Alexandra Billings & More Named to Desert Playwrights' Retreat Advisory Board

Also joining are director and producer Chrisanne Blankenship; Provincetown Theater Managing Director Gary Garrison and more.

By: Feb. 15, 2024
Alexandra Billings & More Named to Desert Playwrights' Retreat Advisory Board
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The Desert Playwrights' Retreat, established in 2018 as the first writing retreat created solely for LGBTQ playwrights, has named its first Board of Advisors.

Desert Playwrights' Retreat Founder and Retreat Director, Sean Abley, and previously announced Cohort Directors Natalie Nicole Dressel and Meredith Dayna Cope-Levy, will be joined by Broadway performer and transgender activist Alexandra Billings; director and producer Chrisanne Blankenship; Provincetown Theater Managing Director Gary Garrison; playwright and producer Joan Lipkin; playwright and documentarian Fermin Rojas; and playwright, director, and producer, Howard Skora.

"I could not be more excited by this amazing group of LGBTQ artists who have generously offered their time and wisdom to Desert Playwrights' Retreat," says Retreat Founder Sean Abley. "To a person, they have all led by example as artists, advocates, and leaders in all aspects of theatre, and the LGBTQ community in general. I can't wait to continue the important work of the Retreat with these talented and dedicated advocates."

"Time is precious for all of us. So if we're going to spend time away from jobs, loved ones, our artistry and the like, it has to be worth the investment," offers Gary Garrison. "At our first Board meeting, I looked at our Zoom screen full of the most extraordinarily talented and Committed Artists who are always generous with their time and attention and thought, 'How lucky am I to be here... and how lucky are all the artists these folks will nurture.'"

Garrison, a DPR 2022 alum, is currently the Managing Director of Provincetown Theater in Provincetown, MA. Previous to that, from 2007-2017, Garrison was the Executive Director of the Dramatists Guild of America. Up to the spring of 2020, he was also the Director of the Dramatists Guild Institute. Prior to his work at the Guild, Garrison filled the posts of Associate Chair, Artistic Director and Master Teacher of Playwriting in the Goldberg Department of Dramatic Writing at NYU's Tisch School of the Arts. Both a scholar and prolific author of 10-minute plays, Gary has written numerous books on the subject, including his first, Perfect Ten: Writing and Producing the Ten‑Minute Play.

"Having attended the Desert Playwrights Retreat, I am still savoring the fellowship and new relationships with the other playwrights and the opportunity to take time away from our daily life demands to write in a supportive setting'" adds Joan Lipkin. "And coming from a very urban center, it felt like the spectacular beauty of Palm Springs rearranged the molecules in my brain."

About the Advisory Board

Lipkin, a DPR 2023 alum, is a playwright, director, educator, and curator. She is the Producing Artistic Director of That Uppity Theatre Company in St. Louis, MO where she founded the nationally acclaimed Alternate Currents/Direct Currents Series, The DisAbility Project, the Louies and Apple Pie. A strong proponent of collaboration, she also co-founded Women CenterStage! with the Center of Creative Arts, the Nadadada Festival at The Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, Democracy on Stage with the American Civil Liberties Union, and the Mid-Sized Arts Cooperative. She has received "Lifetime Achievement" recognition from Out in St. Louis, the Lisa Wagaman Lifetime Achievement Award from Pride St. Louis, and most recently from the St. Louis Theater Circle. She is also featured in "50 Key Figures in Queer US Theatre." (Routledge)

"Desert Playwrights' Retreat provides a safe and pressure-free opportunity for LGBTQ playwrights to explore writing from the heart," explains Fermin Rojas.

Rojas, a DPR 2023 alum, is a Cuban-born producer, filmmaker, actor, writer, and co-founder of DKR Films. DKR's award-winning documentaries include There Are Things To Do (about LGBTQ activist Urvashi Vaid), Alumbrones, The Black Mambas and King Philip's Belt: A Story of Wampum. He has authored and directed numerous plays, books for musicals and monologues for the stage, most recently as a member of Truro Playwright Collective (Liberty Speaks) and the Helltown Players (Karen for "Little Devils").

Alexandra Billings is an actor, singer, author, playwright, teacher, and transgender activist. On stage, she has been seen on Broadway (Wicked, The Nap), and regionally at Steppenwolf, Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, Next Theatre, Geffen Playhouse, plus dozens more over a 30+ year career. Most recently she appeared in her autobiographical musical, S/He and Me, for which she also wrote the book, in an industry workshop in New York. She has appeared in recurring and series regular roles on multiple TV shows including Transparent (Amazon), The Connors (ABC), Never Have I Ever (Netflix), The Peripheral (Amazon), and more. As an educator, Alexandra has taught Viewpoints with the Steppenwolf School and Steppenwolf West; California State University (CSU-Stanislaw, CSU-Long Beach); The University of Chicago; Illinois University and many more. She is currently a tenured professor at the USC School of the Dramatic Arts, the school's first tenured transgender faculty member.

Chrisanne Blankenship is a director of the stage, and producer of stage and screen. Notable productions as a director include the world premiere of Absence Makes the Heart...(SkyPilot Theatre, Los Angeles) (written by DPR founder Sean Abley); Catching the Butcher (Panndora Productions, Long Beach, CA); Gertrude Stein and a Companion (Strawdog Theater / Borealis Productions); Amanda and Eve (Bailiwick Theatre); Angels Among Us; Sure Thing (Strawdog Theatre) among others. She and her wife, Alexandra Billings, formed Schmengie, Inc., a production company dedicated to projects focused on diversity and inclusion.

Howard Skora, a DPR 2021 alum, is an award-winning Los Angeles-based playwright, director, theatrical producer, and screenwriter. His most recent play, Freud On Cocaine, returns to the stage in March 2024 after a sold out run in Fall 2023. His previous plays, Miserable with an Ocean View, Damaged Furniture, and Gaslight House (which he also directed, as well as developed at Desert Playwrights' Retreat), all of which he produced, enjoyed lengthy, months-long well-reviewed runs in Los Angeles. Howie studied Screenwriting at UCLA Extension, where he received the prestigious Diane Thomas Screenwriting Award for his screenplay, The Trainer. He is also the 1st place winner of the 5th Annual Scriptapalooza Screenwriting Competition and used the $10,000 prize money to complete Nick Name and The Normals, his first independent feature-length documentary.

The next Retreat will be April 8-14, 2024. For more information, visit the DPR website -