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Playwriting with Kaela Mei-Shing Garvin

Playwriting with Kaela Mei-Shing Garvin

I might need a new playwriting origin story. For years now I’ve been regurgitating the same tale: in my undergraduate education, I was tasked with finding a monologue for my exact “type.” As a bigger-bodied queer mixed Asian American nonbinary femme, I scoured the library searching for something that would fit any of my identities, much less all of them. I came away with three takeaways: that I was obsessed with the few works I could find by Asian American playwrights; that roles for me as a performer did not exist substantively within the American canon; and that I wanted to create those roles myself. And so I started writing. 

That’s true, and that’s real, and that’s my breakthrough moment. It also forgets even earlier gravitations toward dramatic writing: as a toddler, staging improvised performances in between dinner and dessert at holidays; as a child, enlisting my family to play various roles in my American Girl Doll play about Felicity; as a teen, completing a fraught high school 24 hour play festival in which I first publicly presented my work. It wasn’t wholly because of identity and representation that I entered the field: it was the realm of possibility theater could open for me. The creation of alternate worlds onstage gleamed before me, and I gobbled it up, shoehorning those close to me into the limelight so the show could go on. 

I claimed the title of “playwright” when I got into graduate school in my twenties, late for someone with my history but right on time for someone who never saw themself onstage and elbowed in there anyway. I still write with a goal of nuanced representation, but it’s now a means to an end for me: representation toward our collective liberation feels like a worthy path to dream up the gleaming new worlds that have always attracted me. 

I’ve now been a professional playwright for about a decade, and have been teaching playwriting for the past five years. I’m thrilled to be joining Freehold and continuing to teach in new ways. I believe that everyone has a story to tell, and as a teacher I try to give students tools to get those stories onto the page. 

My playwriting class at Freehold will focus on introductory writing skills. We’ll learn about Aristotle’s millenia-old ideas about dramatic structure that still dominate the Western playwriting canon. We’ll also learn about alternative ways of thinking about dramatic structure and plot through analyzing the work of established playwrights and theorists, as well as the playwrights in class. We’ll learn how to give considered, helpful feedback to peers – and how to accept it yourself (the work of a lifetime!) Overall, we’ll be heading toward the creation of your own ten-minute play that you can submit to festivals, competitions, and awards opportunities. We’ll explore the idea that theatrical work can be an outlet for creative expression, personal storytelling, and innovation. 

Throughout the class, I’ll be listening for your origin stories. How do you view the world uniquely, and how might you dramatize your world view for an audience? What makes you show up to write, and how might your raison d’etre appear in your work? I can’t wait to find out together.