Tag Archives: Paula Cizmar

Heading West with Paula Cizmar

The new Tactical Reads venture, matching female playwrights with female directors, debuts Wednesday night, 6/27 (meet-up for networking/ideas at 7 p.m., reading at 8 p.m.). Award-winning playwright Paula Cizmar will launch the series, with her  play Strawberry, directed by Sabina Ptasznik, creator of this innovative reading series.

I’ve written about Paula Cizmar previously; there’s more about her life and extensive career on her website. Cizmar wrote a Guest Post for the LA FPI blog a few weeks ago about her May 2012 visit to Turkey, as one of  the authors of the internationally-acclaimed play Seven. I corresponded with Paula recently about her newest show.

Q: So you are the first playwright in the new Tactical Reads series with Strawberry. Congratulations! What’s this new play about?

Cizmar: Strawberry is about a young botanist, Anabel, who arrives in a remote section of the California growing fields to search for a plant that is believed to be extinct—at least that’s what she says.  But ultimately the play is about something else entirely—solving the mystery of her true identity, trying to connect with a birth mother she didn’t know she had, trying to connect with the land as a living entity, rather than as a scientific specimen.  And of course, it’s about love.

Q: What inspired you to write it?

Cizmar: Wind.  Ideas of extinction.  Agriculture.  Death.  Romantic notions. California. Typical! My inspirations come from a variety of places that float around and finally somehow land and form an idea.  This play followed the same odd path.  I was up near Soledad a while back, and got out of the car in a rural area—and the wind was unbelievable.  You could barely stand up in it. Unforgiving.  And then when I drive from Los Angeles to San Luis Obispo County, where I live, it is impossible not to pass field after field of tomatoes, broccoli, and most of all, strawberries.  And these fields are often full of migrant workers, covered up in layers and layers of clothing to protect them from the sun, or the wind, or the pesticides, or the prickly plants.   I just read a statistic that strawberries have now passed marijuana as the number one money-maker crop in California.  It used to be marijuana, grapes, almonds—and now strawberries are at the top.   So the strawberry fields are ubiquitous, and you’d have to be driving with your eyes closed to not notice the pickers.  They’re bent over.  So I can’t help thinking about the people who harvest our food and the conditions they work under.  And then, I get nervous about global warming, about the future of the earth, and I know that in our own lifetime certain plant and animal species have disappeared from the planet.  Right now, biologists are trying to save the Gila trout, a small fish species that is being threatened by the wildfires in New Mexico.  I heard a researcher who was part of the rescue operation on NPR and he got choked up about this stuff—and so do I.  So listening to the news and crying in the car—that’s an inspiration.  And the West.  And heading West.  And then there’s the strawberry itself, red, heart-shaped.

Q: I love that you’re using the strawberry symbolically, too.  So when did you write it?

Cizmar: I started it last year [2011] and we did a cold reading of a very early—and quite different—draft of it at USC; Luis Alfaro put the reading together and after it was over he kept saying, ‘Somehow I keep going back to the notion of how carnal it is, how carnal the need of each character is, carnal, carnal, carnal.’ He repeated this word to me often enough that it finally made an impression! And I took a look at what he was talking about and realized that I had only touched on carnality—and should let it play out.  So that sparked a new approach to the play and took me on the road to the current version—which is entirely new, and this is a brand new draft of the new version.  So—it’s really never been seen by the public before and the reading will be the first testing ground.

Q: Do you think readings are valuable to a play’s development?

Cizmar: Just submitting a play for a reading sparks a certain amount of development—as the writer, you want the script to be coherent enough, enticing enough, you want it to show potential.  And then, the luxury of talking to the director about the play, just exchanging thoughts, comments, questions, sparks more development, and then the rehearsal process itself even more.  We playwrights work so often in isolation and there seem to be fewer readings to go around these days.   But ultimately, there’s only so much a playwright can do alone.  It could be a rationalization, it could be laziness—and I try not to fall into this trap and really try hard to get my plays to be as theatrical as possible on my own—but theatre is a collaborative medium, plays are to be performed, and playwrights need to be able to commune with other artists at a certain point in the writing.  A reading removes a play from where it’s lodged inside of the writer’s head and shoves it out into the world.  If you’re faithful and true, you listen to what’s going on in the rehearsal and reading process—and with any luck, the play grows a bit more.

Q: What do you think of the new Tactical Reads series, created by Sabina Ptasznik, and its mission to pair female directors with female playwrights?

Cizmar: Sabina not only has created a program where playwrights get to be in dialogue about a script with actors and a director in the rehearsal process, as you would in most readings, but also she has taken this program one step further: The pairing of female directors and playwrights. Simple, but brilliant. This is a very far-sighted approach; it’s about putting creative teams together, developing long-term relationships that can support imagination and process. We know that the big institutional theatres support specific playwrights—mostly male—through commissions and ongoing commitments to develop and produce their work. And of course with support, a writer’s work gets better—and is more likely to be produced.  So Tactical Reads is the no-budget grassroots version of that—creating artistic partnerships, facilitating communication, and ultimately, searching for opportunities.

Join us! Strawberry by Paula Cizmar, directed by Sabina Ptasznik, with Chuma Gault, Mariel Martinez, Meredith Wheeler. 8 p.m. on Wednesday, June 27, 2012, Atwater Crossing, 3245 Casitas Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90039. Admission: Free.

AND there’s an LA FPI Meet-up before the reading, 7 p.m. We’ll meet at the ATX Kitchen near the wine bar.  Visit atwatercrossingkitchen.com for directions and to check out their cool menu. 

Guest Post: Women’s Work by Paula Cizmar

At dawn, only hours after I arrived in Istanbul, the muezzin at the mosque across the street from my hotel began chanting the call to prayer:  Allah u Akbar, Allah u Akbar, Ash-hadu al-la Ilaha ill Allah… It was loud.  Loud beyond belief.  An ancient song amplified by modern technology and audible, I’m sure, all the way across the Bosphorus.

Out on the streets later, I was fascinated by the pace, the crowds, the lively culture.  And curious about how in one ten-foot space there could be women in miniskirts and women in full burkas—not just the hijab, but the burka that is all enveloping, all black, with just a tiny slitted opening for the eyes.

I was in Istanbul not just as a tourist, but also for work.  SEVEN (or YEDI in Turkish), the documentary play I wrote with six amazing women writers—Carol K. Mack, Ruth Margraff, Susan Yankowitz, Catherine Filloux, Gail Kriegel, and Anna Deavere Smith—had been selected for the 18th Istanbul International Theatre Festival, and the Swedish Consulate had invited us to attend.

Sweden and Turkey?  Could any two places seem more opposite?

Four of us made the journey—Carol, Susan, Ruth, and I.  When we arrived, we were instantly caught up in a swirl of activities related to the performance; the Swedish director and Turkish producer and their crews were all articulate, creative, committed, active artists who believe in the intersection of arts and politics.   SEVEN excited them; it tells stories about women who aren’t passive or victims.   It’s documentary theatre, told in the words of female activists who work to stop human rights abuses—including government corruption and violence against women.    The stories are real—and I think that’s why the play affects people so deeply.

When we had lunch with the Swedish Consul General, Torkel Stiernlof, the mystery of the Swedish/Turkish connection became clear.  He told us that Turkey wants to enter the EU, and that Sweden is performing its role as friend to Turkey to help out in this cause.  Though Turkey has one of the world’s fastest-growing economies and is qualified for EU membership financially, Turkey’s human rights record is a whole other story.  Before the country is acceptable to the European Union, it’s going to have to address those issues, among them being violations of women’s rights—not just denial of basic freedoms, but also spousal murders and abuse at the hands of fundamentalist family members.   SEVEN/YEDI is helping in that goal, because the Swedes believe in using the arts and humanities to create awareness, start discussion, influence the culture.  Hence our presence at the theatre festival.  (Sigh…oh that we valued the arts more in the U.S., or at least, that non-artists recognized the value.  Oh that we wouldn’t have to constantly defend the importance of what we do, or feel as if it is an afterthought or trivial.)

Later, I was part of a panel composed of American, Swedish, and Turkish women talking about the value of telling women’s stories—because they don’t always get told with truth. What a thrill to be part of this interchange of ideas.  Smart, reasonable, calm, creative-thinking women talking about drama in the most modern and ancient sense of the word in a city where so many cultures, past and present, East and West, come together.   The play, too, in a venerable old theatre, with a full house, kept the buzz and the discussion going.

This is the dialogue we all crave as women in the theatre.   I’m happy that SEVEN has been a catalyst for so much hopeful discussion.  With any luck, it will open someone’s mind, set somebody free, even inspire new plays that will go again out into the world and make more ripples.

I am so proud that I am doing women’s work.

 

 

WHAT IF…..?

Performing Arts High School

What if theatre weren’t seen as a luxury but as central to the fabric of our country?

The Theatre Communications Conference is asking this question and more from June the 16th through the 18th at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, the Biltmore; and the Central L.A. High School #9, for the Visual and Performing Arts.

LAStageAlliance is sponsoring the conference, which is also celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of TCG. The national organization for the American theatre, their website says, was founded in 1961 with a grant from the Ford Foundation to foster communication among professional, community and university theatres, and now has nearly 700 member theatres and affiliate organizations and more than 12,000 individuals nationwide.

There are 1,084 attendees signed up – playwrights, artists and members of theatres from all over the country – and the TCG has teamed with Radar L.A which will be presenting its plays at the same time, including Moving Arts’ Car Plays, L.A., and a CalArts’ adaptation of Gertrude Stein’s play, Brewsie and Willie.

Here are some of the other questions the conference is asking:

What if artists and other theatre leaders talked regularly and openly about art and aesthetics?

What if theatre institutions and their boards committed to hiring more people of color in leadership positions?

What if a group of billionaires created a “Giving Pledge” initiative for theatre?

What if the US became more embedded in wars around the globe – what would become the role of theatre and artists?

What if there were a new audience engagement model as powerful as the subscription model?

What if theatres and artists could commit to each other for multiple years?

What if we could solidify new business models that would truly lead to the sustainability of our theatres?

Here’s one I wish it was asking. What if more artistic directors were committed to producing plays by women?

However, women and the LAFPI are represented. Hooray! Instigator Laura Shamas, and Paula Cizmar are asking “What if…Social Activism Could Inspire New Models of Theatre?” on Thursday, June 16th at the Biltmore Hotel from 2:30 to 4:00, and instigator Dee Jae Cox is moderating a panel called “What if Women Ruled The World?” on Saturday, June 18th at the Central L.A. High School from 11 to 12:30.

I can’t attend the conference but am part of the National Playwrights Slam on the 19th from 9 pm on at the Biltmore Tiffany Room and will report back. I’ve bought a pair of sandals and may break down and buy a new outfit as well. (Maybe, maybe not. I’m a rotten shopper.)

I know that one rarely makes contacts at any conference that lead on to fame and fortune. (I went to one a while back that was called Reinventing the Future. I’m still reinventing and thank God the future is always a day away.) But the panels sound interesting and may lead to some positive changes, and the explosion of the L.A. Theatre surrounding the conference is exciting.

I imagine that a great schmoozefest will be the heart of the affair. And that sounds like fun. With one thousand and eighty four people there, everyone is bound to meet a few simpatico persons, exchange some good ideas, and have a few laughs.