Tag Archives: paula Vogel

Need inspiration? Hire a playwright.

by Kitty Felde

Are you like me? If you had your life to do over again, you wish you’d gone to graduate school for playwriting? Now you have a grown up job, maybe kids, no money, no time. Oh, well.

There is an alternative: create your own Masters of Playwriting program.

No, you don’t have to join the faculty at UC Irvine. All you need to do is identify what you need as a writer and find the person or persons who can teach you.


It’s been an interesting month for me as a playwright. Last weekend, I took a Megabus trip up to Philadelphia to attend an all-day playwriting bootcamp with Paula Vogel, courtesy of the play development program at PlayPenn. Today, I’m sitting in a classroom at Catholic University in DC for an all-day intensive with Michael Hollinger. Next weekend, I’m having a table read in my living room of my LA Riots play “Time of the Troubles” directed by Linda Lombardi, the literary manager at Arena Stage – who I met at another play development program in DC known as Inkwell. Fifteen hours of playwriting instruction in a month with a price tag much cheaper than graduate school!


LA is a city full of wonderful writers. Is there one you’ve always wanted to have coffee with? Write them. Ask them. They may say yes.


LA also attracts a who’s who of wonderful writers who pass through town. Is there a talk back session after their play? Are they teaching a master class somewhere? Paula Vogel was in Philly for the opening of a new play. PlayPenn invited her to teach her bootcamp on a day when her show was in tech. Forty writers paid $200 each to spend the day soaking up Vogelisms.


What about a writer who has no immediate plans to come to LA? Put together your own master class.

My DC playwriting group Playwrights Gymnasium decided to invite Michael Hollinger (“Opus,” “A Wonderful Noise,” “Red Herring”) to come to town. We figured out a budget (his travel expenses, lodging, food, a stipend), found free space at a local college to hold a seminar (in exchange for free tuition for a pair of grad students), figured out how much other playwrights would pay for such a seminar ($99 with lunch and an early bird price of $79), advertised on a Facebook page (filled up in a week!)


There’s nothing like hearing your own work out loud to learn what works. And what doesn’t.

Staged readings are fairly cheap – particularly when you’re doing them in your own living room. Costs include printing, plus coffee and wine and nibbles. Gas money for actors is helpful. A small check is even more welcome.

You can get feedback from your troupe – or not. Or invite playwrights you trust. Or a dramaturg. Or a director. Or thank your actors and send everyone home.

I’ll let you know what I learned from my reading. And from my Masters in March.

What’s on Your Viewing/Reading List?

I have listed some of the plays I like to frequent.  Some I have never seen on the stage and some I have read and seen; all are very good plays.  Have you seen or read these plays by these female writers?


Yellowman  by Dael Orlandersmith (2002 Pulitzer Prize finalist)

“Alma and Eugene have known each other since they were young children.  As their friendship blossoms into love, Alma struggles to free herself from her mother’s poverty and alcoholism, while Eugene must contend with the legacy of being “yellow” — lighter-skinned than his brutal and unforgiving father.”  From back cover*

My Red Hand, My Black Hand by Dael Orlandersmith

A young woman  explores her heritage as a child of a blues-loving Native American man and a black sharecropper’s daughter from Virginia.”   From back cover*

*”Alternatively joyous and harrowing, both plays are powerful examinations of the racial tensions that fracture families, communities, and individual lives.”   From back cover Vintage Books  play publication YELLOWMAN & MY READ HAND, MY BLACK HAND


How I Learned to Drive by Paula Vogel (1998 Pulitzer Prize winner, 1997 Obie Award winner)

A wildly funny, surprising and devastating tale of survival as seen through the lens of a troubling relationship between a young girl and an older man.  HOW I LEARNED TO DRIVE is the story of a woman who learns the rules of the road and life from behind the wheel.”   From the back cover of Dramatists Play Services, Inc. play publication


The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

Adaptation by Lydia R. Diamond

“Nobel Prize-winning Author Toni Morrison’s THE BLUEST EYE is a story about the tragic life of a young black girl in 1940′s Ohio.  Eleven-year-old Pecola Breedlove wants nothing more than to be loved by her family and schoolmates.  Instead, she faces constant ridicule and abuse.  She blames her dark skin and prays for blue eyes, sure that love will follow.  With rich language and bold vision, this powerful adaptation of an American classic explores the crippling toll that a legacy of racism has taken on a community, a family, and an innocent girl.”  From the back cover of Dramatic Publishing publication


Ruined by Lynn Nottage (2009 Pulitzer Prize winner, 2009 Obie Award winner)

“A rain forest bar and brothel in the brutally war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo is the setting… The establishment’s shrewd matriarch, Mama Nadi both protects and profits from the women whose bodies have become battlegrounds between the government soldiers and rebel forces alike.  RUINED was developed through the author’s pilgrim to Africa where countless interviews and interactions resulted in a portrait of the lives of the women and girls caught in this devastating and ongoing tragedy.” from the back cover of Theatre Communications Group publication


Crimes of the Heart by Beth Henley (1981 Pulitzer Prize winner)

At the core of the tragic comedy are the three MaGrath sisters, Meg, Babe, and Lenny, who reunite at Old Granddaddy’s home in Hazlehurst, Mississippi after Babe shoots her abusive husband. The trio was raised in a dysfunctional family with a penchant for ugly predicaments and each has endured her share of hardship and misery. Past resentments bubble to the surface as they’re forced to deal with assorted relatives and past relationships while coping with the latest incident that has disrupted their lives. Each sister is forced to face the consequences of the “crimes of the heart” she has committed.  From Wikipedia.org


Tea by Velina Hasu Houston

Four women come together to clean the house of a fifth after her tragic suicide upsets the balance of life in their small Japanese community in the middle of the Kansas heartland.  The spirit of the dead woman returns as a ghostly ringmaster to force the women to come to terms with the disquieting tension of their lives and find common ground so that she can escape from the limbo between life and death, and move on to the next world in peace — and indeed carve a pathway for their future passage. Set in Junction City, Kansas, 1968; and netherworlds.  from the back cover Dramatists Play Service, Inc. publication


Topdog/Underdog by Suzan-Lori Parks (2002 Pulitzer Prize winner)

“TOPDOG/UNDERDOG, a darkly comic fable of brotherly love and family identity, tells the story of two brothers, Lincoln and Booth, names given to them as a joke by their father.  Haunted by the past and their obsession with the street con game, three-card monte, the brothers come to learn the true nature of their history.”  From the back cover Theatre Communications Group publication


The Vagina Monologues by Eve Ensler (1997 Obie Award winner)

“THE VAGINA MONOLOGUES introduces a wildly divergent gathering of female voices, including a six-year-old girl, a septuagenarian New Yorker, a vagina workshop participant, a woman who witnesses the birth of her granddaughter, a Bosnian survivor of rape, and a feminist happy to have found a man who “liked to look at it.”  From the back cover Dramatist Play Service, Inc. publication


HEADS by EM Lewis (2008 Francesca Primus Prize winner)

An American engineer. A British embassy employee. A network journalist. And a freelance photographer. As hostages in a war zone, each responds to the unbearable situation differently, with stark reality and difficult choices. HEADS is a heart wrenching story about finding hope and intimacy in an environment with seemingly no way out.  From the Pittsburgh Playhouse website.


Note: not all awards are listed for the plays or playwrights.


New Play Festivals: GO!

by Kitty Felde

I’ve done the ballpark tour: planning vacations to cities with interesting baseball stadiums, trying to visit every one of them. Unfortunately, new stadiums were being built at a rapid rate and many of the old ones I’d visited were being torn down, so that goal of seeing them all went out the window.

But I’ve started a new vacation tour: new play festivals. And fellow “emerging” playwrights, I highly recommend it for several reasons:

– The Work: It’s like Fashion Week. You get the opportunity to see who’s hot (or for cynics like me: which MFA playwriting program is currently churning out kids with promise), spot trends (gimmick plays, in case you wondered), and see plays that aren’t perfect – always a wonderful opportunity to practice your writerly skills and imagine how YOU’D fix the play.

– Ego Boost: Seeing new work can also be a real confidence builder. You realize that the quality of your writing isn’t lacking; you know you can turn out work equal to or much better than anything you’ve seen. It sends you home to your laptop with real determination.

– Relationships: In a business built as much on who you know as the quality of writing, these weekends are grand opportunities. This spring, fellow DC playwright DW Gregory persuaded me to join her in Louisville, Kentucky for Humana. They have two “industry” weekends, which I discovered means that artistic directors, dramaturgs, university theatre professors, and literary managers from all over the country show up. Very few playwrights. The schmoozefest began at the airport where – because there just aren’t that many flights to Louisville – half a dozen DC theatre folk were on the same flight. At Humana, there were pie meet and greets, seminars, and lots of drinking. Because there were so few playwrights, the opportunity to have actual conversations instead of 15 second elevator speeches was priceless.

– New Play Festival 101 – I also attended CATF – the Contemporary American Theatre Festival at Shepherdstown, West Virginia – this summer, again with local writer DW Gregory. This time, we brought our husbands, lured with the promise of bike rides along the C&O Canal. We saw two very good and one just awful play. How could that happen? We attended a Q&A session one evening after a show in a local restaurant (again, the alcohol flowed freely…) and got to ask how they pick their plays. The artistic director is the main guru, making final selections after others at CATF have sifted through the submissions from agents. (Alas, having no agent myself, that counts me out for a while.) But the one klunker we saw: it was an actress they had worked with previously. Her husband directed this particular show (by one of those hot young playwrights) in New York and they brought it down to CATF intact. Aha! That’s the way the theatre world works. Which takes us back to relationships and ego boost…

– Californians: I live in DC now, but I miss California – the beaches, the produce, the weather. But I also realize I miss Californians. At every new play festival I’ve attended, for some reason I find myself gravitating towards Californians. We think differently, perhaps we’re more open. And because we have SO much theatre, there’s a lot of us at these festivals.

– The Unexpected: the highlight of Humana for me was meeting Paula Vogel in a drink line at a loud, local bar. And SHE was excited to meet ME! Alas, not because of my playwriting, but because of my day job on public radio. But that led to a lovely conversation and subsequent following of each other on Twitter.

You lucky folks in LA have several new play festivals within driving distance: South Coast Repertory’s Pacific Playwrights Festival, the Ojai Playwrights Festival, Playfest up in Santa Barbara. They’re on my list. Look for me in the audience next year.

Video interview w/ Jen Bloom: Dramatizing the Complexities of an Abusive Relationship

Talk with Santa Monica Rep’s Director & Actor

“Love Story, Tragedy or Epic Tale of Survival?:
Dramatizing the Complexities of an Abusive Relationship

Mid-run of How I Learned to Drive, there will be a post show talk back with Gail Myers, MFT, a therapist panel and director Jen Bloom
Should this story be onstage? In 1997, Paula Vogel’s play How I Learned to Drive showed us how empathy and pedophilia can exist in the same conversation, and that storytelling as a form of reclaiming memories can be a tool towards self-empowerment. Ms. Vogel stated that she didn’t want her audiences to know before coming to the theater what the story was about, that she wanted them to “take a ride they didn’t know they were taking.” This Saturday, Santa Monica Rep will host an all female panel of three child and family therapists who work with sexual abuse trauma cases to facilitate an audience talk-back after the play. Join a discussion around the actual facts and gray areas of child sexual abuse and PTSD. Weigh in on whether or not you think this kind of story should be on stage and why or why not, and what are the responsibilities of the audience and the theater maker about supporting, producing or attending this type of potentially dangerous traumatic content. This should be a fascinating and provocative evening of theater and discussion. The conversations around the show have already been illuminating; audiences have stayed in the theater and spoken in small informal groups about their reactions and artistic/therapeutic concerns every night for almost an hour. Read more about the panel discussion after the performance on Nov 17 at 8pm.