Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Retreat

by Chinaka Hodge

It was sort of like the greatest summer camp, ever.

Here are the facts: Last week, in Danville CA, seven playwrights, seven dramaturgs, seven directors and a handful of Playwrights Foundation representatives went on a retreat. The retreat was in preparation for the 34th Annual Bay Area Playwrights Festival (BAPF). My newest work 700th & Int'l is going up in this festival. As a participating playwright I was required to attend the retreat. I rolled my eyes a little and mentally prepared myself.

If you're anything like me, when you hear the word "retreat" you think of time wasting team building exercises, mediocre food and a whole lot of feigning interest in half-baked motivational speeches. But the BAPF retreat couldn't have been further from that. I sort of think that next time they do this getaway they should just call it "awesome, much needed, distraction free, writing time for television addicted playwrights like yourself, Chinaka". Or "an outstanding gathering of some of the nations brightest and most inspiring theater makers that will certainly make you cry with their brilliant plays, Chinaka".

Okay, fine. Those names don't really roll off the tongue or fly from the fingertips, but those names are more accurate, I believe. Begrudgingly, however, and in the spirit of brevity, I'll concede the name. We went on a "RETREAT".

The core of this time away was having the opportunity to hear every playwright in the festival read their works aloud. In my decade or so making work for the stage, never have I undertaken such a feat. To read every word of my short script meant roughly an hour of speaking aloud. I have to admit that I was daunted by the idea of sharing my (then) unfinished script with a room full of people I'd never met. I decided to grow a pair relatively quickly, though. Once Clarence Coo, the first playwright to share, rocked every notion I had about the way language could and should work on stage, I was hooked. I was hooked on the language alone. Lauren Gunderson's command of the norms and linguistic brilliance of the southern twang in Rock Creek: Southern Gothic; Amelia Roper's refined simplicity with Hong Kong Dinosaur's dialogue; and the phonological specificity of Dan Dietz's Home Below Zero was enough to make me wish the retreat and festival were both twice as long. As the days went on, I wanted more and more to stay. To stay, and to write. And to think and to cry. And to listen. To have my soul gently swayed by the words of others. To pull the pencil from behind my ear and to jot another note on how to become a better writer, as demonstrated by my peers. I talked to my boyfriend on the second night away. He asked me how it was and I replied that it was the greatest summer camp, ever.

(In the interest of total disclosure, I had the East Bay's best cookie in the cafeteria of the retreat site, and the promise of consuming more was probably enough to keep me there for a week or so. There were also Red Vines, and if you know me, you know I have a weakness for the lanyard-like confection).

But like all fantastic summer camp experiences, we packed up our pillows and knapsacks and headed down the hill. Down the hill and back towards the sparkling city across The Bay. We're gearing up for the two-week festival. If you've read this blog post this far, I bet you're a fan of theater and words and probably of run-on sentences. If you like any of that, you should come to see these shows. Check out my little diddy 700th & Int'l at BASH! if you have time. MAKE TIME to see the works of all of the other playwrights. I promise that the 34th Annual Bay Area Playwrights Festival is the best yet, and I wouldn't want you to miss out. I look forward to seeing you jaw dropped and inspired, as I was.

For more info on Chinaka's play 700th & Int'l and the BASH section of this year's Annual Bay Area Playwrights Festival visit

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