Current Playwrights, Female Playwrights, Unknown playwrights

Andy Rassler

Our first modern playwright hails from North Carolina, USA. Andy Rassler has acted, directed and taught theatre for decades. In the last few years she’s begun to see success as a playwright.

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Andy Rassler, our playwriting hero.

Generally her plays are humorous, positive and carry a message. However, they are by no means saccharine. Rassler’s years as a theatre teacher has informed her understanding of what Theatre for Young Audiences entails and she excels at it.

The first piece we’ll study is Dante’s Inferno Six. Despite focusing on youth plays, this 10 minute play is set in the reception area of the sixth level of Dante’s Hell. This is where heretics end up.

Uberti and Cavalcanti are the two secretaries and basically they are each other’s Hell.

This is from the midst of one of their flare-ups:

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Like many American workers, they actively hate their customers/clients, as exemplified here:

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Now that I think about it, people going to Hell might be kind of annoying and I would probably grow to hate them. Anyways, this Satanic version of the Battling Bickersons meet their match when their next victim, the heretic Margaret, is totally okay with going to Hell.

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Needless to say, Rassler’s Dante’s Inferno Six is a fun play for those who think Hell would be a fun thing. It also highlights something Rassler is adept at: dispelling stereotypes and upending expectations. We, the audience, have been taught to fear Hell (unless you grew up in this church) – yet Margaret is pretty nonchalant about facing that flaming tomb. Ironically, these same flaming tombs have lent themselves to an Xbox game. Here’s a vid of the performance. 

Now on the what may be termed Rassler’s magnum opus

Clothes Minded is a witty, honest one-act that expertly dissects prejudice in America.

The plot pretty much mimics real-life, except with fabrics in a washing machine. All the whites are getting washed together (as they do) when a sock of color shows up. The white fabrics lose it and freak out. However, unlike many real-life scenarios, this play has a happy ending.

Here is a choice moment:

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This really reminds one of racists’ arguments that they just want “the other” to follow the law, no matter how intrinsically stupid said law may be.

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Ker-plunk! From YouthPlays.

Since all this is set in a washing machine, there are numerous references to swimming, which harkens to not just the past and stereotypes about black people swimming but also the recent spate of “white people calling the cops on black people for living” – most famously Pool Patrol Paula and ID Adam.

This interaction and Colored Sock’s mini-monologue here is effective.

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That line “We’re not bad people” is rich. We’ve been hearing it oh-so-often.

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It’s “the other!!!” Via YouthPlays.

The play is peppered with racists’ go-to talking points.

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“Jacked-up” is right.

Some of my best friends…” is a hilariously bad argument. Even Hitler protected an Austrian Jew he liked, so keep that in mind before you start with that argument.

Here’s another:

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Ah yes. The siren call of eugenics. This is an extreme example of “following the law” – albeit a “natural law” that someone just made up.  

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Beware, the rag pile. Hehe. Labels can be some dangerous medicine.

So far in this blog, I haven’t talked much about my personal life, but I will share my own experiences growing up in Utah as a non-Mormon (that’s a label!) – the labels I was given ranged from “non-believer” to “Satan worshipper.” [insert about 1,001 other negative experiences here]

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Rehearsal time for Clothes-minded.

Much like the parents in Rassler’s play, this idiocy started with the parents. I heard “My mom says I can’t play with you” more than once. In this way, Rassler’s play spoke to me. The Colored Sock character is way too nice to the neighbors. Lucky for them.

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Oh man. This hits the nail on the head. The way some white people will speak in hushed tones about someone who married/had a relationship out of the race.

I was at a museum in Utah once and the lady working there was yapping on about Orrin Porter Rockwell and his multiple wives and at the end she whispered “and his Indian wife.”

And then (gasp!) tragedy happens.

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Eventually things work themselves out. This is a well-written play with a positive message and good roles for kids. The play was recently published by YouthPlays.

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They turn on their own, via YouthPlays.

Now is a chance to learn more about Rassler from the playwright herself:

How did you start playwriting?  

I started writing about 10-12 years ago. My theatre class always competes in the 1-act play festival in NC. We were having a really hard time finding a piece that we connected to, so the kids said, “Why don’t you just write one?” So…I tried it. And I loved it so much. We used the piece I wrote (called—pretentiously enough—‘Minor Paradox’)!

What are your influences?

For the cadence and style of dialogue, I attribute my style to Neil Simon, mostly. I don’t know that I’d call any other playwrights ‘influences’.

What is your most memorable production and why?

Of my own pieces, the most memorable was the one-act version of ‘In the Jungle.’ This play was inspired by my twin sister, Annette, who has cerebral palsy. The students who embodied the characters were so dedicated to the piece and when we performed it at the contest, there were many, many audience members in tears. I was approached multiple times afterward with meaningful and thoughtful words—it was magical.

What is your least memorable production and why? [you can leave out specifics or names]  

My least memorable? I don’t remember…lol.  No, I can barely remember a 10-minute piece I had produced at a local community theatre. Just didn’t work.

What’s your funniest theatre story?

Of all time? Hmmm…It was not funny at the time, but one of my students pushed me to use actual profanity. He had missed an entrance and I was in the back of the auditorium watching his classmates try to cover for him. I rushed out of the theatre, back to the dressing room, and there he was just yakking it up with his home girls! I said, “You’re on! Now!” and he kind of sauntered toward the door—so I grabbed him (literally) and said, “Get your <$*& butt out there!”—Now, I just shake my head.

What are your writing habits like?

I’m sporadic. Sometimes, I’m writing every free chance I get—then there might be weeks where I don’t write a word. When there’s a deadline looming that I want to submit, I’m gangbusters. I will do all my chores and other things in life, then sit down and dedicate 2-4 hours just to get the words out on the ‘paper’. Outline, write, write. Re-outline, write, write. Rewrite.

What advice do you have for new playwrights?

Don’t be intimidated that there is magic to this craft. There isn’t any magic or specialized something you need to get started. You have a story: tell it. Then you can use all the resources you can find to fine-tune that story.

Who are some other writers you feel should get more attention?

How about—Bryan Stubbles?!  I have not had the chance to read many ‘unknown’ writers. Sorry.

What are common themes in your work?

Handicapped people, outcasts, people on the fringe.

What is one thing you wished you knew now, that you didn’t know starting out?

I wish I knew how important it was to have a network of people to support your work. I feel pretty isolated, but I’m working on building connections.

In regards to Dante Inferno Six, why is Hell so funny?

If it weren’t, it would be devastating. It makes me think of those awful times when you’re not ‘supposed’ to laugh, but if you could, it would help everything.

Please describe the process that created Clothes-minded.

A local community theatre put out a submission opportunity for 10-minute plays with the theme ‘Diversity’. I thought about that theme and all I could think of to write were things that were so corny, or cliché, or I had no business writing them because I know very little about actual diversity. I thought about the concept of segregation—separating by color—and it segued into ‘What else do we separate by color?’=laundry! Ta-da!! Someone at the 10-minute play commented on how weird it was that there were only 3 items in the load, and I thought, “Hey, this would expand to a one-act in a pretty cool way.” Ta-da!!

How are the kids and audiences responding to Clothes-minded?

My students LOOOVED performing it and the audiences were greatly amused. It’s been produced by two other groups (besides mine) already in just a few months, so I’m hopeful it will go places!

What has the feedback from People of Color or other minorities been like?

The cool thing at the very start of this is that I had a person of color playing a white sock. It was wildly cool to have discussions at rehearsal—and audience members were trying to wrap their brains around that concept. I’ve honestly had nothing but positive feedback from everyone who’s seen or been in it.

What’s a question you’d like to be asked? Go ahead and answer that question.

Question: What is your ultimate goal as a writer?

Answer: To get productions of as many of my shows as humanly possible and to leave a legacy of meaningful work behind when I go. I know I won’t know it happened, but I’d love for a production of my show to happen 250 years down the road and it’s just as relevant and meaningful as today.

Before I list her productions, do our readers have any questions for Andy? Please comment below.

For a list of all our playwrights, please check here.

Rassler’s work has seen multiple productions, mostly in North Carolina, but also in Minnesota and Germany. Below is a list of plays and productions ( with links to sites or reviews):

September 2014: Walt Grace, One Act New Play Festival. Lee Street Theatre, Salisbury, NC

March 5-6, 2016: Dear Stephen, We Like Short Shorts. Storefront Theatre, Waxhaw, NC

April 7-9, 2016: Kiss A Squid 2016 Asheville National 10-Minute Play Festival Winner. Located at the The White Horse in Black Mountain, NC

June 10-19, 2016: A Foot and a Half Old Courthouse Theatre, Concord, NC

June 16-18, 2016: Don’t Bleed on Me, Lee Street Theatre, Salisbury, NC

August 26-27, 2016: Bless Me, Father, Lee Street Theatre, Salisbury, NC

August 25-28, 2016: Number Ten, Old Courthouse Theatre Concord, NC

October 2016: Don’t Bleed on Me, NCHS Entry, NCTC One-Act Play Festival, North Carolina

November 15-16, 2016: I’ll Bet You Didn’t Know Cary Playwrights’ Forum, Cary, NC

December 2016: Star of Wonder, Lee Street Theatre, Salisbury, NC

February 1-5, 2017: In the Jungle, UBI Theatre, Leipzig, Germany

August 12-13, 2017: I’ll Bet You Didn’t Know, Old Courthouse Theatre Concord, NC

September 15-24, 2017: Clothes Minded, Eden Prairie Players, Eden Prairie, MN

November 14-16, 2017: In Heaven There is No Beer, Cary Playwrights’ Forum, Cary, NC

 

Two of her plays have been published. Clothes Minded was published by YouthPlays and is available on Amazon.

Kiss a Squid is in Smith & Kraus’ anthology Best 10 Minute Plays 2015 and Don’t Bleed On Me is in Best 10 Minute Plays 2017

Andy’s personal website is here.  

Another profile of Andy from this year.

Several of her plays are available to read at her New Play Exchange page.

Thanks Andy!

 

Current Playwrights, Female Playwrights, Unknown playwrights

Yolanda Mendiveles

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Our bilingual playwriting hero, Yolanda Mendiveles!!!

This week brings us to Yolanda Mendiveles, a playwright from southern California who has fashioned a wonderful play, Blanca Nieves – which is the protagonist’s name and means “Snow White” in Spanish.

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Wrong Snow White.
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The REAL Blanca Nieves.

Blanca Nieves takes us back to Los Angeles in 1955. Blanca Nieves‘ world has come undone after losing her spouse Jesús and trying to make ends meet as a widowed mother with children, several of whom aren’t interested in the “old” ways – and Christmas is right around the corner — and all of this is imbued with Aztec mythology.

With a synopsis like that, why isn’t this on Broadway? Or Off-Broadway? Or even Off-Off Broadway?

And before you think “Oh no, not another Christmas play” this IS another Christmas play – but it’s actually one I would pay money to see.

Blanca is struggling and we know this because Jimmy the Landlord shows up:

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In this context, “cabron” basically means “jerk” and that’s kinda what he is here. Especially when you find out…

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Blanca’s so nice she’s making Yerba Buena for him. If you don’t know about Yerba Buena, let the US Forest Service explain it for ya:

“The leaves of this wildflower may be used to make a tea. It also figures prominently in local folk medicine: Mexican, Native, and European Americans have and continue to use it medicinally.”

That’s like the whitest explanation of anything anywhere.

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Pretty happenin’ poster.  Courtesy Diana Burbano.

Like all mothers in 1955, Blanca is very understanding:

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Blanca makes Yerba Buena for the landlord…and have you noticed the English mixed with Spanish? That is called code-switching and it’s a real thing among bilingual or multilingual people. The play is full of code-switching, as is real-life for the author.

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I really like Natividad – the clutch is shot and she’s loaning Blanca a ten AND she’s charging 2 bucks a burrito to the gringos- which in 1955

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If your gringo friends are paying 19 bucks for a burrito, they certainly got more dollars than sense…maybe Blanca can hit them up for rent money.

Esther is Blanca’s niece and god-daughter and Luz is Blanca’s daughter.

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Her daughters love mayonnaise. Time to disown them.  screen shot 2019-01-25 at 7.55.24 am

huevona = idiot

Wow, Luz REALLY is Americanized…(sigh)

Marta is Blanca’s other daughter. And she’s quick with the insults…

Loco Joe really isn’t as crazy as his name implies.

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Breath of Fire Latina Theater Ensemble working hard on Blanca Nieves. Our hero playwright Yolanda Mendiveles is in there, too. Thanks to playwright Diana Burbano.

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Teeheehee.

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The cast of Blanca Nieves, courtesy of Diana Burbano.

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The first time I read this script, I was eating oatmeal, so it was funny when I saw avena mentioned, because if there’s something better than regular oatmeal, it’s avena, a Mexican variation on oatmeal. Learn how to make it below:

 

What is Esther’s problem? Ham and eggs vs. avena??? Avena wins, every time.

Just don’t tell Esther about Eggs Benedict.

And again, see what a service Blanca is to the community?

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You may notice some red every now and again – that’s the joy of reading a working draft. Marta acts up —

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Marta wasn’t acting up, she was defending herself and her honor. Because in LA, 1955 was a hard time to be Chicana – America has a long history with discrimination against folks like Blanca and Raquel…

Things from that era would’ve included:

Chicana women were forcibly sterilized by the state of California, as early as 1909 and not really ending until 1979.

The people who made this map of LA in 1939 were complete jerks. This was a way for LA to remain unoffically segregated.

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The red equalled “4th Class” AKA not white.

Makers of said map had this to say about the inhabitants:

For example, one neighborhood in the L.A. suburb of Claremont (C55, C56) received a C rather than D rating since it contained a “few better class Mexicans.” The San Gabriel Valley Wash community, more heavily Mexican-American, received no such consideration as one assessor described it as populated by “goats, rabbits, and dark skinned babies.” Most might have been native-born, but too many were still “’peon Mexicans” and constitut[ed] a distinctly subversive racial influence.”In her own research, L.A. historian Laura Redford of Scripps College, notes that while Japanese and African-Americans were singled out, too, the language describing Mexican-Americans in the Los Angeles area proved particularly “painful” and “awful”.

Then there was the massive deportation of both Mexicans and Mexican-Americans during The Depression. The numbers deported range from 400,000-2,000,000.

The Zoot Suit Riots and Sleepy Lagoon Murder case are relatively well-known.

Not all these things were happening right in 1955, but they woud’ve been in living memory for the adults in the play, thus influencing their choices and actions.

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I’m not crying. You’re We’re Okay, fine I might be thinking about crying. Not only does Blanca have to raise a family on her own, she and her children face a society that would rather they not exist. Not your average Christmas play.

And the “dirty Mexican” thing? Has not changed one bit.

What’s a mom to do when her children endure white racism at school?

Tell them Aztec legends.

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Suddenly I’m angry at my 4th grade teacher for making me do a mythology project on Perseus. Why not Queztalcoatl????
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Tezcatlipoca, AKA God of the Month.

You can learn more about Aztlán here.

But the story isn’t just two badass gods doing badass things…

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This image of the lovers comes ironically from a high school production of the story.

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And thus begins the tale of star-crossed lovers – and like most of these tales it tends to end tragically . However in Blanca Nieves’ telling, there is a happy ending…

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Let’s dissect the above.

  1. Happy ending? Check.
  2. Lovers with volcanoes named after them? Check.
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Our mythological lovers, in volcano form.

3. Empanadas? Check.

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Chorizo and cheese empanadas.

4. Champurrado? Check.

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Make your own champurrado.

In the final scene, everything comes together –

Loco Joe has helped unload Christmas trees that day and brought an extra one for the family.

He also asks Luz to the Winter Ball and she says “yes.”

This whole time, one more stressor for Blanca has been Mrs. Tanaka, a social worker who has observed the family – she has some news for Blanca.

Ricky invites Raquel to the Winter Ball and she accepts.

But Raquel doesn’t have high heels for the dance – but that’s OK because Esther bought her some.

And Marta and Lupito have been running errands for Mrs. Peterson, who will lend Raquel her jewelry as payment.

And Jimmy the Landlord…sigh.

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Jimmy the Landlord is like the only bigoted white person to ever learn the error of his or her ways. Must be something in that Yerba Buena.

He will fix their toilet for free and lower their rent. Meanwhile, Natividad has some news…

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This helps…

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And the baby…via the LA Times.

And at the end everyone is treated to champurrado and empanadas – truly the best ending to any Christmas Eve ever –

[note to future producers of the show: please share champurrado and empanadas with audience, too]

The play ends with the singing of Christmas carols including that favorite…Feliz Navidad.

And here are the cast of a reading singing it!!!

 

 

A rcent staged reading of the play got a stellar review in the LA Times.

In addition to Blanca Nieves, Mendiveles has written several short plays including The Twelfth of Never and Consulting Spirit. This is her reading from Consulting Spirit and talking about her bilingual writing –

And she has given interviews to other theatre enthusiasts…

 

Earlier I rhetorically asked why isn’t this even on Off-Off Broadway??? Well, American theatre has a dirty little secret – it’s not really a secret to those who work in theatre in the US, but could be to other people.

According to the Dramatist Guild of America’s recent study, plays by people of color and especially by women of color are rarely produced. I mentioned my reservations before about this survey, namely that it is too narrow and includes a theatre that shouldn’t be allowed to exist. I believe the statistics to be worse than what the DGA reported. But let’s take a look:

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FYI women make up slightly over half the US population.
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FYI white people make up about 60% of America.
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The figure on the right is current. FYI women of color make up just over 20% of the US population.

While not related specifically to the play at hand, this statistic shows how inbreedingly insular American theatre can be:

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Anti-foreigner much? Ironically the only theatre category where men and women are equal. I know nothing!

All the DGA’s stats can be found here.

While I was writing this, an Indonesian friend of mine [who used to work in statistics research] said that it wasn’t right to compare these percentages to the general US population – that they should be compared to the number of playwrights writing. I understand that argument, but I feel it’s too limited in scope.

American theatre, by producing work by (and mostly for) white males, seals off a portion of American life to other Americans (women and people of color) who may have something amazing to contribute to American theatre but are discouraged by the unbearable mayonnaise-like whiteness of US theatre culture. I see many potential theatremakers being dissuaded even before they start and that would lower the number of playwrights to begin with, which is why we should compare the US population to the playwrights produced…

It’s OK if you disagree. You can write your own blog about it.

Back to Yolanda Mendiveles, who is working near LA. LA, the city with the Mexican-Italian-Russian Jewish American mayor who calls himself a kosher burrito – let’s check out LA..

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Non-Hispanic whites make up around 30% of LA’s population, but you wouldn’t know it to look at their limp little theatre scene.

Never mind that Latinx actors make up 2% of principal roles in US theatre…

Soooo Ms. Mendiveles has her work cut out for her. But this doesn’t stop her one bit.

She is a licensed massage therapist by trade and came to the world of playwriting at the age of 52 and has been going strong for 20 years. In fact, I predict she will make it another 20 years at least. She really is an inspiration for anyone who wants to write or anyone who thinks they are starting “late” by society’s standards.

I want to also point out how positive her writing is and also just how positive she was helping me on this blog. In fact, she took the time to answer some questions!!!

How did you start playwriting?

The idea of writing my mother’s and father’s story began after my mother died in 1998.  My father had been deceased since 1958 and she kept his memory alive for us and her unfailing love for him. My mother never remarried although she did have male suitors who wanted to marry after my father died.

I was on my way to Durango, Colorado in 1999 when the idea came to me as a play and I stopped in Phoenix, Arizona to write down the ideas that had come to me and even sketched out some of the scenes. From that date on I have been taking classes in writing and playwriting.

What are your influences?

Yolanda: My influences I can say were my childhood remembrances of musicals with Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney; Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire; Shirley Temple. I did not attend stage productions when I was younger. 

What is your most memorable production and why?

My most memorable production was when I joined Casa 0101, a bilingual theater of Spanish and English persuasion. Our production was in 2015. I think and talk in bilingual terms as does my family and friends. The group called Chicanas, Cholas, y Chisme writing group from Casa 0101 we had our works presented on stage for our Bilingual community and we were a hit. The reason we were a hit was because the stories told were stories the audience could relate to, the Spanish and English languages used in the stories the audience could relate to, the actors were actors that looked like the audience and they could connect with the characters as well as the actors. Plus Women’s plays are more honest and direct. My family and friends were so “PROUD” and it made them very happy. My family and friends had a wonderful experience.

What is your least memorable production and why?

I was writing a play about being a massage therapist and how the police department considers massage therapy illegitimate and a front for illegal sexual activity.  I am a massage therapist and have very high ethical standards and really resent the implication that my healing skills are construed this way. We have been fighting long and hard to get a state license and regulations that would fit our organization that would work for the police department only to find the police department resistant to our ideas. So I wrote a play about it and wanted it to be a musical but the reading did not go well. I need to rewrite it.

What’s your funniest theatre story?

My funniest theatre story was when I was the assistant stage manager for Chicanas, Cholas, y Chisme and I was moving the props on stage ( a very small stage) and as I was placing a prop at the front of the stage as I looked up my youngest sister was sitting right in the front row and we made eye contact. She was surprised to see her playwright sister doing the heavy lifting and not being the proper playwright she imagined.

What are your writing habits like?

To write I need two days-one day is to do all the running around I need to do, gathering the groceries I will need for the weekend and taking care of things so I do not need to go out the door and taking care of things I need to do around the house. The next day I can stay in my pajamas and write all day and not be interrupted.

What advice do you have for new playwrights?

I would advise new playwrights to join a group of writers or a theater or attend a school that has a strong theatrical community so that you can create your network and help and get help along the artistic journey. 

Who are some other writers you feel should get more attention?

I think all writers should get attention, but presently women have great stories that need to be told from their perspective. Culture is very important and needs to be taken into consideration therefore; people of different cultures need to have their stories told. 

What are common themes in your work?

I write from experience of what I have learned and know to be true for myself. I write about life situations and characters in my life. There is as lot of material there.

What is one thing you wished you knew now, that you didn’t know starting out?

Yolanda: I started out writing as an older person and I would say to the young writers to go to school to learn the craft of writing.  All writers should write from the heart not to write because you are going to sell a screenplay or play to make lots of money.  A playwright’s journey is different from a screenwriter’s journey. Both are fulfilling in their own way but it is a journey and not a quick get rich scheme.

Can you please tell us about the development of Blanca Nieves’ Christmas and how it came to have a reading at Breath of Fire?

Blanca Nieves’ Christmas play came to me back in 2009 which is a remembrance of mine and my family’s. My father died when I was 11 years old and my mother was a widow and had us seven (7) children to raise on her own. She was receiving very little money from the government (Widow’s pension) and she cooked, washed and ironed, and babysat other people’s children to bring in more income. Money was worth a lot back in the 50’s, a penny was worth something and you could buy a penny candy unlike in today’s economy.  In the 50’s money was hard earned as well and the money coming in had to pay for the basics so there was little to no money for extras.  This was the same for our neighbors as we all struggled but because it was the same for everyone we made the most of what we did have as did our friends and neighbors. 

I had written the story and in 2010 I had a reading and then it got left on a shelf, then in 2015 I presented it again but because I have so many characters in it- it was rejected. I think and write for large casts- I think I do this because I come from a large family and a very large extended family and my community is very large. So it is hard for me to write a two person play or a four person play.

I joined Breath of Fire Latina Theater Ensemble three years ago and have been writing with them when last year we needed to raise $15,000 for the 2019 year to keep our organization going. We had a fundraiser and only raided $8,222.00 dollars and so I suggested we put on my Christmas Play to raise more money and that is how we had a reading of my play on December 9th 2018.

Your writing seems very autobiographical and personal. What have been some of the reactions of your family and friends when they see these stories up on the stage?

My family and friends have been elated to see my plays. It has brought pride to them and something positive to see and talk about. As opposed to all the negative things that are said about my culture and the people who look like me.

I loved the Popocatepetl and Iztacchihuatl love story. At what point in the writing/preparation did you decide that it must be in the play?

I have mentioned earlier that culture has a lot to do with my writing and the picture of  Popocatepetl  and Iztacchihuatl were on a calendar that hung in our dining room. It is a classic picture that most people of Mexican decent know and love and have in their home. It was a natural outcome to put that story in the Christmas play. Plus I wanted to remind people that we have a rich cultural heritage and rich ancestry and should be proud of it. 

Two part question. What obstacles have you seen in getting bilingual plays produced in America and how can we get more bilingual plays on American (and possible world) stages?

The general American society is very lazy to learn another language although I do know many people who love the language and culture who are not of Mexican descent. When I was taking writing classes and a teacher or student would say to me about my script, “I stopped reading it when I got to the Spanish because I didn’t know what it said and it took me out of the story.” Just one word or a sentence would stop the person from reading further and I would stop going to the class.

I have attended workshops, town hall meetings about plays and they say about Bilingual or Spanish language themed plays, “But our subscribers (who are older Anglo Saxons) do not or would not pay to see a Bilingual or Spanish play. Or that I had too many characters and the costs would be so huge just to pay the actors.”

Here in California the stage is overshadowed by the film industry and that is another issue. Since theater is lower on the entertainment list of entertainment goers, Latina Theater is even lower on the theater list of lists.

The need and the cultural changes that the US. Is undergoing within time Latina theater and theater in general will also change and become more accessible.

What’s a question you’d like to be asked? Go ahead and answer that question. 

I’d like to be asked, “How much money do you need Yolanda to put on your production of Blanca Nieves’ Christmas with the number of cast you require to fully tell this story?”

Thank you Bryan very much for this opportunity.

I sincerely wish you continued success in your endeavors.

—————————————————————————————————

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Aww, shucks.

I told you she was positive. Wow – Thank you, Yolanda.

Here’s all our other playwrights.

Here are some links related to Ms. Mendiveles and her work:

Her website.

Her other job (massage therapist).

LA Times article.

A short musical she wrote.

A scene from a screenplay.

Breath of Fire Latina Theatre Ensemble (you should support them)

 

 

Current Playwrights, Dude Playwrights, Unknown playwrights

Asher Wyndham

Mr. Monologue Man AKA Asher Wyndham is a prolific playwright capable of approaching his craft through a multitude of perspectives.

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Our dashing playwright hero and crusader against fascism, Asher Wyndham.

The first monologue/character of Asher’s we’ll check out is “Barsha Badal” which focuses on an Indian American motel owner. For those readers who haven’t been to the US, Indian Americans own half of the motels in America. A fact that impressed National Geographic so much they wrote an article about it. And the New York Times did like 20 years ago. That writer gets the article title rhyming award for 1999.

But while the NYT and National Geographic suck at writing plays, Mr. Wyndham does not. The monologue details immigrant Barsha’s perspective on her lot in life after living in America.

This monologue starts off with one heckuva BANG:

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Niraj is her husband, BTW.

Let’s take this apart for a second. Wyndham just drew a line between a Native American, Sacagawea (who by the way, was purchased by her husband) aka an American Indian and an Indian American. Two Americans connected by location, both physical (the US of A) and grammatical.

The beauty of this exists in the overload of “famous stuff to visit in America” – places that somehow imply greatness, despite the fact that the  bigger place they belong to (America) may not be so great. Even Wall Drug is there. Out of that list, only the Black Hills and the Great Salt Lake are worth checking out.  Just my opinion, though.

Don’t you just love Barsha’s sense of urgency???? She really goes out of her way to convince herself that life in Nebraska has meaning.  And she’s ever-so-patriotic.

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As if it weren’t political enough, Wyndham tosses the GOP under the proverbial bus in the form of a fly…and Barsha has already adapted America’s culture of looting food from immigrants (the chimichanga/pudding combo).

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I googled “chimichanga pudding” and this came up. You can buy it here.

If you could not guess the setting, it is here:

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I grew up in a somewhere that doubled as a nowhere. Apt description.

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Miland is her coincidentally-named son. Between popcorn, daiquiris, Loretta Lynn and Missy Elliott Barsha’s get pop-culture America down, minus a few years and pounds.

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I love this postmodern experimentalism Wyndham has going on here. The room numbers look like…room numbers!!!

Again, America and all the culture references: Magnum condoms, dead rats, dogs, marijuana and popcorn. And bloody Shrek.

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Finally, the real America shines through Barsha’s self-imposed blinders. Xenophobia is sadly one of those tropes that exist in real-life as well. For depressing news stories about American hatred towards Indians and Indian Americans, look here, here and here.

What can you do to help? Be like Asher. Write something. Make something. Be the change. And be tough like Barsha, once your blinders are removed.

Up next is a similar, yet distinct monologue, FAWZIE, which concerns an Iraqi immigrant who must clean the hotel some evil douchepunk Nazis are having a wankfest convention at. And just who is Fawzie?

 

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PAY ATTENTION TO THE BLACK EYE! It’s gonna come up later.

Fawzie is hosting a fake game show – to herself…Screen Shot 2018-12-10 at 1.10.58 PM

Hmm. Two plays, two dead rats and two condoms and zero G-strings.

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BUT this time it’s a grand set up for a brassard/armband/Nazi cosplay regalia… Again Wyndham points out the absurdities of the social sciences and pop culture by reminding everyone Nazi armbands appear in beloved Hollywood musicals.

And the comedy kicks in with the bad restaurant, tomato sauce and food babies. She then explains where she seeks peace: the supply room.

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I’ve never thought about Conan O’Brien in a yummy sort of way, but I imagine when it comes time to anoint Conan king make a Conan stamp there should be two like the Elvis  stamp.

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Can this be a stamp, please???
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Wait, wait, this one too!

Don’t worry, not gonna link you to any racist websites. WARNING: I’m not saying that website is racist, I’m just saying racists really like it.

So Fawzie has learned about pudding, Conan and Nazis. Let’s see…Screen Shot 2018-12-10 at 1.18.54 PM

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Like this, except Iraqi and female.

Here is where Wyndham breaks Brechtian and shows us how things should be. Immigrant Iraqi maids should be able to defeat American Nazi hordes.

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I am pleased…and I love my cigar.”

“Godless ugly men with mini blueberry muffins and mini oranges.”  Alright kiddos, that’s Imagery 101 for ya. Fawzie continues her reign of awesomeness:

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Let’s digest the above selection (mentally). What can Fawzie teach us???

  1. Syrup based on stereotypes can still burn Nazis’ eyes.
  2. America is for everyone (wait, already knew this – more like a review)
  3. Krav Maga is a very effective martial art. (knew this)
  4. Fantasy worlds can be interesting as Hell. (review)

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Now we know who gave her the black eye. And we also know she interacts with Satan on a personal basis [probably because he’s jealous of her awesomeness] –

And people throw profanity and slurs at her.

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God is greater than your hate. Deal with it. 

Since we’re dealing with an Iraqi in America, let’s see the cause of her violent removal from her motherland – the whole Iraq War personified by YOUNG VETERAN ADAM AMERSON, whom Wyndham has also chosen to write about.

Young Veteran Adam Amerson aka this guy:

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This dude served his country, ruining another country in the process. He’s back home now where he’s trying to sell his home in a limp economy where nobody gives a damn about him. He drinks a bit. “Connie” is the realtor.

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“Like tattoos on the eyeballs.” Gotta love it. By the way, that’s a real(ly painful) thing.

Wyndham varies his style between pieces and this is no different, containing some rather fun directions:

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And there you have it. The Word of God. Screen Shot 2018-12-10 at 1.28.34 PM

Did you notice something??? The play comes with visusals/illustrations/enhancers/incredibleness —

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Pella windows you say? I need a cold shower…yesterday. From here.

Again Wyndham’s characters are turning the American Nightmare upside down and all around on its stupid little head. I weep for the person whose determining factor in buying a home would be plasticized windows. They’re not even stained glass.

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Let’s see Pella do this.

Wyndham takes these illustrations to an inventively absurd degree when stuff like this happens:

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Yep, the script contains wrinkled children’s drawings of the main character. But it’s not all razzle-dazzle in Amerson’s homefront battle against evil realtors:

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He’s gotta go shoot stuff for Thanksgiving.

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He spills beer and doesn’t clean it up. Like his style.

Similar to other Wyndham plays, the monologue devolves (or is it “hyper-evolves”?) into a burning indictment of the land of the free graft and home of the brave slave. Check it:

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True to his smashing-of-Americana roots, Wyndham references Dr. Suess, Hurricane Gustav, Nazis, Adam Sandler, Netflix , the Klan and even himself.

Wyndham provides a useful glossary:

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Walmart hunters.” Hehe.

Asher’s next monologue is short (and good) enough to post in its entirety. Let’s check it out:

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There’s not much I can add here except that if you’re unfamiliar with US politics, what these horrible young lads are saying came right out of our current president’s mouth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the play, the school could be America and the dad American men, oblivious to what’s happening to their daughters/mothers/sisters/aunts/coworkers/friends/wives/girlfriends/favorite playwrights.

Let’s see what Asher has next:

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Oh this looks exciting! Again, this one we can post in its entirety. Here’s the first bit:

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Phoebe isn’t happy. 

Now as a little project, let’s illustrate everything pop-culturish that Wyndham throws at us:

  1. “Get the selfie stick away from me!”

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These dopes.

2.

“I will snap it–and chuck it into the Grand Canyon!”

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In 1914, the parking was good.

3. “Y’know, I’m in cheerleading,”

 

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Ferriday Junior High has three cheerleaders apparently.

 

4.

“I’m jacked for a thirteen year-old”

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Made the mistake of doing a “jacked” image search. The article that accompanies this is entitled “How Do You Know When You Are Jacked?” Errr…maybe when you’re not Jilled? It all goes downhill from there.

5.

“down, down, down like Wile E. Coyote”

 

 

6. “a friggin’ mini blueberry muffin”

 

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Via another WordPress blog. GASP!!!

 

7. “thank-you Economy Lodge”

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The microwave at a crappy Econolodge in Lincoln, Nebraska.

 

8. “I hate outlet malls”

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Hopefully Asher can write a monologue about Stanley the Big Red Moose with a Scarf and a Tote Bag in his Mouth at an Outlet Mall. He’s in Park City, kids.

9.

“(I don’t wear Aeropostale or Old Navy anymore)”

 

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No wonder. I’d look like a bigger douchnozzle than I already do.

For a second I thought it said “find magic IN the Old Navy surplus pants” – does that make  me a bad person? We miss Eartha Kitt.

10.

“I hate railway museums (they’re borrring)”

“Traffic’s never bad out here” << because nobody wants to see your national historic site. (As Phoebe would say).

11.

“I don’t want to see Laura Ingalls Wilder house-wagon-whatever,”

There are SIX different Laura Ingalls Wilder houses, take your pick…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I finally got to use the “insert all your pictures at once” function on WordPress.

I wonder if she moved so much because her neighbors got tired of her wholesome stories about her youth. Pictures and article here.

12.

“I’ve seen every friggin’ episode of Little House on the Prairie”

13.

“sucking on a Fudgsicle”

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Meanwhile, back in 1959….

14.

“I’m some Kardashian wannabe in a thong bikini”

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E Online. Where’s Ray J???

15.

“this fake smile doesn’t have to be on Facebook and Instagram every day!”

You know how Thailand is “The Land of Smiles“? Maybe America can be the Land of Fake Smiles.

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Pretty much every shopper’s experience in the US.

If you’re reading this, you probably know about Facebook and Instagram.

16.

“You don’t have to take a pic of me in front of Waffle House”

 

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Amazingly, I’ve never eaten there.

17.

“I will call a lawyer like that celebrity lawyer Gloria Allred and sue your ass for millions!”

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1977. Gloria Allred and Jerry Brown.

From the above, we can see that Wyndham is a master manipulator of American kitsch, pop culture and general Americana, speaking of which we should finish that monologue:

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“A boner as big as my forearm”

Yeah, you’re gonna have to go private-browse that one yourselves…

Last but not least, we’ll take a look at a monologue that should stand near and dear in our hearts:

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Yes, yes, yes. We all know this person! In fact, we may be this person!!!! (GASP)

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Okay, so it’s not me. Whew!!!

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Ahh, yes. Theatre, the realm of the cell phone.

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Well, the Theatregoer certainly has a valid point on this one.

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I didn’t steal your popcorn. Popcorn is disgusting. But the Theatregoer has deeper issues to work out.

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And then there’s pulling the wool AWAY from the audience’s eyes and exposing them for the naked, needy and desperate people they apparently are.

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Tell ya what, this character will be stuck in whatever comes before “friendzone” – maybe “creepy coworker zone.”

And there you have it, a small sampling of the hundreds of monologues Wyndham has produced.

Asher was kind enough to answer a few questions….

1. How did you start playwriting?

I would say the start, the beginning of my playwriting, happened over a period of time, over two years or so. So I hope the following answers your question…

Playwriting started shortly after I graduated from the University of Sioux Falls, SD. My experiences as an openly gay student facing bullying and dealing with homophobia didn’t give me much confidence after graduation. I was depressed, so one way of dealing with that was escaping reality through reading. I spent much of my time in my bedroom which was also my library. (This personal library wasn’t in Sioux Falls, it was in Arizona.) I started buying more dramatic literature from library book sales — all that you can fit into a grocery bag for a dollar – why not? I would spend hours reading play after play — Ibsen, Pinter, O’Neill, Kushner, all the classics, and one day I started imitating some playwrights by writing plays of various lengths. After almost two years of reading dramatic literature and writing crappy pays, I came across a notice on a library bulletin board advertising a local playwriting group — Old Pueblo Playwrights. Joining that Tucson group, having my work read by other playwrights, learning the craft from professional playwrights, changed my life!

I think playwriting appealed to me in two ways:

(1) It connected me to a community of playwrights and other artists. It gave me a sense of belonging which was difficult to *feel* in a community/city where bullying and homophobia wasn’t a big concern and where you didn’t feel equal.

(2) It was a creative and liberating way for me, mostly through the immediacy and intimacy of the monologue form, to address some personal issues, fears, hopes, anger, dreams, political concerns, questions about Life, Liberty, the Pursuit of Happiness, and the American Dream through voices of different people.

2. What are your influences?

Theatre– The complicated women of Ibsen’s plays have had a profound impact on my writing of my character Allegra in my full length THE PLAYTPODES. Tony Kushner and Luis Valdez continue to remind me that all theatre is political. Caryl Churchill and Suzan Lori-Park’s plays encourage me to think outside the box in respects to structure. The language of Harold Pinter, Tennessee Williams, James Purdy, Suzan-Lori Parks, and Sheila Callaghan have had a profound influence on me. Lanford Wilson, who was a teacher of mine at the Edward Albee New Playwrights Workshop at the University of

Houston, gave me some pointers. Young Jean Lee’s work reminds me to not censor myself and embrace wacky ideas.

Monologue/solo writers such as Danny Hoch, Nilaja Sun, Alan Bennett and Dael Orlandersmith. The monologues written by Donald Margulies, included in his collection MISADVENTURE AND OTHER SHORT PIECES has been one of the biggest influences on my monologue writing. (The monologue Lola is AHMAZING!)

Poems that are really monologues written by Robert Browning and Ai (read her collection Vice). I read Browning in undergraduate college and I was immediately intrigued by the poet using a persona and writing from that character’s perspective.

The multiplicity of voices and perspectives in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, the ancient Greek manual on rhetoric Progymnasmata by Theophratus, and Aristotle’s Rhetoric(read that before Poetics).

Playmobil.

Novelists and short story writers that play with text, structure, including pictures, dream maps, doodles, different fonts and font sizes: Ann Quinn, BS Johnson, Donald Barthelme, and Kathy Acker. I like to include pictures and doodles and other artwork into some of my plays. My monologue Young Veteran Adam Amerson includes a large black square and my niece’s doodle.

Overheard conversations at bus stops, coffeehouses, the park, wherever! Every week someone is delivering a monologue for more than two minutes! One time a guy was setting up his drum kit in a park while talking on and on about his girlfriend. Strangers love opening up to me, for some reason, they speak uninterrupted for a long time.

Different ways people of various backgrounds, life experiences, cultures, jobs, regions of the United States use American English. I pay attention to diction, sentence length, fragments, tone, etc. I enjoy learning slang.

3. What is your most memorable production and why?

My most memorable production was the New York City production of my monologue Barsha Badal at Shetler Studios, part of the spork Festival in February 2008, produced

by Theatre 54. It was memorable because of the professionalism of its producers and the incredible collaboration with actor Shetal Shah. It was my first professional production of a one-act monologue, and it’s one of my first monologues ever written (from 2007) and one of my favorites. It was a bare bones production — and a smashing success!

4. What is your least memorable production and why? [you can leave out specifics or names]

If you’re meaning awful production, then I wouldn’t consider it “least memorable.” Even an awful production or certain aspects of a collaboration could be memorable.

A production that I didn’t see? A world famous short play festival chose a ten-minute play. The producer/director emailed me back the Word Doc of my play with changes — text was removed from the play. He cut almost two pages of text. Text was cut to keep it at 10 minutes and the changes came AFTER sound and lighting design were plotted. I can understand suggestions for cutting for time restraints (I am totally open to that!), but to contact me at what seemed like last minute was not OK. The director didn’t want to collaborate. Even if 100s of miles are between the director and the playwright there is still an opportunity to collaborate. I should’ve spoken up, I should’ve said No to some of the changes, but I didn’t know better at the time — I just wanted my play produced at this festival.

4A. Tell us some of your thoughts regarding collaboration? 

One of my earliest experiences with a large group of artists could’ve been more intense. Maybe budget and time constraint resulted in the type of collaboration.” And then after that “Some questions that I had after the collaboration:

Some questions that I asked myself after the production:

How does a playwright collaborate with a prop designer? (That would also include the director!)

How does a playwright collaborate with a lighting designer?
…media designer?

…fight choreographer?
…the person in charge of making the trailer?
…costume designer?
…make-up designer? etc.

What is the beginning, middle, and end to these collaborations?

Where does it happen in the schedule of a production?
What questions, what kind of conversation is possible before first rehearsal?
Are these types of collaborations lacking in some theatres, in college theatre?
Are there study cases, for example, of collaboration between media designers and playwrights?

How can such intense collaborations influence new play development and production?

5. What is your funniest theatre story?

During a production of Heartbreak House by Bernard Shaw there wasn’t enough little slices of lemon poppy-seed cake. Because they were eaten. By me. I was a co-stage manager and I got the munchies. That is a long-ass play. That was the last time I stage managed a play.

6. What are your writing habits like?

I usually write something every day, sometimes a page, sometimes just a few words, sometimes after work until I go to bed.

Usually on Sunday, I wake up with an idea for a monologue or voice of a character in my head and write five to ten pages of a first draft.

I scribble down ideas for monologues on scraps of paper and fold them up and add them to a baseball cap. I select a scrap of paper from the cap and attempt to write the monologue.

I “perform” my monologues. Because for me playwriting, especially monologue writing, is a performative art — it involves the ENTIRE body — the lungs, the legs, the arms, the ass, the ears, etc. — and moving around, crawling, jumping, dancing, etc. Each draft involves me getting on my feet, inhabiting the character, attempting to become this other person in my kitchen or on my living room floor. I am not an actor, I’ve never been trained, I can’t remember many lines — so I basically read a few lines from my computer and act it out, and then move to another section. Sometimes I speak for five or ten-minutes to myself (don’t care if anyone hears me) and then after that try to write down what I remember saying.

7. What advice do you have for new playwrights?

 

Read not just plays: read comic books, philosophy, poetry, novels, short stories from different cultures and viewpoints, message boards, blogs, read from multiple sources of news.

Join New Play Exchange NOW — it will change your life!

Attend play conferences. (If you don’t have the $$$ like me right now, then get your plays read.)

Get out of your pajamas and stop eating cereal three times a day.

Be a fucking amazing human being. Introduce yourself to strangers, go to art galleries, dance until 530 am with beautiful people.

Create art that uses various facets of your personality.

If it seems like a stupid idea for a play, a silly or sick or weird idea for a play — write it! Don’t censor yourself!

8. Who are some other writers you should get more attention?

Ricardo Soltero-Brown, Rachael Carnes, Nelson Diaz-Marcano, Matthew Weaver, Jordan Elizabeth Henry, to name a few.

9. What are common themes in your work?

I generally write from the perspective of people that are marginalized, on the periphery , “othered” in some way. The underdog, those that are disillusioned. The oppressed, the bullied, the misunderstood, the fuck-ups. From their individual perspective, from their need to be heard, from their anger, their dreams and desires, I deal with many themes — the illusion of the American Dream, the difficulty of remaining hopeful, the desire for acceptance and belonging, confronting and questioning traditions/values/beliefs/status quo/history/people in power.

10. What is one thing you wished you knew now, that you didn’t know starting out?

I don’t have an answer for that.

11. Why did you decide to focus on monologues?

 

That’s a great question! The more I think about this question, the more I want to add to this. For now, here’s why I love writing monologues.

I love the challenge of entertaining an audience for one to 25 minutes with one person on stage.

I want to challenge the thought that many have that monologues are anti-theatre, not dramatic. Some may disagree with me, but I think monologues — or solo plays — are one of the most misunderstood forms of American theatre. Many theatres do not want playwrights to submit monologues, many theatres do not produce them as part of their season. I want to help change that, I want to get theatres to think differently about the monologue after reading my work, even if it takes me decades.

I love that monologues, if it’s direct address to the audience, break the fourth wall. The character/speaker of a monologue creates an intimacy, an immediate connection with the audience. Sometimes audience becomes a “stage audience” as opposed to a “theatre audience”: they are part of the world of the play, imagining themselves as a group of people or a character that the character/speaker is addressing. There’s so much in our culture that alienates us from one another, and theatre helps to create an intimacy between different kind of people, a sort of radical empathy happens — and the monologue form, I think, does it better than plays with more than one character.

I am trying to master the monologue form in a way that is an opposition of what I read in book form and see on stage. Many monologues, especially those in audition books, do not excite me. They are not active, there’s no objective, there’s no reason for the character to speak, I am left wondering after the reading, “Why is this character speaking to me?”

I disagree completely with Alan Bennett when he says in his Introduction to The Complete Talking Heads: “The more still (and even static) the speaker is the better the monologue works.” Hogwash! My monologue characters make use of the stage, they do more than just sitting. They’re dancing, jumping, crawling, throwing props. My monologues use a language that is a language of the body. If the audience understands why the character is speaking to them, then there’s no reason to have a static speaker!

I enjoy the challenge of structuring a monologue just like a play with more than one character. But I am also experimenting with structure, so I am not always adhering to Aristotelian structure.

I enjoy the challenge of writing from perspective of people who are not like me. Other playwrights have remarked about my ability to write from the perspective of practically anyone — that is one of my goals. I approach each monologue differently in respects to language.

Monologue writing gets me out of pajamas. It immerses me in my community, gets me in contact with people from different backgrounds, cultures, ages, etc. Are my monologues authentic, accurate, honest representations? To insure that, I need to collaborate with diverse actors and artists.

Monologue writing gives me an opportunity to share my frustrations, hopes, and desires, to question certain perspectives/ideologies, to deal with social issues and problems, to address what it means to be a citizen — through a character that doesn’t shut up!

12. Can you please tell us about the evolution of Barsha Badal, from idea to where it’s at now?

It is one of my earliest monologues, and one of my favorites. I recommend that as a starting point for people new to my work.

It began with an image, as do most of my monologues — a woman leaving a motel room in Tucson, AZ. The woman sighed while holding a heavy load in a laundry basket. With that image, I wrote the one-act monologue in 2007 with that woman being the motel owner in nowhere, Nebraska. Shortly after writing it was staged read by an Indian-American actor in Tucson, and then about a few months later it was professionally produced with an Indian-American actor in New York City, directed by me. With that actor’s feedback, a few tweaks were made to make it accurate. In the fall of 2007 it was read one night to some Indian theatre artists that ran a theatre company, and another night it went up in Washington DC. Over the years, staying in motels, I’ve made observations and they’ve made it into the play. Ever since my focus on submitting my first volume of monologue, SOME AMERICANS: SOME MONOLOGUES, to publishers, I’ve been revising it, tweaking it. That started shortly before Trump got in. After watching news reports about the rise in hate attacks and Neo-Nazism in the U.S., I

knew I needed to dust this monologue off and approach it from a different perspective. After watching videos of the riot in Charlottesville, VA I decided to add the part about Barsha going for a walk for coffee creamer and her encounter with some Nazi-wannabe teenagers.

13. What is the relationship between American pop culture and your writing?

Have you seen that Lady Gaga video — Poker Face — with those glasses that read POP CULTURE –? I love pop culture! It has a tremendous impact on my writing. I am not just a citizen, I am a consumer–and so are my characters. Blogs, Instagram, dating apps, comment threads, pop music, products in a superstore, trashy magazines, posts, you name it — it may influence a play. IDGAF if it’s considered low-brow or crass or trashy.

Sometimes the character determines what kind of pop culture inspires me during writing and revising. Sometimes pop culture inspires a character.

I don’t understand the criticism by theatre artists against the use of pop culture in a play. I think such a response is elitist. A few times I have been in a room with some playwrights that encouraged me to not make pop references. I have had a director try to persuade me to remove all my pop references — no M&Ms. Tony Kushner mentioned Burger King in Angels in America, hello. Some have argued that pop culture references dates the play, makes it less universal. Yes it dates the play, but it can still be universal. I let pop culture influence my plays as much as the philosophy of Kierkgaard, a novel, or a poem.

14. So many of your monologues focus on the “other” – minorities, immigrants, poor people, differently-abled, elderly, etc. How can American theatre be more open and welcoming?

Produce less Broadway or off-Broadway plays that do not speak to a variety of audiences.

Produce plays with cheaper ticket prices or Pay-What-You-Can so that people other than rich white old people can see the plays.

Making sure that at least 50 percent of your people involved in a show (that includes crew, cast and other artists) are minority. If you’re a person that donates money, demand change or stop giving the theatre money!

 

Theatres need to do the fucking work and connect with communities/peoples unlike those on the board. If you’re not producing work that mirrors a diverse America, WTF?

Maybe theatres should not be funded by grants if a certain percentage of plays are not written by a minority playwright or produced with minority artists. Maybe those interested advocating for minority voices in theatre should contact people in local government.

15. What’s a question you’d like to be asked? Go ahead and answer that question.

What are your top ten monologues on New Play Exchange that you recommend for reading and production?

Barsha Badal, Young Veteran Adam Amerson, Valerie, Don Ponzo!!!, Manny Aquino, Fawzie: A Hotel Chambermaid Monologue, Janey Smith: A Football Fan Monologue, Renata: A Post-Maternity Monologue, Sandy: A Supercenter Monologue, and Fuck Buddy.

Thanks Asher for sharing your talent and insight!!!

For our other playwrights, click here.

Here are couple links for people to keep up with him:

New Play Exchange page.

Website.

 

Female Playwrights, Playwrights of the Past, Unknown playwrights

Alice Dunbar-Nelson

  If I had known
Two years ago how drear this life should be,
And crowd upon itself all strangely sad,
Mayhap another song would burst from out my lips,
Overflowing with the happiness of future hopes;
Mayhap another throb than that of joy.
Have stirred my soul into its inmost depths,
           If I had known.

  If I had known,
Two years ago the impotence of love,
The vainness of a kiss, how barren a caress,
Mayhap my soul to higher things have soarn,
Nor clung to earthly loves and tender dreams,
But ever up aloft into the blue empyrean,
And there to master all the world of mind,
            If I had known.

If I Had Known” by Alice Dunbar-Nelson, published at age 20.

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Our poet, playwright, novelist, short story writer, journalist, teacher, activist and hero. Via here.

This week’s subject is quite renowned. Many studies of her life have been done and are readily available online.

The purpose of this blog is to highlight unknown playwrights and we’ll look at Mrs. Dunbar-Nelson as a playwright but also in regards to her other work as it seems fit.

She was born Alice Ruth Moore in 1875 in New Orleans. Her mother was a seamstress and former slave and her father was a white sailor. She grew up in the Creole culture of New Orleans.

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Because a license plate totally makes up for generations of discrimination. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Moore was able to graduate college in an era when almost no Americans even attended college:

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College graduation rates. Note the close proximity to “zero” in 1900. Dunbar-Nelson graduated from college in 1892 at the age of 16!!!
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People of African descent were pretty close to zero college graduation rate in 1900. Dunbar-Nelson beat the odds into a bloody mangled pulp.

For the record, she graduated from the HBCU Straight University (now part of Dillard University).

She published her first book at age 20. At this time, she moved to New York City where she helped found and worked at the White Rose Mission. From Wikipedia:

“Founded to offer shelter and food to destitute migrants,The White Rose Mission also offered job placement for the new arrivals. As African American workers were relegated to jobs as unskilled laborers, conditions and opportunities for African American female workers in New York City were deplorable. The aim of the employment placement service of the White Rose Mission was to furnish skilled, circumspect domestic workers to middle-class homes. The Mission also offered instruction in aspects of housekeeping, such as: cooking, sewing, expert waiting and laundering. Additionally The Mission provided a clean parlor where women who were dues-paying members could entertain callers.

The White Rose Mission evolved to provide social services unavailable to African Americans in New York City such as enrichment classes, child-rearing instructions and a Penny Provident Bank thrift program. The White Rose Mission also maintained a library of works relevant to the history and accomplishments of African and African American people.”

The mission’s library even included a 1773 edition of Phyllis Wheatley‘s poems. I like to think maybe Dunbar-Nelson made that happen.

By the late 1890s, her poems and stories were being regularly published in America, where they caught the interest of famed poet Paul Lawrence Dunbar. Supposedly he fell in love with her at first poem/photo. They corresponded for two years before finally meeting at which point he proposed to her.

This marriage has been called “tragic” “troubled” – I’ll call a loser a loser. Paul Lawrence Dunbar was a psychopathic rapist and wife beater.

According to the brilliant book about their marriage by Eleanor Alexander ,  Dunbar raped his future wife before the marriage and her physical recovery from that rape took several months. His treatment of her (not surprisingly) remained the same throughout the marriage when he was actually home. He’d leave her home alone for months at a time while he went on recitation tours. The marriage effectively ended when “he beat Alice within an inch of her life.”

In Alice’s own words:

“He came home one night in a beastly condition. I went to him to help him to bed—and he behaved . . . disgracefully. He left that night, and I was ill for weeks with peritonitis brought on by his kicks.”

She never returned to him and only communicated once when she replied “No” to one of many, many letters he sent her begging forgiveness, etc.

Now we must take a time out for a bit.

If you’re in an abusive relationship or even just have questions, please use this site in the US.

In Canada, you can reach out here. And in the UK, here. We love Unknown Playwrghts and despise domestic violence.

In fact, I propose we rename all those high schools named after Paul.  Let’s rename them after his wife…

Though Dunbar-Nelson is chiefly remembered for her exquisite poetry, short stories and journalism, she did write at least three plays.

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“A magazine of cleverness?” More like “You can line the litter box with its smugness.”

The play is so short, you can read it in two pages.

 

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Mrs. Paul Laurence Dunbar.” She certainly earned that title. Via here.

So the humor is lame corny gentle. I could totally see a modern artistic director rejecting this play for having too many characters in such a short amount of time as well as “We don’t do period pieces.” Then, when being told it’s by the famous Alice Dunbar-Nelson, having a theatregasm and producing it with an era-appropiriate atlas and a prologue explaining the Boer War. Sigh.

It’s doubtful this was ever performed. It seems to be a closet comedy. The magazine, The Smart Set, was on its way to becoming a big deal. It would go on to publish Joyce, Conrad, Yeats, Pound, Strindberg and Fitzgerald.  That Dunbar-Nelson could publish a piece in a magazine targeted at New York City’s elite shows her immense ability.

Between this and her next play, she taught high school, wrote a bunch of short stories and poems which made her relatively famous and she left Dunbar, secretly married Henry Arthur Callis, a prominent doctor and one of the founders of the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity , divorced him and married Robert J. Nelson. And had a few girlfriends.

Among the women Dunbar-Nelson would have relationships with in her life were Edwina B. Kruse, the principal of the high school where she taught, artist Helene London and journalist/activist Fay Jackson Robinson.

Despite her journalism being geared towards black readers, her fiction and poetry largely avoided discussion of race. As the great Gloria T. Hull puts it:

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Please buy/read the entire book here.

I’m pretty sure explicitly racial content in her fiction and poetry would’ve hampered her publication chances for a larger (i.e. white) audience.

This changed around the time of her last marriage where she began to explicitly write about race quite often.

One interesting work she composed was An Hawaiian Idyll, a full-length operetta. This script was never published, but two documents related to it are in her papers at the University of Delaware.

The plot is loosely inspired by the sad fate of Hawaiian Princess Ka’iulani

For those of you not familiar with her story, it’s tied up with Hawaii’s story, namely the monarchy was overthrown by a missionary kid and annexed by the Americans. Then the princess died, of rheumatism.

In the play, the plot is similar, but the setting has been re-imagined to serve Dunbar-Nelson’s purpose: as an allegory for “Africans’ loss of culture and identity in the Americas.”

In the play, “Kaiulani” is sent abraod to be educated, ends up in San Francisco where she learns her mom has been overthrown and rushes home to save the day where she restores Hawaiian sovereignty and the monarchy. None of that happened. Some interesting postmodern alternate history there.

As far as we know, the play was performed only once, at the high school where the author taught. The play would’ve been performed by an all-African American cast.

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Brief snippet via The Crisis. February 1917.The “native instruments” were directed by Conwell Banton who had his own career of awesomeness.

Here is an interesting analysis of what little is known of the operetta.

And thus we move on to 1918 and The Crisis, the magazine put out by the NAACP. Shortly before this this time editor W.E.B. Du Bois was taking the magazine in a radical (for then) direction, even publishing a photo of the lynching of Jesse Washington. WARNING: the Wiki article has some graphic photos. He also opposed African Americans supporting the war effort against Germany, though he may have had personal reasons for doing so….

“Du Bois was so taken with some aspects of German social behavior that he retained certain habits from his student days in Berlin for the rest of his life. Prussian social customs gave him, or at least reinforced in him, a certain distinguished bearing or carriage, an apparent aloofness not uncommon among shy people. This trait, augmented by a clipped manner of speech Du Bois acquired in Germany, was often misunderstood as reserve, distance, even haughtiness, and was to characterize Du Bois for the rest of his life. In his physical appearance Du Bois, described later in life as a mandarin, was just following the fashion set by the Kaiser in his style of trimming his hair and beard, as well as his habitual use of a cane and gloves.”

images

Exhibit A: Kaiser Wilhelm II with goofy moustache and eagle taking a dump on his head.

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Exhibit B: W.E.B. Du Bois with goofy moustache, but no eagle plus a goatee.

So the US government used the Espionage Act to lean on the paper and Du Bois promised to self-censor, which resulted in the magazine actually supporting the war against Germany.

And that is where Dunbar-Nelson’s play  fits into the puzzle of WWI propoganda. She wrote a play with a purpose and that purpose was to encourage African Americans to totally support America fighting a European war.

The plot is pretty straightforward. A family who lost their father in a lynching and now live in the north have a debate when one of the boy’s is drafted. Various ethnic neighbors chime in and an outside social worker also gives her two cents. It’s interesting and definitely a relic of it’s era. This isn’t the first time this blog has profiled a WWI propoganda play.

Highlights of the play:

  1. The play establishes a place and time and one quite different from the comedy.
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The time was…1918.
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“Brown-skinned” was a term used to distinguish from darker skinned people. Aka “Colorism.
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Lucy of the “pathetic” face. Heck, my face is waaay more pathetic than hers. Illustrations for the play were done by Laura Wheeler.

2.  An early written use of the word “not” to negate the previous statement.  

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This trend was popularized by the Bill & Ted movies and Wayne’s World sketches and movies in the 1990s. Further discussion here.

Lowlights:

It is pure propoganda, as this exchange about Huns Germans commiting some insane atrocities:

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Otherlights:

Man, that brooding character of Chris. He gives zero f*cks about little white babies.

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This Chris is a bit of a badass. And familiar enough with ancient and Biblical history to invoke Moloch.

He even gets to deliver a badass monologue. Warning: archaic racial slur at the end.

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This was such a tough monologue that an actor on Youtube covered it…

See what Dunbar-Nelson did there with the card game metaphor?

And for the ending, which is a relic of its day:

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At least one scholar has suggested Cornelia is the author’s avatar in the story.

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The whole scene, well-illustrated by Laura Wheeler.

Here’s a video of a table read of the play from Chengchi University in Taiwan:

 

The only known full production happened at the high school Dunbar-Howard taught at, where, according to her niece “She produced her play and  we all took parts. The audience loved it…but nobody would publish it.” That niece, Pauline Young, was her aunt’s student at the time and would go on to do great things.

A formidable part of this play is that it may have been written with white readers/audiences in mind. There’s the criticism of how America treats her minorities but also reassurrances that black soldiers and civilians will do their part to stop the “Hun.” In this manner it may very well be worth reviving, as this is an argument that isn’t going away any time soon.

Dunbar-Nelson left a relatively small (two short plays and a full-length operetta) but highly interesting canon of theatre work that deserves rediscovery.

More could be  (and has been) written about Alice Dunbar-Nelson: her life as an LGBT pioneer and icon, as a Creole woman of the 19th Century, as a prominent poet and as a writer in general.

Before the link dump, here is a video of a young student reciting the Dunbar-Nelson poem/lament “I Sit and See” – a commentary on American women’s plight in her era.

 

For all our other playwrights, please check here.

The plays:

Mine Eyes Have Seen (slow load, but worth it)

The Smart Set

An Hawaiian Idyll (analysis of two documents).

The woman:

Her life (with MASSIVE list of links)

Another bio

Her diary.

Her works:

Good place to start.

archive.org

Scholarship regarding Dunbar-Nelson.

Female Playwrights, Playwrights of the Past, Unknown playwrights

Thanksgiving plays: Madalene Barnum and Carolyn Wells

Just when you thought Halloween had a lock on goofy plays, Thanksgiving pops up with its own brand of bizarre. And we have TWO Thanksgiving plays. We have much to be thankful for.

For those readers who didn’t grow up in the US, Thanksgiving is a holiday that (according to pop culture) involves eating turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberries, pumpkin pie, rolls and a bunch of other stuff. Actual Thanksgiving meals can involve other foods such as collard greens, black eyed peas, sweet potato pie. potato salad with paprika and even lasagna. Heck, I’ve even had Korean food at a Thanksgiving meal. And some people even deep fry a turkey, resulting in sadly hilarious Youtube videos.

Thanksgiving isn’t just celebrated in the US and Canada, but also in the West African nation of Liberia.

It really isn’t all that different from other harvest-oriented festivals around the world.

Thanksgiving activities stereotypically involve interacting with long-hated family members, watching American football, eating as much as possible and passing out in front of the TV.

Some Americans pretend to care about homeless people around this time. And they make popular Youtube videos about it.

All this is in commemoration of some colonizers who didn’t die right away, so they had a feast.

Sometimes American schools have/had a Thanksgiving pageant. I don’t remember a pageant, but I had to make that stupid little Pilgrim hat with the buckle.

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LAME.
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Much better. Buy yours today!

This is where the Thanksgiving plays come in. They would’ve been acted out by school kids across our great land.

The first play, from 1922, focuses on the harvest aspect of the holiday.

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I got it for free, and so can you.

This play starts off…well…

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The Goddess of Grain finally has her story told, after being a supporting player.
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Really digging the costume choices here.

Ceres and all the other immortals are just hanging out, complaining about how mortals aren’t really thankful. What’s the best way to fix that?

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Makes sense.

I particularly like that PEACE doesn’t know what a family is….because there is no peace on Thanksgiving bwahahah. PEACE seems like a leftover from the end of WWI.

Everything is in verse in this play. And there’s a bunch of songs set to tunes people actually knew back then. More of those later.

So PEACE and PLENTY run off and catch humans.

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Why can’t the son be a “degenerate, out of style blob”???

And Lord knows what the “best type of modern girlhood” entails.

The immortals interrogate the mortals about Thanksgiving. Here is a typical exchange between MOTHER EARTH and the MOTHER on Earth.

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Each human gives their response and everyone sings a song about it. Here is dear old GRANDPA…

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And the Thanksgiving Trio sing a song based on a song most Americans know as “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” but is actually named “America” and using the melody from “God Save the Queen” and about 1,000 other songs.

One can only imagine how much better the play would’ve been with Franklin’s stirring voice.

This is all fine and good until the nameless, yet “efficient, sensible and pretty” GIRL teaches everyone the true meaning of Thanksgiving.

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So the brightest and kindest-hearted character is the GIRL. This is definitely a saving grace. And that is the play’s strongest aspect. We definitely need to learn how to give more than receive. I’d say a modern variation on that theme might make a suitable Thanksgiving play.

However, let’s go on a tangent about the air “My Maryland.”

TANGENT BEGINNING

This was the only video I could find without a Confederate flag. Why? This was a Confederate song that referred to Lincoln as a despot, called Northerners “scum” and had the phrase “Sic semper tyrannis” – the same phrase that actor from Maryland used right after he shot Lincoln. You can read all about it on the Wikihole.

So what did the brave lawmakers in Maryland do when they woke up in 2018 and realized they had the song of a bunch of traitors who got their asses beat 153 years before? Only the most limpdicked thing possible.

And “O Tannenbaum” is forever ruined by this.

TANGENT OVER

The play basically ends with everyone saying “What an awesome girl!”

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Thanksgiving Pageant from 1914. Note lack of Pilgrims and abundance of child-sized veggies. From here.

The play’s author, Carolyn Wells, was indeed quite popular for the time, writing more than 170 books, specializing in mysteries. She also married the heir to the Houghton-Mifflin publishing firm.

*Note to self: Marry heir to Samuel French publishing firm. Write 170 plays.

Please don’t judge her on the silliness of this Thanksgiving play. Instead, feel free to judge this accomplished woman based off of her vast, vast work.

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She even serialized her work in the famed Argosy magazine. My new goal is to re-add “fascination” to the mystery suspense genre.

Links to work by and about her will appear at the end.

CWells
Judge her for her hat. Via here.

 

Now for the second part of our play-a-thon.

The First Thanksgiving Day from 1907, written by Madalene Barnum, is hilarious. It appears in A Book of Plays for Little Actors

The plot is pretty simple. It’s 1621 and the one-year anniversary of the Pilgrims totally not dying is coming up. The Pilgrims invite the local Native Americans over for a party. They use a Native American, Squanto, as interpreter.

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The play neglects to mention that the real Squanto spoke English because he’d been kidnapped to England years before.

Americans to this day continue the tradition of just showing up someplace and not bothering with the language.

The Pilgrims properly prepare for their party –

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Clams for Thanksgiving! YESSS!
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Myles Standish, badass.

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As usual, women get the drudgery work.

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The women don’t get to shoot stuff, but also they don’t have the humiliation of simply saying “Bang! Bang!” in the woods.

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Mary, Priscilla, Mrs. White – to the ovens!! Mrs. White is impressed by Standish’s huge…turkeys.

And the Native Americans show up, ostensibly speaking a real language.

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Well, Elder, there’s no football on the tube…

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Should’ve thought of that before everyone said “Yes, yes!”. Sigh.

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PLEASE, GOD, NO!

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White men are good at war stuff. Got it.

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Don’t listen to them, Squanto! Poor Squanto cannot distinguish between a cannon and thunder.

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Good-by really strange play from 1907!

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Thanksgiving pageant, St. Paul, Minnesota, 1904. Probably not much different than our play.

Madalene Barnum didn’t quite have the career Wells did. She was born in 1874, but I haven’t found a death date for her. I doubt she’s 144 years old.

Her career included educational books and plays.

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She co-authored this sexy tome in 1911.
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You can buy this.

At the time she wrote this, she was an English teacher at the Brooklyn Training School for Teachers.

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Holy crap, she got a play with Samue French!

It’s obvious these writers were going for what was popular and acceptable by the dominant society at the time. And they appear to have succeeded.

What should be in a modern Thanksgiving play??

For a list of all our playwrights, please check here.

Before we leave you, I’d like to add a video which is kinda related to today’s topic, but it is an important one. And she’s funny.

 

And here is the link dump:

The plays

The Meaning of Thanksgiving Day.

The First Thanksgiving Day, right here

The authors

Madalene Barnum at archive.org

And more!

Carolyn Wells at Wikipedia,

Wells at Britannica. And Poetry Foundation.

Works at Gutenberg.org

Works at archive.org

Wikisource

Review and bio on a blog

Fantastic Fiction.

Another overview

Another book review on a blog. The comments are vicious.