Late last month, I headed up our latest MFA program in Writing for Stage and Screen residency in Peterborough, New Hampshire. It was an extraordinary ten day affair–a non-stop intensive in all aspects of script writing and then some. We all left the residency exhausted, but stimulated and fully charged for the semester ahead.
This low-residency approach to earning the MFA degree in our field has proven to be highly successful for us. Our students arrive from all over the country (plus Puerto Rico and Canada) for these intensives twice a year, in June and January. Each ten-day gathering offers classes on various elements of the craft and the “biz” taught by our faculty of established professional writers as well as by special Visiting Artists who are invited to give talks and meet with students. Students pitch their new ideas they’re considering tackling for the upcoming semester and there’s a tremendous amount of one-on-one give and take between students and faculty, who also serve as mentors during the semester. All of our students leave each residency ready to launch into their next major script project.
At the heart of each of these ten-day gatherings, however, are the script readings with professional actors (SAG and AEA) of new student work written during the semester just ended–an indispensable and unique aspect our program. Feedback from all the professionals involved is invaluable.
This residency was special for us in that we had our first three students graduating from our program (from left to right below: Steve Ashworth, Edmonton, Canada; Vicki Peterson, Los Angeles, California; and Jared Eberlein, Santa Barbara, California). And their final thesis projects were given several hours of rehearsal and their readings were staged for a public audience as opposed to the more in-house table readings given to the other student scripts.
It sounds like a lot to cram into ten days and it is. But these intensives, among other things, remind us all–both students and faculty–as to why we are in this crazy business to begin with. We are storytellers working in a highly collaborative art form. And coming together to work, study, share ideas, and gain new insights about our work is what we all need and embrace throughout our careers.
I’m the Program Director of the low-residency MFA in Writing for Stage and Screen being offered by the New Hampshire Institute of Art. Our next residency runs January 3-11, 2016 and we are now considering applications for starting the program in January. I’m also a playwright and screenwriter, producing partner in my production company Either/Or Films (The Sensation of Sight and Only Daughter), and a professional script consultant.