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Centre Stage

A blog for women-related theatre issues worldwide.

  • 20 Oct 2020 10:31 PM | Jenni Munday (Administrator)

    by Bara Swain

    Fast forward.  My second monologue selected for “Climbing the Walls” has a comical history.  In response to a call for submissions for another Zoom opportunity, Theatre is the Cure (TITC), I followed their specific guidelines – and that’s an understatement.  The writing prompts were: (1) Theme: With/in / With/out (interpret as you like); (2) Prop: Something you’ll die without; (3): Location: somewhere dark, (4) Line: Nowhere but here, (5) Actor: wiry female, 20 something, funny, intense, androgynous but not boyish, adorable.

    Yikes!  With less than 12 hours to write, I dripped a pot of coffee, obsessed, googled, cranked out a monologue, submitted and waited for my acceptance or rejection notice.  Several hours later, I received a gentle reprimand.  “Your monologue is too long.”  Browsing the instructions again, I noticed that I overlooked one important element of the challenge:  a strict time limit of two minutes.  My unspectacled eyes misread the number and I crafted my piece for a time-frame of seven minutes.   Over the next few hours, I redirected my energy and dashed out a two-minute monologue and hit the “send” button.  Whoop whoop!  The Golden Girls was selected for performance.

    What I learned:  Read the instructions.  Then read them again. Acknowledge your errors and be grateful for a flexible Artistic Director.  Communication is key.  In fact, the “twenty something, wiry, adorable actress” was unavailable.  I reached out to a twenty something, wiry, adorable actress whose work I observed at the recent FAB Zoom.  Jessica Washington, whom I never met before, was cast in the role and, subsequently, invited to return for another program.  This type of networking serves the company, the actress and the playwright.

    Danielle Bourgeois in YOU MIGHT AS WELL (inspired by a prompt from "Theatre is the Cure."

    Yikes!  But what should I do with my original submission?  I wrote a second draft of You Might as Well and reached out to Mara Mills to see if she’d consider a second monologue.  Upon acceptance, I incorporated several of her notes and brought actress Danielle Bourgeois on board under the direction of Christian Haines, a California resident.  In fact, I’d only met Christian weeks earlier when he was assigned to direct my Zoom play, Carolina in the Morning, as a first-time playwright applicant with Shotz-Amios.  I was eager to work with him again. This experience differed from the live Zoom events that I’d participated in previously and, truthfully, it was another wonderful collaboration.  With a stage and film background, Christian experimented with the Zoom format.  You can see his results and judge for yourself.

    CAROLINA IN THE MORNING, directed by Christian Haynes

    What I learned:  Mutual respect is the foundation for artistic relationships.  And it’s a win-win. Evaluate the abilities of your colleagues and their enthusiasm.  And give back!  This duo will be invited to our next program at Urban Stages.  Oh, I also learned that a rehearsal can be ruined by a thunderstorm.  Check the weather, playwrights, when you’re scheduling a final rehearsal!

    Meanwhile, I’ve had the opportunity to write several more monologues intended for Zoom with different outcomes.  During a 24-hour challenge with Vintage Soul Productions, I wrote three five-minute monologues for three specific actors who self-directed their performances – off-book! – over an eight-hour span.  Another monologue, You Can’t Argue with Fact, written for a recent TITC challenge was accepted and performed live last Friday under the direction of the Artistic Director, Hannah Logan, just as I was entering tech weekend for another project with Planet Connections Play Fest.

    What I learned:  When actors are self-directing their work, make sure that their audio-visuals are working.  One monologue in Vintage Soul Productions could only be heard in a whisper.  That was disappointing.  Another monologue wasn’t fully realized due to misinterpretation of the time and place.  The most successful piece was where the actress reached out to me with questions about the text, context and transitions.  Playwrights, be open to communicating with your actors.  Exchange contact information!

    Moving on: On Monday evening, The Southern Comfort Plays (a trilogy of short plays), opened and closed.  Yes, it was a one-night event. For this opportunity, I chose director Kim T. Sharp, a colleague of mine at my former stomping ground and my current home at Urban Stages.  These pieces were not written for the Zoom platform and, under Kim’s guidance, I made revisions to the story and tweaked the physical action.  The Planet Connection Associate Artistic Director cast the three plays and a rehearsal schedule was finally confirmed.  The rehearsal process for this presentation was intense but very satisfying.  The technical elements working on Zoom were challenging, from entrances and exits, to overlapping dialogue (it doesn’t work on Zoom), to the use of stage directions.   I was particularly impressed by the skills Kim displayed, from his supportive tone and his listening skills, to his discussions on character development. The cast of The Southern Comfort Plays were committed, professional, and hard-working.  Where I fell short as a playwright, their enthusiasm and gratitude sustained me. 

    THE SOUTHERN COMFORT PLAYS, a trilogy, directed by Kim T. Sharp

    Planet Connections Zoom Fest

    What I learned Know your venue and ask, in writing, what the expectations are for the guest artists.  After the fact, we learned that a technical director was assigned to the performance. In retrospect, our learning curve on Zoom has grown in leaps and bounds due to this oversight.  In all fairness, a designated stage manager was also offered to assist early on in the process.  We dropped the ball there.  Again, know the roles of each member of the “team” involved, from playwright to director to the producing organization … and the actors.  Are they union?  Non-union?  Respect everyone’s role.

    In conclusion:  Zoom is a platform that enables theatre artists to continue to create during this unprecedented time.  With all of its flaws and impracticalities, until our remaining theatres open and it’s safe for audiences to fill the houses, it’s a great and sustainable way to stay motivated, set goals, take risks, and be productive.  The Zoom cloud may be challenging and, yes, you may be elated, disappointed or frustrated with the process and the product!  But it’s a wonderful opportunity to build community, nurture relationships and begin new ones, as well.  (Thank you, Mara!)   

    Yes, it’s a learning curve but here’s the bottom line:  If you’re not in the game, you can’t play.  So let’s keep playing, playwrights!

    In the meanwhile, stay safe, everyone.  Oh, and if anyone can suggest a mnemonic for differentiating wild cats, send it my way!

    The article is reprinted courtesy of Mara Mills, Artistic Director, Studio Theater in Exile:

    Here are some of my upcoming Zoom projects:

    UNFATHOMABLE, The Group Rep Theatre, CA

    FOLDED, Warner Theatre’s 9th International Playwright Festival

    FOLDED, Theatre Workshop of Owensboro

    ALL MOTHERS WERE SUMMONED, Ego Actus Virtual Play Reading Series

    JOANNA HOGG, Women in History, FAB@Barrow Group

    CAN YOU HEAR ME NOW, Pastiche Series

    RESPONSIBLE, Greenhouse Ensemble Quarantine Series

    THE AFFIRMATION PLAYS (audio), Borderless Productions

    UNFATHOMABLE, The Group Theatre, CA

  • 14 Oct 2020 2:15 AM | Jenni Munday (Administrator)

    by Bara Swain

    My anxiety level peaked last week when I couldn’t recall the words “kiwi” and “chili.”  I also summoned my Chihuahua, “Let’s take a walk, Melulah,” and asked my granddaughter, “Please pass me the red crayon, Tallinka.”  Neither my granddaughter, Tallulah, nor my beloved canine, Melinka, were nonplused.  That was reassuring.

    Bara's granddaughter

    Indeed, the strain of this uncertain and unprecedented time has been stressful and challenging, with coronavirus statistics and news headlines and media taking center stage in our fragile world.  No one has been spared the repercussions of today’s pandemic, no one! … including theatre artists and our communities.

    Enter Zoom.

    The first time that I participated in a Zoom chat was with my immediate family.  I swore and cried while I fiddled on my iPhone for entry, my only source for access due to a malfunctioning sound system on an antiquated laptop. (Why, oh, why didn’t I get it repaired last summer?)  By the time I navigated the cloud platform, I was in a full-blown tantrum, assuaged by my two year old niece’s acknowledgement, “I like your shirt, Aunt Bara.”  (It was an animal print.  Possibly a jaguar, a lion or a tiger.)

    Since my first Zoom experience, a loaner MacBook Air has enabled me to fully participate as a guest and participant on this modern video communication platform.  And I embraced every opportunity that I could!  With nothing to bookend my days in solitary, I pounded the keys of my computer with purpose, searched festival listings, submission opportunities and one challenge after the other.  (I also made three new best friends: an indoor bicycle, an electric coffee pot, and low dose Ativan.)

    What have I learned?  What are the pros and cons for a playwright on this cloud platform?

    While I continued to acknowledge my accomplishments with a double-order of turkey bacon or a pint of ice-cream, I learned that plays submitted prior to the shutdown that were intended for the stage were not as successful as pieces written specifically for the modern medium.  I watched with a critical eye while several of my one-acts were presented via Zoom:  My Heart Will Go On (Crafton Hills New Works Festival) and Folded (Geneva Theatre Guild Playwrights Play Reading Series), as well as inhouse Zoom readings of The Wonder of You (Shawnee Playhouse) and a monologue, Joanna Hogg (FAB @ Barrow Group). As a playwright who usually prefers a seat in a middle row of the house during the rehearsal process and performance, I was intimidated by the immediacy of simply “checking in.”  In preparation for my first event, I washed and moussed my unruly hair, embraced a new moustache depilatory and smiled with loose dentures, hoping that I looked a decade younger than the image on my half-fare metro card. 

    These initial experiences illustrated the most difficult adjustment for both playwrights and actors during performance:  There is no audience response on the Zoom platform.  While talkbacks play a critical role in play development, audible reactions are missing.  “Did that particular section work?”  “Was that line offensive or amusing or gasp-worthy?”  “Where did I lose the audience’s attention?”  “Did the ending land?  And was it satisfactory?”  I exited Zoom rooms utilizing my basic math skills.  “If there were 70 participants at the top of the show, and there were 48 at the end of the performance, then 22 audience members left.”  What?  Hmm.  Aghh!  I’m a failure.

    Setting aside my own insecurities, my first opportunities to write for the Zoom platform were validating and, yes, exciting!  When I was selected for Primary Stages’ “Coronalogues,” I was assigned two theatre artists:  actress Lizzy Jarret and director Emily Hartford.  To set the groundwork, I spent several hours speaking to – let me rephrase – interrogating my actress. In the shadow of the Smokey Mountains, I discovered that the displaced New Yorker liked roles that were “edgy” and, specifically, “tough, headstrong women.”  Lizzy was particularly curious about the theme of “being surrounded by death.”  Since most of my writing is informed by illness and loss, we were a great match.  Next, I asked her questions:  Can you do a southern accent or a cartwheel?  Will you show me your bedroom, your bathroom, your wallet?  Do you wear eyeglasses, PPE, a favorite scarf?  Do you have a hobby, sex toys, a pet?  What’s your family dynamic, your sister’s name, your place of birth?  Finally, I found my hook! – and Seventy-Seven was born, honing in on both of our strengths and accommodating Lizzy’s non-urban location – her uncle’s rural cabin in North Carolina with rustic furniture, picturesque landscaping and an unreliable internet connection.  I drafted the script, cut it to three minutes, and handed it over to our director. Once again, I felt like I’d won the lottery.  Emily was a generous, enthusiastic and conscientious director, whose goal was to serve the writer’s voice. Kudos to this theatre artist for surpassing my expectations with her creative choices – yes, the location was the bathroom! – and for supporting the story through her imaginative lens.

    What I learned:  Zoom can be a platform where intimacy and trust can be nurtured.  It’s also an excellent way to expand your network of theatre professionals and identify individuals with whom you’d like to work with again.

    Part 2 will be posted in the coming weeks... The article is reprinted courtesy of Mara Mills, Artistic Director, Studio Theater in Exile:

    Bara Swain's plays and monologues have been performed across the country in more than 165 venues in 25 states and abroad.

  • 11 Sep 2020 1:33 AM | Jenni Munday (Administrator)

    by Carolyn Gage

    Dr. Janice Liddell is an author, playwright, and retired professor and Assistant Vice President for Academic Affairs and Coordinator of Faculty Development at Atlanta Metropolitan College. She also served on faculty at Clark Atlanta University for nearly 35 years, as a professor of English, department chairperson and director of faculty development.

    Dr Janice Liddell

    Carolyn: Janice, you and I met online about fifteen years ago, I believe… on an international chat list of women playwrights.  And I remember you wrote a play titled Who Will Sing for Lena?  This is a one-woman play that gives voice to Lena Baker, a black woman who killed her abusive white employer in self-defense. Using the actual trial transcripts, you wrote a play that would enable audiences to understand her background and her motivation. That play has had a strong track record… and even a film?

    Janice: Yes, Carolyn we met on the ICWP chat list and, as I recall, we left the chat about the same time for some similar small “p” political reasons related to our respective identities as minorities on the list. I guess it would be in bad taste to go into any more detail. (lol)

    Carolyn: Well, not to keep readers in suspense, we were frustrated in our respective efforts to confront racism and homophobia. And, in fairness, it was fifteen years ago.

    Vanessa Adams-Harris in Who Will Sing for Lena?

    Janice: And yes, I had written Who Will Sing for Lena? around that time and since then, it has done fairly well in various places. But the film was a totally different project; it was, of course, related to Lena Mae Baker, but not at all related to my play. Believe it or not, the two are very different perspectives, even of Ms Baker. But as I have always said, Lena helped me to write my play and I told it the way she told it to me.

    Carolyn: I just want to tag onto that last comment. YES! Working with historical figures, and especially those in what I call “unquiet graves,” I have had that experience of a presence outside of myself standing by my side and nudging me to tell her story. Practicing theatre as a sacred art… full of miracles. So, I just want to say that this recent play of yours, The Talk, is absolutely brilliant, and I would like to see every community in this country mount a production of it. It’s packed with so much… history, politics… but the characters are believable, the dialogue is spot-on, and I had chills over and over reading it…  Beautiful craftsmanship, deep humanity…  just an amazing piece of theatre… but also a tool, a social justice project, a powerful, powerful way to bring communities together. I was so deeply moved by it.

    Janice: Wow, coming from you as a brilliantly successful playwright yourself, that is quite an endorsement. I am glad it affected you because, truth be told, it affected me even as I wrote it. But I’m sure you know that experience—of being carried away by the work as though you are channelling it. That’s a bit how it was for me.

    Carolyn: So…  “the Talk”…  First off, before we get into talking about the play specifically, can you tell us to what “the talk” refers?

    Janice: I always have trouble with titles so I just throw a tentative title at it with hopes that the real title will emerge at some point. But as I was conceptualizing the play and characters and got into writing, I realized The Talk was THE title for this play because in the play “the talks” are manifold. By now, most everyone knows that Black parents are “forced” to have a conversation with their adolescents about the “dangers” of the streets, especially those of encountering police officers who ostensibly are there to protect the citizenry. But Black citizens, especially Black males, have not really found this protection; in fact, it has been at the hands of officers that a hell of a lot of brothers have been killed—unarmed Black men, I might add. So, in the play The Talk is an obvious allusion to the conversation that the Black father has with his Black son on how to be safe when “driving, walking, sleeping, picnicking, etc. etc. while Black.” Specifically, Quincy Sr. has the talk with his son, Quincy Jr, who, not surprisingly, has his own ideas about staying safe. Then there is the talk that unfolds regarding both the mother and the father. As in so many Black families, the hardships and difficulties are often hidden from the youth with a kind of attitude that if we don’t talk about it, we can overcome it or even sometimes, if we don’t talk about it, it didn’t happen. So, we have a detailed talk about Lillian’s upbringing in an orphanage—the Carrie Pitts Steele Orphanage, an historical orphanage in Atlanta. And finally, the climactic talk is the one that reveals emotionally charged experiences that actually caused the family to migrate from Mississippi to Ohio—a route not uncommon for the underground railroad.

    Carolyn: In The Talk, you have four generations of an African American family, on a Saturday morning… and there is a lot of conflict, because the two youngest members of the family, a brother and sister, want to attend a Black Lives Matter march and their parents don’t want them to go.  Can you talk a little bit about that conflict? They even make their son take off his Black Lives Matter tee shirt.

    Janice: This is a highly successful Black middle-class family and in their eyes, as in the eyes of many “highly successful Black middle-class families,” their success has resulted from them pulling themselves “up by their bootstraps.” They would likely never admit they went to university on an Affirmative Action program (as did I), for example. Additionally, they desire to separate themselves from the more “common” element of Black folks—separate themselves in every way they can. In fact, they tend to look down on the experiences of Black folks who, in their middle-class eyes, are financial, intellectual, educational, etc. failures in life. These parents have tried to shelter their children from these “failures” and serve as models for the successful route of Black people from poverty to wealth; from the ghetto to the suburbs. However, their middle-class Black children are highly influenced by the world outside of their “burbs.” Quincy Jr. is in college with youngsters from all walks of life; Miranda is so attached to her tablet and research on it that there is nothing that gets by her. The children and their parents are in totally different “realities”—and at this point, never the twain shall meet.

    Carolyn: But the whole power dynamic shifts when the grandparents and great grandmother show up for the brunch.  We see such a panoply of African American history in this family. It’s just wonderful.  Four generations… up from poverty to affluence… but the lynching remains a constant.

    Janice: With so many killings of Black males and the eruption of Black Lives Matter movement, I knew I wanted to write a play about this era, but I saw so clearly its connection to a previous era, and I wanted to make the connections. I wanted these two eras to guide the play, but not be the play. So, I thought hard and long about a way that wouldn’t be so hard-hitting, so didactic and came up with this wonderful multi-generational family. I don’t want to talk too much about THE lynching since it is the turning point of the play, but “lynching” per se is a constant trope in the play. Quincy Sr does not share with his children that a noose was put on his desk after he received a promotion at work; that he has definitely encountered racism in his rise to affluence. Lynching is an obvious parallel to what is occurring between all the young men and women who have been shot down by police officers across the country. In fact, the introduction of the play is a tight focus on all of these “lynchings” that have occurred from the killing of Trayvon Martin to the killing of Philando Castille and Alton Sterling on eve of the Black Life Matters march in Atlanta at the play’s rising (2016). And, of course, the final “lynching” provides a history of how this violent and deadly tool of racism and control has affected the lives of Black folks on both a micro and macro level.

    Read the entire interview at:

    Jessica Washington is the most recent of several excellent actors who have played this role. Jessica has already won several awards for her Lena Baker presentation and she will likely astound you in this special 1 hour-long festival performance. You don't want to miss it, September 30, 2020--the first day!!.

    Janice Liddell’s play Who Will Sing for Lena is being performed at the Atlanta Black Theatre Festival (ABTF) online.

    An incredible line-up that includes...
    WHO WILL SING FOR LENA? by Janice Liddell
    A true story, one Black woman's struggle in rural Georgia.

    Three Outstanding Production awards, Three Outstanding Actress awards (Jessica Washington) - AACT's State, Regional, and National Festivals.

    Get your FREE Black Theatre at Home Show Guide @

    Enjoy FOUR DAYS OF BLACK PLAYS: Wed. 9/30 - Sat. 10/3

    Carolyn Gage is a lesbian feminist playwright, performer, director, and activist. The author of nine books on lesbian theatre and sixty-five plays, musicals, and one-woman shows, she specializes in non-traditional roles for women, especially those reclaiming famous lesbians whose stories have been distorted or erased from history.

  • 16 Aug 2020 12:27 AM | Jenni Munday (Administrator)

    by Sandra Seaton

    In February 2019 I received the news that I had been awarded a commission from the Washington National Opera at The Kennedy Center. There were approximately 85 semi- finalists for the award. My commission as librettist (author of the story line and words) and the commission of the composer, Carlos Simon, constitutes a team for the creation of a new opera. 

    In September I went to DC for a week of rehearsals at the Washington National Opera's rehearsal hall with the composer, conductor, singers. This was the first time I had heard it sung. It was wonderful! On Saturday, September 21st there was a workshop performance at the REACH, a brand-new facility at the Kennedy Center.

    On Friday, January 10th, I returned to DC for the premiere at the Kennedy Center's Terrace Theatre.

    Marlen Nahhas, left, and Alexandra Nowakowski perform in Liliya Ugay’s “Woman of Letters.” (Scott Suchman/The Kennedy Center)

    I am so lucky the premiere was in January 2020. By March everything in DC was closed.

    Is this the first time you’ve undertaken a project like this? 

    I've been a librettist previously. I collaborated with composer William Bolcom on the monodrama From The Diary of Sally Hemings.However, this is my first actual opera.  (I have written a musical and plays with music as a character, but that is not the same as opera.)

    Since this was a commission, I started the process with three short proposals. The WNO liked one of my ideas the best. I then proceeded to write drafts in pieces and send them to the composer. I'm always excited about daydreaming about characters, living in their world. I believe in writing--creating characters and situations when I am doing things around the house, going for a walk, washing dishes, folding clothes--anytime I am doing something that I don't have to concentrate on, the writing takes over. The composer and I talked about my text. He set parts of it to music. I did a number of rewrites. We workshopped the piece in DC. Four months later it premiered.  The words were always first.

    Production photo by Scott Suchman.

    What will happen now with the work? 

    Several opera companies have expressed interest in the work. One of them wants an expanded version. The problem: as soon as COVID-19 happened, everything's on hold. Performances of my work for 2020 have been cancelled. I don't know when they will be rescheduled.

    What does this mean for your future, and future work? 

    When a piece receives strong reviews, that's a good sign. It gives arts organizations a reason to look you up. Since January, I have written a piece for a tenor that he will sing on remote with a pianist in another location. I have two new commissions for 2021. The success of the opera was a big factor in getting those.  Of course, who knows what the future will hold for this live art form.

    Production photo by Scott Suchman.

    Here are the links to three opera reviews:
    Monday, January 13th in the Washington Post: 

    Monday, January 13th in A Beast in A Jungle

    and Saturday January 11th  in the Washington Classical Review: 

    Sandra Seaton is a playwright and librettist. Her plays have been performed in cities throughout the country, including New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles, and her libretto for the song cycle From the Diary of Sally Hemings, set to music by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer William Bolcom, has been performed at such venues as Carnegie Hall and the Kennedy Center.

    Sandra Seaton

  • 28 Jul 2020 12:13 AM | Jenni Munday (Administrator)

    by Lynette Grace

    Growing up I had always enjoyed reading various books by Dr. Seuss. After “Horton Hears a Who,” I also enjoyed reading, “Oh, the places you’ll go by Dr. Seuss.” I had no idea the places one simple act of kindness would take me or the people it would bring into my act.

    I was working in Atlanta, GA when I received a phone call from home that my Mom had died unexpectedly in her sleep. After attending her funeral I decided to visit with a woman who I considered to be my Spiritual mother and her family from my hometown of Ohio before returning to work. After going to bed I was awakened suddenly to what I determined to be an argument between my friend and her 16 year old Son.

    I got up to investigate but not to pry. To my horror I found that my Spiritual mother had been stabbed to death in the basement at the hands of her 16 year old son. Without provocation for reasons un-known to me he began stabbing me.

    He was convicted of involuntary manslaughter for killing his mother and also received time for his felonious assault crime against me. I felt compelled to visit him in prison for answers as to why such a beautiful woman had to die. At our meeting he cried more than I did. He had gotten into trouble for stealing cars and breaking in houses and wasn’t supposed to be on the phone. When she kept catching him on the phone they started arguing and the argument escalated into him stabbing her to death.

    Since I was able to speak with him I received some answers to the questions that had been haunting me for years. It was almost time to leave the prison’s visiting room when he unexpectedly asked if I could forgive him for his actions against me. It didn’t take long for me to realize that since life had given me a second chance at life I couldn’t do less for him than to forgive him. I told him yes I could forgive him for his actions against me.

    He shared that with me visiting with and forgiving him it was as if a burden had been lifted off of him and he was able after all these years to be able to forgive himself. I too found that my visits with him helped to ease the survivor’s guilt I was feeling since I survived the attack and his mother had not.

    Soon after that I began to travel and to share my story of forgiveness and healing with others. Since he showed remorse and accountability for his actions and took the classes required for him to take I took a letter of support for him to the parole board. Unfortunately when the powers that be realized I was his victim our visits were discontinued.

    It has given me the opportunity to give testimony at the Senate and at the House of Representatives for bills going through legislation to give youths an opportunity to go before the parole board. I welcome the opportunity to share my story especially if anyone could be helped by it. My journey of forgiveness has taken me to Canada, London, England and Washington, D.C., where I have made great friends and have met a lot of fine people. After reading the story on the “Forgiveness Project Website,” a man came from Belgium to include our story in his book called “Hotel Pardon.”  I share the story in Prisons, Churches and Universities wherever I am invited to share the story of Forgiveness. My hope is that through my story of forgiveness that they can find healing and forgiveness not only for others that may have harmed them but for forgiveness for themselves as well. Oh the places forgiveness will take you if you will allow it to.

    Lynette D. Grace lives and works in Columbus, Ohio. You can email her at:

  • 04 Jul 2020 6:03 PM | Jenni Munday (Administrator)

    By Christine Emmert

    I retired some years ago from the work a day world.  My husband has more recently done so. We hoped for time to do our creative season – my writing and theater, his visual artwork.  We lived modestly at the edge of a national park.  We traveled once or twice a year, lunched and dinnered with friends, and went to selective concerts or plays.  Rarely did we answer the phone.  Even more rarely did we talk of joining clubs and organizations.  To some people we might have seemed halfway to quarantine.   Time was draining away now.  We were officially “elderly.”  The coronavirus reminded us of our mortality.  We wanted solitude, not solitary.  

                   In the medieval world epidemics and pandemics must have been more frightening.  There was no easy way to know what was going on beyond your immediate life.  In this pandemic we could be both well-versed and well-informed.  When it struck our state, our county, our township we did not have to take it personally. Is the virus punishing us?  Are we confined to solitary or endowed with a time of solitude in which to reflect?

                   Although I love my home and my husband, I see the pitfalls of having no safety valves when tensions are ready to blow. I see the longing to travel without getting into a car or train or airplane. I see what the Buddhist called Impermanence.   I see the possibility of death without warning.  This is what real solitude offers me.  Doesn’t matter if I want it.  I am pinned in place by the invisible handof a virus that did not exist in my vocabulary six months ago.  I cannot move away.  I am detained by solitude.

    Christine works as a freelance writer and educator in addition to her theatre credits. She has been published and performed throughout the English speaking world. Most recently she was premiered on Cape Cod this summer in PETER PAN'S MOTHER. Her play, FROM OUT THE FIERY FURNACE, has been touring the last four years for the National Park Service. She recently published THE NUN'S DRAGON, a novel, on Amazon Kindle.

  • 30 Jun 2020 10:18 AM | Anonymous

    by Patricia Milton (USA)

    Our Toolkit Exchange chats are virtual sharing sessions where ICWP members share practices, tools, books, apps, and more, that aid them in their craft. It’s a fascinating process to tune in to others’ artistic journeys, and it’s a pleasure to offer this recap of our latest Toolkit Exchange session.

    Dale Griffith Stamos (USA)

    says that she uses focus music on iTunes. “I put on headphones for a specified writing time, and as I become immersed, it enhances my writing.” She recommends Lajos Egros’ book, “The Art of Dramatic Writing.” Dale says, “Sometimes completing the character profiles (in the book) seems arbitrary, but as you go forward, they start to actually dimensionalize your characters.”

    Dale is a writing teacher and leads workshops on Story Structure for all genres. She urges, “Fill the notebook. Before I ever put anything into a form, I fill a notebook with character bios, structure questions, the inciting incident, notes, and dialogue. If I follow my protagonist down one path, and I don’t like it, I choose another path.

    When I get stuck, I write down the reasons I think I’m stuck.” Dale also recommends the book by Buzz McLaughlin, The Playwrights Process. “It’s a nice framework to use when starting work. Write what you know, and write what you can imagine. Plot is story, story is plot; you have to externalize the internal.”

    Mayura Baweja (India)

    came to writing after being an actor and director. “These other aspects of the craft can be obstructions, as I tend to overthink the writing,” Mayura says.

    “To overcome that, I use a box of wooden children’s blocks. I set them up like a stage, or a space where I can create a structure.

    This gives me a sense of the world of the play. I create the space and ask, ‘Where could this action happen? What could happen here? Who could be standing here? Where can it lead?’

    It’s exciting to think that anything can happen in that space.”

    Tavi Juarez (USA)

    devotes one hour every day to creative practice – which can be writing, painting, or dancing. “I listen to people on the train, eavesdropping, letting my imagination go wild. It’s giving myself time devoted entirely to the creative process.”

    Tavi also utilizes, a useful board with production and publication opportunities for playwrights. When writing dialogue, Tavi says she writes the people she knows. “I try to hear their voices and use their words. How would Steven say this? It’s a great tool for authenticity.”

    Vivienne Glance ( Australia)

    reports that, “All theater is Theater of the Mind, and what happens on stage is an illusion. Our minds ask ‘What’s the story?’

    There is a moment when the audience is there, in silence, in the dark, and what do we as playwrights offer in that moment? ” Vivienne continues, “At the beginning of a project, I turn off spell check and grammar check and change the font to white, so I can’t see what I’m typing.

    Trust yourself, you will misspell things, but don’t look, don’t edit.” As a former actor, Vivienne writes character sketches. “I need to know who they are. Character is action, as Aristotle says. I need to understand what choices they’ll make. I believe if you write about something that only you can write about, it becomes universal.”

    Donna Gordon (USA)

    recommends a book by Jeffrey Sweet, “The Dramatists Toolkit”: the author writes about the shape of the story, how to work out a plot, and more. She says she always creates an outline, though she doesn’t always follow it.

    Donna says, “I’m a bits and pieces writer. I put together plays like a quilt. I tie the pieces together – things I’m passionate about. I take topics from the news, too, and develop those.”

    Camille Worrell (USA)

    notes, “Physical activity rejuvenates me: running, or working out. And there’s something about taking a shower, or a bubble bath, that motivates me. Attention to the writing space is also helpful. I set up a space, with the right lighting, and classical music or light jazz. I have a writing partner; we write together and it’s motivating. I meet with another friend who is a poet, and we critique each other’s work.”

    My own contribution to the group session was my use of a tomato timer. It’s a little plastic wind-up timer that ticks down the minutes. It helps encourage me to contain the time in which I am writing, although often I reset it and go for more. There is a technique called the Pomodoro Method that I often use to create intense short bursts of concentration, punctuated by “intermissions,” or breaks.

    As I learn from these generous artists in our virtual Chats, my own craft grows and flourishes. Heartfelt thanks to all who have joined me in these Toolkit exchanges.

    If you missed the first post in this tool sharing series read it here

    To join in future online chats with ICWP Members, become a member here:

  • 16 Jun 2020 9:56 PM | Jenni Munday (Administrator)

    By June Guralnick

    Dear Bev:

    Damn, it’s getting f*ing weird out there! Agent Orange is singing the praises of guzzling bleach, Etsy’s hawking hot COVID jewelry, and today’s headline, “Lobbyists and strip clubs fighting to get PPP Loans,” is a shoe-in for a Lifetime TV movie. Girl, I SO need a dose of your appassionato for the absurd and your demonic sweet smile - like a big carnival sign flashing “Welcome to Beverle’s Funhouse!”

    Hell, no, we didn’t use Zo(o)m-bie to catch up a few weeks back, just the good ol’ fashioned phone (thank you, Mr. Bell). We exchanged our theatre ‘what’s up’ news; you finally got to see Hamilton ‘Before the Pandemic’ (B.P.) and I bitched about the fate of my new play, Little . Can you believe I finally summon the chutzpah to write about my less than merry childhood and the blasted drama gets Covid Coitus Interruptus at dress (yeah, I can muster a wry smile at my play’s doomed fate).

    I don’t want to go all Now Voyager on you - but your faith in and support of my work these many years have meant more than you’ll ever know.

    There’s a scene in Little where three sisters (Jo, Marge and Aimee) discover the headstone of Beth, the sister they never knew they had. Aimee movingly recites El Maley Rachamin (the Jewish prayer of loss) at her sister’s grave.

    At your funeral last week, when the cantor chanted El Maley Rachamim, my gut spilled out. NO, I’m sorry, I can’t follow those orderly six stages of grief, and yes, I’m still angry at you for leaving. If ever there was a time this world needed your enlightened, Theatre Shaman spirit, it’s now.

    Theatre and life, Bev…such a thin line.

    It would be great to hear a few of those macabre theatre tidbits you always had waiting in the wings. Maybe the one about Shakespeare performing Lady Macbeth when the boy playing the role suddenly died - or how about the permanently bolted seats at the Palace Theatre left empty for ghosts (ostensibly to spook bad actors)?

    “You were intellectual – but common,” the cantor told us. For anyone who didn’t know you, that would sound like a putdown. But when I knocked on your college door for advice on how to create a neon Vegas effect on stage (with zero moolah), you took me to the five and dime for Christmas light tubing. Brilliant! Yeah, you were erudite - but you also knew how to make a purse from a sow’s ear (or a sword from a garbage can lid).

    You would have gotten a kick out of the costumes, singing and stories at your funeral. But the cantor wore dayglow-green gloves and a mask, and most of us were far away, watching as they lowered your coffin into the ground. Dying during a pandemic – well – you know.

    At a virtual “Theatre on Zoom” workshop I barely survived last night, you would have gone ape shit (hell, it was all I could do to not bludgeon my laptop to Microsoft Kingdom Come). Disembodied heads can never replace live theatre! It’s the blood, sweat and tears, bodies listening, laughing and crying TOGETHER, that make theatre powerful and transformational (along with the spit flying from an actor’s mouth on lines like “to be or not to be,” projecting what it means to be a human being on this crazy, spinning planet we call home).

    One thing I’m glad you missed - the fifty plus page PACC Guide to Reopening Theatrical Venues I forced myself to read this morning before my head imploded.

    Dozens of red, yellow and green charts blinked one message– live theatre is up shit’s creek until this virus has a vaccine. Although the image conjured in my mind of socially distanced audience members dressed in clothing fashioned from garbage bags, sporting ancient Greek tragedy masks painted on their N-95’s, is something I would pay money to see. Masque for a Pandemic, methinks?

    A lot of the time now I sit at my desk, jabbing at my frozen-in-fear pen, pretending I still know what day it is - and that stupid things, like not having soft toilet paper (heh – I’ve got Crohn’s so cut me some slack) really matters. One bright spot is that my next play has become crystal clear. In 1919, during the Spanish Flu’s second wave, dissenters in San Francisco formed the Anti-Mask League and held a mass public meeting with over two thousand people. A hundred plus years later – ain’t it grand! – some folks haven’t changed. It will be two acts, each taking place during a pandemic a century apart, and death-gallows-laugh-out-loud! (There’s ‘laughter on call’ now, Bev – people are desperate for comedy.) What other response can a writer have to the insane and dangerous stupidity around us? “There is more stupidity than hydrogen in the universe, and it has a longer shelf life” (Frank Zappa).

    Oooooh, you’d love this – drive-in movies are popular again and they’re showing musicals! “Even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise” (Les Miserables). Merci bien!

    Better run. The wind is howling up a Tempest – prime time to stand in the street and scream without attracting the paddy wagon.

    You know I love and miss you, right?

    “Thou who dwellest on high, grant perfect rest beneath the sheltering wings of Thy presence, among the holy and pure who shine as the brightness of the firmament unto the soul of Beverle Bloch.” (El Maley Rachamim)

    I’ll write again soon, dear Bev.

    XOXO June

    “For the story is not ended

    And the play never done …” (The Fantastiks)

    June Guralnick has created plays, performance projects, and large-scale community cultural projects for four decades. Her works have been performed throughout the U.S. – and beamed to the Space Station! Awards include the Silver Medal-Pinter Drama Review Prize, Second Place-Judith Royer Award for Playwriting Excellence, North Carolina Arts Council Literature Fellowship, Southern Appalachian Repertory New Plays winner, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts Writing Fellows, Hambidge Center for the Arts Writer-in-Residence, and Sewanee Writers’ Conference Tennessee Williams Scholar (University of the South). This spring June looks forward to facilitating creative writing workshops for veterans through The Joel Fund as well as serving as program coordinator for the Sally Buckner Emerging Writers’ Fellowship. Her new full-length play, LITTLE , will hopefully receive its postponed premiere staged reading at Burning Coal Theatre in partnership with Justice Theatre in the not too distant future. For more info, visit

  • 01 Jun 2020 11:18 PM | Jenni Munday (Administrator)

    Collette Cullen


    Bless us oh Lord…

    There are some graces in this sheltering time of the quarantine. I am going to lots of online 12 step meetings. I’ve been zooming with a writers group called Watch Me Work. As a writer, I've run out of excuses they anchor me in getting pen to the page.

    With no Air BnB guests, I do not have to tip toe about my own home. Some days, I dance.

    The kitten, the one that the kids left behind in their exodus from the predator pandemic, the one they call Duck, who I have rechristened Dali (in honor of these surreal times,) is a blessed distraction.

    I've been walking every chance I get, a pilgrim on an unchartered path.

    I've had some healing time with family.

    The times have made my efforts at reading Tolstoy’s War and Peace, less daunting. With his prose, he teaches survival, “Life did not stop, and one had to live.” Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace

    An unexpected grace is that having lived a singular life the isolation is not unfamiliar. My previous 17 medical convalescences serve as apprentice to a skill set that sustains me during the Pandemic.

    But much, too much is unbearable.  Masks and media, loved ones floating in a vaporous far away land.  The individual crosses endured. Loss of home, work or a loved one. The stressors multiply. And me, seeming to live in a gilded cage of comfort yet, like in the lyrics of hotel California, I am a prisoner of my own design. The things that challenge me pre-Co-Vid are magnified. My daughter's fears become a soundtrack of a scratchy record I unable to erase from my minds turntable. On my own, by myself without anyone’s assistance, I've managed, to get in to riffs with loved ones. At the same time, I feel like I'm cleaning out other refuse of my life. Sorting out those that which does not serve me.

    The worst days are when my own noise and stressors of my own little life quiets.  Overcome with sorrow and powerlessness about the big bad world, I feel as though I'm sitting in one of those elite suites at an arena. Powerless as the gladiators are slayed, dropping to the earth in droves. The lions consume them. On those I seek solace in music to free my tears. Then, I weep.  I weep like the hired wailer at a wake. Weeping for my friends who cannot see their grandchildren. Weeping for the healthcare professionals whose lives are on the line. Weeping for the collective, a sirens wail to tragedies of these time.

    Collette Cullen is actor/author/educator with a vision to create opportunity for all voices to soar.

    Her career as a special educator with differently abled, marginalized children, influenced her writings. These children became her muses for the essential question “How do we access and embrace all voices? “

  • 26 May 2020 5:30 PM | Anonymous
    By Patricia Milton

    In a recent Online Chat, ICWP Sisters and a Mister took turns speaking about their favorite useful playwriting tips, techniques, tools, and practices. It’s my pleasure to share an edited version here with the entire ICWP membership, with the intention that we all benefit from one another’s wisdom.

    Diane Rao Harman shared a writing tip that came from a costume design professor. She recommends using photos, images, and pictures… not as literal inspiration, but to examine the raw form and be inspired. View the colors: how are they similar or different? Look at the negative space. Is the image of something anchored and heavy, or light and delicate?

    Then, complete these three statements

    1. This is a play about x. Diane said, “For me, x was ‘yearning.’”
    2. This play feels like x. For Diane, x felt like ‘eating a birthday cupcake in a motel,’ a personal image
    3. Therefore, the visual solution will be x. Diane came up with x as a chicken coop.

    The visual solution is not literal, but prod to get to something new. For Diane, the visual of a chicken coop nudged her to consider all its aspects: pulling something in, protecting something, and the concept of hope as represented by the eggs. Diane recommends we try using these statements, and visual anchors, to offer inspiration.

    Alan Woods shared several ideas. He recommends we consider writing plays specifically for older casts. His own short plays for senior actors have been widely performed. His suggestion to seek inspiration: go to the website You can join different groups representing all kinds of interests.

    A book Alan recommends is “The Year of Lear,” the history of British theater in 1606. Alan says he’s learned about other playwrights that were writing at the same time as Shakespeare, and he’s been inspired to write a whole series of sequels and prequels to Shakespeare's plays.

    Collette Cullen’s background is in Special Education. She told us, “These are kids who have trouble getting their voices heard, or who have had their voices stolen from them. I'd write with my Special Ed kids. They taught me. I set a timer that makes a noise, a ticking, and we’d write together.”

    Collette recommends using Text Edit or Google doc to listen to your work. You can also use Google Translate, which can read your script back to you in the original language. The other members on the call all agreed that listening to one’s work read aloud is important. Most smartphones can record your own voice reading a scene.

    Another suggestion of Collette’s is: Create Your Village, and make it a playgroup. She said, “When I steward others; it nourishes my voice. Play make believe. I create a party to read my work: we do a reading with actors.

    Let the baby go out into the world.” Collette said she finds writing very hard, so she makes rules and sticks with them. “Sometimes I don't write till 4 pm, but it's my rule that I must write. Suzi Lori Parks’ ‘Watch me Work’ (a regular writing session at keeps me in the room longer.”

    “Put yourself out there. I printed up a card that said I was an actor, author, and educator. So I was. Honor your own voice. When you apply to fellowships and grants, you honor your work. I made an online portfolio of my work on my website. Hold your work in high regard,” Collette said.

    Carol Libman described for us her process, very early, before she has even a draft. She reports, “I don't write in sequence, I jot down my ideas. I do research. Sometimes I don’t know the characters; I have to find them and develop them. I write everything that comes out. It’s messy, and that’s fine.

    When I go back later, I read it out loud. I use ‘markers’ on the pages I’ve written on the word processor to indicate what I want to keep and what I want to delete, as well as notes for further development. Yellow for deletions, red for what stays. The notes and markings are great when I’m working with a dramaturg.”

    Carol recommends that playwrights become affiliated with a development group so that your work gets developed through a number of stages. Writing a play is a long process, and putting your work through multiple stages of a development process will get it in shape to be produced onstage.

    Donna Gordon uses journaling. She recommends two books, “Writing down the Bones,” by Natalie Goldberg, and “Bird by Bird,” by Anne Lamott, that illustrate its value. Donna said, “With journaling, you write every day. Journal prose is more transparent and personal, and you can use the material for monologues, taking out topics that interest you.”

    Donna also likes the editing tool in Google docs as a means of sharing your play with someone else. People can read and add comments and questions to your draft, in color. Finally, Donna urged us to make connections between the bits and pieces in our minds, and bits and pieces from our journals. “Write a sentence about x. What interests you about x? Can that be a play?” asked Donna.

    Domnica Radulescu writes every day, in several genres. Domnica told us, “It can be hard to find motivation and inspiration these days, so I turn to what I call “Travels through the Darkness to Get to the Light.” I always go to three periods in history. The bubonic plague in Italy and the work of Giovanni Boccaccio (‘The Decameron’). The country was devastated, but wonderful storytelling emerged, including great humor. I also turn to the Holocaust in WWII, and the work of Albert Camus, including ‘The Myth of Sisyphus,’ and ‘The Plague.’

    This is motivating me to sit and write. It's what I can do even when the world is collapsing. I also turn to my own strategies of survival growing up during a dictatorship. I believe in the power of creativity: it's my life vest, and it’s what I do best. I give myself permission to explore, and write in all the genres: prose and plays, essays, storytelling, and crossover genres. In March, I started "The Crown Diaries": plays, monologues, essays, short stories, and I’m up to 150 pages. It’s very satisfying, telling the same story in play and story form.

    “Promoting other people's work helps me,” Domnica said. “I created the Play Slam. Focus on others: it's life- affirming to be part of writing communities. Giving themes to the group, I also give myself the same challenge. I enjoy (ICWP member) Emma Goldman's workshop, which offers readings by professional actors. There’s a caveat, though. We may have a tendency to join too many groups right now. It’s a danger to spend a full day in Zoom meetings. Devote one hour a day to write. It doesn't matter when.”

    Rahmat Zakari couldn’t join the Chat live, but offered this recommendation by email. “What works for me is having to beat deadlines; like the zoom meeting on (ICWP Chat) Writing from Isolation. Knowing that I need to meet up on a group task inspires me. Being part of a group and doing things together is a strong motivation for me.”

    Everyone on the call mentioned gathering in community with other writers, even while isolated, online, by phone, however we can. Rahmat added, “Taking inventory of life or events around me especially when I retired for the night is the best quiet and personal time with myself; that is the time that I listen to myself and form my stories.”

    I hope you’ve found something useful from this generous group of ICWP playwrights! If you have something to share, we’re enjoying another Tool Exchange Chat 10-11:30 PM EDT , Thursday, May 28. We’d be delighted if you’d register to join us.

    After you register, you will receive a link to the Zoom chat. You can join Zoom chats on a desktop computer, tablet, or phone. You can choose whether or not to have video on or off. 

    Register here

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