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ICWP : Reflections on the Art of Reflection by Coni Koepfinger

27 Oct 2013 5:18 PM | Anonymous
The life of a playwright can be lonely, cold and isolating.  CORRECTION: backspace.  The life of a playwright can be lonely, cold and very  isolating. Even at college, as a theatre major, you just don't fit in.  You're either considered a wannabe actor or a mediocre techie. Even though I knew the path of said calling early on, I was forbidden to take even one elementary playwriting course as an undergrad at Penn State University. 

Finally I pestered the appropriate faculty just enough to get in a class as a junior, but it wasn't typical to attempt even a minor as an undergrad. I've always wondered why we were never welcomed in the English departments.  Even in grad school, most creative programs exclude us. Yet, literature is taught with poetry, fiction and drama.  Go figure.
Yes, indeed, playwrights are a very rare breed.  Upon graduation, it was more and more evident that the world did not know what to do with me.  Thus, I wandered the professional networks in search of my kind. Surely my species was out there somewhere. Even in those prehistoric days of  printed matter- trade journals, magazines and newspapers- I knew there just had to be a way to find them. Musicians had support centers at coffeehouses and clubs.  Writers had colonies with poets and novelists flooding the mainstream. 

It was 1980, I was fortunate enough to be working at Carnegie Mellon, one of the premiere tech savvy institutions. Early on,  I hooked into email, which suddenly put my theatre associations in high gear.  In 1982, the word “Internet” was introduced; by ’85 “America Online” was a household idea.  Suddenly, I began noticing several of my own species surfacing in cyber space. 

For several years, I had been lurking on the ICWP site.   I had some productive interaction and made a few friends, then in 1998 -  thanks to a new connection on this very site, I had my first international breakthrough as a playwright.  I met a woman from New York who came to mentor me  and promote me as a playwright. She took my image of myself and formed it into a playwright, somehow worthy of note. Her confidence in me made a world of difference. She assured me that there was a support system in place for all of us playwrights and ICWP was certainly a place of repose.

I had been working in isolation on a show called CANDLEDANCING, THE VOICE OF JULIAN OF NORWICH.  It was a new collaboration with London composer, Robert Hugill. On the BBoards in New York and London,  I had put out a rather daunting request -  "PLAYWRIGHT SEEKS COMPOSER for MEDIEVAL MUSIC DRAMA- Requesting music and a requiem".  I recall saying to my director friend Denny Martin as we set off to NYC with our group of gypsy thespians to do a few avant-garde one-acts, "We will need a big stage to do this play, if I return from the city and find a requiem in my mailbox."  

To which he responded, "Yeah well, if there is a requiem in your mailbox, I'll find a space."  And to our surprise, when we returned, there was indeed a requiem in my mailbox. As the artistic director of the city’s first women’s theatre company, I had lots of support as a director and producer, yet I had put my own work as a playwright ( like most of us do ) on hold to help others.  Although I had several productions of my own pieces, I had not reached that level of professionalism to warrant the idea of publication. I was not ready for the level of engagement that was required of me as a playwright to entertain a world-class composer. My new found ICWP mentor, stepped up to bat for me, and as they say... I just let the magic happen.

After that tremendous experience, I gained new courage and self-worth at age 40. I returned to finish my master’s degree.  Ten years later, now a college professor and thriving playwright, I realized how ICWP had helped me and I wanted to give back. Therefore I officially joined  and was officially welcomed and accepted.  I truly felt like I belonged.  It was not long before I was elected to serve on  the ICWP board , which I enjoyed doing for several years.

Ironically, once again ICWP served me and my playwriting career  quite well.  On behalf of the ICWP board I was asked to attend a theatre conference at Princeton in 2009. From that, I made alliances and was invited to join the League of Professional Theatre Women, a sister organization that promotes opportunity and visibility for women in both the for-profit and not-for-profit sectors.  So once again, I found myself enriched by way of ICWP.  In 2009, Candledancing was published and I was honored by an amazing SWAN Day event in Manhattan. In 2011, I again was graced to join other members in the publication of  “Thirtysomethings”, one of the ICWP Mother-Daughter monologue anthologies, which by the way, truly helped me deal with recent loss of own beloved mom.

And so as we celebrate the 25th anniversary of this wonderful network of women playwrights at ICWP, I again vow to lend a hand to others any way I can, to mentor the lonely and warm those frozen by the icy words of rejection. And today, I think I can do that...  Last year, I had the tremendous opportunity to partner with another strong woman and begin to build an exciting new theatrical endeavor. That undertaking, known now as The Spiral Theatre Studio,  is now up and running in New York City.

Perhaps it is here that I can now deliver my vows to help other ICWP members.  This is only the beginning and may we welcome another 25 years.

©2013 by Coni Ciongoli Koepfinger

Coni Ciongoli Koepfinger
Associate Director  /  Playwright-In-Residence
242 West 36th Street
New York, NY 10018

Cell: 412.983.1029
The Spiral Theatre Studio


  • 27 Oct 2013 10:21 PM | farzana moon
    Dear Coni,
    First of all congratulations for a successful career for such a lone-playwright. Secondly, I do feel empathic for your great loss, wishing you peace and comfort by cherishing the lovely memories. As to my lone playwriting most of my friends don't even know that I write plays. It was interesting to note last week in DC when my sister-in-law told me that she read one of my plays online, saying that she didn't know I wrote plays. Like you I am grateful to ICWP for promoting my works. If your new studio accepts submission, please let me know, I would be grateful of the opportunity to submit. I must admit I enjoy being a lone writer and am profoundly grateful of each moment of silence and solitude which comes my way.
    Good luck and best wishes,
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  • 31 Oct 2013 3:35 PM | christine emmert
    You are right that we lead a lonely life. So hungry to share when we actually meet another playwright...especially a woman. It's hard to get people to look at the work, never mind produce it. Your story starts out sadly but takes an arc of joy later on. Thank you for your honesty. It isn't all glory, not even the half of it.
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