Rewrite:  My Way

I’ve often longed to be like one of those great 19th century novelists who wrote steadily, no matter where or when, and published unaltered the first words they inked on the page. Dickens, Eliot, Trollope – those imaginative English storytellers of the Victorian age – never seemed to run out of plot or characters, and wrote absorbingly, constantly, fluidly of the human condition. Dozens and dozens of novels.  If they’d turned their hands to plays, they probably would have poured out similar gold-standard works. 

But I’m not like them. Not even remotely. And neither are most of us. At least, not that playwrights boast of.  Admitting to easy-peasy may not be in fashion, but expounding on how vital rewriting is to the process definitely is. I did a search of playwrights’ advice on rewriting and found reams of testaments to rewriting, and rewriting again. You can too – just search for “playwrights rewrite.”

I’m not going to write more advice – me, a new playwright? The nerve! – but rather describe what helps tip me into the rewrite and what keeps me going. And if you send us what works for you, we’ll collect  and publish them, too.

I’ve written, and rewritten five evening-length plays in the last five years;  I self-produced two of them. I work a day job full-time, so I write around the margins of my paying work, and guard my writing time fiercely. I, for reasons incomprehensible to playwrights who find it easy, despise the submission process, and avoid it. If I submitted more, I might get some of my plays produced by others. Or not. I figure it’s easier and more rewarding to self-produce than submit. That’s how much I loathe submissions. The pain of production – there is so much that is tedious about it – is preferable to the submission process.

All that relates to rewriting like this:  even though I’m not yet submitting my work, I rewrite and rewrite FOR MYSELF. After I have at least what I consider half or so of a first draft, I submit it to my playwright group – there are four of us – and get their feedback. We meet once a month to provide feedback on each others’ work, one playwright per month. Then I rewrite the first half. I put together a closed reading with good actors, and invite other playwrights to comment, on this first half. I need this first reading to know where the play is going next, and what I want to change and re-direct. I write a complete draft after this first closed reading, and submit it again to my writing group. After they comment, I re-write a second complete draft, and present a staged reading, inviting the public to comment;  I have the best actors and directors I can find for this open staged reading. And then of course, re-write! Then I can start submitting and/or plan for a self-production.

A playwright friend tells me re-writing, for him, destroys his original creative impulse. I don’t see it like that, for myself. I think of my first drafts as a mostly unformed ball of clay that I’m sculpting into a living, breathing, ever more true distillation to that initial impulse. 

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

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.