Young Playwrights and Dramaturgy

Young Playwrights Inc. Urban Retreat 2012
July 14-22, 2012
New York, New  York

19 July 2012. Elizabeth Bojsza takes Urban Retreat participants through some of the characteristics, functions, and roles of dramaturgy. Image by Martha Wade Steketee.

A few years in a new city have already inspired for me repeat viewings of newly discovered events and productions and places and people. We return when we feel inspired, we return when we feel welcomed, we return when we feel that we’re of service.  And after two years in New York City, inspired by my established love for working with young people finding their voice in theatre (ah yes, the Goodman-AWJ Young Critics Circle program, let us replicate you), I return again and again to the delightful, delicious, enthralling and supportive Manhattan-based Young Playwrights program.  As reader of submitted scripts for their various competitions, as dramaturg for the annual conference of playgoing and readings for the winners, as dramaturg for their week-long summer program for young writers called “Urban Retreat”  – I’ll do anything for them. They’re that good.

This week we are deeply ensconced in  the 2012 edition of the Young Playwrights Urban Retreat and it is a wash of activity and a wonder to behold.  I have the privilege of speaking to the current group of 15 or so participants during, as the program materials describe it, one of the  ”luncheon roundtable discussions related to the craft and business of playwriting.” I talk about my experiences as a dramaturg (reading scripts, working on productions, writing reviews, working with playwrights) and am terribly impressed by the energy and enthusiasm and intelligence of these young people.

Read more: click here

© Martha Wade Steketee (July 22, 2012)

Original posting on Steketee’s blog Urban Excavations at urbanexcavations.com.

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Tectonic Plates and Play Development

Industry Talk: Literary Directors and Managers
Host and moderator Christie Evaneglisto with
Kirsten Bowen, Adam Greenfield, Carrie Hughes, Annie MacRae, Elizabeth Frankel
Thursday, May 31, 2012 at 6pm
Signature Theatre Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre, 480 West 42nd Street
event site

Signature Theatre and its new home at the Pershing Square Signature Center has become a meeting place of sorts. A fabulous airy open second floor main lobby, a bar and cafe with reasonably priced items open long before and long after shows in any of the theatres, wireless internet, friendly people. A place to hang, to meet, to have a chance encounter. A place to immerse yourself in provocative new and old productions perhaps enhanced by pre- and post-show discussions, special conversations with creative staff, and other production-specific programming. This evening Signature inaugurates a free Industry Talk series to discuss the business of making theatre more generally.

Read more: click here

© Martha Wade Steketee (June 1, 2012)

Original posting on Steketee’s blog Urban Excavations at urbanexcavations.com.

It’s Raining Dramaturgs: Collaborating on new plays about the BP Oil Spill

While I call Philadelphia my home, I have been working long-distance on a project for playwright Caridad Svich’s new play The Way of Water about the aftermath of the BP Oil Spill. So far, it has been a rich research project (that I will hopefully post about later this month as now over 40 theater companies and universities are reading the play to raise awareness about the two-year anniversary of the disaster), it has also been an opportunity to collaborate with other dramaturgs! Dramaturgy is often a solo act, so it is quite delightful when I have the chance to be a part of a dramaturgy team. Since January, playwright/dramaturg R. Alex Davis has been a part of the team preparing for the reading scheme in April 2012 and it’s been great to ‘divide and conquer’ as the research on the BP Deepwater Horizon Spill is quite extensive. Together, we have created both a research website and a blog so that all the theaters participating can access our dramaturgy.

Credit: Abigail Feinberg and Quentin Pharr
We were then thrilled to discover that UMASS Amherst was also creating new work in response to the BP Oil Spill disaster. Tasked by their Dean to devise new work to the theme “The Gulf Oil Spill: Lessons for the Future”, dramaturg Megan McClain has been organizing a festival for their Theatre Department. Not only did Megan arrange for Caridad’s new play to be read during their festival, but she’s also shared with us her research from the Gulf region. It’s not just ‘good timing’—but an example of artistic generosity and the spirit of dramaturgical collaboration. And if we also count dramaturgs Adewunmi Oke and Alison Bowie who have worked on these devised pieces for UMASS’s festival—that makes five dramaturgs concurrently researching and creating new work responding to the BP Oil Spill crisis. We hope you enjoy this article by Megan as we’re all responding artistically to the crisis by asking those dramaturgical questions of  this continuing national crisis. The BP Oil Spill has long-ranging impacts and these new works created will hopefully raise a dialogue of how we can engage with this issue and not forget those Americans who are currently struggling because of this disaster.—Heather Helinsky, freelance dramaturg 

Beyond the Horizon: A Devised Theater Festival

by Megan McClain

On April 20, 2010, BP’s Deepwater Horizon off-shore drilling unit exploded, killing 11 people. For the next three months nearly 5 million barrels of oil gushed into the Gulf of Mexico, negatively impacting plant, animal, and human life.  The full extent of the catastrophe’s aftermath is still unknown.  Though the news media’s coverage of the spill has dissipated in the ensuing years, artists and activists continue to give voice to the lasting devastation of this event.  Addressing the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill and its position in a long line of environmental disasters, the Beyond the Horizon Festival presented by the UMass Amherst Theatre Department seeks to use performance to map our changing relationship to the natural world and offer models of community response to ecological crisis.   Developed by a interdisciplinary community of theatre artists, musicians, dancers, and environmentalists, the Beyond the Horizon Festival offers three original devised theatre pieces that use the power of performance to illuminate the interactions between humans and the environment.

The first piece, What Have We Learned, uses letters, dance, and song to explore how the BP Gulf oil spill has effected the lives of those in the Gulf and beyond.  To whom it may concern addresses how we struggle to communicate during times of crisis in a world pulsing with the din of suffering, disconnection, and corruption.  The final piece, Nightingale, imagines a post-apocalyptic society in which natural organisms are strictly controlled and shows what happens when one bird throws the whole system into shock.

Members of the Beyond the Horizon artistic team are also participating in a reading of Caridad Svich’s new play, The Way of Water, presented in collaboration with NoPassport Theatre alliance and press as part of a nationwide and international reading scheme.  The Way of Water interrogates the BP Gulf oil spill by exposing the continued negative effects of the disaster on the health and livelihoods of those in the region.  This network of readings across the country joins theatre artists in a larger conversation about the hidden and ignored human suffering of those exposed to contaminated water in the Gulf.

Silent Spring author Rachel Carson once wrote, “In nature, nothing exists alone.” The same can be said of theatre.  Though theatre has been described as the site for exploring the human condition, that human condition is intrinsically linked to the conditions of all other life on this planet.  Theatre gives us a space to play out sites of connection and disconnection. It creates a place to reassess our destructive actions and celebrate the most beautiful wonders of the world around us.  Above all, it offers the chance to rediscover and announce what poet Mary Oliver calls our “place in the family of things.”

The Beyond the Horizon Festival runs April 5-7 and April 10-14 at 8pm and April 14 at 2pm in the Curtain Theatre of the Fine Arts Center on the UMass Amherst campus.  The reading of Caridad Svich’s new play, The Way of Water, will be held at 4:30pm on April 10th at Food for Thought Books, 106 N. Pleasant St. Amherst, MA. For more information visit our festival blog

What Have We Learned is directed by Carol Becker, dramaturgy by Adewunmi Oke, and actors: Ryan Hill, Tyler Appel, Shailee Shah, Corrina Parham, Jenny Jin, Tori Clough, Kathryn McNall, and Alex Dunn.

To Whom it May Concern is directed by Daniel Sack, dramaturgy by Alison Burke, creative consultant Phoebe Vigor, and actors Rachel Garbus, Tiahna Harris, Ella Peterman, Kevin Cox, Christina Mailer-Nastasi

Nightingale is directed by Brianna Sloane, dramaturgy by Megan McClain, and actors Anneliese Neilsen, Katrina Turner, Devyn Yurko, Samantha Creed, and Brianna Sloane.

The Way of Water by Caridad Svich was developed at the 2011 Winter Writers Retreat 2011 at the Lark New Play Development Center in New York City and was further developed at a Lark round-table reading in February 2012 directed by Jose Zayas, dramaturgy by Heather Helinsky, R. Alex Davis, and Suzy Fay, and actors Lanna Joffrey, Alfredo Narciso, Caitlin McDonough-Thayer, Bobby Plasencia. For more about the project: http://nopassport.org/wayofwater

Bringing In THE OUTGOING TIDE

by Carrie Chapter

In New London, CT, the Monte Cristo Cottage- the summer home of playwright Eugene O’Neill – provides the setting for two of his best known works, namely AH! WILDERNESS! and LONG DAY’S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT. If you visit the cottage, you can actually position yourself in the rooms as they are described in the stage directions for LONG DAY’S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT, and become enlivened by the world of the play through the inescapable world of the playwright.

Truth be told, the feeling you get with O’Neill’s cottage is much like the one evoked by his play – an eerie, sad strangeness- but my memory of it was invoked when director Jim Christy held rehearsals for Bruce Graham’s new play, THE OUTGOING TIDE, at Bruce’s vacation home on the Chesapeake – which acts as the very setting for the play. The actors could follow scene by scene on Bruce’s property with approximate accuracy to the text, which includes fishing off a shoreline, conferring at the kitchen table, and even watching the tide crash and roll in and out.

I couldn’t help but wonder how the actors perceived their “given circumstances” materializing in such detail – not to mention the pungent, wafting atmospherics of low tide. When I asked one of the actors about his experience, he replied, “It was really cold.” I do love that kind of frank, physiological response; it is pretty evident in the pictures taken on that day that the bundled actors braved a winter shore wind in the name of theatre. I did, however, have to ask playwright Bruce Graham his feelings on the site-specific rehearsal, to see what it was like to watch his characters move through his house and the world of the play at the same time. Unlike Eugene O’Neill, who cannot comment on his characters “ghosting” through his childhood home, how does a living playwright view this sort of enactment? With perfect, dependable candor, Bruce remarked,

“Actually, it was kinda creepy. I think I mostly stayed in my room while they rehearsed.”

Now, though THE OUTGOING TIDE and LONG DAY’S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT are both family dramas, the plays are vastly different with regard to tone – the dividing line being O’Neill’s sullenness and Graham’s humor.  So, maybe, it is not the reputation of the house, but more of the act itself, which makes the “live” text intrinsically spooky. The closest I ever got to having my own on-site rehearsal was in a graveyard on a dark October night for Edgar Lee Masters’ SPOON RIVER ANTHOLOGY – so, yes, in my theatrical career, the pattern of creepiness continues.

THE OUTGOING TIDE at Philadelphia Theatre Company. Photo Credit: Mark Garvin. From left to right: Anthony Lawton and Richard Poe

What makes this experience even richer, though, is how it has endowed the characters with a sense of place. Their performances are now imbued with a glow of fundamental home life, with the all its hair-pulling yet tender complexities intact. That is something Bruce Graham and our audiences can take pleasure in, the joy of watching the world of THE OUTGOING TIDE ebb and flow.

The Outgoing Tide by Bruce Graham, directed by Jim Christy, sets by David Gordon, costumes by Pamela Scofield,  lighting by R. Lee Kennedy, sound design by Bart Fasbender, original music by Robert Maggio properties by Melissa Cristaldi, stage manager Amanda Robbin-Butcher, director of production Bruce Charlick, dramaturgy by Carrie Chapter, assistant stage manager Danielle Commini, technical director Michael Cristaldi. Production runs until April 22, 2012 at Philadelphia Theatre Company at the Suzanne Roberts Theatre, Broad & Lombard streets, Philadelphia, PA 19102. 215.985.0420. 

WITH: Anthony Lawton (Jack), Richard Poe (Gunner), Robin Moseley (Peg)

© Carrie Chapter (23 March 2012)

Double Shot!: Two new plays from PTC@Play

By Samantha Lazar and Amy Freeman

Note: As a dramaturgy collective, we’ve tried to avoid reviewing the plays we’re working on, especially when it comes to new plays in development. You will often hear artistic directors of new play festivals ask politely audiences to not review plays that are receiving staged readings and there is wisdom in that. As Poor Lessing’s is in its first year, we’re trying to focus on projects that offer dramaturgs paying jobs and when the call went out to hire dramaturgs for Philadelphia Theatre Company’s new play festival, we wanted the event to be represented on our site because it was a program that employed area dramaturgs (more power to them!) In that spirit, these pieces are more dramaturgical musings, and not reviews. 

For a listing of all the new plays that were read at PTC (and full plot summaries), click here.

Famiglia!: Samuel D. Hunter’s WHEN YOU’RE HERE at PTC@Play

By Samantha Lazar

My PTC@Play assignment was When You’re Here, a new play by Samuel D. Hunter. The play, which is set entirely in an Olive Garden restaurant, is aptly titled, and anyone familiar with the chain’s slogan can fill in the second half: “When you’re here, you’re family.” I was tasked with reading the stage directions, and since I already had my deadpan down pat I was able to sit back and mull over all things “family” while the actors and director fine-tuned their lines in preparation for the reading.

When You’re Here is nothing if not a play about family: eight of the ten characters comprise two actual families, the restaurant’s staff weave the two together and make a clan of their own, and the play is set in a small town where everyone knows everyone. On top of that, the whole thing is infused with Olive Garden’s forced, if earnest, “famiglia” mentality. Just about all the themes and conflicts revolve around familial relationships as well. While this has certainly been done before, it never gets old.

Thinking about the popularity and prevalence of “family plays,” it seems they’ve been around just as long as the dysfunctional family has – the canon is filled with classics by playwrights ranging from Sophocles to Shakespeare, and more recently from Eugene O’Neil to Tracy Letts. Family is always in vogue. Why is this? Perhaps it’s because everyone can identify with such themes, whether they hail from the lap of luxury or a hardscrabble upbringing. Judging by the audience’s vocal responses to the reading, they identified with even the most unusual and unlikable characters in this play. That’s certainly one thing about family: even if you don’t like it or want it, it’s always there in the back of your head, for better or worse. And for that very reason, it seems like plays about family will always be there, too.

© Samantha Lazar (March 16, 2012)

WHEN YOU’RE HERE by Samuel D. Hunter. Directed by Kent Nicholson. Reading Friday, March 9th at Philadelphia Theatre Company. WITH: Davy Raphaely, Rachel Camp, Kevin Bergen, Amanda Schoonover, Tom McCarthy, Maureen Torsney-Weir.

Freefall: Michael Hollinger’s HOPE AND GRAVITY at PTC@Play

By: Amy Freeman

Life’s a bitch, but at least we can laugh at it. This past week, I had the opportunity to work with an excellent group of people on a reading of Michael Hollinger’s Hope and Gravity, part of the PTC@Play Festival hosted by Philadelphia Theater Company. The play, which consists of nine short plays fused together, is hilarious. But it’s also deeply moving and incredibly sad.

And that’s really the heart of comedy. You laugh and laugh, but if you aren’t crying a little inside when it’s all done, it really wasn’t a comedy. It was just funny. And we don’t need funny: it doesn’t go anywhere or make us reflect on the world around us. We need comedy. We need to laugh and in the end, realize what we’re laughing at and pause to think why we’re laughing.

A great scene that illustrates this occurs in Hope and Gravity. A woman has a meeting with her boss to discuss her health plan. Instead, her boss co-opts the meeting, attacking her for casting a white student to play Atticus Finch in a student production of To Kill A Mockingbird. In attempt to “diversify” the casting, the boss wants Atticus to be played by a black student, which doesn’t make sense. The scene is over-the-top, full of white people guilt and air quotes around terms that may not be politically correct. But it’s the scene’s end that hammers the point home. Sure, the audience was dying of laughter though the scene. Then the boss, the boss who tried so hard to paint himself as this sympathetic, super-PC character, denies the woman health coverage for her wife. It’s the knife twist that pulls it all together. Without it comedy, all comedy, would fall flat.

© Amy Freeman, March 12, 2012

HOPE AND GRAVITY by Michael Hollinger, directed by Aaron Posner. With Sarah Sanford, Peter Pryor, Jessica Bedford, Andrew Kane, and Benjamin Lloyd. March 5th, 7:00 p.m.

The Spark of microCrisis

Kevin Bergen (as Bennett) and Bi Jean Ngo (as Clare). Photo by Seth Rozin.

by Kittson O’Neill

I recently sat down with Mike Lew, author of InterAct Theatre Company‘s current hit play, MICROCRISIS.  It was a fun and easy conversation that ranged from the zombie apocalypse to Mike’s very impromptu conversion to Islam.  (Oh the things we do for love!)  Later reflecting on the interview it got me thinking about what a great range there is in the paths a writer takes from first spark to finished play; and really what a great variety there is in those sparks.

MICROCRISIS, which premiered at MaYi and is getting its Philly premiere with InterAct, is a scathing satire of the financial services industry. The play imagines a second disastrous bubble built on the backs of microcredit recipients, which leaves the world’s poor even more destitute, the middle class closer to disaster, and the ultra rich a whole lot richer.  Mike described his inspiration as a near fixation with the 2008 mortgage crash itself. “I was pretty obsessed with the financial crisis when it was happening and wanted to know what the deeper causes were behind it.” He said “I wanted to see what the root causes were.”

From there he realized how vulnerable we still are to bubbles and crashes.  He wondered where the next one might come from and realized that a seemingly virtuous movement like microcredit could be the instrument of our destruction and that that had serious comic potential.  Mike said,

“I also thought that anything that involves money that’s going to be for the greater good is going to end up getting co-opted, which it has.”

But how do you write a play, with live bodies and some human drama about abstract ideas like credit default swaps and tranching?  In Mike’s comedy, the victims and the perpetrators intersect closely, so that we follow the ruin of a Ghanaian entrepreneur and an American school teacher just as closely as the internet wizard and the clueless do-gooder who are the selfish banker’s willing accomplices.  We are laughing at the absurdity, but we also feel for them as the financial machine grinds them to a pulp.

Mike says his plays don’t always start out with such strong emotional arcs. He jokingly describes himself as a bit “robotic.”  Lucky for him he’s married to playwright, Rehana Mirza.  Together they run the MaYi Writers Lab and they often serve as dramaturgs for each other.  He credits Rehana with pushing his characters into more emotionally truthful actions.  “If you read (my first draft) people are behaving like sociopaths and it’s like, how can I follow this if I can’t invest in anybody?” he says.  She pushes him to think as deeply about emotional logic as he does about the logic of plot and action.  The result is a very funny play with a totally plausible plot driven by complicated financial instruments and a truly human cost at its climax.

Two separate ideas, both very much in the news, mixed inside a vivid imagination and guided by an emotionally astute dramaturg, make for a play that sits right in the heart of InterAct’s mission.  Lucky us!

Kittson O’Neill © (7 February 2012)

Microcrisis by Mike Lew, directed by Seth Rozin, sets by Caitlin Lainoff, costumes by Anna Frangiosa,  lighting by Peter Whinney, sound design by Mark Valenzuela, properties by Avista Custom Theatrical Services, stage manager Tom Helmer, production manager Daniel X. Guy, dramaturgy by Kittson O’Neill, production assistant Rebecca Dennis, technical director Britt Plunkett. Production runs until February 12, 2012 at The Adrienne, 2030 Samson Street, Philadelphia, PA 19103. (215) 568-8079 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting            (215) 568-8079      end_of_the_skype_highlighting.

WITH: Kevin Bergen (Bennett), Maia Desanti (Chavez), Hannah Gold (Lydia), Dave Johnson (Randy), Bi Jean Ngo (Clare, Beta Test), Frank X (Acquah, Frankfurt).

To find out more about Mike, visit his website: www.MikeLew.com.

To find out more about InterAct, and to listen so some of my interview, visit here: http://interacttheatrecompany.blogspot.com/2012/01/talking-with-mike-lew-playwright-of.html

Matchmaker, Matchmaker

Lately I find that more and more of my dramaturgical hat is worn before pre-production even commences.

One of my earliest theatrical experiences was playing Yente in my high school production of Fiddler on the Roof. And while today, I inwardly cringe at the very thought that video of that production exists somewhere, I seem to have inherited a few things from a certain Anatevka resident. As a literary manager and dramaturg, I have fallen into the matchmaking tradition (albeit a behind the scenes one).

June Ballinger and Peter Jay Fernandez in Passage Theatre's production of The History of Light by Eisa Davis, directed by Jade King Carroll

I have the good fortune of being the Literary Manager for Passage Theatre in Trenton, NJ and the resident dramaturg at Premiere Stages, the professional theatre in residence at Kean University. Both theatres are dedicated to new play development, focusing on first stagings like Passage’s upcoming premiere of Slippery as Sin by David Lee White or Premiere Stages Play Festival, which offers developmental opportunities to four previously unproduced plays and includes the new commissioning initiative Liberty Live. Premiere and Passage also feature second or third productions of exciting new work like Passage’s recent show The History of Light by Eisa Davis. Lately I find that more and more of my dramaturgical hat is worn before pre-production even commences. I think contrary to popular belief there are a great deal of inspiring, well-written scripts floating around in need of a good home. The challenge lies in getting past those awkward first dates and pairing a script and writer with a theatre where the play can grow and flourish.  It can be tricky–there are so many elements at play in making a match—What stage is the script at? Is the chemistry right? How will the play fit in a theatre’s space? Does the theatre have the budget and staff to fulfill the technical requirements of the writer and director’s vision? Will the play connect with and challenge the theatre’s audience? The list goes on and on.  And since there’s no ok cupid survey to fill out, those questions can be tricky to answer. For me they often start with the ever-mounting stacks of scripts that live in my work and home offices and inbox. I try and read and see as many plays as possible always with an eye for where can this script live.  For example, I first encountered Eisa Davis’ work while interning at New Dramatists. I fell in love with her excellent plays Bulrusher and Paper Armor as did the rest of the Passage Staff. That eventually led to finding a home for The History of Light in the talented hands of director Jade King Carroll and being able to give the show a second production. The play follows two inter-racial couples a generation apart and traces the intersections of love, friendship, music, trust, politics, and family. The show’s themes and amazing writing resonated deeply with both the Passage Theatre audience and the artists involved in the production.

My work at Premiere Stages is matchmaking on a very different level. Our Play Festival Competition calls for submissions from writers born or currently residing in the greater metropolitan area (New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania). Play Festival affords us the opportunity to get to know work from literally hundreds of new playwrights over the course of a few short months. It’s a very different skill set meeting a writer for the first time and pairing them with a theatre where in less than six months you could be potentially working on a production together.  Often the first introduction is a synopsis and eight-page sample. These small excerpts actually give a great deal of insight into if a writer is a good possibility for the theatre. We read them carefully and I feel a great deal of responsibility when taking a look at such a small snippet of a playwrights work. In an ideal world, it might be possible to read only full scripts, but sometimes due to staff and time constraints that is simply not feasible and this is the best way to extend consideration to a wide pool of writers. While the excerpts are brief (think of it as theatrical speed dating) a strong synopsis and sample gives a good idea of if the voice and subject matter might make a nice pairing with the Play Festival program.

No matter what circuitous route a play takes to reach a production, there is a definite satisfaction when all the elements fuse together and a play has found a theatrical match. I think the behind the scenes selection process is often clouded in mystery and viewed with suspicion from the outside. It’s certainly not an exact science and yes, there are times when a match sours instead of soars, but I hope that opening dialogs about how new plays make it from page to stage is a way to clear the air and pass on the tradition of ensuring that original, important stories find a happy, healthy theatrical home!

Credits:

© Clare Drobot (January 27, 2012)

The History of Light by Eisa Davis, Directed by Jade King Carroll. Matthew Campbell – set. Karin Graybash – Sound. Robin I. Shane – costumes. Lighting design completed by Nicole Pearce. Projections created  by Passage Theatre’s design team. Production Stage Manager: Anthony O. Bullock.  Featuring June Ballinger, Peter Jay Fernandez, Steve Kuhel, and chandra Thomas. 

For more information on upcoming Passage shows go to http://www.passagetheatre.org

For more information on Premiere Stages visit: http://www.kean.edu/premierestages

Smith-Kron-Jones-Daisey On Going Solo

(L-R) Anna Deavere Smith, Lisa Kron, Sarah Jones, Mike Daisey, 2 January 2012 at Playwrights Horizons, Dramatists Guild Academy Solo Actor/Writer Roundtable. Image by Martha Wade Steketee.
  • “Theatre is a vocation. It chooses you.” (Lisa Kron)
  • “A journey to absorb America through its sounds.” (Anna Deavere Smith)
  • “Getting audiences to the spot where they don’t know what the fuck is going to happen.” (Mike Daisey)
  • “In an organic, urgent kind of way … cathartic and inevitable.” (Sarah Jones)

The Dramatist Guild holds readings, panels, and other events for its members in many areas of the United States. As a member and now a resident of New York City, I frequently take advantage of these benefits of membership. When I received notice of the planned Smith-Kron-Jones-Daisy discussion about developing and performing solo work, I immediately reserved a seat. All of these performers have entranced me on stage or on film on represented by scripts they have written for others, so my fandom was invoked. In addition, the topic of the one person play (multiple character or not) with its special challenges of crafting dramatic situation and arc and drive has long fascinated me personally and professionally. A 2010 blog post reflecting some of these ruminations during (still ongoing) collaborative work on a one woman show about makeup artist Dorothy Ponedel provides some of professional connection that merges with personal interest.

So this evening, I settle into the comfortable 2nd floor main performance space at Playwrights Horizons surrounded by DG members and their guests, am welcomed by Gary Garrison of the Guild (who provides short questions to mark chapters in our journey), and these brilliant invested theatre artists take us on a ride.  I’ll provide some themes and rich quotations.

Read more: click here

© Martha Wade Steketee (January 4, 2012)

Original posting on Steketee’s blog Urban Excavations at urbanexcavations.com.

In Praise of the Regional Audience

“I’ve been warned that I’ve only seen the most progressive audience when it comes to Hilton Head Island–the kind of audience that will buy tickets for a whole weekend of staged readings in the middle of a tropical storm.”

by Katie Rasor

It was a wiltingly humid South Carolina morning  last August as I waited to give one of my collaborators a ride to rehearsal during the whirlwind weekend of staged readings that is the annual Hilton Head Island New Play Festival. “Yeah, I’m in New York” he said into a cell phone, giving me a friendly nod as he came out of the house. I was looking around the car for alligators and poisonous snakes that, according to the local news, Hurricane Irene had driven out of the marshes and into local neighborhoods, and I thought he might be confused. Didn’t he see the palm trees? Hadn’t he been privy to our days of panicked debate, pouring over weather maps and questioning whether Irene would force us to cancel the very festival we were off to rehearse? Do his producers in New York habitually crawl around under cars looking for copperheads?

Then I remembered: that pervasive notion that if it isn’t happening in New York, Chicago, or LA, it’s not worth doing. I’m not saying that my collaborator felt that way; I’m saying that enough people DO feel that way that it was easier to lie than to argue the artistic merits of spending a weekend creating theater in the South.

The blame for this does not lay entirely on any one group of people. Anyone who has tried to stage Angels in America outside a major city knows that all too often, less urban audiences tend to have a lower tolerance for strong language, controversial issues, and the avant garde. So it is understandable that those trying to create cutting-edge work tend to write for the most flexible, open-minded audiences to the exclusion of all others. Yet, after years of work created without the regional audiences in mind, its unsurprising that some audiences have begun to perceive the work coming out of New York as hostile, or at best, indifferent to them. They then complain about anything outside their comfort zone, in turn only driving playwrights further from them, and the cycle continues.

This is something we’re trying to combat at the Hilton Head Island New Play Festival. We speculate (however naively) that part of the reason the American South as a whole doesn’t seem to value the arts is that it does not have enough opportunity to actually experience them. We think that perhaps there are people out there that would find theater interesting—indeed revolutionary—if they had the option to see something besides Cats or whatever Broadway three-hander won the Tony four years ago. Maybe there are people who love Cats that would also enjoy something new. I can’t speak for the entire South, but I can say that for the audience of South Carolina Repertory Company, this is absolutely true.
When Nick Newell came to me with the idea of doing a New Play Festival in the South Carolina Lowcountry, Read more

Polly Carl, David Dower, Souls, and the Rooms We Live In

(L-R) David Dower and Polly Carl in conversation at the CUNY Graduate Center, December 5, 2011. Image by Martha Wade Steketee.
  • “I built a career by creating the rooms I want to live in and insisting that I have a soul.” (Polly Carl)

Speaking as much with each other (bouncing ideas off each other let us say) as with the energized theatre folks in the audience at the Martin Segal Theatre this Monday evening, David Dower and Polly Carl of Arena Stage share their infectious enthusiasm for the future of playwriting and institutional theatre-making and strategies of building theatre communities in the digital age.  Each has been performer or director or theatre maker in several cities across the country (San Francisco, Minneapolis and Chicago to name a few) and are now both located at Arena Stage in Washington DC — where Dower is Associate Artistic Director and Carl directs the American Voices New Play Institute housed there.  As Dower often states of the DC-resident Arena and repeats this evening “This is not a national theatre but a regional theater that happens to be located in the nation’s capital.”  This actors’ theatre is morphing into a playwrights’ theatre with the assistance of these two professionals and the Institute they are building with a small resident staff and a growing series of overlapping communities who feel some stake in its success.

Moderator and host Frank Hentschker asks just a few questions to get things going, then watches and listens along with the rest of us to the articulate and enthused pair.

Read More: click here.

© Martha Wade Steketee (December 7, 2011)

Original posting on Steketee’s blog Urban Excavations at urbanexcavations.com.