Fordham/Primary Stages MFA in Playwrighting

Six Reasons to Choose Fordham/Primary Stages for your MFA in Playwriting

Built on the collaborative strength of two New York City theater organizations, the Fordham/Primary Stages MFA program in playwriting offers emerging writers the opportunity to develop and produce original work under the guidance of respected industry professionals.
Here are six things that make this program special:

1. Advantages of a professional environment

You’ll have the opportunity to work directly with industry professionals, like Primary Stages Founder Casey Childs.

2. Investment in students as artists and professionals

Our students leave our classes knowing not just how to write a great play, but also how to manage the business of making a living as a writer.

3. Individual attention from professors

With only two writers accepted each year, you’ll benefit from personal attention throughout the program.

4. Opportunities for artistic growth

Fordham’s theater program has a successful history of artist training.

5. Real world experience in New York City’s theater industry

Your two-year program culminates in a public production of a full-length play at an Off-Broadway theater venue.

6. Support of Artistic vision

Primary Stages has been supporting, nurturing, and sharing the art of new American playwriting for over 30 years.
Think our MFA program might be a good fit for you? Learn more here.
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Primary Stages Profile: Taylor Gregory, Primary Stages/Fordham MFA, ’17

taylor (1)What was your very first play about?

Chittenango was about a Broadway director who forgets that it’s opening night for his show Jesus Fantastic!

What is your earliest memory of the theater?

When I was young, my cousin Tommy, who is now a priest, would write and stage plays in the basement every Thanksgiving as entertainment for our extended family. All of the cousins had roles and the shows were not very good.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received as a playwright?

Mark Bly told me, “Characters have secrets.”

What makes a good artistic home?

A Keurig, cozy socks, a small guitar and sunflower seeds.

Tell us about your play! What was your inspiration?

A Small Group is about a man who wakes up in rehab with no recollection of how he got there. He is befriended by four other patients who take him into their group where he discovers that his struggles with identity are not uncommon, and that everybody has a story.  The prevalence of addiction in our culture inspired this play.  We all know “someone.”

Taylor Gregory’s A Small Group will be presented April 27-30 at HERE Arts. Click here for more info.

Primary Stages Profile: Edward Precht, Primary Stages/Fordham MFA, ’17

EdwardPrechtWhat was your very first play about?

My first full-length play was about a guy who, in so few words, went on a very weird drug trip, during which he learned about the entire history of theater. So many theater puns. Like, 100% theater puns. It’s embarrassing in its own charming way, but it’s what got me here.

What is your earliest memory of the theater?

I couldn’t tell you my earliest, but I do know the most important: the day I saw George Brant’s Elephant’s Graveyard. Up until then I’d only seen pretty standard, kitchen sink-y plays. That production was the first that showed me the versatility of theater and the power of words.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received as a playwright?

I think it was Julie Jensen who told me she didn’t believe in writer’s block – that the best way to keep writing was, well, to keep writing. I’m still a little on the fence about it, but it has gotten me through some rough writing patches.

What makes a good artistic home?

The people. The people, the people, the people. Life sucks, man, and art is hard. But if you can find yourself a family – folks who understand you and challenge you and fuel you, both as an artist and a human being – then you’ll have found a home.

Tell us about your play! What was your inspiration?

Strange, America is about a young couple that gets stranded in a mysterious town in the Pacific Northwest. It’s a play about belief, cultural collision, and a very lifelike stuffed jackalope. I took inspiration from all over – Twin Peaks, Dante, Welcome to Night Vale, Rossetti, Gravity Falls, etc., etc., etc. – as well as a few things I (and, I think, all of us) struggle with from time to time. It’s been a joy-and-a-half to write. I hope it’s just as enjoyable to watch.

Edward Precht’s Strange, America will be presented ad April 20-23 at HERE Arts. Click here for more info.

A Chat with Eljon Wardally, Fordham/Primary Stages MFA, ’14

eljonwardally_headshotEljon Wardally is a 2014 graduate of our Fordham University/Primary Stages MFA in Playwriting. In honor of our MFA Alumni Reading Series, which runs January 9-12, 2017, we’re catching up with the graduates to hear about what they’re working on these days.

Tell us about your play in the Alumni Reading Series.

No matter which part of the world you’re in, the multifaceted concept of gender politics is ever constant and ever present. For many women in the Caribbean, it is more difficult to break free from the stereotypes of wife, mother, and “just a girl,” especially on a small island where society is dominated by men. I rarely see these stories told on stage. It’s time to bring it to the forefront.

Through Blooming In Dry Season, my aim is to demonstrate that women stuck in traditional roles in the Caribbean can break free and create their own path, no matter the age. How do gender politics affect a nuclear family in the Caribbean – especially when a suppressed member of the family decides enough is enough? In the case of Blooming In Dry Season, that person is Rose, a mother and devoted wife who on the surface, represents the traditional role of a woman. Just as talented as her husband, Fitz, she pushes her dreams and goals down so he can be happy but when she sees her daughter going down the same path she did, she decides to make a choice. Rose’s struggle to break free echoes stories of so many women who push themselves to the side to appease their significant others.

How did you come to be a playwright?

I had been writing short plays since I was in undergrad but never pursued it professionally. Then, in 2010, I suffered a stroke. The threat of having my ability to write taken away from me pushed me to pursue my passion. When I recovered, I took my first Playwriting class at Primary Stages ESPA under the direction of Rogelio Martinez, applied to Fordham’s MFA Playwriting program, and never looked back.

Tell us about a pivotal theater experience from your life.

The National Asian American Theatre Company’s Awake and Sing by Clifford Odets, directed by Stephen Brown-Fried, with an all-Asian cast blew me away. We need more actors of color on stage. Having an Asian cast portray a Jewish family is even more proof that actors can do anything and should be given the same opportunities as everyone else, regardless of race. That production was not only a stunning portrayal of Odets’s work but, in my eyes, was also a call to action.

Which plays, playwrights or theater artists do you admire?

I am inspired by the fearlessness in An Octoroon by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins. I greatly admire August Wilson. To this day, nothing I have read has given me the feeling I got when I read the ending of Seven Guitars. The endings to his plays always surprise me. He is someone I look to when trying to plant twists and turns in my own work.

Seen or read anything good lately?

I recently purchased The Black Book by Middleton A. Harris, Morris Levitt, Roger Furman, and Ernest Smith. It is a beautiful book of black history that is probably going to take me a good three months to read through! I also recently saw the film, Fences. I love that August Wilson’s work can now live on in a different way. Having this film makes his work more accessible to more people. Since I have adapted some of my plays into screenplays, I appreciated the care that was taken to preserve his words.

What else are you working on right now?

The second season of my award-winning digital series, Docket 32357will premiere in early 2017.

I am a part of a black writer’s group at Juilliard called HomeBase. I wrote a 15-minute piece called ImPrisoned, which premiered with them on January 8. Set in solitary, a man who is about to hang himself is visited by the spirits of Ota Benga and Saartjie Baartman. Jasmine Batchelor directs.

Big Black Balloon, an O’Neill National Theater Conference finalist, will be making its podcast debut on The Parsnip Ship on February 12. It will be directed by Kel Haney.

Any New Year’s resolutions for 2017?

One of the resolutions that I have upheld for the past few years is to travel somewhere new every year. I’m looking forward to seeing where that will be in 2017!

 

Catch a reading of Blooming in Dry Season by Eljon Wardally on Thursday, January 12 at 6PM. The reading is free and open to the public. RSVP to readings@primarystages.org.

A Chat with Jenny Rachel Weiner, Fordham/Primary Stages MFA, ’14

weinerJenny Rachel Weiner is a 2014 graduate of our Fordham University/Primary Stages MFA in Playwriting. In honor of our MFA Alumni Reading Series, which runs January 9-12, 2017, we’re catching up with the graduates to hear about what they’re working on these days.

Tell us about your play in the Alumni Reading Series.

My play is a father/daughter road trip story set to classic rock. It’s my way of putting two people who haven’t ever really communicated, in the absence of the one person who held them together, in a confined space that requires them to face each other. It’s my way of exploring my own relationship with my father, who I am only now starting to really get to know. It’s fascinating to grow up and begin to see your parent as a human being, not as just a Dad. part & parcel is a play about two people, who seemingly know each other better than anyone in the world, discovering each other for the first time.

How did you come to be a playwright?

I became at playwright during my undergrad days at Boston University. I began there as an actor, and as an eighteen year old, was steadfast and determined to remain one. During my sophomore year in a class called Theatre Ensemble, led by the inimitable Lydia R. Diamond, I wrote and performed a monologue from the perspective of a window that had shattered my childhood home, a product of Hurricane Irene that, in 2005, wreaked havoc on South Florida. After that class, Lydia pulled me aside. She looked me straight in the eye, and she said, “I don’t know if you know this, Jenny, but you’re a writer. You may not be able to see it yet, you may not be able to acknowledge it now, but I want you to know that you are a writer.” Lydia saw something in me that day, and although it did take me a couple of years to allow that path to unfold, I think that was the day that the beast was unleashed.

Tell us about a pivotal theater experience from your life.

In 2012, I was lucky enough to be a part of the International Crisis Arts Festival in Tuscany, Italy, where I brought a documentary theatre piece about female experiences of survival and hope. While I was there, I met a group of theatre artists from Greece who didn’t speak a word of English, but who I connected to immediately. One evening it was their turn to share their work. They brought us all up to the roof of one of the buildings; it was a quiet and windy night, the light from the moon was incredibly bright, and there was a feeling of electricity (maybe it was the building’s voltage, who knows, but it was present!) A violinist played, and we sat down while we watched three actors interacting onstage with water. They began the play with a man standing in the center, flanked by the woman and second man, in an exercise where the only actions were a kiss or a slap. It was clear that the actor in the center didn’t know which was coming, and as he spoke the text in Greek, the two actors on his side would respond with either action. It was hilarious, heartbreaking, and so human. I didn’t understand a word of the piece, but for an hour and a half I cried my eyes out, laughed hysterically, and felt elevated by their storytelling.  That was a moment of theatre I will never forget.

Which plays, playwrights or theater artists do you admire?

My favorite playwrights range from Wendy Wasserstein to Sheila Callaghan, from Tennessee Williams to Tony Kushner, from Sarah Ruhl to Chuck Mee. I am drawn to writers who ask questions of us we never tire of asking, who make me belly laugh with their perceptive portraits of families, communities, isolation, matters of the heart. I am drawn to theatricality and moments of poetry amidst very real and very grounded circumstances, because I think life is full of those and if we blink we might miss them

Seen or read anything good lately?

I saw Brandon Jacobs-Jenkins’ play Appropriate at Juilliard a few weeks ago and it TOTALLY blew my mind. I haven’t stopped thinking about it.

What else are you working on right now?

Other than continuing to work on Part & Parcel which is in a very early stage of development, I’ve just begun working on my next play which explores epigenetics and the way experience is carried through DNA. I am also working on a commission for Roundabout Theatre, where I have just begun my post as an Associate Artist.

Any New Year’s resolutions for 2017?

I’d like to be less judgmental and critical of myself, and be accepting of the process without being anxious for the final result. This resolution works well in preparing for the reading of this new play!

Catch a reading of Part & Parcel: A Father/Daughter Road Trip Play Set to Classic Rock by Jenny Rachel Weiner on Thursday, January 12 at 2PM. The reading is free and open to the public. RSVP to readings@primarystages.org.

A Chat with Alessando King, Fordham/Primary Stages MFA, ’16

Alessandro King

Alessandro King is a 2016 graduate of our Fordham University/Primary Stages MFA in Playwriting. In honor of our MFA Alumni Reading Series, which runs January 9-12, 2017, we’re catching up with the graduates to hear about what they’re working on these days.

Tell us about your play in the Alumni Reading Series.

When I was a kid, I had a VHS tape called “Bugs Bunny Superstar” that featured Looney Tunes cartoons mixed in with a documentary about Warner Brothers animation. The documentary contained thirty seconds of silent black and white footage of the very young animators cavorting around their ramshackle studio, known as “Termite Terrace.” These men danced around my head for decades until my career as a sketch and improv comedian dropped me in a similar environment, triggering my fingers to finally write Cartoon Blue and bring that ancient footage to life.

Tell us about a pivotal theater experience from your life.

There are a lot of good ones, but the one most pertinent to this reading is from my first high school production. I was playing the zany German director in Kaufman and Hart’s Once in a Lifetime, and Kitty Carlisle Hart was in the audience. Afterwards I introduced myself and she said, “Oh, you were heavenly!” and that was basically it for me.

How did you come to be a playwright?

I was definitely an enthused character actor in high school, which means you play a lot of people much older than your actual age. I knew that didn’t really bode well in the professional world, so I think on some level I was always thinking about switching tracks. And then I got really heavily into Lanford Wilson the summer before college and woke up one morning knowing I was a playwright. It seemed like the logical career for someone who wants to tell stories about people who look different from him.

Which plays, playwrights or theater artists do you admire?

I’ll use this space to talk about Terence Rattigan. When his plays get done they’re usually accompanied by press pieces about how he’s a structure-obsessed chronicler of the British Upper Middle Class who was typical of his time. Don’t buy it. Rattigan was sui generis, one of the few playwrights with true affection for his characters, who treated them as ends in and of themselves and not means toward a contrived political or thematic point. In terms of emotional sophistication, manipulation of ensembles, and individuation of characters’ voices, he is one of the very few true heirs to Chekhov.

Seen or read anything good lately?

I’ve never seen a musical like The Band’s Visit at the Atlantic. So elegiac and delicate, with every song truly earned by the interactions of the characters.

What else are you working on right now?

I have written a monologue about the recent election. You’ll have to stay tuned to the Primary Stages blog for more details.

Any New Year’s resolutions for 2017?

I have sign over my desk that says “ONLY USE FACEBOOK FOR EVENTS.” I’m going to have it dipped in bronze.

Catch a reading of Cartoon Blue by Alessandro King on Monday, January 9 at 6PM. The reading is free and open to the public. RSVP to readings@primarystages.org.

A Chat with Julian Giat, Fordham/Primary Stages MFA, ’16

Version 3Julian Giat is a 2016 graduate of our Fordham University/Primary Stages MFA in Playwriting. In honor of our MFA Alumni Reading Series, which runs January 9-12, 2017, we’re catching up with the graduates to hear about what they’re working on these days.

Tell us about your play in the Alumni Reading Series.

Ventura is about the allure of pulling the covers over one’s head and returning to childhood, and why it’s worth resisting. In certain ways, I think many of us never stop learning how to be grown up, and when today’s world is at its most incongruous, the desire to return home, to a simpler time, rears its head. I tried to imagine a character who (terrified of the pressures of modern adult life and insistent of his own ineptitude) is forced to start again in his childhood home. What I landed on was James, who moves back in with his mother in west LA when suddenly and mysteriously stricken blind. When the claustrophobia of being taken care of again turns to an addictive coziness, when his adult relationships threaten to dissolve, and when an old childhood confidant returns in crisis, James must finally spring into action and find his way back to the world of the living.

How did you come to be a playwright?

My father is a screenwriter, who succeeded in raising me in the religion of plot structure and made me understand why the movies I loved worked. One of the first scripts I ever read as a kid was his copy of an early draft of Back to the Future. Though I imagined I could support myself as a sort of script doctor while studying as an actor, in my junior year of college I finally came back around to writing my own work, studying with Roy Kendall in London for a semester at the Institute of Contemporary Arts/Writer’s Guild of Great Britain. As my father had told me of his experience, sometimes all it takes is one great teacher and one great writer (for me that writer was Pinter), and that semester in London years ago altered my course exclusively towards writing. Much of the work I’ve seen since, including that of my peers, has utterly cemented that pursuit.

Tell us about a pivotal theater experience from your life. 

I have to take an obvious route here and cite David Cromer’s production of Our Town at Barrow Street Theatre. I think it’s the only thing I’ve paid to see three times.  It was just one of those experiences that lived up to every speck of the hype, and it left me absolutely wrecked each time. Though there were plays that were influential ensemble efforts for me as a young performer, and plays that introduced me to theatre at a much earlier and more formative age, nothing has stuck with me like that production. I hope Wilder had an inkling of how shockingly modern his words would continue to feel. It inspired me to not get bogged down in postmodern distancing when an emotion or point needs to get across. What his characters feel is raw, and when they speak there’s no question of what they’re going through (even in an experimental play). Because of Cromer’s leaning into the artifice of putting on a show, and trusting the audience to dissolve that artifice, I felt like I heard those words for the first time, and adopted the cheesy habit of keeping a copy in my bag when writing in case of crisis.

Which plays, playwrights or theater artists do you admire?

There are plays and writers I can’t help but come back to habitually. Some, like Night, Mother, are classics. Slowgirl, by Greg Pierce, which was at LCT3 a few years ago, captured a quiet discomfort I’d love to tap into and still think about. I greatly admire Annie Baker, and have been studying John recently like a “found document.” Most of all, though, the entire body of work by Harold Pinter continually fascinates me. What many of my friends feel about their first experience with Shakespeare, I feel about mine with Pinter. I never knew language could bite like that. His first published play, The Room, is one of my all-time favorites, but combing through his one-acts, ten-minute plays, and lesser known full-lengths will always yield some brilliant, sad, hilarious, and incredibly concise turn of phrase that almost makes me wish he had held a Twitter account.

Seen or read anything good lately?

I loved Ripcord. I was also a big fan of Tom & Eliza, by Celine Song, at Jack, and Kingdom Come at Roundabout!

What else are you working on right now?

A bizarre sort of play in which the theatre is used as a lecture hall, and one in which the characters are stuck in an Old Navy. But mostly, I’m working on how to write about where we are as a country at the moment.

Any New Year’s resolutions for 2017?

To learn about, and by extension write about, a greater variety of people.

 

Catch a reading of Ventura by Julian Giat on Tuesday, January 10 at 2PM. The reading is free and open to the public. RSVP to readings@primarystages.org.Version 3