New Jersey by Stephen Kaplan
This February, New Jersey was lucky to host one of the Dramatists Guild Foundation’s Traveling Masters, playwright Pia Wilson, who grew up in Hillside, New Jersey.
For those of you not familiar with the program, The Traveling Masters is part of the Dramatists Guild Foundation’s nationwide education program providing free master classes and events on the craft of writing. Participants interact with luminaries of the modern stage, thereby giving these participants the chance to learn, ask questions, and develop their talents with input from true experts.
Drew University’s Theatre Department was performing Pia’s play Down Neck, set between 1946 and 1967 in Newark’s Ironbound district, and Pia was brought in to do a talkback after the performance and to lead two master classes: one with high school students from Newark, and one with Dramatists Guild members along with Drew students and writers from Writer’s Theatre of New Jersey.
The master class, entitled “Character First! How to Write Three-Dimensional Characters that Will Drive Your Play,” focused on character development. Pia’s work tends to start with character first and she talked about how her plays always start with characters talking to her, and when they talk long enough, she knows there’s a play. Sharing first-hand experiences from her own writing process mixed with exercises in character development, the master class was a great opportunity for the writers present to further explore characters in plays they are currently working on or ideas for future characters.
Here are some member responses to the master class:
“My weakness is developing three-dimensional characters because I often get sidetracked by the incredible number of potential choices. This seminar helped me focus on making the best possible artistic decisions and letting go of those that won’t work as well.” – Erica Levy Klein
“I zoomed through to a complete first draft for a new children’s show. The exercises Pia suggested in the workshop focused my plan to rewrite.” – Ann Mary Mullane
“Pia gave some fascinating insights into her process and what she does to mold her characters into real human beings. I am presently working on a play about the Cuban revolution and one of the characters has been sitting on the fence about his involvement in the mayhem. Pia’s suggestions have helped to infuse a bit of animus into my imaginary Cuban friend.” – Vita Patrick Morales
“Pia’s workshop was a delight. Always a pleasure to spend time with other Guild members. Pia’s suggestions about how to fix character problems was particularly useful. I used these exercises to work on a character that I’ve been working on with my new play, Leap of Faith, which is going to have a reading in April sponsored by the Theatre Project at the Cranford Community Center.” – Stephanie Griffin
“The workshop had me appreciating the time, effort and thought that goes into writing characters for the theater. With only a week to go before the first major presentation of my musical, Life Sucks…Just Kidding! at the Center for Spiritual Living in Morristown, NJ, Pia’s ideas and suggestions on how to develop a 3D character were inspiring as well as informative and thought provoking. I look forward to taking her suggestions and incorporating them into my revisions, as well as my next pieces.” – Ali Skylar
One of the best parts of these types of sessions is the opportunity to share process. We often just see the finished product and so any chance to learn about the “how” of when we write is always welcome as a reminder that there is no one right way to write a play and there is always something we can learn from each other.