Category Archives: Female Artists

The FPI Files: We Have Space – “Desert Stories for Lost Girls” 

by Carolina Pilar Xique

What are you going to do with this piece of history now that you know it?

Do you remember sitting in history class? I do. I’m not certain if all artists feel this way, but I loved history class. There was something about the storytelling, the backtracking of tales and social movements that directly affected how the world operates today that felt almost like a responsibility to know, retell, and learn from as a human moving through on planet. Although I don’t consider myself a history buff by any means, there are those stories that stuck with me—some obscure and random, some retold again and again, sticking to the sides of my brain like Papier-mâché. I can tell you about The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire in the Industrial era and how that event sparked momentous conversations about child labor laws; I can tell you about the Atlantic slave trade in detail, not because of history class, but because I would take my history homework to my sister, who told me all about how Columbus first stopped in the Caribbean islands of Jamaica and Cuba, where my father’s family was from. Because of yearslong lessons about the American Revolution (and the help of the hit Broadway musical, Hamilton), I can explain in detail what led to the American Revolution, how the British forces lost, and the principles on which this country was “founded.”

Who is there to tell the stories of lost history? And when we learn that lost history of a nearly-forgotten peoples, what do we do with it?

This is the question Sylvia Cervantes Blush, director of Desert Stories for Lost Girls, wants the audience to leave with. In this world-premiere play by Lily Rushing, 18-year-old Carrie is thrown into a world of memories and stories of her ancestors as she learns the history of her people, the Genízaro, a tribeless tribe of Native American slaves who deserve to have their stories told.

I got to sit down with the Lily and Sylvia to get a taste of what we can expect to see in Desert Stories for Lost Girls before its debut.

Carolina Pilar Xique for LAFPI: Having the piece produced through Native Voices at the Autry is huge, especially because the company is the only Actor’s Equity theatre company in the country dedicated to developing Native works. What has the experience been like getting to produce this show with a company that’s committed to that mission? And how has their partnership with Latino Theater Company affected that experience?

Lily Rushing: Everything with them [Native Voices] is so Native-centered in an incredible way that, as a native playwright telling a native story, it’s such a relief, you know? You don’t have to educate anyone, you don’t have to explain anything to anyone, or feel like you’re entering weird, emotional territory because everyone in the room is like, “Good, got it. Let’s do the work.” It feels like a step forward.

Director Sylvia Cervantes Blush
Photo by Jean Carlo Yunen Arostegui

Sylvia Cervantes Blush: I’m not Native. Soy Latina. And when they [Native Voices] reached out to me, I did an interview and some of my first questions and concerns were, “Am I the right person to help bring this story to life?” Because I don’t have that lived experience. The most in-tune person can still make some really poor choices or not know how to help the process, so that was at the forefront of my mind. But they were so incredibly inviting and immediately transparent. To know that this collaboration between Native Voices and Latino Theater Company was happening, it felt like a way to open audiences to the work that they are both doing, together and separately. Latino Theater Company are such a mighty engine of a small army of people that get stuff done and I’ve yet to hear a “no”—I’ve just seen solutions. We started rehearsals on the actual set, in the theater. Not only in the space, but with a built set. That’s not your typical experience. It speaks to the level of support Latino Theater Company has for this story and lifting up the work Native Voices is doing. This is the first time in 30+ years that the Native Voices is performing in a full theater space. They’ve made magic at their location [at the Autry Museum’s auditorium], but now, coming out of a pandemic, doing it in a theater and at a space like LATC, it’s really special. When the actors walked into rehearsals, it was like, “Wow. We have space.” And I get to be a part of that. It’s really special.

Lily: I think it’s so beautiful that getting that space and working in there comes from two brown companies helping each other out! That’s the icing on the cake—two brown theatre companies supporting each other and lifting each other up. We love to see it.

Sylvia: And it speaks to the uniqueness of this story—it evolves from the Southwest and our cultures in this story mix. It’s the perfect project for this marriage between these two companies to happen right now.

Carolina: You touched on the process of being in the room with Indigenous artists. What has it been like and what measures are being taken to care for their ancestral trauma while also displaying it on the stage?

Playwright Lily Rushing (Genízaro)
Photo courtesy of Native Voices at the Autry

Lily: Native Voices hires a trauma consultant to make sure we have that extra level of care if we need it which is really important. We had eyes from a lot of Indigenous people but also from Sylvia about where we need to have a little extra caution, a little extra care. That made me feel prepared before going into the process. One thing I love about working with Indigenous actors is the lack of need to educate. Because when you are in the room with artists who don’t have that heritage of being colonized or stolen, they might have questions or not understand something, and you feel like you have to defend it. Native Voices has set up this system of interacting with the storyteller or playwright so that actors can ask their questions, but I don’t have to answer or defend anything. So that takes care of both of our needs. In that way, it allows actors to interact with the emotion of trauma—the expression of it—rather than having to interact with the truth of it. When I got into the room with the actors, I felt like we were all protected.

Syliva: You get to just exist and understand that you are not all trauma—that you carry joy and other parts of you into the room, and that, as we explore the trauma in the play that the characters are exploring, even if there is a similarity, you have the permission to create space and just exist as a character. By being able to have a room of People of Color, and specifically with this play, having Native people telling a story about Native people, it allows us to really explore the complexities that are beyond and within the trauma, and find the joys in these character’s lives. When it’s performed, the audience experiences those complexities and can have a different lens from the ones that we hear on the news. They don’t have to explain anything, we just get to have the conversations about them.

Carolina: Sylvia, you said in a quote that, “The play challenges us to let go of a safe narrative.” Would you like to expand on that?

Sylvia: It’s so funny because when you catch me at different phases in the process, and I’ll have a different response. (* Laughs*) Because I grow with the process of it. I feel like what Lily has done is she’s combined different parts of the human brain on stage. We have memory, the existence of the present time, the existence of a disappearing memory—the grandmother is grappling with these phases of dementia, and at the same time, desperately trying to connect the memories to help her granddaughter understand her own legacy. There are fascinating moments in the play where multiple generations are on stage, or the same character in two different phases in their life are on stage and are conversing with each other. I’ve been leaning into that and challenging myself to not make the choices arbitrary in this illogical world, but there still must be something that allows an outsider without the history and breadth of knowledge that we have to experience and feel moved. That’s the journey we’re on now in the space. I think what Lily has offered us is the dangerous nature of the topic of this play. Things are unsettling and they should feel that way. It’s okay for an audience member to feel a little discombobulated at the end of the experience. We’re taking them on a ride.

Carolina: Lily, this play is almost autobiographical because you had a similar experience to the main character, Carrie. Can you walk us through what that was like for you?

Lily: We always knew that we had Indigenous heritage, but my dad has this joke where he calls us and his family, “mocos,” which in Spanish literally means boogers, but also means “Mexican Or Chicano Or Something.” It’s his way of saying that, in the time he grew up, we weren’t having conversations about identity or heritage that we’re having now. I talked to my cousin Larry; he wrote this beautiful story for us called “Stories from Ojo,” where he wrote his memories. He kept using this word, “Genízaros.” My mom dug up the Census and found that there were multiple documents that read, “Indian,” “White,” or “Genízaros,” that were part of our family history. The same people had different races and different ways of being categorized as the years went on. After they were baptized, this zealous priest somehow convinced whoever to write down that, because of their baptism, these Indian people were no longer Indian and were now white. I was in college when we found the story of Placida, who is a character in the play but also my real-life great-great grandmother—she was a Genízaro, which is a native slave in northern New Mexico—who was 13 or 11 years old when she bore my great-grandfather. She was removed from the settlement and would walk 20 miles every day to see her son in extremely rugged, mountainous territory. In the family legend, it was said that her feet were stained black. We knew immediately why we didn’t have a concrete answer [in terms of heritage]—because that is the goal of forcefully separating tribes, the goal of colonization. When you try to find the people in your community, you can’t find them; they’ve taken away all the answers from you. Something the play deals with is why the women in this family needed to know that history. They need it not only to keep them safe in a literal sense—when you know your history, you can be prepared for it—but also, women have a need to know our mothers, grandmothers, and family. For me, I needed that connection for myself. I feel like it made me understand so much more about where the legacies of confusion, shame, and Catholic guilt all stemmed from. I feel Placida’s story and carry her with me all the time. Her incredible resilience is the lesson I take with me everywhere.

The playwright’s family in 1950s New Mexico

Carolina: That’s amazing! That sounds like an enormous undertaking, both physically and emotionally, but I’m so happy you found them. The tagline of this play reads, “Do you believe your ancestors walk with you?” I wanted to pose the same question to you both.

Sylvia: That belief is something I’ve adopted in the last few years. My friend had a conversation with me one time. We were at the park, talking, and she was talking about how, sometimes, to convince herself to walk out that door, she’s adopted this way of closing her eyes and imagining that with each step she takes, her ancestors are walking with her. I’ve taken that to heart. I think about the people I know in my lifetime who have passed on—my sister, Tina, who passed away seven years ago. I carry her with me all the time. She’s always part of me and I have her as someone of strength that I can come back to, even if I’m not feeling strong in that moment, because I know that she’s the makeup of my grandmother—my mom’s mom, who also had a strong presence—and then my great-grandmother. Even my husband’s mom, who passed away a year or two after my sister did. It’s the carrying of all those generations with me when I walk into a room that allows me to lean on the strengths of who they were and use that to shape myself. I came from that stock of strong women, even the ones I didn’t get to meet. I feel a connection to them with this piece.

Lily: That reminds me of what we talked about in that first week of rehearsals, about spinning tops, that time isn’t a line or this flat thing. When we go about living our day, that’s one top spinning on the table. And those stories that live in us are another top spinning, too. All these events that my ancestors went through, like Placida, or even things that I’m going through, it helps me to think of them all sort of happening at the same time, on this same plane of existence. I feel like my relationship with my ancestors is active. When I live my day with courage, when I choose to thrive, I’m feeding them, just as their choices and sacrifices feed me. There are things being talked about now—ancestral healing, inner healing. I think the first step to do all of that is to look and open yourself up to looking at those stories, even if they’re really hard, and then you can start the process of walking with your ancestors. But first you have to look at them and see them for who they really are.

Characters in“Desert Stories for Lost Girls” were inspired by the playwright’s family
Her grandparents, pictured above in Ojo Caliente, New Mexico

Carolina: What message or feeling do you hope audiences leave with after seeing the show?

Sylvia: I hope that this play can break open for someone the things that they think they know about the Southwest, and the inception of when the continent was being explored and then commandeered. I hope that this play will break open that curiosity and ask, “What are you going to do with that piece of history now that you know it? Are you going to put it in a book and put it on the shelf to collect dust? Or are you going to actively find a way to share that story?” That’s the space where we can heal—when you can name the history and acknowledge that it happened. It happened many moons ago, but our country was built on it. How do we fix the systems in place that continue to inflict violence on Black and brown bodies? I hope more than anything that people can recognize the responsibility that comes with witnessing this story unfold.

Lily: I hope Californians learn about Genízaros—learn about who we were and are—because we are a tribeless tribe. We have found and made a tribe out of that horrible history. I hope they learn something new about the country’s history that they never knew before that inspires them to start their own journey of learning and unlearning, to challenge their own narrative about labor, ownership, land, and belonging. And I hope people leave the theater and go straight to calling their grandmother. (*Laughs*) Something any grandchild can do is acknowledge that it was a hard world out there for our ancestors, and was only made harder by these constant, oppressive systems. All we can do is continue telling these stories and thank each other.

Desert Stories for Lost Girls” opens on Friday, Sept. 30 at the Los Angeles Theater Center and runs through October 16. For tickets and information, visit latinotheaterco.org.

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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#FringeFemmes 2022! Meet Mareshah Dupree & Jairis Carter

By Constance Strickland

Fringe Femmes 2022 are a bold cohort of women who are presenting new plays, original works and solo shows that have raised the bar on what it means to be an artist, tell one’s story and continue the work by any means necessary. Each year I am reminded that no matter the obstacles or the times in which we live, you cannot stop theatre as an art form from expanding, thriving and being a vessel to reveal, heal and nurture. LAFPI has the special ability to connect women from a wide variety of cultures and experiences together in their shared love of theatre.

This year continues to expand on that legacy and it is my honor to introduce you to Mareshah Dupree and Jairis Carter, the creators of Abortion Weekend. These two talents are widening the lens on performance, writing and creating in real-time a new way of existing in the theatre.

Constance Strickland: What’s been your biggest battle in terms of your development/process?

Mareshah Dupree & Jairis Carter: Our biggest battle was quite unique as the script was initially written for the screen. It was challenging to convert it for the stage especially because our show is a two-person show. Since the Fringe process is so fast-paced the script was undergoing edits all the way up until the opening night.

Constance: After the lights and the audience disappear what do you hope one takes away after seeing your show?

Mareshah & Jairis: We hope that everyone who is able to attend gains a better understanding of agape Love. We want them to remember that God is Love and their Love is unconditional.

Constance: What joy did you discover when creating your show? Did you face any obstacles? What has been the most delicious discovery?

Mareshah & Jairis: The greatest joy came on opening night when our loved ones attended and told us how proud and emotionally moved they were of the work we created. The biggest obstacles were self doubt, insecurities, and an aching inner fear that our families would be offended by the production. The most delicious discoveries were the realizations we made about each other. We learned so much about each other throughout the process putting up this production and it’s been beautiful to witness the growth that has occurred within us both.

Constance: How does it feel to have an opportunity to share your work with an in-person audience? COVID expanded in many ways how the work can be seen and done, what personally changed if anything for you in how you approached creating your show?

Mareshah & Jairis: It feels surreal. It’s so incredible that we are finally at the space to share our three-year passion project. We were both like “finally someone can see what we’ve been working on for the past three years.” The major change is the fact that we adjusted the film script for the stage, however we still do plan on making it a feature length movie as it will be our thesis film for CalArts. It is eye-opening to see the reactions in person and very gratifying. We are immensely grateful that we have been blessed with the opportunity to be the vessels that tell this story.

Constance: What influenced this new work? How long have you been sitting with this work? Why now?

Mareshah & Jairis: Our ultimate influence for this work has been from the Great Creator since they placed this idea on our hearts and simultaneously in both of our mouths three years ago. We said the words “Abortion Weekend” at the same time after a conversation with a friend about the multiple methods that women/femmes all over the world have used to terminate pregnancies. Our sisters have also had a profound impact on the work. Their personal experiences made the text more tangible and alive. This show is dedicated to them. Our friendship also bleeds through the text. The Fringe has been a goal of ours for a little over a year now and we both felt it would be the perfect place to bring our idea to life. It was simply a matter of coincidence that Roe vs. Wade had come back into the political debate. It’s all divine timing.

#FringeFemmes 2022! Meet Charlotte Galbreath

By Constance Strickland

Fringe Femmes 2022 are a bold cohort of women who are presenting new plays, original works and solo shows that have raised the bar on what it means to be an artist, tell one’s story and continue the work by any means necessary. Each year I am reminded that no matter the obstacles or the times in which we live, you cannot stop theatre as an art form from expanding, thriving and being a vessel to reveal, heal and nurture. LAFPI has the special ability to connect women from a wide variety of cultures and experiences together in their shared love of theatre.

This year continues to expand on that legacy and I am thankful to be able to introduce Fringe Femme Charlotte Galbreath. Charlotte’s Looking Past Loss is a personal and vulnerable solo show  that explores the traumas that simmer beneath the surface, yet eventually always rise to the surface. How did COVID-19 force you to reckon with yourself and old traumas? Charlotte investigates her own family stories and what she discovers may be a lesson for us all.

Constance Strickland: What’s been your biggest battle in terms of your development/process?

Charlotte Galbreath: My biggest battle has been honoring the accuracy of my relative’s stories and experiences while exercising my own artistic freedom in the process. With an autobiographical show that features key figures in my own life, I want to do justice to their trauma while also serving the play and message being sent at large. Thus, I’ve had to navigate that balance of preserving their truths while expressing mine as well.

Constance: After the lights and the audience disappear what do you hope one takes away after seeing your show?

Charlotte: I hope that my audience takes away the power of what loss can do for us. While it is undoubtedly a painful part of life, it yields new meaning to our existences if we let it, so I encourage the audience to reconsider how the darkness in their own lives can be turned into a motivating factor that gives us a profound sense of purpose in life.

Constance: What joy did you discover when creating your show?

Charlotte: I discovered the joy of life and the preciousness of it throughout my process. Having to reflect on my losses and trauma has allowed me to have a greater appreciation for everyone in my life. It also has reframed my interactions with others as I’m constantly thinking about how I can be the light in other people’s lives. It was definitely a challenging feat having to reflect upon these losses in my life, but it’s also served as a healing process.

Constance: What has been the most delicious discovery as you created your original work.

Charlotte: As an actor, I’ve always been drawn to the power of theater to enact change, but as I’ve created my work, I’ve realized the extent to which I can reach and move audiences. My solo play that explores different memories of loss highlights the highs and lows of this journey, and guides the audience to the light at the end. Bringing the audience on this ride with me, they’re able to see for themselves how to reframe the darkness we feel during the lows, giving hope to a world that has felt so hopeless the past couple of years.

Constance: How does it feel to have an opportunity to share your work with an in-person audience?

Charlotte: It is an incredible opportunity finally sharing this with an in-person audience because it brings everyone together on this journey, creating a support network amongst the entire audience experiencing these memories simultaneously. Since many of these memories are painful to live through, I recognized the importance of finding levity throughout to make the piece more digestible and to capture the highs and lows of this whole process. 

Constance: What influenced this new work? How long have you been sitting with this work? Why now?

Charlotte: I have been working on this solo play for the past couple of years, but had a change in perspective on how I wanted to end the performance and the message I wanted to leave the audience with over the past year. With Covid, all the political tension, racial discrimination, and losses we’ve all experienced over the past couple of years, I feel like this story needs to be told in order to give hope to our world and show that there is a way out of all the darkness. Theater has the power to take audiences on a journey and make them consider how the story being portrayed and message being sent can translate to their own lives, and this is crucial right now with the play I’m performing.

#FringeFemmes 2022! Meet Natasha Mercado

By Constance Strickland

Fringe Femmes 2022 are a bold cohort of women who are presenting new plays, original works and solo shows that have raised the bar on what it means to be an artist, tell one’s story and continue the work by any means necessary. Each year I am reminded that no matter the obstacles or the times in which we live, you cannot stop theatre as an art form from expanding, thriving and being a vessel to reveal, heal and nurture. LAFPI has the special ability to connect women from a wide variety of cultures and experiences together in their shared love of theatre.

This year continues to expand on that legacy and I am so excited to introduce Fringe Femme Natasha Mercado. Natasha has manifested “Tree,” an immersive comedy experience that seeks to remind us and have us question what we all need most during these times: What does it mean to be alive? Part clown show, part game show and part philosophical discussion, “Tree” explores the duality of what it means to be human.

Constance Strickland: What’s been your biggest battle in terms of your development/process?

Natasha Mercado: It was and is this idea of what it means to take up space as an artist. And I felt a lot of growing pains over that. Doing a solo show feels completely different than any of the projects I’ve done because it’s such a declaration of what I hold close to home. I started to observe my mindset while performing in other people’s projects as, “Well, I’m doing the best I can and that’s what’s important”. But when I first started performing pieces from “Tree”, for whatever reason, it felt like much higher stakes in my body and I didn’t give myself the same amount of space to potentially fail in any given moment. And my theory on that is it’s because I’m a human with an ego that’s been socially trained to take up a certain amount of space at any given time. And so it goes! The way I’ve felt like I’ve been winning, or more so managing, this battle is by allowing myself to absorb the overwhelming amount of support I’ve received from my friends and family throughout the process.

Constance: After the lights and the audience disappear what do you hope one remembers or takes away after seeing your show?

Natasha: I am super happy if someone comes up to me afterwards and says, “This show was about people having the capacity to do really beautiful and also terrible things, right?” And in a perfect world, I hope they feel a little more compassion for themselves, instead of judgment, when they inevitably see an example of that sometime soon. In either direction, you know? Appreciating the beauty or holding space for the terribleness. That’s just part of the human experience.

Constance: What joy did you discover when creating your show?

Natasha: Oh man. As exciting as the beginning of the devising process was, I really felt like a little boat in uncharted waters. Deanna [Fleysher, who directed while devising the show] was extremely helpful in that way and always helped me navigate back to the practicality of getting it down on paper. Every rehearsal we had felt like a win. Kind of like a backpacking trip or something. Where I imagine just getting a little further down the trail is awesome, but the best part is seeing everything along the way. And I definitely feel a lot of joy thinking about how all the pieces came together through hard work. I’m proud of that.

Constance: What has been the most delicious discovery as you created your original work.

Natasha: This show is a living, breathing parable for me about how investing time on a project is always worth it. I am so grateful for giving myself the space to create something that I became very proud of. Because trusting the creative process is not always easy. And I think “Tree” in particular exorcised a lot of “perfectionism” for me. It doesn’t have to be perfect or make sense right away and that’s a good thing.

Constance: How does it feel to have an opportunity to share your work with an in-person audience? COVID expanded in many ways how the work can be seen and done, what personally changed if anything for you in how you approached creating your show?

Natasha: I try to tell people every night after a show that it is such a honor to perform this piece. I feel such an overwhelming amount of love and appreciation for getting to be in-person again. Because the process of creating “Tree” was very insulated. Usually, a lot of clowns in the community devise shows completely in front of an audience. But due to the nature of quarantine, I worked with Deanna over Zoom, alone in my room, in a Tree costume. And I can’t imagine what my neighbors must have thought during my rehearsals.

Constance: What influenced this new work? How long have you been sitting with this work? Why Fringe? Why now?

Natasha: I originally bought a “big kids tree costume” for some one-off bit I did in 2019 – which, while wearing it, made me feel fabulous and completely dorky all at the same time. And then the Bobcat fire happened in 2020, which inspired me to make a short film about a tree who was passing as human but wanted to help the trees that were burning. And the other trees were like, “Fuck off.” And then in 2021, I did The Artist’s Way! Which was extremely inspiring and spoke to all of my soft parts yearning for the creative process. So those three things were in my orbit and thankfully smashed together when I reached out to Deanna later in 2021 about this weird tree thing that keeps me up at night.

But I truly attribute the beginning of this work to have started after I saw Natalie Palamides’ show “Nate” in 2018. That’s when I knew that making a solo show could be so damn absurd and inspiring and fun. That kind of work is important. And finally getting to self-produce “Tree” and bring it to the Hollywood Fringe feels like a celebration with other weirdo, sensitive artists who are also unearthing the art they made in the dark. For me, it feels like it’s all right on time.

#FringeFemmes 2022! Meet Teruko Nakajima

By Constance Strickland

Fringe Femmes 2022 are a bold cohort of women who are presenting new plays, original works and solo shows that have raised the bar on what it means to be an artist, tell one’s story and continue the work by any means necessary. Each year I am reminded that no matter the obstacles or the times in which we live, you cannot stop theatre as an art form from expanding, thriving and being a vessel to reveal, heal and nurture. LAFPI has the special ability to connect women from a wide variety of cultures and experiences together in their shared love of theatre.

This year continues to expand on that legacy and by golly I’m over the moon to introduce Teruko [which mean shining girl] Nakajima who is a bright light in dark times. Made in America features Teruko, a first-generation Japanese artist, a brave girl who by her own will shares her difficult journey with us through singing, dancing and stories that she swears we don’t know about Japan and America!

Constance Strickland: What’s been your biggest battle in terms of your development/process?

Teruko Nakajima: Writing “Made In America” was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life because it was my brutally raw autobiography. Facing the truth was super difficult. Plus English is my second language, so that was never easy. Fortunately my lovely director Mr. John Flynn, understood my voice with great empathy, fixed my writings beautifully and created this show for me. Without him, I wouldn’t be able to make it.

Constance: After the lights and the audience disappear what do you hope one remembers or takes away after seeing your show?

Teruko: I do hope that they are all kind to themselves and have compassion for themselves, too, like the show that I learned in America. I also want them to know that Titi (my dog) and I love them super much! (We sent extra love to our Ms. Jennie who was super kindly there for us. She made us super happy!)

Constance: What joy did you discover when creating your show?

Teruko: Honestly I couldn’t enjoy any of the process at all until I did my first preview show. As an overachiever, I have a tendency to be hard on myself. But once I finished it, I realized that I just gave birth to a masterpiece! That’s when I felt joy and relief.

Constance: What has been the most delicious discovery as you created your original work.

Teruko: I learned that being original is the mightiest because it’s vulnerable, challenging and courageous. And no one can take that away from me. I feel so invincible now.

Constance: How does it feel to have an opportunity to share your work with an in-person audience?

Teruko: I’ve always loved performing live on stage because I could feel the real human connections with the audiences. Especially as “Made In America’’ was very personal, it was very important for me to see their reactions too. Since Covid, it has been a true blessing for me to do live shows.

Constance: What influenced this new work? How long have you been sitting with this work? Why Fringe? Why now?

Teruko: “Moonlight” taught me the need to write about violent subjects. I was so related to the protagonist emotionally, and that encouraged me to share my own story of violence. The original play of “Fleabag” taught me the need to write my story in a clear, cheeky and honest way. It took me 6 months to finish writing “Made In America”. Super thanks to The Hollywood Fringe Festival’s scholarship program, I could get to perform my very first solo show this year!

#FringeFemmes 2022! Meet Judy Nazemetz

By Constance Strickland

Fringe Femmes 2022 are a bold cohort of women who are presenting new plays, original works and solo shows that have raised the bar on what it means to be an artist, tell one’s story and continue the work by any means necessary. Each year I am reminded that no matter the obstacles or the times in which we live, you cannot stop theatre as an art form from expanding, thriving and being a vessel to reveal, heal and nurture. LAFPI has the special ability to connect women from a wide variety of cultures and experiences together in their shared love of theatre.

This year continues to expand on that legacy and I could not be more thrilled to introduce you to renaissance woman Judy Nazemetz. According to Judy her solo show NAZZ-MA-TAZZ was born out of: “My everyday life as a Hojo girl, Pathmark cashier, Santa Claus trainer, polka lover, kielbasy hunter, LA PTA President, 3-pt. shooter in a basketball league for moms 5’3” and under.”

Constance Strickland: What’s been your biggest battle in terms of your development/process?

Judy Nazemetz: Figuring out the best way to showcase what it is that I do!

Constance: After the lights and the audience disappear, what do you hope one remembers after seeing your show?

Judy: I hope the audience remembers the laughs and the fun we had together.

Constance: What joy did you discover when creating your show?

Judy: Realizing I came up with the perfect blend of song, comedy, and stories.

Constance: What has been the most delicious discovery as you created your original work?

Judy: The perfect venue (Hudson Guild Theatre) for a truly theatrical experience.

Constance: How does it feel to have an opportunity to share your work with an in-person audience? COVID expanded in many ways how the work can be seen and done, what personally changed if anything for you in how you approached creating your show?

Judy: For me, in-person audience is the only way to go because I can hear the audience’s reactions.

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

Judy: When I was an improv-comedy performer, I’d make up songs on the spot from audience suggestions but, when the scene ended, the song was gone. I decided to write songs and performed these and sketches I wrote in my one-woman show with a cast of 5, ALL THAT NAZ, and in various sketch and comedy shows such as SANTA-THON and Fred Willard’s comedy shows. I realized I should record the songs and, with MEAT BIRD IN BEIGEVILLE released in January 2022, I have 4 CDs being played worldwide. Then Fringe 2022 came along and I figured a one-hour solo show that showed everything I can do, all at once, would be perfect. And, NAZZ-MA-TAZZ was born.

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 2021! Meet Pamela Paek

By Constance Strickland

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.

Pamela Paek’s two person show 1.5 Korean (co-written with Arthur Stanley Chong) was not only a winner of a Hollywood Fringe Diversity Scholarship it is now the 2021 Hollywood Fringe Two-Person Show winner. A series of comedic sketches that center around being Korean and Korean/Black-American and the ways one code switches, tamps down or amps up their Koreanness and who they are. What does it mean to not be Korean enough or not Black/Korean enough? Pamela and Arthur tackled it all while still honoring their identity’s heritage. 

Although the show has come to a close the show now lives forever in space and time and we look forward to seeing how the piece will continue and eagerly await for all the work Pamela will continue to manifest with humor, honesty and ferocity.

Constance: Why Fringe?  Why this year?

Pamela: I’ve been thinking about doing Fringe since September 2018 after I did a month-long training in Pochinko Clown. I wanted to explore the non-writer part of me and see what I might produce if I relied on my 16 years of dance training as well as my few years doing physical comedy. I wanted to see what would open up if I was more somatically focused. Then in late 2019, I wanted to talk more openly about being Korean in my creative work. Even though I do stand up comedy, I don’t talk about race or about intersectionality, or the many ways I struggle through each day with the many different aspects of my identity. So, I came up with this title, “1.5 Korean” and thought it would be great to ask a friend who’s half-Korean to explore what it really means to be Korean enough. And in this work, I was able to merge the physical aspects of myself with this newfound voice to share.

 I’ve been purposefully choosing not to be a comic who talks only about singular identities, which I believe tokenize the complexities of who we are – it’s been a lifetime of being quiet and reflecting on when, how, where, why, and what to share. Like it or not, I live and breathe this work every day, interrogating how I show up as well as how I’m seen and heard. And now, here’s my foray into writing and performing with this lens as the focus.

Constance: What did you enjoy most as you created your show?

Pamela: What I enjoyed most were the epiphanies that continued to arise in my exploration of the impacts of intersectionality. Those gems go beyond anything I can create – I’m transformed at a core level that informs and metabolizes the world around me. And, anytime I can make myself laugh really really hard – those are rare moments that need to be documented with dates and time stamps. Like a passport book!!

Constance: What was the most surprising discovery?

Pamela: How often I can shine a light into, onto, and through some of the most painful and hurtful points in my life – and find a way to reshape that into something (hopefully magical) to share with others.

Constance: What was your biggest challenge in terms of your development/creation process?

Pamela: The biggest challenge was knowing what to keep and what to let go of – it’s true of any and all writing for me. I know I need to create a clear through line for an audience to follow, and sometimes, that isn’t how I want to tell the story. I want it to be nonlinear and spastic and nonsensical, because often, that’s what life is for me. So, to create structures that are guideposts for folks to follow, I try to be mindful of how to create and develop those, while honoring my want to have none of those road maps.

Constance: And what do you hope audience members took away after experiencing your show?

Pamela: I hope that anyone who’s ever been gaslit, sidelined, marginalized, oppressed, beaten down – in short, made to feel lesser than the magic and beauty they are – all find a way to own and love who they are and all they bring to every space they enter. I hope they realize the power of speaking truth into space. I hope we can be part of a revolution in fully showing up and being seen. I’ll meet y’all there and relish in that kind of depth and connection.

Constance: The work has been given away – how does that feel?

Pamela: I have a sense of relief that the work has been shared with the world. It’s there to be witnessed by anyone who wants to watch. I hate admitting there’s some trepidation, like a little kid peeking out between their fingers while covering their eyes – I want to know if this show lands on people in good ways. And, when it doesn’t, standing strong and hearing the feedback while not shrinking. Because I am tired of playing small. I’m tired of so many of us who’ve played small. I am entitled to take up and own the space I belong in. So many of us deserve more and better!!

Constance: Extra! Extra! Anything Extra Please Share!

Pamela: I always struggle when an ask or question is wide open. So, if I were to share anything, I’ll say this: I fear that anything I share will not be considered interesting. As a result, I often say nothing. It’s easier. Yet, I’ll spill the all-of-me into anything I create – that’s where you’ll find me fully expressed. Thank you to LAPFI for all you do! You do what’s in my heart: shining the light on those who have historically not been centered or seen as they should. And making it so. YES!

Pamela Paek & Arthur Stanley Chong

#FringeFemmes 2021 are Here! Meet Simone Tetrault

By Constance Strickland

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).

For more information on VICE in #HFF21, visit http://hff21.co/7100

Click Here For More “Women on the Fringe”