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by Andrea Stolowitz

My Background:

I came to the Pacific Northwest in 2007, specifically to Portland, Oregon. We moved here because my husband got a job at Reed College, but the truth was I was ready for a change from the itinerant life I’d been living. From 1994-2007 my husband and I, and then our kids, lived in NYC; Berlin, Germany; San Diego, CA; and Durham, NC for various academic and professional gigs. In each of those places what I most wished for was an artistic home–a place where I could live and work, get what I needed to be supported as an artist, and be inspired by that place.

As this is a conference for writers of all genres and since playwrights fit into the strangest category of writers–neither fish nor fowl, not really fully embraced by the literary world nor the theatrical one, I will include here a bit of information about being a playwright in the United States.

Playwriting in the US:

is a hopeless, tiring, soul deadening profession. The system of how talented writers can achieve success is completely broken. As compared to other genres which exist on the page, plays find a life only in production. Productions are expensive for a theater, new plays are hard to sell even by “famous” playwrights and art subsidies are band-aids at best. Other countries deal with this problem by having a federally subsidized theater system. We do not have this.

Here talented and successful writers who are working all the time can not, in the long term, earn modest livings as playwrights. This issue is thoroughly documented by Todd London in his book Outrageous Fortune: The Life and Times of the New American Play.

RETURNING TO THE PACIFIC NW:

I feel lucky as far as playwrights go because actually I can afford to be a playwright in Portland, because by and large living there is pretty cheap. However that success is a little tenuous because there are certainly not enough theaters or professional activities in the area to really support my work which means I must keep working nationally in order to have my work seen and reviewed. Being able to work nationally while being based in Portland is a challenge because Portland is so far away from the newspapers and hubs of the American Theater that help place plays in “the production pipeline”. When I work in Portland, no one nationally knows who I am. So it’s a conundrum–I can afford to live and work in Portland  but it is not enough of a hub to support my career.

Aesthetic attachment to Oregon:

I have always liked to write about the place where I currently live and in that way I am inspired by Oregon’s history, land use, and people. Being from the East Coast, the Bronx really, I have a fascination with the west and the western mythology and I feel like there is a special untapped secret about the pacific northwest. It feels mysterious and undiscovered to me–the very opposite of large east coast cities. The trees are big here, the woods and the sea can give you what you need to survive, the land is green and mossy, and it still feels wild. I think as a writer the preservation of secrets is important–it keeps a project alive in my imagination. I feel that way about Oregon itself; it has many secrets and that is exciting.

My most recent play is an adaptation of an 18th C. French farce set on a Willamette Valley vineyard just before the grape harvest. I spent much of August and September visiting wine makers in Yamhill county and exploring that culture and landscape.

In addition to that project I am also working on a TV pilot set in Eastern Oregon. It’s a murder mystery involving a dead BLM agent, ranchers, grazing rights on federal land, and all the characters that exist out there in the wild west of Eastern Oregon.

There is no doubt that Oregon inspires me, keeps me excited with its secrets, and has a price point that allows me to keep doing the work I do.

A mentor of mine once told me, when I asked her how to “make it” in the art world, that the key was to have have a life where you can keep on making art. In short to have a life, a real sustainable life, and be an artist. This I do have in Portland, and for this I am grateful.

 

headshot1Andrea Stolowitz’s plays have been presented at The Cherry Lane (NYC), The Old Globe (SD), The Long Wharf (CT), New York Stage and Film (NY), and Portland Center Stage (OR).  The LA Times calls her work “heartbreaking” and the Orange County Register characterizes her approach as a “brave refusal to sugarcoat…issues and tough decisions.”

An MFA playwriting alumna of UC-San Diego, Andrea has served on the faculties at Willamette University, The University of Portland, Duke University and UC-San Diego. She is a founding member of Playwrights West.

 

Hedgebrook supports visionary women writers whose stories and ideas shape our culture now and for generations to come. The opinions expressed here are not necessarily representative of the opinions of Hedgebrook, its staff or board members. 

Andrea Stolowitz
About Andrea Stolowitz

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