The 6th Annual Northeast Indiana Playwright Festival is over. I attended every session and workshop. It was worth the effort. I have attended each Festival since its inception, and I’m looking forward to next year.
Attending any focused camp be it football, music, or a home and garden conference--- can be exhilarating. Although I’ve never attended a football camp, music camp, or home & garden conference, I can assure you that most participants come away with either of two attitudes: 1) I can do this or better, or 2) I don’t need this at all! In most cases the first attitude prevails.
It’s not always what featured speakers say, but instead it’s the interaction among those attending that is valuable. People call it net-working. Sharing talk and ideas with others who are like minded is creatively stimulating. In the Playwright Festival, winning entries are read or produced. Prize money won’t buy a plane ticket to stardom, but the thrill of seeing or hearing one’s work read or produced is worth a trip around the world! It affirms one’s efforts and all those hours in solitude, writing, rewriting, and polishing a script.
The Playwright Festival does that for me. Directed by Phillip Colglazer, this year’s speaker and adjudicator was Tom Evans, whose professional directing credits are numerous. His book is on Amazon: 111 Directions for Directors: (that actors ought to know). His topic was “Writing for the Stage, & Staging such Writing.” For many years Tom (a Ph.D. degree in theatre) was staff director at the Shenandoah Playwrights Retreat in Virginia. Anyway, listening to the readings and then participating in feedback sessions is immensely helpful. I recall a feedback session at Chicago Dramatist, where a play I thought was wonderful but found somehow unsettling was critiqued in such a professional manner, I “immediately saw the light!” I determined, I would never allow such a fault to happen in any play I wrote.
I know some wannabe writers who attend workshop after workshop and never progress. They live on ethereal inspiration. I also know some people who attend simply because they are avid theatre buffs. Generally they offer insightful comments.
For many years, I attended the Faith in Writing Festival at Calvin College in Michigan, a biennial conference that brings together writers, editors, publishers, musicians, artists, and readers for three days of discussing and celebrating insightful writing. The Festival began in 1990, and thousands of attendees and hundreds of speakers—including John Updike, Elie Wiesel, Maya Angelou, Salman Rushdie, Donald Hall, Katherine Paterson, Madeleine L’Engle, Annie Dillard, and others—have been involved. It’s a good thing to hear an accomplished writer in person. I met and made some lasting friends.
I have a friend—I’ll call him Scott-- who once attended Sewanee Writers' Conference held every summer on the campus of the University of the South in Tennessee. The conference was founded in 1989, and is funded largely by an endowment from the estate of American playwright Tennessee Williams. One day we were talking theatre, and he remarked, “It was the highlight of my life, I do believe.”
No matter the intensity of a conference, when one returns home, there is work to do. Sure, during the conference, I may be inspired to write and submit a play to the Eugene O’Neill National Playwrights Conference, but my efforts won’t amount to a row of pins if I don’t go home and write, revise, write, and revise again.