Last week submissions were due for ESPA Drills, and it’s a busy time for our writers. ESPA Drills is an annual new play development program providing staged readings to four Primary Stages Einhorn School of Performing Arts (ESPA) playwrights, selected each year from dozens of submissions. Long-time student and playwright Kat Ramsburg offers a peek into a busy but creative week at ESPA, as she works on perfecting her own Drills submission.
Sunday: The Rewrite with Josh Hecht
My Rewrite class with Josh Hecht is probably the most eclectic group of playwrights I’ve ever had at Primary Stages Einhorn School of Performing Arts (ESPA). Their plays include a comedy about a vampire looking for love, a May-December romance, two brothers in the Bronx heading in very different directions, an American figuring herself out while teaching English in Thailand, and my play.
It makes for a very lively discussion because we are all such different writers. What impresses me each week, however, is the respect that is shown to one another in class. When you share a room with respectful, intelligent, creative writers, the feedback can get very deep and detailed. Personally, I wasn’t feeling too great about my pages this week. I had changed a major plot point and hadn’t had enough time to fine tune and work out all the new issues that arose from the changes. Frankly, I was embarrassed to present my work, but I shouldn’t have been. Josh employs a great system of giving feedback that allows you to take risks. The feedback isn’t based on the risk, but on breaking down the outcome so you can see where you went astray. I left class with a great map of how I would tackle the scene the next time through.
Monday: Writer’s Group
I have the best writer’s group! I’m fairly certain that some of you may argue that point, but I assure you, yours may be swell, but mine is the greatest!
We are eight women who all met in various classes at ESPA. Twice a month we get together to discuss our lives as playwrights, read pages, encourage each other, challenge each other. In a fairly competitive industry, the eight of us have made a commitment to support each other, no matter what, and this week was a big one. One of our members was just accepted as a Playwriting MFA candidate at U.T. Austin, another won an incredible fellowship for the summer, and another is a finalist for the O’Neill National Playwrights Conference. All of these opportunities came from plays they developed at ESPA. Sometimes it’s easy to get down when others start getting incredible opportunities and yours aren’t really coming yet, but with these ladies, I feel nothing but pride to call them my peers. They work so hard. They have the best attitudes. They are an invaluable support system. And I know that one day, when I have an incredible opportunity, they’ll be there for me as well. I didn’t have that community before coming to ESPA. (Oh, and bonus, ESPA lets us meet at their offices for FREE! What? Crazytown.)
Tuesday: One of the rare days I’m not at ESPA…
I’m home rewriting. Facebooking with my Writer’s Group a bit. I’m trying to stay focused. ESPA has this awesome program called Drills. Every year ESPA playwrights have the opportunity to submit their full-length plays and four are chosen to get a professional reading! My play Stupid Hope (developed at ESPA with instructors Julian Sheppard and Winter Miller) was in the top 16 last year. Two members of my Writer’s Group, Melisa Annis and Jan Rosenberg, won a spot last year, and Jan got an agent from it. Needless to say, the deadline is fast approaching and I am working like mad to have my play ready to submit this year!
Wednesday: Auditions for Playwriting Festival
One of the unique things about ESPA is how they really encourage cross pollination between the writers, directors and actors. Its a great advantage that creates more opportunities for everyone involved. At the end of each session of classes, an ESPA director takes scenes from each of our plays and casts them with ESPA actors. These scenes are performed for friends and family and anyone else who wants to come. Today is the day for auditions. I’ve met a ton of extremely talented and eager actors through this process. I never have trouble finding people for readings and workshops thanks to the immense talent that abounds at ESPA.
Thursday: Work Study – The First Draft with Megan Carter
Once you’ve been a student at ESPA, you can apply to assist classes through their Work Study program. It’s a great opportunity, not only because your tuition is reduced, but because you get the opportunity to develop a closer professional relationship with your instructor. I am a Work Study participant for Megan Carter’s First Draft class. Megan was with The Women’s Project before leaving to pursue a career as a freelance producer and dramaturg. She gives insightful feedback that really challenges you to get to the heart of your play. Tonight she gave me a big note. One I knew, deep down, and had been ignoring. Very gently she said, “I don’t know if this character is in your play.” That could have been a very overwhelming note, but hearing someone whose opinion I value, confirm what I had been suppressing, was actually very freeing. ESPA classes are a safe environment where no one is afraid to give or receive constructive criticism.
Saturday: WRITE WRITE WRITE
Guys! Drills applications are due in less than a week and if you recall, I am writing out an entire character. So I’m on writing lockdown. I have my coffee, popcorn, and playlist (all Brahams, Bach, and Vampire Weekend) ready to go. I’m revisiting my notes from my two ESPA classes and I’ve got to say a huge thank you to my instructors, Megan Carter and Josh Hecht for helping this play along. Not to mention my amazing classmates. I hope they are locked away on this gorgeous New York day, finishing up their plays. I think they should ALL be in Drills. Of course, only four can be chosen…ugh!!! Okay, I have to go write.
Sunday: Back in Josh’s class
Aaaaaaand, I’m back at ESPA. I should probably just sleep here. Hmmm. They are so supportive of playwrights, I bet they would allow it. I’m going to pitch the idea of a nap room. But first, The Rewrite with Josh Hecht!
I hope to see you all in class soon!
– Kat Ramsburg
EDITORS NOTE: Ms. Ramsburg was asked to write this blog post by the Primary Stages marketing team as a current playwriting student and representative past participant in the ESPA Drills submission process. Her participation in this blog has no bearing on the selection for this year’s ESPA Drills program.