A Weekend of ConeXión

I recently had the tremendous honor of participating in the 2018 Latinx Theatre Commons (LTC) Carnaval of New Latinx Work at DePaul University in Chicago, IL.

I was selected by the LTC, and counted in a cohort of some of the most exciting and respected practitioners in the industry today.  To say that I am honored, or humbled, does not even begin to express how much it meant for me to be in that space, and counted as a peer. 

I directed a play called Richard and Jane and Dick and Sally, written by Noah DIaz.

The classic “Dick & Jane” characters from the ubiquitous 1950s children’s books are grown-up and struggling to stay afloat in a home fractured by grief. Newly widowed Dick (now going by Richard) is raising his two children, Dick Jr. and Sally, who is deaf, while trying to manage a terminal illness that will inevitably leave them orphans. When he calls home his estranged sister, Jane, the family must reconcile and make peace with their shared and misunderstood histories before it’s time for him to go. A recipient of the Kennedy Center’s Jean Kennedy Smith Playwriting Award, Richard & Jane & Dick & Sally is a dramatic comedy about brothers, sisters, mothers, and fathers, with sign language, talking dogs, picnic tables, and Snickers bars.

When the play was sent to me, I had a block of time between one thing and another, and stopped at Dante's Pizza for a beer, a slice, and a read, I did not expect to be so moved by the piece.  I definitely cried in my pizza, and grabbed a second beer. The play had all the elements I love, a strange, surreal, painful, magical flow, movement sequences that were several pages long, people who love one another who somehow cannot seem to see one another, and the frank and honest portrayal of women and POC. I immediately emailed Lisa Portes, the Carnaval Champion, and agreed to participate. 

I was paired with a fantastic design team, who I learned a lot from and who captured everything about the piece that inspired and moved me.  We only had two 1-hour meetings - and they came up with a fantastic, impressive, magical design that felt like it came straight out of a dream. The creative team included Mariana Sanchez (scenic design), Carolyn Mazuca (costume design), David R. Molina (sound design), Pablo Santiago (lighting design), and Dr. Liza Ann Acosta (dramaturgy).

The Carnaval itself was so much fun.  6 readings, multiple sessions and conversations, food, drinks, and the largest scale affinity space I have ever experienced in my professional life. You can see the spirit, charge, and power of the weekend captured in the opening ceremony, which was live streamed around the world. (Hi Mom and Dad!)

Pop Magic Productions 10K Match Campaign!

What is Pop Magic?

Pop Magic engages audiences through the production of original live performance and develops artists of different backgrounds and disciplines to create a diverse community of collaborators. Pop Magic is committed to intersectionality in the teams we assemble, the communities we create, and the stories we put on stage.

Pop Magic is on a mission to expand the definition of the performing arts in the context of contemporary nightlife. We bring talent together to create music, theatre, dance, interactive parties, feasts, social media, video, and projects that don’t fit in any one category. We partner with other organizations to bring live performance experiences into non-traditional contexts, reaching new audiences who would generally pick the bar over the ballet.

In addition to our work as a production company and development house, we have a private club with several levels of Membership. Popmagic.org/join/

What is The Pop Magic Match Campaign?

Our Primary Investor has committed to donating 10K, if we can raise 10K from our community’s support. [All donations are 100% tax deductible. We are a 501(c)3.] 

A total of 20K will be the budget for our 2018/2019 fiscal year. This will allow us to do the following:

  1. Hire on a part time grant writer

  2. Hire on a part time production manager to organize and facilitate all of our events and incubator projects

  3. Create an open submission procedure for future productions, allowing us to screen submissions, take meetings, and evaluate proposals

  4. Produce four custom designed Incubator Workshops over the next year with budgets

  5. Create a multi-platform showcase system that gets all projects in front of producing organizations in Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, and around the country

  6. Create a bi-monthly Musical Theatre Songwriters Workshop with quarterly showcase concerts

To donate to this campaign, just click on the prizes in column to your right, select, and then go to the cart button at the top of this page to 'check out'.

Thank you for your support!

Windy City Times "30 Under 30" 2018 Honoree

I'm very honored to have been counted among The Windy City Times 30 Under 30 Honorees for this year.  I was listed among some of the most talented, intelligent, and selfless individuals in the city.  These people are truly creating positive change in our city, and will continue to lead Chicago into a brighter future. 


Windy City Times 30 Under 30 Awards held in Bridgeport
The 19th annual Windy City Times 30 Under 30 Awards were held June 20 at Polo Cafe in Bridgeport. A diverse group of people from 18 to 30 were honored for their activism, cultural work, entrepreneurship, promotional work and more.

Windy City Times welcomed co-sponsors AIDS Foundation of Chicago, Chicago House, Center on Halsted, Howard Brown Health and Polo Catering.

See full list of honorees and their stories here: www.windycitymediagroup.com/lgbt/30-Under-30-to-be-honored-June-20-in-19th-annual-award-ceremony/63255.html .

And the Windy City Times Pride issue has a full review of honorees in PDF form here: www.windycitymediagroup.com/images/publications/wct/2018-06-20/current.pdf .

A conversation about SPARK

Written by Caridad Svich. Directed by Denise Yvette Serna.  January 20 - February 24, 2018 In the Pentagon Theatre at Collaboraction Studios (1579 N. Milwaukee Ave.)   GET TICKETS

Written by Caridad Svich.
Directed by Denise Yvette Serna. 
January 20 - February 24, 2018
In the Pentagon Theatre at Collaboraction Studios (1579 N. Milwaukee Ave.)


Rachel Bykowski:  What is your mission as a director?

Denise Yvette Serna: I aim to create compelling work that captivates and engages. I support artists in celebrating their shared experiences while reflecting on our diverse global community. Theatre is most meaningful when it holds space for intersectional dialogue, and advocates for positive social change. want folks to do the things they love and feel great about doing, and truly see one another.

RB: What attracted you to SPARK?

DYS: Often, when I have seen marginalized populations presented on stage we see the big moments in their lives. oming out, death, divorce, ig victories, finding love... That sort of stuff. And yet our lives consist of many more seemingly unspectacular moments. Mostly unspectacular moments. The little devastations and fleeting joys. SPARK gives these moments in the Glimord sisters' lives dignity and complexity.

RB:  What do you think Spark is about?

DYS: SPARK is partly about the ways devotion and sacrifice for the ones we care for can bruise our love for them. When extreme sacrifice is layered into the foundations of a relationship, resentment can creep up in love like vines, and become so entangled ith it you can't tell where the love ends and the resentment begins. I see this tendency often in female identified people and people of color I admire, and there isn't often social support to compensate them for the emotional labor they do for those around them. s the Glimord sisters attempt to articulate this phenomenon in their lives, I hope we, in turn, can start to speak about it in our own lives.

RB:  What is your favorite line in the play and why?

DYS: "We all get through what we get through, even if no one’s hangin’ any kind of flag for us." There are a lot of battles female identified people in this world face that go unseen, or worse, ignored. As we take the responsibility to tell one another’s’ stories, we’re hanging those victory flags for one another, and lifting one another up.

RB: Without giving too much away, what are you most excited to see in this production?


DYS: I'm excited for the laughter. For all this story has to say about coming to an understanding about things that have harmed you, there are certainly moments of joy. Laughter has been getting people through tough times and breaking down barriers between them for a long time. There are some lovely moments in the show where we get to laugh with the women on stage, to marvel with them at the world we are moving through - absurd and intimidating though it may be.

HOMESET - Let's get together

This year, I have partnered with Pop Magic Productions for HOMESET, a quarterly salon series bringing artists together to share ideas. Each HOMESET will give 3 artists space to showcase their works in progress, lesser practiced skills, and interests in a casual atmosphere.

The thought behind the series is simple - artists flourish when they are in conversation with one another, and experiencing and examining one another's work -- especially in times of social and political unrest. It propels our aesthetic and understanding farther forward, and stokes the fire of active engagement. 

In an effort to cultivate these nurturing spaces for artists, and in response to the need for more cross-exposure in the Chicago arts scene, HOME SET was put into action. In collaboration with the magnificent Olivia Lilley, I'm doing something I'm really passionate about: bringing artists together to think together and grow collectively.
Join us in reactivating our community this winter. Connect with creatives whose interests and passions can bolster your artistic practice. Support the growth of Chicago’s independent art scene.

January 6th

February 4th

Sunday March 18th
April 14th

Follow @PopMagicProductions for updates!


Feature on Spiel Chicago: Episode 25 – DIY Theatre

Smyra Yawn (she/her) is on a mission to shine a light on the progressive and thoughtful work of women and genderqueer artists in Chicago Theatre. She brought together a really great panel of DIY Theatre Artists, that I was delighted to take part in.  Listen to the episode on Spiel Chicago. 

@SpielChicago on Twitter, Spiel_Chicago on Instagram, or Facebook.  

"Artist as Producer: This week on Spiel Chicago, we discuss DIY Theatre!  This is a special panel episode, with guests Savannah Reich, Denise Serna, Olivia Lilley and Katherine Lamb, each bringing a unique perspective on DIY theatre, theatre institutions, sustainability and how to get started putting your own work into the world."

More on Spiel Chicago

Carolina Migli on Nymph of the River - My colleague Carolina Migli on her piece The Nymph of the River, which she created for Climate Change Theatre Action.

Episode 14 – Avi Roque - My colleague Avi Roque was on an episode of Spiel. I collaborated with Avi for After Orlando, a international theatre movement created by NoPassport Theatre Alliance & Press and Missing Bolts Productions in observance of Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida.

Spiel Chicago Episode 9 – Mary Shelley, Feminism and DIY Theatre - Olivia Lilley of Pop Magic Productions about DIY theatre and her play Mary Shelley Sees the Future. Olivia and I curate a salon series called HOME SET, and you can expect to see more of our collaborations in the future. 

Climate Change Theatre Action Chicago: A Curated Conversation

A continuation of our work at CCTA International: Hive Workshop, Climate Change Theatre Action - Chicago was three evenings of readings and performances on the topic of global climate change in support of the United Nations COP23 meeting chaired by Fiji and hosted in Bonn, Germany. This multi-disciplinary international event featured short films, dance, puppetry, live performances, and a call to activism. Developed with artists from China, France, Italy, Slovakia, Spain, The United Kingdom, Canada, across the United States and Chicago, this collective effort supported and encouraged individual action on climate change and steps towards a better future for all.

Alexandra Ranieri, Denise Yvette Serna, Iris Sowlat, Carolina Migli-Bateson, and Olivia Lilley

Alexandra Ranieri, Denise Yvette Serna, Iris Sowlat, Carolina Migli-Bateson, and Olivia Lilley

I drove this project with co-producer Iris Sowlat at Chicago's Pride Arts Center. In an effort to reduce waste, we chose to go paperless for our play programs!
Check out the contributing artists on our digital program page.

Putting this event together required quite a lot of moving parts. Co-Founder of Global Hive Laboratories, Jack Paterson supported administrative tasks and cultivated submissions from our international colleagues. Co-Producer Iris Sowlat worked to livestream an evening of performance, which was central to our mission of providing as many access points to the conversation as possible. Global Hive Labs Partner Carolina Migli-Bateson was vital to our load in, installation, and display of our art installations. 

The New Galileos  by Amy Berryman

The New Galileos by Amy Berryman

We were joined by playwright Amy Berryman, who flew in from NYC to join us and celebrate her play The New Galileos. We were joined by Carolina Migli-Bateson, who flew in from Piacenza, Italy to perform her piece Nymph of the River. Carolina and the significance of climate change for her hometown was featured on Spiel Chicago.

“I want [audiences] to feel a sense of loss … I want them to understand that nature is a living entity and looks at us puzzled, not understanding what we are doing and why we are destroying ourselves.  I also want them to feel the time ticking by faster and faster as we have raped nature and her revenge on us will be terrible if we don’t do something about it collectively.“
- Carolina Migli-Bateson

Aside from managing all the moving parts, stage managing, marketing, and hosting the event, I also directed three pieces from The Arctic Cycle.  The three scripts I chose allowed for unconventional presentation and devised performances.  For Minor Flood, Major Constellation: Sirius and the Cartographer Map the New World By Lisa Schlesinger I recorded an oral interpretation of the script at CCTA International this summer, and in rehearsal with Chicago based performers devised music and movement to layer upon it. In performance of Gaia by Hiro Kanagawa, the artists donned rain ponchos and threw darts at a map of the world while enjoying beer and bar mix.  As they articulated Kanagawa's poetic text, their dart game generated a new painting each evening. Rube Goldberg Device for The Generation of Hope by Jordan Hall, performers led the audience in a participatory artistic experience that ended with a little bit of hope and a whole lot of dancing.  It was a pleasure to tickle my directing and devising muscles, and we rehearsed each piece for a few hours and really put our focus into creating stimulating work. 

With collaboration from Global Hive Laboratories, Pride Arts Center, BoucheWHACKED! Theatre Collective, La Compagnie Certes, Fusion Theatre Company, and in association with the Center for Sustainable Practice in the Arts, NoPassport Theatre Alliance, The Arctic Cycle, Theatre Without Borders, and York University, the event included live performances directed by producer Denise Yvette Serna, producer Iris Sowlat, Olivia Lilley, Carolina Migli Bateson, Ryan Oliveira, and material developed with artists across the globe. Readings included new works by Elaine Avila, Carolina Migli Bateson, Amy Berryman, Clare Duffy, Angella J. Emurwon, Kendra Fanconi, Jordan Hall, Lisa Schlesinger, Marcia Johnson,  Hiro Kanagawa, Sarena Parmar, Katie Pearl, Ryan Oliveira, Caridad Svich, and Jordan Tannahill.

Second Annual artEquity Alumni Convening

The artEquity Facilitation Program is an annual training offering theatre professionals the opportunity to build the practical and analytical skills necessary to address diversity and inclusion issues at an interpersonal, group, and organizational level. Led by a diverse team of staff and facilitators, participants explore issues of identity, privilege, structural power and ally-building, as well as best practices for organizational change.

This year's cohort participated in two trainings in Los Angeles, California.  During their second gathering, October 18-20, alumni of the program came together for strategic planning, networking with the new cohort, and support of artEquity's work nationwide. 

It was a time of laughter, dancing, strategy, courage, and growth for alumni.  We also had opportunity to get to know the newest cohort members, and discuss the things they are passionate about. 

Alumni concluded the weekend with a strategy to cultivate and bolster artEquity's resources and influence in the arts community.