Orange County School of the Arts

Meet Tira Palmquist: Dramatist, professional poet, teacher, and more

Playwright, teacher, mother, and much more, Tira Palmquist can do it all. Palmquist is an accomplished author of several produced original plays such as “Two Degrees and And Then They Fell” and a teacher in the Creative Writing conservatory at Orange County School of the Arts (OCSA).

As students of an art school, one can forget to appreciate the overflowing talent and opportunities one has when one is constantly surrounded by it. Thus, we must take appreciation in our astounding teachers and their unconditional love for teaching us. Sometimes students miss gems sitting right there on campus.

To many, she is living proof of the possibility of a writing career and the reality of breaking into the industry. To the whole student body of OCSA, Palmquist is a role model of how one can each live off their art. Just to get a sense of how open and safe she sets her classroom environment, she has a first-name basis relationship with her students. She fosters a mutual respect between her students and herself, making her classes a magnet for every creative writing student.

Palmquist grew up a “house full of music and art,” which played a huge part in shaping her stories. Growing up in these small towns, we talked about her dad being a preacher and what it was like to be a preacher’s daughter. Her response was:

“It was stressful. Living in a small town, and being the pastor’s daughter can feel like living very publicly. Everyone knew who I was. Everyone knew my name. I hated feeling so under the microscope. Then, being a pastor’s kid brings with it certain baggage, and I fought to escape the labels that other people felt applied to me.”

While this background gave her a label, she was able to create a name for herself. She, in fact, benefited from it.

“Being in church was probably my first theatrical training. Sermons are theatrical events, the Bible tells lessons through stories– stories are, profoundly, the basis of religion, and these stories move us. Understanding that is the first task of all theater artists.”

Palmquist has the pleasure of being able to teach and do what she loves. As stated before, she had built a strong foundation in both areas of her life. Being able to attend an art school is a privilege and, it turns out, so is teaching there:

“First, the more I teach, the more I learn. Being able to teach playwriting is a particular delight because it forces me to evaluate why I do what I do, to model my advice in my own writing.

“Some people know that I used to teach at UCI, and I quit that job in 2015. I have never regretted that choice– in part because it meant that I could teach more at OCSA. I began teaching at OCSA when it was OCHSA, and when my daughter was a high school senior. I began to love it more when I got to know more of the students. You are all immensely talented and big-hearted people, and I get a lot out of being in the classroom.”

Palmquist teaching her Playwriting class.

Playwriting is a very near cousin to musicals– they both fall under live theatre. There is speculation that “live theatre” is a “dying art form.” Though Ms. Palmquist is not a big fan of musicals, she is able to appreciate their way of telling a story; though, “given a choice, [she’d] rather see a play.”

The speculation of the death of live theatre comes from the emergence of new sources of entertainment accessed through a variety of forms: television, movies, computers, mobile and the like. Though, the playwright is far from worried about her art being outdated anytime soon.

“Look, people have been saying that theater is a dying art form for a long time, but… we keep having theater!” she said. “Yes, people can get entertainment from other sources, but those are other forms.

“Theater can’t (and shouldn’t) try to be like film or TV. Theater can do things that film and TV can’t– and we should lean into that. There is something intimate and immediate about theater– something that can’t be replicated even from night to night.”

Furthermore, the dramaturg is able to dig back to her past into her stories. She is able to relate her personal experiences of her background into her work:

“I think back to going to church. It is a community and a celebration — in real-time. That, in a nutshell, is what makes live theater an art form that doesn’t ‘need’ to compete with film and TV,” she said.

Her lasting message to the next generation of writers:

“There are a couple of things that I think are foundational principles for young writers: read everything you can, don’t judge yourself against published writers, tell the stories that are important ‘to you’ (not to [someone else]), and pay attention to the world. That is, I think it’s important for writers to know a lot about science, history, politics, society, art, myths, the natural world… It’s natural for young people to be solipsistic (that is, to be focused on the self). I say: Look up. Look out. Think about somebody else for a change.

“Be willing to make mistakes. Make ridiculous, glorious mistakes. I see a lot of students intent on doing things ‘right,’ on doing things ‘correctly’– and the thing about art is that, well, you have to be brave enough to fail.”