Calling All Playwrights!

More than a year ago, the Cleveland Foundation sponsored the residency of George Seremba, Ugandan actor, playwright, and scholar, as part of our Creative Fusion program. George was co-sponsored by the Cuyahoga County Public Library and the Baker Nord Humanities Center at Case Western Reserve University. George came from Uganda to Cleveland by way of Ireland, as an exile from the repressive regime in his home country. You can read more about George’s background in several of my past blogs and hear him reading from “Come Good Rain,” his play about his narrow escape from death in Uganda.

George Seremba

But now I want to talk about what George has been doing here during an extension of his residency and a terrific event I attended this weekend.

Last summer, the county library sponsored a free playwriting workshop with George. Due to the enthusiastic response, the library and CWRU teamed to kick the effort up a notch, sponsoring a free master class workshop for emerging playwrights on the CWRU campus. A flier was circulated through the university and the county  library, and 15 writers were selected to participate based on the evaluation of a writing sample. The playwrights worked with George for six weeks over the course of this past fall, developing and honing their scripts. 

The culminating event was held Sunday, Dec. 9 in Clark Hall on the CWRU campus. Seven playwrights developed a short section of their work to be read in a public event. They recruited and auditioned local actors and/or other students, and rehearsed them for the reading. At the appointed time, an audience of students and fellow workshop participants assembled in Clark Hall and, for 2½ hours, we were treated to scenes from seven very different plays by seven distinct and colorful dramatic voices. Some scenes had two characters, others as many as eight actors speaking parts. And the topics ranged from life in an inner-city apartment building, to the death of a patriarch whose children all had very different experiences of his parenting, to twin musicians, both involved in a complex relationship with the same man. Oh, yes – and not one, not two, but three serial killers – all in the same play.

The playwrights came from the county’s summer workshop, from the humanities department of the university, and from the general public. They were:

  • Cornell Calhoun
  • Elise Geither
  • Mike Hammer
  • Deborah Magid
  • Sheila Sullivan 
  • Craig Webb 
  • Vickie Williams 

I was positioned in the audience to watch George as he listened to his students’ plays being read. He was totally rapt – leaning forward as if to support the work itself with his body, smiling at well-delivered lines, laughing at all the funny parts, and intently focused on every word. It was clear that this reading was as important to him as it was to his students.

I spoke with several of the playwrights after the reading and was struck by how each of them independently wanted to tell me how generous a teacher and mentor George Seremba had been and how much they valued the experience. I even learned that one writer who was not chosen for the master class wrote an effusive and laudatory letter thanking George for his warmth and encouragement. Pretty unusual for a response to rejection. 

But then I have to say how consistently this tracks with so much of what I have heard about George Seremba. His enthusiasm for his work with students, his engagement with the local theater community, and his unflagging kindness and humility of spirit has been an inspiration and an education for so many of the lives he has touched while here. George has left his mark on Cleveland – one which will not soon disappear.

Through a continuing commitment by the university, George will be able to stay on for another semester as an assistant visiting professor in the department of English. The university is considering offering another master class workshop in the spring semester 2013. So if there are budding playwrights out there, stay tuned, and check Case’s Baker Nord Center website for details.