Since the early 1970s, the University of Iowa Department of Theatre Arts has presented an annual festival centered on producing, reading, and discussing new scripts from the Iowa Playwrights Workshop. The Workshop was formally organized in the fall of 1971, although a strong tradition of playwriting existed at the University since 1921, when the department was under the leadership of E. C. Mabie.  Head of the department from 1920 until his death in 1956, Mabie was dedicated to the writing and production of original plays. 

In the 1970s, at a time when the regional theatre movement was growing, along with interest in new American plays, the Head of the MFA Playwriting Program, Oscar (Okkie) Brownstein, led an effort to strengthen the professional orientation of the program, with connections to the professional theatre, a “workshop” approach to new play development, the country’s first course in dramaturgy, and what was then called the Iowa Playwrights Festival. In the process, The Department of Theatre Arts became one of the most production-oriented playwriting programs in the country.

All members of the graduate Iowa Playwrights Workshop (currently, there are nine), along with students from the Undergraduate Playwriting Workshop, are represented in the Festival. This year, the productions include the work of third-year MFA playwrights Derick Edgren Otero and Christopher Lysik along with those of alumni playwrights K.T. Peterson and Leigh M. Marshall, whose opportunities to produce works in Festival were prohibited by the pandemic four years ago. This year’s Festival is a post-height-of-COVID affirmation of in person collaboration and creativity. 

Preparing eleven new plays and presenting them in a single week is a monumental undertaking that is only possible through the utilization of UI Department of Theatre Arts’ wide-ranging resources in acting, directing, design, dramaturgy, stage management, and technical support. Through staged readings, workshops, and productions, Festival showcases the process of new play development. While the play begins with the playwright’s vision, Festival’s focus is on the script-in-process, and on the artistic contributions the playwright’s collaborators make to bringing the play to life on stage. Like the scripts, Festival productions are in-process. The purpose of readings and performances is to reveal the essential vision of the play.

A special feature of our Festival is its Guest Artists, who are invited to attend the Festival to give dramaturgical feedback to both playwrights and their collaborators, and to provide advice on the future artistic and professional life of the play. This year’s guest artists include Emmanuel Wilson (Dramatists Guild), Lynde Rosario (Playwrights Center, Minneapolis), Carson Grace Becker (Chicago Dramatists), and Keith Josef Adkins (playwright and screenwriter). Emmanuel Wilson and Lynde Rosario are returning from last year’s Festival. Carson Grace Becker is returning to Iowa for the first time since receiving her MFA in Playwriting (and Festival and Mainstage productions). Keith Josef Adkins, who also received his MFA in Playwriting from Iowa, has been teaching a course this semester in television writing, The Writers Room. 

Many of the plays premiered during Festival have gone on to productions at professional theatres throughout this country and abroad. Our Guest Artists play a role in making that happen. We thank them for their support, and we thank you, our audiences, for your contribution to the process of creating new theatre.