What I'm doing:
I'm honored this summer to have 3 major opportunities to focus specifically on my creative life as a writer and director and I'm reaching out and asking for your support! This is my first summer diving all in
to my creative work after deciding not to stay working full time at UCB teaching as I've done for the past 5 years in a summer program.
I've been offered a 7-week writing retreat at JoshuaTree Highlands Artist
. I'll be there working on my new play TOKEN and other new play ideas. I'm also joining the Directors Lab Westat Pasadena Playhouse
for a week long lab. Finally I’m thrilled to share I’ll be headed to Utah
as a Directing Fellow in the SundanceTheatre Lab
in late July.
None of these things are possible without me taking a summer off from
teaching work, and without me being determined to make my life as an artist
sustainable. Its not fully at this point, but it will be. So today I’m
reaching out and asking you to support this leap. I need your help! I'm
gone from the Bay Area from May 20th through August 8th. I know we've all
been donating time and money to organizations fighting the government,
we're fighting to save our communities from constant onslaught, and we've
been on the front line for months. I hope you consider the work I do, the
artists I collaborate with, the work I create part of our collective
If you can donate it will make a huge difference helping me to defer some of the costs of taking this summer off from teaching work and will provide direct funding for my creative work. Here’s where your funds will go: 1) Paying for actors to travel from LA, IE and surrounding areas out to Joshua Tree and for the Table Reading; 2) food & travel to and from JT; 3) Library fees at UCR and cost of other books I can’t find through free networks; 4) making sure my home in Oakland is secure while I’m gone. (I’m working on a sublet, no solid fit yet!).
So many of you have supported me and my work for years and in so many ways. I’m grateful to the Joshua Tree Highlands Residency family for selecting me for the 7 week residency and to the Directors Lab and Pasadena Playhouse for inviting me to continue develop my directorial skills with all the other directors in this year’s Lab. As always - because I'm fiscally sponsored by Fractured Atlas - a 501(c)(3) public charity, your contributions to my work are tax-deductible to the extent permitted by law.
I have chosen not to give rewards for different levels of this campaign. Every person who donates will receive a Thank you card, a poem and listing on my website as a supporter. Please be sure your mailing address gets to me!!
FULL PROJECT HISTORY AND BACKGROUND
TOKEN by Lisa Marie Rollins
In October 2014 I had the opportunity to visit The Foundling Museum in London, England. The Foundling Museum explores the history of the Foundling Hospital, the UK’s first children’s charity and first public art gallery.” It was my first visit to the museum and I was moved, troubled and inspired. By far the most impactful piece of museum for me was a segment of the permanent installation that included two floor-to-ceiling walls covered with “tokens” that birth mothers had left with their children when relinquishing them at the Foundling Hospital. Displayed were diverse sorts of buttons, pins, hairpins, steel fragments, onyx bits, bracelets, ivory, coins, or just a piece or just a small bit of something, anything that could have been tied to the child’s clothing. The token was a way for the birth mother to be able to identify her child if and when she returned to the hospital to reclaim them. The Foundling hospital had accrued hundreds of tokens that were lost or disconnected from the children they belonged to or sometimes withheld for punishments or coercion for behavior. The nurses in the hospital were many times holding the history and identity of the child hostage, keeping the one thing, maybe the smallest item, an item that could change everything.
I began to think heavily about transracial adoption of black children into white families in relationship to the foundling token. I have been questioning how the token operates in the space of the hospital and in the trajectory of the foundling child’s life. For the black diasporic body (adopted from Africa or domestic Black adoptee) these spatial and metaphorical settings become critical for how they move through the world of their white families, as multi-layered token.
Move to Skagit County, WA, 2011: Hana Rose Williams was an 11 year old Ethiopian adoptee was murdered by her white, evangelical, conservative Christian parents. According to the investigation and conviction her parents starved her, beat her and left her outside in the rain in shorts and a tshirt where she drowned in a shallow pool of water on the ground. I have been haunted by this story and the horror from it continues to plague me as I think about how violence on the black body in our society is deeply connected to how black adoptees are simultaneously tokenized and silenced.
The play is centered on a grown Ethiopian adoptee, Hannah and the ghost of a young Ethiopian girl, Rebecca. Hannah is pregnant and cannot decide if she wishes to keep her baby. Rebecca appears to Hannah over and over in dreams and waking visions, inspiring Hannah to investigate her adoption circumstances and revealing the dark secrets in her family. Alongside this story is the relationship of Hannah and her husband Derrick, who must find a way to keep their marriage strong in the face of violence and potential destruction.
Some larger themes I am exploring / questions I am investigating in this work:
- the healing and reconstruction of the black family as a central place to look to for solutions for resistance and revolution.
- The adoption decree as a critical document for adopted people, alongside slave ownership papers to investigate the notion of black diasporic invented history / unknown history or the deliberate destruction of history for commodification of the body. Once commodifed, the black body itself becomes a token, a thing ‘small’ enough to be moved at the whim of whiteness, without regard to its history.
- Assimilation and adoption as a neocolonial project of erasing blackness. What does it mean to be a token in a community? Whether a black community or a white community? When people talk the historical house Negro, they are positioned as the “good Negro” the “acceptable” Negro, the “assimilated” Negro, the one that doesn’t exhibit the roughness of stereotypical black characteristics. How does growing up in a white family lend itself to this erasure of a mythological ‘identifiable blackness’?
In November 2015 I was invited to join the Just Theater New Play Lab in Berkeley. The New Play Lab is a focused group of 5 playwrights who write one play from scratch for the term of the residency which that year was November 2015- April 2016. During the residency time we are partnered with a local director and at the end of the Lab there is a staged reading with a professional actors who bring the script to life. Based on the feedback I received from the audience from this staged reading, I have much work to do to get me to the next draft. This April 2016 reading flushed out for me what was missing from the story, what was unclear and what needs more development.
Over the course of my 7 weeks at Joshua Tree my main work goals would be (1) to sit down with the script and break it apart and re-examine all of the elements of the piece, some which include characters, storyline, action and the existing two worlds inside the play. I would like to break down each individual scene, considering carefully the ways in which actions of characters push forward the story or don’t. I’m struggling with “too much” going on and want to simplify the plot points that are moving us from one place to the next. I want to explore what would happen if I remove Hana’s pregnancy from the piece – what then would the urgency be? I’m concerned about the origin of the pregnancy being rape and contributing to another ‘victim’ story about white violence on black women’s bodies. Currently it feels like I’m hitting my audience over the head with my metaphor. I need time to work with the metaphor that already exists and push for subtlety and grace in the language.
(2) Additionally, I’m struggling with what I see as a simplistic demonization or valorization of the white characters in TOKEN. I’m not interested in replicating a stereotype or trope when it comes to the “white savior” narrative as much as I’m not interested in creating simplistic black characters. What I am interested in is complexity and articulation of desire and obstacle and how those can be better theatricalized for the audience.
3) Further, having the time to sketch out the full project would allow me to create a wall mapping out of the play so I can explore the existing world of the play, consider where inconsistencies lie and how to work through them. I have my feedback from my 2015 reading that I’ve never been able to return to that I want to pull out, read and investigate.
4) Have a table read with actors in the area.
5) I'll also be working on other play ideas and poems while I'm out there. Its seven weeks yo.
For more information about me and all my work - please check out https://birthproject.wordpress.com/supportlmr/