Fast Forward Friday with Jenn Halweil

For this week’s Fast Forward Friday, we interviewed CEO-Story Engineer Jenn Halweil. A former Electrical Engineer, she launched #GoBeyond to elevate stories of women and minorities in science, technology, and the arts. She has been featured in Forbes, Scientific American and Mic.  For further information, visit www.gobeyondlab.in.

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

I founded an educational media consultancy, #GoBeyond, to create content about women who are doing groundbreaking scientific research. I’ve led content strategy and creation for a number of world renowned brands including Deloitte, World Science Festival and the Geena Davis Institute. As part of this initiative, I directed a 2-min mini-doc called “Woman of Steel”  on the woman who built the Brooklyn Bridge.

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

My journey began as an electrical engineer. I was fascinated by how scientific and technological breakthroughs could benefit society. I became passionate about scientifically literate and feminist storytelling, when I found myself to be one of only three women in a 200-person circuits class. This passion transformed into a lifelong pursuit as I found myself to be the only female consultant for various technology startups and one of the few women engineers at America’s largest utility company. This motivated me to become involved in science storytelling, or as I like to call it: story engineering.

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

I love the way Andrew Niccol has been able to tackle social issues through brilliant character arcs and narrative storytelling, and incorporate science fiction and technical elements in a way that doesn’t feel esoteric or soapbox driven. Lord of War, Gattaca, The Truman Show, and In Time are some of my favorite films. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve watched them and the hundreds of conversations I’ve had with friends and family about the really complex challenges that society faces in terms of wealth inequality, surveillance, gene editing and gun regulation as a result. 

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

How to translate complex scientific concepts into a beautifully compelling visual narrative that is easy to understand. I want to help the world fall back in love with science and wonder the way Carl Sagan inspired a generation of engineers. JFK inspired scientific revolution with a speech that galvanized us to go to the moon by reminding us that while science isn’t easy we do it because it brings out the best in us as humans. 

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

Outside of finding a million women STEM leaders and sharing their fascinating stories and breakthroughs with the billions of people on this planet … Build a massive science lab to study and repair our oceanic ecosystems, design and build water purification systems, build trash islands like those in Singapore that will rival the Maldives as a destination, create parabolic solar farms, and basically learn more about this wild planet we inhabit. Also probably study moons on Jupiter since they have water and we have a better chance of living there long-term than Mars.

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

Funding. Let’s get real. I’d love to pretend money doesn’t matter but money to be able to help us reach a wider audience would go along way. As would funding for some of our larger scale narrative / documentary feature length projects. As a feminist, I am constantly thinking about what we can do as women to make sure our crews are paid comparable to if a man was leading; and how we could fund-raise the same way as  our male counterparts, who can raise millions out of a garage when they’re young and hungry and have no experience. I don’t need a million dollars right now, but intros to companies like Ford, GE, Merck, Novartis, etc who have women in STEM initiatives so we can amplify the achievements of the women on their teams would be great! Or even intros to the diversity and inclusion and CMO / CTO folks at NBC, FOX, ABC, etc.

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

Hang out in nature and unplug. 

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

Focusing on consistent busy work and small wins instead of working hard to level up impact, audience, and scale of projects. 

Q: What is your favorite piece of art?

I love how Yayoi Kusama used geometric repetition and reflective materials to explore the concept of infinity visually. It’s a brilliant reminder that we’re all made of the same stuff and when we look at one another we’re staring the universe directly in the eyes. 

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

Sally Ride. I feel a strong kinship with this woman in the sense that she was a scientist and explorer but couldn’t be seen for who she was because her calling card became tokenism. Her actual STEM contributions were always secondary to her achievement of being a female astronaut in a male dominated field. It’s a shame because what we should celebrate her for is: the fact that she single-handedy identified the causes of both the Challenger and Columbia explosions; she built the satellite architecture in space that enables our modern communication systems; she was the driving force behind NASA’s focus in studying our oceans and natural climate, Mars, and the upcoming female led moonwalk; and she was a brilliant educator and advocate for young women to be respected and represented in STEM.

Reading her biography is what inspired me to form #GoBeyond, so much so that our early promo video features a modified version of a speech she used to give at science fairs for young girls. The speech always began, “What would you do if gravity wasn’t holding you down?” Visually, the video traces the transmission of information from a group of girls, around the world via satellite, finally landing in space where it is received by an astronaut, to highlight Sally’s contributions to communication, feminism and beyond. 

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

Breaking the binary stereotype of gender or the idea that a woman who builds, engineers, designs or creates something technical is behaving in a masculine way. It’s not scientifically accurate for two reasons:

If we look at chromosomes and hormones there are more than two genders. We just create a bimodal distribution with two peaks when we plot these because it’s easier visually and also its based on historically sexist social systems influencing the science towards creating a very dangerous oversimplification.

In reality women have been HUGE drivers of scientific and technological innovation. Every modern industrial revolution has been tied to women rapidly joining the workforce but up until 100 years ago, women could not own property, vote, or establish legal individual personhood and so they did not receive the proper credit for their work. 

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

I don’t think there is a singular word that could describe me although a few ex business partners and lovers could probably have some choice words. I guess that would make me ‘ineffable’? (I think this joke plays better when read out loud). 

Q: What is your guilty pleasure?

Coffee, binge watching TED talks and reading Wikipedia pages until I’ve lost entire days. 

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

That bucket list you set out for yourself  – you’ll do it all by 30 except purchase a movie and record store and combine them because movie rental houses and records won’t be a thing anymore. So dream bigger. Put stuff on that list that’s so ludicrous you can’t help but cross it off the list because trying it will be such an insanely fun challenge. 

Q: Where would you most like to live?

One-hundred years in the future where ~ 50% of our world leaders, scientists and creators are women. Our oceans, rainforests, and nature preserves have been protected under a universal climate agreement. We have global electric mag-lev transportation systems, universal basic income and AI / robotic systems that do most of our task oriented jobs. And we’ve established life on Mars and are building towards expeditions on Jupiter’s moons. 

Q: What is your idea of success?

People love that woowoo of happiness, focusing on yourself, learning you can’t control the world and can only control how you respond to it, but F*** that. Change the world. This world has been changed millions of times over for us to bring it to where it is today. So dream of a better model than the one that we have today and chase it into existence even if you have to fight, claw, and start a revolution. 

Q: What is your idea of happiness?

Being surrounded by men and women who respect each other as equal contributors and work hard to discover how to create things that have never been done before and leave the world better than we found it. 

Q: Final Thoughts?

I hope not. Hopefully I’ve got a few more good decades in me before it comes to that!

Fast Forward Friday with Amy Hagan

For this week’s Fast Forward Friday, we interviewed Los Angles based, actress-comedian-fitness enthusiast Amy Hagan.  She fell in love with acting at a young age while doing Missoula Children’s Theatre. She has performed improv at various places around LA and stand up at The Comedy Store. She recently qualified for the Boston Marathon, did her first Strongman competition and is now training for her first triathlon. She is currently working on YouTube videos, and fitness shoots and commercials. Check out her fitness work on Instagram @amyhaganfitnessmodel.

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

I am currently doing a lot of YouTube stuff. I have two channels with friends and one on my own. Coffee Meets Chicks is one I do with my friend Ashley and we talk about different coffee shops in the LA area. The other one I have with my friend Hannah is called Tammy & Candy, we are sisters who are complete opposites who are forced by our mom to make a YouTube channel together. I play a cat obsessed, crossfit lover. The channel I do on my own is just random videos I put together, either about my own life or a random spoof commercial. 

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

The inspiration behind Coffee Meets Chicks is we always loved going to coffee shops to work on acting stuff so we thought we should make a channel about the pluses and minuses of all the different ones in the area. Wanted to turn something we love (coffee shops and acting) into something that might go somewhere. The inspiration behind Tammy & Candy was Hannah and I love acting and wanted to try and gain a following doing something fun and we both enjoy. My own channel came out of just wanting to have fun and be in front of the camera, I love making people laugh. I get lots of good feedback from my Instagram videos so I figured YouTube videos would be a longer form of those. 

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

As someone who loves comedy, Amy Poehler is a big inspiration to me. She can always make me laugh in any role she plays. Recently another actor who has inspired me is Timothee Chalamet, I love his dedication to the characters he plays and how he can really transform himself and put himself into the role. Same goes with Eddie Redmayne.

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

When I see a great comedy show or a movie that makes me feel something inside, or even just an actor who really got it right in my acting class. That inspires me. When I see those things it reminds me why I am doing this and why I love it so much. 

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

I am very into fitness as well. I think acting and fitness can go hand in hand. I was in a fitness commercial where I played a crossfit athlete. I recently just put together my fitness reel, which showcases me doing strongman, crossfit, gymnastics, and running. I am currently training for a triathlon and the Boston Marathon in 2020. 

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

When I am not wanting to do anything else in that current moment, I am present and focused. 

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

I would be acting in a comedy TV show as one of the starring roles. That or doing sketch comedy and making a living out of it. 

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

Just getting in the door. I can’t book the big roles without being seen. 

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

Doing YouTube stuff helps, also listening to audio books from actors I like, that motivates me. Being in acting class helps a lot and going to comedy shows. My favorite are Groundlings and UCB. 

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

Overthinking, I just need to be bold and go for it. No choice in acting is wrong necessarily but not making a choice won’t get you anywhere. 

Q: What is your favorite piece of art?

My favorite thing I have done is a short film called Butterflies & Guppies, I had so much fun and it is the type of role that really showcased me. 

But the art I love is something that takes control of my mind and gets me focused and not thinking about other things. Watching dance, a great movie or a comedy show can do that for me. 

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

There are so many wonderful people who have influenced this world. But if I am going based on acting the first time I felt affected by an actor passing away was Heath Ledger. He was so different in every role he played, I never saw him as the same character. He really knew how to transform himself and be real. He was an inspiration to many. 

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

That’s a very tough question. Based on acting I would love to be known for the person who always made people laugh and someone everyone enjoyed being around because I was always honest and genuine. In the fitness world I would love to be celebrated for being the underdog who comes out of nowhere and wins races/competitions. Showing people that anything is possible with the right mindset and dedication. 

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

Authentic or Independent, I know it was supposed to be just one …

Q: What is your guilty pleasure?

I don’t feel guilty but I love the CW shows, most people would think it’s a guilty pleasure though.  One Tree Hill is my all time favorite and now Riverdale

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

Stick with learning Spanish, you will want to know how to speak two languages later in life. It will help you communicate with so many people and help book you more jobs. Also, focus on giving everything you got to athletics and acting, get a head start for later in life. Don’t place your focus on all these small activities that don’t really matter and are taking your time. 

Q: Where would you most like to live?

I am from Oregon originally so if I could make a living with acting in Oregon I would choose to live in Portland, OR. Best state ever I believe and super nice people. 

Q: What is your idea of success?

I define success as when you fall you don’t take that as a failure but a growth opportunity, you learn how you can do better next time. Being successful is learning from your mistakes. Having a positive, go-getter attitude and staying motivated and determined when the going gets tough is the key to success as an artist or athlete, or really in life … Because in the acting world you will definitely lose a lot more than you will win so keeping your head up is huge!

Q: What is your idea of happiness?

Doing something you love and being around people who support you each day. 

Q:  Thoughts?

Making a bold choice by getting out of your comfort zone to make a living out of something you love is very life changing. I have learned a lot by living away from my home state. I learn so much each day mainly because I allow myself to feel uncomfortable by trying something new and meeting new people. LA has opened my mind to new ways of thinking. I am excited to see what happens next in my acting career and in the fitness world. So much more to see and accomplish, I can’t wait!

 

Fast Forward Friday with Tara Atashgah

For this week’s Fast Forward Friday, we interviewed Iranian writer-director Tara Atashgah who lives in Los Angeles  Her awards include Best Student Female Director from the DGA, a Student Emmy and an Oscar-qualifying award from the Cleveland International Film Festival. Tara was one of six writers honored by the WGA for the 2018 Feature Writers Access Project. With the same screenplay, Under an Olive Tree, she was also a finalist at the 2015 NBC-Universal Emerging Writers Fellowship. To learn more visit www.taraatashgah.com.
Q: What are you currently working on?  Tell us about it.
Two things and I’m equally excited about both. 
I’m re-writing my feature screenplay Under an Olive Tree, which is an ensemble story set in Israel and Palestine about hatred, love, revenge and peace. It’s inspired by true events and similar to the movie Babel. It recently received a recognition from the Inclusion and Equity department of the WGA, which got me excited and back to writing new drafts.  
I’ve also been writing a spec TV pilot and bible called Affinity with another writer, Amanda Azarian. We’ve been working on it for more than a year now and are close to crossing the finish line. Woot Woot. Our story is a fantasy, drama, mystery about two estranged sisters who suddenly inherit a special power that forces them to work together and discover the truth about an “accident” that split their family apart. It’s really good and I’m not being biased. It’s a show I’d watch and would get hooked on. We’ve arced two seasons and have an origin story thought out for season three. I know writers normally focus on just the pilot script and a bible, but we just couldn’t stop writing. 
Q: What was the inspiration and impetus for doing this project?
The inspiration behind my feature script Under an Olive Tree was the story of Ismail Khatib. He’s a Palestinian father whose 13 year-old son was shot in the head by an Israeli soldier. Instead of seeking revenge, Ismail donates his son’s organs to Israeli kids in need of transplants. Wow …  It gets me every time. I was so moved by this that I started writing a fictional story inspired by Ismail’s decision. I wanted to share both the Palestinian side and the Israeli side. So in my ensemble story set in the heat of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, Ismail and the soldier are only two of the four protagonists. Our antagonist is the news, the politics, the propaganda, and the separation wall that is being built between Israeli and Palestinian territories. There are different storylines happening parallel to one another and at the end, you see that everyone is in pursuit of the same thing… peace. 
Q: Who are your artistic heroes – who have had an impact on you and your work?
There are a few, but I’d like to mention one. Bahman Ghobadi, a Kurdish Iranian director who grew up in a small town with no special advantages or opportunities and ended up being one of the greatest directors of our time in my opinion. He’s created A Time For Drunken Horses and Turtles Can Fly, both extremely emotional films about Kurdish struggles, diaspora and survival; starring non-actors and shot on location. His films, his style and his portrayal of Kurdish lives is groundbreaking. Seeing Iranian filmmakers struggle with government censorships and limitations, and yet finding creative ways to tell a story is very inspiring. As an Iranian director and a half Kurdish gal myself, I’m very proud and inspired by Mr. Ghobadi’s work. 
Q: What keeps you motivated and inspired as an artist?  
The most cliche answer and my forever source of inspiration, people’s life stories.
Q: What other projects would you like to tell us about?
I’m teaming up with my brother Orod, who is an exceptional writer with a ton of great ideas. We are in the early stages of writing a psychological thriller together , and that’s all I’m aloud to say about that.  I’m also slowly editing two short films that I directed last year. One is an Iranian short film about a little Afghan girl and the other is an experimental, fashion, artsy, sexy film that I can’t wait to edit. It’s beautifully shot by my favorite cinematographer, Daniel Rink, who also happens to be the love of my life. 
Q: What is one instance of knowing you are living in your vision?
Nothing grand, everyday activities. Waking up in a household of filmmakers, sitting at my desk writing or editing while someone else is working on a shot list or watching a movie or is on their way to set.
Q: If there were no barriers to entry, what is one thing you would be doing?
Mmm, I’d still be making films. I don’t mind the barriers though, I feel like conflicts and barriers have only made me stronger. It’s good to have them and fail 50 times and finally succeed when you do.  
Q: What has been big your biggest obstacle in achieving your vision?
Needing food and sleep. Sometimes I wish I didn’t have to leave my desk to make food or to go to bed.
Q: What do you do to stay connected to your creative self?
I watch films, docs, interviews, read biographies etc …  I’m also very nosy. I love learning about everybody’s drama and business. I like people watching and imagining life stories for strangers. I’m very observant of people’s behaviors and reactions and create entire character spines off of why he/she blinked. My mind is always creating stories. I’ve been like this for as long as can I remember. So I don’t really have to do much to “stay connected” with my creativity, I’m stuck with it. 
Q: If you could let go of something that has held you back, what would it be?
Honestly nothing. I tend to say and do whatever I want without holding myself back. But holding yourself back isn’t necessarily bad. It’s human nature and an internal instinct. Sometimes I look back at the things I’ve done and I’m like, wow that was a little too “brave.” Finding a balance is good. 
Q: What is your favorite piece of art?
A copy of an original painting from my great-uncle. My Dad’s dad and his uncles were artists and silversmiths. My Dad loved one of his uncle’s paintings so much that he had another Iranian painter, recreate it. It’s a pointillist style painting which is when you use small dots to paint an image. It’s of 5 men dressed in traditional Persian clothes and hats, sitting around a rug making kabobs and eating it. There’s a small dog close to the barbecue watching them.
Q: What person do you most admire, living or dead?
My mom and Oprah Winfrey. 
Q: If you could be known and celebrated for one thing, what would it be?
I don’t want to be known or celebrated for it, but ending juvenile executions has been one of my lifelong goals and a legacy I’d like to leave behind. I mean death penalty is a barbaric enough act, but executing juveniles for WHATEVER crime they’ve committed, is just unacceptable. Unfortunately there are governments that still allow it! When I first heard about this I was so shocked and angry that I had to make a film about it. The short film is called For The Birds it is my portrayal of the last 15 minutes of Atefeh Sahaleh’s life; she was a 16 year-old Iranian girl who was publicly hanged. The film screened at film festivals around the word and won several awards. But ultimately I’d like to post it online and have a campaign against juvenile executions to go with it. I’d like to do what Participant Media does, screen the film, inspire audiences and invite them to partake in positive change. 
Q: If you could describe yourself in one word what would it be?
Determined.
Q: What is your guilty pleasure?
A Harry Potter movie marathon. I’ve only done it twice and dream about doing it again and again. The first time was after I wrapped a short film that I had worked on for a year nonstop all day everyday, so I rewarded myself. The second time was the day after my 31st birthday, which was a 1920s themed party. Whomever was drunk enough to pass out on the couch, stayed there for another day. We ate leftover food and cake, and binged watched all the HP movies.
Q: If you could sit down with yourself 15 years ago, what would you say?
I’d say YES to saying NO – 15 years ago I was trying to convince my Mom to let me go to America by myself to become a filmmaker. I said “no” to staying in Cyprus (the country) to study Graphic Design which was the “closest” major to film … umm nooo! Of course as you could imagine, my mother had reservations about letting her 17 year-old, rebel, daydreamer of a daughter fly to Hollywood. But being the amazing person she was, she trusted me, believed in me and eventually shipped me off. 
Q: Where would you most like to live?
Santa Barbara. Funny story, so after I found my film school in California, I flew from Tehran to LA to SB. I stayed at a motel that night, woke up the next morning and was just blown away by how beautiful SB is. I was so excited to be living there and I called my Admissions Rep “Hi I’m here in Santa Barbara, which campus do I meet you at?” She said “oh, the six campuses in Santa Barbara are for our Photography students. Our only Film campus, is actually in Ventura” …  So then I moved away from SB and have been wanting to return there ever since. 
Q: What is your idea of success?
Getting to a point where you could raise your glass to your mistakes and failures and recognize that they led you to your achievements. Also being able to laugh at your embarrassing career moments. Those are my ideas of success and I hope it happens to me because I can’t wait to make fun of myself for a few awkward moments. Cheers. 
Q: What is your idea of happiness?
Becoming an established writer and director. Bridging cultural gaps and impacting the lives of my audiences with my films. Moving into a house similar to my childhood home; big pool and a BBQ. Eventually creating a family with my cinematographer boyfriend (Honey, you’re stuck with me) and raising smart kids who will care about our planet and the people in it. Continue filmmaking even as a mom. Always writing, always directing and pushing myself to make better and better projects. 
Q: Final Thoughts?
Yes, it’s something that I’ve been thinking about lately. Don’t compare yourself with another filmmaker and copy them just because they’ve had success with something. Everyone has a different route to success. Just because this person got into Sundance with a VR short or that person made a feature for a thousand bucks in their mom’s backyard, doesn’t mean that you have to switch to VR or make a low budget film at your mom’s; or both… a low budget VR feature at your mom’s. Just stay focused on YOUR work. What’s the goal? Picture it and then make your way back to today. What steps do you need to take in order to achieve that goal is what I think we should do. Don’t let yourself get distracted. Don’t waste your time thinking about other people unless they inspire you.

Fast Forward Friday with Meredith Edwards

For this week’s Fast Forward Friday, I am thrilled to interview the uber-talented and extraordinary director Meredith Edwards whom I’ve had the honor and delight to work with in bringing Bite Me, to the world.  Bite Me, a subversive romantic comedy about a real-life vampire and the IRS agent who audits her, premiered at Cinequest in March, and was just awarded Best Feature Film at the Victoria Texas Independent Film Festival. The film will be released both theatrically and digitally on May 6th through the Joyful Vampire Tour of America.Her first feature film, Imagine I’m Beautiful, took home 12 awards on the film festival circuit, including five Best Pictures and Best Director. To learn more, visit www.meredithedwards.com.

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

The second narrative feature I directed, Bite Me, a romantic comedy about a real-life vampire and the IRS agent who audits her, is starting a three month theatrical tour across the US in May after premiering at Cinequest in March. I’m excited that the world finally gets to see this wacky, heart-warming film. I just made a huge move from NY to LA, so now that I’m officially settled in, I’m back in my creative cave. I’m focused on writing at the moment, which has been really fun. I’m developing a television series called My Twelve about 12 women who’ve been chosen by God(dess) to heal the world. I just finished writing the pilot. I’m also in the midst of creating an online course, The Conscious Creative Incubator,  for artists to create and complete their projects in a conscious way. Conscious living is very important to me.

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

Across all projects, the inspiration is always because I truly believe in the message or mission that it serves. For Bite Me, it’s about bringing all of us together, that as much as we think we’re different or outside of one another, we all just want to be loved for who we really are. For My Twelve, it’s to empower us to heal ourselves, first, if we want to heal the world, and to trust our inner guidance, that God(dess) lives within all of us. My online course is to inspire artists to fulfill their creative purpose by pursuing (and completing!) their passion projects. I believe we are all meant to live the highest possible creative manifestation of ourselves in this lifetime. Imagine if everyone on earth was doing that; imagine how different the world would be!

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

Oh, I have so many, but most of them are spiritual teachers like Eckhart Tolle and Marianne Williamson (who is running for President! #Marianne2020). They changed my life. Wow, tears come to my eyes just thinking about it, WHEW! They are earth angels. They are living their creative purpose in a way that I aspire to live mine. As far as directors, my favorites are Baz Luhrmann and Darren Aronofsky. When I watch their films, I’m totally strapped in and taken on a ride through a whole new world that’s beautiful and magical and disturbing and heartbreaking. It’s thick and invasive and colorful and painful and awesome. Their films course through my blood and my bones, they levitate and transcend my trite human experience into something more. They are true visionaries. I want to make films like that! Escaping through film and music is such a beautiful privilege. It is truly therapeutic and has the ability to change someone’s life and an entire culture.

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

My life! Haha. It’s like one of my favorite quotes by Anton Chekhov, “If you want to work on your art, work on your life.” That is so true. I think what’s so delicious and therapeutic about art is that you get to pour all your human woes into it. But, ultimately, I’m just trying to live out my creative purpose and give back the best way I know how. That’s what I’m here for. That’s what I think we’re all here for. I think making art is part of that mission for me. And also empowering others to find theirs.

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

It’s something you have to be really mindful of, otherwise it will pass you by. I work really hard on trying to remain as present as possible during the creative process so that I can really see, hear and experience my surroundings. As a director, especially, you have to have all arms, eyes, noses, ears, mouths on deck, because things are moving at lightning speed and you’re in charge of molding it in the best direction for the mission of the project. So, when I’m present enough to feel the creative flow happening all around and within me is when I know I’m living in my vision. But, also, simply when I’m enjoying what I’m doing. It should always involve joy, otherwise, what’s the point?

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

I bet a lot of people say, “I would just be doing what I’m doing!” and while that’s partly true for me, if I’m honest, I’d have my own television network! I’d also have all the resources, time, talent and money to create the narrative feature that’s been in my heart for years, but needs big resources. I’d also be sitting across from Oprah on Super Soul Sunday talking about the aforementioned.

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

Time. It’s always time. I never seem to have enough time. But, I’m a very careful, detail-oriented, perfectionist. I can always find some way to make it better. I’ve been this way since I was a kid, it’s just part of my nature. Though, over the last several years I’ve made a conscious effort to work on these qualities and expand my comfort zones, and I’m way more flexible than I used to be! This is why I actually really love and need time limits, constrictions and deadlines, otherwise, I’d never turn anything in. I’ve realized having people on my team who are masters of time and efficiency is key for me.

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

I have a very stable spiritual practice that keeps me connected to my creative self. (I believe these things are one in the same, spirituality and creativity.) This includes, but is not limited to, meditation every day, yoga, journaling, using creative visualization to activate my imagination, and listening to lots and lots of music which is my most transcendent, favorite thing.

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

The root is always fear. And fear rears its head in many ways, but it always comes back to fear. Though, I think fear can be useful because it often points you in the direction you’re meant to go. The hard part is establishing a healthy relationship with your fear, so that you can work with it rather than letting it control you.

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

Helping others find and live out their creative purpose. Or, an impactful film, show or network that influenced a culture to be more conscious, awake and connected with themselves and each other.

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

Inspired.

Q: What is your guilty pleasure?

Wine. Also, cheese, and chips and salt. I don’t know why all my guilty things go in my mouth, what’s that about? I prefer listening to books on Audible than reading with my eyes. Is that something to be guilty about? I don’t just prefer it, I downright love listening to books and podcasts. I love to doodle, draw, and take notes while I listen. I guess I’m an aural learner? Oh, car service.

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

Oh, bless. I would just give myself a hug and look into my eyes and say, I’m so proud of you. I love you. You’re gonna be great. Have fun! (I like to say these same things to myself now at 33, haha.)

Q: Where would you most like to live?

I’m proud to say I am living exactly where I want to be! I am living in my dream home right on the beach. Literally, the door to my building opens to the sand. I remember before moving to LA coming across this place and thinking it was so out of reach, just a fantasy, and now I wake up here every day. I am so grateful. Also, Bali. It’s by far my most favorite place on the earth (that I’ve been to).

Q: What is your idea of success?

Fulfilling your creative purpose here on earth. You know if you are because you will feel fulfilled, alive, joyful, and at peace.

Q: What is your idea of happiness?

Laughing, sunshine, presence.

Q: Final Thoughts?

Great questions, thank you! It was a transformative experience just answering these.

Fast Forward Friday with Kathleen Wallace

For this week’s Fast Forward Friday, we interviewed Kathleen Wallace, a creator-writer-producer and an actor in the web series The Evagelists and the upcoming Settling Up. She is also the founder of Seanachie Communications, a storytelling company. She was in the world premiere of Dennis Lehane’s Coronado, which was a New York Times Critic’s Pick. To learn more, her website at www.kathleenwallace.com.

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

At the moment, my primary project is the OKAY Initiative, which currently consists of a music video for a song called OKAY as well as covers of that song done by as many varied voices as possible. We hope to eventually expand the OKAY Initiative to an online emotional health resource center for teens and their teachers.

The video is a journey of finding the confidence to connect and talk. It starts with Ally not interacting with the song or with the messages that pop up on her phone. Slowly starts to look at the messages on her phone and mouth some of the words. Eventually she is able to sing directly to the camera. Finding the courage to articulate what she is feeling does not magically solve everything, but it is, as she sings in the song, a way toward being okay.

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

The inspiration for this project is Ally Reichard, the student from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School who wrote the song OKAY. When I first spoke to Ally about possibly doing a music video, she spoke of wanting to help as many people as possible. In the song, Ally articulates beautifully that it’s okay to not be okay. We hope that through this project we can shift conversations around emotional health  and help remove the stigma around not being okay, especially for teens.

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

I grew up wanting to be Katharine Hepburn. (And Wonder Woman.) I think from an early age I connected with her independence. When I grew older, I learned of how she took control of narratives and of her career, and then I really wanted to be her when I grew up.  

I had the great pleasure a few years ago of being on a podcast with Jeff Gomez of Starlight Runner, a transmedia storytelling and creative design company. The way Jeff conceives of storytelling – the many approaches we can use and integrate, the many ways in which we can use storytelling to impact society – is profoundly inspiring to me and deeply influential.  

There are also lots of women in entertainment who inspire me now. I want to build on the work of women like Shonda Rhimes and Ava Duvernay who lift up so many through the stories they tell, they way they tell them, and the doors they open.

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

My deep belief that artists have the power to shape and improve our world through our work.

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

Settling Up is a web series about two former college roommates who end up living together again in their late 30s. Think Two Broke Girls meets The Odd Couple. High-powered but broke, Alex needs a roommate after divorcing her husband for lying about wanting to have children. Darcy, a poor grad student who can’t seem to finish her dissertation, needs a safe place to live after discovering her boyfriend was cheating. They are each other’s yin and yang, best friend and worst task-master, who push each other to to settle for nothing less than the best.

When you’re tired of settling down and settling for, your only option is to settle up.

We’re finalizing some paperwork and making some small changes and aiming to have it released late this Spring.

The Evagelists is a mockumentary/comedy web series about evangelists for feminism. (Take the “n” out of “evangelist” and you get “evagelist”.) Sister Mary Beyonce is on a mission to make the world more vagtastic and spreads the good word through documentary-style videos about their vagenda as well as through PSAs such as “10 Things to Do With Your Female Characters Besides Rape Them.” You can lean more about this project here: www.TheEvagelists.com.

My brain also keeps wandering off to Good People, a nascent, hour-long drama series in the vein of Broadchurch and True Detective. It’s a procedural that uses the central mystery as a stealth way of addressing the demand side of human trafficking.

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

When I most feel that I’m living in my vision is when “happy accidents” happen, when it feels like the world is conspiring to help me out. One recent example of this is from this past Fall when I went to a conference completely unrelated to the OKAY Initiative. I met multiple powerhouse people (impressive in not only their accomplishments but also in intelligence and compassion) whose interests aligned with the OKAY Initiative and who are now advisors for the project. Serendipity – or living in my vision?

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

Showrunning Good People and Settling Up Season 2. I’d also be creating transmedia stories.

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

“Shoulds”. Listening too much to all the things I was told I should be doing and not enough to what I knew in my heart to be true.

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

Not enough! I meditate twice every day which helps me stay focused on what is and isn’t important and stay connected to my creativity.  

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

Self-judgement born of fear. Being afraid of not being talented enough, smart enough, prepared enough, etc.

Q: What is your favorite piece of art?

Just one?! Every time I hear the finale of Turandot I get chills and have to stop what I’m doing. It never fails.

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

Two people: My parents. I know it’s cliche to say, but it’s true. My parents raised my siblings and me to live so that our presence on this planet makes the world a better place. A lesson they taught by example: My father was an English and drama teacher and my mother is a retired nurse for a school for special services. After my father passed and my mother and I were going through his papers, we were surprised at the size of the folder of letters from charities to which he gave regularly – no matter how they were doing financially. I hope that I embody the best of them and that I make them proud by living their example.  

And I should note that my parents’ lived values came from their parents who lived the same values. I come from a long line of people of whom I am very proud.

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

Using narratives to make the world a more inclusive, compassionate, connected place. I believe to the core of my being that we can change the world by changing narratives, that this is both our gift and responsibility as storytellers.

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

Wannabe-Wonder-Woman. (If I use hyphens that counts as one word, right?)

Q: What is your guilty pleasure?

British mysteries! I have always loved solving puzzles and started reading Agatha Christie when I was in elementary school. Mysteries are essentially puzzles in narrative form, so they merge two loves of mine.

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

If you get others’ approval, awesome. If not, no worries. The more you seek validation externally, the less you will find. Be secure in yourself. You will make mistakes, and that’s okay. It’s great actually, because you can learn from them and get better and better.

Q: Where would you most like to live?

I really do love New York City and where I live now in my beautiful, pre-war apartment uptown. That said, I am a water baby and dream of living near the ocean. Somewhere clean and quiet and abundant in natural beauty that also has a thriving arts scene and a diverse, inclusive community. Still searching for that place.

Q: What is your idea of success?

Having a positive impact on the world.

Q: What is your idea of happiness?

Contentment in the now.

Q: Final Thoughts?

Many thanks to Joanne for the chance to do this. It’s been a beneficial therapy session!

Also, what we do as artists, as storytellers matters. Think of the amount of time people spend with stories, whether they are songs or plays or film or TV or a painting or … The stories put into the world shape our understanding of it and our place in it. What we do in creating those stories, that is noble, important work. It matters. And I honor all of you who are doing the work.

 

 

Fast Forward Friday with Cornelia Ravenal

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For this week’s Fast Forward Friday, we interviewed the multi-talented award-winning writer-producer-filmmaker-visual artist Cornelia Ravenal. Her work has been performed at Lincoln Center, the Kennedy Center and regional theaters, published in magazines in Asia and the US, and screened at international festivals. For more information, visit www.wildernessfilms.us.

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

I’m working on several projects, each at a different stage. I never know which is going to move forward or when, so I have to keep teeing them up. These are the most current:

MOVING STORIES, a documentary I produced and co-created, premiered at MoMA last year and has been in almost 40 festivals to date. I’m still working daily on it, because we’re in the marketing, distribution and social impact phase.

As a writer, I’m juggling a few things. My script ON THE BLADE won a spot at the Writers Lab funded by Meryl Streep a few months ago. To push that forward, I recently wrote the script for a “proof of concept” short that my husband and filmmaking partner, Mikael Södersten, will direct.  We’re now strategizing how to shoot it.

I’m also in the middle of a first draft of a thriller, a dark, modern retelling of the story of Adam and Eve. But I took a break from it last week to write some marketing materials for comedy called THE INtiMATES for a producer in LA. Otherwise, I’m waiting for notes from another producer on a comedy called A MIDSUMMER NIGHTS MOOSE STORY; as soon as I get those, I’ll dive into the rewrite. In musical theater, I’m writing lyrics for BOYNTON BEACH CLUB, a musical that goes up in a regional theater this fall.

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

The documentary is about an acclaimed NY dance company that goes to India, Romania, Korea and Iraq to teach the tools of choreography to at-risk and often traumatized youth. When I first heard about the work they were doing, as a former journalist in India, I knew it was a story that had to be told. And as a trauma survivor myself, I know firsthand the power of the arts to heal.

The musical … when composer Ned Ginsburg and Susan Seidelman asked me to write lyrics for a musical based on one of her films, I jumped. Susan directed DESPERATELY SEEKING SUSAN, which had a big impact on me early in my career.

The scripts I’m writing all have personal connections. ON THE BLADE is inspired by the true story of a brutal hazing at an Ivy League school; it came out of my husband’s experience. Two of the other scripts explore marriage, one comically, the other as a thriller. And MOOSE was inspired by my experiences living in Sweden. It’s about a hapless American who gets lost in Swedish Lapland on the way to the wedding of a Facebook friend. (Not that this happened to me. But close.)

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

I’ve been inspired by many people. When I was a teenage songwriter, my artistic inspirations were Joni Mitchell and Laura Nyro. Several careers later, I look to legions of women filmmakers for inspiration: directors like Jane Campion, Ava DuVernay, Angelina Jolie, Jill Soloway, Patty Jenkins, Kathryn Bigelow, Greta Gerwig and Lynne Ramsay; actor-producers like Elizabeth Banks, Jessica Chastain, Viola Davis, Penny Marshall and producers like Gale Anne Hurd and Christine Vachon.

All this said, the artistic hero who has had the biggest impact is my mother. She’s a painter and art historian who made a career for herself at a time when there were many more obstacles than there are now. She continued to paint into her 70s and to write into her 80s. She’s continually curious about the world and is inspired to create daily.

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

The work itself. I like making something out of nothing. I’m really stimulated by the process of creating and of problem-solving in words, sounds and images.

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

I started out as a performer and I still sing. I recently pinch hit as a studio singer. After I sang with a jazz quintet in Sanders Theater several years back, I promised friends I’d make a CD.  I’ve been putting it off for a while, because of the demands of other work, but plan to do that this year, if only for family and friends. I’m also a visual artist. My work has been in a few gallery shows, including a solo show in Sweden.

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

Anytime something I’ve made gets up out of the crib of creation, gets to its feet and walks on its own tells me I’m living in my vision. That’s as true for finishing a first draft of a script as it is for seeing a musical or film on its feet.

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

There have been so many barriers to entry and advancement over the decades that I’ve been working, it’s hard to say. If I hadn’t encountered them, I might have made the natural transitions from writing to show running to creating TV shows or directing feature films.

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

Fear, both conscious and unconscious. But the biggest obstacles have probably been all the barriers to entry and advancement. Any woman reading this knows what forms those can take. But when I think of obstacles, I tend to think of solutions. So, one way I’ve dealt with professional barriers is to create groups to empower myself and others who may be dealing with the same things. The most recent, which I started 5 years ago, was for women producers. Fifteen of us met once a month in my living room. It’s since become WIP (Women Independent Producers), with close to 60 members..

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

There are so many things I enjoy creating that I’m rarely not in my creative self. But in the last several years, one of my projects has involved an overwhelming amount of non-creative work, so I’ve had to fight to stay connected. To stay connected, I prioritize the time to create. I minimize distractions. I make deadlines for myself that I stick to as rigorously as deadlines from outside. I put the work first. I turn down invitations. I don’t pick up the phone. I create a cocoon. I’m fortunate that my husband is also a writer-filmmaker-producer, so often, we’re in the cocoon together.

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

Fear.

Q: What is your favorite piece of art?

The paintings of Hieronymus Bosch. The life’s work of photographer Sebastião Salgado. Stravinsky’s RITE OF SPRING. Brahm’s violin concertos. The works of choreographers Ohad Naharin and Pina Bausch. The musical, FIDDLER ON THE ROOFwhich I just saw again, this time in Yiddish. (Best production ever!) Too many films to count, although right now, it’s the Yorgos Lanthimos film, THE FAVOURITE, which is transgressively brilliant.

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

I admire people who lead and inspire, despite obstacles and fears. I think that’s why the first names that come to me are Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King and Gandhi,  for reasons everyone knows. But I’d also have to say: my husband. He treats people with respect.  He’s also extremely ethical. I’ve seen him lead and inspire and take care of people in ways that remind me daily of what it means to be a leader.

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

My creative work.  

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

Resilient.

Q: What is your guilty pleasure?

Exotic ice creams, like rose petal and kulfi.

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

Don’t try to be perfect. Don’t give anyone the power to diminish you. Don’t be afraid.

Q: Where would you most like to live?

I used to have favorite places – India, Sweden, Italy – but these days it’s anywhere I can write. Right now, I’m on a train and that seems pretty good to me.

Q: What is your idea of success?

Being recognized for what I’ve created.

Q: What is your idea of happiness?

Creative exploration.

Q: Final Thoughts?

Gratitude.

Fast Forward Friday with Andrew Moore

For this week’s Fast Forward Friday, we interviewed bass-baritone Andrew Moore. He is working for his MM in Opera at Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University. Currently studying with Grammy-winning Eduardo Chama, Andrew starred in the Rutgers production of Beethoven’s Fidelio as Rocco, and as the title role of Figaro in Le Nozze di Figaro by Mozart. His previous credits include Mozart’s Cosi fan Tutte (Guglielmo), Ravel’s L’enfant et les sortileges (L’Arbre), Poulenc’s Dialogues of the Carmelites (1st Officer) and Blow’s Venus and Adonis (Adonis).

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

Currently I am preparing for two operas that I have coming up: Gianni Schicchi and Il Tabarro, which will be performed this February. It will be my final lead in my masters at Mason Gross School of the Arts.

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

I really love Puccini and it will be my first Puccini lead as Gianni Schicci. This role is a lot of firsts for me such as a higher range and use of a character voice for Buoso Donati and I’m glad to be doing it now in my final year here.

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

Some of my artistic heroes would be Feruccio Furlanetto (famous bass-baritone); my current voice teacher Eduardo Chama, who inspires me all the time;  my mother; and all of my singer friends who are doing exactly what I am doing, which is going out there everyday and giving it their all.

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

My support from my family and friends. who are always rooting for me and are so proud of the work that I do. What keeps me inspired is that when I see a show or opera and I am reminded that I get to make people feel the way I do when I see a show. It’s the constant love for performing that keeps me going.

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

This summer I will be a participating in four operas as part of in Santa Fe’s Young Artists Program and I am currently learning music for this summer’s season.

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

This past summer I was invited to be a part of the Merola Opera Program where I sang for more than 3,500 people with orchestra . To me, that was a definite sign that I am on the right path.

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

I would definitely want to get into voice acting and be a voice for a Disney animation film or some sort of cartoon show. I love doing funny voices and I would have so much fun doing that.

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

My biggest obstacle right now is my age. The roles that I want to play won’t be for another few years until my voice has really matured. If you were to compare me to a bottle of wine, I feel I am a classic 2016 Cabernet and I want to be that bottle from 1938 that is a rare find and has the best taste.

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

I keep seeing shows and seeing my friends in their shows. This keeps the inspiration in me alive and I am able to remind myself how much I love performing in general.

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

This is a tough question. I guess I would have to say my thoughts that make me compare myself to other singers. It’s a bit inevitable in the business. “Why him and not me?” But at the same time, although this can hold me back at times, I find myself also inspired to push further and become personally better.

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

Lucille Ball because she was told at an early age that she wouldn’t make it as an actress and now she is one the most recognizable actresses of the century. She believed in herself, really made an entire career for her and her family, and was such a wonderful person and a really amazing entertainer.

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

For being me! I consider myself to be one of a kind and I would want to be remembered just as I am.

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

Entertaining.

Q: What is your guilty pleasure?

This isn’t that bad but sometimes after a long day, there is nothing more I love than having just a few oreos and watching really awful, scary movies. It’s something about the really bad acting and predictable story line that makes me entertained.

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

“Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t make it or that you’re not good enough because one day, you will prove a lot of people wrong.”

Q: Where would you most like to live?

Somewhere with a beautiful view and a beach. I’ve grown up by the beach, and water has always been a source of energy and leaves me with a sense of solidity.

Q: What is your idea of success?

Being able to support myself on my own and doing something that I love everyday.

Q: What is your idea of happiness?

Removing negative people from your life and surrounding yourself with those who truly care for you, and you in return, care for them.

Q: Final Thoughts?

Everyday I am still working and striving for something greater. And although I am young, I cannot wait for what the rest of my life has in store for me.

Fast Forward Friday with Tjasa Ferme

For this week’s Fast Forward Friday, we interviewed actor-playwright-producer Tjasa Ferme. She is a resident actress at The Cell Theatre Company and PopUp Theatrics. She is also the creator of a short film Ophelia’s Flip (Cannes Film Festival, 2012). Her interactive solo show, Wild Child in the City, premiered and played at the Secret Theatre in New York and has since gone on five European and Russian tours, winning the Audience Choice award at Teden Slovenske Drame-International Theatre Festival of Slovenian plays.  To learn more, visit www.tjasaferme.com.

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

I just completed an Off-Broadway run of The Female Role Model Project at 3-Legged Dog femalerolemodelproject.com. It merged theatre and neuroscience on the subject of modern femininity. It was a scientifically enhanced multimedia devised theatre piece exploring representations of female role models and their evolution in a time of great sociopolitical change and the possibility of transforming our brains. It combined theatrical performance and interactive games with live recordings of neural activity from both actors and audience members using Brainbit and Emotiv EEG headsets.

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

There was something percolating inside of me for a long time and through my body of work –  a sex-positive farce Cocktales: Confessions of a Nymphomaniac, Wild Child In The City and Marlene Dietrich,  a one-woman show – a new thing emerged. My observation was that we don’t have enough female role models who would be powerful, imaginative, vulnerable but invincible in their intent to persevere and make their voice heard, and manage to carve their place under the sun on their own terms to inspire the rest  – or perhaps we just don’t talk about it enough. So I started developing a devised theatre piece about female role models paired with high-tech neuroscience and founded my own company Transforma Theatre Inc. with Dr. Natalie Kacinik, Professor at Brooklyn College, CUNY, specializing in Cognitive Neuroscience;  and NY attorney Jacob Sebag.

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

Sarah kane, Jerney Lorenzi and my parents for allowing me to be a free-range kid. My dad was a rock star when I was growing up and that made a huge impact on me! They always gave me so much freedom in choice making but they also held me accountable. They made it possible for me to explore a lot of things and learn completely from my own experience.

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

Innovation and universality, the depth of human experience, taboo topics, absurdity of human existence, the deep mystery of consciousness.

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

Well, the next one cooking is a brother show of The Female Role Model Project which will be about men! I want to explore the complex position men are currently in society-wise and what this means for managing their instincts, traditional gender roles and future relationships with women. Look out for the Men Circle or if you have something to share, please holler, we are just in our exploration phase, so are all ears.

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

Being on stage five days of the week and feeling really connected with our audiences, them sharing their experiences with us and hearing about their aha moments. Our audiences have been divine. I wanted to meet every single one of them, climb into their head, even have a closure or continuation, something. The reason why I founded Transforma Theatre was to create interactive theatre incorporating science into a live reciprocal format leading to higher states of consciousness, more openness, connectedness – RITUAL, tapping into the inner workings and exploration of consciousness. But only when I found myself creating this space of ritual and reciprocity in the theatre,  loving the audience, the interaction with them and the fluidity of thoughts spreading, did I grasped WHY the ritual component is so important.

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

Psychedelics in theatre, it would be a wonderful way of journeying, healing and witnessing – partaking in an exploration of a more primordial soup states of consciousness. By the way, before you asked me that question I never asked myself that so even I am kind of shocked by my own answer.

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

Not having enough funding.

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

For morning practice I do “fairy yoga,”  it’s my conglomerate of yoga with fairy symbols and mantras setting intentions for the day; meditating; running in nature; taking trips and “no-pressure-to-perform-or-be-productive” vacations; and lately I’ve been drawing again as my creative flow and relax time – my favorite activity as a child.

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

The constant pressure I put on myself to keep moving, producing, performing, my insane expectations from myself in this short span of a human life.

Q: What is your favorite piece of art? 

Oh! I love the giant painting of Waterlilies by Monet, but I also love a lot of Dali’s pieces. From theatre I love going to the NextWave Festival at BAM. A piece that really blew my mind and made me almost giddy from excitement was Germinal at Under the Radar in 2016.  A French production about the concept of language. Amazing!

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

That’s hard. I’ve been thinking about this all day … I like a lot of people and their work but “most admire?” That’s hard. OK, well, right now I say that my current role model is Elizabeth Gilbert – a phenomenal writer and speaker. Not sure I admire her above everybody else for her work even though I obviously “consume” her wisdom. I just love it how deep and yet down to earth and forgiving she is. I admire the author Alan Lightman for Einstein’s Dream; I admire Philip Glass for his Orion series; I admire neuroscientists like David Eagleman, Moran Cerf and Patricia Kuhl. And a lot more … Obviously who wouldn’t wish to be able to write like Shakespeare!

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

Bringing science into interactive theatrical experiences, demystifying the nature of consciousness in theatre with audiences as participants.

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

An explosion of energy.

Q: What is your guilty pleasure?

Running in the woods.

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

Slow the hell down.

Q: Where would you most like to live?

Hmmm, partially in New York, partially in Italy and partially somewhere in Latin America.

Q: What is your idea of success?

Being able to create cultural movements and changes with my work, being financially supported for the projects I do.

Q: What is your idea of happiness?

My idea of happiness is fulfillment, and my personal fulfillment comes from dreaming up a vision, deciding to make it reality, taking a plunge and then taking a risk. It’s my personal heroine’s journey, almost like a video game. I have to take on something difficult in order to feel satisfied and at peace. So sometimes I’m going crazy with all the stuff but at the same time there’s a part of me that is totally at home in that position. I always imagine somewhat mythically how I am this storm queen riding a huge cloud of lightning and thunder.

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.