We’re living through an important time in America’s existence, a time of cultural, political and generational change, chaos, and upheaval; a time when Americans are redefining our identities and what it means to be a part of the American community. A time when many of us are in our own, individual, human revolutions.
And because the process of redefining and rediscovering takes time, Americans need open spaces to breathe in this pivotal, historical moment. We need space to expand our self-imposed boundaries, to rediscover what matters and what makes our hearts beat, which is no easy feat in a world that scrolls, likes, tweets, and posts, constantly.
So, I search out activities that help us humans do what we must do to live peaceful and fulfilling lives in tough times. And because I’m a playwright, I often find myself in play development and theater spaces.
This past weekend, I was blown away by what I found: Ojai Playwright Conference (OPC) in Ojai, California, only a stone’s throw away from Los Angeles. A place where tomorrows are made and yesterdays are rung by bells and discarded.
According to the website statement of Artistic Director/ Producer Robert Egan’s , “OPC is passionate about developing playwrights and plays that address the burning, divisive issues confronting us today about the values and beliefs that impact the sociopolitical experiment that is America. We seek playwrights who question and challenge the dominant values, beliefs, and discourses of our social moment. This questioning and challenges can come from any part of the political spectrum. Plays and playwrights that make us think, re-consider and propel us beyond the polarizing limitations of civil strife, discrimination, economic disparity, religious intolerance, political myth-making, sexual bigotry – these are the writers we welcome to come to the community at Ojai.”
While pinching myself to affirm this artistic utopia, Tiffany Moon, OPC’s Artistic Associate, explained, in her soft, easy-going manner, that “ [At OPC] they’re concerned about asking the big questions that speak to the world in which we live. ”
As an artist, I understand that the process of transferring ideas from the deep crevices of one’s heart to a physical room to be intellectualized and analyzed is quite something. As a Mom of three sons, I liken it to the pain I endured in natural childbirth on three separate occasions!
At OPC, this birthing space is provided, according to Ojai’s Dramaturg, Christopher Breyer. “ One key element is that we are not a producing organization. Our goal is to help the playwright write the play they wish to write. We create a community of artists in which each play can be rigorously discussed and explored, and each playwright gets the space and support to fulfill their vision.”
Support that is needed by every playwright. My plays, like those of many other playwrights, come out of an unconscious space, like Paul McCartney’s song “Yesterday,” that he created in a dream and was afraid to record because he wasn’t sure if it were his. Magically, the song rang from Ojai’s Post Office bells while I shopped in the town’s quaint shops.
Yesterday, the sixties and seventies, a time when change was happening so quickly, it was dizzying. From Leave It to Beaver to Norman Lear’s Good Times, The Jefferson’s and All in The Family, artists were at the forefront of examining the identity of America. Although I didn’t see him, It made sense that Norman Lear, a sponsor of OPC, was at the conference, where playwrights were expanding our hearts as they gave birth to new work.
OPC’s tranquil setting is what ensures the birthing process of new ideas and plays will not be aborted, according to Artistic Director/Producer Robert Egan’s statement: “What makes OPC unique and eﬀective also has very much to do with its retreat setting – a remote natural setting. Our artists live and work together in a secluded, soulful environment where the primary concentration is on the work and on building a rare moment of an intimate community, free of commercial competition and rich in artistic collaboration.”
At the end of my time at OPC, I was giddy from the fresh breezes brushing my cheeks as I stood on Ojai’s mountain top. I was centered from breathing deeply and exhaling fully while enjoying two amazing plays by playwrights Inda Craig-Galvan (WELCOME TO MATTESON!) and Dave Harris (TAMBO AND BONES). Both were entertaining and thought-provoking.
By the end, I’d read the entire program and felt sorrowful that I couldn’t see the other six plays by Kimberly Belflower (JOHN PROCTOR IS THE VILLAIN), Sam Chanse ( MONUMENT, OR FOUR SISTERS), Kate Cortesi (LOVE), Kimberly Lee (untitled f*ck m*ss s**gon play), James Morrison (LEAVE YOUR FEARS HERE), Christopher Gabriel Nunez (LOCUSTS). Information about all can be found here: https://www.ojaiplays.org/playwrights-index
I’d taken pictures with a few of the playwrights and soaked in their joy of the experience. Finally, I’d chatted with Artistic Associate Ian-Julian Williams and asked him to explain why OPC was such a special space for artists. And he’d given words for my feelings, “[OPC provides] space for playwrights to dream big while taking a bigger risk, anesthetized from the sting of failure by a community of support.”
At OPC, our world and all of its fragments, both good and bad, can be lifted to the light and examined, allowing us to re-discover ourselves and feel excited about America’s future and its diversity.
”The biggest detriment cast in society on art [writing] [plays]and poetry is that it’s entertainment when it’s actually air to breathe. It helps us express who we are and stand in relationship to what matters.“
Super Soul Sunday Star Mark Nepo