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
Quick peeks at #HFF23’s “Women on the Fringe” by Fringe Femmes who are behind the scenes this year. Click Here for all Check-Ins
WHAT: Boy Crazy Psycho Slut
WHERE: The Broadwater (Studio), 1078 Lillian Way
WHY: “… a testament to the complexity of human experience, presented with raw authenticity and an engaging performance that holds us captive from start to finish.”
Click Here for more of Eloise’s “Fringe Femmes” Review on Gia On The Move!
Quick peeks at #HFF23’s “Women on the Fringe” by Fringe Femmes who are behind the scenes this year. Click Here for all Check-Ins
WHO: Rena Kaneta & Hiroshi Hosokawa – Produced by Alice in Project*
WHAT: The Guardians of Wonder
WHERE: Asylum @ McCadden Theatre, 1157 N. McCadden Place
WHY: Nothing is more vital to the arts than the rising need to support the voices of women artists worldwide. As soon as I entered the theatre, a chill of excitement filled my entire body, and I knew I was in for a new theatrical experience. To create new theatre work, one must not be afraid to go outside the box. To have no fear in creating a new path of storytelling is not easy, yet that is exactly what the ensemble and creative team of “The Guardians of Wonder” has done. To have them in Los Angeles sharing this play is a wonderful expansion to our local theatre scene.
The original choreography and sword fighting were exhilarating, surprising and thrilling. The actresses were magnificent and commanded the stage with grace as they fought with power and confidence. The original music and projections truly assisted in creating and setting the play’s tone as a live-action anime visual experience for the audience. My imagination was running wild; I thought of the classic anime shows “Sailor Moon” and “Dragon Ball Z.” The costumes designed by Rena were divine and immersed you into the story with care and clarity. My only regret is that the play ended before I was ready for it to! May we see more of this type of original work when it comes to telling and supporting stories in the theatre? BRAVO! to the entire ensemble and creative team. May you continue to imagine and manifest.
*Alice in Project was founded in 2010 in Japan and focuses on creating theatre shows by young actresses. They collaborate with the local community throughout Japan and provide a professional road for new actresses.
Quick peeks at #HFF23’s “Women on the Fringe” by Fringe Femmes who are behind the scenes this year. Click Here for all Check-Ins
WHAT: Grown Up Orphan Annie
WHERE: The Broadwater (Studio) 1078 Lillian Way
WHY: Fun and endearing! The playwright/actress/singer/songwriter, Katherine Bourne Taylor, delights and entertains with her solo performance of Little Orphan Annie all grown up. Katherine sings and reflects and eulogizes about her long lost father, all the while looking for a new best friend and engaging the audience with a sly smile—to the delight of the audience. There was a lot of laughter and clapping, which was contagious. But don’t be fooled—there are provocative issues woven throughout the clever performance.
by Constance Jaquay Strickland
For the past six months, without knowing it, I have been finding my voice in new ways that are parts terrifying and exciting. To say aloud what my work is, what it is not, what I do, what I do not do, and with whom I do it has been a liberating and profound gift to myself, those I collaborate with, and my physical work.
My physical work is a form of prayer and comes from a sacred place deep within my bones and solar plexes. It is a form of expression rooted in the memory of my ancestors and my present existence in hopes of constructing a physically free future. It has been a wild and long journey to find authentic ways to honor my artistic practice with integrity.
I no longer allow the feelings of others to dictate how I create and move through space. I no longer hold others’ emotions before my own. I no longer allow anyone to tell me what my work is. I no longer share my work in spaces where the work is not understood, cared about, or believed in. I no longer explain my work. I no longer give the work away without a cost. I no longer let my work settle in bodies that can’t be pushed beyond their own comfort.
As I entered a new space with Theatre Roscius, my small, experimental theatre company, and prepared for our Getty Villa residency, challenging questions demanded long conversations with self, and revelations that may have gone unseen in another season simmered to the surface I found I could not swallow pieces of myself, and so I moved swiftly without fear. To move without fear feels so good! I feel free and open to exploring in ways still unseen as time continues to expand and make room for the work to live in its fullest glory.
An extraordinary and priceless gift time has given me is the opportunity to grow as an artist in my most authentic form. To grow outside a colonized system that holds theatre arts in a chokehold. To innovate the form is to break out of a cycle that smothers, dawdles, and limits the theatre in a multitude of heartbreaking ways. To break out of and away from the norm is not easy; it is not enough to merely shout or post about change but to create a new way that is not connected to an old system requires grit and heart.
I continue the work because I believe in theatre artists coming up now, in spaces not highlighted in magazines, social media, or with awards. Those unknown/unseen artists still unknown are actively engaging in that change. They are not trying to change an old system but manifest a new vision! That keeps me in the work, self-producing and building my own theatre/performance artwork archive on my terms.
These next six months will bring a new performance art installation, training abroad, a new residency in New York, and the gift of being in a play that is not my own. This will require energy, stamina, endurance, and the ability to bend with the wind. It will also call for me to know who I am and what my work is.
I no longer move backward. I no longer tolerate being tolerated. I no longer shrink or silence pieces of myself so that others are comfortable, and my work has become more robust, precise, and potent because I refuse to compromise who I am or what my work is. My work lives in the body and needs + thrives on the truth as a tangible commodity.
Tis the season for all those planted seeds that have just begun to find bloom and new life. May the next six months bring clarity, healing, love, laughter, and stillness. For we never know when our time will reveal our end. May all you see —–Manifest.
Okay, so I did make a quiz – its embedded below but also here if you want to find out what your ideal non-wiring job is. But first…
Recently, someone confessed to me that they thought I was a full time writer. Ha.
I’ll admit that when I was a baby writer I actually did think it would be possible to be a full time writer – maybe not easily, but it was POSSIBLE, as in, like, just keep getting better and working on your craft and put yourself out there and eventually it’ll happen.
Obviously I’m still working on figuring this out and realizing there’s a whole part of networking and, you know, SPEAKING OUT LOUD WHAT YOU WANT that I just never learned that is wrapped up in writing careers. That has to do just a TAD with some gender politics, the school system, and the lies of the American Dream, but that’s another blog.
But recently being a writer in almost any medium seems to get harder and harder. The WGA is in the middle of a Writers’ Strike that has put a spotlight on the gigification of one of the few well-paid writing jobs out there. And the event is turning multi-union so let’s hope that what’s happening now will make writing a viable career for those in the future, but there’s no doubt the entertainment industry is shifting.
And AI threatens to fuck over not only creative writers but adjacent jobs like copywriting. In a TRULY bad faith launch during a fucking WRITERS’ STRIKE, Sudowrite launched an AI story engine that is supposed to help write a full book and it’s just a goddamn mess, especially with the ways they maybe used authors’ work for the AI learning without the writers’ knowledge. Clarkesworld magazine had to cut off their submissions earlier this year because of an influx of AI created stories that were clogging up the system. Ted Chiang wrote an article in the New Yorker about how AI functions in many ways to just make the rich richer and disenfranchise the poor, especially when it is used to try to replace workers in response to unionization (in just another example of how AI can be an amazing tool for certain things, but there are fuckers out there who want to just RUIN everything). The fiction world has been slowly crumbling as book advances are shrinking and the underpaid and over-worked editors have been leaving the publishing industry in droves since the pandemic.
Theatres across the country are also shrinking their seasons due to high costs and the slow recovery from the deep shut down days of the pandemic. We lost so many new play development organizations in the last few years, like the Lark, that it feels like…where do we even go?
I think my big dream had always been that I could make half of my income on writing – so like 20 hours of writing-related things a week and 20 hours doing something else, if we’re thinking in terms of a 40-hour work week, which, let’s be real, I have NEVER experienced since I moved to LA as a 22-year-old and worked a full time office job and waitressed on the weekends. That’s basically been my life (60+ hour weeks) except for maybe that one 9-month period where I was severely under-employed right out of grad school – because, surprise, an MFA makes people less interested in you, it seems. But don’t worry. Those other 20 hours were filled with lots of DREAD.
So I always knew I’d need to be doing something else paired with writing – whether that’s me not believing in my abilities or just knowing that my brain would get bored and would want to be building something else. You can decide.
Honestly, I’m always worried that “writing” has become my entire personality. Except for people who have seen my ghost tattoo and so then they can add “ghost stuff” to the list of my two personality traits.
But yo, we still gotta make rent. So whateva! It’s all COOOLLL, dude.
Currently, I work part time as the publicist at the Department of Theatre & New Dance at Cal Poly Pomona, part time as the Development Manager at Invertigo Dance Theatre, and part time as the Associate Artistic Director at Rogue Artists Ensemble. In addition, I write grants on a freelance basis right now for ELLA (Empowering Leadership in Latina Athletes) and have worked with many other nonprofits as opportunities come up. I’ve done a little teaching and often grade for the dance department at USC. I also pick up gigs doing writing projects or directing projects, but this is less often than I’d like.
I think it’s important to be transparent about how writers actually survive in the world. Being a full time writer is achievable, absolutely, but much of it depends on knowing folks and getting lucky, and luck is hard to come by. I feel lucky that so much of my day job work is in the performing arts world or helping nonprofits in general – especially non-profits where I make art (Rogue), and non-profits that have taught me how art and social justice can be gorgeously intertwined (Invertigo Dance Theatre).
Though I often find myself daydreaming about making a living doing something totally divorced from writing and nonprofits (because it’s hard, yo) – like, I don’t know, working at a plant and garden supply store and just taking care of the plants.
Yes, that was a real option I was considering recently. Seemed nice.
It seems that part of our job as writers is to make it seem like we don’t HAVE a DAY JOB. But this is capitalism and, I’m sorry, the money has to come from somewhere. And if people are full time writers but still aren’t getting a living wage (*cough* Writers’ Strike *cough*) then we have to get over the notion of feeling “lucky” to just be in the room and have to “put up” with an unsustainable life.
So what is YOUR day job?
If you’re like me and are always wondering what that day job should be that will perfectly balance your non-writing interests while also supporting your writing habit, I’ve put together a little quiz for you! It’s embedded below.
But really – what is your day job? (I need ideas). Ha.
On November 7th, 2020, I was at a Starbucks in Long Beach, on my way to my mom’s house, when I scrolled through Facebook and saw that Kamala Harris would become the next Vice President of the United States.
The only way I can describe that moment was that it was similar to the first time I saw snow at 20-years-old: shocking, like my brain was taking its sweet time processing something I’ve never seen before.
It wasn’t until 3 hours later, when I watched on my mom’s television our incoming Vice President, that my shock turned into tears down my cheeks, joined with a choked sigh. Because despite my issues with her previous stances & policies, and despite enduring another presidential election in which I felt I was choosing “the lesser of two evils,” a woman, who looked just like me, was going to be the Vice President of the United States.
That day, I believed I was fortunate enough to be witnessing a steppingstone that would change the world for the better.
But how much has really changed?
Since President Biden & Vice President Harris have taken office, the Supreme Court has voted to overturn Roe v. Wade, countless laws have gone into effect throughout the nation that restrict women’s access to healthcare, birth control and abortions, and today, states like Florida are banning books in children’s libraries with subjects related to “wokeness” (whatever that means), including important historical figures throughout history who do not fit the white, male, cisgender narrative.
Being a woman, these days can often feel like one step forward, 50-years-worth-of-steps back; a losing chess game.
But those special moments—moments like seeing Kamala Harris, our first Black-Indian female Vice President, on screen right before our eyes—these are the moments that inspire us to dream of a bigger and better world, moments that are meant to propel us into action. We have a responsibility to keep that momentum going, even when it feels like we’ve fallen behind.
That’s what Hrotsvitha of Gandersheim, a nun in 10th century Germany, invites the audience to consider in Elizabeth Dement’s No Place like Gandersheim.
In the second interview I’ve had the pleasure of doing with Skylight Theatre’s 40th season theatre-makers, I got to sit down with playwright Elizabeth Dement and director Randee Trabitz, to talk time traveling, Catholicism & the film industry, 10th century Germany and women’s rights.
Carolina Pilar Xique: I would love to hear more about the inspiration from this play and who the real “Hrotsvitha of Gandersheim” was. What elements of her life are embedded in this piece?
Elizabeth Demet: The play came out of my experience as a writer, because the play is about a female writer—the first female playwright, who was Hrotsvitha of Gandersheim.
Oftentimes, writers—women writers in particular—get notes that seem to take them farther away from what they initially intended to write, especially in Hollywood. And I was wondering, “How far back does this go?” So I started to look and I landed in 10th century Germany in this abbey with Hrotsvitha. I discovered she was a nun who wrote a sex comedy and I thought, “This is a woman I have to write about.” That’s where I started—in the abbey.
I will say that the play is not historically accurate—it is a comedy, a reimagining of Hrotsvitha’s life, or a life she might have had in a parallel universe. There are certain elements that are accurate: she did live in the abbey, she was a canonist, and she did adapt a play by Terrence, a Roman playwright, and it was a sex comedy. She adapted it to be more of a religious piece, and she was very close friends with the Abbess. They had an intensely loving friendship, and so that character is also in the play. At the time, Otto was the Holy Roman Emperor, his niece was the Mother Superior at Gandersheim, and his wife was Theophanu, who is a wonderful character in the play. I think that’s all the parts that are historically accurate—with everything else, I took a lot of liberties. I had to sort of infer what people’s personalities might have been and what their desires were. And there’s a little time travel in the play, so I don’t think that happened in the 10th century. But who knows?
Randee Trabitz: We’re not sure.
Elizabeth: I didn’t find any in my research.
Carolina: In reading about the production, we could feel your enthusiasm for staging the time travelling that happens in the play. What has that process been like?
Randee: It’s quite a thing—apparently time travel isn’t as easy as I thought. (laughs) It’s been a challenge and it’s been kind of a delicious, creative one. Beth [Elizabeth] has this tendency to write elements into her plays which are like crack for directors. Like, “I don’t know how to do that, but I can’t stop thinking about it.” And time travel is definitely one of those things. I don’t want to give too much away, but there are a few different elements. We’re working with our lead actress, Jamey Hood, who is playing Hrotsvitha and is an extraordinary performer, so capable of many things physically, emotionally, and temperamentally. We’re working with her, our videographer, Shannon Barondeau, and our sound designer, Alma Reyes-Thomas, as well as the rest of the cast who are kind of swirling around the elements to make it possible to happen since Jamey never leaves the stage. So she time travels and stays exactly where she was.
Carolina: There are a lot of parallels between Catholicism & the Theatre/Film Industry being male-controlled spaces. What has that exploration been like? Have there been any surprises in their similarities or differences?
Randee: Even though the play is under 90 minutes, it’s still structurally broken up into 3 acts and 3 places. And we keep discovering more ways that the play refers to itself and we’ve also put in some placeholders in one time period that then refer back to another. I love when there’s something planted early that then we can mine and it comes into fruition sometime later in the play. I think it’s delicious for close-watchers in the audience to start to put those pieces together. We’ve had two very different audiences so far—one that just laughed and laughed, and one that was just very quiet, paying attention, and piecing everything together, and it kind of works on both of those levels.
Elizabeth: The other thing I’ve found in rehearsals is that the play talks about—without explicitly talking about—where these people stand in history at that moment; different eras of history. I find that really interesting and it goes in tandem with what Randee was talking about. Each act talks to the other acts: this is where we were, this is where we are, this is where we’re going; and this is how things changed, and this is how nothing has changed. So there have been lots of discoveries. I knew there was some of that when I wrote it but, of course, you get in the room, and you have these amazing actors and director, and they make all of these discoveries, and when you see it up on its feet, you can physically see the resonance of each time period.
Randee: This has been a long time coming. The play was set to go forward just as the pandemic began; the world has already shifted since then and the play has shifted in response to it, which I think is amazing. There’s a whole other dimension to it now. Ultimately, the way women are placed in the world and the way their voices are listened to is a story as old as time and it’s one that keeps spiraling. In the time-traveling, we’ve been talking a lot about spirals which seems appropriate.
Carolina: How has it changed since the pandemic?
Elizabeth: When I was writing this, Me Too was happening and it’s a component of the piece. And now, Me Too is still very important but it’s not as hot & present an issue as it was in 2017, when there was this cascade of awareness of what women have been going through since the beginning of time. When I wrote the play, that period in the script said, “Present Day” and now I have to put “2017″ or “2018.”
Randee: That’s the part I find really compelling: We’re looking at piece that is now in the past and we’re assuming that we’re post-Me Too but the reality is we’ve just lost interest in talking about it. Something else has supplanted it on the front page but all of those same issues of representation and women’s voices are still problematic. Like Black Lives Matter, we had this swell of interest, but nothing has been fixed. It’s not over, and we’re not progressing beyond that. That’s how the timing has been particularly profound to me.
Elizabeth: It reminds me of a documentary called, “This Changes Everything”—which if you haven’t seen, you should see. It’s fantastic. Basically, they talk a lot about these moments, particularly in movies like Thelma & Louise, where there was all this press saying, “Well this changes everything for women. Now, it’s going to be different.” And not that we haven’t made any progress over the last decades, but we haven’t yet had that moment that changed everything on a level that I think we all crave. In the play, the characters are in time periods where they think it’s that moment when everything is going to change or is changing, and the main character is very obsessed with making change in the world.
Carolina: What has it been like working on this uniquely feminist play with an all-female creative & production team?
Randee: I’ll just out myself and say I’ve never been in that kind of room with all women. It’s quite extraordinary. It’s a new experience on so many levels. There’s a lot of grace, a lot of listening, support, and nobody every raises their voice in anger. It’s not something we have to think about or deal with, which is kind of great. The thing about being my age is that I don’t want to be in this work unless I’m having a good time. And I am having a great time in the room. It’s very pleasant
Elizabeth: From the moment I wrote the play, I wanted this to be all-women, including, ideally, the entire creative team. I didn’t know if people would go along with that request but Skylight & Randee were great to make it happen. When we had our first readthrough… you walk in the room and you go, “Oh my God! It happened!” It’s ephemeral, it’s like alchemical. There’s a vibe in the room that’s just different, and it’s lovely. We have a blast and we make each other laugh. I said to someone else, “There’s never a line for the bathroom because we can use the men and ladies’ rooms in rehearsals.”
Carolina: What do you want audiences to take away after they’ve seen this play?
Elizabeth: I’d love it if people walked away thinking about the play and about history and women and feminism. One of the key messages in the play is that we’ve the same problems for centuries: What’s going to happen in the future? Will there ever be a moment of severe change? I don’t want to say we’re in the exact same spot women were in the 10th century, but we haven’t made as much progress as we would have liked to. And the other part of it is the really human part—there’s a huge discussion about mortality and legacy. What are you leaving behind? What is truly important to you? Those questions come up for the main character and I’m hoping people will be moved by how she responds to them.
Randee: For the longest time, I’ve been aiming at Beth’s reaction to the play when we first did the reading in her living room. We all laughed and laughed and laughed and I looked over at Beth and she was weeping. I want the audience to laugh and enjoy and fall in love with these characters and then, at the end, just burst into tears.
The play speaks to me very profoundly as a creative person and what it is to be an artist—to take it seriously and at what cost? I’m one of the few mothers in the room, and one of my assistants is a young mother of two. I know that it is of great cost to her and her children to be in rehearsal, and I certainly remember those days. It’s a different payment for women than men. That decision to pursue what you care about the most feels like a privilege. So the play definitely speaks to that strongly and loudly. Even with the one man in our room, Gary Grossman, we’ve had this conversation about what it means to still be making theatre at an age when you could have just retired and gone to the beach. That’s the part that makes me cry at the end.
The second play in Skylight’s all femme-penned season, the World Premiere of “No Place Like Gandersheim” by Elizabeth Dement, directed by Randee Trabitz, runs at Skylight Theatre through June 25, 2023. For tickets and information, visit skylighttheatre.org/event/no-place-like-gandersheim/.
by Robin Byrd
“I have never been contained except I made the prison.” – Mari Evans
When it’s hard to write and hard to decide what to share, I have to look deeply at myself…
Sometimes you just have to share it anyway regardless…
because why you are here has a lot to do with what you need to share…
by Cynthia Wands
But this captured the essence of my conversation today with Marilyn Langbehn.
This afternoon, I had a conversation with Marilyn Langbehn, a friend of some 40 years, who is the Artistic Director of the Contra Costa Civic Theatre, and was recently appointed as the General Manager of TheatreWorks in Palo Alto . She is directing CCCT’s current production of “To Master the Art”, which is running through May 21.
I wanted to find out more about her current production, “To Master the Art” which was originally commissioned by Timeline Theatre in Chicago and produced in 2010. The script was written by Chicago playwrights Doug Frew and William Brown and recalls the journey of the French chef, Julia Child with her husband Paul Child in Paris during the 1950’s.
Here’s a description of the play:
“To Master the Art” – Living in Paris in 1948, newlywed Julia Child was left with time on her hands, so she decided to enroll in a cooking class at the prestigious culinary academy, Le Cordon Bleu. She fell in love with the city and its cuisine, and four years later published her seminal cookbook “Mastering the Art of French Cooking”, which helped to bring gourmet French living into many American homes for the first time. With wit and humor and a whole lot of butter, To Master The Art tells Julia’s personal story, illuminating her journey from amateur cookbook author to international food icon.
This interview is from our conversation today (and is edited for clarity and brevity):
C: You’ve been such a champion for reading and producing new scripts, as I know from our collaboration together, but how did you find the script for “To Master the Art”?
M: Well, I went to the American Association of Community Theaters website, and happened on a chat that was amongst the regulars there and somebody in that cohort mentioned “To Master the Art”. And other people chimed in and said we just did that show, and audiences just loved it.
And that piqued my interest as I was struggling to come up with something of that type for our season. I found out through a little research that the show was commissioned by Time Line in Chicago. And so I reached out to my friend Jack, who was the Artistic Director at Theater of Western Springs, west of Chicago, and I asked him about the script.
And he said yes, I know the show, we’ve done it…and I can put you in touch with the playwrights, because the script is unpublished. I said, please do. And so that started a three year long conversation because I announced (that my theatre would produce the script) and then I had to immediately pull it because of Covid. I had announced it for our 2021 season, as the holiday show…And so I kept going back to the playwrights and they were very understanding and patient. I had paid for the royalties and..we just kept hoping and waiting and finally we got a break in whatever this pandemic turned out to be…to produce it.
C: Isn’t it interesting / finding a script that’s not published / that’s been produced before in other theaters…and it’s proved to be successful with that audiences, and it’s shown a good return for those theaters that produced it.
M: And that’s definitely been our experience…the audiences just feel good when they leave the theater. And it has a more serious vein then you might suspect, because the authors weave in the story of Paul Child’s run in with the State Department and CIA.
The thing that I love about this script, among many others, is it really allows us to see Paul as the champion of his wife’s career..without getting too maudlin about. There’s a scene in the play…where you see where Paul really lets Julia have it…and he just explodes. The tie in between the food that we love and the fact that food is an expression of love to the people in your world, is something that’s very clearly articulated in this script.
C: This ties right into my second question: what was it about this script that made you want to direct it?
The things that we’ve just been talking about. The fact that there is a such a clear through line between food and love and community. And – hope. You know, you invest so much into the perfecting of something. That it’s very much like fishing. If you’ll go with me on this analogy…Scarlett, my wife, is the one that articulated this idea to me. That fishing is all about hope. Because you get out there on the water and you just hope that something strikes. But its really not about the fish, its about the experience. And that to me, is a lot about what is happening in this play. It starts with this idea..that I might be good at this. And grows from there, and develops into a real command of self that wasn’t present when Julia first landed there. Julia was certainly a strong woman..but she didn’t have an opportunity to really express that in a way that she found satisfying until she discovered this affinity for cooking.
C: And you actually took a cooking class in Paris earlier this year, at the Cordon Bleu, before you directed this play – did you find that the French cooking class helped inform choices with the script when you directed it?
M: It did. It certainly gave me cred, when I said in rehearsal, that they wouldn’t do it that way at the Cordon Bleu…and I happen to know that. You know me, Cynthia, I love the research piece. I could have been a great dramaturg if I hadn’t become a director…
The cooking class came about accidentally….Scarlett had never been in Paris, I had never been in Amsterdam, and as we were planning our trip to Europe.. I thought I would get my picture taken outside the Cordon Bleu School…and I went online…and sure enough…they offer a couple of classes, and I chose the Praline Choux class…And I had the best time. It was remarkable to be in that space…I learned that having sous chefs is the only way to cook…
C: And you have real cooking, real food, on stage for this play; was that also informed by your cooking class at the Cordon Bleu?
M: Some of it, yes…Part of it was informed by Cordon Bleu…and part of it was informed, oddly enough, by a production of Titus Andronicus that I had just seen at the Globe Theater in London, on this same trip. Because, I know, the production of Titus that I saw, did not have any gore…anything bad that happened to someone…happened to a candle. Candles were chopped with a cleaver, candles were broken in half, candle flames were snuffed out when someone died…but at one moment they put the candles in a blender and turned it on…and I thought: oh, they have a generator on that cart in order to power the blender…it informed me (for this play): how do we turn on the hot plate on stage…without setting the curtains on fire on stage…
C: Tell me about the character of Julia Child in this script..is she discovering her calling with food in the script?
M: She has a moment at the end of the first act, where she realizes that she’s never taken anything very seriously. Except for her husband Paul, and the cat…Paul is known for being one of the most iconic supportive husbands…and he was also an artist.
C: Has everyone in your cast become a foodie?
M: Yes – some of them are coming to that, and some of them were were already there when I cast them…I found out later that one of our cast members was a well known CHILD CHIEF when he was some twelve years old…he knew an awful lot about eggs at the auditions…One of the things I asked the cast members was: what’s your favorite food? Now THAT was fascinating…some of them said mac and cheese…some were a mix of comfort food/historical/cultural foods….one cast member said that champagne is its own food group.
This is one of the loveliest companies I’ve ever worked with…I mean they are – they are mad about each other…the guy that’s plays the chef, he looked at his fellow castmates and asked: “Is it always like this? The way we get along?” And yes, there are the rare ones that come along…
C: What’s been the most challenging part of being an Artistic Director?
M: Oh. I would probably answer that question differently now: Before and After the Pandemic.
Before the Pandemic I think the most most challenging thing was living up to my own expectations about the work. I really pushed myself and the company to expand its notion what was possible on that stage…to expect more from us. We were getting there…
But now, since the pandemic, the question is reckoning on how to serve the community. Because people’s notion of what they’re comfortable spending their time doing – have changed…and a lot of audiences are returning more slowly and a lot of audiences are not coming back…the pandemic just accelerated that.
If you don’t have the luxury of the stalwart aging audience, who are you telling stories to, and what stories do they want to hear? And that should be the story all along…how do you balance robust story telling, meaningful work, and serving the community…
There was a big push, pre-pandemic, where a lot of theaters proudly announced a season of all women’s plays, or all female authors, all female whatever it was as a hook…and it was… ultimately self defeating, because once you’ve done that, how do you keep it up? Because the minute you don’t do it, you’ve fallen off…
C: What can you see happening in theater post Covid?
M: I think a lot of… community theaters, are forced into the lowest common denominator type of programming, because no one is programing Spongebob The Musical because they think its high art, they’re programming it because it can sell tickets. And nothing against Spongebob, jukebox musicals, revivals of musicals about movies… but those kind of choices..the name recognition titles as a survival mechanism…I worry that those choices crowd out new work. And doesn’t leave room for new stories to come out. We get the rare one like Kimberly Akimbo (which I would love to see)…there are the rare new musicals coming out, but as far as new plays (are concerned), in this climate, its hard to make the case for new works at the community theater level. New plays are so much harder to sell, they’re so much more expensive to sell because of a lack of recognition. But on the other hand, the stuff that does have name recognition are usually works by dead white men, or really old white men…
C: I have to say, talking to you today about your current show, and finding out what it takes to find a play, that’s already been produced…but is unpublished…and has such a great connection with the audience, sounds just inspiring. There’s hope there.
M: It’s such fun to watch the audience as they leave the show, they basically don’t know what hit them…but they are grinning from ear to ear. And I keep hearing over and over again as they leave “You know, I’m really hungry.” Which I LOVE. Yeah. Give me more of that.
C: I think that’s a great place to end this interview, because all this talk about cooking, I think I’m kind of hungry –
M: I know I’m starving –
C. I’m going to go off and make myself a ham sandwich!
C: Marilyn: thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and perspectives, so valuable. I’m just so inspired by the work you do, your investment in scripts and actors. You’re a marvel.
I am overwhelmed by the world. I just had that realization as I looked up from my phone. I have a million tabs open on the two monitors in front of me, as I’m on hold with customer service trying to get a doctor’s bill paid while watching a safety training video and taking the quiz. I’m also trying really hard not to lose it on the automated voice that can’t understand me as I answer the tenth menu option through gritted teeth. Oh, did I mention I also have rewrites due?
Wait. Wait. Customer service has answered my call, but she does not sound like she is having a good day. The voice on the other end of the line is huffing and puffing and has not said hello yet.
I hear a click.
What?!?!?!? Did she hang up on me?
No. No. I hear breathing.
She’s still there.
One big huff aaaaannnnnd….Hello, welcome to your Insurance customer service (I don’t want to expose them).
I try to be pleasant and make a joke or two, instead of just screaming/crying/pleading “Why is my insurance not processing my claim? Is Gold PPO not good enough? Is there a Platnum level? Titanium?”
She huffs again. “What seems to be the problem?”
My anger has dissipated and now I’m at a loss. Again, “Just process my claim (a beat or five) please?”
I am typing all this while I’m on the phone with her, so maybe that has helped distract me from the madness. I continue to hear the clicking of her on her computer and heavy sighs and exasperated breaths.
“Well, I don’t know what to tell you. Everything looks good on this side, they must be doing something on their end. What is the problem?”
“Um? They want a “butt” ton of money from me and they say that my insurance won’t accept the claim.” I don’t want to say the wrong thing. I should’ve been taking dictated notes while on the phone with my doctor’s billing office.
“I’m going to send it through again (or something to that effect), it’ll take a bit to process, so check back.”
I am defeated. There is nothing I can do. I don’t know if there was anything I could actually do, but I wanted, no need, to yell at someone. Raise the white flag. “Ok. Thank you. Have a great rest of your day!”
I think I threw her off. I was nice. I didn’t open my can of whoop a$$ like I was ready to.
A deep sigh and “Thank you, you too, have a great night” with a slight bit of surprise in her voice. I guess I’m surprised too. I was thinking I was going to have to ask for a supervisor! Ahhh, the joys of health care and the institution of insurance.
Now what? Oh. I’m searching for a good image to go along with this post, as I look down at the two notebooks and my iPad full of re-write notes. Oh. A ding on my phone. Prescription is ready. Oh, and I have to return those shoes to the store….
My brain is running away again. I never thought I was a procrastinator. In school I was always ahead of schedule, never waiting until the night before to get a 50-page paper done.
Since the new year began, I have been trying to develop a habit of writing, because things work out well if you just sit down and write. It’s like the ideas are there and if you just keep your fingers moving, they’ll end up on the paper and the story will flow, sometimes to places you hadn’t even dreamed of before. I discovered that a few weeks ago when I was on another deadline. I was shocked at how my story took a turn. I hadn’t even thought of going there. But I did. And all thanks to procrastination. So this next rewrite is going to be good! I can feel it. My procrastination is at an all-time high.
Ok. Wish me luck.
I’m going to pick up my prescription. No. I mean I’m going to write.
DING! DING! DING! DING!
Oh, gotta go. That’s the notifications on my work email. I’m covering for someone today.
Happy writing! Jennifer
by Elana Luo
Perhaps it’s been too long since LA theatre has seen a good bloody fight to the death on stage.
School of Night remedies that with “Battlesong of Boudica”, an “epic revenge tragedy” based on the real-life Iceni Warrior Chief Boudica’s uprising against the Roman empire in 61AD. Multi-hyphenate Jen Albert produces, fight choreographs, and stars as the queen herself. Onstage, Jen as Boudica slashes, stabs, and beheads her way through one epic battle after another. Offstage, we chatted a bit about her work as a fight choreographer, being a woman with rage, and stage fighting as catharsis.
Elana Luo: How did you get into fight choreography?
Jen Albert: I went to school in Chicago, I went to Columbia College [for acting]. One of the classes on offer was stage combat, and I immediately knew I wanted to take that . I loved it, and every semester I just kept taking more and more classes and weapons : ‘Now I’ve learned swords, okay, now I’ve learned quarterstaff, okay, now I’ve learned shield.’ I just kept going.
Elana: Why did you want to take that class in the first place?
Jen: I think just as part of being an actor. You watch movies, you watch plays, you see all these actors doing these cool cool stunts and things, and you’re like, ‘I wanna do that.’ And I also think at that time I was an angry person, and I liked to hit things. I think the opportunity to hit things and create a cool fight sequence was just a way to get my rage out.
Elana: I feel like the stereotype is that men are the ones who are angry, or it’s mostly men who want to fight. Do you work with a lot of women who are also full of rage, or this fighting drive?
Jen: Yeah. I don’t know that people see how much rage women actually have. I’m surrounded by women who have rage, for a multitude of reasons. It’s not over being less equal than other folks, it’s the violence. I’m certainly tired of being scared all the time or worried about my life because somebody’s just going to be angry and do something to me. Just in general, you know, we all have rage. The idea that women don’t have rage is silly. I know a lot of very, very, angry women.
Elana: Does the character of Boudica have any special significance to you?
Jen: There’s a scene in the beginning of the play where she’s sort of beating her daughter a little bit. When I read that, I was like, ooh, that’s a lot. And Chris [longtime collaborator Christopher William Johnson, Battlesong of Boudica writer and director] was like, ‘Well, I kind of wrote it to be a bit like your mother.’ And not that my mother was abusive, but she didn’t know any better. That’s how she disciplined. Back in the 80s and 90s, that was not weird, that was standard. And [in the play] it’s 61AD. There was no line about what’s abusive and what’s not. There’s no line about animal sacrifice. These are humans at the beginning of time, doing what they do with what they know how to do.
Elana: So that initial response of ‘oh, I don’t know about that,’ was that modern-day you thinking?
Jen: That was me being the actor going, ‘people are not going to like her.’ And on top of that, later in the play, she burns down entire towns of civilians. She’s not actually a nice person. And so I don’t think we really knew how people were going to receive that.
Elana: When you were playing her, did you feel unlikeable? Did you want people to root for her?
Jen: Honestly, after I read it and started playing it, I didn’t really think about it, nor did I care. I’m playing a human being going through whatever she’s going through, it doesn’t really matter what anybody thinks about it. And if they don’t like her, great! And I think it makes for more interesting drama if we’re [having] feelings about the character. Yes, she’s in the right, but also… not.
Elana: She’s complex!
Jen: I used to… I still get a little irritated when people are like, ‘You’re playing a strong female character.’ I don’t want to play a strong female character. I want to play a complex character. I don’t need her to be strong. Women are not always strong. We get to give in to our vices. We get to be bad. We get to be evil. You know, like, we’re not saints and I don’t want to play a saint. I want to play somebody who’s complicated. She’s not perfect. She’s so not. She gets bloodthirsty!
What do you see as the importance of showing violence on the stage?
I think in our normal lives we don’t normally get to react with violence. And so I think that [the] stage is sort of an outlet for that. I think theater in general is an outlet for feelings and emotions or thoughts, situations that we don’t normally get to have or be a part of. So I think that translates to stage combat as well. It’s just like watching an action movie. We all want to be able to do that or participate in that. It gets our adrenaline going, it gets us excited.
It’s just like musical theater. When the emotions get to be too much, you sing. So when the emotions get to be too much, you are violent. And I always say that an actor has to have a reason to fight. So if it’s executed well, then it supports the emotional context of the show. It’s telling the story as it should be told.
What were your goals with choreographing the fights on this show?
Jen: My goal is always to tell the story. What is the story, what are we trying to say with it? Like with the fight with Camulos [one of Boudica’s many enemies, played by Jesse James Thomas], my goal was to build tension. What I really wanted out of that was for her to make him angry, because that’s her strategy. If he’s angry, he’s gonna be off balance. And Jesse and I talked about this, because we worked on this fight together. And he [as Camulos] plays up the anger of it. Then I [as Boudica] can calm down and go, ‘Okay, great. Now you’re now you’re going to do something stupid.’ So each fight has its own sort of story.
Go see Jen destroy the need to be well-liked, as well as a respectable chunk of the Roman Empire, in School of Night’s Battlesong of Boudica at The Hudson Backstage, running for one more weekend, April 28-30. Click Here for Tickets. For more information about School of Night and what the company is up to next, visit schoolofnight.org.