What is a Bake-Off?
A Bake-Off is a communal writing activity in which writers are given a set of “ingredients”–like a withheld secret, a front porch, and a kitchen sink–to include in a short play. It’s the brainchild of the great playwright and teacher Paula Vogel and was modeled after the Pillsbury Bake-Offs.
What is your experience with playwriting and theater? How did you become involved with HVSF?
I’m a dramaturg, which means I work with writers who are developing new work and help them to fully realize the ideal version of their plays. In Davis’s first season, he asked me to come up to the Hudson Valley to produce the new play reading series HVSF2. The following season, we did the first Bake-Off–and I’ve been a part of each Bake-Off ever since.
What was your first experience with a Bake-Off?
My first experience with a Bake-Off was when I was in graduate school at the University of Iowa. At the beginning of every school year, the theater department would hold a Bake-Off for all of the incoming students. It was a really fun way to break the ice and get to know each other’s writing.
Can you explain a bit about the ingredients and theme in a Bake-Off? How are the ingredients selected?
Ingredients come directly from the workshop participants. At each workshop, we explain the theme then go around the room and tell everyone to say the first thing that comes to mind when they think of that theme. We create a big document of all the ideas from each of the workshops and send it off to Paula Vogel, who selects the ingredients from that list and usually adds a few of her own.
(Note from HVSF: Sign up for an upcoming free playwriting workshop here.)
What’s the strangest ingredient you’ve seen?
Last year one of the ingredients was a “frightened stag off Route 9A.” That was a pretty strange one.
What do you think the format of a short play can provide versus a longer play?
Short plays are a great format for writers who are just starting out. They provide space for a burst of creative energy and can be really fun to write. Full length plays, on the other hand, can take months or even years to finish, so it’s a much bigger commitment.
What do you and the other readers look for when considering submitted plays?
We look for plays with dialogue, characters, and situations that feel emotionally truthful. We also look for writers with an original voice and exciting, idiosyncratic ideas.
How have the playwriting workshops changed since you started them at HVSF?
The basic structure of each workshop is the same: we start out writing monologues and build to writing dialogue and then full scenes. I do alter the prompts from year to year, and usually draw on the year’s theme for inspiration.
Can you tell us how you arrived at this year’s theme and what makes it exciting to you?
This year’s theme is Mahicantuck, The River that Flows Both Ways. The Hudson River is such a huge inspiration to the entire region, in art, culture, and music. And it’s so much more than a river–it’s also a tidal estuary, where fresh and saltwater meet. It’s a rare geological phenomenon that we thought was ripe with possibilities for storytelling.
What actor would you cast to play you in a short scene from your life?
What a fun question! Umm…Lucille Ball. I love her.