I used to think that I needed to clear my plate before I could sit down to write. Bills had to be paid, phone calls and emails had to be returned, and any emotional or physical turmoil had to be addressed before I could clear my head and give myself permission to sit down at the keyboard to write.
I used to think that way. And then my brother-in-law jumped off a freeway overpass. I discovered that chaos demands the written word.
My mother used to say April was the cruelest month. Everything bad happened in April. It must be genetic because I found April to be awful as well…though in recent years, my horribilis mensis shifted to March. The month started off in its usual rotten way – stomach flu, a cracked tooth. And then the jump.
The brother-in-law had been the sole caregiver for his wife, a woman my age who’d had a stroke six months earlier and was left with dementia. He kept saying everything was fine. A visit to their house proved that it wasn’t. Both were taken to the ER. She was shifted to a psychiatric hospital, he was released. Twice. And then he jumped. He survived, but broke just about every bone in his body.
And then the stupid minutia began. We couldn’t find the house keys, which meant we couldn’t lock up his house. The police threatened to tow his car, but the hospital wouldn’t give us his car key. The insurance company demanded the wife be moved, but the new hospital couldn’t find her.
But in the middle of the tornado, I found myself carving out an hour here and there to write, to spend time with my fictional Mendoza family, researching snakes and basement windows and scenes about learning to drive and partisan politics. I NEEDED that other place where I could control the chaos.
It will be a long process, picking up the pieces. But once things settle down, I’ve learned a lesson I’ll long remember: the emails and bills and self doubts can wait. I have something more important to do right now. I need to write.
Kitty Felde is author of The Fina Mendoza Mysteries series of books and podcasts. Welcome to Washington Fina Mendoza will be released in July, 2023 by Chesapeake Press. Her ensemble play A Patch of Earth, a courtroom drama about the Bosnian War, is now available on Amazon.
Read the rejection letter. No, really read it. Read the language. Is it a form rejection or do you think whoever rejected you really thought about each word? Did they copy and paste something an intern wrote, or did their heart break over this letter to you because you were just shy of glory, they fought for you, even, and they are seriously considering whether they can even stick around after this, the travesty of your rejection, but anyway, no, yeah, sincerely, respectfully, best wishes, see you next time.
What time did the rejection letter come in? If it was an email, look at that time stamp. Is it business hours? Or did they schedule it to come late at night when they’d least expect anyone would be looking at email…but of course you were because you’re you, which means always, a little bit, hoping the next thing that’s going to change your life will be sitting in your inbox. So you were in bed or on the toilet and then it was there, staring at you, and you’d definitely look strange if you replied right then so you were forced to become one of those people who don’t react right away, who let things sit for an appropriate amount of time before responding. But do they expect a response? Would that be weird? Do you seem angry if you don’t respond but desperate if you do? Which is better?
If they sent you a letter through the mail, look at the postage. When was it mailed? How long ago did they know you were being rejected and you had to wait for the news, a week or two’s delay like you’re in a Bronte novel (any of the three Brontes). Even your mail carrier knew before you, just by the thinness of the letter, and you wonder if you’ll ever be able to look him in the face again – though of course you don’t even know what he looks like and are pretty sure you have a rotating group of different carriers and you don’t have time to build a relationship with each and every one and figure out who delivered this precious object just so you could avoid them. No, you are a modern woman who is very busy. Whoever the mail carrier is, he could tell it was a rejection by feel, that there’s a single sheet of paper paired with a little return envelope with a plea for a donation. So you clutch the rejection letter to your chest and stare out the window at the storm clouds brewing and wonder if that’s a wet signature at the end of the letter, if they actually signed there name with real regrets, or if they made a stamp for the rejecting person’s signature and that poor intern, again, sat there. Stamping away.
Imagine being a person who is so important, who rejects so many writers from things, that a signature stamp is made. In the early days, maybe their hand cramped from signing so many rejection letters and it shut the entire organization down because of that, so, you know, the stamp.
Share a screenshot of the letter with your group chat. Obsess over how quickly or slowly people respond with condolences, offers to murder the leadership of the rejecting organization, or with positive, affirming advice about you being so close / everything happens for a reason / they seemed to really love you though. Obsess even MORE about those who don’t respond to you at all. Find one true or comforting thing someone says and hold onto those words like they are a dying star.
Did you have an interview before the rejection? Start from number 1 again using your (quite perfect and unbiased) memory to analyze everything said and unsaid in that meeting.
Wonder if there was a mistake. Not a THEM mistake, but a YOU mistake. Did you mess up some small technical thing like leaving your name on something that was supposed to be blind? Did you use Ariel instead of Times New Roman? You’re pretty sure your margins are one inch but maybe you should check. You read once that if your resume is too fancy in its layout, AI at companies won’t read it properly and you never get into an applicant pool to begin with. So that could be the reason. There’s an AI who couldn’t read your CV, or, let’s face it, was just jealous and trashed your application.
It’s time to put it behind you. Look at your spreadsheet that tracks submissions or madly dash through your notes or confirmation emails. What should you be hearing from next? Note a date if they provided one. Make a Google calendar for yourself so you are sure to put time aside to work through this list for the next one.
Let anger fuel a renewed sense of injustice. Gatekeepers are not the answer! It’s time to publish/produce/otherwise realize your work on your own! But you can’t afford it. Okay. So, obsess over your low wages at your day job. Obsess over how many hours you actually work past the number specified in your job description. Those are writing hours they are taking from you! But if you work that much, you should be rich by now right? What IS capitalism anyway?
Start planning the overthrow of capitalism and the socialist revolution. No. Something better. Outside validation is fueled by white supremacy in a false scarcity system that demands perfectionism and productivity. Vow to never feel exactly how the man wants you to feel again.
Read the list of the Chosen Winners/Fellows/Beloveds for this particular writing opportunity once it is announced on Twitter or whatever, and sometimes even before you get the rejection. Why did they get it over you? Obsess over their bios, follow them on Instagram, read every page of their website, try to figure out their age to compare it to everything you’ve been able to accomplish in more (probably) years than them. Wonder what you’ve even be doing with your time.
What even is an artist statement anyway? Maybe you should rewrite yours. Maybe you should radically rewrite it. But what would THEY want to see? Obsess over not obsessing about what they want to see.
Or maybe it’s the play/story/writing. Maybe the play/story/writing just sucks. Read the work over and over. Look for all its flaws like a pageant mom. Yell at the writing for being so imperfect, so ugly, for trying so hard.
On your fifth read, fall in love with the play/story/writing all over again. Your baby deserves this opportunity and so much more. They don’t even understand what they are missing out on. Find the next opportunity. Hell, find 15 new opportunities.
After you send the applications, with your new radical artist statement and proofread writing, obsess over when you’re going to hear from these opportunities. Make sure you have the time open in your calendar in case they invite you, in case you have to travel. Because you will have to. Because you are going to get this. Your play is just that good and your artist statement is FIRE now, so there’s absolutely nothing, not anything, that could go wrong.
I can’t be the first to admit that the pandemic has made me cynical.
Maybe it wasn’t the pandemic itself—it’s more apt to blame an (ironically) mandarin-tinted ex-federal leader of the United States for inciting violence primarily toward People of Color, regularly denying the existence and persistence of a deadly disease that paralyzed the entire world for 3 years, and dividing whole groups of people for political gain. But, truthfully, it was also the hours I spent endlessly scrolling through Karen videos on TikTok that did it. During this awful time of immense stress and lack of control, there was something comforting about silently scrutinizing people I didn’t know from the safety of my bedroom.
For the last 3 years, I was so focused on the differences of opinions I had with others that, in this reintegration into “normal life,” I’m remembering why it’s important to also consider what makes us the same, especially in such life-or-death circumstances as we all have been experiencing. Understandably, we had to learn to be defensive in the height of the pandemic to protect ourselves and our loved ones. Now, it’s time for compassion.
Erlina Ortiz invites the audience back to a standard of compassion in the West Coast premiere of La Egoista at Skylight Theatre Company. Her self-proclaimed “pandemic play” (although, not exactly in the way you might think) follows the rocky relationship of two sisters who are called to set aside their differences during a life-altering health crisis. For what is family, if not the people who you would sacrifice everything for?
I got to sit down on Zoom with Erlina Ortiz and director Daphnie Sicre to talk more in depth about the significance of this play, right here and now, in an endemic Los Angeles.
Carolina Pilar Xique for LAFPI: Tell me about the process. Erlina, how did you start this piece and how has it grown?
Erlina Ortiz: The piece actually started as a 10-minute play that was commissioned [by Live & In Color] during the pandemic: write a piece about two people in two separate spaces communicating in a virtual capacity—like on Zoom—so that two actors in different spaces could perform it. So that gave me the idea, “What would cause two people who want to be near each other, to be far away?” I had a lot of themes rolling around in my head about caregiving and having to define a new normal that we were all going through. Then a year later, that same company got funding to commission one full-length play and they reached out to me and asked if I was interested. I said I was if I can use the same characters as before and expand on it. So, I dove in with all the ingredients.
At this point I knew that I wanted one of the characters to be doing stand-up during the show and have her comedy be an aspect of the storytelling, so I was writing the jokes. From there, I submitted it to the LTC (Latinx Theatre Commons) Comedy Carnaval. (I was like, “Well, I have this play that I just finished a couple of months ago. I just had a reading of it and there’s stuff that still needs work but I know it’s strong—and it has a comedian in it!”) I submitted and most of the folks who have directed the piece so far connected with it because they were on the reading committee for LTC or they were involved in choosing the plays. After the [Comedy Carnaval] presentation in Denver, that’s when the productions came along.
Daphnie Sicre: We were like, “Ring Ring! Can we direct your show?” (laughs)
Carolina:Daphnie, how has the rehearsal process been? Have your thoughts about the play evolved since you first read it?
Daphnie: I will say this: my thoughts haven’t evolved about the play. I still feel just as passionate and I love it just as much even though I’m exhausted and tired. (laughs) You don’t often get a play where you’ve had 28 rehearsals and you’re still laughing. That doesn’t often happen. And so to be this deep in rehearsals and still be laughing, to me, speaks volumes.
The process has been incredibly intense because there are a lot of factors involved in the production. Erlina is asking the actor who plays Josefina to not only just act, but to also be a puppeteer and a stand-up comic, and so the play needs a really strong actor who can do these three things.
Both actors had to learn puppeteering so we brought in a puppeteering consultant to sit in on rehearsals with them. We also brought in a consultant to work with Lyse [Perez, the actor playing Josefina] to learn how to be a stand-up comedian: what are the rules of stand-up, and what stand-up entails. In both sessions we had with the consultants, I learned so much. They taught in a way that was so enlightening for me as a director and for the actors as well. So, process-wise, I’ve definitely been learning and enjoying and laughing. And I can’t ask for more than that when you think about it, because I don’t always get to do that!
Carolina: Can both of you talk a little bit about this question: Why this play, today, here, right now?
Erlina: In the pandemic, everyone said that playwrights were going to come out with their pandemic plays. But everyone was like, “I don’t want to read a pandemic play. Maybe in 10 years, I’ll read a pandemic play, but while we’re still living in it, I don’t want to read about it.”
This is my pandemic play in the way that we were all faced with this new reality: our own mortality and healthcare, which is a big theme in the piece. So many of us were faced with the questions, “Who do I give my attention to? Where do my priorities lie now that this crisis has hit?” A lot of people had to drop everything because they were ill or because they had to take care of somebody who was ill during the pandemic. I think that that is the main thing we—across age, race, gender—can all relate to: ourselves or someone else dealing with a health issue and the questions, choices, and sacrifices that come up with dealing with that.
Also, it’s time to hear more of our stories as Latine folks, and not just stories that have to do with a very specific Latine issue—often centered around the trauma of border-crossing or things like that. These sisters are just Latina (laughs). They just are. They don’t have to explain it, they don’t have to talk about it. It informs every aspect of their lives, but it’s not the point of the play. It resonates with folks: the universality of the story but also the specific story of these two sisters.
Daphnie: Ditto, ditto, ditto. For me, first of all, is the importance of the healthcare issue. That’s the realism that you’re looking at in the play—it’s the dealing with this healthcare system, the waiting on the phone for an answer, the doctors not knowing what’s wrong with you, having to go through procedures, experiencing the shit you have to experience when you’re sick and ill, and not knowing if you’re going to get better, and the doctors not knowing if you’re going to get better, and thinking you’re going to get better and then getting worse—all while dealing with healthcare, pain & bills.
There’s a scene that really digs into that and the audience during previews nodded in agreement. You could tell that they’ve experienced that. It’s crazy but that’s the reality of the healthcare system in the United States. Having to make the choice of not going to the ER because it’s expensive, or the fact that you no longer have sick days because you’ve used sick days taking care of your family members and your work doesn’t allow for that. That’s the society we’re living in and that is key and essential to the story. But it’s also this beautiful story of sisterhood and these two Latina sisters, who are very different but the same. Their relationship isn’t easy, but it’s so real.
Erlina: I think that’s also maybe another thing that makes it of the moment, is that a lot of people right now are dealing with the realities of everything that happened post-2016 [presidential election]. A lot of families might have very different beliefs between different family members. There’s a lot of folks that have to dig into love, even in moments of disagreement. That’s what these sisters do for each other, too. Despite having completely different worldviews, they go back to the love they’ve had for each other since childhood and that’s what keeps them going. People need that right now to get us through this time.
Daphnie: When I read this play, I think about Generation Z & Millennials and how they are overcoming toxic families, generational trauma, and are really confronting it in a way that I haven’t seen in older generations. I believe that in a lot of Latine families we were raised—especially as women, as Latinas—to be the caregivers. There’s a sort of unwritten rule of assumption that we will take care of our own parents as they get older and put everything else in our lives on the wayside for our family. What most plays don’t talk about—but this play does—is what that does to caregivers.
This play is about two caregivers: Betsaida taking care of her mother, and Josefina now taking care of Betsaida. We need to talk about what it does to us, what we end up sacrificing, and how we put ourselves second for others. What does it mean to give up on a dream or goal that you’ve been working so hard to achieve? Anyone who has had to give up a dream that they’ve had for so long for someone else that they love is going to resonate with this play.
Carolina: Do you have a sister/someone like a sister in your life? What have they taught you?
Erlina: I grew up with brothers. I have some [younger] sisters, and—in talking about what you sacrifice and keep in your life—I’m actually raising my 13-year-old sister. While writing this play, I was signing guardianship paperwork for her, so that was prevalent in my head. From her I’ve learned a lot. I’ve learned how to be a parent and learned how to forgive my own preteen self for the things I’d do and the way I felt about myself. I’m seeing similarities between me and her, but I don’t worry about her at all because I was more of a mess.
I think that the relationship with my two brothers that I grew up with is actually more reflective of the relationship between Josefina & Betsaida. Josefina is a lot like my older brother: somebody who likes to push buttons, likes to annoy you, likes to instigate. My little brother has been sick his whole life and I’ve had a lot of guilt over the years. We were friends as kids, but then for many years as adults, we never hung out. When I was finally in my mid-twenties and he was in his early twenties, we hung out as adults for the first time. Now even when we don’t see each other or talk to each other after a while, we have this central, strong connection between us. It’s the same for my older brother, too.
Daphnie: I have an older brother and we are so incredibly different. We have different political ideologies that could not be more radically different. And my brother loves to instigate and fuck with me all the time. He takes so much joy in it. It drives me crazy. But because of him, I’m able to see the other side of how other people think politically, and it fascinates me. It’s the same thing for him—we look at each other and can’t understand how we can be so different. But I love him. I absolutely love him and everything about him, even his awful political ideologies. And I miss him.
There’s a powerful part in the play where Betsaida reminds Josefina, “You didn’t call me for 4 months.” And sometimes, it’s like that. That to me is the essence of family & siblinghood, and we see that in this play. We see two completely different people who love each other very much, would do anything for each other, and would sacrifice for each other even though they see the world so differently. I think it’s beautiful and honest because it exists in all our relationships.
The first play in Skylight’s all femme-penned season, the West Coast Premiere of La Egoista by Erlina Ortiz, directed by Daphnie Sicre, runs at Skylight Theatre through April 9, 2023. ASL Interpreted performance on March 19. For tickets and information, visit skylighttheatre.org/event/la-egoista.
Right from the first unsettling anecdote about a boyfriend who’s a serial killer, Mara Nelson-Greenberg’s Do You Feel Anger grabs you by the throat. Or ear. The play itself hounds an empathy coach who is assigned to teach at a debt collection agency, where the two sole emotions that the male employees can name are hunger and “horn” (horniness). Meanwhile, the only woman at the agency scampers around furtively, terrified of her male colleagues. As the training ekes along, one might begin to wonder exactly how much compassion there is to go around, not only in the office.
The play upsets the typical office drama in favor of dollop after dollop of absurdism. As a director, I figured the key to putting together this piece would be to gather a cast and crew willing to go as far as Nelson-Greenberg’s extremes. Some people say 80-90% of directing is casting, and I imagine that this play was no exception.
I spoke with Director Halena Kays, who confirmed that casting and collaboration were indeed key to putting the production together. Many of the characters are challenging and incredibly outré, demanding their actors to do and say outlandish things with nonchalance and whip-sharp comedic timing. The cast uniformly rises to the task, which I suspect is the result of dozens of rehearsals of exploring just how far one must push to meet a character (and at times in this play, caricature).
Kays saw the world premiere at the Humana Festival of New American Plays in 2018, and experiencing the play for the first time, she was impressed with Nelson-Greenberg’s bravery in writing about a difficult issue and managing to turn it into a comedy. Kays tells me that during rehearsals, the cast somehow managed to find humanity and complexity in the monstrous characters, creating a beautiful, deeply unfunny play that left the realm of comedy. So, they pulled back. But going so far may have helped them understand where those characters stood as antagonists, resulting in the ridiculous but dangerous performances of the final production.
This story is one that could work no where else other than the stage, as the audience leans forward and recoils as the stage crackles with danger and surprises. You know how every sentence will end…exactly none of the time. The seemingly simple office setting turns into a flaming, molding brawling ground—or breeding ground. Who knows the difference? Certainly not these debt collectors.
I laughed, nervously and delightedly, throughout, and positively cried at the end. Go see this if you have a beating heart. And when it’s through, perhaps you too will feel a little angered, or saddened, or entertained, or hungry.
“Do You Feel Anger” runs through February 25 at Circle X Theatre. For tickets and information, visit circlextheatre.org
Los Angeles Female Playwrights Initiative is a sponsored project of Fractured Atlas, a non‐profit arts service organization. Contributions for the charitable purposes of LAFPI must be made payable to “Fractured Atlas” only and are tax‐deductible to the extent permitted by law.
I didn’t get to know many elderly people as a child growing up in a family that moved frequently, and we had only rare visits with extended family. My father was in the military and we relocated according to his next assignment in the Air Force, which meant we lived in a bubble of other young, middle class, and rigidly insular, people.
My mother’s Irish parents were elderly, and affectionate in an offhand way – but they weren’t accessible to sharing anything intimate or challenging. Their accelerated aging seem like a horrific journey into dementia and neglect. As a child I remember thinking that I didn’t want to look like them. (They looked “old”.) My father’s parents were a Scottish/Presbyterian clan, vital and athletic and keen of mind: until they aged in their eighties. And then, stroke and illness eventually robbed them of their earlier beauty. My attachment to who they were, prevented me from finding more of the beautiful and poignant aspects of their aging.
I don’t see many older faces in the television and movies and theatre that are available to me. (I’m also sequestered at home, so that limits what I can access.) But I’m constantly flipping the channel of my television, looking for faces of interesting, evolved, older people. I have dear and heart close friends who are in their eighties and nineties and I’m so grateful to be able to witness our time together, in whatever age and shape we’re in now.
I recently discovered an artist, Jonas Peterson, who is creating a series of images called: Youth is wasted on the young. He uses a AI (Artificial Intelligence) program called Midjourney. Here’s what he has to say about this process:
The idea behind “Youth is wasted on the young” was to celebrate the so called old, a comment on ageism if you want. A positive quiet homage to people who’ve seen more than us, been there, done that and I wanted their confidence and pride to be seen. I used fashion to show off their personalities, their attitude and inner rebels shining through the facade of age. I’m a photographer and interested in both styling and fashion, but these aren’t photos and the clothes are not real. Instead I’ve used artificial intelligence to create the scenes, the people and what they’re wearing. I give specific direction using words only to a program, lenses, angles, camera choice, color theme, colors, styling, backgrounds, attitude and overall look and the AI goes to work, it sends back suggestions and more often than not it’s completely wrong, so I try other ways to describe what I’m after, change wording, move phrases around and try to get the AI to understand the mood. It’s frustrating mostly, the AI is still learning, but getting any collaborator to understand you can be difficult no matter if it’s a human or a machine. After a long stretch of trial and error I get closer to a style and look I want and after that it comes down to curation, picking the renders I believe go well together, I start making it a series. To me the process is similar to that of a film director’s, I direct the AI the same way they would talk to an actor or set designer, it’s a process, we try over and over again until we get it right. Should I get all the credit? God, no, the AI creates with my help and direction, it’s a collaboration between a real brain and an artificial one. I’ve been open with that and you don’t need to go back many posts to realize I’ve used AI for this. I answered comments, but no matter how many times I said it was created using AI through MidJourney, other people asked the exact same thing over and over again, so I simply stopped. I’m not here to debate the process, I’m a professional photographer, writer and artist myself, I understand the implications, how this will affect many creative fields in the future. I’m simply using a tool available to me to tell stories, the same way I’ve always told stories – to move people. To me that is the point of this, not how I did it. Dissecting something will almost always kill it.
Youth is wasted on the young:
I found his images to be wonderfully fantastic. Having worked with “digital art” for the last few years, I know how flat the medium can seem. I love how these people seem to have their own style and a world that they inhabit. I love the colors and the fashion and the hair. What characters. What stories in these images. Here is some of the artwork that he has shared:
Here is where you can find more of his artwork, and some of his musings on body size, aegism, AI artwork and more. Seeing these images this week has really cheered me up – I hope they do the same for you.
Also, a more complete look at his work can be found on Instagram:
I’ve been writing a script about the Covid Years. In blissful ignorance when I started writing it over a year ago, I thought we would have a time when we were done with Covid Years. And looking at the Los Angeles County numbers, and the consensus of friends who have recently traveled and returned home: the Covid Years are not done yet.
This Tarot Card speaks to me about vigilance and illusion, apprehension and prudence. All those things you carry around with you when you’re a caretaker for someone who won’t survive getting Covid. So far, in these years of compliance with vaccinations and masks and preventive measures: we haven’t had Covid in our house. But we are aware that we still live in this time of friends and loved ones getting really sick, and suffering because of this virus.
So I wanted to share something – tiger-like. Here’s a wonderful speech given by Steven Dietz. It spoke to me about the need for clear vision and motivation in the years ahead for playwrights. Here is part of it:
The following is a version of a speech playwright Steven Dietz delivered to the board of Merrimack Repertory Theatre in May, and, more recently, to the board and long-time supporters of ACT in Seattle.
The hardest conversation I have with avid and gifted MFA playwrights starts when I tell them that there is not a place in the field waiting for them. Despite many theatres’ commitment to new work, there is not really a sacrosanct “space being held” or “set aside” for the new play we did not expect. That space must be won. A new play must make a place for itself. It must contrive, coerce, crowbar its way into our theatrical consciousness. A new work will never get an invitation to join the canon; it will more than likely get the cold shoulder, since we already have plenty of plays, right? A new play must trespass in the field. It must insist on being present. We were not “waiting for” How I Learned to Drive, or Execution of Justice, or Anna in the Tropics, or Joe Turner’s Come and Gone. They crashed the gate. And they are never going away.
The American theatre is not full. It is hungry. American audiences are not full. They are hungry. “Hungry for what?” you may wish to ask them. Oh, it is extraordinarily tempting to want to ask your audiences what they want!
Don’t do it. Really. In my opinion, it is not the job of our audience to articulate what is missing in the theatre. That is our job—yours and mine. Furthermore, I venture to say no audience member could have envisioned, much less could have articulated, the need for Until the Flood, The Whale, 4000 Miles, or Cambodian Rock Band. These plays insisted on being present. Who, really, could have called up their local theatre and requested a play in which a gay couple and a Mormon couple collide in Reagan’s America with the worlds of Roy Cohn, Ethel Rosenberg, Valium, AZT, the Kaddish, imaginary Antarctica, and an angel who crashes through the ceiling? Tony Kushner’s Angels in America was completely unimaginable…until it became fully indispensable. With the crucial support of our artists, leaders, boards, and audiences, these plays—and many others—created a prominent and lasting place for themselves in both our art form and our public consciousness.
Many things have gotten easier to generate over the last 40 years—especially as it relates to technology, data, communication. Not new plays. The process of making them remains expensive, inefficient, time-consuming, unpredictable, and often remarkably maddening. And yet, it remains our job—yours and mine—to champion this process; to advocate relentlessly for the new, to push forward the odd and the bold, the unexpected, untried, and unreasonable. History has shown us that it is the play we cannot yet imagine that will one day make itself necessary to us.
Art is a living creature. Art needs space and air.
Like many people, I work a regular job. Then, like yourselves, we carve out time to make art out of necessity to feel alive.
The regular job is just the framework of the house, but the “house is not a home”* without love, aka creativity and art.
Not to write, for many of us, is to die.
If you did not write every day, the poisons would accumulate and you would begin to die, or act crazy, or both.
The art I create comes in many forms starting with the daily meals that are prepared with imagination and soul. Recently, I shared a piece of writing with a friend. He was amazed that I can write something creative despite the heavy demand of my work schedule, maintaining the house, taking care of the dogs and chickens, teaching yoga and meditation, keeping the humming bird feeders full, plus the little surprises that come along (like getting rid of mice that got inside the house from a hole behind the stove. That was some kind of awful.)
My friend attributed my creativity to the the vitamins I’m taking, to which I replied that I don’t take any. I am, however, a big believer in making my own food, taking care to eat less processed food as much as possible. It’s a creative process to prepare a meal. A short diversion – many years ago, I had invited another friend for dinner. After the meal, which was shared with my dog, Chloe, he said, “That was the best dog food I ever had!”
Living artfully is not easy, because not everyone thinks that way, or can be that way. It is a way of being. I love motorcycling. It’s a way of getting around that is deemed “unsafe”, “impractical” and many other things. But it feels alive to ride on two wheels with some speed and wind to fill my lungs, and debris and bad roads and inattentive drivers to navigate around.
Pragmatism, efficiency and processes can be deemed as roadblocks to living creatively. But it is a necessity. Multi-media artist, June Wayne said “an artist is practical.” What she meant, as an example, is an artist needs a studio where they can create. So, it must be that an artist needs to work at a job to support the ‘habit’ of creating art. As artists we teeter-totter between the pragmatic and the artistic mind-heart set.
I have to watch myself vigilantly, so that I am not consumed by efficiency in trying to get things done. When I’m not mindful, I notice a dim film of depression coat my skin and seep into my flesh. My body droops and I drink too much of anything (caffeine and alcohol). I take short cuts in my self-care. For example, instead of luxuriating in putting on lotion after a shower, I slap it on fast and rub on the moisturizer over my face and skip the spritz of my favorite perfume. My body gets tensed, and my thinking is muddied. I breathe with dis-ease instead of ease.
A simple practice I’ve re-started is to spend more time outdoors, especially in the morning and around twilight. I invested in a dedicated hotspot that connects me to the internet securely and I can work on my laptop while I absorb natural light and fresh air and natural sounds: the breeze rustling the leaves and the chimes, birds singing, the chickens clucking and crowing, the dogs barking, the flutter of wings and sounds of the city hovering in and out of my attention.
By “noticing”, I started to make little adjustments. I started noticing my doubts and tossing them out and replacing them with my instincts. Doubts are “mind” stuff. When I follow the doubt then I allow my mind to beat me. But when I go with my instinct I feel free and I feel good. There’s also an edge akin to risk-taking because there’s the unfamiliar, unexpected and the unknown. I’m going with choices that are not 100% full proof, hence an opportunity to learn and to grow and to fail and to try again.
For example, instead of asking permission to do something, I recognize it’s better to just do it and make something happen rather than hang back – “paralysis by analysis”. In the end, something happened, and I can live with it, with more practice.
I’ve made a choice to let go, by just being myself, and do without trying. When I surrender then I come to that space of breath where the mind is at play, or in other words, not ‘figuring it out’. It’s taken me a while to ‘get it’, not by figuring it out, but allowing for recognition that the mind is powerful and I can’t let it beat me. I’ve begun to notice with more attentiveness when my mind is running the show (my life) and I get all knotted up inside, I hold my breath, and I am tired most times from mental fatigue and lack of deep restful sleep.
Surrendering also means letting go of stressful relationships. We form different types of relationships and some can be “political” whereby someone is jockeying for “control”. I’ve wisened up a little, though I’m still learning, that if it’s not serving me to be the best of me, then I have to drop it. I have a limited number of breaths in my life and I have to make each one count by being aware as to what purpose I am serving. I’ve also given up on perfection, because there’s always going to be something or someone better than me. “I am” is just right for me.
*(lyrics by Hal David from the Burt Bacharach song of the same name)
So you just pitched an idea and now you have to write a play…Ahhh what do you do next???
First, find a copy of your submission so you can remember what brilliant idea you sent in. Next, find your notebook, notecards, and/or Google doc and re-read your pitch. Take a moment for it all to come back to and start writing your 8 to 10 pages that you need for your first meeting.
But where do you start? Me, I knew where I wanted to begin so I would save that material for later. Right now I wanted to experiment with what I didn’t know. I had a wild thought and went down a rabbit hole of definitions and science-y talk trying to describe outer space for the stage. Is there sound in space? What kinds of gases are in the air? If there is sound, how is it detected? How quickly do you travel in space? How many light years = an earth year?
As I wrote for my decided on characters, I worried that I needed more. I was at a total of 3 actors. How many more would I need? How many rooms are we moving through? Should I have made an outline for this? I kept the dialogue going as I searched for the conflict. And I didn’t look back. It’s just 10 pages. No re-reading. I did peek once but was to make sure I had the correct character saying what needed to be said. I moved through the senses. What are we hearing when the incident occurs? Can we hear it? and if so, what is the instrument that is notifying us of this sound? I closed my eyes as I thought of being in space. How quiet is it? A quick search to read how NASA builds the shuttle. How does our spacecraft move through space? Are we floating? A few twists and turns later, we had our first encounter. 8 pages done.
The group of playwrights is small. So a quick hello and we dig in. As the other playwrights read my play with the roles I have assigned them, I am caught up in the technicalities of what I wrote. Too much! I understood it, but only because I had searched for it. Otherwise, it could have been said so much more simpler. After all the technical jargon I used, I opted to use the word “thingamagig” to explain a not yet invented…thingamagig, that tested the thingamabobs for the whatchamachlits. And because this was the first scene I was writing, it could be anything at this point. No one could see the rest of the story I already had laid out in my head, so their questions and wonders of scenes to come already had answers. But the tech stuff has to be paired down. My writing and re-writing are happening in my head. I am watching so many first episodes of every sci-fi tv show there is. How do they start? Why are people leaving earth? What does this world 1000 years from now look like? I was worried that my parallel to history 1000 years ago would be lost, but after watching the pilot for Frontier, where they are 50 000 years into the future and they are having the same problems we are today, I felt ok with my decisions.
I guess what I’m saying is that you just have to start. Start writing those 8-10 pages and see where they take you. Have somewhat of an outline, but you don’t have to stick with it. I mean, my characters were never going to make it, but now…well, spoilers, I can’t give the ending away.
You’ll just have to see it when it’s done.
I’m off to look at the stars for inspiration. Keep writing!
As we approach the new year, the nonprofit I’m a part of (Black Light Arts Collective- BLAC) is excited to kick programming into full gear. For the past two and a half years, we’ve been passionately cultivating BLAC and we’re pushing to raise $75,000 to take programming to the next level. One way we are doing that is by selling merchandise which is available on our website. Your support will sustain a generous amount of opportunities for Black artists to succeed both in California and Internationally. For more information on giving, please visit https://www.blacklightartscollective.com/shop.
These art pieces were created by the phenomenal Leila Victorin, Haitian-American, Michigan-based painter who uses art as a way to understand her place in the world and to talk about representation and connection in light of her own Black experience. It’s a well known fact that
This piece was designed to showcase the community built between playwright Lorraine Hansberry, writer James Baldwin and singer Nina Simone. The three of them were good friends and debated theory and politics together over drinks and smokes. Nina Simone wrote a song honoring Lorraine Hansberry (To Be Young, Gifted and Black). Lorraine Hansberry once said “Jimmy Baldwin is arguably the greatest writer of our time.” Baldwin would sometimes share his work with Hansberry in it’s early stages to see what she thought. The love and opinions shared between these three is noteworthy and manifested in the quality of their craft.
For more on the three of them, check out Looking for Lorraine; The Radiant and Radical Life of Lorraine Hansberry by Imani Perry.
Wait until the last minute. Swim in a pool of guilt when you consider the months you were given.
Get on Yelp to find the perfect coffee shop. Consider the seating, the available outlets, the parking, and savory food items, which means, must have melted cheese. Remember: location, location, location.
Situate. Why are coffee shops getting rid of their outlets? Do they resent the writers? Sit next to someone who appears appropriately interesting (not too crazy, not too loud, but not too boring. Will they watch your laptop if you need to go to the bathroom? Of course not, you always say sure when people ask you, but you’d never leave your precious, half-written, non-backed-up scenes in the hands of others.)
Do a mental assessment of all those half-written scenes you wrote and decide to start over. New page, new document.
Let your eyes and ears roam the room. Listen to people: on their phones, in their meetings, deep inside their gossip.
Type up their words–dressed up in their inflection, their outrage, their excitement. Everything is copy, even this saying. (Norah Ephron’s grandmother?)
Ruminate over all the public plagiarism scandals. That girl from Harvard–name omitted here because she deserves re-invention; she was so young. The guy Oprah named to her book club. The ridiculous white woman who pretended to have a Black foster mother named “Big Mama”. You called that one right away after reading the NYT mixed review of her memoir. Chuckle at the memory of your perspicacity and your ensuing vindication.
Start to cast the play for the developmental reading, even though you’re not even sure which characters to keep and which to ax. Too many is better than not enough right? Send a flurry of emails, inform them that the reading will be cold. Keep the pressure down.
Crave a cigarette. Pretend to smoke one and hope no one is watching. Wonder why you didn’t do more drugs in your youth. Would your life have been better or over?
Fill out your ballot. Begrudgingly. Remind yourself to incorporate your cynicism into one character. Or two, why not?
Think again about your play–the one you’re actually trying to write. Make excuses–a lot of them. If you hadn’t taken on that second job that’s not even really worth the money. If you’d only started earlier. If you hadn’t gotten sick and slept through an entire week. If you’d researched better, this all might be so much easier.
Speaking of research…get on Youtube. Start with a relevant question. Like, what is the strategy of Voir Dire? Watch some lectures. Take notes until you feel bored.
Jump into a rabbit hole of court tv sentencing videos. Observe the faces of defendants as they hear their fate. Be disgusted by your voyeurism.
Turn your attention to your ailments. Start searching up about that strange skin rash on your finger. The possibility of early onset tinnitus. The pain in your bunion when the weather turns cold.
Get sucked into the ads. Wonder why you’ve been so poor when there are so many ways to make money.
Consider what it would actually take to get a flat belly. Or how to get flawless skin. Why are there suddenly lines around your neck?
Think of metaphors too. Cliched ones, strange ones. You are lost out at sea with this damn play. You are in a perpetual permanent press cycle in the washing machine of your life.
Think of alliteration. How cool it is, how crisp it is, how syntactically delightful.
Think of repetition. And rhythm. It’s pertinent; it relates. This is a patchwork play. Things, people, characters, they must weave through like colored thread. But order matters. And what the fuck is the order?
Consider your concerns about the climate. Why did it take you this long? What are you doing about it? Admit, nothing. Is putting it in your play a small measure of penance?
Think of the parts of a story, especially the climax. What is the climax of your play? Must a play have a climax? Can it be a series of vignettes that don’t actually rise to any dramatic moment of peril?
Notice the temperature. You are cold. It’s a cold world. Everything is a metaphor for capitalism and its grip on us. It lives in our bones.
Notice the time. In minutes, hours, and days until your reading, and by the way, check your emails for actor responses.
Map out a schedule, number of pages per day and hour until your deadline. Revise and rewrite as needed, as every hour escapes you and you stare at page 15, the place where you are stuck.
Go home. Go to sleep. Pray that your dreams will inform you.
Wake up early and try to manifest with meditation. Picture yourself banging away at the keyboard. The words tumble out of you. They dance on the page.
Feel the mounting dread in the pit of your stomach. Think of its color, its texture. Consider if it is gassy or solid. Can you vomit it out? Would it be better expelled the other way?
Google contemporary playwrights. Google the awards they’ve won.
Eat a lot. Think about the concept of insatiability. Does it live in every worthwhile play? Is it evil, good, or neutral?
T-minus twenty four hours until the reading. Remind the actors, they will be reading cold. Apologize profusely. Promise they’ll have a script by lunchtime.
Turn off the wi-fi. Make more coffee.
Tell yourself: a bad decision is better than no decision at all.
Cut and paste. Cut and paste. Sew at the edges of words between the jaggedly cut fabrics you are willing into form. Think of the word interstitial.
Look up how to pull an all nighter. Roll your eyes at their dumb tips, but do stick your face in the freezer. Then sit again at the keyboard.
Set an alarm and take a nap in an uncomfortable position, so as not to oversleep.
Wake up. Train your eyes on the clock. Remember, this work is for you. Remember, you have something to say.
Write. Write a lot. Messily, desperately, with both focus and abandon. Focused abandon?
Invoke the Gods. Ask for a miracle.
Strive for passable and page count, forget perfection. Work toward a semblance of cohesion, create a lot of filler dialogue to be replaced later.
Grind. Your keyboard. Your teeth. The hours into minutes.
Eyes on the page count. Eyes on the clock. Eyes on the words, the sentences, the stage directions.
Think of the end, which will really be the beginning. Get to it. Complete the cycle, so that you can rinse and repeat.
Think of the actors…waiting. Think of their frustrations, their judgments. You’re already two hours past the promisedlunchtime hour. Re-frame your negative thinking. Think of their grace; think of their talent.
Freewrite a monologue on the fear of death. This is the heart of the character; this is the heart of the play. This is the existential question. Make your audience consider their mortality.