I seem to have forgotten – stuck here like I am in the hardly bearable heat of these walls and the “go nowhere” doors from sun up to moon down. I tell myself that I am not going to faint or lose heart, that I am going to subdue this beast one hour at a time, one day at a time, by the Grace of God…
but I really want flight, I yearn for air… I want wings and I want wind to ride. I been looking for signs of movement, looking for a great big wind to come skip-to-my-lou all through this mess, dislodge some rivers for baptisms, root up healing herbs and toss some around for everybody to have.
I want to relax, I want to float like a leaf and land picturesquely on the grass showing off the beautiful colors of my whole self. I don’t want to apologize for nothing not for floating, landing or seeking air. If I push myself, I bet I can land far enough away from here so I can breathe new/fresh pockets of wind…bet I can land somewhere east of here, near appalachia, up where lavender lilies bloom, where rose of sharon sings…
I can’t breathe here no more in this heavy porous atmosphere, it’s dropped down way too low, to the little grassy piece of earth I live on and I just can’t breathe. I thought I was imagining it but it’s real – the air is thick; thick and sticky like a glob of peanut butter caught in the throat daring you to drink water, threatening to thicken regardless…
I need air and space and
God cracking the skies…
Oh, God, blow on us, shower us with rain and the latter rain, deliver us, heal this land…
Heal the land, Father… we humble ourselves and pray
We dream of riding the night winds again, of sleeping well and waking rested
send Your wind, help us fly
lift us up high enough to catch hold
let us mount up with wings as eagles — send the wind, Lord, send the Wind…
But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.
Where has the time gone? In March I was poised, full of energy chomping at the bit to write a post, with a week’s worth of ideas and thoughts and here it is the weekend and my time is almost done. I am always at a loss of what to share and what to write about playwrighting. But this go round, I have so much to say I can’t contain it and it is coming out in bits and pieces.
I never really thought much of the difference of Introverts and Extroverts, thinking of it as if it were some placebo affect that I was feeling and acting upon. I didn’t want to read of what an Introvert was because then, of course I would think I was. And I really never thought of myself as an Extrovert, but could certainly embody some of the characteristics should the occasion present itself. But with the world closing its doors and forcing people inside the definitions came screaming out. People needed an outlet to share their energy and ease their anxiety. I could clearly see the defining line in people and myself and how we are dealing with it all.
Depending on the class I’m in, I wonder how this would be different if it were in person. Does it change the dynamic of the class because we can see each others faces as opposed to sitting in classroom style. Do people hesitate to talk and be the first to talk because they are truly an introvert, or are they just feeling the effects of quarantine.
I hesitate to share my joy of writing as I know of others who have be stymied by this time. The weight of the world on our shoulders and anxiety of it creeping in. For me writing during this time has been marvelous. I have always been a stickler for rules and following how-tos, so the mechanics of playwrighting always hampered me. I am thankful for the teachers out there who reached out and shared their classes I would not have otherwise been able to attend. The joy of sitting at home in L.A. and attending a class in NYC with far-away friends was freeing. Being able to connect with people outside of my sphere and being able to explore writing has been a treat. So much so that I have written two short plays. I found the joy and laughter again of why I want to write. Tips and tricks to get past the rules of structure I suffered with and to just sit down and write. A mantra I try to repeat to myself as a quiet motivation and just now realizing the flippantness of the statement.
I am wondering if I am an Extrovert because of all the classes I’ve been taking and all of the participating I have been doing. My head is full of information and my computer holds bits and pieces from a variety of classes. My notebook, that I usually carry with me and takes months to fill, has only a few blank pages left. Full up from a month of opportunity and ideas and unfinished scenes.
Lessons learned during this time:
Set aside 15 minutes to write and do it daily. Consistency helps.
If you’re looking for something to write about – think “what am I curious about?”
Think of the intention of every scene. What do your character(s) need?
What is the action of your scene? Your character needs something from the other.
Now when I get lost in the weeds, I just start out with a random line that I’ve collected from the books I read. I usually write these sentences down because as I’m reading them a voice is commenting on them in my head and they speak to the subjects of my current writings. As I write the scene I consider what do the characters want to get to the end of the scene. The plays that I have finished during this time had constraints that had to be included in the play, which made it fun and I included things that made me giggle, like lines from 80s movies.
I gotta go. I have to finish some homework for class and I’m entering another #Bakeoff and it’s due tomorrow.
For the final installment of my “Creatives Check-In” series, we welcome and hear from…
Before we get into the interview, I just want to say how thankful I am to everyone who participated in this series. I know that the times we’re living in are not easy and we’re all in taking in the days as best we can but I am so thankful that you took the time to share your story with me.
Featured Creatives – A Short Bio:
Lelde Cauka – Bracken is a Latvian born visual artist living and working in Los Angeles, CA. Lelde comes from a background of classical fine art training since the age of 10. Her work ranges from a realistic still life and portrait illustrations to exploration of color and shape. Her current work voices abstractionism and simplicity. It is deeply rooted in her northern European upbringing while intertwining with the exposure of her surroundings. Mostly working with watercolor and acrylics, Lelde finds these mediums the most soothing allowing the audience to connect and find harmony through her work.
Nahal Navidar is an Iranian-born playwright raised in upstate New York. Her plays are motivated by the exploration of social issues while employing magical elements to embody the expanse of human emotions. Nahal’s plays have been developed at Boston Court, Silk Road Rising, Ensemble Studio Theatre LA, The Vagrancy, Rogue Machine, Coeurage Theatre, Pasadena Playhouse, Playwright’s Arena, Troy Foundry Theatre, The Last Frontier Theatre Conference, Golden Thread Productions, Company of Angels, The Kennedy Center, and The University at Albany. Nahal holds an MFA in Dramatic Writing from USC and is a member of the Dramatist Guild of America.
Maia “Vik Floyd” Villa is a fifth generation Chicanx Los Angeleno, most at home between taco trucks and boba tea. They’re a lifelong performer and writer, particularly in love with sketch comedy, ancestral reparation, and rock’n’roll. Passionate about liberating marginalized voices through creative expression and cultural enrichment, Maia has worked with various non-profit arts organizations throughout Los Angeles to empower others through storytelling. You can catch them in sketch/improv shows in Hollywood and performing rey metalero drag all over the Eastside—after quarantine that is.
Instagram: @maia.villa (For Maia stuff and comedy) and @mx.vikfloyd (For more openly queer, mentally ill stuff—oh and drag!)
How have you been spending your time at home during the quarantine?
Lelde Cauka – Bracken (LCB): Quarantine has certainly raised awareness of what is essential in our lives. Whether it is food or a creative outlet to sustain your mental wellbeing. The current time and circumstances we have discovered ourselves in, is simply another reminder that the beauty of life is its unpredictable ways. Yes, the future may seem uncertain, especially if one’s routine has been disrupted, but it has always been this way! This is how I continue to look at my day-to-day life in the creative field as well as in my domestic life. I try not to put a pause on everything simply because we are leading a more simple and isolated life. In many ways, I find it more inspirational and motivating than ever before despite the crisis. With that being said, I am also aware of the negative side of this virus and the different degrees of impact it’s leaving on so many lives around me – seeing so many people around the world including my family and friends be so deeply affected is heartbreaking without a doubt, but we also have to find a way to function for ourselves and others. I feel like we have been given an opportunity to re-establish values for ourselves and decide how we want to continue this journey. I am a strong believer in “less is more”. Letting go of what I have no control over, is my gasoline that keeps me moving forward. It is also strongly reflected in my artwork.
This might sound cliché, but I’ve been focusing more on my mental and physical health by staying active through late-night running and my continuous yoga practice as I did before the quarantine. Once you discover it in your own unique way, it really does wonders to your body and mind and this is something I put a big emphasis on because all of these aspects are connected and play a tremendous role not only in my happiness but also in my creative flow. I strongly recommend it!
Being lucky enough to have full-time job during this pandemic, I have also taken the time to get back to my roots and focus more on cooking. I grew up in the luscious Latvia and preparing your daily meal with homegrown ingredients runs in my DNA. It has always been a passion of mine, but now that my current “office” is around the corner from my kitchen, it makes it that much easier and brings me so much joy. This time has most certainly brought renewed love for many simple things in my life and has made me appreciate what I have and how far I have come.
Maia “Vik Floyd” Villa(MVFV): This is almost everything I ever wanted—but with a horrific societal landscape. To explain: Since I was preteen age, I had this recurring vision of a brick wall always slowly moving behind me, as I had to keep up and move forward. In deep spells of depression, I’d get the vision of my little body jogging slowly and getting tired—or worse, falling completely limp in exhaustion as the wall pushed on.
I grew to realize that this is not only a metaphor about time, but a metaphor on societal pressures—not to mention anything my young psyche had picked up from loving Pink Floyd’s concept of The Wall. 12 years later, I’m grateful we live among communities working and collaborating to decolonize. Now, before you think I’m just going to go into a rant about how white supremacists or capitalism is the root of all evil…well I slightly am, and also very much not. I believe that, in the lifetime of any society throughout history, more often than not the structures used to build a large scale society are the same structures that eventually stop working until the society collapses or revolutionizes itself.
How is this an answer to your question? HA.
I do not feel I have extra time. I still feel the wall moving. Above is the beginnings of the thoughts I’ve been having while trying not to let the stress take over too much. Despite being in a personally privileged position (I’m able to work from home, and I am grateful to have time at home because I’m normally running around all over the place), my arms are aching all the time and I do not feel as though I have any extra time to spend. I still feel like there isn’t enough time to release all the spinning thoughts, I still feel like there isn’t enough time to get ahead of that wall, I still feel all the pressures and anxieties — and the silver lining gift is to be able to observe those emotional patterns removed of some factors that normally keep me distracted and busy.
Did the quarantine affect any of your creative projects or plans?
LCB: It has most certainly left an impact – public shows in galleries might be out of the question for a while, but this situation has also expanded my creativity and made me search for alternative ways to make my art accessible to others, for example, utilizing the mighty worldwide web, especially social media has been a great tool. I am definitely very thankful for technology.
Daylight plays an instrumental part in my creative work and it has been wonderful to not spend any time in traffic and have easy access to it daily. So overall, I must say the quarantine has made a positive impact on my workflow.
Nahal Navidar (NN): The world premiere of my play My Dear Hussein was cancelled on what would have been the first preview performance. We were in tech week when we had the initial conversation about COVID-19 and things rapidly unraveled from there.
MVFV: It pushed forward a plan: to stop doing theatre. I’ve been a “Yes” person in the theatre world for 12 years, and funny thing is that a project was ending on March 10th. So all throughout February and beginning of March, I was telling myself, “March 11th, you start saying no; March 11th, you get rest and focus on your solo work. March 11th you start spending more time at home—“ and WHOOP! Look what happened!
I was about to say no to all creative projects so that I can narrow my focus to a dream that’s been dear to me for a very long time: I auditioned for and got accepted into Second City Hollywood’s Grad Revue. After 8 levels of improv, this is the final 6-month program in which you build a sketch show with an ensemble. I’m telling you, Zury, this is the number one fucking DREAM—the road to the dream—and I am tearing up that it’s been put on pause.
I work for a nonprofit I’m very passionate about (I’m an emerging actor who sees having a platform as an opportunity for social progress), so March and April haven’t been easy. Trying to catch relief fund opportunities like flying dodgeballs. I’ve been laughing about the March 11th thing; this is almost what I wanted…But it’s very much not.
How, if at all, has this time affected your creativity?
NN: With the cancellation of my production, I can’t anticipate when I’ll have the emotional fortitude to write again. As an immigrant, woman, and artist of color, getting a theater to commit to producing my work has been a grueling task. To come this close and then watch it fall apart during tech week has been devastating. Unearthing my childhood memories of war for the rehearsal process was intrinsically a trying experience, but the point is to share in the communal experience of catharsis with an audience. Otherwise, there is no release, like a hand is squeezing my larynx. My body is anticipating the breath, but my mind knows that air is not coming. I will channel this into my writing one day, but right now I am in shock.
MVFV: I’m being kind to myself. Of course I want to shit out the album, the solo performance, the comedy sketch that will break open our bipartisan divide…I want to create and release and produce all of that. But I can’t have that expectation when this time is uncertain and scary for all of us. It’s tiring.
I’m allowing myself to take everything slowly. To sit in my backyard and breathe, and instead of having the pressure to practice guitar via scales or metronomes, just deep listening to the sound and to the wind.
I’m part of the drag community, and I must mention how wildly impressive and beautiful it is how quickly and strongly and innovatively the drag community has created and produced digital drag nationwide. It’s fucking beautiful! It’s been frustrating for artists like me who have more theatrical skill than digital, but all of us punkass bitches at least are enjoying ANY quality of digital drag. I said no to some digital drag opportunities at start, and am now gradually creating some videos whenever I feel the need for release and have the time. What a beautiful action to use this time to join together globally.
SIDE NOTE, From Maia: I really would love it if people were able to catch the following drag shows, because I am releasing personal healing that I hope is good for everyone else:
May 5th at 7pm, Drag Kings of the World @dragkingsworld
May 7th at 7:36pm (full moon sunset time), Golden Hour @goldenhourdragshow
May 14th at 7pm, Mandemic by @mancandykings
*All streaming on Twitch
Personally, do you feel that it’s necessary/important to keep creative during this time?
LCB: Yes, absolutely! It’s part of my ecosystem. For me, personally, it’s something irreplaceable and essential. It has always been that way.
NN: No. I don’t think it’s important to do anything but follow the stay-at-home order, keep social distance, and be present with the shared trauma that humanity is experiencing. If one wants to process feelings through creativity, then of course, create, but a global pandemic shouldn’t be treated as an extended writer’s retreat. It’s an offense to the millions of people who have lost their lives, are sick, and to the essential workers who don’t have the privilege to stay at home and protect their families.
MVFV: Hell no. Priority is self-care. Society is not going to go back to “normal” — if you look at the natural course of history, you know that more painful change, more eye opening to weak structures—all of that is coming. We need rest. Only rest will make us stronger. If creative collaboration brings you rest, comfort, and strength—great! If spinning around your bedroom throwing paint at a poster brings you, rest, comfort, and strength—great! But is “keeping creative” necessary? Hell no.
What have you found most frustrating about this time, creatively or otherwise?
NN: I have a deadline coming up for a commission. I’m three scenes away from finishing the play, but what I need now is to process the fallout of production and digest the reality of the world around me. However, my integrity as an artist and commitment to deadlines are very important. It’s a frustrating conundrum.
MVFV: The crowds of people deeply believe that Newsom’s initiatives are a ploy to entrap us in a communist police state. That this can be a global issue—with multiple countries having shelter-in-place guidelines or restrictions—and I still have 2 MAGA family members on both sides who believe this is an exaggeration to fuck with Trump’s election. And even more frustrating, Zury, is that the Democratic Party is a fucking disaster, and I don’t blame anyone who decides to join the #WalkAway movement and become a patriot focused on freedom. Nearly every politician has some personal interest, some money to go into their pocket. I’m losing my mind because we have one side screaming about communists, and the other side screaming about fascists, and all the radicalists are either moving further to the left or further to the right—without anyone finding any common root belief or behavior.
Once our young nation has citizens who, during a GLOBAL PANDEMIC (geez, I have to say “global” when pandemic does mean global), are holding up protest signs reading, “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death.” Oh, man, it’s over. This country was founded on the concept of Liberty (a false liberty) and no one even knows what liberty means.
I’ll continue to collaborate with people who will work tirelessly “until justice is truly for all” but I am tired and pessimistic.
What is something that you’ve learned about yourself during this time?
LCB: I have learned how adaptable I can be to this ever-changing life and cope with disruption. Instead of feeling frustrated about the current situation in the world and any other newness that comes my way, I simply accept the change and most often transform it into a case study, a creative process. Life is constantly full of hidden gems and other rocks. I have learned to appreciate them all equally.
NN: I’m too immersed in the experience and can’t see beyond the muck. I do feel exhausted and know that we will all feel the impact of this pandemic for generations to come.
MVFV: Observing my bipolar patterns removed of all the busying/distracting factors is pretty fascinating, and also a little scary. On the one week a month that I’m in an optimistic mood, I worry it’s going to spiral into mania, yes, but also my nervous system is just such a fucking nuisance. I’ve been breathing, grounding myself, staying patient and forgiving for the most part. I am in a safe environment, with little stress. Whenever I do have stress spikes where I act grouchy, I am grateful I’m with my family where we’re all just used to our behaviors and laugh at each other.
I am still worried about my anger. I have been for many years now. So I’ve said Fuck it to traditional workouts, and now I am essentially combining my “at-home gym” time with Viewpoints in order to release anger.
What is something/someone that has brought you joy during this time?
LCB: I feel extremely lucky to share this time with my partner in creative journeys and life as well as play with our always-comical husky pup. We actually got engaged the other week. This came as a wonderful surprise and is another great example of how to continue your life despite the quarantine.
NN: Making new Iranian recipes I’ve never attempted before. Reading. Practicing my violin. Consuming mindless content. Spending time with my husband and our new puppy, Pashmak. Checking in on my cousin, Emily, who is a NYC nurse and texting her silly gifs and YouTube clips. Being thankful every day for the health of my family and loved ones.
MVFV: My friend Daniel Luna reached out to our team for Borracho: Spanish for Drunken Bum (a play by friend Abe Zapata Jr. I directed in February—I fucking love that play; I’d be tired all over again for that beautiful, hilarious play—) so we could read a script he’s working on all together via Zoom. That was my fave. It was a very low pressure, one-time commitment scenario where we all get to enjoy Daniel’s comedy, and I loved it. (Shout out to @luna.tico and @abe_zapatajr — peeps should follow their work!) Also, I highly recommend taking an incredibly aimless walk around your neighborhood without any technology on you.
For the second installment of my “Creatives Check-In” series, we welcome and hear from…
As relayed in the previous post, my goal with this series is to highlight how creative folks are reconciling with their creativity during this precarious time. In the spirit of creative camaraderie, I aim to highlight creatives from various fields as I strongly believe we fuel each other’s work. I am so thankful for their participation.
Featured Creatives – A Short Bio:
Valerie Gibbins is a textile and industrial designer from Oakland, CA. Her work straddles many disciplines, attempting to highlight the intersections of feminism, sustainability, art, function, and design thinking.
Christine Hamilton-Schmidt is a Los Angeles based playwright and screenwriter. Her work has been developed and produced at Skylight Theatre, Ammunition Theatre Company, Ensemble Studio Theatre/LA, The Blank Theatre, Team Awesome Robot, The Parsnip Ship, and more. Her full-length play, CHARLOTTE STAY CLOSE, had its world premiere production at Ensemble Studio Theatre/LA in September 2019. She is the founder and co-program director of New West Playwrights, which was created to give voice to and foster the work of young playwrights in Los Angeles. More information at www.christinehamiltonschmidt.com
Amanda Harmon Koppe is an Actor, Writer, and LA native. Amanda’s passion lies in empowering others through her art, as well as coaching others to create their own work. She received her BFA in Performing Arts: Acting from AMDA College & Conservatory of the Performing Arts, has written a feminist-comedy feature film screenplay, as well as the short film Siri 2.0, depicting technology’s intrusiveness in our daily lives. She’s starred in a number of commercials and short films and when she’s not acting or writing, you can find her as a Production Manager, Teaching Artist or Yoga Instructor.
How have you been spending your time at home during the quarantine?
Valerie Gibbins (VG): There’s been a lot of eating, baking, cooking, staring into space, staring at screens, laundry, watering plants, having no clue what I’m doing, watching ’90s Disney movies, stressing, sewing, making masks, playing with fabric, and eating chocolate. There’s never enough chocolate in this house.
Christine Hamilton-Schmidt (CHS): I go to bed between 1:30 and 2:30am and wake up between 9:00 and 10:00am. I make big batches of cold brewed hibiscus tea and bake cakes. I bought a dry erase board, and I write a to-do list for my weekdays and feel really good every time I cross an item off the list. I write in notebooks in an attempt to spend less time in front of a screen. I talk to my cat a lot and call my mom every day.
Amanda Harmon Koppe (AHK): I am the kind of person that needs to stay busy and I’m still learning to forgive myself when I don’t finish everything on my to-do list. I started thinking about what I could do from home that would take my mind off of our current global crisis and would help others do the same. I ended up creating Arts & Crafts tutorials on Youtube for kids. I was surprised to put my acting, writing, filming, directing, and teaching skills into use by developing these holistic crafting lessons for children from my kitchen table.
Did the quarantine affect any of your creative projects or plans?
VG: I teach sewing classes, so those were all cancelled. Thankfully, I did not have any major plans this year since I was looking for full-time work anyway. That effort went down the tubes, obviously.
CHS: This is WILD, but my “career” has never been better. Quarantine has opened a magical door to working on other people’s projects and being encouraged by others to write. I have collaborators getting in touch with me and giving me deadlines in a way I never have. I feel really lucky, but also tired and worried about letting people down because some days I just can’t write.
AHK: In early March, I had been going on auditions, developing a few TV pilots, working on an ebook and outlining another feature film, but once our reality came to a screeching halt, it was much harder for me to focus on any of my creative endeavors. It was exhausting to even try working on projects I had once been passionate about. Everything I had been doing felt really small in comparison to an overwhelming feeling of uncertainty and dread. It made me think of the John Lennon quote, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”
How, if at all, has this time affected your creativity?
VG: On one hand, I feel like an amorphous semi-sentient blob most of the time. But then on the other hand, this time has actually pushed me to sew more and look at growing that more as part of my work. It’s given me time to waffle and question, but also time to sit down and sew for hours on end. This is definitely not to say that quarantine = start a business! It’s more about clearing away the cobwebs in my case. Now is not the time to pressure or shame yourself into doing something you do not feel equipped to do.
CHS: I want to sit around all day. I feel very lucky when I have an urge to write, but most of my writing has been a result of deadlines and I am so grateful to my creative partners for that. I think reading books and scripts and watching film & tv is a way to be creative and so I’ve been indulging in art intake.
AHK: I stopped judging myself for not accomplishing what I had planned on doing and that helped my creativity return in waves. It’s difficult enough for me to keep track of what day it is, so instead of giving myself a usual incentive deadline, I keep all of my projects circulating in the ether of my mind. Almost everything in my apartment is organized (for my own sanity), but when it comes to my ideas and thoughts– my creativity can get messy. When an idea hits, I write it down on anything I have on hand. If you walked through my front door right now, you would see random post-its, paper towels, napkins and journals floating around everywhere. It feels great to get my thoughts on paper and I could tell you exactly what is written on each one. It’s almost as if I’ve designated different areas of my apartment with a certain idea and when I’m in that area, that project/idea is what circulates in my mind and word vomit comes out. It’s like going to an amusement park and choosing what ride you want to go on that will make you toss your cookies (but for fun).
Personally, do you feel that it’s necessary/important to keep creative during this time?
VG: This is an absolute given. In normal times, this would be part of a larger conversation on the importance of arts education. Not only is it important to those of us who choose a creative field for work, being creative nurtures the brain and can provide distraction and comfort. For me, just doing something as simple as looking at my fridge or pantry, sparks creative problem solving and switches my brain on. I think it’s so vital to put a creative filter on everything you do—and it just makes everything more fun.
CHS: No. No, no, no. Nothing is necessary other than staying safe. I think it’s important to take time to think about who you are when you aren’t working, what your values are, and how you can contribute. I think it’s important to reach out to people you love. Rest so you can be creative when you’re ready.
AHK: As crazy as my creative process does sound at the moment, if I didn’t have it, I honestly don’t know where I would be putting that frenetic energy. I’m a big advocate for the need to express yourself. I believe it is just as important to be seen and heard at this time of universal societal trauma as it is when dealing with an individual’s trauma. If you can take whatever you are feeling right now and translate that into a drawing or painting or monologue or video, you will find that it is not only healing, but it will connect you to others who feel the same way. No matter how isolated I may feel, I find solace when I remember that I am not alone in this experience.
What have you found most frustrating about this time, creatively or otherwise?
VG: Oh, well, I mean…the “governance” of this country is utterly enraging. Anger can definitely be a motivator, but it’s turned very obsessive during this time; I’ve had to step away from watching news clips and be very conscientious about the time I spend on the internet. Though, I’m very grateful to even have access to information and the internet (#netneutrality).
Otherwise, I miss hugging my friends and family. It’s very frustrating to not know if they’re sick or I’m sick or if we should be going to the grocery store, etc. Everything and everyone has been in limbo for nearly two months. It’s not a comfortable or natural state for most humans. I think in some ways I had an easier time than most adjusting to sheltering in place because I’m a homebody and because I’ve been in a precarious limbo state (job-wise and mentally/emotionally) for a while.
CHS: I miss my friends and my family. It frustrates me that I can’t hug them.
What is something that you’ve learned about yourself during this time?
VG: I am a pretty self-aware person in the first place, so there haven’t really been any new revelations. However, I have definitely started being actively more forgiving and kinder to myself. I would say there’s been a lot more affirmation than fresh learning, which is truthfully what I’ve been struggling with for years. So, I guess, thank you Madame Corona for holding myself accountable to years of therapy!
CHS: I’m a lazy Taurus. I will always find something to clean. I want to write a novel (I knew this as a joke before quarantine but now I know as a serious thing).
AHK: I learned to be creative with finding purpose in my life. I never thought I would be making Arts & Crafts videos, but here I am. When it felt like the world was ending, Amanda was crafting. I also learned that it’s ok to not be productive. My body and mind have needed more rest because I’ve been in a constant state of stress since I started self-quarantining. I always thought accomplishing long-term goals was a great achievement, but now I think accomplishing little tasks feels just as great. I had the courage to get up this morning and take out the trash with gloves and a mask– yay, gold star!
What is something/someone that has brought you joy during this time?
VG: Communication with friends and family has always been number one. The past few years, I’ve cultivated amazing friendships by having epic phone chats and this time has allowed that to blossom since no one has a schedule anymore. I’ve been fortunate that I have been able to see my sister and brother-in-law (we’re basically one “household”) and therefore play with their dog. They joke I only come over to see her, which is not entirely untrue.
CHS: I don’t play Animal Crossing, but I like to listen to my husband play because the music and the voices of the characters are incredibly soothing.
AHK: Every Friday night, I visit another era by lighting a pair of candles on my great-grandmother’s candleholders and watch them flicker. I am reminded of how grateful I am for the technology and medicine we have today and that this too shall pass.
This week, I was experimenting with imagery and symbols to find character and story. I approached it like a dump cake or stew, tossing the random images into the pot and stirring. I did not expect the story that unfolded. I did not expect it to come out in poetry nor did I expect the poems to connect over the days. I simply wrote the images I heard or saw. I did not tame the words or dispel the ghosts.
On my journey to write fiercely, I hope I am making progress. This was an interesting week in writing for me.
I make my way back to earth borne tragedies, dimly lit pathways, and houses full of clutter
I would run but my knees ache and I am tired of the
I would rest but pine needles are sparse in this part of the forest
The Wind says something’s coming
The cold is like ice on my bones, joints crackling louder
than whatever that is that’s following me
I would be afraid but I have an urgent need to draw blood
The years have changed me and I can no longer hide the warrior
side of me
Let it come
I will be as Simeon and Levi against Shechem
I will roar like Judah
My yell will topple the trees for I am, indeed, Judah’s daughter
A double portion I was given and I shall draw blood
Let it come, quickly in this thick solitude that blankets the night
Let it wake the birds and startle the muffled river for I am full of righteous indignation
I need to fight, I’m not running anymore
Shall the uncircumcised overtake me? Shall they make sport of me?
Nay; it will go another way this day
If I make the clearing before the attack
I will wade into the river and draw it in after me where my
hands shall drag it beneath to the water’s bed and I will break it like a stick
If I must fight in this forest
I will stand here, in the middle, like Shammah, son of Agee
the Hararite when the Philistines came and he stood in the middle of the lentil
field and fought victoriously, he took his stand and defended the field and
struck them down
I too shall defend and strike down —
This thing that follows me, hunts me like prey, taunts my life ,
Will do so no more for I shall be a terror to it this day…
Which way? It’s almost midnight And I just lost my shovel There is zero visibility in this fog And it’s rolling rolling in like gangbusters with diarrhea
liquefying in this heat, sticking like honey on skin soaking my clothes and hair Taking up all the air Congested, I can’t breath anyway except through my mouth Open to flying particles of fecal matter landing on my tongue and tonsils I won’t be eating nothing till I can scrub the Hell out of my mouth
It’s above ground if you didn’t know; it ain’t underground no more It ain’t an imaginary place
I need the shovel. Give me a shovel please
He said he was sorry He should have begged me to forgive him but it wouldn’t have mattered I still wanted him gone Poof…splat..splam…. Gone – like dead gone
If I got to carry this body till the limbs fall off, he got to be dead And I ain’t doing no backtracking to pick up litter either Limbs be damned Rapists need to lose something too
They need to get first class tickets to the fiery pit That big unknown called Hell And they need to go covered in hot shit mixed with gasoline
I have not remembered…. I have held my peace and kept time by the PTSD manager on my phone Been holding it all inside the holes in my teeth Losing them one by two by three
If silence is the enemy then you are the monster under the bed Grabbing at my hands, waking me up So I can never sleep through the night
I refused to remember… I have pushed that dunghill many a day to the fourth corner of the earth And left it there with the full and ugly memory of you and your touch Nearly comatose for decades by the weight of it all, by weight of you Hardly breathing Hardly living, hardly able to think Above the maddening secret That Flashbacks never leave you They mutate like sketchy thoughts after a head injury Leave you sinking in mire The sill clinging to your knees and thighs
I have sat in the troubled waters Broken from the top down Soaking my big toes and the place between my thighs scarred like burnt skin And lost dreams The smell unearthingly foul yet familiar Bone tired and nodding like an addict mid-fix Hoping to Forget-it-all Slowly embracing the lull and hum of stagnation
Then Byron died and the flood came and the chickens Well they came home, flatfooted and tough from age They came home like they belonged to me 3 months later, they are roosting
Paula Cizmar is an award-winning multi-genre writer, associate professor of theatre practice in dramatic writing at the USC School of Dramatic Arts, CCTA/LA producer and my former professor. I LOVE HER!
Can you talk to me about Climate Change Theatre Action (CCTA)?
Climate Change Theatre Action is a grassroots event that happens every two years and it always coincides with the UN’s International Conference on Climate Change, which this year is in Santiago, Chile.
Chantal Bilodeau, a native of Canada who was writing climate change plays, wrote a beautiful play called SILA and in the process of doing that, set up a kind of grassroots list of playwrights who were also writing climate change plays. In maintaining that list, she realized there were a lot of writers doing this work and that a climate change theater action would be a really good thing to do. And so, what she does every two years is commission 50 playwrights to write very short plays that are then made available to anyone who wants to do them, free of charge. The playwrights represent 20 different countries and their own different languages—some of the ones that aren’t in English have been translated and others aren’t. Anybody who wants to do a Climate Change Theatre Action can just sign up and do one. If you go on the website I think you’ll see that they are being performed in 20 different countries and almost all 50 states. People can do a major production and turn it into a fancy theater event or they can do readings in their classrooms. It’s very grassroots.
How did you become
In 2017, I got invited to go to Pomona College to talk about
one of my plays, THE CHISERA, which
is about climate change and I worked with Giovanni Ortega (CCTA/LA: AT THE INTERSECTION director, 2019) there. He also brought
on Chantal as a guest speaker so I connected with them. Then I went to an Earth
Matters On Stage conference, which is a conference of theater people who do
climate change work, and forged more of a relationship with Chantal.
I also did a Climate Change Theatre Action event with my
graduate seminar in eco-theater (2017). We just performed the plays in our
classroom and then we took them outside and performed them on campus.
This year, for the 2019 Climate Change Theater Action, Chantal asked me to be one of the playwrights that were commissioned to write a play, but I also decided that I wanted to do something that was a lot more elaborate, so I applied for a Visions & Voices grant and got the funding.
And what is that
elaborate undertaking? 😉
We’re doing a two-day climate change event. This coming
Friday’s event (HOW TO CREATE YOUR OWN
ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE EVENT, 11/8 at 3pm) is on campus. I would love for
people to attend this first event because this one has the CCTA plays from
around the globe. Of the 50 plays that were commissioned, six of those are
The really cool thing is I put the word out to some of my
colleagues and asked if they thought there were any students who might want to
direct these and two wonderful young undergraduates, Elizabeth Schuetzle and
Jessica Doherty, stepped up and are directing three plays each. They’re also
working with their friend, music composer and fellow student Cyrus Leland,
whose created music for this student-driven event.
After the performances, Chantal will speak about how to create your own climate change—or any kind—of social justice event because these things don’t require money, they just require commitment and time.
Awesome. I think
Chantal will be a great resource for anyone interested in creating social
Absolutely. And, I think this is something all playwrights,
and everybody, should step up and do at least once—create some kind of
grassroots action to make the world a better place. If you sit around and wait
for someone else to do it, they’re not going to. It’s important for us as
playwrights to not sit around and wait. I understand the impulse, because
playwrights like to be left alone. We like to be alone in our rooms, and we
tend to be passive but every once in a while we have to come out of the cave
and not be passive.
I’m in my cave now.
After this, I’m going into the cave.
Let me reel it back
in—What is the second event? 🙂
The Saturday (CLIMATE
CHANGE THEATRE ACTION LA: AT THE INTERSECTION, 11/9 at 2pm) event is all
Los Angeles playwrights and what that one addresses is not just climate change
around the globe but specific issues that affect Los Angeles directly. The
climate change issues in Los Angeles are very different from say the issues in
the Pacific Northwest or the issues in India or Costa Rica. I wanted to pay
attention to that because I think a lot of times people don’t think climate
change is an urban problem but its actually really important to urban areas and
its particularly important to neighborhoods of color and people who come from
low-income neighborhoods because they don’t have the political clout to fight.
I consulted with some people from the Program for Environmental and Regional Equity (USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts & Sciences) about what the chief LA climate change issues were and they enumerated air quality, incompatible land-use, unfair distribution of water, the feast or famine problem of water in LA, and drilling , fracking and the storage of liquid natural gas. And added to that is our unique geography.
Definitely! With this
past week’s fires, I keep thinking about one of the pieces in particular.
Yes. It’s really interesting. Julie Taiwo Oni wrote a piece (ROOMIES) about the fires. Interestingly enough, when she turned that one in back in June I was glad someone took that (issue) on but didn’t think it was particularly relevant, and then last week happened. Suddenly, Julie’s is the most relevant of all of them. Not that they aren’t all relevant, they’re all interconnected.
Can you talk to me about the event’s subtitle, AT THE INTERSECTION?
One of my major issues is that people tend to think of climate change as a white middle class issue, and they also think of it as something that is distant in time. The fact of the matter is that environmental catastrophe affects low-income people more than it affects anyone else because they don’t have the means to buy their way out of it. It also affects people with very little political clout because they don’t have the means to influence their way out of it. I’m interested in intersectionality, hence, AT THE INTERSECTION, which is kind of a play on words. It’s not just that LA is a city of freeways, streets and lots of intersections, but I see this as “at the intersection” of art and science, and also at the intersection of many other cultural and identity movements. I think climate change is a feminist issue, I think it’s a racial issue… it’s definitely a status and economic issue. So that’s where the At the Intersection comes from.
It occurred to me that if I really wanted to see these works, I had to do it. I was probably the only person that was going to.
So, I know you
primarily as a playwright, but here you’re taking on the role of producer. How
did that come about?
Being a female playwright in America is kind of thankless. There are few opportunities. And being an older female playwright makes it even worse. And also the idea of trying to interest a theater in plays about important social justice issues or environmental justice—they honestly just don’t care. They may pay lip service to it, but we don’t see them producing these plays. It occurred to me that if I really wanted to see these works, I had to do it. I was probably the only person that was going to. I tried to interest other people in doing it and got no response, so I had to step in. I’ve produced with Visions and Voices before, on campus, but usually on a smaller scale. This one has been really challenging. Of course, Gio (Ortega), Simon Chau (production stage manager) and the people at the museum have been really helpful.
Yes. The Natural
History Museum! How did they get involved? Did you reach out to them?
I did. I thought “you know, we could do this on-campus”, but
then I thought, “Who else is doing this kind of work?” And what’s really
wonderful about the Natural History Museum is that they take the city of Los
Angeles and its diversity very seriously, and by diversity I don’t just mean in
terms of population but also the diversity of its interests and topics. So
climate change is one of the things that they actually have programs about. I
figured that if I could get them to partner with us, then we would have a
really interesting performance space.
And we do! We’ll be
at the Hall of Mammals.
Yes, it’s going to be in front of, you know, those dioramas
of the mountain goats… North American mammals.
*I do a happy dance on the inside and think about selfies with said mountain goats*
So yeah, I brought it to them, and lo and behold, they said yes. The really cool thing about this event is that it’s free to the public. That also means that if you make a reservation for the event, you get in free to the museum. You literally could spend the day at the museum and see all the really cool things that they’re doing there. They’re not just a museum of dinosaurs, they’re a museum of the natural history of Los Angeles, which is fascinating.
They’re actually trying to pay attention to what this city
really is and where it grew from. They also have a climate change program now
that they’re starting to develop. I’m very happy that we’re partnering with
How were the writers and production team selected?
A lot of the writers on this list were already writing about
climate change, so I didn’t have to go out of my way and try to find LA writers
that I was going to force into this topic. These are already people who are
concerned about this and are writing about it. It’s interesting to me that
there are a lot of women doing it. I also wanted to make sure that I had young
and old represented, and I wanted to hit the culture of Los Angeles, so we
have—Latinx writers, Asian American writers, black writers, white writers, and
mixed race writers. I’m trying to re-create the community of Los Angeles via
the playwright’s voices.
Gio (Ortega) has been interested in climate change—its one
of the topics that he takes on. He’s into social justice theater too. And
that’s really what this is, social justice theater. Gio is the director in town
that I know for whom this work matters. He’s traveled and done research on this
work, leads a program at Pomona College’s theater department that also does a
climate change theatre action in Pomona. He was a natural person to
I’ve worked with Simon Chau and Alex Rehberger (Production
and stage management) in the past. They’re both USC grads. And Howard Ho is our
go-to sound guy. That’s the team.
Talk to me about the
short, original works that have been created for this event. What can we
We have plays about children being affected by the toxic waste in their neighborhoods. Plays about gentrification. Plays about the Los Angeles River—the rehabilitation of it and the pollution in it. Plays about low-income people who have pumpjacks in their neighborhoods. Plays about trees and how LA needs to be more proactive about planting them because not only do they create shade, thereby lowering the temperature of the city, but they also help clean the air. We have plays about all of these topics, including incompatible land use, which you would think “How the hell would you write about that?”
Yes! But also, it
wasn’t t only a matter of how to approach these topic that I found challenging,
but the short format too. These pieces are each roughly 3-4 minutes long. So
even though I wrote a play, it also felt like I was writing narrative poetry.
That’s really wonderful. Almost everyone addressed them
poetically. And in fact, a couple of people have actually written spoken-word.
We have this really wonderful mix of plays that are scenes, and some that are
either wonderful comedic monologues or spoken-word kind of chats. It’s all
There’s also a micro
That just happens to be mine. I work with this wonderful
composer, Guang Yang—we have a full-length opera we’re working on—and I thought
“we like to work together”, so I asked
her if she wanted to do a piece for this and she said yes. We took on the
impossible topic of incompatible land-use. Ours is about a little girl whose
school is under a freeway—because we don’t have zoning to protect kids, schools
and playgrounds from being near a landfill or toxic waste or freeways. So the
little girl comes home from school and tells her mother that she learned
there’s a hole in the sky and her mother doesn’t want to hear about it. She
doesn’t want to hear the bad news. So the little girl spins a fanciful tale of
a Chinese goddess who’ll fix the hole in the sky, which helps the mother come
around. It’s really neat. It’s a very experimental opera. The full length opera
that Guang and I wrote has ten-singers, is orchestrated for an orchestra… but
this little short opera is just one instrument—a keyboard—and some percussion
sounds on a computer.
full-length opera is being done in Pittsburg next summer!)
Can you talk a little
about the theme guide created for this event?
My graduate students from my first year 574A (Dramatic Writing Across Media) class stepped up to create this. One of the media I’d pointed out to them is multiplatform media—creating theme guides and websites that have hyperlinks embedded in them so that people could go and see a video and get more resources. What they did was create theme guides for this entire event that has articles about environmental justice, the issues in LA, and organizations that you can support and join to help make change. It’s a really wonderful, colorful, beautifully printed guide that will be about 5-6 pages long and will include the program.
… I could keep doing it (CCTA/LA) but then I’m the one that keeps learning these things and its time for somebody else to step up and learn about not only how to do this but also about the issues.
Is CCTA/LA something
you’re hoping to continue to do every two years?
I would love for that to happen and I would love to be the
guide and the advisor, but I would let somebody step up and take over. I think
that’s one of the important things about being a playwright in America and that
is that you don’t sit around and wait. And I also feel as if I could keep doing
it but then I’m the one that keeps learning these things and its time for
somebody else to step up and learn about not only how to do this but also about
the issues. The best way to learn about them is to be directly involved.
excites you the most about the CCTA/LA:
At the Intersection event?
What excites me the most, and I hope this happens, is that
regular visitors to the museum, who are strolling through the galleries with
their kids, drop in and see something happening. My dream is that we see little
families seeing that there’s a theater event going on and that they stop and
take it in so that they are, as a family, not only introduced to theater, but
also introduced to the issues. I think its great that people are making
reservations, I love that, but I also would love for all the casual passerby’s
get drawn into it because I think it will be fun.
Last year I started working at Iowa State University, and kind of can’t believe how amazing my colleagues are. The theatre department has begun focusing on citizen artistry, which has anchored our season selection planning process in a much more socially aware methodology. I was thrilled when I came on board and found out that the department was committed to gender parity moving forward, and to celebrate that fact, they were going to do a whole season of works by female playwrights.
What was interesting, as we set about reading and researching plays, was just how few other organizations seemed to be making the same choice. We are fast approaching 2020, after all, and according to the Dramatists Guild’s most recent Count, we’re a far cry from that 50/50 gender parity goal set so long ago. (*Do you even remember where you were when the 50/50 in 2020 initiative was launched way back in 2010?)
Since we’re a university, we knew we had to serve our students first and foremost, but it also felt imperative that we begin to “Walk the Walk” of the citizen artist. Addressing gender parity for playwrights turned into just the start of our ambitious sea-change. We also decided to hire female guest artists as designers and directors, and to create a year-long symposium on gender parity.
The outreach to other departments on campus yielded a number of exciting partnerships – we aren’t the only field with a parity gap! – and this collaboration led to a very busy and thrilling season of work across many mediums and fields of study.
The result is our (very busy and very awesome) HERoic season! All it took to make it happen was a desire and willingness to DO THE WORK.
Now, we’re still in the middle of our first semester – two shows into our season, and four more productions to go—but the thrill of the work is contagious!
Something I’ve found very interesting during our process is that although gender parity onstage is a very important issue for us as artists and theatremakers, audiences aren’t nearly as concerned or aware of this gap. And why would they be? How many audiences are really that tuned in to the world of theatre to begin with? Aren’t most just kind of renting space with us for an evening or matinee and then going back to their normal routines?
So what we considered a very proactive and exciting selling point to our season—all works by female playwrights—has seemingly been less important to our audiences than we thought it would be.
Again and again, in discussions around gender parity and our season, we’ve heard audiences claim they don’t give a hoot who wrote the play. All they’re looking for is a “Good” story. Now, these are discussions have been held with theatre majors, minors, and non-theatre students alike – but I’d wager that the same holds true for most non-student audience members too. What people are looking for is TITLE recognition. Is the show a big enough deal to have pierced the non-theatre-maker’s bubble? Have they heard good things about the title from friends who “saw it on Broadway”? And have our theatremakers heard good things from reviews/fellow theatremakers who were involved a production of the show somewhere else?
In general, playwright names and gender identity haven’t been anywhere on their radar. Now, I don’t know about you, but as a playwright, I felt a little more than bummed that we’re so unimportant to audiences, lol. But again and again, this discussion point has led us to mine a number of follow-up questions with our students about who the Gatekeepers are who get to decide which plays make it “Big” and how do we decide what a “Good” story is.
And that’s a great discussion to have with students and non-students alike.
We’re going to keep the conversation going with audiences and students, and I’m sure we have a ton more to learn from this ambitious year, but I know one thing for sure: Nothing changes without first taking a leap. ISU Theatre is taking some big leaps, and it’s a very exciting place to work and create. I hope other universities and theatre companies take up the 50/50 challenge because it is totally doable, it does make a difference, and it’s important if we want to get more stories heard.
“If you’re only telling one story, it’s not a story, it’s propaganda.” – Michael Goeble, Assistant Teaching Professor, Women’s and Gender Studies, ISU