An opportunity for hope: Playwright teaches annual Marfa Live Arts Playwriting Workshop

MARFA — Marfa Live Arts and Marfa Independent School District virtually welcome Caridad Svich as their 2020 guest playwright. Svich will teach the ninth annual Marfa High School Playwriting Workshop on April 13-17, 2020. Students will be led through a series of creative writing exercises via an online platform that will result in each student writing their own original one-act play.

Marfa Live Arts Director Jennie Lyn Hamilton spoke with guest playwright Svich and MISD English teacher Linda Ojeda about the workshop and how the process during this unique time in history will benefit the students.

Hamilton shares, “I’m really glad we have this option to let the kids continue learning, and I think that having this program will be a good exercise for them to express some of what they’re going through.” Teacher Linda Ojeda agrees, “I think it’s very important because we’re going to give them the opportunity to have a mission, mentally get away, remove themselves from the crazy that’s happening around them.”

“Because whether they like or not, or whether they admit it or not, they are not comfortable with just being trapped wherever they’re at. And I don’t know every students’ household situation, but I know this is an outlet for a lot of kids to at least mentally escape what is around them right now,” Ojeda says. “Several articles that I’ve been reading are saying that the arts (theater, books, television) are helping us remain sane through all of this. It’s giving us an opportunity to escape the crazy. Because right now, everyone’s routine is totally off. Also, I think the playwriting program gives the kids an opportunity to shape an opportunity for hope. Being able to do this is going to be good for them.”

Svich, speaking to her process, says, “I will be encouraging some sort of daily practice. Even if it’s small, because I know that’s probably where most people are at. It’s going to be about looking at different topics and writing plays in terms of structure, inspiration and impetus. And then doing guided work, but guided work in the sense that if I’m putting it on Zoom, then they can do it at their leisure during the week and not feel pressured.”

She continues, “After grad school I trained in mostly sensorial spaces so the prompts tend to circle around experiential, environmental, memory, the senses, and then on top of that we begin something around foundation and structure. I will weave in prompts that are aimed to figure out what you do with the material that you’re generating. So you don’t feel at a loss and the idea is still making a play, so you know how to approach the writing at a desk with some sort of guide.”

Hamilton queries, “Given the current global environment, I think it will be a therapeutic exercise for the students to express themselves and to have the ability to fly outside of all of the sheltering that’s going on. What type of benefits, outside of the normal benefits of writing, do you see happening with what is going on now?”

Svich answers, “One of the things about my classes right now is that we spend a lot of time at the beginning having a few moments where it’s just about dreaming and writing down what your worries may be or what your everyday joys are. I think recognizing where the joy is every day in family, friends and pets that are sustaining you and articulating them is helpful. And what you’re angry about too. I think writing can create a space where you can define your boundaries and give you some sort of control. That’s the other side of the therapy, it’s, ‘I can make this thing, and I have agency about how it’s being made.’ I think that’s very healthy, actually.”

Svich continues, “All my classes at NYU and Rutgers have gone online. Two of them are playwriting and one is creative writing, fiction, drama and poetry. I had a class yesterday and their work was very fanciful, but also kind of direct. There was one student writing about being in her room and texting her friend and thinking about the stock market falling. She was referencing a lot of what is happening in the news, but then in the middle of the piece Ganesh appeared and whisked her away and all of the sudden they were travelling through the universe and she was learning something about her soul.”

“I think it’s important, allowing the chaos, disorder and upturning of everything to reflect itself in the work so there’s not pressure around it. I think that right now what is happening is that people feel a lot of pressure to write about this very particular moment. I think that moments of extreme trauma, like this one, can take a lot of time to process. What you may be writing immediately, may not be the thing. It may just be enough to get you by. I think trusting that that’s okay is really useful. But also taking a lot of pressure off of, ‘You must be writing about that,’’’ she says.

“I think a lot of people, even writers who have been doing this a long time, will feel an extraordinary amount of pressure. I think just releasing yourself of that pressure will actually allow you to respond. Sometimes your consciousness does a lot of the work for you, by getting to a place of deep listening that is also a place of escape. I think this is therapeutic. In fact, I thought the classes I’ve been teaching online, that the students would not want to write. I thought, ‘Oh gosh, they must be so stressed out,’ especially right now, but they all were like, ‘We so want to write right now!’  Because I think writing is therapeutic, even in everyday circumstances. So I think this time really heightens that need and urgency to articulate and express in ways that could be about superheroes or could be about other things. So yes, I think that it’s a unique time for sure and a unique time to be writing and thinking.”

Born in the U.S. to Cuban-Argentine-Spanish-Croatian parents, Svich received a 2012 OBIE Award for Lifetime Achievement in the theatre, a 2012 Edgerton Foundation New Play Award, and the 2011 American Theatre Critics Association Primus Prize for her play, The House of the Spirits, based Isabel Allende’s novel. She has won the National Latino Playwriting Award twice. She has been short-listed for the PEN Award in Drama four times. Her works in English and Spanish have been seen at venues in the USA, Chile, Germany, Uzbekistan, Costa Rica, Wales, Canada and the United Kingdom. She has also adapted for the stage novels by Mario Vargas Llosa, Julia Alvarez and Jose Leon Sanchez, and has radically reconfigured works from Wedekind, Euripides, Sophocles and Shakespeare.

She is an alumna playwright of New Dramatists. She has received fellowships from Harvard/Radcliffe, NEA/TCG, PEW Charitable Trust, and California Arts Council. She holds an MFA in Theatre-Playwriting from UCSD, and she also trained for four consecutive years with Maria Irene Fornes in INTAR’s legendary HPRL Lab. She teaches creative writing and playwriting at Rutgers University-New Brunswick and Primary Stages’ Einhorn School of Performing Arts. She has taught playwriting at Bard, Barnard, Bennington, Denison, Ohio State, ScriptWorks, UCSD, and Yale School of Drama.

As founder of NoPassport Press, she recently published 21 Short Plays for the 21st Century by Marfa Shorthorns, a book of plays written by Marfa High School students during the 2019 playwriting program.

Svich will also serve as judge in reviewing the student plays. Nearly 80 finished plays will be in consideration for final selection. In the nine years of the workshop’s history, students have written almost 800 one-act plays. Playwriting classes are provided online to the school at no cost. A virtual staged reading of winning one-act plays will be offered to the public on Wednesday, April 22, 2020. For more information, visit: