Playwright Moises Kaufman Visits UNT Theatre Department

A crowd gathered at UNT on the Square to meet playwright and director Moises Kaufman on Friday, January 19. A reception was held in his honor, as he is the Artist in Residence for the UNT Theater Department this semester.

Kaufman is an award-winning playwright and director who wrote The Laramie Project, 33 Variations, and Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde. He is also the director and founder of Tectonic Theater Company.

After some discussions with fellow theater enthusiasts, Kaufman approached a podium ready to speak on both his body of work and what he plans on teaching UNT students.

A day earlier, The Dentonite was given the opportunity to speak in-depth about some of his accomplishments and hopes over the phone.

In context of his residency at UNT, Kaufman said his friend and fellow playwright Doug Wright did the program a few years prior and spoke highly of it. This made Kaufman interested in doing the program himself.

Kaufman has already started to work with the students and can see the eagerness within them.

“[The students are] super-smart and super-hungry and super-curious. So it’s been really wonderful,” Kaufman said.

Kaufman is talking to the students about a new trend among theater folk called devising.

“There is a new movement around the country of how to create theater. In a more traditional way, a playwright goes into a room and writes a play and then comes out of the room and introduces it to the director and then the director stages the play,” Kaufman said. “Devised work is much more collaborative and it doesn’t start from script. It starts from a series of ideas. People get into a rehearsal hall and make the play together.”  

Kaufman said he has been exploring the work of the Latin-American writer Jorge Luis Borges with the students. He will be speaking in several different theater classes during his time with this program, as well as speaking in several acting classes and teaching a senior seminar.

Kaufman emphasized time and time again the importance of collaboration. The Laramie Project is a prime example of an extensively collaborative piece he created. The Laramie Project is a play about the intricate interviews Kaufman, along with his theater company, conducted with the residents of Laramie, Wyoming in response to two homophobic men who murdered 21-year-old gay college student Matthew Shepard.

“Ten of us people went to Laramie and conducted interviews with the people of the town over the course of a year and then we returned to New York and constructed the play from those interviews,” Kaufman.

Kaufman said the process of writing the piece was rewarding because it has become among the most performed plays in America.

Besides collaboration, Kaufman also stressed the importance of  “narrative.” He further discussed the importance of narrative at the reception the next day.

He made an interesting statement at the reception that rang true. Kaufman told the audience that theater causes conversations. He spoke of a 13-year-old who performed The Laramie Project and played a 53-year-old gay man. Kaufman then said he wondered about what conversations must this child be having at home with his parents about important social issues surrounding this play, such as LGBTQ+ rights.

For Kaufman, theater is not just a tool for entertainment. It is also a tool used to start conversations about important issues which will become fuel for positive change. And, he hopes he can pass down this lesson to future theater makers at UNT so they may provide plays with equal weight and importance.

Header image by Mallory Frenza.
Header image layout design by Christopher Rodgers.