TEACHING -- "Playwriting for Interdisciplinary Theatre"
I have never taken a formal course in Playwriting or Directing. I dropped out of my local community college in New York and spent several years working a variety of odd jobs, saving up enough money in order to return to school years later at Purchase College (SUNY). My real education came from my local public library -- which for some reason I still cannot comprehend -- possessed a massive collection of experimental European and American drama, combined with corresponding historical texts and criticism. The odd jobs I worked all afforded me ample time to read. One by one, I simply read my way through the collected works of playwright after playwright, often times progressing country by country, decade by decade, or movement by movement. Poland. France. Sweden. Germany. The former Czechoslovakia. The period between WWI and WWII. The post-war period. The post-1968 period. This approach permitted me to discover plays and playwrights that are often excluded from the course syllabi found at universities in mainstream American theatre programs. What most American theatre students graduate without ever being exposed to -- became my core curriculum and primary inspiration.
At some point, I realized that I could go see theatre performed live in New York City. [Attending live performances was not something we ever did in my family.] Through trial and error, I discovered institutions like La MaMa E.T.C., HERE Arts Center, Performance Space 122, House of Candles, The Kitchen, and the Brooklyn Academy of Music. During the 1990s, I spent the bulk of my disposable income on tickets to see contemporary European productions touring through New York, and experimental American productions developed in the city. Without fully realizing it at the time -- watching this body of work became my education in staging, direction, and design. I took notes. I attended talk-backs. I asked questions. I took more notes. I saw more work. Finding my way in this manner provided me with an unfiltered perspective for viewing work. It helped me develop a vocabulary, before I even realized what that meant.
When I began teaching at the university level, I quickly realized that students in my department were not being exposed to the broad spectrum of plays and theatre I was familiar with. I proposed and developed an informal "play reading" series for students to address these gaps in our curriculum. The students' responses were overwhelmingly positive. When I left my full-time position and became a full-time "artist" -- I tired to combine the students' reactions with my own life experience. I created and designed a course called -- "Playwriting for Interdisciplinary Theatre" -- which also draws upon my own professional work in New York, Canada, and the European Union.
Since then, I have taught both semester-length versions and shorter, workshop-length versions of this class at the Theatre Academy in University of the Arts Helsinki, Turku University of Applied Sciences, City College College of San Francisco, the Playwrights Foundation (CA), Gulf Coast State College (FL), the Trinity College / La MaMa Performing Arts Program in New York, and in conjunction with residencies and fellowships while working in Bangladesh, Belgium, Finland, and Sweden.
Students are encouraged to think of playwriting not simply as writing "TV-on-stage" dialogue -- but rather to investigate themes of "thinking abstractly" and "composing with a space" as an effective means to develop a theatrical language. Readings from older, forgotten playwrights are combined with contemporary, interdisciplinary practitioners more common to the European Union. These are then connected to real world examples of "thinking abstractly" in popular films, music videos, and advertising. Through individual writing exercises, developing research practices, and vigorous group discussion -- students are encouraged to develop their own original material. "Playwriting" does not need to be the dirty passé word that it has assumed in contemporary arts and performance circles. "Playwriting" does not need to remain frozen in the realm of "the predictable" and trapped within the burdens of ultra-realism. "Playwriting" can be unlocked and exploded to stretch to meet the demands of complex issues and it's scope and scale can be expanded to incorporate new technologies and mediums.