Creativity, inspiration and writing dominated the conversation when playwright, screenwriter and actor Jon Robin Baitz spoke to students in Doheny Memorial Library. The triple threat read aloud from his works, chatted with author Dinah Lenney and answered questions from audience members during the event.
Baitz began the evening by reading the introduction to his play Three Hotels and a smattering from the play itself. The excerpts Baitz read told the story of a corporate man well versed in firing employees, earned loud applause from the captive audience.
Lenney then asked Baitz a series of questions ranging from how he got his start as a playwright to his inspiration and the differences between writing plays and television scripts.
Baitz got many laughs from the audience with his explanation of his writing process.
“I honor procrastination and laziness as the unconscious at work,” he said.
The plays Baitz creates tend to follow everyday people moving through their daily routines. He also strives to write works that the audience can relate to, often drawing on his experience as a young man in South Africa during the apartheid.
“I look to create a kind of moment in plays where you see yourself,” Baitz said. “I want to create a theater where we do feel complicit and we recognize our own fallibility and the potential we have for doing terrible things and, even worse, ignoring terrible things.”
Baitz is in Los Angeles while his play Other Desert Cities runs at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles. Besides Other Desert Cities, Baitz has written several other plays,including The Paris Letter. He has also written for the television shows The West Wing and Alias, as well as created the ABC drama Brothers & Sisters. In addition to writing, Baitz also teaches aspiring playwrights.
The event, which spanned nearly two hours, was hosted by the USC Master of Professional Writing program. The MPW program uses Los Angeles’ vibrant entertainment and literature scenes to try to inspire students in multiple genres of writing, including fiction, poetry, and writing for the stage. It is the first multi-genre program in the country, and hosts multiple events throughout the year that range from panel discussions to lectures from guest writers.
Prince Gomolvilas, acting director of the MPW program, helped plan the event, and credited Baitz with some of his personal inspiration.
“Jon Robin Baitz, for me, is personally one of my playwriting heroes, so I thought this seemed like a wonderful opportunity,” Gomolvilas said. “But the main reason why he’s here is because his play … is running at the Mark Taper Forum and it just seemed very appropriate to bring somebody who has work going on right now.”
The audience included both students and adults, many of whom had already seen Baitz’s play and wished to hear more from him. Kiersten Stanley, a freshman majoring in writing for screen and television, said she found the event valuable.
“I thought it was definitely interesting to get the perspective of a professional playwright and screenwriter who has had decades of experience in his craft,” she said.
Other Desert Cities runs now through Jan. 6 at the Mark Taper Forum in Downtown Los Angeles.