Umbria 2015: International Playwright Retreat

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Teaching Artist: Branden Jacobs-Jenkins

Playwrights will participate in writing workshops led by award-winning playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins. Recently, Branden was awarded the 2014 Obie award for Best New American Play for two works of his, Appropriate and An Octoroon.

*Playwright Retreat is Full at this time. You may join the Waiting List by Filling out the Application Form online, but it is not necessary to send payment now. Final confirmations will be made after the May 15th deadline.

About Branden Jacobs-Jenkins

Branden Jacobs-Jenkins is a pop vocalist, a mimic and a rollicking raconteur. He’s also an accomplished playwright pushing the boundaries of subject matter and form—a fact that has been noted in U.S. and international theatrical circles. A native of Washington, D.C., who now lives in Brooklyn, Jacobs-Jenkins has won numerous accolades ranging from the Princess Grace Award and the Dorothy Streslin Playwriting Fellowship to the Paula Vogel Award, and productions of his plays have made waves at theatres across the country. That’s sure to continue—he’s just 30. His new play War will bow at Yale Repertory Theatre in the fall, and New York City’s Vineyard Theatre will produce his Gloria next season. 

Jacobs-Jenkins speaks at a rapid-fire pace, often referencing obscure historical figures and pop icons in the same breath. His multifaceted plays ricochet between genres and from hilarity to heartache. N(E)IG(H)G(BO)ERS (orNeighbors), which premiered at the Public Theater in 2010, is billed as “a play with c(art)oons.” Its titular typography is a clue to its explosive content: When a family of traveling minstrel performers moves in next door to an interracial family, trouble starts—and the play’s biting use of blackface upends any and all notions of racial identity and decorum.

Jacobs-Jenkins’s critically lauded Appropriate, on the other hand, appears on the surface to be a naturalistic family drama: When the estranged members of the Lafayette clan convene after the death of a patriarch in the family’s crumbling plantation home, they uncover a number of horrific relics from the past—including an album of lynching photographs. Appropriate has received productions at Actors Theatre of Louisville’s Humana Festival, Chicago’s Victory Gardens, D.C.’s Woolly Mammoth and New York City’s Signature Theatre.

Alex Barron, literary manager at the Playwrights Realm, has known Jacobs-Jenkins since they were teens doing theatre together in Maryland. “I find that when I see one thing, Branden sees 10 things,” he says. “His work represents the struggle to show an audience how these 10 things are all indelibly connected. The story of a dysfunctional family in Appropriate is actually about ghosts and class and self-loathing and cicadas and Chekhov and faith and the centuries-old legacy of slavery.”

An Octoroon, Jacobs-Jenkins’s riff on Boucicault’s 1859 classic The Octoroon, which had a 2010 workshop atPS122, bows this month at Soho Rep in a production directed by Sarah Benson. “Branden is like a performer whose material is text,” Benson observes. “He has a holistic sense of what works in the theatre and uncanny insights into technical issues.” Though his plays reference history, they aren’t necessarily about history. “He’s taking ideas that are huge and complex and naughty and weird, and finding a way of literally theatricalizing them. People aren’t sitting around talking about history in his plays—he’s embedding these ideas in the actual form, and finding ways to make the idea promote the form and the form promote the idea.”

CREDIT: The Symposium and Retreat are fully accredited programs of Sarah Lawrence College (2 credits for one session of the Symposium and 1 credit for the Retreat) For more information about Sarah Lawrence College, please visit

FEE: The fee is $2,300. Fee includes workshop, housing and meals for 10 days, ground transportation from the Rome airport to and from La MaMa Umbria, and excursions by bus, van or car.

APPLICATION PROCESS: Playwrights who wish to participate in the retreat will fill out the Application Form and send in their $500 deposit. You will notified about your acceptance into the program shortly. Participants will be selected based on their commitment to the process and the case they make on the application as to how this program will help them with their creative process. Subject matter of the plays developed will NOT be a criterion for acceptance, nor will theatrical style, number of characters, nationality, perceived ethnicity, race or gender.

If you are not accepted into the Retreat, your deposit will be returned in FULL. If you are accepted and choose not to attend, you will receive a refund of all but a $100 registration fee, provided you notify us by June 15th. After that date, we cannot provide a refund of your payment.