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Jason Connors, Former Contest Winner

May 31, 2011

Jason Connors, now and then

Jason Connors won the California Young Playwrights Contest in 2000 (Oldtimers) and 2002 (Henry Wants a Renaissance).  Since then, he continues to write and has appeared on stage as an actor for various local theatres (he can be seen next in Cygnet Theatre’s production of Our Town, running June 18-July 10).  He is also a current Board Member for Playwrights Project.

Below, Jason shares some feedback on what it was like to win the California Young Playwrights Contest and offers his words of encouragement to upcoming playwrights.

What did you expect when you won the contest?

Having seen the Plays By Young Writers festival two years before Oldtimers was produced and having served as an actor for the fest the following year (my first professional acting job), I was well-prepared for the level of seriousness with which Playwrights Project approaches the new play development process.  I expected for the words to be tantamount–the “star,” if you will.  Even though I was a bit star-struck, by my director and lead actors (city favorites Rosina Reynolds and Antonio “T.J.” Johnson, respectively), I immediately got the feeling from all involved that they were there for the singular purpose of serving the play, the words, and by extension, the playwright.

What did you learn about playwriting? About yourself as a writer?

I learned that the rewriting process doesn’t stop. For me, at least.  Even when the show closed, I still tinkered.  Still asked for input.  After closing my second play (Henry Wants a Renaissance, in 2002), my dramaturge wisely suggested to me that I put the play in a drawer for 6 months.  I did it, begrudgingly, and thanked him for that advice later.  Playwriting can seem so effortless at times.  My most produced play, There’s Someone Living in the House that Jack Built, spilled out of me in a week and a half–the first draft, that is.  But then you start revising and it never ends.  I still work on that play. 10 years after I conceived it.

What did you value about your experience with us (at the time you won the contest)?

Hands down: The honesty and respect I was given as a person with a voice.  The integrity with which my work was treated.  It wasn’t a crowd full of parents out in the audience watching my play–though they were out there, too.  Playwrights Project wanted my work (and indeed every contest winner’s work) out there for the entire community to see.  They were proud of me.  And proud of their own organization.  They took me seriously.  Everyone from the office staff at the B of A building to Deborah Salzer [Playwrights Project Founder] to Craig Noel [who directed Henry Wants a Renaissance].  I didn’t feel patronized.  For a teenager, that was priceless.  Looking back on that, I understand the true measure of its extraordinariness.

How did our play development process differ from your work with other organizations staging your plays?

Not all the production companies emphasized extensive development.  A lot of my plays that have been produced have been through the festival circuit: The International Fringe Festival, the late Fritz Blitz and San Diego Actors Festivals.  In that setting, practically no rewrites were made and I wasn’t even always able to come to rehearsal.  Just kind of a here’s-the-play-have-at-it kind of thing.  And yet, I had a play done through Challenge Theatre that was promised a production even before I wrote anything–that was the point of this particular “challenge.”  I really enjoyed that process because it really felt like I was creating something with my actors.  There would be times at rehearsal when I would just say, “Yeah, that scene hasn’t been written yet.  There is something that goes between scenes 2 and 4, though, I promise.”  The only other youth-centric organization I involved myself with was a company up in L.A and that experience left a lot to be desired.

Now that time has passed, what do you value about the opportunity that the contest/festival provides?

Playwrights Project has an unwavering devotion to its contest entrants and to its winners.  Most importantly, the organization is devoted to the plays themselves.  As a playwright, you feel supported through the rewriting process, you feel you are integral at rehearsal, and once the play is running and out of your hands, you feel like you’ve passed it on to equally caring artists and professionals.  Once the contest ends, you feel like you still have a relationship with the organization.  Also, for an aspiring theatre professional in San Diego, the experience you gain through the process of getting your play produced by Playwrights Project introduces you to the arts community–actors, directors, designers, and audiences.  I started my career in theatre through Playwrights Project.  And I know many others have, too.  I met some of my closest allies and friends during my tenure at Playwrights: T.J., Tim West, Delicia Turner-Sonnenberg, and many, many others.  It is fair to say that I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing in theatre today without such a warm introduction to this community.  For that, I feel blessed and forever grateful.

Words of encouragement or the best piece of advice you’d like to share with future playwrights?

Writing is hard.  Inspiration is a transient lady, often elusive and always on her own schedule.  But when she comes to visit, remarkable things happen.  Never let her pass you by without committing pen to paper.  Things will just seem to flow.  It’s amazing.  When you’re still in school, you may have a little more time to sit and write.  Use that time because it will be easy for sit-down time to get shorter and shorter as you get older.  And never stop noticing things.  Never stop listening to people or being aware of what goes on around you.  That is your material.  Also, I wish for all of you who are young writers to find ways to gather an audience.  Writing for theatre is not done in a vacuum and you need to have the listener element.  Read your play with your friends, your family, anyone who will lend an ear.  Your stories are meant to be shared.

Thanks, Jason, for these words and all that you do for Playwrights Project!

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