Category Archives: Global Feminism

#FringeFemmes 2024: Meet Bethany Hill

By Constance Strickland

June is here and “Women on the Fringe” are again onstage!

There is nothing quite like the buzz that’s created during the Hollywood Fringe. It is a time filled with risk-taking, courage, hope and independent artists creating new work by any means necessary. Each year, I ask women writers a new series of questions influenced by the Proust Questionnaire and Bernard Pivot’s French series, “Bouillon de Culture.” The goal is to understand the artist’s work and their full nature while allowing them a space to reveal their authentic self. It is a great gift and a true honor to introduce women who will be presenting work in myriad genres, exploring a wide range of topics that allow us to examine who we are as individuals and as a society.

Introducing Bethany Hill and her show, “Femmina Super.”

Bethany Hill

Constance: What do you hope audience members take away after experiencing your show?

Bethany: I think, historically, humans have been quick to judge the decisions made by those that break societal norms, forgetting that a large proportion of those decisions are made as an act of desperation, survival and self-preservation. I wrote this play because I wanted to unpack my own decision-making and to understand why my ancestors would marry difficult men, leave their homes, abandon a child or break rules in order to make art. Through this unpacking, I hoped that I could provide an empathic lens for audiences toward these characters so that they might reflect on the people in their lives and the questionable decisions they have made.

And then there’s the music… Inspired by Barbara Strozzi, a female composer from 17th century Italy, I have used a variety of instruments like the Appalachian dulcimer, shruthi box, glockenspiel, Irish drum, live looping and electronic soundscapes to showcase her music and my own. It’s an introduction to music from 400 years ago combined with modern opera performed in a way that, hopefully, feels accessible and fresh to an audience that may not regularly attend opera or enjoy classical music.

Constance: What’s been your biggest challenge in terms of your development/creation process?

Bethany: While I love writing, this was my first script, and so I had next-to-no experience in crafting a balanced piece of theatre where the story moved forward. I had written moments of poetry and character monologues, but I needed to learn how to write “the glue” that would make it coherent.  I had so much material – I was passionate about the themes I was exploring – but I spent a lot of time cutting it down to a Fringe-friendly 80 minutes while still retaining the essence of the piece I had originally intended to make.

Constance: What are you enjoying most as you create your show?

Bethany: I have written the words and the music, and then I get to jump on stage and sing and play multiple instruments and be multiple characters! It’s the multi-faceted work that I have dreamed of doing. The discovery of my characters has been such a rewarding process. My women (the different roles) have morphed and changed with me throughout the rehearsal period. For me, that’s been the biggest joy – finding their voices.

Constance: What has been the most surprising discovery?

Bethany: To go back to the challenges of this show – the cutting of material, but in a helpful way. I was really stubborn at first about what I was willing to let go of. It was a surprising discovery to realize I didn’t need so much of the material to tell the same stories.

Constance: The work will be given away soon. How does that feel?

Bethany: Terrifying and exhilarating. This has had a gestational period of 15 months! It’s time to birth it and hand it over to audiences.

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

Bethany: For almost two years. It has gone through many formations. It actually began as a story utilising the music of Joni Mitchell and Barbara Strozzi! And then I realised that I wanted to write the music and tell my ancestral stories combined with the story of Barbara Strozzi. That was when I pitched the idea to my (now) director, almost a year and a half ago.

Constance: Why Fringe? Why this year?

Bethany: I’ve lived in the US for three years now, relocating from Australia during the pandemic. I wanted to change career paths from full-time opera singer to theatre-maker. I’m an unknown quantity in a new country! I was busting to make this show. I didn’t want to sit on it any longer. The Fringe seemed like a safe platform to launch this show on. The resources needed were easier to access under the umbrella of the Fringe than if I had tried a stand-alone season.

Constance: If there is anything else that needs to be said, please say it!

Bethany: I would encourage audiences to not be deterred by the title, Femmina Super: a Modern Opera. So far, the feedback has been “I didn’t know what to expect, but that wasn’t it!” in the best way possible. If you are an opera lover, this will still satisfy you. If you are not an opera lover, then this is so much more than what your perceptions of opera may be. This is theatre, opera, poetry, folk music, electronic soundtracks and human stories. But, most importantly, it’s the hidden stories of women – relatable, universal, and beautiful.

For info and tickets visit https://www.hollywoodfringe.org/projects/10601

The FPI Files: I am a Narrative: Kacie Rogers on Her Solo Show, “I Sell Windows”

by Elana Luo

A couple years ago, Kacie Rogers was anonymously nominated for the Free The Arts Shay Fellowship, a paid opportunity to write and develop a solo piece. She seized the chance, and wrote a five minute submission piece. A few weeks later, she found out that she had gotten the fellowship. And thus—her solo show I Sell Windows was born.

I Sell Windows, co-produced by Outside In Theatre & Bottle Tree Theatre (Kacie is one of the company’s co-founders), is an autobiographical collection of stories and reflections written and performed by Kacie. The anecdotes work through an artist’s experience of frustration and guilt, and let us be privy to a journey of self-discovery through grief. 

After seeing a performance of I Sell Windows, I called Kacie to chat about the process of putting it together. As the show’s writer, producer and performer, Kacie and her personal collection of experiences are its driving force. Among other things, we talk about theater as therapy, the joys of working with great creative collaborators and writing about the things that scare you most.

Elana Luo: Let’s start at the beginning. Tell me about coming up with the idea for this show.

Kacie Rogers: What I was always interested in was writing all of the scariest things I could think of that I’ve never thought I could say in front of a roomful of people. Stories that were the most interesting, or formative for me in one way or another. So that was my approach. Because theater, in so many ways, has been such a home for me, and such a place where I have channeled a countless amount of emotions through characters. I just always wondered what it would be like to stand up there and do it as myself. I think it’s an act of bravery. I thought it would be very cathartic.

Kacie Rogers in “I Sell Windows” – photo by JJ Hawkins

But I was also terrified that people would hate me. And so I was like, well, I need a collaborator. If I’m going to write all these scary things, I need a collaborator who I can trust, and I will always know that she loves me enough. There’s nothing too scary for me to say in front of her.

Elana: Was that Jaquita Ta’le, the director? And she’s also a co-founder of your company, Bottle Tree Theatre?

Kacie: Yes. She would guide me to what was interesting to her and away from things that didn’t seem like they were serving the narrative. I remember for a long time she was like, we just have to find a container.

Elana: An umbrella of sorts.

Kacie: Yeah. One thing I did trust is that  all these stories are coming from one common place. That common place is me. Ultimately, all we are as human beings are walking stories. So at some point if I just write down all these stories, I’m going to find a narrative somewhere, linear or non-linear. I am a narrative. And so I just kind of allowed myself to to write whatever and then trust that we would find a container. 

Elana: And what did you find?

Kacie: It’s so interesting—the container ended up being window selling, yes, but ultimately, it’s the death of my grandfather. A common factor of a lot of the stories was the guilt and frustration I feel around being imperfect, and unforgiveness around missing my grandfather’s death because of my desire to serve my artistry rather than going to serve my family. That was a huge revelation for me.

Kacie Rogers in “I Sell Windows” – photo by JJ Hawkins

Elana: Once you had all these stories and their container, what was developing the piece like?

Kacie: It’s so deeply personal, every single part of it. It’s really hard. There’s a lot of self doubt that is all over this process, because it is me–performing me, writing me, about me. So it’s very, very vulnerable. And you constantly want to change things, because you’re like, maybe people aren’t responding to me, you know? Maybe I should “do me” differently. And that’s really hard.

Elana: Has there been anything that has helped you deal with that?

Kacie: I think I’m actively learning to deal with it. I have the best team around me. Like really top to bottom. Jaquita, Jessica [Hanna, Producing Artistic Director of Outside In Theatre] and Chelsea [Boyd, Co-Founder of Bottle Tree Theatre]; Arlo [Sanders], Paul [Hungerford] and Matthew [Pitner] from Outside In; my stage manager Arielle [Hightower] and my puppeteers [Brittaney Talbot and Perry Daniel]… all of those people are so affirming at every step of the way. They have been so selfless in all the ways that they are willing to throw themselves into the work because they believe in it so deeply. And if anything has helped me to quell those doubts, it’s been looking around me and being so humbled and so encouraged by the endless amounts of work and heaps of appreciation that they have gifted me with.

Elana: That’s beautiful.

Kacie: I’m so thankful. But outside of that, I think it’s really important to accept that your thing does not have to be for everybody. You can be fully you, and your thing can be fully your thing, and be amazing at being your thing, and still not be for somebody else. And that’s okay. I think that’s a big learning curve. So that’s the lesson I’m currently trying to speak into myself.

Jessica Hanna (Producer), Jaquita Ta’le (Director), Kacie Rogers, Chelsea Boyd (Producer), Brittaney Talbot (Puppet Designer_Performer), Perry Daniels (Puppet Performer), Arielle Hightower (Stage Manager) after “I Sell Windows” opening – photo by Mallury P

Elana: Moving along in the process, will you tell me a little about producing the show? How did it make it onstage at Outside In?

Kacie: In 2022, Jacquita found an opportunity with Greenway Court Theatre. They were looking to help produce a show, so she submitted I Sell Windows. We didn’t get that opportunity, but they gave us another opportunity to do a one-night-only performance as a part of their Jam Poetry Festival. So I did that last year.

And Jessica Hanna—she directed me in a play years ago and we just kept in touch because we’re both big theater gals. I knew Jess had taken several shows to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, so I invited her to a coffee to pick her brain about what that process is like. It just so happened that the one-night-only presentation of I Sell Windows was within the next couple of weeks, so I invited her to see the show. She ended up coming, and I remember her walking out and being like, “let’s meet this week.” From there, she was like, “I’m starting a theater company. I want to produce your show. I want to give it a run and then I want to take it to Edinburgh!”

Elana: Wow.

Kacie: It was just like that. It was one of those dreamy meetings where everything you ever want to happen, happened.

Bottle Tree Theatre’s Chelsea Boyd, Kacie Rogers and Jaquita Ta’le – photo by JJ Hawkins

Elana: You’ve been lucky, but you’ve also been prepared.

Kacie: Chelsea Boyd always says, “All things will come together with ease and joy.” We just kind of keep doing the work, showing up and taking the opportunities that fall in front of us, and as we have it, truly all things have kind of come together with ease and joy. And I’m so thankful for that.

“I Sell Windows” plays through June 17th at Outside In Theatre’s ArtBox. Visit outsideintheatre.org/i-sell-windows for tickets and information.

Know a female or FPI-friendly theater, company or artist? Contact us at [email protected] & check out The FPI Files for more stories.

Want to hear from more women artists? Make a Tax-Deductible Donation to LAFPI!

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The FPI Files: Sacrifice Zone: Los Angeles

A Conversation with Co-Creator and Producer Paula Cizmar on a new Environmental Justice Multimedia Theatre Project.

by Elana Luo

Paula Cizmar is an acclaimed playwright and professor of playwriting at USC’s School of Dramatic Arts. Most recently, she has been co-creator and producer of Sacrifice Zone: Los Angeles (SZLA), a nonfiction collaborative environmental justice project about the damaging effects of industrial pollution on South Los Angeles communities.

The idea for SZLA took root in 2019, and had an online iteration that was presented in 2021. The project is now an expansive multimedia exhibit and experience at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. A house-like set built inside the museum features rooms filled with animation and video, news shows, interviews with members of the Los Angeles community, truck-ride simulations and of course live immersive theatre performances.

I spoke to Paula about a week before opening about putting it together, and her experience as a female playwright working in the intersection between environmentalism, feminism and theatre. 

Elana Luo: This is a huge undertaking, but let’s just start at the beginning. How did Sacrifice Zone come about?

Paula Cizmar: For the past ten years, I’ve been writing plays that take an environmental justice approach.

Paula Cizmar

[As a genre,] eco-theatre was a sub-category of theatre as a whole and it consisted of plays that were written by people who viewed the connection to the earth as important. A lot of the eco-plays were about endangered species—and, of course, the most photogenic of these is the polar bear.  I love polar bears;  I love all animals. 

But my problem with relying on photogenic poster animals is that it says to people:  Climate change is off in the distance, both in terms of location and in terms of time. 

The fact of the matter is that climate change is affecting us now. I realized that we in Los Angeles need to start looking at what’s going on. Our own citizens are being affected. So I started writing plays that looked at how we, and cities, are upset by environmental justice issues.

Then, I was working on Warrior Bards, an Arts and Action Project at USC, and the Head of Arts in Action, William Warrener, knew I wrote a number of these plays; one day he said, ‘You really should do something for Arts in Action about climate change or sustainability.’  And I thought—hmm.  Why not? So I pitched a multimedia project to my friend and colleague, Michael Bodie. Our idea was to allow the community in Los Angeles to tell their own stories about the environmental issues that were affecting them. We started investigating the oil wells that are less than a mile away from us. We worked with community activists and professional actors to turn the testimony of the community into a script.

Elana: In addition to the script, there are a number of other elements including video, interactive elements, and simulations. How did you decide on the mediums of the project?

Paula: I thought a climate change piece—in order to attract an audience—would need something more than a script.  It would need some multimedia elements to engage an audience. As a filmmaker, [co-creator] Bodie has massive technological know-how and hands-on skills that I simply don’t have, plus he’s got storytelling sense—and maybe even more important, a sense of adventure.  We knew we had to do something different that would maybe not even fit into a traditional space. 

SZLA co-creator Michael Bodie with interactive designer Luke Quezada and set design assistant Zoya Naqvi (l to r)

When you go back to the history of theatre, you realize that theatre used to be performed around a campfire, and then theatre was performed on the streets. So in a way with Sacrifice Zone, we’re kind of taking theatre back to its roots. We were doing a big project that involved the community, and it would have many parts, so we needed to reach out to involve a lot of artists.  And we’re not doing it on a typical proscenium stage. We’re bringing theatre to the people. I’m staring at like, honestly, two hundred kids right now [outside the museum, where the Sacrifice Zone team is working on the installation], and they will be able to walk through this exhibit and see the stuff that we’ve created.

SZLA installation inside the Natural History Museum waiting for its final touches

I have learned throughout my career, as a woman—and then as an older woman—that basically no one is going to pay attention to me. I’ve learned that I have to do it myself. As a playwright, I never really wanted to produce, but I decided that it was necessary to step up and create opportunities. I jumped into being a theatre maker/producer, not solely a playwright, for things like Sacrifice Zone

Elana: From lighting designers to videographers to theatre actors, SZLA clearly has a huge team. How did you go about putting it together?

Paula: It was a question of, who do we think would be really good to work with, who can we afford, who needs the experience, and who is actually politically and socially interested in these issues and will work hard?

A lot of my work is about community service, and public service. I realized a long time ago that I wasn’t going to be making any money in theatre. You can make a bare income, but you have to do other things. Ultimately, I wanted to make sure that what I was doing was valuable. And so community service is just a part of my life in the arts, and I want to instill that in my students, too.

part of the SZLA team with Paula Cizmar (back, 2nd from l), director Fran de Leon (front l) and Michael Bodie (back r)

Elana: Did you get into environmentalism first, or theatre, or both at the same time?

Paula: I started off as a playwright interested in women’s rights. I wrote about violence towards women, domestic abuse, and human rights issues. And what became very, very clear to me is that climate change and environmental justice are human rights issues. So it was a natural outgrowth of interest. 

Elana: Do you see any other intersections, and I’m sure there are many, between feminism and environmentalism?

Paula: Absolutely. What feminism basically asks for is equal treatment, equal rights. And environmental justice asks for the same thing. An equal right to having clean air and water, to being able to live a healthy life, to have access to health care. So things are incredibly connected because this is all about stewardship of the earth. Not just stewardship of nature, but stewardship of human beings. 

SZLA actors Claudia Elmore and Alejandra Villanueva rehearsing behind the scenes

Elana: How about the intersection between environmentalism and theatre?

Paula: There have not really been very many plays that have been actually produced about the environment or about ecology. I find that interesting. I think that there’s a kind of diss to plays that people perceive as issue plays. I read plays about people, but they might be set against an environmental catastrophe of some kind. But that doesn’t mean that it’s an issue play. It’s a play about people. But what I’m trying to do is get my characters to address the world that we live in. 

Elana: So an issue play tries to convey a specific message or view. But you’re interested in telling a story about the issue, instead of the play just being the issue.

Paula: Exactly. Sacrifice Zone is a very issue-oriented play. In fact, it started from documentary roots, because originally we were just going to do it as documentary theatre, with some media enhancements. As we developed it, and as we started to get to know the people involved, we realized that we wanted to tell a bigger story. It’s very hard in a documentary to get people to say exactly what you want them to say, with proper dramatic build, a climax and a resolution.

So we created fictional characters based on things that our real life community activists said, and challenges and campaigns they’ve been involved in. We then created a fictional story so that our audience can get an emotional attachment to the people, care about the people, and then, we hope, care about the issue.

SZLA lead writers Eliza Kuperschmid (l) and Alessandra Viegas (r), with actor Xol Gonzalez (c)

Elana: What do you hope the audience will take away from the piece?

Paula: I want to tell stories about people. But in our contemporary world, particularly here in California, if we ignore the environmental component of people’s lives, then we’re ignoring something that’s extremely important. So do I want to say that as a documentarian, or do I want to find a way to dramatize that so that somebody can come in and say, ‘Wow, I really fell in love with that character and it was really painful for me when I saw what they were going through,’ and then we hope that translates into ‘I care about this now, and I want to do something about it.’

“Sacrifice Zone: Los Angeles” opens January 13th, 2024, with performances through the 28th at the Natural History Museum in Exposition Park. Visit sacrifice-zone.com for more information. Reserve Free Tickets Here

Know a female or FPI-friendly theater, company or artist? Contact us at [email protected] & check out The FPI Files for more stories.

Want to hear from more women artists? Make a Tax-Deductible Donation to LAFPI!

Donate Now!

If They Stop Us From Gathering, We All Become Hunters

by Rasika Mathur

And I don’t know about you but I can’t live like that. Mind you, I have enough tomboy in me for two more lifetimes and one final incarnation, but I still have a soft fragile gooey inside that gets high off of helping post-rain snails who show up on my doorstep, taking long naps, and laughing with other people in very public spaces. I’m pretty gathery.

Can I get you a shell, sweet friend?
Or just freeballing it today?

If you’ve witnessed recent road rage or more recent panic buy, you’ve probably concluded that we can’t afford to lose that balance. That would be devolving. And how much of the mess our natural world is currently in can be traced back to the hands of hunting gone awry? 

I think right now Is about being smart. But not paranoid. I was there, vascillating this week between the two.

Monday paranoid.

Tuesday can’t do it, I need to act normal.

Wednesday paranoid from WHO.

Thursday can’t do this, just wanna touch my eyes!

Friday the scene at Trader Joe’s Silverlake GEEEEEEEZ.

Who can we credit for “PANIC ROOM 2020” ???

And today, I woke up to the grey (perfect timing this rain, eh?) lockdown feelings, thinking, “I can’t write like this. I can’t be creative, I can’t be productive, I can’t be present. What can I even say? Oh, great, I’m the guest this week, holding the mighty blog pen of LAFPI. What a waste this must be for them.”

And then, I realized, “Yup. It got me.” The other virus. The one that lowers my humorous system, tugs my love vibration to come crashing down, and dents my ability to be of service.

So I am choosing to acknowledge my fear, not of the virus, but of the powers who could create such things.

How evil hearted do you have to be to think it’s okay to release a bunch of disease all over people (during rainy weather.) Vulnerable people. Fry their insides w technology. Fill us with forced vaccine/gunk? Declare us the enemy while we go on about our lives making small, sometimes big differences but not once prioritizing harm to others. Who are these people and why do we constantly give them the keys to the most important kingdoms of our minds and our loyalty? Haven’t a handful of Extremely Sadistic Hunters messed all this up badly and bigly enough?

TRIGGER WARNING WITH THIS LINK: MAY CONTAIN INFORMATION.

When NBA, NHL, Disneyland, Hollywood Productions, and other huge organizations in arts, sports & entertainment began to shut down Wednesday…I could feel the seriousness — of course, we worry about our individual ability to pay the bills, but the bigger suggestions were to “flatten the curve” of an easily-spread, often deadly nuisance, as a collective, and I was all for that. All for that. Like, wow, we can all actually get on the same page about something. We passed those ideas on to our own yoga studios, school and class communities, small events, clubs and show outings — mostly met with shock, heavy hearts and initial resistance. What’s the big deal? People are panicking… but everyday more of a tipping point to comprehend the urgency of containment. I mean, how can I not be upset about some of the most biggest, baddest, most conscious and beautiful gatherings that have touched my life having to PAUSE if not STOP ENTIRELY?

Lightning In A Bottle!
A cheaper Burning Man!

So. Now what? I’ve literally admitted I’m powerless over all of this. Where is my power? I need some of my power back. What can I do?

There’s two viruses at play here.

The physical one, which is about being cautious and clean. I can keep sensible regarding that virus. Do all the things, the no face-touching, no going-outing, constant hand-washing things.

And the second one, which is designed to attack our mental and emotional state. I can keep monitoring how I’m allowing myself to be run by fear and negativity and collective panic.

So after waking up to media media social media, and articles, and government actions and lots of different points of view, I felt the itch to just go out, get shit done, and live.

I needed to breathe and let go. How? Because sometimes our anxiety can’t just be breathed away, right? I’m sensitive. I understand. I got you.

I look around. (like the Calm app says)

I see the beautiful Tibetan bowl gifted to me last night from my friend, Jodi. (Get present to my immediate environment)

My friends get me.

I play it. (Sound healing)

I light incense. (Magical smells)

I make the bed. (Routine) (Touching soft, cozy blankets)

Put on my hat that says “hat” (Nobody ever laughs at that)

Go outside. Breathe. Pick oranges off the tree. (Vitamin D, Vitamin C)

Drive to a DIFFERENT Trader Joe’s for my Indian frozens dammit, and take the scenic route. (Calm preparation)

Play either beautiful music by Tycho that brings my cells and DNA back to the best times of my life – or grounds me back to that young, innocent person that I was growing up in Houston, TX with my sister during our school years, Erasure on loop (Remember who you are)

I overzealously wave to other drivers as I pass them. With this simple act, my sense of humanity returns. In an attempt to be sane, I look totally insane. I feel like Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker dancing on the stairs after he…well, y’know. Except what I’d brutally murdered were my thoughts of paranoia and other-ness! (Reaching out)

THE LIGHT IN ME SEES AND HONORS THE LIGHT IN YOU,
FELLOW CITIZEN!

Choose to not text back a few people because I don’t wanna talk about IT, just wanna keep my vibe high (Shielding/Protection)

After doing all these things, this article began to write itself. My thoughts relaxed as I thought about you, receiving on the other end. I realized I could use the power of words today to comfort, relate and entertain. I started to feel like me again. And the cashier AND bagger guys at Awesome, Plentiful Trader Joe’s actually acknowledged and loved HAT!

I’m gonna leave you with the best viral links I’ve seen this week that have helped me to turn the corner on my self-care. Leave your favorite ones in the comments below. We are all aching in some way, and we need to stockpile the good vibes, and safely feel one another. You’re not alone, sweet friend.

VIDEO: Quarantined Italians Sing Together – Its like Life Is Beautiful!

For the Starseeds & Dreamers, click here
Watch Ralph Smart if you’re looking a bit shaky, baby
For my Thinkers

And finally, as a former step-mom and current nanny, tutor and favorite Auntie, to the parents who are stressing about what to do with your kids this week? You can tell me to shove it, but YOU DO have the exclusive privilege and an unprecedented opportunity of being on the frontlines of teaching this next generation how to not become self-absorbed assholes who balk everytime they don’t get their way or think something is being taken from them, lest they grow up to pursue a career in revenge against the entire human race. What a great week to gather ye little ones and teach them how to sit w themselves and meditate. With you. That way I don’t have to teach them when they’re 21 and they walk into my drug rehab because they never learned how to sit with themselves and their never-ending thoughts and desires. What a wonderful time to interrupt the nonsense and say, “hey this is important. I want you to come over here and sit with me because there’s bigger things going on right now than you not getting that toy” and “It’s okay to be scared, I’m scared too, let’s be scared together” and teach them there are people, places and things in the world we cannot always control but we can sure control how we react and respond.

My friend Nidhi Chanani reframes lockdown in a lovely way

Thanks for letting me write in this community-focused, virtual gathering space of like-minded, wonderfully artistic souls.

I’ll be over here gathering up my oranges and shiitake noodles with sprinkled bee pollen and cumin for flavor because I’m going to get reeeeallly creative with all these random foods, teaching a few healthy people yoga and deep breathing for anxiety, making myself laugh, and Trusting that I’m being taken care of.

Rasika Mathur is a writer and yogi. She is always living the dream.

The FPI Files: Solo Queens Fest @ Bootleg

Three Queens visiting Northeast LA. A good reason to head to Bootleg Theater. (As if you needed one!)

Solo Queens Fest brings together three acclaimed solo shows playing in rep – Kristina Wong’s Wong Street Journal, Elizabeth Liang’s Alien Citizen: An Earth Odyssey and Valerie Hager’s Naked in Alaska: The Behind The Scenes True Story of Stripping in the Last Frontier – in addition to workshops for writers and performers.  With (what?!) free childcare during Sunday matinees.

Yep. This is the brainchild of producer Jessica Hanna, fantastic femme queen of all things Bootleg. Well, we couldn’t pass up the chance to chat with the newly appointed sovereigns before the (inaugural? fingers crossed) Fest is underway.

LA FPI: So! What are you ladies queen of?

Elizabeth (Lisa) Liang: I’m individually the queen of 50% anxiety/50% grit; collectively we’re the queens of telling and supporting women’s unique stories with fierce honesty, vulnerability, and unpredictable humor, together at the Bootleg in the city of angels.

Valerie Hager: I am the queen of moving my body – it’s where I find my deepest flow.

Kristina Wong: This week I am the queen of cutting and pasting the link to my show all over the internet.  So much so that I’ve been banned by Facebook from posting in Facebook groups for the next week.  Marketing is hard yo.

Kristina Wong in THE WONG STREET JOURNAL

LA FPI: But we so love the Fest Hashtag: #QueenSaysWhat! What would you say your show is about, in 140 characters or less?

Kristina: A jaded Asian Am social media activist goes to Northern Uganda to volunteer with a microloan organization only to record a hit rap album.

Lisa: Alien Citizen: AEO is a funny and poignant one-woman show about growing up as a dual citizen of mixed heritage in six countries.

Valerie: Naked is a fearless look at the objects we make of ourselves to fit in and the buried truths we must face to have a chance at coming home.

LA FPI: Each of these shows has toured across the country and internationally. Where was the first public performance, in any incarnation?

Valerie: TheaterLab, NYC in late 2012. Interestingly, TheaterLab has a similar mission to Bootleg: to develop and present new and experimental work in theater, music, and visual arts.

Kristina: I showed this as a work in progress in Burlington, Vermont at the Flynn Center for Performing Arts in January 2015. They were one of the four National Performance Network Creation Fund commissioners for this show.  I’ve cut a few scenes since then and the show definitely sits better in my body from touring it the last few years.  I’m still finding ways to make the material more relevant and more alive.

Lisa: I performed one 12-minute segment at the first annual “5,000 Women” Festival at Wesleyan University in 2011.

Valerie Hager in NAKED IN ALASKA

 LA FPI: And thematically, each of your shows covers a lot of territory. Can you talk about where your show begins? Or the journey we’ll take?

Valerie:  Naked In Alaska begins when I’m 15 and living in my childhood home in San Diego. At that time, I didn’t have a lot of social and emotional tools to work through issues I was experiencing at home and school, so the coping mechanisms I created—like becoming a bulimic, cutter, and meth addict—laid the psychological foundation for experiencing stripping as the most exciting and fulfilling adventure I could possibly imagine when I discovered it—it truly gave me the family feeling I had been longing for all my life.

Lisa: My show’s starting point is an Alien (Martian-style) on Earth, trying to answer supposedly simple questions: Who are you? Where are you from? What are you?

Kristina: I have yet to see Valerie and Elizabeth’s shows, but what all our shows definitely have in common is that we are women who traversed incredible distances as we find out who we are.  I would say there are two journeys in my show.  One is obvious journey is from my armchair in America to Northern Uganda.  The other is the journey from a fight-happy Twitter activist out to call out anybody who has ever been a colonial asshole, to reconciling that I myself am guilty of being a colonial asshole.

LA FPI: Tell us a bit about your workshops, which sound incredible.

Valerie: SOLOfire [Sat. 11/4 at 1 pm] is a workshop series I developed over many years that takes a movement-based approach to discovering and creating new work. I lead students through physical exercises that combine both group and partner work, as well as stretching, character discovery, and vocal release.  The whole mission of SOLOfire is to shake the bullshit off and get to the raw, unvarnished truth.

Elizabeth Liang in ALIEN CITIZEN

Lisa: I’ve been leading my Solo Show & Memoir [Sat 11/11 at 1 pm]  workshop for 4 years on college campuses (Princeton, DePaul, CSULA), at conferences, in private in L.A. and via Skype with participants all over the world. Anyone who grew up or is currently living between or among different worlds, as a bridge or an island or both (whatever that may mean to them), will get a lot from this workshop. But all are welcome! I hope that anyone who’s been yearning to tell their own story but has been afraid or unsure of how to begin will take this workshop.

Kristina:  I’ve been mostly teaching workshops in social justice settings or as a guest at a university. It’s been a while since I’ve taught for individuals interested in making their own work and I’m so excited. The last few years of making work for harsh critics (professional and otherwise) has really taught me how to build a thicker skin and just “do the damn thing.” My workshop is called “How to Be a Badass Bitch” [Sat 11/8 at 11 am] and I really want to get participants to approach hard topics without fear.

Q:  Bootleg says it has “a fierce belief in the power​ ​of​ ​women​ ​in​ ​Art​ ​to​ ​create​ ​change​ ​in​ ​the world​.” How will you use your powers?

Kristina: There’s a great shift happening now with the harassers of Hollywood getting called out on their BS and women are speaking out about their harassment experiences with #MeToo. But theater has been one of the spaces where I first witnessed women call out their harassers and stand their own ground.  As we head full speed into some apocalyptic time, I want to hold the space for women to keep telling their stories.

Valerie: I will use my power to promote greater vulnerability within ourselves and with one another – to tell the truth out loud, all of it, and stand with an open heart and strong. This is also the power that naturally comes out in Naked In Alaska. I hope that when someone leaves the show, they feel a surge of that power within them, and they never look back. I call it the power of cracking open. It is where all hope lives.

Lisa: To create and connect via truthful storytelling on stage and page, building bridges between people, helping others to do the same, casting lifejackets to those who thought they were drifting alone (especially women)…and heal the world.

Solo Queens Fest plays from October 26 – November 19 at Bootleg Theater, 2220 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90057. For Festival Passes, Info & Tickets to Individual Shows and Workshops Visit www.bootlegtheater.org.

 

Know a female or FPI-friendly theater, company or artist? Contact us at [email protected] & 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 LA FPI must be made payable to “Fractured Atlas” only and are tax‐deductible to the extent permitted by law.

#FringeFemmes Check-Ins: MexiStani!

by Terry Holzman

Quick peeks at the work of #HFF17 female playwrights, “Women on the Fringe,” by Fringe Femmes who’re behind the scenes this year. Click Here for all Check-Ins.

Fringe Femmes


WHO: Sofie Khan

WHAT: MexiStani! Growing Up Mexican & Pakistani in America

WHERE: studio/stage

WHY: One of the ten Fringe Scholarship winners (awarded to shows that expand and diversify the Fringe community), charismatic comic Sofie Khan grew up with a Mexican Catholic mother and a Pakistani Muslim father in a predominantly Black and Puerto Rican Chicago neighborhood. Such a multi-culti stew makes for a deliciously funny and poignant solo show.

Sofie’s warm, relaxed, upbeat stage presence immediately invites the audience into her world. I love her positive motto: “If you judge a book by its cover, you miss out on the story.” And Sofie tells her story very well, relating the many instances where her “cover” has indeed been judged—by cashiers, TSA agents, White House staff (to name a few). Her story is both unique yet highly relatable as our country becomes even more of a melting pot and we’re all “mixed” in some way (mine is a strict Catholic mom and Atheist dad, which was difficult in its own way.)

Sofie reads our minds by answering such questions as: Does she identify more with her ‘Mexi’ side or her ‘Stani’ side? Has she been a victim of a hate crime? What holidays does she celebrate? All these questions and many more are answered along with her imparting sincere wisdom about all of us being part of the World Community, and wanting to create a “safe space and understanding for all…especially for LGBTQ and Muslim individuals”. (To that end, Sofie has partnered with the Naz & Matt Foundation which tackles “homophobia triggered by religion to help parents accept their children”. Brava.)

Though Sofie is “charismatic AF” (to quote the kids today), a compelling performance and a well-told tale is often not enough to make a solo show riveting. It must be theatrical as well. Otherwise, I could just listen to “The Moth” on the radio. I love seeing solo shows at the Fringe and how they run the gamut from basic stand-up to the use of multi-media, props, and other elements to amp up the show. Tightly directed by solo show dynamo Jessica Lynne Johnson, MexiStani! makes use of projections, audience participation, impersonations, and Sofie even performs a rap song. All of the elements add up to a theatrical and highly entertaining show. So entertaining that the serious themes slipped right by my brain and straight into my heart and had me thinking about them days later.

One final note: Sofie is offering a free 90- minute Fringe workshop with the right-to- the-point title: “Getting to Your Authentic Happy Self When You Feel Like Shit”. It’s at the Asylum Underground Theater, June 10 at am. Maybe I’ll see you there! 

HOW: http://hff17.org/4431

Profile of The Naked Expedition Project

by Laura Shamas

The Naked Expedition Theatre Project
is a new theatre company in New York, co-founded by Laura Bray and Celestine Rae. Its mission is specific and significant:
“To challenge the perceptions of women and the underrepresented through the voice of theatre and to serve as an advocate for their stories…TNEP strives to inspire writers of all ethnicities, backgrounds, and gender by providing a space for them to develop and share their work. We believe that artists thrive within a community that embraces exploration and the many stages of development and process. Our goal is to provide a platform for non-traditional stories and voices that will ignite conversation, understanding and investigation into the core humanity of women and the underrepresented within the local and global community.”

I was lucky enough to be part of the first evening of their new Reading Series, held at the beautiful Theatre Lab  on W. 36th on September 15, 2014. There were five short plays read, all written by women: Femme Noir by Allie Costa; God Don’t Exist For Girls in Brooklyn by Yani Perez; my play The Cumin Guard; Got a Light by Tanya Everett; and Color Blue by Alexis Roblan. The directors were: Tiffany Greene, Julio Monge, and Derrick Anthony. It was a thrilling event; the bright talent of all involved was dazzling. How terrific to see five shows in a row by talented female writers! Personally, I was amazed by the performance of my 10-minute show that evening; all kudos and credit to director Tiffany Greene, and actors Erin Cherry, Suzanne Darrell and Lori Lang! The TNEP Reading Series will continue in coming months.

The atmosphere in any theatre company is fostered by its leaders; the ambience surrounding The Naked Expedition Theatre Project was palpably positive. So I wanted to find out more about Laura Bray and Celestine Rae, and learn about their insights and future plans; I asked them a few questions via e-mail. Check out their inspiring answers, and please don’t miss the announcement of a new submission opportunity at the end.

Celestine&Laura

Celestine Rae and Laura Bray, photo credit: JP Photography NYC

1) When and where did you first become involved with theater?
Celestine Rae: “I was very aware of the need for self-expression at a young age. I was terribly shy as a child but ironically, I was drawn to performing. I began my life in the theater as a dancer. Dancing was a vehicle for me to not only express myself but to tell my own personal story through movement. I was always creating and seeking out new avenues for performing. I began choreographing my own dances, creating my own skits, performing in school plays and dance recitals, and directing all of the children in my neighborhood in productions of my own. I was blessed to dance and train in Philadelphia at dance studios, including the renowned Philadanco (where I also performed as an apprentice company member), under some of the dance masters of our time who were former dancers of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and the Martha Graham Company. These choreographers and teachers were the storytellers I looked up to. They were my August Wilson, Lorraine Hansberry, and Shakespeare.  I watched documentaries on the lives of Alvin Ailey, Carmen de Lavellade, and Geoffery Holder and heard them speak of the importance of telling stories that were of their culture and background. And I saw and felt the enormous impact it had on a generation of dancers who were given the platform to share a part of themselves with a world that might not have shown interest were it not for that art form. I recognized what dance and theater did for the artist and for the audience. It was, and is transformative. When I decided to focus primarily on acting, it felt like the natural progression of my career and artistry. I trained at the William Esper Studio under Terry Knickerbocker and began working in off-Broadway theater productions soon after. Continuing my patterns from childhood, I began taking interest in creating my own work and began writing and directing my own plays.”

Laura Bray: Being in a theatre is one of my earliest memories. My dad was a classical musician with our state orchestra so I remember spending hours in a huge 1000+ seat theatre with no audience and a full orchestra playing and just loving the feeling I had there and feeling really at home and connected with it. My mum is an English teacher so I think that’s where my love affair with words and how they worked together came from. From both of those things stemmed my love of the theatre. Of live connection with an audience and of story telling. I started performing stage as an actor back in Australia when I was about 15, but I really think my love was more with the scripts and hence I left acting for writing and haven’t looked back.”

2) When and why did you decide to form your own theatre company?
“We both initially began as actors and met at The William Esper Studio in NYC.  We connected as friends and fellow artists but we definitely shared a desire for more diverse portrayals of women in theater and in entertainment and the media across the board. We came up with the idea to start something… we weren’t sure what… at the beginning of last year. After many meetings and cups of coffee, we came to realize that beginning our own theater company was the direction we wanted to go. We saw a great need for this and began to build it.”

Laura: “I know for me personally, I didn’t often feel that I got to see much of our humanity on stage. I think that is a big driving force behind not only deciding to work together but also to form a company with such a specific mission. Another reason (and this is another important one to me) was to create a community. A community of like-minded artists and thinkers. Dreamers and doers. I think that surrounding ourselves with others that strive and think and challenge is hugely helpful and inspiring. This is something that we would love to achieve with TNEP.”

Celestine: “Humanity is definitely our buzz word. Our desire to show women and other underrepresented people as complex human beings as opposed to stereotypes is at the center of our work. As former actors and emerging writers, we share the desire to tell stories about women, all kinds of women from all kinds of diverse backgrounds. I believe in the cliché motto ‘If you build it, they will come’ and I wanted to move from a place of feeling reactive to proactive. I wanted to stop feeling helpless and disappointed with the limited opportunities for women and begin to empower myself (and others) by building our own platform. I’d say empowerment is another one of our buzzwords for sure.”

3) What are your future plans for The Naked Expedition Project?
“Our long term goal is for TNEP is to expand into a full functioning theater company with a diverse pool of talented, inspired & driven artists. A company that showcases the underrepresented voices so that eventually they will become REPRESENTED. We want to assist in providing opportunities for artists who are struggling to be seen. Our plans for TNEP include producing full productions that reach audiences of all backgrounds and ignite conversation, leading to education, change & unity.

We are incredibly excited about our October reading series as we feature the work of an incredible woman and playwright, Cori Thomas. We are thrilled to be hosting a reading of her play, My Secret Language of Wishes on Monday, October 13th at 7:30 pm at THEATERLAB in NYC. 357 W 36th St.”

4) What is the genesis of your company’s name?
Celestine: “I really love our name! The Naked Expedition Project. It’s provocative. I’m actually really proud of our name.  As an actress working in film & TV as well, many of the roles I have been auditioning for have begun to require nudity. The nudity of women on screen is so prevalent and such a complex issue for me. I’d like to believe that the female body is celebrated for its beauty on screen and in the media, however more often than not it is being objectified instead. Being naked, both physically and emotionally is such a vulnerable experience. My acting teacher (Terry Knickerbocker) used to tell us that we had to be willing to be publicly naked (emotionally)– without skin– to be an actor. That stuck with me. I think the same is true for artists of all disciplines and especially in the world of theater. Sharing your voice and art with the world is extremely vulnerable. So- there was a bit of a play on the objectification of the female body and the vulnerability of being naked in an emotional and artistic sense.”

Laura: “Our name really derived from our desire, I think. The desire to find, experience & reveal work that required us to expose & to be exposed. To be naked and truthful. And to be taken on a journey. Or not even on a journey. Something so much bigger than that. An Expedition… I think whatever kind of artist you are, you are required to be bare and naked. With yourself and with your audience. This is kind of work I want to create myself as a playwright & produce within TNEP. The name felt right when we created it.”

5) Are there any upcoming submission opportunities for women playwrights with TNEP?
“We’re excited about February 2015 and the opportunity to be inspired by the great Maya Angelou. We’re seeking submissions from playwrights that are inspired by the works and life of Ms. Angelou. This submission opportunity is open to all playwrights until December 1st, 2014. Short plays 10-15 pages maximum. All submissions can be sent to: [email protected].”

Thanks, Celestine and Laura, for taking action and leading the way. You can subscribe to their “Spotlight Series page” to stay up to date on everything going on with TNEP via their website. You can find TNEP on Twitter – @NakedExpedition; on Facebook – The Naked Expedition Project; and on Instagram – TheNakedExpeditionProjectNYC. Donations needed: The Naked Expedition Project is fiscally sponsored by Fractured Atlas. Please visit their website for more info on how to donate to TNEP.

Final words from Celestine and Laura: “Show us some love. We’ll love you back.”

SeptReading2

Celestine Rae, Laura Bray, TIffany Greene, Yani Perez, Alexis Roblan
September 15, 2014 – Photo Credit: JP Photography NYC. 
 

Equality Pledge for U.K. Theatres and More

by Laura Shamas

There’s some excellent news from London this week. From the BBC News article entitled “Theatres Make Gender Equality Pledge“: “Leading English theatres have committed to making changes in their programming and working practices to address gender inequality in the theatre industry.” The theatres involved include “the Almeida, Tricycle and Young Vic theatres in London; the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC); and the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds.” One theatre hopes for new results to be viable within a year. The overall aim is to include more opportunities for women working in all areas of theatre, including acting, writing and directing. “One theatre complex has made a concrete pledge to balance the number of men and women actors in its in-house shows.” Read more at the link above. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if something similar happened in other countries, including the U.S.?

Also, related U.K. news, the reason the pledge came about: The Advance Programme from Tonic Theatre, an intensive, 6-month effort to advance women in theatre, was profiled in The Guardian in an article by Lyn Gardner on Monday, Sept 22, 2014. Only 29% of shows at big theatres in London are directed by women, “but change is in the air.”  About the field of playwriting: “among the writers of new plays produced in leading theatres such as the Almeida, Tricycle, Royal Court, Donmar and Olivier and Lyttleton at the National, only 24% were female.”

If you missed it from last week, a new 4-year study was released from the League of Professional Theatre Women, about gender parity Off-Broadway: “Women Hired Off Broadway, 2010 – 2014.” The study was  conducted by LPTW members and professional theatre women Judith Binus and Martha Wade Steketee; this study includes new data about women working in all areas of Off-Broadway theatre, including playwriting and directing: “Women playwrights working Off-Broadway ranged from a high of 36% in 2012-2013, to a low of 28% in 2013-2014. Women directors Off-Broadway ranged from a high of 39% in 2012-2013 to a low of 24% in 2011-2012.”

Earlier this month, the LA FPI’s own So Cal League of Resident Theatre [LORT] count for 2014/2015 season was updated: Out of the 57 LORT shows announced for the 2014/2015 Season for the 9 LORT theaters in our area, LA FPI calculates that about 29.5% are female-authored, and about 30.5% are directed by women.