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The great playwriting bake off comes to Chapel Hill


Paula Vogel will be leading her signature "bake-off" workshop on April 6. This Pulitzer Prize-winning author's play "How I Learned to Drive" will be running at Playmakers Repertory Company throughout April. Photo courtesy of Playmakers Repertory Company.

Paula Vogel, a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, is coming to Chapel Hill to host an unorthodox workshop of her own invention, a "bake-off," on April 6. 

The "bake-off" is based on an exercise Vogel created with fellow playwrights at the beginning of her career in New York. The practice was so named because of its similarities to the Pillsbury Bakeoff competitions of the 1950s. 

In the bake-off, participants are given a variety of ingredients, such as words or ideas and inspiration from other art mediums like paintings or works of art from varying time periods. After getting the ingredients, the participants have 48 hours to write their plays, and after those two days they reconvene to share the work they produced.

On April 6, here in Chapel Hill, Vogel will introduce one of her famous "bake-offs" to any willing participants in the Triangle area. Vogel, an acclaimed playwriting teacher, is notable in the theater scene. Some of her students include Nilo Cruz, Lynn Nottage and Quiara Alegría Hudes, playwright of "In the Heights."

"She's, you know, obviously, one of the greatest playwrights currently in the country," said Adrienne Pender, a Raleigh-based playwright. "She's won a Pulitzer prize. I mean being able to be part of that workshop would be just a priceless opportunity for any playwright." 

The unconventional timeline of the workshop is intended to force writers to challenge themselves to go beyond their comfort zones. Pender talked about how the structure of the "bake-off" creates more authentic work.   

"It's guerilla. It's get in, get out, do it," Pender said. "You don't have time to think. You don't have time to edit yourself or do the normal tricks that you would do as a writer to kind of finesse how words come out. They just come out, they just have to come out, and you put them down and you don't get an opportunity, or you shouldn't, to really pull yourself back."

The workshop is also more interactive than those typically run by academic speakers that come to UNC's campus. Alejandro Rodriguez, an associate producer for Playmakers, credited this to Vogel's personal experience with the writing process.

"She wants to get us writing. I think she recognizes as a writer herself the proof is in the pudding," Rodriquez said. "It's not just about sort of sitting and nodding politely but getting your hands dirty."

Krí Schafer, a UNC student in the writing for screen and stage program, said that beyond the tangible writing skills she hoped to gain from Vogel's workshop, she also hoped to discuss the complex issues that Vogel addresses in her plays. More specifically, the role that feminism plays in Vogel's award-winning play, "How I Learned to Drive."

"I feel like she would be a very open person, because that play is very, very multifaceted and brings out many different perspectives on the issue of feminism interplaying with sexual relations, things like that," Schafer said. "I don't know, I feel like she would be very inclusive of all points of view, and I feel like it would be a safe space to discuss that."

This workshop is in conjunction with the UNC Playmaker's production of "How I Learned to Drive," but Rodriguez emphasized that Playmakers is trying to reach a wider audience than typical theater people.

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