Authentic, Accessibility, and Risk


Last week I was invited to talk with the Fordham University 2nd year MFA Playwrights about play development and The Farm Theater’s College Collaboration. I was grateful for the conversation and impressed with the students thoughtfulness and their research on The Farm and the program. Also, in March, I have been invited to join Centre College in  London to talk with the Rose Bruford College about The Farm Theater’s College Collaboration Program.  In the conversation three themes came up during our hour and a half conversation. Obviously, collaboration came up but it was the ideas of Authenticity, Accessibility, and Risk that resonated.

Centre College Dept. Chair Matthew Hallock and Farm’s Artistic Director Padraic Lillis

I was asked what The Farm Theater looks for in a writer for this program. The first word that came to mind is authentic. The writer has to be a skilled playwright, they have to have a good temperament to partner with students as equal collaborators and mentees, they have to have something to say. However, when we were talking about what gets those with those qualities to stand out, it became clear that it was those that are able to put themselves in the room with you through an email or a letter – and when in person, you feel as if you know them because they’ve authentically shared of themselves. The interview process is not about the right or wrong answer. It’s about bringing yourself into the room. This is what resonates in your writing as well.

Playwright Morgan McGuire with cast of In The Cotton

Also, authenticity is vital when talking with students about what the writer wants to explore. If the writer shares of themselves in an honest, vulnerable, and authentic way – the students will feel empowered to share their authentic selves. It is through the honest sharing of our selves throughout the process that allows the work to resonate with everyone that participates in the program; from writer, actor, designer,- to the audience. Each artist wants to bring their authentic selves to each interaction around their art. Let us know you, we’ll share ourselves, and together we’ll have a deeper experience creating and presenting the work.

Accessibility for early career artists to mentors and experienced artists that generously share their knowledge, as well as opportunities to present their work as a way to improve their craft, strengthen their professional network, and showcase their talents is a core value of The Farm Theater. Our vision is to create a world that provides equal opportunity for artists, who don’t necessarily have a pedigree for success, to be able to be recognized for their individual talent and voice; and to be able to step up to the plate and take a swing on any artistic playing field. It is with this focus that The Farm Theater has shaped its programming, selection process of the playwright, and our partner schools.

Talk back after a performance of Never Have I Ever at Birmingham Southern College

The conversation with the writers was a rich back and forth dialogue about a variety of topics. Before we ended I felt compelled to talk about one word: Risk.  Risk is where the discoveries lay, it where growth is, it is where their voice is. Do not be afraid to take a risk at any point of the process. Regarding the College Collaboration Project that is what the program affords the writers. They get to see their plays in multiple productions. Multiple rehearsal processes. I remember a phone conversation with 2016/17 playwright, Micheline Auger, who said she was having a vision of a Chorus in her play. Would that be okay? I didn’t know if it was a singing chorus, a Greek chorus, or what.

l95t10 hoodie chorus centre college
#love95times Centre College Hoodie Chorus

Neither did she. I called Centre College, one of our partner schools, and they said, ‘Sure, bring it on.’ It turned out it was a Greek Chorus in the spirit Hip Hop and the element that elevated the play. It only happened because the writer took the risk. All of these productions are development productions. They are the process. It is the chance to learn about the play and to strengthen your voice. Risk. It is the only way to grow. You have ‘save as’ on your computer. You’ll never lose what you had but you’ll never discover what might be if you don’t take the risk. That is true in every step of the process. Go deeper. Try something.  Risk getting messy. Be open to discovery. We ask the same about all of the collaborators: actors, directors, designers, and audience. Be open to discovery by taking a risk and doing something you’re not sure will work.

I talk about Risk in the process of developing the script. However, the greatest form of Risk and the commitment to process is modeled by the schools who sign on to participate in the program. The play will be slated to be part of their next annual season. A new play. Not only is there no title. Not only has not one word been written. But the playwright hasn’t been selected before the school has signed on to participate in the program. That is a Risk. And one I am always grateful. I am grateful for their willingness to participate in the program, to embrace process, and to trust that the experience will be valuable for their students. If the colleges are willing to take that level of risk – It is an encouragement for the writer to do so. Everybody is invested in the process and making the most of the opportunity: Discovery, Growth, Learning, Sharing, Collaborating, by making the process accessible to as many people as possible and bringing our authentic selves to it.

Talk with you soon.



A note from Jan Rosenberg

It’s about time I contributed to this blog! I’m Jan. I wrote Never Have I Ever. Before I delve into the cathartic experience I’m having with The Farm Theater’s College Collaboration, I wanted to get something off my chest.

Jan Rosenberg, playwright

I was always going to write a play about Eating Disorders and addictive behaviors for this project. It’s a subject I’ve been writing about a lot lately: my play How To Destroy An American Girl Doll features three young people haunted by various food addictions, and my TV pilot Treat Yourself is a dark comedy that takes place in a women’s ED treatment facility. I can’t seem to stop myself. Before my interview with Padraic and Scott, I tried to convince myself to pitch a more ‘sexy’ topic to them, like politics or social media. After all, my predecessors Lindsay Joy and Micheline Auger had written plays that revolved around themes of suicide and sexual assault. In the popular media and culture, food and body issues are taken seriously—but not seriously enough. Eating Disorders have the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric illness. Excuse my language, but that’s really f***king serious.

Needless to say, I was given the green light to write the play. And while part of me feels like I keep writing the same stories over and over again, I know it’s not true, because everything is always in motion. We are always moving towards something, even when it feels like we’re stuck in the mud. I chose to write about characters who deal with Anorexia, Bulimia, Compulsive Overeating, and Exercise Bulimia because I’ve never seen those stories onstage. I can think of maybe three instances where I’ve ever seen a character who brings and honest portrayal to the subject of eating disorders without falling into Lifetime movie tropes. Yes, I know about all of the movies. Like an addict, I’ve viewed them all, hoping to find something that shows what it’s really like to have the disease, and even more importantly, show that recovery is possible.

These characters don’t exist. I googled “Anorexic characters” and “Bulimic characters”. I found episodes of Degrassi, Lizzie McGuire, Full House, and Boy Meets World. They lived in single television episodes, where the character (always a slender white female) decides to stop eating for a day, and by the end of the episode the issue is resolved and she’s “cured”.

I’ve had enough. I am sick and tired of having the media tell me that Eating Disorders are simply selfish cries for help. I’m done with movies and television trying to convince me that these are dainty defects of bored young women who have nothing better to do than count calories or eat junk food until they make themselves sick.

We live in a world that perpetually gaslights us for the way we eat our food, or the shape of our bodies. We’re assaulted by diet culture and fitness culture at every turn. It’s hard for a normal person to mute the peanut gallery of “Are you really going to eat that?” For someone with an Eating Disorder, it’s all they think about.

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Stephanie Lee & Colton Hinderliter in a scene from NEVER HAVE I EVER (Stewart Edmonds)

I promise I’ll write more specifically on the journey I took with writing this play. Right now I’m sitting in the green room with the cast and crew, trying to act cool and pretend I’m working on play rewrites instead of writing this blog. I actually don’t think they realize I’ve been sitting here and I’m kind of afraid to move. I’m also trying to resist the urge to write down all of their dialogue because it’s so glorious. I’m in awe of their bravery and passion, and I can’t wait to write more about what it was like watching Never Have I Ever onstage.

NEVER HAVE I EVER, photo by Stewart Edmonds

To be continued!