Thank you to those of you who attended the first ever Problematic Play Festival in October 2018. We are working to bring back the festival next year. Please consider making a donation to help make it happen!

Z Space presents:

Problematic Play Festival

October 12-14, 2018 at Z Below

Z Space is proud (and a little nervous) to present the inaugural Problematic Play Festival.

The staged reading series will present three ambitious and provocative plays that have been deemed “problematic” by certain theater industry gatekeepers (producers, artistic directors, literary managers, funders) due to content believed to be too offensive or controversial to produce. Each staged reading will include facilitated discussions before, during, and after the reading with the playwrights, actors, directors, and audience.

Throughout this process and festival, we are asking two key questions: What makes something too “problematic” to produce? What do each of us (individually as audiences, artists, and producers) mean by “problematic”?

This year’s selected plays contain such “problematic” challenges as presenting graphic violence and nudity on stage, telling a story about the gray areas around consent and coercion, and confronting transphobia and polyphobia within the queer community.


Friday, October 12 at 8pm: Phosphorescence by Cory Hinkle, directed by Michael French
Saturday, October 13 at 8pm: Ripped by Rachel Bublitz, directed by Lisa Steindler
Sunday, October 14 at 5pm: Refuge by Rachel Lynett, directed by Brady Brophy-Hilton

Free to the public with suggested donation. RSVP's strongly encouraged. Book reservations for the individual plays at the menu to the left.

Content Advisory: As this is a Problematic Play Festival, works include content that could be potentially upsetting. If you have a specific question or concern, please contact us directly.

The Questions

Each discussion will be focused on the specific play that is being read, with the playwright, director, and actors taking part in that discussion, moderated by a facilitator.

Prior to and throughout the festival, we also invite audiences to consider these questions:

  • What does “problematic” mean to you?

  • How do we individually respond to work that confronts our value system in a certain way? How does one communicate with someone whose beliefs are far from their own?

  • Who gets to be comfortable?

  • How do we distinguish between challenging an audience and harming an audience?

  • Who has artistic freedom? Who deserves artistic freedom?  

  • When is the “problematic” label used by producers to avoid risk? When is it used to embrace risk?

The Process and Vision

The idea of the festival originated from discussions between Rose Oser and playwright Jake Jeppson about the tension that exists in the American Theater between wanting to create meaningful work that speaks to our society’s truths while also being wary of material that offends our sensibilities as practitioners and audience members alike.

To unpack that tension, we began asking what it means for work to be “problematic.” It turns out the answer isn’t an easy one to find. So then we had a second idea: what if we gathered plays that had been deemed “problematic” by the theater community and investigated what it was about those plays that caused gatekeepers to turn away from them in favor of other material.

Through an open submission process that went live in February 2018, Z Space announced the Problematic Play Festival and received 175 submissions from playwrights all over the country. Each playwright was asked to include a cover letter detailing why their play was viewed as “problematic” to themselves or others, and any relevant rejection letters from theater gatekeepers.

A group of 10 readers conducted two rounds of evaluations and selected three to stage (and 6 other finalists to be recognized-- listed below). During the evaluation process, the readers responded to these questions: What does this script do to you personally-- does it provoke, scare, challenge, push you? Would this script be "problematic" to a Bay Area audience? What questions would you want to discuss with the playwright and/or audience?

Of course, we have faced our own complications throughout the process as we encounter the opportunities and challenges of producing “problematic” works. We are pushing ourselves as an organization while acknowledging the limitations of our company and our responsibilities as a non-profit theater. This festival is as much a scrutiny of our own systems as it is of any other.

The 2018 Finalists

Kate Cortesi                    One More Less
Josh Drimmer                 Lady in the Cage
Michael Feldman            The Old South
Ted Malawer                   Daddy Issues: a gay romp through history starring Adolf Hitler
Radha Menon                 Learning to Swim
Mike Solomonson          Invasions and Penetrations


The festival is generously supported by a LMDA Bly Creative Capacity Grant and the Venturous Theater Fund.

The steering committee for 2018 is a mix of artists and arts professionals, including: Jake Jeppson, Shafer Mazow, Rose Oser, Abigail Panares, Radhika Rao, and Rebecca Struch.

If you have questions about the festival, please email Associate Artistic Director Rose Oser at