Ian August Receives NJ Playwriting Fellowship

Lawrenceville School Student Activities Assistant Coordinator and Bunn Library Outreach Services Assistant Ian August recently received a 2021 Individual Artist Fellowship of $13,000 from the New Jersey State Council of the Arts.

Lawrenceville School Student Activities Assistant Coordinator and Bunn Library Outreach Services Assistant Ian August recently received a 2021 Individual Artist Fellowship of $13,000 from the New Jersey State Council of the Arts. In partnership with the Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation, the competitive award recognizes artists in different disciplines such as photography, playwriting, screenwriting, and interdisciplinary performance; August is a Playwriting Fellowship recipient. The fellowships are granted based on independent peer panel assessments of work samples. As such, the anonymous review process focuses on artistic quality, and awards may be used to help artists produce new work and advance their careers.

Reflecting on receiving the award, August said, “It’s really nice to be recognized for work that you do that isn’t always recognized.”

August’s theatrical journey has been full of experiences centered around collaboration. In 2016, August co-founded the Princeton-based playwright collective, The Witherspoon Circle, which strives to create a supportive environment for playwrights to interact and expand their audiences through community partnerships.

Explaining the unique name, August said, “We called it The Witherspoon Circle because we met at the Princeton Arts Council building, which is right down Witherspoon Street in Princeton, and the first table that we sat at was a circle.” Since then, The Witherspoon Circle has grown into a community for playwrights to discuss and share their works.

The process of playwriting requires the playwright to consider many different working parts, and, as August explained, “When you are writing a play, you are not writing for a reader to read; you are writing a play for a reader to then perform, direct or design...Writing a play is like writing sheet music but never hearing the symphony until the end of the process.”

As such, August finds great value in workshopping dramatic writing in a group, as it creates an environment where he can learn more about different life experiences and perspectives. During these workshop sessions, people exchange ideas and hone their work through peer critique, allowing August and many others to turn their plays into the best versions. “When I am in group settings alongside playwrights with different life experiences, different writing experiences, different histories, and different perspectives, they can offer me thoughts and ideas that I never would have thought of before,” he said.

This year, August also joined Ambassador Theatre Group (ATG) PlayLab––another group that gathers playwrights from New Jersey and New York to foster a community focused on feedback and development of playwriting skills.

Reflecting on his work as a playwright, August mentioned “Brisé”––a one-person play about a professional dancer who suffers from early-onset dementia––to be one of the more memorable pieces in his career. Unlike the conventional structure of a live play, Brisé consists of a series of YouTube videos chronicling the protagonist’s slow decline to convey the themes of voice and movement. “The audience gets to watch him losing himself in real time, which makes [Brisé] a beautiful piece,” August said.

Unfortunately, the Covid-19 pandemic has “laid bare the theatre arts” and live performances have come to a halt. “As a writer of theatre, it has been very challenging. We don’t know what our industry will look like when the pandemic is over. We don’t know when people will feel comfortable coming back and sitting together in an audience,” he said.

Still, the theatre community has managed to make adjustments by utilizing online platforms such as Zoom for play readings and performances. August has also found ways to make the best out of the current circumstances, including writing an interactive play that will encourage audience participation and breakout room features to create unique experiences for each viewer. “We’re trying to think of ways we can take the skills that we have developed for live theatre and apply them to the technological world,” he explained.

Despite facing many uncertainties, August remains optimistic regarding the future of theatre and is excited to get back to work in person. “I am hopeful that I will be able to be in a theatre space with actors, designers, a director, and an audience again. I’m going to continue writing for the stage with the expectation that someday we are going to find a new normal after the pandemic is over,” he said.

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