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For playwright Alexis Elisa Macedo, a return to Fresno and a distinctive radio-play take on a classic fairy tale

I’m always drawn to artists who find ways to keep going creatively in the midst of adversity. Alexis Elisa Macedo certainly falls into that category.

Pictured above: Clockwise from top right: Samori Etienne (as Wilfred), playwright and Fresno State theater major Alexis Elisa Macedo, Emma Dowdy (as Dementia), and Julliette Holiday (as Granny).

I’m most familiar with Macedo from her work as a Fresno-area actor, but she also has a strong interest in other aspects of theater, including playwriting. In fact, soon after she played Celia in Fresno State’s “As You Like It” last December, she headed to Connecticut for the spring semester to attend a playwriting program at the prestigious National Theater Institute.

That landed her smack in the middle of the pandemic, of course, and when she returned to Fresno in the summer, she has “been writing up a storm.” She will graduate in Spring 2021 from a Fresno State with a degree in Theatre Arts.

Also on the list of things keeping her busy in these tumultuous times: putting together a virtually staged radio-play version of her original play “Red Hood(ie)” using actors (and a director) from across the country. (“They’re from Georgia, Ohio, New Jersey …” we took social distancing very seriously,” she says.) The 30-minute audio production debuts Friday, Sept. 18, on Macedo’s website.

I caught up with her for an interview:



Q: The last time I checked in, you were doing a pivot from playing a vampire (“Let the Right One In”) at Fresno City College to a duke’s daughter in Fresno State’s “As You Like It.” That was during last fall’s theater season, which now seems about as far away as a road trip to New York City. (Who wants to fly these days?) Catch us up on what you’ve been up to since.

A: Oh my goodness (I miss my fangs). You know, now that I think about it this is the first fall semester in a while where I haven’t gotten a bruise from stage combat, or had to wear heels and a corset for a show. I took a break from being onstage and in California to spend this past spring semester at The National Theatre Institute in Waterford, Connecticut. I was one of six in their Advanced Playwriting program.

Since I’ve been back in Fresno, I’ve been writing up a storm! I was awarded the Pet Project Grant, designed my website, got myself on New Play Exchange, was a writer for the short film, “What We Know Now…” and performed two original spoken word poems: “My Truth,” which I independently produced; and “I Don’t Speak Spanish,” which was performed for SolFest, and Julia De Burgos Cultural Arts Center open mic, Voces Fuertes.

Q: What was your time at the National Theater Institute like?

A: NTI is Hogwarts for theater makers. Weekly theatre in New York, Yale and the National Theatre while studying (the theater company) Complicitè in London. Not only does it shock me that I was taught by some of the most inspiring, produced, and published playwrights in the theater world today, but they read my words, and I felt cared about as an artist while being encouraged to craft my voice as a playwright. It was everything I was chasing after and more.

Q: I notice that the descriptors on your email signature (“playwright, theatre maker, activist”) don’t mention acting specifically. Why?

A: I feel a little detached from acting at the moment. That doesn’t mean I don’t love and miss it at times, (I still include it on my website) but the reward I feel when an actor gives life to my words, recently has been greater than anytime I’ve been onstage. And wearing all of the hats mentioned, I also have greater agency over creating roles/opportunities for Women of Color, uplifting silenced voices, and igniting change in the way we put stories onstage. Further down the road, I’m hoping to pull a Lin-Manuel…


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Q: OK, let’s get to your big event: the premiere of “Red Hood(ie).” I was able to listen to the first eight minutes, and I can tell folks that this is not a traditional Little Red Riding Hood tale. How did this idea percolate in your brain?

A: One of my NTI teachers, Donna DiNovelli, challenged us to take classic Little Red Riding Hood, pick it apart and incorporate “something that scares you.” First, I had to ask, what makes Little Red Riding Hood, Little Red Riding Hood, and from there, decide what elements I could take away or add before that story became unrecognizable. I chose to keep: a red cape, a visit to grandma’s house in the woods, and a “wolf.” Building off of that, I had to find something that scared me, and rather than a physical fear of mine, such as being eaten by a shark (don’t laugh, I’ve seen “Jaws” way more times that I would like to admit) I explored a psychological fear of mine, dementia, that I think many people can relate to.

Now, just because the topic scares me doesn’t mean this is a “scary” play. I didn’t want audiences afterwards walking away as if they’ve just sat through a horror movie, I’d like to think that everything I’ve written, thus far, invites self-reflection.

Q: The only character keeping Granny company these days, before her grandson’s visit, is Dementia. You describe Dementia as “Granny’s inner thoughts as if she was personified into a sarcastic, temperamental teenage girl.” What made you go in this direction when personifying an affliction that (mostly) affects older people?

Based on familial experiences and my research, the symptoms of dementia are essentially a character description. Taking those out from under the umbrella of being a disease, I was able to find a lot of overlap between a moody teenager and how someone with this affliction acts: there’s difficulty holding an adult back-and-forth conversation, having them do what you want, or explaining to full understanding why they must respect an asserted authority, etc.

Through personifying Dementia, as I describe her, we literally see Granny living with Dementia, forcing Wolfie to compete for Granny’s fleeting attention. Unknown to him, Dementia the character heightens Wolfie’s frustration, because everything he does has to go through her and she is not letting up at the wheel.

Emma Cordray

Q: Tell us a little about the logistics of producing a radio play in a time when you couldn’t be working in the same room with your collaborators. Who is your director, and what did he/she bring to the project?

A: My director, Emma Cordray, is a genius. She was in the Advanced Directing program at NTI, and after getting to know her more as an artist and a person, I knew that if anybody could bring this piece to life, it was her. I remember texting Emma late one night, shortly after we got home from NTI, and in a mix of frustration and inspiration (Name of a new cocktail I’m going to create, I call dibs TM TM TM) I told her I didn’t want to put this play in a drawer, collecting dust, while I waited for the day I could see it onstage.

I said radio play, and let me tell you, she really did her research on what was already out there and how we could do it better, especially wanting the actors to abandon worrying about how they look and focus on how they sound. Emma would have us rehearse in Zoom calls with our videos off, and at one point in a conference call, and that really pushed us all to listen to each other and ourselves. She also brought William N. Lowe into this project as sound designer, engineer and mixer (I prefer to call him “Sound Wizard,” but those are his technical terms), and listening back to rough cuts throughout the editing process, you can hear the attention to detail. There are effects that, had this been onstage, would’ve been missed or seen as insignificant, but having them in this medium, submerge you further into the world of the play without physically being in the theater.

Q: Usually, people involved with radio plays have a fun story to tell about a weird way a sound effect was achieved. Do you have one of those?

A: Not that I know of, but some of these sounds, like the plastic bags, and the key, and just … I don’t know how they did it, but they did it, and magicians never reveal their secrets.

Q: I’m assuming you transformed “Red Hood(ie)” into a radio play because of the pandemic. Were you ever able to do a reading or workshop of “Red Hoodie” before the transformation? What do you think changed in the transition?

A: Oh, I totally did not write “Red Hood(ie)” to be a radio play. I’d consider it more an audio play. For starters, the stage directions are read. Which apparently in a radio play is a no-no, but very early on into this “transition,” I found that in trying to adapt this play to be performed somehow, I was abandoning the beautiful parts that made me love writing this piece, the stage directions being a huge part of that. Performing a visual play in an audio medium, you need to know when things are moving: when Dementia takes a drag from her cigarette, when Wolfie picks a photo off of the wall, where Granny is looking. Emma supported me wanting to read the stage directions, and we found it gives a feel that this story is being told to you just as Little Red Riding Hood would be read to you by your bedside. Also … why would I deprive myself of the pleasure of reading my own stage directions?

Q: The world seems divided into two groups of people: those who are sort of free-floating through the post-pandemic world, hopped up on Netflix and putting off cleaning out the closet; and those (like you) using this time to create, explore and adapt. As one of those in the latter group, any tips on how the rest of us can get into a higher gear?

A: I think the best piece of advice I can give: Don’t neglect your needs as a human, to feed the hunger of your artist. Honestly, it isn’t easy. It’s something I still struggle with and try to navigate through everyday. Mere days before I left for NTI, I was the victim of domestic violence. I had to board three planes and a train, barely healed, with one of the last things my ex-boyfriend ever told me still ringing in my ears. He said my work was trash, I was trash, and that the world will never see anything I create because it’s not worth seeing. Telling that to an artist where our jobs rely on us bearing our most honest self … saying those words broke something, is an understatement.

So in order to keep up this forward momentum I’ve built up over years, I chose to push through it, and try to ignore it, but that worked as well as trying to run a race on a broken leg. I was feeding the artist part of me while I was 2,000 miles away, and then when I got back home to Fresno, was flooded with the realization that neglecting my mental health as a woman who had just experienced a traumatic event (In addition to everything else 2020 has had to offer), I was just sprinkling salt into the wound. Everyone’s creative motivation is personal and unique, and I would say when it feels like work, quit. Don’t force yourself to create because that’s what you think you should be doing. “But Shakespeare wrote King Lear during the plague!” Blah blah blah. I want to give all of myself to my art because I want to, not push myself to get something done having only given half of what I’m capable of. I’m learning to let myself take this time to find a healthy pace and balance between the woman and survivor I want to be, and the artist I know I am to continue to create works I’m proud of, not getting lost in work.

Q: What’s next for you? And anything else you’d like to say?

A: What’s next? I’ve got a new play in the works, I’m dabbling in music, and I am directing “Esperanza,” for Selma Originals, this October.

“Red Hood(ie)” wouldn’t be possible without the wonderful Emma Cordray, William N. Lowe, Samori Etienne, Julliette Holiday, and Emma Dowdy. Thank you all, not just for lending me your talents, but believing in this piece, and in me.

And to everyone who has crafted this piece from its early drafts: Shelby Fairchild, Ren Dara Santiago, Donna DiNovelli, and Charly Evon Simpson, your feedback and words of encouragement, mean the world to this li’l playwright.



Covering the arts online in the central San Joaquin Valley and beyond. Lover of theater, classical music, visual arts, the literary arts and all creative endeavors. Former Fresno Bee arts critic and columnist. Graduate of Columbia University and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Excited to be exploring the new world of arts journalism.

donaldfresnoarts@gmail.com

Comments (2)

  • Jackie Ryle

    Loved reading this, Donald! Great concept. Thank you. Followed the links but could not find the stream. Will it be repeated? Thanks for keeping us so well informed!

    reply

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