Wordplay August 2011
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 2011 Congrats 2011 National Winners The winners of the 2011 Young Playwrights Inc. National Playwriting Competition have been selected! They are: Annika Bennett, Eugene, OR for THE CONVERSATION PIECE A man from Mona’s past wastes away on her couch while she is visited by a woman carrying Mona’s absent boyfriend’s child. Despite this unconventional companionship, her longing threatens to consume her. Josh Brown, Denver, CO for SOMETHING SLAVIC A dark comedy involving a Slavic superintendent pits a hapless tenant whose kidney is stolen against a coke dealer collecting on his debts. Hayley Tyler Chin, New York, NY for JENNA’S BIRTHDAY Jenna longs for what many young women do: independence, love, and a rewarding career. However, she suffers from an impairment that prevents her from perceiving the left side of things and threatens to confine her to her overprotective parents’ home. Elise Klieber, Oak Park, IL for TANGLED Six lives are bound together by love and family. As the group learns more about each other, the knowledge threatens to rip them apart. Tatjana Mutinelli, Santa Barbara, CA for MURPHY’S LAW A lonely and controlling man is forced to re-evaluate his relationships when his best friend leaves him in pursuit of a freer life. Paige E. Roth, Castle Rock, CO for THE PRICE OF GAS A lonely man takes in a wounded woman and nurses her back to health in the basement of his gas station. When his godson comes to stay with him, the bubble of isolation bursts. Ruby Spiegel, New York, NY for CARRIE AND FRANCINE While attempting to cope with the teenage pressures of staying thin and impressing boys, two best friends discover just how far they will go for each other. Zachary Weaver, Overland Park, KS for LOGANHEIM, THE CLOCK SMASHER In this poetic romp, Loganheim’s alter-ego rages war against time keeping devices in an attempt to extend his carefree youth—even if it is just for a minute. These talented writers will be attending our Young Playwrights Conference January 4-12, 2011 in New York City to workshop their plays in preparation for Off-Broadway staged readings on January 10-12. They will be joined by two 2010 winners who deferred participation until this year: Ruby Spiegel, Brooklyn, NY for ALL YE KNOW and Benjamin Sprung-Keyser, Los Angeles, for WHAT ALL SCHOOLCHILDREN LEARN. Congratulations to all! WB riter’s lock “Exit, Pursued By Bear” By: Elizabeth Bojsza The quote in this article’s title is from Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, and is probably one of the most famous stage directions ever written. It is exceptional to have a famous stage direction at all, because stage directions are, by their nature, invisible to audiences. Only those who read the text of a play have access to the information contained in them. When we watch theater, the stage directions have all been interpreted and turned into action. I recently had a chance to explore the functions of stage directions in our Advanced Playwriting Workshop. I put a pile of plays on the table and asked each participant to pick a script and read only the stage directions inside for a few minutes—exposing the architecture of the art in a way that is often covered by dialogue (like watching a film with the sound off). We discovered that most stage directions are descriptions of action or movement on stage, and in the mix there were sounds, set descriptions, and an emotional cue for a line. Most stage directions in older plays seem to be literal: they describe what the audience will see and hear while watching the play. Others seem to be notes for the performer or director. But some contemporary playwrights also use another style of stage directions. They are poetic and connected to atmosphere (August Wilson and Sarah Ruhl are examples of playwrights who do this). Each playwright develops his or her own style of writing stage directions, so we then tried our hand at creating stage directions ourselves. You can try this too. For this exercise, I “performed” an entrance into the room. The writers then created a stage direction for what they thought was critical about that entrance, and using language that was economical and descriptive—and we got a range of difference. This illustrates that when we read stage directions written by other playwrights, they are also distilling the details to what they feel is essential. Next, we wrote out a stage direction and had other people bring it to life. We found that stage directions are interpreted when they are performed, and not everyone will decode the language in the same way. Even in the case of a literal stage direction like “exit, pursued by bear” there is STILL interpretation. Scholars debate to this day whether or not Shakespeare had an actual bear (taken from bear-baiting rings popular in London at the time) or a guy in a bear costume run across the stage. Advanced Playwriting Workshop Finale by Elizabeth Bojsza On Sunday afternoon May 22, 2011 the invited audience in the Peter Jay Sharp Theater at Playwrights Horizons was abuzz with anticipation. It was finally time to hear selected excerpts from the 2010-2011 Advanced Playwriting Workshop—representative of the ten complete plays by ten different playwrights that had all been written during the rigorous yearlong program. As the lights in the theater dimmed for the performances it was a moment to look back on all that the participants had accomplished in the past year—for this staged reading was only the most visible part of their accomplishments. These promising writers were selected from a pool of applicants to participate in this free program, which runs from October through May with weekly sessions packed with writing exercises, play discussions, and trips to the theater. Participation in the workshop also means time spent on assignments at home. The curriculum varies from year to year, but this past year the fall semester, led by playwright and Young Playwrights Inc. workshop leader Jason Williamson, focused on reading plays representative of different aspects of playwriting. The writers completed creative exercises to delve inside the architecture of these published plays while building their own craft through feeder assignments geared towards a new play. Brett Reynolds and Andrea Lepcio, also professional theater artists trained as Young Playwrights Inc. workshop leaders, picked up in the spring semester and focused on writing and rewriting the new work. The playwrights selected the excerpts from their complete plays themselves as representative of their work and were able to get feedback from their peers, their workshop leader, and from oneon-one dramaturgical conferences with Young Playwrights Inc.’s Literary Manager. They were also able to participate in the rehearsal of their excerpt with a professional director and actors. The participants were: Anna O’Connell from The School of the Future, Chloe Hayat and Tori Lassman from The Professional Performing Arts School, Claudia Stein from LaGuardia High School, Dalia Wolfson and Reyna Schaechter from Hunter College High School, Kate Nelson from Frank McCourt High School, Kathryn Daly from NightingaleBamford, Max Freidlich from Friends Seminary, and Sofia Johnson from Bard High School. As these accomplished writers took to the stage for a final curtain call well deserved applause thundered through the room. The postmark deadline for the 2011-2012 Advanced Playwriting Workshop application is September 19, 2011. High school age writers with a serious interest in playwriting and who are able to commute weekly to the Young Playwrights Inc. offices in Midtown Manhattan are encouraged to apply. On Turning Thirty Most people who’ve worked with me for more than a day or two would not be surprised that I’ve thought of getting tattooed with Dorothy Parker’s “I hate writing; I love having written.” Certainly, the editor of this publication, waiting oh so patiently for me to come up with a pithy nugget on the impending thirtieth anniversary of the founding of Young Playwrights Inc., would think that the sentiment was appropriate. With wordplay’s deadline and the October 16, 2011 start to our anniversary year right upon us, all I had was a blank screen. Not that there isn’t a lot to say about this vibrant company devoted to developing our nation’s young writers on the professional stage and in the classroom – it’s a big mission and an even bigger undertaking – one which has spawned much meaningful new work for the theater, a time-tested approach to teaching playwriting, and a long list of working writers of whom we are duly proud. But sometimes the right words just don’t come. Then an email arrived that said, in small part, “I wrote my first play with Young Playwrights Inc. [in our Advanced Playwriting Workshop] when I was 15…. When I trace everything that has happened in my life, it all comes back to Young Playwrights being the seed…Thank you for touching and transforming my life. I wouldn’t be a playwright without you.” And there it was: the reason that we joyously celebrate these important milestones while wholeheartedly embracing the future and why, despite this most difficult climate, we must develop and grow and continue to provide young people with a safe place to become in full the artists that they are. Thank you, Gina Femia, playwright, for that email that helped out a struggling older writer; and thank you to all of the members of the Young Playwrights Inc. family – theater artists both new and experienced, alumni, audiences, teachers, donors, board members, staff, and friends – for being part of a magical three decades. There’s a lot more to come. Save the Date! Coming Soon from Young Playwrights Inc. . . . January 1 National Playwriting Competition Postmark Deadline January 9-11 Young Playwrights Conference Reading Series March 1 Write A Play! NYC Competition Postmark Deadline March 1 Urban Retreat Early Bird Application Postmark Deadline March 24 & 25 Teacher Training Institute May 1 Urban Retreat Final Application Postmark Deadline May National Competition Evaluations are Sent Out Mid-June Write A Play! NYC Awards Ceremony The Diary 21 Project 2011 by Nicole Lorenzetti On May 9, 2011, a house full of eager theatregoers settled in for an evening of short plays. These 10 works, however, were not your average plays—they were based on themes from Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl. The pieces were chosen out of approximately 120 plays submitted from the New York City Lab School for Collaborative Studies and Washington Irving High School through the Diary 21 project, a collaboration between Young Playwrights Inc., the Vineyard Theatre, and the Anne Frank Center USA. Last fall, students from these two schools attended the Anne Frank Center USA where they had the opportunity to hear from Sally, who survived the Holocaust by hiding with her family in a barn for almost a year. In addition to Sally, students learned specifically about Anne and the Frank family, and discussed the importance of Anne’s record of her experience. Students were then charged with reading excerpts from the Diary as well as the graphic novel Anne Frank: The Authorized Graphic Biography by Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colon. Following this trip to AFC, the Diary 21 students were visited by a workshop leader from Young Playwrights Inc. They participated in a series of 6 workshops that taught students the basics of playwriting. They focused on themes from Anne’s diary such as first love, the feeling of injustice and misunderstanding, and conflict resolution. In the end, each student wrote a play and submitted their work to the Diary 21 project competition. 10 of these plays were chosen for performance. They were assembled into a working script and sent to the Vineyard Theatre Student Acting Company, and the works were rehearsed and paired with seamless transitions in order to perform them for the Diary 21 Benefit performance. Rehearsing a few times a week after school, the student acting company poured their hearts into making these works by their peers come alive. Adding in professional actors for the benefit performance, these pieces were brought to a live audience the evening of May 9 made up of family and friends. This evening of short plays was warmly received and the playwrights were thrilled to watch their work be brought to life. During the reception immediately following the performance, parents and peers raved over the work done by those they loved. For many of these writers it was the first time they had the opportunity to see their work done on a professional stage. Alumni Spotlight Madeleine George (1992, 1993, 1994) is a founding member of the Obie-Awardwinning playwrights’ collective 13P and a member of New Dramatists. Her new play, SEVEN HOMELESS MAMMOTHS WANDER NEW ENGLAND, goes up at Two River Theater Company in New Jersey in October 2011. Since my play THE MOST MASSIVE WOMAN WINS was produced by Young Playwrights Inc. in 1994, I’ve worked many jobs, rented many apartments, and written many plays, but my own life has been nowhere near as eclectic as the life of my little play. THE MOST MASSIVE WOMAN WINS, which was thrillingly directed by Phyllis K. Look and sensitively dramaturged by Sarah Higgins, is a pastiche of scenes and monologues that follows four women in the waiting room of a liposuction clinic, trying to decide whether or not to go through with cosmetic surgery. Something about the play’s emotional urgency, combined with its abstract execution, have made it a favorite of (mostly young) directors looking to put their interpretive mark on a piece of writing for the stage. Thus, in its eighteen years of life, THE MOST MASSIVE WOMAN WINS has been through some extraordinary incarnations. It’s been produced with an all-black cast, an all-Hispanic cast, many racially and ethnically mixed casts and even mixed-gender casts. It’s gone up on every continent except Africa, and it was used as the central text in a study at the Mayo Clinic about cultivating empathy in young doctors through theater. In Australia, a company staged a touring production of the play in a mudpit. And I recently corresponded with some young performers in Romania who proudly described to me their festival production of the play, into which they had added several characters: The Pussycat Dolls, Uncle Jake, Stacey, the Doctor, Mr. Moser, and the Elf. Of course, in America this kind of rewriting is illegal, and at one time it might have freaked me out that this (surely wackadoo) production of my play was going on far away, under my name but totally out of my control. But now I only wish I could go see what they’re cooking up over there. I think this is a crucial lesson for a playwright: once we set a play firmly on its feet, we must create the conditions for it to live its own autonomous life in the world. At this point, I pretty much say yes to anything anyone asks me if they can do to my play: Cut out all the swear words? Yes. Make the ending explicitly happy instead of ambiguous? Yes. Collage in found text from Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty Myth and Newsweek magazine? Try it. Let the play be to you a playground. This is the graceful model of playwriting Young Playwrights Inc. has instilled in me: Give the work everything, and then give it away. Having been invested with support and resources early on in your life--or early on in the life of your play--spread around that respect and engagement by letting your play become the grounds for as many rich, strange interpretations as you can bear to let exist in the world. Let others remake, reinvent, and reinterpret your work, and remake, reinvent, and reinterpret yourself, over and over again. Happenings William Nedved’s (YPF97) play NORTHWEST HIGHWAY opened at The Gift Theatre in Chicago, and his play FACT & FICTION opened at The Elephant in Los Angeles. Emily Herzlin (WC05) completed her MFA coursework this May in nonfiction writing at Columbia University School of the Arts, and she is working on a book manuscript about the Irish playwright J. M. Synge and her travels to the Aran Islands, for which she received a grant from the CU Interdisciplinary Arts Council. She is returning to the Aran Islands this summer to complete her research. Emily’s nonfiction essay “Misaligned” was just published in the literary magazine Crescendo City. Elisabeth Frankel (YPC09) is going to be a sophomore at the University of Michigan, majoring in Theatre Studies. She is currently a casting intern at the Bernard Telsey Office. Justin Kuritzkes’ (YPC10) play is the 2011 winner of the Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival One Act Competition. His full-length play, As the Boat Approaches, will be presented at this year’s New York International Fringe Festival. Richard Tanne (YPC02) shot one of the lead roles in “Swamp Shark,” a TV movie set to air on the SyFy Channel on June 25th. He produced and starred in “Worst Friends,” an independent feature co-starring Larry Fessenden and Kathryn Erbe and is currently in post-production. Richard also produced an independent feature, “Mischief Night,” starring Malcolm McDowell. Robert Rath (YPC00) is a regularly contributor to the Webby award-winning online gaming magazine The Escapist. Robert is putting the finishing touches on his first novel, an historical thriller set in Reconstruction-era Texas. Recently he headed out to the New Mexico desert with an archaeological team attempting to locate and excavate one of several cannons that his protagonist- a real historical character- buried during the Confederate retreat from New Mexico. These cannons play a central role in the novel. STAFF SHERI M. GOLDHIRSCH ARTISTIC DIRECTOR FRANCES MCGARRY DIRECTOR OF INSTRUCTION AMANDA JUNCO EXECUTIVE ASSOCIATE MARKETING MANAGER ELIZABETH BOJSZA LITERARY MANAGER WORDPLAY EDITOR NICOLE LORENZETTI EDUCATION PROJECT MANAGER BOARD OF DIRECTORS JANET BRENNER PRESIDENT STEPHEN SONDHEIM EXECUTIVE VP ALFRED UHRY CHAIRMAN EMERITUS CARLA ALLEYNE 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