How many times have you heard that in the last two months?
Living in the thick of Los Angeles County, one can’t deny the effects that COVID-19 has had on the LA community, especially within the arts. Before the pandemic, theaters were getting ready to launch their 2020-2021 seasons, clean their venues for incoming Hollywood Fringe productions, and hold long-awaited annual galas, festivals, and workshops. Now? Companies are relying on Zoom and other streaming platforms to continue providing artistic content to the community, including readings, webinars, and even full-blown theatrical productions – some prerecorded, some live!
Because these times are unprecedented, because we’ve never had to bring theater into a virtual space, we’re left with the questions: What is theater now? Is it changing? And what does our future look like now that this has happened?
We (virtually) sat down with Tanya White, artistic director of Santa Monica Repertory Theater, to talk about SMRT’s upcoming 2nd Annual Playreading Festival; the eerie relevance of the Festival’s predetermined theme, #BraveNewWorld; and the reading of AGELESS by Bridgette Dutta Portman, directed by SMRT co-founder and resident director Sarah Gurfield. The Festival, held on May 16th via StreamYard, includes a Special Kick-off Conversation on May 14th, a playwriting workshop, and pre- and post-show discussions concerning Portman’s intriguing piece.
LAFPI: Tell us a little bit about Santa Monica Rep’s mission and why it’s important to you.
Tanya White: Our mission is using theater to tell stories and also engage our community in the process, both in the creation of work and also in the discussion with the artists & production. Whatever it is that we are doing, we always have a post-show discussion.
We’ll be actually talking about why that mission is important at our Kick-Off Conversation next Thursday, preceding our Festival . The panel is going to discuss what theater is and why it matters. I believe that theater is kind of an essential piece of a society that allows people to step out of their own experience and look at something from somebody else’s point of view.
Of course, you have the playwright’s point of view and the director’s perspective of the piece. But what you’re also seeing is walking, talking people who are experiencing things that you can mostly identify with, even if you are different than the character. We all experience the same kinds of feelings. But it’s communal in the fact that we’re all witnessing the same thing. It’s how it’s expressed, I think, that makes us unique.
LAFPI: This is Santa Monica Rep’s 2nd Annual Playreading Festival, spotlighting women artists. What has it been like transitioning from providing the event in-person to providing it online?
Tanya: Before this, we really didn’t focus on recording a live theater event. If we did, usually it’s for archival purposes, not actually to rebroadcast or stream. People are at different levels of comfortability with technology. So that that’s been challenging.
And one of the things we were challenged with before this pandemic was getting the word out about us. We’re a really small group of people, so our capacity is limited. Our audience has largely been people who have followed us for the 10 years we’ve been in existence, which has been great. But the exciting thing is that now we have more reach. The idea that somebody can be anywhere in the world and see this is really exciting. We can say, “You don’t have to be in Santa Monica to come see us!” So having suddenly having a virtual space is great for us.
LAFPI: The theme of #BraveNewWorld was decided well-before the global pandemic. What kind of new questions do you think have arisen that are going to be a larger part of these conversations because of what’s going on right now?
Tanya: Right now, we’re having a shared experience. We’re in the same space and time together. I mean, this is not a recording. To engage at this level, we have to be present. And so maybe the question is, “what is space” versus “what is theater?” But that’s what we’re jumping off from. So what is theater? And does this count as theater?
A question that comes up for sure is “how can we help each other?” Not just on an individual level, but also how we talk about theaters. How do we support each other? How do wesupport arts and each other? I feel there’s gonna be a lot more collaboration, a lot more people working together, because there used to be the feeling that everybody’s competing for the same audience, and the idea that that’s a finite thing. Like, if somebody comes to see a play in Santa Monica Rep, they’re not going to go see something at LA Women’s Shakespeare. So I think it is the question of how open and loving people are to helping each other? How can we cross promote? How do we how do we help each other get what we need to keep doing this work?
Maybe people will start also looking again at who our audience is. Because people do target, right? We look at who we’re reaching out to. Or if we’re selling tickets, we get in front of people who can afford to buy them. But the other day a friend of mine was saying how they’ve been to every museum in the world because they can now, virtually. I mean, access becomes a whole a whole new thing. So now somebody who doesn’t [ordinarily] go see a play has access to theater in this way. We have a Festival ticket where you can participate in a playwriting workshop and a panel with two playwrights, or you can just register for the reading, which is free. You know, we say a suggested donation, but it’s not a ticket price.
LAFPI: What in the programming for the Festival are you most excited for audiences to take part in?
Tanya: The reading of AGELESS. I think we’re using the technology really well (God willing, it works!). I’m really excited about the about how the play translates into a virtual experience, and how we’re using the technology to tell the story. So I’m excited for everybody to log in and be part of that.
And it’s a good play. The subject matter is great and interesting, but it’s a good story. Well-told.
LAFPI: That rolls in right into my next question – Why this play right now?
Tanya: Well, we put the call out to women playwrights to send us stories of dystopia or utopia. We got several plays that we were going to do and, originally, we were set for June. Then we had to pare down and look at taking it online. We decided to do it sooner, not knowing when the stay-at-home order would be lifted, and we picked AGELESS because it had more roles for company members. We always serve our company members first.
And the theme of aging seems to be not just relevant, but especially of interest to women, as well. We’re highlighting plays written and directed by women. And again, it’s a good play. And really that’s always what it comes down to. Also, will it get some discussion going? We like to pick things that we know people want to talk about.
LAFPI: Who should attend this Festival and why?
Tanya: Anybody who’s really interested in examining what our future could look like. Such a great time to do that, when we’re all in a place where we’re reflecting. We have to. We’re alone. And we’re all aging. So I think anybody could come in and find themselves in this play because it follows characters as they age and characters as they don’t physically age, which I think is kind of an LA thing, too. The whole idea of not aging is a big deal.
So, yeah, I really think anybody anybody could enjoy the play. Maybe not young children, but I would say anyone from maybe fifteen or sixteen. But particularly, young women should come, because the play examines so many women. So who should see it? Everybody. Right? Except toddlers. No toddlers! Don’t bring your toddlers to your Zoom.
Santa Monica Repertory Theater’s 2nd Annual Playreading Festival will start with a Special Kick-Off Conversation on May 14th, and officially begin May 16th at 11am. The Festival features a virtual staged reading of AGELESS by Bridgette Dutta Portman, directed by Sarah Gurfield. With a $25 Festival Pass, audiences can participate in the Kick-Off and all events. The reading alone is free with a suggested donation. For more information, visit santamonicarep.org/bravenewworld.html
Los Angeles Female Playwrights Initiative is a sponsored project of Fractured Atlas, a non‐profit arts service organization. Contributions for the charitable purposes of LAFPI must be made payable to “Fractured Atlas” only and are tax‐deductible to the extent permitted by law.
You’re driving to Los Angeles on the 101 North Freeway. For most tourists and incoming residents, this drive is the dream: seeing the famous buildings of the LA skyline, zipping under the 10 Freeway overpass, and seeing the light opening up to the concrete jungle of Downtown. With its often-sunny afternoons and the undeniable scent of affluence (or is it the smog?), a Carrie Bradshaw of 2020 could happily look forward to a very West Coast version of Sex and the City.
Except, when you exit in Arcadia, or drive down Glendale Boulevard, or pass through Echo Park, the same disturbing scene of tent cities overwhelms sidewalks and underpasses. In the safe confines of your car, you can’t help but notice how the homelessness crisis has become synonymous with the city itself. And it feels like there’s nothing any policeman or city official is doing to stop it. So you ask yourself, What can I do?
This is the same question Clare of Assisi asks herself in Echo Theater Company’s production of Poor Clare. We see her journey from being a well-known socialite, to asking a man named Francis about how she can change her ways to be of service to the poor. LAFPI sat down with director Alana Dietze (Dry Land and The Wolves at the Echo), and playwright Chiara Atik (Bump, Women and HBO’s “Girls”) to talk about the inspiration for Poor Clare and how it relates to living in Los Angeles in 2020.
LAFPI: What did you think when you read Poor Clare and what inspired you to direct it, Alana?
Alana Dietze: I thought it was extraordinarily funny; that was my very first impression of it. It made me cry laughing. I was also profoundly moved by the ending, which I don’t want to say too much about. Echo always has a post-reading conversation about material, so as we were talking amongst ourselves, I found myself getting very passionate about it. So that was my first clue that maybe I wanted to direct it.
It’s an allegory for homelessness and wealth inequality in modern day using the framework of the lives of Clare of Assisi and Francis of Assisi and I thought it was such a smart way of looking at this huge problem that we have all over the world – but especially in Los Angeles – that keeps growing and feels so out of control. I thought this play profoundly captured a lot of the feelings that I’ve had about it: the anxieties, fears, shame, feeling like I want to help more, but not being able to help. I thought that was a really valuable thing to put onstage.
LAFPI:Why Los Angeles? Why now? Being that it’s set in Italy in medieval times, the story couldn’t be further away from LA in 2020.
Chiara Atik: That’s funny. I was about to say that when I wrote the first draft and started sending it out, I included two pictures to set tone, and one is of, um…
Alana: Skid Row.
Chiara: Yeah. One is of Skid Row in Los Angeles, and the other is a Renaissance portrait. I live in New York and was living there at the time [of writing the piece], but I had been spending a lot of time out here and homelessness made a very big impression on me. More so than it does in New York because homelessness in New York is ingrained in the fabric of the city; it doesn’t feel like something new, it feels like something that’s always been there. You just go about your commute and you have to put on blinders, to a certain extent, to not have your heart break at every single moment of every day.
But I’ve come to LA periodically for years and I sort of started to notice it in a way that I hadn’t. I started reading up about this problem that seems to be growing bigger and bigger. It made an impression on me: to be on the freeway and to see every overpass and underpass be covered with tents. It’s that juxtaposition of being hermetically sealed in your car while driving past all of these tent cities. So I think, in that sense, LA’s current situation of how people are grappling with it gave me an inspiration in the play. Also, you get the sense that it’s a growing problem that the characters of the play are dealing with.
LAFPI:And that’s very LA.
Chiara: Another thing that I think is interesting in terms of New York versus LA: in New York, because you’re always walking around or on the subway, the different populations and economic levels actually have to deal with each other and interact. You’re sitting on the subway and people come up to you and you have to make the decision, “Okay, am I going to give a dollar or pretend not to see this person”; you can’t quite escape it. But in LA, because of the car culture, there’s an extra distance. It’s something that you see and clock, but don’t have to contend with person-to-person.
Alana: Also, there’s the way that the city seems to be dealing with the problem. I mean, “dealing with the problem,” in quotes, because it doesn’t really seem like they are. I’m not a political expert, I don’t know everything about this issue, but I lived in Echo Park for a really long time, and that was an area specifically where, as the homelessness crisis grew, huge new tent cities would pop up. I would turn a corner and there would be a whole slew of tents that weren’t there the week before. And then a week later, they’d all be gone. It felt to me like the cops were coming through and just moving people along which does nothing to ultimately solve the problem or help anyone. I guess they think they’re helping the residents? But even then, people are just going to come back. There’s nowhere for anyone to go.
LAFPI:Moving people along as a solution – it’s that class difference, right? They’re placing importance on people who are paying to stay there, instead of those who don’t live anywhere, and telling them to take their problems somewhere else.
Alana: And the problem is, where would they go?
LAFPI:Following up on that, Chiara, how did you come up with the concept for Poor Clare?
Chiara: I always knew the story of St. Clare. I found myself in recent years having so many conversations with people where we’d sort of bemoan the state of the world: “Isn’t horrible about the refugee crisis, isn’t it horrible about homelessness,” and this or that. But then I would go home, turn on the TV, and forget about these things. And the ability to worry and empathize but then go home and turn that off and forget about it is such a privilege. I was thinking about the fact that I feel bad about this stuff, but I’m not, like, quitting my job and quitting my life to go out and help.
The story of St. Clare, the real girl, who really did completely change her entire life, is such a radical story. It’s certainly not something that I’m capable of – that most people aren’t capable of – but I was interested in exploring the idea of somebody who really goes so far. And I’m not suggesting that as a solution or saying it’s what we should all be doing. I think that’s why Clare is a saint and most people aren’t. But it’s that journey of someone becoming so radicalized to do something, to take action in whatever way they can… I really underestimated how many people didn’t know of her.
Alana: I didn’t know who she was when I read the play. I knew that there was a St. Francis, but I didn’t really know anything about him.
LAFPI:So with this play, what do you hope that audiences learn about St. Clare of Assisi?
Chiara: That she existed. I think her story is cool and relatable. And what we know about her historically is interesting. She was 18, super rich, had a great life, and gave all of that up to take vows of poverty to try to do good in the world. I think that’s a crazy impressive story. That’s like a Kardashian doing that or something. And this is 800 years ago. A girl, definitely braver than I am right now, did that. I hope people will be interested in her story, her conviction, her action at such a young age. She was just a teenager. It’s like if Khloe was, like, “Alright, I’m giving all of this up!”
LAFPI: I still feel like if Khloe did that, for the most part, people wouldn’t initially believe her. Compared to men, I think someone like a Kardashian might be treated differently.
Chiara: I think it’s hard for women, especially young women, to be taken seriously when they decide to do something intensely. If you watch the play, Francis raises his eyebrows, but there’s less at stake for him to go find a religious order. But for her – for a girl to do what he’s doing – the stakes are a lot higher.
LAFPI:Are there any other ways differences in sex and gender function specifically in the play? I noticed in the cast that there are 2 men and the rest are women.
Alana: That was something else that I really love about the play. I wouldn’t say that it’s primarily about gender, but like Chiara said, there are different stakes for Clare than Francis as she goes on this journey, and there are really interesting moments where Francis lets her know that things will be different for her. And those moments help drive her conviction to commit to her beliefs. She has to be more convicted than he is, because it’s harder for her to do what she does.
LAFPI:How much of the play is fact? How much is fiction?
Alana: This comes back to the earlier question of why Los Angeles. The language is all modern day, and it feels like the language of Angelenos. That’s part of what attracted me to it, because I thought, “Oh, these people talk like me.” So in that respect, it’s totally fictional. I don’t know how much really is fact?
Chiara: Definitely little bits from St. Francis’s life trajectory. We knew that Clare and St. Francis knew each other and she really was inspired by him to do this thing. But we, of course, have no idea what their conversations were like or the nature of their relationship, so all of that is fiction.
LAFPI:What questions would you like audiences to be asking by the end of this play? Are there questions women should be asking?
Alana: It feels to me like it’s about highlighting and focusing in on this push-and-pull, this question about what do we do to help? Can we help? Is there such a thing as help? What do you do when you become aware of your own privilege? I feel this juxtaposition of a desire to be moral, to be good, to help other people, to do something worthwhile and meaningful… in contrast with the fact that what Clare does may or may not help anyone. But it’s the thing she must do. To me that’s what’s most interesting and relatable about the play. I hope that the play will help people think about that question for themselves and maybe make a choice.
Chiara: In terms of women specifically, Clare, throughout the play, drastically alters her appearance and goes from caring very much about how she looks to forsaking that along with her wealth and status. That’s something I admire in her character. I almost can’t imagine caring about something so much that I would be, like, “Fuck what I look like.”
LAFPI:And now we live in this world where everything is appearance-based, whether online or in-person. Doing what Clare did is like someone completely going off the radar. Which you don’t see a lot of anymore.
Chiara: Yeah, and I’m not saying that it’s necessary to do in the modern world. But on the other hand, you see her judged for what she looks like throughout the play. It’s interesting to see what it means to her to, like you said, go off the radar: “I’m not giving you this anymore. I’m not presenting like this anymore.”
LAFPI: Which leaves us with the question of whether anyone has a solution for the seemingly-uncontrollable homelessness crisis right now.
Chiara: The play definitely doesn’t.
LAFPI: But it’s good to have the wheels turning!
Previews for “Poor Clare” at Echo Theater Company begin March 11th; the play opens March 14th and runs through April 20th. Ticket and information at echotheatercompany.com.
Los Angeles Female Playwrights Initiative is a sponsored project of Fractured Atlas, a non‐profit arts service organization. Contributions for the charitable purposes of LAFPI must be made payable to “Fractured Atlas” only and are tax‐deductible to the extent permitted by law.
I had not planned for this to
be my first post for the second round of my LAFPI blog week, but it felt
As I’m sure you already know,
yesterday the world lost NBA sports legend Kobe Bryant.
All of Los Angeles seemed to
be in mourning.
No, not just Los Angeles—this
great loss really seemed to cross state lines, team affiliations, sport leagues
and art forms. So many folks were deeply affected, including myself.
Being a writer, my gut
reaction when attempting to process my feelings is to write, and so I did. I
spent a little time journaling last night. While I’ll keep the contents of my
writing to myself, what I will say is that it helped a great deal. I do know,
however, that there times when words don’t come or cut it, which can feel
This has all made me wonder how my fellow writers and creatives are doing during this difficult time.
So, how are you?
How are you, really?
I hope that you all have been
able to find some comfort during this difficult time. Maybe you’ve also found
yourself putting pen to paper to find peace. I really hope that’s helped, but
in the case that it hasn’t, please know I’m here if you’d like to talk.
I’d like to close up this post by sharing this helpful flyer that was created by Wendy C. Ortiz (writer and psychotherapist) whose workshop, Self Care for Writers, I was able to attend via the 2018 Latina Writers Conference. Maybe it will come in handy for you as it has for me.
Paula Cizmar is an award-winning multi-genre writer, associate professor of theatre practice in dramatic writing at the USC School of Dramatic Arts, CCTA/LA producer and my former professor. I LOVE HER!
Can you talk to me about Climate Change Theatre Action (CCTA)?
Climate Change Theatre Action is a grassroots event that happens every two years and it always coincides with the UN’s International Conference on Climate Change, which this year is in Santiago, Chile.
Chantal Bilodeau, a native of Canada who was writing climate change plays, wrote a beautiful play called SILA and in the process of doing that, set up a kind of grassroots list of playwrights who were also writing climate change plays. In maintaining that list, she realized there were a lot of writers doing this work and that a climate change theater action would be a really good thing to do. And so, what she does every two years is commission 50 playwrights to write very short plays that are then made available to anyone who wants to do them, free of charge. The playwrights represent 20 different countries and their own different languages—some of the ones that aren’t in English have been translated and others aren’t. Anybody who wants to do a Climate Change Theatre Action can just sign up and do one. If you go on the website I think you’ll see that they are being performed in 20 different countries and almost all 50 states. People can do a major production and turn it into a fancy theater event or they can do readings in their classrooms. It’s very grassroots.
How did you become
In 2017, I got invited to go to Pomona College to talk about
one of my plays, THE CHISERA, which
is about climate change and I worked with Giovanni Ortega (CCTA/LA: AT THE INTERSECTION director, 2019) there. He also brought
on Chantal as a guest speaker so I connected with them. Then I went to an Earth
Matters On Stage conference, which is a conference of theater people who do
climate change work, and forged more of a relationship with Chantal.
I also did a Climate Change Theatre Action event with my
graduate seminar in eco-theater (2017). We just performed the plays in our
classroom and then we took them outside and performed them on campus.
This year, for the 2019 Climate Change Theater Action, Chantal asked me to be one of the playwrights that were commissioned to write a play, but I also decided that I wanted to do something that was a lot more elaborate, so I applied for a Visions & Voices grant and got the funding.
And what is that
elaborate undertaking? 😉
We’re doing a two-day climate change event. This coming
Friday’s event (HOW TO CREATE YOUR OWN
ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE EVENT, 11/8 at 3pm) is on campus. I would love for
people to attend this first event because this one has the CCTA plays from
around the globe. Of the 50 plays that were commissioned, six of those are
The really cool thing is I put the word out to some of my
colleagues and asked if they thought there were any students who might want to
direct these and two wonderful young undergraduates, Elizabeth Schuetzle and
Jessica Doherty, stepped up and are directing three plays each. They’re also
working with their friend, music composer and fellow student Cyrus Leland,
whose created music for this student-driven event.
After the performances, Chantal will speak about how to create your own climate change—or any kind—of social justice event because these things don’t require money, they just require commitment and time.
Awesome. I think
Chantal will be a great resource for anyone interested in creating social
Absolutely. And, I think this is something all playwrights,
and everybody, should step up and do at least once—create some kind of
grassroots action to make the world a better place. If you sit around and wait
for someone else to do it, they’re not going to. It’s important for us as
playwrights to not sit around and wait. I understand the impulse, because
playwrights like to be left alone. We like to be alone in our rooms, and we
tend to be passive but every once in a while we have to come out of the cave
and not be passive.
I’m in my cave now.
After this, I’m going into the cave.
Let me reel it back
in—What is the second event? 🙂
The Saturday (CLIMATE
CHANGE THEATRE ACTION LA: AT THE INTERSECTION, 11/9 at 2pm) event is all
Los Angeles playwrights and what that one addresses is not just climate change
around the globe but specific issues that affect Los Angeles directly. The
climate change issues in Los Angeles are very different from say the issues in
the Pacific Northwest or the issues in India or Costa Rica. I wanted to pay
attention to that because I think a lot of times people don’t think climate
change is an urban problem but its actually really important to urban areas and
its particularly important to neighborhoods of color and people who come from
low-income neighborhoods because they don’t have the political clout to fight.
I consulted with some people from the Program for Environmental and Regional Equity (USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts & Sciences) about what the chief LA climate change issues were and they enumerated air quality, incompatible land-use, unfair distribution of water, the feast or famine problem of water in LA, and drilling , fracking and the storage of liquid natural gas. And added to that is our unique geography.
Definitely! With this
past week’s fires, I keep thinking about one of the pieces in particular.
Yes. It’s really interesting. Julie Taiwo Oni wrote a piece (ROOMIES) about the fires. Interestingly enough, when she turned that one in back in June I was glad someone took that (issue) on but didn’t think it was particularly relevant, and then last week happened. Suddenly, Julie’s is the most relevant of all of them. Not that they aren’t all relevant, they’re all interconnected.
Can you talk to me about the event’s subtitle, AT THE INTERSECTION?
One of my major issues is that people tend to think of climate change as a white middle class issue, and they also think of it as something that is distant in time. The fact of the matter is that environmental catastrophe affects low-income people more than it affects anyone else because they don’t have the means to buy their way out of it. It also affects people with very little political clout because they don’t have the means to influence their way out of it. I’m interested in intersectionality, hence, AT THE INTERSECTION, which is kind of a play on words. It’s not just that LA is a city of freeways, streets and lots of intersections, but I see this as “at the intersection” of art and science, and also at the intersection of many other cultural and identity movements. I think climate change is a feminist issue, I think it’s a racial issue… it’s definitely a status and economic issue. So that’s where the At the Intersection comes from.
It occurred to me that if I really wanted to see these works, I had to do it. I was probably the only person that was going to.
So, I know you
primarily as a playwright, but here you’re taking on the role of producer. How
did that come about?
Being a female playwright in America is kind of thankless. There are few opportunities. And being an older female playwright makes it even worse. And also the idea of trying to interest a theater in plays about important social justice issues or environmental justice—they honestly just don’t care. They may pay lip service to it, but we don’t see them producing these plays. It occurred to me that if I really wanted to see these works, I had to do it. I was probably the only person that was going to. I tried to interest other people in doing it and got no response, so I had to step in. I’ve produced with Visions and Voices before, on campus, but usually on a smaller scale. This one has been really challenging. Of course, Gio (Ortega), Simon Chau (production stage manager) and the people at the museum have been really helpful.
Yes. The Natural
History Museum! How did they get involved? Did you reach out to them?
I did. I thought “you know, we could do this on-campus”, but
then I thought, “Who else is doing this kind of work?” And what’s really
wonderful about the Natural History Museum is that they take the city of Los
Angeles and its diversity very seriously, and by diversity I don’t just mean in
terms of population but also the diversity of its interests and topics. So
climate change is one of the things that they actually have programs about. I
figured that if I could get them to partner with us, then we would have a
really interesting performance space.
And we do! We’ll be
at the Hall of Mammals.
Yes, it’s going to be in front of, you know, those dioramas
of the mountain goats… North American mammals.
*I do a happy dance on the inside and think about selfies with said mountain goats*
So yeah, I brought it to them, and lo and behold, they said yes. The really cool thing about this event is that it’s free to the public. That also means that if you make a reservation for the event, you get in free to the museum. You literally could spend the day at the museum and see all the really cool things that they’re doing there. They’re not just a museum of dinosaurs, they’re a museum of the natural history of Los Angeles, which is fascinating.
They’re actually trying to pay attention to what this city
really is and where it grew from. They also have a climate change program now
that they’re starting to develop. I’m very happy that we’re partnering with
How were the writers and production team selected?
A lot of the writers on this list were already writing about
climate change, so I didn’t have to go out of my way and try to find LA writers
that I was going to force into this topic. These are already people who are
concerned about this and are writing about it. It’s interesting to me that
there are a lot of women doing it. I also wanted to make sure that I had young
and old represented, and I wanted to hit the culture of Los Angeles, so we
have—Latinx writers, Asian American writers, black writers, white writers, and
mixed race writers. I’m trying to re-create the community of Los Angeles via
the playwright’s voices.
Gio (Ortega) has been interested in climate change—its one
of the topics that he takes on. He’s into social justice theater too. And
that’s really what this is, social justice theater. Gio is the director in town
that I know for whom this work matters. He’s traveled and done research on this
work, leads a program at Pomona College’s theater department that also does a
climate change theatre action in Pomona. He was a natural person to
I’ve worked with Simon Chau and Alex Rehberger (Production
and stage management) in the past. They’re both USC grads. And Howard Ho is our
go-to sound guy. That’s the team.
Talk to me about the
short, original works that have been created for this event. What can we
We have plays about children being affected by the toxic waste in their neighborhoods. Plays about gentrification. Plays about the Los Angeles River—the rehabilitation of it and the pollution in it. Plays about low-income people who have pumpjacks in their neighborhoods. Plays about trees and how LA needs to be more proactive about planting them because not only do they create shade, thereby lowering the temperature of the city, but they also help clean the air. We have plays about all of these topics, including incompatible land use, which you would think “How the hell would you write about that?”
Yes! But also, it
wasn’t t only a matter of how to approach these topic that I found challenging,
but the short format too. These pieces are each roughly 3-4 minutes long. So
even though I wrote a play, it also felt like I was writing narrative poetry.
That’s really wonderful. Almost everyone addressed them
poetically. And in fact, a couple of people have actually written spoken-word.
We have this really wonderful mix of plays that are scenes, and some that are
either wonderful comedic monologues or spoken-word kind of chats. It’s all
There’s also a micro
That just happens to be mine. I work with this wonderful
composer, Guang Yang—we have a full-length opera we’re working on—and I thought
“we like to work together”, so I asked
her if she wanted to do a piece for this and she said yes. We took on the
impossible topic of incompatible land-use. Ours is about a little girl whose
school is under a freeway—because we don’t have zoning to protect kids, schools
and playgrounds from being near a landfill or toxic waste or freeways. So the
little girl comes home from school and tells her mother that she learned
there’s a hole in the sky and her mother doesn’t want to hear about it. She
doesn’t want to hear the bad news. So the little girl spins a fanciful tale of
a Chinese goddess who’ll fix the hole in the sky, which helps the mother come
around. It’s really neat. It’s a very experimental opera. The full length opera
that Guang and I wrote has ten-singers, is orchestrated for an orchestra… but
this little short opera is just one instrument—a keyboard—and some percussion
sounds on a computer.
full-length opera is being done in Pittsburg next summer!)
Can you talk a little
about the theme guide created for this event?
My graduate students from my first year 574A (Dramatic Writing Across Media) class stepped up to create this. One of the media I’d pointed out to them is multiplatform media—creating theme guides and websites that have hyperlinks embedded in them so that people could go and see a video and get more resources. What they did was create theme guides for this entire event that has articles about environmental justice, the issues in LA, and organizations that you can support and join to help make change. It’s a really wonderful, colorful, beautifully printed guide that will be about 5-6 pages long and will include the program.
… I could keep doing it (CCTA/LA) but then I’m the one that keeps learning these things and its time for somebody else to step up and learn about not only how to do this but also about the issues.
Is CCTA/LA something
you’re hoping to continue to do every two years?
I would love for that to happen and I would love to be the
guide and the advisor, but I would let somebody step up and take over. I think
that’s one of the important things about being a playwright in America and that
is that you don’t sit around and wait. And I also feel as if I could keep doing
it but then I’m the one that keeps learning these things and its time for
somebody else to step up and learn about not only how to do this but also about
the issues. The best way to learn about them is to be directly involved.
excites you the most about the CCTA/LA:
At the Intersection event?
What excites me the most, and I hope this happens, is that
regular visitors to the museum, who are strolling through the galleries with
their kids, drop in and see something happening. My dream is that we see little
families seeing that there’s a theater event going on and that they stop and
take it in so that they are, as a family, not only introduced to theater, but
also introduced to the issues. I think its great that people are making
reservations, I love that, but I also would love for all the casual passerby’s
get drawn into it because I think it will be fun.
While my scheduled week was randomly selected (at least to my understanding) by the LAFPI team, it seems to have been bestowed upon me at the perfect time because *DRUMROLL*… I HAVE SOMETHING TO PROMOTE!
This coming Saturday, November 9th at 2pm, USC Vision & Voices, in partnership with the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles, presents Climate Change Theatre Action LA: At the Intersection—a presentation of short play performances, spoken word pieces, and a micro opera that will “explore the effects of climate change on Los Angeles communities” with the aim to use theatre to start a conversation about they ways in which climate change is impacting our neighborhoods.
Playwrights include: Velina Hasu Houston, Tira Palmquist, Diana Burbano, Mary Kamitaki, Amanda Black, Jennie Webb, Jennifer Maisel, Carlyn Flint, Paula Cizmar, Julie Taiwo Oni, EM Lewis, and ME! 🙂
All works will be presented at the Hall of Mammals at the Museum, which personally, I think is very cool.
This event is free of charge, family friendly (my 4-month-old niece and three-year-old nephew will be there and I’m beyond happy to share my work with them, even if they won’t remember it down the line) and includes entrance and access to the museum! All that is required is that you RSVP, and you could do so here: https://nhm.org/calendar/climate-change-theatre-action-la-intersection
In support of Climate Change Theatre Action LA: At the Intersection and its related event, How to Create Your Own Environmental Justice Event: A Workshop with Chantal Bilodeau, my articles this week will be highlighting members of its creative team, their work in putting these events together, and documenting the brand spanking new short-plays (all written by LA-based, female playwrights) that will be presented at the Natural History Museum of LA County on the 9th of this month.
I hope you will come out and support these events!
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.
As an LAFPI blog reader, you are probably already familiar with The Kilroys, the gang of 13 Los Angeles-based playwrights and producers who, in their own words, “are done talking about gender parity and are taking action.” They make news every year when they publish The Kilroy’s List, an aggregation of the most recommended unproduced or underproduced plays by women and trans playwrights. In a way, they do this to call out any theatre that’s lagging in gender parity – simply by saying, hey, look, we did the work for you. Are you saying you can’t find great plays by women or trans writers? Produce one of these plays, to start with.
Earlier this week Joy Meads emailed and asked if I could do The Kilroys a favor – could I deliver a chocolate cake to the Los Angeles Theatre Center on Thursday? It would be part of a nationwide celebration – thirteen theaters around the country would get delicious cake delivered to them by an ambassador playwright, to celebrate their leadership and commitment to gender parity.
As it happens, I have a special connection with the LATC myself since they co-produced my play In Love and Warcraftthis season, in association with Artists at Play. I was thrilled to do it.
So along with twelve other playwrights across the country, I picked up a specially baked cake and delivered it to a theatre that means a lot to me. The lovely people at LATC, under the leadership of Jose Luis Valenzuela and Evelina Fernandez, are doing excellent work for under-represented communities, and they deserve cake every day! (Or whatever treat they please, this cake was DELICIOUS but I might not be able to have it every day.)
Check out all the photos from the various cake drops today by following the hashtag #parityraid and #cakedrop on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
In closing I’d like to echo the request that The Kilroys have made today.
Don’t see your favorite parity-achieving theater on the list? We hope you’ll show them some love. Send a social media shout-out (or a cake!) and buy a ticket to celebrate their commitment to producing work by women and trans* writers.
I had plans for another blog post this week, but I stumbled into something a lot of fun this weekend, and now I’m going to write about that instead. Because I want all my theatre friends in LA to know about this awesome community project going on in Boyle Heights.
I’ve lived in Boyle Heights for 5 years, and I absolutely love it. It’s a warm, friendly, welcoming neighborhood full of family-run businesses and amazing street art. For at least a year now, I’ve been aware of ‘The Shop’, a new community engagement program that the Center Theatre Group has been running in Boyle Heights, where through workshops, classes and events every weekend, local residents are invited to participate in art and theatre making. My friend Jesus Reyes, Creative Artistic Director of East LA Rep and CTG Program Manager, facilitates and leads the team managing this wonderful initiative. I’ve seen his pictures and updates on Facebook for months now, but due to travels and a crazy schedule, I never actually was able to go. Until now!
Yesterday morning, I was taking a walk and happened to see that CTG had set up their ‘Shop’ at Self-Help Graphics on 1st street. Excited, I stopped in to say hi to Jesus, and found out that they were going to be making masks and puppets – MASKS AND PUPPETS – all day! The stars aligned. My afternoon was free. I stopped by with my roommate for the afternoon session and got to dive right in.
So the program that’s happening right now is the ‘Community as Creators’ project. Over the course of several weekends this summer and fall, Boyle Heights residents gather to collectively create and shape a show that will be a retelling of the Mayan legend of Popul Vuh. The show will go up in October at Hollenbeck Park in Boyle Heights, and Grand Park in Downtown LA. These community workshop participants help create the characters, props, music, and may also eventually act in the show, depending on where their interests lie. When I stepped in this weekend, the process was already several weeks underway. So what I got to do was help paper-mache the giant masks that will be used on stage!
I can’t tell you how much fun it was to lose myself completely in this crafts project after weeks and weeks of sitting at my desk writing. I got to know my neighbors in the best, most organic way, as I shared tables with people from all over East LA (I even got to know my roommate better!). The energy was fantastic, and lots of families showed up to spend the whole day in this fun artistic activity. I did the afternoon session of Saturday, and the morning session of Sunday, and managed to get all the way through paper-mache-ing a giant human mask!
Major props to Teatro Campesino who are producing this project, and Beth Peterson, the puppet artist who guided all the workshop participants through the process of creating these beautiful, vivid masks.
LAFPI readers – I highly recommend checking this out next weekend in Boyle Heights. The paper mache process will still be underway (it will actually be the final weekend of the mask workshop). It’s a rewarding, relaxing, even therapeutic way to spend a day, collectively creating something that will be part of a beautiful theatrical presentation, truly representing the heart and spirit of Los Angeles.
Here’s the blurb with more info! Or tweet me at @madplays with any questions on the experience.
Center Theatre Group Free Puppet and Mask Making Workshops!
Discover the artista in you! Come and help us create puppets and masks for the upcoming El Teatro Campesino production of the Popol Vuh: Heart of Heaven based on the Mayan creation myth. Master Puppet Maker la Beth Peterson brings her special talent to Boyle Heights and needs gente to help her build giant puppets, wood people and animal masks that will be part of the show. Come on, show off your talent, join us!
All workshops are free and will be held at Self-Help Graphics and Arts on Saturdays and Sundays. There are two opportunities each day to jump in:
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.