This story is part of a larger special issue on playwriting training.
In a previous lifetime I attended film school, imagining I wanted to be the next Lucas or Bresson (instead I stumbled upon Kael and Bentley, and the rest is journalism). I had class after class about the rudiments of screenwriting, cinematography, editing, and sound design, but just one class on directing actors. And though our editing bays and sound stages were literally adjacent to the university’s theatre department, I was the only film student I knew who thought it might be a good idea to fill some of my projects with young actors who were studying acting right next door. A few obliged, though they weren’t exactly encouraged by their theatre teachers to cross the screen/stage divide either.
You would think that divide would be a thing of the past by now, in an age in which Tony Kushner writes Spielberg movies and Jesse Eisenberg Off-Broadway plays, Sheila Callaghan runs Showtime’s “Shameless,” and Marvel Films star Danai Gurira is a Tony-nominated playwright. I can’t turn on any of today’s glut of streaming and cable series without seeing playwrights’ names, not to mention countless actors I’ve seen on a stage somewhere. These days building a multimedia career is not just a possibility—it’s all but imperative, for creative as much as financial reasons.
That’s the professional reality. But are today’s training programs preparing young storytellers for our multiplatform world? After all, many of the programs themselves are now run by playwrights who’ve dabbled in the screen trade, or in many cases more than dabbled. In a story in this issue’s special section, Marcus Scott finds that some playwriting programs are indeed adapting to this brave new world, as well as finding other ways to respond to a changing world. Elsewhere in the section are stories about other challenges and changes to the training status quo. Jordan Levin’s profile of Rudi Goblen, a Florida b-boy now in Yale’s playwriting program, shows how one of the nation’s most prestigious schools is evolving. And Danielle Mohlman’s look at playwrights who made their way sans MFA offers a new way to ask an ageless question: Can writing be taught? There’s no argument that it can, even must be learned. In the space between those two passive participles lives the possibility of an active, engaged education, no matter the form it takes or makes.