Playwrights find a home in the Ojai Valley
by Tiffany Moon
The Ojai Playwrights Conference and the birth of a play
For the last 16 summers, playwrights, both emerging and established, have convened in Ojai, Calif., for two weeks of intimate reflection and genesis of their work. Leading directors and dramaturges of the American theatre scene are invited to make up the creative teams for each writer, and a group of 10-15 undergraduates and recent graduates make up the intern team of literary and directing associates that work in concert to bring the play to life. Add to that a company of professional actors and stage managers, and a devoted administrative and production staff, and the result is a kind of summer camp for theatre professionals, where for two weeks the only thing that matters is a focus on what the playwright needs to take their work to the next level.
One thing you hear repeated from the playwrights who attend the conference is that OPC is a safe place for them, where they are able to really focus on the material they are working on without fear of failure or criticism.
The 2013 Ojai Playwrights Conference took place from July 29 – August 11, gathering eight playwrights (Luis Alfaro, Lucy Alibar, Richard Cabral, Sam Hunter, Sean Lewis, Jiehae Park, Laura Schellhardt, David Wiener) to work on brand new pieces that would culminate with public readings during the New Works Festival portion of the week. Alice Tuan, one writer-in-residence and a former CTG Sherwood Award winner, served as a dramaturg in addition to working on her latest plays inside the library room.
The first week of OPC is invitation-only, providing the playwrights an opportunity to hear their play read aloud by their fellow artists in a nonthreatening environment. After the play is read, there is a discussion period where the entire artistic company gives constructive feedback. This feedback allows each playwright to hear from the directors and dramaturges who will be working on other plays during the following week before they enter the rehearsal period.
The first week also features a workshop for our interns, who work on creating and developing their own solo pieces with the playwrights and artistic staff that will be performed for the company during the second week. It is an incredible opportunity for these future artistic leaders to work side-by-side with working professionals on material that is personal and transformative.
The second week is the Festival Week, where professional actors come in and the plays begin to be shaped for their public readings at the end of the week. During this time, there are many revisions as the plays move toward fulfilling the ultimate vision of the playwright.
The Festival Week also includes the Youth Workshop, a program where junior high and high school students are led through a week of writing and theatre exercises led by OPC co-founder Kim Maxwell, culminating in a public performance of original scenes and monologues created throughout the week. The Youth Workshop is mentored by the OPC playwrights and dramaturges.
Two plays from the 2013 conference will see premieres in Southern California this season – St. Jude by Luis Alfaro, directed by OPC Artistic Director Robert Egan, currently playing at the Kirk Douglas Theatre as part of RADAR L.A.; and Rest by Sam Hunter, which will be part of South Coast Repertory’s 50th Anniversary season.
For everyone involved, the Ojai Playwrights Conference is an inspiring two-week period that provides the ideal environment for the birth of a play. The Ojai Playwrights Conference is committed to nurturing artists who speak to the current issues of our world and aren’t afraid to grapple with these topics in a meaningful and artistic way. For more information about the Ojai Playwrights Conference, including how to apply to be an intern or how to submit your work for consideration, visit our website.