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Creating Art with the Community: Christine Scarfuto Discusses the Bake-Off

The 2023 Bake-Off is less than a month away! The Bake-Off is a community playwriting event created by Pulitzer Prize winner Paula Vogel. As a way to inspire creativity, participants are given a list of “ingredients” to incorporate into their play. On Saturday, Nov. 11 and Sunday, Nov. 12 the plays will be read by actors from the HVSF company. It’s a chance to gather together to see the talent of your neighbors and community.

Christine Scarfuto is the Associate Producer and Literary Manager of the Bake-Off, as well as the Director of the Rita and Burton Goldberg MFA Playwriting Program at Hunter College. Christine also helps prepare aspiring playwrights for the Bake-Off by teaching free playwriting workshops in the weeks before the event. Christine spoke to us about her history with the Bake-Off, the joys of teaching playwriting, and more.

How did you get involved with the Bake-Off?

I’ve been involved with the Bake-Off from the very beginning. Back in 2016, Davis had this great idea to do a playwriting Bake-Off with the community. We had been working together on the HVSF2 reading series at the time, and he asked me about running the Bake-Off. When I was in grad school at the University of Iowa, we had Bake-Offs every year as part of orientation, and I knew first-hand how it could be such a fun, community-building event. I thought it was wonderful to invite the community to create art alongside the company. So many people have the impulse to create but don’t necessarily give themselves the time or permission to do it.

How do you think the constrictions of the ingredients list helps writers craft their plays for the Bake-Off?

The blank page can be incredibly overwhelming. The ingredients give the writers a jumping off point, and can serve to help the writers generate ideas. Many writers find it much easier to write with restrictions because it gives them a framework to work within, which can be less intimidating than writing with no restrictions at all.

What’s something you look forward to each year when Bake-Off time rolls around again?

There are two things I really look forward to. Teaching the playwriting workshops is always fun and rewarding. People come to the workshops with varying degrees of experience, sometimes with no experience at all, and by the end of the workshops they’ll have written three or four scenes. It’s wonderful to see their sense of accomplishment.

The second is watching playwrights see their work performed by professional actors in front of an audience for the first time. It’s always a little bit magical to see your story come to life in this way, and it’s an experience that’s rare even for professional playwrights. That’s always inspiring to watch.

Can you share a favorite memory from a previous Bake-Off?

I vividly remember the very first playwriting workshop we did. We really didn’t know how popular it was going to be, and then 40 people showed up. We didn’t have enough space in the room, so we all crowded around these folding tables. People ranged in age from 7 to 82, and everyone had a great time. Many of the people who were at that workshop have gone on to write for every Bake-Off we’ve had since.

What do you find satisfying about teaching playwriting?

I love playwrights. Working with them as they find their voice, helping them find the most ideal version of the stories they’re trying to tell, and supporting and encouraging them through their successes, failures, and everything in between.

What advice can you give to people who might want to begin playwriting?

See as much theater as you can. Read as many plays as you can. Write every day, even if it’s just for five minutes. Start there and see where the journey takes you.