WHY: Look! I was not ready for the vision of what Simone manifested upon the stage with her wonderful cast of actors. This play is a BIG idea piece that asks its audience to think BIG on a multitude of levels which gave the work a thrilling and relevant edge.
VICE asks you to ask questions about the society you are living and actively participating in. How will you exist and can you exist as a whole person within its current structure? I was fully absorbed and allowed myself to be taken into this utopian sci-fi live theatre film that felt like a new form of theatre. VICE felt familiar in that over the past couple of years as a country we have known devastation, yet we also know hope and we remember that human rights are worth fighting for. This play blows up all one’s expectations in the most special and subtle of ways.
WHY: I cannot lie: my heart broke in tiny pieces as I slowly realized the shame and confusion Kira had carried for years believing she was white. I was hit hard in the gut in a new way that was not familiar because Kira had unleashed an often quiet elephant in the room, the idea of white skin being superior – this gift of whiteness existing on high levels in our country and around the world, simmering still.
This hurtful reality of how Black people are seen by other people of color – and in some instances by other Black people – becomes clearer when we see Kira transform into her Ecuadorian mother, and lean into the audience as her Black father whispers “spooks” to a young Kira. A subtle stillness occurs in some audience members, while an uncomfortable laugh comes from others as the word hits the space. You know that this girl, right in front of you, right now, will not allow her past to hijack her future. Yet just as Kira gently breaks your heart she picks up the pieces in a contagious fervor and we see HER: a beautiful Afro-Latina young woman living her best life, no longer afraid to own her identity. We witness Kira loving herself, a splendid joy that arises deep down in the solar plexus, and when Kira starts to sing “I’m Growing Out my Afro” in all her glory, you start to believe that letting go of societal lies, shedding dead weight, and facing old pains will free your entire being.
This year there was a powerful thread occurring throughout the Hollywood Fringe: No more will we carry falsities of white superiority and propaganda by a white patriarchal system!
WHY: There are many moments in the theatre that knock us outside of ourselves, but I dare say it is a rare moment to be reminded of what it means to be human. This is exactly what Veronica does, and in such a naturally commanding way that it takes your breath away.
As Veronica takes us on her journey of transitioning from Carey (not some other person, really) to Veronica (her full self), we share her experiences from couch surfing to having to sleep in her car (with her favorite vices and snacks and a dying phone used as a tv) and we immediately understand the grit it takes to survive in Los Angeles. There is a moment when Veronica decides to go make-up shopping for some damn foundation! (I mean what woman hasn’t felt foreign with the stress of having to “find” your color!) This was hilarious, yet did not steal away from the urgency in which Veronica is fighting for her life. We walk away seeing a woman who was determined to honor herself – a truly powerful moment on stage, as it reinforced that humor makes way for healing. I left this seamless show believing it will save lives. I have no doubt Veronica will continue to be a beacon of light for so many of us in her community and beyond. This beautiful journey she is on as an artist will make the American Theatre richer.
WHY: Because Azo Safo was a magical sight to behold onstage. Because each time Azo moved her body through space we were swept away to Morocco. Because each time Azo turns in the air like a magician I literally begin to see Khajida’s face, the way she tips her head when she speaks. Because I heard her mother’s voice and found deep laughter (as I know a few Armenian mothers in Glendale!).
Because I, too, fell in love with Mohammed, the villagers (even Sidi), I found I was not quite ready to yet leave these characters, either. Because onstage I saw a whole woman who had connected the dots of her life and was able to find delight and satisfaction, understand the pain, and reckon with the future. Because I Heart Maroc was a beautiful gift to – or perhaps for – the spirit. Because when Azo swallows a tear, no words are needed. We the audience completely understand and honor the story, her story she shared with us.
WHY: EGG was a wild, ridiculous, unexpected ride! Erin investigates the age-old question that women in their thirties battle with, if we have not made a clear decision on motherhood: should I, will I, must I, can I give birth?! Erin undertakes this heavy topic with music, dancing, and absurdity that reveals a tendernerness in approaching a truly sensitive subject that differs and is personal for every woman. Erin’s boldness and bravery made me imagine I was having a real, grown ass conversation with a girlfriend who knows you, really knows you. This solo show really shines when Erin is in her element, moving with no sound. For it’s all there, and through her body we understand all that she could not say with words.
We know that when there is cultural and racial equality in theatre, it makes room for artists from all walks of life to contribute to the history of theatre. This past year has reinforced what we have been doing at LAFPI – putting women of all kinds first! It is vital that we make space and open doors wider for women from all cultural backgrounds if we are to have a bold, forward thinking American Theatre that reflects America.
Vice is a two act sci-fi live theatre film hybrid that explores the devastation and hope that can arise within imagined futures. The piece ultimately asks: How can you fight to survive when you have been programmed out of existence? How can you reach someone whose vice is a reality where you do not exist?
I’m always overwhelmed with emotion when I discover the many minds of women who exist in our community. That there is space and room for us all to exist and the more space we make the more original pieces that begin to sprout. What I love about Simone is that she is willing to risk and take a unique approach to theatre making and telling stories. In her own words, “The words we say, the things we do, and the stories we tell have immeasurable power to change our world.” Simone approaches her work with great intention and the process is deeply rooted in care for the weight of the work, those who contribute to making it, and those who receive it whether the form be poetry, dance, music, sound or performance.
(And Vice is also playing at at the Zephyr, in a great part of Melrose where cocktails and food go hand and hand – you’re sure to catch a show that is original and innovative!)
Constance: What do you hope audience members take away after experiencing your show?
Simone: Vice is a piece that asks more questions than it answers: Who will be the new gatekeepers of the worlds imagined? Who will be left out? In the worlds and realities of the future, who will be fighting to be seen and heard and believed? As we continue building fantastic worlds through digital spaces that augment and alter our realities, I hope audiences consider their role in shaping individual and collective relationships to emerging technologies and to our governing systems. I hope they consider how the many choices they make, large and small, affect what is to come. I want folks to sit with the gravity of that responsibility.
Constance: What’s been your biggest challenge in terms of your development/creation process?
Simone: Time has certainly been a challenge. I didn’t have a script when we pitched the idea for Vice this spring, but it was a story concept that had been percolating for a while. I wanted to take on the challenge of writing and developing the first iteration of this play for the Hollywood Fringe while the festival was choosing to use a hybrid format. The writing and rehearsal process moved very quickly, but it was important to me that we stage this production at this moment. I’m incredibly grateful for the hard work of our wonderful cast and crew in realizing this piece so quickly.
Constance: What are you enjoying most as you create your show?
Simone: It was such a joy to write this script and share it with the artists who have been part of the creative process. I am really enjoying making a piece of live theatre again. The actors have been excited to dive in and play, and world building with the design team has been a dream. It’s been a real team effort, and I am very grateful for the wonderful people who have made this show possible.
Constance: The work will be given away soon – how does that feel?
Simone: It feels incredibly exciting to be sharing Vice with the world.
Constance: How long have you been sitting with this work? Why Fringe? Why this year?
Simone: About a year into the pandemic my partner, Rich Johnson, and I decided we really wanted to develop a piece of theatre that was designed for the hybrid film-theatre medium that had been emerging . We talked a lot about what kind of story we could tell that would be enhanced by being a true hybrid rather than a live-stream of a play done out of pure necessity. Rich and I spent a lot of time working on a shared vision for how a live film could be immersive and push the boundaries of what live theatre could look like in a virtual stream, even on a low budget. For us, it was incredibly exciting to envision a dual production – the live theatre performance and live film – that could be equally engaging for audiences in the physical space and online.
When the Hollywood Fringe Festival put out the call for scholarship pitches for this year’s hybrid festival, we decided it was the perfect opportunity to try our hand at this. We pitched an idea for a play I’d had a while back about a not too distant future where rapidly advancing technologies threatened to erase entire classes of people. It seemed like the right time for this kind of narrative – one that deals with marginalization and invisibility, things I’ve been weighing heavily this year as an Asian-American woman. After Centrifuge Arts received news about our scholarship win, I went full steam ahead with the writing process, and Vice became our first true film-theatre hybrid production. It has been a thrilling creative challenge to carry out, and I hope audiences are as excited by it as we are.
Constance: Anything else that must be said – please add!
Simone: We want as many folks as possible to come see Vice! Folks can visit vice.eventbrite.com and use these promo codes: VICE10 ($10 off in-person shows). VICE5 ($5 off live-stream tickets).
WHY: I may not have enough words in my vocabulary or a creative palette expansive enough to express what a great joy and honor it was to watch Diana sit upon the stage and fill it with her whole being and spirit. She’s a natural actress, but I knew was also watching a talented technician at work as I witnessed her cleverness and her comedic timing, along with her ease of performing like a true theatre veteran. As I learned more about Diana and her personal journey, her quest for love revealed a common thread: that most little girls dream about a prince charming as we dress up as princesses and play “house.” Diana’s show is a huge gift and just the start – or shall I say continuation? – of a long theatrical legacy.
WHY: As soon as Verenice appears upon the stage you know you are in the presence of a truly special artist. Verenice has the rare ability to spin language into poetry, and the way she attacks the stage with her body steals your heart from start to finish of her beautiful solo show. I caught myself holding my breath as Verenice confessed personal truths of family obligations, and stories of facing generational traditions while chasing dreams filled my soul with gentle familiarity. The vulnerability of this young artist makes you feel as if you’re witnessing a sacred rite of passage. After the show, as I got in the car, I sat and sobbed and the only way I could express that overwhelming feeling in my gut was to ask myself, “Have you ever seen a Brown girl fly?” I have no doubt the sensation this show leaves in the body is the spirit of the Fringe. This is what the future looks like in the theatre when artists are uplifted and supported. Go see this beautiful Brown girl manifest her future on her own terms!
WHY: It’s hard to believe as you view Tanya physicalize thirty-five characters onstage – free, beautiful and vulnerable with the lights shining on her – that she was ever uncomfortable in her own skin. Tanya takes us on a global journey into Singapore’s culture as we find a woman battling for her identity, self-acceptance, and self-love… while discovering that colonialism has terrorized, infested and affected beauty standards around the world.
WatchingTanya’s solo show, I was reminded of the magic and necessity of sharing world dialogues onstage. Naturally Tan is a potent testament to how having a variety of bodies – different colors and forms – grace the stage as storytelling vessels expands the scope of American theatre. Multifaceted and multicultural theatre is essentially human and reminds us all of our similarities rather than our differences.
WHY: Black Woman In Deep Waterwas a breath of fresh air. As Makena floated onto the stage I was immediately transported to another time when choices came hard, in harsh conditions, for Black bodies. Makena brings us the powerful and heartbreaking story of Margaret Garner, a woman forced to make a horrific choice between a life of slavery or death.
It was the way Makena took what could be a tragic story but instead made space for love that became a lesson for the heart. It was the way music came from Makena’s voice that turned pain into poetry. It was the way she made room for silence while allowing us to take her in. It was the way she bridged the gap from Africa to America as she began to speak in the mother tongue that stirred old emotions and the everlasting old questions many Black Americans hold in the back of their mind and hearts: Where do I come from? What part of Africa am I birthed from? Ghana? Nigeria? Sudan?
Yet as I watched Makena onstage, the feeling of being lost began to fade. In her performance I found a connection to the past and it was not a reminder, but a memory of my ancestors’ perseverance and the whisper of Dr. Maya Angelou’s words: “I am the dream and the hope of the slave. I rise. I rise. I rise.”