Spotlight on Julie Zaffarano

Julie Zaffarano and Destiny Cast.jpg

On October 8, 2017,  Julie Zaffarano’s play, "Destiny Is A Careless Waiter" won the Donna Award for Outstanding Production at the Pittsburgh New Works Festival Gala held at Cefalo’s in Carnegie. The play also garnered an award for Brittany Bara who won the Donna for Outstanding Actress. 

Zaffarano always loved stories. A few years ago, she and her husband Dave were working with a community theater and wanted to do a murder mystery dinner as a fundraiser. Zaffarano said, “I looked for available scripts and kept thinking, ‘I could write a better one.’ With encouragement from Dave, I did.”  She added, “Thanks to an experienced cast who covered up my novice writing mistakes, the event was successful. So successful that we took the show on the road and created a second murder mystery.” 

She said, “That was it for me – I was addicted. Murder mysteries are fun, but the characters are formulaic and the genre has limitations. I hungered to write ‘real’ plays. Armed with naiveté and a set of cool pens, I started my first full length comedy, ‘The PlayMakers.’ I had no idea how to write a play, but I had a story I yearned to tell. I bought a book on playwriting and fell in love crafting characters” 

She took her finished draft to a playwriting class in Philadelphia. Zaffarano said, “When I walked into the classroom, it was like an electric shock. I never knew anyone who wrote plays and here were twelve playwrights and the world’s most encouraging instructor. I felt like the kid who longed to play in the band who switched from an all-football school to the place I belonged.” 

The class was a turning point for her. She said, “I took more classes, entered a 24 Hour Play Festival, joined the Philadelphia Dramatists Center (a welcoming Playwright group). I read and attended plays – good plays, bad plays, intriguing plays.” 

Her play “The PlayMakers” had public readings in Alabama, Maryland, and New Jersey, but she continued to edit it. With the guidance of a mentor, she streamlined the script and cut thirty pages. In 2017, the “PlayMakers” won Best New Work and was produced in Philadelphia and New Jersey. 

Her second full length, “Kentucky Lemonade” was selected as a semi-finalist for the 2017 Eugene O’Neill National Playwright Conference. Zaffarano said, “I attribute this success to all the support from fellow playwrights and mentors.”  

Zaffarano said, “My experience with the 2017 Pittsburgh New Works Festival was fantastic from beginning to end. While I had written full length and ten minute plays, “Destiny is a Careless Waiter” is my first one-act (about 25 minutes). I consider myself extremely fortunate that my play was produced by R-ACT Productions.” 

She added, “The director, Mike Nelson, the cast and crew built an extraordinary production. It was magic to see the story come to life. Mike and the cast made some excellent decisions and I was blown away.” The playwright said, “When you see your work produced well, your body releases billions of endorphins that make you laugh, cry, walk on a cloud.” 

Zaffarano got very involved when her short play was selected for the Festival and spent some time in Pittsburgh getting to know the cast and crew. She said, “Some people like a celebratory drink after a show; I prefer a taco. I learned in Pittsburgh that you can pretend to be healthy by ordering a salad, but you might end up with a big old pile of fries on top.” 

Her relationship with R-ACT continued. Her short play, “Not So Charming” was selected to be part of the theater company’s Fractured Fairy Tales Volume 2. 

R-ACT Board Secretary Amy Joseph said, “I loved working with Julie, from day one she made it easy. Her knowledge and ability to understand the process made for an amazing experience. We've forged what I hope is a lasting and successful relationship.”

Mike Nelson said, “I had the privilige to direct. Her creativity and ability to create very human moments, whether comedic or otherwise, was very entrancing. I connected with her words easily.” 

Zaffarano said, “While I prefer writing full length plays, my experience with the Pittsburgh New Works Festival and R-ACT Productions reminds me that short works can be tremendously fun and rewarding.” 

Currently, Zaffarano is working on three full-length plays in varying stages of completion. She said, “I’m concentrating on strong roles for women and mature actors.” 

Zaffarano said, “I’ve only been writing a few years, but I couldn’t imagine a different life.” She added, “I would recommend entering the Pittsburgh New Work Festival to any playwright who enjoys seeking their work produced with professional quality in a friendly atmosphere.”

You can find out more about Julie at her website:

Mike Buzzelli