Category Archives: Theaters

The FPI Files: Navigating “The Body’s Midnight”

by Brenda Varda

Welcome to the literary landscape of The Body’s Midnight by Tira Palmquist. This world premiere, a co-production of IAMA and Boston Court and directed by Jessica Kubzansky, is a delicately interwoven script with surprising, beautiful and challenging moments.

I read the script before the play opened, talked with Tira and Jessica, and visited a rehearsal — all to discover how Tira’s playwriting and collaboration process influenced the production. As we know, creative generation is primarily an individual undertaking, but with this complex project, I wanted to hear and understand more about Tira’s sourcing of material and development.

The Body’s Midnight text presents dilemmas of family, aging, relationships, and health diagnosis fragility — all embedded in the geographic and cultural complexity of a cross-country exploration. Anne and David, a long-term couple and the core duo of the story, are on a trip from California to Minnesota to witness the birth of their first grandchild. There is an immediate indication of an underlying, yet unspoken, tension: even though their dialogue has all the markers of the fun tug-and-pull of a loving relationship, there are little pieces of concern and abnormality that let us know that is not their usual cross-country excursion.

And as the play moves through — no spoilers here! — there is a linking of grand geological sites, park rangers, family phone calls, and mythic characters, all addressing the themes of aging, choice, health and change. Exquisitely interwoven.

Tira and I have known each other for a ‘few’ years, and I have seen and read other produced Palmquist plays, including Two Degrees, Age of Bees & And Then They Fell. I immediately noted key similarities in this work — a balance of the personal, imaginary, poetic and factual in a way that keeps the mind moving while still hitting emotional truth.

After talking to Tira about this particular play, I was struck by how she allowed real events to establish the foundation and then layered other ‘realities’ and fiction to amplify the themes. Writers are often told, “Write what you know,” but even with that dictate, the unique aspects of a script often come from research, discoveries and creativity. This is a great example!

Playwright Tira Palmquist

So, my first question? What was the impetus for the play? There are a couple of answers…

Tira told me that she had a doctor’s visit and a diagnosis that started her thinking: not the same issue as Anne’s, but enough to shake the norm. That, coupled with the challenging notion of ‘aging,’ brought the possible character and plot into place.

“In 2018, as the play first came to me, I thought about this woman getting a diagnosis, and then making this journey and having a bucket list for this adventure: trying to memorialize things and hoping against hope to make them permanent,” she said.

A family component also provided context: a few years before the writing, Tira’s mother had a mysterious and complex health downturn.

“In her 70s, my mother started to exhibit symptoms of what was initially misdiagnosed as a more common dementia, but an MRI confirmed, later, that she had had several strokes (probably what are known as ‘silent strokes’) that caused significant damage to important structures of her brain. I’ve had some significant migraines in my life that have mimicked transient ischemic attacks (sometimes seen as precursors to major strokes). The idea that something like this could happen to me, could rob me of my ability to use and appreciate language, was, frankly, terrifying,” Tira continued.

So, yes, Anne does echo Tira’s life experience — and the play deals with these fears and trials — but along the way… well, Tira expands relationships and environments that further reveal Anne’s journey.

Sonal Shah and Keliher Walsh
Photo by Brian Hashimoto

Using her own experience of driving across the country, Tira fosters two particular aspects of travel to let Anne change. First, travel’s physical and mental impacts: “I am inspired by the way that travel (and longer drives) encourages a kind of patience and meditative attention to the world around you. Being willing to be surprised by the world rather than rushing through it,” she said.

With the travel disruptions, she allows her characters to veer off the planned path and dive into unusual locations that are surprising and allow for new realizations. There are deliberate jumps to locations that are not perfectly on the same highway; and there are jumps to memory locations that echo the past. This dance keeps the reader/audience in a mindset that discovers the roots of the relationships and story.

Her other use of travel is the specific locations: metaphorical representations that amplify Anne’s concerns and represent ideas about the planet’s fragility. Locations include the Grand Canyon, Glacier National Park, rest stops, and, of course, the Pando.

I admit, I did not know what the Pando was.

The Pando is a network of ash trees in Utah that are genetically the same tree, and what seems like individual trees are actually family branches sprouting from the giant lateral root of the parent. This is similar to the concept of character repetition and modification in the play.

“The inspiration for using the Pando in the play was actually a happy accident,” said Tira. “I started researching ‘disappearing places’ and mapping where these places would be along the route Anne and David would travel, and I just happened to stumble on information about this amazing place.”

Accidental finding. Well, maybe not “accidental.” As Tira described, it’s more the subconscious finding its way into a deep engagement with the core themes. 

Another key to Anne’s core journey is her husband David’s embrace and care. I was curious about the sense of familiarity, and I gathered that there might be similarities in Tira’s own relationship.

 “Well, the characters of Anne and David are drawn heavily from my husband and me — the kinds of conversations we have, the love language we’ve developed, the way I am his ‘monster’ and he is my ‘robot.’” (These are the quirky terms of endearment that they have for each other in the play.) “And while the catalyst for writing the play was a health scare I had, there’s not much else that is my particular story. The more that Anne, David and the other characters took shape, the more this play found its shape and purpose.”

Keliher Walsh and Jonathan Nichols-Navarro
Photo by Brian Hashimotoo

And the play does have a shape and purpose. For me, it felt like a challenge to understand, forgive, and maintain in the chaos of existence — but in a positive way.

Director Jessica Kubzansky described the journey as an “existential climb up a mountaintop,” which I agree with. It was lovely to see Jessica working during my brief visit to a rehearsal: the actors were just at the almost-memorized place, finding the details. Jessica was shaping the patterns and exceptions on the stage in ways to reinforce the “vast beauty” and the “crisis of connection” in the different environments. The actors — Keliher Walsh as Anne, Jonathan Nichols-Navarro as David, Sonal Shah as the daughter Katie and various other roles, and Ryan Garcia as son-in-law Wolf and also multiple roles — all were creating exceptional moments for the dance of dialogue, bringing all the voices together to remind the audience of the journey. 

Director Jessica Kubzansky

Since this is a playwrights’ blog, there are a few points to highlight about getting the play written, read, developed and produced that might be illuminating. Tira is great at generating, then submitting, and then developing relationships that build ground for her work. She is also persistent: she keeps on track through the many steps and processes that may be needed to get to the desired end state.

As mentioned, she got the impetus for the play in 2018 and then began the initial draft in 2019, working through pages and ideas. The second inspiration or deep dive was at the Tao House in northern California (one of Eugene O’Neill’s homes). At that writing residency, she found additional inspiration from O’Neill’s plays and “found ways to thread those in as homage to him and that beautiful place.”

Next, as in many writer’s journeys, there was an opportunity for a deeper development at the Seven Devils Playwrights Conference in June of 2021. Tira was the Guest Playwright, and she felt this was “a huge step forward in the play — figuring out more about how reality and surreality could work in the play, to find the ‘rules’ of the world, and discover how to make some of the wilder poetry of the play feel authentic and earned, and not merely decorative.”  

Also, the Boston Court was part of the process with their 2022 Playwright Group. That group gives an artist a year-long development process that provides the time to foster and deepen the world and characters of the play. This led to a public reading in April of 2023 at Boston Court’s New Play Festival – the first reading in front of a live audience! Jessica Kubzansky did a week of table work and rehearsal. Tira was especially grateful for her support, particularly Jessica’s fierce defense of how the play “plays with time and reality” and for providing support for expanding the poetry and magic of the play. As always, Jessica asked important questions about how The Body’s Midnight world operates and how that world operates on the characters. When I spoke with Jessica, she mentioned the rich challenges embedded in Anne and David’s relationship and how their realities intersect and collide, leading to emotional fruition.

And the reading? Tira said: “I really had no idea how the play would be received by an audience. I mean, Up until that point, I’d only experienced the play via Zoom readings and workshops… The reaction and responses really blew me away, and showed me, for the first time, that his was a play. A play that was important to other people, not just to me.” 

Ryan Garcia, Sonal Shah
Photo by Brian Hashimoto

It is now a year after the reading and it looks to be a full and beautiful production. The set design, bringing to mind the various natural locations, was just evolving when I saw the rehearsal. Now, I need to experience the full depth of The Body’s Midnight. Hope you do, too.

One more quote from Tira (and I’m sure writers can relate…):

“My writing process is, at best, chaotic. I have learned a couple things about myself: I can no longer just start writing with a kind of whim. I have to have the play sort of… gestate in my brain and in my body for a long time. I do a fair amount of very unorganized organizing work — as I said before, figuring out the beginning, middle, end, having a kind of shape or structure in mind — and then, when there’s a kind of critical mass of the play, I start to write. Usually, this first draft is pretty quick. I don’t honestly recall how long the first draft of The Body’s Midnight took, but I think it was a couple of months. Then there are moments of time and distance — returning to the play with new eyes, or with a new inspiration or realization. That recursive part of the process can take a few years.”

“The Body’s Midnight,” a co-production of IAMA Theatre Company and Boston Court Pasadena, opens April 27 and runs through May 26, 2024 at Boston Court. For tickets and information visit www.iamatheatre.com.

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

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

The FPI Files: Beatrice Casagrán and the Jam-Packed Femme Season at Ophelia’s Jump

by Carolina Pilar Xique

Whoever is still saying that “Theatre is Dead” in 2024 needs to come have a serious talk with me – because theatre is and always has been alive and well, and the reason for such lives solely within the determination of theatre-makers like Beatrice Casagrán.

Producing Artistic Director of Ophelia’s Jump Productions (OJP), Beatrice Casagrán dives headfirst into 2024 with a whopping 7-show season that is “guaranteed to entertain with compelling stories and educate current and new generations of theatre lovers.” And I am certain 2024’s season will do just that – their theatrical programming range is outstanding, from musical, to historical, to traditional straight plays and reimagined classics. As a theatrical artist who is also living, working and producing in Los Angeles, I am deeply inspired by Beatrice’s commitment not only to the theatre, but to the people who make the theatre with Ophelia’s Jump possible.

Needless to say, I was thrilled to speak with Beatrice to talk about the upcoming production of Musical of Musicals, the wonders of adaptational storytelling, and the stellar lineup for OJP’s new season.

Carolina Xique: I’m sure top of mind for you is Musical of Musicals – it’s not only a massive undertaking because it’s a musical, but then it splits off into five different musicals. So I would love to hear about what that process has been like.

Beatrice Casagrán

Beatrice Casagrán: Before COVID, would do a small musical every two or three years because we have such a small space. During COVID, we lost one of the two theatres in the area that focused on just musicals. So I felt that to serve the community, we really needed to answer what they were asking for. So Musical of Musicals is our first offering this year. It’s also kind of tough because [while] musicals are super popular with patrons, they’re expensive – even a four-person musical like this one. But they also bring in new people who think that they don’t like plays. <laugh> When they come in and see the caliber of work that we do, we tend to see those people come back; they realize, “This is great!”

So that’s the reason that we chose Musical of Musicals for the opening show of the year. We tend to put up stuff that is newer and raises questions and we leave the mid-century musical style to others who do it very well. But this show pokes fun at that and lets everybody have a good time, so I’m really enjoying it.

It’s also a musical in which the book was written by a female [Joanne Bogart], so it met one of our criteria: that we mostly do works by women.

Carolina: Without giving away too much, what can audiences expect to see in Musical of Musicals?

Beatrice: It centers five little musicals all around the quintessential, back-to-silent-film early theatre plot of, “the landlord wants the rent and the ingenue cannot pay the rent.” <laugh> The same plot follows the five different little musicals in the style of five different masters in the field, so it’s the Rogers and Hammerstein team, Jerry Herman, Sondheim, Andrew Lloyd Weber and Kander and Ebb. We have a great time just really embracing all the kind of archetypes and tropes of each one of those. It’s very clever the way it’s written. And it’s just funny. I think it’s been described as a valentine to theatre.

Cast of “Musical of Musicals” – photo by Sej Gangula

Carolina: I wanted to talk about the rest of the season. I’m kind of a Shakespeare-head myself. I was taking a peek at La Tempestad which was particularly interesting to me because I’m half-Mexican, half-Cuban.

Beatrice: Represent, girl! Yeah. I’m so excited. Yay. This is a project that I have thought about for years. This year we were able to get a couple of grants, and I had enough downtime that I was able to connect with other artists and make these friendships with more Latino artists and musicians.

 So I now have the wherewithal to do the collaboration that’s needed for that kind of project, and I am super excited. I’m working with a wonderful actor singer who is helping me with translations. And we are going to be doing all original adaptations and maybe some original music as well.

It just seems like The Tempest is perfect, right? There’s so much magical realism in across Latino cultures. But in Cuba… the Yoruba influence and Santeria is really going to be a good fit with The Tempest. We’ll be able to really delve into it and have a wonderful time sharing that part of our culture. I want to make sure that the team that we put together is fully diverse and has all the representation of the richness of what makes up our Cuban culture, and Caribbean Latino culture, and to pay respect and to pay attention to making sure that the story is told correctly.

“La Tempestad” will be part of OJP’s annual Midsummer Shakespeare Festival at the Sontag Greek Theatre, Pomona College

Carolina: It’s not an easy culture or history to explore, so I just want to convey thanks for bringing our stories to light. And some of the season’s stories – like La Tempestad or CJ, An Aspanglish Play by Mercedes Floresislas – are reimaginings of stories many of us already know. For these reimaginings, what seems to be the thread that brings them all together for you?

Beatrice: I’m a fan of history. My undergraduate degree is in political studies. So much of what’s going on in the world today is these hideously false, hurtful, dangerous narratives. I think theatre has an incredibly important role in reaching people who are being sucked into this, and telling stories that people might not otherwise have access to or think that they want to see. So taking these different stories and showing them through a female-centric, Latino focus is important to me. They’re universal stories.

I’m kind of old school in that way. I have always been drawn to stories that are about humanity. And a lot of us are losing the idea that human beings are human beings;  we’re not different in our basic yearnings and desires. CJ is a work that I’ve been trying to do for years. It is basically an adaptation of A Christmas Carol, but it’s a human story, and I think it’s even more amazing to be able to tell it from this lens. I love Mexican culture, it has so enriched my life. The richness of the mythology is inspiring. We’re going to have a lot of instruments that are native to Mexican indigenous cultures to be able to make that connection.

Carolina: The ensemble of folks who are directing and writing these pieces is amazing. I would love to hear how you think their perspectives will influence these shows.

Beatrice: Sheila Malone, who is a company member and is directing [Lauren Gunderson’s] Revolutionists, is also a queer leader. She is one of the original members of Dykes on Bikes; she is an expert on lesbian bike culture and she’s a brilliant projection designer and lighting designer and has been a co-artistic director at her own theatre. She’s going to be super nuanced and and I love the energy that she brings to it. So it’s great for me to be able to produce and see another director bring their vision. I also love Lauren’s work!

Caitlin [Lopez, Beatrice’s daughter who is directing Knight of the Burning Pestle] and I founded the Shakespeare Festival in Claremont 10 years ago now. She is hugely into Shakespeare and and Elizabethan theatre, through a queer lens. She also has a very strong background in improvisation, so this version has a lot of audience participation. And we’re running it as a master class, the whole production. We are going to be casting about half the cast with local college students  who will be paired with mentor professional artists in their areas of interest, and they will be getting other ancillary classes, seminars, workshops and other opportunities.

Kelly McBurnette-Andronicos [playwright of Second Death of a Mad Wife] is amazing. We’ve done two of her plays; this one is really interesting, too. I’m staging it in a way that I think is gonna be really fun because it’s gonna be somewhat immersive. Twelve Ophelias by Caridad Svich [directed by Elina de Santos] is amazing, too. I reached out to her and she’s like, “Oh yeah, do the show!” <laugh> She intervened with her licensing to make sure we got [rights], which was great.

Kelly McBurnette-Andronicos’ “The Hall of Final Ruin” (OJP 2022 Season) – photo by Caitlin Lopez

Carolina: What excites you most about this season? And what has been the most challenging?

Beatrice: I feel like for the last four years we had to kind of hunker down and, in some ways, make decisions to do things that were not necessarily what I see as core mission. Because we just were struggling like everybody else. I actually, like a lot of other artists, had this existential crisis where I found myself asking, “Is art even important? Does anybody care anymore? People are dying. And what is it that art brings to this? Who cares?” But art is what kept me going. And we were able to program for free and I think we kept other people going. It’s part of mental health, it’s part of community wellbeing.

This is the first season in which I’m doing what I want as an artist, what I think is important as an artist and what is important as a social-justice-minded organization. I am putting women and gender-marginalized people at the center of things. I am fully invested in hiring young people from local community colleges who are emerging artists, most of whom are Latino and of varying genders, who don’t have opportunities and who are learning. It’s an insane season. It’s insane – it’s seven productions!

The challenges? During the push for AB5, I was one of the leaders in the theatre community in California who said, “We have to stop fighting AB5. We need people need to get paid. We need to ask the government and people in the state to understand that our work is worth something and to fund.” But that hasn’t really happened. It happened during COVID and now the funding is all drying up. And so we are running at a huge deficit for every single production.

I’m going under the only way that I know how right now, which is full steam ahead and working my butt off to try to get grants and to spread the word, to reach out to patrons and say, “We have to have the help if you want us to keep going!” So part of the reason we have a season like this is we have a small crew and part of my personal commitment is I want to keep these folks employed. I need to give them hours because they need to live. I’m making a huge effort to try and make sure that I consistently have a number of hours for folks so that they don’t have to make huge changes in their lives all the time to try and make ends meet.


Carmel Dean’s “Well-Behaved Women” (OJP 2023 Season) – photo by Ophelia’s Jump

Carolina: If you could pick a classic tale to retell from your own lens, whether it’s your own story or somebody else’s story, which would it be and why?

Beatrice: Well, that’s kind of what I’ve done with La Tempestad. I was born in Cuba, but my parents left when I was just a baby. “My Cubans,” as I call them, are dying off, right? My dad’s 86, my aunts, and my mom are already gone. And like you say, it’s the history of this island; this little nation is so replete with stories that are important. So that’s really what’s in my mind right now.

I’ve retold Hamlet and used portfolio and other original writings to highlight Ophelia’s arc, which is how our theatre got our name. I made Laertes a lesbian character who was a suffragist and kind of looked at the female arcs in that play, and the different outcomes. A young woman who’s basically had her agency stripped [away] by the female in power and all the males in her life and finally takes agency in her last act, which is to kill herself. And then juxtaposed that with Laertes who was off traveling because they were not living the traditional female role. I’m constantly looking at projects like this and will continue to do so, I hope, through my career, ’cause that’s what really gets me going. <laugh>. Yeah, Shakespeare retellings through feminist lenses is really something I love to do.

“Musical of Musicals” runs through February 18th. For more information about “Musical of Musicals,” “La Tempestad,” and the many, many more wonderful productions that Ophelia’s Jump will be producing this year, you can find more information at opheliasjump.org. For information on how you can support or make a donation, please visit opheliasjump.org/ways-to-support

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

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

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.

I haven’t been writing lately…

by Tiffany Antone

Let me fill you in on a little secret: I haven’t been writing lately.

Photo by Brandi Redd on Unsplash

I’m just not into it. 

I could blame the new baby (who is a precious bundle of awesomeness) because, come on, he takes up a LOT of time and he wakes up at least once a night to demand I feed him with my body (being a human is weird). But blaming him would be kind of disingenuous because I have found plenty of time to create a number of dumb and ugly doodles that I share on Instagram, so obviously that’s time I could have been putting into my craft…

I could blame my teaching load, but that wouldn’t be fair either because—although time-consuming—being a college professor gives me way more time to be creative than my old freelancing and adjuncting life did, and I managed to get a LOT of writing done then.

I could blame the world…

Oh, yeah.

Actually, that’s it.

Because, well, the world is kind of a hot flaming mess right now, isn’t it? And, well, if I’m honest, I’m just not sure words are capable of putting the fire out.

I love writing plays.  I love telling stories.  And I think I do it pretty well (let’s not talk about how much I suck at the whole “Getting my work in front of people” part though).  Almost all of my works center on messy humans dealing with the complexities of being alive today, but—even if they were getting produced on stages around the world (Dear Universe, I wouldn’t mind it!)— would they DO anything to help the world?

I don’t know.

Maybe I’m having a bit of a mid-life crises about the purpose of theatre, and about the value of toiling away at scripts intended to land a production so that I can talk to people through characters and metaphor about things I think are important.

What would happen if I just talked to people instead?

A few weeks ago I did just that. 

I went to a local library board meeting at the behest of a FB post notifying us that a republican group was planning on storming the meeting to demand the library stop hosting an All Ages Drag Show.  I got so fired up about it that I wrote, essentially, a spoken word piece that I then read when my name was called to speak.  The issue wasn’t even up for a vote that night – it’s a popular event that already happens! – but there were a number of us there that night whose aim was to prevent the speakers of intolerance from winning the mic.

It felt great.

Not only was I able to take speaking time away from indignant and ill-informed haters that night, but I felt a sense of community amongst the rest of the drag show supporters that was incredibly uplifting. 

(I should clarify here, I have been to the All Ages Drag Show and found it to be very fun, but I am not a part of that community—just a fan.  The community I felt in the board room was of the kind created by a group of people standing together against intolerance.)

And this feeling of community got me thinking: Does theatre create community?  I mean, outside its walls… We say it does.  Hell, there are theatres all over the country who call themselves community theatres.  And I believe fervently that the theatrical community to be found within those walls is a wondrous, loving, crazy, and invaluable sort—but it’s a rare thing to see a theatre create community beyond the theatremakers/volunteers who make the “product” that those theatres “sell”.

Rather, it seems like most theatres have a primarily transactional relationship with their communities: More of a “We think you’ll like this show, so please buy a ticket! And while you’re here, maybe you want to buy a season pass/some theatre merch/a season program as well?” type of relationship. Theatres offer talk-backs and talk-forwards, and try to select seasons of work that will get more people to buy more tickets… but what are they doing to build community beyond the theatremaker kind?

And aren’t most audience members tjust here to see the show, have a glass of wine, and leave anyway?  Maybe they’ll talk about the show with their friends, recommend it to their co-workers, but they sure do like to bristle at the neighbor who unwraps a cough-drop mid-show. They growl at the young couple who dares to bring their children along. They glare at the student who arrives late. They chastise the women who laugh too loud… 

That’s not community.

And I really think, now more than ever, that we need to cultivate a greater sense of connection and community within AND without our theatrical structures.

But that’s a hard thing to do when you’re just a playwright.

Fortunately, I’m not “Just” a playwright…

I’ve been really fortunate to get hired at Iowa State University where we have dedicated our 2019-2020 season to work by female playwrights.  Not only that, but we’ve hired female guest designers and directors, and we’ve created an entire symposium to look at/discuss gender equity.  We’re also dedicated to gender parity in our season selection moving forward, and are participating in Jubilee next year. We’re doing the work, and we’re asking some big questions about theatre and citizen artistry along the way.  I’ll talk about more about our work in my next post. But it’s an exciting place to be teaching, working, and building community.

I’ve also organized a series of initiatives through Protest Plays Project and Little Black Dress INK (I’m the crazy person behind both orgs) that address social issues.  I’ll talk more about our latest project later this week. But both of these parts of my life allow me to do more than just scribble words… they help me connect and build community with other playwrights and theatremakers, and the kinds of work we are doing invites audiences to take action with us. It’s exciting.

There are more ways I’m working on taking action as an artist and a human, but I honestly don’t have enough time to write about all of it—what with the new baby and all 😉 

But I encourage you to hang in there with me this week and to think about how you can do more with your words, your voice, and your actions, dear playwrights.  I promise I’ll ask some good questions for you to ponder.

And if you’re wondering, here’s the statement I wrote in support of the All Ages Drag Show at our very awesome library:


Fear is a powerful, and primitive, human emotion.

So is love.

Fear alerts us to the presence of danger. 
A safety mechanism, designed to keep us safe from peril.
Fear helps us survive…

But…

Love, a safety mechanism in itself,
Gives us reasons to survive.
And unlike fear,
Love… Well, Love helps us to thrive.

Biochemical or Emotional, both fear and love ride our senses hard, confusing and elating us.
Biochemical responses are universal. 
We all know the feeling of a heart pounding, of sweat dripping, of stomachs dropping…

Is it fear?

Is it love…

How can the two look, feel, taste, so similar?
Emotional responses are individual. 
So what you,
and you,
and you,
and I fear,
What you, and you, and you, and I love…

The pieces of this world that create our biochemical and emotional responses –
Are rarely exactly the same.
It is a universal truth that we are none of us guaranteed to agree.
But we have built a society which allows for this difference,
A democracy built on the notion that there is no ONE right way to BE.
Because it is vital if any of us wishes to thrive,
That we continue to allow individuals to be

Individuals.

A community that celebrates the individual is a community centered on love.
A community that celebrates only one type of individual? The “Right” kind of individual?
Well that’s not love.
That’s not community.
That is fear in action.
That is fear in control.
That is a community in crisis.

Hearts beating
Sweat dripping
We are all of us here tonight sharing biochemical reactions, though the reasons are different.

My heart pounds because I do not want to be party to a community where you are not free to be you, and I am not free to be I. 

Where the deciders of WHO can BE, use religion or politics to outline what is “CORRECT”

My adrenaline surges because to hear how ferociously some are willing to condemn others creates in me a palpable fear…

A fight or flight kind of fear…

That those who want to condemn are unwilling to open their hearts to the love in this room
In this community
In the hearts and souls of those who have been finding and building community through an
All ages drag show.
Really?

Really?

I will not fly from this issue.
We will not fly from the community that has been built here.

Those of you who are in the room tonight
Afraid of
An all ages drag show:
Have you become fear junkies?

So acclimated
So indoctrinated
By a party that uses fear to separate and alienate and attain power through division-
Do you really think that diversity in your community means you can’t continue to be you?
That by allowing others to celebrate their individuality
You are somehow losing out?

Let me share with you a secret…

You are not losing anything.

But by trying to take this away?
An event born of incredible love and joyfulness and inclusivity?
You are the takers.
Aiming to create absence in the hearts and lives of others.

I’ll share another secret with you:
The adrenaline you feel in pursuit of punitive action-
The adrenaline you feel while attacking that which is different from yourself
Is NOTHING like the adrenaline of love.

That adrenaline…

The adrenaline of putting aside warring labels,
—Democrat vs. Republican, this kind of Christian vs. that kind of whatever—
In order to reclaim the I, the ME, and the US in this room?
The adrenaline of deciding to be a community of love
And to let go of fear…
Of the hate that fear sows
Of the intolerance that fear grows-

That is the biochemical
emotional
Response
Of a healthy
Thriving
Community.
And that is what we should all be working towards

Together.

Tonight.

Thank you.

Consider the Audience by Kitty Felde

It was quite the weekend of theatre for me as an audience member

The Well-Heeled Audience at the Kennedy Center for “Hamilton”

I finally saw “Hamilton” at the Kennedy Center. Yes, it was a road show, where the singers cheated on the high notes and the very pretty fellow who played the title role kept blending into the scenery. Oh, but the actor who played Aaron Burr made me believe the show was named after him! A fine production viewed from a fine seat on the first balcony.

The night before, I was at a different theatre, seeing an old favorite: “The Pirates of Penzance.” It, too, was a touring production from a pair of Chicago theatre companies – The Hypocrites and The House Theatre.

It was fabulous. To quote from the aforementioned show, “Pirates” “blew us all away.”

The reason: the decision to put the audience at the heart of the action.
The experience began the minute you walked through the theatre door. Every cast member was onstage, singing not Gilbert & Sullivan, but beachy standards like “Sloop John B” and “Margaritaville.” A tiki bar was located on one side of the stage and remained open for business throughout the entire show. A batch of beachballs were flying overhead – audience members batting them at actors, musicians, and each other. I thought I was at a Dodger game.

The audience – an equal mix of senior citizens, 20-somethings, and parents with dozens of very small children – was invited to take a seat onstage.

Oh, sure, some of us fuddy duddies sat on chairs safely away from the action, but most of the audience was happy to plop down on painted wooden benches and ice chests and kiddie wading pools that filled the stage. They were instructed that whenever the action moved to the exact space where they were seated, they’d be politely tapped on the shoulder. This was their invitation to get out of the way. Fast. At times, it looked like a giant game of musical chairs as grownups and kids scrambled to find another seat.

Several members of the audience were recruited to actively participate in the play by holding up the Union Jack or the skull and crossbones of a pirates’ flag. Each was printed on giant beach towels. Parasols were handed out to young ladies who dutifully twirled them this way and that, trying to keep up with the cast member.

The smallest of kids congregated atop the lifeguard station at stage center. It was a magnet for them. Rather than making them scoot, the actors acknowledged their presence. The Pirate King and Frederic would declare that they were entirely alone – and then roll their eyes at the 3 year olds who surrounded them. The rest of the audience was delighted – when they weren’t scared half out of their wits that one of those toddlers would fall off the platform.

The evening was amazing. The energy bounced off the walls.
What a pity when those youngest of audience members discover that all theatre isn’t like this.

Which makes me ask: why not?

Playwriting can feel like such a selfish act. Yes, we have “important stories” that we believe must be shared with the world. But they are our stories. We hope they will resonate with the world in some way, and sometimes they do. (A young man told me that seeing my war crimes play “A Patch of Earth” was the reason he became an attorney specializing in international law.) But usually, it’s a bunch of people sitting in the dark watching a bunch of actors pretending to be imaginary people we made up.

I’ve been thinking hard the past week about the role of the audience in theatre and what I can do as a playwright to make the theatrical experience more about US and less about ME.

I have no immediate solutions, but just asking the question is a start. So I’ll also ask it of you: is it our responsibility as playwrights to also consider the audience? How can we bring them into the theatrical experience? Do we want to? Does the audience want to? How does that change the work?

The mission statement of The Hypocrites is to “re-introduce communal connection into contemporary theater by embracing the desire of all people to bond with each other, especially while experiencing the same event.” The House Theatre wants to “explore connections between Community and Storytelling through a unique theatrical experience.” What’s my mission statement as a playwright?

Which brings me back to “Hamilton.”

Most of the Kennedy Center audience was as familiar with the lyrics of Lin-Manuel Miranda as the actors onstage. Here and there, you could hear someone two seats over whisper, “teach ‘em how to say goodbye, say goodbye” or “never gonna be satisfied.” We all wanted to sing along. It was a show that did speak to us personally and we wanted to be part of it.

But we were at the Kennedy Center, not a black box theatre in rural Maryland. We knew that if we broke into song, a gray-haired, red-coated usher would find us and take us away.

Now that I’ve seen this production of “Pirates,” I’m never going to be satisfied to sit quietly in the dark.

 

Playwright Kitty Felde is also host of the award-winning Book Club for Kids podcast. Her play about the LA Riots “Western & 96th” will be workshopped this September at DC’s Spooky Action Theater and its New Works in Action series.

5 Years Later… She Writes A Play!

by Andie Bottrell

Movie Still from Synecdoche New York

I’m writing a gosh-dang play again for the first time in years and finally feel like I am almost legitimate enough to be blogging for the LAFPI! I’ve spent the last two years working on my webseries SEEK HELP, and making a life-changing decision. After completing the webseries, I was contemplating my next big creative project and I landed on this play I started working on back in 2011 or so before abandoning it for other projects.

I’ve had a one-act play performed on stage, and had readings of my full length plays both in public and private workshops, but never had a full length play of mine produced or published and I would love to go on that journey, if that journey will have me. The salivating, desirable thing about a play (done right), as opposed to a film or tv show or book, is:

  • The Immediacy: You get immediate feedback from the audience.
  • The Hostage Component: The audience is trapped, hidden away from the outside world and digital world’s distractions. They are forced to confront the situation presented in front of them and to enter into an imagined circumstance that demands their engagement.
  • The Visceral Exchange: The audience inevitably affects the performance and the performance affects the audience. This exchange of energy can offer a magical high.
  • The Unpredictable Originality: No matter how rehearsed a play, great performers are always still just reacting to what they are given in the moment and great performers are always still searching for new moments and deeper truths throughout the run. So, no matter how rehearsed, every night is a slightly different show. This is an art form that evolves.

In other words, a play is a living, breathing, growing entity. If you want to explore big ideas, ethical dilemmas, flaws in humanity or culture, expand a communities view on something, I can think of no better way than to build a play. As Chelsea wrote about in the post below, nearly all plays have messages, and the best ones, the ones that actually have the ability to open minds or change perspectives or prejudices, do so in a way that is so entertaining that you don’t even notice the medicine the playwright is slipping down your throat as you watch.

The hard and frustrating work of playwriting is trying to turn those big ideas into genuinely good and captivating entertainment…usually while sitting alone in your apartment late at night. The fun and exciting part of playwriting is getting a group of people together to work on the play, to communally birth a piece of art in a collaborative form. The latter being the part that is currently motivating me through the former. I see pieces of the play in my head; I want to see it outside my head. I want to discuss this topic in depth with others. And there, really, I think is the root of why I write. I want to bring people together. I love structured hangs but hate unstructured parties. I want to have deep conversations, not small talk. I want to feel, think, be challenged and examine myself and others and the world. I want to know I am not alone, and I want to understand that which is different from me in a visceral way. I don’t think I am unique in that–I think many writers write because we want to bring people close to us, to invite them over, not just for a cocktail, but to go all the damn way down…down to the colon! I wanna see your shit–the stuff you’re proud of, the stuff you are ashamed of, I wanna see how you navigate big decisions and deal with life’s pain, I wanna feel your laughter, your joy, see how you love, understand a new slice of life better–I wanna experience it all and I want everyone else to experience it to, because I think that’s the most efficient way to build empathy and understanding, and thereby mend differences and cultivate a peaceful respect for each other.

I love theatre. Deeply. I respect it for the power it has and am captivated by it’s magic. I am excited for a more diverse theatre landscape. There are so many stories we haven’t told, haven’t experienced. We think we’ve seen it all sometimes, but there are so many points of view that have not yet been given the opportunity of a stage and an audience. I am excited for more plays by and about women, people of various ethnic backgrounds, from different countries and cultures, of different ages, of all different gender and sexual identities, of various experiences, to create new works set in and about our time. I think now more than ever we could collectively benefit from unplugging and coming together in a dark room to pass the baton and tell each other who we are and what it means.

Wish me luck (ie. motivation, stamina, intelligence, clarity, artistry, articulation, and courage) as I continue on my journey to prove I belong on the LAFPI roster–I mean, to finish this play and work to get it on it’s feet.

 

Adieu to DC’s Theatre Scene

I’ve escaped to the bedroom while a quartet of hardworking young men pack my lamps and my pictures and drag more than a dozen bins of fabric out into the hallway of my high rise. It’s moving day here in Washington. After nearly a decade, living within walking distance of the U.S. Capitol, my husband and I are finally returning to Los Angeles.

It seemed like a good time to look back at my D.C. years as a playwright.

No, Arena Stage did not invite me to participate in their Playwrights Arena playwriting group or commission me for one of their Power Plays. No, Studio Theatre didn’t fall in love with my work. Nor did Olney or Signature or Synetic. In many ways, I felt like I’d arrived in DC about ten years too late. Like the rest of D.C., the theatre scene is very much a relationship game. And those relationships had been formed long before I got here.

But I did find other opportunities. And so could you.

Several D.C. theatres give a nod to local playwrights by selecting new ten minute plays that thematically relate to their mainstage production. My short L.A. riots play got an airing at the Jewish themed Theater J. A development group The Inkwell offers rehearsal space at Wooley Mammoth, actors, a dramaturg, and a director to work on 20 minutes of a full length play. I met my favorite D.C. director Linda Lombardi through this experience. (She was directing one of the other plays.) Another group Theater Alliance hosts what it calls the Hothouse New Play Development Series. It offers a commission, a week of rehearsal, and terrific actors for a one-night staged reading of new full-length work. My full-length L.A. Riots play WESTERN & 96th got an airing there.

That same theatre teamed up with California’s National Center for New Plays at Stanford and Planet Earth Arts to commission playwrights for an evening of ten minute work about the Anacostia River watershed. The plays got a second performance on the Millennium Stage at the Kennedy Center. My new ten minute play KENILWORTH – the story of a woman who fought the government to preserve her water lily farm – was read at that festival. And then the story grew and grew into a full length.

Unlike Los Angeles, where big corporations moved out years ago and took their arts money with them, the D.C. government sets aside a huge amount per capita for arts grants. A grant from the D.C. Arts & Humanities Commission and Planet Earth Arts made it possible to produce a staged reading of what is now called QUEEN OF THE WATER LILIES on Earth Day this spring. The cool part is that it was done in a National Park on the footprint of the house where the heroine lived most of her life, surrounded by the water lily ponds she loved.

The D.C. Arts & Humanities Commission also has an annual award for playwriting. I’ve come in second two times for D.C.’s Larry Neal Award. (First place comes with a nice check. Second place comes with a glass of wine and some cheese at the reception.)

Another commission came my way courtesy of the artistic director of one of the very fine children’s theatres here in D.C. The commission wasn’t for Adventure Theatre.  It was to create a one-person show for an organization called Pickle Pea Walks to be performed every weekend on the grounds around the White House for all those tourists who didn’t get their security clearance. My play QUENTIN is about the youngest son of Theodore Roosevelt on the night before he reports for duty in World War I. He’s hoping to reunite with his pals from the years when he lived in the White House. They don’t show up, so instead he takes tourists down memory lane to help him say goodbye to D.C. This year marks the 100th anniversary of Quentin Roosevelt’s death (his plane shot down by German fliers in World War I) and rangers from Sagamore Hill (the Roosevelt home) are coming to D.C. to see the production this July.

D.C. is also home to the fabulous summer Capital Fringe Festival. As an audience member, I’ve seen an opera based on the War of 1812, a 45 minute version of “Moby Dick,” and more political plays than even Washington could imagine. My own entry was a production of ALICE: an evening with the tart-tongued daughter of Theodore Roosevelt. Alice was famous for her bon mots (“If you haven’t got anything good to say about anyone, come and sit by me.”) and lived most of her life here in Washington. The show played to sold-out houses and was named critic’s pick by The Washington Post.

There are also odd opportunities for playwrights in this town. I was once asked to write a play in 40 minutes based on an audience suggestion. The wonderful artistic director at MetroStage – the first person in D.C. to fall in love with anything I’ve written – invited me to take over her theatre on a Monday night for a public reading of my controversial play with a character in blackface THE LUCKIEST GIRL. I was challenged to write a one minute play for a festival at Roundhouse Theatre – one of dozens being performed for one night only. I knew I wanted mine to stand out, so I wrote a naked play METAL DETECTOR. It was great fun to see the sign warning of “brief nudity” in the box office window.

I also served four years as a judge for Washington’s version of the Tony’s – the Helen Hayes Awards. This meant free tickets to some of the best – and some of the worst – evenings of theatre in America. (I’ve learned to ask: “will blood be spilled on the audience?”)

Finding community has been the most difficult part of living in D.C. Everyone is busy, busy, busy. I was lucky enough to find a writing group – Playwrights Gymnasium – and a terrific crew of writers. Unfortunately, the group has been on haitus the past several years. We’re all too busy. And frankly, all that business has left me lonesome here in D.C.

So I’m coming home.

I’m nervous about rejoining the L.A. theatre community. It’s likely that many of the literary managers reading scripts today were still in high school when I was last living in Los Angeles. Most of the artistic directors I know have retired. Or died. It will be like starting all over again. Just like it was ten years ago when I moved to Washington. But Southern California is home for me. I’m looking forward to re-introducing myself.

New on the LAFPI Podcast: “What She Said” – Alyson Mead with Susan Rubin

 

Alyson Mead speaks with playwright Susan Rubin about life, love, mythology and the devil in her play Liana and Ben, currently playing at Circle X Theatre

Listen In!

 



What conversations do you want to have? Send your suggestions for compelling female playwrights or theater artists working on LA stages to Alyson Mead at [email protected], then listen to “What She Said.”

Click Here for More LA FPI Podcasts

New on the LAFPI Podcast: “What She Said” – Alyson Mead with Deb Hiett

deb-heitt


Alyson Mead speaks with playwright Deb Hiett about development, trusting “the soup,” and the alternate universes of game shows in her new work The Super Variety Match Bonus Round, a Rogue Machine Theatre production currently playing at the Met Theatre in Hollywood

Listen In!


 

What conversations do you want to have? Send your suggestions for compelling female playwrights or theater artists working on LA stages to Alyson Mead at [email protected], then listen to “What She Said.”

Click Here for More LA FPI Podcasts

We’re Not Playing, and we want YOU to join us!

Last week a lot of us watched in horror as Donald Trump, a misogynistic, xenophobic, and wildly ignorant human (we think…) man, was elected to be President of these United States.

I’ve been spending a lot of time since then working through all my feelings on the subject, and I’ve managed to boil all my rage, disappointment, and shock into two major thinking points:  “We have to do better!” and “Fuck that guy!”

(Obviously the former is a more actionable frame of mind to be in, but I’d be lying if I said the latter thought didn’t help fuel my desire to follow through on the first)

So I’ve been doing a lot of writing… and not in the “Wow, I’m making some great art from this!” kind of writing (yet).  More like, “Umm, I think I’m writing a mission statement” kind of writing, and it’s based on the following:

We need to heal our divided nation and We need to make our objections to Trump’s dangerous policies heard.

I’m working on strategies for the first, but Little Black Dress INK already had a jump start on the second – and we’d like you to you to join us!

not-playing

Little Black Dress INK invites you to take action by participating in the 
We’re Not Playing initiative.  This initiative began as a way for us to support female voices who were speaking out on important issues through their work as playwrights – and now it’s time for these voices be heard!

Theatres and theatre practitioners across the nation are invited to hold readings of these plays, royalty free, Friday, January 20, 2017 – Inauguration Day.  The only caveat is that we ask any/all monies raised be donated to the ACLU, Planned Parenthood, and/or NRDC – organizations we believe will be integral to fighting the dangerous policies which the incoming administration intends to implement.

Little Black Dress INK will continue to post socially-conscious/politically-inspired plays between now and January for interested theaters to select from – or you can challenge your own circles of fabulous playwrights to write plays that inspire action.  Let’s just do something to help process the rising tides of panic gripping the nation.

Let us make our objections loud and clear, and let us put our humanity center stage on January 20th, 2017.

We can be better.  Let’s be better.  Let’s invite our audiences to be better with us.

Want to get involved?  Sign our pledge at www.LittleBlackDressINK.org  Then start reading and selecting plays from those we’ve published, or invite other awesome female playwrights in your area to contribute work!

And if you’re a female playwright who wants to contribute short plays or monologues to the initiative, please send them, along with a photo and brief paragraph explaining what inspired you to write the piece to [email protected] – make sure your subject line reads: WE’RE NOT PLAYING SUBMISSION.

#WereNotPlaying #WritingForChange #TheaterCanHeal

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