Tag Archives: Ellen Struve

Writing in the Time of Coronavirus

by Kitty Felde

I have to keep asking my husband which day of the week it is. When was the last time I went to a movie or a restaurant? February? We seem to measure time now by how fast our hair is growing with no hope of getting it cut properly. It’s a time we’ve been calling “the hiatus.” As opposed to “the busy time” that is our usual lives.

The husband is a writer, too and has been pounding away at his laptop, trying to finish the book proposal. I wish I was that productive.

I know I’m not the only one.

My writing group met online last week. More than an hour was spent “checking in” and most of the writers needed that human contact more than they needed their plays critiqued. Some reported real-life concerns: pre-existing health conditions, lost jobs, school-age children they suddenly were being asked to home school. Others struggled with anxiety, loneliness, and a writerly pressure to produce “something important” during this hiatus.

Intellectually, as writers we realize that this is a rare moment in history that should be captured, turned into art, preserved for future generations. But does anyone think an audience will want to go see a coronavirus play next year? (The answer is maybe, if it’s a really good one.)

Me? I know I don’t have the next “Love in the Time of Cholera” in me.

So what do we do? I have a few suggestions.

Find a way to be helpful to others.
o Shop for an elderly neighbor.
o Call or text that friend who lives alone.
o Send an advance to the cleaning lady, hair stylist, or anyone else you know who could use the cash.


Use your writing gifts. Be creative.

o Write a short play for a friend’s child.
o Invite actor friends to a Zoom reading of one of your plays – or a play by your favorite writer.
o All the world’s a stage: is there one in your living room? My writing pal Ellen Struve is writing and producing puppet plays from her front window for the neighborhood kids.
o Perform Instagram or Facebook live reading of your best monologue.


Feed your creative soul.

o Think of the haitus as the solo “play date” that Julia Cameron prescribes in “The Artist’s Way.” Do something fun that’s NOT writing. Bake, paint, garden, work on a jigsaw puzzle. Play. Love to sing? Check out the Facebook Group “Quarantine Sing-a-long.” Every day they take a vote on the song everyone will be singing.
o Binge that TV show you’ve always wanted to write for. Take notes if you want. (I can’t get enough of “Crash Landing on You,” a Korean romcom with the best plotting I’ve seen in a series.)

o Interview the people in your house. Story Corps has a free app you can download or just use the voice memo app on your smartphone. I interviewed my grandmother decades ago, but not my mother who died early. I will always regret that.
o Write letters. If your handwriting is semi-legible, handwrite them. A friend from grammar school has been writing to me from Washington state every week. It’s so much better than a phone call.
o Count your blessings. A friend in the mid-west has been posting her “Gratitude List” on Facebook every day, listing everything from pictures of spring flowers to discovering a jar of Trader Joe’s Thai Curry Simmer Sauce in the back of her pantry. We truly are blessed in ways that are easy to ignore during the “busy time.”

And so I close by being grateful for this writing community. Thank you.

Gimme a girl (onstage)

How nice to see an article in “The Dramatist” on the topic of missing female playwriting voices! And it’s the lead article. The news is still bad – 59 theatres across the country failed to include a single play by a female playwright last season.

But I want to vent a bit about something else that’s bugging me of late: boy plays. I’m sick of stories without any meaningful female characters. I’m getting to the point where I really don’t care to see another production with either nothing but men onstage. Or 18 men and two – maybe three – women who are there to support the boy story.

I saw two fine productions here in Washington, DC recently: the Shakespeare Theater Company’s production of “Wallenstein” and WSC Avant Bard’s production of “No Man’s Land.”

“Wallenstein is Friedrich Schiller’s play about the Thirty Years’ War, a commissioned adaption by former poet laureate Robert Pinsky. It’s described as an “epic story of war, intrigue and loyalty tested.” To be fair, there are two female characters in the piece (and a couple of women filling in as soldiers to fill up the stage. They’re playing men, of course.) But it’s a boy play. The stage was filled with men. It was the story of one man’s ambition.

And the message? War is bad. I get it. So don’t do it. End of play.

What about those women? They were mere pawns to the ambition. It would have been so much more interesting to hear their side of the story, to see the senselessness of power grabs and blood and gore through their eyes.

And then there’s the Pinter. “No Man’s Land” by Harold Pinter was chosen because of the opportunity to put two former Artistic Directors of WSC Avant Bard’s company on stage together. Great for them. Tough evening for me.

Verbal jousting is fine. But I didn’t care. What was the point? Where were the women?

I want to contrast those two evenings with my recent experience in Omaha. That city’s historic Playhouse – where Henry Fonda launched his career – produced the world premiere of a play by a local Omaha playwright. (A woman, by the way.) It had seven women onstage!

Playwright Ellen Struve’s “Recommended Reading for Girls” is the story of two daughters coming to terms with their mother’s decisions about treating her cancer. But their very real world is invaded by characters from all the books they shared – Anne from Green Gables, the Little Princess, the German-speaking Heidi, and a Nancy Drew wanna-be girl detective.

(Full disclosure: Ellen is my weekly Skype writing buddy.)

At last! A girl play! Girls on stage, talking about relationships and family and fantasy. It was wonderful. And funny. And probably boosted the sale of Kleenex throughout the city of Omaha.

Ellen says she was writing for the audience who actually comes to the theatre: women. And women of a certain age. Nobody’s writing for them, she says. The people who run theatres are choosing “hot” or “edgy” plays or old standards that feel familiar. No one is choosing plays that makes them laugh and cry and go home feeling like they got their money’s worth.

But will Ellen’s play find a second life outside of Omaha? I sure hope so. The statistics are against her – a play by a woman about women.

I recall a golden age of Hollywood where women main characters drove the stories – “Stella Dallas,” “All About Eve,” “Kitty Foyle.” I’m ready for a golden age of theatre where every seat is filled by people like me, who long to hear our stories told onstage.

I hate producing

I have a very wise Skype writing buddy Ellen Struve, who says, “producing is what drives writers back to the keyboard.” Truer words were never spoken.

I’m thrilled beyond belief that my play ALICE (an evening with the tart-tongued daughter of Theodore Roosevelt) will be part of next month’s Capital Fringe Festival here in Washington, DC. It will be my first DC production since moving here two and a half years ago – my formal introduction to this hopping theatre town. But it’s been a long time since I’ve produced anything. Now I remember why.

Last week, it was working with the postcard designer. Today, it was handing in a list of names of the production team to the box office and a phone introduction of my director (in Maryland) to my leading lady (in Florida) while waiting in the retina doctors office, with my eyes dilated. I haven’t written a new word in weeks.

But perhaps Ellen is right. The horrors of producing will indeed drive me back to the less scary world of a blank page. I sure hope so.

Meanwhile, there’s the Dramatists Guild event to look forward to! Starting Thursday night, I’ll be filling you in from the event. So stay tuned.

ps: any words of advice on producing would be greatly appreciated!

Skyping your way to a finished play

Thank God for technology!

I still consider myself an LA playwright, but I spend most of my time these days in Washington DC. My day job keeps me on Capitol Hill. But the move east came at a cost. I lost not only the glorious year-round weather of southern California and my Dodgers and decent Mexican food, I also lost my theatrical community. Most particularly, I lost my writing group.

For more than a decade, I’ve spent every Thursday night with a group of writers under the umbrella of Ensemble Studio Theatre Los Angeles. I’ve watched plays grow and plays die. I’ve seen playwrights blossom and run with their plays. And I’ve seen writers ignore constructive criticism and their plays just sit there. Or worse, get produced and have critics print the same criticism that was voiced with love in the group. I miss that third ear, that deadline of having to produce pages to bring in. Writing is lonely enough. The Lab was my writing home.

So I’ve learned to improvise.

I was lucky enough to be invited to The Great Plains Theatre Conference in Omaha, Nebraska twice in the past couple of years. I’ve had two plays read there. But the most valuable part of the experience was meeting other playwrights struggling with the same act two problems, conundrums with directors, and panic about sending out scripts. I found another community. The only problem is that none of us live in the same city.

But then I discovered Skype. Now, every Tuesday night, my Omaha pal Ellen Struve and I have a one hour phone appointment. Every week, we email each other a few pages – a new scene or the rewrite of something we’ve been working on. And for an hour, we discuss the work. Half an hour for her, half an hour for me. I’ve been privileged to watch Ellen’s magical play REQUIRED READING FOR GIRLS grow and mature and take shape. She’s been there to talk me down from the roof when I was ready to hit the delete button and give up. We save time at the end to discuss plays we’ve seen or read – to find out what makes a play sing and shake our heads in wonder at the “hot” plays that do nothing for us. It’s my small theatrical community in cyberspace.

Technologically, we could add half a dozen members or more. And maybe we will when we’re finished with the plays we’re working on right now.

But if you’ve been unsuccessful at finding a playwriting group in your part of town, try a virtual group via Skype. Go see shows and readings to find the playwright whose work speaks to you, the person you could learn something from, the writer who you would trust with your work. Contact them. See if they’re also looking for a theatrical community of writers. And make a weekly appointment for an hour. And write that play.