The Daily Tar Heel

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Thursday June 1st

Professor Howard Craft found his calling bringing plays beyond the page

Howard Craft took a chance one day in 2000 when he entered his first play into a local radio competition at a dessert cafe named Francesca’s.

A published poet at the time and completely new to the playwriting field, Craft won the competition and received $50 along with a newly discovered passion.

Then he won the same competition again the year after. He knew then – he was meant to be a playwright.

Since then, Craft has constantly been teaching, writing plays and working with directors to put on productions.

Craft is a poet, playwright and arts educator. He has taught creative writing to students aged eight to 80. He has worked in public and private schools, colleges and has worked with adults. Craft has even taught a group of belly-dancing seniors how to write poems.

“Because I'm a working playwright, I’m always working on something,” Craft said. “While I’m teaching, I have to apply the same things I’m telling (my students) to my own stuff.”

When the opportunity presented itself to teach at UNC, Craft took it.

“I’ve been really blessed with some really energetic kids who really want to write,” Craft said. “The greatest thing in the world is to have students who are not taking the course because they need a credit, but are taking the course because they want to be a writer. They have a passion and a desire and an energy that just makes it really easy.”

Craft has taught the course “Writing the Podcast Drama” where students create an original series of the own.

“When students say ‘I'm sending in this podcast for a competition’ those days really make me smile,” Craft said. “And it makes me happy to be an inspiration and it’s something that I'm thankful for.”

Craft is the creator of the first dramatic African-American superhero podcast, The Jade City Chronicles. Craft has also worked with the public radio station WUNC to produce an audio drama called “The Jade City Pharaoh.”

Craft is a Piller Professor of the practice for the Writing for the Stage and Screen Program at UNC.

The program was started by Michael Piller, a UNC alum who wanted students to be taught by artists that could equip them with the skills needed to succeed as storytellers.

“(Craft) is doing precisely what Michael Pillar’s vision was,” Dr. Patricia Parker, department chair of communication said. “For one he is very active. I can safely say he’s one of the first people we’ve had in this position who has had one of his plays produced on broadway.”

FREIGHT: The Five Incarnations of Abel Green was on Broadway from Oct. 19, 2017 through Nov. 19, 2017.

Directed by Joseph Megel, artist in residence and teaching professor in performance studies at the UNC Department of Communication, the story tells the experience of Abel Green as he goes through five different dimensions of the Universe as he lives through different moments in American history.

Craft has worked with Megel on multiple plays, and their dynamic as playwright and director are what make their productions so successful.

“The major component of a successful collaboration between a director and playwright is trust,” Megel said. “And I think he trusts that I’m working to deliver what he’s done and to really engage with his ideas and authentically make them happen.”

Craft said an open relationship between playwright and director is critical to the process of production.

“If the director doesn't understand what you're trying to do with your art and trying to change it to fit what he wants to do then that can be very problematic.” Craft said.

Megel runs The Process Series: New Works in Development, a program of the Department of Communication and has also worked with Craft on 'The Miraculous and the Mundane' and 'Caleb Calypso' and 'The Midnight Marauders.'

“Joseph and I work together so well because Joseph is an excellent listener who asks questions,” Craft said. “His questions are him trying to understand what it is I’m trying to say. The whole time we're both working to make a play better.”

Craft said that he has learned patience and mindfulness of flow from the directors he has worked with in the past.

Crafts plays mainly focus on the hopes, dreams, struggles and aspirations of the African-American working middle class.

“Why I focus so much on the (African-American) working class is that is an underrepresented group in African-American theatre.” Craft said. “All I'm writing about is what it means to be human – its humanity."

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