San Diego Playwrights

Getting San Diego Playwrights Produced on San Diego Stages

RAY’S LAST CASE–An Interview with Out on a Limb Playwright Tim West

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Tell us about yourself.

I’ve been a playwright in San Diego for twenty years. I got my start as a playwright from The Fritz Blitz of New Plays, which for 15 years staged 3-6 new plays a week for 5 weeks. My first play was Clearance (1995) followed by Charade (1996) and FDR Can Walk (1997). In 1998, my one act satire Female Problems and Abducting Arrianna, a full-length commissioned adaptation of Nobel laureate Dario Fo, had a full run on the main stage. The next year, my Blitz plays were presented there as Strange Bedfellows. Early on, I was commissioned by Sledgehammer Theatre to write Phenomenal Acceleration (1999) followed by The Universal Monster Show (2002). Sledge also gave me opportunities to perform my work at the Regional Alternative Theatre Conference, and to teach playwriting.

Starting in 2000, I took three invitational workshops at the Audrey Skirball-Kenis Foundation. One was with Obie Award-winner Deb Margolin, and I worked with Deb and that circle of writers for about a year after. Her method has become the core of my own teaching practice at Cygnet, San Diego Writers Ink and elsewhere. Also in 2000, my first full-length play, Amelia Earhart, Lost & Found, debuted the new space at 6th @ Penn, and I penned the San Diego Zoo’s annual regional marketing presentation.

Some bad experiences in theatre encouraged me to take some time away from writing, 2002-06, returning with the one-act Breakfast for Dinner and the full-length Cooperstown. The former won an award in the 2007 Actors Festival, the latter had readings at NCRT (2009) and Cygnet (2012) and was placed in the A. Bartlett Giamatti Research Center at the National Baseball Museum and Hall of Fame.  Last year, I had a reading of the first act of Friendly Witness: a Technicolor noir in ion’s short-lived Naked Plays series.

San Diego presents a lot of opportunities for the local playwright.

It does, but with fewer opportunities to get work produced in town after the demise of the Blitz and the Actors Festival, local playwrights have had to re-learn how to create more opportunities for ourselves. I’m trying to do that now.

Last spring, I decided to return to the short form, and submit a play each week. As a result, Comfy Chair was staged in Colorado, and I got to see my ten minute verse play Great Reckoning in a Little Room staged at Playwrights Horizon as part of Red Bull Theatre’s Obie Award-winning Revelations Readings. This year, Two in the Bush was mounted in Bloomington, Il., and my radio play WIN won a prize in Richmond, VA. I’ve also been awarded a commissioned to write Sky Unlimited by the San Diego Guild of Puppetry.

It certainly helps with the advent of Out on a Limb: New Plays from America’s Finest City. I used Green Flash at Sunset (2012) and Blackout at Battery Cliff (2013) in my successful application to be Artist in Residence at Cabrillo National Monument, so far as I can tell the only theatre artist among the 32 AiRs in the National Park Service.

Out on a Limb is a terrific opportunity for local writers like George Soete, Lisa Kirazian, Steve Oberman, Emily Sperling and now Jack Cassidy, Jake Edmondson and Lizzie Silverman. There is every possibility that I will be edged out next year by the rapid increase in submissions to this great and growing program.

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Tell us about your play for Out on a Limb this year.

Ray’s Last Case grew out of my long-time interest in the famed detective novelist Raymond Chandler, who lived in La Jolla 1946-59. It is hard to describe. It’s like much of what comes out of me these days, it seems. It’s concerned with the sense of failure, which I think comes from a linear conception of time. It’s hard to describe.

It was enough of an odd duck that OoaL founder and producer Robert May thought it might work as an offering in the San Diego Fringe, so it is slated to open on July 4th on the Tenth Avenue Arts Centre mainstage. (Don’t confuse it with my self-produced play, Olivia Bolivia at the Spreckels.)

What are your challenges? What are your successes?

Challenges as a writer? Time. Time, and earning a living with my art. I’ve tried to derive more of my income from it these last two years. ‘Success’ can be measured in other ways. I like to think I’ve played some small part in the rising sense of community among playwrights in San Diego. There are young playwrights out there who may be capable of success as others measure it. I’d like to help that succession.

What is your next step?

I’ve got more ideas than time to write them, or places where I might see them staged. I’ve got a play partly outlined, called Drowned Cities, about the damming of the Stanislaus in 1979. I’ve got a play in me, The Good Son, that I promised I’d write after my mother passed. I’ve got a play entitled And the Oscar Goes to Olivia de Havilland still percolating from the same February writing prompt that resulted in Olivia Bolivia. However, right now I have to focus on mounting Olivia Bolivia.

That’s really where I’d like to see area playwrights moving: self-production. It’s self-empowerment, and it involves us in our craft and our community in ways that are much more productive than the lottery of adding your play to the pile in some literary manager’s office. I know: I used to be a literary manager.

So if there’s anyone out there who shares an interest in that model, check out the link to P13 in New York on my website (www.timcwest.com) and let’s have that conversation.

And I’ll see you at the Fringe!

Thanks for talking with us Tim! Good luck with Ray’s Last Case, Out on a Limb, and the San Diego International Fringe Festival!

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Building Community with San Diego Playwrights

Actors Alliance and San Diego Playwrights Artists Development Workshop

Artists Development Workshop–Actors Alliance and San Diego Playwrights

On the eve of the Theatre Communications Group National Conference (TCG) June 19-21, 2014, in San Diego, it’s time to look back and see what San Diego Playwrights has accomplished. My name is Thelma Virata de Castro. I am a playwright who was born and raised in San Diego. One year ago I founded San Diego Playwrights because of a simple belief—local playwrights need more production opportunities. A strong local environment provides a foundation for getting our work seen nationally. How can we build a community that supports local playwrights?  We started with ourselves.

The Playwrights

Tim West and Thelma Virata de Castro

Tim West and Thelma Virata de Castro

San Diego Playwrights is an all-volunteer network working to get local writers produced on San Diego stages.  Our first meeting was held in a noisy coffee shop. It was at this time that Tim West stepped up and volunteered to organize and lead workshops. Tim and I facilitated meetings in which playwrights connected, activated their careers and developed their writing.  Producer Robert May also came to speak with us about Scripps Ranch Theatre’s Out on a Limb, a new play festival that specifically targets local writers.

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We launched a Needs Assessment and Resources Survey. The inspiration came from playwrights Laura Shamas and Jennie Webb, who started the Los Angeles Female Playwrights Initiative (LAFPI) to increase production access for women. They commissioned a study to find out how many plays by female playwrights were being produced by Los Angeles area theaters. From them I learned how numbers establish credibility and make people listen.

In our survey, we asked what local playwrights wanted and what they had to offer. Volunteer playwrights helped write, edit and distribute it. The survey generated conversation, determined priorities for future projects, and also served as a way to introduce San Diego Playwrights to the theatre community. We discovered that networking with theatres/producers and collaborating with producers were our biggest needs. Feedback was our greatest resource. Future survey projects will ask the public what is the value of producing plays by local playwrights, and will research how many local playwrights are getting produced and where.

Other playwrights stepped up to meet our needs. Steven Oberman researched and published local submission opportunities for our blog. Anita Simons provided meeting space. Playwrights formed their own writing groups and traded experiences, ideas and suggestions. Over twenty playwrights have shared their stories and projects in our Playwrights Blog interviews.

Consensus Organizing

Last year I attended a workshop entitled “Consensus Organizing for Theatre” that was given by Seema Sueko, co-founder of Mo`olelo Performing Arts Company. At the time, Seema was Mo`olelo’s Executive Artistic Director. She has since become Associate Artistic Director of Pasadena Playhouse, where she continues to employ Consensus Organizing (see TCG circle post “Introducing Consensus Organizing for Theater”). Consensus Organizing was developed by Michael Eichler, a community organizer and, coincidentally, a San Diego playwright. The main principle of Consensus Organizing is that parties work together to satisfy mutual self-interests.

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So. Who else in San Diego was interested in supporting playwrights? I didn’t have to look far. Another attendee at the Consensus Organizing workshop was Cecelia Kouma, Executive Director of Playwrights Project. Founded by Deborah Salzer, Playwrights Project offers playwriting programs that empower individuals to tell their stories. Writers in the San Diego Playwrights network have benefitted from attending Playwrights Project programs, such as WordPlay Tuesdays feedback sessions and Playwrights in Process, Cygnet Theatre’s New Play Festival presented in collaboration with Playwrights Project. San Diego Playwrights has promoted these programs and published interviews with the winners of their California Young Playwrights Contest and Playwrights in Process Festival in our Playwrights Blog. Scripteasers is another long-standing organization that provides bi-weekly cold readings of scripts and feedback, and an annual contest.

Winning 2014 Artwork by Ron Logan

Winning 2014 Artwork by Ron Logan

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Actors Alliance

Two other allies are the San Diego International Fringe Festival and Actors Alliance. At San Diego’s inaugural Fringe Festival last year, I met Festival Director Kevin Patterson, who is also Chair of the Board for Actors Alliance. We share the goal of helping local artists access production opportunities. In January 2014, we joined with Jeff Cotta of Tenth Avenue Arts Center for an open house to showcase the theater’s facilities and promote our programs.

Actors Alliance Managing Director Bryan Stanton and San Diego Playwrights collaborated on the Artist Development Workshop to create new work written by San Diego playwrights, directed by local directors and featuring local actors. (Read more about the workshop and other Actors Alliance programs in Bryan’s TCG post, “SDTheatre: Actors Alliance of San Diego Welcomes TCG”.) Ocean Beach Playhouse and Academy of Performing Arts donated space for the workshop. The result is that eight short plays will be produced in the Breaking Waves Festival in the Fringe, July 3-13, 2014. We will have a TCG Preview Night performance on June 20, 2014.

Generosity, Reciprocity and Personal Responsibility

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Last summer I attended the Hedgebrook 25th Anniversary Alumnae Reunion Celebration. Hedgebrook is a retreat for women writers that was founded by Nancy Skinner Nordhoff.  Under the leadership of Executive Director and playwright Amy Wheeler, Hedgebrook advocates for and supports the voices of women from around the world. At the reunion I met She Writes website founder Kamy Wicoff and She Writes Press publisher Brooke Warner.  Kamy spoke about building a community of women writers at She Writes that is based upon generosity and reciprocity. I adopted that philosophy for San Diego Playwrights. When we learn of a submission opportunity, we share it. The success of one local playwright improves the environment for all local playwrights. LAFPI advocates that if you want to see more female playwrights produced, go see a show by a female playwright. The same goes for attending shows written by local artists.

The philosophy of personal responsibility acknowledges how challenging it is to have a play selected for production, and encourages playwrights to make positive efforts to get their plays produced. We strive to build relationships with producers, but also promote self-production opportunities, from local to international, through Fringe festivals and other venues.

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As a Filipino American playwright, I have learned strategies for effecting change from the example of producer and activist Andy Lowe. Andy directed my play The Goddess of Flowers when he was Artistic Director of the San Diego Asian American Repertory Theatre. He co-founded the theatre, was a winner of the California Young Playwrights Contest, and is currently Production Manager for East West Players. He is an independent producer with Chinese Pirate Productions and a leader in the Asian American community, especially in championing Asian American theatre artists through Pacific Asian Actors Ensemble of San Diego and the Network for Asian American Theatre Professionals.

Building the Community

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San Diego Playwrights is excited to announce a new partnership that will begin this fall. After a successful two-year collaboration with Playwrights Project, Diversionary Theatre will begin working with San Diego Playwrights to present WordPlay Tuesdays. At these monthly gatherings, actors will perform cold readings of excerpts of work by local writers. Volunteer playwrights will then facilitate the feedback process. WordPlay Tuesdays is an excellent networking opportunity that will strengthen the connections between San Diego actors, playwrights and Diversionary Theatre. Literary Associate Anthony Methvin shares more about Diversionary in this TCG blog post, “#SDTheatre: A Space to Explore Diversity and Identity”.  By supporting local writers, new audience members will be brought to Diversionary as it continues its mission to explore lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender stories.

San Diego Playwrights will continue to reach out to other theatre artists, theatres and organizations who share our goals. Our gatherings are open to everyone, from student playwrights to veterans. Building audiences that value plays by local writers is one of our priorities. To the attendees of the TCG National Conference, we say welcome to our community.

Thelma Virata de Castro’s work is collected in the Asian American Women Playwrights Archive at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. She is former Literary Manager of the San Diego Asian American Repertory Theatre. Her current projects include North Star, a maritime musical collaboration with Andy Lowe and Jane Lui, and the full-length Cookies for Prisoners. She lives with one husband, two sons, three tropical fish, two guinea pigs and one lonely crayfish. In between feedings, she writes.

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