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Taking a Trust Fall in the Writers' Workshop

#412

Dinora Z. Walcott and David Clayton Rogers in "Women Laughing Alone With Salad" at the Kirk Douglas Theatre.

Photo by Craig Schwartz.

Stepping into the Writers’ Workshop final weekend retreat meant stepping into a creative environment inhabited by exploration, tension, and camaraderie. The camaraderie had been built over the course of a year-long series of workshops; if the seven participating playwrights didn’t know each other before, they’d certainly found how to artistically care for one another by the end of it. The tension came from anticipating sharing fresh, raw scripts with a new group of people. And the exploration was courtesy of the 12 actors selected to participate in the cold reads, who had received just a short description of their characters and the plays beforehand.

Somehow, long before this final weekend, the writers all found a way to get their process off the ground and stand on their own two feet—some steadier than others, but none with ego. Still, there was a thick sense of nervousness and excitement on day one of the retreat, as they prepared themselves for taking part in a version of that clichéd team-building exercise: the trust fall. For some, the weekend would be the first time they would hear their plays “all the way through,” a scary and important moment to see what’s there before diving in again and refining, rewriting, and editing. The playwrights had to allow themselves to fall backward to a new starting point, and it was up to those of us in the room to catch them and soften the blow. Everyone present in the room—the actors, other playwrights, and CTG staff—was encouraged to share responses, questions, and feedback after each reading in discussions facilitated by Director of New Play Development Pier Carlo Talenti and Literary Manager Joy Meads.

Though talented and experienced, with TV credits in the room ranging from The 100 and New Girl to How to Get Away With Murder and East Los High, the writers still felt that creating a new play was immensely daunting. Early in the weekend, one writer confessed that she didn’t know if she could still write a play on her own after having spent time in a television writers’ room, where the task of writing is shared and ideas flow freely from a group. Many of her fellow playwrights soon echoed this sentiment. But the retreat proved them otherwise. All of the playwrights had successfully shared in the well of energy of their peers and arrived at rough drafts, which were read aloud to the group over the weekend.

Often, we place an immense set of expectations on the playwright as a generative artist and principal creator. But the CTG Writers’ Workshop is a space where everyone supports each other’s process while preserving the individual playwright’s sense of authorship.

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