Working Toward the Write Stuff

Tania Thompson
 | Feb 17, 2017
Playwriting Class

Playwriting teacher Kristina Leach, left, looks over writing prompts with her class.

Kristina Leach

​Playwriting teacher Kristina Leach.

As a 10-year-old, Kristina Leach was drawn to both acting and playwriting; she found them amazing. And still does. As the instructor in South Coast Repertory’s Theatre Conservatory playwriting class, she hopes that students share her love for playwriting and especially for dialogue, which sounds like music to Leach.

“I love asking just the right question of any one writer that helps them break open the scene they've been working on,” Leach says. “Or, if by bringing in just the right prompt, they are able to see, perhaps, the end of their play. This is my favorite thing—helping out.” 

Why should you give playwriting a try? Leach has a two-part response: “Why not?!” and “If you're human, you have at least one story to tell. If you love theatre, you should attempt to tell that story on the stage. Get in here—what do you have to lose?" 

What’s your approach to teaching?
I tell my students to think of me as a sort of “play midwife.” I’m here to ask questions, provide positive feedback and empower you (the writer) to bring your play(s) into the world. I say: “It might be painful...but, don’t worry, I’m here for you.”

My class operates the same, whether you're new to my class or repeating it: we always talk about what we’ve seen—plays, films, TV, art exhibits, etc. I bring a writing prompt to every class, so we always write. Everyone is encouraged to share their work and we talk about it with respect and encouragement. My class is an applause-only environment. I believe the best way for a writer to identify and use their skill is to do it. You never know what you’re capable of until you throw it out there. I try to bring my experience in professional theatre into the classroom to, hopefully, point them in the right direction for that next step. My class is the best place for that. 

What does a good class outcome look like?
Finishing a first draft is a successful outcome. Any time a student is able to get to the next level with their work—be it a second draft, a public reading or even submitting it to a play festival—I feel like these are successes. But honestly, even if the goal is just to finish something—to put “end of play” on that last page—I am thrilled and feel like I’ve done my job. My hope is that, during the eight weeks, they're able to say they've made progress. 

What resonates with you about scripted storytelling?
I tell people all the time that my favorite way to experience a play is to hear it in a reading. Sure, I love productions—who doesn't? But listening to the words the way the playwright intended, without the bells and whistles, is the most exciting part for me. I tell all of my students that my two favorite words in the English language (and most likely all the languages) are: “Lights up.” That first moment—all those possibilities—that’s the stuff. 

What play do you wish you would’ve written?
This is a tough question for a girl who has worked in a literary department for 13 years.  I have four plays, in no particular order: Equivocation by Bill Cain, Eurydice by Sarah Ruhl, Arcadia by Tom Stoppard and The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Diety by Kristoffer Diaz. Wait! I just thought of a fifth one: Our Town by Thornton Wilder. I love that play. You know what? There are too many. Can I do a couple of Top 10 lists instead? I mean, I really should divide this into genre. Oh, and I haven't even considered the Absurdists yet... 

What script or play has had a lasting impact on you?
I’m going to answer this with two plays. The play that has resonated with me the longest is Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. It’s probably one of the first plays I really READ—and not just because I had to for school. It made me think about the intricacies of playwriting: what it entails and what it can do. It stuck, and continues to be one of my favorites. But the second play with impact for me is last season’s Vietgone at SCR. I was lucky enough to watch that play become the thing it is now—and the story is still evolving because there are sequels coming. To me, what Qui Nguyen accomplished in Vietgone, and continues to create both with words on the page and stylistically, is the future. I love having that to look forward to. 

Where is your “happy place”?
My Monday night playwriting class.

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