Playwright Haven

Benjamin Sahl left what he calls "the center of theater in the United States," New York City, to pursue a Master of Fine Arts in Playwriting at Indiana University so that he could be in a more "idyllic" setting to continue developing his playwriting skills. Having learned all he can about the mechanics of writing in a setting that allows him to concentrate solely on writing, Sahl expects to return to New York City, which has "the most commercial and academic opportunities," he says.

At Columbia University in New York, where he received his bachelor's degree, Sahl "did a lot of acting, directing, and writing as an older undergraduate." Living in a metropolis, however, proved to be an obstacle to the development of the creative writing he loved. Sahl discovered he was spending too much time and energy working to make ends meet and decided to find a place that would allow him to learn and grow in the craft. After a study of playwriting programs in the United States, he chose Indiana University.

"I ended up at Indiana for a number of reasons," Sahl says. Among them was the playwriting professor. Professor Dennis Reardon has been "very useful in a tutorial role." It was at his prompting that Sahl expanded a one act play he had already written to a full-length play entitled The Weight of Breath that was produced in December. Sahl says he has found the playwriting program at Indiana University to be "very strong." The opportunity for a graduate student to stage a full production is unusual in graduate programs. "It's a very valuable process, culminating in seeing the finished work on stage," Sahl says.

After completing his M.F.A. at Indiana University, Sahl plans to return to New York City to work. Although he is excited about the production of The Weight of Breath, he says, "Even if you are 'a success', you seldom earn a living" writing plays. Instead, "most of the people who really establish themselves as playwrights earn a living either in academia or in Hollywood." Sahl, who currently teaches at Columbia during the summer, plans to continue teaching creative writing while shepherding his other plays to the stage.

Creative writing is a constant challenge, and although it is in the actual production of a play that the playwright can see "what works and what doesn't," Sahl says, first the play must be written. At Indiana University Bloomington "the inspiration finds me," Sahl says. "It's more a matter of getting out of the way, of getting the concerns and anxieties and assumptions of your external life out of the way so that the work can come through." On this creative level, he has found Bloomington to be better than he had hoped. Beyond being simply a quiet place to live and work, Sahl feels Bloomington has protected him from the rougher aspects of life outside the theater. This protection has been soothing and pleasing to his creative instinct and has allowed him to hone his skill and fully pursue his ultimate goal as a playwright.

--Mildred Perkins