Bridge Award 2018 Playwright Selection Committee: Two Questions

AITAF StaffPlaywright Q&A

Do you remember the first play you wrote, and what that experience was like for you?

Yes - in college, a one act. It felt like pure, what-the-hell fun.

- David Auburn (Proof)

I wrote a play about a crumbling marriage--I was 15 and didn't know from crumbling or marriage but I wanted to write about grownups. I had a lot of fun writing it, a lot more than my characters.

- Caroline McGraw (Ultimate Beauty Bible; I Get Restless)

The first play I wrote was a one-woman show that I starred in about my childhood and adult fascination with Patricia Hearst and her kidnappers. It started as a 15-minute piece and I think ended up being 65 minutes long. I'm still proud of it, but I can't imagine looking at it now, and what I'd think of it. That thing about one's molecules/cells changing every seven years feels like it applies to writing as well--in the case of that play, you could say an entirely different human wrote it. I guess the big takeaway was that my transition to writing came from acting--so for that play in particular, all my words and intention were "road tested"--by me. If I'd written something monstrously difficult to say (without much payoff), I'd find out pretty quickly. That stayed with me.

- Mona Mansour (The Way West; We Swim, We Talk, We Go To War)

It was called Age in Spanish, my freshman year of college, and it was embarrassing and exhilarating and I knew I was hooked.

- Bekah Brunstetter (Be A Good Little Widow; NBC's This Is Us)

It was an adaptation of a book I was reading at the time, actually. I'm a big proponent of learning by adaptation--in fact, realized not too long ago that pretty much every time I've ventured into a new medium as a writer, my first project is usually some form of adaptation or rewrite. Creating can be such a dizzying prospect and starting with an adaptation really helps you get your moorings.

- Nat Cassidy (The Tenants; Any Day Now)

The first play I wrote was after an event that left me emotionally wrecked and I just didn't know what else to do with the excess feelings except put them in some kind of form. So I opened a document on my laptop and spent a lot of time alone in my dorm room and a few months later there was a two act play on the screen. From there, I got together some friends, we read the play and we rehearsed it, and we performed it at a local library. It did two things: it convinced me that trying to wrangle down gigantic, chaotic feelings into a story was what I wanted to do, and that I was nowhere near skilled enough to do it well yet. So I kept trying, and got a little less bad at it .

- Nick Gandiello (The Blameless)

The first play I wrote was an awful musical. I wanted to write the next RENT or HAIR so badly when I was eighteen, but it just didn't work. I learned that I had a lot to learn.

- Aleshea Harris (Is God Is)

What advice would you give to first time playwrights?

Write a lot, see a lot, read a lot, steal a lot, disguise a lot, digest a lot, throw out a lot, rewrite a lot, edit a lot. Embrace the fact that your first drafts will suck—don't let anything stop you from getting to END OF PLAY, and then fix it from there. Give each of your actors at least one uniquely awesome thing to do. Begin your scenes later than you think and end them sooner than you'd expect. Most importantly, figure out what it is about the theatre, what it is specifically about a play, that you want to explore and tear into it with both hands. You could be writing anything, but you're writing a play—make the most of it!

- Nat Cassidy

It can be hard when what you see in your head doesn't quite spill on to the page, when your brain moves faster than your words. The good news is, it gets easier as you write more, but it also never stops being a challenge.

- Caroline McGraw

Let it be messy. You've got to write the crappy version(s) before you can get to the good stuff.

- Aleshea Harris

Produce thyself.

- David Auburn

Work with actors as much as possible. Or even just good readers--they don't have to be actors necessarily. If you're working on something new it can be hugely helpful to hear actors cold-read it. Part of theater is being able to ignite the beating hearts of the people in our plays, so they can then ignite those of the audience. It's so good to hear how the words play, even early on.

- Mona Mansour

Theatre is an immediate thing: you can fly across the world to do it but you'll still be doing it with the people immediately in the space with you and for the people that show up to share that space with you. Get people in your community in a room together. Read things together. Rehearse things together. Support someone else in their work and show up for them. Ask people in your community to show up for the artists you love. Keep working to figure out how to say something true in a way that only you can say it.

- Nick Gandiello

Trick yourself into believing you are the only playwright in the world. Write from that place.

- Bekah Brunstetter

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