Tag Archives: Ensemble Studio Theatre

Old Friends

I had the unusual opportunity a weekend ago to see and/or hear one of my earliest plays – and one of my newest ones. It wasn’t quite as embarrassing as looking through old photo albums full of 80’s hair. But almost.

MUM’S THE WORD was the second play I ever wrote – dialogue heavy, lots of phones ringing, a fairly simple story that was a tribute to one of my favorite genres in film: those 1930’s Warner Brother musical comedies. My characters didn’t sing. But I hoped the play would crackle with that fast paced dialogue between dames and saps. I hadn’t seen it in – okay, I’ll admit it – in nearly 30 years! I wrote it with a part for myself, of course. And it was a wonderful role: Jinx Riley, the gal born on Friday the 13th, the sucker for the wrong kind of guy. I kept the wonderful depression era secretary costume until just last year, when I admitted I’d never get down to that size again. Or play that part again.

I was surprised at how well it stood the test of time. Acoustics in the North By South Theatre space (a church auditorium in Glendale) were awful. And an electrical malfunction meant all the lights on stage left had blown out. So it was hard to hear the dialogue – or watch the actors’ lips for clues about what they were saying. But I wasn’t embarrassed by the script. Oh, sure, the turn around at the end came too quickly. But it wasn’t awful.

Earlier in the afternoon, I got to hear the ten minute version of an even shorter play for the first time. Ensemble Studio Theatre was holding its annual “Playday” reading series on exactly the same day that MUM’S was going up!

I had written LAKE TITICACA for a contest sponsored by DC’s Theater J. They invited playwrights to create a 5 minute reaction to Matthew Lopez’ terrific post-Civil War play THE WHIPPING MAN. I recalled the odd period after the LA riots when everyone was walking on eggshells. That grew into a five page piece, which was chosen by Theater J for a reading.

But since five minute plays are a rarity, I felt the piece had some room to grow. So I expanded it to ten minutes. But the EST reading was the first time I’d heard it aloud in that form.


This is the blessing that actors offer. You can HEAR and SEE what’s missing, what doesn’t work, where the klunky parts are.

But I was pleased to hear audience reactions – particularly from a trio of African American actors waiting to go on in the next piece. They got it. And looked around to find the author. Me. That made the day.

The experience of two plays in the space of a few hours was particularly valuable to me as a writer. Such a contrast in writing styles over three decades! I’m less verbose. Still interested in quirky humor, but more apt to let the audience figure stuff out.

I’m trying to let the experience reassure me as I try to get back to writing a new piece – much more similar to that first comedy than to anything I’ve written lately. I may not be Preston Sturges or Jane Austen or Tom Stoppard. But I am Kitty Felde. And while my work may not win Tonys or bring down the Berlin Wall, it has value.

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.