Andrew Saito, MFA

Playwright, theater artist, television writer, and professor with a practice rooted in immersive research and community engagement. Taught playwriting, applied theater, and theater history Andrew Saito is a playwright, screenwriter, and educator. He holds an MFA from the Iowa Playwrights Workshop, and was a Fulbright Scholar in Papua New Guinea. From 2013 to 2016, he was Andrew W. Mellon Resident Playwright at the Cutting Ball Theater, which produced his plays Krispy Kritters in the Scarlett Night, Mount Misery, and his translation of Calderón de la Barca’s Life is a Dream. Other productions include: El Río (Brava/BACCE), Stegosaurus (or) Three Cheers for Climate Change (FaultLine), Men of Rab’inal (El Teatro Campesino/La Peña), and Br’er Peach (AlterTheatre/Parsnip Ship), winner of the Rella Lossy Award. He teaches at SUNY Purchase, was a member of the ViacomCBS 2020-21 Writers Mentoring Program, and a staff writer on Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol, streaming on Peacock. Other residencies include Montalvo, Blue Mountain Center, Djerassi, and Arquetopia. Originally from Los Angeles, he has lived all over the world.

Education

MFA, Iowa Playwrights Workshop
BA in Ethnic Studies, University of California-Berkeley

Areas of Expertise

  • Theater Arts
  • Playwrighting

Personal Statement

Teaching writing involves taking students on journeys of self-discovery and self- creation. Not only does a writer learn more about themselves by tapping inner experiences as fodder for writing; through the process of revision, they discover and invent new talents and abilities. My creative writing pedagogy centers on encouraging, and challenging, students to go deeper in their material, and in themselves.

Inspired by techniques from Maria Irene Fornes, I guide students in opening themselves to receive characters, events, and locations that wouldn’t come to them through conscious thought. I instruct them to observe and describe with precision – the color and condition of clothing, the speed and rhythm of movement, the timbre and diction of speech. One student mentioned how impacted she was when her grandmother, long deceased, appeared in her writing. We all contain mysteries; I train students to access their own inner richness that may have been previously hidden to them.

Creation is destructive. Writing becomes good through deleting characters, scenes, and pages, to find the essence. A student creating an interview-based play about Puerto Rican dancers felt overwhelmed by the abundance of material she had collected. She didn’t know what to cut. I told her to look for what to keep by highlighting what felt most indispensable. Mining the text helped her articulate what she really wanted to say.

Feedback is central to my engagement with students. In advising a former wrestler on his solo play about his childhood love of Godzilla movies, I gave him praise: “The connection you draw between Godzilla and climate change is fantastic!” “Godzilla’s bond with his creator is moving.” But I also pushed him to make his work more personal: “I’m overwhelmed by fanboy trivia. Where are you in this scene? Be vulnerable.” As a teacher, I praise and challenge. Praise alone can breed arrogant complacence; pure challenge can invite defeat. By offering both, I try to build writers’ confidence to tackle increasingly focused and intricate tasks.

My own writing involves extensive research; I hole up libraries, and have interviewed people in Texas, Guatemala, Papua New Guinea. Inspired by my mentor Naomi Wallace, I direct students to expand their knowledge beyond their own experiences. I encouraged a student who adapted Medea to focus on incarcerated women to move her process beyond articles by interviewing real women in prison. She did, and her project became grounded and imbued with truths society often overlooks. I guide students in drawing connections among topics and events that are not obvious, and suggest sources that might seem more suited for history, sociology, and ecology classes.

It is essential for students to learn from their own creative processes. When advising a student on his play about his gender transition, I asked what he observed in each draft, and what questions arose for him. After he performed the play, I asked what satisfied him about the work, what felt missing or incomplete, and what new ideas emerged. It’s important that the feedback not only come from me, but students themselves. In the spirit of Paulo Freire, they become protagonists of their own learning and growth.

Reciprocity is a crucial skill. It is invaluable for students to serve as dramaturges on each other’s work. Peer feedback is also key; students learn to speak about developing
works in supportive and constructively critical ways. I push them toward specificity. During class feedback sessions, when students say they “like” a classmate’s work, I ask them to identify specific moments that struck them. I ask how those moments made them feel, and what artistic techniques the creator employed.

At the core of education is learning to think critically – about a scene in a play, an event in history, and even one’s own thoughts and opinions. When a student made broad statements about politics and race that were fueled by her strong emotions, I respectfully challenged her to back up her statements with evidence and facts, in order to strengthen her arguments. Given that she is a young woman of color, I wanted her to arm herself with rhetorical tools necessary to protect herself from critique and attack.

I center specificity and rigor in my teaching because I am rooting for my students. I want them to write magnificent works that take people’s breath away. Such artistic feats do not come easily. I want them to leave my classes prepared to devote long hours to toiling over single sentences and words, and tearing apart scripts to work out structural kinks. Ultimately, I want them to walk away ready to succeed.

Publications

  • “Writing in the Woods,” published by HowlRound Theatre Commons, 2017
  • “The Revisions of Mount Misery,” published by HowlRound Theatre Commons, 2015
  • “Between Me and the World” (memoir), published in Teaching Artist Journal, 2008
  • sociogastronomy, limited-edition handmade artist book (with photographer Victoria Heilweil), 2006
  • Editor, The School is a Giant T-Rex, Performing Arts Workshop, 2006
  • Editor, What Goes Up: WritersCorps at the SF Public Library, WritersCorps, 2005
  • Editor, Memories Like Night Falling: WritersCorps at Newcomer High School, WritersCorps, 2005
  • Editor, Fish Walking on their Fins, Performing Arts Workshop, 2005
  • Ode to my mother’s hands: poems, Self-published chapbook, 2002
  • Oda Corporal: love poems, Self-published chapbook, 2002

Presentations

  • Br’er Peach, Desdemona Chiang, dir.; AlterTheatre and The Parsnip Ship (audio production), June 2021 on; National tour partners: Cal Shakes, Bishop Arts Theatre Center
  • El Río, Edris Cooper, dir., Brava for Women in the Arts, September 28 – October 20, 2019
  • Men of Rab’inal, Lakin Valdez, dir., La Peña/El Teatro Campesino, May – June 2019
  • to all persons…, Jen Chang, dir., East West Players, February 17 – May 15, 2017
  • Stegosaurus (or) Three Cheers for Climate Change, Rem Myers, dir., Faultline Theater, April 1 – 16, 2016
  • Life is a Dream (trans.), Paige Rogers, dir., The Cutting Ball Theater, October 2 – November 1, 2015
  • Mount Misery, Rob Melrose, dir., The Cutting Ball Theater, May 14 – June 21, 2015
  • Another Fine Day in the Park, Chase Ramsey, dir., The Cutting Ball Theater, 10 April 2015
  • Krispy Kritters in the Scarlett Night, Rob Melrose, dir., The Cutting Ball Theater, May 17 – June 23, 2013
  • Evolve!, Myers Clark, dir., Handful Players at Yoshi’s San Francisco, May 23, 2009
  • Nuestra Señora de las Enfermedades, Lakin Valdez, dir., Brava Theatre Center, November 1 – 3, 2008

Languages

  • Spanish (fluent)
  • Tok Pisin (fluent)
  • Portuguese (proficient)

Website

Affiliation MFA in Creative Writing

Location Port Townsend, Washington

Role Faculty