Deborah Yarchun is a New Jersey-born, Air Force-raised and Austin-rooted playwright; her plays are just as geographically discombobulated. Her plays have been developed at Ensemble Studio Theatre, The New Harmony Project, Jewish Plays Project’s OPEN: The Festival of New Jewish Theater, The Great Plains Theater Conference, Jewish Ensemble Theater, Red Eye Theater, Poetic Theater Productions, Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre, WordBRIDGE, and Workhouse Theater Company, and produced at Fusion Theatre, Theater Master’s National MFA Playwrights Festival, EstroGenius Festival, the Philadelphia Fringe Festival, The Samuel French Off Off Broadway Festival, Playwrights Horizons’ Peter Jay Sharp Theater by Young Playwrights Inc., and at theaters and universities across the United States and Canada. Her honors include two Jerome Fellowships at The Playwrights’ Center, an EST/Sloan Commission, The Kennedy Center’s Jean Kennedy Smith Playwriting Award, a Tennessee Williams Scholarship, University of Iowa’s Richard Maibaum Playwriting Award, and the Iowa Arts Fellowship. She is currently the Dorit & Gerald Paul Artist in Residence at Indiana University for Spring 2016. She holds an MFA from University of Iowa.
How long have you been working on this script?
I had my initial idea for the play around spring 2013. It required a lot of research, so I launched into the writing process more officially in summer 2014 and had a first draft around spring 2015.
Where did the idea come from?
During my final semester of my MFA, I tutored a PhD geology student at the University’s writing center. She described igneous rocks as peanut brittle and magma as chocolate. She spoke passionately about rocks and showed me a mountain turned upside down –the consequences of open pit mining. I was left with the ingredients for a play. Around that time, I also becamefascinated by the oil boom in North Dakota. I ultimately decided to write a play about a petroleum geologist and applied for a Sloan Commission. I managed to get funding for it and spent a week around the oil patch of western North Dakota doing first person research. I focused on towns with between 120-800 people and met with anybody who would talk to me from land owners, oil workers and executives, to the mayor of a small town. The play took shape primarily during my week in North Dakota, where I found my story and my characters.
What iterations of the script have occurred (prior readings/revisions)?
I workshopped my first draft around March 2015 at The Playwrights’ Center in Minneapolis. Ensemble Studio Theatre (who commissioned the play through their Sloan program) did a reading of it through their First Light Festival in in February 2015. I’m not sure how many iterations it’s gone through. It’s definitely going through a new one at Arkansas New Play Festival.
How has it changed over time?
My early draft was a lot different than this draft, particularly the ending. As I’ve worked on it, the characters have become more specific and the play has gotten sharper.
What is your goal for this particular workshop - what would you like to see happen with your script during the weeks of working on it here?
I’ve been focusing on upping the play's momentum and deepening the characters’ relationships. So far I’ve made a number of significant cuts and have explored new drafts of a few scenes. My goal is for the the play to become tighter and hit harder.
How do you think the Arkansas New Play Fest compares to other new play development workshops that you have been part of in the past?
TheatreSquared does a great job keeping the writing time and rehearsal time balanced. I’ve gotten into a great pattern of revising leading up to the rehearsal the next day, hearing my revisions during rehearsal, gathering more insights and continuing to revise. I also really appreciate the structure – the opportunity to work towards a reading at the end of the first week and the chance to dive back into the script leading up to a reading in the second week. The festival is sincerely about your process and a chance to experiment with the script. I also appreciate that we’re hosted by locals during the conference instead of at a hotel or in a dormitory. There’s something really nice about having a home to come back to at the end of the night and write. Also, very few new play development workshops pay their playwrights. I was grateful for the opportunity to fill out a W9 as a playwright.
Why are development workshops important for new plays?
Development workshops can get a bad rap for being surrogates for productions. But it really does help to have an opportunity to work on the play with actors and a director and dramaturg outside of a production context. Every time I go into the rehearsal room, I walk away with a new vision of the script and what it could be from the questions that surface. I think development workshops can be key to bringing a play to a producible level.