Sure, it’s been a year of isolation and Zoom overload, and we’re all pretty desperate to get back into a theater. What could possibly make us want to stay home and cozy up with our computers again? Two women: Sheila Carrasco and Anna LaMadrid. These amazing writer/performers have pieces – “Anyone But Me” and “The Oxy Complex” – presented in tandem by IAMA Theatre Company, filmed live at L.A.’s Pico Playhouse and now available for streaming on demand through April 25.
And if there was any way to demand audiences check them out, LAFPI would be leading the charge! Both shows are smart, surprising and so powerful in their ability to transport us – just the ticket, right now. Lucky us, we had the chance to chat with the writer/performers before their shows premiered.
LAFPI: First of all, so excited by this project and so glad to be able to support it! Can you both speak a bit about where and when your pieces started, and did that shift as you moved forward?
Sheila Carrasco: Margaux Susi, my friend and IAMA Theatre Company member [and Associate Artistic Director], approached me about working together on a solo show last fall. I had been meaning to make a one woman show for years, but I had never taken the leap, so this felt like the right opportunity. I do a lot of sketch comedy characters and so my first instinct was to do a bunch of characters, unrelated to each other and to my life. And then I thought, “Why is that? Why is my default to disappear behind costumes and wigs and voices?” So I started there, and began to build a show around the idea of self-identity, and characters that struggle a bit with this theme. And I ended up with a lot of characters that were way closer to me than I expected.
Anna LaMadrid: The seed for my solo show began in my second year of grad school at University of Washington. I wrote a short piece exploring the ways in which I felt our biology was not keeping up with how technology was disrupting the dating process with apps. (Women tend to jump into bed with men without really knowing them and you become attached to people that might not be the best fit.) At IAMA, [Co-Artistic Director] Stefanie Black was looking to pivot our season into a virtual solo show and I jokingly said I had written something for grad school and wanted to expand it but didn’t know how. She asked to see it and then encouraged me, so I started to shift the lens to look at what it means to go through withdrawal from touch and be isolated with just our thoughts.
LAFPI: Both of these pieces are so distinct and very different, but also share a common thread in that they explore women searching for self in a very complicated world. They really fit together beautifully. Did you two connect while creating them?
Sheila: We actually didn’t know much about each other’s pieces! I purposely didn’t want to read Anna’s play while working on mine so that I wasn’t making creative decisions in a subconscious effort just to be different. In this show, I play about nine different characters. From teenager to elderly, from privileged to working class. I tried to think about each one in a self-contained way while at the same time exploring a range of theatricality and ways of expressing myself and the topic.
Anna: I think Sheila is a brilliant performer and storyteller. And I will say that I think we maybe have both struggled to fit into this “Latina” box that the media creates. Having been told that we aren’t enough by the industry: Not quite indigenous enough to play the help but not white enough to pass. So identity has always been something that I have contended with. There are characters in my show that represent the struggle I feel as a bi-cultural Latina – the outdated models of how a woman should be according to my mother and me not feeling quite like I own this liberated American woman without feeling guilt.
LAFPI: We love that you are both paired with Latina directors. Had you worked with them before?
Sheila: I had known Margaux Susi for years but didn’t actually know she was Latina until this past year! When I found out, so much about how and why we connect as collaborators made sense. Margaux is half Cuban and I’m half Chilean, and our Latin family has influenced our lives and art in such a huge way. At the same time, we also benefit from white privilege and we had many meaningful discussions about our own accountability in that department. This past year demonstrated how Latinos are not a monolith, and the more we dive into the nuances of our identity and celebrate our diversity within our ethnicity and center and uplift BIPOC voices, the stronger we will all be.
Anna: I worked with Michelle Bossy a year and half ago when she cast me in a play called There and Back (which we did in Mexico and at Company of Angels here in LA). Michelle and I are from two totally different cultures, but there is a shorthand and that’s nice. I don’t have to explain certain -isms that I had growing up. My culture is a backdrop that adds flavor to the story. However, at the end of the day we are telling a story that is universal for ALL people. How do we deal with our past trauma in order to find a sense of worth that will enable us to be in healthy relationships.
LAFPI: So, in the Covid of it all, what was it like actually performing in a THEATER! Okay. An empty theater. But how did you adjust to the hybrid nature of this?
Anna: We did NOT rehearse in the theater and that was really challenging at times. It was tough to fully just focus on inhabiting the character when something would freeze, or you couldn’t hear the cue, or your earbuds fell out in the middle of a line. It felt like a breath of fresh air to get into the theater to tech and just be the actor in the room. I missed that feeling so much.
Sheila: Rehearsing entirely over Zoom until tech week was so weird, but also really intimate and wonderful and I’ll cherish that rehearsal period forever. Once we got to the theater, it was so soooo wonderful to stretch my muscles again and get physical. But performing for an hour straight with no audience in a silent theater? That was not ideal. It took so much mental energy and stamina to stay in the moment and also be my own scene partner, and also imagine there were laughs to build upon…
Anna: Since my piece is a dark comedy, sometimes it was tough to gauge if a joke was working. But I just had to let go of how the audience would experience this and just focus on the story. Because the crew also couldn’t laugh since we were taping. So it feels like you are in a void. And one of my characters is in a void. So you know… I just used it.
Sheila: I am so grateful I got to make this show and had truly had a blast performing it, but let’s just say I cannot wait to perform this show live one day!
LAFPI: Can you talk a bit about the technical elements you were able to incorporate in a virtual production?
Anna: I love tech. Which is why I opened my self-tape company, Put Me On Self-Tape, four years ago. Every actor should be comfortable know the business, the craft and the tech. That’s the NEW triple threat. [Check out thenewtriplethreat.com].
But when starting to write The Oxy Complex, I really wanted to take into consideration the amount of pressure put on the performer when we try to recreate the experience of theater over the screen. So Michelle and I leaned into the tech and created a visual language for how the piece would function. I wanted to make sure that visually we are using the frame to keep the audience engaged. I mean we are all so sick of seeing boxes of people. It definitely was an experiment and Michelle treated it like a film shoot. Which was nice. I hope it worked!
Sheila: Aside from Anyone But Me being filmed and available over streaming, I’m hoping it is closer to a theatrical experience than a filmic one. Margaux and I really tried to create that. We wanted it to be as close to pure theater as possible, because it is such a special and unique medium that so many people are missing right now.
So I performed the show as if it were a play, all the way through. There are closeups, however, which you don’t get in a play, so I’m super happy we got to punch in and see more nuance than you would in a theater! Also the show is designed from top to bottom with set design, sound, lighting, costume design… Our designers are all so awesome; we just went to town! We tried to create meaning with even the dumbest of props. (I mean that in a good way). And I hope that the audience enjoys all of the storytelling as much as they would in a theatre.
LAFPI: This production also stood out to us because so many women creatives are on board: both of you as writer/performers, as well as your directors and IAMA Co-Artistic Directors, plus a majority of the designers and crew. What was that like, being surrounded by so much femme energy?
Anna: The rehearsal process was just Michelle, Stage Manager Camella Cooper, Rose Swaddling Krol (Assistant SM) and me for so long and that was really nice. It represented a spectrum of women and when both Camella (who is Black) and Rose (who is white) could relate to something I was saying – or found it funny or heartbreaking – then I knew I was on a good path. It was truly universal. I felt really close to these women because even though the character that I play, Viviana, isn’t all me, it is based on some of my experiences and experiences of other women in my life. Things would get really personal when we dove deep into creating her histories and trauma. So it was nice to feel supported and have that solidarity in the (virtual) room. I felt really safe being vulnerable.
Sheila: Everyone on the team was a true collaborator and really inspiring to work with. What’s cool is that everyone on board related to the characters, regardless of gender. In terms of the rehearsal process, I really valued having a female director and female stage managers because of some of the subject matter we were diving into, but otherwise, every single person’s energy in that theater was incredible and kickass!
For Info and Tickets for “Anyone But Me,” written and performed by Sheila Carrasco and directed by Margaux Susi, and “The Oxy Complex,” written and performed by Anna LaMadrid and directed by Michelle Bossy, visit www.iamatheatre.com. Both shows stream on demand through April 25.