Brittany Fisher knew it was a long shot. Juilliard’s Lila Acheson Wallace American Playwrights Program, which offers tuition-free, graduate-level fellowships to developing playwrights, is incredibly competitive – only four or five writers are selected each year, many with several produced plays already under their belts. Three alumni of the program have won Pulitzer Prizes, two have won MacArthur Fellowships, and others have won Drama Desk Awards, Obie Awards, and Outer Critics’ Circle Awards. All Fisher could do was submit her application and hope.
A Richmond native and graduate of James Madison University, Fisher found her passion for playwriting in college. Her writing and photography have been featured in various publications, and her play, Red, was featured at the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival. But she knew when she graduated that she needed some time to grow and find mentors who could help her develop her craft.
That’s where the Cadence Pipeline New Works Fellowship came in. During its inaugural year in 2018-2019, the Pipeline fellowship afforded five Virginia playwrights the opportunity to develop new work under the guidance and mentorship of Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright David Lindsay-Abaire, himself a graduate of the Juilliard program and, since 2016, its co-director. Lindsay-Abaire and his wife, Chris, an actor, created the Pipeline fellowship program to draw on Cadence’s ability to find and foster new playwriting talent.
Fisher had been familiar with Cadence’s work for some time, starting with her stint as a production intern three years ago. While organizing props backstage at Cadence’s 2017 production of Lindsay-Abaire’s Rabbit Hole, she offhandedly mentioned to Johnson that she was also a playwright and asked for advice. “The fact that Brittany was pursuing playwriting as a career was thrilling to me,” said Johnson. “I knew that one day she would accomplish her goals.”
A little over a year later, after a competitive selection process, Fisher was named one of the first five Pipeline fellows. After a year of intense work with Lindsay-Abaire and the other playwrights, Fisher emerged with a finished play: How to Bruise Gracefully. The emotional and challenging work follows Vi, a young YouTuber, through a typical workday at a fast food restaurant that soon spirals into an exploration of fear, trauma, and inner strength.
|Fisher saw her play receive a staged reading last June at Cadence’s Theatre Gym. Director Melissa Mowry remembers the experience well. “Brittany is one of the most compassionate and humble artists I have had the pleasure of working with,” she said. “When we initially met for coffee, Brittany was so open to my experiences both as a director and as a woman of color. We sat in the coffee shop for almost three hours discussing her play, how it connected with me, her passion to continue her education, as well as my experiences in the theatre industry. We bonded quickly, and she made me feel so comfortable to ask questions, share my thoughts, and bounce ideas off each other.”
In November 2019, Fisher decided to apply to the Juilliard program, submitting How to Bruise Gracefully as her writing sample. She knew she was a talented playwright, but she also knew that Juilliard’s mailbox would be filled with submissions from other talented playwrights. “The application process itself is actually pretty simple,” Fisher said. “It’s the waiting game that can be difficult.”
Five months later, Fisher learned that she had been selected as a finalist. After interviewing with the selection committee via Zoom, she got the news that would change her life: She had been admitted to the program, one of only four playwrights. “I know that I share this dream with an abundance of other talented humans, and I’m just thankful there were people in place who believed in my work,” said Fisher. “I truly believe that none of this would have been possible without the stepping stones provided by the Richmond theatre community and the people who simply gave me chances to learn, spaces to create, and room to grow.”
For Fisher, her move from Richmond to New York to join the Juilliard program represents the next step toward her goal of being a working playwright. “I want to continue telling stories rooted in topics that inspire me and that I hope can inspire others,” she said. “I’m super humbled that I get to do what I love. But I’d like to think that the art I create is less about me and more about what it can bring to the people who so graciously take the time to see it.”