Desert Playwrights Retreat Announces April 2023 Cohorts

Established in 2018 by playwright and dramaturg Sean Abley, the Desert Playwrights' Retreat is a 5-day, all-expenses-paid writing retreat for LGBTQIA playwrights.

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The Desert Playwrights' Retreat, an LGBTQIA playwriting retreat hosted in Palm Springs and Cathedral City, CA, has announced the playwrights chosen for its 2023 cohorts.

Established in 2018 by playwright and dramaturg Sean Abley, the Desert Playwrights' Retreat is a 5-day, all-expenses-paid writing retreat for LGBTQIA playwrights. The company recently partnered with In The Margin, a San Francisco-based theater company, to expand their reach and mission of LGBTQIA artistic advocacy.

Interested playwrights are asked to self-identify when applying (gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans), and housed by identity to promote in-depth conversation without restraint. (Participants frequently cross-pollinate for meals and sharing work.)

The playwrights chosen for the April 2023 lesbian cohort are Meredith Dayna Cope-Levy of Roanoke, VA (who will also act as the house dramaturg); Joan Lipkin of St. Louis; and Connecticut-based Laura Thoma. The playwrights chosen for the gay cohort are Raphaël Dirani of Sèvres, France (currently Pasadena, CA); Los Angeles-based playwright and visual artist Dahn Hiuni ; Fermin Rojas of Provincetown, MA; and R. Eric Thomas from Philadelphia, PA. Los Angeles-based founder Abley will act as the house dramaturg for the gay cohort.

"I can't tell you how excited I am for Desert Playwrights' Retreat to host these amazing artists," says Abley. "I think it's great we have some folks who are strictly playwrights, as well as some multi-hyphenates in the mix. To a person, they've all created truly wonderful work in the past, and my hope is time in the desert among their peers will inspire the beginnings of even more great theater."

"When I look at back, I see every major political, historical, and social movement that has shaped our current state of affairs being made possible, and preserved by, art. Regimes change, civilizations fall, cities crumble, but art remains," offers Abley. "Which is why I feel so much passion for this Retreat. When the bigots start clearing off bookshelves, I want us to fill them again and again with our stories. When they cancel theatrical productions for "problematic content," I want us to stage more plays and musicals that proudly capture our lives. Let's make it impossible for the anti-LGBTQIA, anti-drag, and anti-free speech activists to erase us from history."

A key component of the Retreat is removing money as a barrier to participation. The all-expenses-paid Retreat provides travel, lodging, and meals for the members of each cohort invited to spend time in the desert, funded by a combination of tax-deductible donations and grants. While DPR has begun to attract larger donors who are enthusiastic about the company's mission statement, "We're still building each Retreat with small donations. If you're an advocate for the arts, for LGBTQIA artists, especially if you're an ally, Desert Playwrights' Retreat will happily accept your financial support."

Desert Playwrights' Retreat recently added Natalie Nicole Dresel and Fran Astorga to its administrative team.

More about the Retreat in general, and donations and fundraising specifically, visit

Meredith Dayna Cope-Levy is a playwright based in Roanoke, VA, who will also act as the House Dramaturg for the lesbian cohort. Her produced work includes Decision Height (Samuel French/Concord Theatricals); Smart Kid (Youth Plays Inc.); She Made Space; Coupler; and Waiting for Sylvia. Her queer political epic, The Hills, was a finalist for the 2020 National Playwright's Conference at the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center. She holds an M.F.A. from the Hollins Playwright's Lab and is a member of the Dramatist's Guild. She identifies as a lesbian and an Episcopalian.

Joan Lipkin is an internationally recognized theatre artist, educator and social activist. She works at the intersection of performance and civic engagement, creating events and dialogues about the most pressing issues of our time. Since writing Some Of My Best Friends Are.., which was the first piece of LGBTQ+ theatre done in Missouri, other plays include Small Domestic Acts, He's Having Her Baby, (with Tom Clear), The State of Marriage, and numerous short plays. She is the Producing Artistic Director of That Uppity Theatre Company; honors include the John Van Voris Award for Community Service, What's Right with the Region Award for Improving Racial Equality and Social Justice (Focus St. Louis), Community Enhancement Award (Governor's Council on Disabilities), IDEA (Mind's Eye) and Midwest Gala Human Rights Campaign Organization Equality Award.

Laura Thoma is a trauma-informed theatremaker and proud "late bloomer" playwright originally from Tidewater, Virginia, whose work has been published internationally. In 2022 she was selected for both the National Playwrights Symposium and the Kennedy Center Playwriting Intensive. Her short film Me, Myself, and I written during the pandemic and starring Broadway veteran Erin Soddard, garnered 18 awards from international short film festivals, including London, Paris, and New York. Laura is a Co-Founder of Shoreline Playwrights, a partnership that develops and produces new works. Shoreline Playwrights are the resident playwrights at Drama Works Theatre in Old Saybrook, CT. She has also developed her work with Cape May Stage, Legacy Theatre, Chicago Dramatist, Chestnut Street Playhouse, Marist College, Stage Door Theatre, Theatre Odyssey, and Pawling Theatre Exchange, where she was a playwright in residence.

Raphaël Dirani is a playwright and filmmaker from Sèvres, France currently living in Pasadena, CA. Currently finishing his MFA at ArtCenter College of Design in Screenwriting and Directing, Raphael started his artistic journey on the stage back in his home country, France. His work is highly inspired by his family's stories surrounding the Lebanese Civil War, and the complicated family dynamics that emerged in his non-traditional and multi-cultural household. Comedy included.

Dahn Hiuni is a Los Angeles-based playwright, visual artist, graphic designer and academic. His new play Sick recently won West Hollywood's Gay Pride Playwriting Competition and was presented live on Zoom and Facebook in June 2020. Mr. Hiuni's previous full-length play Murmurs & Incantations was produced as part of the New York International Fringe Festival (20th Anniversary, 2016) at the historic Soho Playhouse, where it won the Award for Excellence in Playwriting. Previously, Murmurs… was also presented as an immersive theatre experience in former Chelsea art gallery, Mixed Greens, in 2013. As solo performance artist, Mr. Hiuni has been presented at such venerable New York venues as P.S. 122, Franklin Furnace, Artists Space and Thread Waxing Space. Other performance venues include the Cleveland Performance Art Festival, the Delaware Center for Contemporary Art, the Art Gallery of Ontario and the Lancaster Museum of Art. His video performance "Twentieth Century Art" is part of the permanent collection of the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis.

Fermin Rojas is a producer/filmmaker, actor, playwright and co-founder of DKR Films. DKR's award-winning documentaries include Alumbrones, The Black Mambas and King Philip's Belt : A Story of Wampum, which screened at The Smithsonian Institute's National Museum of the American Indian. Narrative film credits include executive producer for The Ali'i King, written and directed by Christine Kunewa Walker. He has authored numerous ten-minute plays, books for musicals and monologues for the stage. Along with husband Jay Kubesch, Fermin produced Cuba's first and only gay men's singing ensemble, Mano a Mano.

R. Eric Thomas, is a best-selling author, award-winning playwright, and columnist. His play, Time Is On Our Side, was commissioned by Simpatico Theater Project and developed with PlayPenn. It was the recipient of two 2016 Barrymore Awards, including Best New Play. His play Mrs. Harrison won the Lambda Literary Award for LGBTQ Drama. Other plays include Nightbird (Austin Playhouse), The Folks At Home (Baltimore Center Stage), Safe Space (Single Carrot Theater; 2020 Lambda Literary Award finalist), Backing Track (Arden Theatre Company), Merland (Baltimore Center Stage), The Ever Present (Theatre Exile), Crying on Television (Everyman Theatre), Infinity Jones Needs Some Space! (development: Act II Theatre), Human Resources (City Theatre Summer Shorts). Eric is an alumnus of The Foundry, InterAct Theatre Company's Core Playwrights program, and a current member of Azuka's New Pages. He was a 2017 Lambda Literary Fellow and a 2018-2019 Ingram New Works Fellow.

Desert Playwrights' Retreat founder Sean Abley is a screenwriter, journalist, dramaturg, novelist, and award-winning playwright. He has over thirty plays published by Playscripts, Brooklyn Publishers, Heuer Publishing, Next Stage Press, Stage Partners, Plays to Order, and Eldridge Plays and Musicals, and his plays have been developed and performed at the Kennedy Center, Antaeus Theater Company's Playwrights Lab, Goodman Theatre, Celebration Theatre, Provincetown Theater, Fuse Theatre Ensemble, St. Louis Actors' Studio, Write/Act Repertory, Factory Theater, Merry-Go-Round Youth Theatre, SkyPilot Theatre Company, Virginia City Players, and academically at the Playwrights Lab at Hollins University and California State University-Stanislaus. His plays for young audiences have been performed in over 300 professional and educational productions in the U.S.A. and eleven countries around the world.

Before moving to Los Angeles, Sean was the co-founder and co-Artistic Director (1992-1997) of Chicago's prolific Factory Theater, and in 2016 created the micro-publishing company, Plays to Order, to publish playwrights' collected works. He has an MFA in Playwriting from The Playwrights Lab at Hollins University, and is a member of the Antaeus Theater Company's Playwrights Lab, the Writers Guild of America, Playwrights Union (emeritus, Los Angeles), and the Dramatists Guild.



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