Call for Submissions: Activist Chapbook

Attention poets, playwrights, and other creative writers!



Community activists from Play on Words and Flash Fiction Forum are producing a chapbook and want your fiction, poetry, works of theater and creative nonfiction work about activism.

Specifically, we’re interested in the complexities of activism (humorous, tragic, inspiring, or all three), situations that call for activism, pitfalls and rewards of activism, and above all, the personal, unexpected, and inexplicable. We’re interested in stories that move but don’t preach, and shed light on communities or causes that may not make it to the news every day. Help us prove that our words matter–perhaps now more than ever.

In addition to publishing a chapbook in collaboration with Flash Fiction Forum, Play On Words will select a number of the accepted pieces for a corresponding performance in early 2018.


  • Deadline for submission is August 31, 2017.
  • Please limit submissions to 500 words.
  • Email submissions to


  • We are also seeking black and white artwork that speaks to these themes. Submissions can be emailed to 


Mara Sherman’s “Stage Kiss”

Introducing playwright Mara Sherman! Mara Sherman’s short play “Stage Kiss” is funny, sweet, and, ultimately, exactly the kind of play we at Play On Words like to produce. Join us on June 3 at Cafe Stritch to see it all in person.

Mara Sherman
Mara Sherman

Mara is a playwright, director, and actor currently based in Northern Virginia. Her plays have been produced as part of student play festivals at both UC Santa Cruz and Mary Baldwin College. She recently directed a  minimalist six – actor Romeo & Juliet that toured to various Virginia colleges, high schools, and theaters. Favorite acting roles include Dionyza in Shakespeare’s Pericles: Prince of Tyre, and Lady Kix in Thomas Middleton’s A Chaste Maid in Cheapside. She has a BA in Literature from UC Santa Cruz and a master’s degree in Shakespeare and Performance from Mary Baldwin College.

What inspired you to participate in Play On Words?
The intersection of art and literature, of writing and performance, is totally my jam. I love plays that are based on poems or short stories or novels or scripture. I love the idea of written work being inspired by live performance. When it really comes down to it I am a big ole nerd and I liked the idea of getting to play around with other nerds.

Which writers or performers inspire you?
Paula Vogel, Sarah Ruhl, Mary Zimmerman, Lorraine Hansberry, Thomas Middleton, (everyone drop what you are doing right now and go read Revenger’s Tragedy) and of course, Tegan and Sarah.

Name a book or performance that fundamentally affected you.
The best piece of theater  I have ever seen was the world premiere of Luis Alfaro’s Bruja at the Magic Theater, about two years ago. I love the Greeks, especially Euripedes and especially Medea, and it was pure bliss to see one of my favorite plays adapted so successfully for the modern stage. It’s weird to call a play about a woman who kills her children “joyful” but I left the theater absolutely brimming with happiness.

Annotations and the Creative Process [Part Three]

Today we bring you the final installment of our series on annotation in playwriting. POW casting director Melinda Marks explains how annotation can inform the creative process. As an added bonus: a photo of Melinda and the late, great Divine.

The process of annotating– has it made you think more about your own writing?

I think it’s made me think more about how I would direct. Because Shakespeare is so familiar. I mainly do this with Shakespeare–he’s so well-worn and comfortable, even if you know Shakespeare or if you’ve seen a lot of Shakespeare, you’re comfortable with stuff even if you don’t like it.

Even if I don’t like something, I can still think critically about, and why I don’t like it. I like seeing whether or not I can take things that I don’t like and mold them or change my thinking through critical reading and taking notes. Can I change this thing that not only is familiar, but I already have a set idea, set opinions about it? Can change my own mind so that it’s something that I like, something that I see differently?

I like to use this as a way with classical stuff to change my perspective on it.This enables me to visualize a different way; it gives me a chance to revisit the stuff and see if I still feel the same way about it.  If I’m going to make a cut, or don’t like a scene, why not?

I won’t cut something just because I don’t like it, but it will make me really think of the importance of leaving things in, or the emotional cost effectiveness of keeping something in or putting it out. It’s nice to see that you can have an effect on the arc of a story by changing the shape of it. Even if you keep all the characters, and you keep all the themes, if you change the shape or you change the length, how does it change? And why does it change?

It’s cool–even I don’t know if everything I’ll ever edit will be produced, but I like to think what would other people think of it. I know that not everyone would like it. What would people think of it, and why? I get jazzed thinking about all the discussions I could have with people about why they did or didn’t like something that I changed or that I cut, because that’s the thing about stuff that’s familiar. Stories that are familiar, plays that are done a lot–they can either be boring, or you can do what you can to make them interesting to you, and start discussion. I like to shake it up.

Do you think we could someday produce something like that?

Sure, if y’all want.

I’m ignorant to this process, though. Is there a rule about producing a version of a well-known play?

Shakespeare’s long dead. No royalties, I don’t think. I have a version of Hamlet that’s like an hour and twenty minutes.

Is it funny?


Right. Hamlet isn’t funny.

POW fans and playwrights: Have you ever adapted anything? What was that process like and how did it inform your writing? We’re always looking for blog content, so if you have thoughts on the creative process that you’d like to share, feel free to comment here or email us at

Annotations, Part II: Taming of the Script

Today we return to the subject of annotation in playwriting. POW casting director Melinda Marks tells us the tone that she’d adapt in her version of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew:


I get why people have a problem with the play, and I saw a version of it in Virginia that was very true to the script; it wasn’t edited at all. It was played very straight. For some reason, it didn’t sit well with me, and not because I wasn’t comfortable with the play. It was because I thought it was a cop-out. The actress who played Kate played it completely straight, like she was having this revelation. In my optimum version of the play, you have this guy who comes to Mantua to get a wife because he’s rich as heck, and he has all these landholdings and all this money, and now he wants to accumulate more wealth for his retirement. He wants to marry a rich woman to get a good dowry and increase his landholdings.

If the richest guy in town’s daughter is kind of a bitch and a half, it doesn’t matter to him, because it’s an investment. And everybody is so eager to get rid of her that they agree to this. But he meets her and likes her, because what he doesn’t expect is how witty she is, because nobody says that. Nobody says, she’s smart, or she gets all those zingers in. Everybody says she’s terrible. So then he meets her and he likes her.

I want to see a version where he sees that he has all this, and has this wife, and he realizes that he doesn’t know how to be a husband. He wants to know how to get control of the situation because he’s a businessman. He has no confidence. This is how I always thought about it. How is he going to deal with the fact that now he’s secured this investment, but it’s so unstable? So he tries to.

There are things that can justify this in the script; you just have to find them and you have to bring them to the surface. He’s acting mean to keep her off balance. The annotations that I made show that he doesn’t know what else to do. There’s a moment in the middle of that, when she’s been living at his house and acting crazy for a couple days, she says, in so many words, “Listen: I have to say what I feel. Because if I keep what I feel inside, I will die. My heart will break. I have to be free. You can’t keep me from being who I am, because at the very least, I will say what I please. And if you love me or you don’t, that’s it.”

It’s in the script. I didn’t have to change anything.

So what appeals to you about this play?

I want the dynamic between the two of them to be frank. I want to see him sweat.  I want to see him not be confident. In a lot of versions he’s made to be very confident, like he’s had this plan all along, to tame this woman. But he didn’t have an idea. His idea was to get money. And he did. He improved his status significantly, and beyond that I want to see him sweat it out. I want to see him not in his element.

It’s like that horrible song, “Blurred Lines”.

Not really. That song said, “of course you want to be with me.” It’s a different vibe. But I want to see a version where Petruchio is really nervous.

So are you going to write that version?

The version is already there. It’s all there.

You’re going to adapt that?

I don’t even have to. I just have to make cuts.

Are you going to do it for Play On Words?

It’s a Shakespeare play, so, no. Are we prepared to mount a full Shakespeare play?

Not at all. But we could workshop it.

Oh my gosh. But I want to see him sweat. I don’t want to see her get psychologically tortured. I don’t mind her being vaguely uncomfortable.I don’t mind her thinking, is he trying to break my will? I don’t mind that, but when she says listen, this is who I am, that’s the moment.

I want that to be the moment where they decide that they are going to have to make this work on each other’s terms. That is what is missing from a lot of other versions. And it’s not because they don’t try to make it seem like he’s right or that she comes out on top.

I’ve seen a lot of versions like that. I want to cut the script into something where, not only does Kate come out on top and feel that she can make this marriage successful in her own right, even though she didn’t get married on her own terms. I want to see this guy squirm. I would like a version where the two of them recognize that about each other and are able to move on based on that.

Tune in next week to learn how annotation can shed light on the creative process. Don’t forget: we need submissions, especially works of theater! Email submissions for our spring show to

What is Annotation? [Part One]

At Play On Words, we like to read. We like to write. You know those magnetic poetry kits you can use on your fridge? We got those. This spring, as we plan ahead for our next show, we’re busy reading, writing and discussion production. In addition to rehearsing, performing, teaching and curating, Play On Words Casting Director and co-founder Melinda Marks is busy adapting Shakespeare plays. She agreed to share some thoughts on the process of annotation, and how adaptation can help writers reflect on their own artistic processes. Today’s post is the first of three in a series we’ll be sharing over the next few weeks on the art of annotation.

So Melinda, you are a playwright slash dramaturg, director, actress. Tell me what it means to annotate a play.

With anything, it’s making notes that are relevant, making notes about what other people have said about something, anything that contextualizes a piece of writing for a reader or an audience. I decided that I was going to annotate some Shakespeare plays for fun. I’m just doing a cut of the play, how I would like to see it done, edited how I would like to see it edited, in order to make a cleaner and clearer version of what I imagine the play to be about. It isn’t radically different from how it started, but it’s different enough that if whatever imaginary people might read or watch this version of the play, if they had any questions about it, then I would be addressing those cuts in as bold and defensive manner as I can.

Do you actually cut lines?


What’s an example of a change you made?

With Hamlet, I actually ended up cutting about 50 percent of all the dialogue. I made it really short because I wanted to see a version where the only time that Hamlet really talked a lot was when he was alone. And that’s very different from the version where everyone has these long speeches, especially Hamlet. When he’s alone he goes on and on to the audience. But I decided that I was going to make it really dense. And that’s because I wanted a version of Hamlet that was really scary, where people weren’t really saying anything, or a lot of it was represented visually. That’s a choice, and I justified it at the time.

Did you stage it?

No. I don’t have that kind of pull. If I were ever to stage it, I would go into it being able to justify it, not only to whoever was on my creative team, based on what I wanted, but already having that version, having thought about it.

I went to Virginia recently and I saw three Shakespeare plays and none of them were edited. I saw a version of the Taming of the Shrew, and while I don’t have a problem with it, a lot of people do, because of the lighthearted psychological torture that happens.

Which part makes people uncomfortable?

The fact that Petruchio marries Kate for her money, and she’s a mean person, so he decides to give her a taste of her own medicine. Once he takes her back to his house, there are these references to the fact that he’s denying her food, or he’s denying her sleep. And they are played for laughs, and that makes me think that it was played very broad and very silly, and at the end the conceit is that they go back to her dad’s house, and everybody says, she’s so different, and there’s this speech about marital obedience at the end. A lot of people have different approaches to this, with different degrees of tongue-in-cheek.

Ten Things I Hate About You
Source: Wikipedia

Isn’t Ten Things I Hate About You based on Taming of the Shrew?


That’s my cultural reference.

In 10 Things I Hate About You, Kate realized that she wanted more than herself, and that she could still be who she was, but also fall in love, be in love with someone at the same time. The switcheroo there was that Petruchio made a bet, but he felt bad about it. A lot of people play it with different degrees of that. I’ve always considered it to be the fact that it should be a joke, that that should never be taken seriously.

Stay tuned next week to hear Melinda’s thoughts on adapting Taming of the Shrew.

“Misery Olympics” Kills It at Spring Fling

Play On Words’ May 22 show, Spring Fling, featured some exciting new work by Bay Area writers. We were also thrilled to feature a new actor, Tiffany Viorge, who together with POW veteran Melinda Marks nailed Christine Keating’s biting play, “Misery Olympics.” Big thanks to our friends Bayard Nielsen and Teresa Fradejas Salazar, who functioned as our unofficial POW videographers. In case you missed it, you can watch the full play here:

We were excited to welcome back some POW friends and family to the Blackbird Tavern, who has acted as our gracious host for the past few shows. Thanks, also, to POW photographer Michelle Anderson, whose photos you’ll spot on our Instagram (@playonwordsanjose) and Facebook (Play On Words San Jose) pages. Stay tuned this week to catch more footage from May’s show.

Have you got a hidden talent?

Are you a writer or performer? Artist? Musician? Man (or woman) about town? We’re in the process of planning our 2014-2015 season and want to hear from people with special artistic skills. Shoot us a line at if you’re interested.

Brian Van Winkle on the Creative Process

Brian Van Winkle’s ten minute play (which he also starred in), “The Way I Picture it In My Head Is,” was a big hit at our February show. Brian is a recent graduate of Southern Oregon University in Ashland, Oregon where he received a Bachelor of Science in Theatre Arts with a minor in Shakespeare Studies. He is also a graduate of the Foothill Theatre Conservatory and a member of the Pacifica Table Readers.

Brian Van Winkle

In addition to his play, Brian has performed at POW in Melinda Marks’ “Menage A Un” and Adam Magill’s one-act play “Malleus Maleficarum.” He agreed to share some thoughts with us on his writing and performance experience.

POW: What did it feel like to have your words performed aloud? Was this the first time you saw someone interpret your work? What did you learn about your own writing? 

BVW:  It has been such a privilege to have my work performed by Play on Words. Though this is not my first time having my work performed for an audience, the experience is always beneficial. There is no better way to improve one’s writing than to see how it is interpreted by other people. Seeing other people create something out what you have made allows you to take it in as a separate entity from yourself. You can see what in your piece works and what doesn’t based on how the audience reacts to it. There is little I can think of more thrilling and encouraging than when a desired reaction lands with a crowd just as you want it to–and if a certain idea is not coming through clear enough, it will become obvious by the way that it is portrayed. I am very grateful that there are outlets such as this so that new works can continually be developed and improved for aspiring artists.

POW: What was it like to perform a piece knowing that the writer was in the room? How did you prepare? How did this experience make you feel about your own writing/creating process? 

Brian (center) played an important role in “Menage a Un”

BVW:  It’s a pleasure to be able to give new writers a voice for their work. In an environment such as this, where we are able to interact directly with the authors, we are able to better prepare a piece in the way that it is intended to be performed. Being directly involved with the artists is a great way to help develop their work as well as gain skills to help hone one’s own abilities.



Play On Words Premiere is a Success!


Play On Words’ premiere event at San Jose’s Blackbird Tavern was a huge success! We were thrilled to welcome 75 friends and family to the Blackbird’s gorgeous new show space on October 24 to kick off our new literary series. We’re grateful to our writers and performers for their excellent work, and to the gracious Blackbird staff for setting us up with a great stage, cozy tables and stocked bar.


The evening started with a moody contemporary short story by Ryan Alpers entitled “Predecessors.” It was performed by Melinda Marks and Adam Magill.


Our second piece was “Medea,” an original monologue written and performed by Melinda Marks.


Ryan Alpers interpreted an excerpt of Eric Sneathen’s engaging poetry series entitled “Glister.”


Our fourth piece was “Malleus Maleficarum,” a hilarious short play by Adam Magill, performed by Adam, Melinda, Doug York, Brian Van Winkle, and Jimmy Allan.


Jimmy Allan closed out the night with his reading of Leah Griesmann’s short story, “Slave.”

We are so excited by the work we saw performed, as well as our wonderful audience, that we are opening up submissions for our second show, to be scheduled (most likely) in February 2014. If you are a Bay Area writer or performer, and are interested in collaborating with us, please email us at to learn moreWe accept original short fiction, poetry, monologues, 10-minute plays and creative nonfiction that is under 10 pages double spaced. The deadline for our next show is December 15, 2013.


Melinda Marks, Nicole Hughes, and Julia Halprin Jackson at the Blackbird Tavern.