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.
When James Eychaner of Olympia made his first-ever submission of his first play, the ten-minute One Fine All Hallow’s Eve, to Seattle Playwrights Salon in July 2017, he and the play began a journey that revolutionized his thinking about his art, the theatre world, and the possibilities for him as a “late artist” (informally defined as one who begins making art in middle age or afterwards). Here’s his take on writing plays, submitting one’s work, and expanding one’s horizons.
Margaret O’Donnell (MOD): What happened as a result of submitting your first play to the Salon?
James Eychaner (JE): The opportunity at Seattle Playwrights Salon was a Godsend. Not only was it my first real encouragement (Hey, maybe I can write!), but it turned out to be an important practicum in theater. I had to really step it up to find actors, work with them on the script, gather props, etc., and finally get everything together for the staging. [Editor’s note: The Salon now engages directors for our plays, who do the work James did himself in 2016.] I then submitted the play to the Smith and Kraus competition in 2018. First place plays, including mine, received the "Standing Ovation Award," meaning publication in the book Best Ten Minute Plays of 2019. To me, the big deal is national exposure and the right to call myself an award-winning, published playwright. I submitted "All Hallows' Eve" thinking it must have some redeeming qualities. It turns out my play was among a handful selected from over 1,000 submissions.
MOD: Why did you start writing plays?
JE: I made a living with my writing skills before retiring from state government. I started writing plays about three years ago, after taking a theater course offered by playwright Bryan Willis. I had some early, terrible scripts read locally. I then went on to take playwriting classes from South Puget Sound Community College. "One Fine All Hallows' Eve" grew out of a class writing exercise and was read by college acting students at the end of the course.
MOD: What are you working on now?
JE: We'll see what happens with "All Hallows'." Since then, I have written a number of ten-minute, one act, and three act plays. Some of them are on New Play Exchange. I am currently in the planning/outline/scheming stage of what I think will be a 90-minute script on the theme of betrayal, especially how older people experience the betrayal of their bodies.
MOD: What’s your advice to other new playwrights?
JE: Write because you have to write. There is little or no money in playwriting. Submit work to appropriate venues and keep track of what you submit. A 1% or 2% response/success rate of submissions to acceptance would be outstanding. And it's not how good you are, it's really who you know. So, work to meet theater people.
My own strategy is to write the best I can, submit to contests, and hope for the best. If my dream were to come true, publication in Best Ten Minute Plays of 2019 would bring me to the attention of an agent or theatre that wants to know more about me, wants to produce my work, or commission a play.
An award-winning Seattle playwright whose work has been produced throughout the US, Canada, and the UK (and who prefers to remain anonymous) has some smart leads for newer playwrights. Ready? Take a deep breath and plunge in!
Join the Dramatists Guild, and attend local meetings. The group meets every other month and is having a panel discussion on play readings on May 19. No need to be a member to attend. Four area producers will speak about how play readings work, how to get involved, and how to produce them yourself. The Seattle theater scene is small in comparison to the giants, and the Dramatists Guild meetings are a great place to get hooked in.
If you're on Facebook, there's a group called "The Official Playwrights of Facebook". There's a couple of crazy people, but ignoring them, it is a great resource. And if those short plays you have are ready to go, one of my favorite sites is Play Submission Helper. Once a month, they put out a spreadsheet with all of the theaters who are looking for scripts (it's an $8 a month subscription, but totally worth it). You submit your script to the theaters and if they like it, they produce it. It is how almost all of my plays get done. The general rule of thumb is to avoid opportunities that charge a production fee (the playwright shouldn't pay a producer/theater unless the playwright is self-producing.) Also, a good site for submission opportunities is playwright Aurin Squires’s monthly blog, and the Dramatists Guild’s listings.
Another great resource is the BBC Writers Room. They have a page with all of the writing formats, as well as a ton of helpful writing videos so you can figure out what your script should look like before you send it out. And be sure to check out information on playwrights’ rights and submission best practices.
Seattle doesn't have playwright training programs as such. A class or two will pop up every now and again, such as the weekend intensive offered by the Salon in November. The good news is that the Salon may be offering more classes in 2020. And Salvo, “a tiny studio for dramatic art”, the brainchild of Rebecca Tourino Collingswood, offers classes. But don’t let the paucity of local training programs stop you!
Explore the world of on-line classes at the Dramatists Guild Institute, and occasional writing workshop weekend intensives in cities throughout the country. Attend Dramatists Guild conferences, offered every other year or so in interesting cities, read voraciously (I love Working on a New Play by Edward Cohen), see tons of excellent local theatre (our theatre scene is SO good!), and form or join a playwrights’ group. The Salon has a writer’s group now, and is keeping a waiting list for the next group. Write to the Salon’s Managing Director Ashley Arai at firstname.lastname@example.org, to get on the list.
Got it? Now go for it!
Play Your* Part hit the ground running in 2018, opening 2019 with a staged reading on immigration themes with an additional three full productions already scheduled for the remainder of the year. The Salon’s Margaret O’Donnell interviewed Play Your* Part founding Artistic Director Michael Raimondi for his take on why he started the company, and plans for the future.
Margaret O’Donnell (MOD): You started a new theatre company in Seattle last year! What is your inspiration for “theatre that inspires action”? What makes your company different from other theatre companies in Seattle? Why Seattle?
Michael Raimondi (MR): Play Your* Part formed when I moved to Seattle after spending 16 years in New York City working in theatre and film while also managing a franchise of an education company. When I arrived in Seattle I decided to learn as much as I could about the theatre scene and came to realize that if certain hurdles can be traversed, Seattle might be a viable place to begin a company and use it as a template for how I envision growing Play Your* Part in the years to come. I have always believed that theatre can be a catalyst for social change, but what I felt was missing was the connection between the inspiration someone may feel after experiencing a moving piece of theatre, and what they then do with that inspiration. Play Your* Part aims to connect its audiences with other nonprofit organizations by partnering with them as consultants, as beneficiaries, and as educational partners so folks know what they can do to help reduce violence and increase equity here in Seattle, and around the world. Play Your* Part is a theatre and philanthropy company, working with a different nonprofit in this fashion for each production.
MOD: What are your personal plans (acting, directing?) for Play Your* Part for this year and next? What do you have coming up in May and beyond?
MR: I will be directing the full length shows within our first full season, this year, of which there are three. Opening our season we will be presenting Mae West's 1927 play, The Drag - A Homosexual Comedy in Three Acts in partnership with Gender Justice League performed at Gay City celebrating Pride month in June. Originally banned for indecency, The Drag ran for only ten performances and never made it to Broadway until Mae West rewrote it with a heterosexual leading man and it became a smash hit. Our production will reimagine the original incorporating live, original music by Elisa Money, choreography by Moscato Extatique, Adam Brozowski, and Levi Hawkins, costume design by Pete Rush, and draw the audience into a black and white film come to life before their eyes. The second half of the play opens with a technicolor drag ball, but ends tragically, hopefully helping our audiences to recognize how far we have come for LGBT rights, yet how much further we have to go.
In July, we open Oedipus the King benefiting Investigate West to be performed against the facade of St. Mark's Cathedral. This production will incorporate original half masks, designed by Joe Osheroff of Homunculus Mask Theatre, for the ensemble in the chorus from where the feature characters emerge, and use ASL as a base for the choral movement. Exploring the timelessness of the play, we will pull references and archetypes from various religions and cultures that help the audience best identify with each character, while highlighting the tragic story.
Beyond that we have a world premiere play slated for September/October to be performed at the Youngstown Cultural Arts Center in West Seattle and two more one to two night events we will premiere at the University Heights Center Auditorium where we rehearse.
MOD: What would you kill to direct?
MR: As a director I consider myself a keen listener and ultimately a conjurer of life out of text. I'm less interested in what is popular, and more interested in what is relevant. I'm interested in telling the stories of communities who are not being invited to participate. I'm interested in new plays based on true accounts, juxtaposed with classic works. I would love to direct operas - Rigoletto or La Traviata. I would love to direct Streetcar Named Desire. I'd love to direct new work currently being developed; Shakespeare, Greek plays, musicals, kitchen sink dramas, slapstick comedies ... and in each expose the heart, humor, and humanity we can all relate to and do so only when the stories are relevant and urgent and immediate.
MOD: What have been the biggest challenges so far for Play Your* Part? Successes?
MR: The biggest challenge we face is financially fulfilling our mission to build toward a sustainable wage model. We are proud to pay competitive stipends to our performers, artists, and technicians right out of the gate, but we have a long way to go. Being such a young company we rely on our private donors for support, while we submit grant applications and continue to form a track record of necessary and viable work, proving our worth for larger gifts that will sustain us. The biggest successes come as a result of our partnerships and dedication to philanthropy. Check out our 2018 Impact and 2019 Season Announcement video here for more on what we have already accomplished and what we aim to do this year.
MOD: Is Play Your* Part a new play incubator?
MR: Play Your* Part regularly commissions playwrights to create short plays. We have two models for short play development we have found to be intriguing, interview based plays where playwrights are commissioned to interview a subject and write a play based on a true story, and our 30-second play festival where playwrights create a short play consisting of five 30-second scenes. Six of those plays are written and then performed in under half an hour in a sketch comedy format. The staged reading series we just did was an interview based play format and from that we have identified two plays we are interested in further developing.
MOD: What is your background and that of your collaborators?
MR: I hold degrees in Directing from Chapman University and Acting from The Actors Studio Drama School. My collaborators have backgrounds in production, technical theatre, marketing, PR, casting, office and administrative management, accounting, graphic design, and development. Play Your* Part is a working board of 16 with five advisory Board Members, and 11 staff/volunteers. Believe it or not, we are still in need of additional support. Anyone interested in helping out as a volunteer or inquiring about positions available can email us at email@example.com.
MOD: Dreaming big, how do you see synergies in connecting with other theatre companies? Specifically, what kind of companies?
MR: I would love for us to partner with companies sharing in our mission to reduce violence and increase equity around the world while employing and supporting local artists. London, New York City, and Mexico City are the three places I am most interested in exploring these partnerships and creating a presence for Play Your* Part over the next three years, with four more cities on the horizon. The Public Theatre in NYC and London's National Theatre are on our radar.
I thought I’d be writing a straight-forward piece about the effective writing exercises I picked up at the Dramatists Guild Playwriting Intensive in Portland. But I’m not. This is an unabashed fan letter for the Dramatists Guild with the writing exercises tossed in—because it was that good. It was worth the three-hour drive in the early morning from Seattle. It was worth sitting in a classroom for hours on Saturday and Sunday after a full week at the office. And not just for the incandescent teachers, and not just for the innovative writing exercises. Being with my tribe – other playwrights – making connections, seeing great theatre together, honing our skills, sharing our work, and writing together, is the tonic and the balm I need to keep going in this often lonely and often rejection-strewn vocation of mine.
Workshop instructor Francesca Piantadosi, Dramatists Guild representative in Portland, said to each of us at our first session: throw me a name, any name. No explanation. No, “this will help you as you develop your characters.” None of that. I said, Sally. Just that. Twenty-five or so other playwrights threw her some names: Mrs. Henderson, Snark, Ophelia, Buster, Randolph. Francesca wrote them all on the white board, and as she did, considered each name, with Sally being first. What she said about Sally—the name I’d thrown out without thinking—blew open a shut door in my mind and transformed my thinking about writing characters.
“Sally. A big first letter, that S. Takes up a lot of space. Then the small, compact a. Now two very tall letters, and a low-to-the-floor, dipping below the surface y. Interesting.” That’s all she had to say. I immediately knew that Sally, whoever she is, is going to be one contradictory character. Maybe both blustery and sneaky, showy and hidden, and definitely hard to predict. Wow! She had similarly unexpected things to say about each of the names our group gave her. I was on fire to write about this Sally. Francesca asked us to write for ten minutes, using our new character and adding another, and starting with what she calls the best first line ever: ‘No, I disagree!’ Or a version thereof. And we were off.
I loved it! Re-reading my scribbled page featuring Sally and Dan just now, I’m intrigued enough to develop a ten-minute play from this start, thanks to Francesca. And she did so much more during her one and a half hour session. She showed us what a loving, compassionate and passionate, skilled and experienced teacher can do to illuminate the one small thing in which the whole world is revealed. What’s in a name? Everything! (A side note about Francesca. See when she is teaching again. She will light you on fire with her passion for teaching playwriting in prison, and inspire you to go out into the world to share your own gifts with the underserved.)
Gary Garrison, the Dramatists Guild Institute’s Director, followed Francesca’s session with a two-hour, completely absorbing, mind-opening session on, of all things, stage directions. What? They don’t have to be passive and colorless? This is my third time in one of Gary’s classes. Each class, like Francesca’s, focuses on a seemingly tiny particular that opens up a landslide of possibilities. He began with “Don’t ever write ‘lights up, lights down’ again.” And continued, in paraphrase, “Write light as active. It splinters, it creeps, it is heavy and hot or expanding or ghostly or merciless.” And then there’s sound. “Sound pulls you into the play with no work.” And, “write your stage directions as fully as your imagination knows the play should look and sound. You, the playwright, are creating the world of the play. We are in control of that world. Write everything you want and the play needs, then describe what is second-best, what you’d be okay with, in case the director has more limited resources.”
For character descriptions, get specific. Gary pulled “ten random plays that I love from my shelves, really without thinking about it” and printed out stage directions from each for us. Included was Outside Mullingar by John Patrick Shanley: “Tony (father) is 75 or so and his eyes are sly. Anthony (son) is 42, and his eyes are those of an intense dreamer.” Gary: “Those descriptions tell you all you need to know about how to cast this play. This describes the central tension of the play.”
Gary asked us to set the scene, all the way up to the first line of dialogue, with this prompt: ‘Old southern mansion moments after a hurricane hits. Two people who don’t know each other.’ I wrote directions alive with sound and light for the first time ever. I began, before describing the scene: “It’s creepily silent, but for the sound of dripping water. Sunlight seeps into the dark room from the porch, rosy and timid, and slowly and unforgivingly reveals the shattered dining room. Off stage, someone explosively wrenches a door open. A 30ish woman in a torn and dirty, formerly white nightgown lurches into the room, sobbing.” Thanks to Gary, I made great strides from “lights up”.
Chisa Hutchinson did a fine job teaching us short and long form synopsis writing, and play-specific and career-embracing artistic statements, and set us writing them for our current and past plays. As we read aloud our short-forms, Chisa helped us hone. See her useful handout here. E.M. Lewis set us writing with permission and encouragement to use magic in our plays, with these prompts: ‘Write a monologue by a monster, by a monster hunter, by a ghost, by someone who is haunted. And then she asked us to start a new play with magic, starting with describing the weather.’ Yes, it stretched me and intrigued me, to see what lay buried in the depths of my mind. That’s the glory of free writing with smart prompts. It will shake you up and get that page covered faster than you can think.
I’m a huge fan of the Dramatists Guild conferences (La Jolla 2015 and NYC 2018) and now an even bigger fan of the Dramatists Guild Institute’s Regional Conferences. I have a fresh new take on synopsis writing, magical theatre, character names, and amazingly, stage directions! All delivered with wit and style, with tips about getting our work out, working with directors and theatre artists, and how sharing our talents with underserved populations gives back far more than we ever imagined.