David Adjmi and Soho Rep's Playwriting Workshops
David Adjmi was the Playwright-in-Residence at SoHo Rep through the National Playwright Residency Program, funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Find out more about his residency experience here and learn about the impact of the program at large here.
As the New York City Commons Producer, HowlRound has hired me to document the learning, opportunities, and challenges of the program as we explore what it means to have a playwright as a salaried employee of a theater.
Over the course of the last year, I’ve had the unique opportunity to watch a playwright-led creativity program evolve from conception to realization. What began as a simple way for the Soho Rep. staff and board to know David Adjmi has become a way in which the entire theater now communicates with its audience and local community. Artistic director Sarah Benson says that by putting people in the role of the artist, David has thrown open the doors of the theater, and instigated a civilian/creative bleed.
It was clear from the first gathering on September 30, 2013 that this was not going to be your typical playwriting class. It was not about process, but ontology. It was specifically designed to demystify the writing process by encouraging everyone’s personal creativity.
Before leading a Maria Irene Fornes exercise, which David first experienced through his teacher Eduardo Machado, he pointed out the rules of how you write “are made up by you.” Our only instruction was: we were not to take our pen from the page. He also admitted that at first he hated the exercise, but now he loves it. He also said,
It’s good to voice out loud what your thing is. It’s important to articulate what you don’t want to do. You have to be frightened to do this. Paula Vogel used to say, “Write into the resistance.” Have faith it will be OK, and even if it’s not, something else will come. We have to cultivate strategies to overcome our terrors. It takes a lot of balls to say you do this.
The overwhelming success of this first in-house creativity workshop with the Soho Rep. staff and board led to another one, free and public, on October 28, 2013, in conjunction with Soho Rep.’s production of Adjmi’s Marie Antoinette, where over a dozen participants, mostly young playwrights, were guided by David through a similar journey. David made everyone feel at ease by confessing that even after being asked endlessly in interviews, he still can’t explain what he does, or how he does it:
I don’t know how I became a playwright. I find it confounding. I don’t know what I’m doing. I don’t know who the characters are. I don’t know what I’m trying to work out. It’s a mysterious and crazy thing…I’ve stopped trying to be good. I’m just trying to figure out, with the most rigor possible, who I am.
What started as an open-minded, open-door creativity workshop with David grew into a weeklong series with other playwrights. From February 18-23, 2014, Soho Rep hosted Write with Us!
Billed as “the ultimate open house,” up to fifty participants a day were invited to be both creators and collaborators in Soho Rep’s Walker Street home. This free festival of workshops were led by Eisa Davis, Sylvan Oswald, Max Posner, Jenny Schwartz and Anne Washburn—all alumni of Soho Rep.’s Writer/Director Lab.
Max Posner took inventory of the scattered items and multiple speaking voices writers encounter and possess. Sylvan Oswald taught techniques that help jumpstart the writing process. Jenny Schwartz examined how structural limitations can free creativity. Anne Washburn led a playwriting class for tweens and early teens. And through music and movement, Eisa Davis helped writers explore the difference between mere expression and deep communication.
Building on this initiative, Soho Rep will host two new international workshops in October 2014, to run in conjunction with The Play Company and Soho Rep’s co-production of generations (Oct. 1-26, 2014), which reunites British playwright debbie tucker green and director Leah C. Gardiner, after their 2011 Obie award-winning production of born bad. “Has It Got Lets?” is the first workshop, on Monday, October 13th. It will be led by Ola Animashawun, Associate Director of the Royal Court in London. Exactly ten years ago, he launched “Critical Mass,” a groundbreaking playwriting program that represents the vast range of British playwrights from ethnic minorities. In his workshop, supported by the British Council, Ola will lead a series of practical exercises, games, and discussions to help writers generate ideas, and then explore how to ask the important questions that will make the most of them.
The second workshop on Monday, October 20th is “Diversity in Plays and Monologues,” led by Simeilia Hodge-Dallaway, a Black British play specialist. The workshop, supported by Arts Council England, exposes participants to a variety of published and unpublished scripts written by contemporary Black British playwrights. It is filled with meaningful conversation, games, audio/video clips from live performances, and the opportunity for the attendees to perform monologues and scenes.
The leadership at Soho Rep. recognizes the importance of this creativity initiative, and wishes to incorporate it as regular part of their FEED programming in the future. The issue of funding is, as always, an issue. These upcoming workshops have received contributions from UK agencies, but by working within the American funding structure, this case-by-case model is not sustainable. Based on its current success and growth, it certainly seems like a valuable addition to the services Soho Rep. provides, and a unique way for them to engage with their constituents.
At the end of the day, as theatermakers, we are trying to connect with our community by sharing good art with them. This Soho Rep. creativity program is not only finding ways for civilians to interact with creatives; it’s finding ways for civilians to be the creatives.