In case you missed our May show with City Lights Theatre, here’s your chance to listen to Melinda Marks perform “Not a Gardener” by Melissa Flores Anderson, followed by a lively conversation with Rebecca Wallace. Thank you City Lights!
This Thursday, June 17, we are hosting one of our biggest and most ambitious shows yet — and that’s saying something. Not only are we producing our first-ever virtual show, we are doing it in partnership with the San Jose Museum of Art’s Third Thursday program.
We received far too many quality pieces to include this month but managed to narrow it down to 16 pieces, spanning from an excerpt from travel writer Chaney Kwak’s new memoir, The Passenger: How a Travel Writer Learned to Love Cruise & Other Lies from a Sinking Ship, a modern interpretation of Hamlet by Muse Lee; work in English and Spanish by Sebastian Gomez Biggeri and much, much more.
Who will be reading these amazing pieces, you ask? We’ve got some wonderful performers on the bill, including:
Gaz Jemeel is a storyteller in the mediums of acting and filmmaking. His calling as an artist is to help humans heal spiritually while also allowing them to question the reality around them. Raised in Pakistan, Gaz currently is based out of Los Angeles & Oakland. To connect more with Gaz, visit gazjemeel.wixsite.com/actorgaz.
Christina Shon is an educator, writer, introvert, bookworm, vegan wannabe, and podcast enthusiast. She currently lives in Timnath, Colorado where she has been social distancing for the past year.
Evelyn Huynh is a Bay Area artist of many mediums and is excited to work with Play on Words San Jose for the first time. When not creating or crafting, she devotes her time to Family Giving Tree, working to provide joy and tools for learning to those in the community who need it most. She sends her love to her ever-supportive husband and hugs to her tribe. Learn more about Evelyn’s artistic endeavors at evelynhuynh.ninja
Francheska Johanna Loy is an actor and a writer. She graduated from San Jose State University, where she received a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and a Minor in Theatre Arts. Francheska was born and raised in Baguio City, Philippines, and she takes pride in her roots and brings that part of her both in her acting and her writing.
Ivette Deltoro is the patron experience manager and casting assistant at City Lights Theatre, where she has also performed in a number of shows. She is one of the founders of City Lights’ Mini Lights Emerging Artist program, and served as the casting director for its inaugural production, boom! by Peter Sinn Nachtrieb.
Jada Roper is a junior at Milpitas High School. She has participated in productions such as Shrek Jr. and High School Musical and hopes to one day be on Broadway or become a psychologist…it’s up in the air at the moment.
Muse Lee (he/him) is the writer and co-executive producer of ARISTOS: the Musical, a pop/rock Iliad adaptation featuring an international cast and crew collaborating remotely during the pandemic. An artist and educator, he taught writing and performance behind bars as a member of the Medea Project: Theater for Incarcerated Women/HIV Circle, and taught a novel writing course at a court school to youth involved in the juvenile justice system.
At Los Angeles Opera, he founded and led the Opera 90012 Ambassador Program, a training program for teens interested in arts administration. In 2019, Muse graduated with a B.A. in English from Stanford University, where he served for three years as a teaching assistant in the Theatre and Performance Studies Department. He is currently writing the textbook Acting for Non-Majors with noted Stanford theatre lecturer Kay Kostopoulos.
Tania Odesho is an acting student focusing on improvisational comedy. She won second place in Dramatic Interpretation at the National Forensics tournament in 2007 representing Leland High School. She has worked in education combining improv and learning for K-12th grade students. She is working towards her goal of being an actor. Her hobbies include playing video games, watching documentaries, and playing with her poodle Tink.
Melinda Marks is a playwright, actor and director who has performed in the Bay Area for over 20 years. She holds a BA from UCSC in Theater with an emphasis in dramaturgy, an MA from San Jose State in Theater Studies, and an MFA in Shakespeare Studies from Mary Baldwin College.
julia halprin jackson
Julia Halprin Jackson’s work has appeared in Noyo River Review, Oracle Fine Arts Review, West Branch Wired, California Northern, Fourteen Hills, and selected anthologies. She has been awarded scholarships from the Tomales Bay Writer’s Workshops, the Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference and the Mendocino Coast Writers Conference, and is a graduate of UC Davis’ master’s in Creative Writing program. Julia contributes to Washington Square, San Jose State University’s alumni magazine, and is at work on a novel set in Spain.
Kai lives in Northern Colorado with his mom, dad, and aunt. He enjoys playing MineCraft, Roblox, skateboarding, and creating science videos, such as his submission to the Poudre School District Science Fair and his performance of “You’ll Be Back” from the Hamilton soundtrack.
register now for our third thursday show, our stories, ourselves.
After a year of hibernation, Play On Words is finally emerging from the fog of the pandemic to share stories of our community. On June 17, we’ll return virtually to the San Jose Museum of Art for Our Stories, Ourselves, an evening of stories and poems inspired by individual and collective immigrant heritage. In the weeks to come, we’ll be offering a peek inside contributors’ brains to learn what their heritage means to them and what has kept them going this year.
We are delighted to start with Melissa Flores Anderson, a native Californian, award-winning journalist, former speechwriter and a current communications professional in Silicon Valley. She has had news articles and features published in the Gilroy Dispatch, the Hollister Free Lance, BenitoLink and the California Health Report, and was the city editor of the Weekend Pinnacle for seven years. She has a bachelor’s in psychology and media studies from Pitzer College, and a master’s in print journalism from the University of Southern California. Her story “Redemption Songs” is forthcoming in The Ice Colony.
Melissa’s story, “Not a Gardener,” follows Teresa, who doesn’t think she inherited a green thumb even though her grandfather maintained a thriving garden beyond his duplex for most of her life. When she moves into a new house with her husband and young son, Teresa discovers an affinity for it and a connection to her heritage.
There will be two opportunities to hear Melissa’s great story. On Thursday, May 13, Melinda Marks will perform this piece as part of City Lights Theatre Company’s Next Stage program, which will also feature a brief Q&A with POW co-founders and City Lights Marketing Director Rebecca Wallace. Register for this free event on the City Lights website.
Melissa agreed to answer a few questions in advance of our May 13 show.
How did you hear about Play On Words?
My friend Julia Halprin Jackson is one of the founders so I’ve heard her talking about Play On Words for years, and know some people who have had pieces featured in shows before. I’d been working on a story inspired by my grandfather when I learned the theme for the virtual show was immigrant heritage, and decided to submit for the first time.
How has your creative practice changed during the pandemic?
In a weird way the pandemic gave me space to be creative. I used to write stories and poems back in high school and college, but haven’t had the energy to write in the last decade or so. Then when I had insomnia over the summer because of the pandemic and the wildfires, I returned to some of my half-written stories in the middle of the night. A story I started maybe 15 years ago turned into the first draft of a novel. I worked on some other old stories and then started to be inspired with new ideas.
I’m back to sleeping at night, but I do some writing on my lunch break, in the evenings or on weekends.]
What does “immigrant heritage” mean to you?
Three of my grandparents moved to the United States as young children, two from Mexico and one from Italy. They came between 1910-1920 at a time when most people left behind their language and culture so there were only scraps of their heritage left for my sister and I by the time we came along. The one thing I do have is the family recipes—or impressions of flavors might be more accurate. My father’s mother never wrote down her tamale recipe and my mother’s sisters don’t have one for the gnocchi they make, but we have moments in the kitchen together when we make these dishes that tie us back to places we have never seen
What else should we know about you?
As I started to write again, I also started reading for leisure for the first time since having my son nearly four years ago. I’ve read plenty of board books and early readers in recent years, but in January I started making my way through a stack of books on my nightstand that followed me unread through two moves in three years. My favorites include Love by Roddy Doyle, Normal People by Sally Rooney and a short story collection curated by David Sedaris called Children Playing Before a Statue of Hercules.
join us june 17 for our stories, ourselves
Play On Words is going virtual with the San Jose Museum of Art at 7. p.m. on Thursday, June 17. Tickets are free but registration is required. Sign up to save your space!
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!
What, exactly, does the open road bring? Becky Kling‘s hilarious “Road Trip” rounded out our evening of stories at Play On Words: Live in San Francisco on Oct. 19. In case you missed it, watch Julia Halprin Jackson perform her story:
Big thanks to Becky for trusting us with your story, to Branden Frederick for taking photos and Cleveland Motley for filming.
In the coming weeks, we’ll be gearing up for our January 12 return to the San Jose Museum of Art. Stay tuned to learn all about our amazing writers and readers.
On October 19, Play On Words was thrilled to return to San Francisco’s LitCrawl to participate in a raucous evening of storytelling, good food and friendship. Thank you to our friends, new and old, for making the show possible and for coming out to support our work. Thanks, also, to the more than 40 donors who contributed to our fall t-shirt drive—it is thanks to you that we will be able to start incentivizing artists to do their thing in the coming months.
What kind of rad art are you supporting by buying our shirts, you ask? Look no further than “Union Meeting,” a hilarious short play written by #powsj digital asset manager Ryan Alpers and created by him and #powsj alumnus Andrew Christian. We kicked off our Play On Words: Live in San Francisco show with this great piece, performed by Ronald Feichtmeir, Julia Halprin Jackson, Melinda Marks and Ryan Alpers:
Big thanks to Cleveland Motley for filming and Branden Frederick for acting as our resident photographer, as well as to the wonderful folks at Stage Werx in San Francisco.
On Monday night we gathered to rehearse for tonight’s show and the air crackled with electricity. Each story, poem and piece is dynamite, and our seasoned cast is more than ready to light up the stage at Cafe Stritch. Play On Words has existed for five years, and in that time we’ve gotten to meet so many amazing artists, writers, performers and patrons of the arts. Every show is special and every show is different. Tonight we bring Play On Words: New Horizons to life.
Join us at 7 pm to witness amazing performers read work by the following fabulous writers:
performed by Melinda Marks
Today on the podcast, host Ryan Alpers interviews POW founders Melinda Marks and Julia Halprin Jackson. They discuss Play On Words’ origin story, their collaboration with San Jose’s Flash Fiction Forum, and the benefits of hearing one’s work performed aloud by an actor.
Listen to the episode on SoundCloud and subscribe, rate and review on iTunes!
For the first time ever, Play On Words is performing in a theatre! We are kicking off our 2017-2018 season with a special reading at the Dragon Theatre in Redwood City on Monday, October 9. This show features work by Bay Area women writers who challenge–and occasionally mock–gender norms. Unlike our ensemble shows, Monday’s performance will showcase two short stories and one translated monologue. Look forward to work by:
Leah Griesmann has received grants and residencies for her fiction from the MacDowell Colony, the Elizabeth George Foundation, the Key West Writers’ Workshops, Seoul Art Space Yeonhui, the Swatch Art Peace Hotel in Shanghai, the DAAD (Berlin), and the Martha Heasley Cox Center for Steinbeck Studies. Her stories have appeared in Burrow Press Review, J Journal: New Writing on Justice, The Weekly Rumpus, Union Station, The Boiler, The Cortland Review, Boston University’s 236 Magazine, and PEN Center USA’s The Rattling Wall, and have been performed at Litquake San Francisco, The Center for Literary Arts, Sacramento Stories on Stage, the New Short Fiction Series in North Hollywood, and the Shanghai American Center.
Melinda Marks, Play On Words co-founder and casting director, has performed as an actor for more than 25 years. Melinda has an MFA in Shakespeare and Performance with a concentration in directing at Mary Baldwin University and an MA in Theatre Studies from San Jose State University.
Julia Halprin Jackson, Play On Words co-founder and publicity director, is a writer whose work has appeared in Oracle Fine Arts Review, West Branch Wired, California Northern, Fourteen Hills, as well as selected anthologies. She has an MA in creative writing from UC Davis and currently contributes to Washington Square, San Jose State University’s alumni magazine.
We are delighted and grateful to showcase performances by Melinda, as well as:
Ivette Deltoro is the casting assistant and patron experience manager at City Lights Theater in San Jose and artistic manager of the Mini Lights Emerging Artist Program at City Lights. She is also a local actress whose credits include City Lights Theater Company’s I and You and Silicon Valley Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar.
April Culver earned her BFA in Acting at Drake University. Some recent roles include Mrs. Givings (In the Next Room, Pear Theatre), Cordelia / The Fool (B8 Theatre), Catherine (A View From the Bridge, Pear Theatre), Gillian (Permanent Collection, Piedmont Players ), Constance (Three Musketeers, Silicon Valley Shakespeare), Calpurnia (Julius Caesar, Silicon Valley Shakespeare), Sonya (Uncle Vanya, Pear Theatre), and Olivia (Shakespeare in Hollywood, Silicon Valley Shakespeare).
RSVP for our show here. There is a $5 suggested donation for Monday’s show. Hope to see you there!