The play… The upcoming graphic novel… the creators behind it… and the reason we need it.
Broken Dolls and Robotic Hearts is a play and soon to be graphic novel, created by yours truly, Lorisse Alicia Ortiz-Bentiné. This story follows a band of characters from an afro-futuristic, post apocalyptic, cyber punk world. Each character we meet explores the connection to their divine inner child, and we find more often than not, that light can only emerge through the darkness.
I began writing this story in 2016 because I felt I needed to spark change in the best way I knew how, however, this story has been brewing in me all my life. I went to school for theater, so when all my friends were protesting in the streets, hosting community conversations, and gathering for city hall meetings to change laws, I was at home telling my story. This was and is my form of resistance.
After the play I decided to turn this story into a graphic novel with my partner, Justin Fischetto. He was so patient with all of my edits and redesigns, and he is a pleasure to work with. This world fits his artistic aesthetic perfectly, so we are excited to bring it to you this year. If you saw the play, there are two scenes that will be included in the graphic novel, that weren’t in the play. A flashback, and a breakup. So, keep your eyes peeled for when it comes out. Volume I should be out by the fall, but don’t quote me on that. These independent creations take time.
I felt the world needed to see people of color represented in sci-fi in a positive way. Sci-fi is one of my favorite genres, and it is the most fun to write for me because my imagination is very vivid. Writing this before even knowing about Black Panther coming out was really a trip. I felt I was riding the right wave, and finally those of us who ever imagined of seeing an all black cast do great things in sci-fi were able to see it happening both on screen in February 2018, and on stage with my cast in July 2018. What a proud moment for the sci-fi genre, and for the Afrofuturism genre. Those of us who are part of the diaspora, feel the term Afrofuturism encompasses our relevance to the sci-fi genre, while representing us accurately, respectably, and imaginatively.
Representation matters. This story simply had to be told. Through my ups and downs, and with the help of amazing supporters who love me, I got it done. Now, we’ll have a graphic novel with an all black cast and mostly female presenting characters, being published this year with Inbeon Studios. This means new cosplays, inspired youngsters of color, and a new wave of fans who feel their stories are valid. If you have put off creating that thing of yours you think might be amazing but aren’t sure, my advice is, no matter how slowly you do it, do it. If you have the idea to do it, it is needed in the world.
Now, for those of you who are curious, please watch the play, before continuing to read this article, as the rest of this article contains spoilers, easter eggs, hidden meanings/insprations, and behind the scenes looks at the full story.
Please forgive the low-budget quality, as we paid for this entire production with the generosity of about 3 people, as well as two years of my own refund checks, and amazing volunteers. That theater struggle life is real. Enjoy!
ABOUT THE STORY
The play has elements of audience participation. For example, we use the exercise from the documentary “The Masks We Wear,” where audience members write what they hide from the world on the masks, and what they show to the world on the reverse side of the mask. This exercise is one that I do with some of the teens I work with, who have trouble opening up. It helps us open up in a safe way, and helps us see how similar we are, anonymously.
A few characters are inspired by my own inner selves. The Crying Old Woman Who Laughs, is inspired from my inner crone, and highlights bruja wisdom I’ve gained throughout my years, as well as wise women in my life who have guided me on this journey. She makes a concoction: “Honey for the sweetness of life. Ginger for the spice of life. Garlic to get rid of the sick. And cayenne pepper to give it a kick. Where there is lemon there can be no germs. Warm it up don’t let it burn. All you need is this witches brew to cure everything from asthma to the flu.” I make a tea that knocks anything out, and it has all of these ingredients, as well as cinnamon and apple cider vinegar. I also use raw honey, not generic (it’s better and amazing for those with seasonal allergies). I also use lime, because I like the taste better than lemon. It works, and my illness is usually gone quickly, especially if I catch it early on. Try it. This character is a fun one, and Naomi Andebrhan brought her to life on stage like no one else could have.
The Divine Child is more of a theme than a character. It is inspired by my own inner knowing that has always been there; the part of me that always knew everything, until it grew up and had to relearn how to exist because logic and social conditioning got in the way. We forget how to play, how to be free, how to be fearless, and how to live unapologetically. It gets kicked down sometimes and we have to be strong and pick her up. Once we learn to celebrate our inner child, we realize she has always known everything that we forget. I ask my inner child for wisdom and strength, for she is stronger and wiser than me. Yet, she is part of me, so all of that wisdom and strength is accessible to me. She helps me remember who I am, and this is a major theme that runs throughout the story.
Lady C.I.N.N.A.M.O.N. (Cyborg Intelligence Native Natural And Machine On Nitrogen) can be seen as my maiden self, discovering, and experiencing life. She has been saved by love, she is still finding her way. Love saved me so many times on my journey. She will have a deeper story in part two, where we will see her backstory, and how she became a cyborg, lost her son, and got separated from her true love. Immigration and Muslim Ban policies in place are somewhat reflected in the registered and unregistered cyborgs, and those in hiding from the government and ICE.
The scene that discusses rape explores a true story of an ex that left something on the floor one night – I still don’t know what happened. He won’t ever say what he did. He said he couldn’t remember, yet he remembered what he didn’t do when I asked him if he did it. I’ll most likely never know, but I have a feeling I know exactly what he did. I hope to never see him or hear from him again – but he’ll be hearing about me soon. He was controlling, manipulative, jealous, and a liar. He bought me flowers to apologize for being late one night. He had hickeys and markings on his neck and claimed it was a cheese allergy. Boy bye. Scene 8 explores things I would say to him if I ever had to face him again. Hopefully, scene 8 is cathartic and not a self-fulfilling prophecy. I chose a to have two women go through this intentionally, because it isn’t represented enough. Nor are female “Mad Scientists”, and having a female presenting Mad Scientist was intentional.
The two dolls discussing suicide and abuse, touches on a time I went through exactly that. A few people in the audience who remember it from college, messaged me about it after. Those were indeed heavy times. I also do not kill spiders, as mentioned in this scene. They eat mosquitoes, and EFF those guys. The enemy of my enemy is my friend!
Father Time. Many of the teens I work with do not know their fathers. This is tough for them. I do my best to support them and let them know that they are whole and will still know how to be a man/adult, and a better father/parent than their fathers ever were. Some of the youth I work with also go through life without both of their parents, or after losing their loved ones and guardians. I, along with many other empaths in this line of work, experience what is called secondary trauma from helping them through it. It was somewhat of a catharsis to write some of the elements of this story, as it allowed me to release myself a bit from some of that secondary trauma, while retaining my empathy for them.
Grandfather Clock is absolutely my inner wise old man, always laughing, always telling stories and jokes, and always dropping gems of wisdom. The line about laughing loudly was taken directly from my Uncle Doug (S.I.P.), after I told him his laugh was very loud. I cried after writing that line and making that part of his legacy permanent. He was a major inspiration for Grandfather Clock. Notes for Javan Zapata, who played this character were often “laugh louder please.”
My uncles really inspired me in other ways as well. My Uncle Gregory’s art is maze-like in essence. I mimicked that art style all throughout my life. My artistry has evolved into the style you see reflected on Mad Scientist’s head and weapon, and Lady C.I.N.N.A.M.O.N.’s face. Her weapon is loosely inspired by the Halo Sword. I made it from cardboard, painter’s tape, acrylic paint, fabric, and a sharpie.
We had to delete a scene with Robot and Broken Doll 2, due to someone dropping out of the play. There was a lot of that with this play, but we still had a complete play. This deleted scene was about breaking up, and it was based on a teen relationship I had to meditate. It will be in the graphic novel.
“You lie to my face while your soul/heart bleeds,” is how I feel about people who instill damage, lie about it, and hurt others, while not healing from something themselves. Crying Old Woman Who Laughs says something like this to Mad Scientist as well. Easter egg! More about Mad Scientist will be revealed in part two.
Audience interaction. My first play had the audience moving with the cast and interacting with them. When Crying Old Woman Who Laughs yells at the audience to pick up The Divine Child, audience participation is welcome. She would’ve gotten up if an audience member came to her aide. All of my plays will likely encourage audience participation, because sometimes, sitting down and experiencing catharsis isn’t enough to spark change in people’s hearts. And that’s what I aim to do with every story I create.
About ending the story with a death that cannot be fixed, my grandparents passed away 2 years apart from each other, my uncle passed away 1 year before that, and I lost more people than I can count in 2015. I wrote this play after and during that whole process. Father Time dying at the end represents exactly how I felt with these losses. I can’t get them back but I know they’re with me. I couldn’t stop their deaths but I was with them as much as I could. It was dark, but the light that emerged after those moments, gave me so much hope.
1. The Suri tribe in Africa, paints their faces with dots. There is an homage to that in my makeup designs. Although I wrote this before the Black Panther film came out, I was happy to ride this Afrofuturism wave.
2. Lady C.I.N.N.A.M.O.N.’s shirt and Father Time’s pants match fabric swatches intentionally. Easter egg!
3. Laughter followed by tears is a running theme, so it was intentional to make the car in the last scene look silly followed by a very serious scene that made you feel deeply for the characters. The Crying Old Woman, cries alone and laughs with others. She sometimes cries while laughing and laughs while crying. It is two sides of the same coin in this play. I can’t count how many funerals I’ve attended since 2014, but I can tell you there were tears and laughter at every single one.
4. The Shadow – the evil character – and The Bartender – the help – was intentionally casted as a white man. The reason is pretty self-explanatory, but I’ll explain it anyway. We as people of color, are often depicted as/and celebrated for our portrayals of lesser characters like the aforementioned. And Ian Roberts is a very good sport about evening the playing field. Bravo, Ian. He’s also my neighbor, friend, and did so much for this play. I am eternally grateful. He is also not evil at all.
5. The license plate on the car in the last scene said “MD SCI”. Both because she was a doctor/scientist and because she is mad. She is mad as in evil and crazy, and also mad as in angry about Lady C.I.N.N.A.M.O.N. leaving her.
6. “Story sharing is sacred. We must tell our own stories, lest someone else tell it with far less accuracy.” – Something I teach my youth as we analyze media, and all the stories we are fed. Society teaches us to be consumers. I teach how to be a creator. Your story is interesting enough to be told because it is yours and it is true. Also, if you like it, others will too.
I heard once that a flower without its petals is still a flower. It must have stayed in the recesses of my mind because it mirrors the broken dolls in this story, just trying to live their normal lives despite their pasts and their broken pieces… as we all are.
Article by: Lorisse Alicia Ortiz-Bentiné
Broken Dolls and Robotic Hearts was created and directed by: Lorisse Bentiné
The graphic novel will be lettered and designed by: Lorisse Alicia Ortiz-Bentiné and Illustrated by: Justin Fischetto
IG: @brokendollsandrobotichearts, @justinfischetto
Twitter: @bdollsrhearts, @justinfischetto