I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “Oh my goodness! Korama! That sounds like a personal problem that you and your writing partners should discuss together.” Ordinarily you would be right. I’m an adult(ish type person) who likes to handle my problems in a (mostly) adult way. Talking to my writing partners would be the adult way to handle any issues. Except that they aren’t just my writing partners – they’re your writing partners too.
“What?” you just exclaimed “I don’t have any writing partners.” Or perhaps you wondered “Why does Korama think Lewis and Clark are d-bags?” (Side note: This imaginary conversation thing is really amusing to me) The particular writing partners I’m talking about are not of the human variety, but the nagging-voice-in-the-back-of-your-head variety; I’m talking about self-doubt and insecurity.
Everyone has self-doubt and insecurity in varying degrees, but the effects are most felt by people who do creative work. You can doubt yourself when you do a spreadsheet, but at the end of the day the spreadsheet reflects facts and figures, not your thoughts and feelings.
I have a particularly hard time with these silent partners – maybe it’s because, despite the fact that I consider myself a creative person, I am most comfortable with facts and figures. I am very clear with right and wrong, black and white, good and bad. Subjectivity scares me. I start to doubt that what I am doing is good or worth anything at all, like Semele started to doubt what she previously knew to be true.
For those of you who need a refresher, Semele was one of Zeus’ many lovers (not to slut-shame him, but good god, who wasn’t one of his lovers?). Hera, jealous of her husband’s human lover (who was pregnant with Dionysus the god of theatre!), disguises herself as an old woman, befriends Semele and convinces Semele to confide in Hera/Old Human Lady that she is banging Zeus. Hera then plants seeds of doubt in Semele’s head. She asks her how she can know it’s truly Zeus if she hasn’t seen him in his godlike form. On the one hand, that’s a valid point because dudes could totally be walking around pretending to be Zeus in an effort to bed women. On the other hand, douche move on Hera’s part because she knew exactly what would happen next. Semele asked Zeus for a favor and he promised, no swore, he would do whatever it was. She asked to see him in his divine form. Zeus reluctantly agreed and obviously seeing him in his true form killed her.
The story has several morals, the strongest of which is that doubt will literally kill you.
It’s hard not to succumb to self-doubt and insecurity – they are strong opponents. What I do these days is remind myself that I’m stronger. I’m not Semele or Hera or Zeus, at least not completely. I have a little bit of all of them: Semele’s humanity, Hera’s ingenuity, Zeus’ strength. All of these things are what makes me, and my writing, special and unique.
It’s easy to get comfortable with the right/wrong, good/bad dichotomies of this world, but if everything is one thing or another it loses part of its rarity. Walt Whitman once said “Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself. (I am large, I contain multitudes)” To allow yourself to exist in the spaces between black and white, to contradict yourself at turns, is to contain multitudinous, enormous beauty. I won’t allow doubt and insecurity to squash that, to make my work ugly with fear.
So screw you, writing partners. I’m working on my own from now on.
Yesterday evening I found a surprise when I walked into my gym’s locker room: a six year-old girl. There were other adults around who seemed to be unconcerned with her presence, so I went with it and said hello. I jokingly asked her if she was there to work out and she told me very matter-of-factly “No, I’m waiting for my Mommy.”
I like kids a lot, so I talked to her as we both waited for the class currently in session to finish. We talked about all sorts of things: birthdays (mine had recently happened and hers is today), our favorite Disney princesses, and her recent trip to Legoland. She was a very polite and talkative young girl. What struck me most about her is the fact that she was an endless font of questions. It started off with my asking my name, guessing (fairly accurately) how old I was, and when my birthday was. But then she began to ask more and more questions: Why do you wear glasses? I have an astigmatism. What’s an astigmatism? It means a part of my eye, called the cornea isn’t shaped right, so my vision is a little blurry. What should it be shaped like? It’s supposed to be round like a basketball, but mine is shaped more like a football. What’s that thing? My asthma medication. What does it taste like? Medicine. Yeah, but what flavor of medicine? And on and on.
I wasn’t bothered by her questions. Quite the opposite, actually. I enjoyed conversing with her very much and was sad when her mother came to get her (and not just because it meant that I was about to do what felt like 1,000 burpees). She was fun and engaging in a way that I find adults often aren’t when you first meet them.
When I was driving home, I realized that I could stand to be a bit more like this little girl I met in my writing. I’m not asking enough questions. Months ago, I started writing a science fiction play called The Fortinian Orbs, but I abandoned it when it started to get difficult for me to continue writing. After my conversation yesterday, I realized that it was only hard because I wasn’t asking myself enough questions; the few questions I was asking, I wouldn’t keep asking until I got the right answer. When I told her that my inhaler tasted like medicine, she kept asking until I gave her an answer she thought was acceptable. There are a hundred different ways medicine tastes and even she knew I was giving a half-assed answer.
I’m going to pick up where I left off with The Fortinian Orbs, ask myself more questions, and give myself more answers. It’s OK if some of the answers are dumb – I’ll just keep asking until I can come up with better ones. And for those of you wondering, my inhaler tastes like chemicals and water that’s been in a plastic bottle in a hot car for too long.
Having gone through an entire year striving for harmony, I find myself in these last few days 1) very excited about the coming year and what it will bring, and 2) nearly undone by the journey thus far – nearly but not completely… It has been hard getting out of my old skin and becoming…more…but it has also been enlightening.
Harmony is a coming together, a joining together, unification, agreement, accord, synchronization…
Harmony enhances the melody. All I need to do is keep my strings tuned and know when to play second fiddle even though I can play first.
2014 has been a year of going deep, of following the rabbit down that rabbit hole and experiencing the entirety of wonderland. Forcing myself to go with the flow has taken me to new levels in my writing. I have finally shed the last of my inhibitions; usually less inhibited when writing poetry, I have seen my recent pieces come to the page in more exacting ways since I have decided to “write it like poetry”. Scary and exciting and liberating…
2015 hints at being a very good year…
May your 2015 bring you harmony and growth and prosperity…
I started Green Light Productions in 2003 to create new opportunities for women in theatre. As of 2008, Green Light has exclusively produced plays written and directed by women.
This year, Green Light completed The Shubert Report to examine the 349 theatres that received $16.4 million in grants last year from the nation’s largest private funder of the performing arts. We found that only 26% of the plays being produced were written by women and that 125 of those 349 theatres weren’t producing ANY plays written by women. Foundations, especially those as large as The Shubert Foundation, play a huge role in sustaining American Theatre – most of which is classified as nonprofit. Imagine the impact it’d have if they required applicants to produce seasons that had 50% female writers and directors? Imagine the impact if just one major theatre a year decided to do a season of plays by women. Just that one step…
In 2005, I took that step. Heather Jones sent me her one-act play “Last Rites” about a life-long friendship between two women. It’s a beautiful play and I walked around with Heather’s script in my bag for month thinking about how it could be produced. I had the idea to create a festival of one-act plays all written and directed by women: GLO, Green Light One-Acts. And since the first GLO in, we’ve given world premieres to 15 one-act plays with productions in Philadelphia, New York and now Los Angeles.
In GLO 2014 we introduce to the world 4 new plays written by female playwrights based in Los Angeles – Allie Costa, Jennie Webb, Julianne Homokay and myself – with directors Liz Hinlein, Jen Bloom, Ricka Fisher and Katherine James. I have met the most incredible women just working on this first Green Light show here and I am so excited to plan our next steps here in LA.
Getting here wasn’t easy. While I’ve had the absolute pleasure to work with hundreds of women who support our mission, over the years I heard a surprising amount of negative feedback – much of it from women who felt that the theatre didn’t need companies like Green Light. A female journalist actually responded to one of my press releases with “Do we really need this?”
Yes, we do. And we need YOU!
I hope that by forming new collaborations, asking lots questions, challenging those who need to be challenged and producing work by women, Green Light will continue to have a valuable impact on artists and audiences. And I hope you’ll be part of it.
Mark Your Calendars: November 6-9, GLO 2014, 4 plays written and directed by LA women artists at Miles Memorial Playhouse in Santa Monica. www.greenlightproductions.org.
Be part of Green Light Productions first foray into the LA theater scene (after mixing it up in NY and Philly). Join the FB Invite here (LA FPI tix for only $10!). This femme-fest is Green Light Production’s annual event, but the company is looking for more women artists moving forward. If you’re interested in getting involved, contact email@example.com.
I can’t believe I’ve been in Omaha for the Great Plains Theatre Conference for 8 WHOLE days.
I can’t believe I’ve ONLY been in Omaha for the Great Plains Theatre Conference for 8 whole days.
I can’t believe how much awesome new work I got to witness and how many amazing playwrights I had the good fortune to meet.
I can’t believe how delicious the food was.
I can’t believe how much socializing my introverted little playwright self managed while I was here, and how thoroughly I enjoyed all of the discussions, laughs, and thoughtfulness.
I can’t believe how comfy the hotel where my introverted self got to reteat to, was.
I can’t believe it’s over.
I had the pleasure of speaking with one of the conference’s FANTASTIC donors this week, and they looked surprised when I told them how wonderful it was to be treated so well. That the hotel and food and attention to every little detail made me feel so honored, because playwrights aren’t usually treated to this kind of focus and care.
She looked surprised and so I thanked her again.
I am overflowing with gratitude.
Tonight, after jam-packed days of play readings and workshops and performances, we ended things with a superbly delicious dinner, live music, and artisan s’mores. I mean, YUMM.
We also experienced the magic of Kia Corthron’s monumentally beautiful acceptance speech as she was honored this evening. It was so poignant and honest that the whole room sat enraptured.
I’m so thankful I was there to hear her words, and I’m so grateful that those were the words she elected to share with us tonight.
So tomorrow I will fly back to my everyday life and I will revel in reuniting with my fella and my furballs, and things will go back to…
Bills will go back to…
Life will go back to…
But I will also bring this week back with me.
This week of inspiration and of creativity.
Of beautiful new connections and of palate-cleansing laughter.
I will return home with the wild little play that got invited here and get to re-tinkering with it.
I will sit down at my desk and re-engage the new play I’ve been growling at.
I will think of Kia’s words on poverty of pocket and I will compare them to her words on the richness of heart, and then I will reflect on the richness of my heart, and I will write, and write, and write.
Because writing is kind of, always, sexily, the thing I need to do. And after spending a week with others who feel the same way, I can’t wait to get to get back to it.
I also can’t wait to work on my “Something for next year.”
Theatre J here in Washington DC just revived the 2007 comedy “Yellow Face” and I was lucky enough to hear David Henry Hwang talk about his writing process. Hwang is about to open a big off-Broadway show – “Kung Fu.”
As you know, Hwang makes himself a character in “Yellow Face” – a technique he says was inspired in part by all the times he’s been asked to play himself in small, indie films. Why not try it in a play?
I can’t quite imagine writing Kitty Felde as a character, but it’s something to chew on.
He says he knew two things when he sat down to write the play: he wanted to start it with the controversy that enveloped the Broadway opening of “Miss Saigon” where Cameron Mackintosh cast Jonathan Pryce as the Asian Engineer. Hwang was outspoken on the issue and became embroiled in the debate over colorblind casting. He also knew he wanted to end with a “New York Times” article suggesting his banker father had broken the law. How those two events were connected, he wasn’t sure when he sat down to write the play.
Whether he successfully connected the dots is for you to decide, but what a terrific way to attack a play!
He also knew that the emotional spine in the middle of the comedy and political commentary was his relationship with his father. The humanity shone in those scenes.
Again, a good lesson to learn: what’s the emotional spine in our plays?
An evening of theatre and a playwriting class for one ticket! Quite a deal!
Marilyn MacCrakin is an award winning playwright and photographer. In 2011, Marilyn’s play, “The Family Tree” was a finalist in the “New Voices Playwriting Contest” for Images Theatre in Sacramento, CA. In 2009, her play, “Dressing Matilda” was produced by the Grand Players in Omaha, NE and went on to win “Best New Play” from the Omaha Arts Council. In 2006, her short play, “Photo Sensitive” was produced at the MET’s Playwright’s Intensive in Kansas City, MO in conjunction with Arthur Kopit. In 2000 her play, “In The Time It Takes To Breathe” won Edward Albee’s Yukon Pacific New Playwriting Award. Several of her plays have been presented at Edward Albee’s Great Plains Theatre Conference and the Last Frontier Theatre Conference. Her other plays include: “The Brethren,” “Baptista,” and “The Sound of Hope.” Marilyn’s photo, “Blackbird’s Singing” won an Award of Merit at the 2013 California Fine Arts Competition and in 2011, two of her photos, “A Cat in Mykonos” and “Island at Emerald Bay” won Merit Awards, also for the California State Fair Fine Arts Competition.
I met Marilyn MacCrakin at the very first Great Plains Theatre Conference in Omaha, Nebraska in 2006. It was the very first playwright’s conference that I had ever attended. Attending the conference from 2006 – 2008, we ran into each other each year and have kept in touch encouraging each other and reading each other’s work. On one of my check in emails, Marilyn mentioned giving up on writing – not something I could understand because she is an excellent storyteller. I have admired the way she went into a whole other art form and excels in it… Hoping to get her to change her mind or at least explain why she felt not writing plays anymore was a way to go, I decided to interview her for LA FPI. Maybe if she had to answer questions about that decision she’d rethink it. God forbid that gender parity should play a role in her decision but I wondered how many female writers give up, need extended breaks to rejuvenate themselves, how many reinvent themselves…basically, how do you keep doing art when you seem to be hitting wall after wall after wall?
Robin Byrd: Where are you from? Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Marilyn MacCrakin: I was born and raised in Sacramento, CA. I was a theatre arts major at Pepperdine University in Malibu, CA and I thought I was going to be an actress so I stayed in the Los Angeles area for a while. When that didn’t work out, I moved to Nome, Alaska to work as a DJ in radio. I also became involved with the Nome Arts Council, establishing a Community Theatre there. I lived in Nome for six years, producing and writing plays for a “live theatre starved” audience. In a town of approx. 4,000 people – we sold out every night. The people would bring their entire families – they would dress up and almost act like they were in “church” – very respectful of the arts. It was very rewarding, if it wasn’t for the darkness and the cold weather, I might still be there.
RB: How did you become a playwright? What brought you to theater?
MM: I studied acting and theatre in high school and as I said, I had aspirations of becoming an actress so I majored in Theatre in College. After college, I joined a writing group; I thought I would write novels. In the writing group, we all read from our work out loud and one of my fellow writers said, “I like your story, but you know, most of your book is dialogue.” The light bulb turned on. Of course, I started writing plays immediately and had my actor friends read them all. I thought plays were “just dialogue.” Even though I had acted in many plays, I soon realized I really didn’t know “how to write” a play so I went back to school at California State University, Sacramento to study playwriting.
RB: What is your favorite play of yours? Why?
MM: My favorite play that I have written is “Baptista” – a play I wrote about John the Baptist. I studied everything that was written about John the Baptist because I wanted to make John into a “real” person — a living, breathing, locust-eating zealot who could have been living it up in the temple as a priest (he was in the priestly line and they were treated like “rock stars” in that time) Instead, he retreated to the desert to listen to the voice of God so that he could prepare to take on the most corrupt political party of his time and turn their thinking upside down! I found John to be a revolutionary man. It could be said that he was “up-staged” by Christ (yes, I know this was exactly the plan – and John prepared the way). But therefore, I believe John doesn’t receive enough credit. I’m very proud of the play because it is based on truth yet I’ve weaved my imagination (based on historical writings) into some of the gaps. (Plays are fiction, right?) In any case, it continues to be unproduced because it seems to be too religious for a secular audience and too controversial for a “spiritual” audience.
RB: What is your favorite production of one of your plays? Why?
MM: My play, (really the first play I ever wrote), “The Sound of Hope” which was produced in Nome, Alaska. It just “worked.” It was a play based on a series of monologs which weaved into a story about the brave women of Alaska — about their experiences which had been recounted to me while I lived there. A white missionary woman who was raped in a remote Native village, a Native woman who struggled with alcoholism who sobered up after giving birth to a child with fetal alcohol syndrome – a young Native school teacher whose grandmother had been born on a dogsled in the middle of a blizzard. They were all strong survivors. The play just told their stories – no judgment, no easy “solutions.” I just remember watching the audience as the play was performed – they were fully engaged. It was very rewarding to me.
RB: Do you have a favorite playwright? What about them inspires you and how?
MM: I would say my favorite play is “Last Train to Nibroc” by Arlene Hutton. I saw this play at B Street Theatre in Sacramento, CA. I was enthralled by its pure simplicity, the humor and the unabashed hopefulness that “love conquers all.” I was so inspired, I went home straight away and wrote a complete play in two days. It was a two character play about love. That is where the similarity to Arlene’s wonderful play ended as my play was awful but I wrote it, just the same.
I also admire Edward Albee, Theresa Rebeck, August Wilson, Mercedes Ruhl, Horton Foote, Tom Stoppard and did I say Theresa Rebeck? And the amazing Robin Byrd of course!
RB: You are very kind. Now if that could just catch on. What would you consider the hardest part of being a playwright? How do you feel about the theater community?
MM: I would say the hardest thing about being a playwright would be the fact that most of the time you’re “writing in a vacuum.” It’s hard to find playwriting communities that will “workshop” your work. It seems that most theatres these days are looking for “production” ready plays. I understand that theatre is a business. But I have found that even for a “play reading” series at a theatre or conference– they seem to want the play to be “already perfect.” I can’t seem to find places that want you to submit “almost ready” plays that can be read and critiqued by an audience. With a little tweaking – a lot of my plays could be production ready.
RB: You have mentioned that you don’t really write anymore. What would you say has put a damper or hindrance on your writing? You’ve been produced. You’ve won awards. Knowing your work personally, I can’t imagine you not ever writing another play. I feel your voice as a writer is needed. Is this a break to rejuvenate or have you really given up on your craft? Will you ever come back to playwriting?
MM: I would hope this is just a break from playwriting. In the last couple of years, I have continued to write, continued to submit my plays and although I am very thick-skinned by now, I was amazed by the non-response to my work. There wasn’t any criticism, there weren’t any questions, there was NO RESPONSE. I can take, “I hated it.” Or I would love to hear, “I loved it.” I can sift through the comments of how they think I should re-write it. But NOTHING, I cannot take.
RB: You are also a photographer. What is it about photography that draws you in? Do you think it is a form of storytelling?
MM: Photography is a form of storytelling to me. I was on a trip to Greece several years back, and I had purchased a new Nikon camera. I saw a black cat in Mykonos, (there are many cats in Mykonos) against one of the white stone walls there, so I took the photo. Only later, did I realize that it told a story of a curious cat captured in a perfectly composed picture. Someone said I should enter it into the CA Fine Art Competition at the CA State Fair, so on a lark, I submitted it and it won a Merit Award. I thought it was beginners luck! Since then I have won two other merits awards and now I realize that it’s very difficult to be accepted into this juried competition!
RB: What else do you do to keep your creative juices running? What type of art do you create now other than playwriting and photography? Where do your passions lie?
MM: I have an Etsy shop for my photography and vintage art items. Etsy has a “treasury” component that I find very creatively fulfilling. Basically you find 16 items that you like and put them together into a 16 “frame” work of art. They can be color coordinated or some even tell a story. Of course, I love the story kind. Plus, I find it “promotes” my photography shop and also promotes other artists who I love to support and in turn, most of them reciprocate and include my photos in their treasuries — so it’s a win, win.
I find myself sort of addicted to making story treasuries. It’s a challenge to find Etsy items that match your story. I did one called “Film Noir” – I found a seller who was selling vintage film reels and a bracelet that looked like a piece of film – vintage fashion posters etc. The final effect is like a work of art in itself.
Another unique component to treasury making is that there are “teams” on Etsy who support each other. Most teams are about selling and promoting. Other teams are groups which band together by theme items or art or photography. Some teams support each other like a “support group.” One Etsy member found out that one of her favorite shop owners was going to chemotherapy and started a team to support her. She made encouraging treasuries with inspiring photos and posters etc. She named it the “BRAVE” team. Within weeks the team had grown to 75 members from all over the world, some who have shops with handmade knitted scarfs or necklaces or handmade jewelry, others are photographers like myself. Other members are care-takers of loved ones who have cancer or an illness – some are supporting parents with dementia or they themselves are going through some kind of health or mental or emotional issue. They started “Thursday Night Brave Stories” treasuries – the results are amazing! We all find that a little bit of encouragement goes a long way. I never seen anything like it.
RB:. How have you evolved over the years as an artist? Do you feel that it all comes together in some way – the creative outlets? Do you consider yourself to be somewhat of a renaissance woman?
MM: Well, I listen to my voice and I really try to be true to that inspiration. Early on, I tried to “copy” the way other playwrights write their plays. Now, I write what is true to me. I guess I must say, this “being true to my voice” has not necessarily been successful in getting my plays produced so I wonder how to balance my voice with the desire for my voice to be heard.
RB: When did you find your voice as an artist? Are you still searching for it? Where do you feel it is most clear?
MM: Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and I “hear voices.” (yes, I know how that sounds). But I find “characters” from my play that I’m working on. They just start talking and pretty soon I have to get up and take dictation! This happened to me very clearly for my play, “The Family Tree” — a very proper Southern woman was talking to her neighbor about the Mississippi River! It doesn’t always happen that way, but I find this to be the “magical” part of writing.
RB: How do you decide when to move to a different creative outlet or when to give one a rest? How do you know what will fulfill your need to create? Can you discuss your process?
MM: Usually, I will be writing one new play and tweaking another. And if I get stuck then I switch to photography. Photography to me is like “instant gratification.” You take a photo – you edit it – you put it on your website and you immediately (usually) get a response. And for me that response is quite often very positive so it usually gets me through the dry patches in writing.
RB: . Do you ever feel that being a female artist puts you at a disadvantage in any way?
MM: Well, I would like to say “No,” but unfortunately, that wouldn’t be true. For some reason, male playwrights still seem to get produced more often than female playwrights – I think this is slowly changing but it’s too slow. I know there are many professional theatres and conferences that include in their mission to seek out female playwrights, but then I look at the list of plays that they are producing or featuring at the conference and the majority of them are male. I don’t get that because I know other female playwrights are submitting?
RB: How do you battle the negative voice? (insecurity, second guessing)
MM: Well, usually I adapt an “I don’t care what they think” attitude. But then I re-write a play to death to try to “please the elusive someone” – the audience, my critics, my mentors – and the edited play doesn’t work, of course. I think that’s why I’m taking a break so I can quiet the negative voice and just get back to writing what flows out of my voice.
RB:. Do you have a theme that you come back to a lot in your work? How do you decide which medium to use?
MM: I think one theme that reoccurs a lot in my plays is “broken people who find healing or redemption.” I like to focus on positive things that happen in life – even when in reality many, many negative things happen before the final positive outcome.
RB: What are you working on now?
MM: A play called, “The Patina Principle.” I wrote it last year after I had to take my mother to visit an emergency room late at night. The emergency room took on a “support group” type of atmosphere that was amazing to me. People who didn’t know each other at all were bonding together about their illnesses and brokenness and then in a weird coincidence, I ran into my neighbor there who was having a panic attack from a broken relationship (i.e. a broken heart.) I didn’t know that about her and I’m her neighbor! So, I started writing this play to mirror what happened in my life because of it but it isn’t coming out right yet. So I took a break from writing it, so I can return to it with fresh eyes. The last time I tried to take a look at it – it was like it was written in a foreign language so I guess I’m not ready yet!
It’s making me grumpy because in every case the author presupposes so much on behalf of the artists they purport to speak for/hypothesize on behalf of. In every case, the author claims that (paraphrasing here to be sure – every article has had it’s own particular focus) “Artists shouldn’t expect to make money with their art – they should do it because a fiery passion to make art burns within” and “So, get a second or third job, surrender any hopes that you will ever own anything nice, and do what you love because you love it – not because you ever hope to make a living with it.”
Let me be clear: I tell every student who wants to work professionally in the theater that it’s NOT an easy road. That many of them will find that their paths take them in different directions than they intend. That it’s okay if one day they decide they don’t want to be an actor/playwright/director after all. I tell them that being an artist may not meet their economic standards, and that – yes – you need to really love this crazy profession in order to pursue it, because sometimes that’s all you’ll have separating you from a complete artistic meltdown.
Because it’s not a field where you can walk into ridiculously high-paying gigs fresh out of college or simply by making the right connections. It’s not a field that pays highly, or “fairly”, or even sometimes at all.
In fact, much of the time, it pays nothing at all.
But I don’t tell them that they should suffer for their art, even though they might. I don’t tell them that an artist should not ever expect, nor anticipate, nor (even) hope for, a paycheck someday.
Because if I do, then what does that say about how I value their art?
Art takes time. It takes materials. It takes energy. If I write a play, I have to put in incredible time: the time to hone my craft, to write the script, to edit it, not to mention the time it takes to shop it around… That time isn’t “free” if I have to balance it against other jobs that pay and hopes for a personal life. I’m carving that time out of the hours I’m supposed to be living/nurturing relationships with friends and family/making love/experiencing the world around me/etc.
Time is not free.
And then there are the materials an artist uses to make their art. As a playwright, I have to own a laptop or a desktop or at least a notebook and lots of pens in order to get my words down on paper/or/screen. I have to have a place to make my art – whether it’s my apartment or Starbucks or the park. I have to feed myself, clothe myself, pay my electric bills… all of these “material goods” go into my ability to write.
And in order to hone my craft, find the time, and to supply the materials, I need money.
So, if I am working a job that is not in the arts to earn this money I need to make my art (as many of us do), then I am essentially working (at least) two jobs at all times: the one that pays and the one that doesn’t… yet.
Why is it so wrong then to hope that one day the play I write might pay me back with a bit of extrinsic gain in order to help my body and soul enjoy the intrinsic? That “gain” may take the form of royalties, speaking fees, or a faculty position – and it may not be a lot, but receiving something other than a pat on back goes a long way in validating years of hard work put into evolving one’s artistic self.
I don’t think it’s asking a lot for artists to seek compensation.
I don’t think it’s a bad thing for artists to value their art more than just “art for art’s sake”
I do think that those who pass on the “You’ll never make money with your art and you shouldn’t want to” lie to other artists are merely perpetuating a malfunctioning system’s philosophy of self-preservation.
It’s not evil to hope that your art will one day help pay the bills instead of merely adding to them.
It’s not delusional to think that our current “Eat or be eaten” system can be improved.
There’s nothing wrong with theater companies seeking out new business models in the hopes of creating a life for their artists that includes less suffering and more art-making through financial support, be they commissions, salaries, or even just good-old-fashioned stipends.
Stop telling people what they should intend with their art. Stop telling artists that giving it away for free/or/next to nothing is just the name of the game.
Because that kind of condescension does nothing to change the game.
A stirring doubleheader of RADAR L.A. productions last night at LATC gave me a lot to think about, including this: I am left wondering if it was coincidence, curators’ choice, or larger cultural influences that gave Los Angeles an international theater and performance festival at which only two plays (of 14 scripted pieces, many involving female artists) were written by women; both women are Latin American; both of their plays look at generational trauma in the aftermath of defining tragedies in their countries; both temper their documentary materials with poetic license as they explore the intimately personal in the political. Whatever. I can thank the forces – occult or otherwise – that brought Mariana Villegas and Lola Arias to town.
For Villegas, in her supertitled 55-minute solo performance Se Rompen Las Olas, the disaster is the Mexico City earthquake of 1985 – evoked through video news clips – that left tens of thousands dead, discredited the government, and briefly brought together the woman who would be her mother and the man whose absence and abandonment would shake the performer’s life to the core. Villegas holds the stage with a powerfully expressive physicality as when her exuberant and uninhibited dance shifts in an instant to a vision of abuse. At one point, a recorded song asks Where did the earthquake catch you? and goes on to answer dancing with Catalina, shaking the floor so hard, the singer explains, he never noticed the quake. (Can anyone imagine a comparable song in this country citing 9/11?) In Se Rompen Las Olas, these lyrics with their upbeat tune and danceable beat offer a compelling truth of daily life and human desire going on in the midst of catastrophe while Villegas, through her body and her words reminds us that people born in the aftermath of disaster continue to feel the reverberation in their lives.
For Lola Arias, the disaster is the coup in Chile that overthrew the government of Salvador Allende and led to the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. The supertitled script of El Año en que Nací (The Year I Was Born) is drawn from the actual lives of the 11 performers all of whom were born (or were infants) at the time of the coup and who seek to understand the roles their parents played during years of repression, violence, prison, and exile. Notably, the performers come from families all across the political spectrum from participants in the armed struggle on the left to the authoritarian paramilitary organization on the right along with those who had political preferences but tried to go along with the status quo. While the opening scenes of the play suggest the new generation’s commonalities, the picture becomes more complex and fractious (and comical) when the players are challenged to line up to show their political stance, their economic position – When it comes to poverty, does having a dirt floor at home trump going hungry? – and their social status as reflected in skin color. Simple yet inventive staging keeps the production lively with tonal shifts and surprise.
Arias, from Argentina, previously created a similar program exploring the post-dictatorship era in her own country and if you’re familiar with Latin American politics, her work shouldn’t be missed. Know nothing about Allende and Pinochet? The production still fascinates. It runs two hours without intermission without ever inducing fidgets.
Villegas and Arias made me think of another Latin American woman at the head of a company that uses documentary material – Claudia Santiago who writes, directs, and performs with Mexico City-based Espejo Mutable. Their most recent production, Náa-Gunaá, looks at the lives of indigenous migrants (including children) from the south of Mexico who are exposed to exploitation and pesticides as they harvest GMO crops in Baja California. The company would love the opportunity to share this work and explore the lives of indigenous migrants from Oaxaca in our own California fields.
And a quick shoutout to three additional RADAR L.A. offerings that have women at the helm if not in the playwright’s chair:
Franco-Austrian director Giselle Vienne chose to employ simple hand puppets to create the unnerving effect in Jerk, the story of a serial killer.
Theatre Movement Bazaar, with Tina Kronis as director and choreographer, continues its reinterpretation of Chekhov with Track 3.
Diane Lefer is a playwright, author, and activist whose collaboration with Hector Aristizábal, Nightwind, has been performed in LA and in 30 other countries around the globe. Also in LA, her work has been presented by Grupo Ta’Yer at the Frida Kahlo Theater, Indie Chi Productions, Playwrights Arena, Three Roses Players, and Triumvirate Pi. She is co-author with Aristizábal of The Blessing Next to the Wound: A story of art, activism, and transformation as well as several anthologized essays about Theater of the Oppressed, and she has worked with theater groups in Colombia and Bolivia. Her works of fiction include the historical novel, The Fiery Alphabet, published this month, and the short story collection, California Transit, which received the Mary McCarthy Prize. Visit www.dianelefer.weebly.com.
Do you have a playlist for your current writing project? I usually write in silence, occasionally distracted by the hum of the refrigerator or the shriek of the little girl down the hall or the meow of my very needy cat. But I remember when I was really cooking, working my way through fourteen drafts (!) of an adaptation of Nikolai Gogol short stories, I was listening to a lot of music. I auditioned a lot of genres, trying to find exactly the right composer and style to suit what I was working on. Luckily, a CD from Ego Plum, the marvelously talented composer hired by the Rogues to compose music for our “Gogol Project” arrived. It set the perfect mood.
It was reassuring somehow to discover that I wasn’t the only writer in need of musical inspiration. At the end of his Roman Empire/Camelot adventure novel “The Last Legion, Italian novelist Valerio Massimo Manfredi gave a nod to composer Paolo Buonvino, citing his lush soundtracks as his constant companion. After reading that, I immediately sought out Buonvino and was carried away to that romantic Italy that lives in our dreams.
My Omaha writing buddy Ellen is married to a musician and always finds interesting music to inspire her writing. She’s tackling a historic subject in anything but a traditional way and is listening to the recent Pulitzer winner for composition Caroline Shaw and a Native American group called A Tribe Called Red. The music is edgy and interesting and challenges her to get out of her comfort zone.
Me? I was stumped for a soundtrack for the romantic comedy I’m fighting with. I tried piano solos, Erik Satie, Tony Bennett (whatever did we do before Pandora?) Not perfect.
And then I remembered – duh – one of my characters sings show tunes. He explains in a monologue that he’d grown up listening to every Broadway album his mother owned. And there were a lot. His guilty pleasure as an adult was to once a month to leave the political realities of Capitol Hill behind and join the Washington theatre community, standing around a piano in an elegant hotel bar, belting out show tunes. Karaoke for nerds.
And so I’ve been listening to Broadway musicals as I write. But only ones I know so well that I don’t have to listen carefully to hear the lyrics. Songs that are firmly implanted in the back of my brain – just as they are for my main character. They provide the drama and the fortitude and the color in his life. And they’re playing the same role for me as I write “Statuary Hall.” But what’s on your playlist? What soundtrack do you use to write your plays?