DG National Report: Dallas/Ft. Worth by Teresa Coleman Wash
Now more than ever is an opportune time to take full advantage of your Guild membership. Several DFW area theatres are providing generous discount tickets offers, there are exciting submission opportunities on the horizon, and we’ve hosted a couple of new play development workshops exclusively for Guild members.
This spring, the Dallas Theater Center offered a $5 off ticket admission to their world premiere musical The Fortress of Gratitude. The performance was a co-production with New York City’s The Public Theater based on the best-selling novel by Jonathan Lethem, book by Itamar Moses, with music and lyrics by Michael Friedman. The performance included Tony Award nominee Andre de Shields, Adam Chandler-Berat and Kyle Beltran. The Fortress of Solitude tells the story of Dylan and Mingus, two motherless boys, living in Brooklyn in the 1970’s. It is a story of soul, rap, friendship, betrayal, comic books, and 45’s. DFW DG members had a chance to see this production (at a generous discount, I might add) at the Wyly Theatre before its debut in New York. Other discount opportunities include offers from Stage West, Theatre 3, Water Tower and of course, the Bishop Arts Theatre. Check your inbox.
Each year TeCo Theatrical Productions stage an annual New Play Competition. Through a stringent submission process six local playwrights are invited to compete for a chance to win $1,000 cash. Voting ballots are distributed at each performance and for two consecutive weekends audience members are asked to vote for their favorite one-act play (the entries are no longer than twenty minutes). On closing night, all votes are tallied and the winning playwright is awarded the cash and bragging rights for a year. This year, TeCo received an intricately woven script by Randy Frank Eppes titled Three Guys In A Bed (it’s exactly what it sounds like complete with full frontal nudity) and although the play wasn’t appropriate for the New Play Competition audience, it inspired the powers that be at TeCo to create what is anticipated to be an exciting new event - an uncensored, no-holds-barred Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Festival. TeCo is currently accepting submissions for its inaugural LGBT Festival with expected run dates of September 4, 2014 - September 14, 2014 at the Bishop Arts Theatre in Dallas. Invited participants will receive a one-year paid membership to the Dramatists Guild of America courtesy of the presenting organization. Guidelines can be found at www.tecotheater.org/season.php. In collaboration with the DG Regional Representatives from the Houston, San Antonio, and Austin areas, there may be an opportunity to expand the event to a statewide 10-Minute Play Festival in 2015. Stay tuned.
Be sure to check your emails very closely for more discount ticket offers, submission opportunities, and new play development workshops. We’re also working on workshops with some of the country’s most notable creative luminaries. My primary objective is to insure that you get the most out of your Guild membership. If you haven’t already, connect with us on Facebook at DFW Dramatists Guild Members. We have a growing community of artists sharing opportunities 24-7. Hope you’re connected.
(Reprinted from the May/June 2014 issue of #TheDramatist)
DG National Report: Chicago by Douglas Post
“It takes energy to leave the comforts of your home. It takes resources to purchase tickets to live theater. We must provide experiences that make it worthwhile. We want to move people, make them feel, provide an emotional release or topic for an intellectual debate. I often say, Let’s hit ‘em in the gut. Not hitting them in the face. Not taking them out in the knees. Let’s make our audience audibly gasp. That tends to happen with subtlety and emotional investment. And, while I’m not a violent person, I tend to get very aggressive with and about art.”
So states Gwendolyn Whiteside, who is the Producing Artistic Director of American Blues Theater. For those who may not know, this company is the second oldest professional Equity Ensemble theatre in Chicago, the first being Steppenwolf. The watchcry at American Blues is to illuminate the American ideas of freedom, equality and opportunity in the plays they produce and communities they serve, and their 39-member Ensemble has over 500 combined years of collaboration on stage. As of today, they’ve received over 126 Joseph Jefferson Awards and nominations that celebrate excellence in Chicago theatre, and their artists have been honored with Academy Awards, Golden Globe Awards, Emmy Awards, and two nominations for the Pulitzer Prize.
“We are committed to developing the classic plays and musicals of tomorrow,” Gwendolyn goes on the say. “Since 1985, more than half of our mainstage productions have been World and Regional premieres. In 2009, we reformed our original company from scratch with no assets. We understood the risk of producing new work and decided to plow ahead anyway. We produce our own annual iteration of It’s a Wonderful Life, which substantially assists the funding of our other productions. Of the eight other shows we’ve produced since 2009, five have been premieres. These include the World premieres of Illegal Use of Hands by James Still and American Myth by Christina Gorman, as well as the Regional premieres of Rantoul and Die by Mark Roberts, Hank Williams: Lost Highway by Randal Myer and Mark Harelik, and Grounded by George Brant.”
Photo: American Blues Theater’s production of Illegal Use of Hands by James Still
In addition to these premieres, American Blues is committed to the development of new work through a variety of other programs. The Blue Ink Playwriting Award is an annual competition that includes a cash prize, a staged reading, and a possible production. Past winners include Elaine Romero’s Graveyard of the Empires (2013), Gorman’s American Myth (2012), and Stephanie Walker’s American Home (2011). The Blueprint commissions are also offered to select dramatists. And Ripped: the Living Newspaper Festival is based on the 1930’s WPA era program and incorporates scripts from the original Living Newspaper with new material taken from today’s headlines.
“We don’t accept unsolicited scripts,” Gwendolyn comments, “However, we do accept unsolicited ten-page samples. Before submitting materials, we strongly encourage dramatists to read our mission statement, research our production history, and see a production at American Blues to experience our interests and aesthetics.”
(Reprinted from the May/June 2014 issue of #TheDramatist)
DG National Report: Boston by Hortense Gerardo
The goal of the ethnographer is “to grasp the native’s point of view, his relation to life, to realize his vision of his world.” This same instruction guided my interview of three innovative young Boston directors.
Hortense Gerardo: Is there anything intrinsic to the Boston theatre scene that would make it unique.
Darren Evans (Producing Artistic Director, Theatre on Fire): Over the last decade, Boston’s theatre scene has developed a truly collaborative ethos, particularly (but not exclusively) in the small and fringe arenas. There is a real sense that we’re all in this together and, as they say, a rising tide carries all boats. There is a great deal of support in the community for talking up each others’ work, attending shows from other companies, recommending great actors and designers with whom to work, etc.
HG: What is your ideal scenario in working with playwrights in terms of communication and feedback?
Bridget O’Leary (Associate Artistic Director, New Repertory Theatre): My job isn’t to get the playwright to write my play. It is to help them get to their vision. One of the clearest/easiest ways to have a direct conversation about the work is to read the play out-loud together and when you run up against something that isn’t working or isn’t clear you can deal with it in the moment. So, I try really hard to be honest, but also accept that sometimes what I think a play needs and what the writers thinks don’t always align. The safest way to communicate is to ask questions about what they want and then respond with what you see.
Shawn LaCount (Artistic Director, Company One Theatre): Ideally, when working with a playwright I would also be working with a great Dramaturg. I am a collaborator and when it works, I love the triangle of creation that can exist between a director, writer and dramaturg. Additionally, I think it my job as a director to understand and serve the playwrights vision first, and eventually (hopefully) to help elevate a play beyond where even the playwright imagined it could go.
HG: Do you have criteria that guide you in your selection of projects?
SLC: I like directing plays that are impossible for one reason or another. I like directing plays that focus on characters who are not representative of the dominant voices in the American theatre or cinema. I like new work. I like work where the playwright is wanting to be involved. I like work that challenges form. I like work that doesn’t always feel like theatre. I like work that speaks to social and political issues. I like work that aims to heal. I like work that asks more questions than provides answers. I like work that has lots of different kinds of people in one play.
DE: I founded my company pretty much so I could direct the plays I wanted, instead of freelancing around. More recently, I’ve been seeking out plays with more diverse perspectives, casts, and themes and hiring other directors to work for my company. The plays I choose still need to meet the mission and aesthetic of the company, but that aesthetic is no longer bounded by just my own personal opinion.
BOL: I prefer when I can get in on the project early on so that I have a greater understanding of what the writer’s goals are with the project. I think it’s dangerous when we assume that because a play is new, anything we come up against in the rehearsal process is the playwright’s job to fix. You wouldn’t do that with a well-established play – you would assume it was your job to find the solution through the work.
In these enjoyable interviews there were numerous cogent points made that unfortunately could not be included. We can be confident that theater direction in Boston has a great future.
(From the May/June 2014 issue of #TheDramatist)
DG National Report: Western New York by Donna Hoke
In November, Buffalo-born playwright Tom Dudzick directed his newest play, Miracle on South Division Street, at the Kavinoky Theatre on the D’Youville campus. Since the play opened at New York’s St. Luke’s Theater in spring of 2012, it’s had—as of press time—nineteen completed or scheduled productions, including a Canadian tour. And given the sold-out houses it played to here, there are surely more to come.
While Tom was in town, he was kind enough to participate in a Dramatists Guild event, An Evening With Tom Dudzick, that included a rehearsal open to members followed by a public interview, question-and-answer session, and reception. Here are some excerpts from that interview:
Donna Hoke: What is directing your own play like for you? Pros and cons?
Tom Dudzick: All pros. Finally, I can talk to the actors. It’s so freeing! It’s been a dream. Buffalo has an incredible talent pool. And it’s such fun because the story takes place here. Everyone involved seems to have such a personal stake.
DH: What’s your playwriting background—are you self-taught or did you study?
TD: I’m completely self-taught. As a kid, I was enraptured with TV shows and movies, so it was a natural progression that I would want to write these types of entertainments. So an older friend of mine, John Cimasi (he still lives here in Buffalo), came to me and said that his brother bought a floating restaurant, The Showboat, an old Mississippi paddlewheeler. It was right here in the Niagara River. And his brother wanted to do dinner theater on it. Cheaply. So John said he had an idea for a show and that I could write it with him, write all the music, and even be in it. Of course that would mean leaving the security of the job at the ketchup factory. But that’s how I started, and it was very successful.
DH: Your bio says you are one of the few playwrights who make a living at it. Does this mean that you don’t teach or have other side jobs?
TD: It does mean that. I did have other jobs, of course. When I first got to New York in ‘79, I temped in offices along with everyone else. Then I took a full time job in a bank as an administrative assistant and did that for ten years. But never, ever, ever without the thought that someday I would write for a living.
DH: How did the ball get rolling?
TD: My writing partner and I, back in 1980, when I was camping out on his floor, wrote a play for a “lunchtime theater” in Hell’s Kitchen. It was a 45-minute, three-character comedy and we performed in it. And after one performance, a man approached us, from Samuel French—Larry Harbison. He strongly suggested that we enter the play in their short play festival because he was sure it would win, and the winning play gets published. So, no fools we, we entered and it won. And that little published one-act play became a calling card. It got me an agent. But my agent cautioned me, “Don’t think magical things are going to start happening because you have an agent. Keep writing.”
DH: Which you did. So what was your big break?
TD: That would be Greetings! And again, it was a case of having it seen by the right person. My agent helped me get a director and some actors to read it in front of a group of invited producers, and it clicked with one of them—the George Street Playhouse in New Jersey. They produced the premiere and started a larger ball rolling. I’m leaving out a thousand details but the main message is I kept the energy going.
DH: You have some great relationships with theaters, many who are eager to put up anything you write. Can you offer us advice about developing those relationships?
TD: Become a marketing dynamo. Use the miracle of the Internet to put yourself in touch with every theater you can. Send brief notes to artistic directors telling them about every little success you have. I emphasize, be brief. “I had a reading of my new play in front of 30 strangers last night. They went nuts! May I send it to you?” Keep meticulous records of every conversation. And write good plays.
DH: All of your plays are comedies; how do you approach that kind of writing?
TD: Dramatic situation first. A dire circumstance, a life-changing conflict. On a theme that’s deeply personal to me. Once I feel grounded with that, then, for me, the easy part is the comedy. Creating the dramatic conflict is the hard part. That can be a struggle that lasts months. But luckily I’ve got this funny bone. I’ve been class clown since first grade, so…
DH: What is your process? Do you write in order, straight through?
TD: First, the outline. Writing it all out in prose. The whole story, beginning to end, as much as I can fill in without getting to actual dialogue. Snatches of dialogue, sure. If a line comes to me that must be in there, I add it. Then once I’m happy with my story and structure, I start fleshing it out in play form.
DH: How much revising do you do?
TD: Tons. But it’s a breeze. The hard work is behind me now. Revising is my favorite part of the process. Even if it means throwing out an entire scene, twenty pages. You know it’s going to make for a better play.
DH: You’ve lived many places, yet you still return to Buffalo in all of your plays; why?
TD: It’s just fun to root the stories in a place that has a lot of meaning for me. It makes me feel I’m sharing part of myself with the wider audience. And it helps me to keep the characters on the page honest, too. They aren’t likely to make a false move if I’m there saying, “Cut it out. A guy from my old neighborhood wouldn’t talk like that.”
DG National Report: Utah by Julie Jensen
Salt Lake City’s vibrant theatre scene features a generous amount of new work, much of it by local writers. That new work, however, tends to come from a rather small group of local playwrights.
Our goal in this region is to enlarge the number of local writers whose work makes it onto local stage. Toward that end, we organized an event with some thirty-five writers and the artistic directors from six theatres in the city, all of whom do something with new work.
Karen Azenberg, Artistic Director, Pioneer Theatre Company, has just instituted a reading series featuring three new plays, all by writers from out-of-town. The plays will be given a weeklong workshop culminating in three public readings of each play.
Keven Myhre, Co-Executive Producer, Salt Lake Acting Company, directs a theatre that has always had an ambitious new works program, including over the years, a generous amount of development. Of late, the theatre depends more heavily on its reading series to attract new plays, often choosing from those readings a play to produce.
Jerry Rapier, Producing Director, Plan-B Theatre, is passionate about his theatre’s mission to produce only new work by local writers, most of it socially relevant. The theatre has a playwriting group from which much of its material for production is derived.
Fran Pruyn, Artistic Director, Pygmalion Theatre Company, explains that her theatre’s mission is to do work of relevance to women, though not necessarily written by women. The company has a reading series and frequently produces work from its own series.
Jim Martin, Artistic Director, Wasatch Theatre Company, sponsors an annual festival and produces very simply several 10-minute plays and at least one full-length play.
While all the theatres have at least a reading series, and some go on to produce plays from their series, playwrights were eager to suggest that new play development is not nearly robust enough.
Defining what playwrights need in the way of development comes down to simple issues of time, and of course, that means money. Three or four days of work with actors, a director, and a dramaturg would be a godsend. That time would allow for experimentation by the actors and director in addition to a chance for playwrights to write new material. Playwrights also suggested that a public reading or presentation need not be a part of the mix.
The evening ended informally as the ADs and playwrights discussed issues face-to-face over a glass of wine. Theatre people are a gregarious lot. The best way to make an impression is to meet them in person. And so we did, and so they did.
Playwright Melissa Larson and Fran Pruyn, Artistic Director, Pygmalion Theatre Company
DG National Report: Portland by Francesca Saunders
Christmas came early this year in the form of a great panel discussion with local artistic directors hosted by Third Rail Repertory and their artistic director, Scott Yarborough. The topic was “What You Look For In New Work.”
Participants included Rose Riordan, associate artistic director of Portland Center Stage and JAW Festival Director; Damaso Rodriguez, artistic director of Artists Repertory Theatre; Ruth Wikler-Luker, literary manager for Portland Playhouse and Michael Mendelson, artistic director of Portland Shakespeare Project (Adriana Baer, artistic director of Profile Theatre was ill and couldn’t make it at the last minute.)
While it was very informative to hear what these professionals look for in new work (more on that later) it was equally interesting to hear about what they felt were the pitfalls or “issues” they had with plays in early development.
Ms. Riordan said, “I don’t have anything to say to playwrights about what doesn’t work… oh wait, yes I do. Often playwrights submit plays that aren’t ready… haven’t had the first reading in their living room. Do yourself a favor and invite over some actor friends and read it aloud. That’s what baby plays need.” There seemed to be plenty of agreement for this viewpoint. Mr. Rodriguez added positively, “When the playwright has done their homework, it shows.”
Of course, there was plenty of discussion about the wonderful new work being done and the excitement one feels when reading a great play for the first time. Mr. Yarborough said when he gets “that feeling” as he’s reading a new play, he knows he’ll have to do it. But then he also admitted that of the first dozen or so plays he knew he was going to direct as soon as he got the chance, not all of them have made it to his stage… yet. But he’s still a fan and still advocating for the right time to add the right play to his season.
Ms. Wikler-Luker had a very different approach to new work. She said her theatre likes to get to know local playwrights. She feels meeting first with the dramatist helps her to better understand their plays and what they’re trying to say. She encouraged local playwrights to reach out to her and grab a coffee.
Playwrights stayed for quite a while afterwards and it was great to see the networking that was going on. I hope to bring that same camaraderie to southern Oregon in early Spring. We’re currently in the planning stages to hold this same type of panel discussion with Oregon Shakespeare Festival acting as our hosts. Our region is blooming. I hope you’ll get an opportunity to visit us sometime and see some great theatre.
DG National Report: Philadelphia by Tom Tirney
Several Philadelphia playwrights have found a home for their work at Iron Age Theatre in Norristown, PA. Its Co-Artistic Director John Doyle recruits writers from the region that give voice to his ideas on social justice; one of the pillars of the theatre’s mission.
Of course, social justice means many things to many people but to Doyle, “It is connected to compassion for the individual, dignity, and work. There is a leftist bent to our art but not in the sense of today’s notions of left and right.”
Iron Age doesn’t necessarily do overtly political pieces but rather uses historical figures and events that comment indirectly on how we live now. The theatre commissioned two new plays for 2014 that are typical of this approach.
Kate McGrath’s one-woman show Up From the Ashes had its premiere January 9 and after its Norristown run, it will move to the Off Broad Street Theater in Philadelphia. The drama depicts the horror of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire of 1911 and the daily lives of its teenage immigrant workers, its owners, and union organizers.
Says Kate, “There was no given topic for this commission but I’ve written scads about women’s issues. I found a lot of material about the 1909 strikes in Philadelphia and realized I was headed into women’s rights territory. Triangle connected all of that with worker safety issues occurring today.”
The Toughest Boy in Philadelphia by Andrea Kennedy-Hart is the theatre’s second premier for 2014 and will go up in June. Kennedy-Hart’s drama centers on Prohibition-era Philly gang member “Whistling” Jack McConnell who was actually a woman named Florence Gray. Featuring an all-female cast of five playing 25 characters, Toughest Boy draws parallels to the current state of gender politics.
John describes his idea process and how he works with writers: “We find our playwrights principally through commissions. I or Randall Wise (Co-Artistic Director of Iron Age) will have an idea about an issue or a person. I start talking to authors, playwrights, and theatres and just interview folks who may write for us. It’s labor intensive but our goal is always a production.”
The life and ideas of Thomas Paine became a feature-length play after Doyle had extensive conversations with Philly playwright Bill Hollenbach. Since both the left and the right claim Paine as their own, the subject seemed particularly suitable to Iron Age.
The one-man show appeared as Citizen Paine in Iron Age’s 2008-2009 season and the play has had an extensive post-production life at colleges.
Hollenbach: “You know the greatest thing that I got out of it was not the production but the acquired skill of writing a full-length monologue. The process itself was a great teacher.”
The collaboration that produced Citizen Paine worked out so well that Iron Age asked Hollenbach for ideas on another one-person show: “They put out a call last year and my proposal was Dorothy Day but there was a play circulating about her. So I forgot about it for a while until I’m singing the song “Joe Hill” in the shower and thought he would make a great show.”
Joe Hill was an American labor activist/songwriter and member of the Industrial Workers of the World.
“That’s the great thing about working with Iron Age. Since it’s drama, you can have politics and all this stuff in there that you are passionate about without an audience member saying ‘What’s with all this political shit in there?’”
John Doyle, Iron Age staff members, and the writers contribute to a blog here at http://ironagetheatre.wordpress.com.
DG National Report: Ohio - North by Faye Sholiton
Cleveland philanthropist and theatre supporter extraordinaire Roe Green celebrated a milestone birthday in October at a string of parties. Among her hosts were Kent State University, the Maltz Jupiter Theatre and our very own Dramatists Guild Fund, at the spectacular “Great Writers Thank Their Lucky Stars” Gala, where she was one of two honored Patrons of the Arts. When the festivities ended, she said, “Next year, no one will know who I am.”
She couldn’t be more wrong. Roe Green has already left an imprint on the theater landscape that will keep her name on grateful lips for generations to come.
Her history of major gifts dates back to her founding the Roe Green Foundation in 2003. In the early years, she helped renovate the law library at Case Western Reserve University to honor her late father, Federal Court Judge Ben Green. She also funded a shelter for battered women in Chardon, Ohio. She sat on community boards, including Cleveland Play House and the advisory board of the Theatre and Dance Department at Kent State (from which she earned her M.A. in stage management).
She demonstrated an unusual commitment to Kent in 2004, when she launched the annual Roe Green Visiting Guest Director series. Ping Chong spent several weeks working with students on the world premiere of Blindness. Other luminaries followed: Vincent Dowling, Victoria Bussert, Matthew Earnest, J.R. Sullivan and Ami Dayan, to name a few. Dayan’s residency staged his adaptation of Nathan the Wise, complete with original music. In 2010, John Cameron directed his autobiographical play 14, giving students a chance to explore the journey of fourteen gay Brigham Young University students who were “treated” with electroshock therapy in the 1960s.
Two years into the Kent program, she received a call from a student at the University of Colorado, her undergraduate alma mater. Would she donate $100 to their annual fund? She told him she thought she could do better. She provided the school’s first endowed chair in the arts. Colorado opted for a visiting artist series, bringing to campus writers like Lee Blessing with Two Rooms and his wife Melanie Marnich with These Shining Lives. In one serendipitous blending of two programs, she arranged for 14 to be restaged in Colorado.
In 2006, when Kent needed $13 million to expand its Music and Speech Building to create state-of-the-art performance space and shops, one donor stepped in to pledge half that amount. The Roe Green Center for the School of Theatre and Dance opened in 2010. There was a party for that, too.
The celebrations always include her students, several of whom she “adopts” each summer from the production staff at Porthouse Theatre. She forges personal relationships that ultimately help students with both their lives and careers. She has flown to New York to see their auditions.
But her generosity goes well beyond the campus. When Michael Bloom became artistic director of Cleveland Play House in 2003 and dreamed of producing a multidisciplinary festival of new work, Roe Green stepped up with $100,000 for the first year. It’s a gift she has renewed every year since, leading to the current New Ground Festival. In 2011, she added yet another dimension to her Play House giving: an annual Roe Green New Play Prize. Knowing that awards and readings go only so far, she hopes that her support of new work soon includes funding to help produce these award-winning plays.
Elsewhere, this tireless benefactor has supported the annual play reading festival at Chautauqua Institute. And at her winter home in Jupiter, Florida, she recently funded the opening of an upstairs space at the Maltz Jupiter Theater. The aptly named Green Room now serves as a venue for significant public and private functions.
What’s her motivation, you might ask. It began as a love of theater that dates back to her college days and the unbridled support of two loving parents. Now, she says, it’s about keeping the theatre alive and well.
“With all the computers and gadgets available today, people are going to forget how to write or how to talk,” she says. She fears that an emphasis on science poses another threat to culture. “People forget what a scientist does to relax,” she says. “You have to have the arts. It’s what makes us human. Besides,” she adds, “where do they think their ideas come from?”
Roe Green’s story is not meant as a call for proposals. She funds projects only after long affiliations with organizations. But it does demonstrate how one woman can make a difference in so many lives. And that’s something to celebrate.
Roe Green. Photo by Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images for Dramatists Guild Fund