Last fall, I received an e-mail from Andrew Black, a playwright, to let me know that he’d just moved to town and was interested in teaching for the Writers Center. We met. We talked. I figured out pretty quickly how lucky we were to be able to add him to our faculty.

So lucky, in fact, that three students in the very first class he taught—Tina Nehrling, Jan White, and Gari Williams—had plays accepted for this year’s DivaFest.

Here's what Andy Black had to say about the experience.

DivaFest 2013:  Or Three Indianapolis Playwrights Get Their First Production…Who Knew?

I had never taught playwriting for an organization like The Writers Center before last fall, so I was unsure what to expect.  What materialized was a five-session course called “The Fundamentals of Playwriting” and three women who were interested in writing plays.  The focus of “Fundamentals” is learning seven basic structural components of effective narrative structure, then utilizing all of them in the creation of a ten-minute play.  Yes, telling a story with a beginning, a middle and an end in ten minutes. 

The three female playwrights were game for the task, and I assigned a “theme” for the short plays to inspire their creativity.  There are many ten-minute playwriting contests around the country, so I selected one which had a theme:  “The Package, the Parcel or the Present” that I thought would be fairly easy to write to.  I also realized that if the women in my class wrote to this theme, then they would have a product they could submit to a playwriting contest.  So the “exercise” of writing a short play would turn into the “exercise” of submitting it as well, and then maybe even having it produced.

I did not realize that every spring in Indianapolis, there is a playwright’s festival for female playwrights called DivaFest, sponsored by Indy Fringe.  Over the course of the five weeks, I was pleasantly surprised by the high quality of the writing of my students.  All three of their plays turned out to be production worthy.  By the fifth week of the class, I had learned about DivaFest—a short festival of plays (no longer than an hour each) celebrating female playwrights.  I suggested to the group that we submit their plays as a “package”—three ten minute plays written around a common theme.  The protagonist of one was a teenager, the second was man at mid-life, and the third featured a senior.  The three plays would look at concerns of different life stages, and be held together by the arrival of a “package.”  Since the plays were themselves short, we could call the combined piece “Good Things Come in Small Packages”.

DivaFest accepted our submission (I learned that the judges scored the three short plays quite highly, which was very gratifying).  The women are now going through the throes of a first production which have included finding and losing actors and a director, scrambling for a production concept, negotiating for rehearsal space….all the things that real life playwrights deal with all the time. 

I am in the unique position of being able to say (as a first-time playwriting instructor) that 100% of my students have gone on to have their first production within six months of having completed my class—a statistic that I don’t think I will be able to use for the rest of my career!

We have had fun with our process, and look forward to Divafest.  Come join us if you like…good things really do come in small packages. 

Performances at Indy Fringe, Friday, March 8 @ 7:30pm, Sunday, March 10 @ 6:00pm, Friday, March 15 at 7:30pm.

Written by Barbara Shoup — March 05, 2013

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