For any playwright, the opportunity to create and converse in a collaborative setting is a golden one. Especially unique is an environment as immersive and supportive as the L.A. Writers’ Workshop, now beginning its 14th year at Center Theatre Group.
The seven local playwrights who will be writing new works with our support during the 2019/2020 Season are Adelina Anthony, Ngozi Anyanwu, Jonathan Caren, Dionna Michelle Daniel, Boo Killebrew, Kenneth Lin, and Kemp Powers—and together they offer a diverse medley of both talents and perspectives.
Indeed, almost all of this year’s artists also work in Hollywood—writing (Lin, for example, has written on Star Trek: Discovery, House of Cards, and Sweetbitter, while Caren wrote on Netflix’s Gypsy); acting (Anthony on Starz’s Vida, Anyanwu on HBO’s The Deuce); directing (Powers co-directed the 2020 Disney/Pixar feature Soul); and producing (Killebrew is executive producer on the upcoming AMC dramedy Aim High).
The L.A. Writers’ Workshop was founded to take advantage of exactly these kinds of talents. “Los Angeles has become a destination for writers in a way that New York was in the past. There are more many fantastic playwrights living in L.A. than ever before,” said Associate Artistic Director/Literary Director Neel Keller. “We wanted the theatre’s new play development efforts to provide a creative home for the growing number of local writers.”
That support comes from regular meetings of the playwrights—along with members of the company’s Artistic staff—to share, discuss, and improve their developing works in an encouraging space.
“It can be a lonely occupation, so I think the impulse to band together in a community where you can share the thrills and burdens of writing a play is important,” Keller noted.
The Workshop kicks off with conversations with experts in the subject matter of their plays. In the past, Center Theatre Group has invited everyone from a plastic surgeon and a theologian to a UFO researcher. At the end of the year, actors are brought in for readings that allow the playwrights to better envision how their works will appear onstage. Participants both past and present also have the opportunity to showcase their work in the annual L.A. Writers' Workshop Festival, which features public readings of selected new works by former Workshop participants.
“The Workshop continues to evolve based on the ideas and suggestions of the writers who participated the year before,” said Keller. “Those writers give feedback on how we can better support the next group—it’s really led by the writers, what questions they have for us and what they’re interested in.” That extends to the lives of the plays themselves. “When a writer joins our group, it’s because we enjoy their work, and we think they can benefit from this kind of environment,” said Keller. “We encourage them to work on whatever ideas are exciting them the most at this moment. We don’t necessarily know what they are writing about. We let their passions and interest lead the way."
It’s too early to say what this year’s plays will be—more often than not, they morph and evolve over the course of the season—but we’re excited about the unique and necessary perspectives of this group, some of whom are already familiar to Los Angeles theatre audiences. Anyanwu’s Good Grief made its World premiere at the Douglas in 2017, while IAMA Theatre Company and the Latino Theater Company premiered Caren’s Canyon earlier this year. Kemp Powers’ One Night in Miami premiered at Rogue Machine Theatre in 2013 and went on to earn awards including the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Ted Schmitt Award for Outstanding World Premiere, four NAACP Theatre Awards, and two LA Weekly Theater Awards. As a group, the playwrights have been produced at prominent regional theatres around the country, including the Long Wharf, Vineyard, Atlantic, Roundabout, and The Public.
“Being a large theatre in L.A. gives us the opportunity and responsibility to open our doors and give writers a place to sharpen their playwriting,” said Keller. “It’s important for all of our spirits to have those playwrights here—in the midst of all of our activity. Their presence brings creative energy to our buildings and makes a clear statement that supporting the genesis of new, exploratory work is a central part of what Center Theatre Group is.”