Saturday Nov 27

WilliamsDelondra Delondra Williams earned her BA in Theatre Arts from Central Washington University. Her short plays have been seen at Central Theatre Ensemble and The Kennedy Center  (as part of the American College Theatre Festival). She teaches reading and English as a Second Language at Los Angeles Community Adult School, and she worked as a script reader for Hofflund/Polone, Film Independent, and Kadakowa Pictures. She leads playwriting workshops for high school students as part of NOTE's Young Writers Project. She is finishing her second full-length play, LEWD ACTS. Delondra’s short play, MENSTRUAL SHOW, premiered at Theatre of NOTE from April 30 – May 29, 2010 as part of an evening of late night shorts entitled, Your Puny Weapons Cannot Hurt Me.  It continued on for three more performances in June as part of the Hollywood Fringe Festival at Theatre of NOTE. Her play, DESERT ARIA, was recently announced as a finalist for the 2010 Heideman Award and the Humana Festival of New American Plays in March 2011. It will premiere in an evening of short plays entitled “The Pity of Things,” running July 15 - August 7, 2011, also at Theatre of NOTE.

Editor's Note: Skeleton Stories opens at Theater of Note in Los Angeles October 1st and runs through November 6th. Contact Theater of Note here for ticket information. And check out Skeleton Stories' website here.


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Delondra Williams Interview with Joshua Fardon


How are rehearsals going?

Really great!  We made sure to get the most enthusiastic, most passionate people who really wanted to be part of the show and who brought extra energy.  It's amazing to watch the actors.  And all the design elements are starting to come in, we're getting the set up and we just looked at some of the preliminary animation stuff yesterday.  It's exciting.

At the beginning of the play you invite the director to either approach the production simply or to add other elements, like animation, which is pretty much what the NOTE production is doing.

I always pictured doing it children's theatre style; you'd have signs and little paintings in the background.  But they wanted to go all-out magical, so they're bringing in puppets, animation and masks.  And they added stuff.  The director, Bill Voorhees, came in and said “Let's do dances, let's get a choreographer.”

Are the dances incorporated at the end?

No, throughout.   It's kind of brilliant.  They've added dances to the scene changes that bridge the journey from one place to the other.  So, when they're going from Foot Mountain to Shit Mountain, there's a little dance that bridges the gap between those things.  What's also fun is it adds character interaction.  There's a beautiful dance between Maya and her mother.  We see their longing for each other and how badly Maya wants to see her mother and how sad it is that she can't come into contact with her.

Is that at the beginning of the play?

It's just before the end.  They never touch until that scene.  Then they finally touch and it's amazing.  It's just this release.  I mean, I don't cry at my own stuff usually, but with these two, I was a mess.  My mom is going to go crazy.  I'm going to have to take a box of tissues for her.

Have you done rewrites for the production?

Yes.  I did some changes during a workshop, then I submitted the play, but I'd never heard any of the changes actually read out loud.  Then, once we were in rehearsals, I spent some time revising things.  What's nice about having these actors is that based on what they're doing, I can start tailoring the lines around their delivery.  I'd never realized before why they list the first cast when they publish plays.  I always thought it was just some legal thing.  And now I see why.

The actors make a huge creative contribution.

Yes.  Sometimes you'll hear them struggling with a part, and you watch them for a little while to see if maybe they'll discover something that's in the line and they're just not finding it.  Then, if you see them struggle a while, and you know this is a good actor, you kind of say, “Oh, I suck.  I gotta go in there and rewrite that section.”  Or you're seeing a scene fall a little flat and then you realize you just have to add a few lines.  It's amazing how much it changes things.   I'm really proud of this script.  A lot of times when I listen to my stuff, I wince, but, because of this process, I'm really proud of it.

What was the Mexican influence on the play?  Is Santa Muerte a real entity in Mexican culture?

Yes, it's a real thing.  When I first presented the play, a lot of people were like, “Oh, you're so imaginative,” but the truth is I'm really ripping off a lot of stuff from the ancient Aztecs and ancient Mayans.  Santa Muerte is an offshoot of the ancient religions and of Catholicism.  When the Spaniards came in and found the Aztecs with this amazing culture and religion, the Spaniards said, “Awesome.  Give us all your money and we're going to make you Catholic - and if you don’t like it, you can die.” And so, all the Aztecs were like, “Oh, Catholic, great!  Sounds amazing!”  But the Spaniards were clever in that they allowed the Indians to retain the bones of their religion underneath Catholicism.  And because Catholicism had saints, it really leant itself to a polytheistic undertone.  So Santa Muerte is not sanctioned by the Catholic church, but she is a real deity who’s still worshipped today.  Even in Los Angeles.  In fact there are temples dedicated to Santa Muerte on Melrose.

Wow.

Yeah.  If you're going to get ice cream at Scoops, you'll pass a temple on your right hand side that's dedicated to her.  She's based on these gods from the underworld.  Some worshippers say she's a male and some that she's a female.  Because there was a husband and wife of the Underworld in ancient Aztec culture, they use one or the other.  She's gained popularity in violent neighborhoods.  In fact, I teach ESL, and some of my students worship Santa Muerte.  If you ask them about their history, invariably there's gang violence -- like, someone whose brother got shot or someone who saw drug dealers kill their family in front of them.  And they don’t know who to turn to – they don't feel as if God is backing them up.  So they turn to this powerful figure who will hopefully protect them and avenge the deaths in their family.  There's some magic involved – there's spells and tricks.  It's a lot like most religions in that it depends on the amount a person is invested in it.  Some people devote their lies to Santa Muerte. For some people, it's just an extra saint.

And they would still consider themselves Catholic.

Yes.  But the Catholic church totally renounces it.  They say it's a false idol.  The images of Santa Muerte are very much like the Virgin Mary with a skull face.  Or of the Grim Reaper, if it's the male version.  It's a big movement, especially in Mexico, in the areas that have become very violent.

Violence plays a huge role in the play.

That's true.  When examining ancient Aztec and Mayan Cultures, people invariably talk about human sacrifice and how it was such an important part of the worship of these gods.  And it was.  The Aztecs sacrificed the hell of their neighbors.  They weren’t shy about it.   They believed the more blood and tears you could get from the victim, the better the offering worked.  The Saw movies had nothing on these guys.  They made a science out of getting the most pain out of people before they killed them. Horrible things: setting people's hearts on fire in their chests while they were still alive, or hooking up pulley systems for children so that you could dip them in burning oil as you're killing them.  The first time I read about this, it was like reading a horror novel.  I had to put it down.  I couldn’t believe it.  But it wasn't seen as something that should be vilified.  It was seen as, this how you do it. The world is harsh. This is a world where animals will eat you if you venture too far.  The sun will burn you up.

The first blood we see in the play is menstrual.  It's like Dante's journey into womanhood.

A lot of my own personal beliefs about being a woman and about how violence and blood factors into that are in this play.  I hate coming off as pretentious sometimes, but I feel that when you’re a woman, you understand how dirty it is to be a human being.  Not to say our bodies are dirty or that anything that comes out of our bodies is dirty.  But as a woman, you get your hands dirty sometimes.  You deal with your own blood, you deal with other people's shit, and you deal with other people's vomit.  You understand that you are not in full control of what happens around you.  I think sometimes a man can maintain that happy illusion that everything is under his control, because he doesn't have to deal with the out-of-control stuff as regularly as a woman does.  But a woman understands that life sucks sometimes, that nature is hard.  We build all these buildings and here we are sitting at Starbucks, drinking our frappucinnos and crap, but that doesn't mean that Nature won't come in here, kick our ass, and be bloody and violent about it.  I'm a vegetarian, because I don’t like to think about animals suffering, but, really, if you leave an animal in nature, it will die in terrible ways: it can starve to death, it can freeze to death, a coyote can come and eat its stomach out.  Part of growing up is realizing that.  That's a lot of what your first period is about.  It's realizing, “this hurts, this sucks, but it's for a reason.”  So Maya's journey through the underworld isn't just learning about what life is, it's also about learning to get her hands dirty, and seeing disgusting things, and realizing that people can be depraved sometimes and that they can be beautiful sometimes and that there's sadness.  And you have to wade through all of it. And that's what she does.

Is Yellow Dog a Mayan/Aztec thing?

Yes.  It was believed that there was a dog character that led their messiah into the underworld to find the bones that would create humanity.  And it was believed that any soul that had to go through the underworld would be led by a yellow dog.  Some people had their dogs buried with them to help them go through the journey.

Maya tears Yellow Dog's heart out after he asks for hers.

When you first see Maya and Yellow Dog together, he's very much a predator.  He starts deceiving her out of her senses until she relies so much on him that he figures there's nothing she can do except what he wants.  And so, in order to prove herself as woman and to jump over the last hurtle that leads to her mother, in order to give herself over to Nature and to the underworld, she has to go through him.

In order to become a fully realized woman, Maya has to be able to destroy this pushy masculine leading force.

She has to stand by herself.

When did you make the decision to start with the structure of small stories within the larger story?

When I was in college, I wrote a couple of stories and a couple of cartoons about this skeleton character.  She was supposed to be a sort of id, who would run off and do crazy things while you were asleep in your bed, like, if you liked a guy, the skeleton would go fuck him before you had a chance to talk to him. So, I had these stories, I thought, okay, when I get out of college, I'll write a series of stories about this skeleton.  But they weren't really connected.

Then when my husband and I moved to Los Angeles, we went to the Day of the Dead celebration at Hollywood Forever and it blew my mind. And I thought “this is it. This is how everything's connected.  This is Skeleton Stories.”

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All Connotation Press plays are presented online to the reading public. All performance rights, including professional, amateur, television and the rights of translation into foreign languages are strictly reserved. If you are interested in seeking performance rights to a specific work contact the Drama Editor, Joshua Fardon.

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