Core Apprentice mentorships help student playwrights transition to professional world

Transitioning from student life to the world beyond can be a disorienting experience. Whether one is leaving undergraduate or graduate school, there is often a scaffolding that falls away, along with the mentorship of professors and the structure of workshops and regular assignments.

For student playwrights, the Playwrights’ Center’s Core Apprentice program can be a bridge between these worlds. Each year three Core Apprentices are selected by a panel of playwrights and theater artists. These three playwrights can be current students or in their first year out of school. They receive a full play development workshop at the Playwrights’ Center every June, and—perhaps a lesser-known aspect of the program—each Core Apprentice is paired with a professional playwright mentor for the year. Core Apprentices can request playwrights they are interested in working with or ask the Playwrights’ Center to make a good match.

Recent Core Apprentices have been paired with mentors such as David Adjmi, Sheila Callaghan, Kara Lee Corthron, Philip Dawkins, Sarah Gubbins, David Henry Hwang, Adam Kraar, Melanie Marnich, Jen Silverman, Deb Stein, Victoria Stewart, and Adam Szymkowicz.

Membership manager Hannah Joyce-Hoven, who manages the program, says that this dual support—a year-long mentorship concluding with a development workshop and reading—provides a transformative experience for the student playwrights. “Many Core Apprentices work with their mentor on a specific play over the course of the year,” she says. “They’ll get feedback on multiple drafts, hone the script, and then once they get here in June for Core Apprentice week they can take that next step of working with a director, dramaturg, and actors and see the play on its feet.”

2015-16 Core Apprentice Sean-Patrick O’Brien says his mentor Jen Silverman “has a brilliant mind and she really understood my writing. She provided me extremely thorough objective feedback on many drafts of my play and I owe a lot to her for the state my play is currently in.”

But Joyce-Hoven says the mentorship experience goes beyond just dramaturgy. “The beauty of mentorship,” she says, “is that Core Apprentices can think about their mentorship goals in terms of their own artistic goals. Developing a relationship with a mentor in a city they want to live in can help them connect to a network of artists and theaters in the city and give them a touch point as they are getting out of college. It gives them someone to talk to about their struggles and goals and hopes and fears—someone who can be a guide and sounding board.” She notes that many mentor-mentee relationships continue after the Core Apprentice year is over.

David Henry Hwang mentored Core Apprentice Raquel Almazan last season, and she says this mentorship “enhanced my life as an artist, person, and politically active citizen.” Hwang and Almazan had several feedback sessions on Almazan’s plays, which “provided clarity for final drafts and strategies on communicating the work to theaters that may not be familiar with the cultures I explore in my plays.” The mentorship went beyond the work itself, as well, helping Almazan navigate the theater world and make connections. “David has written several letters of recommendation for fellowships, grants, and playwright programs on my behalf,” says Almazan. “Notably, his letter and support contributed to me being a finalist for the Bob Rauschenberg Artist as Activist $100,000 fellowship. David also invited me to the Ford Foundation’s Artist of Change presentation where I connected to several peers as well as to grant makers at Ford Foundation that are now following my work and engaging in meetings on my process as an artist. ”

Abe Koogler, a Core Apprentice who worked with mentor Adam Szymkowicz in 2013-14, says, “Opportunities for sustained mentorship are rare in the playwriting world. Most development opportunities are one-off: you come in, work on your play, and leave. So the mentorship is a really unique aspect of the Playwrights' Center Core Apprenticeship program. As I was finishing graduate school, my mentor had really valuable advice on getting productions and making the transition to the professional world.”

2013-14 Core Apprentice Emma Goidel says, “My mentor Adam Kraar’s generosity, insight, and feedback were exactly what I needed to navigate a series of early-career playwriting firsts: first commission, first production contract, first full-length written outside of an academic workshop. I was so grateful to have someone to write to with late-hour questions about logistical career things—contracts, applications, etc. The Core Apprentice program provided invaluable support at I time I really needed it—shortly after I graduated from college and had begun to carve out a writing practice without the mentorship, institutional resources, and community I'd relied upon for four years at Barnard College. Thanks to the mentorship I received as a Core Apprentice, my transition into the professional industry was exciting and joyful.”

The Core Apprentice program is a partnership between the Playwrights’ Center and the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival. Schools participating in the Playwrights’ Center’s New Plays on Campus program may nominate student playwrights for the Core Apprentice program. Applications are due February 2, 2017. More information »