A Minute with a Person of “Substance”


Bree O’Connor and her team of performance artists have been working all through the pandemic to create new opportunities and projects so that when the doors begin to open (as rumor has it they are now entertaining the notion), they are ready to expand minds and open hearts to what’s going on around us through the powerful medium of theatre.

The first project on their agenda is The PS Writers’ Room, a collaborative writing workshop is now in a pilot-testing phase where writers get practical experience pitching and choosing projects and building a successful writers room of their own including navigating the culture of the room, organizing work flow, setting goals, brainstorming, managing expectations and meeting goals. This collaborative, peer-to-peer learning environment is sponsored by Final Draft. Final Draft, A Cast & Crew Company, has published Final Draft® software –the number one screenwriting application in the world –- for 30 years. Final Draft automatically paginates and formats your script to industry standards, allowing writers to focus on what they do best – writing scripts. Used by such industry giants as J.J. Abrams, James Cameron and Aaron Sorkin, Final Draft software is the professional’s choice and the entertainment industry standard. In addition to its flagship software product, Final Draft offers the annual Big Break® Contest, a screenwriting competition that launches careers and awards over $100,000 in cash and prizes. Final Draft also offers Final Draft Mobile for iPhone and iPad, making creativity truly portable. To learn more about Final Draft and its products and services, visit www.finaldraft.com

Following that is the PS Writers’ Groups, which has spent this past year fostering developmental readings of Mr. & Mrs. Garbo by Raphael Perahia, Barometric Pressure by Bree O’Connor, Passing and Failing in Paradise by Tori Barron, Setting the Sky on Fire by Niki Hatzidis, and currently, Lauren Lindsey White’s new play CAM (which will be having a reading later this spring) is expanding. Writers’ Groups are currently operating online but will slowly phase in a hybrid model of online and IRL sessions to accommodate playwrights and screenwriters outside of NYC.

Congratulations to Writers’ Group Member, Jacqueline Reason for her essay “House Parties,” receiving First Prize in the Writing Black Joy competition in celebration of Boston’s Black Joy Day.

One-on-one writing/project development coaching is also available, providing practical and artistic assistance to creators putting up their own work. Whether you are writing a novel, screenplay, play or a solo project, our facilitators can help you with everything from organizing your material to going deeper with your character work to helping you find and strengthen your unique voice. 

PS will also be sponsoring Zoom performances and readings; the return of their writer’s networking event, Pithy Party, a series of collaborative projects with Infinite Variety Productions, and other classes, workshops, and a new residency project all coming this fall.

For all of these groups and projects, please contact artisticdirector@playfulsubstance.com for further details. 

To arrange interviews or articles with the company of Playful Substance, contact jmcommnet@gmail.com

Reinvigorated by great success collaborating with the Folksbiene on “It Can’t Happen Here” founder and artistic director, Bree O’Connor spoke to us with confidence … of course.

So Playful Substance is back! What made you choose now to return?

To be honest, we never really went away, we just went into hibernation. There was such an overwhelming tidal wave of online content in early to mid 2020 and I didn’t really understand why. Even celebrities were getting involved in giving away their talent for free because we were all sad and scared and bored. I didn’t want to have all of our energies get lost in all of that, so I held on to what I could do that would be most helpful when Covid 19 ended; Playful Substance’s Writers’ Groups. We’ve actually grown during the pandemic. More writers have joined and we actually started a pilot program for collaborative writing called Writers’ Room. I am very excited to work out this concept and offer it as a regular part of our Artist Development Services in the fall. Now that people are getting vaccinated and we are slowly coming out into the open, now is the time to start letting the things that have been growing underground come out into the sun. 

What is the overall mission of Playful Substance?

We want to have fun telling stories. That sounds simple, but if the pandemic has taught me anything it has taught me what a profound thing it is to see a person, to hear them, to take in the stories they have to share as the gifts that they are. What a joy and an honor it is to be given the opportunity to help tell that story, as a writer, an actor, a designer or director, because a story has the power to change your heartbeat, to shift your body, to open your mind, to take your breath away. Those little shifts mean a lot. And when you approach a story with joy and wonder, a sense of love and play and FUN… those shifts go from inches to feet, from feet to yards, from yards to MILES. And then to experience a story told in this way with a group of people from so many different backgrounds, it changes the way you look at your OWN stories. It changes the way you look at people around you… and at the people NOT around you! That’s not our official mission statement. Mission statements are for grants and for donors… this one? This one’s for me. 

How have you – and your members – fared during lock-down and pandemic?

I can’t quite speak for anyone else, but having a group of writers to work with every week reminded me what it felt like to be connected. And it wasn’t just the writers, we have called in our actors to come play with early drafts of new material and laugh and be frustrated and scared and cynical together. Some of us had to leave New York, but we were able to still hold on to each other by keeping the work going. I have kept myself more than a little busy, but still found time for binge watching, binge eating, binge crying, binge pacing, binge cleaning, binge napping… if there was something to binge I probably binged it… hence my new wardrobe made entirely of kaftans and harem pants. 

What can we expect to see in the future?

Well, there will be fundraising. We have a way to go before we are ready for our engines to be running full tilt, BUT our Writers’ Groups continue, Writers’ Room will be offered in the fall, hopefully followed by Scene Study for Writers (an acting class specifically for writers), and a peer to peer workshop on Writing Across Difference. We have a online show from some of our writers coming out in May called Writes of Spring, we expect the triumphant return of Pithy Party, our rather raucous works in progress reading series, in the fall to kick off a truncated season of works (still TBA), and then, hopefully the fruits of our developmental labors! We have a development collaboration with Infinite Variety Productions going on right now as we workshop the true story of the Underground Astronauts- a group of all female scientists that ventured deep into caves in South Africa to find Homo Naledi, a previously unknown hominid. We have a catalogue of wonderful plays, screenplays and new television series and audio format materials coming from our Writers’ programs that we will simply have to find a way to support those creators in any way we can. 

What do you think the new artistic climate will be post-Covid?

I hope it will be different. I am actively looking for ways to change my little corner of the universe, not just for me but for anyone who comes by to play. We deserve better, more equitable funding. Our BIPOC and LGBTQ+ artists deserve to be seen and heard for who THEY are and not just in ways that make the rest of us feel more comfortable. Discomfort need not be a bad thing. The only thing that makes discomfort unbearable is when we lack curiosity. If we can be curious, we can be inventive, inquisitive and bold. That is what I hope for.

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