Workshopping and Developing New Work
Michigan is dedicated to workshopping writing to create new, dynamic theatre. Way before a playwright reads their first play, writers need input on germinating ideas. Several groups in the state have been exercising their craft through collaborative developmental workshops. These workshops provide an essential resource to writers at all stages of their careers.
One recent event, led by Michigan Dramatists Guild Ambassador Steve Feffer, was a writer’s workshop held at Queer Theatre Kalamazoo last December. Local writers immersed themselves in a day-long opportunity to listen and respond to one another’s work. Steve is an active mentor of young playwrights through his position as Professor of English at Eastern Michigan University where he heads the playwriting program. His plays have been produced or developed by nationally recognized theatres such as the O’Neill National Playwrights Conference, Ensemble Studio Theatre, Philadelphia Festival Theatre, and the National Jewish Theatre. At the Kalamazoo workshop, writers shared ten-minute excerpts of their plays for feedback and response. Kalamazoo generates lots of new plays through its active writer’s community and I’m looking forward to more immersive sessions from Steve.
The Kalamazoo workshop complements efforts of other DG members who have been supporting and sustaining writers in the Detroit area. Kudos to the Detroit Playwright’s Lab, housed at the Detroit Repertory Theatre. This fairly new organization was founded by Angela G. King and Charity Clark-Anderson in 2016. Originally, twenty artists came together to nurture aspiring local playwrights. Now, writers gather weekly to hear and critique work. The Lab hosts an annual festival of new plays in July which fills the Detroit Repertory Theatre’s stage to the max. I am grateful to playwright and activist Emilio Rodriguez for introducing me to the group. He passionately supports the writer’s group, in part, because it provides opportunities for members of the Black and Brown Theatre, a company he founded which nurtures artists of color in the professional Michigan theatre scene.
One of the best aspects of theatre in Detroit is the way in which artists collaboratively support one another. At the November Dramatists Guild “meet and greet” at the Detroit Repertory Theatre, members of another local writing group were also in attendance. Extra Mile playwrights have been supporting local talent since 2009. They began in Ferndale just outside of Detroit, operating without a dedicated space for ten years. These Dramatists Guild members have self-produced several plays through collective effort. The mission of Extra Mile is to build community by creating and developing transformative stories through the written word, storytelling and performance.
I want to give a final “shout out” to a new collective of young writers forming in Ann Arbor. Dramatists Guild student member Eli Rallo has created a 2019 support group for writers called the Blank Space Workshop. Her goal is to enable writers, directors and actors to collaborate on launching new work. Eli plans to organize collaborative work sessions – a blank space for developing story ideas – with university students and other artists. She wants to bring student voices in conversation with a broader community. I’m excited by her passion for cultivating these new approaches and ideas.
The developmental phase of writing is at times the most fertile; ideas flow and anything is possible. I applaud Michigan artists for supporting creation of new work at all phases of development.