Spotlight on First Look Series: Measure for Measure

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Our FREE staged reading of Measure for Measure: A Boarding School Comedy is this Thursday, October 24th at 7:30pm at the Autry. Click here for more details

Excitement is in the room as we begin our second First Look Series workshop of the season. Described as "Blazing Saddles meets Shakespeare," Measure for Measure: A Boarding School Comedy is Native Voices founder and artistic director Randy Reinholz's adaptation of the William Shakespeare play, Measure for Measure. The original Shakespeare piece, written around 1603, deals with Catholicism's contradictions and asks serious questions about who should have moral authority. Who gets to decide right from wrong? And moreover, are the morally and spiritually righteous actually immune to the very same earthly, human impulses that get the rest of us into trouble?

Reinholz's adaptation is set in the American Old West, where the law is still in flux. Puritan Christian authority struggles to excercise control over late 19th century Genoa, Nebraska. Here, diversity and entrepreneurial opportunity flourish in form of the female-owned-and-run saloon and brothel, The Stewed Prunes Saloon. In direct contrast, however, the Indian Industrial School of Genoa strives to "Kill the Indian, Save the Man" by assimilating Native youth into the Christian belief system. A part of American history often left out of textbooks, the Indian industrial schools (or boarding schools) of the 19th to 20th centuries have been described by many as a system of cultural genocide.

The problem of cultural assimilation becomes apparent when a young Native man, Momaday, impregnates his Irish fiancee, Caitlin. The town's conservative authority figure, Angelo, refuses to recognize Momaday and Caitlin's marriage because it was done in the Indian way, rather than as a Christian ceremony. Momaday is sentenced to death for getting a white girl pregnant, and the townspeople converge to save him from an unjust fate.

Despite the depth of the ideas and themes in this adaptation, the play is outlandishly funny. As Reinholz describes it, "This issue [Indian boarding schools] rouses deep emotions even today. A play about this subject seems to want some kind of theatrical distance– so I chose comedy." Raucous, bawdy scenes of broad comedy are juxtaposed with Shakespeare's heightened poetry. Women have a stronger part to play in the resolution of this play than in the original text, too.

Below is a Q&A with Randy Reinholz about his adaptation and about the process of workshopping a new play.

Is this your first pass at playwriting/adapting a play? What made you decide to adapt this play, Measure for Measure, now?
As a director, I have often come up with concepts about where and when a Shakespeare text should occur. Early in my career it was about choosing a time and geographic region that would serve the aesthetics of the play. Then, with all the university work I did, it also became important that productions introduced students to the lives and values of people of various periods and regions of the world.

Through the years, I became more confident using Shakespeare's story structure and changing character motivations to redirect the audience's focus and reveal other worlds of the play. Looking at Measure for Measure– which I have always loved– I thought I could make some simple changes to the text. I wanted to shift the focus of the story to the Old West, and substitute the examination of the institution of Catholicism to the brutality of Indian boarding schools. So few Americans know of this institution, its “moral” value system and the long-term cultural damage done by people of faith. Measure for Measure is both extremely funny and potentially tragic in the way the characters both abuse power and abdicate the responsibility for true governance. 

What was fun about adapting the play?
The women, they provided a depth of strength and comedy and vulnerability in the text. Shifting the focus of the action from men and women responding to conflict, to women responding to, then driving the action and eventual outcomes of the conflict was a great joy. I really look forward to hearing the text this week to see how to improve this aspect of the play. I think having a woman (Chris Anthony) direct is such a gift. She is a wonderful Shakespeare scholar and a dream in the way she works with actors.

What was challenging about adapting the play? 
Deciding what to keep and what to let go of from the original text. It must be similar to what a screen writer experiences, or a filmmaker’s process in distilling a big story for the screen.

Left to right: DeLanna Studi (Isabel),
Kenneth Ruthardt (James McDonald),
and Chris Anthony (Director)
What part of the writing workshop this week are you looking forward to most? 
I look forward to having the actors in the room, both making the text fly and hearing what causes them to stumble. That will be tricky – because so much of the “new” text is in heightened verse, so I have to be patient to hear if the dialogue is not working or if it just takes the actors time to unpack the language. About half the cast is familiar with heightened text, and the others will be new to the process. I have some AMAZING actors who can really lift Shakespearean text, too! 

Come see our FREE staged reading of Measure for Measure: A Boarding School Comedy, this Thursday, October 24th at 7:30pm at the Autry. Click here for more details

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Write a Short Play! (4 of 4)

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For Part 1 in the "Write a Short Play" series, click here!
For Part 2 in the "Write a Short Play" series, click here!
For Part 3, click here!
FAQs About our 3rd Annual Short Play Festival
Annual Call for Scripts: Submission Guidelines

Great news! Our deadline for short play submissions has been extended. Submissions for our short play festival are now due on August 8th, 2013

Now, you can breathe a sigh of relief. You have an extra week to write and submit a short play to Native Voices! We’re really excited to see what you come up with.

If you’ve been following our short play writing exercises, you’ll also be glad to know that it’s time for the fourth and final exercise: write the darn play!

Exercise 4: Write Your Short Play

For this exercise, it’s important to remember that there is an eraser on the end of your pencil (or correction fluid for your pen, or a backspace button on your keyboard). In other words, don't worry about getting your short play perfect the first time. Longtime Native Voices friend and award-winning playwright Rob Caisley reminded us of this saying:

“Don’t get it right, get it written!”

What you write today is just a first draft of many. Playwright, teacher, and Native Voices friend Julie Jensen emphasizes that each draft is “just an experiment. Nothing to fear, nothing to worry about.” You can always rewrite it. In fact, you should rewrite as part of your process.

“The difference between a so-so play and a good play is REWRITING,” Rob adds. “The difference between and good play and a great play is REWRITING. But until you've got a first draft, you've got nothing to improve.”

With this advice fresh in mind, return to your main character and antagonist. In the last exercise, your antagonist came up with 10 different ways to thwart your main character in his/her struggle to achieve their goal. In my example, Joe was doing everything he could to stop Jane from breaking up with him. His efforts included destroying his phone to avoid break-up texts, and physically chasing Jane down if she tried to run away. A crisis was ready to erupt between Jane and Joe. Time to write a confrontation!

Try writing a short play with your main character and antagonist. It doesn’t have to be very long (a short play can be as few as 5 pages long to submit to Native Voices).
  • Use at least three of your main character’s tactics to get what they want, and have your antagonist make at least three countermoves. 
  • Make the two characters worthy opponents– both should have something to gain, or something to lose (ex., Jane wants to gain freedom, while Joe doesn’t want to lose comfort/love/security/etc.). 
Once you have written your short play or scene, REWRITE it! Shake it up! Find a way turn it on its head. 
  • If your main character won what he/she wanted, then rewrite an ending where your antagonist gives one last, lethal blow, preventing the main character from attaining happiness. 
  • If your main character lost what he/she wanted, rewrite an ending where he/she gets a burst of potent energy and finds a way to achieve their goal. 
I won’t post the full script of Jane & Joe (Don’t) Break Up here. Be thankful! This literary assistant is happy to stick to reading plays, not writing them.

With an entire week left to write your short play, I hope to have plenty of reading to do when August 8th arrives. Remember, you can submit up to three (3) plays in each category, short or full-length. So send them in! Happy writing!

The deadline for short play submissions is now August 8th, 2013. For more info about our annual call for scripts, click here
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Write a Short Play! (3 of 4)

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For Part 1 in the "Write a Short Play" series, click here!
For Part 2 in the "Write a Short Play" series, click here!
FAQs About our 3rd Annual Short Play Festival
Annual Call for Scripts: Submission Guidelines

By now, you should have thought of
  • A character
  • Something he/she is going to do, and 10 different ways to do it
If you're like me, you have Paul Simon's "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover" stuck in your head, too.

Ready for part 3?

Exercise 3: The Antagonist

Conflict is central to most plays. As Julie Jensen, playwright, playwriting teacher, and friend of Native Voices says, "Someone wants something, someone else is in the way. Write that exchange, that negotiation, that argument."

Your main character wants something, but... someone is in the way: the antagonist. Think Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader. Harry Potter and Voldemort. Aragorn and Sauron!

Who is standing in your main character's way? And moreover, what does this antagonist need from your main character? It could be an item or object– something physical and tangible– or it could be an emotion (respect, love, admiration, etc).

What will the antagonist do to try to get this thing from your character, or to keep it? List 10 different ways your antagonist will counteract your main character. For each of the 10 ways your character pursued an action in the previous exercise, come up with 10 realistic ways for your antagonist to stop them.

In my example for Exercise 2, I decided that Jane wanted to break up with her boyfriend. Today, her boyfriend, Joe, needs her to stay. He desperately loves her and won't take no for an answer!

Joe must keep Jane from breaking up with him. He can...

1. Fake having bad reception on his phone so that she can't break up with him by phone call
2. Break his phone on purpose to avoid receiving the break-up text
3. Ignore all of his emails, or set his inbox to recognize Jane's mail as spam
4. Take Jane to a very crowded, public place on Valentine's Day, where it will be difficult and embarrassing for her to break up with him
5. Fall asleep or run out for dessert immediately after dinner to avoid a post-dinner break up conversation
6. Whisk Jane away on a romantic vacation to someplace she's always wanted to go, so she can't pack her bags and leave
7. Refuse to leave, because the apartment, furniture, and dog belong to him, too
8. Undertake a missing persons search, including pictures on milk cartons and ads, and a private investigator, so that Jane can't easily fake her own death or simply disappear
9. Be the best boyfriend ever, so that Jane's attempts to make him break up with her go awry
10. Put on his sneakers and literally chase Jane down the street if she tries to run away from him

As you might imagine, Jane is going to get very irritated with Joe. Joe is probably very upset with Jane. Yikes! It seems inevitable that my protagonist and antagonist will have some kind of argument or altercation.

Who is your antagonist, and what does he/she want? What are 10 ways he/she will get in the way of your main character? What kind of argument or confrontation are they likely to have?

Revisit the blog soon to try Exercise 4: The Short Play!

For more info about our annual call for scripts, click here.
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Write a Short Play! (2 of 4)

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For Part 1 in the "Write a Short Play" series, click here

Annual Call for Scripts: Submission Guidelines

Did you manage to think of a great character over the weekend? Ready to do something with him or her? Excellent! Let's go...

Exercise 2: 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover

Your character might be leaving their lover, or running for office, or both! Now that you have a character, what action will he or she take?

Once you've thought of something your character does, think about how many different ways your character can do this thing. Think of the song, "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover."

Make a list of 10 different ways your character can do the action you've thought of.

So, for example, Jane is breaking up with her boyfriend. She can:

1. Call
2. Text
3. Email
4. Wait until Valentine's Day
5. Have a compassionate conversation with him after dinner
6. Pack her bags and leave
7. Tell him to leave
8. Fake her own death
9. Force him to break up with her first
10. Put on her sneakers and literally run away

The list could go on, with a little creative thinking.

Obviously, some of these options merit explanation or justification if you plan to use them in your short play. (Take #8 for example. You're probably thinking, "...Seriously?" I know, I know. This is why yours truly is just a literary assistant, not a playwright. You're the brilliant ones!)

You'll have to think about the circumstances that surround what your character does, as well as the believability of your character's actions. Why does he or she want to do this thing? What consequences will he or she face if she takes any of these actions? Is it likely that he or she will be successful?

Naturally, your next impulse may be to decide what's getting in his or her way. Jane wants to break up with her boyfriend, but... what? You'll have to visit the blog again to find out!

Make a list of 10 ways for your character to take an action, and come back for Part 3!

To find more information about our annual call for scripts, click here. 

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Write A Short Play! (1 of 4)

Want to write a short play, but don't know where to start?

Not a problem! We'll give you four easy exercises to get your writerly brain juices flowing. Check it out...

Exercise 1: Think of a Character

We're starting with something simple. Choose a character– but not just any character. Choose a character you can see doing something. This character is someone who's going to take action. In other words, this is your protagonist, your main character, your activist.

He or she probably wants something. He/She must want it badly, too! Whatever he/she desires, they're going to do whatever they can to get it.

So, for now– A character, who is likely to do something, because he/she has a strong want.

What is your character going to do?  Stay tuned for part 2 to find out!

Parts 2, 3, and 4 coming soon!

Follow this link to guidelines for our annual call for scripts.

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FAQs About Our 3rd Annual Short Play Festival

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Here are the answers to some common questions we've received about this year's Short Play Fest.

For our complete submission guidelines, click here!

1) What is this year’s theme?

This year’s theme is “Legal Briefs: Lawmakers and Activists,” for which we invite a wide range of short scripts.

2) What should my play be about?

Plays can explore a wide range of stories about how the American legal system, the law, and our daily lives are shaped by Native American identity and culture and the lawmakers and activists it has given us. How do Native Americans uphold and honor, question and investigate, or create and change law within our society? Plays do not need to be biographical or autobiographical. Use your imagination!

3) Does my play need to be about an actual person or event?

No. You can create a fictional character and event to tell your story. Remember, an activist is not necessarily just a famous face or politician. When we say “activists,” we think of all kinds of people who are working to do big things in Native American communities. An activist can be a teacher, a respected elder or community member, or even a young person. An activist is anyone who is striving to make a positive change.

4) How long should my play be?

We ask that short plays be 5 to 16 pages long.

5) Do I have to be an experienced writer to submit my short play to Native Voices at the Autry?

No. In fact, short plays can be a great opportunity for someone who has never written a play before to give it a try. Anyone can write and submit a play, no matter what age or how skilled they are. Mostly, we are looking for good stories rather than perfect playwriting technique!

6) If I have submitted plays to Native Voices in the past, am I still eligible to submit a short play this year?

Of course. We encourage writers who have worked with us before to continue submitting scripts to us. Also, this is a great opportunity for experienced writers to work on an idea without committing to a full-length, 60+ page script. We sometimes even receive excellent revisions of scripts that began as short plays.

7) How many characters can I use?

We ask that you use four characters or less in your script.

8) How many locations can I have in my play?

Technically, you can have as many locations as you like. But keep in mind that we have to stage the play in a theater– that means we don’t have the luxury of multiple locations. It is recommended that you use one or two settings to keep your short play clear, simple, and stageable which will also allow for multiple plays to be staged in a festival performance.

9) Are there any guidelines for writing a short play online?

Actor’s Theatre of Louisville offers a quick and simple guide for their New Voices Ten-Minute Play Festival that you may find helpful. It’s geared for young writers - but these tips apply to all writers. You should check out the submission guidelines for their Ten-Minute Play Festival, too! Their submission deadline is October 31, 2013, and there’s a $1,000 cash award for the winner of the festival. Write and submit to both Native Voices and ATL!

Actor’s Theatre of Louisville’s “The Art of the Ten-Minute Play”

Actor's Theatre of Louisville Submission Guidelines

10) Feeling Stumped?

Try this: Make a list of 5 different conflicts, 5 “clocks,” and 5 settings or places. Pick one from each category at random, and see where your imagination takes you. Here are some examples below. Feel free to use these, or create your own lists!

Example: 5 Conflicts

1. A teacher/coach confronts the system for the good of her/his students.
2. An unlikely leader seeks better healthcare for their community.
3. A child is taken from its family/tribal community.
4. A young man discovers a poisoned watering hole.
5. A young woman is forced to choose between tribal law and US military law.

5 Clocks (*Remember: these are things that add a sense of urgency, excitement, or pressing need to your play)
1. The day of a public hearing
2. The end of a loved one’s battle with disease
3. The morning of a ribbon cutting ceremony
4. The day of the big championship
5. The last day of the year

5 Settings or Places
1. A Taos pueblo
2. A city/community hall
3. A kitchen
4. In a moving car
5. A tribal council

Our short play deadline is August 1st, 2013. We're excited to see your work! 

For complete submission guidelines, click here
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The Law of the Land: Spotlight on 2013 Writers Retreat & Festival of New Plays

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The plays chosen for this year’s Retreat & Festival dive headfirst into current polarizing political issues. For example, Vickie Ramirez’s play, Stand-Off at Hwy#37, deals with conflict between the National Guard and Haudenosaunee protesters on a reservation in upstate New York. Where Have All the Warriors Gone? by Darrell Dennis features political activism and tribal law in North America as major themes.

Check out this quick guide to some major ideas, people, and events that are referenced in this year’s Retreat & Festival plays…

Tribal Sovereignty
The U.S. Government officially categorized Native American tribes as “domestic dependent nations” in 1831. Tribes are sovereign entities; they make their laws and rulings independently of the U.S. Government. States may not impose regulations on tribes. However, the power of tribal governments is not absolute. Congress may intervene or overrule tribal law in the event of incidents that involve non-Indians, for example, as in Oliphant vs. Saquamish Indian Tribe, 1978. For more explanation, see this helpful page from the Native American Caucus of the California Democratic Party. See also: “Tribal Sovereignty and State Authority,” and “Tribal Sovereignty and Jurisdiction: It’s a Matter of Trust."

The Oka Crisis
This famous standoff occurred in the summer of 1990 in Oka, Quebec, Canada. Mohawk protestors challenged the construction of a golf course over traditional burial ground. When construction crews came into the disputed area, Mohawk protestors put up barricades against the bulldozers. The Quebec Police and Canadian Armed Forces were sent in to control the situation. Construction was permanently stopped, but it came at the cost of a 78-day standoff, police brutality, and one death. For more information and video, see the CBC Digital Archives. See also: Warrior Publications' blogpost, "Oka Crisis, 1990", and the Global Non-Violent Action Database.

Wounded Knee
In the late 1960s, the American Indian Movement was founded to fight injustice against Native Americans in the legal system. Led by Leonard Peltier and Dennis Banks, to name a few, AIM also fought against poor living conditions on reservations. In response to corruption and mismanagement in the tribal government, AIM and Oglala Lakota occupied Wounded Knee in 1973. U.S. Armed Forces blocked roads and cut off supplies to the area, putting Wounded Knee under siege for 71 days.
During and after the siege, hundreds of arrests were made, though few people were convicted of any crime. Unsolved disappearances and harassment of Native people by police also followed the siege. AIM leader Leonard Peltier was accused in the shooting of two FBI agents in a gunfight in 1975. Peltier was sentenced to prison for life in a much-contested trial. Amnesty International considers him a political prisoner who should be released. His supporters maintain his innocence and continue to fight for his release.

The most recent news about Wounded Knee is a controversial plan to sell a piece of the historic landmark. See Native American Times. For more research about Wounded Knee, see The History Channel on Wounded Knee; see also "Wounded Knee Siege: 1973."

Idle No More
A contemporary movement, Idle No More is an organized protest group comprised of First Nations and other aboriginal people of Canada. They oppose the encroachment of the Canadian government on treaties and agreements made with First Nations people, in an effort to protect environmental resources and rights. Idle No More's members have organized protests on a volunteer basis worldwide. To follow the activities of Idle No More, see their Facebook page, or their official website

To learn even more about these issues and events, come check out our Festival of New Plays at The Autry in Los Angeles, or at La Jolla Playhouse in San Diego, now through June 1st!

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Getting to Know Lori Favela

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Getting excited for this year's Festival of New Plays? Want to know more about the plays? Here is an inside look at Lori Favela's take on playwriting.  And don't forget to make reservations for the readings of her play The Healer's Remains on Wednesday, May 29 in Los Angeles, and Saturday June 1st in San Diego.

Q&A with Playwright Lori Favela (Yanton Sioux)

What is your favorite thing about playwriting?
Playwriting offers me the opportunity to be creative.

What is your least favorite thing about playwriting?
There are hurdles to overcome with characters, etc., which are challenges, but there’s nothing about the process that I dislike.

What is your favorite play?
I am a big fan of Culture Clash, a Latino writing and acting trio. They weave politics, history, and current events into very witty, poignant, and humorous productions. To me they represent the landscape of L.A. My favorite play, so far, has been Water & Power.

What’s a production that you’ve seen recently and think everyone should see?
End of the Rainbow just finished a run at the Ahmanson Theater. It’s about Judy Garland making a comeback toward the end of her life (she died in her late 40s from a drug overdose). The play successful balanced her immense singing talent while revealing the destructive nature of her drug and alcohol addiction.

What’s the best cure for writer’s block?
Take a break and clear your head.

What would the title be of the play/movie based on your life?
Unfortunately, I live a very ordinary existence so there would be no need for a play or movie to be based on my life.

What play do you wish you had written and why?
I’m fortunate in that I am writing the play I wanted to write!

Where do you get your inspiration for your work?
A few years ago, I attended a screenwriting event for Native Americans. It was mentioned that after the success of the movie, Smoke Signals, there was an expectation that there would be a wave of native films that would emerge, but unfortunately, that never materialized. That always stuck with me because I know Native people have important and interesting stories to tell. Knowing that we haven’t told our stories keeps me striving for that goal.

What are you most looking forward to during the workshop and festival?
I’m ready to meet my assigned dramaturg, Julie Jensen, and literary associate, Jessica Ordon, since we’ve shared so many conference calls over the past few weeks. I’m so grateful that Julie was there for me and my play. I’m looking forward to the feedback and the continued improvement of this play at the workshop.

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Spotlight on Playwright Vickie Ramirez

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Are you excited for the upcoming Festival of New Plays at Native Voices? I interviewed one of our playwrights whose work is featured in the Festival, Vickie Ramirez (Tuscarora, Six Nations of the Grand River), who wrote Stand-Off at HWY #37.  See what she has to say about writing! 

What is your favorite thing about playwriting? I love telling stories, always have but the amazing thing about playwriting is that you start with your story, share it and then watch as other artists take the story and create their own stories on top of it.  It's like a great big game of telephone.  Love it.

What is your least favorite thing about playwriting? Never being satisfied.  You know no audience will react the same way every day but when a line that got huge laughs the night before falls flat, I hate that desperate reflex that makes me want to run up onstage with pages and a red pen, saying "here, try this one instead."  But I also secretly love that too.  (I'm a masochist).

What is your favorite play? Soooooo many - anything by Tompson Highway, Stephen Adly Guirgis, Caryl Churchill, Long Day's Journey Into Night, A Streetcar Named Desire, Grandchildren of the Buffalo Soldiers, The Baby Blues, The Marriage of Bette and Boo, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf and The Goat or Who is Sylvia, The Cherry Orchard, Hamlet (not ashamed)...I could go on and on and on...

 What’s a production that you’ve seen recently and think everyone should see?Really excited about Larissa Fasthorse's "What Would CrazyHorse Do?"  But warning, gird your loins!  It's a tricky one.

What’s the best cure for writer’s block? Dancing 

What would the title be of the play/movie based on your life? Not a clue...actually...yep - that's the perfect title!

 What play do you wish you had written and why? Dry Lips Oughta Move To Kapuskasing - first Rez play I saw and it blew my mind.  Poetic and lyrical, it took the voices of the folks I grew up with - folks I had taken for granted -  and reflected them back as magical and lyrical.  I went back home and took a second look at my family after that, and started seeing the complexity and beauty.  I only wish I could get one quarter of that beauty in my work.

Where do you get your inspiration for your work? family, stories my grandfather told, stories my mother told, stories my father tells, the people and places I see and experience, scifi and fairy tales... (food too...)  Could go on and on and on....

What are you most looking forward to during the workshop and festival? meeting new folks, sharing new stories, checking out the west coast ndnz and west coast theater peeps and ....sunshine...really desperate for some sunshine...
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Journey for Diane Glancy's "The Bird House"

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The greatest trick of Theater is making it appear effortless. When the audience arrives the set is built, the costumes sewn, lighting designed, sound cues set, actors rehearsed and dialogue written. If they only knew of all the late rehearsals, the toil of the designers and the long nights re-writing the script. And all of this is only for an actual production.
If we rewind to October 2010, when "The Bird House" first came to Native Voices for its First Look Series, it is apparent that this has been two and a half years of hard work for Diane Glancy. "The Bird House" has also been developed twice in Native Voices' New Play Festival, where a staged reading is presented after a week of workshopping the play. As a new addition to Native Voices' staff, I have only seen the transformation from June 2012's New Play Festival to Opening Night. I will say, however, that  in that short time, the play has come a long way.

As I playwright, I am familiar with the fact that plays are much like people. They develop over time, some things change, while other remain the same. One thing that Diane has kept through all of her drafts is the magnificent language. Lines like "he's the taste of gasoline in my mouth" really hit me. They are so beautiful, so poignant and also, so true. And, while character development, plot points and scene sequence have improved over each draft, the heart of the play- its themes about family, religion, the environment, etc. and Diane's unique voice stick.
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