POW Graces City Lights Theatre’s Next Stage on May 13

We’re thrilled to announce that Play On Words has been invited to participate in City Lights Theatre Company’s Next Stage program at 8 p.m. on Thursday, May 13. The free online event will feature POWSJ co-founder, casting director and actor extraordinaire Melinda Marks reading a piece selected from our upcoming June show, followed by a short Q&A with City Lights marketing director Rebecca Wallace, Melinda and co-founder and publicity director Julia Halprin Jackson.

The one and only Rebecca joins us today to answer a few questions about her pandemic arts experience.

tell us about the next stage program. How has it evolved during the pandemic? 

The Next Stage is City Lights Theater Company’s weekly streaming & video series, with broadcasts every Thursday night at 8 p.m. on Zoom or Facebook. I host and curate the series, which highlights actors, writers, directors, musicians, designers, dancers and other artists.

When we premiered The Next Stage in April 2020, it was purely a performance series, in which the artists would design and run their own livestreams. Our first events were play readings, a dance class, and a singer giving a backyard concert. We had no idea if anyone would attend. It was a good surprise.

Soon I also started hosting interview shows. Before working for City Lights, I was a newspaper journalist, and it felt natural to bring that experience to a new medium. And It has been so much fun to interview talented people like scenic designer Ron Gasparinetti, Broadway actor James Monroe Iglehart, and costume designers Pat Tyler and Melissa Sanchez (a.k.a. The LIZZIE Dream Team).

City Lights is a huge supporter of our fellow art-makers in the South Bay, so it was also natural to start showing them off. We’ve hosted a virtual art class with the San Jose Museum of Art, highlighted Los Altos Stage Company’s amazing streaming season, and are planning shows with Veggielution and of course Play on Words.

Over time, we’ve also added better streaming software, cameras and lighting, and greater use of video. I’ve learned so much technology with the help of superstar City Lights consultant Ron Evans, who happens to be my husband. So that’s convenient.


what do you most miss about live theatre?

The energy in the room. The way even when an audience is completely silent, you can hear them listening. The smell of fresh wood on a new set. Intermission debates. Curtain speeches. That moment when an actor drops a line or a prop or another actor and keeps on going like nothing ever happened. Every single opening night I’ve ever attended.


what’s one positive thing that has come out of this past year? 

The way our little City Lights family has only gotten closer.

what is your personal creative outlet?

Writing and singing of all kinds, knitting of the amateur kind, and creating slightly unsettling collage art. And of course I dream of getting back on stage again.

We hope you can join us and City Lights on May 13! Visit http://cltc.org/thenextstage/ to reserve your tickets. And stay tuned to learn more about the writer whose work Melinda will be performing!

Let’s Stay Home—Together

How are you? No, really—how are you?

It’s been a year since our last Play On Words performance at the San Jose Museum of Art. Since then, the world has been broken open by the COVID-19 pandemic, civil uprisings and a seemingly never-ending presidential election. Though we had to cancel our spring 2020 performance, we are excited to announce that we’ll be partnering with the San Jose Museum of Art once more on June 17 for our first-ever virtual show.

Play On Words: New Terrains at the San Jose Museum of Art, January 2019.

Starting in March, we’ll be seeking original fiction, nonfiction, works of theatre and translation that center on Immigrant Heritage Month. What is generational immigration? How and why do people find themselves in new places? How does origin relate to originality? Check out our new submissions form to share your work with us.

Until then, we’re focused on raising money to pay for future artist honorariums. Thanks to our membership in San Francisco’s Intersection for the Arts, a nonprofit that provides people working in arts and culture with fiscal sponsorship and resources to grow, we can now accept tax-deductible donations. Our goal is to raise $1,000 by June 1. If giving financially is not an option for you now, we encourage you to spread the word so we can continue to incentivize artists to share and perform their stories.

Thank You Intersection for the Arts

2020: The year that has forced us all to reexamine healthcare, work/life balance, “essential” work, art—everything.

As we write this, our community is still sheltering in place to address the Coronavirus (COVID19) health pandemic. Families, small businesses, nonprofits, universities, K-12 schools, healthcare professionals, restaurants and retail—everyone is affected. At Play On Words, we’re hunkered down, trying to convert our in-person lesson plans to “virtual learning” and hiding out in the garage, working remotely while parenting small kids. It is at the corners of the day, the moments not dominated by news, work, or childcare, that we return to art as a salve. Netflix, yes, but also books, music, virtual museum tours, visual art—anything to remind us that humanity has survived so much already and we are capable of finding purpose and creating beauty, even in the hardest times.

Over the past few months, we have also taken this opportunity to shift our focus to longterm planning. Thanks to the support of Silicon Valley Creates, who referred us to a nonprofit consultant, we learned how to apply for fiscal sponsorship through Intersection for the Arts, a historic arts nonprofit that provides people working in arts and culture with fiscal sponsorship and resources to grow. 

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Part of Play On Words’ mission is to find ways to incentivize artists at all stages of their careers. Recent contributors know that we have been able to offer honorariums to participating actors and writers, thanks to our fall t-shirt drive. In 2015, a grant from the San Jose Downtown Association and The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation allowed us to pay artists for two shows. By pursuing fiscal sponsorship with the Intersection for the Arts, a 501(c)(3) which allows us to offer tax deductions for contributions, this will also allow us to apply for larger grants in the future and gain access to artist resources.

We have often been asked by POW friends and fans how they can best support the work we do. Now, at last, we can point to you a central place where you can offer one-time or recurring donations. Any donations we receive will go toward future artist honorariums, space and equipment rental, administrative and technical resources (i.e. subscriptions to WordPress, DropBox, etc.

We recognize that this is a challenging time for the world and prioritize the health and well-being and of our community above anything else. If, at this moment in time, you are interested and willing in investing in our community, we gladly welcome your support.

When the world feels safer and healthier, we hope to return to regular programming in San Jose and beyond. If you have ideas for contributing your stories or art to the POWSJ community in the meantime, we are all ears. We’re open to guest submissions to this blog, visual art and music inspired by this historic time, links to livestreamed performances, etc.

We hope to see you all again, happy and healthy, from whatever distance is deemed safe, very soon.

 

Third Thursday Show Canceled

Play On Words friends and family,

Given the state of our world and the health of our community, Play On Words has decided to cancel its June 18th show at the San Jose Museum of Art. We had planned to showcase stories about immigrant heritage and hoped to feature a few pieces written by people in detention, as shared by the nonprofit Freedom for Immigrants – Formerly CIVIC. We encourage you, during this time of social distance, to read and share stories that give you hope and inspire action. We also encourage you to consider donating online to local theaters, production companies, and museums whose shows have been cancelled and who are losing valuable revenue during the COVID-19 crisis.

The health and welfare of our fellow humans is our number one priority. We hope that you stay healthy and well.

While Tania Martin Was Sleeping

“Humanity’s lease on the planet may soon be up,” writes the narrator of Tania Martin’s “While You Were Sleeping,” who envisions bear attacks, drive-by proselytizing and the inevitable downfall of humankind while her partner lays sleeping. Something in this piece’s macabre yet realistic tone felt very 2019 to us—it is at once self-effacing and full of anxiety, yet conscious of the beauty still left in our world. We’re looking forward to performing Tania’s piece at our Beyond Boundaries show at the San Jose Museum of Art on Jan. 12.

Tania is a writer from San Jose. She is currently working on her first novel, which she hopes to complete in 2020. She is co-founder of The Flash Fiction Forum, a literary reading series focusing on short works. She is also an assistant editor at Narrative Magazine. Tania enjoys teaching art to middle school students and cycling around the bay area on her road bike. She earned a BS in Geology from UC Davis and loves the outdoors. 

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Tania Martin

What are you working on these days?

Flash Fiction Forum will have its next reading series on January 8th at Works Gallery 365 S Market St, San Jose. For more information visit our website.

What inspired you to participate in Play On Words?

I’m a big fan of Play On Words. I love the collaborative energy they bring to San Jose’s literary scene. It’s magical to hear your words preformed by such talented actors.

 Which writers or performers inspire you?

I’m a big fan of Louise Erdrich, Jhumpa Lahiri, Annie Proulx, Denis Johnson, and Zadie Smith to name a few; the poetry of Seamus Heaney and Elizabeth Bishop; and re-reading the classics: especially Tolstoy, Austin, and the Bronte sisters. I’m currently reading Olga Tokarczuk’s Flights, which is a gorgeous book about travel and discovery.

 Name a book or performance that fundamentally affected you.

One of my fondest memories is my father reading The Hobbit aloud to me when I was a child. J.R.R. Tolkien’s world building captured my imagination and I looked forward to hearing the next chapter all day. I saw how it was possible to carry entire other worlds around with you in your head. 

Want to see us perform Tania’s work aloud? Get your tickets now for our January 12 show at the San Jose Museum of Art. Entrance includes free admission to the museum.

Arcadia Conrad Stems the Tide

Why is it most high school capers tend to take place in restaurants? The characters in Arcadia Conrad‘s “Stem the Tide” hatch an elaborate plan to scurry away to senior prom, despite disapproving parents, while arguing over tartar sauce. We’re delighted to work with the fabulous Arcadia again at our January 12 Beyond Boundaries show at the San Jose Museum of Art.

Arcadia is a director, educator, intimacy director in training and playwright who has created work for The Dragon Theatre,  Santa Clara Players, and City Lights Theatre Company among others She is currently developing her full length play, Script Doctor, about a Hollywood family coming to terms with its past, and writing a manual for theatre educators based on her blog. Her work as an ID can be seen in the upcoming “The Nether” and “Spring Awakening” at The Dragon Theatre. She was named Teacher of the Year in 2018. 

 

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Arcadia Conrad

What inspired you to participate in Play On Words?

 

I love the people and am inspired by the incredible contributions of those who create and perform for it. 

Which writers or performers inspire you?

There are a lot of things I wish I had written. I take comfort in the existence of  Lisa Tadeo, Miriam Towes, Phoebe Waller Bridge, Anna Deveare Smith. 

Name a book or performance that fundamentally affected you. 

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland continues to. 

Get your tickets now for our January 12 show at the San Jose Museum of Art to see Arcadia’s work performed. Entrance includes free admission to the museum.

 

Marilyn Horn’s “Elephant”

Move over, Lloyd Dobler—there’s a new romantic in town, and he’s riding an elephant. The narrator in Marilyn Horn’s “Elephant” reconnects with a high school classmate while wearing pants her ex referred to as her “elephant pants.” We look forward to performing Marilyn’s piece on January 12 at the San Jose Museum of Art, where we will be returning for Play On Words: Beyond Boundaries.

Marilyn is a technical editor in Silicon Valley. Her short stories have appeared in Marathon Review, Blotterature and NonBinary Review, among others, and she also presents at San Jose’s Flash Fiction Forum from time to time. A collection of her stories was published in 2016 by Thinking Ink Press.

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Marilyn Horn

What inspired you to participate in Play On Words?

There’s nothing like hearing the PoW cast bring stories to life. Sometimes when I finish a piece, I automatically think, “This would be a good one for Play on Words,” and then I check the PoW submissions page.

Which writers or performers inspire you?
Lately I can’t stop reading Olga Tokarczuk. Weird, funny and dark. What’s not to love?

Name a book or performance that fundamentally affected you.

Writing brings up a lot of fear for me. Mostly I’m afraid of what I’ll discover the digger I deep. So the book Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway has helped a lot. As for performances, I’ll have to go with Liz Taylor in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. Talk about someone who dug deep. Amazing.

Get your tickets now for our January 12 show at the San Jose Museum of Art to see Marilyn’s work performed. Entrance includes free admission to the museum.

Leah Griesmann’s “Standpoint of Water”

What does a hurricane feel like from the perspective of water? Is it a crashing, a reunion, a departure, a homecoming? Leah Griesmann’s “Florence, Katrina, Maria: The Standpoint of Water” offers three stories of hurricanes, as reflected by the water itself. We’re delighted to welcome Leah back to Play On Words on January 12 at our Beyond Boundaries show at the San Jose Museum of Art, where we will be performing this great piece. Leah was one of our featured writers from our POW premiere way back in October 2013, so we are excited to welcome her back to San Jose!

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Hilton Head, South Carolina, from the perspective of water. Photo courtesy of Leah Griesmann.

Leah has received grants and residencies for her fiction from the MacDowell Colony, the Elizabeth George Foundation, the Swatch Art Peace Hotel in Shanghai, the Virginia Quarterly Review Writers’ Conference, The Key West Writers Workshops, The Writers in Paradise Conference, as well as a Steinbeck Fellowship in Fiction. Her short fiction has appeared in The Weekly Rumpus, PEN Center’s The Rattling Wall, J Journal: New Writing on Justice, and This Side of the Divide: Stories of the American West, among other publicationsShe will be a writer in residence at the Studios of Key West in summer 2020.

She agreed to answer a few questions in advance of the show.

 

What inspired you to participate in Play On Words?

I’ve long been a fan of reading series in which actors perform pieces of literature. California is home to several great reading series that I’ve been thrilled to participate in, including Sacramento Stories on Stage, the New Short Fiction Series in North Hollywood, and of course San Jose’s own Play on Words. I also participated in a reading at the Shanghai American Center, when I was on a writing residency at the Swatch Art Peace Hotel in Shanghai. Two of my Las Vegas-based stories were performed by actors, and I took questions from the local audience afterwards, including, “Why does your country have so many guns?” I much prefer to see my work performed on stage by talented artists than read it myself!

Name a book or performance that fundamentally affected you.

Recently I visited Chicago for the first time, where I got to see the improvisational comedy troupe The Second City. Particularly in dark times, good comedy has a way of calling BS and shining a light on truth while making people laugh. But more than that, I was struck by how humanizing good comedy can be. There was one piece—totally improvised—which was a sort of “This is Your Life.” A random audience member, in this case a teacher from New Jersey, answered a few questions about a typical day, and then the cast improvised a scene with her sitting on stage. Not only was the scene hilarious, with Second City cast members playing her colleagues, family, and friends, it was also incredibly humanizing in that it made this “ordinary” teacher the ass-kicking hero of an otherwise (hilariously) dysfunctional day.

Come see us perform Leah’s work! Tickets are free but going fastreserve yours now for our January 12 show at the San Jose Museum of Art. Entrance includes free admission to the museum.

Anshu Johri

What if you could rent wings? Where would you go, and how high would you fly? We were charmed by Anshu Johri’s imaginative “Wings,” a lovely prose piece that explores flight. We first became familiar with Anshu’s work in 2017, when we partnered with San Jose’s Flash Fiction Forum to create our chapbook, Activate. We were amazed by her October performance of Anniqua Rana’s “Birth Canal” and can’t wait to perform “Wings” on January 12 at the San Jose Museum of Art.

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Anshu Johri at our Live in San Francisco show on October 19, 2019. Photo by Branden Frederick.

Anshu authors poems, short stories, and plays in Hindi and English. She has a master’s of science in electrical engineering from San Jose State University. Her work in English has appeared in SAGE, Caesura, Calliope, “Dukool”, “Vine Leaves Literary Journal”, “Creation and Criticism” and “Storizen.” Her published work in Hindi includes publications of three poetry collections (Tumse Jude BinaWithout Being With You, Boond ka Dwandwa— Dilemma of a Raindrop, and Khule Prishtha—Bare Pages) and two short story collections (Adrishya Kinara Invisible Shores, Shesh Phir…— More Later…), also available at Audible and iTunes. She’s an active theatre artist who loves to act and direct and dabbles poems on canvas.  She received the 2017 Glorious India Award for contributions to literature.

“Play On Words has two of my favorite passions: play and words—and some incredible people to work with and work for,” says Anshu.

Get your tickets now for our January 12 show at the San Jose Museum of Art to see Anshu’s work performed. Entrance includes free admission to the museum.