National Reports

Philadelphia by Marjorie Bicknell

Image 1: Julie Zaffarano.
Image 2: Marjorie Bicknell.

Philadelphia by Marjorie Bicknell

I came to playwriting by accident. I slipped on a literary banana peel and never looked back.” That’s how Julie Zaffarano describes her decision to become a playwright in her fifties.

Today, Julie is known in Philadelphia as a playwright to watch.  She recently joined PlayPenn’s The Foundry, the playwrights’ lab founded by Michael Hollinger, Jacqueline Goldfinger and Quinn Eli.  A 2017 Eugene O’Neill Conference Semi-Finalist, she won Best New Work in Charleston’s What If Productions Festival and Best Production at the Pittsburgh New Works Festival. Her list of productions and reading continues to grow.

But not that long ago, Julie was an actor and director who had never given playwriting a second thought.  Then a theatre company she worked with decided a murder mystery would be a fun way to raise some money. “I researched available scripts and kept thinking, ‘I could write a better one.’”

The playwriting bug hit her hard. Julie read books on playwriting to use as a guide and drafted her first full length play, The PlayMakers. She wondered, “Is it any good?”

“Searching online, I found the Dramatists Guild and applied for membership,’ Julie said. “It was eye opening. I learned about new and wonderful things: play development, festivals, one acts, ten-minute plays, adaptations, and new genres such as social justice, political, and magical realism … the list was never ending. I had a lot to learn. And I was in my fifties.”

Being later to the game didn’t stop Julie. She registered for a seven-week writing intensive with Jacqueline Goldfinger at PlayPenn, a class she calls “life changing.”  Julie joined the Philadelphia Dramatists Center, the Minneapolis Playwrights Center, and the New Play Exchange. She attended Cape May Symposiums, took some awesome PlayPenn classes. She attended scads of plays and read even more.  She wrote.  She networked.

Julie’s first development opportunity was a reading in Alabama.  When she walked in the room, she heard someone say, “The playwright is here!” Julie said, “I looked over my shoulder and realized they were talking about me!”

Julie’s gone on to a host of tremendous experiences, but few as thrilling than being accepted into The Foundry at PlayPenn. “I am profoundly humbled by the opportunity,” she says. “Being in the room with the brilliant and accepting group, listening to readings and experiencing the magic that happens when playwrights share their work is a gift.

Talented and hardworking as Julie is, she generously credits her success to working in a giving playwright community and being blessed with a host of mentors. Jacqueline Goldfinger taught her to “start in the middle of the action.” J.T. Rogers pointed out “your strengths may be your weaknesses.” L. Feldman challenged her to “be authentic.”  Donald Margulies recommended, “try a different setting.” Alex Dremann reminded her, “Don’t overthink.”

What’s the best thing about being an older emerging playwright? Julie will tell you that besides having her husband, Dave, at her side, “Nothing is better than when your adult children think you are cool for doing what you love.” You can learn more about Julie at www.juliezaffarano.com, read her work on New Play Exchange. Or look her up if you’re in Philly for a drink and a chat.

Julie isn’t the only emerging playwright “of a certain age” in Philadelphia. Our region’s new Rep – that’s me – is one, too.  After many years of using my writing talents in advertising, I finally took my part-time passion for writing plays and turned it full-time. As your Rep, I’m planning all sorts of events: opportunities to see new works and talk to their authors, a dive into devised theatre, “speed dating” with directors, and more. I hope to meet all of you soon, and that we all have an exciting and productive new year.