Skeletal Adjustments (to scripts and lives and legs)

by Cynthia Wands

A tree in Ojai that I photographed because I loved its structure

I’m in the final stages of finishing a script that has been part of my writing life for the last two years. This one. This one has been in my dreams, at my desk, in the car, at the doctors, while I’m eating. When I’m watching television. It’s there. I’m in a workshop (thank you Jennie Webb!) where I can sense the whole of it, the shape, the kinks, and the reach. It’s a lot like a chiropractic session for the writing soul.

I’ve been able to finish other projects while working on this – but this one has me in it’s orbit. I want it to be able to stand up on it’s own and fly and sing. Or run. Or get the kinks out.

And the kinks can hurt. Especially if I sense my comprehension and my grasp are not quite in alignment with my imagination.

I think about this when I’m in physical therapy for alignment issues ~ after a surgery some years ago, one leg is now longer than the other (hmm, I notice I didn’t say one leg is now shorter than the other….) andI’m working on balance and centering and core strength. The tune “Straighten Up and Fly Right” comes to mind here.

As I’m being twisted and tinked with there at physical therapy, lots of images come to mind. A tea party with lots of different tea cups, each character voice in the script presenting a different view/color/shape. And another image: when you let yeast rise, and add the flour, a bit of sugar, and shape it so it will rise. That’s a bit like writing. And when it rises – yeast willing – its part of the ingredients, and the heat of the water, and the particulars of that day’s weather. And that’s a part of writing. But it’s this last bit. Where you take the whole of it and shape it – and you form it into the final bread/play/idea. You can see that my mind flies to food and tea and writing when I’m going through the motions at physical therapy – it’s a kind of refuge when I’m being handled by strangers.

So I’m in this shaping phase. I see this play has a whole different intention than what I started out with – and that’s how much this script has taught me .

Here’s to the upcoming tea, when I can celebrate the end of play. The closing of this writing chapter. And letting these characters fly.

My collection of teacups – a reminder of the different voices and shapes in the world

A New Adaptation of Uncle Vanya

by Cynthia Wands

The PBS showing of the version adapted by Conor McPherson

I hope you get to see this PBS broadcast of UNCLE VANYA, it is truly stunning and I felt such a rush of gratitude and inspiration watching it.

Not at all Chekhov productions have thrilled me – having performed in and watched many versions of the scripts, I can vouch for their mind draining boredom if they go askew. The balance of what is said and what is felt is unique to this playwright’s light touch, and I loved this version.

The playwright is Conor McPherson, an Irish playwright, who has written other adaptations, and has had critical success with his plays on Broadway and on the West End. I liked his earlier play, THE WEIR, but hadn’t really tracked his other work. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conor_McPherson)

This adaptation of UNCLE VANYA had to be adapted for filming, after the production was shuttered because of the COVID pandemic. They picked up the production in the fall, and filmed it on the set at the Harold Pinter Theatre where it was supposed to play in March of 2020.

I wanted to include a review of the production, because it shows the great attachment that people can have towards Chekhov, on what is deemed acceptable in the staging of his works.

https://mdtheatreguide.com/2021/05/theatre-review-anton-chekhovs-uncle-vanya-at-the-harold-pinter-theatre-on-pbs-great-performances/

But mostly, I hope you get to see the work of these incredible actors, because their artistry helps inform us of what we can do as playwrights when they are as passionate and uninhibited and generous as these two artists:

https://www.pbs.org/video/richard-armitage-and-rosalind-eleazar-uncle-vanya-2rbqhx/

it’s not just “stuff”

by Rasika Mathur

And now, the really difficult part of this purge begins.

My sister has ordered me to downsize every bit of this house as much as I can. What I hear is, “get rid of every last shred of your existence.”

So whenever I look at this side of my now otherwise emptied out closet, I choke.

What is making this difficult for me, someone who gets easily attached to pieces of nostalgia (see last two entries publishing my childhood journals and dusting off an old win) is that I have become a slave to my own tendency to anthropomorphize the stuffed animal.

Holding their rightful place on the throne bed

L-R, That’s Teresa and Vanessa Gertz, they’re sisters, because look at the button noses. Yet two totally different manufacturers! There’s Heart, she came from Circus Circus in Vegas (from the unforgettable trip mentioned in my diary). Billy Bob and his son Bobber velcroed into his arms. Daisy, a Puppet, who is a Princess, and her best friend, Prince Mouse Jean, Spot and Lil’ Ripples, whose dad is Ruffles. But Ruffles wished not to be photographed, as my dog just chewed his face off yesterday.

You see, they all have family relations. They all have a personality, history, love matches, favorite interests, college majors. One summer, we even made them a Yearbook!

You know those summers where you were so bored, you cracked the 9th dimension of your own creative abilities? And I wouldn’t even find weed for another 20 years!

I’m not gonna lie. This is so cute.

Everyone was treated fairly, switching off nights to sleep with me. My sister and I saw the good, bad, and the ugly times with these wonderful companions. When they would put on plays and concerts and have interactions, I was unleashing and practicing 70 or so different character voices, fostering another early talent. When she outgrew them, I continued to lean on them for moral support through some of my bigger endeavors. Bringing along a few to the several big city adventures I’d go on would always make me feel like I had a piece of home with me. To Austin for college. To Chicago for my first job. To LA for….LA.

Hey, Melissa, Tom and Daphne (not pictured) even went with me to Burning )|( Man!

In Dust we trust!

Tom and Melissa renewed their vows there. And then, tragically, 4 years later, Melissa perished in the Thomas Fire. She was stuffed into a drawer that I didn’t get to empty. Tom now grieves quietly, stoically, sitting in the passenger seat of my car, so that he can go with me everywhere.

Please. Comment below and tell me how I am supposed to let go of these treasures. Make a bonfire, B)|(M style to ritualize the letting go? Give them away to some of the beloved children in my life? Give the ones I didn’t bond with that much to the neighborhood dogs who need to chew a face off?

I am owned by them, “The Gang.” My heart hurts even as I write this.

I am a prisoner of my own creation.

For more cute, follow Rasika on IG | @jalapenopopper2012

For more mind galactic, follow Rasika on IG | @funnyogini

dusting off an old win

by Rasika Mathur

So I’m on the hunt for treasure in the parents’ garage, furiously forming garbage, recycle, shred and keep piles, when I come across this envelope.

Oh my! It has the FONT and THICKNESS of buried treasure…

What’s all this?? I won an award, for my poem “Pollution?” I don’t know what is more adorable — the certificate or my environmental concern packaged into rhyming verse.

I gotta see this poem. I don’t remember submitting “Pollution” to a Poetry contest. I open up the vanilla-colored paper, and there it is, in all its Dot-Matrix printed glory:

Ok, so it looks like by poem, I meant rap. I get it. It was 1990. I was obviously channeling the heavy influences of Bell Biv Devoe, Digital Underground, Young M.C. and Salt ‘N Pepa. This is back when I was obsessed with In Living Color. Weren’t you?

The World of Poetry was obviously so charmed with me and my progressive vibe and youthful expression, that the following year, they invited me to fly to New York City to present the poem in person! On my own dime!

Possible $20,000 and celebrity status? For my humble little rap??

I CANNOT BELIEVE MY MOM AND I DIDN’T GO DO THIS. Who knows who I could have become if I’d performed my Golden Poem for them?! Maybe I’d have a tenth of Amanda Gorman’s success and accolades! Maybe I’d find Toastmasters early! Maybe I would have gotten the attention of a Mr. Arsenio Hall and gotten invited to come on and perform on his show! And then word would get around to Damon and Keenen Ivory Wayans! Maybe I’d crossover to get my TV Sketch Comedy career going! Become a spokeswoman for a reputable pet food brand! Do some foot modeling! Get jaded! Hit the bottles afterward! Find pot a decade early! What a glorious sliding door fantasy!

Ohhhhh boy, and there it is. I actually JUST dug up — in the middle of blogging this entry — an entire notebook devoted to my (do-you-believe-me-now) obsession with In Living Color.

Dopamine hits of newsprint.

My Heroes.

So. this was me in 1990. A weird girl who loved comedy, rap, and the planet Earth. Wonder who she turned out to be.

You can follow Rasika on Instagram @funnyogini and @jalapenopopper2012 to find out.

publishing my childhood journals

by Rasika Mathur

When I was younger, I had a chance to read “The Diary of Anne Frank.”

Though I was not close to the caliber of peril she found herself in, I became inspired to someday publish my own childhood journals.

Then, in 2017, those journals ended up burning alongside everything else in my residence in Ojai, CA during The Thomas Wildfire.

Then, 5 months ago, I came back to Louisiana to purge my aging parents’ house, and just this past weekend, have recovered stacks of journals, notebooks and diaries, kept unharmed inside of a Winnie-The-Pooh and Tigger Toy Box.

These are my stories.

(LAW & ORDER SFX)

Dear Diary was so adorable, so used up, so SUPER private. Check out that lock. I wouldn’t realize until decades later that these tiny fakey locks can be opened by many a generic key.

I wonder if that trip to California was powerful enough to plant a seed in this Houston girl.

Now, right away, it’s quite easy to spot that there is an adversary to my heroine.

Ruchi is my older sister. She’s written about quite a bit.

As you can see, all of this anger is completely justified. Cohesive arguments are documented.

I will refrain from providing circumstantial evidence of New Kids on the Block merchandise.

Of course, let the record also show that today, this woman is a Saint to me, and to so many others. In fact, on the day I dug up these journals, this was my iPhone’s reminder photo to me, taken the Christmas after the Thomas Fire.

The difference between us is that she STILL goes to New Kids on the Block concerts as an adult woman.

I also found the entry where I describe my very first nervous breakdown at age 11…

…followed by my very first major defeat. Spelling Bees were serious business. Of course, decades later I would break all this down in therapy. The way I describe it here is so innocent. I only remember that the incident changed my life, and that that crippling anxiety followed me everywhere. I had no understanding of it’s enormity here. Did I? I know that I say I hit my head. But, I actually pulled my hair out, and my parents walked in on my freak out, and had no idea what was wrong with me, or how to console or help me. So much pressure on a poor sweet kid.

That’s the poor sweet kid. With my first dog.
I earned him by learning how to take care of him. Mr. Nolan Ryan Mathur.

And of course, because Anne Frank was such a huge influence to me in my memoir writing, I wanted to include these pages, the last ones in this particular diary. Remember how we get to watch Anne grow up and go through changes as the pages go on? I do, too.

Spoiler alert: I go on to write many more journals, plays, scripts and blogs.

Opening up

During this time of lockdown, I never felt stifled or thought I had writer’s block. But it wasn’t until this past week, as the world slowly opened up did I realize how I wasn’t writing.

Walking around the city like a tourist. Taking pictures of the sites, then finding a local watering hole with patio seating was eye opening. Throughout the day I took in the sites, the people and views. I wanted to find a place a sit. Observations that could add to something I’m writing later.

When I was in lockdown, unable to leave the house, I wrote. And I got a few things done. But it wasn’t until I was able once again to write in a bar that I discovered what I was missing. Visual stimulation. New views and places allowed me to realize how I can use random journal entries to further my writing. To give my characters depth and a place to wonder and live.

I have been using writing prompts and taken oh so many writing classes in an effort to get something written. Which didn’t. Trying to generate work. To figure how to write a play. How do I start? I am still looking for the sweet spot, the secret to finishing a play.

Any tips would be appreciated!

The Red Lion

Cheers,

Jenn

Poetry in Phases

As part of a New Year’s Non-Resolution Resolution (see this previous link: https://lafpi.com/author/zury-margarita-ruiz/) I have been receiving poetry in the mail with the hope I might be INSPIRED to create. What? Anything.

While there’s been some brainstorming here and there, I have not done much creating… not just yet. While previously there would have been some uneasiness with this, its something I’m choosing not to be frustrated or anxious about. Sometimes there are other things to focus on and that’s just where I’m at.

But I’ve loved receiving poetry. I just love that it’s a letter from my friend that she’s put together with so much love and consideration. I love how much possibility it holds. And then the poetry itself– I love the sentiment of other people’s words, those stories, the deeper meanings and what I take from them. I’ve sort of thought of them as anchors to a place where I want to get back to, and I will.

In consideration of your own inspiration, Dear Reader, here are the poems…

PHASE ONE (January 2021 – March 2021)

First Wedding Dance by Marcelo Hernandez Castillo

https://poets.org/poem/first-wedding-dance

PHASE TWO (April 2021 – June 2021)

Ars Poetica with a Galaxy in It by Diannely Antigua

https://www.tele-artmag.com/306a-diannely-antigua

REMINDER: What Comes After #LEAVINGLASA, A Town Hall for the LA Theatre Community

As of this post, there are two hours remaining until the live stream begins for this important town hall for the LA Theatre Community. To register, please visit this link: https://www.joyjackson.org/events

Hope to see you there!

Phase 3: In Continuum

by: Constance Strickland

On July 7th, 2020 I sent the first email of three to LA Stage Alliance after I received a forwarded email that was meant to be sent out to members only. As I read the attached letter it seemed to be a letter welcoming discussion, feedback, and opinions – so I sent mine. I never heard back from anyone and this, to me, reflected a lack of resources and a broken system. A system that was not able to hear a wide array of voices nor did it seem to be accessible to share information nor learn more about our expansive theatre community from another perspective.

For the past four years I have been studying, researching, writing, debating + discussing the state of American theatre with a focus on the Los Angeles theatre community. The question I am always left with to ask is: How did a craft that relies so heavily on community and interconnectedness become exclusive? How do we actively create an accessible, available theatre community that makes room for all theatrical talent in Los Angeles to lend their voices to a new American Theatre?

I will say that Independent theatre artists engage in the very act of doing their own work by any means necessary. The very act of self-producing and finding a venue to present their work breaks traditional theatre hierarchies that have been kept exclusive by “Gatekeepers” – and let it be known these “Gatekeepers” are not only affiliated with predominantly white institutions. Power and control manifest themselves in subtle ways and we must beware of their foul intentions in all its many forms and faces. Yet, is there not a way to bridge the gap between academic theatre artists and grassroots theatre artists? Can we find a way to build a theatre community that makes room for trajectory and growth for all local theatre artists? How can we build a community of consistency, where grassroots artists can produce a play at The Complex or The Lounge and have it supported to the next level? It is time we, with love, in love, hold any organization or movement accountable that decides to take on the leadership role of representing the LA theatre community. There should be no lack of transparency nor should there be any fear in holding any organization accountable when it comes to representing the multi-faceted Los Angeles theatre community. It can be easy and engrained to uplift the same voices and ideas but let us not go back to normal and the familiar. Instead, let us honor what time has made way for, and may we rise up together for – a new and better way to build a representative theatre community.

I pose these concerns because I love theatre and I love all the artists I have collaborated with, encountered at theatre shows, as well as the artists I have witnessed on stage, in a variety of performance theatre spaces that often go overlooked. I pose these questions as a form of ritual that is sacred when creating theatre. What does community mean? What does it mean to bridge divides within a community? I always have to go back to Bell Hooks: that empowerment, that activism, that information must be accessible in order for change to truly occur on any level in a community.

Now that LASA has disbanded we find ourselves as a community in ripe times that are not to be taken lightly. We should all be welcoming a fresh slate to the changing and widening landscape that exists in our Los Angeles theatre community. May we lift our voices, show our faces and fight for the type of equity we wish to see in Los Angeles. Can we welcome new ideas, bold actions, and brave visionaries to lead us into creating a powerful, thrilling, and inclusive theatre community? I know we can and are. The time is now.

There is a Town Hall for the LA Theatre community being hosted by a fantastic group, the Joy Jackson Initiative. (There is also a Community Jamboard for members to include their dreams, wishes, hopes, and ideas. You can Click Here to add your voice.) The community meeting will occur on April 13th, 2021 at 6pm PT – TOMORROW!

Link for registering for the Town Hall:

The email I sent to LA Stage Alliance:

“My name is Constance Strickland. I am Creative Director of Theatre Roscius, an experimental theatre company.

My reason for emailing today is due to my concern over the future of LASA + Ovation Awards.

It is a wonderful gift the Ovation Awards has celebrated L.A Theatre for 45 years but I’m truly concerned about how it excludes half of our Los Angeles Theatre community if you are an Independent Theatre Artist your work goes overlooked. This precedent that has been set ignores half of the Los Angeles Theatre Community and cheats us all of being truly connected and there is no real gage of the wide depth of talent existing in our city. For we all do the work for the love of theatre. We all honor storytelling and understand our theatre lineage must be rooted together if we are truly to build a New American Theatre Theatre for our city.

I hope as the Ovation team takes time away. I hope you see that patterns have occurred with many voices left out. That Los Angeles Theatre has many faces and we all win when artists of all backgrounds, Union or Non-Union are lifted up and welcomed into the L.A theatre community. When a widespread of BIPOC and Independent Theatre Artists of Color are being seen, being really supported then we need not have issues of space rental, membership fees, equity debates. There is no elitism and new work can continue to be developed on high levels to be shared and supported because there is acceptability. For we all know we have an unlimited amount of talent right here in our own front yard.

May the Ovation Team enter the next 45 years as visionaries who have the fortitude to see a new and broader Los Angeles Theatre Community that is not separated- instead is interconnected.”  

Thank you-Have a powerful week,

Constance Strickland”

Phase 2: Endurance

by: Constance Strickland

I grew up in the high heat of Arizona. Endurance is a necessary skill needed in order to survive the long summers. I grew up playing + swimming in the community parks. I grew up the only little Black girl in my school between Indian School & Camelback Road. Within those busy roads was a winding street called Lafayette, where I first dreamed of telling stories with my body. I can still remember the age I became aware of the color of my skin from another human’s perspective. I can still remember the awareness of my body’s shape as it took a new form. Its ability to go through space. I soon discovered I would need to find ways to continue in harsh environments. The power ‘to go through’ is sacred, and even now, how I engage physically in space before building a new work has become ritual. 

Endurance. I’ve come to see endurance as unseen magic. It spun itself and filled me up with pure will. Endurance made way for me to manifest Theatre Roscius. I used recycled fuel, my backyard, an old friend during the hottest summer, and I set off to build my first play from the ground up. Since then, I’ve created three new theatre works, three interdisciplinary art pieces, a collection of poetry, four short collage plays, and six short films, all using the body as the vehicle to tell stories that seek to heal the body, mind + spirit of women. Although I’m still learning, still finding my voice, I honor the time – the energy it took to get here, to be in this moment right now. 

I thank endurance for saving me from myself, for pushing me on days when I didn’t think I could continue. I thank endurance for giving me the courage and the energy to build an anthology of work that is innovative, intimate, and reflects the women in my community who often go unseen. I thank endurance for giving me space to take risks.

Endurance. An old flame. A skill I harnessed. I swear, when hope and courage aren’t enough, I’ve learned endurance is magical adrenaline that will see you through, helping you go through even when you feel you’ve run out of fuel to continue.