Category Archives: playwriting

Images That Find You

by Cynthia Wands

Image by Cynthia Wands
(A tarot card I created for my script in development: THE LOST AND FOUND OF 2020)

I sometimes wonder if my poor eyesight has something to do with my need for images. When I was around eleven years old, my twin sister and I were both diagnosed with very poor vision. As in we couldn’t see the chalkboard at school vision. (Yes, this is one of those back in the olden days stories.) There was a very real sense that we had failed at something (we had failed to see), and we were punished by given cats eye glasses that were both hideous and necessary. I remember when I first put on the glasses, thinking: Oh. So that’s what the floor looks like.

But I could see. I could see clouds. And the bark on trees. The ants on the ground. And these were images that had been blurred away from my consciousness, and I didn’t know it. So images were a form of relief and arrival. (“I can see that!” “I know what that is!”)

And in the time of seeing, my mother brought us to museums and let us wander the halls for hours where we would swallow up the images of paintings and stuffed buffaloes and antique clothing and medieval armour. I collected postcards of the museums and places of interest that we went to. I had postcards from The Beeswax Museum of Sioux City, Iowa. The Custer State Park Museum of Buffalo. The Lincoln Nebraska Frontier Museum.

I’m still somewhat perplexed at the appeal of these images: spinning wheels, fuzzy paintings, hairstyles from Marie Antoinette, bad examples of taxidermy, a display of lumpy looking baskets. Lots of animals. But I was the curator of my own limited world view, and I loved owning these images.

I kept the postcards in a box, and when we moved to Northern Maine, I memorized them. They became a talisman of other places and objects of wonder. And when I first saw theater productions, I was transfigured by the images on stage: characters moving in the light became dream like messengers. They were like my postcards.

I think my sister and I both wanted to create and manage the images that came to us. At one point, dissatisfied with the way we looked in the cats eye glasses, we melted them on the radiator in our bedroom. We managed to soften up the frames enough to sculpt them into bizarre free form eyeglasses that looked like something from a demented artist. Perfect. The only thing that was missing was a sprinkling of rhinestones or precious gems that we would have scattered on the frames, to give them that added precious weirdness. Our parents were exasperated by this display – the next pair of glasses were metal frames that couldn’t be easily melted.

Years later, I had the privilege of being directed by a woman director, who had a throaty laugh, and smoked menthol cigarettes, and she wore cats eye glasses that had rhinestones embedded all over them. From onstage, you could see her in the audience and the glimmer of her eyeglasses sparkled like a fountain of light. She was a marvelous spirit. And I loved seeing that image of her.

When Things Go Wrong

by Cynthia Wands

For some reason, this story has followed me around for the last few weeks:

Fake Rock Nearly Crushes Opera Star: Accident or Sabotage?

Feuding stagehands, falling props: It might sound like the plot of an opera, but in France it has been the subject of a court case.

From an Article in the New York Times written by Alex Marshall

It was the first line that really got my attention:

LONDON — The tenor Robert Dean Smith was lying onstage — eyes closed, pretending to be dead — when he felt something very close above him.

At this point, as I’m reading the story, I’m looking at the headline, and the picture, and I knew the something could go wrong here. Really wrong. So I kept reading:

Smith was appearing as Tristan in Wagner’s “Tristan und Isolde” at the Théâtre du Capitole de Toulouse in France, and he assumed that what he sensed looming was his colleague, the soprano Elisabete Matos, who was singing Isolde. She’d probably decided to alter the choreography and had come to stand over him, he thought.

But when Smith opened his eyes, he saw a 467-pound fake rock hanging just inches from his face. “I panicked and just threw it out of the way,” he recalled of the 2015 incident in a telephone interview. He rolled out from underneath the object, and quickly got to his feet — which likely confused an audience that had watched Tristan die a short while before. (His co-star kept singing throughout.)

The cause of this dangerous mishap was at first a mystery. But the reality turns out to be so bizarre that it could be an opera itself.

And the rest of the story is really interesting, (more on that later) but it did occur to me that I could come up with similar headlines.

Invisible Virus Nearly Crushes Planet : Reality or Just a Bad Science Fiction Movie?

or here’s another one:

Wildfires Scorch California’s National Forests: Is That Okay or Just Another Nightmare?

You can see my headlines aren’t as punchy and powerful. But here’s the rest of the story from the New York Times:

Last week, a court in Toulouse found a stagehand at the theater guilty of tampering with the computer system that controlled the prop rock’s descent. The production, which was directed by Nicolas Joel, intended for the object to stop about 30 inches above the tenor, and its continued descent at the performance in question was only stopped when another member of the technical staff realized something had gone wrong, according to a report in La Dépêche du Midi, a local newspaper.

According to the prosecutors, the stagehand, Nicholas S., whose surname has not been revealed by French newspapers out of respect for his privacy, had long been in conflict with a rival stagehand, Richard R., who he hoped would be blamed for the error. Two months before the incident, Nicholas S. had won a court case where he accused Richard R. of assault.

Nicholas S., who denied the allegations that he had tampered with the computer system, was given an eight-month suspended prison sentence and made to pay a symbolic one-euro fine to the Théâtre du Capitole. His lawyer did not respond to requests for comment.

Smith, the tenor, said he had never imagined someone had been trying to hurt him or had tampered with the equipment. “I’ve seen too many accidents onstage,” he said. “I’ve seen trapdoors open with people on them, and doors and walls fall down onto people.” Smith once cut his hand open while playing Don José in Bizet’s “Carmen,” because someone had forgotten to blunt the knife.

In 2008, Smith was actually the beneficiary of such a mishap — making his Metropolitan Opera debut, as Tristan, after the tenor Gary Lehman was injured during a prior performance because of a prop malfunction. Lehman had been lying on a pallet on a steeply raked section of the stage when the pallet broke loose from its moorings and plummeted into the prompter’s box. Lehman hit his head and could not take part in the next performance.

Given the frequency of accidents onstage, that the 2015 incident was the result of feuding stagehands was “just really bizarre and very unfortunate for the theater,” Smith said.

After the 2015 performance, the tenor apologized to Matos for his part in ruining the show. After that, he said, he had tried to ensure he died onstage in positions where he could keep his eyes open to see if anything was coming.

Constant Merheut contributed reporting from Paris.

I’ve seen onstage mishaps with trap doors and falling sets and lights; and at one explosive performance of The Rich Mans Frug in SWEET CHARITY, I saw a dancer’s lose fitting dentures go flying out into the audience. But now, I will remember that amongst the other things that can go wrong, you can also keep an eye out for that 467 pound fake rock.

Recognition

by Cynthia Wands

A view of a mannequin artwork done by me some years ago

Recently we had a dear friend stay for a few days in our home (vaccinated/tested/deemed safe and secure to visit) and what a joy it was – a friendship that has spanned 40 years and we were able to reconnect and talk for hours. We drank wine and talked about theater and art and performances we loved and celebrity. Later on we drank cocktails and talked about those we lost in the AIDS years, and directors we worked with, and scripts we loved.

The last night they were here, we also talked about ambition, and recalibrating our lives to our opportunities, and the specter of recognition in this culture of ours.

After these months and months of isolation and Zoom communication, it felt wildly alive to be able to have treasured talks like this.

By chance, another friend sent me this clip from a popular television show (another program that I haven’t watched and didn’t have much appreciation for.) It’s an episode of “Doctor Who”, where the artist Vincent Van Gogh visits the Musee d’Orsay and experiences his artwork being shown and shared by contemporary people.

I found it so moving – the fantasy of an artist experiencing his work through the eyes of future generations. It was a lovely and poignant reminder of the power of artwork, recognized or not.

I hope you enjoy this three minute clip as much as I did.

“The beginning of any writing adventure…pleasure and spaciousness”

by Cynthia Wands

The image of a blue door I saw in Paris some twenty years ago, still remains with me.

I have tested a myriad of different ways to work through blocks in my writing. “The Artists Way” by Julia Cameron. “Writing Down the Bones” by Natalie Goldberg. “Bird by Bird” by Anne Lamott. Great books. Great ideas.

I’ve been part of writing challenges. And prompts. And round robin writing forums.

And I still struggle with an occasional appearance with my writing…pause. It can be a blank or a wall or a subway car roaring by. Sometimes there is that missing beat.

Just recently I found an essay which included some thoughts by Your People’s Poet Laureate Naomi Shihab Nye, and one sentence flew out at me:

“Two helpful words to keep in mind at the beginning of any writing adventure are pleasure and spaciousness.”

I loved that phrase: two helpful words. Not an assignment. Not a system or a schedule. Just two helpful words. It just gave me a helping hand this past week. I hope you find something in this essay as well.

Here’s the rest of the article:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So congrats all.

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

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

#FringeFemmes Check-Ins: Sugar and Shit

by Constance Strickland

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

Fringe Femmes

WHO: Lenny Langley and Lori Hoeft

WHAT: Sugar and Shit

WHERE: Hudson Theatre 6539 Santa Monica Blvd + Livestream

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

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

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

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

A Good, Long, Grotesque, Ugly-Cry Is the Emotion We All Need Right Now #FringeFemmes

by Rasika Mathur

Disconnection is a horrendous plight that can leave us literally disfigured and old.

Connection is not a straight line.

A lot gets in the way.

Emotions are messy.

Change is hard. 

Transitions are hard. 

This has been a hard year for all. A busy year for me. So busy, I only had time to catch one show during the 2021 Hollywood Fringe Festival. My interest in all things Japanese led me to Ren Gyo Soh’s “Ikigai – A Purpose for Living.” [The hybrid show of film and live performances is a Winner of a Producer’s Encore Award.]

Now, I went in thinking it would be a seminar built into a show on how to figure out my life purpose at the intersection of What Am I Good At + What Can I Get Paid For + What Do I Love To Do + What Does The World Need.

Instead, I was treated to the rollercoaster of emotion that takes place in a human connection, as told by two fabulous physical performance art masters, Annie McCoy and Zak Ma, creator/director Saki Kawamura, sound designer Marlfaux, and stage managed by Veronica Ostroski. 

And the intersection was actually Butoh + Poetry + Zoom. 

In a quick wiki search, “common features of the [Butoh] art form include playful and grotesque imagery, taboo topics, extreme or absurd environments… traditionally performed in white body makeup with slow hyper-controlled motion.”

The facial contortions performed must have been so much fun to rehearse. Nobody’s getting a double chin in this cast! When joy radiates out of the mouth, eyes and chest, we can see it! Even in non-Butoh life! And pain? I concluded that pain mostly lives in the betrayed chest and throat, unexpressed, primed to take over the heart.

And writers will appreciate how “Ikigai” creatively limited its dialogue to truncated versions of a Wordsworth quote. 

What this production managed to pull off with the Zoom platform was also extremely notable and is definitely worth seeing for that reason alone. I’ve been using Zoom for a year and a half and I didn’t know it could do that! 

Annie McCoy and Zak Ma

I cried at the end. I went on the journey with them. And the imagery indeed stayed with me after… in the DREAM I HAD LATER THAT NIGHT …… 

I’ve had a very difficult relationship with my mother my entire life. Now that her body is on the brink of her last years (Is she though? Still resilient enough to have Level 9 meltdowns, so….quite the fighter), getting her a proper diagnosis is the priority. I’ve ratcheted up the “how can I help’s” and done away with the “how can you be so insensitive to me’s.”

But in the dream I had, the night I watched this performance, several of my family members were holding up my mother. I believe my nephew was even holding up her head. Somebody delivered the news to her that a landlady had been sick, or injured, I’m not sure what quite happened. My mother took on such a grotesque, long face, contorting into such pain, just like what I’d witnessed, as she drew out the words… ”Ohhhh, is the Landlady going to be OK?” As she trumpeted out a long wail, it all became too heavy for those holding her up, and my nephew actually could no longer hold up her head. It flopped forward. And she died! 

Upon waking, I was really left with the notion that her last words described her life to a tee. Always so concerned about everybody else. Maybe to her own detriment. It was grotesque, but unforgettable. 

Thank you to the company players of Ren Gyo Soh and “Ikigai” for giving me new understanding of all of our emotions. Sometimes, they just need to work themselves… out.

Ikigai – A Purpose for Living” has an Encore virtual performance Saturday, September 25 at 6:30pm PT – Visit https://www.hollywoodfringe.org/projects/7158

#FringeFemmes 2021! Meet Pamela Paek

By Constance Strickland

We know that when there is cultural and racial equality in theatre, it makes room for artists from all walks of life to contribute to the history of theatre. This past year has reinforced what we have been doing at LAFPI – putting women of all kinds first! It is vital that we make space and open doors wider for women from all cultural backgrounds if we are to have a bold, forward thinking American Theatre that reflects America.

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

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

Constance: Why Fringe?  Why this year?

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

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

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

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

Constance: What was the most surprising discovery?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Constance: Extra! Extra! Anything Extra Please Share!

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

Pamela Paek & Arthur Stanley Chong

#FringeFemmes Check-Ins: Mask and Man

by Constance Strickland

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

Fringe Femmes

WHO: Maria Hansson

WHAT: Mask and Man

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

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

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

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

Click Here to Find Hollywood Fringe Encores

#FringeFemmes Check-Ins: Vice

by Constance Strickland

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

Fringe Femmes

WHO: Simone Tetrault

WHAT: Vice

WHERE: Livestreamed from Zephyr Theatre 7456 Melrose Av  

WHY: Look! I was not ready for the vision of what Simone manifested upon the stage with her wonderful cast of actors. This play is a BIG idea piece that asks its audience to think BIG on a multitude of levels which gave the work a thrilling and relevant edge.

VICE asks you to ask questions about the society you are living and actively participating in. How will you exist and can you exist as a whole person within its current structure? I was fully absorbed and allowed myself to be taken into this utopian sci-fi live theatre film that felt like a new form of theatre. VICE felt familiar in that over the past couple of years as a country we have known devastation, yet we also know hope and we remember that human rights are worth fighting for. This play blows up all one’s expectations in the most special and subtle of ways.

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

Click Here to Find More Hollywood Fringe Encores