Paula Cizmar

Professor of Theatre Practice in Dramatic Writing
Co-Director, Institute for Theatre & Social Change


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 creative output combines poetry and politics; she is concerned with the ways cultures tell stories, and with the communities who are left out of the discussion. Her plays have been produced all around the country, in theatres big and small, including Portland Stage, MultiStages, The Women’s Project (NYC), San Diego Rep, 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. Her audio play, The Vig (Inglewood – 90303), can be heard on The Zip Code Plays, Season 2, the Ambie-nominated fiction series produced by Antaeus Theatre Company. 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, and an L.A. Theatre Works live production of the play toured two dozen cities in the U.S. beginning in October 2019 until the pandemic abruptly shut it down in March 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 2019. The Prologue was produced as an animated musical work by Thornton School of Music in 2021. 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. Invisible was also produced at West Edge Opera’s Snapshot in 2021. Yang and Cizmar were awarded a commission for a new opera, Firecrackers, which premieres at White Snake Opera’s Let’s Celebrate! series in Boston in December 2022.

Cizmar is the co-director, along with Dr. Kim Tabari, of SDA’s Institute for Theatre and Social Change. She has been involved in a number of theatre activist projects, including Warrior Bards, an Arts in Action program involving veterans, as well as the 2019 and 2021 Climate Change Theatre Actions, international events where 50 playwrights from 20 countries are invited to create plays presented in 20 nations to spur action to address climate change issues. In alignment with the global CCTA, she created and 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 SDA’s Resident Playwright for Environmental Justice and has produced multiple events for USC Visions and Voices: The Arts and Humanities Initiative; in addition she has received multiple Arts in Action grants. With Michael Bodie, she has created and curated Sacrifice Zone: Los Angeles (SZ:LA), a documentary multimedia project that highlights activists who challenge the injustice of policies that fail to offer environmental protection to low-income communities. Two prototypes of SZ:LA have been developed and presented in 2021 and 2022. A live, immersive, full production of SZ:LA, complete with multimedia enhancements, is scheduled for production in Fall 2023, when an interactive website will also be launched.

Cizmar is a member of the Dramatists Guild, the WGA, and the Writers Odyssey at the Odyssey Theatre in Los Angeles. For more information, visit