It's a running gag that there's little in West Texas except for plenty of wind and a landscape so flat that on a clear day you can see the back of your own head. This is apparently true during Lubbock summers when Texas Tech largely empties and the city quiets a bit as students return home for their summer break. Yet in the midst of the lull, something explosive is happening in the School of Theatre and Dance throughout the month of June. Performers, designers, playwrights, and industry professionals gather to hone their skills in the annual WildWind Performance Lab (WWPL).
WildWind is a month-long intensive in playwriting, performance, and design where nationally and internationally recognized artists share their expertise with Theatre & Dance students. The lab provides a unique opportunity for graduate and undergraduate students to work together as peers in a professional relationship to develop four new plays. Each discipline has its own unique role to play, from design and abstraction to performing in a staged reading at the end of every week.
Assistant Professor of Dramaturgy Sarah Johnson says that the interdisciplinary workshop is an excellent chance for students to explore their creativity and skills: “You get to stretch muscles that you might not get to stretch on your own – to engage with artistic media that might not be in your wheelhouse.”
By adding an abstraction component to the lab that gives participants the opportunity to stretch their creativity, Dr. Johnson also found the opportunity to tap a hidden wellspring of creative energy.
“I'm amazed at how many hidden talents our students have,” she says. “The abstraction project gives them the chance to apply other creative skills they have. You can crochet? Awesome! You can definitely use that to develop your own nonverbal dramaturgical language.”
Dr. Johnson also promotes a hybrid dramaturgical experience for participating playwrights. WildWind merges a traditional playwriting retreat where playwrights simply take time out of their schedule to focus solely on their play, and the high-stakes development sessions at regional and national institutions.
“We want our playwrights to have the time to themselves to sit by our lazy river and focus on their plays, then come in for an intensive work session. It's the best of both worlds,” she says.
Graduating senior Bryce Real, whose thesis play The Blue Flower was workshopped at WildWind, says that the lab setting was perfect for collaborating with other artists to develop his play in a safe and welcoming environment.
In addition to the creative portion of the month-long intensive, participants also engage in a conference-like atmosphere with presentations from leading industry professionals. In the waning days of the COVID-19 pandemic, Johnson is eager to apply lessons learned from the performance lab's virtual workshop last year. With virtual meetings and attendance becoming more widely accepted, Johnson has taken advantage of the opportunity to “Zoom in” guest artists for one-time sessions that in previous years would have been both time and cost prohibitive.
The chance to make professional contacts and experience the rigorous dramaturgical work in developing new plays makes the WildWind Performance Lab an exceptional workshop – with staged readings open to the public to boot. The inaugural lab in the new theatre building marks a new beginning for the project, one with new opportunities on the horizon that are sure to make this year's performance lab the most innovative yet.