Heal the Divide: Toy Trains, by Mikki Russ

Blog, Heal The Divide, Plays

Every week we will be sharing new plays by our Heal the Divide playwrights.  This week’s play is Toy Trains, by Mikki Russ, a playwright from Prescott, AZ. 


“Prescott has a thriving retirement community, as well as several nursing home facilities. One of the things I have been privy to is how the family dynamic plays out in the golden years. Some folks get pulled in to the group hug of their nuclear family and that cradles them unto death. Other people seem to be perched just outside of warmth and their loneliness is heartbreaking to observe. I wrote Toy Trains because Mona’s story is one I have seen unfold in a variety of ways while I have lived here. While Sunny Springs is not the name of an actual care home facility, we have many in Prescott, due to our vast retirement community. I don’t know what it is about our culture in particular that our elderly can get so marginalized from their families. True, there are people who show up in our lives and care for us quite intimately, and I think therein lies the hope. If we can all recognize our interdependence, maybe we have room to grow.”

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Heal the Divide: The Pen, by Diana Burbano

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Every week we will be sharing new plays by our Heal the Divide playwrights.  This week’s play is The Pen, by Long Beach playwright Diana Burbano.


This piece was inspired by conversations and news articles that have been circulating in the immigrant community where I teach.

It’s also a little bit of a conversation with Robert Schenkkan’s play “Building the Wall”.

 

 

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Heal the Divide: Fireworks, by Jen Huszcza

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Every week we will be sharing new plays by our Heal the Divide playwrights.  This week’s play is Fireworks, by Los Angeles playwright Jen Huszcza.


Writing Fireworks

A few weeks ago, I became obsessed with Presidential Impeachment (as one does in this day and age). I wanted to know how it worked, what it was, the history of it. I soon learned that Alexander Hamilton wrote the Federalist Paper on Impeachment, and I wondered if I could put Hamilton onstage. He’s currently the star of the biggest mega hit musical of this century, and he’s a founding father. It’s a little intimidating, so naturally I had to do it.

Then, a week later, I saw Samantha Bee interview Senator Elizabeth Warren on youtube. Samantha Bee jokingly talked about sitting on a ledge over the death of democracy and calling Senator Warren. I suddenly saw that ledge. Who would I put on the ledge and who would they call? What if the person they called was not available or not taking calls?

I don’t know where Barack Obama came from (actually, I do, he was born in Hawaii). I’ve noticed a lot of Obama nostalgia on Facebook among my liberal friends, and I think Monica would call him. Please do not take this as a literal or biographical Obama. While he did say that America was already great at the Democratic convention, I do not have his intelligence. His lines are written by a humble playwright and should not be taken as the former president’s actual words.

Besides, I would totally do pints with Alexander Hamilton.

Jen Huszcza
July 2017

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Heal the Divide: Four Poems, by Taijee Bunch

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Every week we will be sharing new plays by our Heal the Divide playwrights.  This week’s play is Four Poems, by Southern Arkansas University student Taijee Bunch, a playwright from Lonoke, AR.


I was inspired to write this play at an ASTEP (Artist Striving To End Poverty) open mic night.  I wanted to re-create that moment. I also wanted to address the concern that we don’t listen to each other enough to understand that we all go through similar problems. We all just need a timeout. A time to listen and focus back in with each other and most importantly heal. Four Poems follows four artists whose names represent their problem/solution of their individual lives: Oppression, Fear, Boundaries, and Healing to bring us back into reality that we can create change together not against one another. I hope you enjoy!

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Heal the Divide: Spotlight on Taijee Bunch

Blog, Heal The Divide, Playwrights

When I was first mulling over who to invite to participate in our first round of Heal the Divide plays, I knew that I needed to create a diverse line-up of playwrights who were coming from not only from different communities, but from different places in their careers as well.  I immediately thought of a playwriting student of mine at Southern Arkansas University who demonstrated wonderful dramatic potential along with incredible curiosity about the human condition.  On top of that, he’s been writing a play a day since studyingSuzan-Lori Parks’ 365 Days/365 Plays collection last Fall.  (Something I’ve only imagined attempting)  When I reached out to Taijee, he jumped at the opportunity to share his perspective with us, and I can’t wait to see what he writes for us over the coming months.

Taijee is from Lonoke, AR – population 4, 245. 

I don’t know about you, but living in a town of 4,245 people is kind of hard for me to imagine.  My husband and I are currently living in Magnolia, AR – population 13,000 – and I’ve had a hard time adjusting to the fact that most of the time it feels like there’s hardly anyone around.  Lonoke is a mere 1/3 of that – WOW!

And even though Taijee is still an undergrad at SAU, he’s already begun making strides towards combining his passion for theatre and love of community.  This summer he participated in the ASTEP program in NYC, an experience that has already impacted his writing since his first play was inspired by work he engaged in while there.

I can’t wait to see the work Taijee shares with us.  As a young Southern playwright, his voice is one we desperately need in the conversation!


Why did you decide to participate in Heal the Divide?

I was very interested in the Heal the Divide project because it was already a huge purpose and goal of mine to do something to help close that gap between the people of this world, and to help us one day see the change we’ve all been working so hard to achieve.

What areas of concern do you find yourself curious about or interested in for this project?

For my community, my concern is that we don’t listen to each other’s concerns. We have a problem of feeling that no one should feel worse than we do. We believe that no one goes through rough times like we do, when really, it’s a reality for everyone. Listening is a necessity for us to create harmony among each other.

Artists making a difference. What do you think we can (or should) do? Are there pitfalls we need to avoid?

I want to answer this question by challenging everyone to smile at someone everyday. Politely force them to realize that you exist, that they exist. Stay curious, not convicted. Always consider another person’s feelings and existence in this world.

What questions as a playwright are you drawn to explore in your work?

I want to explore why there isn’t much inclusion for minorities in the big areas of theater.

Do you have any other additional thoughts/ideas you want to riff on that pertain to this project?  

I have recently become an Artist Striving To End Poverty alum or ASTEP for short. Shout out to the family and my family at Southern Arkansas University Department of Theatre!

Do you have any other additional thoughts/ideas you want to riff on that pertain to this project?  

I hope that my message is clear and touches every reader!

More about Taijee:

My name is Taijee DeJohn Bunch. I was raised in Lonoke, Arkansas where I spent most of my life and my entire schooling period. I am a musical theater major at Southern Arkansas University. Outside of playwriting, I enjoy acting, teaching and performing praise dance, playing my trombone/baritone, and singing. I love re-telling a story – devouring peacefully every part of an amazing story and attempting to re-create it with new meanings and inspirations that I hope to show to my audience. My favorite quote I now live by is, “Stay curious, not convicted!”


You can read more about the Heal the Divide initiative HERE

You can read more about all of our Heal the Divide playwrights HERE.

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Heal the Divide: No One Else’s Problem, by David Hilder

Blog, Heal The Divide, Plays

Every week we will be sharing new plays by our Heal the Divide playwrights.  This week’s play is No One Else’s Problem, by David Hilder, a playwright from NYC, NY. 


I have been fascinated by what has looked like political heel-dragging on the part of Governor Andrew Cuomo regarding the decrepit New York City subway system, which is in need of a massive overhaul. (Despite what many think – including a lot of NYC residents – the MTA’s budget is controlled by the state, not by the city.) There are recent signs that the governor is paying attention to a situation reaching crisis levels for millions of his constituents, but it has felt like a whole lot of playing catch-up. So I wanted to imagine being in his shoes. For those who want extra credit, you can read more about this issue HERE and HERE.  Also, I’d like to say that at the time of this writing – July 2, 2017 – I’m more than aware that this play, more than most, may have a seriously brief shelf life!

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You can read more about the Heal the Divide initiative HERE

You can read more about all of our Heal the Divide playwrights HERE.

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Heal The Divide: The Short End of the Stick, by Mikki Russ

Blog, Heal The Divide, Plays

Every week we will be sharing new plays by our Heal the Divide playwrights.  This week’s play is The Short End of the Stick, by Mikki Russ, a playwright from Prescott, AZ. 


“I elected to write this piece because it afforded me a chance to use a colorful discussion that happened in Prescott, AZ to cast a wider net across a simple question of humanity. I tried to use a kaleidoscope and transition from the very near to the broader effects of our encounters with one another. Sometimes the colors up close do not come in to focus until we take a step back. One of the things I quite enjoyed was the fact that the monkey story is supposedly true of a village in Senegal. I spent a few weeks driving around marveling at how our different experiences in our respective villages can pretty much be distilled into common streams that we all have to drink from.”

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You can read more about the Heal the Divide initiative HERE

You can read more about all of our Heal the Divide playwrights HERE.

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Heal the Divide: Spotlight on Jen Huszcza

Blog, Heal The Divide, Playwrights

My love affair with Jen Huszca’s work is no secret.  She’s been an ONSTAGE playwright with Little Black Dress INK six years in a row, and every time I do anything even remotely theatrical, I ask her to participate.  Sure, we already had one fabulous LA playwright on the project – but with the city itself being so incredibly large, eclectic, and an entertainment hub for our nation (and the world), couldn’t we have a second fabulous LA playwright on board?

And as soon as I wondered that aloud to myself, I knew the answer was “Go for it!” because Jen and Diana are writing from such different parts of LA, different backgrounds, and different experiences… and I know each one will provide a powerful view from their own perspectives that will draw us in and leave us with something worth chewing over.

So lets talk a little more about Jen… she’s a super talented, wildly imaginative writer/artist who has gone on several walking pilgrimages (and written about them), who rides the bus (which means she spends a LOT of time commuting), who spends too much time worrying about affordable housing in one of the most expensive cities in the US, and who brings a unique theatrical perspective to everything she creates.  Jen works in a style of writing that is visceral, pensive, and unapologetically direct.

Yeah, I think it’s appropriate that she’s been offered a seat at this table.

And thank goodness, too.  Because whatever issues Jen decides to tackle, her work will most definitely suck you in (maybe punch you in the proverbial gut) and leave you thinking very deeply about the subject she’s cutting open on the theatrical table before you.


Why did you decide to participate in Heal the Divide?

Tiffany asked me. I wish I had a more intellectual answer, but my main reason for participating is friendship. I also like the positivity of the project and its focus on empathy.

What areas of concern do you find yourself curious about or interested in for this project?

The news cycle changes so quickly these days that I can not predict what I will be interested in a month from now. It is fascinating how reactionary Americans on both sides of the political divide can be. Sometimes words just pop out at me. For example, elitism. Also, I have always been interested in both the wildness and fragility of the natural world.

Artists making a difference. What do you think we can (or should) do? Are there pitfalls we need to avoid?

I think advocacy and how much an artist makes a difference is up to the individual artist.

What questions as a playwright are you drawn to explore in your work?

What does it mean to be a human or other animal living on the earth? If I say anymore, I will blow my hand, and I like to keep my cards close to my chest.

More about Jen:

Jen Huszcza is a playwright currently based in Los Angeles.  Five of Jen’s plays (Rinse, POP, Flowers, This, and Big Belly) were performed in Little Black Dress INK’s first five Women Onstage festivals. Big Belly and This were also read at Theatre N16’s Herstory Festivals in Balham, UK. Her short play, It Has to End in Tears, was produced by Greenlight Productions in Santa Monica in March 2015. Four of her plays have been presented as staged readings in the Monday Night Living Room Series at The Blank Theatre in Hollywood.  BFA in Dramatic Writing and MFA in Musical Theatre Writing both from NYU.

You can follow Jen on Twitter @playwrightjen

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Heal the Divide: Spotlight on Diana Burbano

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I’ve got to be honest – When I reached out to Diana to see if she would be interested in writing for this project, I wasn’t even sure where she was located.  I knew she was from the Los Angeles area, but that’s a huge swath of land with a lot of political ground to cover.  However, I knew that Diana would be perfect for this project, no matter her geography because she had already shared a few plays with me both through the PPP catalogue and this year’s ONSTAGE Festival.  Her work is intriguing, exciting, and intimate – and she’s a passionate artist activist.

Basically, inviting Diana to participate was a no-brainer, and I was super excited when she said “Yes!”

Diana lives in Long Beach and work as a teaching artist in Boyle Heights (east LA) and Santa Ana (Orange County).  For those of you who are unfamiliar with LA, this essentially means she spends half her life commuting – but I haven’t heard any complaints out of her about that.  As a dedicated teaching artist, Diana works with her students to write the stories that haven’t been told – and by working and living in several zipcodes, her  artist and student network is expansive.

I know her work is going to genuinely engage our readers over the coming months, and I can’t wait to see what she shares with us!


What about our Heal the Divide project captured your interest/why did you decide to participate in this initiative?

A need to understand and be understood and to heal my own heart. I also feel compelled to give voice to the members of my community who feel panicked and frightened. I won’t lie, I am angry, I am so very angry, but I am also an artist, and as an artist I need to seek the light.

What areas of concern in your community do you find yourself curious about or interested in considering for this project?

I am most interested in giving voice to immigrant rights issues. As well as trying to figure out how to broach the other side of the equation, the people who don’t want immigrants legal or otherwise, here.

There have been a lot of discussions lately about what artists can do to “make a difference” in light of our current political spectrum.  What do you think we can (or should) do?  Or are there pitfalls we need to avoid?

I believe that engagement needs to be entertaining as well. A screed or a diatribe won’t get anyone to listen, a comedy perhaps will. I’ve been working with the community as they confront how to deal with ICE . A terrifying topic, but if it can be done with lightness you can get people to listen and remember. No one wants to be frightened more when they are already frightened, but a laugh might allow them to open up and to learn how to defend themselves. Also, it’s important to reach and educate the very young, and anyone who’s ever worked with kids know that scolding and haranguing turns them right off.

This is a moment for all artists to rise. It’s imperative that we come out of our grief-holes and put new, questioning art into the world. I’m very lucky to be able to offer free playwriting classes in Santa Ana CA. I teach everyone who wants to learn. I encourage everyone to write their stories. All stories are needed.

What questions, as a playwright, are you most drawn to explore in your work?

My work is very feminist/female centric. I write about complicated women, whose main problems don’t revolve around men. My most recent full length deals with violence, sex trafficking, child soldiers and rape. Like I said I have a lot of anger, but I do try to transcend that anger for clarity, humor and empathy.

Are you engaged in any other organizations fighting for change or progress that you want to give a shout out to?

Breath of Fire Latina Theatre Ensemble:

ABOUT:
Witness the milagro of the award winning Breath of Fire Latina Theater Ensemble. Thirteen years in, we are still the only Latina theater 501(c)3 non-profit organization behind the ‘Orange Curtain.’ Based in Downtown Santa Ana – the corazón of the county – Breath of Fire was founded to support the work and enrich the lives of Latinas in the visual and performing arts by creating opportunities and leadership roles in traditional arts communities. OC Weekly calls the ensemble “a theater that cares [about] its surrounding community…producing vitally relevant and topical work.”

VISION:
Breath of Fire Latina Theater Ensemble creates opportunities and leadership roles for Latinas in the performing arts. We aim to produce work that reflects impacts and empowers the Latina/o community. We believe in the transformative power of theater and aim to raise awareness of critical issues in the community, entertain and challenge, foster cross-cultural understanding and be a catalyst for personal healing and social justice.

CORE VALUES:
* A Platform for Untold/Undertold Stories
* Creating and Fostering Leadership Opportunities for Latinas in the Performing Arts
* Commitment to Community Outreach in Our Community
* Personal Healing and Social Justice

Do you have any other additional thoughts/ideas you want to riff on that pertain to this project? 

I want to encourage active involved resistance. Embrace feminism, it’s not a bad word. Embrace working for what you want, what you believe in. Finish the first draft, you can always edit it.

More about Diana:

Diana Burbano, a Colombian immigrant, is an Equity actor, playwright and teaching artist at South Coast Repertory and Breath of Fire Latina Theatre Ensemble. Full length plays: Fabulous Monsters about women in punk rock, Silueta (With Tom and Chris Shelton) about feminist artist Ana Mendieta. Policarpa which will have a Rough Draft Residency at the Drama League in May. Picture me Rollin’ was featured at the Hollywood InkFest, 2017, Other plays: Enemy|Flint, Caliban’s Island, (published by YouthPLAYS)Libertadoras, Vamping and Linda  were written for the 365 Women a Year project and have been performed around the world. Rounds Per Second is featured in Smith and Kraus’s 5-minute play anthology.

You can learn more about Diana at dianaburbano.com or follow her on Twitter @loladiana

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Heal the Divide: Spotlight on David Hilder

Blog, Heal The Divide

I know, I know – you’re thinking “Another white dude writing plays in NYC… What has he got to say that we’re not already seeing on stage?”  But maybe that’s because you haven’t yet met David Hilder.

A few years ago, I was lucky enough to get invited to the Great Plains Theatre Conference with my play TWIGS AND BONE.  The conference was AWESOME for quite a few reasons: the actors and directors were dedicated and passionate artists who put their all into my reading, I got to attend a TON of new play readings which were all kinds of awesome, the food was off the charts delicious (they feed you lunch every day!!!) and the fellowship with other hungry playwrights was amazing!  One of the playwrights I met there connected me to a company that later produced my play, others have had their work produced by my theatre company, Little Black Dress INK, and others still stayed on my friends-who-write-awesome-things radar until I could ask them to participate in our Heal the Divide Initiative…

You see, I’m talking about David again.

David has a knack for accessing personal stories.  He is a thinking, feeling playwright who paints interesting worlds and writes strong female voices.  He’s not afraid to dive into the magical or the otherwordly if a play wants to go there.  And he’s engaged in his community, listening and paying attention to the heartbeats around him.

He also happens to live in New York City – and although we see a lot of work from NYC playwrights, I haven’t seen a lot about the city itself right now (probably because I’m not in NYC to see what’s happening on its fringe stages/getting workshopped at present).  And that’s important for those of us who don’t live in or near to NYC – the  wild, electric, politically charged home of lady liberty.  For those of us living somewhere in between our pretty blue coasts, a peek into the lives of average New Yorkers might be a really fascinating way of understanding the city that never sleeps.

I’m really looking forward to seeing NYC through David’s playwright eyes as he explores today concerns from his own unique perspective… and I hope you are too!


What about our Heal the Divide project captured your interested/why did you decide to participate in this initiative?

So, to be honest, being asked to participate in something so big-feeling and scary is why I immediately agreed to participate. I follow politics all the time, and while some of my plays (notably Drop of Kindness) are reactions to political situations, I’ve never directly written into what concerns me about the contemporary political climate.

What areas of concern in your community do you find yourself curious about or interested in considering for this project?

I’m a little obsessed with New York’s governor, Andrew Cuomo, and his weird relationship to NYC’s subway system — he controls its budget, but seems very hands-off about it. The system is really old, and needs a major overhaul, and millions of people depend on it every day. And yet…

There have been a lot of discussions lately about what artists can do to “make a difference” in light of our current political spectrum.  What do you think we can (or should) do?  Or are there pitfalls we need to avoid?

I hope we won’t be afraid to provoke controversial responses, including from the left.

What questions, as a playwright, are you most drawn to explore in your work?

I find I tend to write stories about strong women in frustrating situations. Which sounds pretty much like a precis for America in 2017.

Are you engaged in any other organizations fighting for change or progress that you want to give a shout out to?

I would have no idea what to do with my ragefeelingsTM were it not for the excellent FB group Project Hindsight, run by the apparently indefatigable Kat Ramsburg, who is herself a seriously talented playwright.

Do you have any other additional thoughts/ideas you want to riff on that pertain to this project?

Mostly that I hope I can find dramatic form for my ideas!

BIO:

DAVID HILDER’s plays and musicals include Misfortune (Finalist, 2015 National Short Playwriting Contest, City Theatre); The Moment Before it All Went Wrong (Great Plains Theatre Conference 2015; Finalist, Lark Playwrights Week 2015); Drown (Acadiana Rep; Holland New Voices Playwriting Award, Great Plains Theatre Conference; finalist, Princess Grace Award; ESPA Drills at Primary Stages); Drop of Kindness (The Blank Theatre’s Living Room Series); The Insidious Impact of Anton (Absolute Theatre, Los Angeles – winner of seven StageSceneLA Awards; Winner, Ashland New Plays Festival; Finalist, Lark Playwrights Week); Just exactly like (The Flea Theater; Finalist, Heideman Award); Shake the Santa (GrooveMamaInk); anAtrainmusical (with composer Jess Klein; Neighborhood Playhouse); Gikh-kaa (Raw Impressions); I Have Something to Tell You (with composer Gihieh Lee; Raw Impressions); Maps (with composer Gilles Chiasson; Clear Space Productions; Dixon Place’s WARNING: Not for Broadway Festival; Raw Impression); Leave the Room (Finalist, Lark Playwrights Week and Abingdon’s Wolk Award); Bay Orchard High (Expanded Arts; Cullen/Dumas Productions); Dinner Party! (EST; Smatterfest; Particle Wave Theatre); One for the Books (the intentional theatre group; EST); and, naturally, others. He is also an award-winning director and a recovering actor, and an alumnus of Hunter College (MFA), the University of Pennsylvania, and the O’Neill Center’s National Theater Institute. He tweets, too: @hilderthtrguy  Website: www.davidhilder.com

 

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