Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Are You in the Cast? - #14

It was open house at the theater today. A celebration to commemorate their many years in existence. Everyone, meaning those not even interested in art, or students looking for a free meal, were welcome. The board members were allowed a certain time to come in before the ‘public.’ They were provided an interesting musical performance and first dibs at the booze and food. At 4:00pm, I came downstairs from the office to help set up. At 5:00pm, the board members started trickling in. By 5:30pm, all of the board members attending were present. And at 5:31pm, I noticed that all of the board members were older PONC men and women.

Was I surprised? Absolutely not. But when I surveyed the room for a brown face, it also became very clear to me that all of the theater administrators were also PONC, with the exception of two staff members, out of about thirty staffers.

Am I surprised about this fact as well? Again, absolutely not. I’m dispirited. When I look at the theater’s Education Department, I’m puzzled that not one brown face exists. Philadelphia is 44% black. One of the brownest cities in America. The schools the theater has teaching residencies in are WELL over half brown… I offer this, not to take away from the talent and care the director and teaching artists bring to that department and to those students. Having worked with them, I know they are completely invested in the students. I mention this simply because seeing a person that looks like you in any field you have not had exposure to challenges and raises your expectations. It makes what the students thought was unachievable, or only for a particular subset of the population, achievable.

ANYway. I’m fully aware of the vanilla industry I’m entering. And also fully aware that a little chocolate can go a long way. But it can’t just be me. Those running this industry have to open their minds to color as well. And not just color on stage. That’s the easy part.

One of the board members at the open house asked me if I was one of the actors in the show, which has an all black cast. I was wearing my nametag, which stated my name and position. The nametag was white and my clothes were dark. The nametag could have easily been the first thing you saw when you looked at me. But she assumed that because I was one of the few brown faces in the building, I was among the cast.

It’s this consciousness that brown faces are not in theater administrative positions that has seeped too far deep into their minds. And can you fully blame them, when they don’t see us in board meetings, etc? Do we as minority theater companies enlist PONC on our boards? We have to.

Write me back,
Chanel, still pondering

I totally agree about “when you see people like you out there, you believe that you, too, can achieve what they are”.  This is a fact.  This is tied in with barriers to equality and the power of subtle racism- while it might not impact someone directly on the surface, over time always being the token or the only one in the room representing views on issues pertaining to race/culture/heritage which may not be the dominant view in the group – that can break someone down.

I think for me, at some point, I stopped seeing color.  Raised as a kid from a very militant and self loathing Asian man who experienced racism first hand when looking for jobs in the 1970’s well below his education level (he’s an architect who would get denied for factory work) when he first immigrated, I was raised on stories of distrusting ‘the man’, looking out for yourself and not letting anyone walk over you- no matter what.

What I discovered when I began to work was that as an Asian American female who was smart and hardworking I was actually sought after because of the diverse qualities I offered.  Accompanied with a strong skillset and work ethic, it was hard to turn me down.  This shaped my perspective when dealing with PONCs in the workforce and hiring space.  I wasn’t angry like my dad was, I used my edge advantageously and maybe even slightly manipulated a PONC or two in my favor (if that’s possible).

Now, I hyperactively engage with race, color, and diversity because I don’t want to lose connection with what my dad experienced.  And maybe because of this my POV may be a bit more polarizing than who I really am.  I try to write strong Asian characters who act against stereotypes.

I think you’ve got to fly under the radar and take into account everything you’re seeing while you’re ‘inside’ at the internship gig and network and build connections on any level you can (maybe even if they may be too vanilla) because until you’re in a position of power to be an exec or administrator in the theater world… you’ll always be seen as a subordinate and not a peer.

It sucks that no one before you has done this (and it’s 2013), but you know… it could be you that breaks barriers for that young gay black girl living in Baltimore that wants to be a playwright or work in Theater.  It may even help that girl to stop seeing color and believe her talents and skills are enough qualification for success and employment in theater.

Anything’s possible,

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Getting Material Read - #13

So have I told you that in less than a month of being in town I can say that I’ve queried managers and two asked to read my material?  That’s pretty cool.  I haven’t heard back and I’ll follow up in the upcoming week.  One guy wanted the TV pilot and then asked for a feature and the other guy asked for the pilot and a few weeks to read it…

I’ve also developed a cool friendship potential working relationship with a woman I met through a job op that we are currently both no longer working and she’s reading another feature I have… so I’ll see what she thinks.

Also to get that writer’s room punch up gig I turned in a couple pages of the TV pilot and she thought they were funny… which is why I got invited to the session.  But it’s nice to have other people read material who don’t know/are related to me, aren’t in school with me or one of my professors because then I really get a sense of how the material is hitting.

I was sort of thinking maybe I should try and join a writer’s group here, but I’m not sure.  I’d need to find the right one. I know you’ve been trying to find a suitable group in your end of the country – thoughts?


To writer’s group? To not writer’s group? To writer’s group!

Do you think there is writer’s group potential in the women artists of Girls on Top Productions? Or is that strictly for those specific projects? Or maybe you and a few women from that prodco can form a writer’s group? You seem to mesh well with those folks, so a writer’s group seems to be a natural progression of that good meshing.

What the hell is a writer’s group? I feel like I’ve been to enough of them to know when they work and when they don’t. But of course, it’s all about your own personal expectations, needs and desires. At it’s best, writer’s groups are no more than ten people. I recently went to a writer’s group and close to forty people were present. WTF? And most of the feedback was so general or so dependent on taste that it was NOT helpful for the writer.

A writer’s group has to encompass varying levels of talent and/or experience. I do believe you can be a mediocre writer, but be a kickass note-giver. The worst feedback is: I liked it. I could give two bowel movements. Why did you like it? Specifically?

And the feedback in writer’s groups can’t be all esoteric and theoretical either. Something the school environment unfortunately encourages. It has to be grounded in something. Writing structure and/or industry experience.

I’m still searching for my group. Until then, I have to suffer through more school workshops high on theoretical commentary. At least I know what I don’t want out of a writer’s group. It’s just so essential to constantly have FRESH eyes reading your work…

…So I’m thrilled that you are getting the affirmations every writer needs in this industry. You have done more in one month in Los Angeles than some have the energy or confidence to do in one year. When next September comes around, I just hope I’ll be able to reach you in between your TV writing gigs and big exec meetings.

Write me back,

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Intellectual Crushing - #12

I have an intellectual crush on Dr. Greg Carr. I know you’re wondering who the hell Dr. Carr is. He’s a professor at Howard University. And blew my mental back out with his lively discussion about the state of the black community and the history that precedes and affects it. He was speaking on a panel following a presentation on the 50th Anniversary of the Birmingham bombing of the four little girls. Where am I going with this, huh?
I wish we could see more of the Dr. Carr’s on television. I melt like a witch being doused with water every time I see a stereotypical black character on television. Because I know generally it’s a person of color who is perpetuating that stereotype now. I know we don’t tower over TV networks like puppet masters, well, Oprah does, but we can refuse to write defaming images of ourselves, right?
The same evening I was blessed with Dr. Carr’s eloquence, I met the executive director of a landmark black theater here in Philly. She gave me a tour. I met all of the staff members. She told everyone that I would be interning there once a week. I was elated, but I had extreme hesitation. Ninety percent of the staff members are women over fifty. Would they be open to my ideals? My modernity and militancy? I waited for a call anyway. Excited for her to call. I never got that call. The following week I called. The first time, I got a busy signal. They can’t only have one line? So I called again. And again. I got a busy signal all three times. So the phones don’t work even work?
The executive director and I only met by chance. She did not know a thing about me, but what I offered. But after visiting their website later on that evening. And touring the theater. I became conscious of the plays they typically produce. Plays with mostly stereotypical black characters. And as much as I wasn’t interested in immediately lobbying for my own work to be produced there, I feel they might never be interested in producing my work. My work often points the finger at the ‘traditionals’ that make up the black community, as well as those neo-colonials (this is not the same as PONC). My work delves into homosexuality and issues individuals or communities would rather keep locked up in a cupboard.
Of course there a number of writers actively writing about racism, sexual orientation, ageism, sexual assault, adoption, gun violence, public education, prison industrialization, etc. But unfortunately, those works rarely permeate mass media the way negative images do. I dream that one day Nene Leakes or Tyler Perry changes their mission in life, or their enemy target and focus it on the ills affecting the community they are a part of. And that more of Dr. Carrs begin to permeate mass media.
Write me back,

(p.s.: More power to those seasoned women running that theater. They need our help!) 



We cannot attempt to guess what is popular, what will make money and what audiences will flock to – hence why you don’t see more of the Dr. Carr’s on TV and why you DO see a perpetuated stereotypical black character.  This character is bankable, time and again it creates jobs and money so it is overused and will continue to be until is not longer fiscally viable.  Why this character is more often than not portrayed and written by a black writer is beyond you and I.  If we could predict popular market trends then we would be in charge of Hollywood, wouldn’t we?  What I can speak to, is that change starts somewhere and at some point someone decides that she wants to read a different narrative.  She searches and searches for this alternative story and despite her deepest and most thorough searches Google fails her and she is unable to find the story that speaks to her… so what does she do?  She writes it her own goddamn self.  What does this mean?  Ultimately, validation. 
But for the purposes of this response… while many respected people who are older and established have an image, persona and reputation for producing particular stories with certain types of characters… that was their path and it was shaped by what they decided to do in the early stages of their careers – just as we are, now, beginning to be tested.  Those early trailblazers chose to ‘conform’ or say something that was acceptable, producible or indicative of a perceived status quo.  It was more important to propel their brand and writing within this system instead of stepping outside of it and saying… what if I want to introduce a different narrative?  What if I say that which no one wants to even whisper about?  What if instead of saying it I shouted it over a loudspeaker? 
I look at your work and voice –exactly like this.  One day we’ll be established and old(er) and ‘respected’ that comes with time not necessarily bodies of work.  While maybe these women might have been great lead-ins and resources, if your overall governing philosophies of story content and theme don’t match… what realistic relationship besides utilitarian would you have had?  If there’s one thing I’ve certainly learned in this town it’s that no one is giving anyone favors because they’re the ‘same’.  No one’s here to help out another black person or another gay person- they’re here to help out the talented, strong voices and those that have something to say that other people will happily pay to listen.
What I’m saying is that you’ll find your group and those that want to celebrate and promote your work proudly – they might not be a canon of black female playwrights who are the foundation of the institution of black theater.  But wouldn’t you rather have someone who believed in you than looked like you on your side?  Isn’t that what the stereotype suggests… because we all look alike and check the same boxes, we’re the same and will react similarly… we don’t. 

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Creative Vibes & Money - #11

So… I am officially a Girl on Top!  Girls on Top Productions (GTP), the new prodco that I mentioned in a previous letters asked me to come on board to direct and write!!!!  It’s super exciting.  We had our first meeting a couple days ago and while it was long it was exciting and I felt creative which was awesome.  All of the girls are really great people each with her own skills and assets to contribute but we all seemed to gel nicely in the creative/development meeting… which we both know coming from classes and workshops in graduate programs how difficult it is to really find a nice creative balance where people are actually LISTENING and HEARING each other as opposed to thinking and waiting for their turn to talk.

Similarly, a week ago I responded to an ad on CL, and while those are always hit or miss – this one was for a ‘punch up’ session on a TV pilot with a young (mid 20’s) WOC, anyway she was super cool and really awesome.  Why she had invited three white dudes, with varying and limited experience and myself, still boggles my mind.  But the point is that in the ‘writer’s room’ I felt alive and I felt like this is where I’m meant to be: breaking story and finding ways to make shit funnier and better and just elevating ideas with people who are on the same level as I am and crafting stories.

The good news is that how I felt five years ago about comedy television writing is still the same today, if not even more passionate which is good – particularly after I’ve been educated and learned actually what it is that I decided I wanted to do.

The underbelly, and isn’t there always an underside to it all… is I’m not getting financial reimbursement – YET.  It’s hard because I sort of do this dance in my head and it lightweight stresses me out to the point where I get temporarily depressed and play bingobash for hours at a time, or plants vs. zombies – my zone out the world ipad games lol.  I think – I need income, I need cash flow… but then I say I don’t really need money right now, I’ve got some savings and maybe I should just ride it out a little longer so I don’t join the work force and can focus on keeping my head clear and keep working on my writing.  Or I’m trying to find a job that’s more than a barista, waiter, cashier type of gig that is in line with the career path but isn’t a full time crappy assistant where my boss sucks my soul and squeezes 75 hours a week out of me.  But sometimes the stress of waiting for the line of money to run out debilitates me and anchors me to my couch where I spend half the day doing nothing.


What is bingobash? I swear I read your letter, but this is the second time you have mentioned this game, and I have no idea what it is. And I am intrigued about what you’re spending hours at a time doing? Is this game really that engaging? Should I play?

Anyway, CONGRATULATIONS. Finding a group of artists that you vibe with is rare and paramount to your survival in this industry. I mean neither one of us can produce art in a bubble. I suppose we could decide to perform one-woman shows on stage or on Youtube, but that’s not really what attracts us. I’m SO happy that these group of women are doing what they are doing and that you are hopping on board in the beginning stages. It will be an amazing journey to grow with them. Who knows what might become of the work that you do...

On another note, you and this damn CL. The women and the gigs, huh? It’s just a one-stop shop for you, eh? Though I’m not quite sure I gather what this ‘punch up’ session is about. Are you leaving something out? Did someone go all CL on someone else in the writer’s room, as I would normally expect a person from CL to do? Are you hiding a murder from me? Please tell me more. Unless you are hoping to keep it in the underbelly.

Speaking of the underbelly. Financial sustainability will always be peeking out from wherever we are trying to find fertile ground. Like effing bad weeds you can’t kill. I try to look at my financial stresses the same way I view my student loans. I’m never going to pay those suckers off, so I’ll just give that heifer Sallie Mae whatever I feel like it until I die. She’s not going to stop me from living, buying a home, traveling, drinking fine wine (or hell, wine from a box), eating expensive meals when I desire, and so on. BUT if I so happen to hustle well enough to have a Broadway hit, a credit on a television show AND sell a screenplay, then Sallie might get a little more change from me. But it would probably take all three successes for that to occur. Alls I’m saying, though hypocritically, is life always has a way of working out, with or without our worries.

If you do need cash, consider working outside of the industry, if nothing inside the industry floats your boat. Though the coffee shop gig might annoy me at times, it’s refreshing to be in a job where I don’t have to think because mental exhaustion kills my creativity.

Write me back,

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Tell Your Story - #10

As I grapple with staying true to my voice, I came across this quote by Neil Gaiman:

Tell your story. Don't try and tell the stories that other people can tell. Because [as a] starting writer, you always start out with other people's voices – you've been reading other people for years… But, as quickly as you can, start telling the stories that only you can tell – because there will always be better writers than you, there will always be smarter writers than you … but you are the only you."

I needed that affirmation. I am loving my voice more everyday.

Write me back,

This is definitely a fantastic quote and one that if more writers invested in, would either:  

#1. Feel more confident in their expressions
#2. Stop writing and live more so they would have enriched expressions
#3. Realize they're not unique at all and stop regurgitating the same crap over and over again and quit

I think a real writer will go through all three at varying points in her career.

This is a great go-to when you need that extra support. It also applies well to comedians, song writers, lyricists, and anyone putting out original content.

Sometimes it's hard writing against the current and putting stock in your own identity. This totally affirms that. 

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Success Is Proximity - #9

I was watching one of my favorite shows – Shark Tank and this one entrepreneur said –

“To build wealth it’s all about proximity, you hang around four broke people… you’ll be the fifth. You hang around even just one billionaire that proximity can impact your life.”

Which brings me to my letter topic of today and it’s about calibrating skill set and occupational goals. While my artistic career isn’t necessarily quantifiable like wealth/money are – the growth rules still apply and it all has to do with looking for work in the right wheelhouse with the right trajectory and timeline.

The difference between a goal and a dream is that a goal has a timeline, so what’s my or I suppose OUR timeline for our careers? How does that work with writing?  If writing is rewriting and if you’re a writer you’re a writer because you like to write and you write everyday and keep honing in on your craft whether or not you sell... Then how does this timeline/deadline target work for a goal such as ours?

I suppose that is the major question…

Maybe that’s why you and I are together writing this blog and sharing this experience with each other and all those that decide they want to read and share in this journey with us.

Back to the grind,
I could not have said it better: Dreams are goals without a timeline. Nicely put. But I do believe writers can have a timeline. I’m a fan of baby accomplishments:

Accomplishment #1: obtain an MFA – you can check that off

Accomplishment #2: move to Los Angeles – ditto

Accomplishment #3: get an internship – ditto

Accomplishment #4: and a start-up directing gig – ditto

You have a working timeline. And you’re moving and shaking. Writers have timelines. Sometimes it’s internal, and sometimes it’s the deadlines we give ourselves and post on walls. And other times it's the deadlines given to us externally. Regardless, give yourself your own timeline. We can only plan so much of what happens outside of our writing caves, but we can plan how productive we are within our caves.

But I really do feel you have the rest covered...

Write me back,