Category Archives: LAFPI

These days…

by Robin Byrd

These days…

We forget that the shutdown delayed medical care for other ailments.  No second opinions, no early detection or preventive treatment; everything was on hold for a year.  Two years later – all things exacerbated by time – we grieve the more and COVID-related takes on a deeper meaning.

I lost a cousin this month – one of the greatest minds I have ever known. I wanted more time…

Myself, I am going through the results of delayed care.  The stress of it is stifling. The constant search for water – spiritual, physical and emotional is stretching me beyond my limits as I blindly believe for a new day.  I don’t recognize myself in the mirror, I don’t turn on the camera during Zoom meetings, I rarely go out.  Groundhog Day. 

I dream I am writing… I wake to find I am not…

I am imploding with all the words…the words…the words…

These days, I am fighting to start again…again…

Ready, re-set, go…

I’m Not Waiting ‘Til They Pick Me

By AR Nicholas

We struggle to write, often looking for something to take us out of the struggle. Just
for a few minutes, we tell ourselves, then we’ll come back fresh, inspired by new ideas
of how to fix what’s not working. Despite the struggle, we are compelled to write. It is
a calling and a padded cell of our own making. We feel bad about ourselves when we
don’t write, and guilty about doing anything else unless we’ve had “a good day” and
gotten a few words out. But when we overcome the impediments of the day job,
family, illness and limited time to actually write something–that is, to pull something
out of a hat where once there was nothing– it’s the best feeling in the world.

I’ve grown to love the process of writing even when it goes nowhere. Good thing,
because the results, if measured by my work being chosen by others, is about 200 to 1.
I send plays out far and wide to be considered for festivals, readings and labs, usually
landing a rejection in reply. Mostly though, I hear nothing. At least a rejection is
acknowledgment of my existence even if there’s no guarantee someone read my play.
And I am not being wholly cynical when I tell you that not all submitted plays get
read, or that theatres have closed-minded, pre-existing agendas for programming.
I’ve been a “selector” for various theatre contests over the years and witnessed the
behavior first hand. These theatres may appear inclusive but they want their selected
playwrights to tick certain boxes. Blind submissions? There are ways around them. A
similar process goes on with union actor auditions. SAG/AFTRA and AEA mandate
auditions for projects but they’re often going through the motions. Producers and
directors know who they’re making offers to when those auditions begin.

I don’t say these things to depress you. It’s taken me a very, very, very long time to
accept that the likelihood of a visionary Artistic Director discovering my work and
plucking me from obscurity is pretty much nil. And the older I get, the less likely it is.
Honor Roll, the advocacy collective of female playwrights over 40, has said as much,
which is why they formed to fight ageism and sexism in theatre. But I’m over 60, now,
so probably a lost cause. Fortunately, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve also developed a true
love of writing for writing’s sake. But I also write because I want to share my thoughts
with other people. In theatre, that means a reading or production, when there’s an
opportunity for me and other humans to be in conversation about things we think
matter. So what happens when those opportunities don’t arise? Sometimes having
written is not enough and I need to find a way to get my words into the world.

The pandemic showed just how vulnerable the performing arts are to plague. But the
truth is, and for lots of different reasons–ticket prices, cheap streamers, the cost of
gas and childcare and other logistical hassles– it was increasingly difficult to get butts
in seats even before Covid hit. When it did and theatres shut down, theatremakers
sought other outlets and many found ways to share their work online. Zoom became
the go-to for readings and productions of various sorts. Previously filmed and taped
plays were brought out of the archives and streamed while some new work, when
able to be captured safely, found its way online as well.

You may be done with Zoom plays but even NY Times critic Elizabeth Vincentelli,
says online theatre is not going away. There are audience members who claim they
will never sit in a theatre again, who actively search out plays they can watch from
home. Yes, it’s difficult to get people to watch them sometimes but is it any easier to
get people to drive 45 minutes to a theatre? It will likely depend on what the play is,
who’s in it, etc. but I’m not talking about the star-studded, LORT, extravaganza. I’m
referring to the new play by the unknown playwright starring no name actors. That
play doesn’t get the buzz and it doesn’t get the butts.

So if you’re tired of waiting to be chosen, I’m making a pitch that you get your work
out using Zoom or other online tools. Take advantage of what these platforms offer
rather than falling victim to them. Turn them on their heads. And you can do it inexpensively–possibly even for free. I know because I did it with my one hour Rom-
Com, BRIDE & ZOOM, and we had a blast.

A Zoom account is free. You can record what happens on Zoom onto a hard drive.
Decent audio quality is well within reach with a few adjustments in preferences. And
once all is captured, you can edit what you’ve recorded using the editing software that
came with your computer. Put some titles on it and if you’ve hired non-union actors,
you may have created something that was entirely free. Of course you should pay
actors and if you’re not directing, you should pay your director and because you’ll be
editing the recorded footage, you will likely need to pay an editor, unless you want to
teach yourself. But you can produce your work and post it online for free.

Now consider producing for a 99 seat black box. Let’s say your show runs Fri-Sun for
4 weeks with a ticket price of $25. The max box office take would be $29,700. But you
know you won’t sell all those tickets, at least not at full price. And the cost of
producing the show will far exceed that amount, between renting the theatre (low
end $10K for 5 weeks), hiring tech–lighting, sound, costume and production design
(all in, maybe $12K)–actors (depends on how many but let’s say three AEA actors for
rehearsal period and the run, maybe $8K), not to mention building the sets ($5K),
equipment rentals, insurance, props, craft services… you are looking at a LOT of
money, close to $40,000, that you cannot get back from ticket sales unless your show
is a giant hit and goes on to theatrical success all over the country. Spending that on
ourselves should give any of us pause. Talk about a vanity production!

On the other hand, BRIDE & ZOOM was a union show conceived and written for the
Zoom format and produced for $6000, which included a website and professional
Zoom and Vimeo accounts. We used the SAG-AFTRA microbudget contract for
projects under $20K. (Note: The AEA and SAG-AFTRA contracts, are a moving target
so if you want to use union talent, read the fine print) and employed eleven actors!
B&Z was shot out of order with extensive editing so the SAG-AFTRA contracts were
the only option for us, which turned out to be fortunate. The project was eligible for
film festival submissions and has been official selected at a couple so far. The thing
to remember with the SAG-AFTRA microbudget contract is, if you, as producer, have
the opportunity to make money by posting your project for sale online, you need to
discuss with the SAG-AFTRA rep before you do so.

I started writing a rom-com as antidote for my pandemic gloom, and then realized
Zoom was the perfect place for it. If not for the pandemic, I would never have
thought to re-envision BRIDE & ZOOM for Zoom itself. But having produced for live
theatre, I can tell you producing for Zoom was a lot easier, not to mention cheaper.
And taking control of my writing felt empowering.

We all want someone to love our work and produce it for us, but in the absence of
that benevolent someone, it comes down to, “If not you, who?” Producing your show
online is a way to avoid the gatekeepers.

AR Nicholas is an award-winning playwright, screenwriter and consultant who, during the
pandemic, created Bride & Zoom, a “vidgie” written for and shot on Zoom
(BrideandZoom.org). She is preparing her 3rd feature film, @oldladiesfindmoney. More at:
https://arnicholas.com, https://linktr.ee/ARNicholas

The Balance Scale…

by Robin Byrd

Fifty years from now, what will literature say about us?  Will it be a balanced story?  

I am hoping that the travailing in the spirit that I have been doing will break something up.  I don’t have it in me to compromise on what stories want to come out of me.  I am learning to not subconsciously self-edit.

An Even Chance

This pandemic has changed me; I have an even lesser tolerance for inauthenticity in any way.  It’s been a battle and a journey to learn where and how grief has touched my work – changing it forever; instead of trying to muzzle it, I’ve learned to embrace it.  There is a sound to loss, an indelible mark, an imprint, a key, as it were, that opens one up to hidden jewels.  Regaining the parts of myself so covered in stones, it took this pandemic to unearth them.  I have literally found snippets of writing while going through a box under a box under a box. This snippet of writing is exactly what is needed in a play, “Sweet Lorraine’s Bag of Water,” that I’ve decided to revisit.  I remembered writing it and it was on my mind.  I was annoyed that it was lost to me, finding it by chance was delightful.  I wrote it while attending a theater conference some years ago.  It will be nice to get back to attending in-person conferences one day, they are a great source of inspiration.  There is nothing like being around a large group of theater artists.

It is good to know that I am finding more balance in myself and looking forward to seeing the change it brings to my work…

Happy New Year, may it bring you joy and many opportunities to share your work.

Terms of Use…

In the beginning I separated the art from the day-to-day

But the days began to run into each other

And there was less and less time for…art

No time for refreshing

Or indulging in the high of creating worlds or music

Then the sky fell

And the only thing that mattered other than digging myself out from under the rubble

Was the art that I had neglected again

All I wanted was to see violins fly and hear the sound of tuning instruments

Smell the notes in the air and rosin on the bow

To read over one more time

The terms of use…

Use at your leisure

Use for air

Use for food for the soul

Use for dream fodder

Use to fly…

just use…

I think I can crochet the holes shut on these wings

the wind is picking up

and this dirt is falling off in clumps; it’ll sure fall off when I hit the air

Got my D string restrung, bouncing off that G just right

Someone is talking…

They want to be put on the page…

“Catch ya when I get to the mountaintop”

Crash Landing on Plot

by Kitty Felde

I’ve been thinking a lot about plot.

A writer friend recently had a zoom performance of her play, a lovely piece about the power of grief and recovery. The last scene is a reprise of the top of the play, flashed back in time, full of the ugly and raw emotion of loss. Several “critics” urged her to expunge the scene. “It isn’t needed,” said one. “Anticlimactic,” said another. What they were saying was that the script didn’t follow the classic Greek model of rising action, climax, and denouement. Or, the penis model, as I like to call it.

Instead, the writer used a circular structure for the play. Which, some argue, is a more organic way of writing for the female storyteller. Yes, you start at point A and return there, but the protagonist hasn’t necessarily “learned something” or “changed,” which are requirements for the official “circular” plot. The writer just finished the story. Period.

The writer rejected the criticism, by the way.

Sticking to the Aristotelian structure has become even more formulaic in recent decades, something I call the “Save the Cat” effect. The popular book by Blake Snyder has become a template for most movies and far too many plays. It’s gotten to a point that I can pretty much predict exactly what will happen next – something I do, by the way, that drives my husband crazy.

Until I watched Crash Landing on You.

Crash Landing on You



It’s a South Korean episodic drama about a poor little rich girl out paragliding and gets blown across the DMZ to North Korea. It’s wonderful – funny, not too scary, full of social and political commentary, but mostly a love story. It’s also incredibly well written by veteran screenwriter Park Ji-Eun.

The show is a worldwide hit. Viewers in India are reportedly learning Korean. A fan in the Phillipines has written a song about the show. Even Chicago Cubs Manager David Ross is a fan.

And here’s the thing: I could never predict what happens next. I was continuously surprised and delighted. As a writer, I kept asking myself, “how did she do that?”

It’s not just me. A playwriting pal had exactly the same reaction. Neither of us can figure out the structure of the story, yet we couldn’t stop watching. What magic is Park Ji-Eun using? And more importantly: can we steal it?

My playwright pal and I have decided to make a formal study of the series, each of us taking one episode and dissecting it, then comparing notes. We’ll likely be applying whatever structure secrets Ji-Eun uses in our next plays.

And here’s the good news: there’s rumors of a second season!

Are you a circular writer? Have you rejected Aristotle’s triangle of plot structure? Have you gotten pushback? Is there a better way to tell a story?

And can you figure out the structure in “Crash Landing on You” on Netflix?

Kitty Felde is a playwright, podcaster, and children’s mystery writer. Her second book in The Fina Mendoza Mysteries series State of the Union comes out this summer.


Dying Continents…

by Robin Byrd

Yesterday, I attended a wonderful webinar hosted by Hedgebrook, “Exit Strategies: How to End a Poem” with Chet’la Sebree, author of Mistress, Field Study. Ms. Sebree generously shared her jewels and knowledge with us. The atmosphere was inviting. Community in Hedgebrook webinars is really comforting and uplifting. To write together is nice once in a while. We learned more than “endings”. The webinars are recorded and there is always a “holding space” segment after the webinar where the participants who can stay have more time to discuss the art or any other things with the instructors. This is the part that makes the community so comforting and inspiring.

We worked on exercises using poetry that we had already written or new pieces. Below is a new piece that I started in the webinar but seems to be evolving. Poetry has been something that I have written and read all my life; something I make a point to continue to study – it never hurts to work on craft.

Dying Continents

The earth shook ferociously
Tsunamis terrorized the coastlines
Whole towns destroyed
Whole futures washed away in an instant

When things shift
There is no time to steady yourself
against the moving tectonic plates forcing new terrain
Or time to gather the energy to do more than stand

I am bound to the memory
Of the theft
Of things that cannot be restored
Or salvaged
Of organs failing
Of bleeding out damned spot

We wait for endings,
songs and measured grace
Grace to cover
Grace to continue
Did we forget
Or simply let it go

They say there is a new continent
Built on the scars
They say there is new contentment
In unchartered lands
New content
In place of what had been

by Robin Byrd 2-27-2021

Toni Morrision’s Song of Solomon Marathon Reading

Literary Partners is doing a marathon reading of Toni Morrison’s book “Song of Solomon” on YouTube. You can hear it read live if you sign up for the free event and you can also donate to Literary Partners when you register.  Tomorrow, 2/28/2021, Part Three will also be read live.  You must register to attend the live event at https://litpartners2020.org/toni-morrison/

A group of writers are reading it; it’s quite captivating and wonderful. The reading has such a flow to it.  I have binge-watched television shows but this is a whole new way to experience the reading of a book.  I am loving the difference in each reader yet the singular magnificence of Ms. Morrison’s work.

Readers: Brit Bennett, Edwidge Danticat, Hilton Als, Jacqueline Woodson, Jason Reynolds, Jennifer Egan, Jesmyn Ward, Lorrie Moore, Louise Erdrich, Margaret Atwood, Ocean Vuong, Robin Coste Lewis, Tayari Jones, Tommy Orange and Yaa Gyasi. 

Introductions by: Kevin Young, Andrea Davis Pinkney and Lisa Lucas.

A Tribute to Toni Morrison: Song of Solomon Marathon Reading
Dates and times for live reading event.

Links to portions read Live on February 26 and 27:

Part One https://youtu.be/8V_Mn3n91Hs 

Part Two https://youtu.be/Mi-0xR3TsA0 

Part Three will air live tomorrow.  Please take into consideration the time zone so you do not miss it.

Thoughts on Black Stories…

There is always discussion on the right or wrong/ness of other ethnicities writing stories outside of their ethnicity.  As writers, we all know that you have to write the stories that want to be told through you.  Not long ago, black stories were only allowed to be told through white writers as black writers were considered “less than able” to tell our own stories. A classic black story is Sounder which garnered both Golden Globe and Academy Award Nominations for the late Cicely Tyson, an extraordinary actress who lived with purpose.  Had the story not been written, she would have never had the opportunity.  The white author of Sounder admits the story came from his black school teacher.

“But one night at the great center table after he had told the story of Argus, the faithful dog of Odysseus, he told the story of Sounder, a coon dog.  It is a black man’s story, not mine.  It was not from Aesop, the Old Testament, or Homer.  It was history – his history.” – Sounder by William H. Armstrong 

The unfortunate thing was that author couldn’t seem to remember his teacher’s name to give him actual “story by” credit.  Undoubtedly, the story of Sounder was to be shared, had to be shared… And, we are grateful for this sharing. 

Serendipitously, I caught a Close/Up with the Hollywood Reporter Writers Roundtable  on YouTube hosted by Scott Feinberg with: Aaron Sorkin (The Trial of the Chicago 7), Emerald Fennell (Promising Young Woman), Radha Blank (The Forty-Year-Old Version), Sam Levinson (Malcolm & Marie), and Kemp Powers (One Night in Miami*, Soul), the segment discussed some interesting insights on working through the Pandemic safely, directing their own screenplays (*One Night in Miami is directed by Regina King), the change in how the work is seen by the audience and the question of who should write what.  The writers are very candid. 

The challenges will not go away over night or over decades- it has seemed -but we must try to do our best in telling our stories and pushing to not limit ourselves or the work.  Being Black can mean, in a lot of cases, that we are mixed with other things; we have the right to write those stories too. 

As a people, we are affected by the mutation of Eugenics and how that has wounded us – from our ancestors to ourselves and to our sons and daughters. Sterilization / castration without consent is something that still happens.

“Then he grabbed stuff, this and that and that and this and this and that and that and those – Scissors.  He inserted them and CLIPPED!! Babies, I thought of babies.  I looked him in the eye, this white man who was raping me with stuff made of steal.  He looked at me.    An expression.    A small detectable grin. ‘Oops!’ he said.” – Oops! by Robin Byrd

Some of these stories are hard to tell; we wonder why it’s still happening. Fighting for equality promised to us by law is exhausting…

“but bein alive & bein a woman & bein colored is a metaphysical dilemma/ i havent conquered yet/ do you see the point my spirit is too ancient to understand the separation of soul & gender/” – For Colored Girls who have Considered Suicide when the Rainbow is Enuf by Ntozake Shange

We have the right to tell the truths of our people and to write about how we are surviving more things than being shot in the streets, in our homes… We have the right to be awake without apology…

We also have the right to walk in love without that being mistaken as a pass for more abuse…

More books to read:

Just As I Am by Cicely Tyson

Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty by Dorothy Roberts.

Reading/Viewing List for Black History Month

by Robin Byrd

I have rewritten this Blog article several times.  For now, I will leave it at what are you reading and viewing this Black History Month?

Here are my lists:

Reading

Caste The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson

The Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler

Pushout The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools by Monique W. Morris

The Book of Jasher

The Books of Enoch

The Collected Poetry of Nikki Giovanni 1968 – 1998 by Nikki Giovanni

Viewing

Malcolm & Marie (Zendaya and John David Washington) by Sam Levinson

Looking forward to seeing

The United States Vs. Billie Holiday (starring Andra Day) by Suzan-Lori Parks

RAIN

by Diane Grant

It’s the New Year and yesterday it was raining!  Hooray!

It wasn’t a big rain. There was a sprinkling on the windows and the roads are getting slick, but I’m not breaking out the umbrella yet.  (I always keep one by my desk at work – an old habit.)

When I was a kid in Vancouver, B.C., Canada, rain was a good part of my life.  I had a beautiful white slicker, red gumboots, and many different colored bandanas.  Ready for anything, hoping for a squall. 

One of the delights of childhood was in watching the worms in the rain puddles (cheap fun for all and of course, the boys would jump on them.) And it was so lovely and comforting at night, lying warm and cozy in bed, listening to the pounding on the windows.

No one ever said, “Help, it’s raining.”  We said, “There’s a bit of a mist today.  Better take an umbrella.” And we said that about seven months of the year.   I remember more than one of those umbrellas being blown inside out by the wind and rain working together.  Great fun!

 One of my favorite movies of all times is Singing In The Rain

Perfect casting, great plot, and dancing to die for. (I saw one interview with Debbie Reynolds, who said that they rehearsed the dancing until her feet bled.)   Every once in a while, my brain starts “Moses supposes his toeses are roses” and I feel happy.

THE NEXT Day

Well, that was wishful thinking.  It’s another beautiful clear day without a hint of mist!  But I’m hoping.

And, of course, I can go for a walk in the sun!

Love to all,

Diane