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Q&A with Deborah Yarchun

Deborah Yarchun

BS screenwriting & playwriting '08

Deborah Yarchun headshot 300 x 300

Tell us what you're currently doing and what's involved with the position.


I’m a professional playwright. I also teach playwriting to fourth graders through the Dramatists Guild Foundation. Being a professional playwright involves continuously applying to competitions, fellowships, residencies, and submitting plays to theaters and development opportunities, and of course- writing a lot of plays. It also involves traveling to different cities for workshops, readings, and productions. It’s a great way to see the country. In July, I got to travel to Martha’s Vineyard to develop a play at Martha Vineyard Playhouse.

My current teaching position involves collaborating with a fellow teaching artist to guide the students through exercises leading to them writing a play as a class that’s performed by professional actors at the end of the program. It’s an awesome opportunity.


Can you share your path since graduation that lead you to your current gig?


Following graduation, I interned at New Dramatists in NYC. New Dramatists is a seven-year residency for professional playwrights, and I was able to chat with a lot of writers about their paths. Afterward, I decided to apply for an MFA at the University of Iowa and ended up getting a full-ride and fellowship that enabled me to study playwriting for three years in Iowa City.

Following Iowa, I was fortunate to receive two consecutive Jerome Fellowships in Minneapolis, which gave me two additional years to focus on writing and my career. I followed the Jerome with a residency at Indiana University where I taught and developed a new play. I then moved back to NYC.

I was recently a Dramatists Guild Foundation Fellow, which gave me the chance to make a lot of great connections in NYC. I was also recently a member of the Civilians’ R&D Group where I developed my newest play DRIVE.

Every opportunity seems to lead to the next either through a new play that gets me the next opportunity or production, a connection I make, or through time and space to apply to more opportunities. I ended up with my current teaching artist job because the Dramatists Guild Foundation was specifically hiring former fellows and I’ve accumulated a lot of experience teaching over the years – primarily undergraduates and recently high school students in Kansas as a Playwright in Residence at the William Inge Center for the Arts.


What are the key skills required to handle your job?


The ability to articulate your artistic vision is super important it turns out. So much of being an emerging playwright, I’ve found, involves writing a lot of applications and cover letters.  You also need to be great at meeting people and cultivating relationships with other artists. And of course, you need to be able to rewrite and trust your instincts. At the end of the day, it’s not a well-made-play that gets awarded, though craft is important- it’s a unique, powerful, theatrical vision. So being honest and true to yourself in your work is key. Teaching requires its own special alchemy of skills, particularly finding or creating thoughtful exercises that open students’ imaginations and that simultaneously teach the core dramatic concepts.


Are you working with other Drexel alumni? How has that network paid off for you?

As an alumni yourself, have you had an opportunity to work with or hire any current Drexel students? What was that experience like?


I’ve stayed in touch with a few Drexel alumni over the years. Recently during a trip to LA, I met up with an alum to hear about his experiences in LA. In NYC recently, I sat down with a stellar alum who was working for a play publisher and licensing company I was interested in sending work to. It was a great experience both times to catch up and see what a fellow Dragon was up to.


How did Drexel prepare you for getting to this point in your career?


Drexel gave me a lot of opportunities to be a leader. As a student, I ran a group called Dragon Stage & Screen, which put together readings of students’ work with structured feedback. We also produced a show in the Philadelphia Fringe, which was useful because self-producing is a great skill to have early in one’s career.

Professor Abrams also connected me to PlayPenn, a new play development conference, where I interned between my freshman and sophomore year. This was my first exposure to a play development conference, and I made a lot of connections that summer that I’ve continuously run into again and again in my career. The instructors I had at Drexel also interestingly, hugely influenced me as a playwriting instructor. I’ve integrated slides (ala Professor Abrams) and adapted some of the exercises I learned from Bruce Graham into some of my teaching work.  


What advice would like to go back and give your undergraduate self?


Maybe taking 20 credits every semester and not sleeping isn’t the best way of things? Also, the web design class was a great call!

I would encourage myself to lean into learning a side skill more. Based on that one class, I was later able to pick up on more web design skills over time and create a freelance side hustle. It’s almost impossible to earn a living as a playwright in this country.

I had a lucky six-year spell of fellowships and artistic support and have had periods where I’ve had some great residencies. But I’ve still had to supplement my income during those periods. Just about every playwright I know does something else on the side, whether it’s teaching artist work, TV writing, or temp work. The tricky part about pursuing playwriting is that it can be a challenge to keep a 9-5 if you start getting opportunities. It’s not impossible if you operate best with stability and structure, but I think a decently paid freelance gig can be ideal.

I would also encourage myself to apply to more writing groups right out of undergrad instead of waiting for my next stronger play to apply. People respond to a voice, not necessarily a perfect piece of art.

And I would strongly encourage myself to focus on articulating my artistic vision and artistic goals more on paper, because as maddening as it is, it helps to start sooner than later.