Tag Archives: Playwright

Zombies, Regency and Women on the Fringe 2014!

Women on the Fringe!

LA FPI Video Blog featuring female playwrights @ the Hollywood Fringe Festival

We are excited to be back at the Fringe viewing new work by women playwrights for LA FPI’s Women on the Fringe. And thank you Hollywood Fringe for having LA FPI back.

Susan Sassi is one hard-working writer, producer and actor!  Sassi’s Victorian Courting & Zombies is a hilarious musical romp where zombies run amok amongst aristocrats of the Regency period.  Much like we all run amok at the Fringe while dodging traffic, finding parking and our seats (with camera in tow) in the nick of time, but in much more comfortable clothing.

Due to the Regency period’s societal hierarchy, the upper class were most often viewed by the common folk as sublime and fantastical, fiction-like, or in this case, as zombies who run with the “in crowd.” Inspired by Jane Austin, the work structurally and ideally mimics the period by using fantastical creatures who rub elbows with Dukes, attend formal balls and even propose all in zombie-like fashion.

We loved the comedic timing of this work. The actors’ chemistry and energy billowed throughout the audience and beyond, making us want to jump right in and sing along.

Susan, thanks for the great writing and fun times with the Funktard sisters.  We can’t wait to see what happens to them next!  We could watch your show again and again. We’re suckers for zombies.  Enjoy the video.

A special thank you to Susan Sassi and the cast and crew.

Verisimilitude

by Guest Blogger Dee Jae Cox

Dee Jae Cox
Dee Jae Cox

I am by nature an optimist.  I love to laugh and I don’t hold on to grudges.  I am sincerely hoping that is the key to my longevity and will compensate for the lack of physical exercise.  But as a Playwright and theatrical Director and Producer, I have also had my rose colored glasses ripped off of my face a time or two.   I try and see the glass as half full, rather than half empty.  But imagine that glass as less than a quarter full.  Imagine two equal sized water glasses, one that is 80% full and the second that is only 20% full.  Stand them side-by-side and visually take in that image.  That will give you a picture of gender parity in American theatre in 2013… or rather the lack thereof.

The Hollywood Fringe Festival is always a good jumping off point for discussions on gender parity in Los Angeles theatre.  The number of female participants is usually inflated because of the self-production element, which in all honesty, self-production is something I would encourage any woman with the skills and means, to consider at any time of the year.  DIY!   That is what motivated my Cofounder Michele Weiss and I, to found The Los Angeles Women’s Theatre Project, in 2007. I’m a Playwright and I understand the challenges that we face and I wanted to find a way to help more women get their work on to the stage, though all too soon realized that our efforts were only a small step in addressing an overwhelming need.

A playwright tells a story based on their unique perspective, which really does differ between men and women.  As female playwrights, of course we can create male characters.  And no doubt male playwrights can create female characters. But we’re talking about one simple thing.  Truth.   I had a cherished mentor and writing instructor who taught me the word, verisimilitude, the appearance or semblance of truth; likelihood; probability.  He used to say that it was essential that a play possessed verisimilitude.

There is a serious lack of verisimilitude in American theatre, when eighty percent of the plays that are produced are written by and about men.  The absence of gender parity is a crisis and has not progressed in the past century; so waiting for it to catch up to the times is not going to happen on its own.  Not only are women’s perspectives and voices denied, but also the trickle down effect of this discriminatory practice is insidious and seeps into the pours of how we produce theatre.  The dysfunction is reflected in the lack of protagonist and leading roles for actresses. It is reflected in the low percentage of female directors, stage crew and it most certainly impacts the number of stories about women or even stories from a woman’s perspective. When the majority of critics who review plays are male, it slants the reporting, the reviews and even the amount of media coverage and awards that women receive.

Perhaps we’ve been indoctrinated that if we get on our feminist soapboxes and demand equality, we are just being downright rude. Theatre is not just entertainment, it is an ageless reflection of our communities, our culture and our lives.  If that reflection has historically lacked gender parity and truth, do we simply acquiesce to the status quo? Or do we find the courage to undertake the mission of creating equality in the art that we value so greatly?  As Producers of theatre, we can not be willing to sacrifice verisimilitude or to deny our right to expect it.

 

“I’m forming a new ad hoc committee in Los Angeles to explore fresh ways to solve the gender parity issue in theatre. Join me on July 20, 1-4 p.m., at the next LA FPI Gathering at Samuel French Bookshop, to learn the details and become part of it.”

 

Dee Jae Cox is CoFounder and Artistic Director of The Los Angeles Women’s Theatre Project (www.lawomenstheatreproject.org).   

www.deejaecox.com    |    https://twitter.com/Deejae1

 

With a Little Help From My Friends

It’s been a tough year for my playwriting. Changes at the day job, fighting for writing space in an 800 square foot coop with my husband who’s writing a book, plus a tough critique of a play that’s been haunting me for ten years are all the excuses I have for not turning out stellar pages ready to hit the stage.

And I call myself a playwright?

Thank goodness for my playwriting community!

I’ve been lucky to have that strong playwriting community in three cities – LA, DC, and Omaha. These are people who’ve heard my lousy first draft, shown up at the first public reading full of encouraging words and – a day later – helpful criticism, who never miss a full production. They’re the ones who’ll nurse a glass of wine for hours, talking about the process of writing, the tyranny of the literary manager, the terrific show they saw at Fringe. They’re the ones who talk you off the roof when you’re having that very tough year.

And of course, the best way to create that community is to be that friend for them, too, showing up at opening night, offering to read their first draft, buying them that glass of wine and sitting for hours.

So how do you create that community of playwrights?

A Love Vaccine: Believers by Patricia Milton

One of my favorite writing subjects is myth and fairy tale adaptation. Robin Byrd, whose new play The Grass Widow’s Son is part of the DC Black Theatre Festival on 6/28/12, kindly blogged here about a talk that I gave on the topic at the Dramatists Guild National Conference last year.

Award-winning Bay Area playwright Patricia Milton has a new comedy opening in August in San Francisco titled Believers. It’s a fairy tale adaptation, and sounds fascinating—about a love vaccine. I interviewed Patricia via e-mail to learn more about her new show and her fairy tale adaptation process.

Q: Please tell us about your new play Believers. What’s it about?

Milton: In a remote pharmaceutical lab, brain researcher Rockwell Wise works to develop a love vaccine so he will never again suffer the pain of heartbreak. His ex-lover Grace Wright shows up to lead his drug development team, bringing her own agenda — her plan to create a love activator. Their maneuvers to achieve their own aims result in unexpected side effects.

Q: A love vaccine. What sparked the idea? How’d you come up with it?

Milton: I read an article in the NY Times about the brain synapses involved in romantic love, and was intrigued by the article’s assertion that if a love vaccine were made, there is already a large market for it. I immediately wanted to write about this: I think it is funny and touching to follow a protagonist whose desperate, heartfelt goal is totally wrong for her or him. I wanted to adapt a fairy tale as a couple’s backstory. I also was eager to explore the notion of pharmaceutical side effects. Brain-altering drugs are a boon for many people, but when their side effects are ignored or concealed, there are tragic results. In a similar way, sometimes our own actions produce unintended consequences that hurt the ones we love.

Q: Sounds like so many people can relate to this play! When did you start it and what’s your development process been like?

Milton: I’ve been working on it for about two years. I developed it in several writers workshops, including at Playwrights Foundation and Central Works writing group. It has had three public readings: at Playwrights Center of San Francisco, Playwrights Revolution, Capital Stage Company, Sacramento, and Wily West Productions, San Francisco. From the last reading, Wily West decided to produce it. As a side note, the Playwrights Revolution reading was directly as a result of Twitter: Stephanie Gularte, artistic director of Capital Stage, read my tweet about the play and asked to read it.

Q: That’s great that social media helped you get a reading. Speaking of readings, what’s their value in terms of a play’s development?

Milton: I learned so much from each reading. Believers is a comedy, so sitting in the middle of the theatre, listening for the laughter, told me a lot about what was working in terms of what was funny. The play explores a complex mash-up of ideas, and has an intricate plot, so I asked a lot of questions in talk-backs to make sure audiences were following the action. There’s still some juicy ambiguity, but the action has become clearer with each rewrite.

Q: Believers is based on a fairy tale. Please tell us about your fairy tale adaptation process.

Milton: Fairy tales are fascinating to me: layered, deep, and speaking directly to the unconscious. Many of the fairy tales we know here in the U.S. have been “Disney-ized,” removing some of the darker elements.  In “The Frog King,” a princess promises to love the Frog King forever and ever if he will rescue her gold ball from a pond. When he delivers the ball, she refuses to keep her promise. Now, many of us know a version where the princess kisses the frog to change him into a prince. But in the fairy story I found, the princess changes him by throwing the frog against a wall!  To me, this version is not about physical violence. It depicts the power of love to completely, often fiercely and uncomfortably, shatter our psyche as it transforms us. I was challenged to figure out how Grace “throws Rocky against the wall” to bring him to his fully realized self. One other aspect of the play is that the frog is both a religious symbol (as in Egypt’s plague) and a fairy tale symbol. I was prompted to explore the apocalyptic side of the frog as well as its fairy tale side.

Q: Any thoughts on writing comedy you can share with us?

Milton: I want to put in a good word for romantic comedies. For centuries, all comedies were romantic comedies. Hollywood, with its frequent use of stale formulas and generic couples, has somewhat tarnished the rom-com. I’m doing my part to reclaim the genre for smart people. I’d like to also make a plug for Wily West: a fantastic production company, employing talented women artists like our director, Sara Staley, Lead Designer Quinn Whitaker, and Executive Producer Laylah Muran de Assereto, as well as many other talented actors and design professionals. Founded by Morgan Ludlow, Wily West Productions produces only local SF Bay Area playwrights.

Q) A female-driven production company? We certainly want to support that. Thanks, Patricia, for all the good information. Congratulations and we can’t wait to hear more about your show.

Wily West Productions presents the world premiere apocalyptic comedy, BELIEVERS, by Patricia Milton, directed by Sara Staley. August 2-25, 2012. Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays at 8 p.m. at StageWerx, 466 Valencia Street, between 15th and 16th Streets, San Francisco. For more information: www.wilywestproductions.com 

 

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.

 

 

Waiting…

In 1986, I enlisted into the Army, going through Basic Training at Fort Dix in the dead of winter was a shock to my system to say the least.  “You have three orders soldier:  1. Do as you’re told.  2. Do as you’re told.  3. Do as you’re told.  Stay alert, stay alive!”  An onslaught of training, 4 am wake ups, alerts, and “hurry up and wait” was the norm.  It seemed that we waited forever for everything and when we weren’t waiting, we were training…hard.  Once while waiting in line, I asked a drill sergeant if I could sleep.  “Sure, as long as you remain standing.  Do not lean on the wall.  Do not lean on your buddy.  Stand ‘at ease’ the whole time; you can sleep all you want.”  He laughed and walked away.  I promptly went to sleep standing two inches from the wall in the ‘at ease’ position just about to start snoring when….  “Is she touching the wall.”  “No, she’s about two inches away from it.”  “Is she sleep?”  “She looks sleep.”  “Byrd.  Byrd!  Are you sleep?”  “Yes, drill sergeant.  I was sleep.  You said I could sleep as long as I didn’t touch the wall.”  “How in the ___ are you doing that?”  “I don’t know drill sergeant.”  “Well, wake up.  Looks weird.”  “Yes, drill sergeant.”

Sometimes, waiting looks pretty weird when you have to be ready to move at a moment’s notice and you can’t lay down on the job, when you are training for action behind the scenes, and the dedication it takes to wait is as draining as the training itself.  Catching a quick rejuvenating nap with your boots on takes skill and focus.  Like waiting for transition as a writer, it can take years.  You must be diligent; you cannot lose focus.  Normally, people don’t wait more than a decade to be able to do what they have been doing all along.  Artists, however, wait for as long as it takes.  It’s hard to forget the dream when it makes up the very fiber of your being.  So, you hurry up and meet those deadlines, finish that play, get to that conference, sit in on that workshop, study that master playwright; you hurry so you won’t be lacking and you wait…  You wait on alert status because it’s nearly impossible to put a dream on hold when you can’t go very long without doing that thing you do.

When I wake up in the morning, after my ‘good morning, Lord’, I think about writing.  On my way into work, in the middle of Los Angeles traffic, I think about writing.  I’ve got a cart I drag into the office full of my research, snippets of plays, and books I may need ‘just in case’ — just in case I should get a moment to write during the day, just in case I get that next line for that piece that’s sort of on the back burner but can’t seem to wait it’s turn; all to do with writing, all to do with who I am as an artist.  I am constantly being asked, “What’s in the bag?  What’s in the cart?  Are you a student?”  I’m a writer; I write plays and I don’t give them timeouts for bad behavior, they don’t get vacation, and I don’t have daycare.  Every day is “Go to work with Mommy Day.”

Does it matter to you how many perplexed looks cross the faces of people who ask what it is you do when they find out you haven’t had a production in a while but have just started a new play, again?  Do you become self conscious, or simply, stand at ease?  Because, that is what playwrights do, we write plays, in season and out of season, we write creating worlds peopled with all our good intentions.  There is no rule that says, if we don’t get a production every year we must stop and do something else.  My thought is that one must be ready, be on alert because one day your gift will make room for you and bring you before great men (male/female) and you would want to have a lot to offer.  So, while you are waiting…write….  Build your repertoire…be about the work…  Hone your craft…stay on alert status, the alarm will sound and you will need to have your boots on and laced all the way up…

Being a Playwright…being female…

Welcome to the Los Angeles Female Playwrights Initiative (LAFPI) Blog! My name is Robin Byrd and I am a playwright. I went to the first meeting of the LAFPI because I was curious to see just about how many female playwrights there are living in Los Angeles. I was curious to see the ones I didn’t know – turned out to be everyone in the room. I took the trip up Topanga despite the vague directions to “drive toward the ocean” – very scary to a person who gets lost when tired and after working all week at my day job, I was tired. But I took the chance because I wanted to know, if I followed that winding road up the mountain, would I find a group of women focused on making a difference. I did. Could this be the beginning of change? It is. I am happy to be a part of the movement.

Being a playwright, one tends to spend a lot of time alone — writing. Being female doesn’t change that; the craft is the same. The drive to create is an artist thing – no gender attached. An artist’s perspective is formed by the sum of pieces and parts that make up the artist. The perspective is unique; the created art is universal. I never introduce myself as a female playwright nor have I ever seen or heard a male playwright introduce himself as a male playwright. It should be about the work and the work should speak for itself. I cover women’s issues, men’s issues, human issues – whatever comes up while I’m writing.  I took an all male piece of mine, The Book of Years, to a conference once.  The general consensus of the male audience was surprise at how I got the characters to be so true-to-life.  I listen.  I start with the voices I hear in my head when I write. “First Words”, I call it. No matter how much research or what I write down as a draft synopsis, the first words begin the play and tell me whose play it is even if I started out thinking it belonged to someone else. First words tell me who the character is. If I follow the words I hear diligently, the characters will write themselves – as true or as false as they want to be. Yes, sometimes the characters lie but if I don’t overwrite them, I usually find out why they lied somewhere down the line. Listening is an asset for a writer – not just listening to the world around us as we transpose and re-create/create worlds but also listening to our inner selves as we push against the stones. We must believe in ourselves and continue to write the stories that need to be written no matter how many rejection letters come in the mail. I have a thing I do when I get my ‘R’ letters. I read between the lines. A “No” with a “please keep us in mind” means “keep writing and circle back”. Just getting a rejection letter means the organization cared enough to reply; I will take a rejection letter over no response any day. I have my share of no responses noted in my submission log; on the positive side, a no response could be due to understaffing so there may still be hope that they will get around to reading my submission. What a happy surprise that will be! If the organization just doesn’t respond and I still want to submit, I make a note “tends not to respond” and that keeps me from being irritated. If and when they do respond, it should be good news. Why do I choose to be as positive as I can about rejection? It takes too much energy that I can use for writing not to be positive about it. Don’t get me wrong, there is the occasional wallop that knocks the wind out of me but that’s when I reach out to one of my writer friends and they always help me get back on track. Sometimes, the best remedy is to start a new play…being a playwright…that’s what I do – I write…