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
DG National Report: North Carolina by Kim Stinson
The 2013-14 season has been a good one for original work on North Carolina stages. At least three significant productions have taken place across the state. North Carolina Stage Company in Asheville, Triad Stage in Greensboro and The Hickory Community Theatre in Hickory have all presented new plays to their audiences.
In the mountains, North Carolina Stage Company is a professional theatre company in its twelfth season. Its production of Stalking the Bogeyman adapted by Markus Potter was a world premiere in the fall of 2013. The play, a drama revolving around the topic of revenge against a child molester, is based on a true story.
Charlie Flynn-McIver, Artistic Director, said that they, ”got more response via email, twitter, Facebook, letters to the editor and even people stopping me on the street, than we have gotten for any other show we’ve ever done.”
Moving forward to the holiday season, Triad Stage in the piedmont triad area of the state gave us a break from the same old, same old of A Christmas Carol and The Nutcracker by premiering a new Christmas play, The Snow Queen. Written by the professional company’s artistic director, Preston Lane, the play is adapted from the Hans Christian Anderson tale and takes on an Appalachian flavor. Composer and lyricist Lauralynn Dossett collaborated with Lane on the production and used music of the Appalachians as inspiration for this work.
In January 2014, we were treated to a world premiere of The Seamstress by Cece Dwyer at the Hickory Community Theatre in the state’s foothills area. The play deals with early 20th century domestic violence. This play is one of six to be premiered across the country by the American Association of Community Theatre’s New Play Festival. This is the first time the contest has run and, according to their website, www.aact.org, “Producing theatres were selected from the 1000+ community theatres that are members of the American Association of Community Theatre (AACT). The six theatres hail from six states and include both small and large theatres, with budgets from $24,000 to $1.5 million.”
AACT’s New Play Contest is to be an every-other-year contest. So, get ready in 2014 for a great submission opportunity.
In an effort to make seeing these types of new works more accessible to North Carolina members, we are seeking discounts at theatres around the state. So far, Triad Stage has jumped on board offering a 20% discount to Dramatists Guild members. Hopefully, more discount information is to follow in the future. If there is a particular theatre that you would like to see offering a discount to DG members, email me.
DG National Report: Minneapolis/St. Paul by Laurie Flanigan Hegge
This past November, Mixed Blood Theatre graciously hosted a DG event when fellow rep Gwydion Suilebhan came to town to speak on Dramatists in the Age of Social Media. Mixed Blood is located in the heart of Minneapolis’ Cedar-Riverside neighborhood, an area once home to Minneapolis’ Scandinavian immigrant community and now home to a thriving East African community. In 2011, Mixed Blood initiated Radical Hospitality, a practice giving audiences no-cost access to all main-stage productions. Howl Round does a great job of exploring Radical Hospitality in a conversation with Artistic Director Jack Reuler and Playwright-in-Residence Aditi Brennan Kapil here: http://howlround.com/radical-hospitality-the-artistic-case (highly recommended reading in which Jack and Aditi explain how the practice has revolutionized audiences and serves the community in which we all live and work.)
I recently spoke with Aditi about her long-time relationship with Mixed Blood, now formalized by her appointment as an Andrew Mellon Playwright-in-Residence, a three-year residency that coincidentally kicked off this fall with Mixed Blood’s production of her trilogy Displaced Hindu Gods. Under her Mellon residency, Aditi is given dedicated writing time and functions as a fully imbedded member of the theatre’s staff. While this is a new chapter in Aditi’s relationship with the theatre, she has long found an artistic home at Mixed Blood—first as an actor and director—and ultimately as a writer when Jack suggested she write for the theatre before she even “had the idea to do it myself.” As Aditi explains, Jack “gathers artists around him and assembles family, whether they be actors, directors, writers, or designers.” Jack has always had a special relationship to playwrights. In his own words, “When I founded Mixed Blood at the age of 22, there was no canon of theatrical literature around Mixed Blood’s mission, so we became players in the new play universe twenty years before I knew that there was such a thing as a new play universe. Commissioning, developing, producing, and disseminating plays with playwrights has been at the core of Mixed Blood’s 38 seasons—on its mainstage, on tour, and in customized shows for specific audiences.”
“Mixed Blood Theatre, a professional, multi-racial company, promotes cultural pluralism and individual equality through artistic excellence, using theater to address artificial barriers that keep people from succeeding in American society.”
Jack is very proud of Mixed Blood’s role in founding, establishing, and leading the National New Play Network, which he contends has changed the landscape of the new play universe. “We have already had auditions and design meetings for the first show of next season, a rolling word premiere of Andrew Hinderaker’s Colossal, a play I adore that I also met through NNPN. In the second half of this year, we are focusing on plays that have had one production and whose playwrights would like further development and subsequent productions. Jose Cruz Gonzalez’s production of The Sun Serpent, created and devised over three years with an ensemble of actors, designers, and a director (and originally produced in Phoenix in 2012) will get a second production at Mixed Blood, but done in Spanish and English by a bilingual cast. We will do weeklong workshops with public readings of Octavio Solis’ first musical Cloudlands, which had one production at South Coast Rep, of Tom Jones’ Sheddin’, originally commissioned by the National New Play Network and produced by Horizon Theatre in Atlanta, and Drew Hayden Taylor’s In A World Created by A Drunken God, which has been produced in Canada, but not the U.S. Each playwright has identified theatres at which they’d like to see their plays produced and we’re inviting (and paying for) those theatres’ artistic directors to attend.”
Mixed Blood is also home to NNPN Producer-in-Residence, new-play champion and DG member Jamil Jude, who came to the Twin Cities from DC, where he served as a New Play Producing Fellow at Arena Stage and co-founded Colored People’s Theatre. Jamil is also a freelance director and one of four playwrights in the Many Voices program at the Playwrights’ Center. He recently directed Freshwater Theatre’s first-ever commission, The Beacon from Belle Isle, by Freshwater’s company member-at-large J. Merrill Motz.
Many thanks to Mixed Blood for hosting the Guild in November, and for your continued support of playwrights and the many interdisciplinary artists you gather around you – from the Twin Cities and beyond.
Alexandria Wailes and Rajesh Bose in the premiere of Love Person at Mixed Blood, 2007 - photo: Ann Marsden
DG National Report: Los Angeles by Larry Dean Harris
It’s the best kind of tired you can be. That happy exhausted tired that comes from countless, sleep-deprived days of working feverishly on something you love and believe in.
I could hear it in their voices, as Matt Gould and Griffin Matthews took time out from their lunch break in a Manhattan rehearsal room amid furious preparations for their major world premiere of Witness Uganda at the American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge.
“We are tired. Exhilarated. Thrilled. Shocked. Awed,” said Matt, the show’s co-creator.
“We’re not sleeping, but that’s to be expected,” co-creator Griffin chimes in. “We’ve been building the piece by ourselves for so long. And finally having the cast here with a band, the designers and choreographers, it’s inspiring and exciting. Because the actors will make it all make sense.”
Especially with Tony® Award winning director Diane Paulus (Pippin) at the helm.
I first encountered Matt and “Griff” three years ago here in Los Angeles at a Guild/ASCAP-sponsored Songwriter/Bookwriter exchange. They were a huge hit that night with an impassioned performance from this new musical they had written.
We met for coffee weeks later and had this amazing conversation not just about theatre, but about “issues” of relationships and the outside forces that can work to split a team. I had recently been burned by collaborators, and I knew only too well how a glimmer of success can rock friendships. We talked about priorities, sticking together and protecting the work.
And, of course, I gave my pitch for the Guild. “You may not need to join now, but the day may come. And you’ll know.”
That day came a year later when Witness Uganda won the 2012 Richard Rodgers Award for Musical Theatre.
But they are no overnight sensation. These guys have been writing, rewriting and performing excerpts from the show for years while fostering awareness and raising funds for the impetus of the musical: a non-profit that sends orphaned children to school in Uganda.
Witness is Griffin’s first-hand account of trying to make a difference: changing the world by first changing the lives of ten individuals.
Google “Witness Uganda” and “TED,” and you can see Matt explain the show’s incubation in a spirited presentation at TEDx Wall Street on Youtube.
“When you’re writing a show about aid workers in Uganda, you’re going to hear NO a lot. Because it doesn’t necessarily seem like a musical that is going to play in a big regional theatre. It took a long time for us to find the creative team who shared our vision. And Diane Paulus and A.R.T. does.”
“The thing that I know now is that the NOs are just as valuable as the YESs, because they force you to reevaluate what you are doing. Either that person is right or wrong, and you have to be willing to walk away. We didn’t always know this. Now when we hear a NO in the room, we say ‘let’s go home and talk about it,” Griffin added.”
Griffin will be following in the footsteps of Stew and Lin-Manuel Miranda by playing the role of himself in the A.R.T. premiere. “In the previous version of our show, I was directing. But the actor playing me got a television gig, and everyone said ‘You should just play yourself.’”
Both Matt and Griffin are masters of social media, so it’s been wonderful to see Facebook updates, along with photos and videos documenting their journey.
I’ve had the pleasure of chatting and working with these fellas on occasion, and every conversation typically ends with me asking “Are you taking care of each other?” And they always laugh yes and thank me for asking. But this time I didn’t need to. I could hear it in their voices.
Musical theatre lovers will gladly regale you with stories of “the show that changed my life.” But my eyes – and bets – are on two young men and the little musical that just might change the world.
DG National Report: Kentucky by Herman Daniel Farrell, III
I will be finishing my three-year term as Kentucky Regional Representative in May. It has been an honor to serve you. The wonderful playwright Nancy Gall-Clayton will be our next DG Rep.
In my last report, I thought I’d focus on the future, by featuring the work of two emerging playwrights. Dan Bernitt and Rachel White are young, gifted playwrights who are already making their mark on theatre here in Kentucky and beyond.
Dan Bernitt, a Lexington native, attended the University of Kentucky, earning a degree in Arts Administration. I had the great good fortune to have Dan in several of my classes at UK, including Theatre History and Playwriting. By the time I met this Gaines Fellow and esteemed graduate of the Governor’s School of the Arts, he was already an accomplished solo performer, having premiered his solo performance piece Thanks for the Scabies, Jerkface, to critical acclaim at fringe festivals in Cincinnati, Provincetown, Minneapolis, Kansas City and the Berkshires. Dan’s next work, Phi Alpha Gamma premiered in 2008 at the Minnesota Fringe and then toured Dublin, Ireland, Minneapolis, the Berkshires, Indianapolis and college campuses in the Midwest.
Dan just recently earned his MFA degree in Playwriting from The New School where he studied with Jon Robin Baitz and Christopher Shinn. As noted on his website, www.DanBernitt.com, “Dan has appeared on public radio stations from Kansas City to Provincetown, as well as a segment for NPR’s Studio 360. He has received multiple grants and fellowships from the Kentucky Center for the Arts/Toyota, the University of Kentucky, and the Kentucky Arts Council; most recently, he held a three-month artist residency at the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation in Taos, New Mexico. A recipient of the Robert Chesley Award for Lesbian and Gay Playwriting, both his books, Dose: Plays & Monologues and Phi Alpha Gamma, were named finalists for the Lambda Literary Award.”
In early 2014, Dan’s new work Yelling at Bananas in Whole Foods premiered at the Frigid Festival in New York and he will back in Kentucky this summer to teach playwriting at the Kentucky Governor’s School for the Arts.
Rachel White lives in her native city of Louisville where her plays, Lydia and the Dawn of Man and The Gardeners have been presented by the Marrow Street Theatre over the last year at the Tim Faulkner Gallery, to critical and audience acclaim. Rachel’s 10 minute play, The Mother Machine, was produced by Finnigan Productions in Louisville and her one-act The Goldfish premiered at The Bard’s Town.
A graduate of Centre College with a BA in English and Dramatic Arts, Rachel began her playwriting career in college where her work was featured at the Southeastern Theatre Conferences in Orlando, Florida and Greensboro, North Carolina in 2005 and 2006 and her one-act play Exit Sign was produced at Centre in 2006.
Rachel also attended The New School in New York City, earning her MFA degree in Playwriting in 2009, studying with Michael Weller, Christopher Shinn and Laura Maria Censabella. Her plays have premiered in New York at the Turnip Theater Company, Epiphany Theatre Company, The New School for Drama, Strawberry One Act Festival and the Midtown International Theatre Festival. Her work garnered the Audience Favorite Award from the Turnip Theatre Company and the Outstanding Short Play Award at the 2011 MITF. Rachel was the recipient of the Litwin Playwriting Fellowship.
Rachel is currently working on a new play Bird to the Mountain that has been developed at the Playwrights Gallery in NYC and at Louisville Playslam and Louisville Playwrights. She is on the faculty of Spalding University where she is a Writing and Drama Instructor.
I asked Rachel and Dan to provide some advice to fellow emerging playwrights.
Dan Bernitt: “Most importantly, learn as much as you can about producing your own work. And don’t just learn, go out and fucking do it. SELF-PRODUCE. GO ON. DO IT. Stop hoping an agent will discover you, stop expecting anyone to ‘discover’ you. It’s up to you to make people aware of your work. Agents and managers won’t care anyway until you’re actually doing work and have the stamina to make a career out of it…. Understand that it will take far longer than you realize to achieve your ultimate goals. Enjoy the journey. Be excited about every step on the way, whether you’re performing for 2 or 200.”
Rachel White: “What has helped me is to be open-minded about new directions and new experiences, and also to put up my own work. When I moved from New York to Louisville, I was nervous about going back home; I wasn’t sure what to expect. All I knew was that I wanted to write and keep putting up plays. So, I started working with my brother Patrick on an art/theater project. He’s a sculptor and he had a strong relationship with a gallery downtown. We got together actors from around, and we put it up in the gallery. That project turned into a theater company, Marrow Street Theater, and that has been a great success… Get out there. Be brave.”
As noted in our Playwrights Producing Plays panel last spring, that’s sound advice coming from Dan and Rachel. Let’s all do it: get out there, be brave, and keep writing!
Dan Burnitt, photo: David Flores
DG National Report: Baltimore by Rich Espey & Brent Englar
I’ve been honored to serve as Baltimore’s regional representative to the Dramatists Guild for the past three years. It’s been a great pleasure to create the Baltimore Footlights Reading Series, to host a number of “Meet the Playwright” events, and to bring together Baltimore’s talented dramatists. Special thanks go to The Audrey Herman Spotlighters Theatre and to Single Carrot Theatre for hosting almost all of these events.
The time has come for me to pass the torch to another playwright, and I couldn’t be happier that Brent Englar will be your next regional representative. Brent is a talented playwright, director and all-around theatre-maker. I’ve enjoyed many happy collaborations with him (even being reviewed by him!), and I know he will do great work for Baltimore’s playwrights. The rest of the space belongs to Brent, so take it away!
BRENT: Thanks, Rich! Incidentally, Rich was one of the first playwrights I met, six-and-a-half years ago, when I moved back to Baltimore after a brief stay in L.A. I was looking for local theaters to submit my work to, and my research led me to the Baltimore Playwrights Festival, which led me to the Playwrights Group of Baltimore, which led me to Rich.
Since then I’ve had several readings through the BPF, and they’ve been valuable steps. Even more valuable have been the PGB’s twice-monthly meetings, where all are welcome to share their work and offer feedback. My fellow attendees—the regulars and the one-offs—have enriched my life and writing in ways I can only begin to express. You have been directors, actors, dramaturgs, critics. Most importantly, you have been sympathetic and engaged audience members. I am honored now to represent you, and I hope to meet with each of you at least once over the next year: to talk shop, catch a show, or simply share a moment.
What else? As Rich mentioned, I have been a drama critic. I have directed plays—my own and others’—in Baltimore and D.C. I used to act; perhaps I shall again someday. I am on the board of the Mobtown Players, where I have produced readings of over ten new plays—and full productions of three—through the Mobtown Playwrights Group. I worship at the altar of Shakespeare. And when I’m not at the keyboard or theater you may find me cheering on the Ravens and weeping for the Orioles … and occasionally the reverse.
Here’s to productive years together!