Tag Archives: Los Angeles

Entry Level

Yesterday I published an article for Bitter Lemons on the amazing way that Arena Stage, 2amtheatre and LA Stage Alliance* are working together to widen the dialogue on new plays.

That’s fascinating in and of itself – not my article, but all the detail and coverage that Arena Stage created and is creating, so that artists know what people are talking about and can contribute in a meaningful way.

Remember that.

Cut to later that day, and Dennis Baker announces that the LA satellite convening was relocated because of high attendance. It happened to be relocated to four blocks from my house, the site of the new Atwater Village Theatres, home to EST-LA and Circle X.

Not just convenient for me, but I amended the original article and then could post it on Atwater Village Now, gaining more exposure for both the event and the neighborhood. While writing it, though, I thought of my audience for Atwater Village Now and decided they might have no idea why a convening on new plays is important. If my goal was to interest those outside of theatre practitioners to find interest in the art and the craft, then I needed to write an entryway into the article. The Editor suggested I give some history, a small idea of how important this dialogue is for the national community, the theatrical community, and in some way give a larger importance to our community.

This was my introduction. I welcome feedback and suggestions in the comments:

With Broadway focused on revivals and musicals based on movies and star vehicles, new plays often go by the wayside. If you are an unknown playwright, it’s nearly impossible to be produced.

Not so at The Arena Stage, however, and they’ve been working intensely for a national dialogue that includes all voices – new playwrights, established playwrights, and the people who decide which plays are produced. Arena Stagey began a New Plays Convening yesterday in DC, and Los Angeles participates on Saturday, in our brand new Atwater Village Theatre!

*Full Disclosure: I also write for the LA Stage Times.

How do you invite laymen into the theatrical experience?

Hats off (no, really) to Committees

“A camel is a horse designed by committee” – Vogue, 1957

Mayhaps you’re all watching what is happening on The Hill… a room full of (mostly) men are sitting firm on their political high-horses, battling over what IS and IS NOT good for the American public…  They’re making decisions based on what they deem “right” (OR) “left” and the rest of us restlessly sit and wait.

Anybody else find this macrocosm representational of the more mundane parts of life?  Anybody ever scratch their heads at the “people in power” and wonder just “How in the hell” they became the megaphone for our “Voice”?

I’m interested in the parallels in politics between “their” and “here” – the White House to Theatre House -because it seems that I’ve been privy to a few conversations lately that make me wonder just when it was that these people lost touch with the world and began, for lack of classier language, touching only themselves.

I think it has something to do with hats.

You see… I’m broke.  And I live IN the world.  I’m not shoveling gravel, or hauling garbage… no, those blue-collar citizens might look at my liberal artistic self and roll their hard-working eyes.  But I am struggling, I am walking around in the shoes of the well-traveled and hungry.  And I’ve got about a dozen or so hats to juggle as a result.

Which means I can’t ever get too comfortable in just one.

I write, I teach, I tutor, I am the web-master/social media maven for my current employer – I also blog (for my own sake and as the occasional guest) and edit a LosAngeles centric webzine.  I am a daughter, friend, and (yippee) girlfriend – which means I am involved in the lives of those around me and I have a stake in their happiness as well as my own.  I work with students and faculty, and I do my own friggin’ laundry… I drive a beat up little Hyundai and my “grand” dreams of upgrading involve another… wait for it… Hyundai.

So, you see, I wear a lot of hats…

And I live a pretty down-to-earth existence.

But the people in “power” seem to have forgotten what it is like to live like this

It requires compromise… it requires flexibility and ingenuity…

It requires the ability to put oneself in other’s shoes.

But instead, we get people wearing their “Control” hat (the one that shoots you the whammy if you disagree) and folded arms, standing atop their pillars of salt as though it’s all going to go their way or no way at all.

Mayhaps, and here’s the theatrical segue, the answer is to tear down and start over.

Whoa, whoa, wait a minute!  WHAT?

Just hang in here with me a moment longer…

I hear a lot of chit and a lot of chat about theatre companies NOT producing enough: new work, work by women, culturally specific work, devised work, political work, etc.   I hear a lot of theatre companies turn around and bemoan the lack of quality in said work, the lack of faith, and the lack of $$…

The people in charge, are dealing with budgets and spreadsheets, and trying to read the minds of their paying audiences and benefactors and otherwise worrying about keeping the “business” afloat, while the people creating the art are dealing with paying rent, trying to get produced, struggling to be relevant, and worrying about keeping their lives afloat.

What would happen if the two switched places for a while?

Probably something on par with what would happen if our Congress and Senate switched places with some “real folks” for a while:  Total and complete madness, followed by a (gasp) revolution of thought and of practice.

I mean, I am talking about some good old fashioned Freaky-Friday changes in perspective here, people!

Might we not all be able to head back to our “tired, stuck-on, and stubborn” hats with a little more perception?  Might we possibly come back to our “positions” (as power-player or peon) with a little more flexibility and ingenuity?

Or would it only strengthen our resolve to lock ourselves away in our tight little corners, unwilling to trust or listen to those we stand among, atop, and for?

(sigh)

It’s all really a bit of a mess, isn’t it?

Kind of like the camel…

The Thought My Soul Appalls

buddhas celebrate My childhood playmates were Gilbert & Sullivan*.

My family saw shows together. That’s what we did. We saw and       produced shows. We subscribed to ART (American Repertory  Theatre) in Cambridge and The Huntington Theater in Boston. We traveled hours to see the College Light Opera Company and drove back the same night. On vacations, we’d squeeze the Baseball Hall of Fame in between Glimmerglass Operas in Cooperstown.

If Gilbert & Sullivan played within three hours of us, we saw it. We bundled in the car, return trip full of patter songs and arguments on the character interpretation or a set piece. I auditioned for NYU with Pinter and was accepted, mostly because I astonished the Dean with my resume, listing only male roles and whores.

Not finding my voice in New York City, I got my license – didn’t really learn how to drive – and ended up in Los Angeles. List of jobs in roughly chronological order: QA for a lotion and scrub factory, personal assistant, Equity Stage Manager, customer service for adult products while stage managing, staffing assistant, director, staffing supervisor, clutter-clearer, recruiter at a not for profit school for kids with special needs, teaching artist, playwright, artistic associate, producer, bum, outreach chair, representative-at-large, career coach, resume re-vamper, consultant, writer.

I know we all mostly are slashers (actor/writer/producer, for example), but this list just feels ridiculous.

As much as some of those day jobs were hated, they fuel my creative bank. Who doesn’t like a good story about temping in an adult products factory? Seriously. Everyone in LA has the crazy day job story. It’s a rite of passage here, like visiting the Getty for the first time or realizing you can’t get to the 101 south from the 134 west.

In May it all added up, when I started calling myself a Storyteller. The title encompasses all the ways I tell stories: outreach, novel, poem, play, PR, resume, blog, branding – and now, I tell stories all day. It’s pretty cool. Honestly, it’s the only thing I actually know how to do. (Did I mention both my parents are also librarians?)

Now that I love every hour of my work, I hope I won’t lose that connection to completely random people in Los Angeles brought only by the day job. That would be a shame. Most of my stories originated within the hours when worth is measured by a time-clock. At least that’s the story I tell myself when I need a temporary gig.

*in case you want more Gilbert & Sullivan – and who doesn’t? Click here.

Part 4 (or) In Which we Juggle…

I’ve always been a big advocate of “Competition of Self” – what I mean by this is that as I navigate the playwright’s landscape, I may see many people winning accolades that I myself covet, but I truly believe that the only course of action from such observations is to learn from these talented writers as I myself strive to top my last work with the new.  I may feel a flash of jealousy or of heartache, but I never think to myself “They won!  They beat me!”  Instead, I think to myself “DAMNIT!  (sigh) Alright… well, what can I learn from this writer so that I can do better next time?”

It’s one of the things that keep me sane.

But, in exploring this week’s train of thought, I have to ask myself who my scripts are in competition with…  It’s certainly not the brain-child of Sarah Ruhl or Martin McDonough!  While I like to think I write on par with them (don’t we all) and while I have been influenced by both, no theater in their right mind is currently weighing my playscript and one of, oh, say David Lindsay-Abaire’s, in their hands wondering “Gee, I wonder which we should go with.”   Because I’m simply not a big enough fish yet to be part of that kind of decision.  Instead, my scripts are sitting in piles with other “emerging” playwrights – those that have a few awards under their belts, but no BIG productions… yet.  We are engaged in silent battle for desk space and shelf space… We go head-to-head for literary manager’s time and interest…

Every.

Single.

Day.

We playwrights just aren’t present to witness the literary carnage.

And so, we send out scripts to various competitions, hoping that we’ll win a reading or a ribbon, or, if we’re lucky, some kind of travel or monetary prize… OR, if we’re really lucky, an airline ticket stuffed with cash all wrapped in ribbons and trade magazine announcements exclaiming our brain-child a total GENIUS…

Yeah, that happens.

But the point is, we hope we will win accolades so that we can use the 5-seconds of fame to edge out the other scripts in that “emerging” pile to the left of the Lit Manager’s elbow.  (The pile that sits depressingly close to the lip of the desk and the gaping mouth of the trashcan…)

So what happens when a theatre company run by someone like that first artistic director endeavors to fill slots according to a cross-cultural quota?    Does such thinking narrow the question from “Who’s the best playwright?” to “Who’s the best Latino playwright?  Who’s the best Woman playwright?” or “Who’s the best transgender-African -American-who-walks-with-a-limp playwright?”

And is it helpful?

I don’t know the answer… I wear enough hats to recognize that it’s overly complicated.  There have been times when, in reading a winning script, I’ve scratched my head and thought to myself “Jesus, I wish I had thought of this!”  And there have been times when I’ve looked over lists of contest winners that read like a United Nations meeting, but included plays that I had actually turned away for (what I perceived to be) poor writing.  I’ve been on both sides of the selecting and entering… and I still don’t have an answer.

Because I want to believe that the best man or woman will reach the stage.  I want to believe that if I keep growing as an artist, if I keep writing and dreaming and running this race, that my work will be recognized, produced, and applauded regardless of my gender or (lack of) ethnicity.  I want to believe that I will get there on merit…

But as a woman playwright who is all-to-aware of the numbers before her, I will also take any advantage I can get.

I will enter contests designed to honor female playwrights, and I will challenge any contest or theatre company that seems to eschew balance in (perceived) favor to male playwrights over female.  I will also look at a list like that one from the “UN” and sigh with frustration – What were the parameters of their evaluation if not totally and irritatingly PC?

Because I want it both ways.

And it all speaks to the one achingly human truth – no matter the rules or the designations, we are all of us reaching and scraping for the finish line.  It’s a business, it’s a dream, it’s a damned difficult trail.  We try to find the best shoes to get us there… sometimes they’re ugly, but if they get us there…

Well, more often than not (and no matter their “how”) we will defend those shoe’s merits to the death.

Because that goal, that gold, that rising above the tides to be seen, heard, my GOD, produced?  Doesn’t it seem built on a lot of hard spilt blood and tears all the same?  Isn’t it the mountain we look down on, and not our feet, even as we focus our eyes on the next looming peak?

(Tomorrow: Part 5 (or) Some and Summation )

Part 3, or The Angry White Woman…

Fast forward 6 years to yet another literary job, wherein I’m actually the person in charge this time – Yes, I reported to an artistic director, but this time I was running the literary department, which consisted of… oh…  wait a minute, it was just me again.

Hmmm, maybe “being in charge” was really just a nice way of dressing up an otherwise low paying pile of responsibility 🙂

In any case, I was a woman on a mission!

This theatre company was also dedicated to Los Angeles writers, but specifically plays by, for, and about culturally diverse peoples.  This time it was written into the mission statement, I had a very clear understanding of what they wanted and I loved the energy and the people responsible for this theatre.

I read a ton of beautiful plays (and not-so beautiful, of course) in my time there; all written by playwrights with something to say and with dreams of being heard.  I learned a great deal about the art of the submission, I also learned a little bit more about those who submit…  Particularly in the case of my first nasty email; a vociferous letter written to me by a white female playwright who had read over our submission guidelines and found them lacking.

Among it’s many blistering accusations, the following stood out as the writer’s main beef with me and the theater: “How nice of you to support female playwrights of color… what a shame the rest of us are left out in the cold.”

I sat in shock for a good 10 minutes after I read the thing, wondering how in the world I would respond…   Wasn’t it the theatre company’s prerogative to decide what its mission would be? And had they really denied “white women” a slot in its mission anyway?  In their drive to represent diversity in LA, surely women as a whole were included as an under-represented people… or were we?

I wrote back to this woman in the kindest words possible “Thank you for your interest in our company, and for sharing your heartfelt opinions.  While I, a female playwright as well, hear your frustrations, I encourage you to seek out more opportunities for women playwrights on the web, as there are quite a few…”

What else could I say?  I certainly wasn’t going to ask her for her script- she had been ridiculously spiteful.  She had also signed her email anonymously as “an angry female playwright” or something like that, perhaps forgetting in the heat of the moment that her name would be clear as day in the “from” field of the email. (Note to all:  if you’re going to send an anonymous email, make sure it is, indeed, anonymous.)

In any case, it was an awkward exchange, but one I remembered well… And one that begged the question – Is polarity healthy?  Are the limited support resources that exist fractured and specific for greater purpose?  In creating our own sort of theatrical “Affirmative Action”, are we creating better theater?  And is this system breeding resentment among the very playwrights it is designed to help?

(Tomorrow – Part 4, or, In Which we Juggle…)

Part 2… (or)… Rewind!

When I was an undergrad, I worked as a literary intern for a Los Angeles theater company.  The company’s mission was to produce work by Los Angeles writers.  I was put in charge of selecting plays for a fall festival of new work.  “Oh goodie!” I thought, “I can’t wait to meet these writers!”  And I proceeded to select a handful of plays that I thought exhibited the most talent and promise.  They were on varied subjects, three were written by men, two by women, one of the women was Latina, one of the men Japanese; all the rest were white.

When I sent an email to the artistic director with the playwright’s names and play synopsis, I received back an email exclaiming that my selection wasn’t diverse enough – why were there so many white men in the line up? – Along with a list of “diverse” playwrights to contact about putting in the festival; playwrights who I had previously heard of, but none of whom had submitted work to me.

I wrote back questioningly, “It looks like you have a quota in mind – are you asking me to fill these slots according to ethnicity?” Which elicited another bristling response “Los Angeles is a diverse community.  It has always been our intent to reflect that on our stages.  We have only once done an all white-cast play, and one of those characters was handicapped”

Wow.

Needless to say, only one of the plays I had selected was for an all-white cast.

So I suggested that the artistic director’s intent be reflected in the company’s mission; maybe more diverse people would submit work and we would have a more colorful (and well written) pool of scripts to pull from in the future.

To say that the whole discussion was “awkward” would be an understatement.

Now… several things must be addressed if I am to be as objective as possible :

  • I am white. It is possible that as such, on a subconscious level, my predilection is for scripts by/for/about similarly pale-skinned persons.  I don’t think this is the case, as some of my favorite authors hail from different parts of the rainbow, but, nonetheless, it could very well be a factor for me in determining which plays I find exciting.
  • I am a woman. As such, my tastes may very well be different than a man’s, or, as recent studies have shown, I might be more critical of  women’s work than men’s… I certainly hope this isn’t the case, but it must be mentioned. Especially since, as I acknowledge in the following bullet point…
  • I am a playwright. What does this have to do with anything?  Perhaps nothing… or perhaps as a playwright, I have developed a certain style/taste and hold material to similar standards of my own work… perhaps I like best the work that I would like best to have written…   I couldn’t tell you.  Certainly I revel most in work that I look at with admiration – but is this admiration based on an internal, completely subjective scale?   Am I secretly lusting after white-centric plays because those seem to be what I write?

I bring these things to the forefront of my discussion because I think it is important  (if I am going to ask what I am about to ask) that I acknowledge what may be my own limitations as a script-reader.  It is important to acknowledge that while I am a heterosexual, white, female playwright, the artistic director was a homosexual, *non-white (I don’t want you all guessing who I’m talking about now), male director, who had a completely different perspective than I .

So who was I to argue for these “White man” plays?  Who was I to be reading for this company in the first place if our aesthetic was so off?  And, as a woman, should I have been pushing them on out the door with the same verve as my AD?

But, more importantly; who were wither one of us to host a new play festival of work we had to go out and ask for, when we had a mountain of engaging submissions from Los Angeles writers before us…  just because those submissions were from predominantly white playwrights.  And was I supposed to include (what I considered to be) weaker material, simply because it was written by someone more “representational” of LA?

Was it my job to go out and ask for new material from established writers of color simply to make our festival better reflect (in the artistic director’s eyes) the Los Angeles community?

Right, wrong, or in-between, what wound up happening is what usually happens when an artistic director makes a request – we shuffled and asked, and put together a line-up much more in line with his vision and much further from the material I’d been reading the past 6 months…  Meanwhile, I had to send “TBNT” letters to a handful of very qualified and talented writers, for no other reason than that they were too pale for us to produce.

Isn’t that a strange and odd turn of events?

~Tiffany

(Tomorrow:  Part 3, or, The Angry White Woman…)

Breaking Dawn…

I don’t know what it is about the morning, I generally sleep right through and past it into that mysterious “brunch” hour of 10:30 – when it’s no longer morning, not really – and even then I groan at the sunlight teasing my eyes open.  I LOVE to sleep.

But the other day, for reasons unexplained, I woke up early.  Like, really early. I woke up at 8 a.m.

And I realized (though far from a normal person’s “early”)  this 8 a.m. business was no joke.

The sun wasn’t yet high enough to have laid it’s grip upon the scenery, the air still carried a whif of midnight on it’s coat… I was reminded of some of my most favorite mornings in LA, when I would get up early for some other totally bizarre reason, and actually embark on a journey to the beach or somesuch… I really love the soft quiet of a city still waking up.  I love the breath of night on the air.

In any regard, there I was, sitting at the breakfast table, totally stymied, when I realized what it was that had woken me: I was excited – genuinely and totally excited – to get to work on my play.

At 8 a.m.

Crazy.

And although I spent yesterday working on less exciting re-writes, re-writes that will continue today, I woke up this morning with a similar thirst to sit down before the keys.  It wasn’t 8 a.m. excited – more like 9:30 – but it reminded me how easily one can sleep the dawn away when one has little in front of her that gets her revved up.

It’s been a long trip down unemployment lane these past – oh – 14 months (!)  And easy to get a little depressed, a little wary at the idea of facing the world… I think mornings like these are what’s keeping me sane – mornings where I can experience some vicarious living through the pages of my imagination.

~Tiffany

The Competitive Spirit

I had a conversation last summer with Another Female Playwright.  It went a little something like this:

AFP and ME talk about themselves as youngsters.  M(ale)P joins conversation, mentioning that he was one hell of a basketball player.  ME laughs riotously.

ME: I was terrible at sports!

MP: What did you play?

ME: Basketball.  4th grade.  I remember quite clearly the moment I knew I wasn’t going to make the 5th grade team; The biggest girl I had ever seen was thundering towards me – I’m not kidding, I can still see it happening slow motion in my memory bank- and I had the ball.  So there I was, the coach yelling at me, my co-players running amok around me, and this Giantess bearing down on me and I just… passed her the ball.

AFP: What?!  You gave it to the other girl?  The Big one?  From THE OTHER TEAM?

ME: Yup.  I realized in that moment that no ball in a hoop was worth the pain she was going to rain down upon me.   She wanted it, I didn’t.  I’m just not competitive like that.   At all.

MP laughs at this and goes for another beer.  AFP turns to me and says in a voice that reeks of disbelief and nose-wrinkling…

AFP: So if you’re not competitive, then how are you a playwright?

And that my friends, was my slow-motion realization that this woman and I would never be more than casual peers… her in one court and I in the other.

Because the only person I am ever in competition with is myself.

You see, writing is personal business.  We can (and will) all tell the same stories in our own merry ways… what the public, or that literary manager, or some regular Joe with deep pockets and a desire to get in the producing biz thinks of my work is completely independent of what he/she/it thinks of yours.

There is a much repeated, oft lasered-into-paper-weights, saying that goes a little like this:  Surround yourself with successful people and you will find success yourself.

Hard to do when you look on everyone around you as the competition.

Harder still to keep those successful people around you.

~Tiffany

What Would a Man Do?

A while ago I was talking drinking with a dear friend, bemoaning the seemingly effortless way men “get things done”  We got a lot of laughs guffaws at their expense, coming up with all variety of jokes, but ultimately we both arrived at the same sobering moment of truth.

“They just DO IT!”

And no, no Nike swoosh went flying over our tipsy little heads… we had just struck upon some revelatory moment akin to a lightening bolt striking our now-empty bottle of sweet, sweet wine and refilling it with nectar of the Gods:  Men. Just. Do. It.

Sure, they might still suffer the same insecurities as we, but they don’t sit forever planning and preening and perfecting… they kind of just put on their swagger, strut up to the mountain and say “GIMME!”

And darn it all if that mountain doesn’t give in more often than not.

You see, I don’t think it had occurred to me (before that moment) that I could should just ask for anything.  I had to earn it.  I had to sit down to each and every task with the same dedication I imagined Van Gogh took to “Starry Night” – only, how do I know he wasn’t drunk off his noggin’ and having one hell of a good time painting that swirly masterpiece, before placing it before the masses and proclaiming it “Good.”

Because I had never felt quite empowered enough to march into a room and announce myself a writer, much less a good great Starry Night quality one.

I hadn’t felt bold enough to ask theater company, producer, deep-pocketed pirate, for anything.

Until this little humongous revelation, I had been doing everything like a polite, wait-your-turn little girl.

And I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone say that this is a little girl’s world.

So I adopted the following mantra (okay, pirated, altered, and then adopted from the Christians):  “What would a man do?”

And then I do it.

Because I have spent enough time apologizing and waiting.

Because this world of interconnectedness is still vastly out of whack.

Because I may be softer in the hips, easier on the eyes, and more prone to giggle than a man, but I sure as hell can write better than a lot of ‘em too– I’ve just got to remember to ask for the things I want, to demand the respect I deserve, and to take the risks necessary to reach these wonderful goals of mine.

And that ain’t ego, people, that’s just the way a man would do it  😉

~Tiffany

It Takes a Village

I love it when people ask me “How do you do this?!”

I love it even more when it is coming from someone who does something I can’t fathom or make sense of (firemen, doctors, people who run charity organizations or fly to Ghana to teach kids…)

There are so many people in the world doing so many amazing things, and yet… we wonder at one another’s ability to do the things we ourselves simply can’t.

And to me, this is the universal proof that we are each of us meant to follow our own path… in the hopes of arriving at (perhaps) some collective betterment of mankind.

Which is why, as when those very same people ask me about the theater process, I tell them that, much like any grand accomplishment, it takes a village.

It’s not enough to have an idea, you need the encouragement to pursue it.

It’s not enough to put words to page, you need the mentorship to help you sculpt it.

It’s not enough to write a thing, you need eyes and ears to experience it.

And then you sit down and get to work at making that thing better.

Because if you’re patient, if you’re tenacious, if you keep at it and keep at it and keep at it… that thing of yours just might come to life.

A painter might get an exhibition, a cellist might get a concert, and a playwright might get a production…

…Which is when all the other villagers truly roll up their sleeves; all believing in the magic of your imagination.  This is when they commit to helping deliver this egg of yours to the masses (be it twelve noble ticket holders or hordes of Broadway die-hards)

And you sit in awe and wonder of this living, breathing, writhing beast of theater taking shape before you – a beautiful exquisite beast…

Yes, it takes a friggin’ village.

And this is why I’m so excited to be a part of the LAFPI movement.

Yes..  Movement.

A word with implied resistance to stagnancy.   It infers, no in fact, demands change…

The LAFPI is an opportunity for revelation of thought, practice, and life…

But it will take the whole village…  can you hear the shirtsleeves rolling?

~Tiffany~