We first met Kyla Garcia 2014 as a new “Fringe Femme” when she was gearing up for her Hollywood Fringe Festival show, “The Mermaid Who Learned How to Fly.” If you know Kyla you won’t be surprised that we were immediately smitten – her spirit and generosity envelop you – even before we saw her perform. (And she was amazing).
Of course we’ve kept in touch with her over the years, so were excited to check out the show she directed for this year’s Fringe: Samantha Bowling’s “This Was Never Supposed to Be a One Woman Show: A One Woman Show.” This extraordinary performance was such an unexpected gift. And we reached out to Kyla to talk a bit about her own solo journey and connecting with Samantha, as a collaborator.
Every solo show begins as a primal scream into the void.
by Kyla Garcia
At least, that’s how it started for me…
As artists, we so often have to answer to outside voices and opinions of folks who have no idea what the actual reality of being vulnerable onstage in this way truly means.
For years before I wrote my first solo show, I had agents and managers repeatedly tell me ‘Write a one-woman show! Casting directors and industry people need to see your range!’
I’ve never been able to create from that place, that surface place. So, for years I ignored them.
Until I shared a poem, a poem about the most shameful moment in my life, at a solo show workshop. And when the audience leaned in, I could hear a pin drop. And I thought, ‘oh no…this is the thing I have to write about. This is the thing I have to say.’
So, in 2013 I registered for the Hollywood Fringe with a show that was not even fully written yet. I had no ambitions with this show, my only goal was for ONE person in the audience to hear me and perhaps not make the same mistakes I had in life, perhaps not break their own heart and lose love in such a profound way. If I could get through to one person, putting myself in this vulnerable place and sharing my story, again and again, would be worth it.
I wrote my solo show because I had to; because I needed to say something and the person I wanted to say it to wasn’t there to hear it, so I spoke it out into the void for someone else’s heart to catch the message. It was one of the most terrifying and awe-inducing experiences of my life.
The Hollywood Fringe Festival provided the perfect womb; a loving, supportive, and nurturing environment for my idea to develop in. When it premiered in 2014, my show reached that one person and then some. Performing at the Fringe empowered me as a writer and gave me the courage as an artist to share my own stories; not just the words of others I’d been bringing to life for countless years before that.
I also met some of the most AMAZING humans in LA during that process (like Jennie and the badass women of the LAFPI) and I felt so grateful that I was now a part of this community of indie artists – who were also making art because they had to.
After I shared “The Mermaid Who Learned How to Fly,” I retreated.
The show had been received with so much love – awards, extensions, and most importantly, friendships I would cherish forever. But, I felt like a little crab hiding away in a shell as my art took me to other places and new adventures. I never forgot the courage this experience gave me and the love and support I felt from my community showing up for me the way they did during this time, and I kept showing up for them.
Now, almost 9 years later, I return to the Hollywood Fringe in a more powerful way than I could’ve ever imagined: behind the scenes.
In 2023, I made my directorial debut for one of the bravest stories I’ve ever witnessed: “This Was Never Supposed to be a One Woman Show: A One Woman Show,” written and performed by Samantha Bowling – an actor who everyone in this galaxy will know and remember once they see it.
Sam and I met in 2015, shortly after I had finished my last performance of “Mermaid” at United Solo in NYC. We had just become ensemble members at Native Voices at the Autry (Sam and I are both Indigenous, her people are the Cherokee and mine are the Taíno), so a mutual love of theatre and our Indigenous culture connected us.
She was always someone I admired from afar and wanted to get to know better. But, it wasn’t until a Facebook post in 2018, where Sam shared the tragic news of her best friend’s passing that I felt the strong urge to make a more conscious effort to see her. As someone who has navigated my own mental health journey for a while now, I know when people lose a loved one to suicide, there are very high statistics of the grief taking them too. Time and schedules and life had kept us from ever really having the chance to hang out, but I felt a fire light under me at that moment. I wanted Sam to know she wasn’t alone, and I meant it.
We went to a film festival together and talked in her car for hours. Sam jokingly confessed that I had always seemed so happy on the surface and she didn’t know if we’d get along outside of rehearsal. (She didn’t yet know about my own dark sense of humor.) I confessed that my happiness came from knowing my own dark night of the soul, a place I never wanted to go to again. And from that moment on, our friendship began.
Cut to a few years and a global pandemic later; the fear of Covid-19 had us all in lockdown – I was home in LA and Sam was in Boston living in theatre housing for a show she’d been cast in that ended up getting canceled. We talked on the phone weekly, and felt a deep responsibility to each other, especially to check in on the other’s mental health during the isolation of quarantine.
During that time, she had been working on a one-woman show that was originally supposed to be a comedy duo show performed by Sam and her best friend and creative partner Britt. They were writing it together to make fun of their mental illness and de-stigmatize all that comes with it, but when Britt lost her battle with bipolar disorder, Sam was left grieving her best friend and writing a show that was never meant to be performed alone.
Sam workshopped the show on Zoom for some of our Native Voices peers and I remember being BLOWN AWAY. She would run her ideas by me when we would catch up on the phone and I always felt honored to listen to her stories and process. When she came home to LA from Boston, I watched as she interviewed director after director, always thinking she’d found the right person only to realize she hadn’t.
Now, I am a professional director in the VO world… and I have directed some theatre, but I had never been part of a project of this magnitude; a project with this much personal significance. But at some point in early 2021, a tiny voice whispered that it was me, that I was meant to do this beside Sam, to be her champion. I sheepishly shared this with her afterward and rather than laughing in my face – she embraced me with utter JOY as if she too had wanted this all along, but didn’t want to impose if I didn’t have the time.
We rehearsed in our apartments with only our dogs as our audience; and spent hours going over the script continuing to shape and dramaturg what was, in my eyes – already a masterpiece.
Two years later (after Sam had been diligently developing this piece for FIVE years on her own), we brought it to the Hollywood Fringe stage and I was reminded of my own experience with Mermaid.
Sam’s show was received with pure love and support. Audiences were moved to laughter and tears night after night and finally, she was doing what she had dreamt of for so long! She was sharing her story with the world. We originally presented this piece as a one-off outdoor workshop in a friend’s backyard and now Sam is a Jaxx Cultural Arts Envoy Nominee, Best Solo Performance of Fringe 2023 Nominee and Winner of the Encore Producer’s Award. She has come so far from that first Zoom workshop and it has truly been the privilege of a lifetime to be a microcosmic part of her galactic process.
Sam’s mind is brilliant, she is a nonuple threat: phenomenal singer/songwriter, skilled dancer/guitarist, part-historian/scientist, prolific writer/actress, and a hilarious comedienne. Her story is one that every person on this planet could learn from… it’s a story about survival and the daily triumphs we have over our brain. It’s a story about learning to protect and heal yourself and about how we keep going after the unspeakable impacts our lives. I offer every trigger warning to our audiences: mental illness, suicide, sexual assault… and yet, I am able to confidently say this show is still very much a comedy. Only a mind as magical as Sam’s could find humor in all she has lived through. Only a heart as brave as Sam’s could find the courage to step onto that stage night after night and live through it again in the hopes of getting through to one person who may be struggling right now.
No one is you and that is your power. For a solo show to truly move hearts and minds, you must tell the story that only you can tell, the one you may not want to share, but the one that is whispering quietly from the depths of your soul – that now is the time for you to tell it.
“Shame dies when our stories are told in safe spaces.” I saw this quote by Dr. James Rouse and it really stuck with me. It reminded me of my own journey and the journey I’ve been on beside Sam. Shame disappears when we tell our stories; when we do the work to heal from them before sharing them – when we keep healing as we voice them.
Sam’s story heals me every time I witness it. For so long, I was the only one witnessing it, but now it has been born into the world and I want everyone else to experience it too.
You have one last chance to see her shine at her Encore performance. I will be there with bells on, probably in the front row. Will you come with me?
The Encore performance of ““This Was Never Supposed to Be a One-Woman Show: A One-Woman Show“ is Thursday, July 20th at 8pm at The Jaxx Theatre. For tickets and information, visit hollywoodfringe.org/projects/6625