The Empty Triangle (or, Why American Theatre is Falling Apart)

By Tiffany Antone

I’m wrapping up my week here with an excerpt from my article on why American Theatre is falling apart. It’s a long read (grab your beverage of choice and find a comfy spot to sit for a little while) but I think it’s a useful perspective and it contains actionable steps, so like, it’s not just an “idea” paper, you dig? And then, after you’ve had time to digest, let me know what you think! I’m all about the conversation because nothing survives in a vacuum.

EXCERPT FROM “THEATRE’S EMPTY TRIANGLE”

THE TWEET

Listen, theatre is not inherently a public good. Yes, we say we welcome everyone, but we don’t. There are gatekeepers all over the fucking place, companies get tribal, artists get catty and resentful, ticket prices go up and up and up (not to mention the cost of parking!)… none of this is actually welcoming. What theatre is, (not due to a philosophy, but rather due to its very operation) is collaborative. It takes oodles of people to make a play. And that does mean it has the potential to bring people together. But we have to stop assuming that community is a given. Community is an action.

And that’s why your theatre space, should you own one, needs to be MORE than just a theatre space. It needs to be a third space. It needs to have a coffee shop or wine bar, or sandwich shop… it needs to have reading nooks and community art space, and live music and OPEN FUCKING DOORS. It needs to be integrated into the community — not just plopped down somewhere and offered as a culture stop “because culture is good for you!” Like we’re some kind of soul vitamin.

Theatre can be a soul vitamin, if it wants to, and if it is looked at as an act of service. And I don’t mean it has to be volunteer — service organizations can still pay their personnel. But the inherent philosophy and its actions/engagement need to shore up. If you just want to make plays for people, you ain’t a vitamin; you’re popcorn.

And I like popcorn! I really do! But I don’t need popcorn, you know what I’m saying?

Anyway, what follows is basically a manifesto of sorts, with diagrams, asides, and a lot of research (as much as I could get done, anyway… no one is paying me to write this) And I’m going to be honest: I started working on this before the pandemic, but then the world went sideways and the whole goddamn theatre system screeched to a halt. I almost had a (much more academic version) of what you’re about to read published during year one of the pandemic, but the book fell through, so now I’m publishing here (with a fair bit of swearing) because fuck it. Maybe it will be useful.

FOREWORD

I’m going to start things off with an anecdote. The story is not my own, rather it was told to me years ago and stuck. I’ve employed it in various lesson plans and teaching moments over the years, but it feels especially apropos here.

The story goes like this: A mother is making ham dinner for Easter. She gets out the ham, cuts it in half, places each half into a different baking pan, and puts both in the oven. Her daughter watches all this and asks “Mom, why do you always cut the ham in half?” The mother brushes the question off with “Because that’s how you bake a ham.” Her daughter presses her “I’ve never seen anyone else bake ham that way.” Her mother laughs, “Well, that’s how I’ve always done it.” Her daughter isn’t satisfied though: “Are you trying to cut down the cook time or something?” The mother pauses, annoyed, but realizes in her irritation, that she doesn’t know why she cuts the ham in half. It’s how her mother had taught her to bake ham, and that’s that. She tells her daughter that the reduced cook time is probably the answer, now can they get back to preparing Easter dinner, please?

But the question sticks with the mother, because she doesn’t like not knowing the answer. So that night she calls her mother long distance and after the usual “How do you do’s” and “Happy Easter” chit chat, she asks her why you need to cut a ham in half in order to bake it. Her mother laughs, and says “You don’t.” The woman insists: “But, that’s how you always made ham. And how you taught me to make it!” Her mother thinks a moment… then answers “Are you talking about when you were growing up? In our old house? I had to cut things in half because the oven was so short. Are you still cutting things in half? Lord, that’s funny!” The woman, red cheeked, thanks her mother and never cuts the Easter ham in half again.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

The prevailing theatre model in the US is one that’s been handed down to us. Its design, and the circumstances under which this system was codified, belong to generations past. And yet, we continue to recreate this model again, and again, because “that’s how we’ve always done it.”

And oh lord, are we paying for it now, or what?

Theatres across the country are shuttering their doors, hitting “pause”, and laying off staff in a desperate bid to diagnose the problem so that it can try drafting a cure. But the very system pausing itself, excising its extremities and furloughing its life-blood in the hopes of rebranding, rebooting, and resurrecting itself, IS the problem.

Maybe we should just let it burn?

Because then, like the phoenix rising from its ashes, theatremakers will be able to repurpose the “Theatre That Was” (beautiful, yes, but also transactional, classist, patriarchal, and racist) into the thing that theatre might become: ubiquitous, transformational, inclusive, and sustainable.

And it begins by admitting we’re not all working with the same oven.

THE EMPTY TRIANGLE

So, non-profit Theatre in America — which is a big goddamn country, huge even! — looks pretty homogeneous. Whether it’s a LORT theatre, a community theatre, or something in-between, if it’s a non-profit theatre, chances are good that the organization follows a predictably hierarchal order of operations. Which means it’s probably got a number of administrators working an insane number of hours to keep the theatre operational via ticket sales, grants, and donations. At every level these administrators make choices with the best of intentions: To stay open! So that we can make more theatre! But this top-down model comes with a host of problems — chief among them being that it grants administrators power over the artists they employ while also rewarding themselves with greater financial security.

Which, in brev-speak, boils down to this:

  • Theatre’s administrators, the granting organizations/big donors they must suck-up to, and the critics/tastemakers who whisper-shout about it all, are Theatre’s Gatekeepers. They have the Power.
  • The artists and audience are the only truly necessary part of the Theatre puzzle, but they only get to play if/when the Gatekeepers say so. They make the Magic.

It’s easy to get stuck inside a system of power, know that it’s fucked up, but not be able to pinpoint WHY. Well, here you go, eyeballs — do your thing:

Yes — this is a visual map of the American Theatre Industrial Complex. Ain’t it pretty? Here’s what you’re looking at:

The map diagrams what each of the primary “players” in American Theatre bring to the proverbial party. The cast includes Funders, Theatre Administrators, The Critical Eye, Creators, and Observers. All five of these entities work in service of bringing plays to life in what I have dubbed The Shared Space of Ephemeral Magic (which is just a really fun way to talk about the physical place where Art and Audience meet).

The whole system relies on ideas, prestige, and money to operate. In tracking each entity’s “Power Lines”, you can see what everyone brings into, and takes away from, the Shared Space.

And, as you look at the diagram, you can probably SEE why everything feels broken right now: inequity is literally baked into our prevailing model, making it nearly impossible for any of us to create with equity at the center of our work.

So yeah, it’s pretty clear why we’re all so fucking frustrated.

And yes, there are very real financial reasons theatre currently works the way it does, but the diagram shows us that there are under-valued nexus points already in play in the predominant operating model which we can refocus our energies into mobilizing.

So, if you’re still with me, I’m going to spend a little time breaking the model down for you and address the obvious questions (Why are you calling it the Empty Triangle? What the heck is the Invisible Triangle? Power lines? What? Do you honestly think you can do better?)

To the last point: Yes, and this whole thing ends with a push for us to invest in an Abundant Circle model of practice instead. So hang with me a bit, and then ya’ll can chew things over and decide for yourselves what — if anything — you want to do about it.

READ THE REST OF THE ARTICLE HERE

Playwrights Taking Action

An Invitation

By Tiffany Antone

Photo by Fred Moon on Unsplash

Who’s feeling good about the election? You? Your mom? Aunt Sal? Anyone?

No, I didn’t think so. This moment SUCKS. And we’re exhausted. But we’re also artists. And making art (whether we think of it this way or not) is never NOT a political act. This election is going to suck the life out of many of us if we aren’t careful. But also, we gotta engage hardcore if we don’t want to wake up in a 2025 hellscape.

In 2016 I started Protest Plays Project, which established a really great network of theatremakers who were invested in theatre for social change projects. We created catalogs of protest plays that received readings around the country, and we also created a “Get out the Vote” play initiative. It was a really satisfying way of engaging and activating audiences – but I don’t have the bandwidth to operate the same way I did in my early Protest Plays Project days (kids, amiright?). So I’d like to propose we write our little activist hearts out, post them to New Play Exchange, and push our little protest play babies out into the world from there.

Who’s with me?

THE PROPOSAL: Playwrights write short action oriented plays and upload to NPX using “Get Out the Vote” or “Protest Plays” as the tag. Specify in your synopsis whether or not the play is free to use. I’ve got one up now – it’s totally free for anyone to produce/do a reading of, but not everyone is going to want to make that concession. Just be upfront about it in your description.

TWO DIFFERENT TAGS:

  • GET OUT THE VOTE” plays are non-partisan and seriously just dedicated to inspiring people to vote. These plays are quick, easy to do, and encourage civic responsibility. The best “Get out the Vote” play is funny and memorable, and gets people excited about the voter registration cards available at the door/in the program/on the bar/etc.
  • PROTEST PLAYS” are plays that aim inspire audiences to take action on social issues. They have clear political perspectives and aim to change hearts/minds on specific social issues.

And then we promote the hell out of these plays, we find ways to bring them to our communities, and we encourage our communities to put our plays to work. We refuse to let our institutions sing and dance their way through the election without doing their best to ensure democracy survives. And with two distinct tags, non-profits can shop around for non-partisan “Get Out the Vote” fare without alienating audiences, while activists can search “Protest Plays” to find the hard-core issue plays of their dreams.

Think of the potential impact of every theatre putting on a “Get Out the Vote” play before shows this fall! I mean, come on, a 2 minute pre-show melodrama about the merits of voting costs them NOTHING and could inspire audience members to pick up a voter registration card on their way out the door!

And think about how much righteous indignation the right theatre troupe will bring to your 3-minute “Abortion IS Healthcare!” at pop-up #TheatreActions at farmers markets across the nation!

Listen, I know there’s a lot for us to get through in the next few months. We should write all the postcards, do all the text-banking, and go work the polls! But we can also take steps to get our words working out there in the world as well. This is your official invitation to participate in a collective #TheatreAction event.

And it’s sure as hell better than getting stuck between doom-scrolling and existential paralysis.

Ideas are Dangerous

By Tiffany Antone

Last night there was a tomato growing in my body. I guess a missed nibble had fallen on my thigh and I had (apparently?) never removed it, so of course – because it’s almost always “of course” in Dreamland – it had lain there, ignored so long that it was able to take root in my flesh.

I tried to figure out how extensive the root system was:

“Can I just pull these little roots out by myself, or is this a medical emergency that I’m going to have to go to the doctor for, hatch new medical bills, try to explain (without sounding like a slob) how I DID NOT NOTICE a tomato taking root in my thigh…”

But when I plucked at a little leaf, it sent a twinge into my side, and so I knew it was serious.

“This is going to require medical intervention,” I thought. But then I wondered, could I go on a little weekend vacation first?

Fortunately I woke up at that point, but what the actual f*ck?

We’re moving in a few weeks. (New/bigger house in the same town) and so I’m in the thick of the purge. We moved into this house in a hot panicky leap from a terrible city/awful jobs – which means our last packing job was frantic AF. There were also only three of us at that point, and the third was just 2 years old. Now we are a family of four (plus four cats… does that make us eight?) and there is a lot more STUFF, and there are still boxes from the last move that need going through to see if there is anything useful inside.

There have been some delightful discoveries:

“Here are the refrigerator magnets! I KNEW we didn’t throw them away!”

“Now we have even more binder clips! More than we might ever actually use…”

“Look! Look! ALL of my old glasses! Let’s try them on and revel in the fashion trends of my youth!”

And then there are the floor to ceiling bookshelves bursting at the seams…

Packing books is a tedious job. It’s a little bit Nostalgia Lane meets Tetris. You meet your past selves in the process. “Look, here are the books that made me” (whilst also trying to ascertain if you’ll ever actually read them again) and then you study your box of beloved literary rectangles and try to fit them all together in a feat of spatial wizardry.

The books that made me… I guess ideas are dangerous.

I live in Iowa now, and there are a lot of things about this state that I love, but it is deep in the throes of a political reckoning that scares me. Remember the book banning scene in Field of Dreams? That’s still happening, but with less dramatic irony.

But here I am, looking at the books that stretched and shaped my perspective, and I understand their fear. If you want your children to have the exact same perspective as you, then books are the enemy. Because they are antidotes to ignorance and bigotry. They are a gateway drug to empathy. Books help you see the world through different eyes, and sometimes those eyes don’t see the world the same way once the book ends.

I like to think plays can do the same thing. If a Big Idea plays get produced that is. Sometimes it’s hard to see the Big Idea plays get realized because something-something-short-sighted-gatekeepers/risk-averse-money-men… It’s a mystery.

I dreamt about the tomato after boxing the bookshelf. There I was, seeing my collection of feminist sci-fi, J.R.R. Tolkien masterpieces, multiple philosophical escapades through a future space-time, sitting next to A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius and White Oleander and Jurassic Park and Female Chauvenist Pigs and The Night Watchman and The End of Mr. Y and Raw Shark Texts and The Mists of Avalon and We Play Ourselves and The Sentence and The Actual Star and…

And I knew I wanted to say something about the books that made me.

The Legacy of Patsy Mink

By Alison Minami

Currently I am writing a play based on the life of Patsy Mink (1927-2002), the first woman of color ever to be elected to Congress, for East West Players’ Theatre for Youth Program. The opportunity to write this piece has been so humbling, in no small part, because of the extraordinary life of Patsy Mink, a Japanese American, Hawaii born and raised native, and feminist trailblazer—a life of which I might never have bothered to learn about had I not been asked to write this piece.

Patsy Mink is known most for co-authoring the Title IX legislation (later renamed Title IX: Patsy T. Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act). This landmark law says that any federally funded educational institution must offer equal opportunity and access in any activity or program for all students regardless of gender, race, religion, or any other classification. This law is widely credited for building women’s collegiate athletic programs across the nation. It is because of this law that athletic scholarships for women exist, and that women’s sports programs are funded seriously at all. While Title IX is often most associated with women’s athletics, it has had far reaching impact in all areas of education including, for example, in mitigating sexual harassment on college campuses, creating gender equity in traditionally male dominated areas of study and their related professions, and accommodating students with disabilities.

The drive to draft such legislation was undoubtedly rooted in the many instances of gender discrimination that Mink faced as a woman in the 1940s, 50s, and throughout her career. As a college student at the University of Nebraska, she was denied housing in the dormitories because she was a woman of color, instead, told to go live in the International House, though she was from Hawaii, then a U.S. Territory. She also had her heart set on being a doctor from a very young age, but she was rejected from 12 medical schools. This rejection prompted her to switch gears and attend law school at the University of Chicago where she was one of only two Asian Americans and one of only two women in her class. Upon graduating law school, Mink could not find a job as a lawyer, despite having passed the Hawaii State Bar. The good ole boys’ network (read: old white men and plantation owners to boot) ran the show, and they weren’t about to let a woman, let alone a woman of color, into the club.

In reading about Mink, it is clear that Title IX was just one demonstration of Mink’s enduring core value to fight for equality and against social injustice. Mink entered politics in part because of all the barriers of entry she faced in her other professional endeavors. She yearned to make an impact and to work toward just causes. In Hawaii, she started the Oahu Young Democrats, and when Hawaii officially became a State in 1959, she ran for the House of Representatives. Her friend and political ally, Daniel Inouye, was running for Senate, but when Governor Jack Burns called to request that Inouye stand down and allow his political predecessors to have the Senate seat, Inouye became Mink’s opponent in the House race. Mink lost this race, but she went on to run many, many campaigns.

Notably and aforementioned, in 1964, with the help of her husband John Mink as her campaign manager, Mink became the first woman of color and the first Asian American woman to be elected to Congress. During her first stint in Congress, Mink fought tirelessly for educational equality and for the rights of women and children. Recognized for her anti-war stance regarding Vietnam, despite opposition from her own party, the Oregon Democrats recruited Mink to run for President, making her the first Asian American woman to ever run for the highest office in the land. Years later, during her second stint in Congress in the 90s, Mink would be one of the only members of Congress to vote against the Patriot Act. When she left her house seat the first time for a run for the Senate, she lost and returned to Hawaii. However, this loss did not stop her from political and civic engagement; she went on to run for city council, Mayor of Honolulu and Governor of Hawaii. She won the first and lost the last two races. What I found to be incredible about Mink is her tireless fight and her unwavering conscience. Mink was not under the spell of lobbyists, corporate donors, or party leaders. She was unafraid to speak her mind, loudly and vigorously, even when it meant offending her colleagues or going against unspoken party rules. She withstood any knock down in her life, and then stood up and looked for another door, because the fights she took on were never about her political career, but rather about her advocacy for the poor, the working class, and the disenfranchised.

At a time when so many of us are disillusioned with electoral politics, and the virtually fake democracy in which we live, the life and times of Patsy Mink reminds us (or me) to stop complaining, to not turn into a ball of apathy and cynicism, but rather to believe as Vaclav Havel once wrote “Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.” This, I believe, is the spirit in which Mink lived her life. Her sense of justice and equality and the dignity of all human life is what guided her, and it is what made her a force to be reckoned with.

I realize that you can just go on and google Patsy Mink, but to understand the essence of who she was, I insist that you watch her 1984 DNC Speech. (https://www.c-span.org/video/?c5007067/user-clip-rep-mink-dnc-1984). It reminds me of how hard so many people have fought for the world I live in today, which is certainly not without its faults and atrocities, but is yet and still, a far more just society in many respects than just fifty years ago.

As well, you can read Patsy Mink’s biography Fierce and Fearless (https://nyupress.org/9781479831920/fierce-and-fearless/), by Judy Tzu-Chun Wu and co-authored by Gwendolyn Mink, Patsy Mink’s very own daughter, or watch this wonderful documentary on PBS entitled Ahead of the Majority by Kimberlee Bassford. https://www.pbshawaii.org/patsy-mink-ahead-of-the-majority-2/

As an educator, a woman, a woman of color, an Asian American woman, I am so heartened that East West Players is supporting the telling of Patsy Mink’s life story. Every student in America should know about her legacy.

#FringeFemmes Check-Ins: Mikvah Girls

by Constance Strickland

Quick peeks at #HFF24’s “Women on the Fringe” by Fringe Femmes who are behind the scenes this year. Click Here for all Check-Ins

Fringe Femmes

WHO: Emmy Weismann

WHAT: Mikvah Girls

WHERE: The Broadwater Mainstage,  1078 Lillian Way

WHY: I was immediately drawn into the vivid and delicious writing from Emmy Weismann and invested in the changing lives of Aviva and Chava onstage. We as the audience are given a beautiful opportunity to witness the inner thoughts and workings of a friendship on the brink of morphing, and given an insight into the orthodox Jewish world of a Mikvah, which is usually private.

The play is not only witty and hilarious, it is disturbing and eloquent. Emmy tackles sexual deprivation, domestic violence, the love that exists in female friendships and one’s devotion to culture and heritage while also wanting to honor identity and heart. These are not easy subjects to handle, yet Emma does it with sensitivity, humor and most importantly, love. I also loved hearing the girls speak Hebrew during the play. What makes a great play is its ability to capture the heart in ways that remind us we are connected as humans. I need not know what they were saying, for my body understood. The beautiful ensemble showed us the many shades and variations of what it means to live as an orthodox Jewish girl. Maya Knell, Rachel Wender and Sofia Joanna don’t hold anything back.

HOW: https://www.hollywoodfringe.org/projects/6394

photo by Annie Lesser

#FringeFemmes Check-Ins: Revolution With Ramón

by Heather Dowling

Quick peeks at #HFF24’s “Women on the Fringe” by Fringe Femmes who are behind the scenes this year. Click Here for all Check-Ins

Fringe Femmes

WHO: Ruby Marez

WHAT: Revolution With Ramón

WHERE: Zephyr Theatre, 7456 Melrose Av

WHY: As you walk into the Zephyr Theatre, you realize immediately that you are in for a very playful ride. You are now on the set of The Ramon Show, hosted by queer, Puerto Rican Drag King Ramón for a live taping of a socially conscious Late Night Comedy Show. There are bubbles, there are dragons, there are prizes… but then, there are powerful – but still playful – conversations with important social impact, right now, for all of us. In the “taping” I attended, there was a revelation about renter’s rights that was a MAJOR contribution for so many in the audience. If social and civics lesson were always this engaging, we’d all be better off.

HOW: https://www.hollywoodfringe.org/projects/10982

Click Here to Find More “Women on the Fringe!”

#FringeFemmes Check-Ins: The Anti “Yogi”

by Constance Strickland

Quick peeks at #HFF24’s “Women on the Fringe” by Fringe Femmes who are behind the scenes this year. Click Here for all Check-Ins

Fringe Femmes

WHO: Mayuri Bhandari

WHAT: The Anti “Yogi”

WHERE: Zephyr Theatre, 7456 Melrose Av

WHY: Because Mayuri onstage is a force to be reckoned with. Because she not only gives us a history of yoga but also the very importance of its existence in a context never discussed. Because her relationship with her musician Neel onstage transcends the show on levels my body is still digesting. Because she addresses the audience without fear of retribution. Because she names the white cultural appropriation and colonization of yoga in such a direct manner that you undeniably understand the effects it can have, not only on a culture but also on one’s identity. Because she gives form to numerous characters and deities in a physical manner that is a pleasure to witness. 

I loved being in the audience – Mayuri’s energy and commitment to her work are contagious. The performance she gives is personal, a revelation of self, and as she embodies her parents you are given a generous glimpse into the dynamics of an Indian family, something we need more of in the theatre. This magnetic offering rewrites the falsities of yoga and takes back the power of an ancient practice that starts with the self and goes way beyond the practice of physical postures.

HOW: https://www.hollywoodfringe.org/projects/10384 (Stay updated at inktr.ee/theantiyogi)

#FringeFemmes Check-Ins: The Princess Strikes Back

by Azo Safo

Quick peeks at #HFF24’s “Women on the Fringe” by Fringe Femmes who are behind the scenes this year. Click Here for all Check-Ins

Fringe Femmes

WHO: Victoria Montalbano

WHAT: The Princess Strikes Back: One Woman’s Search for the Space Cowboy of her Dreams 

WHERE: Asylum @ Stephanie Feury Studio Theatre, 5636 Melrose Av

WHY: Chicago-based Writer/Actor Victoria Montalbano opens the show dressed in a sexy Princess Leia outfit, making it clear that this show will have Star Wars references and that the heroine will be badass!  She cleverly incorporates Star Wars references into a very interesting and relatable life story filled with messy relationships, life lessons and ultimately a transformation that is so very satisfying to witness.  Montalbano does not shy away from the details, including her experiences with online dating – she once dated a C-3PO.  A majority of the audience members this particular evening happened to be women and we were smitten with her. Montalbano knows how to tell a good story. As one audience member accurately said after her show, she is charming! The show is funny and the writing  is crisp, detailed and exciting – EVEN if you have never watched Star Wars.  She’s a relatable performer who entertained and made us cheer for her the whole evening.  This show has one more performance and deserves a good, boisterous audience! 

HOW: https://www.hollywoodfringe.org/projects/10624

Click Here to Find More “Women on the Fringe!”

#FringeFemmes Check-Ins: Late Sunday Afternoon, Early Sunday Evening

by Constance Strickland

Quick peeks at #HFF24’s “Women on the Fringe” by Fringe Femmes who are behind the scenes this year. Click Here for all Check-Ins

Fringe Femmes

WHO: Jean Lennox Toddie

WHAT: Late Sunday Afternoon, Early Sunday Evening

WHERE: The Hobgoblin Playhouse, 6440 Santa Monica Bl

WHY: I thought of my grandmother Addie Mae Brown as I watched this ever-changing but full-of-love relationship between a grandmother and her granddaughter [producer/performer Vee Kumari and Sanchita Malik]. This play is a mighty and much-needed gem that is beautifully written by Jean Lennox Toddie. It features a rarely explored cross-generational relationship and validates the importance of us needing to see a wide range of relationships and ages onstage, where women have the opportunity to explore their inner emotional lives and have the space and projects to express them. This is the type of play that is vital to the American Theatre canon and deserves and needs to be uplifted and supported. You can call it a feminist play but ultimately it is a play exploring what it means to be human. How do we live our best and fullest lives in the face of aging and how can we spend the time we have left?  It was a great delight to see the South Indian textiles; to have cultural references only elevated this necessary piece of theatre. It was a wonderful treat to see Vee onstage whose craft as well as her accumulated years on the stage were priceless lessons.

HOW: https://www.hollywoodfringe.org/projects/10684

#FringeFemmes 2024: Meet Carmen Kartini Rohde

By Constance Strickland

June is here and “Women on the Fringe” are again onstage!

There is nothing quite like the buzz that’s created during the Hollywood Fringe. It is a time filled with risk-taking, courage, hope and independent artists creating new work by any means necessary. Each year, I ask women writers a new series of questions influenced by the Proust Questionnaire and Bernard Pivot’s French series, “Bouillon de Culture.” The goal is to understand the artist’s work and their full nature while allowing them a space to reveal their authentic self. It is a great gift and a true honor to introduce women who will be presenting work in myriad genres, exploring a wide range of topics that allow us to examine who we are as individuals and as a society.

Introducing Carmen Kartini Rohde and her show, “Low on Milk.”

Carmen Kartini Rohde

Constance: What do you hope audience members take away after experiencing your show?

Carmen: Low on Milk is a musical comedy about a mother who struggles with breastfeeding and must battle the zombie apocalypse to find formula for her newborn. With this play, I want mothers to feel seen. The invisible load of motherhood can be so overwhelming and is not celebrated enough. Mothers are societally expected to feed the kids and keep a happy home, but we don’t always see the journey it takes to complete a simple task like putting food on the table. During a formula shortage and when you feel like your body has failed you in breastfeeding, it can be ridiculously hard, so we might as well sing about it. I hope broader audiences enjoy the show as well and walk away having laughed, quoting lines and singing show tunes.

Constance: What’s been your biggest challenge regarding your development/creation process?

Carmen: It all starts with believing in yourself and in your ideas. A lot of internal work happens before you crack open Final Draft and type up your script. You hope that your idea is worthy enough to invite a group of artists to come together to memorize lines, play piano and trust that an audience will find you. Then it’s all the logistics of producing: getting all your ducks in a row and managing all the moving pieces that come with a theatre production. It’s a challenge, but it’s super fun.

Constance: What are you enjoying most as you create your show?

Carmen: I come from an improv and sketch comedy background, so I love allowing space for collaboration and seeing how actors interpret the characters I wrote. I love hearing a musician add magic to the melodies with different instrumentation.

Constance: What has been the most surprising discovery?

Carmen: That male audience members who aren’t parents found the show entertaining!

Constance: The work will be given away soon. How does that feel?

Carmen: It’s bittersweet, like sending your child off to college. We did our homework together, and bought all the dorm room supplies necessary for a comfortable landing. Now it’s about trusting the process and letting your art live on outside your womb.

Constance: How long have you been sitting with this work?

Carmen: I’ve wanted to produce a musical since I was 13. And I came up with Low on Milk before even contemplating motherhood, when I kept reading about the formula shortage and thought how terrible that must be. Then I had a baby and lived how terrible that is. I added songs and scenes after experiencing birth, lactation consultants, doulas and all the bells & whistles that come with new motherhood, so this project has been gestating for a few years.

Constance: Why Fringe? Why this year?

Carmen: It was probably the worst time in my life to take on a project as big as putting on a musical. I have a baby at home, so I’m not exactly sitting in a field of heather at a typewriter with the winds blowing songs into my ear. With this in mind, I felt like my wit’s end was probably also the perfect time to do Fringe and embrace the joyful and frantic energy that only Hollywood Fringe provides. A theatre production is a lack of sleep and no control over the elements, it needs my constant attention and love. Kind of like a baby. Happy Fringe, everyone!

For info and tickets visit https://www.hollywoodfringe.org/projects/10555