We sat down recently with three writing instructors at Primary Stages Einhorn School of Performing Arts (ESPA) to chat about what inspires them in and out of their classes. Brooke Berman‘s work has appeared at Second Stage, The Play Company, and Steppenwolf Theatre, and her play Hunting and Gathering was produced by Primary Stages in 2008. Rogelio Martinez has written plays for Arden Theater Company, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, the Public Theater, and the Atlantic Theater Company. Stefanie Zadravec is a resident playwright at New Dramatists, a recipient of the 2013 Francesca Primus Prize and a 2013 NYFA Playwriting Fellowship for her play The Electric Baby. All three are offering classes at ESPA this semester.
What inspires you to write?
Brooke Berman: If I didn’t write, I’d explode. Characters come to me and they want very badly to articulate their experience. I write what they tell me. And then, I’m nicer to the people in my life.
Stefanie Zadravec: The alchemy of theater. Playwriting is the medium that lets me pour all the little things I’ve known or imagined – people, death, love, petty jealousies, injustice – into a story and make something bigger out of it.
How do you defeat writer’s block?
Rogelio Martinez: Setting up deadlines. They could be as simple as asking a friend to read something new when you “get done with it over the weekend.” Another good one is ESPA. A workshop that comes around once a week is a great way of beating writer’s block. In short, pressure helps. The second way to beat writer’s block is to start writing any kind of dialogue down because eventually that dialogue will come back to the work you’re doing.
BB: I don’t force my way through it – I rest. I see movies, visit museums, talk to friends, read a good book, take a road trip – most important thing, I let myself refuel.
SZ: I never think of myself as having writer’s block, because I always have about five ideas I haven’t had time to get to yet. But I have gotten stuck and discouraged with a piece. At those times, I grab a director and some actors, sit down and listen to what I’ve got. There’s always a lot of mess, but there’s also more to the mess than I think there will be. Watching actors make sense of the words, helps me do the same. Hearing what people are drawn to or have questions about, always clarifies the next steps.
What has been your proudest moment as a teacher? Any success stories come to mind?
BB: One of my students was about to drop out of college and drift. I suggested he apply to Juilliard instead – I wrote a glowing recommendation – he got in, and now he’s wildly successful and earns much more money than I do. He’s a really good writer.
RG: Whenever I get invited to a play that’s been worked on in class. Also, when I get called on for a recommendation. It means I was able to create a safe enough environment for the writer to feel inspired to continue.
SZ: I’ve have so many motivated and amazing students. Some have been extraordinary. It’s been really rewarding to truly encourage somebody. My first playwriting teacher did that for me and it changed my life. It’s beyond rewarding to see someone discover just how talented they are.
What is the craziest thing to ever happen in a class?
SZ: What happens in First Draft, stays in First Draft.
What is your favorite Meryl Streep movie and why?
BB: Out of Africa. Because of the scene in which Robert Redford washes her hair. And the Mozart.
SZ: Adaptation really stands out as my favorite since the early films. She is always a million things in any given moment, but this is one of those films where’s she’s really supported by a great script and cast. It’s so dark and funny and smart and heartbreakingly human. And that scene where she’s stoned in the hotel room trying to make the sound of a dial tone? Just, yes.
RG: The choice here is an easier one than Sophie’s. Great book and great film.
If you could time travel and tell your 20-something-year-old self one thing, what would it be?
BB: Don’t worry so much. Don’t ask for anyone’s permission to do the work you want to do. Don’t fear going back to school. Don’t kiss that guy – he sucks. Focus on your work, and everything else will come.
RG: Don’t go see Shogun the Musical. You will never get those two hours back.
SZ: Dump the boyfriend and go write a play.