Alumni Spotlight | Liz Engelman (Theatre '96)

Liz EngelmanWas there a specific faculty member or peer who especially inspired you while at the School of the Arts? If so, who and how?

Yes and Yes. First Yes: I doubt that a day goes by in which Anne Bogart isn't mentioned. It's been 20 years (oh my god) since I got out of Dodge, and still, whether it be my life in institutional theatre, freelancing, running my own creative retreat center, and/or now teaching at UT Austin, every day I encounter someone who references Anne, who has, as I have, been inspired by something Anne has said, quoted, modeled, shared, or directed. As a human and as a dramaturg I am constantly accessing the vice-ness of Anne when it comes to being curious, being open, leaning in to the unknown, questioning, being fearless, creating spaciousness, embodying empathy, and leading with intention. Anne was always a model for me as she strode both the professional and academic worlds. When she directed, she was teaching; when she taught, she provided direction. What I took—and still takefrom Anne is that being an artist is completely dependent on being human—and that we have to awaken all those aspects in ourselves.

And then the Second Yes: My fellow student-in-crime, Julie Felise Dubiner. My graduate school experience was formed as much outside of that 4th floor, with her, as it was on it; long night conversations with Julie at Grandma's (is it still there?!) as we planned, plotted, and conspired what the world would look like as run by dramaturgs (in their 20s). Everyone needs a dramaturgeven a dramaturg. Julie was mine. And she continues to be. She continues to model for me speaking up, standing up, provoking when necessary, questioning alwaysand always, always ending with a joke.

If you could revisit any piece you created during your time at the School of the Arts, which would it be? Why?

I truly enjoyed working with then PhD student and brilliant scholar director human Ehren Fordyce on his 45-minute adaptation of Hamlet. The process taught me how to focus on what story you want to tell, how to shape/sculpt text accordingly, and how story relates to space. It can't go without saying that, for me, as as a younger dramaturg, his respect for my role in the collaboration was invaluably affirming.

What was your favorite or most memorable class while at the School of the Arts?

I still reference the Collaboration class that I took over 20 years ago with Anne -- so that's saying something about the impact it had on me. Some highlights: The first day, we had to define what that word actually meant to us. (I'm still defining it.) How that undercut assumptions, deepened our level of inquiry, required considered articulation. Another class project had all the disciplines create three-act plays using a table and anything from our backpacks. Each grouping had to create a narrative with a beginning, middle, and end, with a blackout between each act. It amazed me to see how designers, directors, playwrights, and dramaturgs all interpreted this assignment through their personal lensesnot labels, but lenses. It revealed how we saw, organized, assembled, structured, related to space, story, and scale. How we are what we see and doand vice versa, and how we expand this by learning from each of the other disciplines. Another assignment was our reducing a classic to seven minutes in its entirety. This showed me the importance of discovering what is essential in any story, and ensuring that these signposts get highlighted and foregrounded above all else.

I could go on and on about that class. Can we talk Death of a Salesman?
About Liz Engelman
Liz Engelman is a member of the Playwriting and Directing faculty at UT Austin. As a dramaturg, Liz splits her time between the school year at UT Austin and summer in Ely, MN, where she is the founder and director of Tofte Lake Center at Norm’s Fish Camp, a creative retreat center in the Boundary Waters. Liz has served as the Alumnae Relations Coordinator at Hedgebrook, a retreat for women writers on Whidbey Island, as Resident Dramaturg at Mixed Blood Theatre, as the Literary Director of the McCarter Theatre, the Director of New Play Development at ACT Theatre in Seattle, Washington, as Literary Manager/Dramaturg at Seattle’s Intiman Theatre, and as Assistant Literary Manager at Actors Theatre of Louisville.  

Liz has worked on the development of new plays across the country and abroad, including The Playwrights’ Center in Minneapolis, Bay Area Playwrights Festival, ASK Theatre Projects, New York Theatre Workshop, the O’Neill Playwrights Conference, South Coast Rep, Denver Center, and Florida Stage. She has directed new plays at The Illusion Theatre, Mixed Blood Theatre, The Playwrights' Center in Minneapolis, and Carleton College. Liz has been a guest at Washington University in St. Louis, the University of Puget Sound, Cornish College of the Arts, and has taught playwriting at Freehold Studio Theatre Lab and The Playwrights' Center.

Liz studied dramaturgy and new play development at Brown and Columbia universities, where she received her BA and MFA in theatre and dramaturgy, respectively. Liz is the co-editor with Michael Bigelow Dixon of several collections of plays, and a book on playwriting exercises; two volumes of monologues with Tori Haring-Smith; and a collection of Hedgebrook plays with Christine Sumption. She has written articles published in Theatre Topics and Theatre Forum.

Liz has served as President, Board Chair and is a current Board Member of LMDA, Literary Managers and Dramaturgs of the Americas. She serves as an Ambassador-at-Large for the National New Play Network and is on the Advisory Board for Scriptworks. She is a member of the National Theatre Conference and the New Project Group of ITI.

Expertise: New play dramaturgy, playwriting, directing…and paddleboarding.
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Columbia University School of the Arts offers MFA degrees in Film, Theatre, Visual Arts, and Writing, an MA degree in Film Studies, a joint JD/MFA degree in Theatre Management & Producing, a PhD degree in Theatre History, Literature, and Theory, and an interdisciplinary program in Sound Arts.