Cover of The Dramatist Winter 2023
A Dramatist’s Guide to Columbus, Ohio
The Columbus, OH skyline as seen from North Bank Park on the banks of the Scioto River.
Photo: J.P. Mueller

If you are traveling to Columbus, Ohio, local playwrights have some guidance to share. Most all of us have always worked from home as playwrights. However, in the theatre, our growth is often about the community where we live and work. A vital community of theatre often begets a vital community of writers. As storytellers for a place and time, some Ohio writers suggest we participate with the communities that we hope to engage. Columbus playwrights Jeremy Llorence, Cory Skurdal, Chiquita Mullins Lee, Chris Leyva, Bethany Dickens Asaaf, and Amy Drake offer some advice to writers saying Hello to Columbus.

“Columbus is an awesome town for new playwrights because there are so many companies that invest in new work and are looking for new, diverse voices.” said Jeremy Llorence, Otterbein University playwriting faculty and author of Voice of the Net. “Evolution is great for LGBTQ work, MadLab does comedy and genre bending stuff, and Original Productions Theatre seeks to elevate new voices in and around Columbus. So my advice is to come here, see as many plays as you can, and find your people. We're already here, and someone is probably looking for your voice in the conversation.”

Cory Skurdal, author of Abundant Life, which premiered on March 3, 2023 at the Abbey Theater of Dublin, says, “Get involved. Support theatres by attending the shows. But also consider getting involved with a theatre and provide some sort of useful help to them. Volunteer. Let them get to know you. Get to know the theatres. You’ll find out who’s doing the kind of work that you write.” Cory found working locally rewarding and it has allowed him to be much more involved in the production aspects of mounting his new work. “For me, the personal connection, the ability to talk with folks locally, that’s been really valuable.” In March of 2022, Original Productions Theatre premiered Skurdal’s Catspaw, at the Abbey Theater in Dublin, Ohio, a popular venue for many new productions in Central Ohio.

Like many artists who have multiple jobs, Chiquita Mullins Lee is seen daily as the Arts Learning Coordinator for the Ohio Arts Council. Many also know her as a gifted poet and playwright. She is the author of Pierce to The Soul, which premiered at Contemporary American Theatre Company (CATCO) and toured with A Portable Theatre Company. She has three tips.

First, “Create relationships with the theatre companies in the Columbus area, like PAST Productions, and share your work with these theatres,” she said. Second, “Align yourself with other playwrights, for the inspiration, the support, and for the encouragement.” And lastly, “Hear your work read. Listen to the words that you wrote.” Although Central Ohio has a very healthy theatre community, it is missing a dedicated service organization for playwrights. Cleveland has the Playwrights Local, Cincinnati has the Cincinnati Playwrights Initiative, and Dayton has the Ohio Playwrights Circle. “Columbus needs this,” she said.

Chris Leyva is a playwright living in Columbus and the author of Prima Donna, a play inspired by Arthur Conan Doyle’s A Scandal in Bohemia. Chris first became involved with CATCO through their New Works Festival in 2021. That experience that led to Prima Donna’s world premiere at CATCO in May of 2022. Chris has worked with a number of Columbus theatres and created new work as a way to respond to very specific needs in the community, including an all-girls school that found few scripts catering to their population which were interesting and contemporary.

“I’ve looked to theatres that were doing new work, like MadLab Theatre. They have open submissions and they only produce new work,” Chris explained. “They have a short play festival, called Theatre Roulette, which creates opportunity for many playwrights. I’ve always wanted to create meaningful partnerships in the Theatre community. Look at the grants to support the development of your work that are offered to individual writers from the Greater Columbus Arts Council. Find partners, writers and theatres whose work aligns with yours.”

Bethany Dickens Assaf is a playwright and the MadLab Theatre’s Literary Manager. Bethany echoed this common sentiment, “When I was a newbie playwright searching for collaborators, someone gave me great advice to just get involved. Columbus boasts a really dynamic and broad theatre scene, with a range of theatre collectives and initiatives. So I'd say, take advantage! Show up to staged readings. Volunteer to usher a show or two. Audition, if you're so inclined. Go see everything! Once you start to make connections, you'll find the group that's right for you.”

“If you’re a playwright and you are moving to Columbus, tell as many people as you can,” advises Leda Hoffman, Artistic Director of CATCO. “Let them know that you have plays that you want to get produced, work-shopped, or just read. I believe the more people who know the better. Tell people!”

Leda is a strong believer in new work. “CACTO is looking at plays for the current moment and I am excited about plays that center joy. I’m never mad to get an email from an artist introducing themselves to me. I might not be able to write back right away, but I’m never sorry that someone sent a message and said they want to work with us sometime.” But, she cautions, “Find out what theatre might be the right match. Do a few minutes of research on the kind of work that CATCO is doing. Find the right fit for your work.”

Amy Drake, author of Somewhere I Can Scream, encourages writers to remember that while Columbus is a great place to write, don’t forget to look outside your home community. You may find your tribe anywhere. For some writers the path to production is not in your home community. “Go to professional conferences and workshops.” she suggests. “Meet people. Find out what’s going on, nationally. My tribe is in New York and it’s solid. It’s wonderful.”

Other key resources in Columbus include The Columbus Playwrights Collective, a Facebook group created by playwright Johnrick Hole; CATCO’s New Works for Young Audiences Festival; Available Light Theatre’s open submission policy; MadLab Theatre’s Young Writers Short Play Festival and their Theatre Roulette (Short Play Festival).

Michael London
Michael London

is a playwright and the Ohio Representative for the DG and the Director of the Ohio Playwrights Circle.  He is a 2022 recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Award and a 2023 recipient of the Governor’s Award for the Arts for the State of Ohio.