Paula Vogel's Boot Camp in the New York Times

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Paula Vogel at her playwrights' boot camp at the Second Stage Theater. Photo by Piotr Redlinski for the New York Times.

In 2011, The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage helped to fund a boot camp led by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Paula Vogel and hosted by Philadelphia Young Playwrights. Vogel's boot camp exercises are designed to spark the creativity of participants—including, in Philadelphia, students as well as professionals like Wilma Theater artistic director Blanka Zizka, 1812 Productions artistic director Jen Childs, and People's Light & Theatre Company associate artistic director Pete Pryor—and to generate spontaneity and ingenuity in playwriting.

In early 2012 a New York Times article covered a playwriting boot camp that Vogel led at the Second Stage Theater, the same venue where her Pulitzer Prize-winning play How I Learned to Drive had a concurrent and much-heralded revival. As she did during the Center-sponsored boot camp in Philadelphia, Vogel pushed the New York participants to think outside of the perceived limitations of playwriting, first challenging them to come up with a scene that would be impossible to stage.

Other boot camp exercises involve writing in brief bursts based on an obituary, a fairy tale, or elements observed within a distinct setting. "The whole aim is to push yourselves. These are exercises. This is all throwaway writing. None of it is for prime time," Vogel told the participants in Philadelphia. Vogel also encouraged participants to reflect upon the power of the pause. Half a page blank, she said, can "underscore the importance of wordlessness to directors and actors." Vogel believes that "theater is one of the few places where the rush of time slows down."

Patrick Healy of the New York Times explored some of Vogel's more idiosyncratic methods: "Ms. Vogel explained that silence can be a stage direction of enormous power, not only to heighten tension among characters but also to provide a cathartic moment for audiences. She encouraged her writers, in their scripts, to consider leaving half a page blank to underscore the importance of wordlessness to directors and actors." Read more >