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wordplay The Newsletter of Young Playwrights Inc

March 2010

An Experience of a Lifetime Young Playwrights Inc. is once again accepting applications for our summer Urban Retreat. This week-long intense writing workshop will take place right here in New York City July 10th-18th, 2010. Participants, who may range in age from 14-21, will see shows, meet working professional playwrights, attend master classes in playwriting, and above all, write, write, write! Participants receive individual attention from professional dramaturgs and directors, and also create bonds with other young writers like themselves. The week culminates in staged readings of short new works by each playwright, performed in a New York theatre by professional actors. We know that this experience can be a definitive one in the development of a young writer’s craft and life, but you don’t have to take our word for it. Chloe Goldmansour, a participant in the Urban Retreat last year, had this to say about her experience: “The greatest benefit I’ve received through participating in Urban Retreat was getting my play performed with real directors and actors. Seeing your art up on its feet is the most amazing feeling a writer could possibly have. It’s been almost eight months but I can remember every second of the reading perfectly. And I still talk about it to anyone who will listen. Having the support to complete the best play you can from the teachers, staff, and dramaturgs was so encouraging.” Her mother, Kristen, agreed, adding that “the Urban Retreat was actually the most beneficial, productive and

energizing program Chloe has ever had the opportunity to participate in. We were especially impressed by the professional and serious treatment of both Chloe and her writing. She was given clear, insightful feedback and was continuously held to an incredibly high artistic standard… Watching her play performed by professionals is a memory her father and I will cherish forever. Because Chloe has participated in this program and been surrounded by such great teachers we have seen her continue to grow as a writer over this year.” We look forward to providing this empowering opportunity to a new group of writers. The final application deadline is May 1, 2010. See our website at youngplaywrights.org for detailed application information.

The top 5 reasons to attend the Urban Retreat: 1. One-on-one feedback on your writing 2. Broadway and Off-Broadway shows 3. Roundtable discussions with working professional playwrights 4. Daily workshops taught by playwrights 5. Rehearsals and an Off-Broadway reading of your play with professional directors and actors


WB

riter’s lock

a conversation between two people, and record that. Since you don’t know these people, name one person “#1” and the other “#2”. Step two: read over the dialogue you have recorded. What do you know about these strangers from what they have said to each other? How well do they know each other? What do you think their relationship might be? How is this information revealed through the words? What word choices make them sound unique and distinct from each other?

Listen Up!

Usually, you will find that your transcribed conversation is full of

Exploring Dialogue through Overheard Conversation

•vague statements: “1: Did you get the thing? 2: Yeah, got it yesterday;”

The words that come out of a character’s mouth can tell us so much. They can reveal a character’s upbringing, feelings, attitudes and values, relationships to other characters, and more. The way characters speak can reveal the world of the play—that world could look very much like the world in which we live, and the dialogue could sound like some conversation that you overheard on the street, or it could be a world with more abstraction— perhaps all of the characters speak in poetry, for instance. But even if the dialogue of a play sounds very much like something you overheard in life, it is always an IMITATION of real speech, not real speech itself. A great way to explore dialogue is to start by observing and recording real speech. The following exercise is similar to one that was assigned at the beginning of this year’s Advanced Playwriting Workshop at Young Playwrights Inc. Step one: sit in a busy place, take out your laptop or a notebook, and try to transcribe exactly what you overhear. Keep writing as fast as you can—trying to keep up with the conversation. Include “ums” and “likes” and pauses. Ideally, zero in on

•verbal stallers and space fillers: “I was like, well then and she was all, like, uh…”; •and perhaps a few non-sequiturs: “1: Did you see what she is wearing? 2: Polarbears. 1: I want a taco.” There is only so long that we as human beings can bear listening to something we are confused by, and very often, the conversations we have don’t mean much. For example, it is not very engaging to listen to two people agree. But we must also remember that people rarely say exactly what they mean, nor do they give convenient backstory to those they know well. I wouldn’t say to my sister: “Say hi to your husband, Nick.” I would merely say “Say hi to Nick!” Step three: now that you have seen the ways in which the captured conversation falls short—use your imagination to create names and histories for the characters that may have spoken these words. Allow yourself to modify the conversation to create compelling dialogue that reveals character. What changes did you make in order to tell a clear story? Now you are thinking like a playwright!


Supporting the Arts There’s an urban legend that keeps resurfacing. The story gets told in a number of ways, but the ending is always the same: young people aren’t interested in the arts, young people aren’t interested in theater. On behalf of the intelligent, education-seeking, forward-thinking, arts-loving, theater-going young people I see everyday (and there are lots of them from every corner of our society), I’d like to debunk this myth right now. If you spend some time hanging around at Young Playwrights Inc. you’ll see that young people are not only interested in the arts and in theater, they’re clearly interested in the hard work of making art, in writing and rewriting, in making themselves heard, and in listening to their peers and to more experienced artists. No, young people are not interested in being condescended to, in being segregated from the full experience of the arts (either as artist or arts consumer), or being considered second-class citizens (if they are considered citizens at all), but let’s face it, would you want to be treated that way? Young Playwrights Inc.’s programs are a safe haven for young artists – and as a result, we attracted record numbers of young people this year. Submissions to Write A Play! NYC increased by 15%, applications to the free Advanced Playwriting Workshop increased by 25%, and applications to the Urban Retreat doubled. And despite a drop in funding, Young Playwrights Inc. just put more chairs around the table and invited more young people in – because that’s what we’re here to do. And nobody does it better. For more information on how to be a Young Playwrights Inc. supporter email admin@youngplaywrights.org or call 212.594.5440

Save the Date! Coming Soon from Young Playwrights Inc. . . .

April 24

Teacher Training Institute - Introductory Session

May 1

Urban Retreat Final Application Postmark Deadline

June (TBA)

Write A Play! New York City Awards Ceremony

July 10-18

Urban Retreat

August 7 & 8

Teacher Training Institute

August 9

Teacher Training Institute - Advanced Session

September 24

Advanced Playwriting Workshop Application Deadline


Craig Lucas on Writing for the Screen and Stage Craig Lucas, playwright, screenwriter and director, sat down with the winning playwrights at the Young Playwrights Conference in January and discussed what he sees as some differences between writing for screen and stage.

You’re writing for different audiences. The average income of an audience member on Broadway is $200,000. So they have the good and bad aspects of privilege. Most likely they’re educated and they’re probably Republicans. When you write for the screen, they give you a living wage and health insurance even if the reviews to turn out to be bad. That said, if you write a play you own the work, whereas if you sell a screenplay, you can’t even produce it on Venus in a hundred million years—it belongs to the producer “in perpetuity throughout the universe.” Think about how comfortable you are with people taking your work and changing it. Once you lock a picture you can’t change it; a play isn’t finished until you die. (Musicals are another matter. No matter how successful the musical is, everyone always agrees that the book could be better. Once you’re dead, David Ives is going to rewrite you.) When listening to audience feedback, it helps to listen for what their experience was, not how they tell you to fix it. If you can understand what confused them or threw them off, you are the only expert on how to address it (or not). When you write for the screen, you are the camera. In theatre, the proscenium is fixed and you move everything within it. This limitation can be freeing in terms of meaning--the whole space becomes metaphoric. Movies generally literalize the elements of the narrative more automatically than plays. Good plays tend to require more participation from an audience. Movies show you the literal thing whereas in theater it is more often language that evokes it, and the audience must participate in liberating the meaning; some part of their brains are required. The movie doesn’t care if you walk out mid-scene. But when you get up and walk away from a play, you are turning your back on live human beings who can see your ass waddling up the aisle as you go. Being your own boss is a great gift you can give yourself in this life. Being able to express yourself is a privilege. You therefore have an obligation to the audience: Don’t give them what they think they want, give them what they can’t find anywhere else: the truth as you know it.


Why Teach Playwriting? By: Frances McGarry, Ph.D. In my years as a K-12 English and Theater teacher, I sought to make a difference in young people’s lives and that meant providing students with the tools and skills they needed to undertake their own explorations of the world in which they lived. Teaching playwriting became an indispensable resource to successfully achieve that goal. Drama encourages students to explore ideas-and exploring ideas is what school is all about. Drama helps students learn where a voice comes from, how to articulate, how to read out loud, how to make a point – all of these techniques are an asset in no matter what occupation they take. And writing is empowerment. Students should be encouraged to think for themselves and take ownership of their writing. Instead of it being a chore and just another assignment, the writing process is demystified for students because the written word becomes an extension of the writer and not a product to be graded when they write a play. What is important is not that all children become professional playwrights but that they have the opportunity to explore the world through the art of drama and gain a greater understanding of the world at large. More specifically, telling a story in dramatic form obliges students to express the different points of view of all the characters on the stage. Playwriting impels students to think about the details of behavior. Young writers are asked to investigate character by putting

their protagonists through as many different, but credible, situations as possible and by testing their reactions. Character consists of two sets of perceptions: internal and external. These alter continually, according to the situation. Building a character becomes another tool in the playwright’s art and the writer remains thoroughly in control while exploiting the complexities of an individual’s psychology. Playwrights come to understand an audience will more likely identify with a character if the situation is more human. What makes us all human, what we all share, is our capacity to change and adapt with resourcefulness and resilience to different situations. And it is acknowledging that need to change which underlies the humanity of a dramatic situation. Drama is one of the greatest learning devices because it allows the student to step into a character’s reality and find that all people have common points of contact. I have witnessed how teaching playwriting encourages creative writing, how it promotes theater as an art form. But most of all, it gets students to think about reality in a weird and wonderful sort of way...and that makes all the difference.

FRANCES McGARRY, Ph.D. has been teaching theater for more than twenty-five years. She has been Director of Instruction at Young Playwrights Inc. since 2007.


Alumni Spotlight By: Sara Glancy

Clearly I had stumbled into some sort of Shakespearean comedy. That was the only explanation I could think of. The signs were all there: a case of mistaken identity, a letter falling into the wrong hands—throw in a little bit of cross-dressing and you’d have the trifecta! These were the thoughts that were running through my head last May, when I opened up a letter saying that my play had been selected to receive an off-Broadway staged reading through the Young Playwrights Conference. My first play. This was the root of my skepticism. I had never written a scene before, let alone a one-act play. The Cheshire Smile, the play that I had submitted to Young Playwrights Inc. National Playwriting Competition so many months before, was an isolated incident in my history. In a random moment of inspiration, I had decided to sit down in front of my computer for three hours and write this story that had popped into my head. Yes, I had written a play, but I certainly didn’t consider myself a playwright. No, I was a drama major at NYU. This letter wasn’t for me. Some great writer in the sky had crafted this absurd scenario where an actor got mistaken for a dramatic writer. This story would inevitability end with the discovery of my true identity (and possibly a marriage or two). However, as I read over the letter for the twelfth or so time, I realized that I was more than willing to risk the embarrassment of being discovered as a charlatan in order to experience all the amazing opportunities the conference had to offer—free tickets to Broadway shows; writing workshops with professional playwrights; getting to work with professional directors, actors, and dramaturgs; and finally, getting to hear my words read out loud at the historic Cherry Lane Studio Theatre. So, at the beginning of January, I happily packed my bags for NYC, secretly wondering whether I should be bringing boys’ clothes to really play-up the comedy of the situation. However, this story had an unusual twist. After a few days of being treated like a professional playwright by the Young Playwrights Inc. staff, I began to view myself as one as well. The cathartic Act 3 revelation wasn’t that I was an imposter, but that I actually was the intended recipient of that letter. This is the incredible gift that Young Playwrights Inc. gives to the participants in its programs—the reassurance that our voices have a place in the landscape of American theatre, that we have unique points of view, and that those points of view are worth expressing. The Cheshire Smile was the first play I’ve ever written, but I’m proud to say that because of Young Playwrights Inc, it will not be my last.

Sara Glancy is a drama major at New York University and one of ten winners of the 2009 Young Playwrights Inc. National Playwriting Competition.


Happenings Julia Jarcho (YPF01) received rave reviews from the New York Times for her play American Treasure at the 13P at the Paradise Factory. Adam Goldberg (YPF94) is shooting a pilot for Fox TV, finished a movie for director Shawn Levy entitled “The Atlantis 7,” and is writing for the shows “Secret Girlfriend” and “Word Girl.” He also served as a writer for “How to Train Your Dragon” and “Monsters vs. Aliens: Invasion of the Mutant Pumpkins.” M.J. Halberstadt (YPC09) is graduating with a BA in Theatre Education from Emerson University this May. Sam Ferree (YPF06) is studying abroad in Germany with the ManiACTS. Last semester he served as assistant director/production manager for a production of Sam Shepard’s Buried Child. Elisabeth Frankel (YPC09) was accepted to the University of Michigan Theatre Arts program. Gemma Cooper-Novack (YPF00) presented excerpts from Sense and Sensibility: A New Musical, by Gemma Cooper-Novack and Joshua Tyra, at Manhattanville College’s Inspired by Austen conference on March 6. Deborah Yarchun (WC04, YPF06) is now a member playwright of Sanctuary Playwrights Theatre. She was a spring 2009 Bernard B Jacobs intern at New Dramatists. Her full length play Portmanteaux was work-shopped in June through WordBRIDGE, a new play development conference in Clemson, South Carolina. Lauren Gunderson (YPF97) was commissioned to write two plays at the Kennedy Center for the Arts Theatre For Young Audiences, one of which will be presented next season. Her play Emilie will be published by Samuel French this March.

Are you an alum? We want to know what’s new with you! Email us at literary@youngplaywrights.org or message us on Facebook with your happenings and we’ll share them via this column!

STAFF SHERI M. GOLDHIRSCH ARTISTIC DIRECTOR FRANCES MCGARRY DIRECTOR OF INSTRUCTION AMANDA JUNCO EXECUTIVE ASSOCIATE MARKETING MANAGER ELIZABETH BOJSZA LITERARY MANAGER WORDPLAY EDITOR

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


Wordplay March 2010