"The Play's the Thing"
TAMPA, Fla. (Nov. 20, 2009) – The group of University of South Florida School of Theatre and Dance students sitting around Kate Fodor for her playwriting workshop ran the gamut – actors, poets, singers, stage managers – all drawn to writing plays as a way to communicate thoughts and ideas aching to be expressed. In Fodor they found a nurturing and encouraging mentor whose down-to-earth approach may help move them closer to their writing goals.
After an introduction from USF instructor Kerry Glamsch, who directed her play 100 Saints You Should Know, being presented at USF through Nov. 22, she gave a brief overview of her path to playwriting. There was an early attempt at acting, (“When I was younger, I was braver.”) followed by a successful but unsatisfying career as a journalist. One day actor friends talked about the kind of play they’d like to act in and she said, “I’ll write it for you.” A great idea until she sat down to do it.
“I felt real, physical panic. It was so frightening,” she said. “The power of writing can produce these feelings in you.”
She has come a long way since then. The New York Times named Fodor one of “Eight to Watch” in the theater world after her first play Hannah and Martin – the one that caused her such panic – was produced. That play has been mounted in cities around the U.S. and was included in The Susan Smith Blackburn Prize 2004: Six Important New Plays by Women from the 25th Anniversary Year (Smith and Kraus), and excerpted in The Best Men's Stage Monologues of 2003 (Smith and Kraus). Then came 100 Saints You Should Know, which was developed at Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre, had its premiere at New York’s Playwrights’ Horizon, and now is getting its southeast premier at the USF School of Theatre and Dance. She modestly admitted that now, “I think of myself as more of a playwright than a panicked journalist.”
Fodor takes what she calls an “agnostic view of writing classes. It’s something you have to learn for yourself. I can’t tell you how to write, but I can tell you how to be a writer.” She has no rules or tips but shared two pieces of advice.
The first was to consider writing “morning pages,” a daily writing exercise created by Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way. Her second was to carry index cards around and write down ideas throughout the day, for their ease of use and the ability to easily dispose of them. In both methods, she found the means to unblock her creativity and grow to be more confident and productive, though she cautioned not to “become too precious about it” by buying special notebooks, paper or pens. “If I just scrawled on whatever paper was around, that’s what worked for me,” she said.
Fodor acknowledged “a sort of loneliness associated with most forms of writing,” but takes pleasure in what she has to look forward to being part of the collaborative aspects of theater. “The nice thing is even though there’s this lonely period, there’s light at the end of the tunnel. That takes some of the terror out of it.”
A few professors sat in on the workshop including Fanni Green, a playwright, actor and director herself, who said, “I’m on the faculty but like to be a student.” Fodor agreed with that sentiment and talked about how she enjoys sitting in on colleagues’ classes in New York.
Once Fodor acquainted herself with each member of her class, she launched them into a series of exercises, beginning with ten minutes of non-stop writing – using The Artists’ Way approach – without regard for the content, just letting the hand and the brain deliver the words. And with that they were on their way to allowing an accomplished playwright show them how to get from wanting to, to doing what it takes. As Fodor pointed out, the rest is up to them.
Fodor made her personal appearance on campus courtesy of the Macy’s Visiting Artist Endowment. The program invites eminent artists to conduct master classes, lectures, demonstrations or exhibitions on campus and sometimes in the community. The endowment was created between retail department store Burdines-Macy’s of Florida and the College of The Arts, and since 1990 has been providing funding for the disciplines of theater, dance, music and art.
The University of South Florida is one of the nation's top 63 public research universities and one of 39 community-engaged, four-year public universities as designated by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. USF was awarded $380.4 million in research contracts and grants in FY 2008/2009. The university offers 232 degree programs at the undergraduate, graduate, specialist and doctoral levels, including the doctor of medicine. The university has a $1.8 billion annual budget, an annual economic impact of $3.2 billion, and serves more than 47,000 students on institutions/campuses in Tampa, St. Petersburg, Sarasota-Manatee and Lakeland. USF is a member of the Big East Athletic Conference.
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