Swimming With the Swans at Circle X’s One-Act Festival

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Fielding Edlow

Once a month on Sunday afternoons, I meet with eight exceptional playwrights who congregate for a shared love of playwriting. Many of them are also accomplished TV and film writers, but they leave their sets and writers’ rooms and traipse to a little theater in Atwater Village, bringing as much passion and care to their plays as to their own livelihoods.

In this writers group, we hear 10 or so pages of new works read aloud by the fantastic Circle X actors ““ frequently at a performance level.

About a year and a half ago, my friend, the brilliant playwright Jim Leonard, asked me to join. I was elated. This group is solely about theater, with nobody sneaking in a pilot or a screenplay. And this speaks to my unabashed love of the theater, which developed as I cut my teeth in an eclectic and raw off-off Broadway scene in New York.

I’ve been in many other writing groups and varied theater companies, but Circle X is a self-propelling, infectiously positive force of nature. The people at Circle X don’t just read, listen and dissect — they put up plays, they give playwrights week-long workshops with their own personal dramaturge. They are the real deal.

So one day in October, Jen Kays, the terrific literary director and actress, gleefully announced, “How do you guys feel about doing a One-Act Festival?!” We all jump at the prospect. We then get to collectively move from being a circle of writers in chairs to being immersed in a fully realized production.

And this is why we gather — to create work and affect ourselves and an audience. We are a democratic group — almost everything is done with respect to a group conscience. “Who wants a theme? Who doesn’t want a theme? What works best for the writers?”Â That’s the tacit and spoken currency that makes Circle X exceptional — its continued commitment to the playwrights and their process.

As I have learned firsthand, the more that the focus on my work is incisive and penetrating, the better is the clay the actors have to play with.

Jenn Kays and Robert Manning Jr.

We settle on a sex/love theme and are given the option to cull previously unproduced work from our hard drive or start completely afresh utilizing the expert guidance of our biweekly meetings. Our group is a family. We bake banana bread for each other, share golden submission opportunities and provide the emotional sounding board for each other’s nascent work.

When I visited NYC, my hometown, in December, I saw Angels in America at the Signature Theatre, supporting fellow Circle X member Bill Heck in his role as Joe Pitt. And during the intermission as I ambled down the halls of the Signature, I saw Lee Blessing’s remarkable corner saluting his own season of work in 1992. Lee is a member of  the Circle X writers. I smiled thinking about how the group places Lee, a playwriting titan, alongside me, a new writer just out of the gate.

We spend three weeks reading all the 10-minute one-acts, frequently changing the actors so the writers can hear new voices and see where there might be a fit. I ask our multi-talented artistic director Tim Wright when is the cut-off date for submissions? And Jim Leonard interrupts and barks at me, “You’re IN! You’re in!” And I could break down in tears, feeling I’ve earned my place and my work was valued and respected by my peers and mentors. I had been feverishly chipping away to find my space to play”¦ somewhere, and to hear those welcoming words is a writer’s soul medicine. I have found my tribe ““ I”˜m swimming with the swans in a newly refurbished, beautiful Atwater pond.

I have two possible one-acts. Circle X lets me hear them both and then asks me which one I would most like to be in the festival. I’m torn between the two, but then fellow actor Doug Sutherland approaches me and says, “You know, I really love how your other piece is between two women”¦ and it’s so completely unique”. I ruminate and, again, I realize it’s not about me but about the collective experience of the entire evening.

Fielding Edlow, Doug Sutherland and Suzy Jane Hunt

I seek counsel from my artistic consigliere, my husband Larry, and I decide to take Doug’s suggestion. He has allowed me to view my own work with a different lens. And now I get to act with the hugely talented Doug who will play an elf to my bipolar, bisexual bikini waxer.

And then, Tim inquires if I would also like to act in Melanie Marnich’s outstanding new one-act, Work in Progress. Yes”¦ I have blissfully come full circle. I auditioned for Melanie’s full-length play Blur years ago at the Manhattan Theatre Club and remembered her transcendent, special play about a spunky blind girl. I fell in love with her writing then and am now honored to serve her vision of this singular one-act.

And so Lee Blessing, James Duff, Leo Geter, Jim Leonard, Melanie Marnich, Timothy Mason, Mike O’Malley, Meredith Stiehm and yours truly will spin wildly comic riffs and break hearts in our miniature worlds. A group of 11 actors will disappear and float seamlessly from role to role. The five-week run is an astonishing testament to a winning theater ecology, which catapults a playwright out of her writing solitude and into the front row of an audience. And I am triply blessed as I get to participate as actor, writer and resident banana bread baker with the unflappable Circle X Theatre Co, which continues to mount juicy, electrifying works for the Los Angeles theater community and beyond. It was worth the wait.

First Annual Ten-Minute Play Festival, presented by Circle X Theatre Co., opens March 4; plays Fri.-Sat., 8 pm; through March 26. Tickets: $10. Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Ave., Atwater Village (free onsite parking); 323.644.1929 or circlextheatre.org.

Fielding Edlow has had plays developed/produced in New York and Los Angeles with Naked Angels, NY Stage & Film, PSNBC, Circle X Theatre Co, Echo Theatre Co. and Comedy Central Stage. Her first solo show Coke-Free J.A.P. was performed in the NYC Fringe Festival (Backstage’s “Best of Fringe Award”) and ran four months in LA at the McCadden Theatre. Her full-length play The Something-Nothing was produced at the Lounge Theatre with the Mineral Theatre Co. and was a semi-finalist in the Attic Theatre’s National One-Act Competition. Her newest play Admissions is currently being workshopped. She performed her short stories with Sit n Spin, Show n Tell and regularly improvises with her UCB indie team Sworn to Sedition. Her latest solo play Sugar Daddy premiered in the Hollywood Fringe Festival 2010 then performed at the Comedy Central Stage. She graduated with a B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania and teaches creative writing at LACC.

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Fielding Edlow

Fielding Edlow