Posted August, 2014
Olivia Davis: Little Time for Frivolity
By Deborah Klugman
In the fall, Olivia Davis starts her second year at Occidental College. Her major is undeclared, though she plans on being an African Studies and Theatre double major. She grew up in “a small town” 30 miles outside of Seattle called Puyallup. She said she didn’t like the town, and calls Seattle home because her father (whom she doesn’t live with) has a home there. She spends as much time in Seattle as she can.
Stage Raw: When did you become interested in the theater?
Olivia Davis: My involvement in theater started in middle-school when I began auditioning for my school plays. As I started high school and began taking theatre classes, I really fell in love with the art form. During my junior year of high school I read Lynn Nottage’s Ruined, and I think that’s the moment I realized how valuable theater was.
SR: What was the first live theater show that you saw?
OD: I think the first live show I saw was The Lion King while it was touring. My grandma bought me tickets as a Christmas present, and I absolutely loved it.
SR: What is your favorite kind of show? (comedy, drama, musical?)
OD: I’m not sure that I have a favorite type of show. I love all types of shows as long as they make me think about life in a different way.
Can you recall a favorite show that you’ve seen?
The Normal Heart is hands down the best show I have ever seen. I saw it last fall at the Fountain Theatre with my theatre class. I’ve never had such a strong emotional reaction to a show before. Larry Kramer’s play so beautifully brought to life all of the unheard voices and stories of those lost to the AIDS epidemic.
Is there a kind of show that turns you off?
I don’t see the point in frivolous shows that purely seek to entertain without getting a message across.
What do you imagine is the most difficult job relating to putting on a live stage performance – writing, directing, performing or something else (stage managing, set designer etc.)
I think performing is the hardest part of putting on a performance. Performers are the most easy to criticize in live performances. It’s hard to tell if a bad show is due to poor directing or a bad script. Performers are the easiest to blame sometimes, so I think that makes their job the scariest. They also have the very difficult job of making the director’s impossible vision a reality. They have to put action to words on a page. It’s a daunting task.
Would you like to do any of those jobs?
I love playwriting. It’s a skill that I am cultivating while in school. I love writing, and I love theatre, so it just makes sense that I grew to love playwriting. I want to tell stories that make people question the institutions and power structures that control our lives. I want to write theater that moves people to action. If I could be a playwright and sustain myself on just that would do it for the rest of my life. It’s sort of my dream.
What projects are you working on/have you worked on this past year in school?
This past year I participated in my school’s production of The Vagina Monologues, which was an amazing experience. We used monologues from Eve Ensler’s script, but also wrote and performed our own monologues. It was a candid and real exploration into what life is like for people who have vaginas.
I also recently finished an original show that was called When I Was Sacred, which was a part of the Fringe Festival. The short play focused on a coffee shop in Highland Park that was the only café open after the end of the world. Nina Carlin, a fellow theatre major at Occidental who also acted in the show wrote it. It was the first absurdist show that I had acted in, and it was a wonderful experience.
Currently I’m working on a one-woman show that I hope will be my senior thesis. It’s in the very bare bones stage at the moment though. I want to tell the history of strong, black women because I have yet to see people who look like me positively portrayed in the media.
What makes you value theater?
I value theater because I believe it is a vehicle for social justice. Theater has the ability to show stories and identities that have been erased. And unlike other art forms you cannot look away. The audience is confronted with these stories and has to listen. That’s really powerful. The personal nature of theater also allows the audience to build a meaningful connection to an issue that they may not have known about or been interested in prior to a performance. Art has been shown to be crucial in any movement. Theater is valuable because it can make waves and create change.
Lay Me Down Softly
Reviewed by Olivia Davis
Through August 23
Billy Roche’s gritty Irish comedy about a traveling boxing troupe was about more than what the large ring that took up most of the stage would suggest.
Theater Banshee’s small, intimate theater is the perfect space for this show. (I was so close to the actors on stage that at some points I felt like I was intruding on personal conversations.) Though the somewhat thick and not yet perfected accents are difficult to keep up with in the beginning, eventually I became engrossed in the lives of the play’s characters: callous father Theo (Andrew Graves); his flirtatious girlfriend Lily (Kasey Camp); a gentle man who reminisces on past events, Peadar (John McKenna); a resident boxer named Dean (Kevin Stridham); an injured, former fighter named Junior (Patrick Quinlan); and Theo’s daughter Emer (Kristen Kollender).
Set in 1960s Ireland, the world of the play was so foreign to me, but the real and candid dialogue between the characters made the space more relatable. Some monologues were delivered better than others, but when they were delivered well, they gave a better look into the broken and lonely lives of the characters.
Roche creates beautifully complex characters that are all stuck in this traveling road show. Whether it’s Dean who covers up his insecurities with cockiness, or Emer who dreams of running away on the milk train, all of the characters are unhappy in some way. The need for security shows in all of them as they search for something constant while being in Delany’s Traveling Road Show, always “somewhere,” but never settled.
The play’s ending felt rushed to me. I wanted more as the blackout blanketed the stage and Peader played the last note on his accordion. The ending that left the world of a play in a mess did not fully sink in until I had left the theater.
Theatre Banshee, 3435 Magnolia Blvd. Burbank; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through Aug. 23. (818) 547.3810, theatrebanshee.org/
Posted July, 2014
Theater as a Place to Be
21-year-old Devin Weil would rather be in the audience than on the stage
BY PAUL BIRCHALL
We’ve been told often enough that theater is for older people – or, worse, that young people don’t appreciate or understand the joys of the theater. To those folks, who usually seldom go to a play themselves, Devin Weil offers the most eloquent rebuttal one can imagine. Devin, 21, a recent graduate in Spanish Literature from Occidental College, is someone whose sophisticated and mature passion for theater belies her youthful appearance.
As part of the Stage Raw outreach program in which a young theatergoer is invited to accompany a veteran critic to a show, I interviewed Ms. Weil, whose obvious enthusiasm for theater-going is a kind of reassurance that theater can still be for everyone — even in Los Angeles.
I had been warned by the publicist of the show we’d been assigned to, City Garage’s Production of Maria Irene Fornes’s The Conduct of Life, that the play was a little dark and sometimes difficult to watch, the result of a story (set in some unnamed Latin American country ) that included acts of rape and torture. I warned Devin of this and offered to book on to a different show if she’d prefer -– but she would have none of it. “I love challenging theater!” she noted.
Primarily, however, her enthusiasm for theater can be traced to her mother’s enthusiasm for it, and to attending theater, often, while growing up.
“I was brought up in New York,” Devin explained, “And my mom really, really loved the theater. I grew up going to the theater all the time – I’d see theater every weekend! They were usually shows that my mother thought were interesting -– the small stuff . . . But every weekend I’d go to a show with mom.”
Although Devin appeared in a few plays in high school, she quickly realized she was not a performer. “Acting always seemed like just a hobby and what I really wanted to do was just to see theater.”
The transition to Los Angeles, when she moved out here to go to college, was a game-changer.
“I really got to know LA over the past four years. Learning a new city was kind of an adventure,” says Devin. And, indeed, in addition to her studies at Occidental College, Devin has worked a variety of unusual gigs – “I was a delivery driver for a juice company. That took me all over the city, from the Hollywood Hills to Studio City, to Echo Park.”
Devin is also assisting with writing a book: “I’m working with a chef, helping him create a cook book about Mexican-Kosher food.”
A former volunteer at the Los Angeles Film Festival, which dovetails nicely with her enjoyment of movies – old movies, she explains: “I’m a Turner Classics kind of girl.”
The pre-show conversation quickly devolved into a list of favorite shows she’d seen, which encompassed an unexpected variety of works of different types. “I remember seeing a great Barefoot in the Park . . . and, yeah, that Hedda Gabler with that woman from Weeds [Mary-Louise Parker]. That was crazy. talk about dark! I guess I’m an old fashioned person. I’m an old soul!
Devin approached her theater visit to City Garage with excitement and the self-evident delight of someone who just enjoys the theater as a place to be.
The Conduct of Life
Reviewed by Devin Weill
Through August 17
Maybe the trifecta of the 76 gas station turkey sandwich, full moon, and repeated rape sequences on stage were the perfect marriage to make my stomach have difficulty digesting, or maybe the subtle sounds radiating from my stomach came as a result of the intense BUTI yoga class I took earlier that afternoon. Either way I had a strong visceral reaction to Maria Irene Fornes’s The Conduct of Life at City Garage.
Before the full throttle theatrics, I met Frederique Michel, the French redheaded miniskirt-donning femme fatale who directed the play. She warned Paul and me with the simple remark, “It’s tough” that accompanied a slight chuckle.
Placed in a sofa in the last row of a small theater (maybe 50 seats at most), Paul and I had a bird’s-eye view of the three realms represented on stage: the upstairs attic, the living room, and the basement (or at least that’s how I interpreted the layout). The only sound that accompanied the voices of the characters in between scenes was a clanging-of-iron-working-at-a-rail-yard type sound.
The first image ingrained in my mind is of Orlando (George Villas), the lieutenant—his militant aura, rigid movements, and mini monologue where he announces, “The goal is to eliminate all obstacles . . . maximum power is the ultimate ideal.” Those words seem to paint the pain and pleasure paradox that haunts Orlando.
Orlando’s “obstacles” come in the form of the three women in the play: Olimpia (Nicole Gerth), the maid; Leticia (Kristina Drager), Orlando’s wife; and Nena (Nili Rain Segal), the orphan girl he holds hostage and rapes repeatedly. Olimpia offers some comic relief to the otherwise dark, difficult drama with her sassy remarks and obvious faint friendship and loyalty towards Leticia and her role as a comforting mother figure to Nena. Leticia comes off as a foolish woman trapped to the confines of the house but she also seems to be simultaneously scheming her escape with dreams of going to university, becoming educating, and changing the world. Nena is a trembling puppy dog, a shell of a person. What seems most evident is that the strength and fortitude of Orlando is a veneer hiding the destroyed person he truly is. Like Nena, he is an orphan, without a home, a shivering puppy dog whimpering for help. Orlando’s desire to destroy only further destroys him, leaving him powerless. The Conduct of Life grapples with the common paradigm of male domination and female submission. But the play subverts that theme with Orlando because his hubris shines brighter than any physical strength he possesses and ultimately destroys him.
City Garage, Building T1 at Bergamot Station Arts Center, 2525 Michigan Ave, Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5 p.m.; through Aug. 17. citygarage.org.
Also, read Paul Birchall’s review.
Posted May, 2014:
For this second installment of View from the Bridge, an inter-generational project exploring why 20-somethings show up so rarely at the theater, Occidental College senior Reza Vojdani joined Stage Raw’s Rebecca Haithcoat for a performance of Joshua Farden’s quartet of one-acts Do Not Disturb, at Theatre of Note.
Live Theater: The Next Small Thing
Reza Vojdani on the stage practice, and the challenges of “trending”
By Rebecca Haithcoat
Reza Vojdani is no stranger to the stage. When the 21-year-old was a high school sophomore in Portland, he signed up on a whim to work on his theater’s sets. Soon, he became very interested in lighting design, but was also dabbling in stage management, stagecraft and playwriting. In fact, after taking a playwriting course his senior year, he spent the next four years working on his writing. Recently, Occidental College, where he is a senior, included his play Fire, Brimstone and 401K in its 2014 New Play Festival.
“I was in a class this year where we would go see stuff every Friday. Recently, I’ve really liked The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity, Red and An Illiad. What makes a great production to me is authors who can approach serious ideas with comedy. Like Chad Deity—they discuss culture and race through wrestling,” he said last Friday before the two of us took in Do Not Disturb, an evening of Joshua Fardon’s one acts at Theatre of NOTE.
As a lighting designer, his favorite show to light has been Dario Fo’s Accidental Death of an Anarchist, which Occidental produced in 2012. “The play is really interesting—Fo writes some things that are so dark, we have to approach them with comedy. To play with that with lighting design was fun,” he said.
Double majoring in Diplomacy in World Affairs and Theater, he says, “equals advertising.” Having interned in the field the past few summers, he hopes to work in advertising or video game writing. (He used to watch Mad Men, but got too frustrated and found himself yelling at the television. “You have to be a little crazy to be in advertising,” he says.)
One of Fardon’s plays that night dealt with Facebook. Talk of social media led to Vojdani considering what exactly his generation is looking for in theater.
“We’re looking for what we’re looking for on the Internet — small, kitschy content. People are interested in what’s trending,” he said. “You know how Samsung said, ‘The next BIG thing’? Theater would be well to be the next SMALL thing. It shouldn’t try to compete with film because it can’t. It’s different. You can’t turn away from it. Can’t turn it off like the computer.”
For better or worse.
Do Not Disturb
By Reza Vojdani
Theatre of NOTE
Although Do Not Disturb left me feeling underwhelmed in terms of narrative strength and intricacy, the show as a whole stood out for me in another respect: Each of Joshua Fardon’s four one-acts at Theatre of NOTE felt intimate and (at least at the start) inviting.
Beyond just the small size of the theatre itself, there is an intimacy written into the plays themselves: Each play takes place inside a character’s home, the dialogue feels casual and approachable. Do Not Disturb makes you feel like a guest in the show itself, rather than just a spectator.
Compare this to Vanya, Sonia, Masha and Spike, at the Mark Taper Forum, and Five Small Fires at Bootleg Theater. The first, Christopher Durang’s widely acclaimed comedy felt alienating to me as a member of the younger generations that Durang frequently criticizes throughout the play. The other show, presented by theater collective Poor Dog Group, tackles the difficult topic of cult mentalities through convoluted and abrasive dialogue that makes the audience feel alienated by the play’s zeal-filled cult-member characters.
While both of these types of pieces are valuable, there is something to be said for a show’s ability to make the performance, and therefore the themes of the play, approachable. I may not have been able to follow along with the winding adventure that is Do Not Disturb, but it was an adventure I felt I was at least invited to.
Compare Rebecca’s review to Reza’s.