Faces of Substantial People

by Cynthia Wands

Youth is wasted on the young, a series by the artist Jonas Peterson

I didn’t get to know many elderly people as a child growing up in a family that moved frequently, and we had only rare visits with extended family. My father was in the military and we relocated according to his next assignment in the Air Force, which meant we lived in a bubble of other young, middle class, and rigidly insular, people.

My mother’s Irish parents were elderly, and affectionate in an offhand way – but they weren’t accessible to sharing anything intimate or challenging. Their accelerated aging seem like a horrific journey into dementia and neglect. As a child I remember thinking that I didn’t want to look like them. (They looked “old”.) My father’s parents were a Scottish/Presbyterian clan, vital and athletic and keen of mind: until they aged in their eighties. And then, stroke and illness eventually robbed them of their earlier beauty. My attachment to who they were, prevented me from finding more of the beautiful and poignant aspects of their aging.

I don’t see many older faces in the television and movies and theatre that are available to me. (I’m also sequestered at home, so that limits what I can access.) But I’m constantly flipping the channel of my television, looking for faces of interesting, evolved, older people. I have dear and heart close friends who are in their eighties and nineties and I’m so grateful to be able to witness our time together, in whatever age and shape we’re in now.

I recently discovered an artist, Jonas Peterson, who is creating a series of images called: Youth is wasted on the young. He uses a AI (Artificial Intelligence) program called Midjourney. Here’s what he has to say about this process:

The idea behind “Youth is wasted on the young” was to celebrate the so called old, a comment on ageism if you want. A positive quiet homage to people who’ve seen more than us, been there, done that and I wanted their confidence and pride to be seen. I used fashion to show off their personalities, their attitude and inner rebels shining through the facade of age. I’m a photographer and interested in both styling and fashion, but these aren’t photos and the clothes are not real. Instead I’ve used artificial intelligence to create the scenes, the people and what they’re wearing. I give specific direction using words only to a program, lenses, angles, camera choice, color theme, colors, styling, backgrounds, attitude and overall look and the AI goes to work, it sends back suggestions and more often than not it’s completely wrong, so I try other ways to describe what I’m after, change wording, move phrases around and try to get the AI to understand the mood. It’s frustrating mostly, the AI is still learning, but getting any collaborator to understand you can be difficult no matter if it’s a human or a machine. After a long stretch of trial and error I get closer to a style and look I want and after that it comes down to curation, picking the renders I believe go well together, I start making it a series. To me the process is similar to that of a film director’s, I direct the AI the same way they would talk to an actor or set designer, it’s a process, we try over and over again until we get it right. Should I get all the credit? God, no, the AI creates with my help and direction, it’s a collaboration between a real brain and an artificial one. I’ve been open with that and you don’t need to go back many posts to realize I’ve used AI for this. I answered comments, but no matter how many times I said it was created using AI through MidJourney, other people asked the exact same thing over and over again, so I simply stopped. I’m not here to debate the process, I’m a professional photographer, writer and artist myself, I understand the implications, how this will affect many creative fields in the future. I’m simply using a tool available to me to tell stories, the same way I’ve always told stories – to move people. To me that is the point of this, not how I did it. Dissecting something will almost always kill it. 

Youth is wasted on the young:

I found his images to be wonderfully fantastic. Having worked with “digital art” for the last few years, I know how flat the medium can seem. I love how these people seem to have their own style and a world that they inhabit. I love the colors and the fashion and the hair. What characters. What stories in these images. Here is some of the artwork that he has shared:

Here is where you can find more of his artwork, and some of his musings on body size, aegism, AI artwork and more. Seeing these images this week has really cheered me up – I hope they do the same for you.

Also, a more complete look at his work can be found on Instagram:

https://instagram.com/jonaspeterson_ai?igshid=NDk5NIZjQ=

Tiger Tea

By Cynthia Wands

A Tarot Card: Tiger Tea for a script I’m writing about the Covid Years

I’ve been writing a script about the Covid Years. In blissful ignorance when I started writing it over a year ago, I thought we would have a time when we were done with Covid Years. And looking at the Los Angeles County numbers, and the consensus of friends who have recently traveled and returned home: the Covid Years are not done yet.

This Tarot Card speaks to me about vigilance and illusion, apprehension and prudence. All those things you carry around with you when you’re a caretaker for someone who won’t survive getting Covid. So far, in these years of compliance with vaccinations and masks and preventive measures: we haven’t had Covid in our house. But we are aware that we still live in this time of friends and loved ones getting really sick, and suffering because of this virus.

So I wanted to share something – tiger-like. Here’s a wonderful speech given by Steven Dietz. It spoke to me about the need for clear vision and motivation in the years ahead for playwrights. Here is part of it:

The following is a version of a speech playwright Steven Dietz delivered to the board of Merrimack Repertory Theatre in May, and, more recently, to the board and long-time supporters of ACT in Seattle.

The hardest conversation I have with avid and gifted MFA playwrights starts when I tell them that there is not a place in the field waiting for them. Despite many theatres’ commitment to new work, there is not really a sacrosanct “space being held” or “set aside” for the new play we did not expect. That space must be won. A new play must make a place for itself. It must contrive, coerce, crowbar its way into our theatrical consciousness. A new work will never get an invitation to join the canon; it will more than likely get the cold shoulder, since we already have plenty of plays, right? A new play must trespass in the field. It must insist on being present. We were not “waiting for” How I Learned to Drive, or Execution of Justice, or Anna in the Tropics, or Joe Turner’s Come and Gone. They crashed the gate. And they are never going away.

The American theatre is not full. It is hungry. American audiences are not full. They are hungry. “Hungry for what?” you may wish to ask them. Oh, it is extraordinarily tempting to want to ask your audiences what they want!

Don’t do it. Really. In my opinion, it is not the job of our audience to articulate what is missing in the theatre. That is our job—yours and mine. Furthermore, I venture to say no audience member could have envisioned, much less could have articulated, the need for Until the FloodThe Whale4000 Miles, or Cambodian Rock Band. These plays insisted on being present. Who, really, could have called up their local theatre and requested a play in which a gay couple and a Mormon couple collide in Reagan’s America with the worlds of Roy Cohn, Ethel Rosenberg, Valium, AZT, the Kaddish, imaginary Antarctica, and an angel who crashes through the ceiling? Tony Kushner’s Angels in America was completely unimaginable…until it became fully indispensable. With the crucial support of our artists, leaders, boards, and audiences, these plays—and many others—created a prominent and lasting place for themselves in both our art form and our public consciousness.

Many things have gotten easier to generate over the last 40 years—especially as it relates to technology, data, communication. Not new plays. The process of making them remains expensive, inefficient, time-consuming, unpredictable, and often remarkably maddening. And yet, it remains our job—yours and mine—to champion this process; to advocate relentlessly for the new, to push forward the odd and the bold, the unexpected, untried, and unreasonable. History has shown us that it is the play we cannot yet imagine that will one day make itself necessary to us.

The complete article about Steven Dietz in American Theatre Magazine

Just Let Go & Breathe

Art is a living creature.  Art needs space and air.

Like many people, I work a regular job. Then, like yourselves, we carve out time to make art out of necessity to feel alive.

The regular job is just the framework of the house, but the “house is not a home”* without love, aka creativity and art. 

Not to write, for many of us, is to die.

If you did not write every day, the poisons would accumulate and you would begin to die, or act crazy, or both.

https://raybradbury.com/on-writing/

The art I create comes in many forms starting with the daily meals that are prepared with imagination and soul.  Recently, I shared a piece of writing with a friend.  He was amazed that I can write something creative despite the heavy demand of my work schedule, maintaining the house, taking care of the dogs and chickens, teaching yoga and meditation, keeping the humming bird feeders full, plus the little surprises that come along (like getting rid of mice that got inside the house from a hole behind the stove.  That was some kind of awful.)

My friend attributed my creativity to the the vitamins I’m taking, to which I replied that I don’t take any.  I am, however, a big believer in making my own food, taking care to eat less processed food as much as possible.  It’s a creative process to prepare a meal. A short diversion – many years ago, I had invited another friend for dinner.  After the meal, which was shared with my dog, Chloe, he said, “That was the best dog food I ever had!”

Living artfully is not easy, because not everyone thinks that way, or can be that way.  It is a way of being.  I love motorcycling. It’s a way of getting around that is deemed “unsafe”, “impractical” and many other things. But it feels alive to ride on two wheels with some speed and wind to fill my lungs, and debris and bad roads and inattentive drivers to navigate around.

Pragmatism, efficiency and processes can be deemed as roadblocks to living creatively.  But it is a necessity. Multi-media artist, June Wayne said “an artist is practical.”  What she meant, as an example, is an artist needs a studio where they can create.  So, it must be that an artist needs to work at a job to support the ‘habit’ of creating art.  As artists we teeter-totter between the pragmatic and the artistic mind-heart set.

I have to watch myself vigilantly, so that I am not consumed by efficiency in trying to get things done.  When I’m not mindful, I notice a dim film of depression coat my skin and seep into my flesh.  My body droops and I drink too much of anything (caffeine and alcohol).  I take short cuts in my self-care.  For example, instead of luxuriating in putting on lotion after a shower, I slap it on fast and rub on the moisturizer over my face and skip the spritz of my favorite perfume.  My body gets tensed, and my thinking is muddied.  I breathe with dis-ease instead of ease. 

A simple practice I’ve re-started is to spend more time outdoors, especially in the morning and around twilight.  I invested in a dedicated hotspot that connects me to the internet securely and I can work on my laptop while I absorb natural light and fresh air and natural sounds:  the breeze rustling the leaves and the chimes, birds singing, the chickens clucking and crowing, the dogs barking, the flutter of wings and sounds of the city hovering in and out of my attention.

By “noticing”, I started to make little adjustments.  I started noticing my doubts and tossing them out and replacing them with my instincts. Doubts are “mind” stuff.  When I follow the doubt then I allow my mind to beat me.  But when I go with my instinct I feel free and I feel good. There’s also an edge akin to risk-taking because there’s the unfamiliar, unexpected and the unknown.  I’m going with choices that are not 100% full proof, hence an opportunity to learn and to grow and to fail and to try again.

For example, instead of asking permission to do something, I recognize it’s better to just do it and make something happen rather than hang back – “paralysis by analysis”.  In the end, something happened, and I can live with it, with more practice.

I’ve made a choice to let go, by just being myself, and do without trying. When I surrender then I come to that space of breath where the mind is at play, or in other words, not ‘figuring it out’.  It’s taken me a while to ‘get it’, not by figuring it out, but allowing for recognition that the mind is powerful and I can’t let it beat me.  I’ve begun to notice with more attentiveness when my mind is running the show (my life) and I get all knotted up inside, I hold my breath, and I am tired most times from mental fatigue and lack of deep restful sleep.

Surrendering also means letting go of stressful relationships.  We form different types of relationships and some can be “political” whereby someone is jockeying for “control”.  I’ve wisened up a little, though I’m still learning, that if it’s not serving me to be the best of me, then I have to drop it.  I have a limited number of breaths in my life and I have to make each one count by being aware as to what purpose I am serving.  I’ve also given up on perfection, because there’s always going to be something or someone better than me.  “I am” is just right for me.

*(lyrics by Hal David from the Burt Bacharach song of the same name)

Look up

by Jennifer Bobiwash

So you just pitched an idea and now you have to write a play…Ahhh what do you do next???

First, find a copy of your submission so you can remember what brilliant idea you sent in. Next, find your notebook, notecards, and/or Google doc and re-read your pitch. Take a moment for it all to come back to and start writing your 8 to 10 pages that you need for your first meeting.

But where do you start? Me, I knew where I wanted to begin so I would save that material for later. Right now I wanted to experiment with what I didn’t know. I had a wild thought and went down a rabbit hole of definitions and science-y talk trying to describe outer space for the stage. Is there sound in space? What kinds of gases are in the air? If there is sound, how is it detected? How quickly do you travel in space? How many light years = an earth year?

As I wrote for my decided on characters, I worried that I needed more. I was at a total of 3 actors. How many more would I need? How many rooms are we moving through? Should I have made an outline for this? I kept the dialogue going as I searched for the conflict. And I didn’t look back. It’s just 10 pages. No re-reading. I did peek once but was to make sure I had the correct character saying what needed to be said. I moved through the senses. What are we hearing when the incident occurs? Can we hear it? and if so, what is the instrument that is notifying us of this sound? I closed my eyes as I thought of being in space. How quiet is it? A quick search to read how NASA builds the shuttle. How does our spacecraft move through space? Are we floating? A few twists and turns later, we had our first encounter. 8 pages done.

The group of playwrights is small. So a quick hello and we dig in. As the other playwrights read my play with the roles I have assigned them, I am caught up in the technicalities of what I wrote. Too much! I understood it, but only because I had searched for it. Otherwise, it could have been said so much more simpler. After all the technical jargon I used, I opted to use the word “thingamagig” to explain a not yet invented…thingamagig, that tested the thingamabobs for the whatchamachlits. And because this was the first scene I was writing, it could be anything at this point. No one could see the rest of the story I already had laid out in my head, so their questions and wonders of scenes to come already had answers. But the tech stuff has to be paired down. My writing and re-writing are happening in my head. I am watching so many first episodes of every sci-fi tv show there is. How do they start? Why are people leaving earth? What does this world 1000 years from now look like? I was worried that my parallel to history 1000 years ago would be lost, but after watching the pilot for Frontier, where they are 50 000 years into the future and they are having the same problems we are today, I felt ok with my decisions.

I guess what I’m saying is that you just have to start. Start writing those 8-10 pages and see where they take you. Have somewhat of an outline, but you don’t have to stick with it. I mean, my characters were never going to make it, but now…well, spoilers, I can’t give the ending away.

You’ll just have to see it when it’s done.

I’m off to look at the stars for inspiration. Keep writing!

cultivating BLAC

by Leelee Jackson

Hi Readers! 

As we approach the new year, the nonprofit I’m a part of (Black Light Arts Collective- BLAC) is excited to kick programming into full gear.  For the past two and a half years, we’ve been passionately cultivating BLAC and we’re pushing to raise $75,000 to take programming to the next level. One way we are doing that is by selling merchandise which is available on our website. Your support will sustain a generous amount of opportunities for Black artists to succeed both in California and Internationally. For more information on giving, please visit https://www.blacklightartscollective.com/shop

These art pieces were created by the phenomenal Leila Victorin, Haitian-American, Michigan-based painter who uses art as a way to understand her place in the world and to talk about representation and connection in light of her own Black experience. It’s a well known fact that 

This piece was designed to showcase the community built between playwright Lorraine Hansberry, writer James Baldwin and singer Nina Simone. The three of them were good friends and debated theory and politics together over drinks and smokes. Nina Simone wrote a song honoring Lorraine Hansberry (To Be Young, Gifted and Black). Lorraine Hansberry once said “Jimmy Baldwin is arguably the greatest writer of our time.” Baldwin would sometimes share his work with Hansberry in it’s early stages to see what she thought. The love and opinions shared between these three is noteworthy and manifested in the quality of their craft.

For more on the three of them, check out Looking for Lorraine; The Radiant and Radical Life of Lorraine Hansberry by Imani Perry.

How to Write that Play for a Developmental Reading: A Set of Questionably Useful Instructions

By Alison Minami

  1. Wait until the last minute. Swim in a pool of guilt when you consider the months you were given. 
  2. Get on Yelp to find the perfect coffee shop. Consider the seating, the available outlets, the parking, and savory food items, which means, must have melted cheese. Remember: location, location, location.
  3. Situate. Why are coffee shops getting rid of their outlets? Do they resent the writers?  Sit next to someone who appears appropriately interesting (not too crazy, not too loud, but not too boring. Will they watch your laptop if you need to go to the bathroom? Of course not, you always say sure when people ask you, but you’d never leave your precious, half-written, non-backed-up scenes in the hands of others.)
  4. Do a mental assessment of all those half-written scenes you wrote and decide to start over. New page, new document. 
  5. Let your eyes and ears roam the room. Listen to people: on their phones, in their meetings, deep inside their gossip. 
  6. Type up their words–dressed up in their inflection, their outrage, their excitement. Everything is copy, even this saying. (Norah Ephron’s grandmother?)
  7. Ruminate over all the public plagiarism scandals. That girl from Harvard–name omitted here because she deserves re-invention; she was so young. The guy Oprah named to her book club. The ridiculous white woman who pretended to have a Black foster mother named “Big Mama”. You called that one right away after reading the NYT mixed review of her memoir. Chuckle at the memory of your perspicacity and your ensuing vindication. 
  8. Start to cast the play for the developmental reading, even though you’re not even sure which characters to keep and which to ax. Too many is better than not enough right? Send a flurry of emails, inform them that the reading will be cold. Keep the pressure down.
  9. Crave a cigarette. Pretend to smoke one and hope no one is watching. Wonder why you didn’t do more drugs in your youth. Would your life have been better or over?
  10. Fill out your ballot. Begrudgingly. Remind yourself to incorporate your cynicism into one character. Or two, why not? 
  11. Think again about your play–the one you’re actually trying to write. Make excuses–a lot of them. If you hadn’t taken on that second job that’s not even really worth the money. If you’d only started earlier. If you hadn’t gotten sick and slept through an entire week. If you’d researched better, this all might be so much easier. 
  12. Speaking of research…get on Youtube. Start with a relevant question. Like, what is the strategy of Voir Dire? Watch some lectures. Take notes until you feel bored. 
  13.  Jump into a rabbit hole of court tv sentencing videos. Observe the faces of defendants as they hear their fate. Be disgusted by your voyeurism. 
  14. Turn your attention to your ailments. Start searching up about that strange skin rash on your finger. The possibility of early onset tinnitus. The pain in your bunion when the weather turns cold. 
  15. Get sucked into the ads. Wonder why you’ve been so poor when there are so many ways to make money. 
  16. Consider what it would actually take to get a flat belly. Or how to get flawless skin. Why are there suddenly lines around your neck? 
  17. Think of metaphors too. Cliched ones, strange ones. You are lost out at sea with this damn play. You are in a perpetual permanent press cycle in the washing machine of your life. 
  18. Think of alliteration. How cool it is, how crisp it is, how syntactically delightful.
  19. Think of repetition. And rhythm. It’s pertinent; it relates. This is a patchwork play. Things, people, characters, they must weave through like colored thread. But order matters. And what the fuck is the order?
  20. Consider your concerns about the climate. Why did it take you this long? What are you doing about it? Admit, nothing. Is putting it in your play a small measure of penance?
  21. Think of the parts of a story, especially the climax. What is the climax of your play? Must a play have a climax? Can it be a series of vignettes that don’t actually rise to any dramatic moment of peril?
  22. Notice the temperature. You are cold. It’s a cold world. Everything is a metaphor for capitalism and its grip on us. It lives in our bones. 
  23. Notice the time. In minutes, hours, and days until your reading, and by the way, check your emails for actor responses. 
  24. Map out a schedule, number of pages per day and hour until your deadline. Revise and rewrite as needed, as every hour escapes you and you stare at page 15, the place where you are stuck. 
  25. Go home. Go to sleep. Pray that your dreams will inform you. 
  26. Wake up early and try to manifest with meditation. Picture yourself banging away at the keyboard. The words tumble out of you. They dance on the page. 
  27. Feel the mounting dread in the pit of your stomach. Think of its color, its texture. Consider if it is gassy or solid. Can you vomit it out? Would it be better expelled the other way?
  28. Google contemporary playwrights.  Google the awards they’ve won. 
  29. Eat a lot. Think about the concept of insatiability. Does it live in every worthwhile play? Is it evil, good, or neutral?
  30. T-minus twenty four hours until the reading. Remind the actors, they will be reading cold. Apologize profusely. Promise they’ll have a script by lunchtime.
  31. Turn off the wi-fi. Make more coffee. 
  32. Tell yourself: a bad decision is better than no decision at all. 
  33. Cut and paste. Cut and paste. Sew at the edges of words between the jaggedly cut fabrics you are willing into form. Think of the word interstitial
  34. Look up how to pull an all nighter. Roll your eyes at their dumb tips, but do stick your face in the freezer. Then sit again at the keyboard. 
  35. Set an alarm and take a nap in an uncomfortable position, so as not to oversleep. 
  36. Wake up. Train your eyes on the clock. Remember, this work is for you. Remember, you have something to say. 
  37. Write. Write a lot. Messily, desperately, with both focus and abandon. Focused abandon?
  38. Invoke the Gods. Ask for a miracle. 
  39. Strive for passable and page count, forget perfection. Work toward a semblance of cohesion, create a lot of filler dialogue to be replaced later. 
  40. Grind. Your keyboard. Your teeth. The hours into minutes. 
  41. Eyes on the page count. Eyes on the clock. Eyes on the words, the sentences, the stage directions. 
  42. Think of the end, which will really be the beginning. Get to it. Complete the cycle, so that you can rinse and repeat. 
  43. Think of the actors…waiting. Think of their frustrations, their judgments. You’re already two hours past the promised lunchtime hour. Re-frame your negative thinking. Think of their grace; think of their talent
  44. Freewrite a monologue on the fear of death. This is the heart of the character; this is the heart of the play. This is the existential question. Make your audience consider their mortality.
  45. Decide on an end. Then press send. 

Publish Your Play

by Kitty Felde

I’ve taken a leave of absence from playwriting.

I was frustrated by Covid, joining legions of theatre-goers who still aren’t comfortable sitting that close to human beings in a crowded space. I was even more frustrated by the pre-Covid developmental process that discouraged actual performances live, on stage.

Instead, I’ve been writing books for kids. There’s something magical about holding something solid in your hands, proof that your writing actually exists after the curtain goes down. If it ever goes up.

I spent last week in an Amazon Ad class, trying to unlock the mysteries of Jeff Bezos’ marketing platform. I knew nothing, but dutifully created category ads, keyword ads, writing and rewriting a pitch line.

It was when I learned how to read the numbers, I discovered that an old play of mine was selling like crazy.

A Patch of Earth is my most-produced play, a courtroom drama about a Bosnian war criminal who confessed to killing “no more than 70” of the 1200 people shot in a cornfield near Srebrenica. I’d covered the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia as a reporter and was haunted by the story of Drazen Erdemovic long after his trial was over. So I combined courtroom testimony with fiction and put his story on the stage.

Timothy Newell as Erdemovic at the Alleyway Theatre in Buffalo, NY

Since most of the characters are in their early 20’s, the play is particularly popular on high school and college campuses and I’d often get requests from teachers for a pdf of the play for a classroom discussion. I happily sent it, since I felt it was an important story for the next generation to learn about to prevent the next genocide.

LA County High School for the Arts production of A Patch of Earth

But I was tired of emailing pdfs.

The play was included in an anthology from The University of Wisconsin Press, but at $30 a copy, with a title like The Theatre of Genocide: Four Plays about Mass Murder in Rwanda, Bosnia, Cambodia, and Armenia you can imagine the number of copies flying off the shelf.

Nonetheless, I owned the rights, so I self-published A Patch of Earth on Amazon.

And then forgot about it. Until that Amazon Ad class.

Who knew? Even with a lousy cover, my acting edition of the play has been quietly, but steadily selling. The script contains information about performance rights. But because the play is historically accurate, the demand has mostly been from teachers and college professors who want to tackle the Bosnian war in their classroom curriculum.

So, may I suggest that you consider publishing your own plays? It’s not difficult.

You need to open a KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) account in Amazon.

I chose a 6” x 9” format in paperback. Amazon has free templates you can download for lots of sizes if you want something specific. Just cut and paste your play, and download as a pdf.

If you want an ebook version, you want to sign up at Reedsy and use their free Book Editor app. They provide easy instructions. Again, download your play.

For covers, there are lots of places you can find templates for ebooks and paperbacks. I paid less than $100 for an ebook cover for a novella recently, hiring one of the artists on Fivrr.

Cover designer Mindyrella on Fivrr

You’ll need to know how many pages your book is, including dedication, copyright information, cast list, etc. Amazon has a template for that, too.

You upload the lot to your KDP account, along with price, book description, etc. Then, just wait a day or two, and voila!

And then you can learn the not-so-wonderful world of Amazon ads…

Kitty Felde has written more than a dozen plays, including A Patch of Earth. The play won the Maxim Mazumdar New Play Competition, and has been performed around the world. She co-founded Theatre of NOTE. Now, instead of writing about war crimes, she explains civics to kids in a series of mystery novels The Fina Mendoza Mysteries.

Donay AnnaMay Was Here

Donay AnnaMay Cook | 41 years young

Donay AnnaMay is the daughter of Lynn French and Donald Cook. She is the youngest of three siblings (Cayde and Jessica) and was born May 15th, 1981, in Glendive, Montana, and raised in the high heat of Scottsdale, Arizona.

She may have been the youngest of three siblings, but she was most certainly the boss babe of the family.

I first met AnnaMay when we were fifteen years old, and from day one, it felt as though I had collided with a whole new universe. Immediately, I was aware I had come upon a girl who knew who she was. A girl who was a leader and loved unconditionally all those she came in contact with. 

I remember AnnaMay driving me to Los Angeles so I could attend theatre school all those years ago. I remember we were young girls full of untainted dreams and new ideas. I remember we wrote a short play together for a class that AnnaMay was enrolled in. I remember AnnaMay’s smile. I remember the crisp sound of her voice. I remember her courageous fight to be free. I remember the way she would move through space. I remember how happy she was to become a mother. I remember how much I loved her.

It has been two weeks since I received the call that AnnaMay passed away. I can still feel my whole body begin to vibrate as time begins to stand still and slip away, time, a brutal reminder that life is not constant. Losing AnnaMay has been a hard, devasting loss, not only for me but for all of us that loved her dearly, a loss that will never heal with time. 

| Donay was here

A mother

A daughter

A sister

A best friend

A leader

A legend

A storyteller

A survivor

A fighter

An advocate

An original

Brave

Bold

Tough

Yet—

vulnerable, gentle, patient, loving, reliable, and at her best, a truth-teller who would show up and out for anyone who ever needed support. Always there for people. To be friends / to have shared space with AnnaMay will always be a gift and an honor.

To love and be loved by her is a treasure that cannot be quantified. In many forms and mediums, her life will be remembered, honored, and held in high esteem with great respect.

this time / next time / not the right time / there’s enough time / more time / no time / the last time / in time / not enough time—please more time —pain becomes weight // weight, heavy, heavier // too heavy and even the strongest of us must find rest.

I know for sure that telling stories started with my childhood friends. As I enter a play development workshop for the next two weeks in New York, I’ll bring all that AnnaMay was as a bold and fearless spirit into the rehearsal space. I’ll honor her unconditional support and belief that she had in me.  I’ll forever cherish her stubbornness and wild idea that anything is possible and that dreaming is healing.

Engaging with your past writer self

by Chelsea Sutton

In September, I had the odd experience of seeing a play of mine produced. It was odd because I, frankly, am not used to people wanting to produce my work! It was also odd because I was not in the rehearsal room for this and had minimal interaction with the actors and director outside of a super sweet Zoom chat and a few exchanges with questions about the text. Also it was in Ohio and I’ve never been to Ohio or know anyone really in Ohio so that is odd in itself.

The play was The Graveyard Shift, which I wrote in the playwrights group at Skylight Theatre where we did a workshop of it in their LabWorks festival. That was in 2015.

Dev (Ben Wayne) grabs a nap during his late night shift at Sparky’s Burger Barn in The Graveyard Shift.

I’ve always felt really good about this play. We worked hard on that workshop to make sure it worked as well as it possibly could in that truncated experience. It is a very different piece from a lot of my other work – it’s a straight up comedy that becomes completely absurd, and while it might get dark it ultimately ends in hope. I have a soft spot for it. It was a finalist for the Reva Shiner Comedy Award too! But as many of us know, comedy is not generally in demand as far as new work development goes.

So walking into MADLab in Columbus, OH, I felt I was encountering not only a new company of artists I didn’t know, who had for some reason decided they believed in this play, but also another artist I thought I knew but hadn’t necessarily chatted with in quite some time: the playwright ME of 2015.

Casey (Dana Baumen) inspires her employees in The Graveyard Shift.

I was terrified, to say the least. I was planning to watch all three shows that weekend, but what if I hated it? Not necessarily what the artists were doing, but what if I hated ME and the work I thought was important seven years ago? (HOW IS IT 7 YEARS??)

Marley (Laura Falb) wonders how she ended up here in The Graveyard Shift.

I was surprised that I still liked that play. I mean I had read it since 2015, I have started adapting it into a film, I FELT good about it, but its something else to see it come alive in other artists’ hands, see what people outside of your head do with what you put on the page.

Once I let go of the lonely tension in my body that came from walking into the unknown in a town where I knew no one, I learned a lot sitting in that theatre three days in a row. I had notes for my past writer self – trims, tighter jokes, moments where I could feel myself trying to PROVE I was a playwright with deep thoughts, of course. But I learned that 1) I have grown as a writer and a critic of my own work (there have been doubts), 2) I could see the shifts of comedic timing and tone over the three nights which could help me strengthen certain structures on the page, and 3) I don’t want to ever feel as if I have to PROVE I am a playwright again.

(Also I re-learned to NOT read reviews – the one review we got loved everything about the production except my writing, which I processed before seeing the second show by crying a little and then watching Hoarders on repeat.)

The Robber (Colleen Underwood) hides in The Graveyard Shift.

There was this time in my playwriting life when I felt like I had to continually prove I was a playwright, that I deserved to be in whatever room I was in (however insignificant). I felt watched and judged and there wasn’t a ton of room to not get things right (and I often didn’t get things right). I had about 7 years there when I was writing 2 new plays a year. I was trying to keep up with what felt like the industry demanded for creation, and for myself to keep growing with each play and prove over an over that I can do this.

I recently went back to the last play I wrote in my third year at the Skylight PlayLab in 2016. Again, one I had fond memories of, which felt like a play that was inching toward some “voice” that I was maybe developing then. But looking at it again, I felt this deep sickness in my stomach. More so than The Graveyard Shift, I felt like this play was trying to be ALL things: a comedy, a horror, and a “serious” play. Every page, every sentimental monologue felt like the playwright ME of 2016 saying “hey look world – do you see? See how I’m writing the shit out of this play!” I was trying so hard with it. I know people responded to it at the time when we had our reading. But when I read it now, all I see is a writer who feels like she’s maybe realizing what she wants to write, but doesn’t know how to do it in a way that feels serious enough or important enough for Theatre to care.

The year before that messy play I had created The Graveyard Shift and got it pretty close to production ready in a short period of time. But it was a comedy and folks were confused. It is the one play of mine that is unapologetically itself. But for whatever reason I felt I had to follow that up with something more serious, a play that really had to say something. And everything I had to say didn’t feel good enough.

After 2016, most of my energy went into writing immersive work, going to an MFA to work on my fiction, starting to direct again after taking a break in 2014, and learning audio and screenwriting. Plays have been hard to write over the last few years because I’m still in the mindset of proving something. Of needing every play to be all things to everyone.

So while I have notes for my 2015 ME, I feel like she had more notes to give to NOW ME. Twist!

“Remember when this was fun?” she said. “Remember how you channeled your feelings into these characters and it felt real and you fell in love with them?” she said. “Remember how by writing broken characters in the way that you are broken and then falling in love with them while you see them on stage is a kind of way of falling in love with yourself? And that maybe you haven’t felt love for yourself in a while?” she said.

Here’s the real thing I learned, though.

After the last show I saw, I got to talk a little more with the actors and director. And I heard different ways they each needed to do this play at this moment in time. This play reflected their lives and emotions and worries in ways that 2015 ME couldn’t have predicted – with thousands of miles and seven years between us. It’s not a perfect play and I will never be a perfect playwright or perhaps never even a good one – but at the very least this play right now offered a joy and a balm to the artists and maybe some of the audience too. And definitely for me. And maybe that’s enough. That’s all we’re trying to do in the end, right?

I didn’t think this is where I was going with this blog. I thought I’d just write a nice little recap of a production and talk about how Karma handed my ass to me by making me slip and fall on the condiments and crap that littered the floor by the end of the play as a kind of punishment from the stage management gods, or how I’d successfully both humiliated myself and gotten a bad review within 36 hours of being in Ohio…

But instead, I guess, I should just shut the fuck up and go write some broken characters to fall in love with.

the stage management gods will fuck you up.

The Future Without A Queen

By Cynthia Wands

The role of a Queen has changed in our world.

I recently watched the funeral of Queen Elizabeth. I spent hours watching the crowds of people along the funeral procession, the rituals of a Royal funeral, with everyone looking at a family in public mourning, and it wasn’t a story that was close to me. And yet somehow I didn’t turn off the tv. No, I watched vintage clips of the young Queen riding horses. Wearing Crown Jewels. And videos of her forlorn Corgis now missing their mistress. I was looking for something. I was looking for an image that would tell me that this icon – this woman – this story – was done.

I had grown up with this image of a Queen – she was someone who, to my mind, seemed rather suburban, inscrutable, reserved and irrevocably Royal. (Also – she owned six castles). In my early theatre days I learned from Sophocles and Shakespeare, that the Royals are a magic class. They have the power and the resources to set things in motion. At least until the end of the play. Nowadays the idea of royalty intermingles with Disney merchandising of fairy tales and elite real estate portfolios of the Royal British Family. This Queen had no real political power, although she had “personal prerogatives”; her role was distilled down to three essential rights: to be consulted, to encourage and to warn. So it seems this Queen was a bit of an astrologer/weather consultant, and a national grandmother.

And yet, during the funeral broadcasts, more than one announcer referred to Queen Elizabeth as “the most powerful woman in the world”. Although it seems that her actual decision making were limited to bestowing knighthoods, approving Royal dress codes and lending out tiaras to her family for special events.

It was reported that this Queen had specific directions that were followed for her funeral (Code Name: Operation Unicorn. Really. Which sounds like something out of a bad James Bond movie.) But it seems her wishes and influence were supported in the days after her death. And for a woman with nominal political power, 37 million people in the UK watched her funeral. And worldwide, 4 billion people were reported to have watched her funeral. That is pretty powerful. I was one of the 4 billion in the audience. I was looking for an image that would stick to me, something that would give me a kind of bookend to this story.

I considered that – for those of us who create roles of women in power, women in history, women as Queens: the world had seen an icon pass on. Leaders as family figures. Family seen as Royalty. Mothers as Queen. It’s a curious template that we watch the roles played out in politics and history. More than ever, our world needs our women leaders, but do we need a Queen? The idea of a Queen?

I know my Irish ancestors might have some very spirited views on the role of a Queen. And my English family has complicated insights on this subject of Royalty and icons. I’m aware that I watch this turning of the page of history without having the idea of being a subject to the crown.

And still, after days of watching the gathering of the crowds, the ceremony of the funeral and the last bits of a life celebrated and mourned – I kept wanting to see something else. Something about the death of the Queen.

And then I found it.

© Image Provided by News18

The image that found me.

Yes I know. It’s not the image that I was looking for. There’s no women. And there’s Military uniforms. And no faces. No crowds. And the figures are swallowed up darkness. But I saw in this image, the kind of power that theatre can create. This spoke to me of the performances that playwrights and actors can bring about because they can create powerful rituals and awarenesses in their visual poetry.

A Queen is gone. Her influence has been felt.

Its time for new Queens and different influences and rituals. That sounds like the future.

Image: Mixed Media/Mosaic of images by Cynthia Wands

This is an image that came to me while I was writing this. Here’s to the future of new Queens and rituals.