Playwright/television writer Zina Camblin joining the faculty
Zina Camblin, completed the playwrighting program at The Juilliard School under Marsha Norman and Christopher Durang, as a part of the Juilliard Playwrighting Fellowship. While at Juilliard, she received the Lecomte du Nouy Prize for playwrighting. Her play, “ And Her Hair Went With Her,” was selected as part of Lincoln Centers Directors Lab play reading series. The play was optioned for a New York production when it caught the attention of actress Whoopi Goldberg. In addition, “ And Her Hair Went With Her,” had successful readings at The Culture Project, and the Tribeca Theater Festival, and has been produced by regional theaters around the country including, The Phoenix Theater in Indianapolis, New Jersey Repertory Theater, Horizon Theater in Atlanta, The Fountain Theater in Los Angeles, and the Unicorn Theater in Kansas City. Past productions and workshops of her other work include: Memoirs to Live/ Brooklyn Arts Exchange, Bedroom Stories/ Jon Sims Center for the Performing Arts, in San Francisco, Life’s a Drag/ UC San Diego, and Bunni and Clyde/The Know Theater. She has also completed several commissioned projects for various universities and theaters. As a consultant for NYU’s Creative Arts Team, she helped to create several interactive theatre scripts for young audiences and as an assistant writer, editor, and researcher for the Tectonic Theater Project, she helped devise two of their productions; “The Jonestown Project,” and “I Think I like Girls.” Her television credits include development projects with both NBC, Warner Bros, and Sheen/Estevez Productions, and being on the writing staff of the cable show, “Let’s Stay Together,” produced by Queen Latifah.
Jen Spyra joining the writing staff of Late late night with Stephen Colbert
Very proud that our alumna, Jen Spyra (MFA ’12), has been tapped to be a staff writer for the Late Show with Stephen Colbert.
Q&A with Playwright and Actor Wallace Shawn
On October 25th 2014, the MFA in Writing for the Screen + Stage hosted a Q&A with playwright & actor Wallace Shawn. The event was co-sponsored by the Chicago Humanities Festival.
Pictured from left: Thomas Bradshaw, Wallace Shawn, David Tolchinsky, Zayd Dohrn, Bill Bleich and Brett Neveu.
Guest artist Wallace Shawn with some of our MFAs.
CONGRATS TO REBECCA GILMAN
Core Faculty member Rebecca Gilman received the Joseph Jefferson (Jeff) Award for best new work for her play Luna Gale.
2014 FALL NEWSLETTER
Read a sampling [pdf] of what our current students and alumni are up to.
CLASS OF 2014 MFA INDUSTRY SHOWCASE
On May 12, 2014, the MFA program co-hosted the annual Festival of Writing Comedy Writers Panel, followed by a showcase of original work by the graduating Class of 2014. In attendance was a star panel of television writers and executives, all alumni of Northwestern University.
Pictured: Wendy Steinhoff (C92), vice president of comedy development at Warner Bros. Television, who previously served as manager of drama programming at CBS Studios ; David Holstein (C05), writer/producer for the upcoming HBO comedy series, The Brink, and former writer/producer for Weeds and Raising Hope; Darlene Hunt (C92), actor and writer, who created the critically acclaimed, award-winning Showtime series The Big C; and David Iserson (C00), film and TV writer and producer, whose credits include Saturday Night Live, United States of Tara, New Girl and Mad Men.
The Festival of Writing is hosted by the School of Communication’s Office of External Programs, Internships, and Career Services (EPICS) and the Department of Radio/Television/Film’s MFA in Writing for the Screen + Stage.
CORE MFA FACULTY REBECCA GILMAN AND ZAYD DOHRN TALKING ABOUT WHAT IT’S LIKE TO DO THEATRE IN CHICAGO
FACULTY MEMBER REBECCA GILMAN FEATURED IN ARTICLE ABOUT CHICAGO BUCKING THE NATIONAL TREND IN TERMS OF PLAYS BY WOMEN
CONGRATS TO MFA ALUMNUS EOGHAN O’DONNELL
Congrats to MFA alumnus Eoghan O’Donnell (GC08) who’s had a busy 2013 in the world of TV: He sold a spec drama pilot to the CW / CBS Studios this development season. He’s a staff writer on MTV’s Teen Wolf and wrote an episode that is set to air in a couple of months. And he’s working on a supernatural drama TV project for Sony.
CONGRATS TO MFA ALUMNA KENDALL SHERWOOD
Congrats to MFA alumna Kendall Sherwood (GC11) for being staffed as a writer on TNT’s Major Crimes.
CONGRATS TO MFA ALUMNA MARISHA MUKERJEE
Congrats to MFA alumna Marisha Mukerjee (GC11) for being staffed as a writer on FX’s The Bridge.
CHICAGO A NEW CENTER OF TV PRODUCTION
MFA CO-SPONSORS PANEL OF WRITERS/EXECUTIVES AND CELEBRATION OF NEW STUDENT PLAYS AND SCREENPLAYS AT NEXT THEATRE.
On May 3, 2013, the MFA co-hosted a panel of writers and executives and a reading of new works by graduating MFA students at Next Theatre. Pictured Dave Tolchinsky, director of the MFA in Writing for Screen+Stage, Angela Robinson, co-executive producer on True Blood and author of the graphic novel Girltrash! Melanie Marnich, playwright and writer for AMC’s Low Winter Sun, David Levine, vice-president of new programming at HBO, and Eric Charmelo, co-executive producer on Supernatural. The Writers Panel is hosted by the School of Communication’s Office of External Programs, Internships, and Career Services (EPICS) and the Department of Radio/Television/Film’s MFA in Writing for the Screen + Stage.
Read more at http://www.communication.northwestern.edu/news/press_release.php?itemID=267
THE MFA FEATURED IN THE INDEPENDENT
BRETT NEVEU TO JOIN THE MFA
Brett Neveu joins the faculty of the MFA and the Department of Radio/TV/Film in Fall of 2012. Brett Neveu’s recent film productions include the shorts Convo with Breakwall Pictures, Exit, Clowny with JonPon Films and the feature The Earl with Intermission Productions. Recent and upcoming theatre productions include The Opponent and Megacosm with A Red Orchid Theatre and 4 Murders with SkyPilot Theatre. Past work includes productions with The Royal Court Theatre, Writers’ Theatre, The House Theatre, The Inconvenience, The Side Project, The Goodman Theatre, The Royal Shakespeare Company, TimeLine Theatre Company, A Red Orchid Theatre and American Theatre Company. He is a 2012 Sundance Institute Ucross Fellow and the recipient of the Ofner Prize for New Work, the Emerging Artist Award from The League of Chicago Theatres, an After Dark Award for Outstanding Musical (Old Town with Strawdog Theatre Company) and has developed plays with companies including The New Group, The Goodman Theatre, Steppenwolf Theatre, Victory Gardens and is a resident-alum with Chicago Dramatists. He is also an ensemble member of A Red Orchid Theatre, a member of The Playwrights’ Union and an alumni member of the Center Theatre Group’s Playwrights’ Workshop. Brett has been commissioned by The Royal Court Theatre, Manhattan Theatre Club, Steppenwolf Theatre Company, The Goodman Theatre, TimeLine Theatre Company, Writers’ Theatre, Strawdog Theatre and has several of his plays published through Broadway Play Publishing, Dramatic Publishing and Nick Hern Publishing. Brett has taught writing at Northwestern University, DePaul University, and the Second City Training Center.
GEOFF TARSON JOINS THE MFA
Geoff Tarson will join the faculty of the MFA and the Department of Radio/TV/Film in Fall of 2012. Geoff Tarson truly embodies the interdisciplinary nature of the MFA. He is a television writer who has worked on the staffs of such shows as Suddenly Susan, Half & Half and That’s So Raven. Most recently, he worked as a Story Editor on the Disney animated series Groove High set to premiere in England later this year. He also sold and developed two pilots for Disney Channel – Hoo Knows Kung Fu and the animated Big Man on Planet. Geoff has written over fifteen produced episodes of television and is a member of the Writers Guild of America. He also has a background in theatre, having acted in regional theatres around the country as well as on America’s Funniest People and Saturday Night Live. He is a member of Ensemble Studio Theatre and co-wrote and performed in the two-person sketch comedy show Out on a Whim in NYC. Geoff is pursuing an MFA in Playwriting at Goddard College and has been the Artistic Director of Half Moon Theatre since 2009.
All star panel offers advice and celebrates festival of new works by MFA writers.
April/May 2012 issue of Written By, magazine of the WGA, features discussion of writers who move between film, theatre, and tv.
Four stars for Sarah Gubbins‘ (MFA ’08) play in Time Out Chicago:
Current MFA student Milta Ortiz‘s (MFA ’12) play Fleeing Blue is the winner of the 2012 Wichita State University Playwriting award. She will receive a staged reading and a full production to follow as part of their season of work next year.
Core faculty member Thomas Bradshaw has won the Foundation for the Contemporary Arts Award for 2012.
The Foundation for Contemporary Arts provides grants in five categories: dance, music/sound, performance art/theater, poetry, and the visual arts. Grants are awarded annually to outstanding or unusually promising artists and arts organizations which create, present, or support work of an imaginative, contemporary nature. This year Jasper Johns and Kara Walker were on the selection committee.
Andy Miara (MFA 2011) sells pitch to Comedy Central:
MFA Core faculty member Thomas Bradshaw‘s play, Burning, reviewed in the New York Times:
MFA Core faculty member Zayd Dohrn‘s play, Want, reviewed in Time Out Chicago:
TELEVISION WRITER CARLA WADDLES TO JOIN THE MFA
Carla Waddles will join the faculty of the MFA and the Department of Radio-TV-Film in Fall of 2011. Carla Waddles has been working as a television comedy writer in Los Angeles for the past 13 years. She has written on and produced such shows as For Your Love (Warner Bros.), That’s So Raven(Disney), Half & Half (UPN), The Bill Engvall Show (TBS), and the Fresh Beat Band (Nickelodeon). Currently, she is developing a half-hour comedy pilot with Jerry Weintraub’s production company. One Love, an independent half-hour comedy she created, is slated to premiere Fall 2011. She holds a B.S. from Northwestern in Journalism, an M.A. in Advertising from Michigan State and an MFA in Screenwriting from USC.
THOMAS BRADSHAW JOINS THE MFA
Thomas Bradshaw joins the faculty of the MFA and the Department of Radio/Television/Film from Medgar Evars College in New York, where he was an assistant professor. Bradshaw is a playwright, the recipient of a 2009 Guggenheim Fellowship and the 2010 Prince Charitable Trust Prize. He is the author of Mary, which premiered at Chicago’s Goodman Theatre in 2010; The Ashes; The Bereaved, which was named one of the Best Plays of 2009 by Time Out New York and was a New York Times Critic’s Pick; and Southern Promises and Dawn, both listed among the Best Performances of Stage and Screen for 2008 in The New Yorker. His other works have included Prophet, Strom Thurmond Is Not a Racist, Cleansed, Purity, and Job. Bradshaw has been featured as one of Time Out New York’s ten playwrights to watch, as one of Paper Magazine’s Beautiful People, and as Best Provocative Playwright in the Village Voice.
MFA FACULTY MEMBER AND MFA ALUMNA TAKE OVER STEPPENWOLF FOR YOUNG ADULTS
MFA core faculty member Rebecca Gilman’s adaptation of The Heart is a Lonely Hunter and Sarah Gubbins’ (MFA ’08) fml: How Carson McCullers Saved My Life (a world premiere) will be the featured productions of the 2011-2012 season of Steppenwolf for Young Adults. Congrats to Rebecca and Sarah. www.steppenwolf.org Sarah was recently profiled in the Chicago Reader.
COMEDY GETS SERIOUS ATTENTION AT THE ANNUAL SCHOOL OF COMMUNICATION WRITERS PANEL
About 100 Northwestern University School of Communication students—including graduate students in the MFA program in Writing for Screen and Stage and undergraduate students in the school’s competitive Creative Writing for the Media Program—gathered at Annie May Swift Hall’s Helmerich Auditorium on May 6 to hear from a panel of professionals from various parts of the comedy world.
Featured on the panel were:
- Playwright Thomas Bradshaw, an assistant professor at Medgar Evers College in New York, who is the author of The Ashes, Mary,The Bereaved (named one of the Best Plays of 2009 in Time Out New York and a New York Times Critic’s Pick), and Southern Promises and Dawn (both listed among the Best Performances of Stage and Screen for 2008 in The New Yorker).
- Michele Ganeless (C87), president of Comedy Central, where her mandate is to bolster the strength of the channel’s brand and its programming in the traditional television landscape and in the digital universe. Ganeless is responsible for the leadership, strategy, and management of the network as well as the day-to-day operations of the channel.
- Holly Laurent, a Chicago writer, actor, and improviser. She is a member of the longstanding improv group The Reckoning, has toured with the Second City National touring company, and has trained at iO Chicago, the Annoyance Theater, and the Second City Conservatory. She is currently performing South Side of Heaven on the main stage at Second City Chicago.
- Luke Matheny (J97), a Brooklyn, N.Y.-based filmmaker, writer, and actor whose short film God of Love—a comedy about a lounge-singing darts champion who receives a package of love-inducing darts—won the 2011 Academy Award in the Best-Live Action Short category. Matheny teaches writing and directing at the School of Cinema and Performing Arts in Brooklyn.
RICHARD LEWIS VISITS WITH NU MFAs
On January 19, 2011, Director and NU alum Richard J. Lewis spoke to the MFAs about his new movie, Barney’s Version, his work as a director on CSI, and about making your way as a writer in Hollywood and beyond. The discussion was moderated by Dave Tolchinsky, director of the MFA in Writing for the Screen+Stage.
Lewis previewed the film on campus the night before and held a Q&A moderated by Zayd Dohrn (pictured).
MFA CORE FACULTY MEMBER REBECCA GILMAN NAMED GOODMAN THEATRE ARTISTIC ASSOCIATE
Robert Falls proudly names his longtime artistic collaborator Rebecca Gilman to Goodman Theatre’s Artistic Collective. [pdf]
NEXT STOP: CHINA
New MFA core faculty member Zayd Dohrn will be co-writing the screenplay for an HBO adaption of Rachel DeWoskin’s memoir, Foreign Babes in Beijing, along with DeWoskin (Dohrn’s wife/writing partner) and Eat Pray Love screenwriter Jennifer Salt. The project is centered on an American actress working on a Chinese soap opera.
REBECCA GILMAN FEATURED IN CHICAGO MAGAZINE
MFA core faculty member Rebecca Gilman was featured in the April issue of Chicago Magazine
MFA CO-SPONSORS A PANEL ON THE COLLABORATIVE NATURE OF WRITING
On April 23, 2010, the MFA co-sponsored a panel at Northwestern entitled “Writing from all Sides” exploring the collaborative nature of writing. The panel featured Peter Gallagher, a Golden Globe winner and Tony-nominated actor who has been seen in such TV shows as the OC and such films at American Beauty; Lauren Gussis, a supervising producer for Dexter; Jeff Jacobs, an agent with the Creative Artists Agency; Ira Ungerleider, an executive producer for Gary Unmarried and an Emmy nominee as a producer/writer for Friends; and Stephen Willems, the literary manager of New York’s MCC Theater. Gussis, Jacobs, and Ungerleider are Northwestern alumni. The panel was moderated by MFA director Dave Tolchinsky.
PLAYWRIGHT/SCREENWRITER ELAINE ROMERO TO JOIN THE MFA
Elaine Romero will join the faculty of the MFA and the Department of Radio-TV-Film in the fall of 2010. According to Elaine, she has led “a writer’s life.” She saw Disneyland with the King of Zululand, learned Transcendental Meditation from the family Guru, and once fed the poor with Mother Teresa in Paris. Elaine’s work has been developed, produced, and commissioned(*) by such theatres as Goodman Theatre, Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts*, Actors Theatre of Louisville, Alley Theatre*, Magic Theatre*, Orlando Shakespeare Theatre, InterAct Theatre Company*, Curious Theatre Company*, Kitchen Dog Theater*, Urban Stages, Women’s Project and Productions, Working Theater, Short+Sweet Festival, (Australia), InspiraTo Festival (Toronto). Sample publishers: Simon and Schuster, Samuel French, Vintage Books. Residences: Sundance Playwrights’ Retreat, Voice & Vision, Orchard Project. Sample awards: $100,000 TCG/Pew National Theatre Artists in Residency grant, NEA/TCG Theatre Residency Program for Playwrights, National New Play Network’s New Play Commission. Elaine co-chaired the National Association of Latino Independent Producers’ (Board) National Conference with Frida Torresblanco (PAN’S LABYRNITH). TV: CBS Diversity Institute’s Writer’s Mentorship Program, NBC’s Writers on the Verge Program. Film: LA Film School, Latino Producers’ Academy, Latino Writers’ Lab. Elaine has a script in development with Back Fence Productions. She is collaborating on a spec with Steve Barancik. She holds a BA from Linfield College (Summa Cum Laude) and an MFA from UC Davis.
PLAYWRIGHT/SCREENWRITER ZAYD DOHRN TO JOIN THE MFA
Zayd Dohrn will join the faculty of the MFA and the Department of Radio-TV-Film in the fall of 2010. Dohrn is a playwright and screenwriter whose work has been produced and developed at Manhattan Theatre Club, MCC, Naked Angels, Marin Theatre, The Public (SPF), South Coast Rep, Alliance Theatre, New York Theatre Workshop, Berkshire Theatre Festival, Alchemy Theatre, Southern Rep, and Kitchen Dog Theater, among others. He won Lincoln Center’s Lecomte du Nouy Prize, the Theatre Masters Visionary Playwrights Award, the Sky Cooper Prize, and the Jean Kennedy Smith Award, as well as residencies and/or commissions from Ars Nova, Dallas Theatre Center, Chautauqua, and the Royal Court Theatre of London. He earned his MFA from NYU and was a two-year Lila Acheson Wallace Fellow at Juilliard. He is currently developing screenplays for Vox3 Films and American Film Company.
NORTHWESTERN UNIVERSITY WELL REPRESENTED IN TIME MAGAZINE’S BEST OF THE DECADE PLAYS/MUSICALS
MFA core faculty member Rebecca Gilman‘s Boy Gets Girl is listed as #5 in Time Magazine’s list of top 10 plays and musicals of the decade.
Time’s list also includes August: Osage County (#1) written by Tracy Letts and directed by Anna Shapiro (Department of Theatre/MFA associated faculty member) and Metamorphoses (#4) by Mary Zimmerman (Department of Performance Studies/MFA associated faculty member)
A TOP 10 FOR REBECCA GILMAN’S ADAPTATION OF THE HEART IS A LONELY HUNTER
MFA faculty member Rebecca Gilman‘s adaptation of The Heart is A Lonely Hunter is included in Time Magazine’s list of the Top 10 of Everything in 2009 (Plays and Musicals).
GOTHAM GROUP OPTIONS DARK LIFE
Gotham Group has optioned the film rights to Dark Life, a new young adult novel by MFA associated faculty member Kat Falls.
INFLUENCE OF CHICAGO-BRED PLAYWRIGHTS/DIRECTORS HIGHLIGHTED IN RECENT NEW YORK TIMES ARTICLE
“East Side of Chicago? It’s in New York.” The New York Times. September 9, 2009.
JULIA LOUIS-DREYFUS AND BRAD HALL SPEAK TO MFA STUDENTS
NU alums actress Julia Louis Dreyfus (The New Adventures of Old Christine; Seinfeld) and actor/writer/producer Brad Hall(Saturday Night Live) spoke to MFA students on May 11, 2009 about their careers, what makes for a successful TV writer, and the relationship of writing, producing, and acting. The discussion was moderated by MFA director Dave Tolchinsky.
MFA CO-SPONSORS PANEL ON WRITING
On May 8, 2009 The MFA co-sponsored a panel at the Block Museum auditorium entitled “Writing from all Sides” which includedKevin Crotty (agent, co-head of TV literary department at ICM), Robin Shorr (TV writer, The Loop and Samantha Who), Jon Collier(writer/director/producer, Monk, The Simpsons, King of the Hill), Steven Conrad (writer, Pursuit of Happyness, The Weatherman; writer/director, The Promotion) and Zach Gilford (actor, Friday Night Lights). The panelists discussed the intricacies of screenwriting, television writing, and the relationship between writing, acting, producing, and directing, both in terms of craft/art and in terms of business. All are NU alums except for Jon Collier. The panel was moderated by MFA director Dave Tolchinsky.
When Gilford was in town for the panel, the Chicago Tribune interviewed him and ran the article, ‘Friday Night Lights’ still on for Evanston’s Gilford
WEIKO LIN JOINS THE FACULTY OF THE MFA
Weiko Lin holds a B.A. in English and a M.F.A. in Film and TV from UCLA, where he was a Samuel Goldwyn Writing Award winner. Weiko started his career in the theater writing and directing plays and musicals produced at UCLA’s Royce Hall, Veterans Wadsworth Theatre, and Century City Playhouse. His most recent play The Best Man world premiered at East West Players’ David Henry Hwang Theater. In film, Weiko recently wrote a dramatic feature for The Mark Gordon Company (Grey’s Anatomy, Saving Private Ryan) and Reason Pictures (Son of Rambow) on which he will serve as executive producer. Currently he has a comedy and a TV pilot in development at Madhouse Entertainment (Stay, First Snow) and is developing an action thriller with Atlas Entertainment/Mosaic Media (The Dark Knight, Get Smart). As a Fulbright Senior Specialist, Weiko has taught screenwriting at Taipei National University of the Arts; he has also taught screenwriting at the University of California at San Diego and the University of California at Riverside. He is a member of the Writers Guild of America-West where he serves as co-chair of the Asian American Writers Committee.
ALUMNUS ZACH BRAFF RETURNS TO CAMPUS FOR FILM GRANT SCREENING
Alumnus Zach Braff (writer/director Garden State; actor Scrubs; C ’97) donated funds for the creation of five new student films and hosted the premiere of those films on March 4, 2009. From a “blind” pool of 40 scripts submitted by undergrads and grads, Braff selected the final five, gave feedback on first drafts, and also met with the filmmakers individually. Three of the five recipients were members of the MFA in Writing for the Screen+Stage: Jenny Hagel (MFA ’09), Erik Gernand (MFA ’09), and Ben Vicciello (MFA ’09).
LAUNCH OF PROFESSIONAL READS PROGRAM
The MFA in Writing for the Screen + Stage at Northwestern is pleased to announce the launch of our Professional Reads Program. This unique program, the first of its kind nationally, is designed to offer MFA graduates a writer-friendly structured framework to establish professional contact with members of our influential alumni network. In particular, MFAs who submit a polished play, screenplay, or teleplay for consideration within one-two years after graduation will potentially receive up to five “professional reads” with feedback and guidance from established Northwestern alumni in the entertainment industry. We are grateful to our incredibly supportive alumni relations network for making this program possible and anticipate it will open doors for our graduates that lead to great success.
Screenings and Productions
Two of Maria Finitzo‘s (MFA ’08) films, My Mother’s Idea (a documentary) and Life Lessons (a fictional short), premiere at the Gene Siskel Center , Chicago, on January 14 and 18, 2012.
Erik Gernand’s (MFA ’09) short comedy Tech Support, co-written by and starring Jenny Hagel (MFA ’09), premiered at the 2010 New York, Toronto, and San Francisco gay and lesbian film festivals and has won several festival prizes including “Best Lesbian Short” at the Hamburg International Queer Film Festival in Germany. It has been acquired by a German distribution company and will appear soon in several theaters in Europe. The film also includes appearances from Carrie Barrett (’09) and Neal Dandade (’12). Previously, Gernand’s short film Girl Parts screened at NewFilmmakers at Anthology Film Archives in New York in April of 2010 and also had its broadcast premiere on the Logo Channel (MTV Networks). Girl Parts also screened at the Gene Siskel Film Center as part of the TBS-sponsored comedy festival “Just for Laughs.” Another short film by Gernand, Non-Love-Song, was accepted into 25 film festivals including Cinequest, the Chicago International Film Festival, St. Louis International, Olympia Film Festival, Iris Prize Festival (Wales, UK), Seattle Gay & Lesbian Film Festival, and Montreal LGBT Film Festival. Erik and Hagel co-wrote (also directed by Gernand and starring Hagel) the short film CRAFTY which premiered at the San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival and went on to play Palm Springs International Shortfest. CRAFTY was released on DVD by Strand Releasing as part of a collection of video shorts.
Andy Miara’s (MFA ’11) pilot, My Mans, was accepted into the 2010 New York Television Festival.
Jenny Hagel (MFA ’09) recently released Episode 1 and Episode 2 of her original webseries “Feminist Rapper.” Feminist Rapper is a comedy about a women’s studies professor who raps to convince people to care about feminism.
Meridith Friedman’s (MFA ’10) play Blue Monday was chosen to be part of the M.F.A. Playwright Workshop at the Kennedy Center in D.C. in the summer of 2010.
Sarah Accuardi’s (MFA ’09) play Portrait of the Widow Kinski was selected for a reading at The Victory Gardens Biograph Theater, Chicago, IL, on February 9, 2010.
Stephanie Kornick’s (MFA ’10) one-act play Small Talk will be produced at The Racket Collective in Hollywood, CA in February, 2010.
Matthew Smith (MFA ’08) has been invited to join Manhattan Class Company’s Playwrights Coalition and MCC is doing a reading of his new play, 7 Ways to Mourn the Dead, in November, 2009.
Alvaro Saar Rios’s (MFA ’10) play, A Trip Through the Mind of a “Crazy” Mexican, is one of 6 plays that was selected as part of the Breath of Fire Latina Theatre Ensemble’s Festival of New Works. They are holding a staged reading of all the plays in Santa Ana, CA July 24-26th and one will be selected to go on for a full production in their next season.
Sue Pak’s (MFA ’10) play, T.A.B., has been chosen for production (1 of 12) as part of the Downtown Urban Theatre Festival in NY this summer (09).
Maria Finitzo (MFA ’08) held a very successful screening of her new documentary, Terra Incognita. The film, an exploration of the promise and peril of stem cell research, was presented in conjunction with the Northwestern Center for Genetic Medicine.
Sarah Gubbins’s (MFA ’08) play, Fair Use, was chosen by Actor’s Express in Atlanta, Georgia, to have its world premiere as part of the theatre’s mainstsage season Nov 5-Dec 5, 2009. Previously, Fair Use was developed as part of Steppenwolf Theater’s First Look Repertory of New Work in August 2008.
Caitlin Kunkel’s feature-length screenplay ZAHRA was recently purchased by Big Deal Pictures. Over the summer she interned at Industry Entertainment, a management company, as well as at director Marc Forster’s production company, Apparatus.
Joe Talarico‘s (MFA ’08) short play “Meet Cute” was performed in Theatre Limina’s SummerShorts Festival in August.
Awards and Honors
Current MFA student Milta Ortiz‘s (MFA ’12) play Fleeing Blue is the winner of the 2012 Wichita State University Playwriting award. She will receive a staged reading and a full production to follow as part of their season of work next year. She was also an invited panelist on the WITS Alliance panel about teaching immigrant children creative writing and the Speaking in Tongues panel about MFAs who write in multiple languages and across genres at The Association of Writers and Writing Programs Annual Conference.
Carrie Barrett (MFA ’09) has accepted Gotham Stage Company’s invitation to join their company. For their mission and history: www.gothamstage.org/company.html
Working with Kartemquin which has just been granted $75000 by the NEH, Maria Finitzo (MFA ’08) will be project director for a documentary about Bill Leonard, a Northwestern University anthropologist, who has been studying the way in which members of the Tsimane tribe in Bolivia have fared better than indigenous peoples who haven’t held onto their traditions. Previously, Typeface, a documentary film executive produced by Maria Finitzo, was nominated for an Emmy by the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences — Chicago/Midwest Chapter in the category of Outstanding Achievement for Documentary Programs — Current Significance. Earlier, Maria Finitzo‘s film Terra Incognito received a Peabody Award.
Alvaro Rios (MFA ’10) and Farhan Arshad’s (MFA ’10) MFA Production Award Film, Prison Boat, was nominated for an Emmy by the Chicago/Midwest Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. Prison Boat is one of six nominated in the College Student Production – Entertainment Program/ Segment category. The project also received an honorable mention in the Los Angeles Reel Film Festival. Previously, Farhan Arshad was one of only 20 writers of color to be selected for the NAMIC Writers’ Workshop October 5-6, 2009 in New York City. NAMIC Writers’ Workshops are designed to give participants the opportunity to hone their craft and learn the essentials of creating, packaging and selling their product. A panel of communications industry creative executives have selected the writers to participate, free of charge, in the program — made possible by the generous support of the Walter Kaitz Foundation.NAMIC’s lead facilitator for the Writers’ Workshop series, Carole Kirschner, will be at the helm of the Fall 2009 session. A veteran television executive, Kirschner is also the architect of the CBS Diversity Institute Writers Mentoring Program. The NAMIC Fall 2009 Writers’ Workshop will feature a rich agenda highlighted by the professional evaluation of submitted material; one-on-one meetings with a professional script analyst to review coverage; classes taught by successful, working writers; extensive business and self-marketing education, and more.
Meridith Friedman (MFA ’10) has been chosen by Curious Theatre in Denver to be a playwright-in-residence for 2010-11. The residency is underwritten by National New Play Network, the country’s alliance of non-profit theaters that champions the development, production, and continued life of new plays.
Michael Van Ness (MFA ’10) was chosen for FremantleMedia North America’s Talent Discovery and Development Program.
Carrie Barrett (MFA ’09) was selected to participate in the 2010 Eugene O’Neill National Playwrights Conference with her play, The Burden of Not Having a Tail, which was written as part of her MFA coursework.
Hande Vural‘s (MFA 08) short film Zehra and Dak-Ho was chosen as Best Drama at the Poppy Jasper Film Festival. It also showed at the International Queens Film Festival and was chosen as a semi-finalist at the Red Rock Film Festival and Moondance Film Festival.
Erik Gernand (MFA ’09)’s short NON-LOVE-SONG was accepted to screen at South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin.
Jenny Hagel (MFA ’09) awarded a $3000 National Board of Review student grant for her film Positive Comment. Previously, Jenny was asked by MTV’s LOGO to write a short video regarding a recent protest to Prop 8. It was subsequently shot, posted on their web site and was linked to by New York Magazine.
Jennifer Dobby and Eoghan O’Donnell are recipients of a 2007-08 Javits Fellowship. This prestigious award provides graduate funding for students demonstrating excellence in their field of study.
Alan Arrivee was honored at the 2007 European Independent Film Festival. His short feature, Silent Radio, was awarded “Best Foreign Film” and “Best Cinematography”. His was the only film to win two awards at the festival. Alan was also a finalist for the 2007 Heideman Awards, a national Ten-Minute Play Contest at the Humana Festival of New American Plays.
Lingxia Song‘s 10-minute play “The Tiger Cage” was chosen as a finalist in the 2007 Theatre Masters Competition. It received a workshop production in New York City.
Ben Viccellio’s (MFA ’09) play, No More, was one of only four plays chosen to be workshopped as part of WordBRIDGE Playwrights Laboratory. WordBRIDGE is a national competition culminating in a two-week residency at Clemson University.
Sarah Gubbins (’08) was named a Finalist in the Alliance Theatre’s Kendeda Graduate Playwriting Competition for her play, Fair Use. Each year, approximately 30 graduate playwriting programs across the country are invited to have their final-year students submit a play to the competition. Ms. Gubbins was one of four Finalists chosen. She was also a finalist in the 2007 Agnes Nixon Playwriting Competition at Northwestern University and a finalist for the 2007 Heideman Awards, a national Ten Minute Play Contest at the Humana Festival of New American Plays.
Erik Gernand’s short play “It’s A Girl” was produced over the summer by City Theatre of Miami in “America’s Short Play Festival” and was named a 2008 Heideman Award finalist, co-sponsored by Actors Theatre of Louisville.
“‘CSI’ STAR, OTHERS SHARE ADVICE AT PANEL FOR MFA STUDENTS”
The Daily Northwestern
Issue date: 4/7/08
“CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” star Marg Helgenberger took a break from finding evidence and solving crimes to offer advice to Northwestern’s aspiring writers, directors and actors on Friday.
Helgenberger, an Emmy award winner who also appeared in “Mr. Brooks” and “Erin Brockovich,” was one of six speakers at “Writing for the Screen and Stage: An Interdisciplinary Panel” Friday afternoon at the Block Museum of Art . About 130 people attended the event, which was sponsored by the Masters of Fine Arts in Writing for the Screen and Stage, the Radio-TV-Film department and the Office of the Dean for the School of Communication.
This is the fourth year the school has held a writing panel.
“This year we thought it would be interesting, rather than bring people who identify themselves primarily as writers, to bring people who work in gatekeeper roles for writers,” said panel moderator David Tolchinsky, director of the program in Writing for the Screen and Stage.
Speakers also discussed the differences between writing for TV, film, theater and other media. The panel’s discussion concentrated on the process that actors and writers go through in choosing scripts and then collaborating once a script has been chosen.
Panel members discussed many of the difficulties of the writing process, including the challenge of identifying good scripts when the content doesn’t appeal to them personally.
“Sometimes I run across pieces that don’t speak to me, but people who come to see that piece are really struck by it,” said Aaron Carter, literary manager of Victory Gardens Theater and a panel participant.
Panel members also emphasized the need to be open to collaboration and constructive criticism.
It’s important to allow the script to develop throughout the production process and “leave your ego at the door,” said Richard J. Lewis, a director, writer and producer for “CSI.”
Lewis, Communication ’83, was adamant about the need to listen to others and to be willing to edit material that just doesn’t work.
However, too much flexibility can also be a problem, Tolchinsky said.
“Nobody wants to work with a writer that says, ‘Yeah, do whatever you want,'” he said.
The discussion was mixed with short film clips of the panel’s work, including several from “CSI.” After each clip the speakers discussed the collaboration that went into each scene.
The theme of collaboration led to talk of networking and community building in the industry, including situations future writers should avoid.
Laverne McKinnon, the president of TV production for 50 Cannon Entertainment and former CBS senior vice president of drama series development, shared a story of a beginning writer who made the mistake of criticizing his co-writers in a blog and had trouble finding work afterward.
“Be very, very careful of the things you say,” said McKinnon, Communication ’87. “You never know who knows who and how it could get back to them.”
The audience included many Masters of Fine Arts students, many of whom said they enjoyed the opportunity to hear from successful members of the industry.
“Writing for Hollywood is a very vague artistic endeavor, and it’s nice to hear about it from people who know,” said second-year master’s student Kristin Chirico.
The panel ended by answering audience questions and encouraging students to always be persistent.
“There are moments of despair,” Helgenberger said. “The important thing to always keep in mind is to always go back to the craft and go back to the process.”
2007-2008 VISITING ARTISTS
Jeff Kwatinetz came to campus and talked with the MFAs. Jeff Kwatinetz is the CEO of The Firm, a talent management agency that has worked with actors such as Samuel L Jackson, Vin Diesel and Martin Lawrence and Vin Diesel and musicians such as Britney Spears, Kelly Clarkson and Korn.
In November Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa came to speak to the MFAs about writing across media. As a playwright, a television writer and a comic book writer he embodies the cross-media spirit of the MFA. His play, Good Boys and True, opened at Steppenwolf in December, and he’s currently writing for Big Love on HBO. He also writes Spiderman and Nightcrawler for Marvel Comics.
Writer, Diana Ossana, and producer, Paul Frank, visited with the MFAs and screened their most recent project, Comanche Moon. Diana is a writer whose credits include co-writing the screenplay of Brokeback Mountain which won an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay. Frank Paul is a Northwestern graduate with nearly 20 years of experience in the entertainment industry. In his current position Frank is the Head of Television for The Firm.
Margaret Nagle stopped in for a chat with the MFAs. Margaret Nagle is a screenwriter and producer whose credits include Warm Springs, an HBO film that was nominated for a record-breaking 16 Emmy Awards. She is currently creator and Executive Producer of the Lifetime Television series Side Order of Life. She was recently featured in Elle magazine.
DAVID KUKOFF JOINS THE WRITING FACULTY!
David Kukoff joins the MFA faculty for the 07-08 school year. He will be teaching screenwriting. A sixteen year veteran of the entertainment industry, David Kukoff has eleven produced film and television to his name, including the production polish on the hit Nickelodeon film “Clockstoppers.” In addition to his numerous Disney-related projects, Kukoff has sold and rewritten feature film projects at every studio in town, has worked in conjunction with producers Brain Grazer (“A Beautiful Mind,” “Cinderella Man”) and Gale Anne Hurd (“The Terminator,” “The Incredible Hulk”), and has held television development deals at Twentieth Century Fox Television and Touchstone Television. He has been the subject of several features in Variety, the Hollywood Reporter, and Entertainment Weekly magazine, has published two books on film and television writing, and was a featured interview on KCET’s “Life And Times Tonight” along with DreamWorks co-founder Jeffrey Katzenberg. Kukoff has also been a guest lecturer at UCLA’s prestigious Faculty Lecture Series at Lake Arrowhead, heads a yearly panel at UCLA Extension’s Writer’s Faire, and is on the board of the Writer’s Arc, a non-profit writing fellowship.
“TV WRITERS DISCUSS THEIR CRAFT WITH STUDENTS”
Issue Date: 5/8/07
Justin Spitzer was in a bind.
Spitzer, a staff writer for “The Office,” had to write an especially tricky scene for the NBC comedy, in which Jan (Melora Hardin) comes to visit Michael (Steve Carell) at his office.
In that January episode, “Back From Vacation,” he thinks she’s going to scream at him for forwarding a revealing picture of her to the entire staff of Dunder Mifflin, but it eventually emerges she wasn’t aware of Michael’s latest blunder. As Michael braces for an onslaught of rage, Jan explains why she has decided to continue their relationship.
“Jan’s nuts,” Spitzer said with a laugh. “She has some bad psychiatrist giving her bad advice,” and hence the unlikely couple were going to remain an item. But, as Spitzer explained last month to an eager audience at Northwestern University’s Block Museum, which featured a panel discussion with four successful TV writers and a TV executive, at first he was totally stumped by the scene. That’s when he brought his dilemma to the “writers room,” where the psychobabble explanation that Jan offered was first thought up.
As Spitzer explained to the audience, which was filled with students in the university’s department of radio/television/film, thanks to the dynamic of a good writers room, in which everyone is free to throw out dozens of ideas, “scenes go to this place you never could have gone to alone.”
The writers on the panel, which was moderated by radio/television/film professor Dave Tolchinsky, talked about how the flux in the TV industry offered up new opportunities and could lead to frustrating experiences.
Jenna Bans, a “Desperate Housewives” writer, recalled coming up with a scene for Felicity Huffman’s “Desperate Housewives” character, Lynette, in which there was a product placement for OnStar. The premise of the scene was that Lynette would troll for a new nanny by visiting a series of local parks, which she’d locate using the service. But the company objected to the scene, saying it might give “pedophiles ideas about where to find parks.”
Still, the writers on the panel agreed that this a good time to try to break into TV, which is expanding into the online realm.
“We are scouring the Internet and looking for new things,” said NU graduate and panelist Aaron Rothman, director of original programming and development for Comedy Central.
Margaret Nagle, who penned the award-winning HBO movie “Warm Springs,” segued from acting to writing, and noted that the bottom had fallen out of the market for character-driven theatrical movies. Movie budgets are either $100 million-plus for franchise pictures or $25 million for the few potential award-winning films that make it through the movie system.
That’s part of the reason that “this is the golden age of television,” said Nagle, who created the upcoming drama “A Side Order of Life” for Lifetime. “So much is possible that wasn’t possible 10 years ago.” Rick Cleveland, a former Chicago playwright who served as an executive producer on “Six Feet Under” for five seasons, concurred with Nagle.
Cleveland said he once thought he’d only write for the stage, which he had always thought of as bolder than TV. But he said that two noted theaters, Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C., and the Goodman Theatre in Chicago, passed on opportunities to stage his comedic one-man show, “My Buddy Bill,” at least in part because the piece, which concerns his acquaintance with Bill Clinton, contains political humor.
Comedy Central, on the other hand, was happy to go into business with Cleveland, and will be airing the award-winning “Bill” as a comedy special at a later date. (The show is also being staged at Chicago’s Victory Gardens Theater at the Biograph May 14-16.)
“There almost isn’t a taboo subject you can’t cover” on television, Cleveland said.
Copyright (c) 2007, Chicago Tribune
SCREENWRITER GARY GOLDMAN TEACHES ADAPTATION TO NU STUDENTS
Screenwriter Gary Goldman, author of Minority Report and Big Trouble in Little China, came to campus to teach the art of adapting books to the screen. Students read the Phillip K. Dick story on which his most recent sceenplay, Next, is based. They also read the screenplay and saw the film, which stars Nicholas Cage.
Gary Goldman has written or executive produced a number of successful Hollywood films. He was the final writer of Total Recall(starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, directed by Paul Verhoeven) and the director’s script doctor on Basic Instinct (starring Michael Douglas and Sharon Stone), which was the highest grossing film worldwide in the year of its release. Gary optioned the short storyMinority Report by Philip K. Dick and then, together with Ron Shusett, wrote the first three drafts of the screenplay and executive produced the film, which was directed by Steven Spielberg, starring Tom Cruise. Gary repeated that achievement with Next, which is currently in production, slated for release in Summer, 2007, which is based on another Philip K. Dick short story, “The Golden Man.” Gary optioned the property, wrote the screenplay on spec, and them teamed with Nicolas Cage and Saturn Films in bringing the package to Revolution Studios.
PLAYWRIGHT JT ROGERS VISITS THE MFAS
JT Rogers made a visit to campus to teach a master class to the MFAs in May. JT Rogers is an acclaimed playwright whose latest play, The Overwhelming, had its world premiere last season at the National Theatre of Great Britain, toured the UK, was produced on BBC radio, and opens at the Roundabout Theatre this fall. This year the play received the William Inge Center for the Arts New Voices Award and the Blanche and Irving Laurie Foundation’s Theatre Visions Award. His play Madagascarreceived the 2005 Pinter Review Prize for Drama and the American Theatre Critics Association’s M. Elizabeth Osborne Award, and was a finalist for the Steinberg Award. Rogers has been an artist in residence at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center and the Edward Albee Foundation, and was the recipient of a 2004 playwrighting fellowship from New York Foundation for the Arts. His plays are published by Faber & Faber, Dramatists Play Service, and the University of Tampa Press. He lives in Brooklyn.
STEPHEN COLBERT VISITS THE MFA!
(Stephen Colbert with MFA Director, Dave Tolchinsky)
Stephen Colbert (C86), star of the The Colbert Report, made a special visit to the MFA in Writing for the Screen and Stage, speaking with students about his career and the art of comedy writing. The NU alum stressed how much he enjoyed his time at Northwestern and encouraged the students to take full advantage of their resources here. He also fielded questions about the entertainment business and where he sees his highly successful news satire show going next.
“BEHIND THE SCENES: HOW TO WRITE A PLAY” (CHICAGOIST OCTOBER 30, 2006)
For every playwright enjoying a production on a Chicago stage during this busy theater season, many more are waiting their turn. Rebecca Gilman knows both sensations well. Ms. Gilman is one of Chicago’s most acclaimed playwrights, her work has been produced at the Goodman Theatre, London’s Royal Court Theatre, Manhattan Theatre Club and regional theaters across the country. She was named a Pulitzer Prize finalist for The Glory of Living, which locally won a Jeff Citation and an After Dark Award. She mines the complex issues behind sensational media stories in shows that include Spinning Into Butter, Boy Gets Girl, and Blue Surge.
Gilman recently joined the NORTHWESTERN University faculty in the Radio and TV Department, a new MFA program focusing on writing for the stage and screen. We attended a talk she gave last week at the Block Museum of Art about the playwriting craft. Here’s what we found out:
Gilman believes that you really ought to have the passion and desire to put something down on the page. You’re more likely to succeed if you really love theater and expose yourself to other dramatists and playwrights. She recommends taking a playwriting class so you can learn the rules and figure out how to break them. Take an acting class so you will know their challenges and have consideration for them when you write. Actors typically make the transition to playwriting either because they are terrible actors (which she claims was her case) or because they can turn their insight as talented actors into great plays (she cites Tracy Letts of Steppenwolf as an example).
“EXPERTS OFFER TIPS ON MAKING IT AS FILM, TV OR THEATER WRITER” (THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE, APRIL 16, 2006)
By Maureen Ryan
Greg Berlanti graduated from Northwestern in 1994 with a theater degree but ended up a successful TV producer. How?
Berlanti and several other stage and screen veterans recently participated in a panel discussion at the university to talk about how to make it as a writer for film, TV or theater. What came across is how common it is for writers to work in more than one arena.
That constant crossover is one reason that NU has set up an innovative graduate program in which, starting this fall, 12 students will study writing with professors from theater, TV and movies. “We aren’t teaching playwriting with a few screenwriting courses thrown in or vice versa,” says Dave Tolchinsky, director of the program. “We teach universals that can be applied to any medium.”
Below are some tips from Berlanti and his fellow NU panelists on making it in Tinseltown:
– Move there if you want to work in TV.
– Don’t set a time limit by which you have to make it.
– Be prepared for sacrifice. Early on, Berlanti took on non-glamorous jobs such as typing the scripts for soaps.
– Hank Chilton of “Nip/Tuck’s” simple advice: “Be nice to people.”
– Berlanti’s college plays got comment cards from the “little old ladies from Skokie” who would come to see student works, and those were some of “the best [critiques] I’ve ever gotten,” he noted.
– “People always want to know how you get your first job. You should think about, `How do you keep your first job?’ … You can’t control when [you’ll make it], but you can control how ready you are.”
STAR PLAYWRIGHT TEACHES (EVANSTON REVIEW, APRIL 6, 2006)
One of Chicago’s most acclaimed playwrights, Rebecca Gilman, joins the faculty of NORTHWESTERN University’s radio/television/film department in September. Gilman, whose plays include “Spinning into Butter,” “Boy Meets Girl” and “The Glory of Living,” will teach in the new master of fine arts program in writing for the screen and stage.
She recently adapted “Spinning into Butter” into a screenplay for a film starring Sarah Jessica Parker. Gilman took part Friday in a panel discussion on the Evanston campus on “Writing for the Screen and Stage,” which also featured NORTHWESTERN grads Greg Berlanti
(“Dawson’s Creek”), Eric Bernt (“Romeo Must Die”) and Hank Chilton (“Nip/Tuck”), as well as playwright Wendy MaLeod (“Juvenilia”).
Writing for TV, film, stage panel to tell all (The Observer, March 30, 2006)
Time to get reel: Media writing graduate program combines art, business approaches (The Daily Northwestern, February 23, 2006)
Screen, stage writers get their shot with MFA (The Observer, November 5, 2005)
PLAYWRIGHTS ARE FEELING BIT MORE COMFORTABLE HERE” (THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE, MARCH 5, 2006)
By Kerry Reid
Chicago actors often wrestle with the dilemma of staying local or moving to New York or Los Angeles in search of bigger game. Even though this city is home, the coasts — east or west but particularly west — are where success comes with all of the trimmings.
But many Chicago playwrights are perfectly happy to stay put — as long as their work gets out on the road. There is, of course, the oft-produced Rebecca Gilman (whose “The Glory of Living” enjoyed a recent revival with Profiles Theatre). Steppenwolf ensemble member Tracy Letts enjoyed a lengthy off-Broadway run with “Bug” and wrote the screenplay for the film version (slated for release this year).
Emerging playwrights also have their eyes trained on a New York production, no matter how many showcases they receive locally and regionally. Mia McCullough, whose sci-fi fantasia on the after-effects of a brain transplant, “Echoes of Another Man,” had an extended run at Stage Left Theatre, also enjoyed early success with her award-winning 2001 death-penalty drama “Chagrin Falls.” Further, McCullough’s “Taking Care” was produced at Steppenwolf’s Garage in 2003, and a Philadelphia production of her play about Sudanese refugees, “Since Africa,” is slated for spring.
The New York native, who has lived here since her college days at Northwestern, says, “I feel it’s desperately necessary to have a New York production. You don’t get to be really successful unless you’re successful in New York.”
Acceptance in New York
A hindrance is the perception for some writers that a disappointing production in New York can hamper future work. Sandy Shinner, associate artistic director with Victory Gardens, directed the world premiere of Joanna McClelland Glass’ “Trying,” as well as the off-Broadway production at New York’s Promenade Theatre a year ago. The play has since been slated for more than a dozen other productions throughout North America. Still, Shinner notes that Glass had trepidation about taking the show to New York. “She had been there before [with “Play Memory”] and had a particularly difficult time with it. The importance of the review in the New York Times weighed heavily on her. It certainly brings more financial gain to the playwright to be accepted in New York.”
Another difficulty is that new productions by local playwrights have to be supported by their community. Smaller local companies such as Chicago Dramatists, Stage Left and Prop have championed new writing for years, and of course Victory Gardens, with its unique 12-member playwrights’ ensemble, was awarded a regional Tony in 2001 for its longtime commitment to developing new plays.
Both Goodman and Steppenwolf have produced several readings and workshops of developing work in the last couple of years. Goodman’s First Stages series last fall included local writers such as Susan Nussbaum and Glass, while Steppenwolf’s First Look Repertory this past August included a new play by Joel Drake Johnson, whose “The Fall to Earth” was developed through a commission with the company and presented in Steppenwolf’s 2004 season.
Edward Sobel, Steppenwolf’s director of new play development, says, “Generally, at least half of the writers we have under commission at any given time are local,” including a current commission for McCullough. Not all the commissioned plays will receive productions with Steppenwolf, but Sobel points out that the Steppenwolf name helps the writer gain a foothold in other theaters. “There absolutely is a strong network of people in jobs like mine who I will call and say, `We can’t do this play, but it seems right for you.'”
Keeping new work up and running long enough for people to notice is a consistent problem. Brett Neveu, perhaps the most prolific of emerging Chicago writers (he also has a commission with Steppenwolf and was a 2003 recipient of Goodman’s Ofner Prize for new work), says that at least two of his previous shows — 2004’s “American Dead” with American Theater Company and 2005’s “4 Murders” with A Red Orchid Theatre — could have had longer runs, if the theaters hadn’t already been booked with other commitments. “Producers don’t necessarily think about a long extension,” Neveu says. “There’s just not the call for it.”
Once a play gets noticed, what kind of play it is enters the picture. The brand of local writing that seems to travel best is rooted in social realism, as demonstrated by how enthusiastically Gilman’s work has been received by British critics and audiences. Neveu, whose plays are mostly set in small Midwestern towns scarred by violence, won strong reviews locally for 2002’s “Eric LaRue,” about the aftermath of a school shooting. But its recent production as part of a new plays festival with the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford received a lukewarm response from the Guardian. Nonetheless, Neveu was pleased with the audience reaction to the piece and with the overall interest he found in Chicago writers. “I heard a lot in England about `Chicago is known for hard-core naturalism.’ By `hardcore,’ they meant `in your face.’ It’s not necessarily true, but it gave them something to associate with it.”
Shinner notes, “I don’t know that at this moment in time the [Chicago] theater community is producing very many experimental plays, and there are playwrights writing in that style who we need to look at.”
Putting anthologies online
Chicago Dramatists, long one of the strongest local forces in developing playwrights through its readings, workshops and full productions, has taken a bold step to make it easier for distant theater producers to encounter Chicago writers without hopping a plane. With the support of the Sara Lee Foundation, the company published “New Plays From Chicago” last fall, the first in what artistic director Russ Tutterow hopes will be a series of anthologies containing the best work by resident playwrights with the company.
Eight plays, including pieces by Neveu and McCullough, are included in the first volume, and dozens of other plays by resident and network playwrights (there are 26 of the former and more than 200 of the latter) are available through an online catalog at the Dramatists Web site (www.chicagodramatists.org), which is searchable by category, “such as gay plays or plays with no more than five characters,” says Tutterow, making it exceptionally user-friendly for potential producers. Victory Gardens will release its own anthology through Northwestern University Press, “Victory Gardens Presents: Seven New Plays From the Playwrights Ensemble,” to coincide with the company’s planned move to the Biograph this summer.
Tutterow provides an amusing history of the status of Chicago playwrights in his introduction to the book, and also credits those local theaters that have been willing to commit to producing Chicago writers. The book includes profiles of the theaters that first produced each of the plays, as well as of the writers themselves. Tutterow writes: “One day, back in the 1980s, I remember feeling badly for a young playwright who told me that he had moved to Chicago because he heard it was a playwrights’ town.”
“I think the national impression now is that this is a place where you find new work being developed and produced,” Tutterow says. “This is a place where you can find playwrights working. This has turned from being an actor’s town and a director’s town. It’s still not really a playwright’s town, because most theaters are not playwright-driven. But nationally, everyone is looking more and more toward Chicago.”
Copyright (c) 2006, Chicago Tribune