This is the latest in our Meet the Fellows series, where the Dramatists Guild Foundation will introduce you to the current class of DGF Fellows. Each of these writers and writing teams have proven themselves to be leaders of the craft whose work we expect to be enjoying for years to come.
Since its inception in 2000, the DGF Fellows program has provided a home for more than 160 writers. Over the course of this year-long intensive, composers, lyricists, playwrights and bookwriters work with professional mentors, honing their individual processes while developing a full-length piece. Beneficiaries of this rigorous and highly selective fellowship receive stipends, development opportunities, and a foothold in the industry. Alumni include Anna Ziegler (Actually), Rajiv Joseph (Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo), and Kristen Anderson-Lopez (Academy Award winner, Frozen) among dozens of other vital contemporary theatre makers.
It is our pleasure to help spread their unique and promising voices. Now, get to know Oliver Houser.
What was your first experience with theater?
When I was four or five every weekend my mom would take me to a children’s theater in the Village called Miss Majesty’s Playhouse. They would do the same show in the morning and afternoon and I always demanded to stay for both. I had a crush on one of the actors and remember particularly enjoying her performance as a dog.
When did you decide to become a writer? Is there a writer, show, or piece of writing that was particularly influential on your path?
My family discovered the cast album of A New Brain when I was very young. We all loved it and it became our go-to car CD. That show, and all of Bill Finn’s work, left a major imprint on me. I knew I wanted to be a writer my freshman year of college. A ten minute musical I’d co-written was a finalist for a festival in LA and they flew us out to see it staged. Witnessing a group of talented professionals bring to life what I’d written during the first rehearsal made me feel an enormous sense of uplift, like I was connecting with others in a way I’d always wanted. When I left the room I texted my parents: “this is what I want to do with my life.”
How do you describe your work overall? What sets your work apart?
I like to write intimate musicals about self-discovery and people who get in their own way, and I aim to blend humor with poignancy and authenticity. I grew up in New York City and as a result I think my characters are inherently neurotic.
Can you tell us a little bit about the show you’ve been developing as a Fellow?
I’m developing a piece called XY, about an intersex man struggling to navigate his first intimate relationship. It’s a meditation on shame, our relationships with our pasts and the process of becoming who we are.
What do you find most rewarding about your work as a writer?
I love the collaborative nature of rehearsal—seeing others interpret what began in my head and bring it to life in ways I couldn’t have imagined. It gives me a sense of connection to others that probably drew me to theatre in the first place.