Bass, now an assistant professor at Colgate University and associate
artistic director at Syracuse Stage, as well as the author of numerous
plays and screenplays, shared his creative process during two multi-day
visits to UD during fall semester. He will return in the spring to work
again with students.
During a week on campus in October, he spoke with groups of students,
including a class that had read his play Possessing Harriet. Discussing
the play and hearing the students’ well-thought-out comments and
questions was exciting, he said — “terrifying, but exciting.”
He also led a two-day workshop billed as a playwriting boot camp, in
which interested students were given a writing assignment, which they
then presented and critiqued.
“Kyle Bass was an amazing instructor,” sophomore Jalen Adams said of
the experience. “I really enjoyed the workshop because it gave me the
confidence to practice the craft of playwriting on my own in the future
[and] helped demystify the process for me.”
He said his primary interest is in screenwriting. He wanted to
explore some of the similarities and differences between the two genres.
That’s not unusual at UD or on other campuses, Bass said.
“I love teaching, and I’ve had very good students,” he said. “But
they often don’t have much experience with live theatre and they’re
often much more attuned to the idea of writing for film or television,
which they’ve been inundated with their entire lives.
“Writing for the stage is a really specific medium, and it’s
gratifying when you see students learn how to work with the smaller
scale and realize the vital importance of dialogue.”
That’s what happened during the workshop for Farid Frisby, a
first-year UD student who’s been developing his skills as a screenwriter
and never tried writing a stage play before. He said he quickly became
aware that the kinds of “outside elements,” such as car chases or
special effects, that are possible in filmmaking are not available to
“You are limited to the stage in a play, which means that your
dialogue matters at the end of the day,” Frisby said. “Overall, the
experience opened my eyes to a new form of writing that I wish to
explore in the future.”
When Bass returned to UD in November, he worked with actors in the
Resident Ensemble Players, the University’s professional acting company,
to perform a staged reading and audience talk-back for his play Baldwin vs. Buckley: The Faith of Our Fathers.
The play re-creates the famous 1965 University of Cambridge debate on
race between esteemed writer James Baldwin, who was outspoken about the
legacy of slavery and racism in America, and noted conservative William
F. Buckley. REP actors and a few UD student actors performed it on
campus in late November.
Bass said he created the play after seeing a video of the debate and
thinking, “These two men were both masters of using language. This
should be seen live.”
He transcribed the entire debate, including shouts from the audience
and comments from the moderator, to create what has been called a
The play, Bass said, “is not my words. It’s my arrangement of [Baldwin’s and Buckley’s] words.”
John Ernest, the Judge Hugh M. Morris Professor and chair of the
Department of English, said Bass’ presence on campus offers “an exciting
opportunity for students to work with an accomplished playwright over
the course of the year” in a variety of collaborative activities.
“We are blessed to have Susan Stroman’s support for this series
devoted to encouraging the future playwrights who will expand the
possibilities for American theatre,” he said.
More about Kyle Bass and his work
Bass is the author of numerous full-length plays, including
Possessing Harriet, Tender Rain, Bleecker Street and Separated. He is
the co-author of Cry for Peace: Voices from the Congo and the author of
numerous one-act plays and screenplays.
He is a two-time recipient of the New York Foundation for the Arts
Fellowship, a finalist for the Princess Grace Playwriting Award and a
Pushcart Prize nominee.
His current projects include a new play titled salt/city/blues and
the libretto for an opera based on the life and music of legendary folk
singer and guitarist Libba Cotten, commissioned by the Society for New
From 2005-2018, Bass taught playwriting in Syracuse University’s
Department of Drama and theatre courses in the Department of African
American Studies. He is now an assistant professor in the Department of
Theater at Colgate University, where he previously served as the Burke
Endowed Chair for Regional Studies.
He earned his master of fine arts degree in playwriting from Goddard College.
Article by Ann Manser; photos by Evan Krape
Published Dec. 16, 2019