Thanks for checking out the LAFPI “tag team” blog, below, handed off each week from one interesting female playwright to another.
Who are they? Click Here
Thanks for checking out the LAFPI “tag team” blog, below, handed off each week from one interesting female playwright to another.
Who are they? Click Here
I’m writing a play about a town–really a family–but also a town that is hit with a giant sinkhole. The play moves around a lot in time–pre-sinkhole and post-sinkhole. It also dives right down into the hole itself.
I went down the rabbithole of sinkholes on Youtube. Some of the sinkholes are gargantuan. We’re talking three to four hundred feet deep and sixty feet wide. Sometimes they are born out of avarice, a willful ignorance of science that puts profit above all else. Sometimes they are due to poor infrastructure and engineering or slow undetected leaks of water or sewage that collapses soluble sediment. There is evidence that floods and storms related to climate change are linked to more and more of these holes. Other internet videos include a man walking down a busy Brooklyn Street when one of his legs falls right through the cement crosswalk. A Florida man sleeps in bed when the earth opens up beneath him and swallows him whole; His body is never recovered. These holes seem futuristic and apocalyptic, but in fact they’ve been happening for a while now.
I can watch these videos on a loop. For me, it’s riveting! Sinkholes are a physical manifestation of all our demons and our fears. Why a hole? It’s like any other calamity…one day you’re here, the next you’re not. One day you know everything, and the next, you know nothing. The earth is supposed to represent the most sure and steady thing for us. What does it mean when people describe others as grounded? Or salt of the earth? And what does it mean to be at ground zero or hit rock bottom? There is so much metaphor in a giant gaping hole. I think of inconsolable grief, trauma, regret, unbearable shame, addiction, guilt, dreams deferred, dreams dead. I think of a terrifying abyss, fear of the unknown, depths of despair, Dante’s inferno, yes hell. Once you start with the metaphors (and the puns), you can’t stop. We’re all in the fucking hole in one way or another, doesn’t matter what it is for you—a divorce, a death, a freaking worldwide pandemic. We’ve all been down it; we’ve all had the choice to climb out or stay in.
And isn’t it funny, that a hole is a piercing, a wound, an intolerable emptiness? And the same word with a different spelling Whole means exactly its opposite. To heal is to make whole, to piece together the essentials is to make whole, to be complete is to make whole. What’s that fancy Brene Brown terminology of being whole-hearted? How do we live whole-heartedly in a world with sinkholes everywhere? I don’t have an answer, but I’m here for the excavation.
Tamadhur Al-Aqeel has been writing plays for over a decade. She started out in an acting program at Boston University, where the Dean of her theater department snickered that she’d only get stereotypical roles as a maid or a prostitute. This problem of representation followed her when she transferred to Cal Arts, and finally to Cal State Long Beach, where she settled on a major in Journalism. Like many artists of color, Tamadhur realized that writing for the stage was the best way to create better roles for women like herself. That was the nineties, and still, change has been slow to come.
Tamadhur has been a member of the Company of Angels Playwrights’ Group for nearly a decade and now serves as one of its co-leaders, volunteering to organize and schedule logistics. The group has evolved over time, having begun as an incubator for the theater’s 10-minute short play festival. Today it is an application-only, year-long play development program, with the aim of assisting writers to complete full-length pieces that culminate in professionally staged readings. She was also recently a member of the Vagrancy Theater’s professional playwrights’ group in 2020.
Tamadhur–“rhymes with bother” she says to help people with the pronunciation–was named after her father’s favorite Egyptian poet. She speaks fondly of her Kuwaiti-born father, a trained educator and a natural with young children, and recalls one of her early memories of him telling stories, using his hands as puppet-like figures around a tambourine, the proverbial campfire or theater in the round.
As an Arab-American female artist who is also a mom of two, Tamadhur has faced her fair share of challenges. In the early days, she co-wrote and independently produced a successful play that was a feminist take on Scheherazade, the narrator of the classic Middle Eastern tale One Thousand and One Nights. The piece incorporated shadow puppetry and began Tamadhur’s training and interest in the art form. Unfortunately, she was also in an intimate relationship with her co-writer and when that didn’t work out, he attempted to discredit her contribution. “Never sleep with your writing partner” she quips. The line is funny, but not the anecdote. It reflects a common problem of the patriarchy, desiring to punish women by usurping them of their creative power and due credit.
Post 9-11, like so many Americans of Middle Eastern descent, Tamadhur experienced increased scrutiny, which naturally led to increased paranoia. Her mail would arrive opened, and the airport security checks started and have never let up. To this day, whenever she travels with her family, they must factor in the time that it will take for security to put her through the humiliating rigmarole of patting her down, grabbing her crotch and breasts, and going through her things. Even at a young age, Tamadhur’s daughters would ask, “Why is it always you mom?” This kind of racism has naturally informed her writing.
In one of her most recent works “Traffic Report”, written expressly for the Zoom stage, a daughter and father, who is living under a “dictatorship cracking down on dissidents,” exchange Skype calls that are being surveilled. The audience is put in the seat of the spying, uncertain whether the father himself is a dissident and forcing them to consider the morality of surveillance as well as their own complicity.
Tamadhur wonders in a post-pandemic world “Who are audiences going to be?” and “How much can you ask of an audience?” These are great questions for all theaters who struggled, even before the pandemic, to fill their seats. She admits that while quarantine was terrible and Zoom plays were not ideal, the online format made it easier for her to produce her work and to participate in playwriting opportunities such as LAFPI’s Microreads.
Currently, she’s developing a puppet show “Drugs and a Magic Cow” which is a dark adaptation of the fairy tale of Old Mother Hubbard. She is also collaborating with Cold Tofu Improv Group, who will be taking the first two pages of a play she’s written expressly for their group, which they will perform and extend into a complete one-act of improvised theater. That show is virtual on November 18 https://www.youtube.com/c/ImproTheatre.
After seeing “Poor Clare”, I’m convinced that the story stirs up inquiry about Clare and the arc of her journey from being a young woman enveloped in the bubble of a privileged life to an alternate painful reality beyond the walls of a palazzo. She was innocent and harmless in her mind until Francis of Assisi showed her how her lifestyle enslaved others into a life of hard labor.
What I found interesting about the story is the parallel between her story and Siddharta (the Buddha). Both walk away from their privileged lives. Their paths diverge where Clare follows Francis of Assisi and serves the poor; while Siddharta goes into a quest inward into meditation to realize all is Maya.
I think we are all at different stages of awaking to alternate realities. This is the richness of life. We can explore freely in mind and our hearts and make our own choices. We stand on the shoulders of giants, including Clare of Assisi, Francis of Assisi, Buddha, our parents, our teachers and an endless list that includes ourselves.
Playwright Chiara Atik notes that the play does not offer a solution to the crisis of homelessness. It did however bring me to turn the wheels as to stepping out of our comfort zones, and exploring the power of our true being.
“A lot of people don’t know but when I was about 14 or 15 my father lost his job and we became homeless for quite sometime. Of course, we were living up in Canada and I thought we were just camping…”
“…It’s totally out of control now the whole homeless thing. And we’ve really got to do something about it. Not only is it unnecessary to live in this country that way. Let’s face it. It’s getting totally annoying”.JIM CARREY – COMEDIAN
In a few hours I’ll be sitting in a darkened theater with the lights directed on stage to watch “Poor Clare” unfold. My initiative to see this play comes from different places. Firstly, starting with reading Carolina Xique’s interview with playwright Chiara Atik. The second is my curiosity and concern about homelessness.
Facing my own fear, I’ve often asked myself how far am I from a state of being homeless? That thought floats along my spinal column, so that I get out of bed and and put on my game face for work. There are easy days and there are not so easy days. I count my blessings that I’m able to work.
I don’t know anything about homelessness other than what I see on the surface. I’ve talked to some “homeless” men and women to find out about their story. Some feel ok to share the truth or half-truth. I’ve talked with other people to find out their opinion about the state, but I think nobody really knows what it’s all about, because it is complex.
One woman, in her 60’s (maybe she was younger, but being outdoors had weathered her face and body too soon) has a daughter who has family and lives a normal life. “Why aren’t you living with them?” I asked. “Because we don’t get along.” That conversation was sometime ago. I’ve seen this woman a few times again, and she’s off the street now, and lives in an apartment of her own through the means of Section 8.
I’ve met two women who lived in their cars for a period of time. One woman, “Paloma”, was a chef. I met her in a writing class. She was writing a memoir about her life as “people without a house”. She read about her experience in the weekly workshops and I admired her cunning and courage to get through that period of her life. For example, she stayed in the parking lot of a grocery story that gave her access to bathroom facilities. Eventually the staff/management of the store figured out why she was there.
Out of compassion for her, they let her “live” in the parking lot, knowing she was in a transition period and was working to get out of her homeless state. They were also aware of the dangerous elements that a woman being alone could be exposed to. In allowing her to camp in the parking lot, they could keep an eye out for her. Paloma has since found a good position as a personal chef and is thriving in her new life.
The other story, I’m not sure how her life turned out. I met “Claire” at her friend’s yard sale. I had picked out a few things for myself at the yard sale. She and her friend encouraged me to come back next weekend as they promised to have more offerings then. So I did. And that’s when her story unfolded to me. Claire’s friend had decided she could no longer host the yard sale in front of her apartment building. Later, Claire revealed to me that she’s living in her car and had had falling out with her friend.
So, she was trying to make ends meet by selling her clothing (which must’ve been expensive as they were beautiful). She said she had loads of clothes in storage and she imagined that some of them would look “gorgeous” on me. She told me where she spent most of her days, and asked me to visit her. It was at the park where I walked my dog.
She was a complicated woman. I saw her quite regularly. Naturally, I had become friendly with her, because how couldn’t I? I was tempted to invite her for a hot meal to my home, but my friend discouraged me. “You don’t know this woman.” One day, Claire asked me a favor. She wanted to take a shower and asked if I could let her use my bathroom. I didn’t see any harm in it, so we arranged for the meeting.
My friend was aghast. “What?! Are you kidding? Now she knows where you’re living. First, she want to use your shower, and next thing you know she’ll be moving in with you.” Because I didn’t have the courage to backout of my agreement with Claire, my friend was present during Claire’s visit.
Maybe I was wrong on all counts. I just don’t know, but I avoided that park for quite some time, and it was an inconvenient change. I felt uncomfortable engaging further with Claire, because of my own fears. I am deeply curious how I will change after seeing tonight’s play. I’ll let you know tomorrow.
Before sitting down to write, I googled “Beginner’s Mind in Writing”, and there were several sites that came up, including not surprisingly Natalie Goldberg’s “Writing Down the Bones”. I have it on my shelf, among other books about writing.
Continuing on the theme of “Beginner’s Mind”, I searched for other areas of interest that this Zen concept has been applied to:
The last one on grief only brought up one link that addresses grief with a “Beginner’s Mind” applied. It was written in 2004, and it is a resource guide on grief counseling. The reference to “Beginner’s Mind” was only in the first paragraph.
Defining “Beginner’s Mind”, the Zen Master, Shunryu Suzuki. wrote,
In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities. In the expert’s mind there are few.
As it applies to grief, the handbook says,
As bereavement workers we must meet the grieving without expectations about what should happen or what they should be feeling. There are no experts in this work.oFFICE OF mENTAL hEALTH, New York STATE
– AUTHORS: Susan Wheeler-Roy, Ed.D. & Bernard A. Amyot, M.S., M.A.
I’m still stifled by these words. My thoughts, emotions, my entire being still freezes when I think of my own grief. I like that… “my own grief”. I’m owning it. I’m not passing it on to anyone else.
Today, someone reached out to a friend asking for my contact information as this person had just recently found out about my husband’s (Bruno Herve Commereuc) death that happened more than three years ago. It’ll be four years in January 2022. I imagine how horribly sad and shocking it must be for this person to have just found out. She has pictures of her baby in Bruno’s restaurant, “Angelique Cafe”. Her baby is now a 25-year old man. Bruno had many lifelong friends. He was that kind of a man who was unforgettable and took a big bite out of life. He lived big. He was bigger than life.
They’re now beginning their process of bereavement. I put myself in their shoes, but it’s not the same. It’ll never be the same between any two people who knew the same person. And then there’s this space of time between then and now.
The five stages of grief, as identified by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, are:
Maybe the normal (if there is a “normal”) flow is from 1 to 5, but my experience is it is fluid from one state to another at any given moment, but definitely time is a big factor in processing the loss. Either time just helps to forget the pain if I don’t want to deal with it (denial), or it just allows me to move along the timeline to be angry, to bargain, to be down and feeling lost, and then after all that, fatigue sets in. I surrender and just accept it.
Then… it could start at anger again, if something pulls me there. But this is when awareness is important. Perhaps having a “Beginner’s Mind” – to be open to possibilities. I have choices. I can choose to be present and just allow the storm to pass and carry on with life again, like everybody else is doing. I’m not the only one who’s suffered. We all suffer. Why hide our imperfections? There are no mistakes, just lessons.
Learn the alchemy
true human beings know.
The moment you accept
what troubles you’ve been given,
the door will open.rumi
I found the information in the resource guide (“a field manual” for bereavement workers), published by the New York State Office of Mental Health to be very good. Chapter 4 on “Sudden Death Loss Issues” to be quite accurate. Amongst the identified issues were:
Inability to comprehend– the disbelief of the event does not allow the individual to grasp what has actually happened. There is a searching for “why” and “how” this happened in the initial period following the death-loss event.
The ability to cope is diminished due to the shock of the event and the additional stress that has just been imposed on the individual.
All true. I couldn’t cope well with processing information and events. It was as if I was a new born baby, having to relearn to comprehend. It was a strange sensation, because I could see myself as the forest, and not in the trees. I witness/ed that I had become incapacitated, and I couldn’t understand how to learn again. I struggled. I had to regrow neural paths to cope, to survive, to learn to find joy and thrive again. Talk about “Beginner’s Mind”.
Thank you. Thank you for trying to seek me out. I look forward to meeting you and I anticipate I’ll be learning new things about my Bruno.
(Dedicated to a new friend).
I was at a busy intersection on Slauson the day before Halloween 2021. The van was loaded with large pumpkins and sundries to carry the entire household (humans, dogs and chickens) with food and snacks (the latter considered not as food, but necessary) for three or four days. The weather was chilly, and I recognized LA has a fall season. Some deciduous trees had turned their colors to yellow and brown, and dropped their foliage everywhere.
The intersection at La Cienega is always backed up, and Saturday afternoons aren’t different from the other days. My eyes wandered as I noted all of the cars sitting idle. All were pretty much the same: SUVs, trucks, sedans, vans. Ho hum… until I spotted one SMART car.
It looked smart. The shade was an unusual creme neatly outlined by a piping design, akin to a Coco Chanel suit. I don’t know anything about SMART cars, other than they’re still being sold in Europe, and it’s pretty much dead in the United States. The Europeans like their compact cars which makes sense when navigating the narrow streets of cities, towns and villages – at least of what I’d seen in my limited travel experience of Europe. Anyways, it made sense and indeed smart to travel in compact cars in small streets.
Now here’s what struck me as weird. As I sat in my wide and roomy van, I noticed an arm connected to a hand with fingers that held a lit cigarette. Why was that odd to me? I started to see more details. The opened sunroof billowed smoke into the atmosphere above, while the arm, like a puppet, was drawn in and out of the driver’s side window consistently and rapidly! The pace was like a matador swiftly and adeptly moving a red cape as a bull charges at it. The tease, the dust, the heat and the cry of the crowd incests the animal further, making it charge more furiously towards the bullseye. This arm was flicking ashes on the street after each inhale of nicotine.
I watched in wonder for a little while, until I awakened to the trick my mind was knitting together – the juxtaposition of a chain smoker in a teeny car with S M A R T smattered across the back. I laughed. We are humans. We are inconsistent. I simply love it.
“We’re all bozos on the bus,
so we might as well sit back and enjoy the ride.”
You’re driving to Los Angeles on the 101 North Freeway. For most tourists and incoming residents, this drive is the dream: seeing the famous buildings of the LA skyline, zipping under the 10 Freeway overpass, and seeing the light opening up to the concrete jungle of Downtown. With its often-sunny afternoons and the undeniable scent of affluence (or is it the smog?), an updated Carrie Bradshaw could happily look forward to a very West Coast version of Sex and the City.
Except, when you exit in Arcadia, or drive down Glendale Boulevard, or pass through Echo Park, the same disturbing scene of tent cities overwhelms sidewalks and underpasses. In the safe confines of your car, you can’t help but notice how the homelessness crisis has become synonymous with the city itself. And it feels like there’s nothing any policeman or city official is doing to stop it. So you ask yourself, What can I do?
This is the same question Clare of Assisi asks herself in Echo Theater Company’s production of Poor Clare. We see her journey from being a well-known socialite, to asking a man named Francis about how she can change her ways to be of service to the poor. LAFPI sat down with director Alana Dietze (Dry Land and The Wolves at the Echo), and playwright Chiara Atik (Bump, Women and HBO’s “Girls”) to talk about the inspiration for Poor Clare and how it relates to living in Los Angeles, today.
LAFPI: What did you think when you read Poor Clare and what inspired you to direct it, Alana?
Alana Dietze: I thought it was extraordinarily funny; that was my very first impression of it. It made me cry, laughing. I was also profoundly moved by the ending, which I don’t want to say too much about. Echo always has a post-reading conversation about material, so as we were talking amongst ourselves, I found myself getting very passionate about it. So that was my first clue that maybe I wanted to direct it.
It’s an allegory for homelessness and wealth inequality in modern day using the framework of the lives of Clare of Assisi and Francis of Assisi and I thought it was such a smart way of looking at this huge problem that we have all over the world – but especially in Los Angeles – that keeps growing and feels so out of control. I thought this play profoundly captured a lot of the feelings that I’ve had about it: the anxieties, fears, shame, feeling like I want to help more, but not being able to help. I thought that was a really valuable thing to put onstage.
LAFPI: Why Los Angeles? Why now? Being that it’s set in Italy in medieval times, the story couldn’t be further away from LA, present day.
Chiara Atik: That’s funny. I was about to say that when I wrote the first draft and started sending it out, I included two pictures to set tone, and one is of, um…
Alana: Skid Row.
Chiara: Yeah. One is of Skid Row in Los Angeles, and the other is a Renaissance portrait. I live in New York and was living there at the time [of writing the piece], but I had been spending a lot of time out here and homelessness made a very big impression on me. More so than it does in New York because homelessness in New York is ingrained in the fabric of the city; it doesn’t feel like something new, it feels like something that’s always been there. You just go about your commute and you have to put on blinders, to a certain extent, to not have your heart break at every single moment of every day.
But I’ve come to LA periodically for years and I sort of started to notice it in a way that I hadn’t. I started reading up about this problem that seems to be growing bigger and bigger. It made an impression on me: to be on the freeway and to see every overpass and underpass be covered with tents. It’s that juxtaposition of being hermetically sealed in your car while driving past all of these tent cities. So I think, in that sense, LA’s current situation of how people are grappling with it gave me an inspiration in the play. Also, you get the sense that it’s a growing problem that the characters of the play are dealing with.
LAFPI: And that’s very LA.
Chiara: Another thing that I think is interesting in terms of New York versus LA: in New York, because you’re always walking around or on the subway, the different populations and economic levels actually have to deal with each other and interact. You’re sitting on the subway and people come up to you and you have to make the decision, “Okay, am I going to give a dollar or pretend not to see this person”; you can’t quite escape it. But in LA, because of the car culture, there’s an extra distance. It’s something that you see and clock, but don’t have to contend with person-to-person.
Alana: Also, there’s the way that the city seems to be dealing with the problem. I mean, “dealing with the problem,” in quotes, because it doesn’t really seem like they are. I’m not a political expert, I don’t know everything about this issue, but I lived in Echo Park for a really long time, and that was an area specifically where, as the homelessness crisis grew, huge new tent cities would pop up. I would turn a corner and there would be a whole slew of tents that weren’t there the week before. And then a week later, they’d all be gone. It felt to me like the cops were coming through and just moving people along which does nothing to ultimately solve the problem or help anyone. I guess they think they’re helping the residents? But even then, people are just going to come back. There’s nowhere for anyone to go.
LAFPI: Moving people along as a solution – it’s that class difference, right? They’re placing importance on people who are paying to stay there, instead of those who don’t live anywhere, and telling them to take their problems somewhere else.
Alana: And the problem is, where would they go?
LAFPI: Following up on that, Chiara, how did you come up with the concept for Poor Clare?
Chiara: I always knew the story of St. Clare. I found myself in recent years having so many conversations with people where we’d sort of bemoan the state of the world: “Isn’t horrible about the refugee crisis, isn’t it horrible about homelessness,” and this or that. But then I would go home, turn on the TV, and forget about these things. And the ability to worry and empathize but then go home and turn that off and forget about it is such a privilege. I was thinking about the fact that I feel bad about this stuff, but I’m not, like, quitting my job and quitting my life to go out and help.
The story of St. Clare, the real girl, who really did completely change her entire life, is such a radical story. It’s certainly not something that I’m capable of – that most people aren’t capable of – but I was interested in exploring the idea of somebody who really goes so far. And I’m not suggesting that as a solution or saying it’s what we should all be doing. I think that’s why Clare is a saint and most people aren’t. But it’s that journey of someone becoming so radicalized to do something, to take action in whatever way they can… I really underestimated how many people didn’t know of her.
Alana: I didn’t know who she was when I read the play. I knew that there was a St. Francis, but I didn’t really know anything about him.
LAFPI: So with this play, what do you hope that audiences learn about St. Clare of Assisi?
Chiara: That she existed. I think her story is cool and relatable. And what we know about her historically is interesting. She was 18, super rich, had a great life, and gave all of that up to take vows of poverty to try to do good in the world. I think that’s a crazy impressive story. That’s like a Kardashian doing that or something. And this is 800 years ago. A girl, definitely braver than I am right now, did that. I hope people will be interested in her story, her conviction, her action at such a young age. She was just a teenager. It’s like if Khloe was, like, “Alright, I’m giving all of this up!”
LAFPI: I still feel like if Khloe did that, for the most part, people wouldn’t initially believe her. Compared to men, I think someone like a Kardashian might be treated differently.
Chiara: I think it’s hard for women, especially young women, to be taken seriously when they decide to do something intensely. If you watch the play, Francis raises his eyebrows, but there’s less at stake for him to go find a religious order. But for her – for a girl to do what he’s doing – the stakes are a lot higher.
LAFPI: Are there any other ways differences in sex and gender function specifically in the play? I noticed in the cast that there are 2 men and the rest are women.
Alana: That was something else that I really love about the play. I wouldn’t say that it’s primarily about gender, but like Chiara said, there are different stakes for Clare than Francis as she goes on this journey, and there are really interesting moments where Francis lets her know that things will be different for her. And those moments help drive her conviction to commit to her beliefs. She has to be more convicted than he is, because it’s harder for her to do what she does.
LAFPI: How much of the play is fact? How much is fiction?
Alana: This comes back to the earlier question of why Los Angeles. The language is all modern day, and it feels like the language of Angelenos. That’s part of what attracted me to it, because I thought, “Oh, these people talk like me.” So in that respect, it’s totally fictional. I don’t know how much really is fact?
Chiara: Definitely little bits from St. Francis’s life trajectory. We knew that Clare and St. Francis knew each other and she really was inspired by him to do this thing. But we, of course, have no idea what their conversations were like or the nature of their relationship, so all of that is fiction.
LAFPI: What questions would you like audiences to be asking by the end of this play? Are there questions women should be asking?
Alana: It feels to me like it’s about highlighting and focusing in on this push-and-pull, this question about what do we do to help? Can we help? Is there such a thing as help? What do you do when you become aware of your own privilege? I feel this juxtaposition of a desire to be moral, to be good, to help other people, to do something worthwhile and meaningful… in contrast with the fact that what Clare does may or may not help anyone. But it’s the thing she must do. To me that’s what’s most interesting and relatable about the play. I hope that the play will help people think about that question for themselves and maybe make a choice.
Chiara: In terms of women specifically, Clare, throughout the play, drastically alters her appearance and goes from caring very much about how she looks to forsaking that along with her wealth and status. That’s something I admire in her character. I almost can’t imagine caring about something so much that I would be, like, “Fuck what I look like.”
LAFPI: And now we live in this world where everything is appearance-based, whether online or in-person. Doing what Clare did is like someone completely going off the radar. Which you don’t see a lot of anymore.
Chiara: Yeah, and I’m not saying that it’s necessary to do in the modern world. But on the other hand, you see her judged for what she looks like throughout the play. It’s interesting to see what it means to her to, like you said, go off the radar: “I’m not giving you this anymore. I’m not presenting like this anymore.”
LAFPI: Which leaves us with the question of whether anyone has a solution for the seemingly-uncontrollable homelessness crisis right now.
Chiara: The play definitely doesn’t.
LAFPI: But it’s good to have the wheels turning!
“Poor Clare” at Echo Theater Company runs through November 29th. Ticket and information at echotheatercompany.com.
by Kitty Felde
Back when I was a journalist by day and playwright by night, I stumbled upon a terrific psychological tool to fight off doubt and rejection. When the “thank you for your submission, but…” letters poured in, I picked myself up off the ground, telling myself, “I’m not really a playwright. I’m a journalist.”
It worked the other way, too. On those days when police spokesmen were rude and TV cameramen trampled me as they rushed ahead of me on a story, I’d console myself by saying, “I’m not really a journalist. I’m a playwright.”
Simplistic, but it worked. I could protect my ego simply by switching hats.
It was my power of two: two identities, twice the chance to succeed. The double identity also provided me with a built-in escape route.
THE POWER OF TWO (me and the two lions that led to Rancho Montoya in the old TV show “The High Chaparral”)
I find myself using the power of two with my sewing projects.
As a sewist (one of those new titles that feels contrived) I like to have a project in hand, and one I can cheat on – er, dream about in the future. I have some lovely green corduroy for a pair of trousers for fall. I’ve cut out the general pattern. But before I can head to the sewing machine, I realize there are some fitting issues that need to be tackled, and fitting is hard. I don’t want to do it. So to escape the immediate challenge, I dream about the next one.
What can I make out of that crazy Italian racing striped jersey I found at that warehouse of a fabric store in Phoenix? A tee shirt? A dress? Let me go through my stash of patterns… In other words, I “play hooky,” thinking about the next project. And while I’m planning ahead, my brain is also organizing the steps needed to fit those damned trousers. It’s as if my creative brain needs to be engaged on something else in order to figure out the answers to the problems at hand. The power of two.
It’s the same with my writing.
I long for the times when my fingers fly across the keyboards, wonderful dialogue springs forth as if it was written on air and I’m just transcribing what I can see before me. Characters suddenly introduce themselves and insert themselves into scenes, as if they’re telling me, “Trust me, I know what I’m doing. Just keep up with me.”
Then there’s the rest of the time. Every sentence feels tortured. The overall concept for the script seems unimportant, trite, overdone. Some inner voice screams, “This will never be produced!”
Some call it writers block. Others call it a lack of confidence. I call it hell. I know it’s all part of writing. But it’s no fun.
My solution? I cheat on my writing. The power of two.
I spent most of the summer working on the audio script for the second season of The Fina Mendoza Mysteries podcast. It’s usually an “easier” kind of writing: you already have the plot, characters, conflict, etc. But how do you translate them to audio? I kept getting stuck.
So I decided to cheat on Fina with a completely new project.
I’ve had an idea noodling around in my head to start a new mystery series of books with a new character and turn-of-the-last century time period. It felt fresh, new, exciting. Research for it took me down new rabbit holes. Words started flooding the screen. It felt sneaky, like I was getting away with something. Instead of writing what I SHOULD be writing, I was sneaking off to write something new.
Yet all the while, my subconscious was working on the problems with the Fina script. Because I wasn’t confronting it head on, the creative brain was allowed to find its own way, thinking outside the box, finding solutions almost on its own.
I went back and finished the audio script. Yay. And the bonus: I didn’t have to start from scratch with a new project.
The power of two.
Kitty Felde is a playwright who also writes books for children. Her latest Fina Mendoza mystery “State of the Union” is available from Chesapeake Press.
By Constance Strickland
Over the past year and a half, I have listened to, + witnessed artists of color fight, speak out and reveal wrongdoings that had the ability to affect true change in a stale industry. Not stale from a lack of talent but due to a lack of vision and courage. Instead of answers, I have been left with a string of questions that I leave in space to be actively engaged with or not.
The last few months have felt urgent, suffocating, debilitating yet empowering, and freeing.
I have been imagining a future where artists reject a hierarchical approach. A future that refutes old PWI institutions as the Top of the Tier and in their places are new spaces that are inclusive and leave no room for tokenism. Instead, they allow all artists of varied routes and backgrounds a space to create and re-imagine.
Los Angeles theatre. A scene filled with so much talent yet still somehow the same voices are heard and bodies are seen. It feels as though no one is willing to go further still nor even really want to – is it too hard a conversation? Does it cost too much for whites and people of color who are too institutionalized by PWIs and who benefit from them? A part of the issue lies in the elephant in the room: you are left out in the peripheral – existing right outside the edges of support and being uplifted; if you chose to be an independent artist who does not hail from a PWI or any “higher” education institution then ultimately you are forced into a particular route and reality as a theatre artist.
Who really benefits when BIPOC artists are promoted? Are we only uplifting the same artists?
Are we still uplifting the same PWI institutions as long as they let in a few BIPOC artists and have updated their Values and Mission statements?
Brooklyn Academy of Music [BAM] has dedicated its upcoming season to a wide variety of New York artists: that is how a community is built by crafting a space for local artists, and to go further you investigate within that community which artists have not yet been uplifted in any form. Which artists don’t have agents, don’t have grant support, are not connected to an academic institution yet have found ways to continue and produce new work? Which playwrights have been hitting the pavement in the city and need long-time committed support? For there should be no fear when it comes to uplifting new faces / new voices.
I love theatre. I love plays. I love playwrights. I love the manifestation of new ideas. Yet, I need to see my city go further. I need to experience a theatre city that is alive because it uplifts its most vulnerable of artists. I am not alone when I say: We are dying for the quiet artists of Los Angeles to be pulled up, for real support to trickle down and for neglected neighborhoods to have an opportunity, not charity to engage with Live Theatre.
And no lie. This is personal. It should be for all of us who give our whole spirit to the work in our city that we love.
By Chelsea Sutton
My turn at spewing words on this blog always seems to hit during weeks when something in my world or the world at large is radically shifting. Perhaps that’s a false correlation, but my memory insists that is correct. And it is right at least half of the time.
This past week I had my first real whirlwind of non-stop in-person theatre activity. I spent Saturday through Tuesday in close quarters with cast and creative team for filming, audio recording, and photography for the immersive postal play I’m directing, Welcome to Meadowlark Falls: The Very Merry Christmas Contest. I spent Wednesday seeing Hamilton at the Pantages after 3 reschedules over the last two years. And Thursday through Saturday rehearsing and producing a live haunt in Little Tokyo at East West Players with Rogue Artists Ensemble for a narrative app I co-wrote, Kaidan Project: Alone.
I’m coming out of that week in a reflective mode. I had bursts of wonder and wondering during that time. Wonder at our ability to create stories out of cardboard and sweat. And wondering at…why am I doing this? Am I actually, even, good at this?
To be an artist, you have to, in many ways, be a fool. You have to be foolish enough to think that you can make a living at this – or, better yet, a life. You have to be foolish enough to think that you have something to say and talent enough to pull it off. You have to be foolish enough to sweep past disappointments and head onto the next batch as if nothing could touch you.
But there has to be a limit to the foolishness. I think that is what we’ve all collectively pondered over the last year. The foolishness that makes us think that we have to break our backs and neglect our wellbeing for the notion of a dream. The foolishness that hopes the same leadership that has hurt you in the past is going to change their ways, that makes you go in circles trying the same strategies over and over expecting something new. The foolishness that makes us think we have to pay our dues for 30 years only to be met with gatekeepers that never intended for us to enter, ever.
I’m a fool. For sure.
Last December, when my blog time came around, it happened the week my grandmother died, after she and I both contracted COVID from the same person.
Just before September 11 this past year, I went to her house for the last time. I went late at night after work and traffic. I lit a purple candle and brought a picture of us in the house. The house was completely empty. My father had redone it over the last 6 months and in many ways it no longer looked like the home of my childhood. But something fresh. And new. Something the light could more easily reach.
I stayed for maybe an hour. Sitting and thinking and crying. Walking from room to room, kissing my hand and touching it to the walls. I tried to say goodbye to every inch.
I felt very foolish. Like an idiot. But I knew I had to say goodbye in this way. I knew I had to feel foolish to feel anything at all.
And if I’m really honest, once I walked in, I didn’t feel foolish anymore. I only felt like I was coming home.
My playwright brain always attaches to PLACE. How it transforms itself. How it transforms who we are. How every house is haunted in one way or another.
Returning to theatre feels like walking into that empty house. It is the same, yet not. I am mourning parts of myself while having hope for something new. I am trying to make space for what is next.
My love is like a haunted house. I don’t know how to love any other way.
I am a collector of words. I have a folder on my desktop with saved words that I stumble across. This blog has turned into a kind of meditation, so, I thought sharing some of my collection might help you, as they have helped me.
…And then the queen Rachel Elizabeth Cargle….
….and this meditation on grief….
…And finally, the late and great Anthony Bourdain…
Be a fool.