Tag Archives: women directors

The FPI Files: We Have Space – “Desert Stories for Lost Girls” 

by Carolina Pilar Xique

What are you going to do with this piece of history now that you know it?

Do you remember sitting in history class? I do. I’m not certain if all artists feel this way, but I loved history class. There was something about the storytelling, the backtracking of tales and social movements that directly affected how the world operates today that felt almost like a responsibility to know, retell, and learn from as a human moving through on planet. Although I don’t consider myself a history buff by any means, there are those stories that stuck with me—some obscure and random, some retold again and again, sticking to the sides of my brain like Papier-mâché. I can tell you about The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire in the Industrial era and how that event sparked momentous conversations about child labor laws; I can tell you about the Atlantic slave trade in detail, not because of history class, but because I would take my history homework to my sister, who told me all about how Columbus first stopped in the Caribbean islands of Jamaica and Cuba, where my father’s family was from. Because of yearslong lessons about the American Revolution (and the help of the hit Broadway musical, Hamilton), I can explain in detail what led to the American Revolution, how the British forces lost, and the principles on which this country was “founded.”

Who is there to tell the stories of lost history? And when we learn that lost history of a nearly-forgotten peoples, what do we do with it?

This is the question Sylvia Cervantes Blush, director of Desert Stories for Lost Girls, wants the audience to leave with. In this world-premiere play by Lily Rushing, 18-year-old Carrie is thrown into a world of memories and stories of her ancestors as she learns the history of her people, the Genízaro, a tribeless tribe of Native American slaves who deserve to have their stories told.

I got to sit down with the Lily and Sylvia to get a taste of what we can expect to see in Desert Stories for Lost Girls before its debut.

Carolina Pilar Xique for LAFPI: Having the piece produced through Native Voices at the Autry is huge, especially because the company is the only Actor’s Equity theatre company in the country dedicated to developing Native works. What has the experience been like getting to produce this show with a company that’s committed to that mission? And how has their partnership with Latino Theater Company affected that experience?

Lily Rushing: Everything with them [Native Voices] is so Native-centered in an incredible way that, as a native playwright telling a native story, it’s such a relief, you know? You don’t have to educate anyone, you don’t have to explain anything to anyone, or feel like you’re entering weird, emotional territory because everyone in the room is like, “Good, got it. Let’s do the work.” It feels like a step forward.

Director Sylvia Cervantes Blush
Photo by Jean Carlo Yunen Arostegui

Sylvia Cervantes Blush: I’m not Native. Soy Latina. And when they [Native Voices] reached out to me, I did an interview and some of my first questions and concerns were, “Am I the right person to help bring this story to life?” Because I don’t have that lived experience. The most in-tune person can still make some really poor choices or not know how to help the process, so that was at the forefront of my mind. But they were so incredibly inviting and immediately transparent. To know that this collaboration between Native Voices and Latino Theater Company was happening, it felt like a way to open audiences to the work that they are both doing, together and separately. Latino Theater Company are such a mighty engine of a small army of people that get stuff done and I’ve yet to hear a “no”—I’ve just seen solutions. We started rehearsals on the actual set, in the theater. Not only in the space, but with a built set. That’s not your typical experience. It speaks to the level of support Latino Theater Company has for this story and lifting up the work Native Voices is doing. This is the first time in 30+ years that the Native Voices is performing in a full theater space. They’ve made magic at their location [at the Autry Museum’s auditorium], but now, coming out of a pandemic, doing it in a theater and at a space like LATC, it’s really special. When the actors walked into rehearsals, it was like, “Wow. We have space.” And I get to be a part of that. It’s really special.

Lily: I think it’s so beautiful that getting that space and working in there comes from two brown companies helping each other out! That’s the icing on the cake—two brown theatre companies supporting each other and lifting each other up. We love to see it.

Sylvia: And it speaks to the uniqueness of this story—it evolves from the Southwest and our cultures in this story mix. It’s the perfect project for this marriage between these two companies to happen right now.

Carolina: You touched on the process of being in the room with Indigenous artists. What has it been like and what measures are being taken to care for their ancestral trauma while also displaying it on the stage?

Playwright Lily Rushing (Genízaro)
Photo courtesy of Native Voices at the Autry

Lily: Native Voices hires a trauma consultant to make sure we have that extra level of care if we need it which is really important. We had eyes from a lot of Indigenous people but also from Sylvia about where we need to have a little extra caution, a little extra care. That made me feel prepared before going into the process. One thing I love about working with Indigenous actors is the lack of need to educate. Because when you are in the room with artists who don’t have that heritage of being colonized or stolen, they might have questions or not understand something, and you feel like you have to defend it. Native Voices has set up this system of interacting with the storyteller or playwright so that actors can ask their questions, but I don’t have to answer or defend anything. So that takes care of both of our needs. In that way, it allows actors to interact with the emotion of trauma—the expression of it—rather than having to interact with the truth of it. When I got into the room with the actors, I felt like we were all protected.

Syliva: You get to just exist and understand that you are not all trauma—that you carry joy and other parts of you into the room, and that, as we explore the trauma in the play that the characters are exploring, even if there is a similarity, you have the permission to create space and just exist as a character. By being able to have a room of People of Color, and specifically with this play, having Native people telling a story about Native people, it allows us to really explore the complexities that are beyond and within the trauma, and find the joys in these character’s lives. When it’s performed, the audience experiences those complexities and can have a different lens from the ones that we hear on the news. They don’t have to explain anything, we just get to have the conversations about them.

Carolina: Sylvia, you said in a quote that, “The play challenges us to let go of a safe narrative.” Would you like to expand on that?

Sylvia: It’s so funny because when you catch me at different phases in the process, and I’ll have a different response. (* Laughs*) Because I grow with the process of it. I feel like what Lily has done is she’s combined different parts of the human brain on stage. We have memory, the existence of the present time, the existence of a disappearing memory—the grandmother is grappling with these phases of dementia, and at the same time, desperately trying to connect the memories to help her granddaughter understand her own legacy. There are fascinating moments in the play where multiple generations are on stage, or the same character in two different phases in their life are on stage and are conversing with each other. I’ve been leaning into that and challenging myself to not make the choices arbitrary in this illogical world, but there still must be something that allows an outsider without the history and breadth of knowledge that we have to experience and feel moved. That’s the journey we’re on now in the space. I think what Lily has offered us is the dangerous nature of the topic of this play. Things are unsettling and they should feel that way. It’s okay for an audience member to feel a little discombobulated at the end of the experience. We’re taking them on a ride.

Carolina: Lily, this play is almost autobiographical because you had a similar experience to the main character, Carrie. Can you walk us through what that was like for you?

Lily: We always knew that we had Indigenous heritage, but my dad has this joke where he calls us and his family, “mocos,” which in Spanish literally means boogers, but also means “Mexican Or Chicano Or Something.” It’s his way of saying that, in the time he grew up, we weren’t having conversations about identity or heritage that we’re having now. I talked to my cousin Larry; he wrote this beautiful story for us called “Stories from Ojo,” where he wrote his memories. He kept using this word, “Genízaros.” My mom dug up the Census and found that there were multiple documents that read, “Indian,” “White,” or “Genízaros,” that were part of our family history. The same people had different races and different ways of being categorized as the years went on. After they were baptized, this zealous priest somehow convinced whoever to write down that, because of their baptism, these Indian people were no longer Indian and were now white. I was in college when we found the story of Placida, who is a character in the play but also my real-life great-great grandmother—she was a Genízaro, which is a native slave in northern New Mexico—who was 13 or 11 years old when she bore my great-grandfather. She was removed from the settlement and would walk 20 miles every day to see her son in extremely rugged, mountainous territory. In the family legend, it was said that her feet were stained black. We knew immediately why we didn’t have a concrete answer [in terms of heritage]—because that is the goal of forcefully separating tribes, the goal of colonization. When you try to find the people in your community, you can’t find them; they’ve taken away all the answers from you. Something the play deals with is why the women in this family needed to know that history. They need it not only to keep them safe in a literal sense—when you know your history, you can be prepared for it—but also, women have a need to know our mothers, grandmothers, and family. For me, I needed that connection for myself. I feel like it made me understand so much more about where the legacies of confusion, shame, and Catholic guilt all stemmed from. I feel Placida’s story and carry her with me all the time. Her incredible resilience is the lesson I take with me everywhere.

The playwright’s family in 1950s New Mexico

Carolina: That’s amazing! That sounds like an enormous undertaking, both physically and emotionally, but I’m so happy you found them. The tagline of this play reads, “Do you believe your ancestors walk with you?” I wanted to pose the same question to you both.

Sylvia: That belief is something I’ve adopted in the last few years. My friend had a conversation with me one time. We were at the park, talking, and she was talking about how, sometimes, to convince herself to walk out that door, she’s adopted this way of closing her eyes and imagining that with each step she takes, her ancestors are walking with her. I’ve taken that to heart. I think about the people I know in my lifetime who have passed on—my sister, Tina, who passed away seven years ago. I carry her with me all the time. She’s always part of me and I have her as someone of strength that I can come back to, even if I’m not feeling strong in that moment, because I know that she’s the makeup of my grandmother—my mom’s mom, who also had a strong presence—and then my great-grandmother. Even my husband’s mom, who passed away a year or two after my sister did. It’s the carrying of all those generations with me when I walk into a room that allows me to lean on the strengths of who they were and use that to shape myself. I came from that stock of strong women, even the ones I didn’t get to meet. I feel a connection to them with this piece.

Lily: That reminds me of what we talked about in that first week of rehearsals, about spinning tops, that time isn’t a line or this flat thing. When we go about living our day, that’s one top spinning on the table. And those stories that live in us are another top spinning, too. All these events that my ancestors went through, like Placida, or even things that I’m going through, it helps me to think of them all sort of happening at the same time, on this same plane of existence. I feel like my relationship with my ancestors is active. When I live my day with courage, when I choose to thrive, I’m feeding them, just as their choices and sacrifices feed me. There are things being talked about now—ancestral healing, inner healing. I think the first step to do all of that is to look and open yourself up to looking at those stories, even if they’re really hard, and then you can start the process of walking with your ancestors. But first you have to look at them and see them for who they really are.

Characters in“Desert Stories for Lost Girls” were inspired by the playwright’s family
Her grandparents, pictured above in Ojo Caliente, New Mexico

Carolina: What message or feeling do you hope audiences leave with after seeing the show?

Sylvia: I hope that this play can break open for someone the things that they think they know about the Southwest, and the inception of when the continent was being explored and then commandeered. I hope that this play will break open that curiosity and ask, “What are you going to do with that piece of history now that you know it? Are you going to put it in a book and put it on the shelf to collect dust? Or are you going to actively find a way to share that story?” That’s the space where we can heal—when you can name the history and acknowledge that it happened. It happened many moons ago, but our country was built on it. How do we fix the systems in place that continue to inflict violence on Black and brown bodies? I hope more than anything that people can recognize the responsibility that comes with witnessing this story unfold.

Lily: I hope Californians learn about Genízaros—learn about who we were and are—because we are a tribeless tribe. We have found and made a tribe out of that horrible history. I hope they learn something new about the country’s history that they never knew before that inspires them to start their own journey of learning and unlearning, to challenge their own narrative about labor, ownership, land, and belonging. And I hope people leave the theater and go straight to calling their grandmother. (*Laughs*) Something any grandchild can do is acknowledge that it was a hard world out there for our ancestors, and was only made harder by these constant, oppressive systems. All we can do is continue telling these stories and thank each other.

Desert Stories for Lost Girls” opens on Friday, Sept. 30 at the Los Angeles Theater Center and runs through October 16. For tickets and information, visit latinotheaterco.org.

Know a female or FPI-friendly theater, company or artist? Contact us at lafpi.updates@gmail.com & check out The FPI Files for more stories.

Want to hear from more women artists? Make a Tax-Deductible Donation to LAFPI!

Donate Now!
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: “Poor Clare” Finds a Home at Echo Theater

by Carolina Xique

You’re driving to Los Angeles on the 101 North Freeway. For most tourists and incoming residents, this drive is the dream: seeing the famous buildings of the LA skyline, zipping under the 10 Freeway overpass, and seeing the light opening up to the concrete jungle of Downtown. With its often-sunny afternoons and the undeniable scent of affluence (or is it the smog?), an updated Carrie Bradshaw could happily look forward to a very West Coast version of Sex and the City.

 Except, when you exit in Arcadia, or drive down Glendale Boulevard, or pass through Echo Park, the same disturbing scene of tent cities overwhelms sidewalks and underpasses. In the safe confines of your car, you can’t help but notice how the homelessness crisis has become synonymous with the city itself. And it feels like there’s nothing any policeman or city official is doing to stop it. So you ask yourself, What can I do?

This is the same question Clare of Assisi asks herself in Echo Theater Company’s production of Poor Clare. We see her journey from being a well-known socialite, to asking a man named Francis about how she can change her ways to be of service to the poor. LAFPI sat down with director Alana Dietze (Dry Land and The Wolves at the Echo), and playwright Chiara Atik (Bump, Women and HBO’s “Girls”) to talk about the inspiration for Poor Clare and how it relates to living in Los Angeles, today.

LAFPI: What did you think when you read Poor Clare and what inspired you to direct it, Alana?

Alana Dietze

Alana Dietze: I thought it was extraordinarily funny; that was my very first impression of it. It made me cry, laughing. I was also profoundly moved by the ending, which I don’t want to say too much about. Echo always has a post-reading conversation about material, so as we were talking amongst ourselves, I found myself getting very passionate about it. So that was my first clue that maybe I wanted to direct it.

It’s an allegory for homelessness and wealth inequality in modern day using the framework of the lives of Clare of Assisi and Francis of Assisi and I thought it was such a smart way of looking at this huge problem that we have all over the world – but especially in Los Angeles – that keeps growing and feels so out of control. I thought this play profoundly captured a lot of the feelings that I’ve had about it: the anxieties, fears, shame, feeling like I want to help more, but not being able to help. I thought that was a really valuable thing to put onstage.

LAFPI: Why Los Angeles? Why now? Being that it’s set in Italy in medieval times, the story couldn’t be further away from LA, present day.

Chiara Atik: That’s funny. I was about to say that when I wrote the first draft and started sending it out, I included two pictures to set tone, and one is of, um…

Chiara Atik

Alana: Skid Row.

Chiara: Yeah. One is of Skid Row in Los Angeles, and the other is a Renaissance portrait. I live in New York and was living there at the time [of writing the piece], but I had been spending a lot of time out here and homelessness made a very big impression on me. More so than it does in New York because homelessness in New York is ingrained in the fabric of the city; it doesn’t feel like something new, it feels like something that’s always been there. You just go about your commute and you have to put on blinders, to a certain extent, to not have your heart break at every single moment of every day.

But I’ve come to LA periodically for years and I sort of started to notice it in a way that I hadn’t. I started reading up about this problem that seems to be growing bigger and bigger. It made an impression on me: to be on the freeway and to see every overpass and underpass be covered with tents. It’s that juxtaposition of being hermetically sealed in your car while driving past all of these tent cities. So I think, in that sense, LA’s current situation of how people are grappling with it gave me an inspiration in the play. Also, you get the sense that it’s a growing problem that the characters of the play are dealing with.

LAFPI: And that’s very LA.

Alana: Yes!

Chiara: Another thing that I think is interesting in terms of New York versus LA: in New York, because you’re always walking around or on the subway, the different populations and economic levels actually have to deal with each other and interact. You’re sitting on the subway and people come up to you and you have to make the decision,  “Okay, am I going to give a dollar or pretend not to see this person”; you can’t quite escape it. But in LA, because of the car culture, there’s an extra distance. It’s something that you see and clock, but don’t have to contend with person-to-person.

Alana: Also,  there’s the way that the city seems to be dealing with the problem. I mean, “dealing with the problem,” in quotes, because it doesn’t really seem like they are. I’m not a political expert, I don’t know everything about this issue, but I lived in Echo Park for a really long time, and that was an area specifically where, as the homelessness crisis grew, huge new tent cities would pop up. I would turn a corner and there would be a whole slew of tents that weren’t there the week before. And then a week later, they’d all be gone. It felt to me like the cops were coming through and just moving people along which does nothing to ultimately solve the problem or help anyone. I guess they think they’re helping the residents? But even then, people are just going to come back. There’s nowhere for anyone to go.

LAFPI: Moving people along as a solution –  it’s that class difference, right? They’re placing importance on people who are paying to stay there, instead of those who don’t live anywhere, and telling them to take their problems somewhere else.

Alana:  And the problem is, where would they go?

Jordan Hull, Kari Lee Cartwright and Martica De Cardenas – Photo by Cooper Bates

LAFPI:  Following up on that, Chiara, how did you come up with the concept for Poor Clare?

Chiara: I always knew the story of St. Clare. I found myself in recent years having so many conversations with people where we’d sort of bemoan the state of the world: “Isn’t horrible about the refugee crisis, isn’t it horrible about homelessness,” and this or that. But then I would go home, turn on the TV, and forget about these things. And the ability to worry and empathize but then go home and turn that off and forget about it is such a privilege. I was thinking about the fact that I feel bad about this stuff, but I’m not, like, quitting my job and quitting my life to go out and help.

The story of St. Clare, the real girl, who really did completely change her entire life, is such a radical story. It’s certainly not something that I’m capable of – that most people aren’t capable of – but I was interested in exploring the idea of somebody who really goes so far. And I’m not suggesting that as a solution or saying it’s what we should all be doing. I think that’s why Clare is a saint and most people aren’t. But it’s that journey of someone becoming so radicalized to do something, to take action in whatever way they can… I really underestimated how many people didn’t know of her.

Alana: I didn’t know who she was when I read the play. I knew that there was a St. Francis, but I didn’t really know anything about him.

LAFPI: So with this play, what do you hope that audiences learn about St. Clare of Assisi?

Chiara: That she existed. I think her story is cool and relatable. And what we know about her historically is interesting. She was 18, super rich, had a great life, and gave all of that up to take vows of poverty to try to do good in the world. I think that’s a crazy impressive story. That’s like a Kardashian doing that or something. And this is 800 years ago. A girl, definitely braver than I am right now, did that. I hope people will be interested in her story, her conviction, her action at such a young age. She was just a teenager. It’s like if Khloe was, like, “Alright, I’m giving all of this up!”

Jordan Hull and Ann Noble – Photo by Cooper Bates

LAFPI: I still feel like if Khloe did that, for the most part, people wouldn’t initially believe her. Compared to men, I think someone like a Kardashian might be treated differently.

Chiara: I think it’s hard for women, especially young women, to be taken seriously when they decide to do something intensely. If you watch the play, Francis raises his eyebrows, but there’s less at stake for him to go find a religious order. But for her – for a girl to do what he’s doing – the stakes are a lot higher.

LAFPI: Are there any other ways differences in sex and gender function specifically in the play? I noticed in the cast that there are 2 men and the rest are women.

Alana: That was something else that I really love about the play. I wouldn’t say that it’s primarily about gender, but like Chiara said, there are different stakes for Clare than Francis as she goes on this journey, and there are really interesting moments where Francis lets her know that things will be different for her. And those moments help drive her conviction to commit to her beliefs. She has to be more convicted than he is, because it’s harder for her to do what she does.

LAFPI: How much of the play is fact? How much is fiction?

Alana: This comes back to the earlier question of why Los Angeles. The language is all modern day, and it feels like the language of Angelenos. That’s part of what attracted me to it, because I thought, “Oh, these people talk like me.” So in that respect, it’s totally fictional. I don’t know how much really is fact?

Chiara: Definitely little bits from St. Francis’s life trajectory. We knew that Clare and St. Francis knew each other and she really was inspired by him to do this thing. But we, of course, have no idea what their conversations were like or the nature of their relationship, so all of that is fiction.

Jordan Hull and Michael Sturgis – Photo by Cooper Bates

LAFPI: What questions would you like audiences to be asking by the end of this play? Are there questions women should be asking?

Alana: It feels to me like it’s about highlighting and focusing in on this push-and-pull, this question about what do we do to help? Can we help? Is there such a thing as help? What do you do when you become aware of your own privilege? I feel this juxtaposition of a desire to be moral, to be good, to help other people, to do something worthwhile and meaningful… in contrast with the fact that what Clare does may or may not help anyone. But it’s the thing she must do. To me that’s what’s most interesting and relatable about the play. I hope that the play will help people think about that question for themselves and maybe make a choice.

Chiara: In terms of women specifically, Clare, throughout the play, drastically alters her appearance and goes from caring very much about how she looks to forsaking that along with her wealth and status. That’s something I admire in her character. I almost can’t imagine caring about something so much that I would be, like, “Fuck what I look like.”

LAFPI: And now we live in this world where everything is appearance-based, whether online or in-person. Doing what Clare did is like someone completely going off the radar. Which you don’t see a lot of anymore.

Chiara: Yeah, and I’m not saying that it’s necessary to do in the modern world. But on the other hand, you see her judged for what she looks like throughout the play. It’s interesting to see what it means to her to, like you said, go off the radar: “I’m not giving you this anymore. I’m not presenting like this anymore.”

LAFPI: Which leaves us with the question of whether anyone has a solution for the seemingly-uncontrollable homelessness crisis right now.

Chiara: The play definitely doesn’t.

LAFPI: But it’s good to have the wheels turning!

This interview was conducted in March, 2020 before Poor Clare’s original opening, with dates modified in this version.
“Poor Clare” at Echo Theater Company runs through November 29th. Ticket and information at echotheatercompany.com.
Know a female or FPI-friendly theater, company or artist? Contact us at lafpi.updates@gmail.com & check out The FPI Files for more stories.

Want to hear from more women artists? Make a Tax-Deductible Donation to LAFPI!

Donate now!

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: Towne Street Theatre Explores Life As We Know It… Now

By Desireé York

Feeling alone, either literally as a result of this quarantine, or in dealing with the unforeseen challenges of life during a pandemic?  Towne Street Theatre, LA’s premiere African-American Theatre Company, will meet you wherever you are with their presentation of Corona and Other Maladies.  Experience the virtual performances of six short plays on Saturday, August 15th at 7PM and Sunday, August 16th at 4PM coming to you LIVE from the sets/homes of over a dozen entertainers attempting to navigate this bizarre time just like you!  This event includes 4 plays by women+ writers, all directed by Nancy Cheryll Davis, Towne Street Theatre’s Artistic Director.  I had the privilege of connecting with Nancy to learn more about this event.

LAFPI: What inspired this event and what makes it unique from other Zoom readings?

Nancy Cheryll Davis

Nancy Cheryll Davis: We had just started our 10 minute Play Festival rehearsals when the pandemic hit, and it became clear that we were not going to be able to return to live theatre anytime soon. After doing our first Zoom event with our Spoken Word program, Sum Poetry, I realized how much people wanted to stay connected. I also realized how important it was for all of us, Company and Audience, to do so.  

In May I came up with the title, Corona & Other Maladies, and asked our writers if they had, or could come up with, some short plays about living through this moment.  We were originally going to do it in June, but after the deaths of Ahmad Aubrey, George Floyd and Breanna Taylor, I decided to postpone our programming and take a much needed pause to reflect on what was happening in our communities across the country.

We really worked on having some movement and semblance of the reality of each piece through the actors’ own home backgrounds.  We used a few virtual ones and rehearsed everything just like we would in real time. 

“Zoombies” by Madeline Puccioni, with Justin Gurbersky, Daphne Jones and Colette Rosario

LAFPI: What did you find the most fun and the most challenging not only directing all six plays, but in this specific format?

Nancy: Towne Street is fortunate to have incredibly talented writers and actors. Each script was so good! The beauty of having a company is that I know the members so well and what they really shine in. It was fun to cast each piece knowing they would all bring their special skills to their roles.  Our production team is also incredibly talented and has fearlessly delved into this unknown world with me. We have all commented on the fact that although we are not doing live theatre, we are still able to practice our craft be it writing, acting, designing or directing, with this platform. 

Directing these plays was like playing in a sandbox for me. The biggest challenge of course is the bandwidth each actor has or doesn’t have, on any given day, and the lack of control over that issue.

LAFPI: How do you feel that these plays “meet” audiences wherever they are and what would you like them to take away from the experience?

“Coming To You Live” by Laurie Allen, with Andrew Cudzilo and Samantha Clay

Nancy: The plays explore so many of the experiences that people are having now. They are beautifully written and acted and despite the title, rather lighthearted. 

I always think finding some joy and laughter in the midst of chaos is critical to the human spirit. I hope for the time they spend with us on either Saturday or Sunday, that they are able to relax for a little bit and just have a good time.  We are having an “After Party” following the performances, and I look forward to sharing some conversation and drinks with all!

For more information and to tune into the live Zoom event visit: tstcorona.eventbrite.com.  To learn more about the work of Town Street Theatre, visit www.townestreetla.org or follow on Facebook and Instagram.

Know a female or FPI-friendly theater, company or artist? Contact us at lafpi.updates@gmail.com & check out The FPI Files for more stories. 

Want to hear from more women artists? Make a Tax-Deductible Donation to LAFPI!

Donate now!
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: “Ageless” in a #BraveNewWorld @ Santa Monica Rep

by Carolina Xique

“We’re living in unprecedented times…”

How many times have you heard that in the last two months?

Living in the thick of Los Angeles County, one can’t deny the effects that COVID-19 has had on the LA community, especially within the arts. Before the pandemic, theaters were getting ready to launch their 2020-2021 seasons, clean their venues for incoming Hollywood Fringe productions, and hold long-awaited annual galas, festivals, and workshops. Now? Companies are relying on Zoom and other streaming platforms to continue providing artistic content to the community, including readings, webinars, and even full-blown theatrical productions – some prerecorded, some live!

Because these times are unprecedented, because we’ve never had to bring theater into a virtual space, we’re left with the questions: What is theater now? Is it changing? And what does our future look like now that this has happened?

We (virtually) sat down with Tanya White, artistic director of Santa Monica Repertory Theater, to talk about SMRT’s upcoming 2nd Annual Playreading Festival; the eerie relevance of the Festival’s predetermined theme, #BraveNewWorld; and the reading of AGELESS by Bridgette Dutta Portman, directed by SMRT co-founder and resident director Sarah Gurfield. The Festival, held on May 16th via StreamYard, includes a Special Kick-off Conversation on May 14th, a playwriting workshop, and pre- and post-show discussions concerning Portman’s intriguing piece.

LAFPI: Tell us a little bit about Santa Monica Rep’s mission and why it’s important to you.

Tanya White: Our mission is using theater to tell stories and also engage our community in the process, both in the creation of work and also in the discussion with the artists & production. Whatever it is that we are doing, we always have a post-show discussion.

Tanya White

We’ll be actually talking about why that mission is important at our Kick-Off Conversation next Thursday, preceding our Festival . The panel is going to discuss what theater is and why it matters. I believe that theater is kind of an essential piece of a society that allows people to step out of their own experience and look at something from somebody else’s point of view.

Of course, you have the playwright’s point of view and the director’s perspective of the piece. But what you’re also seeing is walking, talking people who are experiencing things that you can mostly identify with, even if you are different than the character. We all experience the same kinds of feelings. But it’s communal in the fact that we’re all witnessing the same thing. It’s how it’s expressed, I think, that makes us unique.

LAFPI: This is Santa Monica Rep’s 2nd Annual Playreading Festival, spotlighting women artists. What has it been like transitioning from providing the event in-person to providing it online?

Tanya: Before this, we really didn’t focus on recording a live theater event. If we did, usually it’s for archival purposes, not actually to rebroadcast or stream.  People are at different levels of comfortability with technology. So that that’s been challenging.

And one of the things we were challenged with before this pandemic was getting the word out about us. We’re a really small group of people, so our capacity is limited. Our audience has largely been people who have followed us for the 10 years we’ve been in existence, which has been great. But the exciting thing is that now we have more reach. The idea that somebody can be anywhere in the world and see this is really exciting. We can say, “You don’t have to be in Santa Monica to come see us!” So having suddenly having a virtual space is great for us.

LAFPI: The theme of #BraveNewWorld was decided well-before the global pandemic. What kind of new questions do you think have arisen that are going to be a larger part of these conversations because of what’s going on right now?

Tanya:  Right now, we’re having a shared experience. We’re in the same space and time together. I mean, this is not a recording. To engage at this level, we have to be present. And so maybe the question is, “what is space” versus “what is theater?” But that’s what we’re jumping off from. So what is theater? And does this count as theater?

A question that comes up for sure is “how can we help each other?” Not just on an individual level, but also how we talk about theaters. How do we support each other? How do wesupport arts and each other? I feel there’s gonna be a lot more collaboration, a lot more people working together, because there used to be the feeling that everybody’s competing for the same audience, and the idea that that’s a finite thing. Like, if somebody comes to see a play in Santa Monica Rep, they’re not going to go see something at LA Women’s Shakespeare. So I think it is the question of how open and loving people are to helping each other? How can we cross promote? How do we how do we help each other get what we need to keep doing this work?

Maybe people will start also looking again at who our audience is. Because people do target, right? We look at who we’re reaching out to. Or if we’re selling tickets, we get in front of people who can afford to buy them. But the other day a friend of mine was saying how they’ve been to every museum in the world because they can now, virtually. I mean, access becomes a whole a whole new thing.  So now somebody who doesn’t [ordinarily] go see a play has access to theater in this way. We have a Festival ticket where you can participate in a playwriting workshop and a panel with two playwrights, or you can just register for the reading, which is free. You know, we say a suggested donation, but it’s not a ticket price.

LAFPI: What in the programming for the Festival are you most excited for audiences to take part in?

Tanya: The reading of AGELESS. I think we’re using the technology really well (God willing, it works!). I’m really excited about the about how the play translates into a virtual experience, and how we’re using the technology to tell the story. So I’m excited for everybody to log in and be part of that.

And it’s a good play. The subject matter is great and interesting, but it’s a good story. Well-told.

LAFPI: That rolls in right into my next question – Why this play right now?

Tanya: Well, we put the call out to women playwrights to send us stories of dystopia or utopia. We got several plays that we were going to do and, originally, we were set for June. Then we had to pare down and look at taking it online. We decided to do it sooner, not knowing when the stay-at-home order would be lifted, and we picked AGELESS because it had more roles for company members. We always serve our company members first.

And the theme of aging seems to be not just relevant, but especially of interest to women, as well. We’re highlighting plays written and directed by women. And again, it’s a good play. And really that’s always what it comes down to. Also, will it get some discussion going? We like to pick things that we know people want to talk about.

LAFPI: Who should attend this Festival and why?

Tanya: Anybody who’s really interested in examining what our future could look like. Such a great time to do that, when we’re all in a place where we’re reflecting. We have to. We’re alone. And we’re all aging. So I think anybody could come in and find themselves in this play because it follows characters as they age and characters as they don’t physically age, which I think is kind of an LA thing, too. The whole idea of not aging is a big deal.

So, yeah, I really think anybody anybody could enjoy the play. Maybe not young children, but I would say anyone from maybe fifteen or sixteen. But particularly, young women should come,  because the play examines so many women. So who should see it? Everybody. Right? Except toddlers. No toddlers! Don’t bring your toddlers to your Zoom.

Santa Monica Repertory Theater’s 2nd Annual Playreading Festival will start with a Special Kick-Off Conversation on May 14th, and officially begin May 16th at 11am. The Festival features a virtual staged reading of AGELESS by Bridgette Dutta Portman, directed by Sarah Gurfield.  With a $25 Festival Pass, audiences can participate in the Kick-Off and all events. The reading alone is free with a suggested donation. For more information, visit santamonicarep.org/bravenewworld.html

Know a female or FPI-friendly theater, company or artist? Contact us at lafpi.updates@gmail.com & check out The FPI Files for more stories. 

Want to hear from more women artists? Make a Tax-Deductible Donation to LAFPI!

Donate now!

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: “Mama Metal” is Ready to Make Some Noise

by Desireé York

Sigrid Gilmer

Sigrid Gilmer’s “Mama Metal” packs an emotional punch.  A testimonial to a life turned upside down, Sigrid takes us on a raw, unapologetic journey full of vulnerable heartbreak, stabbing humor and cold metal fury.   “Mama Metal,” presented by IAMA Theatre Company, runs May 23-June 23 at Atwater Village Theatre.  LAFPI was fortunate enough to speak with this hard rock writer before opening night.

LAFPI:  How did your partnership with IAMA ignite and can you share  this play’s development process?

Sigrid: I wrote “Mama Metal” in 2017, when I was a member of the Humanitas’ PlayLA Writer’s Group. About six of us would meet monthly for a year to write on a new play.  At the end of the process we were paired with a local theatre and I had the good fortune to team up with IAMA Theatre Company. Then I began my magnificent collaboration with director Deena Selenow and she staged a beautiful reading at Open Space Cafe on Fairfax. 

LAFPI:  Why did you choose to tell this intimately personal story now? 

Sigrid: Five years ago my step-father died suddenly and my mom was diagnosed with Lewy-Body Dementia/Parkinson’s. I went from being a struggling – albeit carefree – artist, to being my mother’s primary caregiver.  “Mama Metal” was written four years into that journey. The process of watching my mother decline, called anticipatory grief – thank you therapy – was disorienting. My emotions were constantly shifting – sadness, rage, confusion, guilt. Memories were assaultive and relentless. Everything was surreal, overwhelming and terribly funny. What makes you laugh will make you cry, right? That openness, when we laugh or cry feels like the same emotional neighborhood and I was living in that raw, emotionally naked terrane. I wrote the play to navigate, sort and understand that landscape.

LAFPI:  Why heavy metal?  How were you introduced to it and how does/did this style of music speak to you? 

Sigrid: I like metal for its naked aggression, rhythm and rage: that’s what I feel like on the inside. I think my attraction to metal started when I was about 7 or 8.  I had a babysitter who constantly played rock – Journey, ELO, Styx, the Eagles, The Stones, The Beatles, Queen, Kiss, etc.  From there it was just a slippery slope to Metallica, Sabbath, and Maiden.  I like any music that rages against the machine.  Metal also has a strong theatrical element; it is over the top, deeply orchestral and complicated.  Different melodies and rhythms running throughout them all coalescing into this magnificent tapestry of sound.

LAFPI:  What advice do you have for your fellow women playwrights, advocating for their voices to be heard onstage?

Sigrid: Write plays. Then write more. Send your work everywhere. Say yes to gigs. Get your plays up, by any means necessary. Self-produce. Find your artistic tribe. Write and write and write. Develop your own voice and view of the world until it screams. Until it is undeniable. Nurture your desires and idiosyncrasies. Create your own space. Write. Write. Write.

Cast members Chris Gardner, Jamie Wollrab, Lee Sherman, Courtney Sauls, Graham Sibley, Rodney To. Photo by Jeff Lorch

For tickets and more info about “Mama Metal,” visit iamatheatre.com

Know a female or FPI-friendly theater, company or artist? Contact us at lafpi.updates@gmail.com & check out The FPI Files for more stories.

Want to hear from more women artists? Make a Tax-Deductible Donation to LAFPI!

Donate now!

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: The Very Merry Journey of “Ashes to Ashes”

The road to creating a new play is often fraught with challenges, seemingly insurmountable obstacles, and, well, lots of drama – the offstage kind that none of us wants, but theater seems to attract.

So it’s very nice to chat with Debbie Bolsky and Katherine James, a playwright and director team who seem to have found just the right mix of work and play while mounting Debbie’s Ashes to Ashes with The Athena Cats, premiering at The Odyssey Theatre December 9-January 14.

LA FPI: Ashes to Ashes is, in itself, a wild ride of a play – we follow the characters as they travel from country to country. What was the starting point for this play?

Debbie Bolsky: I’ve always said that when I die, I want to be cremated and have my ashes sprinkled in specific spots, so I came up with the idea of writing a romantic comedy about two people who can’t stand each other having to sprinkle their best friends’ ashes around the world.

Katherine James: My favorite thing about the path the characters take is that it is not a logical sequence on a map. In other words, if a travel agent mapped this as your journey you would assume that they were off of their meds. Rather, each country that is visited traces the journey of the heart – the steps in a relationship that test true love.

Debbie Bolsky and Katherine James at rehearsal with actors Kevin Young and Lena Bouton

Debbie: Ashes to Ashes is a wild ride, fun and zany, but it’s also touching at times. The characters are an ex-couple, and in the play they are forced into situations where they face their biggest fears and have to depend upon the person they can’t stand the most to get them through.  But they are also on the journey of discovering things they didn’t realize about each other, things they didn’t know about their deceased friends and finally things they didn’t admit about themselves.

LA FPI: And tell us a bit about where the two of you have traveled, in terms of this collaboration.

Katherine: I had the great pleasure of starting this journey with Debbie in an amazing workshop [Theatricum Botanicum Seedlings’ Dramaturgy Workshop, run by LA FPI co-founder Jennie Webb]. So as we workshopped it and rehearsed it we worked very hard on the emotional journey of the play, how it built, and how each step was a step of growth and intensity.

Debbie: Our collaborative process was phenomenal.  Katherine came up with the idea of workshopping it for a week this past summer with actors (two of whom are still in the play) and that’s when the development started going at hyper speed.  The actors took ownership of the characters. Collaborating with Katherine and the actors – Lena Bouton, Kevin Young and Michael Uribes – has helped me write a richer play and probably become a better writer.

Lena Bouton, Michael Uribes, Kevin Young – Photo by Ed Krieger

Katherine: Collaboration is the name of the game for me. Also, to work with a collaborator like Debbie who is so trusting of this process is rare and welcome.

Debbie:  I love working with Katherine!  But for me, the biggest and most pleasant surprise is how well we all worked together – we are a team.

LA FPI: And of course we love how femme-centric this all is. The Athena Cats is a collective of Southern California female playwrights and directors; for this play you’ve got a woman playwright, director, producers…

Debbie: And a lot of the crew are female as well.  A great thing about this experience is that there is very little ego involved.  All of us working on this have the same goal, to bring Ashes to Ashes to the stage in the best way possible.

Katherine: I think that one of the big differences between men and women in management and leadership is that men tend to work on tasks from a top-down pyramid. Women create things in a circle with everyone in the circle having his/her say and all contributions are honored. It is amazing what a circle of big creative brains can accomplish when nurtured and encouraged to give their best to a project.

Debbie: The Athena Cats has been around for about two years now and this is our second production; in 2016 we produced Laurel Wetzork’s Blueprint for Paradise. [Laurel and Debbie are co-founders of The Athena Cats, and active LA FPI Instigators!] We also had a New Works Festival earlier in the year showcasing works written and directed by women. There are a lot of talented female writers and directors out there who are not getting an equal shot at getting their works seen.  The whole idea of the Athena Cats is to get more works written and /or directed by women onto Southern California stages.

Katherine: Without The Athena Cats, I never would have been given the opportunity to direct this amazing romp. I don’t think that without LA FPI that I would have ever met Laurel and Debbie. Thank  you, LA FPI, for being a cornerstone of my creative life!

 LA FPI: Thank you for being part of an incredible creative team, putting women to work! To continue the love fest, let’s include the audience: When people come to see Ashes to Ashes, what do you want to share with them… and have them take away?

Debbie: Even though Ashes to Ashes starts out with a death, it is really about love, friendship and peace.  We live in incredibly stressful times right now and I think laughter is sorely needed.

Katherine: The holiday season is a perfect time to laugh, sigh, fall in love all over again and go for a great ride. And in this dark time in our country’s history, where better to do this than in the theater?

Michael Uribes, Lena Bouton. Kevin Young – Photo by Ed Krieger

The Athena Cats’ Ashes to Ashes by Debbie Bolsky, directed by Katherine James, opens as a visiting production at The Odyssey Theatre on December 9, 2017 and runs through January 14, 2018. For tickets and information visit www.AshesToAshesThePlay.com or call 323.960-.4443.

 

Know a female or FPI-friendly theater, company or artist? Contact us at lafpi.updates@gmail.com & check out The FPI Files for more stories.

Want to hear from more women artists? Make a Tax-Deductible Donation to LA FPI!

Donate now!

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

The FPI Files: LA Broads – Doing More Than Just Talking

LAFPI is pleased to be partnering with our friends at Broads’ Word Ensemble for LA Broads, a reading festival of short plays by (go figure!) LA female playwrights, directed by women. We love Broads’ Word – a group of femmes who truly walk the walk – and are looking forward to hearing stories of “perseverance, recovery, and unconventional podcasts.” We also (of course!) wanted to find out more about the writers. So we handed it over to the Broads’ Word ladies to come up with questions, and put them to the six ladies with works in the festival: Nayna Agrawa (Slut), Tiffany Cascio (Popcast & About Your Mother),  Allie Costa (How I Knew Her), Aja Houston (Remembrance), Uma Incrocci (Roadside Alice) and Starina Johnson (Border Towns & All Kinds).

Broads Word Ensemble: What’s your experience been like, being an playwright (who happens to be a woman) in Los Angeles?

Nayna Agrawal

Nayna Agrawal: Humbling! Particularly as a chubby Asian gal with a mustache.

Tiffany Cascio: I have found the theatre scene in Los Angeles to be very welcoming. I moved here four years ago and was lucky to meet the wonderful and supportive playwrights and actors of LAFPI & PlayGround LA right away. This year I participated in Hollywood Fringe which opened my world up to even more fabulous theatre makers, including the Broads’ Word Ensemble team, so I definitely feel like I’m part of a community now. I’m incredibly inspired by them and feel very encouraged to keep writing!

Allie Costa: I’ve been a performer and a storyteller since day one. As a kid, if I wasn’t acting, singing, or dancing, I was writing, reading, or directing. The same can be said today. There’s nothing I love more than being on set or on stage. I moved to Los Angeles to pursue my career because there are multiple opportunities here for multi-hyphenates. I am grateful for those who have paved the way, and I try to pay it forward and hire other women every chance I get.

Aja Houston: I am blessed to be a part of a great cohort of talented, supportive grad students at USC. I love having the safe space to create fearlessly. Since being in Los Angeles, for a year now, I have had a play commissioned for a rehearsed reading at Playwright’s Arena and a short play, Floating on Credit,  published by The Dionysian Literary Magazine. I am still very aware that as a Black female playwright there is a lot of work to do and I am more than up to the task!

Uma Incrocci

Uma Incrocci: Although I’m an LA native, I’m new to playwriting in LA as my writing has only been produced in New York so far. I’m excited to be kicking off my Los Angeles experience with this reading!

Starina Johnson: I’ve somehow managed to surround myself with very thoughtful, supportive, and positive people in the world of Los Angeles playwrights. I think I’ve been very lucky in that regard.

Broads’ Word: In 6 words or less, what are your plays about?

Nayna: Post-abortion, practicing English to Wheel of Fortune

Tiffany: Love, loss and podcasting. And family secrets spilled.

Allie Costa

Allie: Strangers cross paths in a graveyard.

Aja: A couple’s rituals of grief.

Uma: First woman to drive across America

Starina: For Border Towns – Living. And for All Kinds – Being true to yourself.

 Broads’ Word: How did this topic come up for you and evolve into this play?

Nayna: Personal experience (sigh).

Tiffany: Popcast was my response to people labeling the dumped “crazy,” just because they can’t get over their exes.  And  family secrets and “choosing” your family is something I write about quite a bit; About Your Mother was me having fun with that.

Allie: The idea for this script came to me while I was watching the television show Rectify. There was a scene in which the main character visited a graveyard, and I thought, What if someone had been at the grave when he arrived? And the rest is history.

Aja Houston

Aja:  I wrote this play four years ago because I needed healing from the trauma of the killings of so many black boys like Trayvon Martin. I wanted to assert their humanity, their souls, their right to love, their right to live, and to be more than a body to be discarded like refuse.

Uma: At the Smithsonian, I noticed this small plaque about Alice Huyler Ramsey – the first woman to drive across the USA. There was this amazing photo of her and the other women who made the trip in 1909, in an open car on a dusty road in their dresses and flowered hats. I quickly became fascinated with her and her story.

Starina: Border Towns was a concept I’d had for awhile, but couldn’t quite figure out how to make it work. It was a short play notice that made me realize the best way to put the idea on the page.

Starina Johnson

The story the doctor tells at the end is 100% true; I actually said that to one of the resident doctor’s when my mother was dying and made him cry. I still feel really bad about that. I don’t think anyone likes making people cry, but I like to think that conversation with me gave him a different perspective on the concept of treating patients.

All Kinds actually started out as a short film that I thought would have more impact as a play. I like to think of terrible situations then try to figure out what could possibly make that situation worse. For me this is the worst case scenario for these characters.

Broads’ Word: Do you have any upcoming productions or news to share? And if LA theatermakers want to reach out about your plays, where would they find more information about you?

Nayna: I just had a reading (on October 8th) at the Bootleg Theater of Catcall, a full length play. For more, visit  Naynaagrawal.com.

Tiffany Cascio

Tiffany: No new productions yet, but hopefully soon. And please do reach out! I’m @tiffanycascio on Twitter and my website is tiffanycascio.com.

Allie: My plays Unfinished Business and Safe Distance were both selected for The Fear Festival, running October 20th through October 22nd at Roebuck Theater in New York City.  For more info, visit www.alliecosta.com, connect @allieacts  or find my plays here: newplayexchange.org/users/995/allie-costa

Aja: I have a developmental production at The Inkwell Theatre of my play Journey to Alice, in February 2018. My website is www.ajahouston.net.

Uma: I organize a monthly reading series of new plays and screenplays at For Actors By Actors, an acting school in Hollywood. We are always looking for new scripts to read and would love to hear from LA writers. My screenplay Kris & Noelle (a holiday movie about how Santa and Mrs. Claus first met) will be performed on December 10th. Visit umaincrocci.com.

Starina: My short play, Static, is featured in NEO Ensemble Theatre’s production Tales from the Scrypt, running October 6th-22nd at The Underground Theatre. Tickets and more information are available here: www.neoensembletheatre.org  And for more information about me, go to www.StarinaJohnson.com or www.ChickPeaProductions.com

Broads’ Word Ensemble’s Executive Director Tara Donovan produces LA Broads; the plays are directed by Elkin Antoniou, Lesley Asistio, June Carryl, Gloria Iseli, Rachel Manheimer & Rasika Mathur.  Performances are Saturday, October 14th at 8:00 pm and Sunday, October 15th at 2:00 pm at the Flight Theater at The Complex Stages in Hollywood. For tix and info visit www.BroadsWordEnsemble.com.

Know a female or FPI-friendly theater, company or artist? Contact us at lafpi.updates@gmail.com & check out The FPI Files for more stories.

Want to hear from more women artists? Make a Tax-Deductible Donation to LAFPI!

Donate now!

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