Tag Archives: Echo Theater Company

The FPI Files: Talking a “Blue” Streak With June Carryl

by Katherine Vondy

I first got to know June and her writing as we were working on new plays together as part of The Vagrancy’s 2020-2021 Writers’ Group (though she had been involved with several Vagrancy productions before joining the Writers’ Group). Reading her pages that year, I was continually struck by her ability to write dialogue that felt wholly grounded and natural while placing her characters in situations that allowed their words to transcend the scenes, thereby always speaking to larger issues and ideas. “Blue”—June’s engrossing two-hander currently playing at Rogue Machine’s Henry Murray Stage—is a perfect example of this skill. With an knack for stripping down the many layers of personal identity while exposing the underbelly of national identity, “Blue” is a unique theatrical production that gives audience members the experience of peering behind the closed doors of the LAPD—with a few revelations about human nature along the way. 

Kat Vondy: When we were writing plays together as part of The Vagrancy’s Writers’ Group, there was a very specific structure and schedule involved with the plays we developed there, with new pages due every two weeks over a period of seven months and a few workshops along the way. How does that compare to your writing process in general, and for Blue in particular? Do you tend to dash out a full draft over a weekend, spread the writing out over a longer period of time, or does it depend on the project? 

June Carryl: The structure at Echo Lab where I had the chance to write Blue was a meeting once a week with two moderators, the incredible Hannah Wolf and Brian Otano. There were nine of us and we shared a few pages from one play. We’d sign up and had six-to eight weeks to develop pages. My process is kinda all over the place, honestly, depending on the play. I’ve started working with a character biography (who the main players are, especially the protagonist, what they want versus what they need, what their wounds are) and then just fly by the seat of my pants. With Blue I knew the first scene right away and so had to go back to do the character outline. It evolved over time as I was pointed to the need for a deeper relationship between Parker and Sully by the two wonderful directors who shepherded the workshops and a reading down at Curtis Theater, Michael Matthews and Ryan Bergmann.

June Carryl

KV: In addition to being a playwright, you’re also an accomplished director and actor. How do your experiences in those areas inform your writing? 

JC: I’m always learning a little more about storytelling from doing the other two things. Character development and how language fits (or doesn’t) in an actor’s mouth, clarity of intention all come from acting while focusing action even if I’m not always clear about why consciously something is happening I get from directing. It’s really fun. I’m really always learning.

KV: In Rogue Machine’s production of Blue, the theatrical space is so intimate and immersive that it’s easy for the audience to suspend their disbelief and forget they’re watching a performance; the audience has the experience of being a fly on the wall of an actual interrogation. This sense is heightened because the play is one unbroken scene that plays out in real time. Did you always conceive of Blue in this way, or were there earlier iterations of the play that had scene breaks and dealt with the passage of time differently?

 JC: Credit Michael Matthews, my amazing director, with how that space came to be and Rogue Machine just ran with it. I’m so grateful he said yes. The play has never had scene breaks and was always conceived of as happening in a single scene in real time.

John Colella and Julanne Chidi Hill in Blue; photo by Jeff Lorch

KV: In some ways, Blue feels like a companion piece to the remount of Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992 that was just at the Mark Taper Forum. Both productions highlight the fact that police violence against people of color continues to plague our country: Twilight by recounting a piece of history from over thirty years ago, and Blue by telling a contemporary story that incorporates recent national events. The shows bring into focus a pattern of racism that has not changed in the decades between the 1992 LA Uprising and today.

 While thinking about Blue, I was struck by the way that the conversation between LaRhonda and Sully keeps circling back to the same concepts; both characters repeatedly return to certain topics in efforts to continually angle for different responses.

 To me, there’s a way in which the structure of Blue echoes the structure of our history: being stuck in a pattern that we can’t (or won’t) break free of. You also explored the theme of patterns in the play you wrote for The Vagrancy, N*gga B*tch. How do you think about patterns and repetition in a storytelling context? What do you think audiences can learn by examining patterns and repetition?

 JC: There’s this tick in American culture where we broach a place of change, a watershed moment, and rather than breaking through, we revert to nostalgia and a looking back, usually to the 50s. It’s incredibly annoying. Not that change doesn’t happen. It does, but we are constantly on repeat. The hope is that in the story the characters are initially locked in a repetition, look at the thing in question from one angle, then another, then still another and that the audience recognizes its own patterns and breaks that pattern because to repeat it once more is to remain in stasis, to fail. I never really thought out loud why I do it. It’s kind of an obsession.

KV: We were scheduled to have a Vagrancy Writers’ Group meeting on January 6, 2021—the day of the Capitol Insurrection—and I remember wondering whether it was even possible to access a creative frame of mind given what was happening in DC. The situation was leaving so many people distraught and stunned that it was difficult to focus on anything else. In Blue, the Capitol Insurrection comes to have a particular significance as we get deeper into the story; as such, it feels as if you were able to transform something that was initially a creative barrier into part of your creative work. Struggling to make art while grappling with the weight of disturbing world events is an issue that I think many creative people contend with. Do you have strategies that help you navigate this challenge?

Julanne Chidi Hill and John Colella; photo by Jeff Lorch 

 JC: Writing itself is my strategy. I journal every day now, have for a long while. It’s this info dump. Whatever obsession or gripe I’m grappling with I just download for three pages. It just really helps. And the great thing about writing plays is that you can break things down and look at them, at what you think, at what is and isn’t true, and you can decide what your reaction is; so you’re not just feeling helpless or enraged. You can engage. It’s really therapeutic.

KV: Do you have a specific audience member (or members) in mind when you write?

JC: I don’t quite know what that means. I kinda write to talk to anyone who’ll listen. One of the most gratifying things anyone has ever said to me is that I said something in the play that they were feeling and didn’t have the words for. That makes all the stress and self-judgment worth it. 

KV: Is there anyone (dead or alive, real or fictional) you’d like to share your work with who hasn’t yet had the opportunity to see or read it?

JC: I wish my mom were alive to see my work. I was supposed to be a lawyer and have tooootally gotten away from that and quite happily. She was always proud of me—I found out she wanted my brother, sister, and me to be happy whatever we chose to do with our lives. I was the quiet one. t would be amazing if she could see how I turned out.

 KV: What are you reading/watching right now? Any recommendations for books or shows (on film or stage) that we shouldn’t miss?

JC: I have The Amazing World of Gumball seasons 1 through 3 on repeat. It’s on Hulu. It’s a cartoon about a blue cat, his adopted brother, a goldfish, his sister who is a pink bunny like his dad and his mom who is also a blue cat. Before they decided to make him jaded in season four it was just this hilarious look at 7th graders—just in that in-between place of still being kids and having to contend with he world with kid logic. The first three seasons are incredible and hilarious.

I’m also reading Wilson Harris—slowly. He was a Guyanese author (I’m Guyanese on my mom’s side), utterly brilliant, totally over my head and absolutely worth it, I think, though half the time I literally no idea what he’s talking about. I’m also getting ready to read The Emperor’s Babe by Bernadine Evaristo.

KV: What are your hopes for the future of theater in LA? What would you like to hold onto, and what would you like to change?

JC: I really want theater to make good on the last two years of promising to share the stage with people of color. Workshops are great, genuinely great and a gift; but to see that gift translate into actual PRODUCTIONS rather than just throwing dollars at us and bailing when it comes to sustained support and full production is paramount. What I loved about getting to work with the Vagrancy is that dedication is there. The point is to put the plays up, to support getting the plays up elsewhere when y’all can’t do it yourselves. More theaters like Vagrancy. That’s my hope for the future of LA Theater.

June Carryl’s “Blue” is now playing through Sunday, May 14th at Rogue Machine’s Henry Murray Stage. Tickets are available here. The Vagrancy will present Blossoming 2023, featuring new works by LA playwrights Jennifer Bobiwash, Natalie Camuñas, Anna Fox, and Katherine Vondy, from May 19-23; check out The Vagrancy’s website next month for more info.

Know a female or FPI-friendly theater, company or artist? Contact us at lafpi.updates@gmail.com & check out The FPI Files for more stories.

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The FPI Files: “Poor Clare” Finds a Home at Echo Theater

by Carolina Xique

You’re driving to Los Angeles on the 101 North Freeway. For most tourists and incoming residents, this drive is the dream: seeing the famous buildings of the LA skyline, zipping under the 10 Freeway overpass, and seeing the light opening up to the concrete jungle of Downtown. With its often-sunny afternoons and the undeniable scent of affluence (or is it the smog?), an updated Carrie Bradshaw could happily look forward to a very West Coast version of Sex and the City.

 Except, when you exit in Arcadia, or drive down Glendale Boulevard, or pass through Echo Park, the same disturbing scene of tent cities overwhelms sidewalks and underpasses. In the safe confines of your car, you can’t help but notice how the homelessness crisis has become synonymous with the city itself. And it feels like there’s nothing any policeman or city official is doing to stop it. So you ask yourself, What can I do?

This is the same question Clare of Assisi asks herself in Echo Theater Company’s production of Poor Clare. We see her journey from being a well-known socialite, to asking a man named Francis about how she can change her ways to be of service to the poor. LAFPI sat down with director Alana Dietze (Dry Land and The Wolves at the Echo), and playwright Chiara Atik (Bump, Women and HBO’s “Girls”) to talk about the inspiration for Poor Clare and how it relates to living in Los Angeles, today.

LAFPI: What did you think when you read Poor Clare and what inspired you to direct it, Alana?

Alana Dietze

Alana Dietze: I thought it was extraordinarily funny; that was my very first impression of it. It made me cry, laughing. I was also profoundly moved by the ending, which I don’t want to say too much about. Echo always has a post-reading conversation about material, so as we were talking amongst ourselves, I found myself getting very passionate about it. So that was my first clue that maybe I wanted to direct it.

It’s an allegory for homelessness and wealth inequality in modern day using the framework of the lives of Clare of Assisi and Francis of Assisi and I thought it was such a smart way of looking at this huge problem that we have all over the world – but especially in Los Angeles – that keeps growing and feels so out of control. I thought this play profoundly captured a lot of the feelings that I’ve had about it: the anxieties, fears, shame, feeling like I want to help more, but not being able to help. I thought that was a really valuable thing to put onstage.

LAFPI: Why Los Angeles? Why now? Being that it’s set in Italy in medieval times, the story couldn’t be further away from LA, present day.

Chiara Atik: That’s funny. I was about to say that when I wrote the first draft and started sending it out, I included two pictures to set tone, and one is of, um…

Chiara Atik

Alana: Skid Row.

Chiara: Yeah. One is of Skid Row in Los Angeles, and the other is a Renaissance portrait. I live in New York and was living there at the time [of writing the piece], but I had been spending a lot of time out here and homelessness made a very big impression on me. More so than it does in New York because homelessness in New York is ingrained in the fabric of the city; it doesn’t feel like something new, it feels like something that’s always been there. You just go about your commute and you have to put on blinders, to a certain extent, to not have your heart break at every single moment of every day.

But I’ve come to LA periodically for years and I sort of started to notice it in a way that I hadn’t. I started reading up about this problem that seems to be growing bigger and bigger. It made an impression on me: to be on the freeway and to see every overpass and underpass be covered with tents. It’s that juxtaposition of being hermetically sealed in your car while driving past all of these tent cities. So I think, in that sense, LA’s current situation of how people are grappling with it gave me an inspiration in the play. Also, you get the sense that it’s a growing problem that the characters of the play are dealing with.

LAFPI: And that’s very LA.

Alana: Yes!

Chiara: Another thing that I think is interesting in terms of New York versus LA: in New York, because you’re always walking around or on the subway, the different populations and economic levels actually have to deal with each other and interact. You’re sitting on the subway and people come up to you and you have to make the decision,  “Okay, am I going to give a dollar or pretend not to see this person”; you can’t quite escape it. But in LA, because of the car culture, there’s an extra distance. It’s something that you see and clock, but don’t have to contend with person-to-person.

Alana: Also,  there’s the way that the city seems to be dealing with the problem. I mean, “dealing with the problem,” in quotes, because it doesn’t really seem like they are. I’m not a political expert, I don’t know everything about this issue, but I lived in Echo Park for a really long time, and that was an area specifically where, as the homelessness crisis grew, huge new tent cities would pop up. I would turn a corner and there would be a whole slew of tents that weren’t there the week before. And then a week later, they’d all be gone. It felt to me like the cops were coming through and just moving people along which does nothing to ultimately solve the problem or help anyone. I guess they think they’re helping the residents? But even then, people are just going to come back. There’s nowhere for anyone to go.

LAFPI: Moving people along as a solution –  it’s that class difference, right? They’re placing importance on people who are paying to stay there, instead of those who don’t live anywhere, and telling them to take their problems somewhere else.

Alana:  And the problem is, where would they go?

Jordan Hull, Kari Lee Cartwright and Martica De Cardenas – Photo by Cooper Bates

LAFPI:  Following up on that, Chiara, how did you come up with the concept for Poor Clare?

Chiara: I always knew the story of St. Clare. I found myself in recent years having so many conversations with people where we’d sort of bemoan the state of the world: “Isn’t horrible about the refugee crisis, isn’t it horrible about homelessness,” and this or that. But then I would go home, turn on the TV, and forget about these things. And the ability to worry and empathize but then go home and turn that off and forget about it is such a privilege. I was thinking about the fact that I feel bad about this stuff, but I’m not, like, quitting my job and quitting my life to go out and help.

The story of St. Clare, the real girl, who really did completely change her entire life, is such a radical story. It’s certainly not something that I’m capable of – that most people aren’t capable of – but I was interested in exploring the idea of somebody who really goes so far. And I’m not suggesting that as a solution or saying it’s what we should all be doing. I think that’s why Clare is a saint and most people aren’t. But it’s that journey of someone becoming so radicalized to do something, to take action in whatever way they can… I really underestimated how many people didn’t know of her.

Alana: I didn’t know who she was when I read the play. I knew that there was a St. Francis, but I didn’t really know anything about him.

LAFPI: So with this play, what do you hope that audiences learn about St. Clare of Assisi?

Chiara: That she existed. I think her story is cool and relatable. And what we know about her historically is interesting. She was 18, super rich, had a great life, and gave all of that up to take vows of poverty to try to do good in the world. I think that’s a crazy impressive story. That’s like a Kardashian doing that or something. And this is 800 years ago. A girl, definitely braver than I am right now, did that. I hope people will be interested in her story, her conviction, her action at such a young age. She was just a teenager. It’s like if Khloe was, like, “Alright, I’m giving all of this up!”

Jordan Hull and Ann Noble – Photo by Cooper Bates

LAFPI: I still feel like if Khloe did that, for the most part, people wouldn’t initially believe her. Compared to men, I think someone like a Kardashian might be treated differently.

Chiara: I think it’s hard for women, especially young women, to be taken seriously when they decide to do something intensely. If you watch the play, Francis raises his eyebrows, but there’s less at stake for him to go find a religious order. But for her – for a girl to do what he’s doing – the stakes are a lot higher.

LAFPI: Are there any other ways differences in sex and gender function specifically in the play? I noticed in the cast that there are 2 men and the rest are women.

Alana: That was something else that I really love about the play. I wouldn’t say that it’s primarily about gender, but like Chiara said, there are different stakes for Clare than Francis as she goes on this journey, and there are really interesting moments where Francis lets her know that things will be different for her. And those moments help drive her conviction to commit to her beliefs. She has to be more convicted than he is, because it’s harder for her to do what she does.

LAFPI: How much of the play is fact? How much is fiction?

Alana: This comes back to the earlier question of why Los Angeles. The language is all modern day, and it feels like the language of Angelenos. That’s part of what attracted me to it, because I thought, “Oh, these people talk like me.” So in that respect, it’s totally fictional. I don’t know how much really is fact?

Chiara: Definitely little bits from St. Francis’s life trajectory. We knew that Clare and St. Francis knew each other and she really was inspired by him to do this thing. But we, of course, have no idea what their conversations were like or the nature of their relationship, so all of that is fiction.

Jordan Hull and Michael Sturgis – Photo by Cooper Bates

LAFPI: What questions would you like audiences to be asking by the end of this play? Are there questions women should be asking?

Alana: It feels to me like it’s about highlighting and focusing in on this push-and-pull, this question about what do we do to help? Can we help? Is there such a thing as help? What do you do when you become aware of your own privilege? I feel this juxtaposition of a desire to be moral, to be good, to help other people, to do something worthwhile and meaningful… in contrast with the fact that what Clare does may or may not help anyone. But it’s the thing she must do. To me that’s what’s most interesting and relatable about the play. I hope that the play will help people think about that question for themselves and maybe make a choice.

Chiara: In terms of women specifically, Clare, throughout the play, drastically alters her appearance and goes from caring very much about how she looks to forsaking that along with her wealth and status. That’s something I admire in her character. I almost can’t imagine caring about something so much that I would be, like, “Fuck what I look like.”

LAFPI: And now we live in this world where everything is appearance-based, whether online or in-person. Doing what Clare did is like someone completely going off the radar. Which you don’t see a lot of anymore.

Chiara: Yeah, and I’m not saying that it’s necessary to do in the modern world. But on the other hand, you see her judged for what she looks like throughout the play. It’s interesting to see what it means to her to, like you said, go off the radar: “I’m not giving you this anymore. I’m not presenting like this anymore.”

LAFPI: Which leaves us with the question of whether anyone has a solution for the seemingly-uncontrollable homelessness crisis right now.

Chiara: The play definitely doesn’t.

LAFPI: But it’s good to have the wheels turning!

This interview was conducted in March, 2020 before Poor Clare’s original opening, with dates modified in this version.
“Poor Clare” at Echo Theater Company runs through November 29th. Ticket and information at echotheatercompany.com.
Know a female or FPI-friendly theater, company or artist? Contact us at lafpi.updates@gmail.com & check out The FPI Files for more stories.

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