Recipient of the 2021 Oregon Literary Arts Leslie Bradshaw Fellowship in Drama, playwright Sara Jean Accuardi ’06 has exciting options for how she’ll spend the fellowship’s $3,500 award.
“I’m finishing a play called “BREAK” that’s slated for a workshop at The Valdez Theater Conference in Alaska, and I want to start a new play,” Accuardi notes. “I have commissions from theaters in the works, and this fellowship gives me more flexibility to create something new.”
The fellowship is not Accuardi’s first accolade. One of her plays, “The Delays” – which was commissioned and produced by Portland’s Theatre Vertigo – has garnered high praise. “Creating ‘The Delays’ for them was fantastic,” she says. “I loved working with Theatre Vertigo, and the play went on to have a life of its own.”
“The Delays” won the local Drammy Award for Outstanding Original Script in 2019 and was a finalist for the Oregon Book Award in 2021. Another of Accuardi’s plays, “The Storyteller,” was the inaugural winner of the 2020 International Tomas Wolfe Playwrighting Competition through the PlayMakers Repertory Company in North Carolina. The award came with an opportunity to have a staged reading of the winning play, and entries were submitted from across the globe.
“With COVID, it ended up having to be a staged Zoom reading,” Accuardi says. “I wish it could have been a live reading, but it was still exciting, and it was amazing to work with the PlayMakers Repertory Company.”
Set the Stage
Accuardi grew up around theater and writing. Her mother was a high school drama teacher and her father was a poet. Still, she never thought she’d become a playwright. “I studied to be an actor but I didn’t love it,” Accuardi recalls. “What I loved was everything else around acting, and my favorite thing was learning the script.”
In hindsight, however, an early brush with playwriting foreshadowed her rewarding career.
During high school, Accuardi wrote a short play simply to get out of writing a class paper. It won a Promising Playwrights opportunity during Portland Center Stage’s JAW (Just Add Water) playwriting festival. For several weeks, she watched professional rehearsals and worked on her play with visiting artists from around the nation.
“At the time, I thought it was just a really cool thing,” she says. “I didn’t see myself as a writer. A lot has shifted a lot through the years, but now I can see it was a catalyst.”
She took theater classes in college including a PSU playwriting class by Karin Magaldi, Associate Director of Theater in the School of Music & Theater. “Karin Magaldi was an incredible professor and wonderful mentor. I took her class again and again,” Accuardi says. “But playwriting still seemed untouchable. It wasn’t until I was in graduate school at Northwestern that it finally started to sink in that I could count myself as a playwright.”
Now her writing has been produced and developed around the country, and she teaches high school youth through Visions and Voices residencies at Portland Center Stage. Accuardi has also supported PSU’s Theater Arts program for the past three years by serving as a committee reader for Drama Reading Club's 1917 Playwriting Prize competition.
“The quality of these students’ plays is phenomenal,” Accuardi says. “I see so much talent. You wonder who the next group will be and what they’ll bring.”
When actors read her play aloud, Accuardi says it comes to life in a way she couldn’t have imagined. “As playwrights, we create a ‘container’ that changes depending on the actors’ and director’s vision. It’s amazing to watch people connect to something you made and see it change with your collaborators.”