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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Let's Hear it for the Ladies: 10 Great Playwrights Who Happen to be Women

Greetings ladies and gentlemen.  My name is Bobby Keniston, and I would like to welcome you to Theater is a Sport, where I talk about all things theatre-related. 

I am a playwright, actor, director, and drama teacher.  One of the classes I teach is an introduction to playwriting class.  This year, each semester, my class has been entirely made up of female students, which has been an incredible experience for me.  They have all worked on (or are currently working on) very interesting pieces, and they are all a joy to have as students. 

Unfortunately, when you look at a list of great plays or great playwrights, all too often, if you're like me, you notice a distinct absence of women writers listed.  Does this mean that there are no great female playwrights out there? 

Absolutely not.  In fact, some of the most exciting work in American theatre being written today is being written by female playwrights.

I decided to compile a list of some playwrights I admire to share with my female students, and I will share it with you all now.  However, these fiercely talented women should not only be known as "women playwrights".  They are, in actuality, great playwrights, who just happen to be women.  I will share a little bit about them, and you can decide for yourself after reading or seeing their work if you like them the same way I do.  This list is in no particular order, they just happen to be how I list them.
Oh, and to be clear--- this is certainly not a "definitive" or "complete" list.  I've tried to pick some diverse playwrights for my students, and, are all playwrights whose work I am very familiar with, and love.  Please feel free to share your favorite great playwrights who happen to be women in the comments section below.

(By the way--- I feel it is almost sad that I have to write an post like this... I do so, to prove to my female playwriting students that there are many greats who have come before them... they tend to only ever hear of male playwrights.  Let's all try to change that.)

LILLIAN HELLMAN, American (1905-1984).  Notable works:  The Children's Hour, Little Foxes, "Toys in the Attic"  Lillian Hellman was also a writer of screenplays and memoir.  She was nominated for an Academy Award for the adaptation of her play Little Foxes (which happens to be my personal favorite of hers)  In the 1950s, she was called to testify for the House Un-American Activities Committee, and would only speak for herself and not mention anyone else's name.  Good for her.

TINA HOWE (1937-), known for her plays Painting Churches, "Coastal Disturbances", "Pride's Crossing".  She is an experimental playwright, exploring absurdism is realistic settings.  She won an Obie in 1983, and has been nominated for both a Tony award and the Pulitzer Prize for drama.  She also has created translations of Ionesco's The Bald Soprano and The Lesson.

CARYL CHURCHILL (1938-), an English playwright, known for her non-naturalistic and feminist themes, and experimenting with dance-theater.  Some of her notable works are Cloud Nine, Top Girls, and my personal favorite of hers, The Skriker, a really cool and dark play about a fairy,and demons. 

WENDY WASSERSTEIN (1950-2006), a graduate of the Yale School of Drama, where she was good friends with Christopher Durang.  She won a Tony Award and a Pulitzer Prize for her play The Heidi Chronicles, and is also known for her play The Sisters Rosensweig.  I am very fond of a 10-minute play she wrote called Tender Offer.  Sadly, her life was cut short by lymphoma.

PAULA VOGEL (1951), one of my favorite playwrights of all time.  Paula Vogel attacks some very dark themes, such as incest and AIDS, but she does so in a very creative and accessible fashion.  She won an Obie award n 1992 for her play The Baltimore Waltz (which I had the pleasure to act in when I was in college), and she won a much deserved Pulitzer Prize for her excellent play, How I Learned to Drive.

SUZAN LORI-PARKS (1963-), won a Pulitzer for her play Topdog/Underdog.  She has also been awarded a MacArthur "Genius" Grant for her work.  As well as her plays, she also wrote the screenplay for Spike Lee's film Girl 6, as well as an adaptation of Zora Neal Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God.  My favorite of her plays is Venus, about Saartjie Baartman, a Khoikhoi woman exhibited as Hottentot Venus, due to her large backside. 

BETH HENLEY (1952-) is known for her plays about women and family issues in the American South.  Her play Crimes of the Heart won the Pulitzer Prize and received a Tony nomination.  She is also known for her plays Miss Firecracker Contest, and Am I Blue?

MARSHA NORMAN (1947-) achieved tremendous success with her play 'night, Mother, which won the Pulitzer Prize.  She also wrote the Book and Lyrics for a musical adaptation of The Secret Garden, which won a Tony for Best Book in 1991.  She also wrote a play called Loving Daniel Boone, which starred my playwriting professor Gladden Schrock as the title character. 

YASMINA REZA (1959 or 1960-), a French playwright best known for her works Art and God of Carnage, a play that is bitingly funny and chilling at the same time.  It won Yasmina Reza the Tony Award for Best Play in 2009.

KAREN HARTMAN was a guest professor at Bennington when I was a student there.  She has received support for her work frm the Rockefeller Foundation, the N.E.A., and was awarded a New Dramatist Residency.  She is a graduate of the Yale School of Drama, and has written some amazing plays such as Leah's Train, ALICE:  Tales of a Curious Girl, and an amazing modern adaptation of Troy Women, which I absolutely love to pieces. 

Okay, there is just a small sampling of playwrights who happen to women, and who are definitely writers worth reading and becoming a fan of. 

Thanks for reading my blog post.  You can learn more about me by checking out,,, and and searching for Bobby Keniston.  You can find a list of my plays and even read free samples. 

ALSO--- I've started a new experimental blog, where I am writing a short story every day for a year. Each story will be between 100-250 words.  I call it Micro Fiction Experiment or Bobby Keniston's Short Shorts.  Feel free to drop by and check it out.  You can get there by CLICKING HERE!

Until next time, remember that not all playwrights are men, and that theater is more than an artform and a craft:  it is also a sport.

More Advice for Community Theatre Directors

Greetings ladies and gentlemen.  My name is Bobby Keniston, and I'd like to welcome you to my little blog called Theater is a Sport, where I talk about all things theatre-related.

As regular readers know, I am very much a believer in the importance of community and school theatre, not only as a training ground for professionals, but because it is vastly important to our culture as a whole.  So, today, I thought I would share some more advice for school and community theatre directors, culled from my many years directing for both of these markets. 

I talked a good deal about "beats" in an earlier post, how they are essential for a director to find and interpret.  Today, I would like to share with you all what I do early on in the directing process as part of my "director's homework", before rehearsals even begin.  I like to make a chart, which I will demonstrate below, for the play I am directing, a chart that is based on the beats of a play, and that will help to give me a start at comprehending the technical requirements, as well as the beginnings of visualising the play in my head, beat by beat, character by character.  Here is an example of the chart below:

Page #’s
Characters Involved
Props Used
Lighting &

Now, as you can see, the number of boxes depends on the number of beats in the play.  So, I start with BEAT #1 in the first box.  In the next box over, I put the page numbers (for example:  Pg 6 (Mike: .... How are you today) through top of page 7 (Erica:  My tooth is starting to hurt).  This gives me a roadmap.  Next box, I list all of the characters involved, and whether they enter or exit, then the setting/location in the next box, props used (personal and pre-set), the starting costumes or if there are any costume changes, and then lighting and sound shifts as indicated by the script.  Now, obviously, this is a jumping off point.  You may decide during rehearsals to add props or lighting cues, play with entrances, exits, costumes, what-have-you.  All of that is fine and encouraged.  But what this chart does for me is helps me organize the show into pieces that are not overwhelming.  It helps me to see the details and not just the overall picture.  The vision begins to come into focus for me.  I have also found that doing this homework is great for production meetings with the designers, to organize every little shift.  It's also nice for the stage manager to see what kind of rehearsal props they can scrounge up.

Again, things might change, additions and subtractions may be made.  Those notes will go into rehearsal reports, so don't worry about it.  Making a chart like this, or, at least writing out these details (by all means, don't use the chart if you don't want to), you will begin to know the piece backwards and forwards, and see how one point flows into the next.

If you have any questions or thought about this chart, feel free to drop me a line in the comments below.

If you would like to know more about me, feel free to visit,,, and and search for me, Bobby Keniston.  You will find my plays and links to read free previews of them.  You can also find Theater is a Sport on Facebook by clicking right here:!/TheaterIsASport

Thanks for checking out this blog post.  Remember:  community theatre directors need to be organized, and theater is not only a craft or an artform--- it is also a sport. 

Monday, April 29, 2013

IMPROVISATION and PERSONIFICATION: Bobby Talks about "You Take it From Here"

Hello ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to Theater is a Sport.  My name is Bobby Keniston, and I will be your host for this post. 

Ever seen a talking dog?  I don't mean in real life, but in the movies or on television.  I know you probably have.  Same with talking mice, talking ducks, all that stuff.  If you're old enough, you probably have even seen talking, singing and dancing raisins. 

Fun stuff, huh?

Well, you may know that all of these are examples of what we call "personification".  Personification is basically giving animals or inanimate objects human attributes.  This happens in literature a great deal.  It also happens in theater.  In fact, when learning improvisation, it can be very freeing for students (not to mention a lot of fun) to do personification exercises.  For example:  "Okay, you're a toaster who's had a bad day, and you're a piece of bread who doesn't want to leave his brothers and sisters on the loaf.  Go!"  Amazing and amazingly funny scenes can be improvised from such constructs.  It's impressive how creative we can make inanimate objects!

For those of you who have ever taught improvisation, you know it is not always simple.  I myself have found that there are usually a couple of students who are willing to jump right in and try it out, while several others become very nervous.  You can see the thoughts on their faces:  "I don't know what to say," or "What if I say something stupid," or "Please don't call on me, please don't call on me, please don't call on me..."   No matter how much I try to let them know that this is an exercise to just let go and react and respond, it does nothing to calm the stress. 

That's why I'm particularly proud of a project I was involved with called You Take it From HereAfter I had a few publications with Brooklyn, my editor there, a cool guy named David, called me up and asked me if I would like to be a part of a special project with some other writers.  Turns out, a very talented playwright named Geff Moyer had presented an idea for a book of improvisation starters for personification.  I had never seen a book of improvisation starters, but I wanted to be a part of any special project presented to me, so I said yes without a moment of hesitation.  My task was to come up with 25 personification scenes and to write the first page and a half or so, leaving a wide open ending with the words "You Take it From Here..."  I thought it was a great idea.  It's a way for students to start off, relax a bit, and then finish a scene with improvisation.  I have seen it have great results in my own classroom, students who were shy about improvisation coming to life.

This was not necessarily an easy job, but it was a lot of fun.  The hardest part for me was to keep coming up with different animals or inanimate objects that might have a scene together.   Some of my favorites that I came up with were "The Root and the Stump", "The Star and the Black Hole", "The Oak Tree and the Iris Flower" and "The Deoderant and the Armpit".  Being someone who naturally wants to complete a scene, it was also difficult for me to leave things open-ended, and without a onclusion (particularly when I had such great ideas for conclusions!).  I had to keep reminding myself, "This is just to get the students started, it's just to get the students STARTED..."

The other great writers involved with the project were the aforementioned Geff Moyer, Jerry Rabushka, Chris Stiles,   and Bradley Walton, all very talented fellows, and, I'm happy to say, playwriting pals of mine (click on their names to see more of their work).  I was delighted when I was sent the proof of the final book, and got to read all the incredible stuff they came up with. 

I have found that the book is not only valuable for acting students (of any age, middle school all the way to adults), but also is an excellent resource for playwriting classes.  It's great for an in-class writing assignment to have students finish a scene in the book.  I have seen it get the creative juices flowing in even the most reticent of students.

I hate to make this sound like a commercial, but I do believe improviation is such an important part of theatre and learning how to act, and, if you would like a great resource to facilitate improv work, I cannot recommend You Take it From Here enough, and not just because I am a co-writer of the book.  I am proud to be, of course, but even if I wasn't, I would still recommend it, and that's the truth. 

So, if you want to have some fun with personification, check out You Take it From Here, right here:  It has over 125 improvisation or creative writing starters.  After using it with some students, let me know what you think.

Thanks for checking out Theater is a Sport.  Improvisation is definitely a sport, too.

See you next time! 

PHOTOS From My Plays that Seriously Make Me Wish I Had Seen the Production!

Hello, and welcome to Theater is a Sport.  My name is Bobby Keniston, and, if you are a regular reader of my blog, you know that I am a playwright for the youth and community theater markets.  I have been fortunate to have plays produced in about 38 states at last count, as well as having productions in Canada and Australia.  Obviously, I do not have the means to travel and see all of these different productions, but, when I'm lucky, theater groups will send me really awesome pictures that make me wish I truly could have seen them.  Just having the pictures, though, is a great treat.  So, I thought that I would share some photos with you all today from some of the productions that have been done of my plays!

I figured I'd start with one of the most recent, End of the Movie, as produced by the Reedy Point Players in Delaware.  Here are some awesome photos from that the production: 

Emily Ciuffetelli and Kevin Austra

I feel very fortunate to have had such a great group put on my show,
and, judging by the pictues, it is clear that the director had a very nice vision of the piece, and the actors look so wonderfully intense.  Definitely wish I could have gotten to Delaware to see this show.  However, I feel lucky to have struck up a nice friendship via facebook with these really cool folks.

Here's some pictures of my play The Dark Tower as performed by the Pope Theater Boosters in Marietta, GA.  There were dozens and dozens of shots, so I pass along the very favorites out of many favorites:

Pope Theater Boosters, Marietta, GA
Roland, a warrior, and Nimue, the Lady of the Lake
Roland saying goodbye to his dying wife, Susannah
While I could share many more from this group, I shall move on.

Here are some really cool shots from my play Frankie and the Gingerbread Boy as presented by UMEI Christian High School in ON, Canada.  Really cool group of kids, many of which sent me lovely e-mails about being in this really challenging show.  I loved these pictures!

The Greek Chorus:  Victor, Mary, and Shel

Frankie with her creation on the baking table, Ginger
Love this picture of the end of "Frankie and the Gingerbread Boy"--- very cool and eerie
Okay, this is is a small sampling of the pictures I have been sent over the last few years.  I will post more as time goes by.  If you're interested in learning more about these plays, I made their titles links to read more about them. 

I want to thank these great community and school groups for choosing my plays, and for sharing their hard work with me.  It makes me proud and happy to be a playwright whenever I see pictures like these.

Thanks, and, remember--- Theater is a Sport!  Just look at the people in these photos if you don't believe me!