Patrick Huguenin ’06 thought he was joking when he told Theater Studies professor Toni Dorfman that he wanted to run his unfinished script by Edward Albee for some feedback.
But Dorfman didn’t see any humor in Huguenin’s comment and e-mailed the request to Albee, the three-time Pulitzer prize-winning playwright of “A Delicate Balance” and “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” Dorfman explained that Huguenin’s play had been selected for the 2004 Yale Playwrights Festival, a workshop of original plays by six Yale undergraduates, and that Huguenin was searching for a mentor.
“The play I’d written was very much inspired by Albee,” Huguenin said.
Albee accepted the offer, and last Sunday, Huguenin met with the playwright in his Chelsea apartment, discussed his play and writing process, and received “the greatest advice I’ve ever gotten,” Huguenin said.
Albee is planning to come to the reading of the play — which tells the tale of two weddings told in flashbacks — on Friday at the Yale Repertory Theatre, Huguenin said.
Huguenin’s is only one of many success stories to come out of Yale Playwrights Festival, now in its second year.
Last year, producer Scott Morfee (“Underneath the Lintel,” “Killer Joe”) attended the festival and liked what he heard well enough to invite the playwrights to the Soho Playhouse in New York City in March for an additional reading.
After the Soho reading, both Liz Meriwether ’04 and Rosana Garcia ’03 were invited to continue their work with professionals.
This year’s festival will feature readings of plays by Huguenin, Meriwether, Jocelyn Lippert ’04, Matt Kirsch ’04, Kendrick Strauch ’05 and Zoe Kazan ’05 at the Rep, which artistic director James Bundy provided for the festival’s use.
“The YPF is a chance for all of us to find out what’s on the minds of a new generation–hopes, loves, angers, fears,” Joseph Roach, a Theater Studies professor who is both mentoring and acting in this year’s festival, wrote in an e-mail.
The festival was originally conceived last year by Dorfman and Laura Jacqmin ’04 as an opportunity to match young Yale playwrights with two mentors–an “in-house” Yale faculty member or New Haven writer and an “outside” working playwright or director. For five or six intensive weeks, writers would redraft and, finally, a student director would help the writer hold briefly rehearsed but unstaged workshop readings of the plays for a live audience.
The 2004 festival received 30 script submissions, up from 22 a year ago. A panel of Yale faculty — Dorfman, Connie Grappo and Deb Margolin — selected those plays it believed would most benefit from the workshop process, not those plays that were already fully realized and ready for production.
“It’s wonderful,” Dorfman said. “We’ll do it next year and get 45 submissions, I hope.”
Dorfman said she was thrilled with the caliber and quantity of the scripts, which she described as “tremendously impressive. It was very difficult to choose.” The panel received all kinds of scripts — one-acts and full-length plays — from both experienced and novice playwrights.
Lippert, whose experiences in Cuba last summer inspired her to write “Speak Easy Havana,” about a family split between Havana and Miami, had never written a play before. Nor had Kazan, until she began forming “The Reckoning,” a semi-autobiographical play about a family struggling to “repair an internal break” in Donald Margulies’ playwriting class last semester.
Three of the selected playwrights — Huguenin, Kirsch and Meriwether — are returning from last year’s festival.
Jacqmin, who is directing Strauch’s “Going Away Party,” said she brought the idea of a workshop festival to Dorfman last year because she believed “student work was not given enough credibility,” and said she wanted to create an environment where student playwrights were encouraged to grow.
The Dramat Playwriting Festival — which will be held at the New Theater next weekend — produces staged readings of student work, but didn’t offer the same workshop opportunities that Jacqmin and Dorfman believed were so crucial.
Kazan said he agrees that recognizing that these plays are “works in progress” is the most honest and productive way to approach the work.
“We’re all young and necessarily the things we write will be more flawed than Ibsen, Chekhov and Shakespeare,” she said.
The process, she noted, has been particularly helpful in allowing her gain some perspective on her work, especially because her subject matter was so personal.
The most exciting — and, potentially scary — aspect of the festival for the writers is the fact that they will bear those personal thoughts, their passions and their words, in front of an audience. Playwrights can judge the successes and weaknesses in their plays, she added, “immediately by the quality of the listening.”
But for this year’s playwrights, the festival is already a smash hit — no matter what the response this weekend.
“The best thing about it is the mentors,” Meriwether said, expressing a sentiment echoed by many of the playwrights. “Bringing professionals in makes the idea of being a playwright more real.”
This year’s mentors include playwrights Keith Bunin, Edwin Sanchez and Constance Congdon. Among last year’s mentors were David Auburn (“Proof”) and Arthur Kopit (“Nine”) and Roberto Aguirre Sacasa, whose “Mystery Plays” will premiere at the Yale Rep this spring.
Dorfman sees the positive effects of the festival in even larger terms.
“I think it’s a gift to the future to encourage writers today, a gift to the theater,” she said.
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