Heal the Divide: Spotlight on Rachel Brogan Flanery

Heal The Divide, Playwrights

I’ve had the JOY of knowing Rachel Brogan Flanery for a decade now, and I am always delighted with her ability to take in the world, digest what she sees, and then create wacky and interesting stories out of it all.  She is a talented writer, passionate teacher, and hilarious mom (check out her writing on Medium)

Rachel and I met at UCLA, but she lives and teaches in Minneapolis, MN – a city that loves the arts and artists… a city with a lot to mine.  I look forward to reading Rachel’s plays, and I encourage you to read a little more about Rachel below!

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

Tiffany is one of the most organized and passionate people I know. Any project she is heading up-is a project I want to be a part of. Selfishly being given a deadline and purpose to write helps me find the time to do the work…and now more than ever we need a way to get our voices out there.

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

I love where I live. Minneapolis is an awesome creative and diverse community with so many opportunities for culture and nature. However, the divide between the haves and have nots is so deeply intertwined with race. We have to do better. I know a lot of people in my little liberal haven that fight for justice and progress until it is inconvenient for them. Until too many of “those” kids start filling up “their” schools.. We have to call it out and we have to do the work.

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?

Anything we do as artists needs to be genuine. When it’s not, then it doesn’t work creatively and any social impact will be lost. I struggle with this. In my life I am a warrior for social justice and women’s rights. As an artist, I don’t often feel inspired to write political pieces.

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

Relationships and the mundane.

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

Keep fighting the good fight everyone!

More about Rachel:

Rachael Brogan Flanery is an actress and writer in the Twin Cities. She has her MFA in playwriting from UCLA and BA in theater from the University of Iowa. Her plays have been produced in Aspen, CO., Iowa City, IA., Los Angeles, CA., Minneapolis, MN., Prescott, AZ., and New York, NY. She is co-founder of Twin Cities’ theater company: Table Salt Productions and has performed in many of their shows since 2009. You can next see her work in January 2018 as part of Theater Unbound’s annual “Smackdown.” You can find her fiction and other written works at:


In her spare time she is a wife, mother, and teacher.

Heal the Divide: Conditional, by Michelle Tyrene Johnson

Heal The Divide, Playwrights

Every week we will be sharing new plays by our Heal the Divide playwrights.  This week’s play is Conditional, by Kansas City, Missouri playwright Michelle Tyrene Johnson.


I wanted to quickly illustrate the hypocrisy of how some make allyship dependent on how “nice” people are to them. But, you either support the right thing to do, or you don’t. Anything else is you trying to pass yourself off as more compassion and justice-minded than you actually are.



Download (PDF, 33KB)

Heal the Divide: Spotlight on Michelle Tyrene Johnson

Heal The Divide, Playwrights
One of the aims of the Heal the Divide project is to share plays from writers working/living in places you might not normally see put on stage.  Playwright Michelle Tyrene Johnson hails from one such place: Kansas City, Missouri.
This has me super excited!
I’m also super excited because, HOLY COW, you need to read this playwright’s resume!  Michelle has a journalism and legal background and is a speaker at events around the nation.  The woman has things to say, words to share, and stories to tell.  I can’t wait to see what she writes for us during her three-month residency, and I bet you can’t either!  In the meantime, you can read our interview with Michelle (and her bio) below!

What about our Heal the Divide project captured your interested/why did you decide to participate in this initiative?
As a playwright, I’m always excited to see any theatre initiative that honors bringing people together and disrupting people’s resistance to being uncomfortable about topics that matter.
What areas of concern in your community do you find yourself curious about or interested in considering for this project?
I’m concerned about how the people who often think they have the least to learn, because they lean left, are the ones failing to have their listening ears on when it comes to bigotry, especially racism.
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? 
Artists need to be the people not afraid to start the difficult conversations in the plays we write and the theatre we create. We need to be relentless in pushing the envelopes, but we need to be willing to take the body blows when not everyone gets it. We need to listen to see what more there is to know or learn but stand strong in dealing with the people who just have different values.
What questions, as a playwright, are you most drawn to explore in your work?
Increasingly I find myself writing the stories that blend magical realism and history and piercing contemporary issues. As someone who loves the stories created by other people, as well as the challenges of telling my own, I like the element of surprise that takes me to familiar places.
More About Michelle:  Playwright Michelle Tyrene Johnson is a former journalist and former attorney who is a diversity and inclusion consultant based in the Kansas City, Missouri area. As a playwright, Johnson has had plays in playwriting festivals locally and nationally, including in Houston, Texas, Medford, Connecticut and Louisville, Ky, as well as in several NYC festivals for her plays “Wiccans in the Hood,” “The Negro Whisperer,” “Trading Races: From Rodney King to Paula Deen” and “Echoes of Octavia.”
In 2014, the award-winning production “Trading Races” and “Wiccans in the Hood” were produced by Philadelphia’s BrainSpunk Theater, leading to BrainSpunk making Johnson their Playwright-in-Residence. Johnson’s “Echoes of Octavia,” which has been produced by KC Melting Pot Theater, will be in the 2017 season of NYC’s Rhymes Over Beats Theater Company. Her play “Rights of Passage” has been seen in Springfield, Mo., NYC’s UP Theater reading series and featured in the 2016 Kansas City Repertory Theater’s OriginKC New Works Festival. Most recently, Johnson’s play “Justice in the Embers,” co-produced with StoryWorks, KCPT, and The Living Room Theater, had successful productions in Kansas City and the Bay Area in 2016.
In 2017, Johnson was one of the featured playwrights in the Obie Award-Winning The Fire This Time Festival in NYC and had a reading of one of her full-length plays at The National Black Theatre: Institute for Action Arts in NYC in March. Johnson’s play “The Green Book Wine Club Train Trip” was selected as the winner of the OCTA (Olathe, KS.) New Works Playwrights Competition. In June, Johnson’s full-length play “Pass Over” had a staged reading as a winner in the Jewish Ensemble Theatre (Detroit, MI) Festival of New Works.

Heal the Divide: Spotlight on Cody Daigle-Orians

Heal The Divide, Playwrights
I first had the privilege of meeting  Cody at the Great Plains Theatre Conference a few years back.  I was immediately a fan!  Not only did his play grab me in a visceral way, but he was just a fun, compassionate, intelligent, and engaging human to be around.  He also has excellent taste in bow-ties, which immediately told me this was someone I had to say “Hello” to.  I am incredibly thankful that he has continued to let me say “Hello” over the years, as a friend and a peer, in this crazy theatrical world. 
When I reached out to Cody with yet another “Hello…” and an invitation to be a part of our 2nd Heal the Divide residency, he was immediately on board and I was immediately super excited.  I can’t wait to see what he shares with us over the next three months!  In the meantime, I encourage you to get to know a little more about Cody by reading our interview below.

What about our Heal the Divide project captured your interested/why did you decide to participate in this initiative?
These days, when you’re asked to do something that counters the mess we’re in, how can you say no? And I think the intersection of the arts, community and activism — which this project exemplifies — is one of the most reliable routes for making change. 

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

I’m interested in how the queer community is dealing with other forms of oppression: how are queer folks dealing with racism? how are queer folks dealing with gender inequity? how are queer folks dealing with class? The community’s been, in the mainstream narrative, one issue for a long time — marriage equality — and now that marriage equality is a thing and we’re in the midst of an administration that’s attacking marginalized communities across the board, we’re figuring out how to be an engaged, political community all over again. 

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 think we keep doing what we’ve always done: create worlds and tell stories that help people explore what it means to be human, what it means to live in this world together. But we have to be conscious of what we bring to the table and what stories we choose to tell. It’s easy for us to empathize with stories of communities and lives that aren’t our own, and it’s natural for us to want to amplify those stories and communities. But they’re not our stories to tell. Representation and appropriation are big important questions right now: we have to be careful not to become part of the harm we’re writing against.

What questions, as a playwright, are you most drawn to explore in your work?
How do we decide who we will be during moments of great loss? That’s basically the central question of almost everything I’ve written, and right now it seems a more appropriate question than ever.
Are you engaged in any other organizations fighting for change or progress that you want to give a shout out to?

My day job is at The Westport Library in Westport, CT. I’m the program specialist there, and I think libraries deserve a special shout out for being institutions of learning, of curiosity, of intellectual engagement, of community, of change.

What did you take away from reading the plays from our first residency?  

I really liked this balance between the personal and the public that ran through these plays. It’s a wonderful by-product of the way this project is set up, and it’s a beautiful statement of how we need to be as citizens in the world. The personal is political. The political is political. And where those things bump into each other is where we live, work and attempt to get along together. These plays embody that. I dig that.

More About Cody: Cody Daigle-Orians is a Louisiana-born playwright and teaching artist now living in Hartford, CT. He is the program and events specialist at The Westport Library in Westport, Connecticut. He was the resident playwright for The Playhouse Tulsa’s 2013-2014 season, the company playwright for Acadiana Repertory Theatre and a company playwright for Manhattan Theatre Works. Plays for The Playhouse Tulsa: William and Judith, Tulsa! A Radio Christmas Spectacular, Little Women and The Bottom of the Sea. Plays for Acadiana Repertory Theatre: In the Bones, The Survivalists, and The Woman’s Part. Plays for Manhattan Theatre Works: Providence, A Home Across the Ocean. His work has been produced and/or developed at the Astoria Performing Arts Center, New Jersery Repertory Theatre, The Actors Company Theatre (NYC), The Growing Stage (Netcong, NJ), SNAP! Productions (Omaha, NE), Gadfly Theatre (Minneapolis, MN), StageRIGHT (Seattle, WA), Prologue Theatre Company (Chicago, IL) and the Great Plains Theatre Conference (Omaha, NE).

Heal the Divide: Spotlight on Playwright Jaisey Bates

Heal The Divide, Playwrights

Jaisey Bates is the kind of playwright that, once you meet/work with her, you kind of just want to invent more reasons to get a chance to work with her again.  Not only are her words achingly beautiful, but her personality is so engaging and honest that I find myself awed by even her emails.

Which is why I am so totally thrilled to announce that Jaisey will be participating in our 2nd Heal the Divide online residency! I’ll be sharing Jaisey’s first Heal the Divide play next week, but you don’t have to wait that long to get to know more about this talented and creative human.  Check out my interview with Jaisey below.

What about our Heal the Divide project captured your interested/why did you decide to participate in this initiative?  What questions, as a playwright, are you most drawn to explore in your work?

A ‘Fermat’s Last Theorem’
short scene answer attempt

(to save time so folks might
spare a few moments more
for perusing Protest Play PDFs),

re: why
/ from whence these
/ my words.

At Rise:

A woman

the (mortally?) wounded
world around her.

It does not

She studies
the Story Math
of History:

“Who lives, who dies,
who tells [the] story”
called History.

The Subtractors
/ Silencers.

The Subtracted
/ Silenced.


The Indigenous

She receives
via internet

an invitation to
add three gatherings
of words to the


the Divide

She decides
to write
three letters

To History
/ To Whom

It May

To the


of the


She writes.
She writes.
She writes.

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

I currently live in LA which has the largest urban population of Natives in the U.S. Most of my words speak from an Indigenous perspective.

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?

Dear Artists.



Courage, my

as we try
to help

a more just
and tolerant
world worthy

of our children’s
bright promise.
And of theirs.

And hope.
Always, forever
remember: Hope.

My words and I
stand this ground
beside you.

May we
find ways

to walk
in Beauty


Planet Nine

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

Some hashtags for movements of interest and action, mostly through writing and staging plays:


What did you take away from reading the plays from our first residency?

Intriguing range of perspectives and approaches from the resident playwrights. Also fascinating: the college Heal the Divide on Campus initiative. I hope we online folks might have the chance to read some of the students’ efforts.

More About Jaisey:

Jaisey Bates, a misplaced Maine-iac in LA, writes and performs with her nomadic multicultural theater company, The Peoplehood. LA and NYC venues for her words have included the Agüeybaná Book Store, Art/Works, Eclectic, EST/LA, Lounge, Naked Angels, Native Voices at the Autry, Open Fist, Performance Loft, Playwrights’ Center Stage, Samuel French Bookshop, Studio/Stage, Unknown and Victory theaters. Her words have enjoyed road trips to several states and teleportation to Canada and the UK. Her full-length plays include The Day We Were Born, RUN, This Radiant Wasteland, and Variations in the Key of White.  Real Time, her fancydance variation on Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, is The Peoplehood’s Menu of Performance Possibilities, an ever-evolving multitude of mix-and-match short plays and spoken word pieces. Her motto is “Have Words. Many Words. Many, many Words. Will travel.” Her education includes Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service, American University in Cairo (Fulbright/Johns Hopkins SAIS) and Loyola Marymount (MA in English). She wrote a blog, “Native communities and climate change, center stage”, for the HowlRound’s ‘Theater in the Age of Climate Change’ series. She tends to speak of herself in the 3rd person. She also answers to the name Planet Nine. She is very grateful to Brilliant Words Warrior Woman Tiffany Antone for this chance to work toward Healing the Divide. She hopes with all her heart that we will learn to walk in beauty this beloved ground.


Five Interviews: Wrapping up our First Heal the Divide Residency:

Blog, Heal The Divide, Playwrights

One of the things I’ve LOVED about our first Heal the Divide residency is how unique each of our playwright’s voices have been.  Including their beautiful, powerful, moving, short plays has been an honor!  We are gearing up for our second Residency, and I’m seriously excited about each of our new playwrights!  But before I tell you all about them, I’d like to share this final group interview I conducted with Mikki, Diana, Jen, Taijee, and David.

Q- What was surprising to you about writing for (or reading) Heal the Divide?

David — I came in with just one idea, but of course knew I’d be writing three plays. So what’s surprising is the wealth of things to respond to; it’s alarming to live in the time we live in, but it does provide a lot of stuff to draw from.

Jen — I am surprised at how optimistic and hopeful the project has made me feel. Also, how joyful both writing plays and reading the other plays has been.

Mikki — How each playwright is speaking from their local perspective in some fashion, and the national implications are so evident.

Diana — I am surprised at how easily the work came, and how much all the writers are responding to. There is so much material to work with. Our society seems to be at a tipping point.

Taijee — I was so happy when reviewing my work to see how much I observed in just watching people! I loved hearing all of the different voices in the writings of everyone involved! It was very worthwhile!

Q- Have you found yourself reading more local news or eavesdropping on neighbors in a deeper way?

Taijee — I definitely find myself eavesdropping a lot more.  I find that whenever I travel, someone and/or something that someone has said, always catches my ear.

David — So, a thing about living where I live (NYC) and taking the transportation I do (the subway) is that I am constantly bombarded by the close proximity of other voices. I don’t know that I’m listening MORE, but I am definitely hearing.

Mikki — I love eavesdropping on my neighbors! But only to the extent that I can hear them from my porch. I live in an area densely populated by retirees, and they have a lot of opinions—and a lot of time to opine! My favorite thing is listening to one person argue why Hillary should go to jail and the other piping up about pussy-grabbing. To each other.  As if this is how we find common ground. This is what our discourse has devolved into. No high powered anyone is going to jail, and pussies are for grabbing. In case you hadn’t heard.

Jen — I am also a total eavesdropper. I always have been. I’ve noticed folks have become very reactive these days. Also, I think folks are listening closely now.

Diana — I have listened to a lot. In my building there have been marriages and friendships that have broken up due to the current situation. As a matter of fact, my DACA play came from a situation I overheard. People are talking about these issues, out loud. Americans are both comfortable with, and repelled by confessional conversations and it seems like we are hearing a lot of it.

Q- Where have you been looking for inspiration?

Taijee — I think about some of the people I grew up with and some of the stories that stuck with me involving them.  It helps me draw from that dark place inside of me that still needs healing. Writing helps me to do that.

David — Oh, God, I love and bless Wonkette. They take NO PRISONERS, whereas I tend–at least in my writing–to want to explore all sides of character. Twitter and the NY Times are constantly throwing divisions that need healing in my face.

Mikki — I try to look to everyday people for inspiration. When a news story crosses my path, it’s often something I found on Fark or Reddit (and then proceed to try and suss out the veracity of the story). I like those types of places to mine for “news” because of the collective consciousness it seems to be born of. If it’s lies and subterfuge, the readership poke holes in it pretty fast. NPR is my usual go-to for news when I’m looking for substance.

Jen — It’s not about me. Inspiration finds me, and I get out of the way. Usually, at some point, there’s one thing that makes the whole piece cohesive.

Diana — It’s pouring out of me. I’m a political junkie, and the drugs have been so bad lately.

Q- What would you like to see happen as a result of your Heal the Divide residency?

Taijee — If I could just touch one person and inspire them to do what they love by overcoming the divide, that would be good enough.

David — I would loooooove to see these plays, all 15 of them, combined in a reading series or something. That would be so exciting, to see our wildly different voices bumping up against each other and soaring together. Because so far the plays feel harmonious and utterly distinct. Really exciting.

Mikki — I hope it encourages more people to blaze an art-filled path towards a better world.

Jen — I want to second what Taijee, David, and Mikki said. I’m awful at being result-oriented. Right now, I’m focused on process.

Diana — I hope it encourages people to write their way out, to quote Hamilton. To use their brains to find solutions to the pain instead of violence.

Q- One of the goals of this project is to bring disparate communities together by exposing them to plays inspired by each playwright’s community. How do you see theatre affecting/interacting with audiences to affect change?

Taijee — TIP Harris, a rapper, answered a similar question that involved his and other artists lyrics and their effect on the communities that listen to it.  His response was, “If you want to change the message of the song, change the environment of its origin.” I believe the theatre can do the same thing.  Instead, we change the environment by letting people know what the message is upfront and exposing them to the truths in which they, and by they I do mean all of us, choose to want to hide.

Mikki — I think the compelling thing about theater is it goes unchanged in how it can reach right into an audience member-or actor for that matter-no matter the era. If an issue is playing out in front of someone, just absorbing the story gives them space to feel it from a different perspective. It’s literally the incarnation of “I never really thought of it that way.”

Jen — When I think about work that has affected me and changed my perspective, I doubt very highly that the writer set out with the intention of rocking Jen’s world. However, I think those works contain a lot of truth and commitment to that truth.

Diana — I hope theatres can get past the radicalization of Spanish, and embrace this new majority minority. I hope they can be brave and learn to hear new words without feeling excluded and thereby excluding in the process.

David — The great goal for me is to see great diversity on stage but also in the audience. And then to encourage continued interaction after the play is over — to urge people to discuss what they’ve seen, what they feel. So it’s as much about the extratheatrical experience as the theatrical one from lights up to lights down.

Did you have a favorite play in this series?  If so, what about the play made it stand out to you?

Diana — The play I wrote after Charlottesville (Rally), started out with anger towards the young white woman, and every rewrite I was filled with more and more compassion for her situation. It forced me into her shoes, and I learned about her. That was powerful. To get past initial impressions and move towards compassion.

David — Mikki’s Joe Arpaio play (The Reality) really killed me, in the very best way. Just gutting. So, so powerful.

Taijee — I was very surprised how far, Between Love and Hate, went for me. To see students and faculty interested in my work was very moving for me. I look forward to the years to come.

Jen — I don’t have one favorite play either written by me or one of the other writers. For me, the joy of the project was its variety. I also enjoyed reading the new plays every week and being impressed by everyone’s range and creativity.

Mikki — Let me break the rules. There were a few plays that stood out-and by stood out, I mean they had me up at night thinking. They were: Boxes by Jen Huszcza-the way she used movement to speak was so powerful. Rally by Diana Burbano-the image of a child in a klans robe just tied me up in knots. Swing Low by Taijee Bunch was a trip into the first terror some of us ever know in life. And Meanings Of Love by David Hilder catches you completely off-guard with the line ‘don’t assume’…whew. Powerhouses. I enjoyed reading all of the resident’s works, but those really stood out to me.

Q- Now that the first residency is over, do you have any advice for other playwrights who want to write plays from/about their own communities but maybe aren’t sure how to start?

Diana — Write! Scraps of conversations, monologues, devise pieces with community. The stories are there, they just need to be given permission to be born.

David — YES, what Diana said. Consecrate words to page. Build. Make.

Taijee — Definitely agree with Diana! Write your heart out! Be honestly sincere! Don’t be afraid to live in the uncomfortable!

Jen — Don’t be afraid (like Taijee said) of writing something imperfect. Also, maybe as a starting point, think about what the word, Community, means to you.

Mikki — Poking around the local theater and library are good starting places where like minds can be found. Collaborate. This is something we can all take part in. Write. Go get it.

Q- Any parting words you’d like to share with Heal the Divide fans?

Diana — May we all find the joy we need and see hope in the cracks.

David — Thank you. I hope we all find ways to honor each other’s inherent humanity.

Taijee — Thank you to everyone who took the time out to read our plays! It means so much! Keep striving hard and seek a life useful to create harmony among all peoples.

Jen — There are fans? Hello, I wish you ease.

Mikki — Thank you for reading our work and for showing interest in the project. Three cheers for peace and goodness!

Thank you again to our FABULOUS playwrights!  Thanks for your support and engagement with this project.  We look forward to sharing more socially conscious new works with you, beginning in November!


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.




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



Heal the Divide: Spotlight on Diana Burbano

Blog, Heal The Divide, Playwrights

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:

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.”

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.

* 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


Heal the Divide: Spotlight on Mikki Russ

Blog, Heal The Divide, Playwrights

I grew up in Prescott, AZ – a small mountain town that has made the national news a few times in the past couple years.  Some of the news was wholly embarassing (like locals being incensed about a boy’s skin tone being “too dark” in a school mural, FFS!), sometimes it was tragic (the death of 19 hotshots in 2013), but always it was my home-town… A popular retirement community rich with passionate artists, run by a “good ‘ol boys” club, and struggling to understand its divided politics.  Prescott, like most of AZ, runs decidedly red – but there is also a strong contingent of progressives working to better the political balance here.  And so, although it’s been going through some pretty serious growing pains for the past several years, there is a lot of pride, love, and energy here that gives me hope that we can start working together on some of the big issues currently dividing us/our nation.

I knew right away that I wanted a Prescott playwright to participate in our Heal the Divide Initiative.

I also immediately knew who I wanted that playwright to be:  Mikki Russ

I met Mikki a few years ago after she was cast in Fly Girl, Fly a play by 2014 ONSTAGE playwright, Brigitte Viellieu-Davis.  I immediately hoped Mikki would work with us again.  Fortunately, she has!  In fact, Mikki has been in every festival since, and this year even participated as a playwright – her play, Full Circle, was a 2017 ONSTAGE finalist!

Not only has Mikki worked with me through LBDI, she also helped read and log plays for Protest Plays Project since its inception – a time-consuming task that she tackled with buoyant enthusiasm.  So, she’s not only talented, but a serious joy to know and work with as well, and I consider myself all kinds of lucky to know and get to work with this passionate and creative person!

I asked all of our Heal the Divide playwrights to reply to some interview questions in order to help our audiences get to know them, their community, and why they’re writing for us.  Mikki’s answers are below.  I hope you’ll visit us again July 1 when her first piece gets posted!

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

There have been some interesting protest pieces that PPP has collected. I was able to access some of them. I appreciate the many voices that surfaced and their multi-faceted approaches to storytelling. When Heal The Divide was opened up to me, I leapt at the chance. I had been ruminating on ideas for healing projects that different communities could embrace.

So far, I have only landed on one wacky idea. A few months ago, a friend of mine invited me to “The Gnome Roam”. A concept the girl had brought with her to Prescott from Portland. The idea is, on the full moon, you grab a bunch of people, dress as gnomes (yarn beards and all) and just scavenger hunt all over the town square. It was hilariously disarming to everyone we encountered when women in full yarn beards, strange hats, goofy pants, pointed shoes and knapsacks casually asked a stranger if they knew where one could find a pink balloon. I thought, “What an amazing thing if people did this across the country and just laughed together.” I don’t know how I am going to get the United States to collectively dress as gnomes and hang out together, but honestly, I think it would be a step in the right direction. (Hurry! Start one in your neck of the woods!)

I understand that people are looking for very practical ways to implement a peaceful unification model in communities far and wide, but sometimes it’s the little things that make change. The involuntary positive experience with a person vastly different than ourselves always pays off. While I believe that we are more divided than we have been since the 1950s and 60s, I also sincerely believe we have more in common than not.

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

Prescott, AZ is a really wonderful place for a variety of reasons. That said, it has an insular vibe about it. Sometimes that manifests in ways that are not helpful to humankind in general. When people are not exposed to folks they might consider different or “other”, it can create this tendency for people to withdraw or lash out. I have had some mind-blowingly great encounters – and other encounters – as a black woman, that have left me aghast.

One of the more elevated interactions I had was with an LGBT advocate who works with our community of LGBT who are absolutely marginalized in this small town. She inspired me with her strength and resolve to make life easier for LGBT at large, but specifically the youth. I realized that whatever race relation issues, discrimination, etc., that are present here, many people want to see it reconciled. I want to stress that there are mostly fantastic, warm, good people in this town. I have just been wildly taken aback by some challenging scenarios that should not be ignored. That was a long winded way of saying I wish we could all just get along.

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?

Aside from being outright preachy, I don’t think there are pitfalls when we embark on exploring what art can do to heal. I think protest plays are good medicine. I believe sharing thoughts and ideas with one another is how we discover a breakthrough. Only silence can stop us.

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

How we relate to one another. I am endlessly fascinated by the interpersonal dynamic. I like to watch how people deal with one another at work, at play, with lovers, with adversaries. I find the microcosm so steadfastly attached to the larger picture that I am determined to discover the bridge between both worlds where the antidote to our ills exists.

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

I wish I were. PPP is my only recent effort at peace-mongering.

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

I am extraordinarily grateful to be able to participate in this project. It gives me a sense of hope that individuals and artists are eager to engage one another on the subject of healing. I hope that the moments of being discouraged because Facebook vomited up something vile about the other side’s view, or because truly awful words get used in the media do not bombard us into inaction. Forward is the only way.

A little more about Mikki:

Mikki Russ lives in Northern Arizona, and has a background in broadcasting. She was on the air in major markets under a couple of stage names in both radio and television. She wrote for morning show segments as well as pop-culture segments and delivered them during her various incarnations. She has settled nicely back into her original identity and is delighted to be exploring theatrical avenues for her writing. She was a finalist in this year’s LBDI Female Playwrights ONSTAGE Festival. Mikki intends to focus on writing in many different capacities going forward. She is grateful that Little Black Dress Ink is such a vibrant platform for female voices to resonate from and looks forward to participating in future endeavors.