Fast Forward Friday with Fengar Gael

For this week’s Fast Forward Friday, we interviewed playwright Fengar Gael. Her plays include The Usher’s Ball, The Portraitist, The Gallerist, Opaline, Touch of Rapture, Gift of a Forgotten Tongues, The Cat Vandal and Sycorax: Cyber Queen of Qamara. She has had her plays developed and produced at The New York Stage and Film Company, the Sundance Theatre Lab, New Jersey Repertory, Playwrights Theatre of New Jersey, InterAct Theatre of Philadelphia, the Salt Lake Acting Company, Kitchen Dog Theatre, The Venus Theatre, the Utah Shakespeare Festival, The Landing Theatre, The Outcast Theatre, The Rorschach Theatre, MultiStages, Turn to Flesh Productions, Playwrights Gallery and The Ego Actus Theatre Company. To learn more, visit www.fengar.com.

Q: What are you currently working on?  Tell us about it.

I’m working on a louche tale of the supernatural called Passing Parades that features an idealistic young woman who undergoes a radical transformation after a bomb shatters the lives of marchers gathered to celebrate the centennial of women’s suffrage. The woman awakens from a coma convinced she’s possessed by the soul of a pioneer suffragists who died in a similar explosion in 1850. She must now adjust to the social and technological advances of today’s world, and is the subject of much speculation until she disappears and becomes the object of a citywide search.

Q: What was the inspiration and impetus for doing this project?

I was inspired by research on Elizabeth Cady Stanton, the subject of a short play commissioned by the Hangar Theatre of Ithaca to commemorate the centennial of women’s suffrage in New York State. The first wave of feminism took place in the mid-19th century at the same time as the abolitionist movement. Participants for both causes were subject to constant abuse and ridicule, and I couldn’t resist returning to that period of history –  the decade before the civil war when our country was divided by geography and politics. Today our country’s divided once again, only this time it’s by the politics and geography of urban verses rural regions.

Q: Who are your artistic heroes – who have had an impact on you and your work?

There are too many poets, novelists and playwrights to list them all, but the revelations I felt reading the magic realism of Latin American writers had the greatest influence, especially the work of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Carlos Feuntes, Jorge Luis Borges,  Pablo Neruda  and Isabel Allende. All my plays possess metaphysical dimensions mixing fantasy with reality, the past with the present, humans with animals, the living with the dead.

Q: What keeps you motivated and inspired as an artist?  

Everything in my phenomenological sphere inspires me: my family, friends and enemies; art, music, films and literature; nature’s abundance of animals, trees and flowers; political essays in newspapers and magazines, and all the emotions evoked attempting to stay sane in a world perpetually at war.

Q: What other projects would you like to tell us about?

I recently finished a fourth draft of Smile Like a Knife, which is my “resistance” or “catharsis” play: a theatrical response to living in uniquely conflicted times with a contentiously divided government under the leadership of a miserly, mean-souled  president who prefers building walls to bridges; denies the reality of global warming; champions the rights of white males to women and immigrants; and who threatens the values of our once proudly progressive democracy.

Smile Like a Knife is a dystopian exploration of life on the shrinking island of Manhattan after global warming has wreaked havoc and forced humanity to become both organic and mechanic. One hundred years from now, an androgynous guide is speaking to an audience of tourists  observing a simulated habitat of a drama that took place in the early decades of the 21st century: In the heart of the city’s most prestigious shopping district stands a watch shop located directly across from a renown residential building where powerful corporate magnates convene and conspire to control global conflicts and economies. In the shop window stands an alluring robotic mannequin equipped with a camera that spies on the constant stream of marchers protesting the country’s dysfunctional plutocracy. The play explores the corrosive effects of a divisive government as well as the human capacity for romance, redemption and invention.

Q: What is one instance of knowing you are living in your vision?

Is it really my vision? Sometimes I feel like a  puppet whose strings are being pulled by perverse, mercurial gods who like to trick me at every turn. Yet most mornings I feel I’m living in my own vision because of the singular instance of wanting to wake up – perhaps to hear  birds chirping, voices beckoning or simply to taste that first cup of coffee, or the chance to escape the building and join the huddled masses on the streets, the subways, shops, theatres and museums of the city.

Q: If there were no barriers to entry, what is one thing you would be doing?

No barriers?! None?!! Then I’d correct the gender imbalance of power in the world, redistribute the cultural, educational, agricultural, and economic wealth,  and melt all the heavy metal weapons of mass distruction into a giant pyramid.  Then I’d escape this mortal coil to the Gates of Paradise Theatres where all my plays are being produced simultaneously, ha, ha! But while I’m here on planet Earth I’d like to be rehearsing my musical, Soul on Vinyl, in big a Broadway theatre with the composer, Dennis McCarthy, sitting beside me in the audience while fabulous actors are singing under the direction of an inspired conductor. Dream on dreamer …

Q: What has been big your biggest obstacle in achieving your vision?

That depends on which vision. My vision for the country depends on the departure of Trump and his fellow plutocrats, but the biggest obstacle in achieving my vision as a playwright has been the American theatre’s relentless preference for domestic realism, linear “carpet-slipper plays” that tread softly, offend no one and simply mirror or affirm our quotidian lives (which television and movies do very well).  I wish that literary managers in the gate positions of theatres, as well as their artistic directors, would cease underestimating the imaginations of audiences,and start producing more creative, theatrical plays that take the audience to unfamiliar worlds. Another obstacle is the oppressive insistence that it’s wrong for writers to appropriate cultures different from their own which means they’re expected to police their imaginations and define themselves strictly in terms of their own race, age, gender, and ethnicity. 

Also our paganistic celebrity-worshipping culture has hurt the theatre in that plays seem to be chosen to accommodate movie or television stars and not for the merit of the plays themselves

Q: What do you do to stay connected to your creative self?

My creative self seems to require NO self, an emptying out of the ego in a place of utter silence so I’m grateful to live in a building with thick walls and quiet neighbors. This emptied self requires the companionship of a cup of coffee and a sense of solitude so I can be available to hear the voices of the characters willing to appear. This means avoiding the distractions of the Internet and being a weak person, this also means escaping the presence of the computer so I wield a pen on paper, then later in the afternoon transcribe the scribblings to the computer. So it seems my creative self is connected to my body, to my hand holding a pen and sometimes a brush since I’m also a painter and illustrator.

Q: If you could let go of something that has held you back, what would it be?

My often crippling self doubt rooted in the isolation of a childhood of constant traveling, and forced to endure the consequences of exclusion.

Q: What is your favorite piece of art?

This is simply impossible to answer – there are just to many that qualify as favorites.

Q: What person do you most admire, living or dead?

There is no singular person, and I resist the idea of idols of any kind, but I do greatly admire my parents, both deceased; my brothers, my amazing friends; and the authors, artists and everyone everywhere struggling to express themselves with dignity, grace and compassion in a volatile world.

Q: If you could be known and celebrated for one thing, what would it be?

I would like to be known as a benevolent faith healer with the power to cure the afflictions of the doomed, but since  I’m the wickedest person I know, and since my circle is small, and the few times I’ve been celebrated have rarely led to the opening of doors I dared to dream would open, then I cannot seriously imagine being known or celebrated for anything while I’m alive, never mind dead, and after all, life is for.the living. However, the artistic director of the Venus Theatre said to some people I’m known as “the animal  playwright” which shocked me — until I realized that nearly all my plays  do indeed feature animals, ha!

Q: If you could describe yourself in one word what would it be?

Intractable!

Q: If you could sit down with yourself 15 years ago, what would you say?

I’d say, “You fool! Stop dwelling on your failures! Stop wasting precious time and energy trying to convince the  unconvincible that you’re worthy of their time and resources. There will always be people on  whom you are utterly lost, so let them go their own misguided ways. instead learn to appreciate and celebrate your true and loyal friends, and try to see the genius in everyone!”

Q What is your guilty pleasure?

I have more than one guilty pleasure, and they are too personal and possibly illegal to discuss in a questionnaire that might fall into the hands of the FBI or the CIA.

Q: Where would you most like to live?

I would like to live wherever the people I love are living. I’ve traveled extensively and lived many places, but my heart’s home is New York. That said, I wouldn’t mind leasing one of Mad King Ludwig’s Bavarian castles where my partner and our friends would spend our days creating, reading and producing our plays for our mutual amusement in between hiking in the forest, swimming in the lakes, dining like kings, dreaming in the moonlight …

Q: What is your idea of success?

I’m already living my idea of success: I have a loving partner, wonderful friends, a comfortable home, breakfast with coffee, dinner with wine, and I’m not confined to a padded room in Bellevue which is where I’d be if I did not have a vocation that allowed me to express the demons within. Yes, success for me means survival through the creation of plays and paintings and beyond that the bliss of enduring relationships.

Q: What is your idea of happiness?

See success.

Fast Forward Friday with Madeline Johnson

For this week’s Fast Forward Friday, we interviewed award-winning screenwriter-director Madeline Johnson. Her debut short film Juneteenth was an official selection of the Prague Independent Film Festival, the Budapest Short Film Festival, and the Crown Heights Film Festival – as well as winning a Platinum Reel Award at the Nevada International Film Festival in the student competition. Her newest short film Beyond our Mountains won Best World Director at the Austin Revolution Film Festival and continues to play on the 2018 festival circuit.  She is currently finishing final drafts of two feature scripts and developing an interactive web series. To learn more about Mattie go to: http://madelinemjohnson.com/

Q: What are you currently working on?  Tell us about it.

I am currently working on an interactive series, tentatively called America’s Freedom. Through this project, I am exploring what racial reconciliation could look like in the U.S.

Q: What was the inspiration and impetus for doing this project?

Honestly, I feel inspired to tell this story because I’m trying to answer a question I wish we had an answer to. Over the past two years in particular – although this is a conflict we’ve been navigating for generations – I find myself and others wondering what it would take for the U.S. to actually achieve racial justice and reconciliation. I really wish for so much better for us all.

I think a lot about what America’s legacy could be and what it has been so far. I find there’s a gap between the legacy we wish to leave and reality – and what matters most is the legacy we actually leave behind us.

I think a lot about America’s past and what we can do now to give ourselves a better future. In general, I think a lot about how the past, present and the future we dream for ourselves, can co-exist in the same decisive moment.

This project had a distinct jumping off point about a year ago when my friend showed me an article about a diverse, mixed-race, eco-friendly community who lived in the Great Dismal Swamp in North Carolina prior to the end of the Civil War. A significant portion of the community were ex-slaves who freed themselves by escaping into the swamp.

I was fascinated by it. It amazed me to hear about a diverse community who lived together, but who disbanded after the end of the Civil War. I found myself asking so many questions about them and wishing I knew more. I was also surprised that I had never heard about this. I had even studied Ethnic Studies in college, but I still had never learned about this. I wondered if this community had wisdom we could learn from today.

For this project, I found myself pulled in so many directions – into the swamp, into my father’s family in West Tennessee, into the mass incarceration crisis of today. While each deserves their own story in their own right, I found myself feeling like the answers that I want could only be explored through incorporating them all together. I wondered whether I was trying to do too many things. But I think this story really does need to be told with all of those touchstones in place. I want to see what happens when we intercut the past into today and when we intercut our dreams when we are making decisions right here, right now.

Finally, I am so excited about the interactive portion of this story. Our technology is changing, allowing us to interact with audiences and tell stories in new ways. Honestly, we are living in an age where the news is so proximate; our newsfeeds are flooded with our own echo chambers. It really feels like we are actors living in a larger story. So I decided to craft the story to empower audiences to truly participate in our communal narrative and questions.

Q: Who are your artistic heroes – who have had an impact on you and your work?

Oh my – such a hard question. Honestly, most days I find myself being filled from many wells.

James Baldwin and Toni Morrison are the first to come to mind. I find myself in awe at the truths they are able to reveal about race through narrative.

I also listen to a lot of podcasts with Krista Tippett. I find the interactions between her and her guests help me feel more whole myself and tap deeper into the healing truths I want to share.

Regarding film I was impressed with Moonlight, for artistic vision; The Handmaid’s Tale, for bolding telling a story of injustice focused on women; I Am Not A Witch, for narrative and cultural complexity and depth, for directorial vision;  and Capernaum, for the director’s trust and courage to work with non-professional actors and to let them guide the narrative.

While writing for this project, I’ve also been listening to a lot of blues – Mississippi John Hurt, Fred McDowell, hip-hop, Hamilton, Gregorian chant and Japanese drumming. Somehow these fuel the energy I need to write this story.

Q: What keeps you motivated and inspired as an artist? 

My film career is where I feel closest to the real Mattie. That feeling is so tremendously special and is such a source of healing; I find there a lot of energy for my work.

The feeling of knowing I’m doing precisely what I’m meant to be doing is very fulfilling. Honestly, even though this work is so hard, it doesn’t feel like I have another choice. Of course, there are other jobs that I can do and that I enjoy. Film is not the only work I find meaningful. But even though this career path is difficult and unknown, it doesn’t matter to me how hard it is. I wouldn’t choose something else.

One way that I keep myself motivated as an artist is to think about my film career like it’s a pilgrimage. Who knows how long the journey is, what type of terrain is ahead, what kind of support I’ll get along the way, etc. With that analogy in mind, I decided it’s foolish to make this journey without giving myself the right support and mindset. I always joke to myself that I’m making this pilgrimage in an RV.

What that translates to in real life for me is making sure that I have a stable income, giving myself flexibility and as much time as possible to do my film work, taking care of my health body and soul; and connecting with friends and family who support me.

Another thing that keeps me motivated is managing my expectations. I read an article a year or two ago about a writer who aims for 100 rejections a year in order to have a moderately successful year. This comes in handy especially when applying for grants, festivals, etc.  I’ve also thought a lot about how statistically it was easier for me to get into Yale, than it is to earn some of these achievements. So I’ve learned not to take the rejections personally. Rather, I accept that I need to aim for about 100 rejections myself in order to move forward. By keeping my expectations low, I can receive all of the progress with deep gratitude.

What inspires me most as an artist is thinking about the impact stories have within ourselves. Before I decided to pursue film, I thought seriously about becoming a civil rights lawyer. I really wanted to change the world. But I found myself frustrated by the limits of law. I think a lot about how we may have abolished Jim Crow laws, but the U.S. still has vestiges of Jim Crow hearts. What inspires me the most is to constantly pursue telling stories that will touch our hearts.

Q: What other projects would you like to tell us about?

I also have two feature scripts I’ve written that I am in the process of editing. One is inspired by my work in the criminal justice field about someone turning his life around. The other is an adaptation of Jane Austen’s Persuasion, which I wrote with my mother. I’d still love to see these come to life one of these days.

I also have a short film Beyond Our Mountains, which I wrote and directed in Kosovo out on the film festival circuit. The story centers around an Albanian-Serbian couple navigating a difficult choice. In this film, I am exploring the process of healing; the interactions of our past, present and dreams for the future with the choices we have at hand; and the difference between what we want to have happen and what does happen. For this film, it was an honor to work with many talented artists in Kosovo and N.Y.

Q: What is one instance of knowing you are living in your vision?

On the last day of shooting Beyond Our Mountains, I was walking in Pristina to meet the crew. It was early morning and I was walking down the Dragadon steps – a tremendous number of stairs that connects pedestrians from one area in Pristina to another. The sun was just rising, switching from hazy fog to dawn. As I walked down those stairs, I was bathed in dawn’s sunshine. Even though I was tremendously tired and hadn’t slept in weeks, I felt so full of energy. It felt like I was walking into my future.

And honestly, even though I didn’t know what would unfold the next year and I still don’t know what will unfold in the coming years, I choose to move forward with the certainty that I am going to make it.

A few months ago, I saw a photo of Ava DuVernay wearing a t-shirt that said, “I am my ancestors’ wildest dreams.” I think about that a lot. I feel so tremendously grateful to be able to live my dreams. I hope I am making my family proud.

Q: If there were no barriers to entry, what is one thing you would be doing?

I’d be knee deep in a swamp in North Carolina shooting the pilot episode of America’s Freedom.

I’d be writing my feature.

I’d be starting my own production company that focuses on telling untold stories with a social justice focus.

Q: What has been big your biggest obstacle in achieving your vision?

Funding and time have been two of my biggest obstacles in achieving my vision.

Additionally, I sometimes struggle with negative self-talk. Sometimes I can be tremendously and unforgivably hard on myself. My perfectionism can really break myself down such that it’s hard to move forward with the work. I’m learning good techniques for dealing with this – for getting out of my own head and out of my own way – and just letting myself move forward with the work.

Finally, I’d say one of the biggest obstacles has also been knowing my own vision, although there is a blessing to this as well. Honestly, it has taken some time for me to recognize what it is that makes my work special and distinct. But while this is a challenge, I still believe this is an exciting part of the journey as well. While I hope to continue to discover my own vision, I also want to discover my own expansiveness, so I can bring my talent to lots of different films. I really feel like every story is different and so I want to strengthen my skills so I can tell each one in the way they really deserve to be told.

Q: What do you do to stay connected to your creative self?

It helps to spend time with friends and family.

I also practice Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. I write Morning Pages every morning and I try to take myself out on an adventure every week. I love trying new foods, seeing new things, going new places, and all of that newness really opens me up and gets my creative self running.

I also find that in order to be creative, I need to take prodigious care of myself. On writing days, it helps to go for a run, meditate, text all of my friends, eat lots of healthy food, drink tons of water and tea, and look and dress in a way that makes me feel proud. When I feel good about myself and take care of myself, it helps me work. Sometimes that requires taking care of myself emotionally, especially if my work brings up hard emotions. I need to self-soothe and allow myself to be a learner who is trying her best. These practices help me stay connected to my creative self.

Q: If you could let go of something that has held you back, what would it be?

Negative self-image. I wish I had trusted myself earlier. If I’m being honest, I feel like I’m on a healing journey to love myself fully and let myself be free. It’s a process.

Q: What is your favorite piece of art?

Such a tough question! I’m not sure!

One piece of art that I have spent a fair amount of time wondering about is this Tranquil Zen Garden of Kyoto. As the original designer did not leave an explanation, this rock garden and its meaning is mysterious. Many people have wondered why it is laid out as it is, including myself. I have a soft spot for art that encourages us to continually wonder without answer. Somehow, I feel like the art gives us more this way, revealing more and more about ourselves and the world around us through our own wisdom and insight.

Q: What person do you most admire, living or dead?

I’ve always been a Jane Austen fan. Jane Austen was a pretty irreverent woman and I admire her astute and frank perception and writing.

I also admire Martin Luther King, Jr. While he has become a bit idealized and consequently de-radicalized recently in U.S. culture, I find inspiring his ability to see beyond who America was/is to see who we deserve to be. I admire his steadfast pursuit of justice at such a tremendous cost.

Q: If you could be known and celebrated for one thing, what would it be?

For loving people so deeply, they feel more free to be their full selves. For loving myself so deeply, I am free myself. For helping us to see a way forward toward love, healing  and justice.

Q: If you could describe yourself in one word what would it be?

Tenacious. Persistent. Creative. Smart.

Q: What is your guilty pleasure?

I scroll endlessly on Facebook. I am a sucker for expensive meals. I turn the heat up really high.  On bad days, I splurge on Starbucks chai tea lattes.

Q: If you could sit down with yourself 15 years ago, what would you say?

I don’t think I’d say anything. I’d just listen. I’d want Mattie to know she’s deeply loved and valuable. I’d do anything she wants.

Q: Where would you most like to live?

Oh my! You are asking Mattie to dream big today! If I could live anywhere, I’d love to have an apartment in Manhattan, perhaps a brownstone in Harlem. I’d also love to have an apartment in Paris.

But honestly, I never really thought of settling anywhere. I always think of my life as an adventure life, going wherever I find it meaningful and valuable to be. But I will say these days, the idea of having a home of my own is becoming more tempting. While I love flexibility, I also love the idea of being able to welcome people into my own warm, loving space.

Q: What is your idea of success?

Oh my! I’ve got so many dreams!

I think my idea of success is being able to do what I’m meant to do in the world. I’d love to have enough financial security to work on my art. I have worked hard to balance my life so that I can do that now. But I’d love to be able to achieve this with even more financial and creative freedom in the future.

Honestly, I’d love to rise up in my career in a way that changes our industry and the world for the best. My idea of success is not even to achieve top awards  – although I’d like that too. I’d love for our entire industry to be different – to be a safer space for women, people of color, LGBT folks, people with disabilities, etc. to tell stories. I’d love for us to achieve parity in work and salary. I’d love to establish a whole community of badass folks who give back to communities and transform society.

I also think that outside of my career, I’m on a healing journey that signifies true success to me. I want to feel safe and proud in my own skin and ideas. I want to feel like I’ve truly set myself free and I’m able to be who I want to be in this world.

Q: What is your idea of happiness?

Tea, adventures, seeing the people you love truly happy, good food and that feeling in your soul of content pride and peace.

Somehow from this place, I’d love to give back to the world, encouraging others on their own pilgrimages toward love and freedom.

Q: Final Thoughts?

Thank you so much for this wonderful opportunity! It’s such a blessing.
 

Fast Forward Friday with Martha Williams

For this week’s Fast Forward Friday, we interviewed Martha Williams, writer-director for Run for Your Life and a long-time maker-writer-performer-organizer. Martha (BA anthropology GWU & MFA film directing CalArts) is an award-winning film director, event maker and former multi-media, dance-theater maker who’s work has been seen and celebrated in the US and abroad. Martha also works as a content creator and creative consultant for hire at BugHouse Media, bringing her wild, winsome approach yet web-like thinking to everything she does.  To learn more, visit  bughousemedia.com and marthawilliams.info.

Q: What are you currently working on? Tell us about it.

I’m polishing up the last four scripts for Episodes 4-8 in Season 1 of the  comedy web series Run for Your Life, which is about ridiculous internet dates that make the main characters run for their lives until they figure out what went wrong. I also always have three other projects I want to put creative energy into but decided to take that energy and actually nurture Run for Your Life into the world. This means I’m looking for sponsorship, distribution and/or other funding sources.

Q: What was the inspiration and impetus for doing this project?

Two years after a pretty tragic break-up with my “soulmate,” I thought I was mended enough to start online dating. Wrong! Turns out that tragedy was buried deep in my bones and I was very angry. I’m not alone in using online dating to distract from a break up, which might lead to some good times, but often leads to bad behavior. Not that I was having a ton of success in my mind, but I went out with a lot of men and since online dating says there’s a dating surplus, I treated them like disposable diapers. This means, I also have stories! Like the guy who said God and Joseph Campbell were his writing partners, and the guy who claimed to be a shaman but in person told me he was a warlock with a coven gone wrong.

As comedic as my life seemed, online dating was also troublesome. I asked why is it so terrible? Was it that I was growing older? You know every woman in NYC goes to that question. Was I too prudish or too slutty? Was I too serious or too demanding? Was it me? Yes! It was partially me, I wasn’t ready to open my heart. But simply put, when technology is my matchmaker, I usually want to run for my life. Ultimately, this catch phrase “run for your life” stayed with me until I was ready to actually make it last year.

So, yes, Run for Your Life is a comedy but it’s comedy with heart designed to contribute to the collective conversation around modern romance and the profound question: why does online dating suck so often?

Q: Who are your artistic heroes – who have had an impact on you and your work?

I don’t have art heroes but I do have art angels, people who have called me forward in one way or another. These include Kristin McCardle, Pascal Rekoert, The Broken Rose Portal team, Elke Rindfleisch, Rachel Werbel and Lawrence Crimlins. Each showed up to steer me in the right direction or help me break through a block. It’s these friends and artistic cohorts with whom we are weaving this epic artistic, very nuanced and circuitous journey.

Q: What keeps you motivated and inspired as an artist?

My impetus for making has always been a fascination with the world we live in. I thrive in street culture, which is why living in LA was such a fail for me. I could spend hours watching the way someone moves or listening to the way someone talks or thinking about how it all fits together. I often call myself a culturalist, because it’s big picture culture that fascinates me the most and this started at a very young age. 

Partially culture is fascinating because as a child, we moved every three years to a new town because my dad was a Marine and then retired and became an Episcopal priest. Everywhere we went, North Carolina, Hawaii, Virginia, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, people were convicted about their beliefs and way of life i.e.  they thought they were right about what was cool, appropriate and right. But what was cool, appropriate and right changed everywhere you went. If everyone thinks they are right, and right is different everywhere you go, what is right? So early on, I started to ask, what is really going on? Why is all of it right and none of it right at the same time? It seemed to me that there was much more to life than meets the eye and that most people embody prescribed narratives and perhaps…a lot of lies.

So to this day, what keeps me motivated is my curiosity about the world around me. What is the story behind someone’s life that creates a beautiful tragedy or a raging success? Why do they move like that? What are they hiding and why? What is truth? How are our bodies maps? Where do body, mind and spirit truly help each other? Are we more human or less human because of technology? What assumptions about power make male/female relations riddled with transgression?

Q: What other projects would you like to tell us about?

In-ter-arch-y noun. a system of society or government in where integration of male and female values are paramount, not hierarchy…and a word I made up for a TV show I’ve been developing called Church of Christy about a female driven near future utopia (interarchy) and the contradictory ambition of Christy Church, one of it’s founders. I always say it’s Terry Gilliam’s Brazil meets Veep  – absurd, comedic and fast talking. I’m looking for a producer, co-writer or agent to hop on board sooner than later.

I also wrote lyrics to a rap called Welcome to the Interarchy and looking for the right musician to collaborate with on it. My dream is to get it in front of Beyonce or Janelle Monae.

Q: What is one instance of knowing you are living in your vision?

Just recently I was hired to conceive and direct a handful of music videos (not yet released) and I had this distorted image that came to mind that didn’t seem relevant right off the bat, but I couldn’t shake it. When I sat down to really work it out with the song, I finally realized that the image made perfect sense for the video. I often have a profound image or word in my head, and then when I follow that, it tells me the story. That’s when I know vision is leading the way.

Q: If there were no barriers to entry, what is one thing you would be doing?

I’d be doing whatever I want and have a lot of people helping me to do it and never once think about money. I’d be following not only film ideas, but public art project ideas, spectacle, fashion and sharing my truth with the masses through speaking and writing.

Q: What has been big your biggest obstacle in achieving your vision?

Often, I make something and then, because of resources, I don’t nurture it into the world. That said, I’m trying a new strategy with Run for Your Life.

But besides resources, I think my barriers have to do with starting “late” and not historically feeling entitled to be an artist, something that can go along with being female i.e. not taking up space, being nice, lack of confidence or just having parents who would prefer you to be a star athlete instead of a ravenous maker of things.

Q: What do you do to stay connected to your creative self?

I dance, touch trees and am helplessly curious about life so I read a lot, take workshops, see movies and most importantly have an ongoing conversation with creative friends and cohorts. And on the more practical side, I also make sure I carve out time every day for writing or dreaming.

Q: If you could let go of something that has held you back, what would it be?

I’m blessed by an avalanche of ideas but sometimes splintered by them too. I think I’d benefit from a very practical dorm mother who told me what to focus on.

Q: What is your favorite piece of art?

I’m not into favorites. Although I do love Bill Viola’s experience d l’infini and anything by Pina Bausch and the Coen brothers.

Q: What person do you most admire, living or dead?

My grandfather. He taught me that life was beautiful and that laughter weaves the ultimate safety net of life. He also heated up coffee like no other, loved ice cream and to drive fast, always had a joke in his pocket and acceptance up his sleeve.

Q: If you could be known and celebrated for one thing, what would it be?

I’d like to be known for making wild films and work that shows the bended truth of reality and contributes to the evolution of the collective mind.

Q: If you could describe yourself in one word what would it be?

My best friend (and magician) has named me “Mountain.” As a 6’4” woman, I think it fits.

Q: What is your guilty pleasure?

I love getting my nails done, looking down at my hands to delight in color. It’s guilty cause those nail salon ladies are likely modern day slaves.

Q: If you could sit down with yourself 15 years ago, what would you say?

You are an artist and this is why the world seems strange. Trust that itch, it’s probably right.

Q: Where would you most like to live?

My first memories were in Hawaii, where I learned my first dance: the hula, where we didn’t have to wear shoes in school and where I ran free amongst the banyan trees. Then we lived throughout the south where hammocks and lemonade feast on southern drawls. That said, I’ve always been drawn to hot, humid, natural life and love the feel of islands, like in the Caribbean. I love sublime island beauty mixed with danger of being sand and trees in the oceans belly – pulsing with heat, rain, birds and the possibility of being swept away by a swipe of nature’s hand.

Q: What is your idea of success?

Success is making work that impacts the way we think of the world, that touches a deep seated not-easily known or understood center of the human nature.

On a practical level success looks like I have a strong, loving community of inspired friends and makers while making work in a sustainable way. It also looks like my work is known by the masses, I’m considered to be a thought leader and I’m a sought after creative thinker.

Q: Final Thoughts?

Here are some conversation starters:

What would be a better narrative around power?

How does the erotic heal?

Why do so many little girls like pink?

Who is kale’s press agent? Cause when I was a kid it was a border patrol at the salad bar.

 

Fast Forward Friday with Heather Cappiello

For this week’s Fast Forward Friday, we interviewed  director Heather Cappiello. Heather is an award-winning director of film, television and theater. She has directed episodes of Madam Secretary, Criminal Minds, Blue Bloods (2016 Voice Award winner) and the horror series Freakish, streaming on Hulu. Additionally, she directed the pilot presentation for the one-hour drama Corporate produced by The Collective. Heather wrote and directed the short film Ruby’s Tuesday that screened at more than 25 festivals including The Short Film Corner at Cannes. She was one of two directors chosen for the CBS Directing Initiative during the 2015 cycle and is a current protege in the inaugural DGA Craft and Mentorship Program.  To learn more, visit www.heathercappiello.com.

Q: What are you currently working on?  Tell us about it.

I just conceived and directed my first site-specific live dance performance titled Break Glass at a beautiful outdoor space in Los Angeles. I had the pleasure of working with the talented dancer and choreographer Lizzy Mulkey, and three LA-based dancers for six weeks as we devised a 20-minute piece exploring what it means to be a woman working in a man’s world. Through dance and physical movement, the all-female ensemble explored motifs surrounding the experience of hitting the glass ceiling, climbing the corporate ladder and the barriers that often prevent women from getting a foot in the door. I chose a venue with an outdoor patio and a three-tiered staircase that allowed the dancers to use the entirety of the staircase as the set. The composer, Mike Meehan, created a score using original music, arranged tracks by the musician Ryat and sampled quotes from Hillary Clinton, Sarah Grimke and Abby Wambach. The pre-recorded score was accompanied by a live violinist during the final climb of the performance. The response to the show was very exciting and I hope to mount it again at various locations in California and possibly New York. In the meantime, I am editing a highlight reel of the show and will post it on my website.

Q: What was the inspiration and impetus for doing this project?

Dance is my favorite art form and it has been a dream of mine to collaborate with a choreographer and dancers on a live performance. Over the past few years, the concept of exploring what it means to be a woman working in a traditionally man’s job has been at the forefront of my mind and dance seemed the perfect expression. As a TV director, I have witnessed the gender gap in the hiring process of television directors in particular and the production crew in general. I have been observing and discussing this inequity and have started to take an active role in trying to understand the underlying biases that lead to discrimination – starting with my own implicit bias. Using accounts of actual events from my own work life, stories in the news and the experiences of dancers in the ensemble, we set out to both entertain and enlighten our audience with a non-verbal portrayal of what we encounter during our career trajectories as women facing barriers of gender, race and unconscious bias.

Q: Who are your artistic heroes – who have had an impact on you and your work?

The humorous and wonderful writing of Samuel Beckett; the courage and austerity of Peter Brook’s theater; the talent and friendship of actress Holly Hunter, writer Jessica Mecklenburg and activist-writer Kim Bender; the curated sounds of DJ-producer Gilles Peterson and all of the musicians he celebrates; the choreography of William Forsythe; the cinematic sensuality of Krzysztof Kieslowski.

Q: What keeps you motivated and inspired as an artist?  

Engaging in the process of art-making and experiencing art made by others.

Travel is also a gateway to creativity for me: smelling new aromas, hearing different languages, watching people from everywhere and getting lost in a new place. I love traveling with my son who has a similar thirst for new experiences and community.

Q: What other projects would you like to tell us about?

I am very excited to return to New York this fall to direct episodes of the upcoming season of Blue Bloods. It’s thrilling to continue working with the cast and crew over several years and find new ways to shoot action scenes and delve into family dynamics that are so familiar. Also, stay-tuned for more site-specific dance! Lizzy Mulkey and I are conceiving a new piece around the ideas of touching/not touching in private and public spaces/relationships.

Q: What is one instance of knowing you are living in your vision?

When audience members cried at each of the Break Glass  performances!

Q: If there were no barriers to entry, what is one thing you would be doing?

I would love to be a producing director on a TV show. I look forward to the opportunity to be part of the collective brain trust that creates a show, chooses the directors and attenuates the tone prescribed by the writer.

Q: What has been big your biggest obstacle in achieving your vision?

My gender. But the vision is coming into focus, I feel grateful for my patience and for the examples of my mentors.

Q: What do you do to stay connected to your creative self?

Make art, travel, cook, laugh, dance in my kitchen, see art with my fiance, read, create community, swim in the ocean and stay physically connected to nature and myself.

Q: If you could let go of something that has held you back, what would it be?

Fear of failure.

Q: What is your favorite piece of art?

I’ve never been able to pick just one favorite book or movie or painting. I love Toulouse-Lautrec’s paintings of women.

Q: What person do you most admire, living or dead?

My mother. She always made everyone feel welcome.

Q: If you could be known and celebrated for one thing, what would it be?

Bringing people together for artistic collaborations and personal friendships.

Q: If you could describe yourself in one word what would it be?

Curious.

Q: What is your guilty pleasure?

Watching Claws and all of the Step-Up movies. I also love setting-off illegal fireworks!

Q: If you could sit down with yourself 15 years ago, what would you say?

Time flies as a parent but it slows down as a female director – keep pursuing both things everyday with all of your might!

Q: Where would you most like to live?

Where I live now – Venice Beach.

Q: What is your idea of success?

Enjoying my daily work life and having a community to engage with regularly.

Q: What is your idea of happiness?

Telling stories for a living and being in the moment with people I love.

Q: Final Thoughts?

“She rises by lifting others”

Fast Forward Friday with Ludovica Villar-Hauser

For this week’s Fast Forward Friday, we interviewed theater director-artistic director-dramaturg Ludovica Villar-Hauser. Ludovica has directed a wide range of plays on diverse topics, most recently She Calls Me Firefly, which just completed a run at the SoHo Playhouse. Alongside her directorial career, Ludovica is founder and artistic director of Parity Productions. She is a recipient of NYWA’s Galaxy Award, and has served on the Board of the League of Professional Theatre Women since 2009. To learn more, visit www.parityproductions.org

Q: What are you currently working on? Tell us about it.

I recently directed the world premiere of Teresa Lotzs She Calls Me Firefly. My company, Parity Productions, has been developing this play for the past few years with New Perspectives Theatre Company and we are thrilled that we had our world premiere at SoHo Playhouse.

Q: What was the inspiration and impetus for doing this project?

When I first read the play, I was struck by how an emerging playwright could have such an extraordinary understanding of the human condition. She Calls Me Firefly speaks innately to how we can be hurt, live through it and despite copious scars learn the importance of positive and unconditional love. In short, despite bad odds, we can become better. The subject matter is entirely relevant on many different levels it delves deeply into the culture of sexual abuse and the generational effects that ignorance and silence can have on a family. In addition, Teresa Lotz takes on a dynamic model of non-linear storytelling, which is thrilling. For subject matter that would often be portrayed in a dark manner, it is ultimately a story that is filled with ingenuity, humor, light, and, most importantly, hope for all its characters.

Q: What keeps you motivated and inspired as an artist?

Its something that I cant put into words. It really just lives inside.

Q: What other projects would you like to tell us about?

We are currently developing Melisa Anniss Charlies Waiting, which is one of our 2017 Annual Parity Commission winning plays. Melisa has been working through rewrites and we just recently had a closed reading that received wonderful feedback. Here is the description of the play:

The night before their wedding, Louise is busy with all the planning while her fiancée Kelly busies herself feeding the goats. Everything is blissfully exciting until a friend from Kellys past shows up with an unexpected wedding present and threatens to derail Louises hopes for the future she so carefully planned.

Q: What is one instance of knowing you are living in your vision?

When I start dreaming about projects.

Q: If there were no barriers to entry, what is one thing you would be doing?

I would definitely be directing most of the time.

Q: What has been big your biggest obstacle in achieving your vision?

Myself An innate lack of confidence. But it is changing as I get older.

Q: What do you do to stay connected to your creative self?

Meditation though not enough of it! I enjoy seeing other work. And developing new work.

Q: If you could let go of something that has held you back, what would it be?

The producing side of things.

Q: What is your favorite piece of art?

Anything by Sylvia Sleigh. Parity received an endowment of her work a few years ago. Her art is particularly inspiring to me because it equalized men and women, and reversed stereotypical artistic themes by featuring nude men in poses that were traditionally associated with women.

Q: What person do you most admire, living or dead?

I admire many. Nelson Mandela. Gloria Steinem.

Q: If you could be known and celebrated for one thing, what would it be?

Directing and Advocacy. Sorry thats two things, but for me theyre so intimately and necessarily connected.

Q: If you could describe yourself in one word what would it be?

 Tireless.

Q: What is your guilty pleasure?

Chocolates. And massages.

Q: If you could sit down with yourself 15 years ago, what would you say?

Let go of everything that doesnt serve you and focus on what you really want and what makes you happy. 

Q: Where would you most like to live?

NYC and London.

Q: What is your idea of success?

Happiness.

Q: What is your idea of happiness?

Directing!