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.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Andrew Saito: Magic-Maker

Theatre artists are magic makers. We are sorcerers and scientists who cast spells with words, images, and corporeal expression.

Playwrights Foundation is our laboratory.  It is a tree on which Bay Area playwrights perch after each returns from individual far-flung journeys, each in her own direction, each following a unique path toward distinct and daring worlds.  We return to this aviary and squawk at each other about new possibilities, and new dreams.

In March 2012, I presented my play The Patron Saint of Monsters at a meeting of the Resident Playwrights Initiative, a group of eight playwrights who meet monthly at Playwrights Foundation to share work and receive feedback.  I brought in a draft that featured two polished acts, and a third act that was struggling to find coherence. This third act was the focus of discussion at RPI.  

While presenting my play to the group did not instantly "fix" it, months later, while on a Fulbright in Papua New Guinea, the wise insights of my colleagues echoed amongst the dozens of varieties of banana, sago and betelnut trees.  That workshop planted seeds that sprung months later, on the other side of the world; their fruit was a thoroughly different third act, which delivers on the promise of the play, and really is the ending that play has needed since I first wrote it three years ago.

So yes, we are magicians.  But the spells don't always emerge from within.  Often they're cast in the interactions amongst wildly different voices, imaginations, and minds.

- Andrew Saito

Andrew Saito is currently a Resident Playwright at Playwrights Foundation. He also has a play premiering, Krispy Kritters in The Scarlett Night, at San Francisco's Cutting Ball Theater on May 17. You can learn more about Andrew and his work here.

Collaboration in the PF Studio and the Resident Playwright Initiative are just some of the ways that PF supports the development of new plays. Help us continue these efforts by giving to our PF Studio Campaign on Indiegogo, which ends today at 11:59pm PST.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Eugenie Chan: Don't Interrupt

Teaching at Playwrights Foundation is a fantastic way for me to get in touch with a deep urge to write, my own and that of the writers in my workshops. It's profoundly inspiring to work with the writers who are uncovering the seeds of new work, finding the bones of their plays' deep structure and heartbeat. If the prompt allows it, I will write along with the writers to see what spontaneously generates.

Like my students, I find myself sometimes deepening characters I'm working on currently or discovering surprising new ones. I love it when writers uncover epiphanies like, “Oh no, it's about the dogs!” A lot of times these are aggravating discoveries for the writer, but I found that if the writer sticks to these awkward, uncovered truths that the play blossoms in deep wondrous ways.

I love that moment when the writer says, “I can see the end.” Or nothing at all because it's not about talking or discussing anymore, but all about the writing. So don't interrupt, please.

- Eugenie Chan

Eugenie Chan currently has a class in session at the New Play Institute. New classes are being offered in May at the Institute, including Writing for TV with "Mad Men" Writer Jason Grote and Exploring the Dark Side with USC Writing Professor Prince Gomolvilas.

Teaching emerging and mid-career playwrights through the Institute in our PF Studio is just one of the many ways that we support the development of new works. Help PF continue these efforts by supporting our Indiegogo Studio Campaign, which ends on Tuesday, April 16.  

Monday, April 8, 2013

Music Monday: Emma Greenham

Arts Administration Fellow Emma Greenham finds that one of life's purest joys can be derived from sharing great tunes with even greater people.

An erstwhile student of theatre, Emma is thrilled to be immersed once again in the artistic scene. Since starting her fellowship at Playwrights Foundation last month, she's been helping PF keep their website current, assisting the staff in gearing up for the 36th Annual Bay Area Playwrights Festival, and serving as a production assistant on the rough reading of Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig's The World of Extreme Happiness. As she does all this, she likes to keep her favorite music in rotation. Among her current and forever favorites are these:

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Chris Chen: Risk-Taker

Earlier this month I had the extreme honor of standing alongside two artistic directors whom I love- Marissa Wolf of Crowded Fire and Amy Mueller of Playwrights Foundation- as we all three accepted the Glickman Award for best production of a new Bay Area play for The Hundred Flowers Project. I credit the Playwrights Foundation with single-handedly launching my playwriting career, so to accept the award with Amy Mueller and PF was especially meaningful to me. I couldn’t have imagined a more fittingly full-circled moment.

In my brief talk that evening, I talked about risk. I said that if I was to try and identify a Bay Area theater ethos, it was that we value risk; we tend towards work that takes chances. I said that I was the beneficiary of this ethos, getting green light after green light on all aspects of our production: Live video fed through iphones? Sure. Extra choreography, massive video projections, persistently shifting styles and fractured storytelling? Why not. I felt spoiled beyond belief. I finally mentioned in my talk that risk and newness is in our blood; the West Coast is the farthest American frontier, and the Bay Area in particular seems to have historically carried the frontier torch.

In fact, the deep reason why winning the award with Playwrights Foundation was so meaningful to me was because six years ago they took a risk with me. I was still in school when they chose my play Into the Numbers for the 2007 Bay Area Playwrights Festival, the event that really set me on my path. This was my first real effort at a full-length play and it showed; my script was very rough around the edges compared to the submissions of more experienced writers, and a concern of the selection panel (I learned later) was that it just might not be ready.

But in the end they saw enough potential in my voice to pull the trigger. They took a risk on me. To this day I am moved by their decision, by the inherent trust embedded within the risk they took. I made a promise to myself, inspired by this trust: I would keep taking risks in my work no matter what, and I would take risks on others as well.

-- Christopher Chen

Monday, April 1, 2013

Music Monday: Katie Forbes

Assistant to the Artistic Director Fellow Katie Forbes shared some of her favorite artists and tracks with us for Music Monday.

Most recently Katie has been helping out at PF with the website, Indiegogo Studio Campaign, casting for Rough Readings, and has served as a production assistant.

A former middle school teacher, she has returned to professional theatre and is currently stage managing for Campo Santo's production of Richard Montoya's The River, opening April 15.