Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The Beach in Winter—What a Spot for a Writer!

The beach in winter is amazing! The ocean has its own steely character, deep blue with sparkling highlights; the cyclists are more dedicated; and the light—well, the slanted light over the ocean is glorious, even through scattered rainclouds.

Yesterday was my first day as Writer in Residence at the Annenberg Community Beach House. If you have never been here before, you are in for a lovely surprise, rain or shine—even without taking a dip in the pool (which is closed for the winter). Whether you are a writer, a reader, or just curious about what poets do at residencies, you are warmly invited to stop by the Marion Davies Guest House this Friday from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. and every Friday through March 10 for a conversation. You might also want to avail yourself of a docent tour of this historic house, built for the actress Marion Davies by her longtime companion, the newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst. 

Bring a favorite poem, and I'll show you some of mine! We can talk about any aspect of poetry that interests you, and you are welcome to ask me about my book in progress or anything else you've always wanted to know about poetry but were afraid to ask. 

Hope to see you this Friday—which is forecast to be sunny, by the way!—or any other Friday for the next eight weeks.



Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The Annenberg Community Beach House welcomes poet Dinah Berland as incoming Writer-in-Residence (tenure: January 10 – March 14, 2017.) Berland focuses on the idea of “Poetry and the Art of Listening,” and will be presenting monthly public events at the Beach House under this theme. Her residency project is to finish work on a chapbook of poems, titled Fugue for a New Life. Berland’s monthly events are augmented with an ongoing workshop at the Camera Obscura, weekly public office hours at the Beach House (Fridays from 11am-1pm,) and regular blog postings at The public is welcome to visit Berland during her office hours to discuss literary matters and the residency experience, or check out the blog to ask questions or leave comments online.

Dinah Berland
is a widely published poet and book editor with a background in art. Her poems have appeared in more than two dozen journals, including The Antioch Review, The Iowa Review, New Letters, and Ploughshares, and are included in many anthologies. She earned her MFA in Creative Writing from Warren Wilson College, received an Individual Artist’s Fellowship in Poetry from the California Arts Council, and won an international poetry prize from the Atlanta Review. Her book Hours of Devotion (Schocken, 2007) is a verse adaptation of the first (1855) full-length book of Jewish prayers "written by a woman for women."

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Week Four: Celebration!

Opening night is finally here! A wise mentor once told me that celebration is as important as preparation. There's always ups and down on any journey- but the fact that you've arrived at all is a fact worth celebrating! It also allows us to mark the occasion and honor the work and preparation it took to get there- important things for our self-confidence and mental well-being. And what better way to celebrate than share the product of our labors with you!

Everyone is extremely excited to get to perform We (or Us) for an audience. As we were putting the final touches on the piece over the last week, it became evident that the last missing ingredient was you. You're the real breath of life, the lightning bolt that gives energy to our creations. We can only do so much for empty chairs- it's the energy that you share with us that allows us to make the best art we can. So come share We (or Us) with us, and let's celebrate the moment and all the moments that make this life special together!

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Week Three: Balance

We (or Us) is shaping up nicely. As we rapidly approach our opening, every rehearsal seems to advance the show leaps and bounds, and new challenges lie around every corner. It never ceases to amaze me how the more you know and practice something, the more familiar you become with an art or activity, the more you realize how much more there is to learn.

A particularly striking lesson made itself apparent a couple days ago. We were working on a piece which features two duets happening on different levels of the house. Both couples knew the choreography and danced beautifully, but there were moments when they were out of sync; that is, moments of imbalance in the stage picture. As one couple has more leeway to move than the other, the immediate solution seemed to be to adjust their floor pattern to compliment the other, more stationary pair. However, there remained a moment that proved to be troublesome- no matter where we placed or moved the mobile couple, the picture just didn't seem right. Then it hit me- move the more confined couple just slightly. We did, and the picture immediately found its balance. The moment reminded me that sometimes, all that is needed to rediscover balance is a small shift in perspective. Pushing the boundary of percieved possiblity ever so slightly presented a solution to the problem. The same principle applies to many aspects of our lives- often, all we need to grasp goals just beyond our reach is a re-evaluation of situation, to turn a "can't" into a "maybe". Whether it's trying to balance on top of another person, a stage picture, a checkbook, or a relationship, changing the way you perceive the circumstances allows for more creative and successful solutions.

All of us here at Post Mortem can't wait to share We (or Us) with you! See you next week!

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Week Two: Harmony

This week marked the entrance of a dear friend to the show. Despite it being almost a year since we had last worked together, we immediately picked up where we left off and began to create as if no time had passed at all. I was reminded of why we worked so well together (her playful, positive energy), and how fulfilling it is to be reunited with an old friend. It's truly one of the joys of life- and would fit perfectly into We (or Us)!

However, there is no piece dedicated to such an occasion, nor for many of life's moments which should truly be cherished. These are no lesser than the experiences we chose for the show, and there are plenty of mythological stories which discuss them- but we only have time for a few. So how do we as a company do justice to those not chosen?

When the question was brought up to the cast, it didn't take long to find a solution. A cast member suggested that we use our transitions and the moments in between the moments (or pieces) to address the audience and the experiences previously passed over. The brilliance of the response not only found a solution to my question, but reiterated why we do ensemble theater: together, our voices create more beautiful layers and complexities than our singular efforts ever could.

Thanks to everyone that came to our acroyoga workshop last Tuesday, and see you all next week!

Friday, June 10, 2016

Week One: Introductions

Hi! I'm Kyle Johnston, Business Manager of Post Mortem Movement Theater- thanks for reading! This week marked the ensemble's first week working in the space. Introduction to a new playing space is always exciting, particularly one as beautiful and iconic as the Marion Davies Guest House. It was invigorating to see the performers explore their new environment, reveling in the possibilities allowed by structures surrounding them. The joy and passion in their eyes was touching, and it echoed exactly the kind of joy we seek to lead our audience to discover in We (or Us).

We (or Us) is a piece that, above all, endeavors to invite the audience to celebrate the wondrous aspects of the human experience which connect us all. Exploring themes such as transcendent love, the marvel of creation, and the strength of friendship, We (or Us) uses the classic tales of our ancient mythos to remind us of the beautiful parallels in our own lives and the timelessness of the human spirit. The unique staging of the Guest House will allow us to incorporate and invite the audience into the performance in a more intimate way, connecting them with the players in a deeper and more meaningful manner than typically afforded. The piece has already imparted a warmness and lightness upon the cast, and we can't wait to share it with you!

We (or Us)
An original piece by Post Mortem Movement Theater
Directed by Angela Lopez
Choreography by Andrea Luna and Angela Lopez
Music by Eric Pham and Jess Gabriell Cron

Andrea Luna
Angela Lopez
Jeremy Hahn
Katie Powers-Faulk
Kyle Johnston
Stephen Beitler

Monkey puppet head, pre-completion

Monkey puppet heads

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

week #9 - So long and thanks for the memories!

Well, time ticked by and I am sad to say this is my last week here at the Marion Davies Beach House. I will miss everything about this place and the people I met during my tenure here.

I took a little time over the weekend to reflect on how my writing changed during my stay and I wanted to share my thoughts with you below. If you came to my event on Tuesday night, I talked about some of these same issues (I also read a short portion of my novel that I wrote here.)

best writing backdrop ever!!!
Over the course of the last 8 weeks, people who visited my office hours often asked what exactly am I doing here at the beach house and how did I get here? I had answered a call for a writer-in-residence from the Annenberg blog. Each residency focuses on a different genre of creativity. Before me was a choreographer and after me will be an acting troupe. My call was specifically for a fiction writer.

The application process involved sending in a few letters of recommendation, a writer’s statement, proposed events for these types of evenings, a writing sample as well as a description of the project I’m currently working on.

glorious sun in eyes in front of Marion Davies Beach House
So for the past ten weeks I’ve had the wonderful opportunity of having a place away from home to call my office. In addition to the hours spent writing without the distractions of my home office, (think lots of dog barking and neighborhood construction) I hold office hours once a week for three hours on Mondays from 11-2. I’ve been so pleased with the turnout of these office hours. The work I’ve been presented with has run the gamut from short stories, to novel ideas, to picture books to a graphic novel to a Greek cookbook. All enthusiastic writers with great stories to tell. I will hold my final office hours on Monday, March 14th from 11-2 in my office on the second floor of the Marion Davies building.

The novel that I was able to complete during my time here is currently titled, “Time May Change Me” The gist of the novel is about a woman with a transgendered daughter who is forced to move back in with her parents after years of estrangement. It sounds pretty heavy, but I think, I hope it has a lot of comedic elements to it.

There are many ways in which my writing was greatly impacted by my time here at the Annenberg:

Planning: Let me start by talking about the planning rituals I usually go through. Because, in my writing life before the Annenberg, I worked on such limited writing time. My average on a good day was 2 hours. Keep in mind I didn’t start writing until I had kids, so I just learned to write within these parameters. Because of this, I really would spend a lot of time planning and outlining so that I could best economize my writing time. When it came time to write, I’d just follow my outline and “produce".  However, something happened with all of the extra time I had here. I felt liberated from my usual planning and for the first time, I wrote without a premeditated structure. This was incredibly liberating for me and I felt as though a lot more discoveries happened both for me as a writer and for my characters. I allowed them to meander without pressure and they’d inevitably take me someplace unexpected or interesting – places I don’t think they would have ended up had I been locked down to preplanned plotlines. This leads me to structure.

Structure: So as I mentioned, Time May Change me is about a woman who returns home with her daughter to estranged parents. At first, the structure was split in two: before and after the daughter's transition. My original vision was to have each section alternate between these before and afters. But as I began writing, it became apparent that so much of the momentum and energy of the story was in the after. So there was a lot of cutting (not deleting because I ended up saving some of the before sections to use as flashbacks) and I decided to keep the story in the “after” sections. I did leave a “before” in there to start the novel as a prologue.

The Writing Process:
For me, the writing process has been very accordion-like this sort of stretching and then compressing goes on. I’ve spend a long time in my MFA program and in writer’s workshops discussing how we all write. I definitely am a strong proponent of moving forward and getting words on the page, even if those words are not ultimately the ones that will end up on the page.

So, there you have it! I think the biggest piece of advice I’d offer fellow writers is to get out of your comfort zone, change up your writing routine and try something new! If you usually write in the morning, try writing at night. If you usually write in first person present, check out the third person past tense. And keep applying to those residencies! You never know what metamorphosis your writing might go through at a beachside office!

Come by my last office hours Monday, March 14th from 11:00-2:00

artist-in-residence, that's me!!!
And feel free to keep up with my writing life at

A very special thanks to everyone at the Annenberg and the Marion Davies Beach House for having me!

And here's where I'll be over the next two months! Come say hi!

Saturday, March 12, 2016 - SCBWI Writer's Day, Los Angeles 8:00 - 4:30 

I'll be hanging out at Writer's Day at the Skirball Museum: Skirball Cultural Center
2701 North Sepulveda Blvd. - Los Angeles, CA 90049

 Saturday, April 2, 2016 - AWP CONFERENCE, Los Angeles  12:55-2:45

I will be signing my novel, Strays, at the Literary Classics booth at the AWP conference in Los Angeles. 
Sunday, April 10th: 11:00 - 12:50 - Los Angeles Times Festival of Books

I will be signing my young adult novel, Strays, at the SCBWI booth at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books.