Tag Archives: Dramatists Guild Conference

The Dramatists Guild Conference Starts This Week!

Hope to see you down in La Jolla for the Dramatists Guild Conference that kicks off on Thursday of this week!

For more information about the conference, please go to the Dramatists Guild website: http://www.dramatistsguild.com/nationalconference.aspx

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: examiner.com/article/12th-anniversary-of-9-11-brings-broadwayglobal-must-see-play-110-stories FB invite: facebook.com/events/346706322129808/?ref=br_tf Segment on A&E: vimeo.com/channels/sarahtuft110stories

Love to see you there.  If you can make it, sign up at itsmyseat.com/events/733971.html  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 http://www.operationgratitude.com/

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.


Tickets: http://www.itsmyseat.com/events/733971.html

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…

“Chicago Meet and Greet” hosted by the Chicago League

by Robin Byrd

There was a “Meet and Greet” hosted by the Chicago League; it was a one-hour hit-every-table kind of deal. A wonderful addition to the Dramatists Guild Conference “Having Our Say: Our History, Our Future” this table hopping and it was a great experience.  I am not usually a meet and greet kind of person but I met a lot of people and it wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be.  Although the first table was really difficult but I missed my flight printing business cards so you best believe I was handing them out.  Then I got the hang of it when I decided to really look at the theaters and find out about them.  I could hear John F. Kennedy in my subconscious saying, “Ask not what your country can do for you — but what you can do for your country”, so it became about the theaters and less about me.  They do some interesting theater in Chicago.

On Sunday, I am going to see Nothing Without A Company’s “Alice” in Lincoln Park.  The audience will travel as a group to each location as the play is performed.  How neat is that?  I only ran into one table where they dealt with Chicago or Illinois writers only.  I met Babes with Blades; and we talked character, fights… At the Clockwise Theatre table, I met a guy from my hometown; they do theater that is diverse and adventurous – literally, culturally, and theatrically.

I met 20% Theatre Company Chicago, a company started like LA FPI in response to the New York study on gender bias.  They are running their 8th Annual Snapshots, A 10-Minute Play Festival now, during the DG Conference August 22-25, 2013 at the Cornservatory (4210 N. Lincoln Ave).

There was Light Opera Works for musical theater; Midwest New Musicals is an arm of Light Opera Works and is run by John Sparks – if his name sounds familiar, it’s because he is the Founding Director of LA’s Academy for New Musical Theatre – small world.

Writers Theatre was there; it’s all about the writer.  Stockyards Theatre Project was there — their mission: “to give volume to the voices of women by creating positive, substantial roles in plays for female performers”.  Underscore Theatre Company was there; they do musicals but will take plays with music as they are interested in the relationship between words and music and how the use of music can underscore a story.

Other theaters with information at the Meet and Greet were:

The Ruckus does such diverse theater, you can tell right off by the type of productions they have in a given season and by the credits.

The Side Project Theatre Company — exploration of the power of hyper-intimate theatre.

TimeLine Theatre Company – deals with plays about history and has two plays by women in its 2013/2014 Season: “A Raisin in the Sun” by Lorraine Hansberry and “The How and The Why” by Sarah Treem.  (50/50)

Northlight Theatre has two plays by women in it 2013/2014 Season:  “4000 Miles” by Amy Herzog (ranked #1 play in 2012 by New York Times) and “Detroit ’67” by Dominique Morisseau (which I just happened to read recently – an era with stories that need to be told).  (50/50)

Pavement Group is searching for fresh plays, check them out to see if you’re a match…

Pride Films & Plays is looking for well crafted stories, check them out to see if you’ve got something they’re interested in…

Chicago Dramatists has ways for writers outside Chicago to participate.  Check them out.

DreamStreet Theatre Company is a new company looking for family oriented stories.  I talked with the founder who is really interested in doing great theater.  The “times up” call was given in the middle of my conversation so I found myself rushing to get the last bit of information from the remaining tables.

American Blues Theater — (Isn’t that the coolest name?) illuminates the American ideas of freedom, equality, and opportunity… Our hour was up and we were being shooed out the door when I was handed a card, “I didn’t get to talk to you,” she said.  Isn’t that the coolest thing?  Turns out I was just looking at their Blue Ink Playwriting Award submission guidelines…

In all and I may have missed some theaters, I had a really good time meeting the theater reps.

Improvising Your Play with Jeffrey Sweet

by Robin Byrd

I am here in Chicago at the Dramatists Guild Conference “Having Our Say: Our History, Our Future” enjoying every minute of it.  It is really good to see Stephen Schwartz, President, Dramatists Guild, Gary Garrison, Executive Director, Creative Affairs and hoping to see Ralph Sevush, Esq. Executive Director, Business and Legal Affairs, have to make sure I get to one of his sessions  – playwriting without the business side of things can leave one at a loss…  Some of the sessions are live streaming from HowlRound at http://www.livestream.com/newplay where you can watch them several times after the live event.

My first session was with Jeffrey Sweet, playwright, author, teacher, actor, director, improvisation master – I could go on.  I use his books to help me out of fixes when I’m writing.  I met him at the last Dramatists Guild Conference in Virginia.  He is the nicest man, very down to earth and very giving where knowledge of the craft of playwriting and theater is concerned.

Mr. Sweet talked about how improvising came into being – the people in the germination period, the history of it – how storefront theater started and what that had to do with the Marxist son of a millionaire who loved theater.  He discussed how the question “How do you get plays on a stage when no one is writing them?” gave rise to improvisation.  How improvising theater starting from scenarios –Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm uses scenarios.  He ran through the history like a monologue, full of comedy and facts.  He told us to also look at TJ & Dave for improvisation today.

In “Improvising your Play”, Mr. Sweet discussed set up for Improv and the power of the unspoken word.  A writer must know what to leave out. He suggested conveying what the noun is without using the word.  As in, conveying “I love you” without actually saying “I love you.”  He demonstrated with a skit using two playwrights from the audience giving them clear instructions on what their character wanted but what they could not say to the other character.  The Improv turned out to be a nice little scene.  He runs a Summer Improv writing retreat (http://www.artisticnewdirections.org/retreats.html) that uses improvisation techniques to write scripts.  Then he did an exercise with five playwrights from the audience who were told to describe a noun without using the noun.  We got very good descriptions, of a woman who found solace in watching a puppy through the store window, a man whose horse sounded like a woman until the very end, and the description of finding that a vile smell is of poop on the bottom of a shoe.

He also discussed relating something from the past without writing in past tense.  There is a technical way called “historical present” that gives the sense of dramatic action.  You start in the past but switch to present as you go, for instance, writing “I was walking along the side of the road, suddenly; a large truck is coming right at me.  I have a second to get out of the way or I’m toast.  I jump…” (as I understood him).  There is also “high context exposition” which in essence means don’t explain.  Characters who know each other don’t repeat what they already know; this is why the soaps use new characters to rehash old business that everyone else already knows.  He feels the writer should always go to the future tense.

Another way of bringing more to a script is by negotiating over an object.  “Objects between any two characters will give info about the characters.”  Shakespeare uses three objects in King Henry the Sixth, the paper crown, molehill and the handkerchief which create shock in behavior.  In “The Apartment,” the mirror compact does the trick.

Improvising your Play was a very informative session.  A lot of what he discussed is in his books.  Seeing him bring the techniques to life before your eyes is worth experiencing at least once so if you ever get the change to sit in on a Jeffrey Sweet class, please do…

Jeffrey Sweet’s books:

Dramatists Toolkit, The Craft of the Working Playwright

Solving Your Script:  Tools and Techniques for the Playwright

Something Wonderful Right Away: An Oral History of the Second City and the Compass Players