For Representation: Martyna Majok ’12 MFA

Playwright Martyna Majok ’12 MFA brings the stories of underrepresented groups to Broadway

Martyna Majok ’12 MFA
Martyna Majok ’12 MFA
Martyna Majok ’12 MFA
Martyna Majok ’12 MFA

Martyna Majok ’12 MFA is a Pulitzer Prize–winning, Tony Award–nominated playwright whose play Cost of Living made its Broadway debut last fall. But her path to becoming a playwright was an unlikely one.

Majok and her mother immigrated to the United States from Poland after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Her mother cleaned houses and worked in a factory. While Broadway was just across the Hudson River from their New Jersey home, theater felt worlds away, distant and inaccessible.

When Majok was in high school, she came across a leaflet advertising $45 tickets to the Broadway show Cabaret.

“I was hustling pool in Belleville, New Jersey, and I happened to win $45,” Majok says. “It felt like a sign. I went to the show, and it completely changed my life. I was so deeply moved by how the story did not compromise on the difficulty and darkness it contained while remaining inviting and generous. I had never seen anything like it before, and while I knew nothing about theater or playwriting, I knew I wanted to make people feel the way that show made me feel.”

Inspired by Community

As an undergraduate at the University of Chicago, Majok kept a pamphlet from Yale School of Drama in her desk drawer, a symbol of her dream to attend what she knew to be the best graduate program for theater. And after she graduated, that dream came true.

“Yale was magical and inspiring,” Majok says. “It was a special place that helped me hone my voice and purpose, and I am so grateful that it is accessible to people who cannot afford to pay tuition. Every time I return to visit, I can still feel the place buzzing with potential. It thrills me to think of the next generation of drama students and all they will be inspired to create there.”

Elevating Underrepresented Stories

In the decade since earning her MFA from Yale, Majok has written four plays, been nominated for a Tony Award, and won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. She is currently adapting F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby into a musical with Florence Welch of Florence + The Machine that will premiere later this year at American Repertory Theatre.

Still, Majok says the most rewarding part of her career has been sharing the underrepresented stories of her friends and family.

“I write from a personal place,” Majok says. “My characters are composites of people I know and have been. By putting those stories onstage, I hope I am communicating that our stories matter. It thrills me to think that someone could come to the theater because of the characters I’ve written, and it might open the door to them realizing that there is a space for their story, too.”

While her work focuses on telling the stories of immigrants, working class people, and people with disabilities, Majok hopes that everyone can see a bit of themselves in her art.

“We are all far more similar than we are different,” Majok says. “Somebody can come to a story about two undocumented teens and find their own high school friendship. They can see a play about a low-income immigrant woman who has to sleep at a bus stop and see their own mother or grandmother. Theater is about showing how connected we all truly are.”

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