Playwrights' Center And Augsburg University Announce Education Partnership

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The Playwrights' Center and Augsburg University have signed a Memorandum Of Understanding, entering a formal partnership to offer online, university-accredited playwriting courses to students from multiple universities and colleges across the United States. The course offerings will be guided by Augsburg University's Theater Department in conjunction with the Playwrights' Center. Registration and accreditation will go through Augsburg's Center for Global Education and Experience (CGEE).

"I'm excited for the Playwrights' Center to continue our field-leading work of connecting playwriting curriculum with higher education. Launching this program with Augsburg University, a long-time community partner of the Center, has been one of the most exciting opportunities in my tenure," said Jeremy B. Cohen, producing artistic director at the Playwrights' Center.

By offering courses online, the program will connect a wide body of students with their peers at other campuses across the country. In turn, all students will be taught by leading, professional playwrights who are actively working in the field. Cohen added, "This partnership allows us to support college and university learning around the country with the most diverse, forwarding thinking playwrights and artists working in North America today."

"CGEE's pedagogy, which is shared broadly at Augsburg University, asserts that genuine education comes about through experience. The Playwrights' Center program puts students in direct relationship with working practitioners-with the kinds of writers they aspire to become," said Dr. Karen Kaivola, provost and chief academic officer at Augsburg University.

"I have found anytime we can have a collaboration with a professional institution-anytime we make an intentional collaboration with professionals-it has a ripple effect for students. The arrangement is amazing. It connects our students with students across the country and with professional playwrights. And that has ripple effects on how students feel about the Playwrights' Center and playwriting, and that in turn moves the field of playwriting," said Darcey Engen, associate professor and chair of Theater Arts at Augsburg University

"With these courses, students will learn with and from writers at the top of their field, seeing what it takes to have pieces published and performed-and, perhaps most important of all, seeing that this is possible," commented Patrick Mulvihill, assistant provost for global education and experience at Augsburg University.

Kaivola added, "This partnership helps Augsburg University support today's students, who include working adults and mid-professionals, parents, people juggling multiple jobs, undocumented immigrants, and many others that the traditional higher-ed model was not designed to serve."

"It's already been such a pleasure to work with Pat Mulvhill and the team at Augsburg. There's tremendous power in this partnership," said Robert Chelimsky, managing director at Playwrights' Center. "The whole is truly greater than the sum of the parts. Augsburg University's CGEE strives to create an educational experience that empowers a deeper sense of individual humanity to enable understanding and social change. Playwrights' Center strives to lift diverse playwrights and their stories into the theatrical landscape. In combination, these efforts have the capacity to directly change the narratives through which people understand our social order. That narrative change is not ephemeral. It's not just about more responsive education or better art. That narrative change can lead to real policy change and real strides toward social justice."

Mulvhill added, "The program also advances CGEE's social justice purpose. Whether done online or in person, programs that take students off-campus are heavily skewed toward the social sciences, but social justice should also have room for the arts. Indeed, the arts are essential. The social sciences allow us to examine the data behind society's challenges, but it is only the arts that allow us to tell the stories. Data may inform action, but it's stories that inspire it in the first place."

The program was created to address and serve the need of students to have access to playwriting courses; to give colleges and universities the ability to offer those courses, and in the process, gain access to a diverse body of practitioners, some of whom they may have had difficulty attracting; create an additional income source for working playwrights; and to increase the body of theatrical work from young and diverse voices in the American theater which may impact social narratives.

"I kept hearing from individual students that they wished they had access to more playwriting classes at their colleges and universities," commented Hannah Joyce, director of membership at Playwrights' Center. "The reality is that most institutions do not have a robust offering of courses in playwriting and limited faculty to teach them. It was clear that there was a need at colleges and universities across the country that the Playwrights' Center was in a unique position to meet."

"When Hannah and Jeremy first approached me at Augsburg with the seed of this partnership idea in mind, I was immediately energized. It addressed so many pressing needs in academia-exposing students to the expertise of professional writers, connecting them with a more diverse group of artist-mentors whose identity positions more closely mirror their own, and giving them access to tools and platforms for creating the new and visionary narratives we all need right now," explained Dr. Sarah Myers, who is both an associate professor at Augsburg University and the education programs manager for Playwrights' Center.

Myers continued, "The online course format will give students from a much wider array of institutions unprecedented access to writing courses. Students from schools with no formal theater department, those who are geographically isolated, and those with a socioeconomic need can now apply their financial aid to these courses and earn credits towards graduation."

"These new courses also give Playwrights' Center fellows and affiliated writers the opportunity to expand their craft and build sustainable lives as artists. They will inspire young writers while finding new sources of inspiration themselves-all while being paid fairly for their labor," stated Myers.

"We haven't put storytellers at the top of the theater pyramid. And now, there is something beautiful and exciting to see those playwriting classes listed. The idea of story and representation is at the foundation of theater and it doesn't get the acknowledgment it deserves. We are so proud to shine a light on it," said Engen.

Playwriting courses are being offered for the Fall 2020 semester. The first two classes, Playwriting and Themes in Playwriting, are now open for registration at Augsburg.edu. Details on the program and the courses can be found at pwcenter.org/npoc-university-courses

"One of the things I'm excited about is offering students new courses like TV Writing and Writing for Digital Media so they can see the ways that playwrights are central to transforming these fields with their unique insights into dramatic storytelling. It all comes back to more platforms for transforming our collective social narratives," said Myers.

"This partnership illustrates everything the Playwrights' Center does best. Responding to expressed needs from playwrights, in innovative, practical, and accessible ways, by partnering with the most talented playwrights and professional organizations to meet those needs," added Joyce. "I saw the first classes listed on the Augsburg website and literally got chills. I am thrilled to support the next generation of playwrights through this program."


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