Company Profile: PlayWrite Inc.
October 18, 2017
Portland's PlayWrite Inc. provides a safe space for writers of all levels to develop a play from start to finish. Complete with a personal writing coach, professional actors and experienced collaborators, students get the rare opportunity to see their play come to life onstage. We had the chance to sit down with Founder Bruce Livingston to learn more about this organization and the PlayWrite workshop offered at Artists Rep in November.
Can you tell us a little bit about PlayWrite?
PlayWrite is a non-profit organization that’s been around since 2003. So far, 895 creative minds have completed our core playwriting workshop. We meet participants wherever they are, to share space and work together, whether that be at an alternative school, a justice-involved institution, a housing complex, or a community gathering center. Each participant works with a writing coach and professional actors. At the end of the workshop, participants direct and see their play come to life. We live by author E. L. Doctorow’s guidance: “Writing a play is like taking a trip by car at night. You can’t see your destination, but if you pay attention to what is around and just in front of you, the ending will light up at just the right moment."
How did you get started in this business?
The fates intervened. My first career was cultural anthropology, and I did field work in central British Columbia and southern Iran. I was fascinated by ritual, theatre, and healing, which are all of a piece. Those communities provide the fodder that has nourished PlayWrite to this day. Cross-cultural connections came into sharp focus for me when Peter Brook, one of the great 20th century theatre directors, brought his troupe to Iran in 1971 for the Shiraz Arts Festival. Brook’s project was monumental, performed at the ancient sites of Persepolis and Naqsh-e Rustam. His actors were from Cameroon, England, France, Iran, Japan, Mali, Portugal, Spain and the US; for many of whom there was no common language. That was a key part of Brook’s intention – to explore sound, light, and movement, a way to manifest the guts of our shared human condition. To know and feel each other in ways that transcend language. All of that stewed within me over the years, and when in the late 90s a local theatre organization asked me to write a simple two-character play for a young girl and an adult actor, everything came together. The work of Daniel Sklar and Tom Kellogg gave me the structure on which PlayWrite has been built. It’s been a collective effort, beginning with Jacque Drew and Jeff Szusterman, both local actors, and Patrick Fisher and Kalen Feeney, both of whom are Deaf actors.
What is your main demographic? Who do you work with the most?
We don’t have a main demographic in the ordinary sense of the word. Youth “at the edge” are our focus, but the work is for everybody of high school age and older. The phrase “at the edge” was created by students at Mt. Scott High School. It is at the edges where new discoveries are made about ourselves, about our relationships and about the universal questions. To give you an idea of our range, in the past year we have worked with immigrant and refugee youth (six different native languages spoken in the workshop!), Hispanic youth in Hillsboro, students at the Arts & Technology high school in Wilsonville, and writers who came to us through the Native American Student and Community Center at Portland State University.
Tell me a little bit about how your workshops are formatted.
Our workshop sessions are 2 ½ hours each, except for the final rehearsal and performance day, which is 5-6 hours long. The first few sessions include group work along with individual work; there is always at least one coach for each writer. Everyone participates, and we never ask any student to do anything that PlayWrite coaches won’t do. The workshop we’re holding at Artists Repertory Theatre has four 2 ½ hour sessions Nov. 6-9 and Nov. 10-13. PlayWrite staff will be casting your play leading up to the rehearsal & performance session the afternoon and evening of Tuesday, Nov. 14.
What's the PlayWrite community like?
The PlayWrite community is diverse in a magnitude of ways, whether you’re talking about our coaches or our participants. It’s amazing how quickly a sense of community and support builds in our workshops, and how theatre presents to us an opportunity to transcend boundaries and converge around our shared differences. We’re spread out – from Portland, Oregon to Tbilisi, Georgia! Actually, in 2015 Artists Rep generously included our Georgian colleagues in activities around the “Cuba Libre” show.
The PlayWrite community is fluid – new friendships form that endure for years, and spontaneous re-connections happen all the time. The PlayWrite experience ties people together, and those relationships often continue based on a wide variety of interests.