The TDF Sweepstakes is open. Enter now!

An online theatre magazine

Read about NYC's best theatre and dance productions and watch video interviews with innovative artists

Translate Page

They Fell in Love with Theatre Through TDF. Now They're Inspiring the Next Generation of Audiences

By: Raven Snook
Date: Mar 22, 2024

Wendy Wasserstein Project alum Gina Femia returns to TDF as a teacher for our Young Playwrights Program


The first thing Gina Femia said when interviewing to be a teacher for TDF's Young Playwrights Program was, "I'm a TDF kid!" They meant that literally. From 2004 to 2005, as a senior at Brooklyn's High School of Telecommunication Arts & Technology, Femia was in TDF's Wendy Wasserstein Project, a one-of-a-kind arts mentorship program in which top theatre professionals share their time and expertise with NYC public school students at no cost to participants. For Femia, it was life changing. In fact, they say it's why they decided to become a playwright and arts educator.

The brainchild of TDF and the late Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright of The Heidi Chronicles, the Wendy Wasserstein Project (originally called Open Doors) began as an experiment in 1998. Wasserstein herself took eight high schoolers to six shows on Broadway and beyond to find out if theatre could captivate the hearts and minds of a new generation. As she listened to the teens passionately discuss what they'd seen during their post-performance pizza parties, she discovered the answer was a resounding yes. Since then, the Wendy Project has grown exponentially and even won a special Tony Honor. Although it's been 20 years since Femia was in the program, they remember the experience vividly.

"My mentors were theatre producer Jack Viertel and his wife Linda," Femia recalls. "We went to The Glass Menagerie with Christian Slater and Jessica Lange. We saw The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, which was hilarious. Our teacher was Miss Mary Brouder, and they worked it out to have her name called so she was part of the spelling bee on stage. We saw Wicked, which was really awesome. And we saw August Wilson's Gem of the Ocean. We were invited up on stage after, which was so impactful for me, and we did a backstage tour. We met the star, Phylicia Rashad, and one of my classmates accidentally broke a prop. Those are some of my favorite memories!"

Although Femia grew up listening to original cast albums and was involved in theatre at school, they originally thought all shows were musicals. Then their father signed them up for a free workshop with Young Playwrights Inc., a now-defunct nonprofit dedicated to adolescent dramatists that served as inspiration for TDF's own Young Playwrights Program.

"When I finished Young Playwrights Inc.'s program, I was mourning the fact that I wasn't going to be able to do that anymore," Femia says. "Then I found out about the Wendy Project and applied to be a part of it. It definitely had an even bigger impact on me, because we saw all those shows and had those post-performance conversations with our mentors. I got to see how theatre was made. I learned how a play actually went from being written to being produced. Going on that backstage tour of Gem of the Ocean really shifted something in me. I realized I could actually create theatre for a living. My love of theatre just blossomed from there." They went on to study Dramatic Writing and English Literature at SUNY Purchase and received their MFA in Theatre from Sarah Lawrence College.

A few months ago, veteran TDF educator Crystal Skillman invited Femia to co-teach TDF's Young Playwrights Program with her. She had taught alongside Femia at other places and believed they would be a good fit. It must have been fate—Skillman had no idea Femia had originally fallen in love with theatre through TDF.

"Students have 12 weeks to write a play, and it's really about the art of getting it on the page," explains Skillman about TDF's Young Playwrights, which is free for participants. "Gina excels in that as a teacher. It's very rare that I'm like, wow, this person not only speaks my language and teaches the way I would teach, but they're also teaching me at the same time. I feel like we are the dynamic duo!"

In addition to being a prolific playwright, Femia is passionate about arts education. "I'm always seeking out opportunities to teach playwriting," they say. "Teaching high school students in TDF's Young Playwrights is exciting because often these kids have not encountered plays before. It's so great that TDF gets them into theatres to see what plays look like. I am very focused on how do you as an individual artist want to write a play? Because there's not one right way."

Femia realizes not all Young Playwrights participants will go on to theatre careers. But they hope to inspire a lifelong love of theatre in every single one of their students.

"I didn't learn the mechanics of writing a play at the Wendy Project, but I learned that theatre was more accessible to me, and I feel like that's part of what we're doing in this class," Femia says. "Teaching at TDF feels like a full-circle moment. It feels like a homecoming, too."

Learn more about TDF's Wendy Wasserstein Project and Young Playwrights Program, or donate to support all our education initiatives.


TDF MEMBERS: Go here to browse our latest discounts for dance, theatre and concerts.

Raven Snook is the Editor of TDF Stages. Follow her on Facebook at @Raven.Snook. Follow TDF on Facebook at @TDFNYC.