Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Do not write a play until you read this, or, Why you need an MFA from Carnegie Mellon.

Here's the annual pitch:

The Carnegie Mellon University School of Drama
Dramatic Writing Program

As a writer for theatre or film, you’re not writing to be read; you’re making a blueprint that contains all the information your future collaborators will need to create an event.

Carnegie Mellon is uniquely positioned to offer an intense experience that combines training in playwriting, screenwriting, television writing, and new theatrical forms. As an integral part of the Carnegie Mellon School of Drama, the oldest degree-granting theatre program in the United States, the Dramatic Writing program provides ongoing collaboration with the next generation of important actors, directors, and designers. Writers collaborate with these colleagues every week of the semester in Theatre Lab, as well as working on a television project twice a year.

Dramatic Writing MFA candidates have the opportunity to see their plays fully produced in the New Works Series. These productions are helmed by emerging directors under the supervision of Marianne Weems, and industry guests are brought in to respond to the plays.

The program is one of only six leading institutions chosen to participate in the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Film School Awards, which awards $35,000 in screenplay prizes annually to two students within the Carnegie Mellon Dramatic Writing program.

The Dramatic Writing program is headed by Rob Handel, a founding member and managing director of the Obie-winning playwrights’ collective 13P, and a resident playwright at New Dramatists. The curriculum fosters leadership through a unit called “Envisioning a Theatre,” in which students examine revolutionary movements in theatre; write manifestos of their own; and build a plan for starting a theater company.

Recent and upcoming guest faculty include Mac Wellman, Jeffrey M. Jones, Sherry Kramer, Richard Nelson, Tarell Alvin McCraney, Madeleine George, and Peter Sinn Nachtrieb.

Carnegie Mellon is dedicated to equipping writers to enter a highly competitive industry at the highest level. MFA candidates have met recently with directors Daniella Topol, Leigh Silverman, and John Collins, as well as decisionmakers from Woolly Mammoth, The Gersh Agency, Pixar, Legendary Pictures, and Fox Filmed Entertainment. Students benefit from the strong support of School of Drama alumni in the field, including Stephen Schwartz (Godspell, Wicked), Stephen Bochco (Hill Street Blues, L.A. Law), and John Wells (ER, Third Watch). Recent alumni include Jonathan Larson Award winners Chris Dimond and Michael Kooman, James McManus (Princess Grace Award), Jason Williamson (Dramatists Guild Fellowship), and Kevin Christopher Snipes (SPF).

The program has longstanding ties to Pittsburgh’s City Theatre, which is devoted to the production and commissioning of new plays. There are unlimited possibilities for collaborating with the many new-media initiatives taking place across the university, recognized as a world headquarters for entertainment technology.

How to apply: Dramatic Writing applicants must submit either one full length play or one full length screenplay in addition to all university and school applications. The application deadline is January 1 annually.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Lines posted on an office door at New Dramatists

CALVERO: This is my home. Here.
TERRY: I thought you hated the theatre.
CALVERO: I do. I also hate the sight of blood, but it's in my veins.

— Charlie Chaplin, Limelight

Monday, November 22, 2010

Friday, November 19, 2010

from the classroom to OOB in five and a half weeks

The Dramatic Writing MFA program is dedicated to preparing playwrights to enter the profession at the highest level. That's why the constant submission of students' scripts to professional production opportunities is integrated into the coursework.

For the 10-minute play assignment in Theatre Lab this fall, first-year MFA student Murphi Cook wrote Nothing Says Happy Like, a post-apocalyptic comedy about a dedicated Spam salesperson. Five and a half weeks later, the play is being produced Off-Off-Broadway as part of a short play festival. Go see it.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

My Kind of Theatre = Performed Participatory Democracy

City Council Meeting is performed participatory democracy -- part play, part social sculpture, part town meeting. Performers and viewers will be the Mayor and Council members, city secretary, citizens and, of course, the misfits like me who hang out at city council meetings and always have something to say. Come early and you might end up in the Mayor's chair.

Go here for more about this project from the fascinating Aaron Landsman (Elevator Repair Service's Gatz, 13P's American Treasure).

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

A mammoth undertaking

Madeleine George
In this report from Playbill.com, we see some of the wisest minds in the theatre collaborating, and a recognition of the life cycle of a play in the real world.

The New York City theatre companies Clubbed Thumb and Playwrights Horizons have teamed up for a new play development program called SuperLab. The first of a series of "collaboratively curated play laboratories" was held Nov. 12, focusing on Madeleine George's Seven Homeless Mammoths Wander New England. [...]

SuperLab is supported by funds granted to Clubbed Thumb by Metlife/Theatre Communications Group's A-ha! Program ... Clubbed Thumb and Playwrights Horizons, who share a commitment to advancing distinctive new voices, will bridge a gap between downtown and uptown theatre sensibilities, methodologies and artist rosters, expanding the range of experience and opportunity for all."

Clubbed Thumb's producing artistic director Maria Striar says, "I proposed this program to TCG out of a desire to do more to get our artists and their work to broader audiences, and to weave some collaborative tissue between Clubbed Thumb and larger organizations for our mutual benefit. I like to think that Clubbed Thumb has been an incubator for some of the most interesting theater careers out there, and Playwrights Horizons has given many of them their next home. Adam Greenfield [Playwrights Horizons' director of new play development] and I have been talking about plays for years, so this is an organic partnership."

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

13P is four stories high

Perseverance may the most important quality you can cultivate as a playwright. For example, stick with your dream of being a producing collective long enough, and you may find yourself attracting a spectacular staff of unpaid volunteers who will work 16 straight hours to pull off a gorgeous and glamorous benefit.

It seems like just a few moments ago (though it was actually seven years) that Joy Katz was designing the 13P logo on her laptop. Last week that logo was projected four stories high on the outside of the building across the street from 3LD in downtown Manhattan. (With animated falling leaves, yet.)

Monday, November 15, 2010

No, really.

I'm fond of telling students in the School of Drama that when they are making work at this conservatory, they are also discovering the collaborators they will want to keep with them for the rest of their lives. Not that there is any shortage of evidence, but this really is true. The latest example: Monday afternoon at the New York Theatre Workshop, alumni Jason Williamson (playwright) and Ed Iskandar (director) continue work begun at CMU.

Jason writes: This freely adapted re-imagining is based on the original classic by Friedrich Schiller. An earlier version received its world premiere at Carnegie Mellon in 2008, but has been developed more recently with the help of Lue Douthit, head dramaturg of Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

Incidentally, Lue Douthit visited CMU this semester as a guest of the dramaturgy program, and spoke inspirationally with the dramatic writing and directing students about her work.

Friday, November 12, 2010

The theory and practice of artistic relationships

Central to the dramatic writing program is Theatre Lab, a class that meets twice a week to practice collaboration between playwrights, directors, actors, and dramaturgs. Throughout the year, a shifting network of teams creates and presents a series of projects, including monologues commissioned by specific actors, ten-minute plays, a role-reversal exercise (in which directors write and writers direct), etc.

In parallel with this process, the playwrights, directors, and dramaturgs meet once a week to discuss how collaboration works, both in the Lab and in "real life." The latter is supported by a discussion of the seminal book Making Plays: The Writer-Director Relationship in the Theatre Today by Richard Nelson and David Jones, as well as by industry guests. This week we were lucky to be visited by artists with a history of working together. As in the Nelson/Jones book, there were times when director Daniella Topol (a CMU alumna) and playwright Willy Holtzman could have easily been talking about the other kind of relationship, not least in finding the right balance between discord and harmony.

Holtzman and Topol's latest collaboration, The Morini Strad, opens tonight at Pittsburgh's City Theatre.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Still a few bugs in the system

The occasion of Doonesbury's 40th anniversary has reminded me of the extent to which everything I know I learned from comics. Not from superhero comics (like many of my hipper colleagues) but specifically from Garry Trudeau, whose omnibus volumes I started collecting at an age when I didn't yet understand half of what the characters were talking about.

Trudeau is one of the great masters of dialogue in the history of American culture. Observe the fine calibration of his timing, the division of lines through the progression of panels. Many of his best strips feature a pause — a "blank" third panel with no dialogue, followed by a punch line where a character backs off on the position they'd taken in the second panel, realizing the absurdity of their own argument. Or look at the way Mike, the silent observer, is deployed in the example above (larger image), from the "Boopsie Poses for Playboy" sequence, May 23, 1979.

More of the strip's greatest hits at this link.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Do Kentuckians Dream of Electric Sheep?

We stand to find out. Anne Washburn's A Devil at Noon, which may or may not have been inspired by the life of a certain science fiction writer whose mental processes were not the same as yours or mine, is part of the lineup for the 35th Humana Festival of New Plays at Actors Theatre of Louisville. Also on the slate are a whole bunch of the best writers and directors in the country. To say nothing of the casts, e.g. triple threat actor/rock star/food blogger Rebecca Hart.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

chasing after unattainable people

Young Jean Lee writes: Want to be a part of UNTITLED FEMINIST MULTIMEDIA TECHNOLOGY SHOW? Come to the New Museum this Friday and let me pick your brain in person about femininity, masculinity, monogamy, chasing after unattainable people, attraction (or lack thereof) to "nice" people, and a bunch of other stuff.

A Proposition with Young Jean Lee at the New Museum, Friday at 7PM and Saturday at noon (with special guest Justin Bond). Young Jean Lee will bring the audience into her creative process as she explores the issues and themes in our current work in progress, UNTITLED FEMINIST MULTIMEDIA TECHNOLOGY SHOW (UFMTS). She will describe the inception and progress of UFMTS and guide a collaborative conversation, engaging the audience in the same style of brainstorming and discussion she uses with the actors of Young Jean Lee’s Theater Company.

Monday, November 8, 2010

PigPen (born in the playground)

The irony of PigPen Theatre's "The Nightmare Story" is that the seven students from Carnegie Mellon University performing the play are living a little bit of their dream. Beating out several thousand other shows, the play won the coveted honor of Best Overall Production at this year's New York City Fringe Festival.

Performance video here.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Last chance! Three discount codes for the 13P Fall Formal

The 13P Fall Formal is tomorrow night!

Option 1: Use code THIRTYP for $30 tickets (we will card you)!

Option 2: Buy one ticket, get a second for your date for half the price with code CHPDATE!

Option 3: If you get three friends to buy $30 tickets, you get in for free. (Code: email Sailor Dog the names of your three friends who bought tickets.)

Tickets at 

Details on all the cool people who will be there:

Sheila Callaghan • Erin Courtney • Madeleine George • Rob Handel
Ann Marie Healy • Julia Jarcho • Young Jean Lee • Winter Miller 
Sarah Ruhl • Kate E. Ryan • Lucy Thurber • Anne Washburn
Gary Winter • Maria Goyanes, Executive Producer

The faculty and staff of 13P cordially invite you to

Our 2010 Fall Formal

13P is FALLin' for You

an evening of spiked punch, slow dances, limp corsages, and the electric slide, hosted by 
Mr. Murray Hill
He puts the "yes" in polyester!

featuring the crowning of your
Justin Bond

with a special appearance from 
Guidance Counselor
Ms. Lisa Kron

to benefit the 13P Graduating Class
Young Jean Lee (P#11)
Sarah Ruhl (P#12)
Erin Courtney (P#13)

sweet sounds by DJs 
Jo Lampert
and Theo Stockman

Monday, November 8
3LD Art and Technology Center
80 Greenwich Street (at Rector Street)

6PM Prom Committee Cocktail Hour
7PM - 10PM Dancing, entertainment, and refreshments
10PM Mandatory breathalyzer tests

Festively Formal Attire 
(Dress Weird)

$150 - Prom Committee Member 
(access to VIP Cocktail Hour, table seating)

$50 -  General Admission
For tickets, visit www.13P.org 

Friday, November 5, 2010

It begins with the scream of a train whistle...

Of such honors as I have received, none has come with quite the same aura as the Whitfield Cook Prize, which my new play A Maze received this year. The award is the legacy of screenwriter Whitfield Cook, who collaborated with Hitchcock on Stage Fright and Strangers on a Train. I am awed by the idea of having profited... from murder.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

36 Deadlines

By the midpoint of the fall semester, Dramatic Writing MFA students have written an adaptation from Aeschylus, three TV scripts, a screenplay outline, three monologues commissioned by specific actors, and a ten-minute play; revised all of the above projects; presented full-length plays in progress multiple times in workshop; shot a TV script on video; identified a science/technology consultant for the Sloan Competition; and submitted to the Alliance Theatre Kendeda Competition, Theatre Masters, the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival, PlayPenn, and the Great Plains Theatre Conference. Now we can get down to work.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Boardwalk Empire of the Senseless

Young Jean is ready for the Fall Formal
What do these things have in common? An insider tour of the set of Boardwalk Empire – A pilot script of Showtime's United States of Tara signed by Diablo Cody, Toni Collette, and cast members – VIP tickets to The Daily Show and The Colbert Report – Tickets for Shakespeare in the Park opening night and afterparty? You can get them (and help us produce our plays, our way) at the 13P Fall Formal silent auction.

To say nothing of emcees Murray Hill, Justin Bond, and Lisa Kron. The party starts Monday night, so hurry.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Angels, Vulcans, and Pittsburghers in America

Don Wadsworth of the School of Drama faculty points out that the Signature Theatre production of Angels in America "features three CMU alums in major roles: Christian Borle ('95), Billy Porter ('91) and Zach Quinto ('99). Christian, Zach and Billy were all from Pittsburgh, all trained at CMU and all were Music Theater students in our program." When we say that the artists you collaborate with at CMU will change your life, we are not just whistling Dixie.