Dramaturg's Perspective: AAP Readings

by Marie-Reine Velez

The Two Kids That Blow Shit Up cast and creative team: Nadja Barlera, Julia Cho, playwright Carla Ching, Raymond Lee, dramaturg Marie-Reine Velez and director Snehal Desai

I love staged readings. I really enjoy seeing the potential of a play as I’m listening to it, no matter what stage of development the play is in. There’s something about the rawness of the staged reading that I really respond to. Sometimes, most of the time, the play will never be the same again--mostly because a rewrite is usually what follows a staged reading. And that moment, of knowing that things will change, is very exciting. 

Earlier this month, Artists at Play presented a day of staged readings: The Two Kids that Blow Shit Up by Carla Ching and Nobody’s Child by Sanaz Toossi. I always have so much fun working on our readings because the nerd in me loves to bask in the dialogue between characters, the language of the play and all of the details. All of them. And the opportunity to be in the rehearsal room for one of these readings is a real treat because everyone is going through a process of discovery. And discovery is a tangible feeling in the room. 

(Writer’s note: When I start to talk about how theatre makes me feel, I think that I sound like an addict, with how I extol the “highs” of my theatre process. See: “T.A.A.” from Artists at Play … at Play!)

I had the pleasure of being the dramaturg in the room for The Two Kids that Blow Shit Up and while our process was short (2 rehearsals, 2 weeks apart), the journey the play took felt pretty epic. Before our first rehearsal, Carla never heard the play read by actors. She wrote the play very quickly in a workshop setting, and hadn't worked on it much since then. The dialogue was fast, dirty and playful. The scenes were in non-chronological order when we began. By the end of the second rehearsal, the scenes had been rearranged and set in chronological order for the staged reading. We had big discussions about complicated relationships, the lives of the characters outside of scenes shown in the play, the slippery slope of gambling addiction and why these two kids were blowing shit up. Flushing out these details in the world of the play is what makes this part of the process really fun for people like me who enjoy the art of storytelling in different ways, including “Easter eggs” and playing with language and dialogue.

So then we get to the Reading Day, and I kind of have no idea how the play will be received. Of course, there’s a part of me that knows people will enjoy the play as much as I do, but there’s also a part of me that gets really insecure, the part of me that over thinks things, or the part of me that doesn’t truly believe that my experience is reality. Did I imagine how good the play is? (I didn't.) Did we give Carla too many notes? (We didn’t.) Will people appreciate the chronological order version? (They did.) Or should we have kept it in non-chronological order? (We did the right thing.) But these were all fleeting thoughts—I was just very, very excited to hear the play again, and to hear it with a room full of people.

The Two Kids That Blow Shit Up staged reading

Our actors did a fantastic job. I especially got a kick out of hearing Julia swear so much. There was laughter, and then more laughter. You know the sound of people listening? (Hint: it’s not really a “sound,” per se) We had that. Our audience was awesome. And then, before I knew it, the reading was over, and there I was, on stage, leading a talk back discussion about the play we just saw. Audience feedback is tricky. It’s a vital role to the development of the play, but this isn't retail where the customer is always right. Luckily for us, our audience understood their role in this process, and it was a very helpful session to have members of the audience articulate what they just heard. Again, I can’t help but think that the play we heard will never be heard again. There will be rewrites, probably another re-ordering of the scenes. 

So now, our role is to wait and see what happens next. Carla is writing a ton, whether it be rewrites for this play, or working on the other plays she has in her drawer. I had a fantastic time and am so grateful to have had this experience to live in Carla’s world for a little while. And I look forward to see what’s to come of the two kids. 

2015 SEASON

This will be Artists at Play’s FIFTH year of producing theatre in Los Angeles, and we have some exciting programming lined up for you in 2015.

Artists at Play Readings
Saturday, April 4, 2015

by Sanaz Toossi 

by Carla Ching

On Saturday, April 4, Artists at Play will present our annual spring reading series. Keeping with our 2-plays/1-day setup, this year we proudly present readings of two new works: Nobody’s Child by Sanaz Toossi, along with The Two Kids That Blow Shit Up by Carla Ching. These readings will be at the Lounge Theatre, where we presented our last mainstage production, 99 Histories.


CTG Literary Tour
May 12-15, 2015

99 Histories 
by Julia Cho 

Artists at Play will welcome back the cast of 99 Histories (written by the playwright Julia Cho, directed by Leslie Ishii) for a week of readings in May at libraries located in East Los Angeles. Center Theatre Group invited us to participate in their library reading series as part of their program, The Shop, which provides residents throughout Boyle Heights the chance to make theatre a part of everyday life. The readings will take place May 12-15 and include a post-show talkback where we'll explore the issues of mental health in the Latino community.


Mainstage Production
Fall 2015

In Love and Warcraft
by Madhuri Shekar

This fall, Artists at Play is absolutely thrilled to present our fifth Los Angeles premiere: In Love and Warcraft by Madhuri Shekar. Aside from having an amazing title, In Love and Warcraft is a fresh look at the collision between online gaming and In Real Life (IRL) relationships. We have all been fans of Maduri Shekar’s work in the past-- a delightful intersection of humor, love and subculture--and this play is no exception. So get ready to venture into the World of Warcraft with Artists at Play!

Statement Re: 99-Seat Plan Changes

As a theatre-producing collective, Artists at Play presents the following statement in response to the Actors' Equity Association and its new proposal to the 99-Seat Plan for theatre in Los Angeles.

Artists at Play (AAP) is a collective of Asian American creative professionals who present theatrical productions missing from our local landscape, telling the stories of communities underrepresented in theatre. One of the main core values is to provide opportunities for Asian American artists to increase their visibility in our artistic community. As producers, we have been conflicted about the proposed changes to the Actors’ Equity Association in Los Angeles 99-Seat Theatre Plan. Because other companies have raised the issue of how the new plan will stifle their ability to be diverse, and because we are one of the few companies of color in L.A.’s 99-seat theatre community, we feel that we need to address how the new proposal will actually affect diversity on L.A. stages.

Since our founding in 2011, Artists at Play has produced four Los Angeles premieres and four public readings, all written by Asian American playwrights. We have provided opportunities for about 40 Asian American actors (at least 20 of them Equity members) as well as six Asian American directors and six Asian American designers. We have also gone beyond to hire other ethnically diverse artists to work on our shows. While some people claim that the new 99-seat proposal will close a lot of theatres in L.A., the reality for us is that we will only be able to afford to create theatre with non-union actors if the proposal is passed. With our inability to provide opportunities for Asian American actors who are union members, where can Asian American actors expect to find opportunities to perform? In intimate theatre, contract work is already limited for actors of color, especially when compared to their white counterparts at the LORT level.

When it comes to our art, Artists at Play is one of the few companies in Los Angeles that would produce a show like CHING CHONG CHINAMAN by Lauren Yee, EDITH CAN SHOOT THING AND HIT THEM by A. Rey Pamatmat, COWBOY VERSUS SAMURAI by Michael Golamco or 99 HISTORIES by Julia Cho. All of these shows were L.A. premieres (all published works, produced nationally) and critical/office successes for AAP, but even greater than that, they raised the profile of Asian Americans as theatremakers and theatergoers in L.A. One of the biggest setbacks that come with this proposal is that AAP will not be able to produce our mainstage show this year. For this coming fall, we have been planning to present the Los Angeles premiere of IN LOVE AND WARCRAFT by Madhuri Shekar. Under the new 99-Seat agreement, we will not be able to produce this fall but will instead need to spend the year raising additional funds in order to produce the show at a later time. Which means that in 2015, L.A.'s small theatre scene will lose at least one production (of very precious few) dedicated to telling the stories of and featuring the talents of Asian Americans.

When it comes to our business, Artists at Play only plans to grow to a certain point. We will probably never have a full season; at best, we are aiming for two full productions a year. Growing to a mid-size theatre is not our end game. Small theatres that intend to stay small need a plan to work with Equity members. The pay scale that the current agreement allows for is shoddy, to say the least, and we can’t help but feel a little silly giving our actors such small stipends. But we also give our directors and designers stipends that are just as small. When we can afford it, we raise artist stipends in order to reflect how we value our artistic community, and we feel that others should too. Producing theatre in general is tough. For the last four years, AAP has tirelessly worked to help change the landscape of Los Angeles theatre alongside like-minded colleagues. On top of the limited funding and resources, along with the challenging landscape in which we struggle to operate, we are concerned that the new 99-seat proposal will negatively impact AAP and other similar organizations. We agree that we need changes but not these changes. 

To Actors' Equity, we pose this question: How are you going to support the creation of roles/ opportunities for union actors of color? This new proposal makes it difficult for union members of color to do any work. White union members still have the chance to audition for roles—many which are written exclusively white—at the mid- and large-sized institutions and to possibly book them. By comparison, the already limited opportunities 
to perform onstage for union members of color are now being taken away. It can be argued that you are supporting and perpetuating systemic and institutional racist practices. We urge you to look at the impact that these proposed changes will have specifically on artists of color and on our artistic community in a way that you may not have considered. 

Artists at Play exists because we saw a void in our field that needed to be filled. We want to make sure that opportunities are not taken away before a decision is reached. 

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Artists at Play Readings 2015

Nobody's Child by Sanaz Toossi


Saturday, April 4, 2015


1 p.m. - The Two Kids...
3 p.m. - Dinner Reception
4 p.m. - Nobody's Child
6 p.m. - Dessert Reception

Lounge Theatre 2
6201 Santa Monica Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90038

$15 Pre-Sale
$20 At the Door
As part of our 2015 spring reading series, Artists at Play will help develop and proudly showcase new work by two female playwrights. Continuing our mission to share stories of underrepresented communities, we are excited to present these plays to the Los Angeles theatre community.

Playwrights Sanaz Toossi and Carla Ching have each crafted deceptively simple stories that focus on the interpersonal relationships among family members, either bound by blood or by circumstances. Whether we're traveling through Iran on a train with a trio of sisters, or jumping through time in the lives of two step-siblings, we hope you'll join us on these respective journeys that are messy yet poignant and altogether modern.

The readings will be presented on Saturday, April 4 at the Lounge Theatre. The Two Kids That Blow Shit Up will be presented at 1 p.m., and Nobody's Child at 4 p.m.

Each reading will be followed by a talkback. A $15 ticket includes dinner, hosted bar and dessert reception. (Price will go up to $20 at the door.)

Get Your Tickets!

NOBODY'S CHILD by Sanaz Toossi

Artists at Play is proud to present Nobody's Child by Sanaz Toossi as part of our annual spring reading series on Saturday, April 4, 2015.

Sanaz Toossi, playwright
The Play

When you're stuck on a train going through the desert in the Middle East, things can get heated. Especially for three prickly siblings. Oldest sister Shadi is depressed, youngest sibling Cameron is in transition, and Ani—with a brand new nose—is caught in the middle. Questions of identity, love, gender and body hair are raised. Razors drawn.

The Playwright

Sanaz is a playwright from California. Born and raised in Orange County, she found her passion for theater at South Coast Repertory. She is a graduate of the University of California at Santa Barbara and lives in New York with two actors in a one-bedroom. 

The Director

Alejandra Cisneros, director
Alejandra Cisneros is a graduate from the University of California, Irvine. She directs/produces Los Angeles based theater including the cult-classic superhero series El Verde! which has toured throughout Southern California. Recent credits include El Verde, The Wrath of Kahlo at Inner-City Arts, Los del Norte at East LA Rep, and For One Mariachi for Meet Me at Metro. She is an alumnus of Director’s Lab West, a Directing FAIR Fellow at Oregon Shakespeare Festival and a Nathan Cummings Young Leaders of Color Recipient.

The Cast

Nadia Wit, Esther Mira, Nasi Nassiri and Joey Vahedi

Get Your Tickets!

THE TWO KIDS THAT BLOW SHIT UP by Carla Ching

Artists at Play is proud to present The Two Kids That Blow Shit Up by Carla Ching as part of our annual spring reading series, on Saturday, April 4, 2015.

The Play

Diana and Max meet at 10 years old, the day their parents start fucking. In the ensuing 18 years, their parents break up, get back together, marry and divorce. And they see each other through it all, trying not to make the same mistakes their parents did. A play about trying not to fall in love with your best friend so you end up hating them. 

The Playwright

Carla Ching, playwright
An L.A. native, Carla stumbled upon pan-Asian performance collective Peeling at the Asian American Writers Workshop and wrote/performed with them for three years, which she still considers her first theater training. Her plays include Fast Company (EST/Sloan commission; South Coast Repertory Theater, dir. Bart DeLorenzo, asst. dir. Artists at Play's Peter J. Kuo; Ensemble Studio Theatre, dir. Robert Ross Parker; Pork Filled Productions, dir. Amy Poisson; winner of Edgerton New American Play Award; winner of Seattle Times’ Footlights Award for Top Play on a Smaller Stage), TBA (2g, dir. Denyse Owens), The Sugar House at the Edge of the Wilderness (Ma-Yi Theater Company, dir. Daniella Topol), Dirty, Big Blind/Little Blind, and The Two Kids That Blow Shit Up. She’s an alumna of The Women’s Project Lab 2008-2010, the 2010/11 Lark Play Development Center Playwright's Workshop and the Lark's 2011/12 Meeting of the Minds, the 2013/14 CTG Writers’ Workshop and the Ma-Yi Writers Lab. BA, Vassar College. MFA, New School for Drama. Former Artistic Director of Asian American Theater Company, 2g. She is currently working on a Time Warner Foundation sponsored Crossroads commission for South Coast Repertory entitled Nomad Motel. Proud member of New Dramatists and The Kilroys. Carla wrote on Season Two of USA’s Graceland.

Snehal Desai, director
The Director

Snehal Desai is currently the Literary Manager/Artistic Associate at East West Players. As a Director, Snehal has worked at theaters across the country including: the Old Globe, La Mama, the Old Vic, Ars Nova, and Pan Asian Rep. He is a former resident director with Theater Emory and the Ensemble Studio Theatre. As a writer/performer Snehal has toured his solo show, Finding Ways to Prove You’re Not an Al-Qaeda Terrorist When You’re Brown to audiences across the United States. Snehal was the inaugural recipient of the Drama League’s Classical Directing Fellowship and a recipient of a 2014 Doris Duke Grant, the Tanne Award, and a Soros Fellowship. He is a member of the Lincoln Center Director’s Lab and received his MFA from Yale University.

The Cast

Julia Cho and Raymond Lee




Get Your Tickets!

Artists at Play ... at Play!

2015 marks Artists at Play's fifth anniversary of existence and as a "thank you" to our supporters and audiences, we will celebrate by performing for you!









On Friday, January 23, producers (from l. to r.) Julia, Stefanie, Nicholas, Peter and Marie-Reine will step out from behind the curtain with original short plays created from a place of absolute honesty. Theatre, YouTube shame, dating, food love/ issues ... nothing is off-limits in this frank exploration of the things we constantly think about.

Join us for a night of laughter, embarrassment, truth and probably more than one instance of stage awkwardness (because it's at least a little fun when the producers squirm a bit). Plus, we will announce our upcoming 2015 line-up. Happy New Year and let us entertain you!

Artists at Play ... at Play!

Tickets
$15 pre-sale (BUY ONLINE)
$11-20 sliding scale at the door*
*Admission at the door is $10 + your draw from a deck of cards

Date and Time
Friday, January 23, 2015 at 8:30 p.m.
Doors open at 8 p.m. with pre-show reception

Location
Armory Center for the Arts
145 Raymond Avenue, Pasadena
Directions and Parking

Beer and drink specials all night!