Alyson Mead speaks with Jacqueline Goldfinger about designer babies, scientific advances, and her new play Babel, presented in a staged reading by Sacred Fools for one night only, on Sunday, January 27th.
Women writers aren’t afraid to ask the tough questions and neither is Wendy Graf in her play Exit Wounds, one of two recipients of the Moss & Kitty Carlisle Hart New Play Initiative Silver Medallion, playing through December 16 at GTC Burbank. So LAFPI decided to ask Wendy some questions of our own.
LAFPI: What inspired you to write this play from this perspective?
Wendy Graf: I became interested in what happens to the families and love ones of evil people and/or people who commit evil acts. I started watching a number of documentaries like Hitler’s Children. Then there was, of course, another mass shooting and that story opportunity kind of clicked in my head. I wondered what if anything was the effect on the shooter’s loved ones and families and if that effect bled out to future generations. I also felt it was a vehicle for me to vent my anger and frustration and desperation about the ongoing lack of gun control in this country, even in the face of every day tragic massacres.
LAFPI: We love when women writers tackle current social issues from a woman’s perspective. How do you view gun violence as a feminist issue?
Wendy: I view gun violence as an EVERYONE issue. As a mother I suppose I view it through a feminist lens, for when I see all those children and families affected I do relate to it as a mother and as a writer, putting myself in their shoes. But please let’s not make it only a feminist issue. If we do that I’m afraid that, sadly, it will be diminished in the eyes of the gun lobby and supporters, for whom it is already so diminished and dismissed. Attention must be paid!
LAFPI: How do you see the nature/nurture debate playing a role in your play?
Wendy: One of the things I was also interested in exploring in this play was the notion of viewing a family member through a lens of another family member. Is this legitimate, do they actually see these qualities in another family member or are they projecting these qualities onto them? In the case of Exit Wounds, does the father actually see the qualities of the troubled brother in his son or is he projecting in hopes of early identification? Does the past dictate the future? These are the questions I love exploring!
LAFPI: What message would you want victims of mass shootings to receive from this play?
Wendy: I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry we could not do enough to stop this madness, but we will keep trying in every way possible.
LAFPI: The woman character of this play shares certain rules to live by which were passed down to her from her father. Do you think there are still universal rules which have molded the current culture of American society and what rules do you live by?
Wendy: I think there are definitely rules that have molded the current culture of America, but the trouble is we are not in sync anymore in America about what those rules are. We no longer agree what universal rules are molding us and which we are adhering to. It’s like my character in the play says “Guns are a Rorsharch test, Danny. Or like one of those drawings that you see one thing when you look at it one way and then you turn it, look at it from another angle, and you see something else.” Sadly I’m afraid we have come to a point in America where the “universal rules” are like that. We seem to be seeing different things completely. I feel like my universal rules are moral and based on life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all, as we all are created equal, but the other side feels those are their universal truths, yet they see things completely differently. We have hit a very tragic time in America when we don’t all see our universal, fundamental truths as being the same.
LAFPI: What would you like audiences to take away from this play?
Wendy: I don’t presume to offer answers, only questions. I have no agenda for what I want the audience to take away, other than to see the truth of human behavior and something of their own humanity. To see something of themselves reflected in the characters and, without necessarily condoning or accepting them, to somehow understand their actions. I leave it up to the audience to answer the questions. I hope it will start conversations about why, and maybe if we can talk about why and try to understand, change will become possible. Maybe we can move toward seeing our fundamental, universal truths closer to being the same.
LAFPI: Is there anything else you would like to share with your fellow artists of LAFPI?
Wendy: Keep on writing. Keep on questioning. Keep on asking “what if”?
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.
LA FPI is pleased to be partnering with our friends at Broads’ Word Ensemble for LA Broads, a reading festival of short plays by (go figure!) LA female playwrights, directed by women. We love Broads’ Word – a group of femmes who truly walk the walk – and are looking forward to hearing stories of “perseverance, recovery, and unconventional podcasts.” We also (of course!) wanted to find out more about the writers. So we handed it over to the Broads’ Word ladies to come up with questions, and put them to the six ladies with works in the festival: Nayna Agrawa (Slut), Tiffany Cascio (Popcast & About Your Mother), Allie Costa (How I Knew Her), Aja Houston (Remembrance), Uma Incrocci (Roadside Alice) and Starina Johnson (Border Towns & All Kinds).
Broads Word Ensemble: What’s your experience been like, being an playwright (who happens to be a woman) in Los Angeles?
Nayna Agrawal: Humbling! Particularly as a chubby Asian gal with a mustache.
Tiffany Cascio: I have found the theatre scene in Los Angeles to be very welcoming. I moved here four years ago and was lucky to meet the wonderful and supportive playwrights and actors of LAFPI & PlayGround LA right away. This year I participated in Hollywood Fringe which opened my world up to even more fabulous theatre makers, including the Broads’ Word Ensemble team, so I definitely feel like I’m part of a community now. I’m incredibly inspired by them and feel very encouraged to keep writing!
Allie Costa: I’ve been a performer and a storyteller since day one. As a kid, if I wasn’t acting, singing, or dancing, I was writing, reading, or directing. The same can be said today. There’s nothing I love more than being on set or on stage. I moved to Los Angeles to pursue my career because there are multiple opportunities here for multi-hyphenates. I am grateful for those who have paved the way, and I try to pay it forward and hire other women every chance I get.
Aja Houston: I am blessed to be a part of a great cohort of talented, supportive grad students at USC. I love having the safe space to create fearlessly. Since being in Los Angeles, for a year now, I have had a play commissioned for a rehearsed reading at Playwright’s Arena and a short play, Floating on Credit, published by The Dionysian Literary Magazine. I am still very aware that as a Black female playwright there is a lot of work to do and I am more than up to the task!
Uma Incrocci: Although I’m an LA native, I’m new to playwriting in LA as my writing has only been produced in New York so far. I’m excited to be kicking off my Los Angeles experience with this reading!
Starina Johnson: I’ve somehow managed to surround myself with very thoughtful, supportive, and positive people in the world of Los Angeles playwrights. I think I’ve been very lucky in that regard.
Broads’ Word: In 6 words or less, what are your plays about?
Nayna: Post-abortion, practicing English to Wheel of Fortune
Tiffany: Love, loss and podcasting. And family secrets spilled.
Allie: Strangers cross paths in a graveyard.
Aja: A couple’s rituals of grief.
Uma: First woman to drive across America
Starina: For Border Towns – Living. And for All Kinds – Being true to yourself.
Broads’ Word: How did this topic come up for you and evolve into this play?
Nayna: Personal experience (sigh).
Tiffany: Popcast was my response to people labeling the dumped “crazy,” just because they can’t get over their exes. And family secrets and “choosing” your family is something I write about quite a bit; About Your Mother was me having fun with that.
Allie: The idea for this script came to me while I was watching the television show Rectify. There was a scene in which the main character visited a graveyard, and I thought, What if someone had been at the grave when he arrived? And the rest is history.
Aja: I wrote this play four years ago because I needed healing from the trauma of the killings of so many black boys like Trayvon Martin. I wanted to assert their humanity, their souls, their right to love, their right to live, and to be more than a body to be discarded like refuse.
Uma: At the Smithsonian, I noticed this small plaque about Alice Huyler Ramsey – the first woman to drive across the USA. There was this amazing photo of her and the other women who made the trip in 1909, in an open car on a dusty road in their dresses and flowered hats. I quickly became fascinated with her and her story.
Starina: Border Towns was a concept I’d had for awhile, but couldn’t quite figure out how to make it work. It was a short play notice that made me realize the best way to put the idea on the page.
The story the doctor tells at the end is 100% true; I actually said that to one of the resident doctor’s when my mother was dying and made him cry. I still feel really bad about that. I don’t think anyone likes making people cry, but I like to think that conversation with me gave him a different perspective on the concept of treating patients.
All Kinds actually started out as a short film that I thought would have more impact as a play. I like to think of terrible situations then try to figure out what could possibly make that situation worse. For me this is the worst case scenario for these characters.
Broads’ Word: Do you have any upcoming productions or news to share? And if LA theatermakers want to reach out about your plays, where would they find more information about you?
Nayna: I just had a reading (on October 8th) at the Bootleg Theater of Catcall, a full length play. For more, visit Naynaagrawal.com.
Aja: I have adevelopmental production at The Inkwell Theatre of my play Journey to Alice, in February 2018. My website is www.ajahouston.net.
Uma: I organize a monthly reading series of new plays and screenplays at For Actors By Actors, an acting school in Hollywood. We are always looking for new scripts to read and would love to hear from LA writers. My screenplay Kris & Noelle (a holiday movie about how Santa and Mrs. Claus first met) will be performed on December 10th. Visit umaincrocci.com.
Broads’ Word Ensemble’s Executive Director Tara Donovan produces LA Broads; the plays are directed by Elkin Antoniou, Lesley Asistio, June Carryl, Gloria Iseli, Rachel Manheimer & Rasika Mathur. Performances are Saturday, October 14th at 8:00 pm and Sunday, October 15th at 2:00 pm at the Flight Theater at The Complex Stages in Hollywood. For tix and info visit www.BroadsWordEnsemble.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 LA FPI must be made payable to “Fractured Atlas” only and are tax‐deductible to the extent permitted by law.