The Lip Service report: Notes from a mermaid

Four questions for Italome Ohikhuare, who took her story “The Day I Became a Mermaid” to the stage during May’s Lip Service show.

An aspiring filmmaker and actress, Italome  Ohikhuare recently received her MFA in Film Production from the University of Miami. She also wrote, produced and starred in her first short film “The Mermaid,” (based on her Lip Service story; read it below) which she’s currently developing into a feature film. She is based in Los Angeles, working as a freelance screenwriter.

How did you get linked up with Lip Service?
I used to attend Lip Service as an audience member for years. I never got the courage to submit a story, though I always secretly wanted to. Then, this past spring, I attended a writing workshop with [Lip Service Founder] Andrea Askowitz. She’s such a ballsy storyteller! And she encouraged me to be the same. She also made me feel like my stories were unique, and worth sharing. So the next time the Lip Service submission window opened, I took a chance and submitted—and I got in! Read more.

How did this particular story come together, from the initial idea to workshopping to the performance itself?
This story started as a journal entry—yes, the “exorcism” really happened! It was such a strange afternoon, I had to write it down. And then I put it away for a while, not sure what to do with it—until the Lip Service submission window opened, when I submitted it, and it was accepted. But at that point, only half the story was there—the whole “deformed mermaid storyteller” side of it came after days of workshopping and re-writing it with [Esther Martinez and Nick Garnett, co-producers of Lip Service]. They really encouraged me to find the deeper meaning of it—like why this experience was so pivotal in shaping my life today. In fact, one of the main reasons I recently moved to LA was because I realized this experience set me on the path towards what I truly believe is my life’s purpose: to be a storyteller.

For you, as a writer and filmmaker, stories must be very important. It seems that your life has been filled with stories from many different sources—stories of demons, of goddesses in rivers, stories in the form of social expectations, and stories in the form of doctors’ diagnoses. How do you negotiate these many stories, drawing or departing from them, in your own work?
It’s funny, I always get asked this question: where do my stories come from? They’re pretty zany, I know. But I’ve had a pretty zany life experience. I’m a Nigerian-American female, from a lovable, dysfunctional, and highly superstitious family. I’m a London raised, Texas-bred, die-hard LA Valley girl with touches of Brooklyn and Little Havana.  And I was once an aspiring back-up dancer, stand-up comedian, youth pastor and criminal defense lawyer (among other things!)

Needless to say, I’ve experienced a lot of different people, places and things. And my stories reflect that. But they also reflect my wild imagination — a melting pot of everything I’ve read and watched over the years. I grew up reading EVERYTHING. By elementary school, I’d checked out every Stephen King book from the library. I’d steal my Mom’s Danielle Steel novels. Bible stories and urban legends continually fascinate me.

And I’m a Film and TV addict—Netflix and Hulu are my best friends, I have no shame admitting that. And one of the best parts of getting my MFA in Film was I literally spent every day watching and analyzing hundreds of films and TV shows.

So I guess my stories end up being a delicate balance of both—wildly imaginative, but rooted in my real life experience. Because as wild as my stories can get, I always want them to be “relatable” and “human”—so that anyone and everyone can connect with them.

What stories are you working on now?
“The Mermaid” lives on! I’m currently working on developing it into a feature film script, which I plan to produce, direct, and star in. I’m also working on a few other screenplay leads, including a historical biopic and a low-budget horror film—stay tuned!

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