All posts by LAFPI

The FPI Files: “Poor Clare” Finds a Home at Echo Theater

by Carolina Xique

You’re driving to Los Angeles on the 101 North Freeway. For most tourists and incoming residents, this drive is the dream: seeing the famous buildings of the LA skyline, zipping under the 10 Freeway overpass, and seeing the light opening up to the concrete jungle of Downtown. With its often-sunny afternoons and the undeniable scent of affluence (or is it the smog?), an updated Carrie Bradshaw could happily look forward to a very West Coast version of Sex and the City.

 Except, when you exit in Arcadia, or drive down Glendale Boulevard, or pass through Echo Park, the same disturbing scene of tent cities overwhelms sidewalks and underpasses. In the safe confines of your car, you can’t help but notice how the homelessness crisis has become synonymous with the city itself. And it feels like there’s nothing any policeman or city official is doing to stop it. So you ask yourself, What can I do?

This is the same question Clare of Assisi asks herself in Echo Theater Company’s production of Poor Clare. We see her journey from being a well-known socialite, to asking a man named Francis about how she can change her ways to be of service to the poor. LAFPI sat down with director Alana Dietze (Dry Land and The Wolves at the Echo), and playwright Chiara Atik (Bump, Women and HBO’s “Girls”) to talk about the inspiration for Poor Clare and how it relates to living in Los Angeles, today.

LAFPI: What did you think when you read Poor Clare and what inspired you to direct it, Alana?

Alana Dietze

Alana Dietze: I thought it was extraordinarily funny; that was my very first impression of it. It made me cry, laughing. I was also profoundly moved by the ending, which I don’t want to say too much about. Echo always has a post-reading conversation about material, so as we were talking amongst ourselves, I found myself getting very passionate about it. So that was my first clue that maybe I wanted to direct it.

It’s an allegory for homelessness and wealth inequality in modern day using the framework of the lives of Clare of Assisi and Francis of Assisi and I thought it was such a smart way of looking at this huge problem that we have all over the world – but especially in Los Angeles – that keeps growing and feels so out of control. I thought this play profoundly captured a lot of the feelings that I’ve had about it: the anxieties, fears, shame, feeling like I want to help more, but not being able to help. I thought that was a really valuable thing to put onstage.

LAFPI: Why Los Angeles? Why now? Being that it’s set in Italy in medieval times, the story couldn’t be further away from LA, present day.

Chiara Atik: That’s funny. I was about to say that when I wrote the first draft and started sending it out, I included two pictures to set tone, and one is of, um…

Chiara Atik

Alana: Skid Row.

Chiara: Yeah. One is of Skid Row in Los Angeles, and the other is a Renaissance portrait. I live in New York and was living there at the time [of writing the piece], but I had been spending a lot of time out here and homelessness made a very big impression on me. More so than it does in New York because homelessness in New York is ingrained in the fabric of the city; it doesn’t feel like something new, it feels like something that’s always been there. You just go about your commute and you have to put on blinders, to a certain extent, to not have your heart break at every single moment of every day.

But I’ve come to LA periodically for years and I sort of started to notice it in a way that I hadn’t. I started reading up about this problem that seems to be growing bigger and bigger. It made an impression on me: to be on the freeway and to see every overpass and underpass be covered with tents. It’s that juxtaposition of being hermetically sealed in your car while driving past all of these tent cities. So I think, in that sense, LA’s current situation of how people are grappling with it gave me an inspiration in the play. Also, you get the sense that it’s a growing problem that the characters of the play are dealing with.

LAFPI: And that’s very LA.

Alana: Yes!

Chiara: Another thing that I think is interesting in terms of New York versus LA: in New York, because you’re always walking around or on the subway, the different populations and economic levels actually have to deal with each other and interact. You’re sitting on the subway and people come up to you and you have to make the decision,  “Okay, am I going to give a dollar or pretend not to see this person”; you can’t quite escape it. But in LA, because of the car culture, there’s an extra distance. It’s something that you see and clock, but don’t have to contend with person-to-person.

Alana: Also,  there’s the way that the city seems to be dealing with the problem. I mean, “dealing with the problem,” in quotes, because it doesn’t really seem like they are. I’m not a political expert, I don’t know everything about this issue, but I lived in Echo Park for a really long time, and that was an area specifically where, as the homelessness crisis grew, huge new tent cities would pop up. I would turn a corner and there would be a whole slew of tents that weren’t there the week before. And then a week later, they’d all be gone. It felt to me like the cops were coming through and just moving people along which does nothing to ultimately solve the problem or help anyone. I guess they think they’re helping the residents? But even then, people are just going to come back. There’s nowhere for anyone to go.

LAFPI: Moving people along as a solution –  it’s that class difference, right? They’re placing importance on people who are paying to stay there, instead of those who don’t live anywhere, and telling them to take their problems somewhere else.

Alana:  And the problem is, where would they go?

Jordan Hull, Kari Lee Cartwright and Martica De Cardenas – Photo by Cooper Bates

LAFPI:  Following up on that, Chiara, how did you come up with the concept for Poor Clare?

Chiara: I always knew the story of St. Clare. I found myself in recent years having so many conversations with people where we’d sort of bemoan the state of the world: “Isn’t horrible about the refugee crisis, isn’t it horrible about homelessness,” and this or that. But then I would go home, turn on the TV, and forget about these things. And the ability to worry and empathize but then go home and turn that off and forget about it is such a privilege. I was thinking about the fact that I feel bad about this stuff, but I’m not, like, quitting my job and quitting my life to go out and help.

The story of St. Clare, the real girl, who really did completely change her entire life, is such a radical story. It’s certainly not something that I’m capable of – that most people aren’t capable of – but I was interested in exploring the idea of somebody who really goes so far. And I’m not suggesting that as a solution or saying it’s what we should all be doing. I think that’s why Clare is a saint and most people aren’t. But it’s that journey of someone becoming so radicalized to do something, to take action in whatever way they can… I really underestimated how many people didn’t know of her.

Alana: I didn’t know who she was when I read the play. I knew that there was a St. Francis, but I didn’t really know anything about him.

LAFPI: So with this play, what do you hope that audiences learn about St. Clare of Assisi?

Chiara: That she existed. I think her story is cool and relatable. And what we know about her historically is interesting. She was 18, super rich, had a great life, and gave all of that up to take vows of poverty to try to do good in the world. I think that’s a crazy impressive story. That’s like a Kardashian doing that or something. And this is 800 years ago. A girl, definitely braver than I am right now, did that. I hope people will be interested in her story, her conviction, her action at such a young age. She was just a teenager. It’s like if Khloe was, like, “Alright, I’m giving all of this up!”

Jordan Hull and Ann Noble – Photo by Cooper Bates

LAFPI: I still feel like if Khloe did that, for the most part, people wouldn’t initially believe her. Compared to men, I think someone like a Kardashian might be treated differently.

Chiara: I think it’s hard for women, especially young women, to be taken seriously when they decide to do something intensely. If you watch the play, Francis raises his eyebrows, but there’s less at stake for him to go find a religious order. But for her – for a girl to do what he’s doing – the stakes are a lot higher.

LAFPI: Are there any other ways differences in sex and gender function specifically in the play? I noticed in the cast that there are 2 men and the rest are women.

Alana: That was something else that I really love about the play. I wouldn’t say that it’s primarily about gender, but like Chiara said, there are different stakes for Clare than Francis as she goes on this journey, and there are really interesting moments where Francis lets her know that things will be different for her. And those moments help drive her conviction to commit to her beliefs. She has to be more convicted than he is, because it’s harder for her to do what she does.

LAFPI: How much of the play is fact? How much is fiction?

Alana: This comes back to the earlier question of why Los Angeles. The language is all modern day, and it feels like the language of Angelenos. That’s part of what attracted me to it, because I thought, “Oh, these people talk like me.” So in that respect, it’s totally fictional. I don’t know how much really is fact?

Chiara: Definitely little bits from St. Francis’s life trajectory. We knew that Clare and St. Francis knew each other and she really was inspired by him to do this thing. But we, of course, have no idea what their conversations were like or the nature of their relationship, so all of that is fiction.

Jordan Hull and Michael Sturgis – Photo by Cooper Bates

LAFPI: What questions would you like audiences to be asking by the end of this play? Are there questions women should be asking?

Alana: It feels to me like it’s about highlighting and focusing in on this push-and-pull, this question about what do we do to help? Can we help? Is there such a thing as help? What do you do when you become aware of your own privilege? I feel this juxtaposition of a desire to be moral, to be good, to help other people, to do something worthwhile and meaningful… in contrast with the fact that what Clare does may or may not help anyone. But it’s the thing she must do. To me that’s what’s most interesting and relatable about the play. I hope that the play will help people think about that question for themselves and maybe make a choice.

Chiara: In terms of women specifically, Clare, throughout the play, drastically alters her appearance and goes from caring very much about how she looks to forsaking that along with her wealth and status. That’s something I admire in her character. I almost can’t imagine caring about something so much that I would be, like, “Fuck what I look like.”

LAFPI: And now we live in this world where everything is appearance-based, whether online or in-person. Doing what Clare did is like someone completely going off the radar. Which you don’t see a lot of anymore.

Chiara: Yeah, and I’m not saying that it’s necessary to do in the modern world. But on the other hand, you see her judged for what she looks like throughout the play. It’s interesting to see what it means to her to, like you said, go off the radar: “I’m not giving you this anymore. I’m not presenting like this anymore.”

LAFPI: Which leaves us with the question of whether anyone has a solution for the seemingly-uncontrollable homelessness crisis right now.

Chiara: The play definitely doesn’t.

LAFPI: But it’s good to have the wheels turning!

This interview was conducted in March, 2020 before Poor Clare’s original opening, with dates modified in this version.
“Poor Clare” at Echo Theater Company runs through November 29th. Ticket and information at echotheatercompany.com.
Know a female or FPI-friendly theater, company or artist? Contact us at lafpi.updates@gmail.com & check out The FPI Files for more stories.

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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.

Women (Back) on the Fringe: #HFF21 #FringeFemmes Kudos & Numbers

After a year off, the Hollywood Fringe Festival was back this year, big in energy if a bit smaller in size and a different sort of shape, being a hybrid of live and virtual performances.

But one thing that was not scaled back in 2021 was the Fringe Femmes presence and energy. Nope, the Women on the Fringe rocked it, creating amazing work and a phenomenal community.

This year, instead of giving out awards to venues supporting female playwrights as part of the closing night ceremony, Constance Strickland presented the 2021 numbers (representation of women+ writers and artists of color in scripted HFF Shows) as well as a “Most Wanted List” of venues that staged 50% or more works by women+ playwrights. (Many thanks to honorary Fringe Femme Lois Neville & the fab Fringe Staff!)

We first started tallying 10 years ago, and found that the number was 39%. While that was almost twice as the year-round numbers in LA theater, that wasn’t good enough. But within five years, we hit 50%… and have kept that average ever since.

Big huzzahs that during the month of August, 52% of the scripted Fringe shows were written by women+.

Four venues were on 2021 FPI’s Most Wanted List: Actors Company, Hudson Theatres, The Broadwater and Zephyr Theatre; in addition, over 50% of the scripted shows livestreamed only were femme created.

But the numbers representing artists of color aren’t nearly as celebratory. In 2021, only 36% of the scripted Fringe shows were by writers of color. This is up from 21% overall last year (the first year we tallied race numbers). Interesting to note that of female playwrights, 43% were of color; male playwrights, only 28%.

It was also encouraging to look at the HFF Awards Winners. 50% of the Community “Freak” Awards went to women+, including Makena Hammond’s BLACK WOMAN IN DEEP WATER which took Top of the Fringe. And 100% of the Sponsored Awards and 89% of the Best of Broadwater Awards were awarded to female playwrightswell over 50% of both these Awards went to writers of color.

In spite of the fact that only 37% of the Producer’s Encore Awards were given to female playwrights, and only 37% to playwrights of color

You still have time to catch many of the Women on the Fringe in Encore performances starting this weekend! Click Here for Info

So congrats all.

But let’s just say that numbers count. And we can do better.

  • We, as theatermakers, must make a conscious effort to take note and put more diversity onstage.
  • We, as artists, must demand that the untold stories are heard and celebrated, in all shapes and forms.

#FringeFemmes Check-Ins: Sugar and Shit

by Constance Strickland

Quick peeks at #HFF21’s “Women on the Fringe” by Fringe Femmes who are behind the scenes this year. Click Here for all Check-Ins

Fringe Femmes

WHO: Lenny Langley and Lori Hoeft

WHAT: Sugar and Shit

WHERE: Hudson Theatre 6539 Santa Monica Blvd + Livestream

WHY: This show left us feeling full, inspired, and not afraid to have a deeper conversation with ourselves. There was a beauty and boldness that revealed itself immediately when we watched –  a softness that comes from hard experiences that did not swallow these women whole. A delicate intimacy filled the space in the midst of dark material; there was room for laughter, a place for joy to still live. 

Ah, there is this powerful energy between Lori and Lenny and you feel lucky to witness this friendship – this love between two women whom the universe knew far before their spirits would merge. SUGAR AND SHIT is a show that has a sense of itself, that understands the need to find healing and freedom, alone or in community. It’s a lovely gem within the 2021 Hollywood Fringe catalogue.

HOW: Keep track of Lenny and Lori @ https://www.instagram.com/theshowsugarandshit

Click Here to Find “Women on the Fringe” HFF21 Encores

#FringeFemmes Check-Ins: Mask and Man

by Constance Strickland

Quick peeks at #HFF21’s “Women on the Fringe” by Fringe Femmes who are behind the scenes this year. Click Here for all Check-Ins

Fringe Femmes

WHO: Maria Hansson

WHAT: Mask and Man

WHERE: Virtual Performances as part of Hollywood Fringe and Gutenberg Fringe Festival

WHY: This was a beautiful, magical, fantastical show. Although Dance and Physical Theatre is my favorite category during Hollywood Fringe, this piece was a late discovery and, my goodness, I thank the theatre gods that I did not miss this exquisite show. It’s the kinda piece that elevates the entire category and changes everything.

As a performer, Maria is absolutely breathtaking. You’re instantly absorbed, taken on a visual journey but also immersed in an unexpected but much-needed sound experience. Maria uses sound as a revelation; it took me quite some time to realize where and how the sound was entering into the space, like a whole-body treatment for the spirit. She occupies the entire space and treats stillness as a rite; what we receive across the ethers is an astonishing, hypnotic, physical gift. I felt as though I was included in a sacred passage of human exploration.

HOW: Catch Performances September 10 & 12 https://billetto.se/e/mask-and-man-gothenburg-fringe-2021-biljetter-554711

Click Here to Find Hollywood Fringe Encores

#FringeFemmes Check-Ins: Vice

by Constance Strickland

Quick peeks at #HFF21’s “Women on the Fringe” by Fringe Femmes who are behind the scenes this year. Click Here for all Check-Ins

Fringe Femmes

WHO: Simone Tetrault

WHAT: Vice

WHERE: Livestreamed from Zephyr Theatre 7456 Melrose Av  

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.

HOW: Catch an Encore Performance Online September 10! https://www.hollywoodfringe.org/projects/7100

Click Here to Find More Hollywood Fringe Encores

#FringeFemmes Check-Ins: Caught in the Mix

by Constance Strickland

Quick peeks at #HFF21’s “Women on the Fringe” by Fringe Femmes who are behind the scenes this year. Click Here for all Check-Ins

Fringe Femmes

WHO: Kira Powell

WHAT: Caught in the Mix

WHERE: The Broadwater Black Box 6322 Santa Monica Blvd 

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!

HOW: Catch an Encore Performance September 4! https://www.hollywoodfringe.org/projects/7054

Click Here to Find More Hollywood Fringe Encores

#FringeFemmes Check-Ins: TransSetter

by Constance Strickland

Quick peeks at #HFF21’s “Women on the Fringe” by Fringe Femmes who are behind the scenes this year. Click Here for all Check-Ins

Fringe Femmes

WHO: Veronica Carey Matthews

WHAT: TransSetter

WHERE: studio/stage (Main Space) 520 N. Western Ave

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.

Thank you, Veronica, for your truth.

HOW: Catch a Fringe Encore Performance Friday, September 3! https://www.hollywoodfringe.org/projects/7094

Click Here to Find More Hollywood Fringe Encores

#FringeFemmes Check-Ins: I Heart Maroc

by Constance Strickland

Quick peeks at #HFF21’s “Women on the Fringe” by Fringe Femmes who are behind the scenes this year. Click Here for all Check-Ins

Fringe Femmes

WHO: Azo Safo

WHAT: I Heart Maroc

WHERE: The Broadwater Black Box 6322 Santa Monica Blvd (+ Live-Stream)

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.

HOW: Catch a “Best of the Brodwater” Encore Performance September 5! https://www.hollywoodfringe.org/projects/7091

Click Here to Find More Hollywood Fringe Encores

#FringeFemmes Check-Ins: EGG

by Constance Strickland

Quick peeks at #HFF21’s “Women on the Fringe” by Fringe Femmes who are behind the scenes this year. Click Here for all Check-Ins

Fringe Femmes

WHO: Erin Fowler

WHAT: EGG

WHERE: Asylum @ Stephanie Feury Studio Theatre (SFS Theatre mainstage) 5636 Melrose Ave (+ Live-Stream)

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.

Learn more about Erin at https://www.erinfowlermovement.com

HOW: https://www.hollywoodfringe.org/projects/7185

Click Here to Find More “Women on the Fringe”

#FringeFemmes Check-Ins: Happily Ever After

by Constance Strickland

Quick peeks at #HFF21’s “Women on the Fringe” by Fringe Femmes who are behind the scenes this year. Click Here for all Check-Ins

Fringe Femmes

WHO: Diana Elizabeth Jordan

WHAT: Happily Ever After

WHERE: Live Streamed from Los Angeles LGBT Center (The Renberg Theatre) 6322 Santa Monica Blvd

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.

HOW: https://www.hollywoodfringe.org/projects/6896

Click Here to Find More “Women on the Fringe”