WHY: Because it is wonderful to enjoy and laugh and remember what it’s like to love and be loved by furry friends! And the puppets are absolutely wonderful—I fell in love with all of them. What a lovely way to spend a Sunday afternoon. One of my favorite parts (other than the singing and the puppets) was watching a child watch the musical with complete engagement and wonder. If you have children, be sure to take them to see this delightful and fun musical that teaches us the true meaning of home. You just might giggle and sing on the way out of the theater.
Fringe Femmes 2022 are a bold cohort of women who are presenting new plays, original works and solo shows that have raised the bar on what it means to be an artist, tell one’s story and continue the work by any means necessary. Each year I am reminded that no matter the obstacles or the times in which we live, you cannot stop theatre as an art form from expanding, thriving and being a vessel to reveal, heal and nurture. LAFPI has the special ability to connect women from a wide variety of cultures and experiences together in their shared love of theatre.
This year continues to expand on that legacy and I am thankful to be able to introduce Fringe Femme Charlotte Galbreath. Charlotte’s Looking Past Lossis a personal and vulnerable solo show that explores the traumas that simmer beneath the surface, yet eventually always rise to the surface. How did COVID-19 force you to reckon with yourself and old traumas? Charlotte investigates her own family stories and what she discovers may be a lesson for us all.
Constance Strickland: What’s been your biggest battle in terms of your development/process?
Charlotte Galbreath: My biggest battle has been honoring the accuracy of my relative’s stories and experiences while exercising my own artistic freedom in the process. With an autobiographical show that features key figures in my own life, I want to do justice to their trauma while also serving the play and message being sent at large. Thus, I’ve had to navigate that balance of preserving their truths while expressing mine as well.
Constance: After the lights and the audience disappear what do you hope one takes away after seeing your show?
Charlotte: I hope that my audience takes away the power of what loss can do for us. While it is undoubtedly a painful part of life, it yields new meaning to our existences if we let it, so I encourage the audience to reconsider how the darkness in their own lives can be turned into a motivating factor that gives us a profound sense of purpose in life.
Constance: What joy did you discover when creating your show?
Charlotte: I discovered the joy of life and the preciousness of it throughout my process. Having to reflect on my losses and trauma has allowed me to have a greater appreciation for everyone in my life. It also has reframed my interactions with others as I’m constantly thinking about how I can be the light in other people’s lives. It was definitely a challenging feat having to reflect upon these losses in my life, but it’s also served as a healing process.
Constance: What has been the most delicious discovery as you created your original work.
Charlotte: As an actor, I’ve always been drawn to the power of theater to enact change, but as I’ve created my work, I’ve realized the extent to which I can reach and move audiences. My solo play that explores different memories of loss highlights the highs and lows of this journey, and guides the audience to the light at the end. Bringing the audience on this ride with me, they’re able to see for themselves how to reframe the darkness we feel during the lows, giving hope to a world that has felt so hopeless the past couple of years.
Constance: How does it feel to have an opportunity to share your work with an in-person audience?
Charlotte: It is an incredible opportunity finally sharing this with an in-person audience because it brings everyone together on this journey, creating a support network amongst the entire audience experiencing these memories simultaneously. Since many of these memories are painful to live through, I recognized the importance of finding levity throughout to make the piece more digestible and to capture the highs and lows of this whole process.
Constance: What influenced this new work? How long have you been sitting with this work? Why now?
Charlotte: I have been working on this solo play for the past couple of years, but had a change in perspective on how I wanted to end the performance and the message I wanted to leave the audience with over the past year. With Covid, all the political tension, racial discrimination, and losses we’ve all experienced over the past couple of years, I feel like this story needs to be told in order to give hope to our world and show that there is a way out of all the darkness. Theater has the power to take audiences on a journey and make them consider how the story being portrayed and message being sent can translate to their own lives, and this is crucial right now with the play I’m performing.
All my life, for as long as I can remember, my mother has been a yeller. She would yell to discipline me. She would yell to remind me, like, “Turn on the Puja light!” Or “Flush the toilet once for poop, and a second time for the toilet paper!” She would yell when she didn’t understand. “I tried Face ID but it won’t recognize my CHIN! Stupid phone!” And she would yell when I needed tenderness.
“Mummy, are you mad that I’m not married yet?”
“No…but is there something WRONG??!”
This yelling has gotten worse over time. As her spine changes. As her dependence grows. As she loses her once youthful looks lasting up through age 73 (!) to the stress of taking care of my dad, who has rapidly, during the time of quarantine, entered Stage 4 Parkinson’s.
So at these wee hours, she is probably yelling because she’s in a panic about any of the several ghosts in her mind, and doubly upset that my dad cannot console her the way he likely tried to in the past, and probably failed.
Acceptance. I have to accept people for who they are. Ok, fine. I accept.
But, see, for me, there’s always a glimmer of hope that people can change, that they can come around. That’s probably my downfall.
And that’s probably the reason I kept up the good fight for 2 months as I spent the winter with them, while they downsized their lives. I would lecture, give good sermon, educate, and model proper communication techniques. I would diagnose her with one of several rigid mental disorders, not allowing her to break out of her patterns of self-loathing and criticism. I would ignore, and work to increase my own power to withstand her rage attacks. I even tried matching….and that only left me completely depleted, with a throbbing eye headache (is that a thing?), pounding heart, boiling blood and an extremely short fuse, and how many of us can scratch the creative itch from that place? In an effort to be the good daughter, I went to places I never thought I would have to be called on to go when a parent is elderly and unable to control their temper. One of those places was to a Residence Inn, so I could protect both of us from each other!
But needless to say, it has been an extremely challenging time, as I come to acceptance, not just of them, but of myself, and just how different we are.
My parents would be leaving for my sister’s house once again in just a few days and I was aware of that. Before, it was like a countdown that would bring me relief. “11 more days, Rasika. And you can feel like yourself again.” “8 days, just 8 more days of this, let’s crank up the Pet Shop Boys to drown out the noise, maybe even remind everyone of the good ol’ days.” (What have I done to deserve this?) And with 5 days to go, I suddenly found myself thinking , “Oh. I don’t know if this is the last time I’ll EVER see them.”
So I became smarter about picking my battles. I would pick and choose when were worthy times to sit with them so they could feel me nearby, and when my mere presence would trigger another yelling episode. (I really also wanted my dad to have some peace and quiet. Of course, he’s so used to the yelling, he would muster his own yelling tirade to tell me to shut up! I get it, they have to be a United Front. Big eye roll, there.) I was getting adept at holding boundaries to protect myself. Not being naive enough to walk into a fight and asking my mom to simply text me her requests. Learning when it was better to just drop any resentment built up from the day and start a whole new loving interaction from scratch. And finding that I loved watching them when they would putter around doing things quietly, like my mom with her nightly dishwashing ritual around midnight. My dad staring at the TV, doing his exercises.
I know my Love Language is Words of Affirmation and Quality Time and Touch. And I know now that theirs is Acts of Service and Gifts. TOTAL OPPOSITES. So only in that last week, did I start to make their breakfasts as Service and stop expecting compliments or thanks afterwards. It should make me feel good to do, for myself. Period. And it was hard at first, because whenever they would make my favorite dishes growing up, I would let them know it. Ok, I’m sure there were days I didn’t but, it’s how we can even the score of love, allow the other to feel it, too. It’s weird when you’re facing the same emotional immaturity or limitation from a parent. Maybe it’s Karma.
One of the last tasks my Mom and I got to do together on this trip was figure out which heirlooms from her “KEEP” pile she wanted to leave me. Like, ok, we’re doing this now. Stepping into the big girl bloomers here. She was looking through these boxes that have been long set aside and they were labeled with yellowed stickie notes, “For (Insert Family Member here).” Like for my nephew’s wife, when he gets married! I mean, they would think ahead like that, for something still a decade and a half from now! And I counted that there were 5 things for me, 5 little stickie notes that said my name, along with little drawings of hearts like on my birthday cards growing up. And the items that she showed me, have a lot of value. But, I, being SO different, actually didn’t see value in those things. I placed value…on the stickie notes! That’s how much words mean to me! Isn’t that sick? And adorable, but seriously, no wonder my relationship to money is so … complicated.
What they wanted to give, in lieu of emotional support and encouragement – which I had been craving – is probably stuff I’ll end up pawning off. But I would frame the stickie notes! Because they contain the THOUGHT energy. The Thought of Me. I was THOUGHT of by them. They thought of me. Her sweet handwriting.
During this time, my mom said, “I used to go with your grandmother to the storehouse, and I used to love going with her to look through all boxes, and this set used to belong to her. It’s passed down from her to me to you.” Ok, so that one meant a lot to me. Because my grandmother’s ENERGY and my mother’s little girl HAPPINESS was in it. From THAT ONE interaction, I GOT it. I exploded open and actually got their Love Language. I get it. They always loved me. It was through the form of beautiful roofs over my head, consistent education, great dental care, elegant clothing, and the delicious favorite foods made — all the things I’d scoff at in my early therapy sessions, “Well sure, they provided for me, snark snark snark.”
I started to tear up. And that moment of vulnerability, I realized, is where I always turned away from my mom. I didn’t want her to see what made me weak, because it left me open to the harshness. But while my Inner Child wanted to protect myself, adult Rasika had long been starving to be known by her.
So I seized the opportunity. Since she was more hunched over now, I put my face lower than hers and looked up and said, “Look, I’m crying. I’m very moved by how you love me through these gifts.” And our eyes connected, mine glistening. And she scolded in that voice of hers, “HANH! Mummy has always loved you and this is how you’ll be loved!” Very strict! That ol’ Military love! And then it was quiet. And then, I seized the next opportunity. Gently, I responded, “Yes, and my love language is words. The right words make me feel loved. The wrong words make me feel unloved.” And then I left it at that, I didn’t want to lecture her in a small room with little ventilation. So, what I said got to land on her, and I let the rest be.
A few days later, I made a really great breakfast using some leftover food we had from her birthday feast. I’d perfected my omelette to resembling actual circles, fortified them with some tasty Tex-Mex meats and sprinkled some fallen petals from the flowers across the plate for decor… I made myself proud! As per usual, I made the food, cleaned up and made myself scarce, going upstairs to begin my own daily routines. I heard my mother calling my name. I had on my headphones. Totally ignoring. Don’t wanna hear any criticism. Then my mom yelled louder, “Rasu! Rasu! I just want to thank you for the beautiful breakfast. The presentation was just lovely.”
SHE COMPLIMENTED ME! SHE MADE AN EFFORT TO SAY LOVING WORDS! SHE SAID THEM! SHE DIDN’T YELL THEM, SHE JUST SAID THEM IN A LOUD VOICE SO SHE COULD BE HEARD. And I could have been bitter now that I’d gotten what I’d wanted but I was open! And I said, “Really?! You liked it?” And this amazing back and forth ensued. And she didn’t compliment it once, she didn’t compliment it twice, she complimented it three times over the course of the day!
The last few days became precious to me. But it’s the days after they’ve left that have really opened my eyes. As I shred the years of bills paid, mortgages dedicatedly covered, medical bills and routines carefully adhered to, notes upon notes of their blood pressure readings and lists of their guests and food menus for parties, addresses where my sister and I lived throughout the years, so much of their life and what was important to them is being SHOWN to me, and I am so so privileged to witness it. I GET it and I am FED by it. I’m NOURISHED by understanding how considered I was by both of them all of these years in their way.
So yeah, there is still hope for them. And I’m glad there’s hope for me, too.
Rasika Mathur is a Comedy Writer + Inspiring Storyteller, Chakra Healing Facilitator and Yoga Teacher, and hosts The FunnYoginI Show, an uplifting and irreverent podcast from Rukus Avenue Radio, that you can access from Apple iTunes podcasts or Spotify. She is Dog Mom to Zephyr and needs to go turn on the Puja light now.
Pretty early on during this time of isolation, something that I quickly came into my attention where social media posts that talked about all the new skills, tasks, and hobbies we should either be mastering, acquiring, or working on all while at home.
At one point I truly started hyping myself up about all the things that I needed to do, but my feelings and energy never seemed to match up with those ideas. Pandemic aside, its already hard enough to get myself in a creative state, so hearing things like this, even when they are meant to be encouraging, ended up being frustrating, even offensive. I think that everyone has their own unique experience of what’s going on are able to work creatively, or not, from that awareness, so my goal with this and other upcoming posts this week is to highlight just that—how other creative folks are reconciling with their creativity at this time.
For this small series, I wanted to hear from all creative types, as I strongly believe that everyone’s creative work is linked—something another artist might say or do can inspire me (or you, Dear Reader) and vise versa. We all fuel each other, is my point. That all being said, for a little context—these creatives where all messaged the same questions, which I asked them to answer (or not) as they saw fit. Personally, it was great to connect with them at this time, check-in, and read their responses. I’m so thankful they agreed to be part of this series.
Featured Creatives– A Short Bio:
Ashley Shine – I grew up in San Francisco, I currently live in Santa Monica and will be moving to Boulder CO in August. The outdoors is my happy place, where I find myself again. I currently work as a Strength and Conditioning Coach and I am a full-time student at Colorado State University online program for Human Development and Family Studies. One of my biggest passions in the world is prison reform and fighting social injustice. After I graduate I hope to get a dual degree in law and public policy.
Margie Gutierrez Lara – I am a young at heart forty something year old. I have been acting and doing theatre since the 90’s. I currently working for Kaiser Permanente Educational theatre and have been there for 15 years touring schools from Delano to San Diego. I am a mommy of one energetic 5-year-old boy named Charlie
Rosie Narasaki – Rosie’s theatre highlights include acting in IN LOVE AND WARCRAFT and TWO MILE HOLLOW with Artists at Play, as well as a pre-Greta Gerwig turn as Amy in Playwright’s Arena’s multicultural transposition of LITTLE WOMEN. As a writer, her work has been developed/produced by MeetCute LA, Artists at Play, the Road Theatre Company, and more. In her spare time, she is the managing editor of TotalBeauty.com.
How have you been spending your time at home during the quarantine?
Ashley Shine (AS): During this quarantine, I have tried to maintain my fitness and continue to workout 5-6 days a week. I also am still working and still balancing being a full-time student. Something I found to be new is that I am letting myself sleep in past 6 am which has been really nice.
Margie Gutierrez Lara (MGL): I have been working at home trying to create virtual content for our ever changing world and balancing being a mommy/teacher.
Rosie Narasaki (RN): For my day job, I work as an editor at a website. Luckily, this type of work translates super well to telecommuting — though I definitely miss my co-workers.
The biggest gap in my life is all my theatre and acting “extracurriculars” — I used to keep pretty busy with auditions, readings, workshops, rehearsals, and classes (and spending hours on the freeway, of course). I felt lonely at first without it all, but I’ve been trying to do online stuff in the interim.
Did the quarantine affect any of your creative projects or plans?
MGL: I was going to start auditioning outside more and then this pandemic happened and I felt like all my creativity left me. I find it hard to create because I have to for work and for my child.
RN: Yes! I spent the first few weeks intermittently moping over a reading of my play that got cancelled… and scolding myself for moping (since I’m super lucky, all things considered). The reading was postponed for fall, and I’ve had other opportunities crop up since, so things are going well (again, all things considered).
How, if at all, has this time affected your creativity?
AS: I have found myself to be going in waves with creativity and work during this time. I either feel incredibly motivated or just want to lie on the floor and not speak.
MGL: I just feel down and out and see others creating magic and I’ve just been working at home and dealing with a 5 year old that wants all my attention.
RN: Like a lot of people, I found it hard to work at first. I’m kind of a results-driven person, and with so much uncertainty surrounding the theatre scene/when it’ll reopen, creating stuff right now kind of feels like shouting into the void (even more than it usually does, anyway).
To give myself short-term goals, I enrolled in a couple writing classes, which has been great. I’ve also been meeting with a writing group — New West Playwrights at EST/LA —on Zoom, which has been a real highlight. Oh, and I do weekly play readings with my parents and some family friends.
Personally, do you feel that its necessary/important to keep creative during this time?
AS: I don’t think it is necessary to be anything during this time. Our mental health should always be at the top of our priority list, so I think if anything we should all be constantly checking in with how we are doing. Creating a space of vulnerability and maybe even sometimes set aside to heal from things we haven’t had the chance to face.
MGL: I think it is important to do what you love and share it with others. I love seeing my creative, talented friends posting videos.
RN: I think this is a case of “you do you?” I totally understand that some people feel driven to create to curb their anxiety, fill the gaps in their schedules, etc. But I also get that some people feel kind of overwhelmed by it all. I think I fall somewhere in the middle.
Something I’ve started to accept as I’ve gotten older is that, while it ebbs and flows, creativity is always going to be something that’s part of my life. Some years will be more fecund than others, but I don’t think I’ll ever stop. And that helps me feel better when I’m facing writers’ block and/or an acting dry spell (or, you know, a global pandemic).
What have you found most frustrating about this time, creatively or otherwise?
AS: I have found the pressure to hustle and be this unrealistic person during this time to be so frustrating. It is okay to not be okay and its also okay to just be okay. This new pressure to be creative or fit or whatever all while being locked in the house seems unfair.
MGL: I’m just busy creating things for work that I haven’t sat down to create something for myself.
RN: Honestly? I’m a bit lonely. Zoom interactions just aren’t the same! And over the past several years, I’ve always kept up a fair amount of momentum with theatre stuff, so it’s been tough feeling literally stuck in one place; static.
What is something that you’ve learned about yourself during this time?
AS: I have learned that I need to take more time to pause and breathe and see what I want out of life. I sometimes forget to evaluate where I am at and am I chasing my dreams or somebody else’s?
MGL: I’ve learned that I am flexible and willing to pivot and change where our new normal is headed.
RN: I didn’t realize how social I was! I’m not a party animal or anything, but between classes, supporting friends’ projects, and my own gigs, I’d be out 4-5 nights a week on average. Add that to working a 40-hour week, and I was pretty much never home, pre-shelter-in-place.
What is something/someone that has brought you joy during this time?
AS: My girlfriend Kailey has brought me so much joy. Being together 24/7 has given a lot of space for great conversations, planning, bumping heads, etc. We have had to find creative ways to have date nights and all that. She is such an incredible human being and I am nothing short of lucky to spend my time with her.
MGL: My son Charlie and the tik too queen Rosa aka adamrayokay
RN: My favorite thing about working from home is that I can now stalk my dog full-time. I love her more than she loves me, but we’re both (mostly) okay with that. God, I didn’t realize how creepy this would sound until I started writing it down, but my phone is full of pictures of her sleeping…
WHY: This is an amazing show! The music, the talent, the script make this one of the shows you don’t want to miss at the fringe this year!
Written by Terri Weiss, directed and choreographed by John Coppola, composed by Geraldo Herrera Benavides with lyrics by Bill Berry this musical brings the challenges of a young girl coping with loss who though music finds harmony and family. This uplifting musical brings the audience to their feet as they celebrate the ability of the human spirit to recover from tragedy. This is a show for the whole family.
Of course, we know that art matters. Especially – and mostly – those of us who work within it.
Still, it’s difficult to conceive of why I should bust my butt to get people to see a play while Watertown is locked down.
Short-term, all I need to remember are the happy faces of kids who think going to the theatre is fun, and parents relieved to find a place that welcomes families. Not only do they not have to find a babysitter, they can enjoy an experience together.
So that helps. It really does.
Even then, my conflicts usually come to the surface because there has to be something else – bigger, better, that reaches more people – there has to be some faster way to spend my time to create a better world. Right?
Maybe there is. Maybe there isn’t. Maybe I’m in the exact right place to introduce more people to more stories that create empathy in their lives. Marketing has such a bad connotation to it, when in fact I should be called an Audience Ambassador. My job(s) is to find a way to bridge the vast gap between quality family programming and the elusive where the parents are.
(It’s not really so elusive. We know where they are: in schools, in parks, at work, visiting ill family members, volunteering at their school fund-raisers, writing blogs to tell their own stories.)
Last Friday, I had to go to 24th ST Theatre. I had two guests taking photographs of the guest clown rehearsing his performance. As the staff transitioned from a performance space to an arts education/after school space, I worked in the lobby. There something happened which is not unique to this space, but which always manages to get me.
A young kid – 9-11 years-old at the most – saw my MSL (Mars Science Laboratory) sticker on my laptop and asked me about space.
So we talked about it. We talked about robots on Mars and what that teaches us about our own world. We talked about what lifemeans, and why alien life forms may not be anywhere close to human form. Maybe they are. We don’t know yet, and we could find more information in his lifetime.
Then he had to go to After Cool, where the main parts of drama they teach include: expression, public speaking, story-telling and empathy.
Part of my job is to then tell their great stories from class to increase the program’s exposure and maybe funding down the line.
Back after the Newtown shootings, I also had a reason I hadto go to work that day. It turned out to save me. I had to go, even though all I wanted to was crawl into my cave and cuddle with my dog.
We had a Parents Night for After Cool. This being my first time, I had no idea what to expect. Students of all ages packed their parents into our space and showed them vignettes of their greatest fears and their greatest hopes.
The best part: their parents heard them.
Back to last week.
It is incredibly difficult to simultaneously look at to-do list and live stream of a bombing close to where a high school boyfriend told you he loved you. It is difficult to call your parents and want to know they’re okay, want to just hear their voices as you look at this horror, and they need to discuss something else entirely with you.
How can you bug me about calling my grandfather *again* and not being excited enough about good news form the family when THIS IS HAPPENING RIGHT NOW?
That is what I want to scream.
But they don’t know that I just needed to hear their voices over the police scanners and the twitter rumors.
They don’t know that because I don’t tell them.
And what matters to them when they hear from me is to figure out how to ask me to make two phone calls (even when they know I will get mad at the messenger).
And when all I want to do is figure out how to make a better world, I can actually start with my own family.
2 phone calls.
Maybe adults could use a Parents Night just as often as kids lucky enough to be in an after school program.
If I had to tell my parents my greatest fears:
That Dad returned to the Marathon because he missed quality time with his girls and as a result, got caught in the bombings.
My greatest wish:
That I could have the life I love without being 3,000 miles away from the folks who helped me create it.
Empathy has to start somewhere, often closer to home.
Maybe I should start with why I had time to write this blog post but not enough time to make two phone calls.
I never had a problem telling stories, even to a fault.
In Kindergarten, my favorite tall tale was that my teacher had married me to both cutie-pie Sean and red-headed Adam in one day. I remember how impressed I was with myself that my mother and aunt believed my story and only questioned the point that Ms. Jean had the power to become a priest.
In 1st grade, a dollar bill was found in the doorway between the classrooms. No one claimed it, so I saw an opportunity for more chocolate and said it was mine. Older sister Kelly was suspicious, however, and upon further examination I admitted it was just a wish. Sister Jeanne Marie hit me with her ruler and my sister labeled a tattle-tail. Although her actions brought out the truth, she still had to wear cat ears and tails for a day so the whole school knew she had tattled. (Logic was never the nuns’ strong point.)
I gave up a scholarship to the local Catholic HS for a fresh start a few cities away. From the very beginning there, I crafted my own history, my own mythology, carefully told and secretive so my sister, who attended the same school, would not have the ability to quash statements that I thought made me more interesting. For the most part, it worked, but a few major whoppers came back and whacked me in the ass (another story for another time).
Moving from Boston to New York for college allowed an even wider bearth for creating my past just how I liked it.Some stories I’d heard from others became my own. I tested reactions from various people and adjusted what they learned about me for maximum impact. I aimed for mysterious, irreverent, intelligent, rebellious, sexy and not someone that everyone should like.
Fast forward a few years and I move cross country from New York to Los Angeles in 2002 – a massive change for a lifetime public transport gal who had gotten her license mere days before the road trip. Moving with a (then) boyfriend means your past and present travel with you, so how did this upheaval affect my storytelling?
I saw my stories in sharp relief to my present and hopes for my future. This mostly fresh start – amplified by the eventual break-up with the boyfriend – renewed the feeling that stories are vibrant. Stories are life. Literally moving out of my comfort zones meant my career and personal path is literally up to me. I was no longer beholden to perceptions anyone had, including my own to myself.
Visiting the east coast progressively got harder for me. I fell back into the old stories, the past, the rhythms of family members who I had already outgrown. I saw family and friends’ prejudices and (mostly wasted) potentials much more clearly, then applied the same criticism to myself:
In what areas of my life did I experience growth and what nasty, sticky preconceptions still lingered?