” or something like that, perhaps forgetting in the heat of the moment that her name would be clear as day in the “from” field of the email. (Note to all:  if you’re going to send an anonymous email, make sure it is, indeed, anonymous.)

In any case, it was an awkward exchange, but one I remembered well… And one that begged the question – Is polarity healthy?  Are the limited support resources that exist fractured and specific for greater purpose?  In creating our own sort of theatrical “Affirmative Action”, are we creating better theater?  And is this system breeding resentment among the very playwrights it is designed to help?

(Tomorrow – Part 4, or, In Which we Juggle…)

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