Paula Cizmar

Professor of Theatre Practice in Dramatic Writing


Paula Cizmar is a professor of theatre practice in dramatic writing at the USC School of Dramatic Arts. She is an award-winning playwright and librettist whose work combines poetry and politics—her work is concerned with the ways cultures tell stories, and with those who are left out of the discussion. Her plays have been produced all over the country, in theatres big and small, including Portland Stage, San Diego Rep, The Women’s Project (NYC), Jungle Theatre (Minneapolis), Cal Rep and Playwrights Arena @ LATC. Plays include January, Still Life with Parrot & Monkey, The Death of a Miner, Strawberry, The Chisera, Candy & Shelley Go to the Desert, Street Stories and Along the River, Almost Winter, which was part of Lab Results at the Antaeus Theatre. Cizmar was one of the seven women writers commissioned by Center Theatre Group and Playwrights Arena to write The Hotel Play, a site-specific, immersive theatre piece that marked the 25th anniversary of Playwrights Arena and the Los Angeles uprising in 1992. It was produced in guest rooms and on the grounds of the downtown Radisson Hotel, during March and April 2017.

Her many honors include two NEA grants, an international residency at the Rockefeller Study Center in Bellagio, Italy, and a TCG/Mellon Foundation On the Road grant. She has had her work selected for Sundance, the O’Neill National Playwrights Conference and EnVision at Bard. She is one of the writers of the documentary play Seven, which has been translated into 20-plus languages and has been produced in over 30 countries — including Turkey, Lithuania, Argentina, Nigeria, Japan and Serbia — to generate dialogue about human rights. It was also produced by LA Theatre Works as an audible book and won Best Audio Book in the memoir category. It has aired on public radio in the U.S. and China. An L.A. Theatre Works live production of the play tours 27 cities in the U.S. from October 2019 – April 2020.

Cizmar has been awarded numerous commissions and has done several adaptations, including Antigone X, an update of the Sophocles classic set in a modern-day refugee camp (published by NoPassport Press), and Norteño, a darkly comedic riff on a 17th-century Lope de Vega play about a peasant uprising gone wrong, performed at Golden Tongues 2. Her play The Last Nights of Scheherazade won the Israel Baran Award.

Also a librettist, she was selected by the Adam Mickiewicz Institute of Warsaw to create a musical, Golden, as part of the Paderewski Cycle — book and lyrics by Cizmar, music by Nathan Wang. Golden is set in the turbulent times leading up to World War I. In the opera world, she wrote the libretto for The Night Flight of Minerva’s Owl, music by Guang Yang. The opera won Pittsburgh Festival Opera’s Music that Matters/Fight for the Right competition, and excerpts from it were presented at PFO in 2018 and 2019. A short opera, Invisible, music by Guang Yang, libretto by Cizmar, premiered in January 2020 as part of The Body Female Collective, curated by Velina Hasu Houston for the Eurydice Found Festival, produced by LA Opera Connects. In 2020, Yang and Cizmar were awarded a commission for a new opera by White Snake Projects in Boston.

Cizmar is a member of the advisory board for SDA’s Institute for Theatre and Social Change. She is involved in a number of theatre actions, including Warrior Bards (an Arts in Action project dedicated to using ancient Greek tragedies to help veterans tell the stories of the challenges they face coming home from military service); 45’s 24, a project dealing with sexual assault; and Climate Change Theatre Action, an international event where 50 playwrights from 20 countries, presented in 20 nations, spur action to address climate change issues. In alignment with the global CCTA, she produced a Visions & Voices event, CCTA LA – At the Intersection, which tackled the specific environmental justice issues unique to Los Angeles. It was presented at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County in November 2019 and featured short pieces by socially conscious female writers from Los Angeles including Cizmar’s own micro-opera A Hole in the Sky.

She is a winner of a Mellon Mentoring Award for Mentoring Undergraduates at USC and has produced multiple events for USC Visions and Voices: The Arts and Humanities Initiative. She is also a member of the Playwrights Lab at Antaeus Theatre. For more information, visit