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labworks 2015 title boxTHE GRAVEYARD SHIFT 

workshop performance

written by Chelsea Sutton
directed by Ryland Shelton

Three employees of Sparky's Burger Barn endure the late-night shift, as they each struggle with their life choices and hang-ups, neurotic calls from the owner, and the fast-food prank war that has broken out between them and the boys over at Mickey D's.

Cast in Alphabetical Order:
Jakob Berger, Shaughn Buchholz, Stef Estes, Jessica Salans

Skylight Theatre / SkyLab

5 QUESTIONS FOR WRITER, Chelsea Sutton

1. What inspired you to become a writer?Chelsea Sutton crop 200x pic

Perhaps it was The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales. Or the Goosebumps series. Or Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. Or movies like The Brave Little Toaster or cartoons like Gargoyles. Later, maybe it was Eliot's Prufrock.

Point is, I wrote stories from a very young age because I was painfully shy and couldn't say them out loud. So I absorbed everything – we were a movie-going, book-loving family – and started writing stories and poetry as soon as I knew letters. (The oldest Chelsea original is about two dinosaurs who fall in love...I'm not sure how it ends because my spelling was horrendous in kindergarten.)

Dance brought me to theater. Dance let me express my voice through my body. I could do ballet in front of hundreds of strangers, but I couldn't do a book report in front of my class. Dance showed me other ways to tell a story that connected with people right in the room with you, that expressed things that had no words. Dance brought me to acting and acting proved that I liked the feeling of words in my mouth, the sound of them in the air, as much as I liked them on the page.

In the end, I became a writer because I needed to. Not because I was inspired to.

2. What's the one piece of advice that you were given that's really stuck with you?

“Don’t be afraid to write the impossible thing.” In college I was struggling with a magical realism play because there was a moment where it needed to snow, so in my usual way I was over-thinking it and worrying too much about how a director would be able to make that happen. I would write long sweeping paragraphs describing just how and why this was possible. Thankfully, my brilliant playwriting teacher Naomi Iizuka stopped me and gave me a rare gift. She gave me the ability to say: “that’s the director’s problem.” Don’t worry so much about the practicality of things – write the magic that the story needs. This is theater. Nothing is impossible. Write the truth – and if the truth is snow, goddamnit, make it snow.

3. What's your favorite thing about writing for the theater?

The terror of handing something over to a group of people and asking them to buy into and fall in love with it so much that they’ll put months of their lives and hours of energy into it, merely to perform it in front of yet another group of people who will hopefully buy into it and fall in love with again and again, with the hope that some little ball of emotion will build up that they’ll have to scoop into their heart and carry around with them, at least for a while. It’s a lot of trust and a lot of intimacy and a lot of necessary connection. There’s no way around it. It’s terrifying. And I love that. I felt many of the same things when I tried rock climbing. The visceral experience is the same.

4. What's the best play you've seen in the last year (and where)?

Surprisingly, one of the best plays I’ve seen recently was Pygmalion directed by Jessica Kubzansky at the Pasadena Playhouse. I’m not a huge Shaw fan, and if you had told me I would have liked this production as much as I did, I wouldn’t have believed you. But this production was biting and relevant and amazing – and it certainly gave me hope that you can write a play that is actually evergreen, if done right. This was done right. I also have to give a shout out to the play Andre and Dorine at the Los Angeles Theatre Center, performed by Kulunka Teatro from Spain. There’s not one piece of spoken dialogue in the whole piece! It’s all mask, gesture and movement – and it was one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen in a long, long time. I almost feel like a traitor to the emerging playwrights in the world, including myself, by referencing a rather old play and one with no dialogue. Sorry folks. These are the things I aspire to.

I must also give a shout out to the 90 or so plays I read as part of the reading committee for the Young Playwrights Festival at the Blank Theatre. I read some absolutely beautiful plays written by teenagers (I’m mad I didn’t write them), some of which moved on to be produced in the festival in June.

5. Where's your favorite place to go in L.A?

I can’t always differentiate between liking something because it is actually interesting and significant, or liking something because it feels like home. So I’ll default to what feels like home. Priscilla’s Coffee & Tea in Burbank. Bob’s Big Boy at 4 a.m. Timmy Nolan’s Bar with a cider and fried pickles. The Skylight Bookstore, Vroman’s Bookstore, the Last Bookstore, and that dusty bookstore in downtown Burbank with the paperbacks stacked so high around the register you can only see the eyes of the owner and hear his grumbling voice. The Griffith Observatory, and the path leading from it down to Fern Dell Park. The courtyards of the Pasadena Playhouse and the Geffen Playhouse. The brick walls of the Elephant and The Blank theatres. The prop room of the Falcon Theatre. The taco place outside the Mark Taper Forum. The lobby of LATC. The makeshift playhouse that once existed in the old Alexandria hotel. Anywhere that sells freshly made pie.


LAb WORKS is a festival of new plays by our resident PLAYlab writers performed as workshop productions and as readings in our 'black box' theatre. These are truly new plays; each year the PLAYlab writers begin and complete a new play from scratch. 

Join the creator IN-Konversation immediately following. This moderator assisted chat allows the writer to immediately solicit audience feedback to further advance their project. It's a unique opportunity for the writer to ask pointed questions about what works and what doesn't.


INKubator is our development program and includes:
    ▪    Play Reading Series, works from across the greater Los Angeles area
    ▪    PlayLab, invitation only professional play writing laboratory
    ▪    LAb Works, annual festival of new plays from the PlayLab writers
    ▪    INK Works, extended workshop series
    ▪    SOLOmojo, solo performance intensive
    ▪    unAUTHORized, writing workshop for 18-28 year olds
    ▪    The Lyric Project, teen lyric writing workshops taught in LA high schools and detention centers culminating in a Concert of new songs