When Erika E. Wade first arrived at SCAD to study dramatic writing, she had only written two screenplays: one in high school and one during her undergraduate years at the University of Alabama. Fast forward a couple years and Wade, who’s writer’s name is E. E. Wade, is now a Playwright in Residence for the Gnome Haus Theatre Company in New York City. It was at the Gnome Haus that Wade debuted her solo performance, “The Rhythm/Da Blues,” last month.
Originally from Birmingham, Alabama, Wade graduated from SCAD in 2016 with a Masters of Fine Arts in Dramatic Writing. She currently lives in Los Angeles and works as a high school creative writing and English teacher in Beverly Hills.
Wade’s first interaction with SCAD was at a college fair in Birmingham. At first, she considered applying for the university’s undergraduate program.
“At the time, I didn’t think I was confident enough in my writing,” Wade said. “I went to a fine arts high school where I majored in creative writing, but I had never really written a lot of scripts. It wasn’t until college that I started writing features, and short scenes. I actually applied to SCAD with a few of those scripts, as well as some short stories and poems. I wasn’t expecting to get in at all, but I did.”
The level of professionalism at SCAD is what stood out the most for Wade. The school’s location also offered her a chance to develop as a writer without having to move up north or east immediately.
“I’m a Southern writer,” Wade said. “That’s really important to my work and my aesthetic. I needed to learn how to craft dramatic works in the South surrounded by all the elements of Southerners that make us unique. I write other regions, of course, but being able to bring alternative images of the Deep South to the media is my goal. I think SCAD allowed me a comfortable environment to experience the discomfort of intellectual and creative growth. When I did move to the West Coast, I knew my voice and did not lose it to my new surroundings.”
On the topic of her first two screenplays pre-SCAD, Wade called them, “ambitious but very bad.” She said that at the time they were written, she did not have a clear understanding of storytelling.
“What makes people come back to film, theater, and TV time and time again? It’s because telling stories is the core of the human existence,” Wade said. “It’s how we relate to each other. It’s how we process the world around us. When you understand that, and how to capture the natural rhythms of story progression -introduction, rising action, climax – you can weave in your voice and your visions.”
For Wade, writing screenplays, or content meant to be shared with an audience, is more about making connections with people than pleasing oneself.
“Writers that write for the people are those that truly get that,” Wade said. “My professors at SCAD understood that, and they helped me expand my scope to include the people whose voices I mimicked in my scripts. If I’m writing something set in the Deep South, I’ve got to make sure it’s accessible for those people as well as any other demographics that have access to my work. I think I learned that in the classroom, but the experiences I had at SCAD tested those out of the classroom. All of the collaborations with other departments definitely reinforced those ideas.”
Wade gave herself a timeline of two years after graduating from SCAD to be where she is today. This meant she had two years to open a production of “The Rhythm/Da Blues,” to get a few rejection letters and to be able to support herself through her writing. Although she managed to get to where she is faster than planned, she is not patting herself on the back.
“Just recently, I sat down and made another set of goals to accomplish in two years,” Wade said. “These are a little tougher, but the pleasure is in the climb, not reaching the peak.”
In terms of how SCAD prepared her for her post-grad ambitions, Wade said SCAD toughened her up and taught her to be resilient and self-reliant in a career that comes with frequent rejection. The dramatic writing program provided her with a competitive yet professional atmosphere.
“I was admitted in a class with around four other writers. Only two of us graduated,” Wade said. “That spoke to the strength and intimacy of the smaller program sizes, but also to the individuals. I have my rituals. I know what I have to do to recover from lows, and that makes me appreciate the highs more.”
By the time Wade was a second-year grad student, she was a finalist for the MFA Playwrights Workshop at the Kennedy Center and had produced a few of her works.
“That doesn’t happen every day, but being introduced to such success early on made me want to strive for that once I left SCAD,” Wade said. “That hustle has helped me get to where I am today.”
As soon as Wade moved to Los Angeles, she joined a writer’s group and the SCAD Alumni in LA Facebook group where she received guidance from fellow alumni. Then, her collaboration with the Gnome Haus happened.
“Gnome Haus was founded by two SCAD alums, Topher Cusumano and Josh FS Moser,” Wade said. “They reached out to me to see a script based on a YouTube clip I had up. Then, they asked to produce ‘The Rhythm/Da Blues.’ From there, I worked with more SCAD alums, vocal coach Christina Ingrim and director Lindsy M. Bissonnette.”
Wade said she loved working with SCAD alumni because they each had the same intensity and hunger.
“Each person came to the project with ideas to help carve out the story and imprint some of their own experiences,” Wade said. “I love learning from others. The SCAD alum community is very nurturing. I only hope I can do the same to help someone in the future.”
Wade is now working on a new full-length play for the Gnome Haus called, “The Mad Mad Scientist Play,” which will debut in the spring. Wade is adapting the play from her own ten-minute script, a process she finds interesting.
“I can tell the places I wanted the original script to breathe more and where I might have limited myself,” Wade said. “I’m also working on more dates in more locations for ‘The Rhythm/Da Blues.’ I’m also doing stand up in LA to keep my jokes and performance sharp. I’m a multitasking hustler. There will always be multiple things I’ve got going on just to keep the craft sharp, but also because I love what I do. Writing is my essence. I can’t see myself not creating content.”
Wade also never underestimates her hustle, something she learned during her development as a writer and wants current student writers to remember during their schooling.
“Find the speed of your hustle and only measure yourself against that,” Wade said. “If you are constantly creating content, quality content that makes you happy as a writer, doors will open. The industry has changed. No one will be waiting for you to send in a spec script. You’ve got to get out here and network with people who want to work on projects with you. Even then, be open to the things they bring to the table and not just so immersed in what you want from your own life. Once you start getting into the groove of creating, you won’t have to look too far for success.”