My Guest Piece in “The Dramatist”

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Writers often get the question, “So what are you working on?” and most of us enjoy answering with our latest project.

But what’s even more interesting is not when people ask “What,” but when people ask “Why.” “Why are you working on that particular project? Why do you like to write about XYZ?”

I recently had the opportunity to contribute a piece to the May/June 2016 issue of The Dramatist magazine, a magazine for members of The Dramatists Guild, which supports professional playwrights and other theater artists.

This issue was entitled, “The Ethics of Ethnic,” exploring a variety of issues for writers writing about ethnicity.

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Although the magazine is for members only, they allowed me to reprint it here, in the text below or the PDF link here: My Piece in The Dramatist

Let me know your thoughts!

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“In your opinion, what are the obligations of a dramatist writing outside her/his own ethnicity?”

When I once told a fellow playwright, far more famous than I, how I rarely write about my own ethnicity, she looked at me incredulously and said, “I can’t imagine not writing about it!”

But isn’t that what our playwriting, and our life in the arts, should be about? Doing the very thing we cannot imagine? Getting out of our comfort zone, losing ourselves in the wonderful and scary ‘otherness’ of life, of our world, of our friends – and enemies?

One of the best compliments I ever received as a playwright was when I wrote a play about an African American poet/civil rights activist. At the first staged reading at the Fountain Theater in Los Angeles, one of the elder actors (African American) looked at me shocked when I was introduced as the playwright. He told me later: “I thought the person who wrote this was black. There are things in here I thought only a black person would know and understand. I was a boy sitting in the pew at my Baptist church in Chicago when Dr. King came and spoke – no one talks about that speech. But you did.”

I relish the opportunity to research about ethnicities and histories other than my own – just as I am always beyond thrilled and honored when non-Armenian playwrights choose to explore “my” Armenian history. I serve on the board of the Armenian Dramatic Arts Alliance, which helps get the Armenian story, and other human rights stories, told onstage (www.armeniandrama.org). And when the work of non-Armenian playwrights writing about Armenian topics gives me insight into my own ethnic identity – strengths and weaknesses alike – it inspires and reminds me that the interdependence of art and artists across boundaries makes us all better, wiser and stronger.

Several years ago I wrote a play about multi-faith immigrants across ethnicities living in San Diego, commissioned by the Playwrights Project, which builds literacy, creativity, and communication by empowering individuals to voice their stories through playwriting (www.playwrightsproject.org). In researching the writing of other playwrights – and in speaking with everyone from a surviving Lost Boy of Sudan, to a Vietnamese refugee, to recently emigrated Muslims trying to navigate their post 9/11 community – I found such resonance with my own Armenian history, and that of so many other people groups: the pulls of passion and pride, misplaced trust leading to tragedy, glimmers of grace and help amid war horrors, clinging to hope over bitterness, perseverance over surrender. Audience members of all backgrounds came up to me after the performances, thanking me for ‘understanding’ and sharing their story.

Our story.

Shared suffering, shared survival, shared triumph. Oh, how we are not alone!

The responsibility I hold in writing about other ethnicities works hand in hand with the responsibility I believe we all have as artists — to understand and encourage our audiences and each other. Writing outside of our ethnicity, embracing and sharing its new insights, helps us recognize that our ‘otherness’ is, perhaps, not so ‘other’ after all.

 


LISA KIRAZIAN’s plays include On Air, The Blackstone Sessions, Switch, The Visitor, Six Views, and numerous one-acts. Productions & Readings: Fountain Theatre, Long Beach Playhouse, Scripps Ranch Theatre, DG Friday Night Footlights, Playwrights Project, Barrow Group, and several festivals. Publications: Los Angeles Times, Performing Arts Magazine, San Diego Union Tribune, Audition Monologues for Young Women #2 (Ratliff), various literary journals. Boards: Armenian Dramatic Arts Alliance (ADAA), Playwrights Project (Past President). Lisa is a Stanford graduate. www.lisakirazian.com.


 

Onward!

 

 

Tips for Teenage Writers

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A few months ago I had the privilege of speaking at a theater event sponsored by Playwrights Project, a fantastic organization which uses drama-based activities to teach literacy and communication skills to youth and seniors. They also sponsor the California Young Playwrights Contest, professionally producing winning plays by writers under age 19.  They produced my first play as a teenager and were instrumental in my becoming a writer.

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On this special night I got to speak to the teen finalists and winners of this year’s Contest, being produced this month of January and premiering this coming week (http://www.playwrightsproject.org/PBYW.htm).

I hope these words are an encouragement to writers of all ages.

———–

Great to be with you tonight and congratulations to all the finalists and winners!

To me you’re all winners, because I wrote three plays over three years, before being a winner of the California Young Playwrights Contest, and each year I took the page of written comments they sent me, you know what I’m talking about — I took those comments to heart and tried to do better the next time. And the next time, and the next time. For that habit of seeking improvement, for those practical examples of how to work past mistakes and weaknesses toward success, I’m forever grateful to Playwrights Project, because those lessons have served me well in writing and life ever since.

That winning play production in 1989, 25 years ago amazingly, and during my freshman year at Stanford, was my very first. I thought: maybe I had a voice, something worthwhile to say, and maybe I was saying it in a way that made people listen, think, or be inspired to live or act differently. Or maybe, just maybe, I was writing so that I would live or act or think differently. Your playwriting, your art, will change you as much or more than it changes anyone else.

Whatever you do in your life, with your life, and whomever you do it with, here are three things to remember, whether you go on to be a playwright, an accountant, a lab scientist, or anything else:

  1. Notice the Unnoticeable. Don’t stop looking around you, noticing others who are rarely seen or think they’re not being seen. Listen carefully to what they say, speaking honestly about what you see and hear.
  2. Ask the Unaskable. Don’t stop asking tough questions. Don’t be afraid to suggest tough solutions — or to not suggest a solution at all.
  3. Feel the Unfeelable. Don’t say, “I can’t put that much anger out there.” Put it out there. Or don’t say, “I can’t put that much joy out there.” Put it out there, and everything in between. The scariest place in the world might be on the empty page. But it’s also the safest and freest place in the world, to be yourself.

Just think. Your winning play, the one you’re being honored for, today, the one being lauded above hundreds of others across the state, the one that’s going to be produced in a few months and bring you so much encouragement and confidence and joy? Imagine: This play of yours will one day be your worst play.

But that’s okay. Because it means you’ll only be getting better and better. Every play you write builds upon the last one, just as every year of your life ahead will build on the year you live before. Nothing is wasted in the life of a writer, an artist, nothing is ever wasted in the life of one who chooses to see with both eyes, nothing is wasted in the life of one who chooses to live with their whole heart, chooses to be grateful for the life they have, no matter what, and who want to share about it with everyone, warts and all.

Nothing you experience, or hear, or suffer, or succeed in, or learn in life, will ever be wasted. My first playwriting teacher, Janet Tiger, said that if you decide to be a writer, you’ll never be bored again. She was right. From then on, after that playwriting residency at Patrick Henry High School, even if I was dragged to the mall by my mom, or sitting in a doctor’s office with gross beige walls, I was never bored. I was always checking things out. Checking people out.

You should always be watching people, listening to people, to what they say and what goes unsaid, what they do and leave undone. Because as a writer what you leave out is just as important as what you leave in. What you leave to our imagination in the audience, is just as powerful as what you explicitly tell or show us on stage.

I can’t wait to hear all you have to say, to show, to share. Just never, ever stop. Congratulations.

———

Onward!

(This blog originally posted on Jan. 19, 2015. em>)

Making a Story Our Own

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When you write a story or script that is your own idea, your feeling of ownership is clear and strong. After all, the idea came from you, inside you, deep inside, right?

 

What about when you get an assignment? When an editor, theater or film company commissions you to write about a story they want to develop?

 

How can you get that same sense of ownership, that same primal urge to tell the story, when it was someone else’s idea?

 

Getting paid? Will that do it? No. Being motivated to get paid is not what I mean, even though getting paid for assignments is certainly something that keeps us on our toes.

 

What I mean is: how do we make a story our own?

 

We have to find a core connection and write from that core. We have to find a hook into it from our own life or heart.

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