Commemorative “100th” Post: Maggie The Playwright

Dear wonderful readers,

I meant to commemorate my 100th post with a post about the one thing that should be on this blog more often, but isn’t: my writing. It took a lot for me to call myself a playwright and I’ve been practicing that identity out in the world, in my graduate school courses, and with the new people I meet everyday in Toronto. Here, besides my reviews and a few posts about my creative projects, it’s missing. Another threshold, another reminder for me to share.


This may be old news to many of you who know my journey, but I think it deserves an extra retelling. After all, it is by looking back and constantly reshaping our narratives that we find ways to make sense of the present and cope with the future’s unknown.

My theatre writing history goes back to summer writing camp at the University of Virginia’s Young Writers Workshop. It started in my first year when the counselors announced a new event for the second weekend: the 24 Hour Plays. I had never heard of it, had not participated in theater productions since I “starred” as the Blue Bird in a sixth grade performance of The Tortoise and the Hare Ride Again, and yet I felt called to try something. I was too shy to direct or act and since I couldn’t stay up all night, writing was out, too. The head counselors on the project, Henry and Merkel, made a role for me as “jack of all trades,” an extra body to play bit parts, to run the “tech” for the shows (one iPod speaker and one light switch), and to help with logistic issues like getting bagels for the morning read-throughs. I loved it. I came back to the camp each of the next two years and by the third year I wasn’t simply working on plays for that one weekend, but had enrolled in Henry and Merkel’s workshop: $criptwriting.

My first public script reading. From Young Writers' Workshop Cafe 2008.

My first public script reading. From Young Writers’ Workshop Cafe 2008.

I tell about this history because I never would have thought to write a play without this background. It would have never occurred to me that one of my ideas could work as something other than memoir, essay, poem, or short story. Instead, when a short story inspired by E. E. Cummings’ “somewhere i have never travelled,gladly beyond” wasn’t working, I realized that it should be a play. With the support of my new theater friends at Martel College and the Rice Players at Rice University, I wrote the play somewhere never travelled over the summer of 2010 and it was produced the following spring for 6 performances. It was a small production with many problems both in terms of production and acting and in the writing. Although I loved it the first night, subsequent viewings made me feel incredibly vulnerable. The dialogue and poor structure of this version wore at me until any mention of the performance made me wince.

On the set of "somewhere never travelled." First production Martel College Theatre, Spring 2011.

On the set of “somewhere never travelled.” First production Martel College Theatre, Spring 2011.

And yet, I was addicted. I had been working on theater productions for a year and was running/producing the shows for the Rice Players at this point, but had not yet found my role in the grand scheme of the theater. I still felt like the “jack of all trades” dabbling in each area–until I saw my first script produced. I may not have recognized it at that point and I wasn’t able to call myself a playwright for two more years, when my second play IMG_1817The Failures was about to go into a campus-wide production and my Fulbright application advisor asked me, “What do you really want to do: study English literature or write plays?” My answer led me to change the focus of my senior thesis from a Victorian novel research project to the creation of a playwriting/screenwriting portfolio and, eventually, to graduate school in Theatre and Performance Studies in the world’s third largest city for theater, Toronto, Canada.

So here I am. Though my focus must be more on theory, academic research, and performance studies this year than on creative writing, I am still “keeping my hand in” the game of playwriting. I was surprised to find the subways not only a great place for inspirational people-watching, but also for drafting new scenes. I may not have a new play ready and I’m still not ready to touch the next round of revisions for my third major version of somewhere never travelled, but something good will come out of this new focus, as long as I find ways to protect my creative time. To allow these other subjects, these new perspectives as scholar and technical designer, to influence the plays I will write next.

Photo credit: Matthew Johnson

Photo credit: Matthew Johnson

I can already see how the shows I’m attending are inspiring me. I may not have written a review for Venus in Fur at Canadian Stage, but it was so sensational for me because I could see some of the cogs of David Ives’ writing. I could understand pieces of the puzzle in that script from a writer’s perspective, both how they worked and failed (just at the very very end–it was tied up too perfectly and the beauty of the rest of the script was the constant threat of a switch, a transition of power or tone). So when I got off the subway to walk home, my head launched into overdrive matching up pieces of inspiration I’d been collecting over the past months in Austin and Toronto. Suddenly I had an idea and I had to walk faster to get home and write it down as soon as possible. And that’s how at 12 am on Friday night/Saturday morning, a new scene was born.

Senior Thesis portfolio: Playwriting and Screenwriting!

Senior Thesis portfolio: Playwriting and Screenwriting!

I can now celebrate another little victory in my playwriting career: my short play Chair with Man is going to be produced in Michigan this December! It’s a small showcase at a university, but still: it was put together by a playwriting professor and it means I have branched out beyond student productions at Rice University.

Thanks for reading and helping me celebrate me “100th” post (almost) about the passion that drives my travels, my adventures, my inner growth, and many of the observations I make on this blog: playwriting.


About austinausten88

Playwright in love with Classic films, afternoon tea, and Noel Coward. She recently graduated from Rice University. In the fall, she will be exchanging her English major undergraduate status for that of Theatre & Performance Studies graduate student.
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