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Making the Most Out of a Living Playwright

Hillary DePiano

When it comes to theatre, especially high school theatre, sometimes the syllabus and maybe even the whole season looks like a trip through the graveyard. Shakespeare. Moliere. Chekov. Rodgers and Hammerstein. You know. The usual suspects. They’ve got some phenomenal plays between them, sure, but they’re not exactly the liveliest bunch around. Mostly because they died decades ago.

I was the president of my high school drama club so I know this feeling first hand. It’s easy to get in the habit of assuming everything your teacher hands you was written by someone who’s currently moldering. It has a tendency to make even the best material seem… well… dead.

But when you’re looking for a way to reanimate your theatre season or lesson plans, sometimes the best thing you can do is to remember that there are thousands of wonderful plays out there whose authors are still alive. Hi, I’m Hillary DePiano, author of The Love of Three Oranges. On behalf of myself and the hundreds of other living playwrights in the Playscripts catalog, I wanted to remind you, in the spirit of Monty Python, that we’re not quite dead yet!

Here’s some tips for taking advantage of working with a living playwright:

  • Drop us a line! “Fan Mail” always sounds a little intimidating but it doesn’t have to be. Many teachers and directors think to reach out to the playwright with questions or other comments but why not encourage the actors and students to do the same? One of my high school teachers devoted a class to having us write letters to the living author of our choice whose book we were studying that semester and, when some actually wrote us back, even the most jaded teen amongst us was tickled pink. Knowing a real human being was behind the words we were studying and that we had actually communicated with him/her made the material come alive in a whole new way. While some authors are still only reachable by snail mail, a large majority of us have email so it’s faster and easier than ever to reach out to a writer. Especially since…
  • Many of us are on just about all the social networks. (You can find me on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/hdepiano and Twitter http://www.twitter.com/hillarydepiano.) OK, maybe a whole email or letter is asking too much of the txt message generation. But a Facebook post or tweet on Twitter is only a sentence or two. Even if students aren’t interested in writing to the author, they can still follow their updates on the social network of their choice. If the playwright posts something relevant to the play you’re studying that morning, suddenly that day’s lesson takes on a new freshness and immediacy. And if immediacy is what you’re after…
  • We’re available to come to stuff! This will vary from author to author, obviously, but most of us are available for events. If we’re local, invite us to your production to talk to the cast after the show. Get your school or local library to invite us down for a talk or other event. I’ve been to many productions over the years and, even if I’m unable to attend, I love being asked even if it’s a production across the world. I get notes from the students I’ve met in person even years after we met telling me what a thrill it was. Not because I’m anything all that great, because I’m not, but because of the novelty of getting to meet the author of the content you’re studying in person. (In case you’re wondering, some authors do charge for appearances but those are mostly the big dogs. Most of us are available free of charge, though we wouldn’t say no to maybe being fed or having expenses paid if it’s a costly trip.) And if your playwright isn’t available for an in-person event…
  • Don’t forget about online chats and video conferences! With the power of the internet, even being across the world from an author isn’t an issue. I’ve done text chats, Twitter chats, and even video chats with classrooms and productions all over the world. Imagine what it’s like to be a student actor and be able to actually ask the person who wrote the play about a character’s motivation. Or to be able to ask the author if the symbolism they’re studying was intentional. Video chats are especially great because it gives everyone the feeling that they’ve really “met” the author. Software such as Skype or even the new Google Plus is free and easy to use in the classroom. We have webcams and we know how to use them.

Overall, whenever contacting an author, remember to be polite and go into it with the understanding that everyone is different. We’re all at different levels of tech savvy and even the most willing author may have a busy month or two when they aren’t available. But don’t ever be shy about contacting us or encouraging your students or actors to contact us. The worst we’ll say is no.

Hillary DePiano as Cinderella from her sophomore year of high school.

Have you had an encounter with a living playwright? Playwrights, have you had a connection with a class or production you’d like to share? Leave a comment below!

You know, in a way, I feel bad for Shakespeare. He’ll never know what a thrill it is to have a school across the country blowing up his Facebook wall the day after a production.

See you online!

~Hillary

Hillary DePiano is a fiction and non-fiction author best known for her play, The Love of Three Oranges which has been performed in theatres around the world. For her other plays, books, and published works, please visit HillaryDePiano.com.

One response to “Making the Most Out of a Living Playwright”

  1. Thanks for having me on the blog, guys! :-)

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