Kitty Dubin is celebrating her 25th birthday this year by teaching playwriting classes at Oakland University. She established the first class in 1997 and now teaches beginner and advanced classes, which are offered through both the School of Music, Theater and Dance and the Creative Writing program, which is part of the Department of English.
“There were no playwriting classes at Oakland University in 1997,” Dubin said. “I thought the OU could benefit from such a class, and I was convinced that I was well suited for the position, but first I had to convince Michael Gillespie, then President of the School of Music , theater and dance (SMTD) that I was up to the task.
At the time, Dubin had a master’s degree in English, a year-long graduate course in playwriting, and several of his own plays had been produced at Michigan equity theaters, including The Purple Rose and The Jewish. Ensemble Theatre, as well as The Live Oak Theater in Austin, Texas.
“I felt I had a solid grasp of the craft of playwriting, plus a decade of experience as a professional playwright,” she said.
After several tries, Dubin was finally able to convince Gillespie to allow him to teach his first playwriting class in the winter of 1997. At first, the class was only worth two credits and met one evening a week. Eighteen theater students signed up for the course, and it was an immediate success.
“These students saw that there was a connection between playwriting and their other theatrical studies like acting and directing,” Dubin said.
Due to the initial success, playwriting was expanded to a four-credit class, and then it was cross-listed to the English department. Subsequently, an advanced class was added as there was a demand for those who wanted to continue studying playwriting.
“I received another significant boost in enrollment in 2011 when the English department developed a new major in creative writing,” Dubin said. “The playwriting classes now met the requirements for this major, which brought additional students into my classes.”
Dubin brings both his passion and decades of experience as a playwright to his class. She emphasizes the importance of creating solid structure, relatable characters, and natural-sounding dialogue. It also replicates the development process followed by professional playwrights after completing a first draft in that plays are read aloud by classmates and a feedback session follows that focuses on what works and what needs to be improved.
Students then write a second draft and maybe even a third. Dubin also invites established playwrights as guest speakers to share their experiences of pursuing an interest in playwriting after graduating from college.
Dubin frequently uses his theater contacts to find opportunities to perform his students’ plays. She also created opportunities here in Oakland.
For several years, she partnered with Professor Tom Suda, who taught directing, to present a showcase where student directors each staged a play written by the students.
Dubin resumed this partnership with Professor David Gram and his directing students this year to present an evening of student-written plays that showcased the talents of student actors, playwrights and directors.
Dubin continues to mentor his students long after graduation, introducing them to the local theater network, encouraging them to submit their work to various playwriting competitions, and continuing to help them refine their work. It is a measure of his success that nearly 130 of his students’ plays have received awards, readings, or full productions at theaters in Michigan and beyond.
Although there are too many students to name who have been successful in their work, Dubin said there are a number of students who deserve major recognition:
• Anetria Cole and Franco Vitella both won MaTilDa awards in playwriting. The Complete Cole Game, Bronzeville Gold, has received numerous readings and full productions and has been selected for inclusion in the National Black Theater Festival. Cole and Vitella also performed plays at the American College Theater Festival.
• Vitella and Kassandra Dunaj had their complete plays produced by the School of Music, Drama and Dance. Vitella was also selected to participate in the Kennedy Center Playwright Initiative.
• Matt Bell became an accomplished, nationally known fiction writer who now teaches creative writing at Arizona State University. His one-act plays have been performed in Heartlande Theater’s Play by Play and have been included in two of OU’s staging showcases.
• Martin McArthur’s play, The moment he hears ithad a staged reading at OU in 2016, directed by David Gram, and a staged reading afterwards at Theater Nova in Ann Arbor.
• Lauren Knox Mounsey teaches acting and is artist-in-residence at the Purple Rose Theater Company. She also had one of her own plays produced at the Purple Rose.
• Jacquelyn Priskorn Floyd was a student in the first playwriting class at OU in 1997 and returned to take the advanced class in 2014. During that time she had 14 readings, received 4 awards, and had 62 productions of his short plays.
• Recent students whose plays have been performed for the public include: Emily Nichter, Alessia Fionda, Xochi Rios-Ellis, Kaye Hoffmeyer and Lucas Jeffrey.
“A lot of times people talk about a project they created and grew as their baby,” Dubin said. “Certainly, this term applies to me. I love watching my students grow and develop their talent, and I’m thrilled to be able to help them transition from the classroom into professional theater.
“Each year I teach my classes a little differently because I’ve changed, the students have changed, and the world has changed,” she added. “The plays we study, as well as the plays students write, must reflect these changes. My goals are always to keep my classes fresh and current, and to maintain a high degree of student engagement.
Over the past 25 years, Dubin said his enthusiasm for teaching playwriting has never wavered.
“I’m as excited to teach a class now as I was on the very first day,” she said. “I can’t imagine a job that would be more personally fulfilling and I’m grateful to Oakland for giving me that first opportunity and supporting me every step of the way.”
To learn more about playwriting classes at Oakland University, visit the School of Music, Theater and Dance and creative writing websites.