Tag Archives: female directors

The FPI Files: I am a Narrative: Kacie Rogers on Her Solo Show, “I Sell Windows”

by Elana Luo

A couple years ago, Kacie Rogers was anonymously nominated for the Free The Arts Shay Fellowship, a paid opportunity to write and develop a solo piece. She seized the chance, and wrote a five minute submission piece. A few weeks later, she found out that she had gotten the fellowship. And thus—her solo show I Sell Windows was born.

I Sell Windows, co-produced by Outside In Theatre & Bottle Tree Theatre (Kacie is one of the company’s co-founders), is an autobiographical collection of stories and reflections written and performed by Kacie. The anecdotes work through an artist’s experience of frustration and guilt, and let us be privy to a journey of self-discovery through grief. 

After seeing a performance of I Sell Windows, I called Kacie to chat about the process of putting it together. As the show’s writer, producer and performer, Kacie and her personal collection of experiences are its driving force. Among other things, we talk about theater as therapy, the joys of working with great creative collaborators and writing about the things that scare you most.

Elana Luo: Let’s start at the beginning. Tell me about coming up with the idea for this show.

Kacie Rogers: What I was always interested in was writing all of the scariest things I could think of that I’ve never thought I could say in front of a roomful of people. Stories that were the most interesting, or formative for me in one way or another. So that was my approach. Because theater, in so many ways, has been such a home for me, and such a place where I have channeled a countless amount of emotions through characters. I just always wondered what it would be like to stand up there and do it as myself. I think it’s an act of bravery. I thought it would be very cathartic.

Kacie Rogers in “I Sell Windows” – photo by JJ Hawkins

But I was also terrified that people would hate me. And so I was like, well, I need a collaborator. If I’m going to write all these scary things, I need a collaborator who I can trust, and I will always know that she loves me enough. There’s nothing too scary for me to say in front of her.

Elana: Was that Jaquita Ta’le, the director? And she’s also a co-founder of your company, Bottle Tree Theatre?

Kacie: Yes. She would guide me to what was interesting to her and away from things that didn’t seem like they were serving the narrative. I remember for a long time she was like, we just have to find a container.

Elana: An umbrella of sorts.

Kacie: Yeah. One thing I did trust is that  all these stories are coming from one common place. That common place is me. Ultimately, all we are as human beings are walking stories. So at some point if I just write down all these stories, I’m going to find a narrative somewhere, linear or non-linear. I am a narrative. And so I just kind of allowed myself to to write whatever and then trust that we would find a container. 

Elana: And what did you find?

Kacie: It’s so interesting—the container ended up being window selling, yes, but ultimately, it’s the death of my grandfather. A common factor of a lot of the stories was the guilt and frustration I feel around being imperfect, and unforgiveness around missing my grandfather’s death because of my desire to serve my artistry rather than going to serve my family. That was a huge revelation for me.

Kacie Rogers in “I Sell Windows” – photo by JJ Hawkins

Elana: Once you had all these stories and their container, what was developing the piece like?

Kacie: It’s so deeply personal, every single part of it. It’s really hard. There’s a lot of self doubt that is all over this process, because it is me–performing me, writing me, about me. So it’s very, very vulnerable. And you constantly want to change things, because you’re like, maybe people aren’t responding to me, you know? Maybe I should “do me” differently. And that’s really hard.

Elana: Has there been anything that has helped you deal with that?

Kacie: I think I’m actively learning to deal with it. I have the best team around me. Like really top to bottom. Jaquita, Jessica [Hanna, Producing Artistic Director of Outside In Theatre] and Chelsea [Boyd, Co-Founder of Bottle Tree Theatre]; Arlo [Sanders], Paul [Hungerford] and Matthew [Pitner] from Outside In; my stage manager Arielle [Hightower] and my puppeteers [Brittaney Talbot and Perry Daniel]… all of those people are so affirming at every step of the way. They have been so selfless in all the ways that they are willing to throw themselves into the work because they believe in it so deeply. And if anything has helped me to quell those doubts, it’s been looking around me and being so humbled and so encouraged by the endless amounts of work and heaps of appreciation that they have gifted me with.

Elana: That’s beautiful.

Kacie: I’m so thankful. But outside of that, I think it’s really important to accept that your thing does not have to be for everybody. You can be fully you, and your thing can be fully your thing, and be amazing at being your thing, and still not be for somebody else. And that’s okay. I think that’s a big learning curve. So that’s the lesson I’m currently trying to speak into myself.

Jessica Hanna (Producer), Jaquita Ta’le (Director), Kacie Rogers, Chelsea Boyd (Producer), Brittaney Talbot (Puppet Designer_Performer), Perry Daniels (Puppet Performer), Arielle Hightower (Stage Manager) after “I Sell Windows” opening – photo by Mallury P

Elana: Moving along in the process, will you tell me a little about producing the show? How did it make it onstage at Outside In?

Kacie: In 2022, Jacquita found an opportunity with Greenway Court Theatre. They were looking to help produce a show, so she submitted I Sell Windows. We didn’t get that opportunity, but they gave us another opportunity to do a one-night-only performance as a part of their Jam Poetry Festival. So I did that last year.

And Jessica Hanna—she directed me in a play years ago and we just kept in touch because we’re both big theater gals. I knew Jess had taken several shows to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, so I invited her to a coffee to pick her brain about what that process is like. It just so happened that the one-night-only presentation of I Sell Windows was within the next couple of weeks, so I invited her to see the show. She ended up coming, and I remember her walking out and being like, “let’s meet this week.” From there, she was like, “I’m starting a theater company. I want to produce your show. I want to give it a run and then I want to take it to Edinburgh!”

Elana: Wow.

Kacie: It was just like that. It was one of those dreamy meetings where everything you ever want to happen, happened.

Bottle Tree Theatre’s Chelsea Boyd, Kacie Rogers and Jaquita Ta’le – photo by JJ Hawkins

Elana: You’ve been lucky, but you’ve also been prepared.

Kacie: Chelsea Boyd always says, “All things will come together with ease and joy.” We just kind of keep doing the work, showing up and taking the opportunities that fall in front of us, and as we have it, truly all things have kind of come together with ease and joy. And I’m so thankful for that.

“I Sell Windows” plays through June 17th at Outside In Theatre’s ArtBox. Visit outsideintheatre.org/i-sell-windows for tickets and information.

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

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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.

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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!

The FPI Files: Sacrifice Zone: Los Angeles

A Conversation with Co-Creator and Producer Paula Cizmar on a new Environmental Justice Multimedia Theatre Project.

by Elana Luo

Paula Cizmar is an acclaimed playwright and professor of playwriting at USC’s School of Dramatic Arts. Most recently, she has been co-creator and producer of Sacrifice Zone: Los Angeles (SZLA), a nonfiction collaborative environmental justice project about the damaging effects of industrial pollution on South Los Angeles communities.

The idea for SZLA took root in 2019, and had an online iteration that was presented in 2021. The project is now an expansive multimedia exhibit and experience at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. A house-like set built inside the museum features rooms filled with animation and video, news shows, interviews with members of the Los Angeles community, truck-ride simulations and of course live immersive theatre performances.

I spoke to Paula about a week before opening about putting it together, and her experience as a female playwright working in the intersection between environmentalism, feminism and theatre. 

Elana Luo: This is a huge undertaking, but let’s just start at the beginning. How did Sacrifice Zone come about?

Paula Cizmar: For the past ten years, I’ve been writing plays that take an environmental justice approach.

Paula Cizmar

[As a genre,] eco-theatre was a sub-category of theatre as a whole and it consisted of plays that were written by people who viewed the connection to the earth as important. A lot of the eco-plays were about endangered species—and, of course, the most photogenic of these is the polar bear.  I love polar bears;  I love all animals. 

But my problem with relying on photogenic poster animals is that it says to people:  Climate change is off in the distance, both in terms of location and in terms of time. 

The fact of the matter is that climate change is affecting us now. I realized that we in Los Angeles need to start looking at what’s going on. Our own citizens are being affected. So I started writing plays that looked at how we, and cities, are upset by environmental justice issues.

Then, I was working on Warrior Bards, an Arts and Action Project at USC, and the Head of Arts in Action, William Warrener, knew I wrote a number of these plays; one day he said, ‘You really should do something for Arts in Action about climate change or sustainability.’  And I thought—hmm.  Why not? So I pitched a multimedia project to my friend and colleague, Michael Bodie. Our idea was to allow the community in Los Angeles to tell their own stories about the environmental issues that were affecting them. We started investigating the oil wells that are less than a mile away from us. We worked with community activists and professional actors to turn the testimony of the community into a script.

Elana: In addition to the script, there are a number of other elements including video, interactive elements, and simulations. How did you decide on the mediums of the project?

Paula: I thought a climate change piece—in order to attract an audience—would need something more than a script.  It would need some multimedia elements to engage an audience. As a filmmaker, [co-creator] Bodie has massive technological know-how and hands-on skills that I simply don’t have, plus he’s got storytelling sense—and maybe even more important, a sense of adventure.  We knew we had to do something different that would maybe not even fit into a traditional space. 

SZLA co-creator Michael Bodie with interactive designer Luke Quezada and set design assistant Zoya Naqvi (l to r)

When you go back to the history of theatre, you realize that theatre used to be performed around a campfire, and then theatre was performed on the streets. So in a way with Sacrifice Zone, we’re kind of taking theatre back to its roots. We were doing a big project that involved the community, and it would have many parts, so we needed to reach out to involve a lot of artists.  And we’re not doing it on a typical proscenium stage. We’re bringing theatre to the people. I’m staring at like, honestly, two hundred kids right now [outside the museum, where the Sacrifice Zone team is working on the installation], and they will be able to walk through this exhibit and see the stuff that we’ve created.

SZLA installation inside the Natural History Museum waiting for its final touches

I have learned throughout my career, as a woman—and then as an older woman—that basically no one is going to pay attention to me. I’ve learned that I have to do it myself. As a playwright, I never really wanted to produce, but I decided that it was necessary to step up and create opportunities. I jumped into being a theatre maker/producer, not solely a playwright, for things like Sacrifice Zone

Elana: From lighting designers to videographers to theatre actors, SZLA clearly has a huge team. How did you go about putting it together?

Paula: It was a question of, who do we think would be really good to work with, who can we afford, who needs the experience, and who is actually politically and socially interested in these issues and will work hard?

A lot of my work is about community service, and public service. I realized a long time ago that I wasn’t going to be making any money in theatre. You can make a bare income, but you have to do other things. Ultimately, I wanted to make sure that what I was doing was valuable. And so community service is just a part of my life in the arts, and I want to instill that in my students, too.

part of the SZLA team with Paula Cizmar (back, 2nd from l), director Fran de Leon (front l) and Michael Bodie (back r)

Elana: Did you get into environmentalism first, or theatre, or both at the same time?

Paula: I started off as a playwright interested in women’s rights. I wrote about violence towards women, domestic abuse, and human rights issues. And what became very, very clear to me is that climate change and environmental justice are human rights issues. So it was a natural outgrowth of interest. 

Elana: Do you see any other intersections, and I’m sure there are many, between feminism and environmentalism?

Paula: Absolutely. What feminism basically asks for is equal treatment, equal rights. And environmental justice asks for the same thing. An equal right to having clean air and water, to being able to live a healthy life, to have access to health care. So things are incredibly connected because this is all about stewardship of the earth. Not just stewardship of nature, but stewardship of human beings. 

SZLA actors Claudia Elmore and Alejandra Villanueva rehearsing behind the scenes

Elana: How about the intersection between environmentalism and theatre?

Paula: There have not really been very many plays that have been actually produced about the environment or about ecology. I find that interesting. I think that there’s a kind of diss to plays that people perceive as issue plays. I read plays about people, but they might be set against an environmental catastrophe of some kind. But that doesn’t mean that it’s an issue play. It’s a play about people. But what I’m trying to do is get my characters to address the world that we live in. 

Elana: So an issue play tries to convey a specific message or view. But you’re interested in telling a story about the issue, instead of the play just being the issue.

Paula: Exactly. Sacrifice Zone is a very issue-oriented play. In fact, it started from documentary roots, because originally we were just going to do it as documentary theatre, with some media enhancements. As we developed it, and as we started to get to know the people involved, we realized that we wanted to tell a bigger story. It’s very hard in a documentary to get people to say exactly what you want them to say, with proper dramatic build, a climax and a resolution.

So we created fictional characters based on things that our real life community activists said, and challenges and campaigns they’ve been involved in. We then created a fictional story so that our audience can get an emotional attachment to the people, care about the people, and then, we hope, care about the issue.

SZLA lead writers Eliza Kuperschmid (l) and Alessandra Viegas (r), with actor Xol Gonzalez (c)

Elana: What do you hope the audience will take away from the piece?

Paula: I want to tell stories about people. But in our contemporary world, particularly here in California, if we ignore the environmental component of people’s lives, then we’re ignoring something that’s extremely important. So do I want to say that as a documentarian, or do I want to find a way to dramatize that so that somebody can come in and say, ‘Wow, I really fell in love with that character and it was really painful for me when I saw what they were going through,’ and then we hope that translates into ‘I care about this now, and I want to do something about it.’

“Sacrifice Zone: Los Angeles” opens January 13th, 2024, with performances through the 28th at the Natural History Museum in Exposition Park. Visit sacrifice-zone.com for more information. Reserve Free Tickets Here

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The FPI Files: SHE World Premiere at Antaeus Theatre Company

A deep dive on making theatre with playwright Marlow Wyatt and director Andi Chapman

by Elana Luo

“SHE” playwright Marlow Wyatt

Across a cozy wood-colored kitchen set, Karen Malina White as Bernice Rose Johnson reckons with her on-stage daughter, named SHE Sojourner Freeman. “I’m sorry, I cannot protect you from the rain,” Bernice says. But it’s not Camille Ariana Spirlin, the actor playing SHE, who cries in response. Instead, it’s playwright Marlow Wyatt, sitting in the audience and wishing she brought tissues to her own show.

“It hit me different that night,” Marlow says. “I don’t know why. I don’t know if I thought about my mother, or my mother’s mother, but it got me.”

Bernice and SHE are characters in Marlow’s play, SHE, now having its world premiere at Antaeus Theatre Company. In Marlow’s own words, the story is a coming-of-age American experience. We watch teenage SHE come into her own over a summer as she chases the opportunity to enroll at an expensive boarding school.

On a Zoom call with Marlow and director Andi Chapman, it’s clear that they are collaborators who are also friends, with deep respect for one another. I ask Andi what drew her to direct this play. “I loved the notion of a girl named SHE Sojourner Freeman,” she replies after a moment. “SHE is relevant for today, for yesterday, and for tomorrow. Her dreams weren’t to be denied, but she was always so respectful.”

Marlow and Andi both began their theatre careers as actors. This has impressed a deep appreciation for and emphasis on character on Marlow. The characters in SHE are made up of traits and personalities of people that Marlow has observed growing up, or just in daily life. “I am very much a voyeur,” she says. “I love people. I take the bus, I take the public transportation. Not because I have to, but because I want to. I’ve seen so many characters.”

“Los Angeles is a place where people get in their cars with their tinted windows and they turn on their music, but I’m the opposite. The world is outside of this little box on four wheels. Look at him. Look at this person. Look at them having this communication at lunch. I don’t think they really love each other, or is this a first date? You can see their body language and energy, and I like that. That fuels me.”

This attention to character has translated onto the page, and the stage, from how the characters speak to what they love to do. SHE, for example, speaks in verse when she gets nervous, or when traumatic things happen to her. The verse is unintentional in those moments, but very much intentional in pursuit of her dreams of being a poet. 

Camille Ariana Spirlin as SHE – Photo by Jeff Lorch

Why did Marlow decide that SHE wanted to be a poet?

“She has something to say. One of the things I realized about girls in this society is that nobody wants to hear what we have to say,” she says. “Poetry, art, are ways for somebody to speak, and have people listen, without them saying ‘Oh, she’s a girl. I’m not gonna listen to what she has to say, I’m gonna dismiss her.'”

Later in the play, though, Marlow turns this idiosyncrasy against her. An illusive scene between SHE and a city slicker named Othalee unfolds entirely in verse, so naturally that the audience often doesn’t catch that it’s written that way. Othalee devastatingly draws her in. “It brings down the barrier, because she found somebody who likes words,” Marlow says. He talks the way that she talks. So that makes her stay a little longer than she needs to.”

director Andi Chapman

Andi, on the other hand, moved from acting to directing because she found that she’s someone who sees a larger vision of the script. This vision goes beyond the art of acting to other disciplines—painting, music, and animation. To make sure everything and everyone is in the same world, she creates and shares a “palette” for the rest of the creative team, actors, and designers to work from. For SHE, the palette was a colorful mixed media painting of a young girl by the artist Leroy Campbell. Andi discovered him on Pinterest. “I love Pinterest,” she says.

The other elements of the design are all dynamic. SHE is set in the 70s, which Andi says opened the door for her and sound designer Jeff Gardner to get together and come up with a mixtape of period songs to soundtrack the play. She pushed projections designer Nicholas Santiago to animate his projections. “I don’t like flat pictures,” she says. “They have to be alive, so the audience can feel that experience. I asked him every time he showed a picture—move it.”

This energy attracts. At two separate performances, a white cabbage butterfly has flown in and stayed for a scene or two. Andi theorizes that its presence has to do with the set’s real garden outside town matriarch Miss Jane’s home. It’s a testament to her prowess as a director that someone asked her if the butterfly was part of the show. “No, how do you wrangle a butterfly?” she says. 

Marlow jumps in. “‘Butterfly wrangler,’ that’s a great skill,” she quips. “’I can wrangle butterflies. Where do you want him to go, what scene?'”

A moment later, Marlow’s reflective again. “I feel like that’s good energy. I don’t know what it is, but I’m like, if the butterfly’s supposed to be there, then let him be a part of it,” she muses. “You know, he’s not Equity, so you don’t have to pay him anything.”

Andi starts laughing.

Karen Malina White as Bernice and Jon Chaffin as Lonnie – photo by Jeff Lorch

I ask Marlow if there were any challenging moments in writing SHE. No, she says, only that she wanted to make sure that the character of Lonnie, Bernice’s unreliable boyfriend and later husband, is perceived as human. “Men do what he does. People don’t treat people the way they should be treated,” she says. “He exists. He is a man who wants a family, children, a wife. How he goes about getting it is all wrong. But he’s not a bad guy. He clearly loves Bernice, but he doesn’t know how…some people don’t know how to love.”

There is at least one certainty about Lonnie. Marlow’s first drafts of the play included a scene where Lonnie pushes Bernice. Marlow didn’t like it, because Lonnie is not a man who hits women. Moreover, she didn’t want any violence in the play. But she couldn’t figure out how to rewrite it. “The actors figured out a way to do it.” The staged version sees him catching himself before he touches Bernice at all, in a moment of self-discovery of his lowest point. They were able to preserve the integrity of the scene, and add some more depth to Lonnie’s character to boot.

How was the rehearsal process overall? Collaborative. “It was wonderful,” Andi says. “We had a fun, family atmosphere. I love to listen to music and dance during breaks, but then come back to work. And you know—just making sure that the actor feels seen, that the doors are open in terms of communication.”

Did she face any challenges? “No. I just really try to be prepared. I have a lot of run-throughs so the actors feel that the play is in them.”

Camille Ariana Spirlin and Gerard Joseph as Othalee – Photo by Jeff Lorch

Something Marlow emphasizes throughout our conversation is that SHE is the story of an American Experience, capital A capital E. The protagonist just happens to be Black. “It’s not having to do with a young African American girl. It has to do with all of our dreams as humans in the world,” Andi says.

Marlow calls SHE an “American play,” one that gets people to think of American theatre differently. She has a piece of advice for other playwrights of color.

“When you’re marketing your play, or whatever it is, if it’s truly an American play, set in America, don’t let them say ‘this is a Korean American play. This is an LGBTQ play.’ The world is divided enough as it is.”

In fact, Marlow specifically requested that the press for the show not include the words “Black” and “poverty.” She knew if people called it a “Black play,” non-Black people might think they wouldn’t relate to the play’s contents. “I think it does it a disservice. This play is to bring people together.”

At the end of the day, Marlow writes to entertain and inspire the audience regardless of their background. SHE was developed in The Robey Theatre Company’s Playwrights’ Lab before it came to Antaeus’ Playwrights’ Lab, and the play has had several readings and countless rewrites. Andi calls Marlow “generous,” changing and adjusting the text as she collaborates with her and the actors. 

In other words, Marlow’s not trapped by ego, despite her culture-shifting ambitions. “It’s for the audience,” she says. “When you prepare a meal and have a dinner party, you want everybody to like it. You don’t want to say, ‘I don’t care if you don’t like this lamb. I like it.’ I’m not that person. I want you to leave with an experience.”

Camille Ariana Spirlin and Lorenz Arnell as Davey – Photo by Jeff Lorch

And members of the audience are indeed leaving with experiences. The subgroup Marlow is most happy about affecting—that is, making cry—is straight cisgender men. She tells me that she playfully ribbed a friend’s husband who came to see the show, asking if he cried. “He was like, ‘Yeah, I did. Davey [the character of SHE’s best friend] was in my childhood.'” Her voice turns serious. “I wasn’t expecting him to say that.”

Another audience member—an older gentleman—shared with Marlow that in his life, he had put his own dream to the side. He watched SHE, and told her afterwards, “‘I’m gonna pick it back up again and keep going.'”

“Come on,” Marlow says. “You can’t ask for more than that.”

“SHE” runs through November 20 at Antaeus Theatre Company on Fridays & Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm and Mondays at 8pm, with additional performances Saturdays November 11 and 18 at 2pm. For tickets and information, visit  antaeus.org.

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The FPI Files: “Hungry Ghost” Completes “Her Vision, Her Voice” Season at Skylight

by Carolina Pilar Xique

“The writer’s job is to be brave enough to be nostalgic.”

I heard those words from an English professor once. At the time, they resonated with me as someone who is often referred to as a nostalgic person—always bringing up a story of the past, over and over again. I come from a family & community that shares and retells all kinds of stories every time we see each other, whether they’re laugh-out-loud funny or overwhelmingly heart-wrenching. Storytelling has always been a way for me and my community to record our histories and form connections when it feels like there are only differences.

That’s probably why I became a theater artist & playwright.

That being said, I recently had the thought, “I’m getting so tired of writing and talking about the pandemic.”

I guess it’s difficult to feel nostalgic about terrifying moments in the past, especially if it feels like they’re still happening. The uncertainty, anxiety, and grief of the last three years is still so fresh that the retelling of it can feel not only exhaustingly overdone, but terrifying to grapple with. For so many of us, the pandemic exposed some of the most vulnerable, heart-breaking, unlikeable parts of ourselves. It separated us from our communities—which are often our lifelines—and forced us to deal with momentous social & political shifts while in physical solitude. Who wants to remember all of that?

But yet, the idea of “returning to normalcy” in this current moment of endemic is insulting to the millions of humans who are not the same people they were before 2020, and all of us who have lost friends & family & community members.

So where is the middle ground? Is there a middle ground? When & how do we as artists become brave enough to remember?

These questions and the words of that English professor were swimming in my head when I talked with Lisa Sanaye Dring about her new play, Hungry Ghost, directed by Jessica Hanna and premiering at Skylight Theatre Company for the final installment of their “Her Voice, Her Vision” 40th Anniversary Season. A play that centers the lives of a couple getting ready to start a family, a hauntingly humorous hermit, and a secluded house in the woods, Hungry Ghost invites audiences to meditate on ideas of true freedom, isolation from community, and the hilarity of tragedy.

So as weary as I am of the pandemic, after my meeting with Lisa & Jess, I was reminded of the importance & inherent absurdity of processing, looking back on, and learning lessons from resiliency & loss.

Carolina Pilar Xique: Lisa—What inspired you to write this piece and how has it grown since its inception?

Lisa Sanaye Dring – photo by Stephanie Girard

Lisa Sanaye Dring: It’s very beautiful for me because I found out I got into the Humanitas Stage Raw Group led by Shem Bitterman and Steven Lee Morris in April, 2020. And we all know what was going on then. *laughs*

I was so heartened because at that moment I didn’t know if I was still going to make art, and it was a lifeline for me to be like, “Oh no, you will be writing in this time!”

But I didn’t know what I was going to write.

I was watching a video article in “The Atlantic,” a story about the North Pond Hermit, Christopher Thomas Knight, who lived in the forest for 27 years and survived by pilfering from vacation homes. He would come out in the summer and get little supplies, get oil, and then he’d hibernate in the winter and just camp out in his location. I was really moved by him because I was isolated from my community at that time, and I found it to be excruciating at moments. And he went to isolation and found solitude and freedom.

He did an interview with “GQ “and quoted Thomas Merton; he talked about how when one is without reflection, one can become truly free. I thought about that impulse—that one’s true self is only without one’s community. And I thought about how we as theatre people make meaning inside community. And then it sort of distilled into this play, which is about someone who is about to be in community in a huge way because of birth. She’s about to grow a family with a woman she loves and is facing her own feelings of isolation and alienation from community, and has to encounter those two poles—to be with people and to be alone. She’s forced into this decision via her pregnancy.

Carolina: Jessica—What has the rehearsal process been like and how have your thoughts about the play evolved since you had first read it?

Jessica Hanna – photo by Peter Konerko

Jessica Hanna: It’s been a super collaborative room. Lisa has been really participatory and open to the collaboration and the questions that come up for both myself and the actors. We’ve been really heavily working on this play for some months, but in June, we did a workshop and did some really hardcore work of talking about the play, Lisa writing new pages, and trying new things .

I would say that the idea of “theater being a great experiment” is really alive in this room. I keep talking to the cast that being in this place of, “I don’t know,” is a really fertile, exciting, creative space. And it’s also deeply uncomfortable and sometimes can cause anxiety. I feel very lucky because nobody in the room is dictating what anything has to be. So the richness of the possibility feels heightened in our room. And there’s also the reality of like, this is the baby’s first walk, right? So I hope there’s another evolution of this play that is learned from these moments.

Lisa: Shout out to Boston Court Playwrights Group—they have also workshopped the piece with me over the last year, in addition to the Humanist Stage Raw Group. In this time where it’s so hard to make a play and harder for producers to get stuff up, it’s been a huge boon to this piece to have so many amazing minds and hearts of the theater pay attention to it as it grows, including Jess’s, including Skylight.

Carolina: How has it been balancing the hilarity and the weight of these themes, in both the writing and the directing process?

Lisa: I just think things should be funny. I think all plays should be funny. And I think these actors are really sensational at giving us humor and joy. I was taught in theater school, “You can’t make them cry unless you make them laugh.” Straight drama is easier than laughter because you can’t really fake laughter. Like you can hear that difference of really making an audience crack up as opposed to the sort of chuckles that you hear that where they’re helping a comedy be pushed along. And there’s so much play in the room that creates a really beautiful space where people can unfurl with each other and genuinely be with each other. And I think all these layers of trust is also helped by [intimacy coordinator] Carly Bones. My job is just giving them enough material that they can play with to make it happen.

Ben Messmer, Tasha Ames, Jenny Soo – photo by by Grettel Cortes

Jessica: Yeah. You have to have the light to have the shadow, right? For talking about grief, sometimes the best thing to do is to talk about the ridiculousness of life or to have that present in order to actually really feel those things. I think we’ve got a nice balance going. I find it [the play] funny. These three players, they’re all hilarious in their own, very distinct ways. And to give them space to find their funny or to be their funny selves makes them more human. Even the fantastical, possibly mystical character still has got to be based in some kind of reality for us to understand him and to bond with him.

Lisa: I find that laughter, humor, and play are paradigm-shifting and paradigm-breaking. So I’m hoping there is also a deep cognitive experience that happens with the humor. I’m hoping that this play celebrates the wisdom of this. We were talking with one of our actors about how this one character is light because they’ve had to be—they’ve had to cultivate a levity because the world is just so bizarre for them. And I think that there’s a deep beauty in the resilience of humor.

Jessica: I just want to also say that Lisa is very funny, straight up. *laughs* But also, there’s something really gorgeous about Lisa’s work. There are times as an audience member where your breath is taken away by the beauty that’s being brought to life through words, and then all of a sudden it’ll be, like, some left turn. You can’t help but laugh out loud. It knocks you out because the broken expectations are so exciting. That kind of duality is one of the really exciting things about Lisa’s writing.

Carolina: Why this play today, right now?

Lisa: I mean, I just got to play my first lead in [director/playwright] Jen Chang’s play this year, and I’ve been acting for a while. And so to be an Asian American actor who’s been a character actor their whole life and to create a big role for Jenny Soo is an honor, because Jenny Soo’s such a tremendous performer.

Tasha Ames and Jenny Soo – photo by Grettel Cortes

But I think it’s tricky because I don’t really write from that place of, “What does the world need?” I try to metabolize the world in a sincere way, and then write what’s in my heart and then be mindful of it along the way. And thankfully, I don’t have to make the decision whether to produce it or not, or have to be a critic, you know what I mean? The world will tell me if the world needs it, if that makes sense. I think as an artist, one just needs to be really deep in themselves and to try to be honest and as alive as possible, and then make what’s in their heart responding to their moment right now.

Jessica: I think the play also speaks to this place of grief and that processing that we are all in. I talk about theater as being the art form where we can work on, or build the worlds we want to live in, or try things out, or see examples of what we want to push back against in terms of the world around us. And I think watching characters make hard choices that are right for themselves, seeing an Asian American woman make those choices for herself and question and be a human is really important right now. It always is. But I mean, in particular, I think it is now.

Hopefully we continue having more awareness and revelations as a society, but also white people—myself included—are paying attention in a different way. This idea of the Hungry Ghost, which is a cultural phenomenon in many cultures… this idea of something that comes from grief not being taken care of, or not being cared for, and that it comes back at you, or that it haunts you—at least that’s why I’m interpreting it—I think that’s very appropriate for right now. Because the question of, “Are we going to take care of ourselves and our grief in this period of change after massive, massive upheaval and death?” I think is a big question. Are we going to fertilize the ground with our knowledge, or are we going to just try to go on and not deal with what’s been happening around us? That’s a question I think about when working on this play.

Tasha Ames and Jenny Soo – photo by Grettel Cortes

Carolina: What has the process been like working with Skylight for their “Her Vision, Her Voice” theme for the 40th anniversary?

Lisa: It’s really great. I really loved working with Skylight. I mean, this is of course playwright-centric, but their notes have been really good. They’ve helped the piece grow, and I felt like they understood what the piece was and gave me a lot of space to figure it out. But I really resonate with a simpatico of artistic vision, in terms of what the possibility of the piece is and where we all think it’s going. I felt like they—Tyree [Marshall] and Gary [Grossman] and Armando [Huipe] and everybody there right now—intuited and grokked what the piece could be when they read it almost a year ago. I’ve been really grateful for that.

And then it also felt, artistically, like an appropriate birth in terms of like trusting the vision. Jess came in with a workshop model that I’d never done before that was really beautiful. Because Jess is the director, she had a vision for this, and I feel like that started us off on a really good fit of trust and respect. And I also wanna say Jess is a really seasoned producer herself, so I think she makes producer’s lives easy. *laughs*

Jess, what do you think?

Jessica: Uh, I don’t know. You’re gonna have to ask Gary about that later this week. *laughs*

But I wanna just echo what Lisa’s saying in terms of the support. There’s been a lot of striving to make dreams come true as much as possible, which has been really kind of extraordinary. They’ve been really, really great about trying to figure things out and give us as much as they can. I love the fact that they’re doing this season, that we’re part of this season. It’s really exciting that they will have brought three new plays to life in a year. And the fact that they’re all plays by women is the extra cherries on top. So yeah, I hope people are inspired by it and see it as something to that they could also do. I hope it’s something that catches on.

The final installment in Skylight’s all femme-penned season, the World Premiere of “Hungry Ghost” by Lisa Sanaye Dring, directed by Jessica Hanna, runs at Skylight Theatre from August 26th to October 1st, 2023, with previews on August 19, 20, & 25. For tickets and information, visit  https://skylighttheatre.org/event/hungry-ghost/.

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The FPI Files: No Place Like the Past, Present & Future

by Carolina Pilar Xique

No Place Like Gandersheim poster

On November 7th, 2020, I was at a Starbucks in Long Beach, on my way to my mom’s house, when I scrolled through Facebook and saw that Kamala Harris would become the next Vice President of the United States.

The only way I can describe that moment was that it was similar to the first time I saw snow at 20-years-old: shocking, like my brain was taking its sweet time processing something I’ve never seen before.

It wasn’t until 3 hours later, when I watched on my mom’s television our incoming Vice President, that my shock turned into tears down my cheeks, joined with a choked sigh. Because despite my issues with her previous stances & policies, and despite enduring another presidential election in which I felt I was choosing “the lesser of two evils,” a woman, who looked just like me, was going to be the Vice President of the United States.

That day, I believed I was fortunate enough to be witnessing a steppingstone that would change the world for the better.

But how much has really changed?

Since President Biden & Vice President Harris have taken office, the Supreme Court has voted to overturn Roe v. Wade, countless laws have gone into effect throughout the nation that restrict women’s access to healthcare, birth control and abortions, and today, states like Florida are banning books in children’s libraries with subjects related to “wokeness” (whatever that means), including important historical figures throughout history who do not fit the white, male, cisgender narrative.

Being a woman, these days can often feel like one step forward, 50-years-worth-of-steps back; a losing chess game.

But those special moments—moments like seeing Kamala Harris, our first Black-Indian female Vice President, on screen right before our eyes—these are the moments that inspire us to dream of a bigger and better world, moments that are meant to propel us into action. We have a responsibility to keep that momentum going, even when it feels like we’ve fallen behind.

That’s what Hrotsvitha of Gandersheim, a nun in 10th century Germany, invites the audience to consider in Elizabeth Dement’s No Place like Gandersheim.

In the second interview I’ve had the pleasure of doing with Skylight Theatre’s 40th season theatre-makers, I got to sit down with playwright Elizabeth Dement and director Randee Trabitz, to talk time traveling, Catholicism & the film industry, 10th century Germany and women’s rights.

Carolina Pilar Xique: I would love to hear more about the inspiration from this play and who the real “Hrotsvitha of Gandersheim” was. What elements of her life are embedded in this piece?

Elizabeth Dement

Elizabeth Demet: The play came out of my experience as a writer, because the play is about a female writer—the first female playwright, who was Hrotsvitha of Gandersheim.

Oftentimes, writers—women writers in particular—get notes that seem to take them farther away from what they initially intended to write, especially in Hollywood. And I was wondering, “How far back does this go?” So I started to look and I landed in 10th century Germany in this abbey with Hrotsvitha. I discovered she was a nun who wrote a sex comedy and I thought, “This is a woman I have to write about.” That’s where I started—in the abbey.

I will say that the play is not historically accurate—it is a comedy, a reimagining of Hrotsvitha’s life, or a life she might have had in a parallel universe. There are certain elements that are accurate: she did live in the abbey, she was a canonist, and she did adapt a play by Terrence, a Roman playwright, and it was a sex comedy. She adapted it to be more of a religious piece, and she was very close friends with the Abbess. They had an intensely loving friendship, and so that character is also in the play. At the time, Otto was the Holy Roman Emperor, his niece was the Mother Superior at Gandersheim, and his wife was Theophanu, who is a wonderful character in the play. I think that’s all the parts that are historically accurate—with everything else, I took a lot of liberties. I had to sort of infer what people’s personalities might have been and what their desires were. And there’s a little time travel in the play, so I don’t think that happened in the 10th century. But who knows?

Randee Trabitz: We’re not sure.

Elizabeth: I didn’t find any in my research.

Carolina: In reading about the production, we could feel your enthusiasm for staging the time travelling that happens in the play. What has that process been like?

Randee Trabitz

Randee: It’s quite a thing—apparently time travel isn’t as easy as I thought. (laughs) It’s been a challenge and it’s been kind of a delicious, creative one. Beth [Elizabeth] has this tendency to write elements into her plays which are like crack for directors. Like, “I don’t know how to do that, but I can’t stop thinking about it.” And time travel is definitely one of those things. I don’t want to give too much away, but there are a few different elements. We’re working with our lead actress, Jamey Hood, who is playing Hrotsvitha and is an extraordinary performer, so capable of many things physically, emotionally, and temperamentally. We’re working with her, our videographer, Shannon Barondeau, and our sound designer, Alma Reyes-Thomas, as well as the rest of the cast who are kind of swirling around the elements to make it possible to happen since Jamey never leaves the stage. So she time travels and stays exactly where she was.

Carolina: There are a lot of parallels between Catholicism & the Theatre/Film Industry being male-controlled spaces. What has that exploration been like? Have there been any surprises in their similarities or differences?

Randee: Even though the play is under 90 minutes, it’s still structurally broken up into 3 acts and 3 places. And we keep discovering more ways that the play refers to itself and we’ve also put in some placeholders in one time period that then refer back to another. I love when there’s something planted early that then we can mine and it comes into fruition sometime later in the play. I think it’s delicious for close-watchers in the audience to start to put those pieces together. We’ve had two very different audiences so far—one that just laughed and laughed, and one that was just very quiet, paying attention, and piecing everything together, and it kind of works on both of those levels.

Shannon Holt and Jamey Hood – photo by Jenny Graham

Elizabeth: The other thing I’ve found in rehearsals is that the play talks about—without explicitly talking about—where these people stand in history at that moment; different eras of history. I find that really interesting and it goes in tandem with what Randee was talking about. Each act talks to the other acts: this is where we were, this is where we are, this is where we’re going; and this is how things changed, and this is how nothing has changed. So there have been lots of discoveries. I knew there was some of that when I wrote it but, of course, you get in the room, and you have these amazing actors and director, and they make all of these discoveries, and when you see it up on its feet, you can physically see the resonance of each time period.

Randee: This has been a long time coming. The play was set to go forward just as the pandemic began; the world has already shifted since then and the play has shifted in response to it, which I think is amazing. There’s a whole other dimension to it now. Ultimately, the way women are placed in the world and the way their voices are listened to is a story as old as time and it’s one that keeps spiraling. In the time-traveling, we’ve been talking a lot about spirals which seems appropriate.

Carolina: How has it changed since the pandemic?

Elizabeth: When I was writing this, Me Too was happening and it’s a component of the piece. And now, Me Too is still very important but it’s not as hot & present an issue as it was in 2017, when there was this cascade of awareness of what women have been going through since the beginning of time. When I wrote the play, that period in the script said, “Present Day” and now I have to put “2017″ or “2018.”

Lauren Gaw, Jamey Hood and Shannon Holt – photo by Jenny Graham

Randee: That’s the part I find really compelling: We’re looking at piece that is now in the past and we’re assuming that we’re post-Me Too but the reality is we’ve just lost interest in talking about it. Something else has supplanted it on the front page but all of those same issues of representation and women’s voices are still problematic. Like Black Lives Matter, we had this swell of interest, but nothing has been fixed. It’s not over, and we’re not progressing beyond that. That’s how the timing has been particularly profound to me.

Elizabeth: It reminds me of a documentary called, “This Changes Everything”—which if you haven’t seen, you should see. It’s fantastic. Basically, they talk a lot about these moments, particularly in movies like Thelma & Louise, where there was all this press saying, “Well this changes everything for women. Now, it’s going to be different.” And not that we haven’t made any progress over the last decades, but we haven’t yet had that moment that changed everything on a level that I think we all crave. In the play, the characters are in time periods where they think it’s that moment when everything is going to change or is changing, and the main character is very obsessed with making change in the world.

Lauren Gaw, Shannon Holt, Charrell Mack and Jamey Hood – photo by Jenny Graham

Carolina: What has it been like working on this uniquely feminist play with an all-female creative & production team?

Randee: I’ll just out myself and say I’ve never been in that kind of room with all women. It’s quite extraordinary. It’s a new experience on so many levels. There’s a lot of grace, a lot of listening, support, and nobody every raises their voice in anger. It’s not something we have to think about or deal with, which is kind of great. The thing about being my age is that I don’t want to be in this work unless I’m having a good time. And I am having a great time in the room. It’s very pleasant

Elizabeth: From the moment I wrote the play, I wanted this to be all-women, including, ideally, the entire creative team. I didn’t know if people would go along with that request but Skylight & Randee were great to make it happen. When we had our first readthrough… you walk in the room and you go, “Oh my God! It happened!” It’s ephemeral, it’s like alchemical. There’s a vibe in the room that’s just different, and it’s lovely. We have a blast and we make each other laugh. I said to someone else, “There’s never a line for the bathroom because we can use the men and ladies’ rooms in rehearsals.”

Charrell Mack and Jamey Hood – photo by Jenny Graham

Carolina: What do you want audiences to take away after they’ve seen this play?

Elizabeth: I’d love it if people walked away thinking about the play and about history and women and feminism. One of the key messages in the play is that we’ve the same problems for centuries: What’s going to happen in the future? Will there ever be a moment of severe change? I don’t want to say we’re in the exact same spot women were in the 10th century, but we haven’t made as much progress as we would have liked to. And the other part of it is the really human part—there’s a huge discussion about mortality and legacy. What are you leaving behind? What is truly important to you? Those questions come up for the main character and I’m hoping people will be moved by how she responds to them.

Randee: For the longest time, I’ve been aiming at Beth’s reaction to the play when we first did the reading in her living room. We all laughed and laughed and laughed and I looked over at Beth and she was weeping. I want the audience to laugh and enjoy and fall in love with these characters and then, at the end, just burst into tears.

The play speaks to me very profoundly as a creative person and what it is to be an artist—to take it seriously and at what cost? I’m one of the few mothers in the room, and one of my assistants is a young mother of two. I know that it is of great cost to her and her children to be in rehearsal, and I certainly remember those days. It’s a different payment for women than men. That decision to pursue what you care about the most feels like a privilege. So the play definitely speaks to that strongly and loudly. Even with the one man in our room, Gary Grossman, we’ve had this conversation about what it means to still be making theatre at an age when you could have just retired and gone to the beach. That’s the part that makes me cry at the end.

The second play in Skylight’s all femme-penned season, the World Premiere of “No Place Like Gandersheim” by Elizabeth Dement, directed by Randee Trabitz, runs at Skylight Theatre through June 25, 2023. For tickets and information, visit skylighttheatre.org/event/no-place-like-gandersheim/.

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

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The FPI Files: Stand-Up Comedy, Hospital Bills & Sacrifice – “La Egoista” at Skylight Theatre

by Carolina Pilar Xique

I can’t be the first to admit that the pandemic has made me cynical.

Maybe it wasn’t the pandemic itself—it’s more apt to blame an (ironically) mandarin-tinted ex-federal leader of the United States for inciting violence primarily toward People of Color, regularly denying the existence and persistence of a deadly disease that paralyzed the entire world for 3 years, and dividing whole groups of people for political gain. But, truthfully, it was also the hours I spent endlessly scrolling through Karen videos on TikTok that did it. During this awful time of immense stress and lack of control, there was something comforting about silently scrutinizing people I didn’t know from the safety of my bedroom.

For the last 3 years, I was so focused on the differences of opinions I had with others that, in this reintegration into “normal life,” I’m remembering why it’s important to also consider what makes us the same, especially in such life-or-death circumstances as we all have been experiencing. Understandably, we had to learn to be defensive in the height of the pandemic to protect ourselves and our loved ones. Now, it’s time for compassion.

Erlina Ortiz invites the audience back to a standard of compassion in the West Coast premiere of La Egoista at Skylight Theatre Company. Her self-proclaimed “pandemic play” (although, not exactly in the way you might think) follows the rocky relationship of two sisters who are called to set aside their differences during a life-altering health crisis. For what is family, if not the people who you would sacrifice everything for?

I got to sit down on Zoom with Erlina Ortiz and director Daphnie Sicre to talk more in depth about the significance of this play, right here and now, in an endemic Los Angeles.

Carolina Pilar Xique for LAFPI: Tell me about the process. Erlina, how did you start this piece and how has it grown?

Erlina Ortiz: The piece actually started as a 10-minute play that was commissioned [by Live & In Color] during the pandemic: write a piece about two people in two separate spaces communicating in a virtual capacity—like on Zoom—so that two actors in different spaces could perform it. So that gave me the idea, “What would cause two people who want to be near each other, to be far away?” I had a lot of themes rolling around in my head about caregiving and having to define a new normal that we were all going through. Then a year later, that same company got funding to commission one full-length play and they reached out to me and asked if I was interested. I said I was if I can use the same characters as before and expand on it. So, I dove in with all the ingredients.

At this point I knew that I wanted one of the characters to be doing stand-up during the show and have her comedy be an aspect of the storytelling, so I was writing the jokes. From there, I submitted it to the LTC (Latinx Theatre Commons) Comedy Carnaval. (I was like, “Well, I have this play that I just finished a couple of months ago. I just had a reading of it and there’s stuff that still needs work but I know it’s strong—and it has a comedian in it!”) I submitted and most of the folks who have directed the piece so far connected with it because they were on the reading committee for LTC or they were involved in choosing the plays. After the [Comedy Carnaval] presentation in Denver, that’s when the productions came along.

Daphnie Sicre: We were like, “Ring Ring! Can we direct your show?” (laughs)

Chanel Castañeda and Lys Perez – Photo by Jenny Graham

Carolina: Daphnie, how has the rehearsal process been? Have your thoughts about the play evolved since you first read it?

Daphnie: I will say this: my thoughts haven’t evolved about the play. I still feel just as passionate and I love it just as much even though I’m exhausted and tired. (laughs) You don’t often get a play where you’ve had 28 rehearsals and you’re still laughing. That doesn’t often happen. And so to be this deep in rehearsals and still be laughing, to me, speaks volumes.

The process has been incredibly intense because there are a lot of factors involved in the production. Erlina is asking the actor who plays Josefina to not only just act, but to also be a puppeteer and a stand-up comic, and so the play needs a really strong actor who can do these three things.

Both actors had to learn puppeteering so we brought in a puppeteering consultant to sit in on rehearsals with them. We also brought in a consultant to work with Lyse [Perez, the actor playing Josefina] to learn how to be a stand-up comedian: what are the rules of stand-up, and what stand-up entails. In both sessions we had with the consultants, I learned so much. They taught in a way that was so enlightening for me as a director and for the actors as well. So, process-wise, I’ve definitely been learning and enjoying and laughing. And I can’t ask for more than that when you think about it, because I don’t always get to do that!

Carolina: Can both of you talk a little bit about this question: Why this play, today, here, right now?

Erlina: In the pandemic, everyone said that playwrights were going to come out with their pandemic plays. But everyone was like, “I don’t want to read a pandemic play. Maybe in 10 years, I’ll read a pandemic play, but while we’re still living in it, I don’t want to read about it.”

This is my pandemic play in the way that we were all faced with this new reality: our own mortality and healthcare, which is a big theme in the piece. So many of us were faced with the questions, “Who do I give my attention to? Where do my priorities lie now that this crisis has hit?” A lot of people had to drop everything because they were ill or because they had to take care of somebody who was ill during the pandemic. I think that that is the main thing we—across age, race, gender—can all relate to: ourselves or someone else dealing with a health issue and the questions, choices, and sacrifices that come up with dealing with that.

Also, it’s time to hear more of our stories as Latine folks, and not just stories that have to do with a very specific Latine issue—often centered around the trauma of border-crossing or things like that. These sisters are just Latina (laughs). They just are. They don’t have to explain it, they don’t have to talk about it. It informs every aspect of their lives, but it’s not the point of the play. It resonates with folks: the universality of the story but also the specific story of these two sisters.

Lys Perez and Chanel Castañeda – photo by Jenny Graham

Daphnie: Ditto, ditto, ditto. For me, first of all, is the importance of the healthcare issue. That’s the realism that you’re looking at in the play—it’s the dealing with this healthcare system, the waiting on the phone for an answer, the doctors not knowing what’s wrong with you, having to go through procedures, experiencing the shit you have to experience when you’re sick and ill, and not knowing if you’re going to get better, and the doctors not knowing if you’re going to get better, and thinking you’re going to get better and then getting worse—all while dealing with healthcare, pain & bills.

There’s a scene that really digs into that and the audience during previews nodded in agreement. You could tell that they’ve experienced that. It’s crazy but that’s the reality of the healthcare system in the United States. Having to make the choice of not going to the ER because it’s expensive, or the fact that you no longer have sick days because you’ve used sick days taking care of your family members and your work doesn’t allow for that. That’s the society we’re living in and that is key and essential to the story. But it’s also this beautiful story of sisterhood and these two Latina sisters, who are very different but the same. Their relationship isn’t easy, but it’s so real.

Erlina: I think that’s also maybe another thing that makes it of the moment, is that a lot of people right now are dealing with the realities of everything that happened post-2016 [presidential election]. A lot of families might have very different beliefs between different family members. There’s a lot of folks that have to dig into love, even in moments of disagreement. That’s what these sisters do for each other, too. Despite having completely different worldviews, they go back to the love they’ve had for each other since childhood and that’s what keeps them going. People need that right now to get us through this time.

Daphnie: When I read this play, I think about Generation Z & Millennials and how they are overcoming toxic families, generational trauma, and are really confronting it in a way that I haven’t seen in older generations. I believe that in a lot of Latine families we were raised—especially as women, as Latinas—to be the caregivers. There’s a sort of unwritten rule of assumption that we will take care of our own parents as they get older and put everything else in our lives on the wayside for our family. What most plays don’t talk about—but this play does—is what that does to caregivers.

This play is about two caregivers: Betsaida taking care of her mother, and Josefina now taking care of Betsaida. We need to talk about what it does to us, what we end up sacrificing, and how we put ourselves second for others. What does it mean to give up on a dream or goal that you’ve been working so hard to achieve? Anyone who has had to give up a dream that they’ve had for so long for someone else that they love is going to resonate with this play.

Chanel Castañeda and Lys Perez – photo by Jenny Graham

Carolina: Do you have a sister/someone like a sister in your life? What have they taught you?

Erlina: I grew up with brothers. I have some [younger] sisters, and—in talking about what you sacrifice and keep in your life—I’m actually raising my 13-year-old sister. While writing this play, I was signing guardianship paperwork for her, so that was prevalent in my head. From her I’ve learned a lot. I’ve learned how to be a parent and learned how to forgive my own preteen self for the things I’d do and the way I felt about myself. I’m seeing similarities between me and her, but I don’t worry about her at all because I was more of a mess.

I think that the relationship with my two brothers that I grew up with is actually more reflective of the relationship between Josefina & Betsaida. Josefina is a lot like my older brother: somebody who likes to push buttons, likes to annoy you, likes to instigate. My little brother has been sick his whole life and I’ve had a lot of guilt over the years. We were friends as kids, but then for many years as adults, we never hung out. When I was finally in my mid-twenties and he was in his early twenties, we hung out as adults for the first time. Now even when we don’t see each other or talk to each other after a while, we have this central, strong connection between us. It’s the same for my older brother, too.

Daphnie: I have an older brother and we are so incredibly different. We have different political ideologies that could not be more radically different. And my brother loves to instigate and fuck with me all the time. He takes so much joy in it. It drives me crazy. But because of him, I’m able to see the other side of how other people think politically, and it fascinates me. It’s the same thing for him—we look at each other and can’t understand how we can be so different. But I love him. I absolutely love him and everything about him, even his awful political ideologies. And I miss him.

There’s a powerful part in the play where Betsaida reminds Josefina, “You didn’t call me for 4 months.” And sometimes, it’s like that. That to me is the essence of family & siblinghood, and we see that in this play. We see two completely different people who love each other very much, would do anything for each other, and would sacrifice for each other even though they see the world so differently. I think it’s beautiful and honest because it exists in all our relationships.

The first play in Skylight’s all femme-penned season, the West Coast Premiere of La Egoista by Erlina Ortiz, directed by Daphnie Sicre, runs at Skylight Theatre through April 9, 2023. ASL Interpreted performance on March 19. For tickets and information, visit skylighttheatre.org/event/la-egoista.

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

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The FPI Files: “The Great Jheri Curl Debate” Comes to Life at East West Players

By Alison Minami

When Inda Craig-Galván was a young child growing up on the Southside of Chicago in the early eighties, her mother, a trained beautician, started losing clientele with the rise of at-home hair kits. In need of steadier income, she took a job at a beauty care products store owned by a Korean immigrant. The owner, unable to pronounce her name, renamed her Julie, which had always felt wrong to Craig-Galván. But as she got older, she realized that in many ways the two had had a mutually beneficial arrangement—for example, her mother was able to bring her daughter to work and the owner was able to pay her in cash. This unlikely pairing of two people at the margins is the inspiration for Craig-Galván’s new play “The Great Jheri Curl Debate,” which is having its World Premiere at the East West Players of Los Angeles.

Ryun Yu as Mr. Kim and Julanne Chidi Hill as Veralynn. Photo by Steven Lam.

In the play, Veralynn takes a job at Mr. Kim’s beauty supply store. The scenario and setting may be seeded from real life, but the story that unfolds is fully Craig-Galvan’s imaginative exploration of two people of color who are both trying to survive while negotiating shared space. Craig-Galván wanted to write an intersectional play bringing two communities uncommonly represented together that wasn’t about war or marriage, but rather about “dealing with each other, finding common ground, misunderstanding each other, and overstepping each other.” As a Black woman and an Asian immigrant with a heavy accent, Veralynn and Mr. Kim must come face-to-face with the racial stereotypes and cultural barriers between them. In so doing, they take the difficult but brave steps to bridge their divide and acknowledge their humanity.

A hallmark of Craig-Galván’s playwriting is an element of magical realism, and this play does not disappoint. While Veralynn works at the store, the beauty poster advertisements come to life, haunting and prodding her as she tries to build connection with Mr. Kim.

Inda Craig-Galván

 In her own words, Craig-Galván is “obsessed with using storytelling in a super theatrical way,” in “exploring someone’s inner mind—their thoughts and their skewed vision of life.” The posters are a window for both Veralynn and Mr. Kim as we discover how much they’ve sacrificed in the way of their own artistry just to live in America. Thematic to the play is the question, as Craig-Galván posits, “How do we continue to find and make art where we are made to feel unwelcome?” It’s a fitting question for anyone trying to make meaning out of their creative lives whilst struggling with the economic pressures of American capitalism. 

 Bringing together all the elements of this play took considerable creative collaboration. Under the dramaturgy of Playwright Alice Tuan, the play was developed in the East West Players’ new play development Playwrights Group. Director Scarlett Kim, also the Associate Artistic Director at Oregon Shakespeare Festival, brought her background in theater and video and technology to the project, as well her own Korean immigrant perspective, which was integral to the fleshing out of Mr. Kim. Because of the extended developmental support, the play had the great fortune of actor input by lead actors Julanne Chidi Hill and Ryun Yu.

Scarlett Kim

For Kim, the play was an ideal project where her many skills and sensibilities could converge. She describes the play as depicting “how two characters move beyond prescriptions of what society tells them”, and one that refuses to fall into a right-or-wrong, black-or-white binary or be told through a white male gaze. One of Kim’s driving values as an artist and director is what she describes as unclassifiable spaces, a “central framework for life and art.” In many ways, she says this play is “the story of unclassifiability in both content and form.” The integration of multimedia to carry out the fantastical elements of the play is magical and isn’t additive but rather illuminating to the characters’ inner lives.  

Both Kim and Craig-Galván rave about this female-powered creative collaboration, with Kim calling it a “dreamy, joyful, generous” process and Craig-Galvan amazed at the visual interpretations of her own, as she quips, “ridiculous stage directions.” The show promises to be a truly theatrical event.

Click Here for More Info on “The Great Jheri Curl Debate,” playing at East West Players through October 9th.

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!

Los Angeles Female Playwrights Initiative is a sponsored project of Fractured Atlas, a non‐profit arts service organization. Contributions for the charitable purposes of LAFPI must be made payable to “Fractured Atlas” only and are tax‐deductible to the extent permitted by law.

The FPI Files: World Premiere of “Untitled Baby Play” at IAMA Theatre

By Alison Minami

Nina Braddock grew up with a tight-knit group of girlfriends dating back to kindergarten and managed to maintain this friend-group through the many different phases of adolescence and adulthood. But at a certain point, as we all know, friendships become challenging to negotiate as people grow in different ways. These transitional growing pains as we move into adulthood serve as the inspiration for her new play “Untitled Baby Play.” In it, Braddock explores how a group of women from childhood maintain their friendship and “invest in the way their lives have taken shape.”

Laila Ayad, Anna Rose Hopkins, Jenny Soo
Photo by Jeff Lorch

In the play, the women all join forces to throw their friend Libby a baby shower, but through their various text message and email chains, a lot of miscommunication and hilarity ensue. At the heart of the play is the theme of motherhood—deciding to become a mother, facing the challenges of fertility, anticipating birth, and the actual experience of being a mother. As the play’s title deliberately suggests, the women are struggling with their “evolving and unresolved” decisions around “the baby question.” They are each a work-in-progress, as is the unborn and unnamed child about to enter Libby’s, and by extension, their lives. While all the same age, each woman is at a different place in relation to motherhood, and this can be cause for judgment, pain, or just sheer ignorance. Braddock wanted to write a play about “women who love each other but also don’t understand each other.” Sisterhood is, after all, not always easy, though it is ultimately rewarding and, arguably, vital.

The Ensemble: Laila Ayad, Sarah Utterback, Sonal Shah, Courtney Sauls, Anna Rose Hopkins and Jenny Soo. Photo by Jeff Lorch

Technology and its many forms of communication is another interest of Braddock’s. She’s always been fascinated by the way “people are performing as they are writing their texts or emails.” It is true that there can often be a performative aspect of showmanship or joie de vivre in our digital voices that do not always reflect the reality of our lives including our feelings. For this reason, the play is as much an exploration of how we stay connected in today’s day and age and the limitations of these modes of communication as much as it is about the strengths (or weaknesses) of our friendships.

Also a television writer, Braddock enjoys writing in different forms as each offers its own set of constraints and possibilities. Writing this play allowed her to exercise a different kind of creative muscle and vision from writing for the screen. “Untitled Baby Play” had a professional reading at Clubbed Thumb in NY and continued development with IAMA theatre in Los Angeles, where it was set to premiere right before the pandemic. After a two-year delay, it is finally getting the World Premiere it deserves with IAMA Theatre. Directed by Katie Lindsay with associate director Melissa Coleman-Reed, it runs from May 26 through June 27 at the Atwater Village Theatre.

Click Here for More Info on “Untitled Baby Play”

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!

Los Angeles Female Playwrights Initiative is a sponsored project of Fractured Atlas, a non‐profit arts service organization. Contributions for the charitable purposes of LAFPI must be made payable to “Fractured Atlas” only and are tax‐deductible to the extent permitted by law.