Your Guide to Theatre Education

Goddard’s Elena Georgiou

In this series, David Dudley looks at the different models of theatre education around the country through interviews, with the hopes that a new student will have an easier time finding the model that works for them.

Elena Georgiou is a poet and editor. Though she is originally from London, she now resides in Vermont, where she serves as Active Program Director of Goddard College's MFA in Creative Writing. Ms. Georgiou has authored two collections of poetry—Rhapsody of the Naked Immigrants, and mercy mercy me. She is the recipient of the Lambda Literary Award, the Astraea Emerging Writers Award, and a New York Foundation of the Arts Fellowship.

When was Goddard's MFA playwriting program started? When did you join?
I joined in Goddard in 2002. The MFA in Playwriting was introduced informally, approximately eighteen years ago, when Paul Selig was first hired as faculty. It became a formal option two years later in 1999. At the time we operated on one campus only, in Plainfield, Vermont. Today, we have two campuses. We opened our second campus on the west coast in Port Townsend, Washington in 2005.

What does Goddard's program offer potential students?
In the early years dramatic writing at Goddard consisted of playwriting and screenwriting. Today, we also offer television writing and libretto writing for opera—we are currently the only program to offer an MFA in opera libretto writing.

The dramatic writing program offers the “Playwright’s Enrichments Series.” This program brings luminaries from the theatre and film world to campus to meet with the dramatic writing students to discuss careers. The focus of this program is on the business aspects to theatre and film; our visitors do career development with our dramatic writers. To date, fifteen professionals have come to campus through the program.

In addition, the dramatic writing students produce “Take Ten,” a ten-minute play/screenplay festival during each eight-day residency. The dramatic writing students are involved in every step of the festival, from producing, stage managing, directing, and acting to writing the plays or screenplays that are featured.

Goddard’s focus remains firmly on the development of the writer and the writer’s voice. When playwrights are housed in a theatre program, there is often too much emphasis placed on production. This can take time and focus away from developing one’s writing craft and voice. We think that this focus on writing—instead of production—is the strength of our program.

three people discussing a script
Goddard’s Take Ten—the ten-minute play reading series. Pictured (from right to left): Douglas Craig, Teryle Traver, and Kate Lohman.

What makes Goddard's program different from others?
Goddard’s MFAW program is low-residency. In fact, we were the first-ever low residency program. (The low-residency model—which has since transformed higher education around the world—was developed at Goddard back in 1963.) Low residency means that students do not have to relocate to Vermont (or Port Townsend, Washington) to pursue their degree. It is ideal for people with commitments to family, work, or other personal obligations who choose to live their lives and hone their writing skills at the same time.

Twice a year, students come to campus for an eight day intensive residency. During this time there are workshops and classes in all genres taking place around the clock. Guest writers and industry professionals also visit campus during each residency to do readings and lead workshops. Students meet with their advisors to develop an individualized reading list and study plan.

And then everyone returns home. Over the course of the semester, students submit five packets of work to their advisors, who in turn offer substantial, timely, written critique. By the end of the program (which runs for four semesters) each student will have a full-length manuscript of publishable quality.

Because the MFA is a terminal degree, Goddard also requires all MFA students to do a teaching practicum—and this sets us apart from other programs. The teaching practicum gives our students hands-on, practical experience teaching creative writing. In fact, many of our students have been able to turn their teaching practicums into paying jobs at colleges and universities after they leave Goddard.

What are the guiding principles of the program?
There is a great deal of cross-fertilization that takes place at Goddard. Dramatic writers are free to take workshops in all genres; in fact, they are encouraged to do so. The focus of the program is on craft and on helping each writer develop their individual voice.

In addition to the teaching component mentioned above, an important part of the Goddard method includes the annotation process, which is another Goddard innovation. It is used to teach students how to read like writers. An annotation is a two-page analysis of a particular craft element in a selected reading. During the course of the program each student must read and annotate forty-five different works. Students must also write a long critical paper and two short critical papers that focus on craft. Students are encouraged to use the critical papers as a way to solve particular writing problems they are experiencing in their own work.

Following that, what's working?
Students who have gone through our program—and who often start out grumbling about the critical writing component—end up acknowledging that more than anything else, it provided them with the key for developing their own craft as writers.

What kinds of challenges have you faced? How do you intend to approach them in future?
Because dramatic writing at Goddard is housed in a creative writing program and not in a theatre department with actors, directors, etc., our playwrights don’t get production experience. The Take Ten festival was started about seven years ago to address this need. It gives the playwrights a chance to hear their work read out loud in a public forum. The Playwright’s Enrichment Series was started in 2008 to provide networking opportunities by introducing students to working professionals in the theatre and film industries.

Goddard’s focus remains firmly on the development of the writer and the writer’s voice. When playwrights are housed in a theatre program, there is often too much emphasis placed on production. This can take time and focus away from developing one’s writing craft and voice. We think that this focus on writing—instead of production—is the strength of our program.

What's missing, in your opinion, from the current education/ training programs available?
Teaching experience. The MFA is a terminal degree and yet most MFA programs turn out students who are given no opportunity to teach.

Who do you feel is the ideal candidate? Who are you trying to bring into the Goddard family?
We are interested in writers with unique voices. Diversity is key for us—not just racial, cultural, gender, and class diversity—but aesthetic. Within each dramatic writing class at Goddard you will find students who are writing mainstream Hollywood movies, experimental post-modern performance pieces, comedies, well-made plays, opera librettos, TV spec scripts, site-specific performance installations, etc.

What do you hope your graduates/ trainees do, once they complete the program?
Write! And write some more. And teach.

We also hope that they keep in touch and participate in the larger Goddard writing community. Most of them do, in fact. There is a network of Goddard graduates all over the US and they are very active. The playwrights often use the Dramatist Guild Conference as a way to get together. We also have an alumni organization and retreat that meets each summer during the Vermont residency. It is called the Clockhouse Writers’ Conference. This conference launched a national literary journal called Clockhouse.

Any changes planned for the future?
Television and libretto writing are the newest features of our program. Susan Kim, Rogelio Martinez, and Darrah Cloud all have extensive experience in TV writing and will be heading up that new concentration.

Deborah Brevoort and Darrah Cloud, both of whom have extensive experience writing librettos for opera and musical theatre, will be spearheading libretto writing. Because opera libretto writing is a hybrid between dramatic writing and poetry, students interested in a libretto writing concentration can also study with Kenny Fries and Beatrix Gates on our poetry faculty—they have both written operas that have been produced.

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Thoughts from the curator

David Dudley looks at the different models of theatre education around the country through interviews, with the hopes that a new student will have an easier time finding the model that works for them.

Education Series

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At Goddard--Port Townsend, we also invite professional actors in for a night of reading our students' work. We call it The Paradise Workshop--because it's paradise!