[repost] Women Authoring Change – The Zig Zag Festival

The following post is something I wrote for Hedgebrook, to promote my summer show at Annex Theatre, The Zig Zag Festival. I’m taking the opportunity to repost it here, for posterity.

“Women authoring change.” 

Women are the driving force behind a lot of what I do, during my day job and in theatre. I see women promoting the ideas, laying the groundwork for what’s to come, and making the decisions, especially at my artistic home, Annex Theatre.

Annex Theatre has become a place for women to author change in Seattle. For nearly 30 years, Annex has continued to produce bold new work while maintaining deep traditions of operating in a unique anarcho-democratic structure. In recent years, Annex has received Gregory Awards in the Theatre of the Year (2013) and Best New Play (Undo and Black Like Us) categories. When we were Theatre of the Year, our Artistic Director Pamala Mijatov spoke on our behalf. And the following year, we had the opportunity to watch Holly Arsenault (recipient for Undo) pass the torch to Rachel Atkins (recipient for Black Like Us), both women.

When we selected Holly Arsenault and Rachel Atkins’s plays, we were not focused on the fact that they were women. We were focused on how the stories moved us and how well they were told, which made us excited to produce their work. This was the same reason behind choosing The Zig Zag Festival, the project I’ve curated, performing August 4-19 at Annex. I was in the room when we selected Zig Zag. I had the opportunity to hear everyone’s opinions of and excitement for how I planned to bring together young and female artists to create entirely new plays on the Annex stage. We didn’t know who the artists would be, we didn’t know what the plays were. The Annex Company’s support was for creating as many opportunities for women as possible, which has become a strong reason behind why we choose any project.

Zig Zag brings together Courtney Meaker, Dayo Anderson, Seayoung Yim, L. Nicol Cabe, Amy Escobar, and myself as we write and direct six new plays. We have been gathering since February to discuss what is lacking onstage, our experiences directing and writing and seeing new work, processes that have worked for us or failed us the in the past, and our hopes and dreams for this project and beyond. We have bonded in ways I never imagined, and each and every woman involved is being challenged to push herself artistically. 

 “Annex has this badass reputation in Seattle for focusing on getting women on the stage, behind the stage, writing for the stage and directing on the stage.” – Dayo Anderson

Annex upholds this reputation because of the involvement of Courtney, Dayo, Seayoung, Nicol, and Amy; because Holly and Rachel came to us when they proposed their work to Annex; because women are authoring change in Seattle theatre. 

We have to be choose our projects with care, because we work side-by-side with our artists for 6 to 18 months to bring a proposal to full production. So we have to choose folks who are likable, show up, and will do the work.Year after year, women are showing up. They are showing up at our theatre to comprise the majority of our staff, they show up to auditions, and are hungry to act on our stages. Women propose projects they’ve written, that they want to direct, to design, to stage manage, to tech. Women are doing the work. And these women–on both sides of the selection process and rehearsal tables–are changing the stages of Seattle theatre.
I hope you will have the opportunity to experience a small piece of this change, on stage at Annex Theatre during The Zig Zag Festival. There are only 6 chances to do so, but I also hope to grow and expand this process in the future, using what I’ve learned this year. I’m excited to see what this project does to change the lives of the connected artists and the audiences who come to engage.

that time 2015 was already well underway… uh, now.

We are already deep into this year. Projects have been completed and new projects are already replacing them, my work schedule has been turned topsy-turvy and back right again, I’ve lost relationships and started new ones, and I still have yet to create a consistent routine because I don’t feel quite settled. It’s irrelevant if I’m settled or not though, because the year’s going to keep churning away whether I’m ready or not.

Last month, I had the opportunity to see The Lower Depths by Maxim Gorky, produced by Melissa Fenwick’s Theatre Machine. Theatre Machine is a newer company, and The Lower Depths was Fenwick’s second production. Although the production has been closed for a month now, the show itself and the discussions I had after seeing the play stuck with me for days and days. As I struggled to find a response, I was repeatedly struck with how much this production has made me think about theatre in new and complicated ways. I appreciate this opportunity to examine my own work and the work of others in Seattle theatre.

Despite my frustrations with the play, Melissa as adaptor, director, and producer was willing to speak with me about her choices with the production. Since seeing The Lower Depths, I’ve also seen other plays at semi-professional and fringe theatres and houses around town, as well as direct two short pieces for a new works play festival and start laying the ground work for a project I’m producing/directing/writing this summer. It’s left me thinking constantly about what choices other artists have made, and the choices I must make as director due to restrictions in terms of production, time, and actor energy and capability. We should always be proud of what we create, but at a certain point a process hits a wall and you have to stop and develop where you are. There is no longer room to keep adding or altering the piece as it is. Take a risk, make a decision, move on. It’s harsh and it’s scary, but without decision there are no accomplishments.

I asked Melissa three long questions about the overall tone of The Lower Depths, the role of women, and the use of modern music in the adaptation of a play written in 1902. The most important response I received from Melissa was what she intended to portray with the play:

 The cycle of poverty and the apathy towards those stuck inside of it; as well as an insensitivity to violence and tragedy.

The Lower Depths takes place in a halfway house with several characters constantly moving in and out, with a loose plot around the tragedy of a love triangle between the landlord’s wife, her sister, and a thief. Although that was the most interesting part to follow in the play—and my modern sensibilities latched onto the plot only to be disappointed by the play’s lack of structure around it—it is ultimately about catching a glimpse into these characters’ lives who we do not pay attention to much at all in our everyday lives because we dismiss them as people who live on the street and are not making much out of their existence.

But that’s what we want out of our modern theatre! I am constantly hearing from my fellow theatre artists that they want to see new plays about underrepresented characters and situations, because our art should reflect our lives and experiences. That seems contradictory: a play was significant to me because it portrayed elements we are insensitive to while the common desire I hear is to make art about what we see every day, but it is actually one and the same. What we are insensitive to is what we experience everyday, so it doesn’t always occur to everyone to use it in our art. Is everyone around you a rich, white, and male? Then why would that character’s story dominate our art? We are surrounded by people of different shapes, sizes, backgrounds, colors, etc. so we can include what we see every day on our stage. Art can open our eyes, enhancing our perspective using detailed storytelling, portraying universal themes, and giving voice to characters who are not heard as often. 

The Lower Depths is an attempt at art reflecting life, using that reflection to imbue a dismissed part of life with importance. Although the production itself did not stir me emotionally, it certainly reminded me of why I love theatre. Melissa transformed the Satori space at INScape by creating an environment of large sheets to make the maze of a halfway house (reminding me of a large co-op house I visited 8 years ago in Madison, WI); she brought together a large cast of actors and musicians to bring their talents and insights to a project she’d been working on for years (an admirable feat); and she highlighted an older Russian playwright to show that his themes are still relevant over 100 years later.

I am inspired. It inspires me to look at art with an open heart despite criticisms I might have. I want to be intensely passionate aboutthe projects I create from start to finish, being a strong leader and engaging in trusting relationships exchanging ideas. I want to make sure that new stories are being heard, and that there are new opportunities to learn and share with audiences. Even though this year is already moving at a breakneck pace, I am excited for the many projects I have in the works for 2015, so stay tuned.

Thoughts on Seattle’s FOUR STORY HOUSE

10868099_10203733733045392_688664899724158240_n From the Facebook event: FOUR STORY HOUSE is a site-specific event exploding the reality of human privacy & toying with discovery of the unknown in a familiar space.

I had the opportunity and honor to be one of the few people in the city of Seattle to experience this show last Friday night, on a rainy night in early January. The premise was simple but oh, so dense. The director and creator, Antoinette Bianco, was curious about how we create when we cut ourselves off from the rest of the world, specifically in our own home from our roommates. She commissioned three other playwrights–Spike Friedman, John Leith, and Maddie Downes–to create short plays featuring 1-3 actors to be set in the intimate spaces of the producers’ actual home in the Central District.

It was a beautiful way to start my year in theatre! Each piece was intimate and special and isolating. The logistics of the performances were handled by guides, who hand-selected small groups of audience members waiting in the living room to see each play in a different order and with different showgoing partners. I took little notice of who was in each group, because I spent my precious moments taking in the design of each room–nearly every scene was filled with deliberate junk–then being mesmerized by the actors. They all had to share a story that they were heavily mired in that the audience had to perceive through the fog of mystery.

The playwrights worked with the prompt to “consider the private spaces we inhabit within the walls of a house & the space of our minds,” crafting four distinct stories tied together thematically with ghosts, memories, and eyes toward the past or future but not the present. Characters overlapped times and sometimes didn’t interact with each other, until they intimately collided. It seemed like every audience member I heard speak afterward had a different idea of what happened in every play, and I certainly hold my own ideas about the significance of certain lines and props and such.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the production. The space was warm and welcoming and intimate, much like a good ol’ fashioned house party with some theatre instead of a house band. I struggled with not being able to have my own personal space to process before and in between and after each play. I knew a lot of people who came to see the show, so I was meeting social expectations of having small talk with friends while simultaneously trying to process each play in my mind. Of course, the advantage to being tossed back into the holding area with all sorts of people who were either also in the middle of their own experience or hadn’t even started yet was that everyone had an opportunity to share new information with each other.

For such an ambitious production, I would say it was immensely successful.