PlayFest 24 brings quarantined writing instructors to playwrights

Posted 3/25/20

The second weekend of the Key City Public Theatre’s 24th annual PlayFest series of plays by — and playwriting workshops for — local playwrights adapted and overcame the impacts of …

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PlayFest 24 brings quarantined writing instructors to playwrights

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The second weekend of the Key City Public Theatre’s 24th annual PlayFest series of plays by — and playwriting workshops for — local playwrights adapted and overcame the impacts of coronavirus quarantining, as attendees of Los Angeles-based stage and screenwriter A.P. Andrews’ playwriting intensive on Sunday, March 15, were guided through writing exercises by him even as he remained confined to the comfort of his own home.

“We’ve gone through three hours of work, which should have helped you each generate five monologues and two scenes, albeit unedited,” Andrews told the nearly half-dozen playwrights who sat on the stage and in the stands of the Key City Playhouse. “So what’s next?”

Denise Winter, artistic director for Key City, offered the playwrights the answer, assigning them a deadline of April 1 to complete their scenes, which could then be submitted for performances as part of Key City’s dinner theater program, with small royalty fees for the playwrights.

“It can help your creativity and productivity to have external deadlines imposed on you,” Andrews said. “Think about the moments in our lives when we’re forced into split-second decisions that can determine the rest of our lives. I write my characters reflecting on and reckoning with moments like those. Plays often serve as survival guides, because the playwright is saying, ‘Here’s what I went through. Hopefully, you might learn something from it.’ Make the implications of the moments you write as big as possible, and you might find out something about yourself.”

Andrews viewed the writing tools he’d provided to the playwrights as “beginnings” to their work, to which they could return if they found themselves stuck in certain scenes.

The playwrights who took part in the intensive represented a broad spectrum of experience with such exercises. D.D. Wigley had already participated in a decade’s worth of writing workshops, which she considered worthwhile because she learned something new each time, while Jim Gormly was a first-timer, even though this year’s PlayFest included his fourth play, which was the second he’d submitted to the annual event.

“I don’t know what I expected,” Gormly said. “I did find it a helpful trigger for my creative thoughts, and I look forward to doing it again.”

Wigley acknowledged that while Andrews broadcasting into the playhouse remotely offered real-time face-to-face instruction, it didn’t afford as much “back and forth” between the instructor and the playwrights.

Wigley and Diana Carson-Walker nonetheless appreciated how the web option allowed not only instructors like Andrews, but also their fellow playwrights to benefit from those lessons, whether they were self-quarantining due to signs of illness or staying off the roads because weather conditions weren’t ideal in their areas.

“The instruction at this workshop was probably more concise because of the teleconferencing aspect,” Carson-Walker said. “It was very practical. We got our work done and ready to go.”

“At the same time, his instruction left a lot of possibilities open for us,” Wigley said. “If you were rolling, you could keep rolling, but if you weren’t, he could throw in a few things to help you out.”

Lillie Moses credited Andrews’ physical degree of removal from the playhouse with providing his instruction a more intimate atmosphere.

“Wherever he was, it looked like he was comfortable,” Moses said. “When the instructor is more relaxed, he’s less professorial, and more friendly and familiar. Either way, I’m glad the technology made this an option, rather than him simply having to cancel because he couldn’t travel.”

“For playwrights in Port Townsend, PlayFest is all we get, all year long,” Wigley said. “This is our heaven, so we learn as much as we can as fast as we can.”

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