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Where and what is my audience? (reprint from LA FPI’s blog)

Myself and four other female playwrights have a 55-minute show, 5 SIRENS: Beware of Rocks!  One show of five 10-minute plays, about miscommunication and the longing for connection. We all felt, when we met months ago and decided to work together, that this theme could apply to our different pieces.  Yet when I’ve turned to my usual group of friends and loyal ticket buyers, some people’s response to buying tickets has been withdrawn, almost muted or terse.  Is it the month of June?  That they’ll have to drive to Hollywood and brave the crazy parking nightmare that is the Fringe?  Is it that they aren’t sure they want to see something I’ve warned them is for those over the age of 18 (language, adult themes)?

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I do feel that some of our shows will challenge some people. But the people who expect a Disney ending shouldn’t be surprised, as they supposedly know my work and the work of the other writers.  Maybe they’re tired of the dark themes I tend to explore.  Yet, should I write for a particular audience?  Make a happy ending to please someone else?  Stupid questions, I know.  Of course we shouldn’t write to please others, unless we’re hired to do so (or are writing for a specific audience — more on this later). 

As playwrights and writers, I feel that it is often our job to explore hidden, subconscious, and sometimes emotionally laden subjects. Whether the writing comes out as comedy, drama, or a dreamscape, is up to the writer.  People have said about my piece for the Fringe, “Well, that changes tone.”  But life, to me, does change tone, and isn’t one note.  Laughter often goes with tears, and without laughter, life would be unbearable.  Theater, to me, can change lives in a way that movies, films, and books don’t.  It is experienced right now, the plays themselves can make people think or argue or question preconceived ideas, and the emotions that come up can heal.

About writing for a specific audience, my play LEVELS was written for an audience consisting of abused women.  It wasn’t my intent as a writer to entertain or make happy endings.  I wanted to share my own healing at the hands (fists?) of abuse, and show that it was possible to find hope, healing, and love. After the performances of the play, women came up to me afterwards and repeated the same phrases: “I thought I was alone, that I was the only one who experienced this abuse.” “I’m not alone, or a freak, am I?”  “Thank you, I thought I was the only one who reacted this way.”  They were moved to contemplate the possibly of healing, of a shared experience, of a future that might be filled with hope, by a very uncomfortable theater piece. 

So if those particular friends respond again with terse replies, I know now what I’ll say.  Our job as playwrights is to write what we see and explore uncomfortable truths, and by bringing our writing to light in a performance, perhaps facilitate healing.  “Be brave,” I’ll say. “And be willing to explore what theater, and the hearts of so many playwrights, have to offer. You might be surprised, moved, and unexpectedly changed.”

So where is our audience? I do know, even if a theater is bare except for one person, that one person may experience a life-changing event when watching what we write.  They may see the possibility for hope.  And they may also just laugh.  So keep writing those plays, and sharing your vision.  You never know who it will touch. And heal.

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(from LA FPI’s blog http://lafpi.com/2015/06/where-and-what-is-my-audience-playwright-laurel-m-wetzork-is-at-the-fringe/)

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For more about the show, go to “5 Sirens: Beware of Rocks” go tohttp://www.hollywoodfringe.org/projects/2125?tab=tickets 5 Siren playwrights:laurel m wetzorksarah dzidalaura steinroederautumn mcalpinkiera nowacki,caron tateLaurel is the LA FPI Onstage Editor.

Mother’s Day, buying a card

It was at least twenty year ago on Mother’s Day. I stood in one of the many card aisles of a store like Target, or K-Mart, staring at the denuded rack of cards.  Panicked-looking men grabbed at what was left, opening the cards quickly, scanning, and then hurrying away for the checkout area. I was angry.  My card would arrive late, of course.  It took five days or more to go from SoCal to Missouri. Angry at myself for leaving the card choosing until too late, angry that there were so many cards covered with lacy hearts and flowers and bows and sick-making cutesey things.  

I grew angrier.  Why wasn’t there a plain-looking card?  Why not a card with a picture of the ocean on it, or snow, or perhaps just a simple tree? Did all moms love hearts?  Some people liked the ocean better than pink and decorated fluff items created by Hallmark. 

I scanned the card titles. 

     You are the Best Mother ever!

     World’s Best Mom!

     You are the greatest most fantastic Mother in the Universe!

     I thank the Lord daily for the blessing that is YOU, Mother dear!

I wanted to barf.  None of these were appropriate for the person who was now my mother. Words came out of my mouth, anger at this commerical insistence of stupid, sappy cards. I grabbed one and waved it at the man next to me.

“These are all wrong — none of these say the right things!”

The man eyed me warily.  I grabbed another. 

“Why don’t they have any cards that say, ‘Dear mom, it’d be nice if you could actually read this.’?"

He edged away, his eyes big, the whites showing. I grabbed another.

“Why don’t they have cards that say, ‘I’m so sorry you’re losing your mind, and that you won’t even know who this is from.’?  Or, ‘Dear Mom, I wish I could say so many things that are now impossible to say'?  Why?  Why are the cards SO STUPID?!”

I kicked the bottom of the display, crying now.  

The man slipped away.

Because they don’t have cards for Alzheimer’s or dementia.  Or for the grief that comes from knowing the person who will receive the card will have to have the card read by a nurse. The grief that comes from knowing the card will be propped up on a shelf, uncomprehended, with a line of other uncomprehended cards.

Mom died May 16th, 2012.  She hadn’t spoken in years.

I miss that she’ll never see any plays I’ve written. I miss the dances in the living room as she pounded out Scott Joplin on the piano, or one of the many boogie-woogie tunes she played. I miss the giant sweaters she knitted (she claimed she didn’t need a pattern, never mind that the sweaters were sometimes dress length). I sometimes even miss the terrible cooking. I miss the really good desserts and homemade treats (eclairs, lemon meringue pies, brownies, strawberry jam).

They should have a rack of cards for this.  

Cards that say, “I love you, and I wish you could know it.  And I’m sorry that your mind is gone. And that you’ve been missed so much, for so many years.”  

The cards should let you say, “I miss the you I once loved.” 


Train ride 2/19/14

This was posted last year, but I wanted to share again.

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Yesterday on the Metrolink train, (in the quiet car) on the way in to Union Station with the ultimate desitination of USC, I sat next to a beautiful young black girl. It's the 7:00 am train, and full, but nice and quiet — the better to read or listen to headphones. I read my script and made edits, she had her headphones on and was scrolling through what looked like messages on her phone. She listened to some, I think.

After about 40 minutes she took her headphones off, turned to me and said softly, "Do you mind if I ask a question?"

"No."

"Have you ever had friends who you thought were your friends and then you find out they aren't?"

I said, "Yes, of course."

She continued very quietly and haltingly at first, then spoke faster and faster.

"My friends all make fun of me. I'm new up here. They make fun of the way I talk, the way I look, what I say. They tell me I'm weird. Nothing I do is right, no matter what, and I don't know what's wrong with me."

Then tears started to pour down her cheeks and she buried herself against the window and sobbed as quietly as she could.

I gave her tissue and said, "Then they aren't your friends."

She kept crying, and crying and told me she lived with her grandmother, hated the technical school she was going to, wanted to go back home to her mother, who understood her and didn't think she was weird.

I said what I could, feeling helpless and not sure what I should say, but I tried to listen.  She told me more and more. This went on for a bit. I gave her more tissue and patted her shoulder, talked about my beautiful daughter and her struggles, about friends who weren't friends, friends who were really friends, and that sort of thing.

Then I ran out of things to say. She kept crying. Then I remembered one of the few places where I have always been welcomed in spite of being made fun of, no one thought I was weird, or laughed at my poorly sewn clothes (we had to make our own starting in junior high, and I was NOT a great seamstress).  In this place there was almost always a sense of family (dysfunctional at times, but family) and -- most importantly -- where I had made some life-long friends, still my friends today.

I asked her if she had ever taken any theater classes.

She brightened up and said, "Yes, actually, that is the one class that I like, I just started it."

I wanted to say that theater people wouldn't think her weird at all, and would hug her and comfort her, but I didn't. I told her instead to make new friends, try more theater classes, and that a flamingo always looks weird in a crowd of chickens.

She stopped crying eventually, then we got to Union Station and I had to hurry to catch the bus. Even though I wanted to give her a hug, I just wished her well. I hope she finds new friends that they welcome her with open arms, and don't think she's 'weird.'

To all my theater and creative friends, hugs to you. Thanks always for your open arms and warmth.

© moje wetzork studios 2016