Reflections on a now virtual Playwrights Lab Workshop

The MIT Music and Theater Arts Playwrights Lab workshop 21M.785J taught by Senior Lecturer Ken Urban provides students a space to work on the development of play scripts for the theater and the opportunity to collaborate with professional theater artists. In a normal semester, after the students work on one-act plays in workshop and individual script meetings, a highlight is getting to see their work presented during a weekend-long festival of staged readings where student works are read by professional actors and workshopped by professional directors. Because of COVID19, this semester was different. Their work will not be read on stage at this time, but they were each still able to speak with a professional theater artist who provided feedback on the students’ work.

We asked the students for their reflections on what it was like shifting to this now virtual class, and here are some of their replies. 

Being able to meet online with my director has brought a breath of fresh air into quarantine. I found returning to my play as a way to feel productive and overcome the bounds of the house where I am staying. While my professor and classmates have read my work many times, talking to an outside director who only read one draft filled me with both confidence and questions to push my process further. My director, Victor, currently in Berkeley, CA spent about thirty minutes with me asking me questions that my play had made him ask. Most of them I did not know the answer to. 


Even though it’s disappointing that our plays won’t be performed, without the restrictions of age, race, not removing characters who have already been cast, etc, I think my play is going to end up better than it otherwise would have been. Rather than keeping characters that detract from the crux of the play, I was able to cut characters out one by one until I was left with only the people the audience cares about the most. If we hadn’t gone virtual, I wouldn’t have been able to remove any characters.


I appreciated being able to look at my play from so many angles in order to solidify the important ideas and areas for improvement. Though we talked for at least an hour, the online meeting went quick and was just as effective as it would have been in person; either way I’m sure the outside perspective saves hours of work…Overall, I have only praise for the virtual meetings. I thought the director who worked with me was friendly, productive, and accommodating. He understood the themes and structure I hoped to write in my play quite well before we had any discussion. The virtual meeting went great, and I’m excited for more in the future.


I feel that, despite it being online, the feedback I’ve gotten from my director and from my classmates still works in an online format. I’m able to hear the reactions of people – why things are or aren’t working, what elicits reactions from people, and what I can do to find the play I want to write. Having more time for revisions is no trade for seeing the play performed, but it is extremely useful, especially being able to talk with our would-be directors. 


Posted on May 12, 2020 by Arts at MIT