But I’m also remembering what it was like to be in an audience, alive with energy that creates a cathartic performance. I found this YouTube video of Patti LaBelle singing “You’ll Never Walk Alone” from CAROUSEL. And, yes, it is over the top, way over the top, and it could only happen in a theatre with an audience that was unafraid of being together.
For the final installment of my “Creatives Check-In” series, we welcome and hear from…
Before we get into the interview, I just want to say how thankful I am to everyone who participated in this series. I know that the times we’re living in are not easy and we’re all in taking in the days as best we can but I am so thankful that you took the time to share your story with me.
Featured Creatives – A Short Bio:
Lelde Cauka – Bracken is a Latvian born visual artist living and working in Los Angeles, CA. Lelde comes from a background of classical fine art training since the age of 10. Her work ranges from a realistic still life and portrait illustrations to exploration of color and shape. Her current work voices abstractionism and simplicity. It is deeply rooted in her northern European upbringing while intertwining with the exposure of her surroundings. Mostly working with watercolor and acrylics, Lelde finds these mediums the most soothing allowing the audience to connect and find harmony through her work.
Nahal Navidar is an Iranian-born playwright raised in upstate New York. Her plays are motivated by the exploration of social issues while employing magical elements to embody the expanse of human emotions. Nahal’s plays have been developed at Boston Court, Silk Road Rising, Ensemble Studio Theatre LA, The Vagrancy, Rogue Machine, Coeurage Theatre, Pasadena Playhouse, Playwright’s Arena, Troy Foundry Theatre, The Last Frontier Theatre Conference, Golden Thread Productions, Company of Angels, The Kennedy Center, and The University at Albany. Nahal holds an MFA in Dramatic Writing from USC and is a member of the Dramatist Guild of America.
Maia “Vik Floyd” Villa is a fifth generation Chicanx Los Angeleno, most at home between taco trucks and boba tea. They’re a lifelong performer and writer, particularly in love with sketch comedy, ancestral reparation, and rock’n’roll. Passionate about liberating marginalized voices through creative expression and cultural enrichment, Maia has worked with various non-profit arts organizations throughout Los Angeles to empower others through storytelling. You can catch them in sketch/improv shows in Hollywood and performing rey metalero drag all over the Eastside—after quarantine that is.
Instagram: @maia.villa (For Maia stuff and comedy) and @mx.vikfloyd (For more openly queer, mentally ill stuff—oh and drag!)
How have you been spending your time at home during the quarantine?
Lelde Cauka – Bracken (LCB): Quarantine has certainly raised awareness of what is essential in our lives. Whether it is food or a creative outlet to sustain your mental wellbeing. The current time and circumstances we have discovered ourselves in, is simply another reminder that the beauty of life is its unpredictable ways. Yes, the future may seem uncertain, especially if one’s routine has been disrupted, but it has always been this way! This is how I continue to look at my day-to-day life in the creative field as well as in my domestic life. I try not to put a pause on everything simply because we are leading a more simple and isolated life. In many ways, I find it more inspirational and motivating than ever before despite the crisis. With that being said, I am also aware of the negative side of this virus and the different degrees of impact it’s leaving on so many lives around me – seeing so many people around the world including my family and friends be so deeply affected is heartbreaking without a doubt, but we also have to find a way to function for ourselves and others. I feel like we have been given an opportunity to re-establish values for ourselves and decide how we want to continue this journey. I am a strong believer in “less is more”. Letting go of what I have no control over, is my gasoline that keeps me moving forward. It is also strongly reflected in my artwork.
This might sound cliché, but I’ve been focusing more on my mental and physical health by staying active through late-night running and my continuous yoga practice as I did before the quarantine. Once you discover it in your own unique way, it really does wonders to your body and mind and this is something I put a big emphasis on because all of these aspects are connected and play a tremendous role not only in my happiness but also in my creative flow. I strongly recommend it!
Being lucky enough to have full-time job during this pandemic, I have also taken the time to get back to my roots and focus more on cooking. I grew up in the luscious Latvia and preparing your daily meal with homegrown ingredients runs in my DNA. It has always been a passion of mine, but now that my current “office” is around the corner from my kitchen, it makes it that much easier and brings me so much joy. This time has most certainly brought renewed love for many simple things in my life and has made me appreciate what I have and how far I have come.
Maia “Vik Floyd” Villa(MVFV): This is almost everything I ever wanted—but with a horrific societal landscape. To explain: Since I was preteen age, I had this recurring vision of a brick wall always slowly moving behind me, as I had to keep up and move forward. In deep spells of depression, I’d get the vision of my little body jogging slowly and getting tired—or worse, falling completely limp in exhaustion as the wall pushed on.
I grew to realize that this is not only a metaphor about time, but a metaphor on societal pressures—not to mention anything my young psyche had picked up from loving Pink Floyd’s concept of The Wall. 12 years later, I’m grateful we live among communities working and collaborating to decolonize. Now, before you think I’m just going to go into a rant about how white supremacists or capitalism is the root of all evil…well I slightly am, and also very much not. I believe that, in the lifetime of any society throughout history, more often than not the structures used to build a large scale society are the same structures that eventually stop working until the society collapses or revolutionizes itself.
How is this an answer to your question? HA.
I do not feel I have extra time. I still feel the wall moving. Above is the beginnings of the thoughts I’ve been having while trying not to let the stress take over too much. Despite being in a personally privileged position (I’m able to work from home, and I am grateful to have time at home because I’m normally running around all over the place), my arms are aching all the time and I do not feel as though I have any extra time to spend. I still feel like there isn’t enough time to release all the spinning thoughts, I still feel like there isn’t enough time to get ahead of that wall, I still feel all the pressures and anxieties — and the silver lining gift is to be able to observe those emotional patterns removed of some factors that normally keep me distracted and busy.
Did the quarantine affect any of your creative projects or plans?
LCB: It has most certainly left an impact – public shows in galleries might be out of the question for a while, but this situation has also expanded my creativity and made me search for alternative ways to make my art accessible to others, for example, utilizing the mighty worldwide web, especially social media has been a great tool. I am definitely very thankful for technology.
Daylight plays an instrumental part in my creative work and it has been wonderful to not spend any time in traffic and have easy access to it daily. So overall, I must say the quarantine has made a positive impact on my workflow.
Nahal Navidar (NN): The world premiere of my play My Dear Hussein was cancelled on what would have been the first preview performance. We were in tech week when we had the initial conversation about COVID-19 and things rapidly unraveled from there.
MVFV: It pushed forward a plan: to stop doing theatre. I’ve been a “Yes” person in the theatre world for 12 years, and funny thing is that a project was ending on March 10th. So all throughout February and beginning of March, I was telling myself, “March 11th, you start saying no; March 11th, you get rest and focus on your solo work. March 11th you start spending more time at home—“ and WHOOP! Look what happened!
I was about to say no to all creative projects so that I can narrow my focus to a dream that’s been dear to me for a very long time: I auditioned for and got accepted into Second City Hollywood’s Grad Revue. After 8 levels of improv, this is the final 6-month program in which you build a sketch show with an ensemble. I’m telling you, Zury, this is the number one fucking DREAM—the road to the dream—and I am tearing up that it’s been put on pause.
I work for a nonprofit I’m very passionate about (I’m an emerging actor who sees having a platform as an opportunity for social progress), so March and April haven’t been easy. Trying to catch relief fund opportunities like flying dodgeballs. I’ve been laughing about the March 11th thing; this is almost what I wanted…But it’s very much not.
How, if at all, has this time affected your creativity?
NN: With the cancellation of my production, I can’t anticipate when I’ll have the emotional fortitude to write again. As an immigrant, woman, and artist of color, getting a theater to commit to producing my work has been a grueling task. To come this close and then watch it fall apart during tech week has been devastating. Unearthing my childhood memories of war for the rehearsal process was intrinsically a trying experience, but the point is to share in the communal experience of catharsis with an audience. Otherwise, there is no release, like a hand is squeezing my larynx. My body is anticipating the breath, but my mind knows that air is not coming. I will channel this into my writing one day, but right now I am in shock.
MVFV: I’m being kind to myself. Of course I want to shit out the album, the solo performance, the comedy sketch that will break open our bipartisan divide…I want to create and release and produce all of that. But I can’t have that expectation when this time is uncertain and scary for all of us. It’s tiring.
I’m allowing myself to take everything slowly. To sit in my backyard and breathe, and instead of having the pressure to practice guitar via scales or metronomes, just deep listening to the sound and to the wind.
I’m part of the drag community, and I must mention how wildly impressive and beautiful it is how quickly and strongly and innovatively the drag community has created and produced digital drag nationwide. It’s fucking beautiful! It’s been frustrating for artists like me who have more theatrical skill than digital, but all of us punkass bitches at least are enjoying ANY quality of digital drag. I said no to some digital drag opportunities at start, and am now gradually creating some videos whenever I feel the need for release and have the time. What a beautiful action to use this time to join together globally.
SIDE NOTE, From Maia: I really would love it if people were able to catch the following drag shows, because I am releasing personal healing that I hope is good for everyone else:
May 5th at 7pm, Drag Kings of the World @dragkingsworld
May 7th at 7:36pm (full moon sunset time), Golden Hour @goldenhourdragshow
May 14th at 7pm, Mandemic by @mancandykings
*All streaming on Twitch
Personally, do you feel that it’s necessary/important to keep creative during this time?
LCB: Yes, absolutely! It’s part of my ecosystem. For me, personally, it’s something irreplaceable and essential. It has always been that way.
NN: No. I don’t think it’s important to do anything but follow the stay-at-home order, keep social distance, and be present with the shared trauma that humanity is experiencing. If one wants to process feelings through creativity, then of course, create, but a global pandemic shouldn’t be treated as an extended writer’s retreat. It’s an offense to the millions of people who have lost their lives, are sick, and to the essential workers who don’t have the privilege to stay at home and protect their families.
MVFV: Hell no. Priority is self-care. Society is not going to go back to “normal” — if you look at the natural course of history, you know that more painful change, more eye opening to weak structures—all of that is coming. We need rest. Only rest will make us stronger. If creative collaboration brings you rest, comfort, and strength—great! If spinning around your bedroom throwing paint at a poster brings you, rest, comfort, and strength—great! But is “keeping creative” necessary? Hell no.
What have you found most frustrating about this time, creatively or otherwise?
NN: I have a deadline coming up for a commission. I’m three scenes away from finishing the play, but what I need now is to process the fallout of production and digest the reality of the world around me. However, my integrity as an artist and commitment to deadlines are very important. It’s a frustrating conundrum.
MVFV: The crowds of people deeply believe that Newsom’s initiatives are a ploy to entrap us in a communist police state. That this can be a global issue—with multiple countries having shelter-in-place guidelines or restrictions—and I still have 2 MAGA family members on both sides who believe this is an exaggeration to fuck with Trump’s election. And even more frustrating, Zury, is that the Democratic Party is a fucking disaster, and I don’t blame anyone who decides to join the #WalkAway movement and become a patriot focused on freedom. Nearly every politician has some personal interest, some money to go into their pocket. I’m losing my mind because we have one side screaming about communists, and the other side screaming about fascists, and all the radicalists are either moving further to the left or further to the right—without anyone finding any common root belief or behavior.
Once our young nation has citizens who, during a GLOBAL PANDEMIC (geez, I have to say “global” when pandemic does mean global), are holding up protest signs reading, “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death.” Oh, man, it’s over. This country was founded on the concept of Liberty (a false liberty) and no one even knows what liberty means.
I’ll continue to collaborate with people who will work tirelessly “until justice is truly for all” but I am tired and pessimistic.
What is something that you’ve learned about yourself during this time?
LCB: I have learned how adaptable I can be to this ever-changing life and cope with disruption. Instead of feeling frustrated about the current situation in the world and any other newness that comes my way, I simply accept the change and most often transform it into a case study, a creative process. Life is constantly full of hidden gems and other rocks. I have learned to appreciate them all equally.
NN: I’m too immersed in the experience and can’t see beyond the muck. I do feel exhausted and know that we will all feel the impact of this pandemic for generations to come.
MVFV: Observing my bipolar patterns removed of all the busying/distracting factors is pretty fascinating, and also a little scary. On the one week a month that I’m in an optimistic mood, I worry it’s going to spiral into mania, yes, but also my nervous system is just such a fucking nuisance. I’ve been breathing, grounding myself, staying patient and forgiving for the most part. I am in a safe environment, with little stress. Whenever I do have stress spikes where I act grouchy, I am grateful I’m with my family where we’re all just used to our behaviors and laugh at each other.
I am still worried about my anger. I have been for many years now. So I’ve said Fuck it to traditional workouts, and now I am essentially combining my “at-home gym” time with Viewpoints in order to release anger.
What is something/someone that has brought you joy during this time?
LCB: I feel extremely lucky to share this time with my partner in creative journeys and life as well as play with our always-comical husky pup. We actually got engaged the other week. This came as a wonderful surprise and is another great example of how to continue your life despite the quarantine.
NN: Making new Iranian recipes I’ve never attempted before. Reading. Practicing my violin. Consuming mindless content. Spending time with my husband and our new puppy, Pashmak. Checking in on my cousin, Emily, who is a NYC nurse and texting her silly gifs and YouTube clips. Being thankful every day for the health of my family and loved ones.
MVFV: My friend Daniel Luna reached out to our team for Borracho: Spanish for Drunken Bum (a play by friend Abe Zapata Jr. I directed in February—I fucking love that play; I’d be tired all over again for that beautiful, hilarious play—) so we could read a script he’s working on all together via Zoom. That was my fave. It was a very low pressure, one-time commitment scenario where we all get to enjoy Daniel’s comedy, and I loved it. (Shout out to @luna.tico and @abe_zapatajr — peeps should follow their work!) Also, I highly recommend taking an incredibly aimless walk around your neighborhood without any technology on you.
For the second installment of my “Creatives Check-In” series, we welcome and hear from…
As relayed in the previous post, my goal with this series is to highlight how creative folks are reconciling with their creativity during this precarious time. In the spirit of creative camaraderie, I aim to highlight creatives from various fields as I strongly believe we fuel each other’s work. I am so thankful for their participation.
Featured Creatives – A Short Bio:
Valerie Gibbins is a textile and industrial designer from Oakland, CA. Her work straddles many disciplines, attempting to highlight the intersections of feminism, sustainability, art, function, and design thinking.
Christine Hamilton-Schmidt is a Los Angeles based playwright and screenwriter. Her work has been developed and produced at Skylight Theatre, Ammunition Theatre Company, Ensemble Studio Theatre/LA, The Blank Theatre, Team Awesome Robot, The Parsnip Ship, and more. Her full-length play, CHARLOTTE STAY CLOSE, had its world premiere production at Ensemble Studio Theatre/LA in September 2019. She is the founder and co-program director of New West Playwrights, which was created to give voice to and foster the work of young playwrights in Los Angeles. More information at www.christinehamiltonschmidt.com
Amanda Harmon Koppe is an Actor, Writer, and LA native. Amanda’s passion lies in empowering others through her art, as well as coaching others to create their own work. She received her BFA in Performing Arts: Acting from AMDA College & Conservatory of the Performing Arts, has written a feminist-comedy feature film screenplay, as well as the short film Siri 2.0, depicting technology’s intrusiveness in our daily lives. She’s starred in a number of commercials and short films and when she’s not acting or writing, you can find her as a Production Manager, Teaching Artist or Yoga Instructor.
How have you been spending your time at home during the quarantine?
Valerie Gibbins (VG): There’s been a lot of eating, baking, cooking, staring into space, staring at screens, laundry, watering plants, having no clue what I’m doing, watching ’90s Disney movies, stressing, sewing, making masks, playing with fabric, and eating chocolate. There’s never enough chocolate in this house.
Christine Hamilton-Schmidt (CHS): I go to bed between 1:30 and 2:30am and wake up between 9:00 and 10:00am. I make big batches of cold brewed hibiscus tea and bake cakes. I bought a dry erase board, and I write a to-do list for my weekdays and feel really good every time I cross an item off the list. I write in notebooks in an attempt to spend less time in front of a screen. I talk to my cat a lot and call my mom every day.
Amanda Harmon Koppe (AHK): I am the kind of person that needs to stay busy and I’m still learning to forgive myself when I don’t finish everything on my to-do list. I started thinking about what I could do from home that would take my mind off of our current global crisis and would help others do the same. I ended up creating Arts & Crafts tutorials on Youtube for kids. I was surprised to put my acting, writing, filming, directing, and teaching skills into use by developing these holistic crafting lessons for children from my kitchen table.
Did the quarantine affect any of your creative projects or plans?
VG: I teach sewing classes, so those were all cancelled. Thankfully, I did not have any major plans this year since I was looking for full-time work anyway. That effort went down the tubes, obviously.
CHS: This is WILD, but my “career” has never been better. Quarantine has opened a magical door to working on other people’s projects and being encouraged by others to write. I have collaborators getting in touch with me and giving me deadlines in a way I never have. I feel really lucky, but also tired and worried about letting people down because some days I just can’t write.
AHK: In early March, I had been going on auditions, developing a few TV pilots, working on an ebook and outlining another feature film, but once our reality came to a screeching halt, it was much harder for me to focus on any of my creative endeavors. It was exhausting to even try working on projects I had once been passionate about. Everything I had been doing felt really small in comparison to an overwhelming feeling of uncertainty and dread. It made me think of the John Lennon quote, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”
How, if at all, has this time affected your creativity?
VG: On one hand, I feel like an amorphous semi-sentient blob most of the time. But then on the other hand, this time has actually pushed me to sew more and look at growing that more as part of my work. It’s given me time to waffle and question, but also time to sit down and sew for hours on end. This is definitely not to say that quarantine = start a business! It’s more about clearing away the cobwebs in my case. Now is not the time to pressure or shame yourself into doing something you do not feel equipped to do.
CHS: I want to sit around all day. I feel very lucky when I have an urge to write, but most of my writing has been a result of deadlines and I am so grateful to my creative partners for that. I think reading books and scripts and watching film & tv is a way to be creative and so I’ve been indulging in art intake.
AHK: I stopped judging myself for not accomplishing what I had planned on doing and that helped my creativity return in waves. It’s difficult enough for me to keep track of what day it is, so instead of giving myself a usual incentive deadline, I keep all of my projects circulating in the ether of my mind. Almost everything in my apartment is organized (for my own sanity), but when it comes to my ideas and thoughts– my creativity can get messy. When an idea hits, I write it down on anything I have on hand. If you walked through my front door right now, you would see random post-its, paper towels, napkins and journals floating around everywhere. It feels great to get my thoughts on paper and I could tell you exactly what is written on each one. It’s almost as if I’ve designated different areas of my apartment with a certain idea and when I’m in that area, that project/idea is what circulates in my mind and word vomit comes out. It’s like going to an amusement park and choosing what ride you want to go on that will make you toss your cookies (but for fun).
Personally, do you feel that it’s necessary/important to keep creative during this time?
VG: This is an absolute given. In normal times, this would be part of a larger conversation on the importance of arts education. Not only is it important to those of us who choose a creative field for work, being creative nurtures the brain and can provide distraction and comfort. For me, just doing something as simple as looking at my fridge or pantry, sparks creative problem solving and switches my brain on. I think it’s so vital to put a creative filter on everything you do—and it just makes everything more fun.
CHS: No. No, no, no. Nothing is necessary other than staying safe. I think it’s important to take time to think about who you are when you aren’t working, what your values are, and how you can contribute. I think it’s important to reach out to people you love. Rest so you can be creative when you’re ready.
AHK: As crazy as my creative process does sound at the moment, if I didn’t have it, I honestly don’t know where I would be putting that frenetic energy. I’m a big advocate for the need to express yourself. I believe it is just as important to be seen and heard at this time of universal societal trauma as it is when dealing with an individual’s trauma. If you can take whatever you are feeling right now and translate that into a drawing or painting or monologue or video, you will find that it is not only healing, but it will connect you to others who feel the same way. No matter how isolated I may feel, I find solace when I remember that I am not alone in this experience.
What have you found most frustrating about this time, creatively or otherwise?
VG: Oh, well, I mean…the “governance” of this country is utterly enraging. Anger can definitely be a motivator, but it’s turned very obsessive during this time; I’ve had to step away from watching news clips and be very conscientious about the time I spend on the internet. Though, I’m very grateful to even have access to information and the internet (#netneutrality).
Otherwise, I miss hugging my friends and family. It’s very frustrating to not know if they’re sick or I’m sick or if we should be going to the grocery store, etc. Everything and everyone has been in limbo for nearly two months. It’s not a comfortable or natural state for most humans. I think in some ways I had an easier time than most adjusting to sheltering in place because I’m a homebody and because I’ve been in a precarious limbo state (job-wise and mentally/emotionally) for a while.
CHS: I miss my friends and my family. It frustrates me that I can’t hug them.
What is something that you’ve learned about yourself during this time?
VG: I am a pretty self-aware person in the first place, so there haven’t really been any new revelations. However, I have definitely started being actively more forgiving and kinder to myself. I would say there’s been a lot more affirmation than fresh learning, which is truthfully what I’ve been struggling with for years. So, I guess, thank you Madame Corona for holding myself accountable to years of therapy!
CHS: I’m a lazy Taurus. I will always find something to clean. I want to write a novel (I knew this as a joke before quarantine but now I know as a serious thing).
AHK: I learned to be creative with finding purpose in my life. I never thought I would be making Arts & Crafts videos, but here I am. When it felt like the world was ending, Amanda was crafting. I also learned that it’s ok to not be productive. My body and mind have needed more rest because I’ve been in a constant state of stress since I started self-quarantining. I always thought accomplishing long-term goals was a great achievement, but now I think accomplishing little tasks feels just as great. I had the courage to get up this morning and take out the trash with gloves and a mask– yay, gold star!
What is something/someone that has brought you joy during this time?
VG: Communication with friends and family has always been number one. The past few years, I’ve cultivated amazing friendships by having epic phone chats and this time has allowed that to blossom since no one has a schedule anymore. I’ve been fortunate that I have been able to see my sister and brother-in-law (we’re basically one “household”) and therefore play with their dog. They joke I only come over to see her, which is not entirely untrue.
CHS: I don’t play Animal Crossing, but I like to listen to my husband play because the music and the voices of the characters are incredibly soothing.
AHK: Every Friday night, I visit another era by lighting a pair of candles on my great-grandmother’s candleholders and watch them flicker. I am reminded of how grateful I am for the technology and medicine we have today and that this too shall pass.
Why not use my blog week to shout out about a new writing opp?
Plays Project is launching a new #GetOutTheVote initiative and invites playwrights to draft short (1-10 minute) plays/monologues/musicals on the theme HINDSIGHT IS 2020. We would like interested writers to consider the following:
This is a forward-looking project = Speculative fiction!
Imagine the world AFTER the 2020 election and what it might look like
without a change in leadership. We are looking for thoughtful pieces
that demonstrate consideration into the myriad different ways four more
years of current GOP leadership might manifest.
We invite interested playwrights to consider the following:
Voter turnout is vital to a thriving democracy, and yet only 54.7% of eligible voters participated in the 2016 election.
are several pressing issues at stake in the 2020 election—which issues
should we be most concerned with? What do our lives look like post-2020
election, if these issues continue to go unchecked/unaided?
What do reticent voters need to hear in order feel motivated to vote – especially if their ideal candidate isn’t the nominee?
regrets will people have if they abstain from voting in the 2020
election? How might abstaining effect their day-to-day lives/kid’s
Humor is an excellent delivery mechanism – don’t be afraid to make us laugh!
love a good expletive, but for this project are hoping to have broad
audience appeal – if you are an F-bomb expert, please provide
alternative options for public spaces J
Selected plays will be featured on a special Protest Plays Project
podcast Our goal is to also make these plays available to theatremakers
across the nation in the hopes that they will put them to work as
motivational theatre aimed at rallying voters!
Scripts will be accepted through March 10th – Please use the Google upload form on this page (which will become available Feb 1st)
Questions? You can email us at ProtestPlays@LittleBlackDressINK.org
There’s something about a new year. It’s a new start, a “do-over,” a chance to be a better version of ourselves. As playwrights, it’s a good time to set a few goals.
May I offer my own Top Ten List for 2020.
1. Stop being so hard on myself.
Last year, there was too much chaos in my life to even think about writing a new play, let alone revising an old draft or sending out scripts. And the fact that there wasn’t enough bandwidth in my brain to think about theatre in 2019 doesn’t mean I’m a bad person or a lousy playwright. Life happens. I vow to do better this year. But if life throws a curveball, I will be forgiving and kind and encouraging: the same way I am to every other writer but myself.
2. Write 500 words a day, five days a week.
I think I can commit to this goal. Five hundred words may not sound like much, but those words add up. They don’t even have to be any good. But as Jodi Picoult famously says, “you can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.”
The same way you can’t edit a blank page, you can’t get a play produced if you don’t show it to someone. Send it out. Set a goal of 20 rejections in 2020! Or 100 rejections!
4. Look at ALL of my unfinished, bad drafts, ideas. Decide which are worth my time.
This is a great way to cheat. I may not have a new play dying to be written, but I know I have a decent first act in some computer file somewhere. If I can find it, and find a way to finish it, half my work is done. Or I can look at it and decide to trash it and move on. Either way, it feels very Marie Kondo of me to pick up a piece of old writing and ask myself whether it still “gives me joy.”
5. Go see more theatre.
We are blessed with dozens of terrific theatres in Los Angeles. How many have I visited? Not enough.
I know traffic is horrible and most theatres seem to be on the other side of the hill. But last year, I started making the rounds, seeing some terrific shows in 3 new-to-me theatre spaces. I will continue to make my way around town in 2020.
6. Read other people’s plays.
This is not only polite, it’s also a great way to see how other writers construct an evening of theatre.
It’s also a way of creating community. Writing is lonesome work. Knowing that someone else is laboring to create good work is a small comfort. There’s even a Facebook group that reads plays and makes recommendations. So far, I’ve been a lurker in the NPX Challenge Group. This year, I’ll start reading and recommending.
7. Celebrate the small victories.
I need to count all of my blessings, large and small. It may not be a Tony Award, but my day got a whole lot better when my cleaning lady showed me the book report her granddaughter wrote about MY book. I felt like a New York Times bestselling author. Yay.
8. Have coffee with people.
I used to tell my summer interns back in Washington that D.C. was a coffee kind of place. I’ve sat in Starbucks and Caribou Coffee and Coffee Bean stores all over DC, overhearing job interviews, congressional staff meetings, even lobbyist meet and greets. If you want to do business there, you start with “a coffee.”
To re-establish myself here in Los Angeles, I need to follow my own advice and start setting up coffee dates.
9. Think outside the box.
I’ve never really been interested in pop culture. I was the odd kid who organized the “Save Star Trek” campaign in elementary school, got busted in high school for wearing skirts that were too LONG, and became a groupie for “Bonanza” star Pernell Roberts because “every balding middle aged actor should have one diehard fan.”
So why did it surprise me to look at everything I’ve written over the years and discovered that none of it was “top ten list” material. It’s all quirky, quiet, and important to me. So why am I kicking myself that none of my work is being picked up by Signature Theatre in New York or South Coast Rep in Costa Mesa or any of the other well-established theatres across the country?
I realize that my longest running play isn’t being performed in a theatre at all. It’s a commission I got to write a one-man show about Theodore Roosevelt’s youngest son Quentin and it’s been running every weekend for years, playing on the sidewalks around the White House. I’ve directed plays performed in people’s living rooms, written a play performed in a D.C. National Park that celebrates water lilies, and this past summer, penned an audio play (THE FINA MENDOZA MYSTERIES) that was taped in a library, the L.A. Zoo, and in the middle of a jazz concert in a park.
This year, I vow to continue to look for unusual spaces where I can put my work before an audience. Got any suggestions?
10. Be Persistent. And if the door keeps getting slammed in your face, try another door. Or keep knocking.
For most of 2019, I’ve been trying to get the LA Public Library to carry my book “Welcome to Washington, Fina Mendoza.” It’s carried by lots of other library systems (L.A. County and the DCPL to name but two) but I’ve been hitting my head against the way trying to get LAPL to put the book on their shelves. Today I sent yet another email to their acquisitions person, fully expecting to get yet another rejection. But I asked myself: what did I have to lose? It’s a definite “no” if I don’t follow up. Maybe this time will be different. Maybe.
Five minutes ago, I got a response: “Done!” The book will be on LA Public Library shelves by the end of the month! Maybe 2020 won’t be so bad after all.
Do you have resolutions for 2020 that you’re willing to share?
It’s been almost exactly six months since I graduated grad school.
I apologize right now to everyone I have interacted with during this time. I have this thing where, when someone asks how you are, I don’t like saying just “fine” or “good,” especially when that’s not true and especially if the question is sincere. I’ve also been told multiple times that not only are my characters WITHHOLDING, so am I.
So unfortunately, in the spirit of being HOLDING or whatever the hell is the opposite of WITHHOLDING, I’ve tried to articulate this feeling of post-grad uncertainty in a multitude of ways. Often this will manifest in extremes: either totally depressing or completely manic.
There have been people I’ve had long meals with who have witnessed the manic. And I’ve apologized afterwards.
I only just apologized on Friday to a new friend and director I’m working with for being so damn negative the ENTIRE length of the times we’ve hung out.
My emotions live in extremes right now, or at least extremes for me. I’m either riding high and so excited about what’s happening, or my life is an endless desert of capital S Sad and I’ve made all the wrong decisions, every time, for every thing.
Which means I’ve been spending much of my time NOT writing and instead looking at animal videos on Facebook. For a brief period over the last six months, in my desperate attempt at finding a job, I even tried to get a part time job walking dogs or taking care of kittens or cats in shelters, or even starting as an apprentice dog trainer because those seemed at least mildly meaningful comparatively when you consider my other career is writing plays no one comes to or no one wants to produce and writing stories no one wants to publish.
And then Facebook starting advertising this product to me:
The algorithm is getting scary.
Obviously, I know how the algorithm knew how many EXACT seal videos I looked at or shared over the last six months. How may seal GIFs I’ve used.
But did the algorithm read my cover letter to the animal shelter in response to their call for a “Cat Caretaker” that I wrote desperately and passionately into Indeed one night? Or the various descriptions of how my 34-years of having dogs around, of feeding dogs, of having a dog die IN MY ARMS should qualify me to be able to walk a few of them around the block for an hour for minimum wage?
Did the algorithm hear ME calling MYSELF names like fat and lazy and talentless?
Did the algorithm see my whiskey-fueled bedtime crying-myself-to-sleep routine?
Because it’s like looking in the mirror. We’re in some uncanny valley territory here where I could buy a life-size version of myself and cuddle with it (angrily) after a hot toddy.
But, in an attempt to be POSITIVE, it seems the algorithm has solved my problem for me of articulation.
What has post-grad been like, you ask?
This. This right here. This is post-grad. This is my life right now. And, I suspect, this is just being a writer, forever and ever.
I loved this story by Karen Zacarias – it seems to resonate with my life right now.
As a writer, writing alone, and as an audience member, who doesn’t always feel included in what I’m watching onstage – I loved her story about moving about in the world, and feeling alone.
Recently I met some friends of friends, through our early theater careers, and we traded names like collected baseball cards. We talked about actors and their personal lives and relationships and gossip from decades ago like it was a soap opera happening now.
It reminded me of how attached I’ve become to stories of the past – and how my writing tends to gravitate to some of my own mythology.
What I love about this Ted Talk – is that Karen Zacarias is not a great storyteller. She’s nervous, trips over herself, loses a word and can’t quite keep the thread of the story going. But she’s a writer, not an actor, so there’s an authenticity that’s so heartfelt.
If you read my first post this week, you know I’ve been asking some questions about playwriting. One of the things I promised I’d talk about was a project called 45’s 24—a collection of monologues written by thirty female playwrights inspired by the twenty four (at the time) sexual misconduct allegations against the president.
The project itself is interesting and the collection of monologues super powerful and moving—and I encourage anyone who wants to read the script to register for a copy on the Protest Plays Project site. I’m also working on a collaborative writing project with seven other AMAZING female playwrights right now, and although it’s less centered on a specific topic, it’s been a really cool process of sharing the “mic” so to speak.
So, for my last post of the week, I’m going to talk a little about those processes of collaborative writing, and how it’s been a really exciting and rewarding experience. And—full disclosure—I’m writing this on cold medicine and very little sleep… so buckle up, it could get bumpy.
45’s 24 was inspired by a FB friend posting an article about all twenty four of Trump’s accusers and tagging me in it with a note that “You should turn this into a play or something in order to amplify these women’s stories” He was right, and I was immediately like “I’m ON IT!” Because of my work through Little Black Dress INK, I know some pretty cool female playwrights I thought might be interested. I’ve also initiated a number of theatre actions with some awesome writers through Protest Plays Project. So I sent out an email invite to people I thought might be interested… and then I posted the invite to Twitter too, because maybe there would be more people wanting to get involved. There were!
The nice thing about this project is that I had a very clear roadmap for the process. Essentially, I created a Google sign up sheet where writers could select a woman to write about, then linked to the article about the accusers. Each writer then had a few weeks to research and write a 1-3 minute monologue inspired by each woman’s story. Because we had thirty writers working on the project, each piece took on it’s own voice – this is exactly why I wanted this to be a collaborative project. Who am I to try to write 24 monologues about/inspired by these real women? But together, the collection sounds like a group of individuals—and that’s awesome.
Another great thing about writing this piece collaboratively? We got it all written and assembled in just a little over six weeks! And, honestly, the hardest part was me finding the time to write the stitching—that’s what I call the interstitial bits that create the frame around the monologues—and formatting the dang thing! I write in Final Draft, but for this, everything had to come in Word… and nobody formats the exact same way, soooo = AAAGH! I’m NOT an editor at heart. If I was, the whole thing would have been done a lot sooner.
Anyway, the process of working on this piece with such a large cadre of passionate playwrights was inspiring, motivating, and empowering. I am so incredibly proud of the final collection – and it’s set for at least three readings in the coming months, which feels incredible because nobody ever writes a play just to have it sit in a drawer somewhere. Especially when the play is, at its heart, a protest piece.
Untitled Collaborative Writing Project
The other collaborative writing project I’m working on involves seven other female playwrights. It’s essentially the thing I’m devoting time to this year instead of doing another ONSTAGE fest. That decision, while difficult, was a really good move personally as I was starting to feel like ONSTAGE was sucking me dry. I worked work on that festival all year long for nine years, and although I love producing, it took a lot of energy and focus from my own creative projects.
However, as I said before, I haven’t been writing much lately. I’ve become very action-focused and playwriting feels kind of passive. This project, on the other hand, is itself a sort of theatre action because I am working with others to create a collaborative script that isn’t just all about me, my vision, or my perspective. instead, it is intentionally designed to allow for a multitude of voices.
We’re still in the “Seeding” phase of the work, and I have no idea of this experiment will result in a final script, or if it will instead result in some sort of collaborative folio of scripts. But I can tell you how we’ve been working in case anyone else wants to do something similar.
We started off by sharing questions we were interested in exploring, articles we found inspiring, and themes we were curious about. Then (almost) every week I send out an email with a new writing prompt, found artwork, and musical inspiration. We also spend some time doing a sort of chain-email kind of writing project where we each write a page, then send just that page to the next person to add a page, and so on. The results have been a lot of really cool, weird, interesting monologues and scenes that we will then look at building on. We may decide to write a play around one of these scenes, or to stitch several of these pieces together, or we may do something else entirely. And as someone who is usually very much in charge of projects, this new place of discovery and shared responsibility is a very cool place to be!
That’s it. I made it to the end of my blogging week with three articles written, plus the children and cats are all still alive and fed. Three of us have colds however, and everyone in my house is exhausted because when the kiddos have colds, none of us sleeps, but I’m happy I was able to check in and share some thoughts with all of you. And if you’re interested in writing socially aware short plays, we’ll be launching two new #TheatreActions from Protest Plays Project soon. Follow us on Twitter and FB to be notified when they launch. All it takes to collaborate with us is a collaborative spirit and desire to effect change!
These past few weeks have kicked my ass. I didn’t want to write that. I wanted to be able to write that I’m going through a personal transformation, and embracing life altering changes, and transitioning to the person I always wanted to be. But no, truly, my ass is kicked.
As an artist, a playwright, a writer of blogs, I relied on my “straight job” to provide for me and my partner, and to subsidize a life of inquiry, printer cartridges, and medical insurance. That changed this past month when I was “Let Go” from my job. I’m doing all the proactive tasks to reassemble my life support system. But I wake up in the morning and my life is different and – odd. That’s a word I use a lot these days. Not driving to work: odd. Not having to worry about work: odd. Not knowing what I do with that part of my identity: odd.
And I found this very interesting article:
And at the bottom of this article is a link for a 2-evening online course for designing your dream job throughout the University of Toronto.
“In this class you will learn how to articulate what you want to create in your ideal next opportunity before you go out and look for it. You will define what you want, who you want to work with and what kind of contribution you want to make. With the knowledge of what your dream job actually entails, you’ll learn how to apply it to your job search and to display it in your resume and cover letter.
During week two, you will learn to smash the assumptions that keep you from creating your dream job and learn the tools that will take you from where you are today to a life where you get to live your legacy at work.
In the first half of this two-part workshop, you will explore why so many of us aren’t happy at work and learn a new and effective philosophy of career design that will help you create work that is fulfilling and engaging. You will use elements of design thinking to prototype your ideal future and what happens if you keep living life exactly as you are today (default future).
Take two evenings to free yourself from 100-hour workweeks, meaningless Excel models and office politics, while exploring your phenomenal potential.“
I wondered how I would reinvent myself through an online class like this. I imagined all the characters I could become – lion tamer, pastry chef, tarot card designer, advocate for political action. But at the bottom of the description of this course, I found this caveat:
“Thank you for your interest in our course.
Unfortunately, the course you have selected is currently not open for enrolment. Please complete a Course Inquiry below so that we may promptly notify you when enrolment opens.“
(And yes, I had to look up the word enrollment, because I couldn’t believe they would misspell it. And I was wrong. There are two versions: enrollment or enrolment . See what happens when you don’t have a job?)
I’m looking at my life, story telling, identity, financial stressors, and time to clean out the linen closet. So I will end my blog piece with this wonderful interview with Yo Yo Ma, and he talks about story telling:
“Culture tells a story that’s about us, about our neighbors, about our country, our planet, our universe, a story that brings all of us together as a species.
I believe that culture is essential to our survival. It is how we invent, how we bring the new and the old together, how we can all imagine a better future.
I used to say that culture needs a seat at the table, an equal part in our economic and political conversation. I now believe that it is the ground on which everything else is built. It is where the global and local, rural and urban, present and future confront one another.
Culture turns the other into us, and it does this through trust, imagination, and empathy.
So, let’s tell each other our stories and make it our epic, one for the ages.”
As a playwright, I’ve had a bit of experience adapting everything from court transcripts to Russian short stories into an evening of theatre. And after decades in public radio, I’ve written non-fiction radio scripts till my fingers fall off.
So you’d think it would be a breeze to adapt a novel to an episodic podcast. Not so.
That’s what I’ve been doing the past month or so, turning my first mystery “Welcome to Washington, Fina Mendoza” into a 6 or 8 episode dramatic podcast for kids. It’s been exciting, frustrating, and a real learning experience. Let me share some of the results from my school of hard knocks.
You might not even be aware that there’s a growing catalogue of episodic fiction podcasts for kids. They range from “The Unexplainable Disappearance of Mars Patel” and “The Alien Adventures of Finn Caspian” are some of the early shows. A new one “Timestorm” is also set in outer space. Mine is not. It’s a family story about recovering from loss woven around a mystery set on Capitol Hill. My job: minus robots or aliens, how do you keep your audience from falling asleep?
PLOT, PLOT, PLOT
All those wonderful, heartwarming scenes of family life, all those wry comments on how Congress works, all those classroom scenes: gone. There’s so little time for texture and backstory in this genre. Like Charles Dickens, you’ve got to hook the audience so that they’ll want to come back for the next episode.
WHAT THE HECK IS GOING ON?
I’ve got a lot of dog walking scenes in the book version. They don’t translate particularly well to the audio version: there’s just so many times you can jingle a collar and dog tags before a listener wants to tear her hair out.
Sometimes, the obvious helps, as in: “Hey, who’s walking who here?” Sometimes, an obvious sound effect such as answering a telephone or a teacher calling on a class can help the audience figure out where the scene takes place. The challenge is to remind yourself that the only cues the audience will get about your story comes from their ears.
DIALOGUE, CONFLICT, YOU GET THE IDEA
The easiest thing to adapt is dialogue from the book. Duh. If you’re a playwright, you’re already pretty good at writing dialogue. I discovered that you also need to write additional dialogue to bring the listener quickly into the scene.
And what kind of dialogue pops? Dialogue with conflict (the older sister letting her father know just how much he ignores his kids) or emotion (the sisters remember a trip to the cemetery to visit their mom’s grave for Dia de los Muertos) or excitement (when the Demon Cat pounces.)
Again, as a playwright, this should be obvious to all of us. Drama is drama whether on the stage or in your ear.
FIRST PERSON VS THIRD PERSON
Most audio podcasts rely on narration – at least in part. Now I know why. All those internal monologues I put in the book would be great if the podcast was in first person. But I want the audience to experience the action WITH my main character Fina. It’s a puzzlement.
Luckily, my main character talks to everyone and every thing – including the scary statue of Caesar Rodney in the U.S. Capitol and the all-knowing cat down the street. And in some cases, they talk back. We’ll see how it works.
KILLING YOUR DARLINGS
Even with six or eight episodes, there is SO MUCH you have to leave on the cutting room floor. This is not an audio book, I keep reminding myself, this is theatre for the ear. If the audience wants to know about the advice from the professional dog walker, they’ll just have to read the book.
The plan is to have a production-ready script by the end of the month, tape with actors over the summer, and edit and release the show in the fall, just in time for Halloween.
Got any suggestions of your own on adapting for audio? Please send them my way!