If there were ever a field that should build solidarity but doesn’t, theater would be it. Playwrights are encouraged to compete for the privilege of association. Our bios are lists of institutions from which we borrow value; each name grants you permission to call yourself an artist. The structure of the industry invites exploitation and mistreatment. It limits the art we choose to make, as well as our relationships to one another.
Each insular world—no matter how small or seemingly insignificant—is beholden to the larger one, and reinforces the injustices that shape it. Last summer, hundreds of people pointed out the obvious: the theater world is systemically racist. Theaters scrambled to respond, and continue to come up short, as they tend to believe that a diverse staff and a diverse roster of plays are an end in itself. If this were true, We See You White American Theater would have a list of demands that is less than 30 pages long. These demands paint a pretty extraordinary picture of racism, exclusion and exploitation, but alongside it appears a tantalizing negative image. For me, it begs the question: Why are we asking institutions to be less racist, less sexist, less ableist, less greedy, instead of building the kind of inclusive structures we actually want?Read alum Molly Hagan’s full essay on Theater and “mutual aid” here.
As we begin the 27th Annual Seabury Quinn, Jr. Playwrights’ Festival, we’ll be giving the spotlight to our third-year MFA playwrights. Third-year writers graduate soon after their thesis productions headline the festival.
by Steven Strafford
Skye Robinson Hillis is good with words. Whether it be in her plays, or a well-crafted joke over Zoom chat or text message, she knows how to string the words together for great effect. (Often making the writer of this article laugh out loud. And a personal side note: Skye was extremely helpful to me in my adjusting to life in Athens. She always made time for my questions. I am grateful for the care she showed for me. I will miss her jokes and insightful help on my work.)
Skye’s play, The Martha Mitchell Effect is one of our two featured productions this year.
We thought it might be fun to let Skye, in her own words, answer a few questions in interview format for her spotlight piece.
Here is that interview:
Where are you from? What parts of “home” show up in your writing?
Born and raised outside Boston, but also partially raised in southeastern Pennsylvania, and after moving there in 2008 for school, I now consider Chicago home. Basically zero parts of home show up in my writing because I usually prefer to write outside my own personal experience.
What first made you want to write plays?
Dialogue. I tried to be a screenwriting major for a while in undergrad until I learned that nobody cares what your characters have to say in film, only what they do and how it looks.
What is it you hope people leave the theater thinking about with your work and/or specifically this play?
Who are your inspirations? Playwrights? Other writers?
Noel Coward, Edward Albee, Lillian Hellman, Pinter, Tracy Letts, Sarah Ruhl.
What’s a favorite theatrical moment for you as an audience member? A moment that stays with you?
All of the Goodman’s Camino Real directed by Calixto Bieto.
What was the inspiration for your featured play this year?
About two years ago I was listening to the Slow Burn podcast, the first season of which is about Watergate, which is where I learned about Martha Mitchell. I’ve been low-key obsessed with the notion of gaslighting for years and especially the gaslighting of woman of note, so from that point on I couldn’t stop thinking about her. This led to a women of Watergate rabbit hole that I still have not climbed out of.
Skye Robinson Hillis (she/her) is a playwright/director/teacher/dramaturg based in Chicago. A two time semi-finalist for the Princess Grace Award, her work has been seen at the Kennedy Center’s ACTF, Creede Repertory, The Route 66 Theatre Company, Chicago Dramatists, A Red Orchid Theatre, Piven Theatre Workshop, Artistic Home, Columbia College, and the City of Chicago’s In the Works Play Lab at the Pritzker Pavillion in Millenium Park. Her play AND VASTER was awarded a residency at the New Works Lab at Stratford in 2015, winner of the 2015 Ashland New Plays Festival, and winner of the Holland New Voices Award at the Great Plains Theatre Conference in 2017. As a director/dramaturg, she has worked for Hartford Stage, Goodman Theatre, Court Theatre, A Red Orchid, Remy Bumppo, Stage Left, and more. Her other plays include BURY THE REST, ESCAPE VELOCITY, THE ORDINARINESS OF EVERYTHING ELSE, THE RUNNING MATE, INTO PLACE, and SELFISH.
The Martha Mitchell Effect: In his infamous interview with David Frost, Richard Nixon said that “without Martha Mitchell, there would be no Watergate.” And yet the name Martha Mitchell, once ubiquitous, has faded into the background of history. Bringing her story to the forefront, The Martha Mitchell Effect illustrates the world of the courageous women involved in breaking the Watergate scandal and explores their lasting impact on this country today.
Reserve tickets now for this streaming production at The Martha Mitchell Effect website for April 16, 17, 22, 24. And be sure to check out the full slate of new MFA plays streaming during the festival here.
As we begin the 27th Annual Seabury Quinn, Jr. Playwrights’ Festival, we’ll be giving the spotlight to our third-year MFA playwrights. Third-year writers graduate soon after their thesis productions headline the festival.
by Steven Strafford
John Hendel’s play, Be Head is one of our two featured productions this year.
John Hendel is a mensch. For people who don’t know Yiddish, a mensch is a person of integrity and honor. John Hendel not only wants his play to be great, he really wants your play to be great. He is, at his very nature, a helper. Add to that, his ability to consistently turn out off-beat, humorous, sometimes unsettling pieces that always challenge the intellect, and you’ve got an amazing member of the playwriting program. You’ve got John Hendel.
If that wasn’t enough, this year John has been lead producer of PlayFest. He has shepherded the playwrights through a brand new online format. He has solved problems on the fly, and while putting out fires and building an impactful event for the playwrights and all involved, he has created a wonderful play for you all to enjoy. He is the embodiment of what this program strives to be: a community of playwrights who come together to buoy each other up while discovering an executing our own voice in theatrical writing. John will be missed.
John Hendel is a playwright most recently from Los Angeles. His plays include Pulling Off Procreation (Or Is It Wrong to Keep Fucking if the Baby Starts Crying?) (2013 Cincinnati Fringe Festival, winner: Founders’ Pick of the Fringe), Wearhorse (2014 Hollywood Fringe Festival), Fame Confusions and The Greatest Play Ever (If You Don’t Think So, You’re a Basket of Farts) (NY Artists Unlimited International Cringe Fest, 2009 and 2010, respectively). He has twice been a PlayLab writer at the Last Frontier Theatre Conference in Valdez, AK. His work online includes his 64 Plays in 64 Days project, as well as writing about movies and television. He received his Playwriting BFA from Ohio University.
Hear ye, hear ye, and huzzah! The king has been executed! Allegra, a peasant, has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to join the new Revolutionary Council. All she must do is eradicate the monarchial spirit by destroying the king’s head. But Allegra’s ambitions and desire to be heard make sharing power difficult, especially with the daffy elites who lopped the king’s head off. Through dreams, necromancy, and the occasional iambic pentameter, BE HEAD explores whether any old time is the right time for revolution.
Heads up, people! Join us this year from Thursday, April 22 through Saturday the 24th as our two third-year MFA playwrights debut their thesis plays, plus we stage five other new MFA plays by our first and second-year writers. (Note: preview performances of the thesis plays will be available a week earlier.) Look for a full schedule of events coming soon!
After a long, isolated break, Madness is ALIVE! To celebrate its return as a live Zoom-show this semester, OHIO’s MFA Playwriting Program will explore the things that make us feel alive — that remind us we live and breathe and exist despite a distanced society. Produced by 3rd-year playwright, John Hendel.
How to attend Madness this fall (2020):
- Virtual seating for the Zoom-show will be limited; as always, admittance is first come, first served.
- The show starts at 6:00 pm, and the Madness Zoom-link will be posted on relevant Fridays between 5:50 and 6:00 pm via the OHIO School of Theater Facebook page and Twitter.
- To make sure you get admitted, watch for the Zoom-link to appear on Facebook or Twitter and click through to enter the lobby immediately. Your Zoom-link is specific to you — sharing with others means you won’t be able to see the show.
- Shows are planned for the following Fridays: 9/4, 9/18, 10/2, 10/16, 10/30, 11/13. Typically, Madness runs around 50 minutes in length.
More about Madness at https://ohioplaywriting.org/madness/.
OHIO’s 2020 MFA Playwriting
Artistic Roundtable Series
As of April 14, 2020
For the past twenty-five years, the School of Theater at Ohio University has hosted the annual Seabury Quinn Jr. Playwrights Festival celebrating the plays written by the writers in the MFA playwriting program and featuring one-on-one mentorship for our students by nationally recognized playwrights and other leaders in new play development. The recent pandemic has forced us, as well as other theaters and universities around the country, to cancel these plans and explore new ways to give our writers a culminating experience with outside mentors in recognition of their work over the past year. Here’s more about our approach and the schedule of events.
John spent the summer in Pittsfield, Massachusetts as the House Manager for Barrington Stage Company. He realized two things during this time: 1) he’s irrationally afraid of skunks and 2) he’s a big ol’ dork who’s grown to really like school.
John Hendel is a playwright most recently from Los Angeles. His plays include Pulling Off Procreation (Or Is It Wrong to Keep Fucking if the Baby Starts Crying?) (2013 Cincinnati Fringe Festival, winner: Founders’ Pick of the Fringe), Wearhorse (2014 Hollywood Fringe Festival), Fame Confusions and The Greatest Play Ever (If You Don’t Think So, You’re a Basket of Farts) (NY Artists Unlimited International Cringe Fest, 2009 and 2010, respectively). He has twice been a PlayLab writer at the Last Frontier Theatre Conference in Valdez, AK. His work online includes his 64 Plays in 64 Days project, as well as writing about movies and television. He received his Playwriting BFA from Ohio University. Follow him on twitter @hendyhendel.
For Skye, the summer of 2019 was spent working as the Box Office Manager at the Weston Playhouse in Vermont, which produces six shows over three months’ time in two venues. The highlight of her summer, however, was workshopping her full-length play Into Place as a part of the Headwaters New Festival at Creede Repertory Theatre in Colorado. Additionally, her play The Ordinariness of Everything was named a semi-finalist for the Princess Grace Award.
Read any of her short plays and full-lengths here: https://newplayexchange.org/users/1125/skye-robinson-hillis
Cristina Luzárraga (Jerome Fellow, 2019-20) and Philana Imade Omorotionmwan (Jerome Fellow, 2018-19), are two recent OHIO MFA Playwriting alums representing back-to-back years of the Jerome Fellowship at the Playwrights’ Center in Minneapolis. The fellowship is often considered career-changing for early-career playwrights; as the PWC press release notes:
Jerome and Many Voices Fellows spend a year in residency in the Twin Cities, working in an individualized and hands-on way with the Playwrights’ Center artistic staff—some of the most experienced and connected theater professionals in the country. In addition to an $18,000 stipend, fellows receive $2,000 in play development funds to workshop new plays with professional directors, dramaturgs, and actors. The Center also builds connections between the playwrights and producers of new work.
Luzárraga (just beginning the Jerome), and Omorotionmwan (just finishing), were in the same graduating class (2018) and often politely competed for awards, fellowships and grants. As far as the Jerome Fellowship is concerned — the two continue to finish in a dead heat, always with very different voices and approaches to their work.
Cristina Luzárraga grew up in New Jersey and still resides there, believe it or not. She’s an alum The Second City Conservatory in Chicago, the town where she once (foolishly?) dabbled in comedy performance of all kinds. Her work has been developed at Towne Street Theatre, Chicago Dramatists, The New Colony, and Tantrum Theater. Her full length plays include Critical Distance, Millennialville, and La Mujer Barbuda (Inaugural ScreenCraft Stage Play Award Winner; 2018 Princess Grace Award finalist). Her short plays have been published in anthologies by Smith and Kraus. She co-wrote and adaptation of Aphra Behn’s The Rover that was produced by Ohio University where she recently earned an MFA in playwriting… Then there’s this, of course, when you need a good laugh…
Philana Imade Omorotionmwan (o-more-o-tune-wha) is currently based in Minneapolis, MN as a 2018-19 Jerome Fellow at the Playwrights’ Center. Her plays include Before Evening Comes, The Defiance of Dandelions, Fireflies, and Strong Face, or Misogynoir. Her work has been developed and/or presented at the Bay Area Playwrights Festival, Br!nk New Works Festival, La MaMa Experiments Series, and Athena Project Festival. She has been a semifinalist for the Relentless Award, P73 Fellowship, and Many Voices Fellowship, as well as a two-time Heideman finalist, and a finalist for the Princess Grace Playwriting Fellowship, the Theatre503 Award, and the Playwrights Realm’s Scratchpad Series. Her short plays have been produced by Ensemble Studio Theatre, Pillsbury House + Theatre, Manhattan Theatre Source, Stay Awake! Theatre, Little Black Dress Ink, 20% Theatre Company Chicago, and Ohlone College. Her poems have appeared in New Delta Review and African American Review. Philana earned a BA in English at Stanford University, where she began writing plays under the mentorship of Cherríe Moraga and also dabbled in spoken word. Philana completed an MFA in Playwriting in May 2018. She is at work on a television pilot about her experiences as a teacher in public charter schools. She is a member of the Dramatists Guild. philanaplays.weebly.com
25th Annual Seabury Quinn, Jr. Playwrights’ Festival
Production Schedule and Mentor Bios
Featured Thesis Productions
Tickets for the Featured Productions are $5 general admission or FREE for OU Students (with valid student ID) through Arts for Ohio; available at the Templeton–Blackburn Alumni Memorial Auditorium box office.
by Katherine Varga, directed by Olivia Rocco
8:00 p.m. – April 20th, 24th & 25th, Elizabeth Evans Baker Theater Stage, Kantner Hall
Life is looking sunny for 17-year-old Carly—well, except for the fights with her mom. Her BFF Mike E and his cool mom just moved in with them. The fandom website she made for her celebrity crush is blowing up. And the mysterious fan she’s been talking to online just might be the object of her affections. The one catch – her crush is a serial killer, and his murders are getting closer to her home. Sunny Days explores the gap between our online and offline selves, the cultural effects of toxic masculinity, and how far women will go to save the people they love.
by Trip Venturella, directed by Alan Patrick Kenny
8:00 p.m. – April 18th & 26th, Elizabeth Evans Baker Theater, Kantner Hall
2:00 p.m. – April 27th, Elizabeth Evans Baker Theater Stage, Kantner Hall
Two weeks ago, Sibyl, the love of Les’ life, disappeared, and today Les’ job is to interrogate the last person to have seen her alive. Lucky, Les has a Hepatoscope, a device that allows him to plumb the depths of another person’s mind. But minds are tricky places, and, as Les begins to discover, what we call reality can be trickier still. Sibyl is a dark comedy that blurs the lines between memory, fantasy, and truth.
Stitched with a Sickle and a Hammer
by Inna Tsyrlin, directed by Anne McAlexander
8:00 p.m. – April 19th & 27th, Elizabeth Baker Theater, Kantner Hall
2:00 p.m. – April 20th, Elizabeth Baker Theater, Kantner Hall
Aleksandra, a political prisoner at a GULAG camp and part of the camp’s theatre troupe, is forced to aid Soviet authorities disguise the existence of the camp in front of a visiting American delegation. She prepares for two roles: the character on stage – Nina from Chekhov’s The Seagull – and the role of an actor who isn’t imprisoned. In the face of totalitarian power, inside and outside the camp, Aleksandra must decide whether to comply with the regime that has taken away her freedom or commit an act of counterrevolution.
Staged readings are free and open to the public.
Bury the Rest
by Skye Robinson Hillis, directed by Rebecca Vernoy
1:00 p.m. – Thursday, April 25th, Forum Theater, RTV Building
Following the death of their 17-year-old daughter Lucy in a mass high school shooting, friendly exes Margot and Colin find themselves at a moral impasse. Though deeply reliant on each other during the grieving process, Colin’s position as a Republican U.S. Senator makes it difficult for Margot and the rest of the family to reconcile the root of their grief with his continued support of the NRA. As they navigate the intimacies of their reforged relationship and rebuild themselves as a family, it may in fact be Lucy who decides their fate.
Here Lies Vivienne Greene
by Liv Matthews, directed by Jeanette L. Buck
4:00 p.m. – Thursday, April 25th, Forum Theater, RTV Building
In 1956, recently certified mortician Vivienne Greene is next in line to inherit the Jackson and Sons Funeral Home from her Uncle Zeke. Before she can take over, Vivienne is presented with one more test mortuary school never prepared her for: after a young boy is brutally attacked, Vivienne must smuggle him out of their small Georgia town before he is found by a local mob. Fearful of losing the funeral home and her own life, Vivienne must look to her past to find that death may be a second chance at life.
by Devin Porter
1:30 p.m. – Friday, April 26th, Forum Theater, RTV Building
What does it mean to be mute? When an African American teenager, Rocky Carter, protects the only thing God has left for him, he goes from almost graduating high school to Dunbar, a super-max. On his birthday, with the help of St. Peter, the oldest security guard in Dunbar, Rocky must earn his birthday present in order to see the love of his life again. Through the process of listening and taking action, Rocky learns that being mute doesn’t mean you’re silent.
The Evolution of Rattlesnakes
by Jean Egdorf, directed by Dusty Brown
3:30 p.m. – Friday, April 26th, Forum Theater, RTV Building
Rattlesnakes are evolving to lose their rattles. Man has spent so long wiping out the ones that make noise, it’s become a better defense mechanism to remain silent. Denni Erwine is arrested for the murder of the Drybrook County Sheriff. According to their statements, she only struck back against the Sheriff in defense of her neighbor, Louisa Trelawney, but there is more coiled up in the case than either woman is willing to say. To prevent it from striking more than once, is there only one way to deal with a venomous snake?
The Christmas Special
by John Hendel
1:00 p.m. – Saturday, April 27th, Forum Theater, RTV Building
‘Twas the week before Christmas, and all through the cabin,
Barbara was asking, “What exactly will happen?”
Her husband was giving his life up to Claus,
But Barbara was left there without any cause
Then what in her is’lated world did appear?
The son she gave up in a moment of fear!
He’s handsome and famous, and possibly could
Whisk Babs away to old Hollywood
But hubby is slavish to the plan that they made,
“You must be devoted to Santa’s crusade!”
Will Barbara decide that her son’s the solution
Or will she stay true to the revolution?
To Saints and Stars
by Jordan Ramirez Puckett, directed by Shelley Delaney
4:00 p.m. – Saturday April 27th, Forum Theater, RTV Building
10-all astronauts prepare for launch… 9-months and Zoe will be a mother… 8-years old, a promise we never wanted to break… 7-months, my one way ticket to Mars… 6-million hours staring up at the stars… 5-seconds left until launch… 4- years old when we first met… 3- decades of friendship and love… 2-peas in a pod until… 1-mission liftoff
In To Saints and Stars, Sofía’s life flashes before her eyes. In the face of almost certain death on the first manned mission to Mars, Sofía re-examines her lifelong friendship with Zoe and the age old conflict between science and faith.
Guest Artists In Residence
Each April, three nationally recognized, industry professional guest artists are invited to be in residence for the Seabury Quinn, Jr. Playwrights’ Festival to respond to the MFA plays and work with the MFA playwrights.
We are pleased to announce the guest artists joining us for the 2019 Seabury Quinn, Jr. Playwrights’ Festival:
Nan Barnett is a new play developer, producer, and advocate, and is the Executive Director of National New Play Network, an alliance of more than 120 professional theaters that collaborate in innovative ways to develop, produce, and extend the life of new plays and model a robust, equitable, and inclusive new play ecosystem. During her previous tenures as a member of the Network’s Board, Executive Committee, and President she helped create and implement several of the organization’s revolutionary initiatives, including the acclaimed NNPN Rolling World Premiere, Residency, and National Directors Fellows programs, Nan has led the organization through the development and launch of its field-altering database, the New Play Exchange, now home to more than 25,000 plays by living writers, and its recent planning process which will dramatically evolve its governance structure to accelerate its diversification. Prior to joining NNPN full-time Nan was a founding company member and the long-time Managing Director of Florida Stage, the nation’s largest regional theater producing exclusively new and developing plays and musicals, where during 24 seasons she oversaw the development and production of hundreds of new plays and musicals for both emerging and veteran playwrights. She was a member of DC’s inaugural Helen Hayes Awards’ New Play Panel is on the Artistic Councils of O’Neill Theater Center and PlayPenn and was inducted into the National Theatre Conference in 2017. Nan was also the Coordinating Producer for the 2015 and 2018 iterations of the Women’s Voices Theater Festival in the nation’s capital region, where NNPN is based.
Martine Kei Green-Rogers is an Assistant Professor at SUNY: New Paltz, a freelance dramaturg, and the President of the Literary Managers and Dramaturgs of the Americas. Her dramaturgical credits include: The Greatest with the Louisville Orchestra, Fences and One Man, Two Guvnors at Pioneer Theatre Company; Clearing Bombs and Nothing Personal at Plan-B Theatre; the Classical Theatre Company’s productions of Uncle Vanya, Antigone, Candida, Ghosts, Tartuffe, and Shylock, The Jew of Venice; Sweat at the Goodman; productions of Radio Golf, Five Guys Named Moe, Blues for An Alabama Sky, Gem of the Ocean, Waiting for Godot, Iphigenia at Aulis, Seven Guitars, The Mountaintop, Home, and Porgy and Bess at the Court Theatre; The Clean House at CATCO; Hairspray, The Book of Will, Shakespeare in Love, UniSon, Hannah and the Dread Gazebo, Comedy of Errors, To Kill A Mockingbird, The African Company Presents Richard III, A Midsummer Night’s Dream; and Fences at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival; 10 Perfect and The Curious Walk of the Salamander as part of the 2006 and 2007 Madison Repertory Theatre’s New Play Festival; and A Thousand Words as part of the 2008 WI Wrights New Play Festival. She also works with the Great Plains Theatre Conference and is affiliated with NNPN.
Jacqueline E. Lawton is a playwright, dramaturg, producer, and advocate for Access, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion in the American Theatre. Her plays include: Among These Wild Things, Anna K; Blackbirds, Blood-bound and Tongue-tied; Deep Belly Beautiful; The Devil’s Sweet Water; The Hampton Years; The Inferior Sex, Intelligence; Love Brothers Serenade; Mad Breed; and Noms de Guerre. Lawton has worked as a dramaturg and research consultant at Active Cultures, Actors Theatre of Louisville – Humana Festival of New American Plays, the Arden Theater (Philadelphia, PA), Arena Stage, Denver Center for the Performing Arts, Discovery Theater, Ensemble Studio Theater (New York, NY) Folger Shakespeare Library, the Ford’s Theatre, Horizons Theater (Atlanta, GA), Howard University, the Hub Theatre, Interact Theatre (Philadelphia, PA), Kennedy Center VSA Program, Morgan State University, Redshift Productions (New York, NY), Rorschach Theater Company, Round House Theatre, Theater Alliance, Theater of the First Amendment, Theater J, Tribute Productions, University of Maryland, Virginia Stage Company, and Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company. Currently, she is a Dramaturg at PlayMakers Repertory. Ms. Lawton received her MFA in Playwriting from the University of Texas at Austin, where she was a James A. Michener Fellow. She is a 2012 TCG Young Leaders of Color award recipient and an alum of National New Play Network (NNPN) Playwright Alum, Arena Stage’s Playwrights’ Arena, and Center Stage’s Playwrights Collective. Currently, she is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Dramatic Art at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and a dramaturg for PlayMakers Repertory Company. She is a proud member of the Dramatist Guild of America and is their NC Regional Rep.