MFA in Playwriting: Yes? No? Maybe?

Hey older playwright! Yes, you. You who attend Dramatists Guild and other playwriting conferences and meetings in great number, take local and national playwriting classes, and send your work to the Seattle Playwrights Salon in hopes of snagging a development slot. Meaning, older than the average age of college students at graduation (age 24) and graduate students (age 33). As in at least middle age and older. Maybe you, like me, came to playwriting in the middle of our lives, in the midst of or after careers doing something else. Maybe you don’t have a theatre degree in your history.

I’ve heard you talk about the lack of fellowship, residency, and development offers for “late artists” such as ourselves. I’ve commiserated with you about our lack of connections to the theatres, artistic directors, and directors who would love our work, if they only knew about it. I share your envy of those playwrights who form bonds with peer groups and teachers in graduate school that last their entire careers, and for whom, we imagine, closed and locked theatre doors swing open at a touch. Are theatres with good national and regional reputations really only producing new work by “emerging” playwrights in their twenties and thirties? Do we just imagine eye-rolls when we call ourselves “emerging” after forty?

And there’s that whole “improving our craft” thing: a class or two, when and if we can find them; putting together a writers’ group for support; seeing lots of theatre. It’s so scattered! Is getting an MFA in playwriting sometimes the answer? Or part of the answer? It may depend on what we’re seeking. For me, I’m seeking instruction in craft and technique; history and context; connection and bonding; deepening ability to see and hear and tell stories that matter; and practice, practice, practice. Is an MFA in playwriting for me? My MFA won’t change the theatre world, but can it give me what I’m seeking?

In this series of illuminating interviews we’ll hear from Todd Ristau, Program Director of the Playwright’s Lab at Hollins University in Roanoke, VA; Duane Kelly, a Seattle playwright who has self-produced two plays in the last two years, and has a second professional production of one of those plays this year; and Donna Hoke, widely-produced and frequently awarded playwright in Buffalo, NY, on their thoughts on the value of an MFA in playwriting.