When first designing the undergraduate Playwriting/Dramaturgy Program at UH, Robert Shimko was inspired by the University of Houston’s legacy of distinguished professional playwrights, most notably three-time Pulitzer Prize winner Edward Albee, who were or had been part of the faculty. Shimko, who now serves as both the head of the program and director of the School of Theatre & Dance, saw the potential in taking the leap.
“The School and its faculty have a long association with some really impressive names in the American theatre,” Shimko says. “Why not make that official with a playwriting/dramaturgy program?”
Now, after nearly 10 years, the program boasts an impressive B.F.A program that fosters the creative spirit and a lifelong love of theatre in budding playwrights and dramaturgs. This April, Shimko is proud to present the seventh annual 10-Minute Play Festival at UH, which will feature eight new works written by undergraduate students and one play selected from the national 10-minute play festival contest run by the students in the program.
The UH B.F.A. Playwriting/Dramaturgy Program is the first in all of Texas. The program accepts only a handful of students — at most five each semester — and offers these select few a chance to create both short and full-length works and study under great mentors in a tightknit community. Students have the chance to work with distinguished faculty, such as Teresa Rebeck, writer and producer of hit TV series SMASH, as well as acclaimed guest instructors, including Pulitzer Prize winner Suzan-Lori Parks.
Logan Butcher, a junior in the program, says he was drawn to the program because of the opportunities for growth — especially working with guest artists.
“Being able to read one-act plays with Robert [Askins] and chat about the fundamentals of playwriting during the class was enlightening, personally. Then, writing my own short plays during the course, reading them all as a class together, and hearing feedback really helped me take steps toward finding my voice,” says Butcher, recalling a course he took last semester with the Tony Award-nominated playwright.
Butcher also had a chance to work with avant-garde playwright Chana Porter last fall. She taught a course called “Writing from The Body,” which challenged the way plays are typically written.
Being able to work with guest instructors from opposite ends of the playwriting spectrum — one traditional, the other experimental — encouraged him to dig into and explore new ways of writing. “Having that exposure is invaluable,” he adds.
In addition to learning from award-winning artists, students get the chance to debut a complete play at UH and learn what it takes to be a dramaturg, or literary editor.
“Over the course of that year, we spend time revising, writing new drafts, making changes based on feedback,” Shimko explains. “I think it’s really important that our students feel like a working playwright.”
Students also gain hands-on experience as a dramaturg.
Butcher says the experience of observing the process of a play through the eyes of a dramaturg allowed him to “break down and build up” a play, essentially getting to the roots of what it means to tell stories in the theatre.
“Playwriting and dramaturgy are inextricably connected,” he says. “Watching the play’s development as an assistant dramaturg, you begin to ask questions you wouldn’t as a playwright, which in turn helps you gain a better perspective of the whole process.”
The 10-Minute Play Festival runs for one weekend only, from April 26 – 28. For tickets and more information, visit http://www.uh.edu/kgmca/theatre-and-dance/get-tickets/2018-2019/10-minute-play-festival/.