Category Archives: Conference

San Marcos and the Conference that Can… Part II: Harrison David Rivers

“NINA! …NINA! … NINA! … NINA!”  Retha from “sweet” by Harrison David Rivers


by Robin Byrd

The Playwright.  How do you repeat the same line four times in a row and make the room move? First you have to have a character that can say it in context without losing authenticity and second, this character has to be written by a playwright who knows how to evoke earthquakes/eyes in a storm/imagery that speaks volumes/…into a still room… with nothing save words and the voices that speak them; Harrison David Rivers is such a playwright.

Harrison started his week explaining to the actors that the women don’t use “periods” and that the actors are to step over “dashes.” Mild mannered but firm, he came to work…

Playwright Harrison David Rivers with actors and director for his play, “sweet”; all eyes on him.  Director David Mendizábal in white hat, Dramaturg Jeremy White (next to Mendizábal).  Picture by Joe Luis Cedillo, Associate Artistic Director.
Playwright Harrison David Rivers with actors and director for his play, “sweet”; all eyes on him. Director David Mendizábal in white hat, Dramaturg Jeremy White (next to Mendizábal). Picture by Joe Luis Cedillo, Associate Artistic Director.

The Play. “sweet” by Harrison David Rivers was read at the Black and Latino Playwrights Conference.  Harrison brought his director,  David Mendizábal, with him and it was very clear that the process of working on the play was greatly enhanced by the way the playwright and director flowed together. Ana Uzule as Retha (pronounced “REE tha”) and Dionna Jenkins as Nina (pronounced “NEE Na”) found the voices and rhythm of their characters from the moment they opened their mouths. Playing off the strong characters of Retha and Nina, George played by Johnny Brantley III also gave a good first read – his first words made you see George right away. I was very moved by the female -centered story. “sweet” is full of emotion, forbidden fruit, and brokenness yet hope and belief that the spirit can and will prevail in the face of any obstacle.  Harrison and Mendizábal both described the play as being about longing, desire and restraint. The play was described in ethereal terms; I found that interesting and different. As the week went on, I could see exactly what this meant. Making the intangible tangible is as much a part of the story of “sweet” as it is the way the play is written.

The imagery of “sweet” is like incense floating heaven-ward with each word. Retha’s handling of laundry creates a visual so strong; the mere mention of laundry conjures up Retha. I wondered what the title meant up until the performance, I had tried unsuccessfully to figure it out then “end of play” was read and I felt that I had just had the sweetest experience of any play I have ever seen. Sweet is the essence that lingers in the room as the characters exist; sweet is the experience that stays with you once the story has been told.

Being around the table.  There was an extra actress in the room from day one, Tiffany, she participated in discussing what the script meant and how the characters appeared to be and she seemed to love just being around the table with the others sharing the moments. On the third day of rehearsals, Harrison stated that he had been contemplating another facet to the play which would add another character or two. So, now, Tiffany was added to the lineup to read. Dramaturg Jeremy White had pulled information for the playwright off the internet including some sound bites/footage about outer space travel. I am not sure if Jeremy was asked to do it or just saw the need to get some data for the playwright to look over; Harrison seemed really pleased and humbled by it. The group did a roundtable read of the extra pages and Harrison said something to the affect of “I’ll decide what I am going to use but it will be somewhere along these lines.” I thought it was risky but it was his play to do with as he chose – it was either going to work or turn his lovely play into a hot mess. Just my thought. Said a little prayer for him and left for the night.

The Actors.  On the third day of rehearsals, I witnessed actress Dionna Jenkins settled completely into her Nina-ness. It was subtle and it was awe-inspiring to see and hear the extra layers of her character come through the lines. She no longer looked like Dionna reading the lines; she looked like Nina sitting at the table having conversations with Retha and George. I could feel the pull – the more Nina, the more new places the other characters were pushed to explore… It started a domino effect. I wanted to ask Dionna what she felt as she was letting go, how she got from one dimension to the next to the next to multidimensional and what the moment felt like to her when she became Nina. You see Nina had a big part to play in the success of the four consecutive, “Nina’s” too. If Dionna doesn’t bring Nina to the stage in a strong enough force, the meaning behind the words would be lost. Like Retha’s laundry, it is Nina’s name that conjures her up.

Nina…Nina; you moved in with the rest of your baggage and planted your feet firmly on the ground.  Third day of rehearsals.  Around the table: Director David Mendizábal (facing the actors), Playwright Harrison David Rivers (next to Mendizábal), student stage manager , Dionna Jenkins, Ana Uzule, Johnny Brantley III, Tiffany, Wesley Johnson and Tia Watson
Nina…Nina; you moved in with the rest of your baggage and planted your feet firmly on the ground. Third day of rehearsals. Around the table: Director David Mendizábal (facing the actors), Playwright Harrison David Rivers (next to Mendizábal), student stage manager , Dionna Jenkins, Ana Uzule, Johnny Brantley III, Tiffany, Wesley Johnson and Tia Watson Picture by Joe Luis Cedillo

The mispronunciation of Nina: Johnny seemed to be searching up till the end for a way to not mispronounce “Nina” pronounced “Nee-na”. It was only in one place where this occurred. He was thoroughly frustrated about it but he continued to work on it and around it; it seemed every time he got there “Nye-na” would come out. The day of the reading, the way Johnny Brantley III reconciled the pronunciation of her name was as full of all the frustration and ambiguity the spelling of the name brings with it, what he went through to figure out why at that spot he could not seem to get the right pronunciation to come out, what “George” his character was feeling at the moment and what Nina, the character was evoking out of George at that point in the story. I will say the end result was nothing short of brilliant! He twisted that name the same why Nina was twisting George and the audience felt it and knew they felt it. Bravo, Johnny! This is not to say the rest of his performance was not stellar but to say that as I watched all the actors go from a magnificent cold read of the script to dissecting the nuances, what separates out the actors with potential and fire to be great is how they listen to their characters, the words, the moments coupled with the director’s vision for the piece and how they use their craft to make it work. Sometimes, making it work involves some painful stretching…

Homework for Ana Uzule on Thursday night was to find ways to say Nina up to four times with meaning behind it (my interpretation of the assignment). The actress admitted to not having a reference point. Harrison told her to play around with it but not to say more than four as there were only two on the page. She looked bewildered; Harrison and David gave her input on what to pull from, a few others in the room shared but ultimately, Harrison required the actress to rise to the occasion. Was she up to it? I believed she was but it would require some stretching. Harrison believed she was capable, otherwise, he would not have matter-of-factly told her to do it. Night of the reading, she brought the house down; I had chills, pushed back tears and when I looked over at Ted Shine who was sitting next to me. We were both overcome in awe of these young actors who made “sweet” so sweet (pun intended).

Not to leave out Tiffany who sat in character the entire play, only animating to do her radio spots about the moon landing in 1969. Yes, Harrison’s interjection worked! Tiffany was so focused that even the way she sat – motionless – brought a certain fortitude to the play. Her portrayal of the journalist was era specific and profound. I remember those days and she took me back.

Even the stage directions were read well and kept the feel of the play active. Wesley Johnson and Tia Watson did a very good job in that area.

The Director.  David Mendizábal was as enthusiastic about “sweet” as the playwright. His excellent direction brought things out of the young actors that I am sure they will use for the rest of their live. “sweet” took wings and soared. The thing about really good direction is that it does not take away from the piece but brings more out of it – the essence – of the piece… It was so smooth, I had that sit back moment – you know, the moment where you don’t want to leave because you need to savor something? In this case, it was the sweet, oh, so sweet aroma of  Harrison David Rivers play “sweet”.

This play is a must see. Audiences will enjoy it!

The Honored Guest.  I was sitting next to playwright Ted Shine during the performance of the reading and we both agreed that the actors and the play were excellent. Ted Shine, is the Texas playwright honored at the Black and Latino Playwrights Conference 2014; he has been writing plays since the 1950s and after the reading, he wanted to speak to each of the actors about their performance.  He was really blown away at theire talent.  What a treat – another moment that lasts a lifetime.  So, one by one, they came to speak to him…

Ted Shine and Ana Uzule
Ted Shine and Ana Uzule
Ted Shine and Dionna Jenkins
Ted Shine and Dionna Jenkins
Johnny Brantley III
Johnny Brantley III













Ted Shine and Tiffany
Ted Shine and Tiffany






Actors: Ana Uzule (foreground) “Retha” and Dionna Jenkins “Nina”.
Actors: Ana Uzule (foreground) “Retha” and Dionna Jenkins “Nina”.













“sweet” cast and crew after reading.  Dramaturg Jeremy White (second from left back row). Actors: Dionna Jenkins (second from left, front row), Ana Uzule, Wesley Johnson (behind Ana), Johnny Brantley III, Tiffany, Harrison David Rivers, and David Mendizábal (second from right).
“sweet” cast and crew after reading. Dramaturg Jeremy White (second from left back row). Actors: Dionna Jenkins (second from left, front row), Ana Uzule, Wesley Johnson (behind Ana), Johnny Brantley III, Tiffany, Harrison David Rivers, and David Mendizábal (second from right).





















San Marcos and the Conference that Can… Part I: Mando Alvarado

by Robin Byrd

Crickets as big as two inches shared the Super 8 room with me, I sat up all night because I could not fathom sleeping in a bed full of them or other creepy crawly jumpy things. The old worn out and faded carpet looked like a rug that had been stretched to the walls in pretense. The furniture was a hodge-podge of stuff that had been gathered over the years. The tub mat – to keep one from slipping – was so dirty that when the water hit it a rush of mud-like slush immediately filled the bottom of the tub. Had I been able to lock that darn rental car I had (one of those keyless types), I would not have even taken my things inside. It was the night of the Navy versus Texas State football game and all the rooms were taken in San Marcos including one of the nights of my stay at the Viola Street Inn so I had to find elsewhere to stay for that night. There was a rowdy bunch out in the parking lot most of the night after the game; they partied well into the wee hours of the morning. Had they not been there, I probably would have slept in the un-lockable rental car.

The next day was the last day of the Black and Latino Playwrights Conference at Texas State, San Marcos and I was going to be exhausted…

I was really looking forward to hearing Mando Alvarado’s play “(O)n THE 5:31” read. All week he had been rewriting it. I thought he was crazy – certifiable! – the way he was deconstructing his play and reworking it – in a week. Well, Alvarado is an excellent playwright because he not only pulled it off but it read like he had been working on it longer than the few days. Joe Luis Cedillo said it best at the question and answer segment after the reading, and this is how I remember it “just playwright jealousy, I wish I had thought of that. It’s brilliant.”

Directed by Ruben Gonzalez, (O)n THE 5:31 delivered.  Each actor brought their A game.  The reading was so magnetic, audience members were blown away.

Playwright Mando Alvarado seated (in cap).  Director, Ruben C. Gonzalez seated next to the playwright. Artistic Director of the Black and Latino Playwrights Conference, Eugene Lee (standing in striped vest). Cast and Crew of O(n) THE 5:31 with Cedillo in red taking a picture.
Playwright Mando Alvarado seated (in cap). Director, Ruben C. Gonzalez seated next to the playwright. Artistic Director of the Black and Latino Playwrights Conference, Eugene Lee (standing in striped vest). Cast and Crew of O(n) THE 5:31 with Cedillo in red taking a picture.

This play is quick witted and has a tempo that jolts you in your seat. I found that the play hit me like a dream – the flow, cadence, and unique way the story was told kept me in it on a level that I only reach when I pull all nighters in my own writing where I am so drained and bare the only thing that’s coming out of me is the purest part of the story. Alvarado’s play deals with the present, past, and thoughts in between, the story is also centered around a female character.  In less skillful hands, this structure could be confusing to an audience but Alvarado’s writing is very clear. It keeps you in the moment.   Alvarado’s play makes you punch drunk but all your senses are aware of every high and low of the ride he takes you on, a ride like you never thought existed.

During the week, as I watched the rehearsals, actor Bernardo Cubria possessed an innate ability to articulate the playwright’s words no matter how up heaved. Cubria has worked with Alvarado on several of his plays; this familiarity was helpful to the playwright I am sure but also to the other actors. I watched the actresses as they searched for their characters, worked on spot directions and then changed it as the pages changed. The end result of these three thespians navigating the script that resulted was top rate. There is a lot to be said for actors who come ready to work; these actors were a perfect fit for O(n) THE 5:31. This was not a “Latino” play; this was a play by a playwright who happens to be Latino. I for one will be watching for his work from now on. My favorite line in the play, is the title line and I won’t say more. You really need to see this play.

Actors: Emily Reas, Bernardo Cubria and Kaylie Hyman;  Photo by Joe Luis Cedillo, Associate Artistic Director and Dramaturge for (O)n THE 5:31.
Actors: Emily Reas, Bernardo Cubria and Kaylie Hyman; Photo by Joe Luis Cedillo, Associate Artistic Director and Dramaturg for (O)n THE 5:31.
(O)n THE 5:31 actors: Elyssa Trevino and Joseph Paz reading stage directions, Emily Reas as Gina, Bernardo Cubria  as Benny, and Kaylie Hyman as Sandra;  Photo by Joe Luis Cedillo, Associate Artistic Director and Dramaturg for (O)n THE 5:31.
(O)n THE 5:31 actors: Elyssa Trevino and Joseph Paz reading stage directions, Emily Reas as Gina, Bernardo Cubria as Benny, and Kaylie Hyman as Sandra; Photo by Joe Luis Cedillo, Associate Artistic Director and Dramaturg for (O)n THE 5:31.




















The Great Great Plains


I can’t believe I’ve been in Omaha for the Great Plains Theatre Conference for 8 WHOLE days.
I can’t believe I’ve ONLY been in Omaha for the Great Plains Theatre Conference for 8 whole days.

I can’t believe how much awesome new work I got to witness and how many amazing playwrights I had the good fortune to meet.

From left to right are playwrights: Nancy Cooper Frank, Tiffany Antone, Jennifer Faletto, and Anne Bertram

I can’t believe how delicious the food was.


I can’t believe how much socializing my introverted little playwright self managed while I was here, and how thoroughly I enjoyed all of the discussions, laughs, and thoughtfulness.

I can’t believe how comfy the hotel where my introverted self got to reteat to, was.

I can’t believe it’s over.

I had the pleasure of speaking with one of the conference’s FANTASTIC donors this week, and they looked surprised when I told them how wonderful it was to be treated so well.  That the hotel and food and attention to every little detail made me feel so honored, because playwrights aren’t usually treated to this kind of focus and care.

She looked surprised and so I thanked her again.

I am overflowing with gratitude.

Tonight, after jam-packed days of play readings and workshops and performances, we ended things with a superbly delicious dinner, live music, and artisan s’mores.  I mean, YUMM.

A very fuzzy cell-phone pic of playwright Kia Corthron during a GPTC panel.

We also experienced the magic of Kia Corthron’s monumentally beautiful acceptance speech as she was honored this evening.  It was so poignant and honest that the whole room sat enraptured.

I’m so thankful I was there to hear her words, and I’m so grateful that those were the words she elected to share with us tonight.

So tomorrow I will fly back to my everyday life and I will revel in reuniting with my fella and my furballs, and things will go back to…

Bills will go back to…

Life will go back to…


But I will also bring this week back with me.

This week of inspiration and of creativity.
Of beautiful new connections and of palate-cleansing laughter.

I will return home with the wild little play that got invited here and get to re-tinkering with it.
I will sit down at my desk and re-engage the new play I’ve been growling at.

I will think of Kia’s words on poverty of pocket and I will compare them to her words on the richness of heart, and then I will reflect on the richness of my heart, and I will write, and write, and write.

Because writing is kind of, always, sexily, the thing I need to do.  And after spending a week with others who feel the same way, I can’t wait to get to get back to it.

I also can’t wait to work on my “Something for next year.”



Great Plains Shout-Out Time

By Tiffany Antone

So many plays!

Arriving at the Great Plains Theatre Conference on Saturday, I had no idea what I had gotten myself into.  The itinerary was so intense and so interesting and my head was absolutely spinning at the week I had ahead of me – 29 playwrights, a bevy of workshops and readings, plus evening play festival shows – Oh My!

But here it is Thursday already, and I’m so bummed that this orgy of new work is coming to a close.

There are a lot of talented people here, a lot of passionate writers, and a lot of really cool, innovative, and engaging work being shared.

And while there aren’t any female playwrights in the conference’s mainstage line-up (tsk, tsk), there were certainly a host of super talented female writers showcased in the event’s Playlabs.

So, how about I give a little LAFPI shout-out to some of the fabulous female playwrights whose work I’ve had the privilege to enjoy this week? (FYI, there is no way to see every play at this conference.  There are multiple readings going on at once – so what I was able to see is but a sampling of what was available.)

First up, let’s talk about Minneapolis playwright Anne Bertram.  What a cool writer!  Anne’s play, The Good Fight, takes place in London, 1913, and is about the women’s suffrage movement.  Drawing from history, Anne colors in this frustratingly fem-closed world with panache.  I was so into this play!  It’s smart, funny, and poignant – Brava, Anne!

Another historically inspired piece is Nancy Cooper Frank’s absurdist play, Daniil Kharms: A Life in One-Act and Several Dozen Eggs.  I so enjoyed this weird and wonderful play!  I *believe* Nancy is still developing the piece, but it’s really super interesting and introduced me to the Russian absurdist writer in highly theatrical fashion.

I also got to see We Only Go Home in Retrograde, by Eva Suter, a UT Austin MFA candidate with a serious lyrical streak.  She’s written a poetic and super visually engaging piece.  I was particularly interested in meeting Eva and seeing her play now that I too live in Texas (I just keep moving further and further away from LA, don’t I…) – So how cool to meet a Texas artist at this conference in Nebraska!

And speaking of Texas, another cool writer I’ve had the pleasure to meet is Murphi Cook – creative mind behind the horror play, Birds of America.  With Hitchcockian flare, Murphi has created a seriously creepy (in a good way) play about grief and relationships… and birds.  I was super intrigued by this piece, and – now that I know she’s also a puppeteer – I’m really hoping I can see one of her shows in San Antonio!

I also had the pleasure of seeing Tira Palmquist’s play, Two Degrees – a fascinating look into one woman’s grief as she battles for the climate at a senate hearing.  I was so into the metaphorical landscape accompanying this woman’s real-world battles!  And it was great to meet a fellow LAFPI’er – one whose name I had seen and heard mentioned more than a time or two before.  What a cool person and writer!

And last but not least, I had the pleasure of sitting in our very own Jennie Webb’s Crazy Bitch.  It’s no secret I’m a big fan of Jennie’s, so I won’t spend too much time gushing, but what a cool piece!  I loved her characters – one of which is an immortal jellyfish!  What?  Awesome!   In typical Jennie Webb style, she’s given us a world in which our imaginations get to settle into something genuinely unique.  Kudos, Jennie!

I’ve still got four more readings, a workshop, and one more production ahead of me – this truly is an extraordinary opportunity.  Huzzah to GPTC for creating such an awesome event for playwrights, and for facilitating so many cool new creative connections!

Blogging on the Plains

by Tiffany Antone

I’m caressing a wall – feeling its temperature and taking notes on “all kinds of walls”.  I’m listening to a stranger’s stomach gurgling (even though I’m supposed to be pressing my hesitant ear down heavily enough to hear his heart beat) – now this stranger has his head to my belly… listening.  I can feel his breath on my hand which is resting just below my stomach. The sudden and unexpected closeness of this listening exchange is alarming and calming all at once.

Now  I’m watching a man press a lit cigarette into a child’s painting, burning away the colors.

Now I’m shaking hands with a cardboard-obscured (and thus body-less) hand… someone else kisses the hand.  I laugh, I think about germs, I think about intimacy amongst strangers, I think about chapstick and lotion and Purell and calluses.

I think about my laptop, sitting a few feet away and I feel the familiar feeling of yearning to just… write.

I’m at the Great Plains Theatre Conference (#GPTC) and this is Lisa D’Amour‘s Yoko Ono workshop.  I’m learning about the occasions on which D’Amour has performed Ono’s “Cut” piece and how her work as a performance artist has influenced her as a playwright.  Her experience is transformative.

There are playwrights everywhere.

It’s hard to believe that only 8 days ago I was in LA, putting up my Little Black Dress INK Female Playwrights ONSTAGE Project at the Los Angeles Theatre Center.  We live-streamed last Sunday’s play readings, and I will go on to produced each of the plays in Prescott, AZ this Fall.  It’s been a FANTASTIC experience, a wild ride…

But I’m exhausted.

Which is why I’m so ecstatic to be at the GPTC this week.

This week, I get to sit back and just be a playwright.

I’ve taken two workshops and seen five new play readings already, and it’s only Monday!

So while I’ve got to get to bed early tonight in order to try to sleep off the rest of last week’s Producer fatigue (in order to enjoy the accumulation of new Playwright fatigue), I can promise I’ll be blogging again soon about my time spent here on the Plains, enjoying my role in the writer’s tribe.



I spent the weekend in San Diego – in the basement theatre of San Diego Rep, to be exact – for the National New Play Network festival. It’s my third new play festival this year (I also went to Humana in Louisville, Kentucky and the Contemporary American Theatre Festival in West Virginia.) As I’ve written before, it’s INCREDIBLY helpful for us as playwrights to see new plays.

New play festivals are a bit like Fashion Week – you get a preview of the new season – not what will be hanging on the rack at Nordstrom’s, but what will be listed in the season ticket brochure at theatres around the country.

You can also spot trends. Not exposed zippers and the Pantone color of the year, but what playwrights are doing in their work that keeps showing up all the time.

Here’s a few of the emerging trends spotted at the NNPN’s festival:

–          Direct Address: several plays used this device. It works as shorthand, delivering internal monologues and exposition in an efficient manner. Though to me as an audience member, it doesn’t have the same resonance as a scene between two characters. There’s blood on the floor when characters are confronting each other. You can’t look away. The energy literally bounces off the wall. When there’s sexual chemistry, we’re right there as peeping Toms, blushing and getting aroused and wondering what’s going to happen next. And even long monologues delivered to another character seem fuller, richer, more punchy than directing them to the audience.

–          Humor: nearly every one of the six plays I saw was funny. Not necessarily knock down physical humor or an evening full of zingers, but lines that made you smile or surprised you and made when you laugh out loud. Even the stage directions were funny! Serious topics handled with humor made an audience want to stay through the painful parts of the story.

–          Obsession: several plays had main characters who were obsessed. Two were trying to find absent ancestors. (I’m not sure I understood WHY these characters were obsessed, but boy, is that a handy tool for getting your protagonist moving! Other characters tell them they’re crazy, but they just keep keeping on. They were like bulldozers, ploughing through obstacles on their way over the cliff.)

–          Larger casts than you’d think: I know. We’ve all been told don’t dare write a play with more than three characters if you ever want to harbor a hope of production. That wasn’t the case at the NNPN’s festival! Several plays boasted of more than half a dozen actors playing lots of characters. And these are plays that at least ONE theatre wants to produce!

–          Slavery: Two of the six plays dealt with slavery – one a highly comic, stylized piece set at the deathbed of Martha Washington; the other a search for the ancestor who jumped a slave ship. A third play dealt with racial injustice of the 1960’s, the generational remains of slavery.

–          Absent fathers: Lots of missing parents in these plays. A father in jail whose teenager ends up in foster care, a biracial girl looking for her African-American father and grandfather, an obsessive compulsive painter who wasn’t looking for his absent father directly, but certainly his abandonment of the family fed son’s condition. Slaves sired by white masters were also fatherless. One father who seemed to be missing in action was merely hiding out in the den until he was needed to deliver the best monologue I’ve heard in a while about how you want a bitch of a mother to be on the front line fighting for you. I’m not sure what this says about our society today with all these missing dads.

–          Theatricality. Not every play reached beyond the naturalistic, but there were elements of theatricality in everything. One used the tinkling of a bicycle bell to spur memory.  Another structured the play backwards to forwards. One play included actors carrying on in a bad TV movie behind the main action. There were game shows, swimming fish, even a Viking ship onstage. The most successful pieces took a chance on larger-than-life happenings.

Never heard of NNPN? It’s basically a way for playwrights to get not just a world premiere, but also a second, third, and on and on – future productions. Pick a NNPN theatre. Submit your script. Next year, it could be YOUR play that sets the trends for theatres across the country.



On Meeting Playwright Sarah Tuft in Chicago…

by Robin Byrd

“…she was fun and fierce, and we chatted.”  Laurel Wetzork

I was running (okay walking swiftly) past Laurel Wetzork – LA FPI Onstage Editor, and Debbie Bolsky – LA FPI Agent Process Co-Captain, after an event at last month’s Dramatists Guild Conference (Having Our Say: Our History, Our Future) when I was introduced to Sarah Tuft by Debbie.  Laurel was engrossed in conversation with her.   I had interrupted to say, “See y’all back home.”   I met a lot of people in Chicago, so many, I had to take notes, but I remember Sarah’s name because I had just used the word “tufts” in a poem:

           “…pulling the small tufts from my eyelids trying to leave the lashes in tact…”
I like the word so much, I keep thinking about it.  And, I liked Sarah right off when I met her — not just because of her last name.  She seemed so open to me and she was really excited about her project coming to Los Angeles.  Debbie, Laurel and I asked her to drop us a line about it, so that maybe we (LA FPI Instigators) could show up in clusters.  Just received her email today:

Dear LA Playwrights,

As promised, I’m here in town for the benefit reading of my play “110 Stories” next Wed at the Nate Holden Performing Arts Center at 4718 West Washingtob Blvd. 90016.Some advance press: FB invite: Segment on A&E:

Love to see you there.  If you can make it, sign up at  or call 626.869.7328.

And if you’re on FB, please friend me so I can include you for any other shenanigans!! Best wishes, Sarah

110 Stories by Sarah Tuft
110 Stories by Sarah Tuft


110 stories sarah tuft

110 STORIES by Sarah Tuft

Wednesday, September 11, 2013 – 8:00 PM

Nate Holden Performing Arts Center
4718 W Washington Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90016

110 Stories Celebrity Benefit Performance will commemorate the 12th anniversary of the events of Sept 11th 2001.

Sarah Tuft’s play expresses the human side of history, without politics and agenda, giving voice to those who experienced 9/11 directly.Proceeds from the event go to Operation Gratitude.

All schedule permitting, the cast includes: Jon Heder, Ernie Hudson, Ethan Kogan, Anthony Ruivivar, Stelio Savante, Jessica Silvetti and Diane Venora. Directed by Rudolf Buitendach. Lead Producer: StelioSavante, Casting Director: Engine Media Group, Producers: Al Han, Ethan Kogan, Freddy Luis, Anne McCarthy, Kellie Gesell Roy, Jessica Silvetti.Consulting Producer: Michael Greenwald and Playwright Sarah Tuft.

Operation Gratitude is a 501(c)(3), non-profit, volunteer-based organization that annually sends 100,000 care packages filled with snacks, entertainment items and personal letters of appreciation addressed to individually named U.S. Service Members deployed in hostile regions, to their children left behind and to Wounded Warriors recuperating in Transition Units. This charity is supported by First Lady Obama, The Bidens, Ben Affleck, Gary Sinise and many other respected celebrities, athletes and politicians. For more info, please visit their official website at

Special Note: Our charity Operation Gratitude will be providing tax deductible letters of receipt for everyone who purchases tickets. If you are unable to attend or do not live in LA, you can still purchase tickets/make a donation and you will receive the tax deductible letter from our charity.

COME AND JOIN US, experience firsthand accounts of the events of Sept 11th 2001 with an illustrious cast and together we can raise money for this worthy charity.

The performance starts at 8:00 p.m. with ticket prices ranging from $25 to $55. All ticket purchases and donations are tax-deductible.


Last Day of the Dramatists Guild Conference

by Robin Byrd

This morning ended the 2013 Dramatists Guild Conference “Having Our Say: Our History, Our Future with some very inspiring words from Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Doug Wright (I am my Own Wife); I can only tell you that you need to read it if it is every published or watch the video if one was made because that is what I am going to do.  Yes, it is worth listening to over and over again.

I think the consensus in the room was, “I want to write a play now.”  Not just write a play but do the research behind it I so much love to do, you know, walking in the “wright” of playwright.  I came away knowing that any dumb stuff I need to fix about me so I can squeeze through a door, I can do.  I am a dramatist.  I don’t have to apologize or feel “less than” in the room with other collaborators collaborating on my play…  I can look forward to the Dramatists Guild fighting the good fight for us because that is what they do…  They make it possible for us to continue “Having Our Say…”


Writing History

by Robin Byrd

“Taking historical events and turning them into compelling stagecraft can be a huge risk but can also yield huge rewards.  John Weidman, former DG president and librettist of Pacific Overtures, Assassin, and Road Show (all with scores by Stephen Sondheim), discusses the processes, pitfalls and challenges of writing about the real world in theatrical terms.”  – Writing History

John Weidman has a very interesting interview in the Dramatists Guild’s “In the Room” series.  Listen here.

At the Dramatists Guild Conference, Having Our Say: Our History, Our Future, I sat in on a session titled “Writing History” with John Weidman.  He told some wonderful stories, discussed “Road Show” and how and why he made the choices he did in writing it the way he did.  Additionally, he discussed how he broke down the killers to their commonality in “Assassins” in order to write the piece.

He also gave pointers on what is appropriate when working with historical material:

1.  You have an obligation to invent, stimulate, and push

2. You have an obligation not to misrepresent.

If you have to manipulate material so much that you are leaving your source material you want to look at that as a problem/flag alerting you to misrepresentation of the facts.  Be careful of diluting actual action.  Take a look at what you have to leave out and what you put in.

This session really put me at ease about tackling historical material as a writer.

Shaping Real Life: Present & Past

“How do dramatists balance fact and fiction when crafting stories from real life events?  This panel, made up of award-winning playwrights and documentarians, explores how factual materials can be crafted, shaped, and transformed using the dramatic writer’s art.” – Shaping Real Life: Present & Past

by Robin Byrd

At the Dramatists Guild Conference: Having Our Say:  Our History, Our Future, I sat in on the “Shaping Real Life: Present & Past” session.  The panel included:  Sheila Curran Bernard, Andrew Pederson, Craig Thornton, Jayme McGhanThe above questions are what they focused the session on.

What I took away from the session was the following:

When writing history, one should try to keep the facts straight where you can.  If it is missing you have to fill in the blanks but when it’s there, you should try to keep the facts straight.  This was the consensus among the panelists.

Be ethical when writing live characters.  Check with the Dramatists Guild about the way to get permission to use the person/persons’ story.  You should take care of this before you start the process.  However, just because you have a waiver to write about an incident doesn’t mean all those involved should be subjected to how putting it on a stage will affect them so this is where you should use discretion.  With live characters, it is a continuing relationship you can’t do the story and go away to work on another play like you didn’t build those relationships.  Ethically, you would want to deal with the matter of you making money off their story by reason of your finished piece (once in the play, it becomes your copyright property).  You want to make sure you have already come to an agreement with them (because you consulted the Dramatists Guild lawyers before you started the process and all parties have signed the agreements/contracts.)  It can not be stressed enough, the Dramatists Guild is there to help the playwright.

When writing real life and to creatively move the story, you may need more than the facts you have in your notes.  The panel discussed using made-up characters to handle  factual information.  “In My Shoes” (a docudrama about the tensions of deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan felt by the children of the soldiers),  written by Craig Thornton, used a chorus to tell the story of 911.  Because, ultimately you are trying to make  a drama out of the real life events, all the elements of a drama must be in place.  “In My Shoes” needed an inciting incident to pull all the monologues together and solidify the collection as a play; the use of the chorus satisfied this need.

When more than one person is involved, like a novelist, the live person, and the publisher, the panel urged the room to consult the Dramatists Guild lawyers to make sure there are no underlying rights agreements that crop up later because you got permission from only one person in the involved group.  Here is where working with dead subjects is a little easier because dead characters have less rights than live ones.  You will, in some cases, have to deal with heirs or the estate…

Panelist Jayme McGhan, I believe, quoted his favorite reminder, “Better to ask for permission than to ask for forgiveness.”

Another thing to note about working with live characters is that by the end of your interviewing/gathering information, you will have created a relationship with the person/persons.  More likely than not, a continuing relationship, where you cannot do the story and go away to work on another play like you didn’t build those relationships.

The panel also discussed when to stop researching.  One clue Andrew Pederson said, was (as I remember it) “when you find yourself asking yourself if you have enough information.  You have too much information.”  Too much research can kill your creative impulses.  If you have the essence of a story, you can start.  Outlines are good to help with research so all you have to do is fill in the blanks but be open to changing it as you find the good kernels in your research notes that you may want to use.

In some cases, while crafting your play, you may have to “cheat” to give back story – by cheat I mean find a way to creatively add it without it looking or feeling like you added it.  Historical stories gain context immediately because you should tell history at a certain level as it is.  Truth is the most powerful thing you can work with if you can get it out so the fudging should be limited otherwise, you may have to state at the beginning of your play that it is “based on” or “inspired by”…

In essence when you are shaping real life into drama, your dramatic license should be the tool used to keep the story moving within reason but not a thorn in the side that takes away from the credibility of your piece…