School of Music, Theatre and Dance

Lecturer Kitty Dubin celebrates 25th anniversary of playwriting being offered at OU

icon of a calendarMarch 9, 2022

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Lecturer Kitty Dubin celebrates 25th anniversary of playwriting being offered at OU
Playwriting 25 year anniversary
The first playwriting course was offered at Oakland University 25 years ago.

Kitty Dubin is celebrating her 25th anniversary teaching playwriting courses at Oakland University this year. She created the first class in 1997 and now teaches beginning and advanced classes, which are offered through both the School of Music, Theatre and Dance and the Creative Writing program, which is part of the English Department.

“There were no classes offered in Playwriting at Oakland University in 1997,” Dubin said. “I thought OU could benefit from such a class, and I was confident that I was well-suited for the job, but first I had to convince Michael Gillespie, then chair of the School of Music, Theatre and Dance (SMTD) that I was up to the task.”

Playwriting 25 year anniversary
Kitty Dubin

At the time, Dubin had a master’s degree in English, a year-long postgraduate course in playwriting, and several of her own plays had been produced at equity theatres in Michigan, including The Purple Rose and The Jewish Ensemble Theatre, as well as The Live Oak Theatre in Austin, Texas.

“I felt I had a solid knowledge 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 her to teach her first class in playwriting in the winter of 1997. At first, the class was only worth two credits and met one night a week. Eighteen theater students registered for the class, and it was an immediate success.

“These students saw that there was a connection between playwriting and their other theatre 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 in the English Department. Thereafter, an advanced class was added because there was a demand for those who wanted to continue to study playwriting.

“I received another significant boost in enrollment in 2011 when the English Department developed a new major in Creative Writing,” Dubin said. “Classes in playwriting now fulfilled requirements for this major which brought additional students into my classes.”

Dubin brings both her passion and decades of experience as a working playwright into her classroom. She emphasizes the importance creating a solid structure, relatable characters and natural sounding dialogue. She also replicates the development process professional playwrights go through after they have completed a first draft in that plays are read aloud by classmates and a feedback session follows that focuses on what is working and what needs to be improved.

Students then write a second draft and possibly even a third. Dubin also invites established playwrights as guest speakers to share their experiences of pursuing an interest in playwriting after they graduate from college.

Dubin frequently uses her theatre contacts to find opportunities for her students’ plays to be performed. She has also created opportunities here at Oakland.

For several years, she teamed up with the late Professor Tom Suda, who was teaching Directing, to present a showcase where the directing students would each direct a student written play.

Dubin reprised that partnership with David Gram, an assistant professor of theatre at OU, 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 her students long after they have graduated, introducing them to the local theatre network, encouraging them to submit their work to various playwriting contests, and continuing to help them refine their work. It’s a measure of her success that nearly 130 of her students’ plays have received awards, readings, or full productions at theatres throughout Michigan and beyond.

While there are too many students to name who have achieved success with their work, Dubin said there are a number of students who deserve major recognition:

• Anetria Cole and Franco Vitella have both won MaTilDa Awards in playwriting. Cole’s full length play, Bronzeville Gold, has received numerous readings and full productions and was selected for inclusion in the National Black Theatre Festival. Both Cole and Vitella also had plays performed at the American College Theatre Festival.

• Vitella and Kassandra Dunaj have had their full-length plays produced by the School of Music, Theatre and Dance. Vitella was also selected to attend the Kennedy Center Playwright Initiative. 

• Matt Bell has become a nationally known and accomplished fiction writer who now teaches Creative Writing at Arizona State University. His one act plays were performed in Heartlande Theatre’s Play by Play and were included in two of OU’s directing showcases.

• Martin McArthur’s play, The Moment He Sees Fit, had a staged reading at OU in 2016, directed by David Gram, and a subsequent staged reading at Theatre Nova in Ann Arbor.

• Lauren Knox Mounsey teaches acting and is an artist-in-residence at the Purple Rose Theatre 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 period of time, she had 14 readings, received 4 awards, and had 62 productions of her 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.

“Often, people speak of a project they have created and developed as their baby,’” Dubin said. “Certainly, that term applies to me. I love watching my students grow and develop their talent and am thrilled when I can help them transition from the classroom to professional theatre.

"Every year, I teach my classes a little differently because I have changed, the students have changed, and the world has changed,” she added. “The plays that we study, as well as the plays the students are writing, need to reflect those 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 her enthusiasm for teaching playwriting has never waned.

“I am as excited to teach a class now as I was the very first day,” she said. “I cannot imagine a job that would be more personally fulfilling and I am grateful to Oakland for giving me that initial opportunity and supporting me every step of the way.”

To learn more about the playwriting classes at Oakland University, visit the School of Music, Theatre and Dance and the Creative Writing websites.

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