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A Festival by Locals, For Locals

The L.A. Writers' Workshop Festival: New Plays Forged in L.A. Debuts

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(L–R): Sam Anderson, Scott Turner Schofield, Jasika Nicole, and Rodney To in 'A Kind of Weather.'

Photo by Ryan Miller/Capture Imaging.

Los Angeles has more theatre companies per capita than any city, and is a place writers flock to looking for opportunities across every form of media. But it can still be hard for playwrights to find one another and find support for their theatrical endeavors.

This is why, since 2005, Center Theatre Group’s L.A. Writers’ Workshop has worked to foster and promote a robust playwriting community in a city full of television writers’ rooms. Each year, seven playwrights—many of whom spend their days writing for the screen—are invited to research and develop new work with their peers and with feedback and support from Center Theatre Group staff.

While creating new work has always been a driving force at Center Theatre Group, the world of L.A. theatre is ever-evolving. In exploring our own role in the ecosystem and how we can best support local playwrights, this year Center Theatre Group produced the first ever L.A. Writers’ Workshop Festival: New Plays Forged in L.A., with the support of the Time Warner Foundation.

The Festival featured readings of three new plays from L.A. playwrights—all past participants in the L.A. Writers’ Workshop—onstage at the Kirk Douglas Theatre on June 23, 2018. They were chosen from over 30 submissions from the Writers’ Workshop community. Each play received dramaturgical support, rehearsal space, a cast of actors, and a director.

First on the docket was A Kind of Weather by Sylvan Oswald (2015/2016 L.A. Writers’ Workshop member). The play—dubbed an obsessive-compulsive time-jumping tragi-comedy—follows the story of an unexpected pseudo-family reunion between an estranged father and son. Next came New Life by Dan O’Brien (2010/2011 L.A. Writers’ Workshop member), following the story of a war reporter and an ailing playwright, and representing the third in a trilogy of memoir-for-the-stage works by O’Brien. The final piece, How to Raise a Freeman by Zakiyyah Alexander (2012/2013 L.A. Writers’ Workshop member), is the story of a middle-class American family struggling with the realities of institutional and racial violence.

Center Theatre Group Artistic Program Development Manager Patricia Garza explained that the goal was to spotlight the huge talent emerging from the Writers’ Workshop to the local community here in Los Angeles—including local theatre artistic directors and literary professionals—which meant selecting a group that really represented the diversity and excellence here.

The Festival ended with an evening reception, where audience members, artists—including many Writers’ Workshop community members whose works were not staged—and staff members mingled and enjoyed cocktails. The opportunity to be a part of the artistic development process was an exciting occasion for many, as was the chance to come together as a group of professionals and patrons who are deeply invested in the creation of new work in Los Angeles.

It’s amazing how much play you can get out of a reading, how much of the play is there, how much you can envision, said Center Theatre Group Associate Artistic Director Neel Keller, who also directed one of the readings. Keller noted that for playwrights, as well as for audiences, readings provide a chance to see work through an exploratory lens. Readings can seem much more alive than a full play, Keller said. Actors are still very actively discovering things; they’re making it up and discovering it as you watch them.

He added, Discovery is exactly what we’re aiming for as we support L.A. playwrights at every stage of development. Center Theatre Group wants them to think of us as their home theatre.

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