After its award-winning Trans* Voices Workshop Series in Season 2, Cohesion Theatre Company (Cohesion) introduced a Playwrights Fellowship for Season 3. Cohesion’s Playwrights Fellowship aims “to provide comprehensive development opportunities for new and existing local playwrights to create new, full-length works for the stage.” The playwrights who were chosen to participate were each assigned a director to work with them throughout the process. The playwrights submitted drafts, had readings with their casts, and got feedback over the course of the season. At the end of the process, each play had three workshop performances – staged with a full cast, a set, costumes, etc. – after which talkbacks were held. Audiences were encouraged to provide feedback to the director, cast, and playwright.
Cohesion Playwrights Fellow Utkarsh Rajawat’s play, Here Be Dragons, received its public showing the weekend of May 5-7, 2017. Rajawat agreed to share his thoughts about the experience with DCMTA.
Patricia: Please introduce yourself to our readers.
Utkarsh: My name’s Utkarsh Rajawat, and I’m currently a part-time student, graduating this summer! I’ve also been doing some acting and writing around Baltimore.
How was your play brought to Cohesive Theatre’s attention?
They had an open submission period for their Playwrights Fellowship, which I saw posted on a Facebook group called Baltimore Theater Exchange. I applied and they picked my alien idea (part of the application was pitching a couple ideas).
When did you first realize you wanted to become a playwright?
It sort of happened organically. I didn’t really know I wanted to get into theater seriously at all until I got to college and got involved with a couple groups more-or-less on a lark/as a side thing. I really, really liked it and over the next couple years got more and more involved. I think I made the decision to seriously commit my junior year while working on a play called Dura Mater (by John Pietrowski, who is great).
I also don’t know if I’d firmly say I want to become a playwright, partly because I’m not entirely sure what that means/entails and partly because I like acting a lot, too. I definitely want to be either writing or acting for the stage, though.
How long did it take you to complete the script (to this point)?
It’s been probably two years since I wrote the first couple pages (which only took like an hour or two), but I wasn’t working on it that entire time. The first couple pages kinda just sat around until Cohesion decided to workshop-produce it, and I spent three or four months researching and writing the rest of it.
What was the inspiration for writing Here Be Dragons?
Me yelling a very racist thing at an Asian-American elementary schooler when I was in high school because I thought it would be funny. It’s the first line of the play (‘THIS ONE DOESN’T HAVE ANY EYES’). I hadn’t thought about that moment for a while and when I remembered it I realized how awful and absurd and antithetical to present-me it was. It felt like a good kinda funny and kinda very mean/terrible opening line.
How has working with Cohesion’s Playwrights Fellowship been? What do you get as a Fellow that is particularly helpful?
It’s been great. Everyone is very nice and talented and committed, and the end-product was definitely a lot better than anything I wrote. Terrance Fleming, who directed it, was super gung-ho and into it, which was very reassuring because I wasn’t quite sure what to think of it when I finished. He also added/interpreted so many things I hadn’t thought of that ended up feeling really vital and illuminating. And then the moderated talkbacks were super-helpful! The cast and audiences had a lot of cool and constructive ideas that I’m going to be incorporating into future edits.
What has been most fulfilling for you during this process?
Hearing people (including the cast and crew) talk about it! And having people want to stay and talk about it! I was kind of hesitant to make it somewhat of an ‘issue play’ with my note in the program (which was about the first line of the play and the sorta angry headspace I was in white writing it), but looking back I’m glad I did! Because I was thinking about marginalization and micro-aggressions, and the stigma around issue plays is a silly one. Seeing other people connect to it and not think it was stupid or too reductive was cool.
What have you learned about yourself as a playwright during this process?
I’ve learned that having other people involved is very important. As I kinda said already, there’s so many things I’m going to be adding and cutting that I figured out solely because of Cohesion’s production of it.
I’ve also discovered writing a full-length is much harder than writing short one-acts (at least for me)! Cohesiveness was a big issue, because even though I knew I was writing a full-length, I ended up making most of the scenes pretty short because I didn’t feel very comfortable lingering on/in anything for too long. But then I’d feel maybe I should be lingering on certain things, particularly if I had the time and space to. Treading that line is tough stuff.
What, if any, changes have you make to the script since you started rehearsals?
The changes I made during the actual rehearsal process were pretty minor – mostly making specific lines sound better, or cutting particularly clunky and superfluous ones. Because the rehearsal process is so short, it wasn’t viable to make any huge sweeping changes or additions because it’s an unreasonable demand to make of the director and actors.
What do you hope the audiences will have taken away after having seen it?
I hope they think about bigotry, and isolating people, and being mean in general. People should be less mean. But also, something I think I’ve come to realize is that being angry is important, and speaking out is important, and feeling comfortable being abrasive (if it’s for a purpose) is important. So, those things, I guess! But also whatever they want. Them thinking about it all would be very cool.
What’s next for Here Be Dragons? For you?
I don’t really know. I’ve got some edits to make, a couple things Cohesion did that I’m going to add to the script and a couple other things that came out of the talkbacks. And then maybe it’ll get produced again in a more final form.
As for me, I’m going to be in Cohesion’s upcoming production of Men On Boats in June, and then Baltimore Shakespeare Factory’s Love’s Labour’s Lost in August. Also, hopefully I will have graduated by then and I’ll have a big fancy degree!