Martyna Majok on the continuing life of QUEENS and more

I’ve been part of many workshops as a Playwrights’ Center intern this year, and I’ve seen the special kind of effort that goes into supporting the creation of new work. It’s immediately embracing someone else’s vision as your own. It’s being willing to say yes a thousand times a day. It’s hundreds of pots of coffee and innumerable reams of paper. It’s sweat, laughter, and tears.

We at the Playwrights’ Center do this almost every day, because that’s what the PWC is all about: supporting playwrights and making plays. And one of the many perks of our efforts is the supreme satisfaction we get in watching these plays—and their authors—explode onto the American theater scene.

Like Martyna Majok (pronounced “MY-oak”). She’s a Core Writer at the Playwrights’ Center, and we’ve been seeing lots of her in the news lately.

She was the first female playwright ever to win the prestigious Greenfield Prize and, just weeks ago, it was announced that her play Cost of Living—a piece which beautifully explores the intersection of four very different lives, and features roles for two actors with disabilities—won the 2018 Pulitzer Prize in Drama.

In addition, Martyna has just finished an Off-Broadway run of her play queens at LCT3 at Lincoln Center Theater. The production (called “A knockout!” by The New York Times) ran from February 14 through March 25, 2018, and was directed by Danya Taymor. Majok and Taymor were able to hit the ground running because they collaborated on the play’s development at the Playwrights’ Center during the 2016-17 Ruth Easton New Play Series. The PWC also flew in LCT3’s Evan Cabnet to see the reading here.

The play features a cast composed entirely of women, and weaves the stories of various immigrant lives as they converge in a illegal basement apartment in Queens, New York. The PWC published a conversation between Majok and Hayley Finn, the associate artistic director at the Playwrights’ Center, which you can read here.

When asked if the script changed a great deal in its transit from Minnesota to New York, Majok responded, “Very much. In January of 2017, I came to Minneapolis with about an hour and a half of material. Our dress rehearsal at LCT3 ran about three and a half hours—of which, probably 45 minutes of that original 90 minutes remained.”

She says that many scenes she generated in Minneapolis didn’t end up in the LCT3 production, mostly due to an effort to refine the timeline of the play and reduce its running time. “I cut the play significantly to keep it under three hours,” she says. “In a few months, I'll be headed out to La Jolla for a second production where I’ll likely restore much of that text and generate more pages. I’m both widening the lens on this particular story and refining the focus.”

As the play currently stands, queens spans 16 years and features 11 characters, and Majok is looking forward to continued work on the piece. “A lot of the seeds of characters and their stories sprouted in Minneapolis,” she notes, “and they've been growing and branching off since then. And continue to.”

This week, we welcome Majok back to the PWC to workshop her new play Sanctuary City. She reports that she’s eager to return to the supportive environment of the Center. “It’s important for me to be connected to a community of makers and supporters,” she says. “It keeps me accountable to creating, to know there’s someone on the other side, with a belief in you, ready to read. It means so much to know I can reach out to PWC when I have a new play and they’ll do everything they can to help me with the next step.”

Even before its first day in our theater, Sanctuary City already has legs. It was recently announced as part of the New York Theatre Workshop’s 2018-19 season. And the rest of 2018 will be just as busy for Majok. After her Playwrights’ Center workshop, she is headed to Morocco for the Sundance Institute’s Theatre Lab. And in addition to her La Jolla production and juggling several commissions, she’ll be spending the next few months writing the book and lyrics to a musical about Chernobyl.

For more information about Martyna Majok and her work, visit her website. Information about the Playwrights’ Center’s Core Writer program is right this way.