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Donors Go Inside the L.A. Writers' Workshop

An Artists and Educators Forum Event with Playwrights Deborah Stein and Dominique Morisseau

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One Starry Night at the Milton. Photo by Steve Cohn Photography.

As a writer you write in isolation, but theatre is all about community, playwright Deborah Stein told a group of donors on November 30, 2017 at a special Artists and Educators Forum event at the home of Jody and David Lippman. She went on to explain the value of Center Theatre Group’s L.A. Writers’ Workshop, which creates a community for a group of local playwrights each year as they create new works.

L-R: Deborah Stein, Dominique Morisseau, and Leslie Ishii. Photo by Mike Palma.

To have a writers’ group like this is a lifeline. It keeps you going. Self-doubt creeps in while you’re all by yourself, she said. To hear your work out loud and get the validation of people laughing where you put a joke, or being moved—or even asking questions and people being confused by things—is very useful.

Miles and Joni Benickes founded the Artists and Educators Forum five years ago to support Center Theatre Group programs like the L.A. Writers’ Workshop. Events such as the evening at the Lippmans’ are one benefit members enjoy. We can pull the curtain back and find out what happens in the creative process, said Miles in his introduction to the evening. How does great art get up onstage? In order to find out, he turned the conversation over to Center Theatre Group Teaching Artist Leslie Ishii.

Ishii was moderating a discussion between Stein, who wrote and codirected The Wholehearted, which played the Kirk Douglas Theatre in December 2016, and playwright Dominique Morisseau, whose recent work includes the book for Ain’t Too Proud—The Temptations Musical (onstage at the Ahmanson Theatre August 21 – September 30, 2018) and Pipeline (Lincoln Center Theater). Both playwrights participated in the 2016/17 L.A. Writers’ Workshop.

The writers met once a month beginning in December, just after the presidential election; three writers brought 20-30 pages of new writing to each meeting. It was a really special year to have this community of artists—to have this vehicle and this place and this community to be working through all these things that were coming up, said Stein.

One of the special things about the group is we’re there strictly because Center Theatre Group makes so much space for the wide range of our creative exploration, said Morisseau. We were all able to support each other’s different ideas and help each other cultivate the different stories we wanted to tell on our own. She was grateful for the group’s diversity as well. I had a very emotional moment in our last three-day retreat, where I looked around at our group, I looked at the stories we were telling, I looked at the kind of actors we were going to have in the room because of the kind of stories we were writing, and I thought, 'Oh this is the community I want to live in,' she recalled. I felt so full, learning from all these artists and their cultural perspectives.

Morisseau, who is also a writer on Showtime’s Shameless, talked about how important it is to keep writing for the stage while also writing for the screen. The L.A. Writers’ Workshop saved my life artistically because you don’t want to let go of one side of what you do because you’re branching out into other sides, she said.

After the initial conversation, Stein and Morisseau each read a brief excerpt from the plays they wrote in the Writers’ Workshop, followed by a question-and-answer session with donors.

I loved the evening at the Lippmans’ for so many reasons, said Center Theatre Group Board Member Monica Horan Rosenthal. The playwrights were both so articulate and compelling when reading their outstanding work and sharing insights into their processes. But I was also moved and inspired by comments made by donors present who shared their passion for deepening the culture of our city and cultivating an audience from the spectrum of its population by developing great work.

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