September 25, 2002

Savoring a Bit of Guilty Theatre

Filed under: Art and About Theater — admin @ 10:28 pm

I interviewed Orindan Roy Powlan about his vintage player piano collection a few years back and he handed me a phrase that has become part of my personal lexicon. He said, “I believe in ordered coincidence.” I had a run-in with ordered coincidence recently that left me invigorated and saddened simultaneously.

My family was packing to move, and as I cleaned out my writing desk, I came across the batch of scribbling that I call notes from an interview with four Saint Mary’s College graduate students on the eve of becoming the first graduating class of the college’s Master of Fine Arts in Playwriting Program. I have written hundreds of stories and this was one of my top five favorites. I interviewed the four women a week before their thesis plays were to be produced at the Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts as a grand finale for completing the program. They were nervous, excited, scared, exhausted and very ready to conquer the world. They were acutely aware that as women, and as the inaugural class, they represented the future of American playwrights. They welcomed and relished the honor and the challenge.

I wrote the story and the ladies quickly became a memory as I changed gears to churn out the next week’s 4000 words of copy.

Literally a day after cleaning out my desk at home, I picked up my mail at the Sun office and there was a black folder forwarded on to me by my editor. A sticker on the front had an illustration of a pig-tailed gal driving off into the distance with the words, “Pack your bags, we’re going on a guilt trip” below her. Then I noticed the name “Guilty Theatre” at the top of the folder.

I opened the press packet with a cursory eye, expecting it to be another announcement about a new avant-garde San Francisco theater company which I can’t cover in the Sun because they don’t pertain to our coverage area. But when I opened the folder, onto my lap dropped my article from 1999 about the Saint Mary’s playwrights.

My path was crossing again with Kristina Goodnight, Beth Hyjek and Nicole Schlosser of that memorable class of ’99, and I was about to meet an MFA playwright from the class of 2000, Lorien McKenna.

So what happened the day after graduation? The women kept their day jobs, actively submitted plays to theaters and festivals to get produced, started a collection of rejection letters, and continued to get together once a week to critique each other’s writing and give moral support. As they continued to inspire one another, they realized they were building an environment to start an organization to produce their own work, and the work of other unheard playwriting voices.

The Guilty Theatre was born, named after a common theme the women found they were exploring through their plays, although Lorien assures us their works portray funny, not maudlin, guilt. The company opens October 10 at the Rhinoceros Studio Theatre in San Francisco with Goodnight’s “A Perfect Human Being,” her thesis play from Saint Mary’s which went on to win the June Anne Baker Prize for a female playwright who represents a new comedic or political voice.

I was so excited to hear the next chapter of the women’s story that I was completely unprepared to learn that after graduating a total of nine MFA’s in Playwriting, the Saint Mary’s program was discontinued. Lack of funding and support were the usual reason.

Lorien looks on the bright side, saying the Saint Mary’s program was great for the women of the Guilty Theatre because they all got to meet each other. Coming from an MFA program myself, I can attest to the fact that art is not created in a vacuum and it is the collective brilliance in a room full of original thinkers that provides the meatiest lessons. We can all celebrate the magic I have no doubt these women will conjure as a creative team.

However, I mourn the potential partnerships, or simple exchanges of inspiration, the world has lost with the discontinuation of the MFA Playwriting Program. Who knows which souls would have met on the Saint Mary’s campus on their journey to enlighten the world in the domino game of ordered coincidence?