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Nilaja Sun, Chris Canaan, James ljames, and More Tapped For PlayPenn Education Series


Nilaja Sun, Chris Canaan, James ljames, and More Tapped For PlayPenn Education Series

An array of award-winning teaching artists are lined up to share their craft and art with theater enthusiasts, theatre artists and writers in 2018. PlayPenn, the new play development organization based in Philadelphia, is proud to announce their Winter and Spring 2018 Education Series, led by award-winning playwright and University of Pennsylvania playwriting professor Jacqueline Goldfinger, which features both face-to-face courses in Philadelphia and online workshops that can be taken from anywhere in the world.

In order to support the development of Education Students work outside of the classroom, anyone who registers for a winter/spring 2018 class by January 14, 2018 will be eligible to submit a play for consideration for a free, professional, public reading of their unproduced play at PlayPenn. PlayPenn will select one student play for a reading in late-spring. Details available on PlayPenn's website.

The semester begins with "Playwriting Technique" with Guggenheim Fellow and Philadelphia Magazine's "Best Professor" Robert Smythe. Smythe, the founder of Mum Puppettheatre, will present a workshop that provides students a foundation for playwriting success. This class is perfect for new/emerging writers, as well as more experienced writers who want to add to their toolkit, or sharpen what's already there. (January 16-March 6, 2018, Tuesday Nights 5:30-8:30pm, Independence Foundation Studio at Arden Theatre Company, 40 North Second Street, Philadelphia, $350).

Later in January, Barrymore winner and PlayPenn Conference alumni James Ijames will present "Writing Great Dialogue," a one-day workshop perfect for learning how to invigorate dialogue and giving characters unforgettably distinctive voices. The seminar is perfect for all skill levels and a great way to learn from an award-winning playwright and Villanova professor. (January 27, 2018, 1-6pm, PYP Learning Lab, 1219 Vine Street, Philadelphia, $125).

Popular PlayPenn Teaching Artist John Yearley returns for two online sessions to unlock the playwright inside of you! "Playwriting Try-It Workshop" is perfect If you ever wanted to try playwriting, or get back into it. Yearley, will give students an opportunity to try playwriting through short writing exercises as well as talk about the art, craft and industry of what's involved in the work. (February 4, 2018 1-4pm and April 8, 5-8pm, Online, $75).

Obie award winning Nilaja Sun, author of the critically-acclaimed one-person show No Child, returns to PlayPenn with a special "One-Person Show Intensive Workshop" in February. The workshop is designed to facilitate students, who are working on their own solo pieces, in honing the craft of writing and performing a dynamic one person show. Students will discover how their body, voice and unique story telling abilities can set solo pieces apart from rest. Seating is extremely limited for this workshop to insure one-on-one attention. (February 17 and 18, 2018, 1-5pm, Garritt Street Studio, 1213 Garritt Street, Philadelphia, $250).

What do Hamlet, Troy Maxon, Pee Wee Herman, Electricidad, Michael Corleone and Blanche DeBois all have in common? NYU Professor Lori Fischer returns to PlayPenn to answer that question and more in her "Creating Compelling Characters" online course. The class will combine in-class-exercises, lectures, reading and writing assignments to learn how to create detailed, compelling characters for plays. (March 7-April 11, 2018, Wednesday Nights 7-9pm, online, $225).

Bryn Mawr Playwriting Professor, PlayPenn Conference Playwright, and popular PlayPenn teaching artist L Feldman will present an intensive "Seven Week Writing Workshop" that concludes with professional actors performing the student's work! Perfect for writers of all experience levels, the workshop will have a limited class size and will meet for seven weeks over the course of the spring semester. On the final meeting of the workshop, students will hear a 10-page excerpt of their scripts read by professional actors. (March 1-April 13, 2018, Thursday Nights 6-9pm, Location TBA, $425).

Ever want to write a play in one day? This April, award-winning writer Tammy Ryan will show you how in her "Writing and Revising 10 Minute Plays" workshop. Often 10 minute plays are the way that writers introduce themselves to the world, so this workshop will help make a great first impression. Ryan will discuss what makes a great 10 minute play and then through a series of writing prompts get you started writing yours. You will have time to actually write or revise a piece in class and then share pages so that you can receive immediate feedback. (April 21, 2018, 10am-6pm, PYP Learning Lab, 1219 Vine Street, Philadelphia, $175).

Christopher Canaan won an Emmy for his work on Camerena: Drug Wars, and has written and produced programs for ABC, NBC, CBS, and more. He will bring his extensive expertise to PlayPenn for a "Turn Your Play Into a Screenplay" seminar. The class is perfect for writers of any experience level with at least one play (of any length) that they wish to adapt into a screenplay. (May 5 and 6, 2018, 10am-3pm, PYP Learning Lab, 1219 Vine Street, Philadelphia, $300).

PlayPenn's own Lead Dramaturg Michele Volanksy, who has worked on nearly 200 new and established plays in her professional career, including several on Broadway, is offering a special online course this June, "New Play Dramaturgy." The seminar will address what questions to ask, how to think about structure, and ways your point of view might impact the script's development. (June 2 and 3, 2018, 2-6pm, online, $200).

Best known in Philadelphia for his collaborative projects with FringeArts, theatre artist Bruce Walsh will present a one-day workshop on the deeper needs of character development. "Text and Subtext: Building Layers of Conflict and Meaning Within Your Scenes" will grapple with the relationship between surface conversations and the deeper needs of characters -- how interesting characters use the topic at hand to cajole, tempt, distract, insult, manipulate, gaslight, obfuscate, and otherwise create complexity and layered conflicts. (June 9, 2018, 12-4pm, PYP Learning Lab, 1219 Vine Street, Philadelphia, $100).

Teaching Artist bios are below. For more information, or to register for courses, visit


Robert Smythe is an acclaimed theater artist and the founder of Mum Puppettheatre, the only regional theater in the United States dedicated to puppetry, serving as its Artistic Director for 23 years. During that time, he wrote, directed and performed over 20 original productions using puppets, masks and human actors, leading Mum on international tours on four continents. According to Philadelphia City Paper, Smythe's work with Mum "sparked the Philadelphia theater renaissance that continues to this day." Smythe has won numerous awards and honors, including Guggenheim, Pew, and National Endowment for the Arts fellowships, and six solo performer fellowships from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts; he's won six Barrymore Awards for Excellence in Theater in areas ranging from education to choreography; and he was the first artist to receive a commission from the Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts: the resulting collaboration between him and the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia, Stravinsky's "l'Histoire du Soldat," won the 2011 Barrymore Award for Outstanding Collaboration. Smythe is the founder of the Playwriting Program for the International Puppetry Conference at the Tony-winning O'Neill Theater Center. His ground-breaking application of narrative theory to puppetry, "Reading a Puppet Show: Understanding the Three-Dimensional Narrative," was published in The Routledge Companion to Puppetry and Material Performance, and his work on motor contagion was been published in Acta Psychologica. He received his MFA in Playwrighting from Temple University, where he was a University Fellow. In 2010, in their annual "Best of Philadelphia" issue, Philadelphia Magazine named him "Best Professor".

L Feldman is a queer, feminist playwright (and circus artist) who loves theatrically adventurous, physically ambitious, intimate, inquisitive, deeply honest plays - usually about outsiders, often about searchers, always about the human connection. Her plays include ANOTHER KIND OF SILENCE (PlayPenn, O'Neill Finalist, Playwrights Realm Fellowship, Drama League New Directors/New Works Fellowship); AMANUENSIS (Northwoods Ramah Theatre Company commission); THE EGG-LAYERS (Jane Chambers Honorable Mention, O'Neill Finalist, New Georges/Barnard College co-commission); A PEOPLE (Jewish Plays Project NYC Residency); GRACE, OR THE ART OF CLIMBING (Denver Center Theatre Company, Nice People Theatre Company, ATCA/Steinberg New Play Award Nomination, Barrymore Nomination, The Kilroys List); several ensemble-devised works, including AND IF YOU LOSE YOUR WAY, OR A FOOD ODYSSEY (The Invisible Dog, New York Innovative Theatre Award Nomination), LADY M (Philadelphia Live Arts Festival), and THE APOCRYPHAL PROJECT (Yale Cabaret), among others; as well as a dozen short plays and an autobiographical solo piece.

James Ijames is a Philadelphia based performer and playwright. He has appeared regionally in productions at The Arden Theatre Company, The Philadelphia Theatre Company, InterAct Theatre Company, The Wilma Theatre, Baltimore Center Stage, Mauckingbird Theatre Company, and People's Light and Theatre. James' plays have been produced by Flashpoint Theater Company, Orbiter 3, Theatre Horizon (Philadelphia, PA), The National Black Theatre (NYC), Ally Theatre (Washington DC) and have received development with PlayPenn New Play Conference, The Lark, Playwright's Horizon, Clubbed Thumb, Villanova Theater, The Gulfshore Playhouse, Wilma Theater, Azuka Theatre and Victory Garden. James is the 2011 F. Otto Haas Award for an Emerging Artist recipient, and he also won two Barrymores for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Play for Superior Donuts and Angels in America and one Barrymore for Outstanding Direction of a Play for The Brothers Size with Simpatico Theatre Company. James is a 2011 Independence Foundation Fellow, a 2015 Pew Fellow for Playwriting, the 2015 winner of the Terrance McNally New Play Award for WHITE, the 2015 Kesselring Honorable Mention Prize winner for ....Miz Martha and a 2017 recipient of the Whiting Award. James is a founding member of Orbiter 3, Philadelphia's first playwright producing collective and a mentor for The Foundry. He received a B.A. in Drama from Morehouse College in Atlanta, GA and a M.F.A. in Acting from Temple University in Philadelphia, PA. James is Assistant Professor of Theatre at Villanova University and resides in South Philadelphia.

John Yearley is the author of The Unrepeatable Moment (Barrow Group), Leap (Kaplan New American Play Prize, Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park), Antigone (adaptation, Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park), Ephemera (Gassner Award, Summer Play Festival), and Another Girl (PlayPenn, Naked Angels). His plays All in Little Pieces and A Low-Lying Fog are published by Samuel French. He is currently writing for the PBS Kids show Arthur and worked as a script doctor for New Line Cinema. He's a member of the Writer's Guild of America, the Dramatists Guild, and twice a MacDowell Fellow.

Nilaja Sun is the solo performer and writer of the Off-Broadway smashes No Child... and her new show, Pike Street. For her creation and performance of No Child... and its subsequent national tour, Nilaja garnered 21 awards including: an Obie Award, a Helen Hayes Award a Lucille Lortel Award, and two Outer Critics Circle Awards including the John Gassner Playwriting Award for Outstanding New American Play. Theatre credits also include The Commons of Pensacola, Einstein's Gift, Time and The Conways, Huck and Holden, and The Cook. Tv/Film credits include Madam Secretary, Louie, 30 Rock, Law & Order: SVU, Unforgettable, The International, and Rubicon. As a solo performer, her projects include the critically acclaimed Blues for a Gray Sun (INTAR), La Nubia Latina, Black and Blue, Insufficient Fare, Due to the Tragic Events of..., and Mixtures. Nilaja was awarded the soloNOVA Award for Artist of the Year by terraNOVA Collective and was recently awarded a NYSCHA grant. A native of the Lower East Side, she is a Princess Grace Award winner and has worked as a teaching artist in New York City for over 15 years.

Lori Fischer received her M.F.A. from the N.Y.U. Dramatic Writing Department. She is the author of multiple plays and screenplays including the critically acclaimed musical Barbara's Blue Kitchen, which played at The Adirondack Theatre Festival, Cincinnati Playhouse and Off-Broadway at The Lamb's Theatre (published by Samuel French). Lori's musical comedy The Sparkley Clean Funeral Singers Funeral Singers is also published by Samuel French and her feature film Chasing Taste is available on Amazon Prime. Lori's work has been seen at the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival, the Stonestreet Film Festival, the RipFest Film Festival, Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park and The Adirondack Theatre Festival. She teaches at NYU and is currently working on her next musical.

Tammy Ryan won the Francecsca Primus Prize for her play Lost Boy Found in Whole Foods. Her plays have been performed around the country as well as internationally in Canada, Turkey and Japan. She's held residencies at the Sewanee Writers Conference, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, Hambidge Center, LaMama Umbria International Playwriting Residency and the New Harmony Project. She teaches playwriting at Point Park, Duquesne and Carnegie Mellon University as well as freelance workshops. For more information go to:

Christopher Canaan (playwright/screenwriter/performer) won an Emmy with Michael Mann for the mini-series, "Camerena: Drug Wars." He has written and produced movies and mini-series for CBS, NBC, ABC, The Family Channel, Fox, USA, Showtime, Hallmark and Starz Encore, including "Cries Unheard," with Hillary Swank, "Robinson Crusoe," starring Pierce Brosnan, and Dashiell Hammett's "The House On Turk Street," starring Samuel L. Jackson. Additionally he was co-creator of the CBS series, "Walker Texas Ranger." He developed a contemporary version of "The Prince and he Pauper" for Prince Edward of England, and "Project Millennium" for George Lucas. His screen adaptations include novels by Elmore Leonard, Ann Rice and Robert Ludlum. Canaan holds an MFA in Theater from the University of California, San Diego. He also studied theater history and criticism at NYU and was a student at the Stella Adler Studio. Canaan has performed in regional theater at The Old Globe Theater, the Los Angeles Music Center where he performed with Charlton Heston in "Crucifer of Blood." He also performed he professional repertory companies at Tulane University in New Orleans, Dartmouth College, and Tufts University. For the last several years, Canaan has taught screenwriting for the Writers Program at UCLA Extension and has lectured at various universities, including the University of California, Berkeley, USC, and California Lutheran University. Canaan is a member of the faculty at the Academy of Cinema in Athens, Greece, where he taught the Michael Chekhov Technique and creative writing.

Michele Volansky is Chair and Associate Professor of Drama at Washington College (MD), from which she earned a B.A. in English. She has worked on nearly 200 new and established plays in her professional career, developing new works by such writers as Sam Shepard, Daniel Stern, Warren Leight, Jeffrey Hatcher, Bruce Graham, Tina Landau, Charles L. Mee and Bruce Norris, along with many others. Her work on Shepard's rewrite of Buried Child (directed by Gary Sinise) and Dale Wasserman's One Flew OverThe Cuckoo's Nest (directed by Terry Kinney and starring Gary Sinise) earned her two Broadway credits and participation in the Tony Award for Best Revival of Cuckoo's Nest. She has guest dramaturged at the Arden Theater Company, South Coast Rep, the Atlantic Theatre Company, Victory Gardens and Next Theatre, in addition to her staff time at Actors Theatre of Louisville (1992-95), Steppenwolf Theatre Company (1995-2000) and Philadelphia Theatre Company (2000-2004). Her own play Whispering City was produced as part of the Steppenwolf Arts Exchange Program in the Fall of 1999. Since its inception, Dr. Volansky has served as Conference Dramaturg and Associate Artist for the Philadelphia-based new play development conference PlayPenn. She has served as an artistic consultant for the TCG playwright residency program, a reader for the Eugene O'Neill Center's National Playwrights Conference and the New York Shakespeare Festival/The Joseph Papp Public Theatre's Emerging Voices Program, as well as a grants review panelist for Philadelphia-area arts organizations. She is the 1999 inaugural co-recipient of the Elliot Hayes Award for Dramaturgy and was the President of LMDA, the Literary Managers and Dramaturgs of the Americas (2002-2004). Volansky's book on playwriting and collaboration with Bruce Graham entitled The Collaborative Playwright was published in March, 2007 by Heinemann Press. She holds an M.A. from Villanova University and a PhD from the University of Hull (England); her dissertation explores the politics and advocacy of the critics Kenneth Tynan and Frank Rich.

Bruce Walsh recently earned a MFA in Playwriting from Indiana University and is now a traveling writer and teaching artist. His full-length play, Berserker, was recently presented at the Kennedy Center. He's best known in Philadelphia for his hit collaborations with FringeArts. His fascination with sacredness infuses all of his writing. But not in the ways people sometimes expect. He has no interest in prescribing moral codes. His characters are bold, queer, angry, ridiculous, joyous, deeply sexual beings. Bruce writes most often about people he encountered in many day jobs, working for companies like UPS, Trader Joe's, a porn video warehouse (seriously), and a slew of downsizing newspapers. He is endlessly enthralled by those that seek the "courage to be" - a sacred meaning or purpose - even amidst a culture and economy with very little capacity to foster those needs. Recent honors include: The Gary Garrison National Ten Minute Play Award, Seven Devils Playwrights' Conference (finalist), Heideman Award (finalist), and the Clubbed Thumb Biennial Commission (semi-finalist).

ABOUT PLAYPENN: PlayPenn, in its 14th year, is an artist-driven organization dedicated to the development of new plays and playwrights. PlayPenn fully supports the needs of the writer and the demands of the play in an ever-evolving process within which playwrights can engage in risk taking, boundary-pushing work. The organization's flagship annual new play development conference and year-round development workshops in cooperation with producing theatres result in staged readings of at least 10 new plays each year for over 1,800 artists, producers, and theatergoers. Additionally, PlayPenn's rapidly expanding educational programs-which include 17-20 in-person and online classes annually with notable instructors, application assistance, personalized dramaturgy services, plus The Foundry, a three-year membership group for emerging playwrights resident in Philadelphia-serve another 230+ playwrights from the region and across the nation. PlayPenn supports artists at all career stages across a broad spectrum of cultural, economic, ethnic, and gender experience. Since 2005, PlayPenn has helped to develop over 110 new plays from infancy to a state closer to production-readiness. Nearly 60% of these plays have gone on to more than 315 professional productions at esteemed institutions in the United States, Great Britain, and elsewhere around the world, including the London's National Theatre, National Theatre of Israel, English Theatre Berlin, Roundabout Theatre, Lincoln Center Theatre, Atlantic Theatre, Second Stage, Actors Theatre of Louisville, LaJolla Playhouse, Denver Center Theatre, South Coast Repertory, and a host of theatres in the Philadelphia region, in cities across the country and around the world. In 2017, PlayPenn celebrated the first of its developed plays to hit a Broadway stage, and win a Tony Award-J. Rogers' Oslo at the Vivian Beaumont Theater. Find out more at

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