Ash and Feather: A Bird-Girl and Her Father’s Cancer, is a six-episode podcast about a Black family, daughter Phoenix and her two dads, one of whom has brain cancer. Written by local playwright and cancer survivor Sharon Frances, Ph.D, the podcast was directed by Daphnie Sicre, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Theatre Arts at LMU, who cast LMU Theatre Arts students in the production. Sicre and her students donating their time, spending a month rehearsing the play before recording the podcast.
(Access the podcast for free here.)
Ash and Feather was created by Frances to raise awareness about Black mental health, intersecting with medical trauma, anti-racism, and queer family life. This project raises funds for Well Beings Studio and the National Brain Tumor Society, and was funded by a grant for artists with disabilities from the California Arts Council and the National Arts and Disability Center at UCLA. A part of the project, Frances also co-hosted a panel addressing intersectional issues of Black and LGBTQ health, along with Karl O’Brien Williams, an educator, theatre-maker, and actor.
“When Sharon first sent me the script, I was mesmerized by the poetry and the use of puppetry to tell the story of cancer survivors,” remarked Sicre. “I could visualize the entire play as I was reading it, but more importantly, I have had a lot of people in my family diagnosed with cancer. All four of my grandparents had it, and three died of it. I remember how hard it was for my grandmother, the only one who survived, to share that she had cancer. I was 18 years old, but she couldn’t find the words to a talk with me about it. We need work of theatre that addresses these types of conversations and especially for youth. Thus, for me, it was a no brainer, poetry, puppetry and a close to the heart topic.”
Sicre continued, “When we decided to do the show via PodCast, Sharon gave me full autonomy to cast whomever I wanted. Immediately I thought, who do I want to see in these roles? I want to see a Black family. Why, you may ask, because I don’t see enough Black families in TYA (Theatre for Young Actors) work. I wanted to protagonist to be a young Black woman, and both her parents also be Black. I also thought about the health disparities in Black communities and how important it would be to center this story around Black Lives.
As a college professor at LMU, it was crucial to turn to my students on such a project. Part of my job is to offer learning opportunities for them. Students at LMU do a lot of service, and this play was a great way to get involved in a production, serve the community, and learn about work-shopping a new play for the first time ever. Students were able to contribute ideas, thoughts and see first-hand how our playwright Sharon incorporated them. With each rehearsal, they got to see the script develop, grow and they learned how to act for a ‘radio’ play. This is a very different technique than acting for the stage. And as theatre majors, what better opportunity to do theatre and learn. We couldn’t have done it without them. They were spectacular and gave life to these characters.”
Pictured above are LMU theatre students Allesse Patterson, Camila Robles Ruiz, Katie Leszynski, Jaelyn Williams, Isabella Johnson and Mackenzie Ross. Also pictured is Prof. Karl Williams from BMCC and Prof. Chris Berry from UNCCharlotte, and the playwright Sharon Frances.