San Diego Playwrights

Getting San Diego Playwrights Produced on San Diego Stages

An Interview with Cecelia Kouma, Executive Director of Playwrights Project

What is the mission of Playwrights Project?

Playwrights Project’s mission is to empower individuals to voice their stories through theatre.  Since its founding by Deborah Salzer in 1985, the organization has engaged youth in the process of playwriting as a way to help them develop literacy skills, advance communication, and explore their creativity.  Students experience the power of theatre as they write plays – turning their passion into stories enacted by professional actors.  There’s no better reward than watching the expressions on the students’ faces as their lines are performed.  In 2007 after Deborah retired and I became the organization’s Executive Director, the board of directors, staff, and I embarked on envisioning the future of Playwrights Project and expanded our vision to reach beyond schools and into community groups with playwriting opportunities, such as foster care, military, LGBT, immigrants and seniors.  We also initiated a program called Play by Play: Cultivating Emerging Playwrights to support adult playwrights in developing new plays.  

Please tell us more about your programs that support adult playwrights.

Our Play by Play program provides adult playwrights with table reads and discussions of selected scripts, pairs each playwright with a dramaturg for 1-on-1 advice, and culminates in a staged reading of the play followed by a post-performance discussion with a discerning audience.  When budgets and schedules permit, we’ve also been able to expand Play by Play to include workshop productions with New Village Arts Theatre, and called the collaboration Playwrights Village.  We are currently working with Cygnet Theatre to produce their Playwrights in Process New Play Festival.  Four plays will receive the Play by Play treatment, and staged readings will be presented at Cygnet’s Theatre in Old Town, November 1-3, 2013.

In partnership with Diversionary Theatre, we also offer Word Play Tuesdays, an opportunity for playwrights and other writers to hear 10-minutes of their work in an informal gathering in Diversionary’s lobby on the 2nd Tuesday of each month (September through June).  Playwrights submit their pieces online or in person at prior WordPlay Tuesdays.  Scripts are selected on a first come first served basis.  Actors are cast from the audience and a discussion is facilitated by Playwrights Project staff, based on the level of feedback desired by the playwright.

Coming this year, we will begin a new program sponsored by the Irvine Foundation that pairs a playwright with a designated community to create site-specific theatre pieces relevant to each population.  The Community organizing and script development process begin this fall focused on adults involved in foster care and immigrants along the Mexico/San Diego border.  Next year, the program will serve members of the military and incarcerated or previously incarcerated adults. The program includes an online component, with videos and text of interviews and performances, to engage the general public in discussing the issues raised and helping to shape scripts-in-process.

What are some of your successes with adult playwrights?

Adult playwrights who have taken part in our programs have received valuable feedback on their scripts and made significant improvements to the works involved.  Additionally, they have reported that they have grown as playwrights; often looking at their writing in a different way than they had before they took part in the program.  Audiences have gained a better understanding and appreciation for the playwriting process. Many have told us they are more interested in seeing new work as a result of attending our Play by Play performances.

How can San Diego Playwrights support Playwrights Project?

Join us at WordPlay Tuesday  at 8:00pm on the 2nd Tuesday of the month in September through June (  Sign up for your work to be read, take part as an actor, or attend as an audience member and contribute to the conversation to support the work of fellow playwrights.

Join our mailing list or watch for announcements about Playwrights in Process.  Playwrights will be announced shortly and performances will take place in November 1-3.  New submissions will be invited next spring, for performance the following fall.

Watch our website or send an email to to subscribe to our Plotline Newsletter and receive updates on our Community Stories program.  We welcome your attendance at community performances and comments on the online portion (currently in development).

Thank you Cecelia Kouma and Playwrights Project for supporting local playwrights!

Cecilia Kouma (back row, left) and local playwrights (clockwise) Stephen Metcalfe, Ingrid Hoffmeister, Jennie Olson-Six, Thelma Virata de Castro and June Gottleib

Cecelia Kouma (back row, left) and local playwrights (clockwise) Stephen Metcalfe, Ingrid Hoffmeister, Jennie Olson Six, Thelma Virata de Castro and June Gottlieb

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San Diego’s New Public Radio Station KNSJ 89.1 and SANDCASTLE (San Diego County Artist Showcase) with Karl Weiss

An Interview with KNSJ’s Karl Weiss
Tell us about yourself.

I’m a longtime San Diego resident, a screenwriter, filmmaker, novelist, poet, tutor and organizer in the San Diego filmmaking community.

Tell us about the new public radio station KNSJ 89.1.

KNSJ is a new resource for all of San Diego County, broadcasting out of East County but also on the web ( The station offers a progressive, community-based vision, news, talk, interesting shows and lots of local music.

What is your show SANDCASTLE (San Diego County Artist Showcase) about?

It’s all about giving local musicians, playwrights, poets, and artists of every variety the opportunity not only to tell San Diegans about themselves, their lives and creations, but also to share samples of their work.

Why do you want to support San Diego artists?

Making art of any kind is an act of communication. Yet the life of an artist can be a lonely one. I believe that helping bridge the gap between artist and audience is an important contribution both to the creator and to the people whose lives he or she touches.

How can San Diego playwrights get involved with and support KNSJ and SANDCASTLE?

Contact me at if you’re interested in being on SANDCASTLE. And the station is looking for volunteers and donors (and of course, listeners)! We have a meeting every Thursday evening at 7 pm in City Heights. Email me or go to

Thank you KNSJ and Karl Weiss for supporting San Diego playwrights and artists!

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Out On a Limb 2013 Playwrights

Tim West (Playwright “Blackout at Battery Cliff”)

Tim West has been a San Diego-based  theatre artist for more than 25 years, as a noted actor, an award-winning director and as a playwright with more than a dozen productions to his credit. As an actor, West has appeared in over forty area productions. He is a Resident Artist at Cygnet Theatre and an Associate Guest Artist at North Coast Repertory, and was a Resident Artist at Sledgehammer and Associate Artistic Director of the Fritz Theatre.  He served five years on staff as dramaturge, publicist, literary manager and director-intern with Ensemble Arts Theatre, and for a season as Associate Artistic Director of the Fritz. He was also Asst. Operations Manager for the  San Diego Theatre League, and Vice-Chair of the board of directors of  the Actors Alliance of San Diego.

West got his start as a theatrical writer penning audition monologues for actress friends. His first produced work was Clearance for the 1995 Fritz Blitz of New Plays, followed by Charade in 1996 and  FDR Can Walk in 1997 –all presented on the Fritz main-stage in 1999 under the title Strange Bedfellows . Other playwriting credits at the Fritz include the Late-Nite offering Coupling, a real-time play about the effects of fame, entitled 15  Minutes for Fritz Blitz V, the main-stage production of his pro-choice satire Female Problems and an adaptation of Nobel  laureate Dario Fo’s Illa Ratta della Franchesca –all in 1998.

In 1999, Sledgehammer Theatre commissioned West to script their last  production of the old millennium, Phenomenal Acceleration: A Vaudeville for the End of the Century, followed by a 2001 commission for Universal Monster Show. In 2000, West was thrilled to receive the San Diego Zoo and Wild Animal Park’s commission to write their annual West Coast marketing presentation for the opening Condor Ridge exhibit. Also in 2000 West was accepted to study playwriting with Old Globe Associate Artist Lillian Groag   (plotting), University of New Mexico librettist Ruth Margraf  (characterization)  and 2000 Obie-Award winner Deborah Margolin (ensemble writing) at the Audrey Skirball-Kenis Foundation –where he was profiled in their quarterly publication, Parabasis.

West was invited to participate in an ongoing online ensemble writing project  with Margolin, and with her blessing went on to teach her techniques in Sledgehammer master class and the theatre’s educational outreach program in San Diego city schools.  In 2001, West was invited to present his original work at the annual conference of Regional Alternative Theatres, and to be a guest panelist on director-playwright collaborations at the Lincoln Center West Director’s Conference.

West’s last main-stage production as director/playwright was Amelia Earhart, Lost and Found for the opening of the new 6th@Pennvenue in September, 2001. The play was recognized with a Best New Play award from San Diego Playbill, and earned actor Robert Dahey a KPBS Patte AwardTM for originating the role of Toshi.

After a five-year hiatus, West returned to playwriting by producing his own new one-act play, Breakfast for Dinner, which earned an award in Actors Festival 2007. In 2008, his short plays 15 Minutes and Charade were two of nine plays selected from hundreds for production in the 15th and final Fritz Blitz of New Plays.

His new play, Cooperstown, was presented in a pair of public readings in April, 2009 at Dove Library with Carlsbad Playreaders and North Coast Repertory Theatre, under the direction of Stephen Metcalfe. In 2011, Cooperstown was a semi-finalist at Cygnet Theatre for the San Diego Foundation’s Creative Catalyst Fellowship. In 2012, Cooperstown was featured in the theatre’s Playwrights in Process series, directed by Lisa Berger. West also taught two classes in playwriting for the Cygnet series.

West’s one-acts Green Flash at Sunset and Battery at Battery Cliff, were selected for production in Scripps Ranch Theatre’s “Out on a Limb” series in 2012 and 2013.  In 2013, he saw his short verse play Great Reckoning in a Little Room presented in Red Bull Theatre’s Revelations Readings at Playwrights Horizons.  Also in 2013, his play Friendly Witness: a Technicolor Noir was seen in Ion Theatre’s Naked Plays reading series, directed by Catalina Maynard.

Tim West was raised in San Diego, and in 2012 graduated with a Bachelor of Arts  degree in History from San Diego State University. Since 2000, he has made his home in a small redwood cottage which overlooks a canyon in the community of South Park, alongside his partner of  25 years, actress Betty Matthews.

Emily Sperling (Playwright, “Mermaids”)

Emily Sperling is twenty-five, has a BA in English Literature, and has just graduated from UCLA Extension with a Creative Writing Certificate.  She will have earned a certificate in Feature Film writing in the fall.  She has always enjoyed writing humorous skits for church, and wrote a musical called Anonymous four years ago, which was produced by Encore Youth Theater.  She has worked as a stage manager for the past six years, working for several different theater companies around San Diego.

Story behind the play Mermaids:  Emily volunteered at REINS, a therapeutic horsemanship program for the handicapped, for ten years.  Her time there changed the way she saw those with disabilities.  She believes that many live with a skewed image of those who may be viewed as different. When she read the prompt for the Out On a Limb contest, the story of a mother and her autistic son came alive in her mind.  From that first glimpse into their lives, she knew that theirs was the story she was meant to tell.  In order to better flesh out these fictional characters, Emily went to her friend, Hannah Smith LaFrenz, and her son Truman.  The deep relationship between mother and son, when there are so few ways to communicate love and appreciation, are based on them.  Emily is also indebted to her mother, Barbara, whose professional editing helped smooth away the rough edges.  Without Hannah’s and Barbara’s help, Mermaids would not be the play it is.

Steven Oberman (Playwright, “A Slip From Reality”)

Steven is thrilled to be part of the Out on a Limb New Play Program. His previous playwriting credits include three locally produced productions: VANISHED at Swedenborg Hall; MOZU (book & lyrics by Oberman) at Diversionary Theatre; and CLAIRE VOYANT at the Avo Playhouse. Steven has also written numerous short, curriculum-based plays, used as educational tools for elementary aged children. The bulk of his career has been as Marketing Director for Moonlight Stage Productions in Vista and for the UCSD Department of Theatre. He as a BA in Management Science with a Theatre minor from UCSD.

Inspiration for “A Slip From Reality”: During a recent car accident here in San Diego (no injuries, thank goodness), I felt a disconnect with what was happening right up until the moment of impact. Trying to account for that disconnect led me to consider the idea of slipping from one reality to another. I also was struck with the fact that one’s path in life can change course in an instant. Putting those two ideas together became the impetus for my play.

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Out On a Limb with Scripps Ranch Theatre and Robert May

Some background about Scripps Ranch Theatre and Robert May:

Scripps Ranch Theatre (SRT) is committed to producing quality and entertaining theater, consistently. SRT has earned a reputation as one of the finest small theaters in San Diego. We are pleased to be celebrating our 35th season starting in the fall of 2013.  Scripps Ranch Theatre is known as one of the most successful, award-winning theaters in San Diego, and has a very vital and growing subscription base.

Robert May, Producer of Scripps Ranch Theatre's Out on a Limb

Robert May, Producer Artistic Director of Scripps Ranch Theatre’s Out on a Limb

Robert May is the producing Artistic Director for Out on a Limb – New Plays from America’s Finest City.  Robert founded and produced last year’s first annual Out on a Limb and is thrilled to present OoaL once again.  Robert is also an accomplished actor, free-lance sound designer, and award-winning director.  He will be directing The Liar in SRT’s upcoming 35th season.  Robert is a member of the Board of Directors for SRT.

What is the Out on a Limb program?

The idea for Out on a Limb was first borne out of my frustration that the Fritz Blitz no longer existed.  I was fortunate enough to be involved with the Blitz for several years as a director, and I loved being involved with brand new plays that no other directors or actors had fully produced.  I was also a member of the Board of Directors for Scripps Ranch Theatre, and at the beginning of 2010 I started brainstorming ideas with a few other trusted people for a new play program to be held at SRT on an annual basis.  After many meetings and talks with mentors and peers and anyone else that would listen to this crazy, risky idea, the main plan for Out on a Limb was presented to the SRT Board of Directors and approved to move forward.  We planned to present the 1st Annual OoaL in June/July of 2012.  One of the main “complaints” that I’d heard over the years from playwrights is that they could get endless staged readings of their plays, but no full productions of their work.  My knee-jerk reaction to that complaint usually was “Well, write better plays”.  Sarcasm aside, I could see a common thread in the complaints – at best, the work would have a table read or two, some feedback, a rewrite, a staged reading for a small audience, and then die because that was as far as the organization working with the playwright was willing or able to take it.  OoaL wanted to be taken seriously and we wanted to work with people who were serious about new work.  As a result, we set up OoaL with the following criteria:

  • We  would ask playwrights to submit an idea for a play, not a play that had already been written.  The only caveat is that the idea has to have something to do with San Diego (whatever that means to the individual playwright).
  • The playwrights whose idea was chosen to move on would be asked to create a first draft of a one-act play and, from those, two or three would be  chosen to move on to readings, feedback, rewrites, and a full production on SRT’s mainstage at the end of the process.
  • SRT would pay an honorarium to the chosen playwrights, and a stipend to everyone involved with OoaL – directors, designers, actors, crew. A professional effort would be given to the playwrights and the program to show our community that we are committed to and serious about supporting new work by area playwrights.

What do you hope to achieve?  Is there risk involved in producing local playwrights?

I’ll share with you my “Producer Notes” from the program for the upcoming 2nd Annual OoaL, as I think it addresses both of these questions:

“Why call it “Out on a Limb“?  Why not call it something that sounds safe and happy, like the “Happy, Shiny, Nothing to Worry About Here New Play Program“?  Well, besides the awkward title, it’s considered a risk in the theater community to produce brand new work by playwrights who may or may not be “established”, who live and work and write and create and try their hardest to get someone to notice their art, their work, and who live right here in or around America’s Finest City.  We embrace that risk and truly want to make Scripps Ranch Theatre, and San Diego, a place for playwrights to develop new work, have their voices heard, and actually produce their work on our stage.  Through our submission process we are able to live with the play from the birth of the idea through to production, working with the playwright through readings, vital feedback, rehearsals, and on to the production you’re about to see.  Another exciting aspect of the OoaL program is the possibility for these one-act plays to have a life in the future.  We are currently working with playwright Lisa Kirazian, whose one-act play On Air premiered in last year’s OoaL, to develop her piece into a full-length play that may be included in one of SRT’s mainstage seasons.  I can’t express how proud I am that this program exists at a theater willing to take the “risk” of producing area playwrights and giving San Diego an opportunity to shine.”

I hope, with the full support of SRT, to get playwrights in our area thinking, writing, exploring, playing, and creating work that gets seen, gets supported, and may have life after this process.  The fact that we are working with a playwright from last year’s OoaL to develop a full-length version of her one-act play thrills me to think of the possibilities for the future of new work in our community.

What are your challenges?

Getting the word out to all the playwrights in our area about OoaL, whether they’re established or just beginning.  I think the word is out there to some extent, especially since we have proved that we weren’t just a one-year thing.  We open the 2nd Annual OoaL on July 12, and shortly after we close on July 21 I’ll be gearing up to plan for Year 3!  However, I get a sense that there is still a feeling out period going on, like there are playwrights who aren’t quite sure what to make of our program, or they have questions but don’t know who to talk with for answers.  Well, I’m here to tell you we’re real and I’m more than happy to sit down with individuals or groups or collectives (such as San Diego Playwrights!) and answer any questions that will get our area playwrights excited about submitting to the Out on a Limb program.

How can San Diego Playwrights support Scripps Ranch Theatre and Out on a Limb?

Not just San Diego Playwrights, but anyone reading this interview:  Spread the word to all the playwrights and theatre lovers that you know and are connected with in person and through social media.  Invite me to a meeting to discuss OoaL and your questions, concerns, ideas, dreams, etc.

Come see the 2nd Annual Out on a Limb – New Plays from America’s Finest City and join us as we support the new work of your peers.  You’ll see three brand new one-act plays in one evening:  July 19 through 21 and July 26 through 28.  Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm.  The plays are:

Blackout at Battery Cliff, by Tim West

Hannah Logan and J. Tyler Jones in Tim West's Blackout at Battery Cliff (Photo Credit Ron Logan)

Hannah Logan and J. Tyler Jones in Tim West’s Blackout at Battery Cliff (Photo Credit Ron Logan)

A Slip From Reality, by Steven Oberman

Shane Allen and Jaysen Waller in rehearsal (Photo Credit:  Allan Salkin)

Shane Allen and Jaysen Waller in rehearsal for Steven Oberman’s A Slip from Reality (Photo Credit Allan Salkin)

Mermaids, by Emily Sperling

Hannah Logan and Aaron Acosta in Emily Sperling's Mermaids (Photo Credit Ron Logan)

Hannah Logan and Aaron Acosta in Emily Sperling’s Mermaids (Photo Credit Allan Salkin)

If you contact me at and mention that you read this interview on San Diego Playwrights, I will offer you $10 tickets to OoaL (regular price is $15).  I hope to see you all there!  Thanks for the opportunity to talk about Out on a Limb.

Thank you Scripps Ranch Theatre and Robert May for supporting San Diego playwrights!

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