Cover artwork of the Season in review 2020/21: A group of friends open a time capsule labelled 2020.
California - North Season in Review 2020/21
Northern California Banner for Season in Review 2020/21
Artwork by Bekka Lindstrom, Drawings by Ian Sklarsky

“If your heart is broken, make art with the pieces."

― Shane Koyczan


Last March, this tweet went viral: “Just a reminder that when Shakespeare was quarantined because of the plague, he wrote King Lear.”) Roseanne Cash was retweeted 50,000 times, generating dry replies: “Well, I've cleaned my carpets. Take that Will Shakespeare!”

The pandemic closed down beloved venues, led to collective harm and grief, and challenged us physically, spiritually, financially, and emotionally. Systemic racial injustices, from police murder to gross inequity in theatre environments, generated calls for change. Simultaneously, lockdowns corresponded to an outpouring of productivity and ingenuity by Northern California dramatists. Zoom readings, audio plays, immersive experiences, street theatre: Dramatists Guild members created them all.

Collaborative works thrived in the audio play arena, and many can still be enjoyed on demand. New Conservatory Theater’s In Good Company, a podcast about an LGBTQ theatre company, is the work of five playwrights including DG members Jewelle Gomez and Laurel Ollstein. The Secrets and Sins of Tabard Lake is a collaborative “pandemic noir” audio play written by twenty women, including DG members AJ Baker, Linda Ayres-Frederick, Lee Brady, Susan Jackson, and Mercilee Jenkins. Denmo Ibrahim co-created You Are Not Alone, an immersive audio experience for one. Lauren Gunderson, Cleavon Smith, and Jonathan Spector teamed up to create The Flats, an audio drama for Aurora Theatre Company, available through the 2021 Season.

Lauren Gunderson’s world premiere one-man play, The Catastrophist, about her spouse, virologist Nathan Wolfe, was a co-production by Marin Theater Company and Round House Theatre. Gunderson also used Facebook Live to offer free playwriting courses to writers on lockdown. Michaela Goldhaber collaborated with her company of disabled writers and performers, Wry Crips, and Phamaly Theatre Company, to bring Wry Crips Occupy! – a documentary style play about the historic 504 Sit-In – to Zoom. Cleavon Smith’s Eastlake Lyrics was part of Neighborhood Stories, which played on sidewalks, balconies and parks to audience members in cars. Little Boots, by Fresno playwright Cinthya Hernandez, was featured in the virtual Femme Fatale Play Festival. Jade Gregg wrote the book for Light the Way: A New Bike Safety Musical, which received the 2020 Helen Putnam Award for Excellence.

Bay Area new works development organization PlayGround-SF pivoted quickly to the Zoom platform, maintaining its programming through 2020-21. Its Zoomfest premiered Garret Jon Groenveld's Disbelief in June 2020. Also performed in the 2020 Zoomfest were DG members’ plays Lolita Roadtrip by Trevor Allen, Safe House by Geetha Reddy, Patricia Cotter’s 1980 or Why I’m Voting for John Anderson, and The Nesting Instinct by Tom Bruett, whose short play Christmas Evita was a part of the virtual 2020 Best of Playground-SF Festival. DG members Lynn Aylward, Tom Bruett, Diana Burbano, Victoria Chong der, Victoria Evans Erville, Sam Hurwitt, Anne Yumi Kobori, Jonathan Luskin, Meghan Maugeri, Erin Marie Panttaja, Evelyn Jean Pine, Madeline Puccioni, and Annette Roman are part of the Playground-SF 2020-21 Writers Pool. Selected new shorts from these writers’ submissions were performed each month on Zoom through Fall and Winter.

Hope and resilience remain strong in our region’s theatre artists. Kitty Burns of Mariposa took advantage of lockdown to write three related one-acts about retirement: Deprogramming, Get your House in Order, and Volunteer Nightmare. Burns suggests, “Go write. Just because you can’t go to a theatre doesn’t mean you can’t write for one. There are no limits to creativity. Use this time to exercise your imagination: if your roses haven’t bloomed on time, write about that.”

Coolidge Harris II of Modesto has enjoyed great success with his first play, Greenwood, about the Tulsa Massacre. Along with other awards, it placed first in the AAPG Playwrights Competition of the Matthews Playhouse of the Performing Arts, where it will premiere in September. His second play, Golden Wings, is one of five Finalists in the Tru Voices Play Competition. “We’re going through a lot as a country,” Harris says. “Writing is a refuge for me.” He’s spent time networking, watching and listening to others’ work, and investing in himself. His advice: “Stay committed to your craft. You don’t want to take a break or a day off. I feel that if you’re going to be a playwright, be a playwright. Invest in resources that will benefit and legitimize you,” he says.

Christine Hsu of Oakland calls herself “a baby playwright.” Her first two one-act works were streamed during the pandemic (watch Faith here). She is submitting her plays monthly and working toward writing a full-length play. Hsu attended many classes including at the DG Institute, worked with an accountability buddy, participated in End of PlayTM, and experimented with writing youth theatre. “We all have room for learning as creative people. It’s such a humbling and wonderful experience to receive feedback, to attend rehearsal, especially when the actor says your words in a better way than you could have imagined.”

For Nick Hadikwa Mwaluko of El Cerrito, a rent moratorium lessened their financial anxiety and created an atmosphere of greater freedom for their writing and pitching. Their #MeToo appeared in Trans [Plays] of Remembrance streamed on HowlRound TV, and several of their essays and a book were accepted for publication. Mwaluko’s passionate advice for theatre artists: “Every element of theatre is sharing. You must free yourself of competition, enter into spaces by decolonizing them. Invite in people who are not in those spaces traditionally.” Above all, they advise, “Be authentic. We were taught to write the lie. We should write the truth. It will come out, anyway.”

While this report cannot name every member who created work last year, I hope it reflects the perseverance and resourceful artistic spirit of Northern California Dramatists Guild members. Despite obstacles, all rose to the challenge… including the writers represented in the Dramatists Diary entries that follow.


View this Region's latest additions to the Dramatists Diary

Patricia Milton
Patricia Milton

is an award-winning playwright whose plays and musicals have been produced from her native San Francisco to New York City, and from Copenhagen to Istanbul. She has had more than 100 presentations and productions of her short plays internationally. She is a Resident Playwright at Central Works and servesd as Northern California Dramatists Guild Representative.