Sheila Cowley

Sheila Cowley is a playwright and audio producer based in St. Petersburg.

Current projects include collaborative work with choreographers Helen Hansen French and Paula Kramer. . . The Burlesque Astronomy Play about women, science and art. . . plays onstage in Charleston, Austin, NYC, Dubai and Sydney. . . and new plays involving movement, sound, music, gender roles, warfare and aging.

Sheila Cowley is a 2018 Creative Pinellas Professional Artist Grantee and was chosen by the St Pete Arts Alliance as the city’s 2018 Literary Muse.

Her play Flying, about women who flew military planes in WWII, was featured in new play festivals in Chicago, Austin, the Piccolo Spoleto and American Stage’s 21st Century Voices Festival. Flying was produced in upstate New York, followed by a co-production with Tampa Rep and The Studio@620 that made Creative Loafing’s list of “The 10 Best Arts, Culture and Entertainment-y Things of 2017” and the Creative Pinellas feature, “2017 Best in Shows – A Year of Creative Collaboration.”

Sheila and her husband Matt produce audio tours for The Dalí Museum and created the Accessible Audible SHINE Mural Tour for the St. Petersburg Arts Alliance, with vivid descriptions geared for visually-impaired visitors.

Sheila produces Arts In, the Creative Pinellas podcast series of conversations with visual, literary and performing artists.



Artist’s Blog


May 4. . . Trio in Austin, Duck and Burlesque

May 4. . . Trio in Austin, Duck and Burlesque

Trio closed in Austin this week, with a good amount of press coverage and a wealth of lovely photos by photographer Steve Rogers.

The cast wound up making masks on Austin TV, which everyone enjoyed.

Trio made the cover of the Austin-American Statesman’s arts section, in a lovely article about The Filigree Theatre’s first season by reporter Andrew Friedenthal, who also reviewed the play.

In St Pete, I make a start on our fall Madness workshop with choreographer Paula Kramer, and we arrange a time for us to talk with director Dan Granke next week.

I also talk with City Theatre director Gail Garrisan, who’s directing my short play Duck in Miami’s Summer Shorts Festival. She directed Flowers a few years ago at Miami’s Pigs Do Fly Productions, and is a lovely person we got to know through the CityWrights playwriting conference.

We go over the script on the phone and Gail has a lot of good questions. I make notes on where I need to clarify some lines, and send her a new draft.

City Theatre asked all the playwrights to film a short promotional video talking about their play. Thankfully, I can rely on film actor and on-camera acting teacher Eugenie Bondurant, since I have no idea what to do and she’s a pro.

I write up a script, Eugenie looks it over and I show up wearing a shirt she chose for my headshots a couple years ago, thankfully taken by the amazing dance photographer Tom Kramer. We do a few takes of each section on her porch in the breeze, then move inside to her studio.

I’m not a fan of being on camera, but Eugenie is wonderfully encouraging and knows how to bring out the best in people on film. She sends me a list of shots to choose from, and knows full well which ones came out best. Eugenie kindly lets me weigh in on which takes to use, and edits them together to send to City Theatre.

Closing in on a new draft of The Burlesque Astronomy Play, using Dana Lynn Formby’s wonderfully helpful mapping technique. She taught us to draw up a chart of recurring themes and actions in a play, so you can see where you need more or less of something – or where you set up an idea but didn’t keep it up throughout the script.

I now make sure to create colorful and complex charts of what is happening when, using her very helpful tool to keep track of all the many threads woven through a full-length play.


April 27. . . Trio in Austin, and Perception Shift

This week we head to Austin for Trio’s premiere at The Filigree Theatre. Early in the week, director Elizabeth V. Newman asks me to write the playwright’s notes for the show, the first time anyone’s asked me to do that. There are more people to thank for helping with Trio’s development than I can fit. The cast appears on Austin TV, and gets a couple nice mentions in the local papers.

photo by Steve Rogers

Before we go, Alex Jones and I get together to talk about Perception Shift, the dance-theatre piece he’s commissioned me to write for a Collective Soles performance next year. Four choreographers will work on the piece from different angles, and Alex and I talk about the heart of the play, the last images the audience will see.

It’s a helpful conversation, our first time looking at my first rough draft and wrangling over the complex structure he’s asked me to work with. Once again, my script is filled with notes. And through talking over the scene I’ve written, we catch a glimpse of how things might look and sound, with actors’ voices and dancers’ bodies mingling. For Alex, it’s not just verbs, but painting a picture.

He says, “I like that it’s funny and it’s not,” and I’m very to hear it, because I do, too.

We talk about creating all the roles as gender-neutral, race-neutral and age-neutral, which is important to both of us. And Alex explains the concept of “retrograding,” dancing a move backwards, to help with foreshadowing.

I’m still rewriting The Burlesque Astronomy Play. Amid that, I get a lovely email that Flying is one of five finalists out of 500 submissions for the David Calicchio Emerging American Playwright Prize, at Marin Theatre Company in California.

photo by Steve Rogers

In Austin, it’s Trio’s opening night at a lovely arts space The Filigree Theatre is renting, that’s not unlike The Studio@620, The Santa Cruz Theatre. The theatre was built for dance, with a stage high enough that you can see the dancers’ feet.

In a wonderful surprise, the play starts in the dark, with the Trio of silent clowns approaching from the side, with lanterns. It’s a magical moment, and a beautiful production.

photo by Steve Rogers

I get to watch the play on Friday night, amid a warm welcome from the cast and creative team. It’s a potent thing to see words that have been on a page for years come to life.

On Saturday night, we have a burst of serendipity when Matt sees a poster at Book People for the Texas Burlesque Festival. It’s a wild, bold and classy performance in a beautiful historic theatre, and we go and do some research.

I come back to Trio on Sunday with my notebook, to see it again and make notes of where I can tighten things up. We have a vibrant talkback with the audience, who share a lot of helpful thoughts about what they enjoyed and where I still need to clarify the shifts between real and surreal.

And I find out that actor Eva McQuade’s next project is a riff on Carmen with an all-Latinx cast performing a devised theatre piece exploring borders, labor, gender and love. It’s billed as, “Love! Passion! Telenovela Drag Queens!”

It’s just too bad we have to leave before it opens.


April 20. . . Trio, Duck, Perception Shift

April 20. . . Trio, Duck, Perception Shift

Sending scripts out to development and production opportunities this week, like every week, and working on rewrites of The Burlesque Astronomy Play. Plus a cheery phone interview with the Austin American Statesman, for an article Andrew Friedenthal is writing about The Filigree Theatre’s inaugural season, that’s closing out with Trio.

Andrew’s a nice guy and has given glowing reviews of Filigree’s first two productions, Harold Pinter’s Betrayal and Anna Ziegler’s A Delicate Ship. So I’m hoping Trio won’t break their streak.

I talk with him about Trio’s development and the New Play Exchange, where Artistic Director Elizabeth V. Newman discovered the script. The NPX is a project of the National New Play Network, a website where playwrights can share scripts, theatres can search for scripts that suit their needs, and anyone can sign up to read and recommend new scripts. I’ve discovered so many amazing plays and playwrights on the NPX.

Here’s a copy of Andrew’s article, “Planning, Artistic Vision Guide Filigree Theatre Through First Season.” The pleasant surprise is that The Filigree Theatre isn’t the only theatre company in Austin that’s run by women.

This week I get a note from Miami’s City Theatre, who produce one of the country’s best 10-minute play festivals. They’d like to produce Duck during this year’s Summer Shorts. I submitted Duck four years ago and thought it had been long rejected, so it’s wonderful to hear that it’ll be part of this year’s festival – they’re lovely people and very kind to playwrights.

I get an idea for Alex Jones’ commission for Collective Soles. He asked me for a scene that’s real, and true, but that will get misinterpreted and misunderstood and lead to a discussion of perceptions and biases.

I need to write the scene that’s true, plus dialogue for the misunderstandings, which will be interpreted in very different ways by several choreographers. One of the choreographers is Sean McDonald, who was part of the St Pete Arts Alliance’s workshop of Trio last summer at The Studio@620, so it’s great to get the chance to work with him again.

I make a start on the true scene for Perception Shift, taking the title from our Chicago Dramatists class with Dana Lynn Formby. We talked a lot about perception shifts in plays, when a character thinks the world is one way but something is revealed that makes them realize the world is very different, or they are.

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