Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Playwriting with Paula Vogel and the Veterans Writing Project

Photo: Dario DiBattista

As part of The Writer's Center’s growing partnership with the Veterans Writing Project, we jointly hosted a two-day playwriting seminar led by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Paula Vogel on February 2-3.

Vogel, who has recently retired from academic teaching after directing MFA programs at Brown and Yale, included playwright and director K.J. Sanchez (Re-Entry), dramaturg Walter Bilderback and director Blanka Ziska (both from the Wilma Theater in Philadelphia) in the workshop.

Participants were veterans, active service members, and military family members including several veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Beginning with ideas drawn from Aristotle’s Poetics, Vogel broke down the elements of theater including plot, character, music, and spectacle. She then spent two full days expounding on these elements and having participants create scenes and short plays as exercises in developing a clearer understanding of how the elements functioned individually and in relation to the others.

The participants also completed exercises that Vogel set up for them. “Imagine Little Red Riding Hood goes to boot camp,” she said. “Now write a play about it.” There were other exercises involving character—write scenes about Saddam Hussein’s childhood or craft a scene that teaches something the FBI doesn’t know about one of the Ten Most Wanted.

One participant said he learned more in one weekend with Vogel than he had in all of his previous writing training combined. Clearly, not your typical workshop, but typical of what the VWP and TWC hope to provide as their partnership strengthens. Vogel has promised to return to The Writer’s Center and continue her work with the Veterans Writing Project. We can’t wait.

 -- Ron Capps

Ron Capps is founder and director of the Veterans Writing Project.  The Writer's Center has been funded by the National Endowment for the Arts to offer programmatic support to weekly writing workshops he and Dario DiBattista lead at The National Intrepid Center of Excellence on the campus of Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

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