My playwriting classes are 50% discussion and 50% writing. Discussion, as opposed to lecture, allows students to build off their own ideas and experiences, teaches collaboration, and creates connections between the material and the work organically. It also assists in generating a class ensemble, which helps build camaraderie and trust, allowing for stronger and more empathetic workshops of student plays.
I might begin the day by asking, “How would you build a haunted house?” I’d offer prompts throughout the conversation encouraging connections between writing plays and designing a haunted house (considerations similarly are audience, purpose, flow, tension, release, etc.). I might refer to reading the students did the night before by Avery Gordon or Colin Dickey that illuminates America’s fascination with ghosts and hauntings, and specifically addresses who is missing from the cis, hetero, white, male imagination of hauntings. I might ask them to refer to Chisa Hutchinson’s play Whitelisted asking them to analyze how she uses a haunting to tell a story about gentrification and racism. Then I’d begin a writing exercise focused on a haunting that interests the students, leading them through a battlefield of quick decisions and hidden staircases until they conclude with several pages of text. After the exercise, we’d unpack it as a class. The students wouldn’t share exactly what was written, but we’d aim to understand questions that each student currently wrestles with and what discoveries and connections were made in the practice of writing.
I encourage experimentation, exploration, and/or “clearing the pipes” until a student feels propelled into a project that compels them toward a hefty, completed idea that they feel is ready to receive feedback. Then, what the artist creates needs close examination by a friendly room full of other experimenters and practitioners who can learn from giving critique as much as receiving. I believe in nourishing the playwright and interrogating the art, even or especially if that art is silly or bloody. And also, that critiquing art is a learning opportunity and not an exercise in cruelty.
I strive to connect what we do as artists to the larger world and with horror, those connections are paramount especially when considering lazy tropes we’ve come to expect from the genre. I don’t believe there is a piece of writing that is simply entertainment and I don’t encourage students to let those tropes, politics, and entertainments go unquestioned. However, I believe in laughter alongside these close examinations. Success is a moving target. But if students learn to have a sense of humor while they practice, experiment, fail, and fail better, they’re more likely to locate that target and less likely to shoot themselves in the foot. They’re also more likely to be compassionate and engaged critics of the art they write and encounter.
Horror Playwriting, Playwriting, Script Analysis, Contemporary Playwrights, Queer Theater, Feminist Theater, The Horror Performance.