Wordplay August 2009
The official newsletter of Young Playwrights Inc. The only professional theater in the United States dedicated to playwrights aged 18 and under.
wordplay The Newsletter of Young Playwrights Inc August 2009 Write This! 13 Master Play Challenge On July 18, 2009, young playwrights, their families and friends, and the general public gathered at the Vineyard Theatre to hear the plays authored by the 13 young writers participating in this year’s Young Playwrights Inc. Urban Retreat. The readings were the culmination of a week long intense playwriting “boot camp” that drew participants from across the country. With lots of writing assignments, special “lunch and learn” sessions with seasoned theater professionals including Walter Bobbie and David Henry Hwang, master classes, and several visits to see Broadway and Off-Broadway theatre, these writers ended the week exhausted but enriched. When the playwrights arrived a week earlier, their first task was to begin writing. Each participant kept a journal and notebook full of exercises and ideas. Each workshop throughout the week involved skillbuilding exercises to help the writers further hone their craft. The topics of workshops ranged from character to conflict, setting to major dramatic question. Then, on Thursday, the playwrights received their commission. The writers were to create a short play with the following guidelines: no stage directions would be read, the only props they could use were a coconut, a hammer, a handkerchief, an umbrella, or a spoon—and they must use at least one. They could only use three actors, though they could have as many characters as they wanted. With these stipulations, each playwright had to produce a first draft within 24 hours. Dramaturgs were hired to work with the playwrights on developing their work, and a cold reading was given so that the playwrights could hear their work read out loud before working on a second draft. By Saturday morning, things moved into the production phase. Each play received a one hour rehearsal with a professional director and actors leading up to the performance that evening. As the playwrights took to the stage at the end of the evening for their curtain call, the audience rose to its feet. A round of well-deserved applause for these courageous writers and their work! If you are interested in our Urban Retreat for next summer, please visit us at www. youngplaywrights.org. WB riter’s lock An Evening With David Henry Hwang David Henry Hwang recently spoke to Young Playwrights Inc. Urban Retreat participants. The following are excerpted remarks from his visit: Thanks for having me… Playwriting is a strange form of writing in a way. If you think about it, it resembles a novel and it is also equally true that it resembles music—music is meant to be played, just like plays are meant to be performed. Until I hear my play read (or played) I don’t know what it sounds like. Sometimes it can be a painful experience because it is different than what is in my head. Despite details that may not go right, overall there is something alive—like the theme, or a character, so it can be encouraging in that way… For me, rewriting was harder than writing when I started writing. I struggled with how do I fix the thing and still maintain my original impulse. But rewriting is a technical skill: If it isn’t funny, why isn’t it funny and how do I fix it? If it is lagging, can I just cut it or will it mess up the arc of the piece as a whole? Over the years, writing a first draft has gotten harder because in some ways it is about forgetting the technical skill. When I write, I like to know where I am starting and ending—like going from New York to Boston on a car trip. Harold Pinter describes his writing process as “making a deal with his characters” – sometimes they do what you want, and sometimes you do what they want. The road trip frame allows for side trips where you might do what they want. When I write I like to have three things: 1. Something is bothering me 2. Road trip beginning & end point 3. Some sort of formal model In the case of M. Butterfly, I had heard the true story of this diplomat who had a 20-year affair with someone who turned out to be not only a spy, but a man-- and I needed to know how could the diplomat not know the true gender of his lover? And yet at the same time, I bought it. Something about it made sense. Then I came up with a beginning and end: I realized that the diplomat must have thought he had found his version of [the opera] Madame Butterfly—at the beginning of the play he thinks he is Pinkerton, but by the end he realizes that he is really Butterfly. For a model, I used the plays of Peter Schaffer, who wrote Equus and Amadeus. The main character is near the end of his life and recounts his story to the audience, stepping into the flashbacks to play himself. The best meeting I have ever had with a director was when I did M. Butterfly with John Dexter (who also directed Peter Schaffer’s first productions). When we met, he suggested that we read the play out loud to each other. So we each took half of the characters and we read the thing. Which was a very revealing exercise because it told us without discussion how each saw the rhythms—you can feel that by hearing the play. . . When a note is good it is because it is something you feel but have not articulated. That is why you have to listen! Supporting the Arts These times are tough for everyone. Young Playwrights Inc. serves young people from all segments of American society so we see every day that no one has been untouched by the current economic crisis. Still, we have a glimmer of hope. Already in 2009, Young Playwrights Inc. has guided 11 talented playwrights to their first Off-Broadway presentation. We have provided 38 advanced young artists with the tools they will need to develop thrilling new works and have given over 1,000 students the introduction to the art of playwriting that we know will also help to improve their literacy and learning skills. We received over 700 plays from enthusiastic young writers hoping to be chosen for next year’s Young Playwrights Conference (10 of them will make the exciting trek to New York City In January 2010), over 350 for the Write A Play! NYC contest, and another 55 for the Young Playwrights Latino Challenge (our partnership with TeatroStageFest. And with our partners, the Anne Frank Center USA and the Vineyard Theater, we launched Diary 21 and got 120 students from Washington Irving High School and the Lab School to focus on the question “are we writing loud enough?”. Also encouraging is that Young Playwrights Inc. was selected to participate in the Kennedy Center New York City Initiative, which will give our staff the support necessary to weather this recession and the challenges to come so that we may reach future generations of young people. Read and enjoy this newsletter. You’ll see a bit of why art matters, why education matters, why our children’s dreams matter. And when you’re done, if there’s something left over in the household budget, we hope you’ll help us to continue to make a dramatic difference with America’s youth. For more information on how to be a Young Playwrights Inc. supporter email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 212.594.5440 Save the Date! Coming Soon from Young Playwrights Inc. . . . August 8 & 9 Teacher Training Institute September 21 Advanced Playwriting Workshop Application Deadline October 24 & 25 Teacher Training Institute January 2, 2010 National Playwriting Competition Entry Deadline January 6-14 Young Playwrights Conference January 11-13 Young Playwrights Conference Readings Series March 1, 2010 Write A Play! New York City Competition Entry Deadline July 10-18, 2010 Urban Retreat THE STATS Here at Young Playwrights Inc., we’ve put our creative hats on the rack for a little while in order to try on our number-crunching hats. They were dusty, but they still fit. The reason for the switch is our goal to examine the statistics in our National Playwriting Competition. Young Playwrights Inc. receives hundreds of submissions for the Competition annually, all of which are written by playwrights aged 18 or younger. Every playwright receives a detailed written analysis of their work, and the winners of the Competition are invited to New York for the Young Playwrights Conference. We’d like to take a look at some of the trends from the 2009 National Playwriting Competition so that we can find out how to reach out to even more young playwrights. So, get some pencils and erasers out, and maybe some calculators and graph paper – let’s look at these numbers! New York playwrights had the strongest showing with 102 submissions. NYC residents in particular had a lot to say; 71 submissions! We seem to have an open line of communication with several other states: Texas playwrights represented the Lone Star State with 69 plays and Pennsylvania playwrights made a showing for the Keystone State with 27 plays. We heard voices from up and down the East Coast – Florida, New Jersey, Delaware – and from across-themap in California; all with 11 to 20 submissions. Many other states were represented by playwrights with 1 to 10 submissions. In the future, we would love to reach out to playwrights from the states that we did not hear from and let their voices be heard. So, we offer an encouraging “Where you at?!” to playwrights from Alaska, Alabama, Arkansas, Hawaii, By: Nick Gandiello Idaho, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Mississippi, Montana, and an enthusiastic “Let’s see what you got!” to playwrights from Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Wisconsin, Wyoming, and Washington DC. Now, let’s get a picture of the playwrights who submitted in ‘09. We heard from more young women than we did young men; the former submitting 60% of the plays that we read. The ages of the playwrights ranged from 7 to 18. Seventeenyear-olds seemed to have the most to say with 89 submissions. They were followed closely by eighteen-year-olds with 69 submissions and sixteenyear-olds with 61 submissions. Interestingly, there was a jump in the numbers of plays between ages eleven (3 submissions) and twelve (38 submissions). We were happy to hear from 1 seven-year-old, 1 eightyear-old, and 1 nine-year-old, and hope to get to know even more of America’s young theater-makers next year! The winners of the competition were all either seventeen years old or eighteen years old. California, New York, and Texas were homes to multiple winners. And the ladies held tight to that 60% ratio. For next year, we’re eager to make contact (and theatre) with more playwrights from the South, the Mid-West, the Plains, and the Pacific. We also hope to bridge the gap between the teenagers and the younger writers. All are encouraged to submit their work to the National Playwriting Competition at any time up until January 2, 2010. Now, get writing (or encourage your favorite young person to do so) and send us those plays! Good Teachers Teach, Great Teachers Learn By: Frances McGarry, PhD, Director of Instruction Young Playwrights Inc. was founded on the belief that every young person has something important to say – a story to tell and the inherent right to be heard. Encouraging educators to use playwriting in the classroom is one of Young Playwrights Inc.’s primary goals. What better way to insure the future of the American theater than by empowering teachers to unleash the artistic voices of America’s youth? Young Playwrights Inc.’s Write A Play! Teacher Training Institute (TTI) is an interactive professional development workshop that offers teachers of grades 3 – 12 a blueprint for integrating playwriting into a school’s academic or theater arts curricula. By training classroom teachers, Young Playwrights Inc. can achieve its goal of making playwriting an integral part of education. TTI models Young Playwrights Inc.’s Write A Play! Workshops and mentors teachers in the art of teaching playwriting. Building on a foundation of improvisation and both individual and collaborative writing exercises, the training offers teachers new methods to enhance students’ abilities including analytical/critical thinking, conflict resolution, comprehension of cause and effect, and cooperative problem solving. TTI participants come to know the excitement students experience when challenged to explore their creative potential – and many find the experience of TTI has a profound effect not only on their ability to get their students to write, but also on their teaching in general: high school English teacher Marie Perez attests that when she first announced that they would be writing plays, she “got a lot of groaning and ‘I¬can’t-writea-play!’ They were hesitant to share their work …but by the third day, literally every student in the room had their hand up to share what they had written! Thanks so much - this is a wonderful experience! I’ve had these students since September, and I feel like I’m discovering a whole new side of them through playwriting!” Every teacher who participates in TTI receives a Write A Play! Curriculum Guide featuring the model playwriting curriculum, detailed lesson plans, handouts, and recommended reading. Users of the guide can choose to apply its lessons to integrate playwriting into academic subjects or lead students through a unit of study of playwriting. Furthermore, TTI participants are encouraged to call on Young Playwrights Inc. as a resource for their students and are kept up to date on our programs for teachers and students. It takes a dedicated teacher to introduce playwriting into the curriculum, but the rewards are found in every student who finds her or his voice through this unique medium. The next Teacher Training Institute takes place in October 2009. For registration information contact our office at 212.594.5440. Alumni Spotlight By: Hayley Tyler Chin “This is not what I expected for my junior year,” resonates in my mind. I’m in the headquarters of Young Playwrights Inc., discussing a writing exercise. Perhaps this sounds ordinary, but then there’s the topic: to write about a woman who’s in love with a chair. But the Advanced Playwriting Workshop isn’t about writing for the sake of absurdity. It’s about becoming a better writer, developing a voice, and creating a play to call your own. The workshop is meant to provide thoughtful criticism, not to prod or mock. I was a bit intimidated when I applied to the program. My prior experience consisted of a three-month-long playwriting class and writing a few plays. However, after a few weeks of class, I learned that writing a good play required determination, innovation, and a lot of pluck, not a secret formula. The class introduced me to young writers who were similar to me, ambitious and offbeat. There were people to guide us along. Kait Kerrigan, lyricist and playwright, taught us the basics and helped us complete a first draft of our plays. In the second semester, Lucas Hnath, playwright and human encyclopedia – seriously – led us along through rewriting our drafts. I kept every note from those seven months and will never forget these impeccable writers. I loved learning from people who worked in theater for a living. It was refreshing to meet people who loved theatre as much as me. When I was having difficulty writing or revising my play, Jenna’s Birthday, Kait and Lucas were always available. By the reading of excerpts from our plays, my peers and I were proud of our progress. I’m not going to deny that it was difficult being a high school student/ playwright. At the best of times, I felt like Superwoman. Then there were the not so good times, for example, when I had to attend a play, write a lab report, and fit in revisions all in one night, and maintain a pleasant disposition the next day. I would like to think that I am better at adapting to difficult situations, or at least seeing the humor in them. Jenna’s Birthday still has a ways to go, but I’m ready to tackle the beast that is rewriting. Recently, I heard a wise playwright say that writing is about exposing things about your self but it’s also about creating something to hide behind. Before I attended APW, I used my writing to expose only certain parts of me, and from a safe distance. In the class, I had to speak for what I wrote on the page and represent not only my choices but myself. There are some basic principles for playwriting, but learning to be reliable yet creative, self-assured but open-minded, is wholly different. I reflect on those Tuesday evenings at the 42nd Street Station, editing a draft while waiting for the 1 train, with a bittersweet feeling. Theater is a hard business, but I eagerly await the opportunities. Hayley Tyler Chin was a member of the 2008-2009 Advanced Playwriting Workshop, a free program that meets at our offices once a week during the school year. For more information and application materials for the Young Playwrights Inc. Advanced Playwriting Workshop, visit www.youngplaywrights.org. Happenings Lucy Alibar (WC00,YPF01) & Benh Zeitlin (WC00) who met at the Urban Retreat & are developing their new film, Beasts Of The Southern Wild, at the Sundance Lab. Catherine Castellani (YPF83) has been concentrating on 10 minute plays, which have been performed in Louisville Miami, & Chicago, & just launched a virtual playwrights’ group on Twitter called WeAreHere. Sam Ferree (YPF06) will be producing/directing the Free Association Student Theatre festival for University of Iowa freshman playwrights. Liz Frankel’s (YPC09) Moon On The Horizon recently won the Blank Theater Festival’s Young Playwrights Competition. Adam F. Goldberg (WC94) had two movies released this year, Fanboys & Aliens In The Attic. His screenplay for the live-action version of The Jetsons is now in production. Lauren Gunderson’s (YPF01) play Fire Work is in development at The O’Neill National Playwrights Conference. MJ Halberstadt (YPC09) has been commissioned to write for a TYA student organization & the book to a musical. Anne Harris (YPF84) is a Lecturer in Creativity in Education at Victoria University. Her play Heat was shortlisted for the Patrick White Playwriting Award in 2006. Martha Jane Kaufman’s (WC03) play House And Junction is being presented at the Bay Area Playwright’s Festival. Eric Levitz (WC05,07) has a one-act play entitled The Relationship Of Archibald And Amity As Lived Inside Of An Elevator being performed as part of the Source Festival in Washington D.C. Rose Martula’s (WC96) Salsa Saved The Girls, was a semi-finalist for the 2009 Princess Grace Awards. Debra Neff Nathans (YPF87,89) had a baby girl, Lillian Pearl, in December, 2006. Shaun Neblett’s (YPF95) essay “Jazz, Hip-Hop and Dad in my Subconscious” was published in the anthology Be a Father to Your Child. Max Posner’s (WC07) play The Thing About Air Travel was produced at Brown University’s Production Workshop, & was a finalist for the Bay Area Playwright’s Festival. Charlie Schulman (YPF83,85) recently wrote the book for the new musical The Fartiste (Best Musical -Fringenyc 2006). Jonathan Marc Sherman’s (YPF87,88) most recent play Things We Want was produced by The New Group in New York City, & published by Dramatists Play Service. David Watson (YPF04) recently had a one-act entitled The Mole produced at Dartmouth College. STAFF SHERI M. GOLDHIRSCH ARTISTIC DIRECTOR FRANCES MCGARRY DIRECTOR OF INSTRUCTION AMANDA JUNCO EXECUTIVE ASSOCIATE MARKETING MANAGER ELIZABETH BOJSZA LITERARY MANAGER WORDPLAY EDITOR NICK GANDIELLO KRISTINA NEGRI CLARA HELLER DAN O’REILLY INTERNS BOARD OF DIRECTORS JANET BRENNER PRESIDENT STEPHEN SONDHEIM EXECUTIVE VP ALFRED UHRY CHAIRMAN EMERITUS CARLA ALLEYNE JOHN F. BREGLIO CAROL EVANS SHERI M. GOLDHIRSCH MURRAY HORWITZ DAVID HENRY HWANG JULIA JARCHO JOHN MCNAMARA LOIS ROBBINS ELLEN STARR GEORGE C. WOLFE Can’t place the playwright with the play? Visit the alumni section of our website for a full list of participants and their plays. www.youngplaywrights.org Young Playwrights Inc. POST OFFICE BOX 5134 NEW YORK, NY 10185 FOUNDED IN 1981 BY STEPHEN SONDHEIM