Playwright Myrna Aguilar ’18 MFA will forever remember how it felt to see her characters come to life in the first professional production of her work. It was October of 2019 at West Hollywood’s Marilyn Monroe Theatre. Aguilar’s play, “Don’t Ever Get Old” — a comedic but poignant window into the trials of aging, inspired by her grandmother — had been selected for the bilingual Short + Sweet Festival.
“When I saw the actors perform it the first time, I just started crying,” Aguilar says. “It’s that moment when it hits, ‘Oh, wow, they’re performing what I wrote.’ It was amazing. And it hooked me. It made me want to write more and more.”
Fortunately for Aguilar, she can count on some formidable playwriting partners to hold her to that commitment. Aguilar is a founding member of the Kite City Playwrights, a close-knit group of theatre makers who formed their cooperative as graduate students in Mount Saint Mary’s MFA in Creative Writing program. Seeing their work performed — both as a collective and as individuals — is part of the Kite City mission.
“What I love is that we’re all fans of each other's writing and we have a wide variety of styles,” says Sharon Cleveland Blount ’18 MFA, another member of the group. “There’s such great talent here. It’s a blessing to be part of this dedicated group of women writers.”
In addition to Aguilar and Blount, the group’s other core members include Melinda Canny ’17, ’19 MFA and Sharnell Blevins ’19 MFA. Operating as a co-op, they keep a standing invite open for other playwriting alumnae to contribute to the group; Elena Miranda ’16, ’18 MFA and Allison Blackley ’19 MFA, for instance, are part-time members. And they have an honorary member in Johnny Payne, PhD, director of the Mount’s MFA in Creative Writing program. It’s Payne whom the group credits for the formation of Kite City.
“They had such special chemistry, something just clicked in that group,” Payne says. “I challenged them to form their own group and begin to stage their own plays. In some ways, these women could not be more different from each her, yet together they’re a perfect complement. What they have in common is that they’re all high-spirited and strong-willed, with great senses of humor. And they all bring humility to the task.”
Kite City officially debuted in the spring of 2019 with a series of staged readings at Sunset Gower Studios. The group produced each reading themselves — from casting actors and recruiting directors to creating the program and marketing the event.
If not for the COVID-19 pandemic, they would have hosted another series of staged readings this fall. For now, it’s all about the writing. Every other Sunday is workshop night for the Kite City Playwrights. Over Zoom, the writers offer each other feedback on works in progress, covering everything from dialogue, flow and character development to questions about staging and the formatting of submissions.
"To have a trusted circle that can give you honest feedback is huge,” Aguilar says. “It builds your confidence as a writer when others can validate your writing.”
By far, though, the biggest benefit of these sessions is the accountability they provide. “When you’re writing by yourself and not sharing your work, there’s no urgency. It’s easier to let things slide,” Blount says. “When you have accountability, it pushes you to meet your deadlines. When others are giving of their time, you want to show up with something.”
“I think what she’s trying to say is, ‘the nagging helps,’” Canny jokes.
The banter and the camaraderie on Sunday nights are a boon for each member, especially during the pandemic. “If it wasn’t for these ladies right now, I’d really feel isolated. I’d be lost,” Canny adds. “It’s comforting knowing we’re always available for each other.”
They also cheer each other’s individual successes. Blevins, for instance, had one of her plays, “Dreams on a Dime,” selected for the San Diego Repertory Theatre’s Kuumba Fest just before the lockdown this year. She and Canny are also each working on novels that the group also provides feedback on. And Aguilar has been working on an innovative audio project called “Voices of LBUSD,” collecting student and teacher stories from across the Long Beach Unified School District to illuminate life in the age of COVID-19.
Collectively, the group is also helping Payne plan the MFA program’s 2021 playwriting conference. Most of all, they’re looking forward to the days when they can gather in person, plan readings and stand and cheer for each other’s plays once again. Oh, and maybe load up for another road trip.
Last year, the Kite City Playwrights packed their bags and traveled to Portland for the 2019 AWP [Association of Writers & Writing Programs] Conference & Bookfair. The trip has become an especially cherished shared memory during this time when they have to remain physically apart.
“We joked that we knew we’d made it as a group when we made that trip, all packed into the same hotel room and made it out as friends,” Blevins says with a laugh. “What’s so great about this group is that we’re all equals. We’re all a little Type A, but we’re like sisters. We cannot like each other for a little while and tell each other off, but we’re going to get over it and be happy to work together again. We’ve got each other’s backs. The love’s always there.”