Highly-Regarded Playwright and Instructor Andrea Stolowitz to Teach in Seattle

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The Salon and Cornish College of the Arts are bringing international playwright and professor Andrea Stolowitz to Seattle November 8-10 for a weekend playwriting masterclass. The Salon’s Director for Education Programs, Margaret O’Donnell interviewed Andrea to learn what drives her writing and teaching.

Read more about Andrea and the masterclass here. And if you’re interested in participating, be sure to register early—class size is limited to eight students!

Margaret O’Donnell (MOD):  Why do you write? What themes/ideas draw you?

Andrea Stolowitz (AS): I write in order to tease apart the complexities of human relationships, political situations, history, love, death and other conundrums. I write about topics that I myself have not yet solved. Writing is a way for me to work on real-life problems by setting characters and situations in motion.

MOD:  What have you learned/observed/delighted in/mourned over in teaching playwriting?

AS: I love to help students experience free writing. I feel free writing is to playwrights as improv is to actors. I mourn the act of “over thinking” and cerebral writing and try to banish that from generative work. I myself love outlines and structure and find that to be easy, but getting into the unconscious realm of writing takes a leap of faith and many strict techniques. I would like to banish the concept of perfection from the writing process.

MOD: What do you see as the value of an MFA in playwriting that can’t often be found in another way? 

AS: Essentially I see an MFA as a way of finding life-long collaborators and to be able to work with colleagues who are available to you at all hours. An MFA grants you freedom from day jobs that otherwise interfere with the 24-7 creative process. An MFA is a terrific educational opportunity if well-chosen in terms of program and what it offers the student and what the student wants to learn. I loved my MFA at UCSD and received a wonderful three year training program mostly for free. Low-Residency MFA programs are a flexible alternative that fit with many life/work situations. For them, the value of the MFA is the training you receive.

MOD: Your best advice to new playwrights?

AS: Keep finding ways to learn about the craft. Be open and adventurous and seek out mentors! 

MOD: How do you balance teaching/writing/productions/promoting your work? Is it a struggle or a good balance?

AS: It is a struggle. I have always centered my entire life around creative work and then everything trickles down from there. I teach playwriting because I love to engage with students about the craft of writing AND because it is a time flexible job which allows me to pursue professional opportunities as they come up. But in general, finding a way to generate work, promote work, earn a living, care for my family, and have a life/work balance is a daily struggle.

MOD: You live part of the time in Berlin. Why did you make that choice, and what influence have you seen on your work?

AS: I find living in another country gives you much insight into your own country. I relish the break from all things American. These days I am in Berlin less and less as I live in Portland and find much career work in New York. This all leaves less time for Berlin though I do go back there for several weeks each year and was just featured in the German Magazine Theatre Heute. 

MOD: Why do you teach?

AS: I love exploring the art form with students and questioning how and why theatricality functions. I enjoy inspiring others in their creative pursuits. I have been blessed with great mentors and strive to be one myself.

MOD: What can be taught?  What can’t?

AS: That’s an interesting question. Structure can be taught. Generative techniques can be taught. What works and doesn’t in theatre can be explored. Writing is a lonely and singular pursuit that each writer conquers individually. Mentors and teachers can bring you only so far. As José Rivera once said, mentors and teachers are the “gas” that can make the car drive, but the individual, they are the car. “Gas” doesn’t know how to drive…The artists is the owner and operator of their car and they can take the “gas" and explore the open road.

MOD: What theatre work have you seen in the last year that you’ve loved?

AS: I loved “The Ferryman” on Broadway because of its expansive storytelling. Last year in Berlin I saw a terrific production of Turgenev’s “Fathers and Sons”. It was sparse and beautiful and full of aching and longing. 

MOD: What are you working on now? What are you planning for the next few years?

AS: I am working on a new commissioned play for Artists’ Repertory Theatre in Portland called “Recent Unsettling Events”. I am working on the libretto of an opera about the mothers of kidnapped journalists. I am working on a devised theater piece with Hand2Mouth Theatre which takes its inspiration from Thorton Wilder’s “Our Town”. And as always I am letting new inspiration arrive!

Register Now: Fall Playwriting Masterclass with Andrea Stolowitz

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Interested in taking your playwriting craft to the next level? The Salon, with the generous support of Cornish College of the Arts, will be bringing Andrea Stolowitz to Seattle this fall for a weekend full of inspired playwriting. Don’t miss this unique opportunity to create new work under the guidance of a nationally renowned instructor. Andrea is the Lacroute Playwright-in-Residence at Artists Repertory Theater where she has just received a new play commission. She is a member of New Dramatists class of 2024 and a core member at The Playwrights’ Center. Her plays have been developed and presented nationally and internationally at theaters such as The Long Wharf, The Old Globe, The Cherry Lane, and New York Stage and Film. 

Details
Dates: November 8-10, Friday from 6:00-9:00 PM, Saturday from 10:00 AM - 3:00 PM and Sunday from 10:00 AM - 2:00 PM
Register: Registrations may be made via Eventbrite. The class will be capped at eight students—so be sure to register soon to secure your space!
Location: Cornish College of the Arts Theater Department, 1000 Lenora St Seattle, WA 98121
Description: The 12-hour, three-day course is based on generative writing exercises and is designed to allow writers to start a new project or work on an existing play that would benefit from writing/rewriting. In the course students will read and discuss one or two short plays as models, talk about “rules" of theatricality, do writing exercises, and share results. Participants will share their work and read other participants’ work out loud.
Cost: $300

Global Influences: Enriching Local Theatre with International Artists in the Age of Nationalism

In May 2019, Seattle theatre company On the Boards was on the cusp of presenting its long-awaited and carefully prepared production of choreographer and performer Ligia Lewis’s Sorrow Swag and minor matter. As Artistic Director Rachel Cook said in a letter to the community, “Ligia Lewis uses the core elements of performance – lights, sounds, the theater space, and the body – to explore race, abstraction, and the politics of embodiment. The performers she selects to be included in her works are a crucial element of the pieces themselves.” There was just one “i” still undotted, though:  the visa  application to bring the dancer Ligia Lewis chose for the role was, inexplicably, still awaiting US Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) approval. It was a week before the performance.

Then the notice came. USCIS denied the O-1 visa for lack of sufficient showing by the artist of outstanding artistic achievement, according to the company’s news release about the denial and the last-minute substitution of another dancer for the role. What chaos! As a playwright, Artistic Director for the Salon, and a producer, as well as an immigration attorney, I know the months of preparation put in by many artists and theatre professionals for each show, and the scramble that broken links cause, especially at the last minute.  On the Boards and Ligia Lewis rallied heroically from this reverse, but the lesson learned for other theatre companies and theatre artists may be a perverse one:  stay away from international artists.  This administration’s militant isolationism can’t be cracked.

No!

I’m writing urgently to counsel the opposite. Don’t let the administration’s fear of the foreign shut off our artistic wellsprings, or we die of suffocation. This is a call to action. I know this is true:  if we fight back, arguing the law and precedent, and in some cases choose a different strategy, our chances of winning go up from zero with the denial, to nearly 90% with the appeal or change in strategy. Theatre community, we have the law on our side!  The law has not changed in more than two decades: the standard for granting artistic visas remains the same. Practice, though, has tightened dramatically under Trump’s administration, and forces us to up our practice too.

I hear what you may be thinking:  who has time and money for this? Especially theatre companies, with budgets stretched to the limit, and USCIS processing times ballooning to double the wait since 2016. I hear you!  So few of us have the resources and time to dream big, and bring in the international artists that enrich our theatre community with their ideas, their cultural foundations, their practices, and their differing understandings of theatre.

I don’t know the details of the application USCIS denied for On the Boards. The company is keeping the artist’s identity private, as they should. I do know from the news release that On The Boards applied for an O-1 visa;  that means they would have had to prove that the artist possessed “extraordinary ability.”  This is the highest standard of artistic achievement, and almost certainly would have to include having received awards at the top of the profession, equivalent in the home country of our Tony awards. I don’t know why On The Boards chose this visa, so I can’t second-guess them or their attorney on this.  I do know that the standard for applying for a P-3 visa for artists is much lower – it does not include a showing of ability at all, although it is usually included – and allows for up to one year in the US. 

I know it’s too late to start again for this particular performer and telling a theatre which visa they should apply for is not my point. I can’t know that without knowing the details, and the performance is over.  The company invested many hours and dollars in this attempt, and plans are likely in the making for next year’s performances  The company, and many other local companies watching in sympathy and anger, may feel burned by this experience, and may shy away from trying again.

Therefore, a proposal. There are experienced attorneys in town who care deeply about the arts. A number of them volunteer through Washington Lawyers for the Arts, and they have made a lasting impact in the lives of individual artists of all kinds, and the organizations that support them. But the practice of immigration law is highly specialized, and those who don’t practice in this area are rightly cautious about taking on a set of sometimes arcane and often byzantine administrative statutes, and the court precedents and agency decisions that have grown up around them. I propose a group of immigration attorneys who volunteer their time in annual training sessions for theatres, and regular problem-solving individual consultations, as well as take on pro bono cases to bring in international artists, and solve the immigration problems of those artists already in the US. Why we’ll volunteer: many of us find that artists are fun to work with and we value cultural diversity, as a bedrock reason for choosing immigration law as our profession.

Giving up is not an option when the issue is as important as our access to global theatre influences:  teaching artists, performers, playwrights, directors, and the whole panoply of theatre artists. Artists world-wide have much to give and teach each other, in person, and not just on a screen. Theatre is a physical art in three-dimensions, with human bodies required. A group of volunteer immigration attorneys, perhaps enough to ask Washington Lawyers for the Arts (WLA)  to add us as a panel and handle the administration, won’t work magic in every situation.  But we can do our best, and insist that the laws are applied fairly. And with our minds set on fairness, armed with the power of informed, strategic resistance, we can keep our cultural channels open. 

Theatre companies,  use your regular communication channels to ask theatre-loving immigration attorneys to contact me at modonnell@globallawadvocates.com.  With at least five attorneys, I can ask WLA to consider administering a panel of pro bono immigration attorneys for theatre.  I also pledge, if theatre companies request it, to put together experienced attorneys for a training on the visa process, so that more companies start the process early and know the options to bringing and also keeping international artists among us.  Onward!

Written by Margaret O’Donnell, a long-time Seattle immigration attorney, located in the Georgetown neighborhood.

Reading Opportunities for Local Playwrights: More Things in Heaven and Earth Than Are Dreamt Of, Horacio…

Until Kate Danley, Seattle representative for the Dramatist Guild (DG), brought together a group of six theatre companies/organizations on May 19th for a panel presentation on opportunities to develop our scripts through readings, I bet most of us didn’t have a clue about how many ways there are in the Puget Sound region to get our work in development out of the data bank and into the hands of readers and actors. I didn’t and developmental readings are a main focus of Seattle Playwrights Salon.

Here’s a brief recap of the opportunities available, with a list of more options DG members provided at the May 19th meeting in Theatre Puget Sound’s Studio C.

Seattle Playwrights Salon: Submit scripts any time for consideration for monthly open, staged readings in Georgetown, Seattle, with directors and actors provided and paid a stipend; occasional closed readings with actors and director provided; writers’ groups, and a weekend boot camp coming in November. More classes, intensives, writing events, play bake-offs, and playwrights’ gatherings are in the works.

Matcha Theatre Works: Inquire about new scripts by women for regularly-scheduled staged readings.

Albatross Theatre Laboratory: Playwrights, directors, and other theatre artists can submit scripts, resumes, and proposals to: albatross.theatre.lab@gmail.com

Parley Productions: Open staged readings, preceded by discussion, development, and production for a group of up to 13 playwrights. Inquire about group membership.

Seattle Playwrights Circle: Contact the group and inquire about the next meeting, and then show up at the Driftwood Theatre in Edmonds. Ask first about protocol for readings.

The Umbrella Project: Dramaturg services to get you ready for the next stage of development.

Rain City Projects: From the website: “We ignite solidarity in the Seattle-area playwriting community with lively brunches, salons, readings, writing retreats, and speed dating between writers and directors.” See the site for event information, and attend! Inquire at raincityprojectsinfo@gmail.com.

DG members also mentioned:

Seattle Playwrights Studio, closed readings with playwrights to discuss in Burien Actors Theatre. Meeting when they have a script to read. Contact Steve Feldman to inquire: stephanfeldman@gmail.com

Drunken Owl Theatre, reading mostly short scripts monthly at Parliament Tavern in West Seattle. Inquire at: ksfinns@comcast.net

There may be more! Let us know if we’ve missed anyone, and we’ll add them into the list. Also, there may be more services each of these groups offers to playwrights. Contact them! Don’t forget: you can always create your own kitchen-table reads, bake-offs, and social events for playwrights. Email us at seattleplaywrightssalon@gmail.com to see if we can help.

Fall Playwriting Workshop

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Mark your calendars for November 8-10 for an intensive playwriting workshop! The Salon is thrilled to bring nationally renowned instructor Andrea Stolowitz to Seattle this fall for a weekend full of inspired playwriting. Andrea is the Lacroute Playwright-in-Residence at Artists Repertory Theater where she has just received a new play commission. She is a member of New Dramatists class of 2024 and a core member at The Playwrights’ Center. Her plays have been developed and presented nationally and internationally at theaters such as The Long Wharf, The Old Globe, The Cherry Lane, and New York Stage and Film. Stay tuned for more details about early registration.