Tag Archives: writing

Enjoying the Howl

Short plays… who loves short plays?  I’ve been working with them a lot lately.  I just wrapped up a female playwrights festival in Prescott (next year’s submission process will open up to LAFPI writers – so stay in touch with us on Facebook), I’m in the middle of developing another short play fest for December, and I’m writing a short play each month this summer for HowlRound.com’s Here and Now Project.

The funny thing is that I used to hate short plays – I didn’t feel like there was ever enough time in a 10 minute play to get the story told.  Maybe it’s because I was trying to say too much, or maybe it’s because I was still a new writer and I didn’t really understand the value of brevity.  Whatever the cause, my aversion to the form has melted away and I am now a major fan… because it’s seriously challenging to write a whole play in 10 minutes!  Much of the time I wind up thinking “What comes next” at the close of ten pages rather than satisfaction and catharsis.  However, I’m finding that when I do strike it right, the sense of accomplishment is delicious.

And when I watched this year’s female playwright’s fest in Prescott – From the Mouths of Babes – I felt such happiness as the completion of the whole… made up of each individual playwright’s part – that I could scarce believe I used to loathe the 10 minute play format.

But maybe what’s most rewarding for me is the producibility of 10 minute plays.  They’re easy to rehearse, easy to stage, and audiences get a kick out of seeing new writers in small doses… almost like a dinner party with lots of appetizers.  I now totally understand why theater companies put out so many calls for short plays – they get to know new writers without committing to an expensive full-length production – something that can be frustrating as a playwright, but makes sense from a company standpoint.

Also, I’ve grown really tired of wrestling with the eternal “WHEN is  SOMEONE going to PRODUCE my plays!?” ennui .  The thing about producing on my own is that I feel like I’m actually doing something other than waiting.  And hopefully it’s satisfying to the other playwrights getting produced as well.

In any case, it’s an interesting way to start the week… reflecting on the magic of short plays and the satisfaction of seeing them on their feet.  Hopefully the  Here and Now Project plays will see some stage life soon too – either way, it’s been great to work on so many 10-minute plays this summer… and it’s left me feeling really good about finishing up the full-length that’s been haunting me for the past several months – it’s a sense of accomplishment that I was sorely missing.

Because it’s really important to remind yourself that you don’t just have to sit around and wait…

Did you hear that?

Stop.  Waiting.  Now.


Heading West with Paula Cizmar

The new Tactical Reads venture, matching female playwrights with female directors, debuts Wednesday night, 6/27 (meet-up for networking/ideas at 7 p.m., reading at 8 p.m.). Award-winning playwright Paula Cizmar will launch the series, with her  play Strawberry, directed by Sabina Ptasznik, creator of this innovative reading series.

I’ve written about Paula Cizmar previously; there’s more about her life and extensive career on her website. Cizmar wrote a Guest Post for the LA FPI blog a few weeks ago about her May 2012 visit to Turkey, as one of  the authors of the internationally-acclaimed play Seven. I corresponded with Paula recently about her newest show.

Q: So you are the first playwright in the new Tactical Reads series with Strawberry. Congratulations! What’s this new play about?

Cizmar: Strawberry is about a young botanist, Anabel, who arrives in a remote section of the California growing fields to search for a plant that is believed to be extinct—at least that’s what she says.  But ultimately the play is about something else entirely—solving the mystery of her true identity, trying to connect with a birth mother she didn’t know she had, trying to connect with the land as a living entity, rather than as a scientific specimen.  And of course, it’s about love.

Q: What inspired you to write it?

Cizmar: Wind.  Ideas of extinction.  Agriculture.  Death.  Romantic notions. California. Typical! My inspirations come from a variety of places that float around and finally somehow land and form an idea.  This play followed the same odd path.  I was up near Soledad a while back, and got out of the car in a rural area—and the wind was unbelievable.  You could barely stand up in it. Unforgiving.  And then when I drive from Los Angeles to San Luis Obispo County, where I live, it is impossible not to pass field after field of tomatoes, broccoli, and most of all, strawberries.  And these fields are often full of migrant workers, covered up in layers and layers of clothing to protect them from the sun, or the wind, or the pesticides, or the prickly plants.   I just read a statistic that strawberries have now passed marijuana as the number one money-maker crop in California.  It used to be marijuana, grapes, almonds—and now strawberries are at the top.   So the strawberry fields are ubiquitous, and you’d have to be driving with your eyes closed to not notice the pickers.  They’re bent over.  So I can’t help thinking about the people who harvest our food and the conditions they work under.  And then, I get nervous about global warming, about the future of the earth, and I know that in our own lifetime certain plant and animal species have disappeared from the planet.  Right now, biologists are trying to save the Gila trout, a small fish species that is being threatened by the wildfires in New Mexico.  I heard a researcher who was part of the rescue operation on NPR and he got choked up about this stuff—and so do I.  So listening to the news and crying in the car—that’s an inspiration.  And the West.  And heading West.  And then there’s the strawberry itself, red, heart-shaped.

Q: I love that you’re using the strawberry symbolically, too.  So when did you write it?

Cizmar: I started it last year [2011] and we did a cold reading of a very early—and quite different—draft of it at USC; Luis Alfaro put the reading together and after it was over he kept saying, ‘Somehow I keep going back to the notion of how carnal it is, how carnal the need of each character is, carnal, carnal, carnal.’ He repeated this word to me often enough that it finally made an impression! And I took a look at what he was talking about and realized that I had only touched on carnality—and should let it play out.  So that sparked a new approach to the play and took me on the road to the current version—which is entirely new, and this is a brand new draft of the new version.  So—it’s really never been seen by the public before and the reading will be the first testing ground.

Q: Do you think readings are valuable to a play’s development?

Cizmar: Just submitting a play for a reading sparks a certain amount of development—as the writer, you want the script to be coherent enough, enticing enough, you want it to show potential.  And then, the luxury of talking to the director about the play, just exchanging thoughts, comments, questions, sparks more development, and then the rehearsal process itself even more.  We playwrights work so often in isolation and there seem to be fewer readings to go around these days.   But ultimately, there’s only so much a playwright can do alone.  It could be a rationalization, it could be laziness—and I try not to fall into this trap and really try hard to get my plays to be as theatrical as possible on my own—but theatre is a collaborative medium, plays are to be performed, and playwrights need to be able to commune with other artists at a certain point in the writing.  A reading removes a play from where it’s lodged inside of the writer’s head and shoves it out into the world.  If you’re faithful and true, you listen to what’s going on in the rehearsal and reading process—and with any luck, the play grows a bit more.

Q: What do you think of the new Tactical Reads series, created by Sabina Ptasznik, and its mission to pair female directors with female playwrights?

Cizmar: Sabina not only has created a program where playwrights get to be in dialogue about a script with actors and a director in the rehearsal process, as you would in most readings, but also she has taken this program one step further: The pairing of female directors and playwrights. Simple, but brilliant. This is a very far-sighted approach; it’s about putting creative teams together, developing long-term relationships that can support imagination and process. We know that the big institutional theatres support specific playwrights—mostly male—through commissions and ongoing commitments to develop and produce their work. And of course with support, a writer’s work gets better—and is more likely to be produced.  So Tactical Reads is the no-budget grassroots version of that—creating artistic partnerships, facilitating communication, and ultimately, searching for opportunities.

Join us! Strawberry by Paula Cizmar, directed by Sabina Ptasznik, with Chuma Gault, Mariel Martinez, Meredith Wheeler. 8 p.m. on Wednesday, June 27, 2012, Atwater Crossing, 3245 Casitas Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90039. Admission: Free.

AND there’s an LA FPI Meet-up before the reading, 7 p.m. We’ll meet at the ATX Kitchen near the wine bar.  Visit atwatercrossingkitchen.com for directions and to check out their cool menu. 

Fatima Quest

I’m writing a new piece now, some stories that have been swirling around my head for a while – the Virgin Mary and Fatima sightings and women’s bodies and family stories and growing up Catholic.

Many of these stories I have told before. Most over a beer or two getting to know a new friend. They are the stories told in the night that you can’t imagine putting in print for fear family members would sue. Honestly, they still might.

And it seems that the story to haunt me forever is the one that caused a great shift in my life: Fatima.

Here’s the gist: two young girls and one young boy (ages 7-9) see the Virgin Mary one day while out tending their family’s flock. She tells them of future visitations and offers three secrets which include:

  • Russia must proclaim their devotion to the Mother or She will fail.
  • (shady interpretation) Pope John Paul II’s Assassination attempt
  • The two youngest (Francisco and Jacinta) will die soon while Lucia will live on to spread the glory of the Virgin Mary’s word.

The two youngest did die from a pretty common flu, and Lucia, later Sister Lucia, or Looney Lucia, as I will refer to her, lived to be a ripe old advisor to the church and I believe was appointed for sainthood after she died at 92. The two youngest were the only canonized youth who were not martyrs.

The show is called Fatima Quest, and this is the blog I write before leaping into the next ten pages I promised to finish by Monday.

Wish me luck. I’ll tweet about it @cindymariej & also started a Pinterest Inspiration Board.

If you have any stories or experience with the Fatima story or the Virgin Mary, let me know!

The best play I’ve seen in a while

I really like seeing new work. It helps me think about my own work. What works, what doesn’t. Why.

I see a lot of mediocre plays that get productions for all the wrong reasons. One that shall remain nameless was a concept play. Clever title, great design, fun. No script to speak of. No heart. Was it an enjoyable evening of theatre? Yes. Was it a good play? Not on your life, despite what the WashPo said.

A week or so ago, I saw a US premiere – a show with a title I can never remember unless I look it up. “How to Disappear Completely and Never Be Found” by the British writer Fin Kennedy. The play won the Arts Council John Whiting Award for New Theater Writing – the first time in a million years the prize was given for an unproduced play. And I can see why.

It’s not a perfect play. The end of Act One was one of those – is that the end of the play? The end of the act? What just happened? That could be a directing problem. And Act Two couldn’t quite measure up to Act One. But the play got inside my head and has been haunting me since I left the theatre.

It’s a little too close to home: what we all do under stress. Internal monologues about all the angry things we’re thinking and in our fantasies would do to all those damned cherry blossom tourists who jay walk at will (my fantasy, not his). It talks about what the pervasive cellphone culture says about us as a nation. And the scene where the lead character is spinning out of control while pitching to clients reminds me too well of those horrible meet and greets with non-profit folks who hold the purse strings to grants and opportunities.

In other words, it was a play that speaks truth – and a very contemporary truth.

Sometimes I feel as though our work as playwrights is old news, something that happened a while ago as the world passed us by. “How to Disappear” challenges me as a writer to write about what’s troubling me or amusing me or stimulating me RIGHT NOW.

The Promise…

I have a dream that one day I will get to the promised land…  I will be sitting before a window, looking out into the day/night/day; I will be writing…and the sun sets and rises will not deter me from my place before my computer.  There will be no alarm clock going off in the middle of my thoughts to alert me to the time.  I will not have to shower, dress and make my way down the 405 to work; I will sit contemplating the next words.  And, I will be happy…

But right now, at this precise moment, I have to pull out my ‘pick me up poem’ and carry on till then…

I Will Go In The Strength Of The Lord

i will go in the strength of the Lord / i will make mention of Him to the people and praise Him always for His tenderness toward me / for the kindness with which He shows me / because there are times… /when within myself i cannot find the strength / …to take the journey / i am overwhelmed by even the thought of it… / and stand paralyzed /behind a wall of “i can’ts” / shifting my weight from foot to foot / pretending “i’m gonna try” / but…it is too much for me…at times / and i cannot wade the waters…they are too deep / and i have to seek rest in Him / so i can scatter my apprehensions to the four winds / it is then / in times like these… / that i find solace in the hollow of His hand / and lay myself down to rest awhile / then we take the journey together / and windsurf above the clouds / up where eagles dare / up where the sun lives / and mountaintops look like small hills and stormy weather is beneath us / and we glide…glide…glide / into the promised promised land…

“I Will Go in the Strength of the Lord” by Robin Byrd

Writing Adrift

A year and a half ago I was sitting on my parents’ couch, awash with grief and abject helplessness as the news showed footage of the BP oil spill ad nauseum, interrupted only by depressing unemployment figures, tragic economic shoulder shrugs, and tales of unrest abroad.  I was unemployed, newly returned to my home-town (per a very sympathetic welcome from my parents) with less than $50 in my bank account, and no idea what I was going to do with myself now landed.

I spent a lot of time that summer sobbing at the horror of it all, and stuffing my face with my parents’ hard-earned cupboard snacks.

I felt so adrift in all the news, I couldn’t find anyplace to drop anchor – and I felt powerless to do anything about any of it.

Then a cricket kept me up one night, tossing and turning and seeing red with insomnia, and I got up in the morning, sat down to the keys, and wrote a play about it all – even the cricket.

I felt better.  I had found a place where I could be heard – even if the play was still just on the page, it was my words, my world… it was mine and I no longer felt like I was bubbling with inarticulate horror… I was doing something about it.

That play got a reading, was a finalist for the O’Neills and is now in rewrites… whether it will see the stage, I can’t predict, but it makes me feel good to know it’s here – ready to be realized – and no longer eating away at my stomach.

I find myself going through a similar news-induced-panic now.

Every time I turn on the news or visit my home-page, there’s some new development here or there or in my back-yard, that has me nearly paralyzed with unease…  Where are we headed?  The deep polarity dividing the nation seems to be getting worse day by day, and news of our internal strife is riddled with continually depressing unemployment numbers and even more upset abroad.

Is it time for another play?

I read somewhere that Artistic Directors are lamenting the lack of “current” plays – Well, a lot of the artists most affected by current events are the ones they haven’t met yet.  A lot of the artists who are feeling the pinch are trying to decide between peanut butter or jelly because buying both is too expensive.  A lot of the creative minds who have been crock-potting the state of things are just now starting to send that work out into the world to be received/or/rejected and it’s going to take a bit of a hunt on those hungry Artistic Director’s fronts to find them amidst the piles.

Because although I love and adore many of our contemporary playwrights, many of those who are currently getting produced are watching the National Implosion from more comfortable seats than those of the not-yet-discovered.

Oh, of course all of us artists are in danger – popular thought on the national relevancy of  arts is too hot-button of an issue for any of us to be able to relax – but there’s a big experiential difference between those of us who are able to turn off the television and write about it at our stable desks, and those of us who are cramming our creative moments in front of the computer between job searches and coupon raids.

Which is why I’m looking forward to hearing from some of my fellows writing adrift… I’m looking forward to seeing their work on the national stage.

I’m looking forward to the day when more of us can finally drop anchor.

~Tiffany Antone


24 hour switch

I have a confession… I haven’t written anything much lately.  I could (accurately) claim the busy-bee-nature of my calendar

has left me less than energized, but there’s a bit more to it than that; I just haven’t felt particularly inspired to actually make the writerly effort.

And I don’t mean “inspired” in the sense that I’m waiting for some hot-commodity-idea either.

(From my blog on Little Black Dress INK a week or two ago)

Writer’s Block… They should call it “Emotionally Disadvantaged Creative’s Block”.

There are countless essays and processes devoted to understanding and conquering the writer’s enemy, mostly involving baby steps of free-writing, calendering oneself, forcing it out like a stubborn turd, etc.  But I always thought these things were a crock – the reason we stop writing is because we’re harboring some deep fear or resentment – not because we’ve run out of ideas – and no amount of straining ourselves over the proverbial toilet is going to make them come out if the tunnel is plugged by baggage!

(I know, that’s a disgusting analogy)

But then, I haven’t written anything new in months (besides blog posts) so I had to ask myself, might I be stricken with a fog of literary stasis?  I mean, I’ve been really busy; I’ve been teaching and producing and directing and dating…

I have been doing any number of things besides writing…

(this is when my inner guru/muse/whatever it is within that is plugged more keenly into the source of things, lets me know that I am indeed hiding in the fog…)


(and then I have to ask myself why….)

Double Sigh

But I think the answer is this:  I’m not writing because I’m afraid that whatever I’m working on still won’t be good enough to produce, and quite frankly I’m a little more than tired of all the back-patting and head-nodding and open readings leading to naught…

My demon it seems (the first in my history with the pen) is fear, chased by an ugly little thing called anger.

And it’s time I process it all, chew it up, and spit it out, and stop giving myself excuses.  I’ve collected seeds of anxiety and doubt and now they’ve spouted into a full blown emotional forest that needs cutting down.

Perhaps I can turn all that lumber into paper?

Then this past weekend I was invited to participate in a 24-hour play fest.  I’d never done one before, so I jumped in with a lot of willful trepidation and more than a little attitude (pointless as it is, attitude always makes us feel a little safer in the un-trod, doesn’t it?)

I was terrified – How was this going to work?  Was I going to be able to write a whole play (minimal page length be damned- would it have a beginning, middle and end?  Would it make sense?) in one evening?  Would my brain and The Muse be able to stand each other after so long apart and under the pressure of such short turnaround?

Turns out, the answer – just like my answer to the challenge – was “Yes!”

We gathered at 9 p.m., started writing at 11, and I had a 9 pager ready to hand over at 3:30 a.m.  I was exhausted, and I was seeing a little double, but by God, I crafted a funny enough piece to forgive it it’s whimsy, and the actors and directors who memorized and staged it in the morning/afternoon/evening did a great job and seemed to find it quirky and enjoyable enough that I could feel I had indeed done well.

And now I can’t get my little Muse to stop poking me, pushing me, demanding me to get back at the keys.

It seems that the “cure” was to just stop worrying about my attitude and the sheer overwhelming nature of my theatrical hopes, and just write already!

Now – if I can just get my calendar to listen, I’d be a much happier, even-busier-(but writing, damnit)-bee!



Every year, I plan my summers for last touches on new plays so they will be available for the September 15 deadlines.  Spring is spent going through rejection letters and reassessing where to send plays for the next go-around and getting a start or finish on any piece I think I can have ready for that next go-around.  This year was the first time I was contemplating poetry manuscripts into the mix.  This year, like every year, I asked for grace to make it through the madness.  Things were going well until I was rear-ended twice between April and July, the injuries have made it hard to sleep (muscle spasms in the middle of the night suck) and the time it has taken to go to the doctors is very disruptive – I have never been to the doctor this much in my life.  The lack of sleep has been cutting into my writing time but up until August, I still felt I could dig down and make my deadline goals.  Then the unthinkable happened, I lost my 35 year old niece on August 16. 

My niece, Tracie, had a kidney transplant in early summer; the kidney was working when she passed away from other complications.  She left behind a daughter, TéAnna, who turned 9 yesterday, October 4.  Working through the pain of lower body and upper body spasms,  has made it challenging to sit long enough to hit a flow in my writing.  Losing Tracie has forced me to have to consciously talk myself into putting together all my packets because I really did not feel like doing the drill.  Not now.  But if I didn’t, it would be a year till the next window and Tracie was always so excited about my writing…

What do you do when your world collapses on you and you have a deadline or two to meet?

Focusing on tasks can be a great distraction and writing is always in itself, a peace-giver, a life-saver, a place of solace.

My niece was in pain every day, yet she took care of her daughter and was a very good mother.  While cleaning out her apartment, we found that Tracie wrote down her prayers.  What we learned was that Tracie was always thankful for each day…she always had a Praise for God in her heart.  She loved music and all her baby sister’s missing CDs were in her possession.  She was beautiful and we miss her…  I am so glad that I end my calls with “I love you”…

Have you ever written down your prayers?

I write my dreams and visions down but my prayers, I say them and go on.  They’re something I speak into the atmosphere. 

In September, I went back home for a wedding.  It was bittersweet.  Death has a way of pulling things together or tearing them apart.  There is no neutrality.  We, my family and I, choose to pull together.

I know that I will write about Tracie in some way.  I can feel the story forming.  I’ve had a few bad days but mostly, I haven’t really grieved yet.  I am hoping to do it in the writing…

Do you find you use your writing to work through issues? 

Everyone grieves differently; there is no set way to take that journey…  I find that writing is the best way for me to find, maintain, and be my self in the middle of a raging storm…  It’s also my saving grace…  It’s times like these where I am reassured that writing is something I must do – I survive and thrive by writing…it is the greatest gift of grace….

The National Kidney Foundation / Mayo Clinic

Writing on the Verge…

Over the years, I have found myself writing on the verge…a lot – on the verge of losing the last bit of sanity/strength/peace/hope/ I have…  Yet still…I write, even with the waves of life beating rapidly and endlessly in the fore/back/foreground, with me straining to catch my breath and trying to step out of the way of the onslaught of water but never making it to a dry patch of earth in time.  Drenched/soaked to the bone in water that covers me, my pen and paper, swollen with the wet liquid so wet the ink bleeds the letters into each other, bleeds word into word into word into word but I write anyway because nothing short of death can stop me from putting pen to page, my thoughts ebbing into and through my hands ever so precisely ever so like and unlike the water rushing over me… so… unstoppable… so unmistakably lucid despite the fog…

Writing… on the verge of finding that one sure vein that leads to my well/spring, that sways to my authentic rhythm playing the song of my authentic self…  Writing to find the whole of the story dancing past my inner ear begging to be told, aching to “be born & handled warmly1  On the verge of living my dream of writing full-time…  It’s hard to know and feel the tide is changing but you still can’t quite see it though you feel it deep inside your self and it’s so real you can’t stop writing, can’t stop kicking and pushing against the stones…can’t stop living… and writing on the verge of whatever comes in on the tide…


1dark phrases” from For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When The Rainbow Is Enuf by Ntozake Shange.

If Nobody Sings Along…

Chrisette Michele, a phenomenal singer/songwriter, has a new album out titled LET FREEDOM REIGN and on the album there is a song called “If Nobody Sang Along.” In this song, she discusses having an audience to appreciate her work and wondering if the absence of that audience would affect her desire to tell her story… She resolves that when everything is said and done, it’s about the possibility of affecting someone’s world simply because she told her story that drives her to sing regardless…

As a playwright, the answer has to be ‘yes’, as well, otherwise, we would hardly get anything done.   What determines art – productions, readings or simply creating it?  How much stuff going wrong stops or trips you up?  For most of us, we write because we must and the obstacles work their way into and through our stories.  We answer those questions again and again as we endure…  We stand and fight for ourselves as we press through those moments of weakness.  Exhaustion wrapped ‘round our shoulders, we sit once more at the computer or pad and pen and write — something, anything, as long as it is story…

Years ago, at a church that I attended in the Midwest, the young ministers were given time on Sundays to preach from 3 – 5 pm (in the basement of the church).  Service attendance at that time of the day was usually slack; it was in the middle of the day when everyone was at home relaxing before returning for the 7 pm evening service or if they did return to the church early, they would be upstairs talking to other church members.  Most of the time the young ministers would cancel their service because no one showed up or if there were less than 5 people. There was one minister, a Minister Tom Carey, however, who would start preaching to an empty room.  He would preach as if the room was full, as if there was no tomorrow.  And, this brother who stuttered sometimes would preach stutter free.  You could hear him from the stairwell; it would draw you right down those stairs and into a seat.  We asked him why he would preach to an empty room and he would say, “God’s here.  I had something to say.” or “The Word is good all the time, even in a room with no people.”  (I paraphrase from memory.)  After a while, his services would be packed; his gift had made room for him even when nobody was singing along… 

I think about Minister Carey when I am up in the wee hours of the morning typing away at a story knowing my gift is making room for me, knowing God’s here and I have something to say, knowing that even in an empty room, my story is relevant and that I will always sing regardless of whether or not anyone sings along…