Walking “On Air” – Journey of a Play

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Sometimes our life and work synergize in ways that we don’t expect.

In writing my new play, On Air, that certainly happened, with the added synergy of such dedicated theater artists who brought it to life at San Diego’s Scripps Ranch Theatre (SRT) and its new play festival, “Out on a Limb,” which concluded yesterday.

In On Air, a young, principled professor at a San Diego community college navigates his family obligations and professional ambitions against the backdrop of a campus in crisis from the Vietnam War.

The one-act version of On Air premiered in the inaugural year of SRT’s Out on a Limb New Play Festival in 2012, with the outstanding cast (shown clockwise, below) of lead actor Jeffrey Jones, Vimel Sephus, Charles Peters, Joshua Jones, Steven Smith, and Tyler Jones, directed by Antonio TJ Johnson.

(All Photos by Darren Scott)

That original one-act version focused only on the professor, Gary Gordian, and four students who come to him in various stages of crisis — amid being drafted to Vietnam, family dysfunction, relationships. Gary’s dedication to his ideals, amid campus politics and pressures, results in his job and future being at risk.

When the play drew such a strong response from audiences, SRT Artistic Director and festival producer Robert May asked me to expand the play to fill out the picture of Gary, to include his personal life and challenges.

Four years and much soul-searching later, the full length version of On Air premiered this past week, with the spectacular cast of Fran Gercke, Mariel Shaw, Charles Peters, Carlos Angel Barajas, Michelle Marie Trester, Robert Bradvica, Chris Torborg, Michael Crosby, and directed by Liz Shipman.

My heart and mind are still spinning. Why?

Because On Air and Gary’s story are loosely based on the life of my own father, a retired and courageous literature professor, who endured much of what is chronicled in the play.

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Fran Gercke as Gary

And in the full length, I introduced the character of Gary’s wife, Siran, loosely based on my mother.

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Mariel Shaw as Siran

Their life together, amid Vietnam, family challenges, and the early days of the tumultuous San Diego Armenian community, are my main expansions to the play.

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Writing about family, about personal events, is never easy. I don’t do it often. Of course I poured over old letters, photos, articles, recordings. But how can one do the subject matter justice, truly? How can a writer be objective in these situations? Or maintain a workable balance between fact and fictionalizing? These challenges, among others, are why it took me so long to complete.

And of course I eventually had to show my family the script. I was braced for the worst, because I could only imagine what my parents, nearly 50 years later, would feel as they revisit one of the hardest times in their young lives. But they couldn’t have been more supportive. A few requests for changes, sure, but just when I was expecting a full-throated veto or a boot out the door, I instead got a thank you. “Thank you for acknowledging that it was such a difficult time in our lives,” my father said. It was a time in their lives that pre-dated me and yet which they always mentioned as I grew up, hence my desire to explore it in writing. I wanted to show them coming through, victoriously.

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With the remarkable dedication of Robert May, SRT and actors who sat to table read the working versions of the script so many times over the past four years (Thank you!), as well as the heartfelt new cast of the full-length version, I saw the story come to life in ways I did not expect.

Even with the fictionalizing I felt necessary in various portions of the play, the fact was that I saw the spirit of my parents, and I saw the spirits of all the students my father used to talk about, even years after their interactions…

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I saw the dilemmas relived of a young married couple facing difficult family choices and pressures, community politics and dynamics.

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Carlos Angel Barajas as Van

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L-R Michael Crosby, Carlos Angel Barajas, Robert Bradvica, Michelle Marie Trester, Chris Torborg, Sarah David, Morgan Kirby

I saw how seminal events and interactions in our lives can stay with us for decades, for a lifetime, and remain as vivid as the day we first experienced them.

IMG_3686L-R: Robert Bradvica, Chris Torborg, Charles Peters, Michelle Marie Trester

The production had its challenges — a key last minute cast change due to illness, and even an accidental campus lockdown where students spotted rehearsal of a tense scene involving a (fake) gun and called the police, fearing the worst, only to be told it was a play. In the very same scene, on opening night of the earlier one-act version, the power went out in the theater, and audience members thought the darkness was part of the scene as stage managers quickly shined flashlights on the actors. The unexpected should always be expected in theater…

But I’m grateful for all of it — and for the conversations the play is generating among audiences, artists, family members, everyone. My father, after watching a period of his life pass before him onstage, thanked me for the play and the “love letter” that it is. Not sure if he even knew that those are the words I always govern my writing by, to make my words a love letter to the story and characters I create. So I was beyond grateful, and at peace, after that.

It seems that the play will have a life beyond this lovely first production, which is encouraging. Because once again as a writer I’ve experienced first-hand that facing our biggest fears and challenges in our life and work yields the deepest meaning in both, a combination of inspiration and release that our souls never get enough of.

As I always say, yet with more conviction every time:

Onward.

 

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Heart Full of Fire

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My heart is full today.

Coming off of my daughters’ completion of a brave and whirlwind school year — followed by a beautiful trip east celebrating my nephew’s graduation.

And back home soon after, enjoying the first moments of summer with pajamas, basketball and videos.

Then seeing the horror today in Orlando. The vicious killing. The families forever torn apart.  Somehow hearing the screams of my martyred Armenian ancestors all over again, like I’ve been hearing them lately from Syria and around the world. And knowing in my bones that no matter what is said by this faction or that, God is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit (Psalm 34:18).

But then on the night following this tragic morning, seeing the Tony Awards, and being reminded of the transforming power of storytelling — of theater, like nothing else — to return our minds and hearts to hope, to truth, to love.

And all this … on the eve of a playwriting deadline I must complete. One of the most important ones I’ll ever have. How do I complete the story now, as I had planned before? With all of this new tumult, both good and horrible? Even with the story remaining intact, what changes now in my approach or mindset?

Tonight I realized: it’s exactly the right time to finish this play. Because my heart is more full of fire now than I can remember, and this play is about a character who stands up for what matters most to him, no matter what the consequence. (More on that in a future post). Countless inspirers surround me, here and in the heavens, so I am more humbled, and more grateful now, for the opportunity to tell this story that means the world to me. I’m more convicted than ever that it needs to be told. And that all our stories of courage, faith and persistence must be told, no matter who tells us otherwise. I can only hope I do this particular one justice.

Onward.

 

 

 

My Guest Piece in “The Dramatist”

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Writers often get the question, “So what are you working on?” and most of us enjoy answering with our latest project.

But what’s even more interesting is not when people ask “What,” but when people ask “Why.” “Why are you working on that particular project? Why do you like to write about XYZ?”

I recently had the opportunity to contribute a piece to the May/June 2016 issue of The Dramatist magazine, a magazine for members of The Dramatists Guild, which supports professional playwrights and other theater artists.

This issue was entitled, “The Ethics of Ethnic,” exploring a variety of issues for writers writing about ethnicity.

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Although the magazine is for members only, they allowed me to reprint it here, in the text below or the PDF link here: My Piece in The Dramatist

Let me know your thoughts!

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“In your opinion, what are the obligations of a dramatist writing outside her/his own ethnicity?”

When I once told a fellow playwright, far more famous than I, how I rarely write about my own ethnicity, she looked at me incredulously and said, “I can’t imagine not writing about it!”

But isn’t that what our playwriting, and our life in the arts, should be about? Doing the very thing we cannot imagine? Getting out of our comfort zone, losing ourselves in the wonderful and scary ‘otherness’ of life, of our world, of our friends – and enemies?

One of the best compliments I ever received as a playwright was when I wrote a play about an African American poet/civil rights activist. At the first staged reading at the Fountain Theater in Los Angeles, one of the elder actors (African American) looked at me shocked when I was introduced as the playwright. He told me later: “I thought the person who wrote this was black. There are things in here I thought only a black person would know and understand. I was a boy sitting in the pew at my Baptist church in Chicago when Dr. King came and spoke – no one talks about that speech. But you did.”

I relish the opportunity to research about ethnicities and histories other than my own – just as I am always beyond thrilled and honored when non-Armenian playwrights choose to explore “my” Armenian history. I serve on the board of the Armenian Dramatic Arts Alliance, which helps get the Armenian story, and other human rights stories, told onstage (www.armeniandrama.org). And when the work of non-Armenian playwrights writing about Armenian topics gives me insight into my own ethnic identity – strengths and weaknesses alike – it inspires and reminds me that the interdependence of art and artists across boundaries makes us all better, wiser and stronger.

Several years ago I wrote a play about multi-faith immigrants across ethnicities living in San Diego, commissioned by the Playwrights Project, which builds literacy, creativity, and communication by empowering individuals to voice their stories through playwriting (www.playwrightsproject.org). In researching the writing of other playwrights – and in speaking with everyone from a surviving Lost Boy of Sudan, to a Vietnamese refugee, to recently emigrated Muslims trying to navigate their post 9/11 community – I found such resonance with my own Armenian history, and that of so many other people groups: the pulls of passion and pride, misplaced trust leading to tragedy, glimmers of grace and help amid war horrors, clinging to hope over bitterness, perseverance over surrender. Audience members of all backgrounds came up to me after the performances, thanking me for ‘understanding’ and sharing their story.

Our story.

Shared suffering, shared survival, shared triumph. Oh, how we are not alone!

The responsibility I hold in writing about other ethnicities works hand in hand with the responsibility I believe we all have as artists — to understand and encourage our audiences and each other. Writing outside of our ethnicity, embracing and sharing its new insights, helps us recognize that our ‘otherness’ is, perhaps, not so ‘other’ after all.

 


LISA KIRAZIAN’s plays include On Air, The Blackstone Sessions, Switch, The Visitor, Six Views, and numerous one-acts. Productions & Readings: Fountain Theatre, Long Beach Playhouse, Scripps Ranch Theatre, DG Friday Night Footlights, Playwrights Project, Barrow Group, and several festivals. Publications: Los Angeles Times, Performing Arts Magazine, San Diego Union Tribune, Audition Monologues for Young Women #2 (Ratliff), various literary journals. Boards: Armenian Dramatic Arts Alliance (ADAA), Playwrights Project (Past President). Lisa is a Stanford graduate. www.lisakirazian.com.


 

Onward!

 

 

An Interview with RRBC’s “Rave Waves Buy the Book”

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Yesterday I was honored to be interviewed by author Beem Weeks for one of the weekly online radio shows of the Rave Reviews Book Club (RRBC). Entitled “Rave Waves Buy The Book,” the show features a different author for a half-hour each week, highlighting their latest work and taking questions from Twitter.

It’s one of the many resources for authors that comes as part of membership in the Rave Reviews Book Club. For more information on how to join RRBC, click here.

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The “Raves Waves Buy the Book” show yesterday centered on my novel, “Bravura,” which I’ve shared about on this blog previously. The book follows a group of young classical musicians in 1960’s London and beyond.

But the show gives some insights into the book and my writing process which I hadn’t shared on the blog before. So I thought it would be great to have the interview speak for itself as my post this week.

Enjoy! And onward.

http://www.blogtalkradio.com/ravereviewsbookclub/2016/04/16/rrbc-rave-waves-blogtalkradio-buy-the-book-with-lisa-kirazian

 

 

 

RRBC Back to School Book and Blog Block Party!

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HELLO FRIENDS!

So happy to welcome you to my blog today, from San Diego, California! Thanks to the Rave Reviews Book Club (RRBC) for the opportunity to share more about my work! The RRBC Back to School Book and Blog Party in September has been a blast of inspiration so far, visiting so many great author sites, and I’m so happy to be involved! Click here for all the other participants this month so you can visit their blogs too. And if you’re not one one already, consider becoming a member of RRBC!

I would love to receive your comments — not only because writers encouraging writers is the BEST thing, but also so that you can be rewarded! Anyone who leaves me a comment today (9/21) is eligible for these prizes:

My GIVEAWAYS today are:

1. One Amazon $25 gift card!! (WINNER: John Fioravanti)

2. One Starbucks $15 gift card! (WINNER: Amy Reece)

3. One Hard Copy of BRAVURA, first novel in “The Music We Made” series (WINNER: Michael King)

4. One Kindle E-Book Copy of BRAVURA, first novel in “The Music We Made” series (WINNER: clynsg)

Total Winners: 4 (Will ship anywhere!)

THANKS RRBC!

I’ve been an RRBC member for just under a year but have been blessed to meet many of you and read your fine work as a result. I look forward to getting to know you better. RRBC founder Nonnie Jules recently encouraged me to engage more, helping me see the difference between support (which I had been doing with reviews, tweets, etc.) and engagement (discussing authors’ works on the RRBC website, commenting on blogs, getting to actually know some of you, and sharing more about my own writing, which I hadn’t been doing). It was an A-Ha! Moment I truly appreciate. It’s made my experience even deeper and more satisfying, and I can’t wait to keep going “Onward!” (as I like to say at the end of all my blog posts).

Earlier this year, I was also very fortunate to have a piece in the first volume of the RRBC anthology, Rave Soup for the Writer’s Soul (available here) and to have my blog win “Best Blog – Third Place” in RRBC’s contest! That was a real affirmation, since I’ve only been blogging for about a year and a half. Thank you! I appreciate your inspiring examples and kind support.

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My Website

My Amazon Author Page

Twitter: @kirazian, @TheMusicWeMade, @ReflectionDay1.  Instagram: lisakirazian

A BIT OF BACKGROUND!

I’m a longtime writer and director of plays and films and a more recent fiction author. I’ve also edited books for publishers and audiobook producers for several years and have published numerous nonfiction articles. All of these experiences — plus growing up an avid reader, the daughter of an English professor, and studying writing/literature at Stanford — truly informed me when I finally started writing fiction seriously.  In all forms, however, I love writing about women, artists and anyone who is facing a crossroads of character or faith. I feel I was put on this earth to encourage people to learn more about God, themselves and each other, through my writing, speaking and relationships. (Bio at end of post).

MY BOOK SERIES

A longform television script I wrote years ago became the basis for my first novel series, The Music We Made, about three generations of the Driscoll family of musicians in London. From 1960’s London to the present, we follow siblings Kate Driscoll (an inspired violinist) and Neil Driscoll (a troubled pianist) and their circle of friends and loves — from childhood auditions to conservatoire to the world stage, and the challenges they face onstage and off.

For me, the series is a love letter to music, a valentine to musicians.  Its theme quote is TS Eliot’s unforgettable line: “You are the music while the music lasts.”

The first book in the series, years in the making, is BRAVURA, released December 2014. It was inspired by my experiences as a violinist. How this book came about is detailed in my blog post, “The Journey of an Idea,” (click here).

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BRAVURA on Amazon

You can read the first chapter of BRAVURA here.  It’s been featured on Literary Fiction Book Review here. And you can watch the book trailer to BRAVURA here:

The next book in the series, APPASSIONATO, comes out this Winter in late 2015/early 2016. It continues the story of the next generation: Jenny Driscoll, a composer and conductor, navigating her personal and professional life in London in the 1990’s.

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You can read the first chapter of APPASSIONATO here. And you can watch the trailer to APPASSIONATO here:

The final book in the series, CADENZA, will come out in Fall 2017.  It takes the series to America in the present day, where Jenny Driscoll’s grown son, opera tenor Brian Martin, travels to find out what he never knew about his grandmother, the famous American soprano, Maggie Crawford.

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The entire Music We Made series of books is also being adapted for television, which I’m thrilled about. As all writers know, it’s a marathon to get our work to be the best it can be — and to get it to the right audience, but I’m willing to stay the course! I hope you are, too.

OTHER WORK

Just for a little change, I also wanted to share about my most recent film, REFLECTION DAY, which I wrote (adapted from a stage play) and directed:

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REFLECTION DAY is about an African American woman with Alzheimer’s and her young male caregiver. It screened at several film festivals last year across the US and is being used as a teaching tool for nurses and caregivers at various schools and facilities. I was proud to be a part of this production. You can watch the trailer here.

RDHallJohnsonAndre                                                          Rich Pierre-Louis and Edythe Davis in “Reflection Day.”

We never know what direction our creativity will take us, but all I know is that we have to follow it, no matter what the risk or challenge. That’s all for now, Friends! Keep going, keep writing, and don’t forget to leave a comment! Thank you!

ONWARD!

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I’m proud to say that the fantastic artist Natalie Kaldjian designed all my book covers and can be reached at http://www.nataliekaldjian.com.

LISA’S BIOGRAPHY

Lisa Kirazian is a writer of plays, screenplays, articles and a new novel series.  Her scripts have been produced and published nationwide and she directs for stage and screen.  Her articles have also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Performing Arts Magazine, NPR/KPBS Radio, Student Leadership Magazine, and the San Diego Union Tribune.

Lisa was born and raised in San Diego and is a graduate of Stanford University.  Her writing mentors have included Anna Deavere Smith, Paul Peterson, Janet Tiger, and Paula Vogel.

She resides with her husband Steve in San Diego, California, and their two daughters.  Lisa serves on several arts boards, is active in her Armenian community, and is a popular speaker.  She blogs weekly about writing and creativity and is currently at work on a new play, a new novel, and a book about mentorship.

Getting a Clear Head — and Table.

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My husband Steve trained as a scientist before becoming a high-level consultant for biotech companies. Yes, about 180 degrees from my professional world, but that’s the spice of life 🙂

But when God gave us two children and our already-cluttered lives took on an even greater load of messes and piles, and when the girls are eager to start a craft or a board game on the already-loaded kitchen table, Steve says: “We need to do a line clearance.”

And of course I roll my eyes — here’s the scientist lingo entering our lives again. But I also love how he applies his complicated field to everyday life.

A term used in manufacturing and lab work, Line Clearance means a segregation and cleaning of different processing and work areas to avoid cross-contamination.

Translation?

Clean up one project/mess before you start another one.

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What Writing and Parenting Teach Me about God

Being a parent and being a writer have combined to teach me about what I call The Care, The Fair and The Fire – three ideas that God hit me over the head with recently. These ideas have encouraged me to realign how I think of the roles I have.

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