Tuesday, June 29, 2010

First NewPlayDevelopment post

If you have found your way to this blog, you probably are interested in knowing something about new plays and their development. You’re probably a playwright, but you might also be a director, dramaturg, or an actor. You are passionately committed to work for the theatre that speaks – in a very immediate and visceral way – to how we live our lives right now.

Maybe you’re writing a solo performance work or an episodic drama, a cutting-edge musical or a work for young audiences, an irreverent comedy, a linear narrative. You want your play to be driven by character, language, image, plot.

And if the last 25+ years of my experience are in any way indicative, you are having problems with structure and with the ending.

What I hope to do with this blog is to give you guidance, feedback, and reflection. And have a really good time doing it. Because as my friend Constance said many times: “Nobody dies” in the theatre business. We’re not doing brain surgery. But we may sometimes be performing a surgery on ideas or thoughts or feelings or attitudes. We may be deconstructing the world around us and then putting it back together so we can see it from a new perspective. And as Mother Teresa told my evil twin Morgan Jenness, our country has famine of the spirit. Artists know that, and they know how to feed the hungry.

There is a secondary goal in writing this blog, which has to do with the potential loss of knowledge. My generation of theatre workers – the baby boomer artists who grew up building the regional theatres that were founded by the previous generation (Fichandler, Papp, Ball, Jory, Lion, Richards, Davidson, Emmes/Benson, et al) – is getting lost in the shuffle of bricks and mortar campaigns, post-9/11 budget slashings and the fallout from the Great Recession of 2008. In the course of the last three or four decades alone, dramaturgy and new play development has gone from a joyful (and slightly obsessive) focus on nurturing new writers, lobbying for cultural diversity, and sharing our “back pocket” (thanks, Patch) plays with each other to one of research, program notes and lobby displays. In the mid 1980’s, The O’Neill’s National Playwrights Conference regularly received 3,000 submissions each year and now receive closer to 1,000. What happened?

Well, I’m not entirely sure what happened, but I hope this blog can be a sort of download of my generation’s brainpan (thanks, Marlane). A place where we can pass on our mistakes and our triumphs to the next generation before we forget what we did and how we did it. Maybe it’s not as valuable as I think it is, but it seems that the regional theatre is destined to undertake that most American effort to reinvent itself (thanks, Robbie). Maybe the remarkable artists who are now my students can benefit from our history.

Next post: What I will/won’t, can/can’t, do in this blog

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