Now in its 16th year, the Dorothy Strelsin New American Writers Group brings together a group of emerging playwrights each season to create new plays for the American theater. Under the direction of Primary Stages Associate Artistic Director Michelle Bossy, these playwrights attend weekly meetings in the fall and spring, where they bring new pages to each session and receive feedback on their works in progress. At the end of the season, Primary Stages presents the first public reading of these plays in The Dorothy Strelsin Fresh Ink Readings Series.
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!
Playwright Winter Miller, who is teaching an intensive called “The Cure for Writer’s Block” at Primary Stages Einhorn School of Performing Arts (ESPA), discusses her writing process, the community of writers at ESPA and what she has learned from her students.Primary Stages: What technique or techniques do you use to get your creative juices flowing when you’re suffering from writer’s block? Where do you get your inspiration?
Winter Miller: This is a tricky one, and I’ll confess I’m far more skilled at getting other people’s creative juices flowing than my own. What I’ve learned to recognize is that sometimes, I need to step back because the well feels dry–it’s not–or it is–but in any case, it needs to be filled. When that happens I go look at visual art, I spend time in and looking at nature, and I try to nurture myself by being in community with other people and not isolating. Another thing I do is I make visual art. Sometimes I paint, sometimes I collage. One of the challenges of writing plays is going the distance from impulse to first draft to the sometimes long waiting period before you get to see the play on its feet. So sometimes I need something more immediate to reflect that I’m creating. I may switch forms and write song lyrics, or bad poetry, or short stories about my childhood.
PS: How long have you been teaching at ESPA?
WM: Three years? More? I can’t recall. But I have to say, I really, really like the students who come through this program. I’ve watched them go onto graduate school or onto making their own work on their own terms and it’s exciting to see writers grow from tentative to curious to bold. And then there are some writers who are already experienced and it’s great to see them getting out of their habits and trying new things. It sounds almost corny, but it’s a nice energy to be around the students here. Everyone wants to be in class, wants to grow and I think having a community of writers is really important. (more…)
Behind all that Primary Stages does is a commitment to inspiring, supporting and sharing the art of playwriting, and the belief that the future of American theater relies on nurturing playwrights.
One of our many programs that embody that mission is our Fordham/Primary Stages MFA program in playwriting, co-directed by Primary Stages Managing Director Elliot Fox, in collaboration with Fordham’s Matthew Maguire.
Fox states, “I am honored to have the opportunity to work with some incredibly talented writers and faculty in this new MFA program that we launched in 2012. Fordham is an incredible university and the environment that we are creating together is very exciting for both our institutions and the artists who join us.”
The Fordham/Primary Stages MFA in Playwriting offers writers the opportunity to develop and produce their work in a rigorous university setting while fostering relationships with a preeminent Off Broadway theatre company. This two-year program provides students with two productions with professional directors, networking in the New York industry, plus guidance from a broad range of professionals in theatre, television, and film.
Next week Primary Stages will be hosting the 8th Annual New York One-Minute Play Festival (#1MPF)!
The One-Minute Play Festival is a unique exploration of short form playwriting. We are excited for the festival’s return to Primary Stages, after hosting the 5th annual festival in 2011. Since then the event has partnered with several other Off-Broadway and regional theater companies, sparking creativity and discussion wherever it goes.
Dominic D’Andrea, the festival’s Producing Artistic Director and curator, gathers together dozens of playwrights (listed below) who write new micro-plays. They are paired with local directors and actors to collaborate on complete pieces that last no more than two minutes in total. With #1MPF, D’Andrea promotes the spirit of radical inclusion, representing playwrights and actors of different age, gender, race, culture and point of career. The end result is a reflection of our collective theatrical landscape.
The Dorothy Strelsin New American Writers Group is a Primary Stages program that cultivates new work for the stage by bringing together eight emerging to mid-career playwrights annually. Each playwright develops a new full-length play (and in some cases, more) and presents their work at the end of the year in the Fresh Ink reading series. The prolific Adam Szymkowicz has been a member for several years. We invited Adam to share a look into his unique playwriting process.
What Am I Working On Now? or The Confluence and Fluidity of Ideas.
Like many playwrights I am always working on multiple projects. Over the years, I’ve had a lot of ideas of projects I want to do and there is never enough time to do them all. Sometimes when I’m between writing scripts I will make a list of the things I plan to do.
A recent list like this contained 20 play ideas, 15 film ideas, 3 graphic novel ideas, 6 novel ideas and a few other-hard to-classify projects. Sometimes I will combine a couple of these ideas to make something. Sometimes I will have a new take on an old idea that suddenly makes it come into focus. And then sometimes completely new ideas appear and demand to be written.
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. (more…)