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Livestreamed on this page on Friday 29 May 2020 at 8 a.m. HST (Honolulu, UTC-10) / 10 a.m. AKDT (Juneau, UTC-8) / 11 a.m. PDT (San Francisco, UTC-7) / 1 p.m. CDT (Chicago, UTC-5) / 2 p.m. EDT (New York, UTC-4) / 19:00 BST (London, UTC+1) / 20:00 CEST (Berlin, UTC+2).

United States
Friday 29 May 2020

Directors Lab West Connects: Luis Alfaro and Laurie Woolery (ASL-interpreted)

Reflections on “Remote” Teaching and Community Engagement

Produced With
Friday 29 May 2020

Directors Lab West presented Directors Lab West Connects: Luis Alfaro and Laurie Woolery livestreamed on the global, commons-based, peer-produced HowlRound TV network at howlround.tv on Friday 29 May 2020 at 8 a.m. HST (Honolulu, UTC-10) / 10 a.m. AKDT (Juneau, UTC-8) / 11 a.m. PDT (San Francisco, UTC-7) / 1 p.m. CDT (Chicago, UTC-5) / 2 p.m. EDT (New York, UTC-4) / 19:00 BST (London, UTC+1) / 20:00 CEST (Berlin, UTC+2).

Join us for a conversation with citizen artists Luis Alfaro (Associate Professor of Dramatic Writing at USC) and Laurie Woolery (Director of Public Works at The Public Theater), who will share their thoughts on this unprecedented moment in the American Theater and possibilities for paths forward from here. Based on their experiences creating art through extensive personal engagement, they will explore how artists can connect and inspire one another or develop work with our communities in a post-COVID environment.


Che'Rae Adams: Hello everybody. I am Che'Rae Adams and I am on the steering committee at Directors Lab West. I am going to describe myself for you, I'm wearing a black shirt, a black and white shirt, a white necklace made of beads. My background describes the speakers of this conversation and has the hashtag Directors Lab West Connects. What is Directors Lab West Connects? I'm glad you asked. Directors lab West is a 20 year old all volunteer run organization that produces an annual eight day intensive lab. It's full of workshops, panels, masterclasses and more. It's for mid career directors and choreographers and they come from all over the world. Well, the pandemic put a wrench in that, however, refusing to be thwarted. We chose to mark the lab this year with Directors Lab West Connects. Online version of the lab. Needless to say we've been overwhelmed by your responses. So here we are. Welcome to eight days of conversations crafted for and by theatre directors and choreographers live streamed by our partners at HowlRound, to their website and to our Directors Lab West Facebook page. There you can join the chat. Tell us who you are, and where you're tuning in from and ask questions for the q and a following our speakers conversation. Very special thanks to Alan Witteborg for providing ASL interpretation. He is wearing a grey shirt. He has a beard and he has a pale face. You can also head over to our Facebook page for audio captioning if you like. I'm very excited to welcome our speakers today, Luis Alfaro and Laurie Woolery. We asked them to talk together today about their work with their communities and how it's changed post COVID. We are also curious about how teaching has changed during COVID and what changes they have made to the process because of it. Luis Alfaro is an award winning playwright who divides his life between working and regional theatre and community based art throughout the United States. He recently finished his sixth season tenure as the playwright in residence at Oregon Shakespeare Festival. He teaches at University of Southern California and before all this went down, he had a pretty good run at the magic theatre St. Louis Repertory Theatre and two seasons in a row at the Public Theater in New York. Speaking of the Public Theater, Laurie Woolery is the Director of Public Works there. If you're not familiar, it is a wonderful program that seeks to engage the people of New York by making them creators and not just spectators. She is also a director, playwright, citizen artist. She's the former associate artistic director of Cornerstone Theater Company and the conservatory director at South Coast Repertory. Might not know this, but she develops new work with diverse communities ranging from incarcerated women to residents in a Kansas town who were devastated by a tornado. Luis and Laurie welcome. They will be in conversation for the next 30 minutes and we'll return with some questions hot off the Facebook chat. I'll see you all soon.

Luis Alfaro: Thank you so much Che'Rae. My name is Luis Alfaro and I am middle aged queer Latino man who was recently shaven this morning. And I gave myself a COVID haircut. So I'm feeling a little messy but a little cleaned up as well. Hi, Laurie.

Laurie Woolery: Hi Luis, I am ageless. I'm Laurie Woolery, I'm ageless. I am wearing a top, a mock color top and I am letting my COVID route show. So I wear glasses. And I am happy to be here talking to my friend.

Luis: I’m so happy to be here with you, Laurie, I thought maybe before we even started, I should say that I clocked for myself and for everybody that you and I have known each other for 28 years formally.

Laurie: I was a child.

Luis: You were a child and I was a child too you were my very first professional play.

Laurie: I think you taught me.

Luis: What?

Laurie: I think you taught me.

Luis: No.

Laurie: Every day of the week.

Luis: You were in my very first professional play at South Coast repertory, you were an actor. And this was the first professional play I had written 28 years ago. I don't know if people realize it when they asked us to talk together. They realize how close and intimate we are as actual friends for the last two three decades. So I'm excited about this conversation.

Laurie: Yeah, cause they're gonna be expecting pros and they're just gonna get chismé, am I Right? That's all… Yeah. This are our late night calls you're all invited into so it's just happening mid morning.

Luis: Oh gossip all the time. I was thinking this morning as we started. I've been meditating a lot about this past week watching the presentations. And one of the presentations that really took me was the Jessica Hannah and Bogart conversation. Partly, I really loved and Bogart's definition of what we needed right now, the three things we needed. The trip tech we needed in order to get to this moment, which was passion, point of view, and craft. And even more interesting to me was Jessica Hannah, talking about, “I don't know,” starting from a place of “I don't know.” And today we're having a conversation about community you and I, and “I don't know” is usually the place I start from. Do you relate to that in any way?

Laurie: 10,000% always, I think it's the reason why I don't think I know it's the reason why I stay doing this work is to truly step into a space of not knowing and to step into a space of what are we going to create together? And to find out something else about the world and others and myself that I don't know, which is pretty thrilling and pretty kind of counterintuitive, also to our fields.

Luis: Yeah, I agree. I was thinking about when I was getting ready to do this. I was thinking that one of the things that I've always done when I've gone into new communities is that vulnerable act of saying, I am the most ignorant person in this room. Please tell me what I should know. And it is the first portal into not just a community bit to it to friendships, into being vulnerable as artists need to be, and I was thinking about how 30 years later, it translates into my teaching that one of the first things I do with students is I don't teach right. I don't give information. I don't pass on anything first. The first thing I always say is, who are you? Who are your people? And if we can be so bold, what are your dreams, which is a lot to ask of somebody? A stranger especially. But I love the results of what that does to us. And in some ways, it is for me, not the beginning of a teacher student relationship, but the beginning of art making relationship.

Laurie: Yeah, I also love the question and that those introductory moments of tell us something we don't know about you by looking at you. And I always tease it out a little bit more thing and even if you have friends in this room, they can't know it either. So it's trying to up it. So that there's this thing that we used to talk about at Cornerstone and I know that I hold on to it all the time is the insider outsider perspective. And so I think that's what you're talking about when you're saying like the most ignorant person in the room is like walking in going, you are the experts of your community. You know what's happening here. I might think I know, but I don't know. And so how, how often do we get to be in a beginner's mind? I had a, and she continues to be just somebody I think about all the time one of my teachers, Denise Taylor, who really taught me the phrase beginner's mind. And I didn't quite understand it when I was, a young artist trying to figure out my way through it, but it is something that I hold into, not just every community I go to, but every class I stepped into. Every room I stepped into I tried to with humility and try to be egoless. And in that, but also in the rehearsal room is going, how can I, I've done all the prep that I can do on my own, or with my designers, but now, the actors are going to step in and the drama turn of trying to be in conversation and all of us together are going to bring our life experience into the room and how the work resonates for us. And that is always such a rich and delicious place to be. So I think what's so great about the classroom is it just you get to practice it all the time. And then rehearsal, you're lucky, you get to practice it when you get a gig. And then I think in our everyday jobs, it's, regardless of whether it's theatre or not, is how can we continue to practice those skills. Especially now in COVID. It's like all I got is me and that is like, at me and zoom. But it's hard when you're like spending so much of your time in relationship to other people and really wanting to, and depending upon that conversation.

Luis: I love what you're saying because one of the things I adore about you in the room is that those first moments are really the moments to open up the possibility of a room. The possibility of how much excellence is gonna happen in a rehearsal room, is really built in pulling back rather than jumping in and taking over. And I'd love for me as a playwright, I'm gonna just, I think I wanna affirm something you said is that, "I listen very closely in "those first few moments because I love writing for actors." I think that's one of my gifts. And I love adapting my text to the actor strength. And also the actors challenges. Sometimes you hear an actor talking, you think I better not use this word or I better like pull back on the SS or whatever it is right? And sometimes it's technical, but sometimes it's also really philosophical. And so I think about how I enter the room and what I'm gonna learn in the silence of my empathy. In the meditation that I'm doing well, I'm also actively listening. And I think it's not a surprise to me that you and I both do theatre work. We are in the academy, because we're also mentors and mentees. But we also are community builders. So all of those are this. I think I'm using a lot of the same skill sets to do the work. I think of the classroom, as the rehearsal space. I always say to the students at the top, I'm not going to treat you like a student, I'm going to treat you like a colleague in a production. So let us figure out what that relationship is.

Laurie: Yeah, absolutely, and how we talk to each other, cause you can be passionate about something and you wanna be able to express that fully and completely, but also being able to understand and read the room about how your passion is received. So, and I think because so much of my life has been about trying to like let's keep that contained, that I want to be able to let that live in a space that we have collectively set up that is safe. So one of the big ones for me is just like assuming goodwill. When we're in the spaces like hearing, I just think it's a good life. One overall is assume goodwill. I just think it's helpful. Because you can load in all your other stuff that you're bringing into your life into it and make assumptions about people, which is why this work is humbling to the ego. Because you have to check yourself and going. Don't think that you know, you might know, but you might know what you might learn something else. And, I teach because it's also kind of a selfless act, because they teach me so much, my students, my community have taught me how to be an artist cause for those, some of the people who know me really well know that I will say my dirty hidden secret. Is I don't have pedigree in terms of I did not go to the top institutions. I've never taken a directing class in my life. But I didn't even think I wanted to be a director. But community shaped me and I just found myself in rooms and saying yes to the experience of Oh yeah sure, I'll help you do the neighborhood conservatory at South Coast rep, I'll assist you. And then it evolved into all these kids showing up and me being thrust into being a teacher. And I remember him saying to me, he was a great lesson, and I will share the story just because we thought 20 kids were going to show up, it was at a community center in Santa Ana, and we were just hoping 20 kids would show up. And 120 Kids showed up.

Luis: Right.

Laurie: And I turned to him and am like, "Oh my God, "we're gonna have to turn away 100 kids." And he's like, "No, hold on, give me a second." And he's like, "Okay, this is what we're gonna do. "We're going to divide up the room." And he started just saying, "You take half of them "and take half of them, we'll divide them up, "we'll have these kids for this hour. "We'll do have multiple classes going." And I'm like, "I'm not a teacher." And he's, "You know more than they do." And then he just started counting off the room. And it was the greatest lesson in one pushing me off the high dive. But he trusted that I could do it. And that I wasn't, I wanted to be prepared. And sometimes you just have to do it and learn in the moment. But he also showed me how not to be so rigid with your rules or your expectations. Whoever shows up is who shows up. And it's loaves and fish, to get biblical here. It's like we can feed everybody. And so how do we do that? With what we have.

Luis: Well You teach what you need to learn. In some way, every year I say to myself, "Okay, now I'm going to go back into the field "and concentrate 100% of my time as a working artist." But in truth, I am doing that because teaching is part of learning. Teaching every student brings something to the experience that is a surprise. I have an exercise I just don't want to run away too far away from it cause I believe very strongly in Joseph Chaikin, "The Presence of the Actor." I think every director, every writer, every playwright reactor, should read this book. It's small and short. But he has a series of questions of character he calls them when he builds a character. And the first question is, what is the one thing that people cannot see when they look at you. And I do that at the start of every semester. And sometimes it's very, something very surface. But there's always one student who will turn out to be that shining student. Who will say something that's very true and very deep and very real about the world that we live in. That helps me shift the classroom from art to a citizen work, which is I think one of the things that you and I do a lot of. We are artists citizens, and we are engaging in a kind of social discussion in the academy, in the theatre and in our lives. So I'm really moved by this idea that what we're really doing is building up community outside of the space the building. Outside of the theatre, we are really building a community of artists who are also citizens, and at the same time, are trying to figure out how to use that work, their gift to build something bigger in our culture. So.

Laurie: Yeah, who have never felt that they could even if they had a tiny glimmer of a like oh, wouldn't that be cool? Oh, but no, is to open up a space, to create a true invitation for people to step up and step into, and I can't say that I intuitively knew that going in that these tools that have revealed themselves to me have been revealed to me through being present with community in a shared space, as to what do you want? What do you need? What do you desire? What are you looking for? What do you want from me? That for me always shapes a classroom, but it also shapes the rehearsal room and a process.

Luis: Yeah, I agree. I'm thinking a little bit about, we talked previously just I was gonna surprise you by saying when where's the God in all this. But in some way you've already kind of mentioned it. And I think one of the things that I'm very excited about right now, and especially in this pandemic time is, where is the spirit and all of this? In some ways, I'm being guided by spirituality. What does that mean, right? I'm being guided by something bigger than me in this moment that's allowing me to be a bigger artist than I've ever been. Bigger artists in the sense that I have to be really creative about how I do the work and not lose sight of the work that I do.

Laurie: Yeah.

Luis: And I wonder if you have thoughts about because you work with hundreds of community members who you bring into a space but also you go visit their spaces a lot. What are you thinking about the notion of what's happening right now with a loss the sense of displacement, there's so much going on and it's just especially today with a violent day in our country. Purposely so, but I'm wondering how we move to these moments and not forget that we are artists

Laurie: Right, and how do we use the art to share. I just shared with my staff this morning is for the last several weeks I have felt this almost feels like something is standing on my chest. This little pressure and I've gone like is it a gas, is that acid reflux? Is it loneliness? Is it despair? Is it anxiety? And I think it's being in a city that is the epicenter of the virus. The hundred thousand souls. Being in a neighborhood that is primarily Black and walking the streets and seeing how this my neighborhood is affected by what is happening. The last couple days there has been such shouting outside my windows, people yelling at each other. And we're all in our little boxes and these little containers and it is going to be a hot summer. And here in New York, just talking to our community partner leaders, it's like the funding for all the after school, or the summer programming has dried up, and so our community partners are trying to find ways, we are going to do programming for our teams and our youth because we've got to make sure that they are not on the street where like the funding for arts has gone down. But the funding for police have gone up. We see this as potentially being a powder keg. And so in this moment, I was raised of service, what are you doing for your community? What are you doing for your family? What are you doing for your friends? What are you doing for your community? So, it's so interesting, the art never felt like it was a party I was invited to or a place that I should be spending my time which literally, like my family would be, why are you doing that? Be of service. And so I feel like a community and teaching has. And also being a director has, I do feel like it. That's why I call this a citizen artists. I do feel like it is of service. We can tell the stories of our community and invite our community into being a part of not only telling those stories and witnessing those stories, but some level of participation around it. And our community partner organizations are struggling. And so in this moment of wanting to produce and do things make art. I have found that I've just and the team we've just gonna, we gotta listen to what community needs. What do they need right now? How can we serve them and meet them where they need in this moment, so that also when we come back, that we showed up for them, we were truly good neighbors and good partners. So but again what does that look like can only be revealed in conversation. And by turning to them and saying, "What is it that you need? "What can we do to highlight? "What it is that you need? "What can we do to provide?" And the things that have come up have been food, hygiene, technology, and what they're saying creativity, but for me, I interpret that as spirit. Because that is where the secret lives. Is in the creative. And so people are needing to find a way to tap into their spirit in this moment. And I think theatre as story is the perfect way to do that. But it can't be as we think because we're leaving a lot of people out if we just rely upon technology, because for us, our elders aren't zooming. And for a lot of people they don't actually have access, they've relied upon the libraries or the cafes, or honestly, up until the pandemic, I didn't have internet in my house. Not for lack of not being able to afford it, but it's just like you can get away with not having it. But that was a whole lot. But when you're talking about where's the God. Where's the spirit in the work? Is I think it also goes back to what you're talking about is how do we show up and listen and see? What is this opportunity presenting us with? Clearly things have not been working. I think I share with you my big joke is like mother nature is going, "Okay, you all get in a big timeout, go to your rooms. "Think about what you've done. "I'm going to do a little cleanup "and then we're gonna let you back out when "this is all over." But it's how to be awake during this time. And I can't say that I have the answers. I'm forming questions and I'm trying to listen. And I'm trying to show up and be present. But I do often feel the pressure of what it is to be an artist in the American theatre. And it's like, oh, I should be writing that thing that I was going to be writing. Or I should be creating that thing that I kept saying. Or I should be reading all those books that I said I was going to, wanted to get to. What about you?

Luis: Yeah, I feel like I'm going backwards. Not backwards in that I'm not accumulating. I'm actually going back because back is the really wonderful place to go to your roots. Your base as an artist, right? So for me I started in poetry for 10 years, and then I was in the performance art world. And in performance art training, we had a really wonderful living theatre. Exercise we used to do called deliberation and the act of doing nothing, you're always doing something. What a great thing to set a like hit on now. And the act of doing nothing. You're always doing something and my teacher Scott Kalman used to say to us. Move towards the thing that needs you the most. So I'm in the densest neighborhood of all of Los Angeles County. I live in Koreatown of Los Angeles, has 66 neighborhoods, this is the one that's most crowded. 50% of the people in my neighborhood are Latino. 25% of Korean, and then a mix. But 94% of the people in my neighborhood are renters. So when I get up at five o'clock in the morning, thinking I'm going to do my walk and avoid anybody who might affect me I actually, am walking straight out into a ton of people in uniforms and working class outfits, who are essential workers. So in the beginning I thought, wow, this is really pushing me somewhere I don't wanna go or this is pushing me somewhere that I don't understand. But I started to understand that until very recently, I was an essential worker too. I'm cradling 75 students, who are all over the world. I have a student who's getting up at two o'clock in the morning for her regular class. Cause she's now in another part of the world. And mostly my specialty is international students. And so I am realizing that there is a lot of trauma. So not all my students, as you were saying, "I have access to way I have access." So I don't always see my students because they're sharing space. A single room with an entire family.

Laurie: Yeah.

Luis: Or they opt to mute out or video out and I'm okay with that. So there you have to be present. You have to be here. I need you to be here. And I need to know that you're here. And I'm gonna ask you a lot of questions about being here. But it's very important to recognize that as I'm in the place that I'm living, the reality of where I live informs how I need to move to the world as an artist. I'm in a really crowded neighborhood. So my first few weeks of the pandemic, was trying to figure out how to just do very basic things without sort of interrupting the neighborhood life that I had. And I'm so proud of us because as Che'Rae comes back on, I was thinking that we didn't go into multiple languages like we could. So bless that poor sign language cause I think we didn't do that.

Che’Rae: Hi, I'm back. I wanted to let you know.

Laurie: That was too fast!

Che’Rae: Wasn’t it? It seems very fast. I could listen to you for hours, honestly. So we're getting amazing questions on the live feed. And we also had some amazing questions when people sign up originally, with the Eventbrite. So is it okay if we ask some questions?

Laurie: Absolutely.

Che’Rae: Okay, Great. Thank you, all right, so this one's for Laurie. I think it's a fascinating question. What skill other than directing, of course, helps you be a better director?

Laurie: Well, I will say, I was born into an ensemble cause I come from a family of five siblings. And I was the fourth of that. So you had to learn to play and negotiate, and we were all like my poor mom, we were all together. So I always say that that was like my first place is being just a part of the family ensemble. And then I started off as an actor. And an actor who had no other desire, I wanted to write an act that was what I was hoping to do. But I will say that as being Latinx and with last name Woolery and people like not quite sure who I was, and was I Latin enough for what was I? As a young woman coming up as an actor, it was very confusing cause I already didn't feel I was invited to the party. And then to be affirmed that there really wasn't a place for me. And if you think you're Latin, you're not really Latin, but that had never been an issue before I started being an artist. I can never questioned whether I was Latina enough. I just was, I was just who I am and that's my mother's family. That's who we spent all our time with Spanish was spoken in with my mother and my theists all the time. So I would have to say that it's like that. Being an actor and not feeling safe in rooms. Not feeling seen in rooms, made me want to I brought that into my teaching where it's like I wanna create a space where people can feel safe and can then take risk, which then bled into when you're teaching. It's like, oh, gosh, now you have to direct them in something. And then often times it was like I was working with young people of color. It was like, okay I'm not going to do the Disney fair. So let's create something. So I'm totally dating myself. But this was at the time before I knew the word devised. I didn't there was not community engaged community based theatre, it was just like, these were my people, these really. I was looking in the faces of kids that look like me, or who were kids of color that were just like, why should I care? Why should I want to engage? What is this about? And me trying to say, "No come on, in come into it." And that, all of it is what I bring into a rehearsal room and hopefully what I bring into a leadership space. Which is where for me the term citizen artists comes in because it brings it all in the facilitated conversations I have or when you're in a room, and you discover you're the only person of color, there's a responsibility to speak up, because you know all the other people that are depending upon you to do it. So I would say all of those skills have helped me in everything that I've done. I'm not smart enough to have plotted out a career path. Bill Rousey so would say, "What is your 135 year journey?" I'm like, "I don't even know what I'm having for lunch." I'm not plotting it out. I wish I was smarter than that. But what was smart is saying yes, and being curious and following that curiosity.

Che’Rae: Very interesting thanks.

Laurie: Thanks for that question.

Che’Rae: You're both online teaching now, correct? And is it, it must be really hard. I've heard it's hard. Is there anything that you do in particular? And I know you spoke about this in the beginning, but what can teachers out there do that teach theatre to engage the online students and to reach communities that don't have the technology? Is there anything that can be done to help that?

Laurie: I’m gonna pass this to you Luis cause you've been doing it more and I can explain it from a different end from how we've been doing it.

Che’Rae: Okay.

Luis: I think when it started, one of the first things I was inspired by was the fact that I was not going to be able to teach, let's say acting online. I just don't believe that you can do that. But I can teach you everything leading up to it. We can we can read all the great texts. We can do all the character work, we can do all the great research and the research includes the exercises of acting. But we can do all of that stuff. So something very unique happened to me. I was teaching them MFA one actors text analysis, and we were reading these in person. Reading these extraordinary, very complicated plays I found. They were avant garde plays. We were talking about language and cut up text in the whole thing. But we when we took it online. It was way too hard. So I'm a playwright and I wrote every student in my class a four to five page long monologue. They looked, they took a challenge, they took a strength, and it took some of their biography and put it in the monologue. And that is when we did four combinations. Together, we edited that from five pages long to one page, but we did that as a dramaturgy called analysis exercise. We work together as colleagues, as collaborators in taking that text and doing something with it. And I'm super proud about that, because I knew I could not do the thing that I was doing, but I could still do theatre. I could still do the thing leading up to it. So then when we come back into the room, we didn't lose a year. We actually did something even deeper, which is, I never get to do those great exercise. I have just the simplest exercise, which is take your characters age and half, figure out what the event was in their life that causes them to live their life, the way they're living now. We rarely get to do that . And in rehearsal, you're already doing blocking, showing the blocking for the stumbled through for the designers. But here's something that's really meditative. That's really important about motivation, and about what a character does in a play. That makes logical sense that informs an emotional life. I know it sounds a little…

Laurie: [sarcastically] Oh God!

Luis: But what I love about it is for the class, we're getting really deep. Deep in emotional and intellectual thoughts. So I'm finding able to marry these in a way that I have enough time to marry them.

Che’Rae: You turn it into an opportunity.

Luis: Oh, yeah, I looked at zoom and I was sort of terrified for one day. And then I was telling somebody the other day I said, "The whole pandemic, has completely switched for me." I was thinking, what am I most afraid of. Food insecurity? I grew up with that, I grew up in the ghetto. I grew up in Pico Union. I'm I worried about isolation. I grew up in a gang infested neighborhood that where we just constantly had to go in when there was violence in my neighborhood. So I was thinking, I know all of this. I know all of this. And what do you make with it? What do you make with it? And what we make is art.

Che’Rae: Yeah.

Laurie: Oh my god. It's so beautiful. That's the spirit.

Che’Rae: Yes.

Laurie: Can you imagine friends like Luis Alfaro wrote you a monologue. They don't even know, do they? They don't even know.

Luis: Do you know what was really good about that exercise it I will say that was the most amazing thing. I have a student who's from Puerto Rico, and he's been really struggling in the US, he loves Shakespeare. And I think he came late to Raul Julia, and that documentary. And so it was really interesting that he was struggling, he was crying the whole thing and one day we had a. I wrote him this monologue and in the monologue, he says, "I realized something about myself. I forgot to bring me off the island. I forgot to bring me to the to the States. I forgot to bring me into this place. Shakespeare is not a language in any of us. It's not a accent that any of us have. So why am I ignoring the thing, that I have my own love of poetry. "Why am I doing that?" And I put all of that into the monologue that was completely instinctual. But that is his monologue. He felt that he made that. I just put the words in and but he was the one who created the spirit in the environment, to make that piece of art happen. And he was so happy at the end. I was so happy because I thought this is what collaboration is.

Laurie: Yes and that’s the gift of listening, too.

Luis: That beautiful marriage between actor and writer and director, if we could all even be in the Zoom Room around that. It is not about the moment to moment of the scene because that's really hard to recreate. But I think it is about everything that leads up to that. And great directors, I think Laurie, one of the great things about Laurie is that she's building into that. There's those questions are really important questions that build into how do we make this and I think that's what community work is. The possibility of what we're able to make. So that's where I'm working from. This is all about the possible. So if you can be in the possible and really I'm talking kids off ledges right now. Cause they're like, "I just… Ahhh!” And you're like, "You know what, this is just another space. And this is a room in which you, and I get to really be with one another in a very deep way. So how do we use this room?"

Che’Rae: Beautiful.

Laurie: Yeah, one of the things that we're doing is an even kind of more grassroots approach because we were all coming to the culmination of the community classes that we were having. But they were not built up for a virtual landscape. And not everybody had the capacity to engage with each other. Some people are still rehearsing their scenes because we're going to pick up when we come back. We're gonna pick up and do a big public works Palooza and everyone's gonna come back and we're gonna rehearse and bring all that works. That works not going anywhere. So people are continuing to cook on that knowing that we will come back and do it. But we pick up the phone and we call people and our showing up is in conversation. Is in that one to one as I call it the hand stitching of, how are you? How are you doing? What do you need? What's going on? And finding out what they need and trying to then direct them and connect them to that. So to me, it is the art of community the art of truly walking the values that we say that we hold in this time, because that is the bedrock of this work, and I just think of our larger institutions. It's like how do we show up now in this time. Is going to directly affect what happens when we come out of it. Because we're not going to be the same. God hoping we are not going to be the same because I think it's an opportunity for us to be deeper.

Che’Rae: Yeah, very good point. Well, we're all very lucky to have you both in our communities. In closing, can I ask you both to share something you've learned or discovered during the quarantine period that you plan on incorporating into your practice as an artist moving forward app post COVID?


Che’Rae: Luis.

Luis: Okay, I was thinking of Laurie.

Laurie: Oh, I can go first, Luis will still say something brilliant.

Luis: [laughing] No I won’t. I’m begging for time.

Laurie: I'll just say something like “ooh.” For me, it's really simple. It's like I didn't feed myself and I take that word feed in a lot of ways. Is I think this being Latina, being female, being a Gemini, coming from a large family, being first generation. The list piles up, service is paramount and service to the point of sacrifice. And the more you sacrifice, the more you are doing the work. So that's the Catholic effect I forgot to leave out. So it’s like giving till you got nothing left. And I think something as simple as learning to feed myself every day, several times a day, not just in food, but like I've been cooking and I've been shopping and I've been mindful about that. And also trying to, what else am I feeding my head and my heart. Because I'm not gonna lie it can get really dark and I think the last several weeks I've shared this with Luis has been very hard. I think the first it was like momentum that was moving me through the first seven or eight weeks of this and now what are we the 11th week in and I don't even know. So I do daily writing just to even it doesn't have to. The rule is it doesn't have to be brilliant. And it's not supposed to be brilliant. It's like clock the day, clock who you spoke to. So I think it's about how, I hope that I will continue to feed myself, which sometimes will also mean not working 80 hours a week, but walking away from your desk and going home at a decent time and calling your friends on the West Coast that you haven't spoken to in a very long time. Because at the end of the day, this work takes a lot out of you. And I find that I work and then I crash. And then I start over again. And we have to build up our stamina. We have to be warriors in this time. And so that's my takeaway.

Che’Rae: It’s wonderful.

Laurie: Okay, brilliant man.

Luis: I wanted to maybe jump on that because I wanna say that one of the things I believe about art is that it is a three part process conceptualization, production and presentation. And conceptualization seems like the most indulgent part of it. So we don't practice it very often. I live in an apartment that has no television. I haven't had TV for years. That's not like some badge of honor. It was just that I was always at theatre or making theatre. I was always out every single night. I just always was in the theatre. And then this moment happens and you realize I got Netflix for like one week just to try it because I thought this could be deadly. And then I saw Tiger King but when the episode then I was like, this is probably not the right thing for me right now. But what was the right thing was to go back and start a play from a place that it should be started from. So it's not a surprise to me I'm doing a piece for the Geffen about a stuttering puppet who lives in a kind of silence of language. That totally makes sense that I'm working on that. And then I'm doing a piece about silent meditation at seminary. Yeah, that's not a surprise either. And both of those really required a lot of really deliberate meditative thinking, which is not something I could ever bring, because like Laurie, I agree, I was to crash and I go go go go, and then I burned and then I started again, and I do not want to go back to the world that existed for me, which is busy is not better. Busy is productive, but it's not deep.

Che’Rae: Yeah.

Luis: And one of the things I learned in these last few months is that getting deep, it requires real thinking and requires real time and requires this thing called prayer which we, and I'm not speaking about this religiously, in organized religion. But I need to have prayerful meditation. I need to be really inside of a character. I need to be really thinking about what the manifestation of an action is. Event, all of those things that are in playwriting, that you kinda just quickly go through. But this is really changed, it's changed. I can see myself being a better artist. I'm a better teacher, for sure. I am shocked that I was able to take this many students through such a deep powerful exercise. I didn't just cradle them and babysat them. We might play reading one students wrote full over 100 pages plays that are the most amazing plays ever. That none of them take place in a porch or in a kitchen or in a living room. They're all going to extraordinary places, because the moment demanded that and if the moment demands for you to stop, please stop because I'm stopping. Right?

Che’Rae: Thank you.

Luis: Yeah, I just want to say one more thing. The Denver center yesterday just announced, they weren't doing my play. And I thought I was gonna break down and instead I went “Oof, thank you.”

Che’Rae: Wow. Thank you both so much. Everything was so inspiring and illuminating. And we're so lucky to have you and we thank you from the bottom of our hearts.

Laurie: Thank you for the opportunity and this invitation and for everyone who showed up. Totally appreciate it.

Che’Rae: Thank you. I also wanna thank Alan Witteborg who is our ASL interpreter. He's amazing. He's doing an amazing job. We'd also like to acknowledge our long standing partners, so stage directors and choreographer society. Pasadena Playhouse in Boston Court. Pasadena have been supporting us for years and years and we look forward to reuniting with them next year. We missed them and we look forward to seeing them next year. By the way, this conversation will be archived and available with closed captions at both howlround.com and directorslabwest.com. so please tell your friends. We hope you'll join us again tomorrow for a conversation between Sabra Williams and Laura Karlin. They will be discussing the power of the art, theatre and dance in systems-impacted communities. So that should be very good. We hope to see you for that. Thank you so much for being with us today. We hope this conversation sparks more.

Laurie: Thanks friends, bye.

Directors Lab West Logo.

This conversation is presented as part of Directors Lab West Connects, an 8-day series of livestreamed conversations and Q&As crafted for and by theater directors and choreographers that will reflect upon, explore, and inspire paths forward in the transformed and transforming nature of live theater. Curated to reflect a wide range of topics, each session will feature speakers sharing their unique perspectives for 30 minutes, followed by a live moderated 15-minute Q&A.

RSVP for this conversation, read speaker bios, and submit questions ahead of time at directorslabwest.com.

Directors Lab West Connects will be livestreaming on howlround.tv and on the Directors Lab West Facebook page, where viewers can engage with peers and ask additional questions in the chat. Each session will be archived on both HowlRound and Directors Lab West’s website.

The full Directors Lab West Connects schedule of conversations is:

Saturday 23 May 2020
Anne Cattaneo and Sheldon Epps: A Discussion of Institutional Perspectives, Connections, and Support

Sunday 24 May 2020
Anne Bogart and Jessica Hanna: A Conversation about Creative Practice and the Shifting Landscape

Monday 25 May 2020
Ann James and Carly D. Weckstein: Using Intimacy Direction to Create a Culture of Consent Post-COVID

Tuesday 26 May 2020
Laurel Lawson and Diana Wyenn: Disability and Equity as Creative Forces

Wednesday 27 May 2020
Daniela Atiencia, Gianna Formicone, and Makiko Shibuya: Global Perspectives from DLW’s International Alumni

Thursday 28 May 2020
Scarlett Kim and Mattie Barber-Bockelman: Reimagining Liveness and Connection for Virtual Space

Friday 20 May 2020
Luis Alfaro and Laurie Woolery: Reflections on “Remote” Teaching and Community Engagement

Saturday 30 May 2020
Sabra Williams and Laura Karlin: The Power of the Arts — Theater and Dance in Systems-Impacted Communities


  • ASL Interpretation will be available on both the HowlRound and Directors Lab West Facebook livestreams.
  • Closed captioning and ASL Interpretation will be provided on the archived video on both the Directors Lab West and HowlRound websites.

See the other archived videos that belong to the Directors Lab West Connects livestream series.


Founded in 2000, Directors Lab West brings together dedicated emerging and mid-career theatre directors and choreographers together with master artists for an eight-day long intensive filled with workshops, conversations, panels, and symposia enabling them to inspire each other to dream and create the future of American Theatre. Now entering its third decade, the Lab's alumni network is comprised of over 600 theater artists from all over the world. Directors Lab West is presented with artistic partners in Pasadena and Los Angeles and is supported by the Stage Directors & Choreographers Society. www.directorslabwest.com

Directors Lab West Connects is produced by Che’Rae Adams, Douglas Clayton, Ernest Figueroa, Martin Jago, Cindy Marie Jenkins, Randee Trabitz, and Diana Wyenn, with additional support from Emily Claeys and Reena Dutt.

About HowlRound TV

HowlRound TV is a global, commons-based peer produced, open access livestreaming and video archive project stewarded by the nonprofit HowlRound. HowlRound TV is a free and shared resource for live conversations and performances relevant to the world's performing arts and cultural fields. Its mission is to break geographic isolation, promote resource sharing, and to develop our knowledge commons collectively. Participate in a community of peer organizations revolutionizing the flow of information, knowledge, and access in our field by becoming a producer and co-producing with us. Learn more by going to our participate page. For any other queries, email tv@howlround.com, or call Vijay Mathew at +1 917.686.3185 Signal/WhatsApp. View the video archive of past events.

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