Studying Film as an Adult

I’m sure many people, like me, first got into film as an adult (or got into it at a younger age, but never thought they could make a career out of it, and then finally took the plunge).

I just started taking classes in film studies at my local community college on January 20th, but we haven’t had as many classes as I’d have hoped by now because Mother Nature got in the way. For me, I’d always been interested in film but hadn’t studied the visual side of things, just the writing. I’d worked on a few screenplays (some of which are now lost, unfortunately). But it might be for the best, since some of the ideas were not fully formed, too cliched and now I can approach screenwriting and storytelling from the point of view of someone who’s had some life experience but hasn’t lost her “wandering spirit” or sense of joy and wonder. I’ve overcome many obstacles, had triumphs, made great connections, and have learned a lot about myself and the world.

Now, after all that, I find myself studying film with people almost ten years my junior (which probably is not all that uncommon in film school). Yet there is a sense of awkwardness since there are differences in what we’ve experienced, or when we experienced them. For instance, I was in middle school when the DC sniper attacks happened, and I believe many of classmates were in the second grade. I have a very distinct memory of that event not only because I was a little older when the sniper ravaged the DC Metro area, but because I was actually a student at Benjamin Tasker Middle School when the shooting happened. For a photo assignment, we had to take pictures to document a “sense of place” and capture an emotional response. I took pictures of the woods where the sniper hid, remembering a copy of Time Magazine I kept in my room for a long time after the shooting happened, of the best photos of 2002. A photographer did exactly what I had done, but not from my viewpoint. He hadn’t been there, he hadn’t woken up that morning with dread thinking “This day is not like any other day.” He hadn’t had a dream the night before where a kid, who I would later discover, looked exactly like the victim, was shot in the school parking lot. So, for me, visiting those woods took a bit of courage. I’d struggled in the past to convince myself that there was nothing I could have done. There was no way my dream could have stopped the event from happening. I was blameless. The other students’ memories, which are very valid and important, instill in my mind a sense of ‘otherness’. I am not like them. I have different. I am older.

Whenever I meet people and they discover my age, it seems as if they are shocked, and maybe a little nervous about befriending me. I wonder, now, what’s so bad about hanging out with me? Then I realize that I, too, am perhaps afraid. Afraid that I won’t have anything in common with my fellow classmates, that they may interpret my experience and knowledge as pretentiousness, or that I just don’t fit in. I’m there for the same reason they are: to learn.

I’m just as new, if not newer, to filmmaking as they are. I’m a greenie. I’m still learning the best way to hold the camera steady while shooting, how to create emotion visually and not just in words. For me, words come easily. As you can see above, I described my experiences and feelings about the DC sniper attacks with words, not pictures. I’m a very visual person. I love to draw and paint, but the details get me. I can’t draw details very well. But abstract art I do really well. I’ve been told that my art is very beautiful, that people can tell just by looking at my art that I am a creative and intelligent human being.

So, why this feeling of otherness? Why do I feel so different? I’ve always felt a little different. I never liked the same actors as my friends in middle and high school. The actors I liked were classically trained, most of them British (thanks to the Harry Potter films). The Harry Potter films opened my eyes to the world of great actors, both British and American. I’d always admired George Clooney, Robert Deniro, and Dustin Hoffman. Yet, after watching Harry Potter I gained a new appreciation for the former actors’ works. Alan Rickman quickly became my favorite, and when I told a fellow student he was my favorite, they went “eeewwww….he’s old enough to be your dad.” I simply told her I admired his acting abilities, to which she responded, “Heather, that’s not how it works. You’re supposed to like celebrities for their looks.” I obviously missed the memo, but I didn’t care. I liked Rickman because I could come away from reading or listening to one of his interviews knowing more about acting and with some witty comment to ponder. Other celebrities talked about themselves, and while that’s all fine and dandy, I liked that Rickman didn’t really do that and kept his private life private. And just to be clear: Alan Rickman was handsome, I just wasn’t attracted to him (sorry, Alan).

Another thing Harry Potter did for me was turn me on to reading. I was always a reader, but became a lover of a literature as soon as I put down the first book. I wanted more. I started reading, reading, and reading. I discovered I’m good at context clues (where you figure out what’s going on in a sentence by using the words you understand around it). I started to read books with big words, and I needed to look many of them up in the dictionary, but I was able to use context clues to figure out what most of them. Before I knew it I was reading at the college level at 14. I didn’t realize I was reading college level books until someone told me that the book I picked up (I used to pick books because I liked their covers) was by Tolstoy and most people never finish it, even people my parents’ age. It was Anna Karenina and I had a mild obsession with Oprah at the time and her book club was reading it, so I was going to read it. Tolstoy was then my favorite author. I don’t pick absolute favorites lightly. Being “one of my favorites” and “one of my absolute favorites” are completely different things. I admire a lot of people, places, and books. But absolute favorites stick around for a long time. For instance, Alan Rickman and Leo Tolstoy are still my favorite actor and author respectively. I love things deeply. And people, too. That kind of compassion and depth is not always cool. It’s not exactly frowned upon either, but it definitely sets one apart. At least it did for me. Sometimes in a bad way, as people didn’t understand me so the only thing they thought of doing was tearing me down. But I didn’t break. Yet the sense of otherness remained.

The main quest I have over the next year, and the rest of the career, is how to use this feeling of otherness to create something beautiful, a piece of me that transcends the boundaries of my self-doubt.

 

Book Challenge: Not Otherwise Specified by Hannah Moskowitz

I finished my first book of the challenge, and am delighted to claim that a dear friend–Hannah Moskowitz–I met while living in NYC wrote it. We met through a mutual connection, Kody Keplinger (author of The Duff). Both of these friends are excellent writers in their own right and are amazing women and friends.

Moskowitz’s novel Not Otherwise Specified is about a girl named Etta who is in recovery from an eating disorder. In her support group, she meets a girl named Bianca, who is much, much more sicker than her. Bianca is dangerously thin, like a girl who has wasted away so much she’s dangerously close to having her heart give out. Yet the character has a heart of gold, a huge heart, and I think maybe this is her problem. She loves her brother, though his lifestyle and who he is goes against what her religion–conservative Christianity–wants her to believe. She loves so much, aims to please so much, that she turns to the only thing that she can control, her eating. Unlike Etta, her journey toward recovery is not voluntary. Etta’s was. Both she and Etta are auditioning for Brentwood, a prestigious drama school in NYC. Bianca, the sjinger, and Etta the dancer. Yet, as the back of the novel says, can Etta be saved by a girl who needs saving herself?

I really, truly connected with both Bianca and Etta. Like me, Bianca aims to please, and I’ve had to accept that I can’t please anyone, and it’s a hard pill to swallow sometimes. Often the question of “Why can’t I?” pops up more than once. I’m sure that’s what Bianca felt a lot. We don’t get much insight into Bianca’s feelings unless she freely gives them through conversation or if a character mentions something. The story is about Etta. We, as readers, live in her head, live her journey, feel her pain and her triumphs. Her triumphs and pains are sometimes one and the same since many struggles are lifelong and don’t just end. Etta is constantly faced with ideas of what society wants her to be or how they would describe her–as thin as a ballerina, sick enough to be anorexic, not straight enough for her lesbian friends (or frenemies), and perhaps most importantly, just different. She doesn’t fit into a mold and that’s what’s so great about her and Moskowitz’s writing. The character just is. She doesn’t control her thoughts, they flow freely, and we are privileged enough to t get a small glimpse into her life as she continues her journey toward Brentwood and recovery.

I give this book 5 stars and NOT because a friend wrote it. Because it’s a genuine story that reads as if Moskowitz’s pen was her own heart.

 

 


 

Why I need a Career Change

Here’s a link to a medium post I did recently on dramtaturgy and why I need a career change. My career is in flux right now. The above hyperlink goes into detail about some of that, but I wanted to expand on that here.

In the post, I talk about many things: dramaturgy, having a plan b (or a plan C, D, E…), why career changes are not always an option for some, moving on from set backs, learning (or trying to learn from and listen to) advice and constructive criticism), and commencement speeches. That’s a lot to cram into one post, but overall, I think the post is worth the read (and not just because I wrote it). Nowadays, I like to post stuff I want to read. Things that will make me pause a song on Spotify or a show on Netflix because the post is too damn interesting to wait. You know the kind I mean: catchy, attention-grabbing headline, interesting graphics, the first line has you hooked from the start, and when you finish reading, all you want to do is read it again.

I see so many inspirational posts and articles online that I try to emulate in my real, waking life. However, it’s easier said than done. First, one has to realize that not every article’s advice has to be followed to a T. With every inspirational and how-to article out there, it’s all about finding what works for you. It took me a while to understand this, since I was very confused by how many articles were contradictory. Then I thought of the people written about in magazines, championed for being trailblazers. They didn’t take risks without hesitation, I’m sure of it. But they did it anyway.

At the moment, I’m attempting to go into documentary filmmaking. My back up plan is a career in education teaching high school English (hopefully at a charter school). I desire to use film in the classroom to inspire students to think outside the box and learn how to tell interesting stories. The ability to tell a good story could help them with college applications, cover letters, and so much more. In a way, I’m still learning how to write a good cover letter and sell myself as both an artist and a job seeker. The idea of “selling myself” and “marketing myself” has always been a strange concept for me. I have no problem working with others, like musicians, music managers, and other artists, to help them become successful. It’s easier to market another person because you don’t hold to the same standards that you hold yourself to. We often have ridiculous, nearly impossible standards.

I’ve learned, over time, that I am my own worst enemy. I always knew that was true. Yet it never struck me how much pressure I put on myself until someone told me all the things I’ve accomplished, and that this bought of unemployment (or freelance employment that’s way below the poverty line) isn’t the end of the world. My freelance job pays very little per month, but I’m getting a plan together: get an Associate’s in film studies from my local community college–I won’t have to take core classes since I already have a Bachelor’s, hopefully the internship at my local TV station will eventually become a paid job, I’ll write for two hours a day, look for part-time jobs I can do on the side, skills-based  contract or volunteer work, etc.

This is a long post, but I will be posting more updates soon about my reading challenge, career, and creative life. Stay tuned!

What is a Re-Education?

You might be surprised to see that my tagline has changed. That was because I felt it was necessary to change the tagline to reflect my personality more. The other tagline was something a fellow dramaturg had said, and he is someone I deeply admire, a maverick in the field if you will. The “Re-education” tagline comes from my dissatisfaction with my education in Prince George’s County Public school systems. In particular, my U.S History teacher. I want to use this dramaturgy blog to encourage others to have a “re-education.”

What this would entail is evaluating your past education and classes that you think you were cheated out of? For me, I was cheated out of a decent U.S History education. It is absolutely appalling how many public school these days do not value history education. We live in a culture that is so focused on English and math test scores, that teachers just end up teaching what’s on standardized tests: nothing more, nothing less. Therefore. we have an unprecedented amount of students not learning anything that can help them later in life. Because, let’s face it: the information on standardized tests won’t help a student learn how to write a research paper, it won’t help them learn how to finance a mortgage, and it certainly won’t help them become informed U.S citizens who are aware of the historical and cultural consequences of the events of their lifetime.

In the Fall of 2004 I started at Bowie High School and had a U.S Teacher who was not certified. He was assigned a U.S History class because there were far too many students and not enough teachers. My teacher, nicknamed Mr. X here, was certified as a track coach. Everything was open book. All we did was read the textbook and take the course evaluations at the end of the chapters and units. We would then go over the answers. It is important to note that even with open book assignments and tests, I was in the “lazy class” and so fellow students would see me working, and harass me to give them answers. “Yo, bitch what’s the answer to number 7?” On rare occasions I was even called the C word. All because I refused to share test answers.

I realized my class was hopeless, and that I was learning nothing, so I tried to transfer to an honors class. My guidance counselor refused, and it had nothing to do with whether I was qualified. It was simply “too much paperwork” for her to transfer me. It’s her job. Paperwork is part of her job, and she refused. Shortly after this incident, I walked up to my teacher and asked if I could write an extra credit paper about McCarthy (Senator Joseph McCarthy). My teacher, oblivious, goes “Who’s that?” We had JUST finished an open book assignment on the Red Scare and McCarthyism, and I know for a fact that this guy was old enough to have survived the Red Scare. How could he not know? And why was someone with my grades put in a class with a teacher who was not certified? The school tried to justify putting me in this class by stating that well, he is certified. He’s a certified Physical Education teacher and track coach. He NEVER should have set foot in a classroom to teach a subject he knew little to nothing about. This never would’ve happened in a math or science or English class. But history is not part of the standardized tests, and so this is what happens.

And we wonder why so many Americans cannot point to Iraq on a map.

The Re-Education series is me teaching myself what I should have learned ten years ago. Stay tuned, and enjoy the ride!

In Defense of Dramaturgy: An Interview with Martyna Majok

Dramaturgy Interview

 

1.) What’s keeping you busy these days? Both professionally and generally.

Woo! Quite a lot. And in quite a wonderful way. I’m very grateful. I just returned from the NNPN Conference in Dallas, which marked the end of my playwriting residency at NJRep. I’ll still continue teaching there this summer and possibly next year, as well. I have taught six courses there this past year and I fell in love with my students. I was also just awarded the 2013 Smith Prize Commission for a play about the effects of capitalism upon the way we treat different kinds of people in America. It’s an as-yet-untitled play that spans thirty years and three major relationships in the life of an immigrant woman. All the scenes take place at a bus stop at night in Elizabeth, NJ, a quarter mile from a factory. I just completed my first draft of the play – and had a reading that same day at NJRep — and I hope to be developing it with a theatre soon. This July, I’ll be workshopping my play, “Petty Harbour,” with Leigh Silverman at New York Stage and Film’s Powerhouse Theatre Festival. That same play is getting a reading in Michigan at The Performance Network a week before the NYSAF workshop. And I will be returning to Seattle in August for One Coast Collaboration where I will be working with actor Marya Sea Kaminski on a one-woman show and staging a reading of “Petty Harbour” with The Satori Group. Other projects I’m looking forward to working on more include a film, “Remy,” and a musical about modern-day settlers to the area of Chernobyl. But probably the thing that’s had me most excited – and busy — these days is my upcoming wedding. One month to go! And then there’s our subsequent move to New York City in August. I’m looking on these days with much hope and happiness.

 

2.) We met at the Kennedy Center New Play Dramaturgy Intensive in 2011. How did that help you as a writer?

The Kennedy Center Intensive was probably the most incredible and rigorous workshop experience in which I’ve had the pleasure to be a part. Immensely fruitful and enlightening in the ways of the development process. And I was so proud to be involved with a program as prestigious as that of the Kennedy Center. I met amazing artists and intellectuals with which I’m still in contact today. And it introduced me to the NNPN, which inspired me to apply for their residency program after I graduated Yale. And then to apply for the Smith Commission. And to get to know certain theatres. So I’m terribly grateful for the connections it gave me. And then there was the workshop process itself. I worked every night and morning on rewrites….after I came back from the bar (again, GREAT people at the MFA Playwrights’ Workshop). The actors asked challenging questions and I had the time and encouragement to investigate and discover this play. There’s no place I’d rather be than the rehearsal room and the week I spent in DC was riveting for me. So I yielded a lot of writing.

 

3.) What have you done with your play ‘The Friendship of Her Thighs.’? Has it gone through many changes since?

Before I came to the Kennedy Center, “the friendship of her thighs” had received a workshop production at Yale, and was then workshopped further with the claque in NYC and The Playwright and Director Center in Moscow (though, granted, that was in Russian…which, let me tell you, can be quite illuminating.) I highly recommend workshopping your play in a language you don’t fluently speak. The play also won the Jane Chambers Student Playwriting Award in 2011 and was a semi-finalist for the O’Neill. I hadn’t changed it much since the Kennedy Center.

 

4.) What has your general experience with dramaturgs been?

Pretty positive, I’d say. When I can, I choose dramaturgs with which I mesh. People with similar aesthetics. People I respect. People who have had varied experiences in the theatre – not just dramaturging. Artists. Preferably, artists who still make their own work. These (and the director, of course) are the people with whom you share your true thoughts and concerns at the end of the day and you want them to be brave and smart and lacking in bullsh*t. I think you need to get to know your dramaturg and her work – and she her playwright – before walking into a collaboration on a new play. Ideally, you’ll be a little in love with their brilliance and moxie. The dramaturgs I’ve worked with, especially at Yale, were bold and daring, with darkness and heart, and they inspired me all along the way – in rehearsal rooms and out.

 

5. Your writing has a soulful quality to it, and your play ‘Friendship of her Thighs’ seemed to be shaped by a series of vignettes rather than a more linear storyline. Is this how many of your plays are?

Thank you! That’s a kind compliment! A few of my plays to date function in this way where we visit different times that aren’t necessarily presented linearly. Or, chronologically, rather. But that just means there’s something else you’re watching develop, something else that’s linear. I have plays with continuous, chronological, forward moving action – “Petty Harbour,” for example – where all the action takes place over one night. Then there are plays that dip into different realities – “friendship” travels between the nightmares of a woman (which are abstractions of her past) and then to her waking day-to-day life, where she is beginning a new relationship with a man. My hope with that was to understand post-trauma. And I have plays that jump around in time – this newest work is an example of that – where there is some issue gnawing at a character’s present days that is being looked at throughout her whole life. But I’ve found you have to be careful and crafty with those.  An audience needs to follow something. So if I present a play out of normally-functioning time, I have something develop with a traditional arc, something the audience is watching. In this new play, we watch five scenes – three in the present and two in the past – to see whether a woman continues a destructive cycle that’s been helping her survive. And I try to set up that promise – that that question will be answered – early in the play so an audience knows that the story will go somewhere, albeit not traditionally.

 

6.) Describe for me your writing process.

Muse a lot, then procrastinate, panic, and write real fast? I’m kidding but that’s not entirely untrue. I’ll be attracted to some idea, some character, some place and I’ll build upon it for as long as I can. I’ll muse and write notes to myself along the way – usually in transit somewhere. Then I’ll set some deadline – usually an informal reading so there are other people holding me accountable. Depending on the scale of the play, I’ll set aside a week or so for continuous writing. Read it with actors, get feedback. And then keep going. I like presenting half-plays to people and then writing on from there. And I really enjoy the rewriting process. I print out pages and sit somewhere beautiful, just me and my play, away from things, for as many hours at a time as I can make work. The pages look like football plays by the time I’m done with them. It’s a treasured kind of time for me.

 

I never used to plan or outline my plays at all but now I find myself preparing for the first half of the story. In the actual writing of it, the story usually develops into something for which I could not have planned but it’s good for me to have markers, places to get to, so that I can discover things about these characters, and surprise myself, along the way.

 

As for the ideas themselves, I try not to analyze too much from whence they come. But I’ve noticed they usually have to do with something going on in my life at the moment, unaware though I may be about it at the time. Some obsession, some hurt or love, some mystery. Something I’d like to understand.

 

7.) What qualities do you look for in a dramaturg?

I talked about that a little bit above but I’ll add that life experience can be a very attractive thing for me in a dramaturg. This is not to say age but endurance, survival, living. There are things you cannot find in books. Things you need to understand in your bones through living. Humans do all kinds of things. And it certainly helps in conversations at the table and beyond when a dramaturg can understand seemingly strange character behaviors and assist a writer to better illuminate them instead of insisting on drastically rewriting or chopping them out.

 

8.) Have you ever had any negative experiences with dramaturgs?

Not really. You always learn something. I’ve disagreed with dramaturgs but that’s part of the process. You’ve got to be grateful for someone’s opinion – they are choosing to give you a part of their lives, being in the room with you, investing in your play. And you may not agree with them but you’ve got to consider what they say.

 

9.) When workshopping a play, how involved do you like to be? Are you more of an observer?

 

I love being in the room so I’m happy being as involved as is appropriate to the particular project. Still, I like directors to do what directors do best. I’m not the best at “actor speak” sometimes. I do rewrite a lot in the room. Cutting things as we go, adding notes to myself to write in some section at home later. I get excited when directors have actors do work off the page, outside of the play. Improvs and such. Mostly, I’m just happy to be there, learning about this thing, making something with people.

In Defense of Dramaturgy: An Interview with Peter Floyd

I worked with Peter Floyd this past summer at the Kennedy Center’s New Play Dramaturgy Intensive. It was a great experience, especially since the play–The Centipede King–was full of creepy, crawly goodness and things weren’t always what they seemed. I liked that about the play, especially since there was much for us to discuss regarding the play. Ultimately, there were not that many changes made to the play. I think, if I recall correctly, one monologue was added, and the rest of the changes were minor–a cut line here and there, etc. Mostly we spent our time discussing what was going on in the play, is it in the character’s head, is she crazy, and what, exactly is the so-called Centipede King? It was great fun, especially meeting Peter, who is a sweetheart.

This interview was conducted prior to the Boston bombings, but I would like to express my deepest sympathies to the city, and to say how grateful I am that Peter remained safe.

1.) What’s keeping you busy at the moment? Work and non-work related.

Right now, I’m working on a new play (tentatively called Protocol) for the New Voices program at the New Repertory Theatre in Watertown, MA. (Info here, if you’re curious.) Each of us four playwrights in the program has been working on a full length play since last fall, bringing in pieces of the works in progress to be read and critiqued. At the end of May, there will be public readings of all four plays. So, most of my playwriting hours of late have been writing and rewriting my play, which still needs a lot of work before it’s ready for presentation.
Back in February, there was a reading of my play Absence (a first-person portrait of a woman with Alzheimer’s) at the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta. It will get another reading here in Boston later this month, and in June it goes back to Atlanta for a reading before an audience of people who work with or are related to seniors afflicted with dementia.
Aside from that, there’s my day job of writing code for an Electronic Medical Record application, and also trying to see as many plays as I can…

2.) We worked together on The Centipede King as part of the Kennedy Center’s New Play Dramaturgy Intensive. Tell me a little bit more about how that play came to be.

I got the idea of writing a play that was a real horror story, as that was something I hadn’t seen much of on stage. I wanted to specifically write a horror tale that could only be told on stage, using distinctively theatrical techniques. I was specifically interested in psychological horror, and a strong influence was the Korean horror flick The Tale of Two Sisters. I had only written a couple of scenes when I was given the opportunity to submit a proposal for the Kennedy Center’s MFA Playwrights’ Workshop (that was what the event was called on my end!) and I rather rashly submitted my play, which I titled The Centipede King, by sending in a sketchy outline of what I thought the plot would be, plus the scenes I’d written and a couple of others I hastily threw together. I honestly didn’t think I had a chance in hell of getting in, so I was flabbergasted when Gregg Henry called me and said my proposal was accepted. I was both elated and terrified, as I now had to write the damn thing in time to bring to the workshop.
So, I put the old nose to the grindstone and plugged away at it. In the course of writing, the play took some turns I was not expecting. As you know, the play ends with a surprise twist (which I won’t describe here, because spoilers), but that was not how I originally intended to end. My plan was that the Centipede King, the mysterious presence that haunts Lily, the younger sister, would turn out to represent her fractured memories of her brother, who abused her in some fashion, and that Rachel, the older sister, never actually existed, but was an entity created in Lily’s imagination to protect her from the trauma inflicted by her brother. However, as I was writing, I discovered that Rachel was far too interesting a character to not be real. Further, Lily’s reaction to the Centipede King was not at all the reaction of a victim to her tormenter; in fact, she seemed to view the King as someone who could protect her from her sister. This was a much more interesting path than my original plan, so I went in that direction, and the result was the draft I brought to the workshop.

3.) What did you take away from the process at the Kennedy Center’s New Play Dramaturgy Intensive?

A souvenir mug and an Addams Family beer mat. (Rim shot.) No, I got a lot out the week. Related to the subject of your interview, this was the first time I worked with a dramaturg (three of them!) and I found you all useful and supportive; I’ll give further details under question 6 below. All in all, I learned a great deal about the play, not least that people would actually respond to it, by working with a savvy director and actors who were enthusiastic about the play but willing to pose questions that I did not always have immediate answers for. Having that level of support for a script that was still in a very raw state was both helpful and affirming. Simply being in an environment that was so supportive of new talent (I was going to say “young talent” but then I remembered some of us aren’t so young anymore) was great; it was inspiring to see the work of other playwrights from around the country.
4.) Not many changes were made to the play. Have you made more changes since the Intensive?
Some, but nothing major, which is actually pretty surprising. Absence, the Alzheimer’s play, has gone through many different drafts and now bears little resemblance to what it was like at its first reading. Protocol, my current play, is getting similarly heavy rewrites. But The Centipede King somehow came out — well, I won’t say perfectly, but in very good shape, so that while I’ve done a lot of tinkering (much of it to Rachel’s extended monologues) its essential structure is very much unchanged. I wish they were all that easy!

5.) What’s your writing process like?

Not very organized! I usually start with an idea and some sense of what my characters are, and begin writing to see where they will take me. Depending on how inspired I am, I can usually write twenty or thirty pages before getting stuck, at which point I have to brainstorm. For me, this involves opening a blank Word document, and writing down anything I can think of — plot ideas, bits of dialog, whatever — in a burst of free association. Some of these ideas are deliberately ridiculous. Eventually I’ll get something which sparks an idea, and will get me through another twenty or thirty pages. Usually, I’ll have some notion of how the play will end though, as with The Centipede King, that itself can change as I write the play.

6.) When you work with a dramaturg, what do you look for? What qualities would your ideal dramaturg have?

As noted above, my only real experience with dramaturgs was working with you and Gavin and Georgia at the Kennedy Center workshop. I didn’t have any real preconceptions of what that would be like, but I would say that Gavin (whom I worked with the most) would seem to represent the ideal dramaturg, in that he (a) really liked the play (I wouldn’t want to work with a dramaturg who didn’t like my stuff!), (b) was able to look at the play in a very analytical way, something that I’m not very good at doing; that is, he could pick up themes and images that were repeated through the play and suggest meanings that had not occurred to me, (c) in a similar way, could find problems with the play that I had not noticed (internal inconsistencies, out-of-character moments) and suggest alternative approaches in a non-pushy way; his suggestions were always thoughtful and considered — I didn’t always accept them, but I always respected them, (d) he had a breadth of knowledge both of the theater world and of many areas outside that field, and he drew on all of that in our work on the play.

7.) Do you have any negative experiences with dramaturgs? Explain, if you can.

No, none at all!

8.) How do you like to workshop a play? Do you go in with a specific idea of what you want to happen? Or do you like to observe the process? How involved do you like to be?

When a play of mine is being workshopped, I generally don’t have a specific notion of what should happen, unless there is a particular scene or sequence that I’m finding problematic. I prefer to watch and listen, so I let the director (with whom I would obviously talk to beforehand) be completely in charge of running the workshop and all the necessary logistics, so I can concentrate on the words. It’s always surprising (and sometimes appalling) to hear the lines spoken aloud for the first time — they’re often completely different from how they sounded in my head — and a lot of the notes I scribble to myself are about word choices and phrasings that sound totally unnatural. But I try to keep the big picture in view and make sure the play works as a whole, that the arc is clear and the characters real. Feedback from the director, the cast and — of course! — the dramaturg (if there is one) is vital, because what seems clear to me may not be so to someone living outside my head. Sometimes, if there is a scene that bothers me, I might ask to have it read again, possibly with direction given by either me or the director. However, since the workshop is about the the scripts, not the actors, I try to keep that to a minimum.

 

BCWJ Profile of Maria Alexandria Beech

This is a fantastic interview by Anne Hamilton.

Anne Hamilton/Hamilton Dramaturgy

Profile of Maria Alexandria Beech

By Anne M. Hamilton, MFA

Maria Alexandria Beech is a playwright and librettist living in New York. She has written over fifteen full-length plays, several as a member of the Dorothy Strelsin New American Writers Group at Primary Stages Theatre, which co-produced her play LITTLE MONSTERS at Brandeis Theatre Company. Her full-length musical titled CLASS, with Karl Michael Johnson, was presented in a reading in May, 2012 at NYU.

AH: Alex, I know that you hold an MFA from Columbia University. Now you have a second, this time from NYU.

MB: It’s in musical theatre writing. It is a true honor. One would think that writing a musical and writing a play are similar processes, but in fact they’re not. They each require their own craft and their own knowledge base.

AH: What is CLASS about?

MB:  It’s based on a play that I wrote in…

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