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Posts Tagged ‘Writers Group’

Braden Abraham

New Writers Group on the Block

November 1st, 2011 by Braden Abraham

Seattle Rep's Writers Group (pictured from left to right): Emily Conbere, Vincent Delaney, Stephanie Timm, Elizabeth Heffron, and Al Frank.

Shortly after Jerry Manning was appointed artistic director, he and I sat down to discuss the tenets of our New Play Program. We wanted Seattle Rep to be a leader in creating a culture of new work in Seattle. This meant continuing our tradition of introducing Seattle audiences to the most exciting playwrights from around the country—Lisa Peterson and Denis O’Hare’s premiere of An Iliad, Bill Cain’s premiere of Equivocation; workshops with Adam Rapp, Anne Washburn, and Alan Alda are a few recent examples. It also meant doubling down our efforts to encourage the exceptional writers who live here. We’re doing this through new play commissions (Cheryl L. West, Robert Schenkkan), completion commissions of works already in progress (R. Hamilton Wright / David Pichette, Todd Jefferson Moore), readings and workshops (Stephanie Timm, Bryan Willis, Marya Sea Kaminski), partnerships (New Century Theatre Company, Northwest Playwrights Alliance, Western Washington University, UW), and, through our most recent component, Seattle Rep’s Writers Group.

One of the best parts of my job is regularly meeting with playwrights to discuss their work. As Jerry and I were laying the groundwork for the New Play Program, I met with several writers who had recently moved to Seattle. They were trying to get the lay of the land and struggling to find a venue for their plays. When I asked them what would be most helpful in terms of ongoing support (beyond more funding and production opportunities), they all said: a writers group. This was around the same time that Neil Ferron (our literary intern last season who is also a playwright) and I were brainstorming ways to facilitate a more supportive environment for writers in Seattle. It seemed like it was time to start something new.

Playwrights Emily Conbere and Vincent Delaney look through a script.

I looked at peer theaters around the country to see what comparable programs had been successful. I talked to colleagues who had initiated writers groups at the Public Theater, Ars Nova, Ensemble Studio Theatre in NYC, and the Huntington Theatre in Boston. I talked to both local and national seasoned writers and dramaturgs who had participated in writers groups or had been a part of local organizations dedicated to supporting writers – remember Seattle Dramatists?

This was how the Writers Group was born. There seemed to be a need to provide a space and incentive for playwrights to gather and share their work. It’s also an exciting opportunity for the Seattle Rep artistic staff to get to know these writers and their work over time. This deeper level of conversation was important to me in particular, because I was looking for a more meaningful way to engage with local playwrights than reading hundreds of unsolicited play submissions each year that the Rep had no means of producing.

We received over eighty submissions for our first Writers Group. From those submissions we selected five writers for the first two-year residency. Each year we hope to bring on three to five writers, constantly maintaining a group of eight or nine. When selecting writers from this year’s pool of applicants, we looked for a mix of experience and vision, the types of approaches that would benefit from an on-going conversation. We looked for dynamic variety, distinctive artistic voices, good theatrical instincts, and a purposeful desire to take part in a collective. I couldn’t be more excited about our inaugural group: Stephanie Timm, Emily Conbere, Vincent Delaney, Elizabeth Heffron, and Al Frank.

Expect to hear more about the Writers Group and the plays they are working on in the months ahead.

Braden Abraham is Seattle Rep’s Associate Artistic Director.

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