BWW Interview: Grace Jasmine Talks THE MASHER To Be Produced at the Hollywood Fringe Festival
Grace Jasmine writes in a variety of genres. With 47 nonfiction books in print, she decided to return to her first love, writing for theater. She sat down to talk with us about her work The Masher about to open as part of the Hollywood Fringe Festival.
I love your logo. It looks so eerie, like the child from Les Mis turned inside out. I love bizarre tales. How did you get started writing in this style? Is this your first play for the Fringe Festival?
Thank you! I appreciate the compliment. I told the artist, Summer Rue, and she loved your comment. And you are right, I did look at the Les Mis art for the poster and I can see that this art we have for The Masher is the surreal horror version of that. As a writer, I think that I see the tragedies and bad things in the world and try to make sense of them with black comedy. I tend to use broad comedy to deliver (what I believe are) important underlying themes. I have been told by an editor that I write "hysterical tragedy" -I think that is an apt description of my work.
I love bizarre tales too-and in this case the characters in The Masher are in a truly bizarre world- surreal, and really in many ways horrifying, but this is their reality and they live in it as real people. I think that is how bizarre tales really work the best! Regarding how I got started writing like this: I think it's a combination of my reaction to horrible events and my need to use humor to cope. The link between comedy and tragedy is a very close one. I think that is how I see my work-and the world.
This is my first straight play for the festival. I was part of the festival in 2017 when I got a chance to bring two of my short musicals to the Fringe premiering at Sacred Fools Theatre (now the Broadwater.) F**ked Up Fairy Tales (David Anthony, Composer)- a tale of disenfranchised fairy tale characters who can't wait to get out of their books every night and into the "Magic Bean," their favorite bar owned by gay couple - Jack and the Giant. The dysfunctional pals come together to help overthrow a new tyrant who has come to town-a megalomaniac orange king. Everybody wins in the end. My second musical in the 2017 Hollywood Fringe was the story of a kleptomaniac senior, her pious sister, their pastor, and the drag queen next door. Everyone and everything comes out of the closet over a game of bridge. (Ross Plotkin, composer.) Both were a lot of fun and gave me a real sense of the artistic collective that Fringe always is for writers, directors, producers, and actors. I am excited to be back again this year producing and directing my own full-length straight play.
I think theatre is a wonderful place to write the huge and bizarre ideas that you have lurking around in your mind as a writer. I think that may be why even though I have written in a variety of genres this is the home I love the most. I love the freedom of theatre.
Is the story about the three women based on a real-life situation? If not, where did the idea come from?
The situation is surreal but a world that could exist.
Like most writers I get an idea from here, a character from there, a situation from somewhere else. Writers are always staring at their friends funny, not waiting to get into the conversation with something appropriate to say but seeing if their friend's comments would make a good script or if that story about their grandmother would make a good plot. We are notorious for pulling subject matter from anyone who looks interesting.
In the case of these women they are totally fictional but portray aspects of things that are either life experience or close to my heart and soul as issues. For example, the #MeToo issues that form part of their personalities are subject matter that are personally important to me. It is written as my reaction to the #MeToo movement. I think that most of us, women especially, feel a real connection to the topics about #MeToo.
Without giving away the plot twists, what can you tell that will treat our readers? Just a tiny example of the horror and the humor in it.
Well, it's interesting how humor and horror come together-but in the plot of The Masher they do. Doris, as audience members will find out, is that family member we all have who we love but they infuriate us. We can't believe the things they say, and they frustrate the hell out of us. She's that lost aunt or nutty grandmother that makes us reach for that second drink at the Thanksgiving dinner table. Her insensitivity is actually very naive. She doesn't mean to be as damaging as she is-so we have this constant love and hate for this lady. It makes for some wild moments of humor. Tae and Doris are constantly butting heads and Cassandra ends up an unwitting peacekeeper.
Regarding horror, there is something very odd happening at this factory. Without giving too much away, the factory uses music in an unusual and disturbing way-and interestingly an object at the factory becomes almost a living entity with its own distinct character.
Who are your favorite writers? Did you like Rod Serling of The Twilight Zone fame? If so, in what way? Who else would you care to mention...someone who inspired you to write?
I love the Twilight Zone. I must have watched every original episode. I love the normal people in bizarre situations story lines that make you on edge, that heighten our enjoyment by hooking into our tension and fear as well as a sense of edgy discomfiture. I think it's fun to be in an audience where you don't know what the hell is going to happen next. Or when you are confronted with an emotional rollercoaster ride of action and story, where you don't know if you should laugh or cry or be disgusted, so you do all three at the same time.
There are so many writers and playwrights who I respect. Some of the ones who have inspired my work recently are Robert Askins, who wrote the very bizarre and amazing Hand to God. Lisa Kron who wrote the book for the musical Fun Home and Hugh Wheeler who wrote the book for the musical Sweeney Todd. I also love the work of Lynn Nottage who wrote Sweat for which she earned the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. I think the edgy, real people in often surreal situations that are mastered by each of these playwrights makes me love their work. I also appreciate the three dimensionality of their characters and the fearlessness with which all of these playwrights write.
How do you expect audiences to react? What do you hope they will take away with them after having seen the play?
Like all theatre I enjoy, I am hoping for an emotional reaction to my work. I hope to move my audience on an emotional level. I would love it if they laugh and cry, if they are engaged. If they feel sympathy for the characters and care about what happens to them. If they "lean forward" the way I do when I am really enjoying a moment in the theatre.
As far as a take-away. The underlying theme of this work is about violence against women. Both the sexual violence that #MeToo centers on and domestic violence. I want audience members to think about what happens to women and how it's largely ignored. I would like this play to draw attention to these subjects. And because of this underlying theme, I have decided to give a portion of the house each night to a different women's charity-some that support victims of domestic violence and sexual assault but others that empower women, women in the arts, women writers and girls who want a creative career. I would like to change the conversation about how women are treated in this country-not only nationally but globally. I think as an artist (and a person!) these issues concern me, and I want to bring attention to them.
Is this your only play or have you written others of this genre? Others of a different nature?
Well, I love over-the-top theatre, that is, theatre that takes risks--whatever they are. I have two shows now that I am currently working on-one, a straight play with music, called The Rage of Ordinary People that will touch on women from all walks of life, including those who are disenfranchised for any reason and what their lives are like now. Additionally, I am working on a musical based on the story of Frankenstein called Skin Deep. This one is another creepy, larger- than-life show, based on the classic tale, but featuring a woman who wants to make herself over through plastic surgery to look like her favorite doll. So, what pulls my work together are a couple of things: digging deeply into emotion, pushing boundaries, and sympathetic characters. In this way I have written comedy, black comedy, musical comedy, dramedy and drama/thrillers.
In your mind, what should a play do for those who watch besides entertain them?
I think a play should make people feel, it should provide a heightened emotional experience. There is something amazing about a heightened emotional experience in real time provided by real people in the same space you are in - as opposed to the thrill of watching something on the screen. There is a group synergy in live theatre.
Can you point to a recent mystery type play that you feel is really well written? Or do you feel that this genre is a dying art form doomed to special effects and poor character development?
Well, my feeling on genre is this: Any play about anything and any genre has the chance of being well written if the characters are well-drawn and three dimensional and if the audience cares about them. If they are sympathetic. Those characters have to have well defined character arcs-that is, they have to change and grow through the story. They have to fight their own dragons, so to speak, and let us watch. That more than a specific genre is how I think any genre succeeds.
What about TV and film? Should a play's suspense outweigh that of a film, or are they the same in your opinion?
Well, I love film and TV, but I do think that immediacy of theatre is quite simply one of the best ways to heighten emotion, especially suspense. I think suspense operates through making an audience member feel uncertain, edgy, a sense of foreboding, or a sense of feeling for a character whose outlook looks grim-and I think all of this can happen in all of these mediums in an exciting way.
What do you hope will happen to The Masher through its contact with the Fringe?
Well, one great thing about Fringe is it is sort of a play incubator. I think my goals with this play are to explore it here at Fringe with a first run and then move forward to a regional and then Equity run and eventually Off-Broadway. I believe that the Hollywood Fringe Festival is a first crucial step in all this. One thing about Fringe, it absolutely increases your contacts and professional friendships, your network and your skill. Everything about it works toward the ultimate creative good of all those involved.
Anything you care to mention that I did not ask?
Well, of course, I really want to encourage your readership to come and see The Masher. I think it's going to be a really interesting, intense, and fun night of theatre. I would like to mention the link to our page on the Hollywood Fringe site at https://www.hollywoodfringe.org/projects/5726. I would also like to invite readers to use our discount code "CARD" for 4 dollars off their tickets when they buy them on the Hollywood Fringe site! And thank you so much for these awesome questions and the chance to chat with you!
The Masher is produced by Loud Karma Productions, directed, written by Grace Jasmine. Starring: Morgan Aiken, Cindy Lopez, Allana Mathies, Megan Rees, Blake McCormack, with understudies, Amanda Wagner and Megan Rees.
WHERE: Theatre Asylum's Studio C-6448 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90038
PERFORMANCE DATES: (Running time 55 minutes)
June 7, 2019 @6:00 PM
June 9, 2019 @7:00 PM
June 15, 2019 @ 2:00 PM
June 19, 2019 @10:00 PM
June 23, 2019 @8:00 PM
June 29, 2019 @4:00 PM
TICKET PRICE: General Admission: $14.00 - https://www.hollywoodfringe.org/projects/5726
HFF Participants and card or code holders: $10.00
**Admission age: Not appropriate for children under 16.