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Artist of the Month - January 2014

Written by Shawnees Peacock
Arts Council Menifee Intern

The Arts Council Menifee Artist of the Month for January is Payden Ackerman. Ackerman, 26, is a well-trained playwright who decided to return to his hometown of Menifee to help further enrich the growing presence of the theater arts. That was after receiving his Bachelor’s degree in Theater Arts from Cal State Fullerton and Master of Arts in Theater Studies from Central Washington University. As a student at Paloma Valley High School, Ackerman had a strong interest in musical theater. The teacher who inspired him to take theater seriously was the well-respected long time drama teacher at Heritage High School, Greg Newman. “He is the main reason I am doing this today,” said Ackerman. After taking his first playwright class in college, Ackerman’s career path in theater as a playwright came into focus. “Playwriting is creating a world on stage. As the playwright, you’re almost an architect. You are creating a blueprint for this world that everyone else is filling in,” said Ackerman. “That is the most exciting part for me, seeing what everyone else wants to bring to that blueprint.” Upon returning to this area, Ackerman landed an Associate Faculty teaching position at Mt. San Jacinto College and in recent months has aligned himself with Arts Council Menifee’s Theater Division to help curate a program called “Pen to Production”. The first presentation from this program will debut in the fall of 2014. “Pen to Production” is a creative literary and theatrical process envisioned by Linda Denver ¸the Chair of Arts Council Menifee’s Theater Arts Division. Along with her husband John, who is a Menifee City Councilman, she hopes to create a play that would educate the community on Menifee’s history through the lens of theater. “The goal is to compose interesting material that we could use for a full theatrical production about the history of Menifee,” said Ackerman. “The play will be a way of examining our past through theatrical techniques.” The format of the play will use 10-minute vignettes, each composed by individual students of the playwriting courses. “These related vignettes which examine Menifee’s history may be humorous, dramatic, or even abstract,” said Ackerman. “It’s going to mirror the entertainment that people see in YouTube videos, such that each video is sort of self-contained and may also be related.” “It evolved from the idea of teaching the community their history, and doing it through a playwright class,” said Linda Denver. “The sessions provide the students with the skills to develop characters, plot, story structure and so forth.” Ackerman was able to act as a guide rather than a traditional teacher for these students who signed up for these low-cost playwright classes. Another playwriting session will be offered in the spring of 2014. “One very important thing for me is telling the story that you want to tell,” said Ackerman. “For a lot of these (Menifee) writers, it was the first play they had written and we really saw some exceptional work from people who have never done this before. It was a really inspiring for me, as teacher, to witness.” Ackerman gave the students the freedom to explore their own ideas and connections to Menifee to share with the public through an artistic medium. “With theater arts, not only does it draw together all of the arts, such as music, dance, visual, and the performing arts, but it’s also drawing the community together with all of those pieces put into one organization, one city, and one production,” said Denver. “[Theater] is a one-of-a-kind experience that brings everyone together in one moment. I think the strength of what theater does is to bring a group of people into a shared experience, and that’s valuable. It’s something that we need since we lack those shared experiences,” said Ackerman. “Coming back to Menifee was a blessing for me. I wanted there to be more theater opportunities when I was living here, and now I find myself in a position to be able to contribute to that, which is very satisfying,” said Ackerman. For more information on this playwriting program or the Theater Arts Division, visit, or contact Linda Denver via email at:

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