Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Chinaka Hodge: The Brick House

When Playwright's Foundation asked me to teach a ten week course my heart jumped behind my uvula. Ten weeks? Was I legit nutso? I'm just a burgeoning, emerging, wet behind the ears so-and-so, or at least I am in my own imagination. Also, I'm a full time writer, a recent alum of an MFA program at a private institution and an aspiring breakfast eater, thus turning down any sort of paid work isn't really in my vocabulary, literary or otherwise.

So, we promoted the class, and with some effort, enrollment rose to capacity. I had first day jitters as, much to my surprise, a room full of writers -- entirely women -- arrived at PF's Potrero Hill offices. I didn't know the class would be all female; it just worked out that way. The group of folks who came, faithfully, to the studio for our Tuesday night sessions spanned a range of ages, races, experience level and writerly impulses. Each came prepared to work, though, and as the ladies settled, our classroom became scarcely discernable from a genius bar -- half eaten apples glowing on the reverse of our computer screens as our first scenes were shared. 

Over ten weeks, the students were supremely courageous in their efforts to understand and wield form, to workshop their honest (at times painful) stories with the others in class. They were hugely benevolent as I tried my sea legs at teaching long form to adults (the core of my work prior being facilitating poetry workshops for the 19 and under). The students also wrote some damned (can I say damned on this radio?), damned good stuff.

The ten weeks drew us nearer to each other as writers, and to the craft of well constructed scenes and story arcs -- demonstrated by the 3 scene excerpts of forthcoming work they'll be reading in a few hours.

You see, tonight is our last class and the last 3 months have brought plenty transition. We've grown more comfortable with pedagogy and proscenium. We've pushed ourselves to write more, better, deeper than ever before. And even the sun, itself, changed for our theatrical delight. I remember that we started at dusk, that first night. Since, DST arrived and ushered our twilight (no Bella) meeting time to a happy hour of sorts -- before the sun sets properly, we're already imbibing on each other's scripts, discussing character motivation, conflict, tension, rising and falling action.

I named this course "Experimental Urban Playwriting" or something like that, something far headier and obtuse than what it actually was.  Our course was sexy -- a festival of good ideas from sturdy women -- a real good time, in this rare San Francisco room, where the walls hold together by mortar. Had I been smart, had I known, I woulda titled this course "The Brick House: Playwriting for Dime Pieces,"  since these 7 women are easily the best constructed things in SF's Design District.

Can you tell I'm already nostalgic? Can you see I'm sad that in 30 -- no, gasp, ahh, in 29 minutes we'll gather for our last class? Some of The Bay Area's most gifted actors are donating their time to read excerpts from the forthcoming theater pieces. It's going to be a stellar final session. And as I sit here, waiting on everyone to arrive, I feel this strange sensation, like a heart slipping down, past the dangly thing at the back of a throat, and into one's stomach. I'm sad; we're leaving each other.

On the bright side -- there's some amazing theater projects in the works. Can't wait to see what comes of each new piece. And just as I was regretting only that we'd only decided to run 10 weeks -- why not 15? -- I log onto the PF site to pen this blog and realize -- there's so much more to come. There's a bevy of courses upcoming and sad as I am that this one is ending, I'll gladly clear space for the next group of geniuses planning on taking classes in this here studio. Shoot, I might be one. I'm seriously considering signing up for one of the Master Classes. Maybe you want to, too?

Unfortunately for us and everyone involved with the "The Brick House," Chinaka's last class was on Tuesday, April 16th. To keep up with Chinaka and her great work, check out her official website.

Next up at the Institute: Writing for TV with "Mad Men" Writer Jason Grote, starting May 10th; and Exploring the Dark Side with USC Writing Professor Prince Gomolvilas, starting May 18th.

To view other New Play Institute offerings, check out our classes page to stay up-to-date.

No comments: