At the start of the new year, the Dallas Theater Center’s Playwrights' Workshop Showcase introduced seven local playwrights performing excerpts from their new work to an audience of local theatre-makers at the Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre. Led by the center’s Playwright in Residence Jonathan Norton, selected participants create the first draft of a new play over the course of eight weeks, while building their knowledge about the business of playwriting. In a conversation with Guild members Caroline Turner Cole, Franky Gonzalez, and Gabrielle Denise Pina, we talked about writing the first draft of a new play and identifying the diverse voices in Dallas/Ft. Worth.
Terrance Brooks Boykin: What motivated you to apply and participate in the Dallas Playwrights Workshop?
Gabrielle Denise Pina: I had just moved back to Dallas and I didn’t really know anyone. I needed to understand the theatre community here and put names to faces, and immerse myself in the culture, so to speak. Plus, I missed the energy of hanging around with other artists. We’re our own tribe, you know. So, applying for the Dallas Playwrights Workshop seemed like a good way to achieve these goals.
Franky Gonzalez: Too often playwriting is a lonely experience. I wanted to explore my craft in the context of developing a text with a group of fellow writers who understood what it means to be a playwright and grow closer to my local playwriting community.
TBB: What would you say to emerging playwrights, who are about to write a first draft of a new play?
GDP: Research your subject matter in the best way you can. Keep an open mind while you work. Remember that fear is your enemy, always. Allow your characters to move the story forward. Keep your theme in the forefront of your mind as you work. If you do this, the threads in your work will find each other and coalesce like magic. Push toward to the finish line without stopping to examine what you’ve already written every five minutes and remember to enjoy the journey especially when you’re rewriting. Revising, now, that’s the good part!
Caroline Turner Cole: Just write it. Always remember it’s a first draft and first drafts are meant to be edited. It’s okay if it’s bad. You’ll fix it. It’s much easier to edit something as opposed to nothing. Discover your own “best working time”—whether it’s before dawn, after dark, or pages smuggled in during lunch hours. Find a group of other playwrights who can encourage you and keep you accountable. Seek out generous actors who will read your new work aloud and be kind when it’s not yet perfect. If you’re in Dallas, check out the Aviary, run by Cain Rodriguez. It’s a fabulous incubator for new plays with a wonderful feedback process based on Liz Lerman’s Critical Response Process method that is simply brilliant.
FG: Your first draft isn’t your final draft. Give yourself permission to write something that will make you cringe with how bad it is. Write your truth; never forget why you started to write. Your work will see itself through from there. Most importantly, be proud. You’re about to begin the process of creating magic. When you write plays you are mining a resource that will go on to provide jobs, bring people together, and transport us away from this world. Imagine, all that beauty created from nothing but the dreams of your magnificent mind. Congratulations on starting your journey toward making realities from the movements of your soul.
TBB: As far as the plays produced in Dallas/Ft. Worth, could you describe the local voice that connects the theatre-makers here?
CTC: While I don’t speak for everyone by any means, locally we have an extremely active group of playwrights from my perspective. In the past five years, writing workshops, development groups, staged readings and festivals have been popping up all over the Metroplex. Now, most of us are still dreaming of getting paid well with professional productions mounted, but we’ve definitely got something to say. Dallas is a young, growing, and diverse city that is an extremely interesting place to write in and experience. Our theatre community is both progressive and inclusive while being wedged in the middle of a very ‘red state.’ It makes for a good mix of opinions, backgrounds, and people telling stories and creating theater together. I, for one, am having a blast!
FG: If there is one quality that DFW playwrights have it’s that we are one of the richest regions in self-production and new play development in the entire country. When I say new play development, I don’t mean play development in the sense we’ve come to understand it (through conferences, contests, etc.). Rather, I mean that vibrant and necessary new play development out in DFW happens through rehearsal and production. Playwrights with ties to the region create dynamic, meaningful work and do not wait for New York’s blessing to see their plays come to life. Whether it’s a traditional theatre space like a black box or a stage, a storefront, or even at your local café, you will find theatre groups with their own playwrights devising and writing original works that span the spectrum of ideology, background, identity, and politics. You’ll get a variety of stories if you’re out here. Dallas/Ft. Worth isn’t a lone voice, it’s a choir of stories, each important to the identity of the region.