Worldcon 75: Theatre, Genre Fiction, and the reality of Global Warming

Last week I attended the 75th annual World Science Fiction Convention in Helsinki, Finland. Worldcon is an international gathering of the science fiction and fantasy community. The first Worldcon was held in 1939, and, after a break during WWII, the event has been held annually since 1946, with the location changing each year. 

Modern Worldcons are held over five days and are attended by thousands of members – over 6,000 people attended Worldcon 75. Attendees included writers, artists, fans, editors, publishers, academics and dealers, all with an interest in science fiction.

Worldcons are not just about the written word. Over the decades Worldcons have grown to embrace science fiction in all the forms in which it appears, including film, TV, art, comics, anime and manga, and gaming. Attending this convention as a theatre maker (though I have attended Harry Potter and Teen Wolf conventions and The MCM London Comic Con over the past 8 years) was fascinating. I was able to attend panels, workshops and presentations exploring things like diverse representation in fiction and media, collaborative concepts, devised performance, and the science behind climate change and it's implications on the future.  All of these topics serve to inform my work and my creative process. 


Some of the most immediately relevant sessions I attended were those relating to climate change, and humanity's perceptions of the natural world at different points in our history. As I prepare to join my colleague Jack for an international, Climate Change focused devising workshop in London next week, as well as work towards producing a Climate Change Theatre Action in Chicago in November, these conversations were both informative and inspiring. Speculative fiction and fantasy writers have been imagining a post-Anthropocene world for a long time. Chats with and presentations by scientific researchers, anthropologists, historians and novelists have proved to be some of the most valuable research I have done for this project. I look forward to how they will inform our work with the CCTA.

Another fantastic experience at Worldcon was a workshop I attended led by playwright Tajinder Singh Hayer. Over the course of the workshop we devised possible post-apocalyptic scenarios, and the social, political, and cultural implications of chemical, biological, and warfare related disasters on characters and narrative. The folks I was devising with were a retired parole officer and an astrophysicist. It was fascinating to see how our different experiences and knowledge bases affected the story and characters of our fictional world. 

Worldcon, though not explicitly marketed toward theatre practitioners, is a really wonderful opportunity for networking and professional and artistic development. I would definitely recommend checking out next year's Worldcon in San Jose, CA, or in two years in Dublin, Ireland! 

CCTA International: Hive Workshop

My great friend and collaborator Jack Paterson and I are up to something this summer in London! For the second year in a row, I will join NoPassport Theatre Alliance in a global theatre action. Last year, I participated in After Orlando at Chicago's Pride Arts Center. The theatre action centered around the tragic massacre at Pulse Night Club, and was a powerful coming together of the theatre community in remembrance and activism.  This year, our theatre action will focus our artistic efforts around the subject of Climate Change

In the spirit our training, and a further desire to collaborate internationally, we invite you to join us either in person or virtually for our first international laboratory. This laboratory process will begin in London, August 2017.

At the conclusion of the London session, work generated will be utilized to inform a CCTA event in Chicago, Illinois, as well as anywhere in the world our collaborators may choose to participate in the movement. Read on for more information, and if you're interested in joining us please fill out the form at the bottom of this post! 

London: The first phase in an international CCTA collaboration led by Denise Yvette Serna and Jack Paterson.

Artists and Directors will join together in a laboratory setting to

  • Workshop scripts from the CCTA Anthology

  • Create archival record of entire pieces or elements of pieces

  • Create and devise sensory elements that can be utilized by other artists at international CCTA events

  • Examine the potential of International Collaborative Creation & Presentation through technology

  • Explore the interaction between Technology and the Environment

If climate change is a global phenomenon affecting all without regard to region, race, or responsibility (though arguably, some regions of the world topographically suffer the effects more immediately than others), how can international collaboration bring relevance and dynamic conversation about the artist’s role in climate justice and civilian responsibility to the entirety of the population?

Through creative use of technology to fuse international practice and aesthetic, our cohort will expand on the mission of No Passport and CCTA, creating a bridge between traditionally scripted and devised work inspired by climate change.

  1. Choose elements of, or entire pieces from the anthology provided by The Arctic Cycle, and create a digital record of it.  This can be images, sound files, musical composition, video, record of devised movement or choreography, puppet templates, translation - anything that is created in support or inspired by a text. Dream big here - it can be as simple as an audio recording of someone reading the script, to orchestrations of music made with garbage to underscore a text. Truly anything.

  2. Upload archival record of these elements in a drive to be shared by laboratory participants.

  3. Coordinate a conference call style collaboration between your work and the workshop in London, where international actors can devise alongside one another.

  4. Create archival footage of entire pieces that can be showcased at the Chicago production of CCTA, and/or livestreamed on HowlRoundTv.

  5. Organize a CCTA event in your region, and utilize the workshop and laboratory archive we create to inform, inspire, bolster your work.

We hope to foster a healthy collaborative spirit with our international colleagues, alumni and current students of E15, and our communities.


We invite you to join the Climate Change Theatre Action, from wherever in the world you are currently based. Please visit their website to learn more, register your participation, and obtain access to the anthology of scripts.


Opening has arrived at last for the long-awaited Steppenwolf production of HIR. For the past several weeks, I have been neck deep in Taylor Mac's magnificently re-imagined America. I've also been sharing space and creation with some of the most talented artists I have ever known.

The process has been fascinating. Understanding the world of people who have experienced extreme trauma has been both heartbreaking and a lesson  in the resilience of the human spirit. I took myself through a web based course in Skills Training in Affect and Interpersonal Regulation (STAIR) through the National Center for PTSD before rehearsals started, which helped me grasp how the characters might behave in light of their trauma. 

It has truly been a gift to collaborate with Hallie Gordon, an incredibly perceptive and creative director, along with a mostly female identified production, design, and artistic team. To share space with these powerful and talented women, and to observe and learn from the ease with which leaders in the field like Anna Shapiro and Ann Wrightson work has been invaluable. My analysis of the experience of women in this country has been sharpened and taken to new depths as the lives and experiences of the women I was sharing space with colored the shape the work was taking. The conversations over coffee, or late at night when the lights were up and the tables struck, were incredibly meaningful to me. Women in leadership at regional theaters hangs at just 25% - and here I was sharing space and soaking up the power of wildly talented, intelligent, compassionate female leaders. I cannot describe what this has meant to me.

I continue to learn new things about Paige, her strength, and the vicious cycle of violence that has entangled her family. What is to be said of the American dream if it is built upon a fantasy? What does it mean to construct a cheap version of a thing we always wanted to be better than, and how are we to respond when we realize it will never be better? 

What mercy do we owe to the broken pieces of the past? And what place do those pieces have as we inch ever further toward a better future? 

For the Love Of (or, the Roller Derby Play)

My first production with Pride Films & Plays has been a joy ride. This production of Gina Femia's world premiere of a bad-ass group of women doing what they love while fighting to love themselves found a great home in this company. Under the direction of Rachel Edwards Harvith, I've spent the last month surrounded by a diverse group of powerful, hilarious, and talented women.  

This has been my first time supporting a new work. Part of this process was bolstered by Gina's presence in rehearsals. With her eye and mind to support our exploration of the heightened realism, we were able to really push the boundaries of what the text had to offer. I've worked with many scripts in my life, but this was the first time where a difficulty with a moment or the flow of narrative was easily and swiftly adjusted by the playwright, to support the process moving forward. The spirit of this kind of collaboration made every aspect of the work exciting.

Rachel created a room where collaboration between the artist was paramount. From performers and directors working to embrace the architecture of the space, to the sound designer sitting in rehearsal, and creating sound cues based on what we had blocked, every idea was a possibility. 

We also had the joy of building a play based on real women. The world of roller derby was one I knew peripherally - a few buddies of mine skate with The Windy City Rollers. In preparation for this process, I did lengthy interviews with some of them about what the league and their teammates have meant to them.  What I found was an inspiring, intersectional community of athletes unafraid of female strength, and unapologetic for existing gracefully within it. Through these meaningful conversations we were able to inform the physical language of the play, and create a more truthful depiction of the sport.  As another part of this relationship, we were able to support for one another's work.  The cast and production team of For the Love Of attended the Juanna Rumbel Cup, to support the incredible athletes of The Windy City Rollers. In turn members of the Windy City Rollers came to see our show, taking a seat in our little Buena Park theatre and taking a ride with the Brooklyn Scallywags. 

This production's positive portrayal of women, queer relationships, and unconventional career paths has become a jewel in my body of work. The effort to maintain my artistic pursuits while balancing a full time job was strengthened as I surrounded myself with women who were doing the same - and doing so successfully. Previews for this work began just as Earthquakes in London was closing, which meant there were weeks where I was juggling all three things. And yet here was this story of these women who keep showing up, day after day - late night practices, brutal injuries, and more - for the love of the game. So I press on.  A little tired sure, but with my heart beating in time to my sisters. 

Earthquakes in London

Disco balls, robots, ukuleles and the end of the world.

We started this process just as winter was kissing the autumn goodbye. I came into a room of strangers, at the right hand of a director whose work I deeply admire, and try to ride out the socio-political maelstrom that gripped our nation. 

At a distance, it would seem this production could never be crammed into Steep Theatre Company's intimate black box, nor the dozens of roles spread among a small(ish) ensemble. And yet over the past several weeks, we have managed to craft an elegant, thoughtful, and exuberant eulogy for the planet -- and a prayer for the future.

Between the artful direction of Jonathan Berry, and the skilled stage management (not an over exaggeration - this show has SO many cues, and a single stage hand) of Jon Ravenscroft, I've learned how to effectively support a large ensemble performance. I've also had the opportunity to hone my ukulele skills, supporting the ensemble in learning and rehearsing a Deep Water by Portishead

For the first time, I am running understudy rehearsals. I will lead the 4 understudies in rehearsals as they learn the blocking and choreography for multiple roles, and prepare them to go on. I am no stranger to leading a room of actors. However, there is a weight to carrying another artist's vision, maintaining it's integrity, and allowing understudies room to build something for themselves as they prepare to own a role as much as the principle actors can.  I have found a lot of growth in myself as I articulate what Jon and I worked through with the actors to the understudies, abridging several weeks of rehearsal, analysis, and emails into just a few whirlwind blocking and note sessions. 

The last several projects I have worked on have been the sort where I wear multiple hats. Directing, producing, performing, creating sets or costumes - the sort of thing I've always done.  This process was the first time in a long time where I was invited into the room to simply be a director.  It brought a rejuvenation to my craft that I wasn't aware of sorely needing. I was there to be thoughtful, emotional, observant, supportive and creative. I've grown with and learned from a skilled and innovative artist. What a tremendous joy it has been.


I spent the year after graduate school as a middle school teacher.  Of the many things I took from that year, one aspect of experience was the thread that became (the)forget_me\knot. I saw several physical confrontations between students that year, and was struck by the realization that so many of them enjoyed filming the fights. They did not try to stop the fight, did not try to help, and did not make it easy for adults to – but they filmed it. After fights, we’d have to round up phones and delete all the footage. I grew fascinated with the ability of a screen to simultaneously detach a person from their humanity, and with the social media revolution – affirm it. Utilizing the collage style I found while creating La Chingada, I began to piece together poetry, movement, and other cultural artifacts that followed that thought. As the piece came together I realized that throughout recorded history, a single cry has echoed from the lips of humanity: Don’t forget me. (the)forget_me\knot became an immersive, multi-sensory  piece that peered through the lenses we utilize to defy our mortality, and glimpsed into our determination to make even the most meaningless moments-and by extension, ourselves- last forever.
The hardest thing to stomach? We won’t.
Those photos in your attic? The people in them are dead.
We don’t know who her prom date was, or why his leg was in a cast. Their childhood home burned to the ground, and there’s a parking lot there now. But the lenses made us feel connected. And whatever the cost, for that moment, we were unforgettable.

It was important to the project that it generate more artistic observations of memory, and that the absurd beauty of the things we were creating compelled people to photograph or record them, creating a cycle of memory.  In one room of the venue guests were invited to create soundscapes, and surrealist snapshots, or join Loren Phillips in acro-yoga.  We also invited artists to join us for the show, sell their projects, and create new work as they watched. Artists such as Ruby Western, Kendra Strebig, and Sophie Wingland created work each evening that underscored performances, was given to audience members who joined the performance, and used to fill a growing gallery of work inspired by (the)forget_me\knot.

La Chingada

Going Down to the River - Conception and Preparation
Growing up in South Texas on the border of Mexico, I heard the story of La Llorona all the time. She was more familiar than the boogeyman and more terrifying than the monster under the bed. Everyone’s version of her tale was slightly different, depending on where they grew up, where they heard it first, or what their family had passed down. One thing was always certain, however: She was guilty. Her wet, grieving soul would wail as it wandered the rios, and her screams would haunt our dreams into adulthood. I no longer fear her hands snatching me away or the riverbanks she is said to appear by, but her story has never stopped haunting me. As I have studied literature and theatre and have seen her story in myths and legend from all over the world, I cannot help but wonder why. What is it about this story that makes it worth telling and retelling? Why do we sympathize with Medea, and vilify La Llorona? Why is it a ghost story and not a tragedy, a fable, or a battle cry? What is it about a woman defying societal expectation that terrifies us? Why is it that no matter how many people I asked to tell me their versions, La Llorona never gets to speak? A whole life of love and loss, and she is reduced to three words, “Ay, mis hijos!” 
Legends do not get to tell their own stories, so if we gave the voiceless woman a chance to set the story straight... What would she teach us? 

Gathering Materials
Assembling the text was one of the most enjoyable parts of the pre-production. In the manner of programmed oral interpretation, I stitched together language, images and circumstances to create a coherent story line.
Given the nature of the story and the way I wanted to unravel it, I decided to utilize found text and devised movement for the piece. I read dissertation papers, poetry, short stories, ghost sightings, plays, and feminist interpretations of Chicano literature. With the rich text of Euripides juxtaposed against the heartbeat of slam poetry, the script quickly found a voice that transcended time and place; it was both ancient and familiar, somber and kinetic. As I gathered versions of the tale, I could not escape the way her story (and the stories of all Chicano women) was deeply intertwined with those of La Virgen de Guadalupe (the Virgin Mary), and La Malinche (the mother of the mestizos, or mixed/Mexicanpeople). These three feminine icons slowly became the pillars of the piece. A holy trinity, if you will. Deity, emotional/spiritual entity, and human. Peace, rage, and grief. This led to the addition of liturgical iconography and ritual within the piece. Pairing mysticism and Catholicism with the indigenous sort of witchcraft attributed to Medea added to the piece’s voice. The poetry of Anne Sexton and Walt Whitman, with their carnal and aggressive imagery, became the Lover’s tongue. He was desirable, well spoken, and made no mistake about what kind of man he was. More complex than a cheater or a villain, he evolved into a complex individual capable of making as many mistakes as La Llorona. To counter The Lover’s voice, La Llorona communicated through movement-denied of a voice until the very end. The chorus became the fusion of the two worlds. Speaking both in poetry and movement, they intertwined both stories with the remaining literature and contemporary texts. At times they stood proxy for the audience, other times for the characters -neither of our world nor from hers-observers, participants and perpetuators of myth.

Much Ado About Nothing


Directing for the Shakespeare for Schools Festival is a thrilling and transformative experience. During my graduate studies, I opted for an independent module called Directing Drama in Schools.  For this module, I returned to St. Marylebone C of E school (I had volunteered there the semester before to assist with GCSE preparations) to direct their entry for the festival.  The festival entry was a piece produced by the Year 12 students and produced at The Shaw Theatre in London. The students were well versed in devising performance through movement, and creating contemporary performance with classical text. And, naturally, they had the accents down.  We approached the piece from a feminist perspective – the world of the play has been turned upside down by men returning to a world that had learned to live without them.  What would that mean for the women who had been liberated in their absence? 
We chose to stage the piece at the close of World War 2, which inspired a fierce, capable, and intelligent presence for the female characters. It was fascinating to approach that history with an English cast, as their relationship to the war is much different than mine as an American. One of our bigger aims was to establish the end of the play as a partnership based in equity and respect, rather than just another woman tamed by love.  Through gender bent portrayals or patriarchs and military officials, elements of physical theatre, and lengthy discussion of gender politics in time of war, we crafted a truly enjoyable production.