Berth Breach/Breech Birth
April 24 & 25, 2021
Directed by Kyle Haden
Currently residing: I live in the traditional territory of the Chumash, colonially known as Simi Valley, California. Fun fact: Simi Valley was where the trial was held for the officers who beat Rodney King.
Grew up in: The traditional territory of the Kiikaapoi, Peoria, Kaskaskia, Potawatomi, Myaamia, and Očhéthi Šakówin, colonially known as Chicago. Specifically, the South Side.
Creative beginnings: The first play I ever saw was A Raisin in the Sun, and I remember thinking: this is what theatre is. It’s stories about Black people, written by Black women, and those stories take place in Chicago. Got it. So yeah... kinda matches with my playwriting identity today.
The most amusing thing when I look back on it, because it’s totally me, happened when I was in 7th grade. I thought, “We should do a play or something. Why don’t we have plays? I’ll just write one real quick.” I sat down and wrote an adaptation of Cinderella, with roles for everyone in my class, and it included some roller-skating because a couple of the guys were really good skaters.
I went to my teacher and said, “Hey I wrote this, can we perform it?” And we did and it was a hit. The whole school came to see it – 1st through 8th grades. Several performances. And my teacher asked me to adapt another play the next year. But I didn’t know or understand that playwriting could be a career, so I thought it was just a thing I did in grammar school.
Playwriting inspiration: I started writing and performing sketch comedy much later in life. By then, I was married and had kids. I’d always wanted to act or something, just didn’t know what the something was. I started taking classes at Second City and then writing and performing in a two-person group that ended up getting invited to all of the sketch comedy festivals.
When my family moved to California, but my sketch partner didn’t, I was at a loss for how to express myself. I literally did a poll of my closest friends and family, including my former sketch partner, and asked “When you think of me, do you think I’m an actor or a writer?” They all said “writer.” So I decided if I’m going to pursue this as a thing, I want to be prepared.
Long answer... grad school nurtured me. I was blessed to be in a program with lots of people of color, teaching and in my cohort of nine. Having people validate the way I use my voice was invaluable. Discovering the freedom to experiment with using sketch comedy tropes in playwriting empowered me to develop my style of writing. I’d compartmentalized that period of life but it was during grad school that I was able to explore all the aspects of me and throw it all into my writing.
I pull out those notes from school when I’m looking for inspiration. Berth Breach/Breech Birth came out of a prompt that I’d written during Dr. Velina Hasu-Houston’s poetry adaptation class in grad school and I went digging in those notes to think about what play to write next. And here we are.
Writing process: Sketch and improv really do help me to think of story in an encapsulated way. I can tell a story in three minutes in a sketch. I can see the abbreviated version of a play. I’ll dwell on the story, the synopsis of it. In the shower. In the car. A LOT of shower and car writing goes on with me. Then I get to researching the where of the story and investigating the characters. I might make a map of important places to these people. Most vital to me are the lists. I make several lists for each character, to get to know everything about them before I write a word of the play. Luis Alfaro taught me about lists – What’s in their shopping cart? What are 10 things they’re hiding? What are the steps to their morning ritual? – so many cool lists to understand a character.
Then I sit down to write whichever scenes I know. Usually the first scene first. I almost exclusively write on computer. I only write one scene a day. Then when I have what I think is everything, I check to see what’s missing. I might make a storyboard or an emotional chart – other Luis Alfaro resources. Then I fill in or move things around. I print it out and I always revise and edit on paper with a red pen. At this point, I need to hear it, so I’ll ask some of my dope actor friends to get together with me and they read it out loud. Then more revisions.
Super important: 70s R&B or instrumental jazz, a candle burning, hot tea, and snacks. Definitely part of the process.
Berth Breach/Breech Birth's origin: Myung Mi Kim’s book of poetry, Commons, has these “Vocalise” sections throughout that discuss pregnancies of people and animals as a way of looking at what she calls our “culture of dissection” and the discovering, owning, and naming that we do. So there’s that. My daughter was studying big animal veterinary medicine. And then also my father lived in an all-Black rural community and owned a farm in another part of Illinois.
All of that was percolating for me at the time, and I wondered how to meld the world of a Black veterinarian in a farming community with the idea of discovering, owning, and naming, which in the U.S. says to me, slavery.
Favorite moment or line: Whenever Ernest calls Ashanti “Sugarlump,” because that’s what my dad used to call me.
Most looking forward to at ANPF: Working with actors! I haven’t gotten to that stage with this play yet, so I’m so looking forward to hearing it read out loud, seeing how what’s in my head gets interpreted by people who live outside of it. I’m excited to work with Kyle as a director and to hear how a Black man is experiencing this play. And to see if any of it makes sense!
Audience experience: I love digging into a character’s mind and seeing the world through their perspective. Especially a character whose mind is playing tricks on them. That’s kinda my jam. I would love for the audience to experience what Ashanti is experiencing. I want them to feel the confusion and the mystery and the sense of being fated and compelled. And also, the not knowing how to act on it.
Writing snacks of choice: Avocado oil potato chips – but just one serving because I’m tryna be better to my body. Raw almonds. Raw cashews. I need to hear a crunch in my head when I’m writing. And either Earl Grey or chai, with non-dairy milk/creamer.
Click here to learn more about Inda, the play, and the artists bringing the story off the page.
We look forward to welcoming you to the show! We are presenting Inda's Berth Breach/Breech Birth for TWO DAYS ONLY Saturday and Sunday, April 24 at 7 pm PT and April 25 at 2 pm PT. Tickets are available on a sliding scale.