Lylanne Musselman on Frida Khalo, Painting, and Identity

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Lylanne Musselman discusses her new play Frida Khalo: Heartbreaker, part of the HERSTORY 3: JOURNEY WOMEN. This interview was originally published in 2018 leading up to the HERSTORY 3: Journeywomen Festival. The play with be performed again as part of the The Best of HERSTORY Festival at the New Haven Free Public Library on March 28th at 6:30pm and March 30th at 3:30pm. Interview by Natalie Osborne.

Q: Can you tell us more about your experience writing for 365 Women a Year? 

A: I’ve been on-board from the beginning. Jess Eisenberg is doing a great thing where women are concerned with this project to get women, well-known and obscure, on stage. I’ve met a few of the other playwrights from the project, and I was even Festival Director for the 365 Women a Year Festival in Detroit in 2016. I can’t say enough good things about 365 Women a Year!

Q: What drew you to Frida Khalo?

A: Well, I’m a visual artist too and I’ve always loved Khalo’s work – she’s so colorful! I especially love her “Self-portrait with Cropped Hair.” I was so happy to write a play featuring her for the 365 Women a Year project…I was afraid someone else would request her before I did!

Q:  What was a major challenge you had to overcome while writing this play?

A: I really didn’t want Frida to come off as shallow. I also wanted to give the play humor, but not make fun of the situation at hand. I feel that I still gave Frida respect, and I feel that there are some humorous moments without being “mean.” I also didn’t want it to be a takeoff of the movie about her life either…so I wanted to focus on other aspects than were highlighted there.

Q: Your play focuses on a side of Frida Khalo most people are unaware of, what lead you down this path?

A: As a lesbian, that didn’t come out until later in life, I was fascinated when I found out that Khalo had dalliances with women, even though she was always “with” Diego. I felt that writing this play would allow others to see that she had that side to her as well.

Q:  People seem almost as fascinated by Frida Khalo’s personal life as they are by her artwork, if not more so, why do you think that is?

A: As I said, her art is “colorful” and I think we could say her life was pretty “colorful” as well. She certainly lived her life, had a forceful personality, gave Diego as good as he sent, she was politically active at a time women weren’t known to be, and then she had such pain from the bus accident…so I think there’s a lot there for all types of people to be fascinated by!

Q:  During her life, Frida Khalo’s work was overshadowed by her husband Diego, do you see this as a problem women creators still face today?

A: Yes, she certainly was overshadowed by Diego, wasn’t she! Yes, I feel that many women still take a backseat to their partners/husbands today. And, unfortunately, being creative isn’t always seen as an integral part of our society…so if you’re a woman, and you’re creative, you’ve got two hills to climb already, then if you have a man who is not supportive…or is also in the arts, as Diego was, there’s another obstacle! I do hope that with the women’s movement picking back up again, that this will all even out for all of us.

Q:  What are you hoping audience members will be left with after seeing your play?

A: I hope it makes them think that people are attracted to who they’re attracted to…we shouldn’t be so quick to judge and put people in a box. By the same token, I feel that the play shows that if you love someone…they do have a hold over you…for better…or worse.

Q:  What’s next for you? What are you working on now?

A: I’m working on more plays for 365 Women a Year! The immediate play I’m working on is a play about another woman artist, Francoise Gilot.  I find her fascinating because she’s in her 90s now, and she still paints! In addition, she had an affair with  Picasso for 10 years and is the mother of two of his children. She also was married to Jonas Salk until he died in 1995…so I feel like she’s got a lot of interesting twists that I can write a play about! I’m also going to write a play about the poet Ruth Stone after I finish this one. Additionally, I’m always writing poems and painting!

Q: Is there anything else you would like to share with us?

A: I have a full-length collection of poetry coming out this spring, It’s Not Love, Unfortunately, which will be published by Chatter House Press. I’d also like to express my appreciation for being a part of HERSTORY 3! I’m so honored, and especially happy that it is with my Frida Kahlo play. Thank you! (End of interview).

If you would like to make a donation to support the project and win some awesome prizes, click here! All money goes to support the artists in the Festival. We need to raise another $250 before the 30th, and you can help!

Allie Costa on Dance and Memory

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Allie discusses her play LITTLE SWAN. This interview was originally done in 2016 for the first HERSTORY Festival. This is a four part series of interviews with playwrights who’s work will be featured in The Best of HERSTORY on March 28th and 30th at the New Haven Free Public Library. The event is FREE! Click here to rsvp to our facebook event.

Q: How did you hear about 365 Women a Year?

A: I first crossed paths with Jess Eisenberg on Twitter when the 365 Women a Year project was in its early stages and she was seeking submissions. I immediately asked how I could be involved, and the rest is history.

Q: Why did you choose Anna Pavlova as one of your historical woman? What drew you to her?

A: The idea for Little Swan came to me in March 2013 as I was preparing to write a new play for PlayGround-LA in honor of Women’s History Month. I wanted to write about someone who made an impact on society and history, and as that was all percolating in my brain, I was at an audition studio where I saw a replica of a piece of art I like – the statue Little Dancer Aged Fourteen by Degas – and thought, “Perhaps a dancer.” Anna Pavlova came to mind. I researched her life and discovered her last words, and I knew her story was one I had to tell.

Q: Can you walk me through the process of adapting a person’s life for the stage? What were some of the challenges? What parts really clicked together?

A: Little Swan is set backstage before the first performance of The Dying Swan, a ballet choreographed by Mikhail Fokine as a solo piece for Anna Pavlova. Without giving too much away, the encounter she has in this piece is imagined, but some of the lines in this play were spoken by the real Anna Pavlova. I wanted to incorporate real quotes because the statements she made about life and about dancing were so powerful, so telling, and I couldn’t say it better than she said it herself. Those quotes really inspired the story, from start to finish.

Q: You’ve been involved with 365 Women a Year since the original incarnation. Has your experience in the first year influenced your writing the second time around?

A: So far, I have written five pieces for 365 Women a Year:
Little Swan, a Pas de Deux (Anna Pavlova)
The View From Here (Anna Christina Olson, subject of Andrew Wyeth’s painting Christina’s World)
She Walks (Ada Lovelace)
She Was Never Lost (Alice Liddell, inspiration for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland)
A Moment of Silence (Leelah Alcorn)
….and this year, I will be writing about Natalie Wood and Audrey Hepburn.

The first year, I submitted pieces to the project that I had already written, whereas for the second year and now the third, the project was what motivated me to write the pieces. I enjoy doing research because I’d like to be as accurate as possible and truly honor their lives and accomplishments.

Q: What are you most excited about for the reading on the 29th and 30th?

A: I am so flattered that Little Swan was chosen for this reading! I hope you all enjoy it. It will be the first time my work has been presented in Connecticut, so that is exciting.

Q: Are there any playwrights that inspired you while you were working on this piece, or who inspire you in general?

A: I love a good story. I appreciate good storytellers. I am an actress, a playwright, a screenwriter, a singer, and a director. When I’m not performing someone else’s work, I’m writing my own. I am constantly reading books, scripts, and screenplays, watching TV, films, going to the theatre, listening to music – those are my favorite story streams.

Lin-Manuel Miranda inspires me. I’m going to work with that man someday. I am so glad that Hamilton is getting the recognition is deserves. #yayhamlet

Q: What has been your favorite aspect of working with 365 Women a Year?

A: I enjoy seeing, hearing, and reading all of these stories and learning about women I didn’t know about before as well as learning new things about familiar names. I also like meeting new playwrights, directors, and actors in the process!

Q: Do you have any advice for the playwrights joining 365 Women a Year for the first time?

Pick someone you think is awesome. It doesn’t matter if she is famous, if she’s a household name or not. All that matters is that you think she’s story-worthy – so jump right in and tell her story!

Allie Costa works in film, TV, theatre, and voiceover as a writer, director, actress, and singer. Her original works have been produced internationally, including Femme Noir (Best Script, 2015 One-Act Festival), Safe Distance, Who She Could Have Been (LBDI semi-finalist), A Taste of the Future (Lakeshore Players semi-finalist) and Can You Keep a Secret? Her play Little Swan, a Pas de Deux, inspired by the life of ballerina Anna Pavlova, was named Best of PlayGround-LA 2014 and subsequently published. Tofurkey Day has been staged in Chicago, Los Angeles, Seattle, San Diego, the UK, and Florida, where it was named Best of the Fest, Audience Choice.

Allie is an accomplished stage and screen actor whose credits include Spring Awakening, Hamlet, 90210, Wake, and You Me & Her. She has lent her voice to video games, appeared in commercials, and narrated audio books. She is a proud member of the Los Angeles Female Playwrights Initiative, the 365 Women a Year Playwriting Project, PlayGround-LA, and SAG-AFTRA. She always has energy to burn and a song to sing. Occasionally, she sleeps.

If you would like to make a donation to support the project and win some awesome prizes, click here! All money goes to support the artists in the Festival. We need to raise another $250 before the 30th, and you can help!

Shellen Lubin on Theatre and Adapation

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Shellen Lubin discusses her new play AFTER THE THIN MAN. The interview was originally done in 2015 for the 365 Women a Year at Bennington College Festival. This is a four part series of interviews with playwrights who’s work will be featured in The Best of HERSTORY on March 28th and 30th at the New Haven Free Public Library.

Interviewer: Natalie Osborne

Q: How did you hear about 365 Women a Year? 

A: On facebook — not even sure whether it was a post in the Playwriting group there — or just noticing one of Jessica’s posts — but I immediately became involved.

Q: Why did you choose Stella Adler and Sylvia Gassell as your historic women? What drew you to them? 

A: I studied with Stella Adler when I was younger, and she was in her 70s. Sylvia Gassell was in a play of mine when she was in her late 60s. Sylvia told me about Stella coming back from Hollywood and telling her not to go out there as a “character actress” because there are no parts for them. It’s something that has stayed with me all these years. I decided to imagine the moment when Stella gave up on acting as a profession and decided to teach, and that decision became the center of this play. (Also the fact that she was right, because, as brilliant as Sylvia was, how much did she really get to work in New York?)

Q: Can you walk me through the process of adapting a persons life for the stage? What were some of the challenges? What parts really clicked together? 

A: I read and read until something about their path excited me, sparked me, and then focused my research on that aspect, fleshing out “information” where I needed it. The biggest challenges are 1) knowing that truth is more important than life, and so you have to write what makes the play work, not worry about what actually “happened”; 2) knowing that whatever you write about them, there is so much more, and the more ground you try to cover the less depth the piece will have.

The clicks were mostly found in the writing itself, the discoveries that come up when you create characters in your mind and set up the scene and discover where it goes. Some of the greatest clicks were: when I discovered why Stella became a teacher, something that she never discussed publicly and I’ve never heard anyone say about her, but I’m sure is true; when I discovered why she set up her classroom the way she did, not just to aggrandize herself.

Q: Are there any playwrights that inspired you while you were working on this piece, or who inspire you in general? 

A: Lanford Wilson. Secrets. Discoveries. August Wilson. Athol Fugard. And Shakespeare. Keeping things active.

Q: What has been your favorite aspect of working with 365 Women a Year? 

A: I have only once before written a biographical piece, and working on these two pieces has really helped me with that one (still in the middle of re-writes). I have also only written a few short plays. Most of my work has been full-length. It has been very exciting to just pick women I want to write about and then read all about them, become absorbed in their lives, and discover what it is I want to say, the angle I want to come from, how I want to say it.

Q: Do you have any advice for the playwrights joining 365 Women a Year in 2015? 

A: Don’t think you have to decide what you want to write about the person first. Go deep into them and find where they touch you deepest.

And don’t try to cover too much ground. The illumination of one moment or a sequence of a few moments is actually much more interesting than a bio-pic (as it were) of their lives. It’s not a history lesson. It’s a play.

Shellen Lubin is a playwright, songwriter, and director, most recently writing music & lyrics for Susan Merson’s BETWEEN PRETTY PLACES and THE QUALITY OF RESPECT, her take on Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice. Other produced plays include: IMPERFECT FLOWERS, WAITING, COFFEE ONCE A YEAR, ELEVATOR INVENTIONS. Musicals include: MOLLY’S DAUGHTERS, MY BRAVE FACE, and DEAR ALEX, DEAR HARRIET. She is currently working on the musical WHAT ZEESIE SAW ON DELANCEY STREET (with Elsa Rael and Matthew Gandolfo) and THE SARAH PROJECT. Co-President – Women in the Arts & Media Coalition; Co-Secretary – League of Professional Theatre Women; DG, BMI, SDC, AEA  @shlubin @MonMornQuote.

If you would like to make a donation to support the project and win some awesome prizes, click here!

HERSTORY 2019 Needs YOU!

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Hello Friends and Supporters of NOplays!

HERSTORY is right around the corner, and we’re looking forward to seeing you on March 28th and 30th at the New Haven Free Public Library.

The show is FREE!!!

We received a $300 grant to give to all the artists involved in the Festival, but we’re hoping to raise another $300 so we can really take care of everyone involved.

This year we have FABULOUS prizes for all of our donors!

A $5- $15 donation gets you a shout-out in our program and on our website.

$16- $25 gets you the shout-out AND a pack of limited edition historical women trading cards.

$26-$35 gets you all of the above PLUS a collection of posters from past NOplays productions.

$36- $50 gets you all of the above PLUS a copy of this years poster signed by the cast and crew!

You can donate here!

Thank you for your continued support!

Directing Opportunities!

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NOplays wants YOU to direct a play with us in this years HERSTORY Festival!

Rehearsal time is minimal (all the plays are only ten minutes each), and flexible based on your schedule. All directors receive a stipend.

The show is March 28th and 30th at the New Haven Free Public Library.

If you’re interested, email natalie.noplays@gmail.com before the end of the week with your resume!

NOplays HERSTORY 2019!

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We’re happy to announce the plays with the most votes in the online poll, which will be featured in this years HERSTORY at the New Haven Free public Library on March 28th and March 30th!

After the Thin Man by Shellen Lubin

Little Swan by Allie Costa

A Moment of Silence by Allie Costa

Frida Khalo: Heartbreaker by Lylanne Musselman

Congratulations to these four plays and to all the plays that we’ve had the privilege of producing over the past five years!

We’re still looking for directors and performers, so if you’re interested in joining our team, email natalie.noplays@gmail.com.

LADIES FIRST MARCH 2019

LADIES FIRST is a list of new productions, workshops, readings, and publications by female playwrights. Our goal is to create greater gender parity in theatre by highlighting the works of female writers and the organizations that promote and produce their works.

PRODUCTIONS:

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Join us March 15th-17th at Stage Left Theater in Spokane, Washington for the sixth year of the Fast & Furious Festival! The festival features readings of 36 original one-minute plays from around the world. Tickets: https://red.vendini.com/ticket-software.html?t=tix&e=fb51706afe19a242a9c2440d7d8c8255

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HERSTORY 2019

March 28th and 30th at the New Haven Free Public Library.

In honor of NOplays five year anniversary, we’re asking YOU to pick your favorite plays from HERSTORY’S past for a Best of the Best Festival. You can cast your votes from now until March 8th: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/HERSTORY2019

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Rover Dramawerks presents the annual 365 Women a Year Festival March 28th-April 6th in Texas. The festival features new and exciting plays about extraordinary women in history, past and present. This year’s lineup includes:

Being Wendy Wasserstein by Karen Fix Curry
Blonde Ambition by Lindsay Hayward
Ful Nabit by J. Thalia Cunningham
Heartsong by Allie Costa
Imperial Impetus Impeded by Katherine Dubois
Just a Girl? by Susan Shafer
Margaret and Beatrice by Jess Eisenberg
Partner of — by Rachael Carnes
The Beginning of It All – by Dorothea Cahan
The Dress Doctor is In by Christina Hamlett
The Honeytrap by Carol M. Rice

Tickets:
https://roverdramawerks.thundertix.com/events/136785/performances

READINGS:

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VAGABONDS is a comedy that reimagines the life of the eminent French writer Colette. In this alternative history, she chooses not to marry Willy, her first husband, who forced her to put pen to page and took credit for what she produced.

Vagabonds is a staged reading of a new play by Molly Kirschner. March 22nd, NYC.

Click here for tickets: https://www.facebook.com/events/297029274305300/

To submit to the April issue of LADIES FIRST, email natalie.noplays@gmail.com before the end of the month. Send us your name, the name of your play, the name of the theatre producing your work, a sentence or two about the play, the where and when, and an image. Thank you to everyone who participated in this month’s LADIES FIRST newsletter.