The Living Writers Series continues with Steven Dietz

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Steven Dietz, an American playwright, theatre director, and teacher. - Photo credit Liam Skopal '26

“You are not the expert of your play” advises award winning playwright Steven Dietz, the second author to be featured in the Living Writers Series. Steven Dietz was named one of the 20 Most-Produced Playwrights in America (2019) with his thirty-plus plays and adaptations produced in over one hundred regional theatres. Dietz has had plays produced internationally in over twenty countries, and translated into dozens of languages. 

For the Living Writers course, students read “This Random World: The Myth of Serendipity,” a comedic play that optimizes on missed connections. The multi-day event started with a staged reading of Dietz’s play Oct. 2 and a question and answer session (Q&A)  followed by a discussion led by Associate Professor of English Gabriel Dean on Oct. 3. 

The staged reading was directed by Dean, and it allowed students to see Dietz’s play come to life. Dietz himself was seated amongst the students in the intimate setting of the Recital Hall, where the reading took place. 

In regards to putting together the staged reading, Dean commented, “The actors and I had roughly seven hours to rehearse the play, which meant that we were able to read it through once, do some minimal staging, character arc work and choose one or two images from the play to more fully realize. We got very little time to work through the scenes, but the work we did was focused and, I think, effective.” 

“I guess if I have to say one thing, then I hope the students who might be curious about playwriting, but a little afraid to give it a try, take his advice and just give it a try.” 

– Associate Professor of English, Gabriel Dean

Dean casted faculty from the College community for the reading. He said, “I thought they were quite excellent in their portrayals of these characters and enjoyed working with them all. It was an opportunity for students, especially theatre majors, to see their professors on stage, which has happened very little since the pandemic. I think that aspect of the show was really well received too.” Indeed it was, as the room was filled with laughter at jokes never noticed before and intense silence where emotional scenes were performed. Jules Curtis ‘25 said that the staged reading “was fantastic! As a theatre major, it was a great experience to see some of my professors perform. The staged reading allowed me to make many more connections throughout the play. For example, I took notice of certain dialogue when someone performed it rather than when I read it.”

Tom Hiller ‘23 also commented that “I think it was really cool mostly because we were able to see the components of what a play was physically. One of the things that we have learned about plays, before viewing the live reading, is that they are made up of certain components such as it’s collaborative and has a commutative aspect, it’s meant to be seen. The world I created in my head when reading the script, while believable to me, could never feel truly lived in until I saw a much clearer picture with the live reading.”

The Q&A the following day was focused heavily on the writing process and nature of the play. Many students took the opportunity to ask questions in regards to creating characters, writing for different audiences, and inspiration. When talking about crafting characters, Dietz expressed that “you have to test your characters, stretch them like taffy.” At one point, Dietz even passed around his writing journal that contained the basis of the play. Hiller ‘23 said that “Although Dietz’s play is called ‘This Random World,’ Dietz had a very structured and intentional blueprint while creating the script. So hearing how he developed his script and physically seeing his notebook that was passed around helped me get into his creative process which can help me with my writing.”

“You are not the expert of your play”

– Steven Dietz

Later that evening, students, faculty and the greater Allentown community were welcome to come and listen to a talk-show style conversation with Dietz, which was led by Dean. Dean, a former graduate student of Dietz, utilized this conversation to ask questions about the structure of a play, what it’s like to see his play directed and produced and asked advice on behalf of the students about one’s craft. Dietz spoke from personal experience about giving directors free reign over his plays and being pleasantly surprised at the outcome. He emphasized to young playwrights, “you have to let your play surprise you.” 

Dean believes that, “There was so much to get out of the Q&A and conversation. Dietz is pretty much a walking soundbyte. I saw students scribbling in their notebooks and struggling to keep up with the brilliance coming out of his mouth. He’s not only an amazing writer, but an exceptional teacher too and I think that aspect of his personality really came to life again this past weekend. I guess if I have to say one thing, then I hope the students who might be curious about playwriting, but a little afraid to give it a try, take his advice and just give it a try.” 

A few students also had the opportunity to have lunch with Dietz. Link Shuster ‘24 said, “I went to lunch with Dietz and it was a lot of fun! [He] is a very charismatic guy and has a lot to talk about. And he really does talk a lot about his own writing and has a lot of tips for new writers. He constantly mentioned how he had no idea where his plays would end up, and surprised himself along the way.” 

Many students believe that Dietz was a great author to showcase during the Living Writers course. Hiller ‘24 commented that “I have found Living Writers extremely beneficial to me so far. As a writer, even if I never become a novelist or playwright, I’m listening to professional writers talk about universal ideas like craft and how to overcome challenges. Anyone can take something away from listening to them speak.”

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Keanna Peña '25 is an English and Creative Writing major with a minor in Dance. She is a managing editor for The Weekly and loves writing about student events on campus and sharing her poetry.

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