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Check out this great story by Peter Crimmins at WHYY/NewsWorks covering Shannon DiStefano's First They Came For, which ran February 10-12, 2017.
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If you could only share one piece of research or information that you've found in your dramaturgy with an audience, what would that be?
This was a particularly hard play to do dramaturgical research for, though not hard in the conventional sense. There is an abundance of information available about life in the concentration camps during the Holocaust. Many organizations, including the wonderful United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, have made it their mission to compile primary sources and first hand accounts of day to day life during those years. What made it hard was the sheer horror and pain of the truths I was compiling; no matter how many times you read about the progression of events that led to the pogroms, or the experience of suffocating in the gas chambers, it never gets easier to remember that humanity sunk that low. Particularly at this moment in time, when we see xenophobia and hate and fear mixing together once again in a way that seems eerily reminiscent of 1940s Germany, this research is viscerally painful. But what stuck with me the most, and the one piece of research I want to share, is the one that gave me hope.
What are Partner Productions? Why is PYP partnering with Found Theatre Company?
Partner Productions are a newly-created program that we’re piloting for the first time with Found Theater Company. But at the program’s heart, it contains the same ingredients in Adele Magner's vision when she founded PYP three decades ago.
How did we get here? Well, we select winners from our Annual Playwriting Festival each August. It's always tough to narrow down the winning plays that will be produced from hundreds of incredible, vivid writers across the city. Sometimes we have a play that we feel is worthy of being produced, but requires a specific method of development, and that pushes the envelope when it comes to theme and aesthetic. Sometimes, we actually have to pass on producing these kinds of plays because we know we can’t fully honor the playwright’s vision.
These partner productions give us an ability to champion new kinds of plays in innovative ways.
The Paula Vogel Mentors Project was the first experience I’d had of its kind, working with people outside of my school (let alone professionals) to create a fully developed production of a play I had written. Looking back, a whopping 18 weeks later, I feel truly blessed to have been a part of it and I can only hope there will be similar opportunities in my future. From start to finish, the project presented me with joys and challenges like none I’d had before. I was exposed to parts of the theatre world I hadn’t known existed and to a part of myself as a writer I hadn’t known existed. I was writing at an unprecedented pace and with a renewed passion. And I think I owe it all to the people I was surrounded with, committed artists on the same wavelength as me. Not only were they dedicated to my own work, taking the time and energy to pore over it and bring it to life, they were also willing to teach me what they knew and guide me in navigating my craft in general. I’ve already caught myself reminiscing about our conversations and experiences together, centered around the things I cared about most and how they were expressed through art. The Paula Vogel Mentors Project showed me the corner of the world I want to live in—one where I can produce art that’s the best it can be, work capable of making a tangible difference. But that’s not even the best part—I get to see the work of others, too, and be the one affected by it, and become part of an inspiring cycle. I was already nostalgic as I edited the footage of this piece, finding it difficult to choose between clips of each moment from each of the two performances. I was again filled with the same feeling that rushed through me during rehearsal—that I’d taken part in creating something to be proud of, but it certainly wasn’t entirely mine. When the dry cleaning shop lived inside my head, when I sat on my bedroom floor and wrote furiously for hours on end, it belonged to me. But the second I printed my first draft and handed it to the members of my newfound community, it became a team effort. Nearly Famous couldn’t have been what it was without the Paula Vogel Mentors project, without the dedication and passion of the entire team behind it (at Philadelphia Young Playwrights, Found Theater Company, and Writers Theatre of New Jersey). And for that I’m forever grateful.