A play of mine is being read at the Playwrights’ Center this Sunday, October 18th.
If I’d typed that sentence sometime between 1994 and 2002, it wouldn’t seem all that strange.
Typing it in 2009 seems pretty strange.
But I’m happy to be typing it. And a bit hopeful.
I’m not really hopeful for me.
I’m not really hopeful for anybody who’s already gotten fellowships or core memberships or writers already involved with the Workhaus Collective and the like because, really, they’ve always been taken care of, one way or another.
The people I’m hopeful for are the general membership. The playwright who’s trying to get that first production. The playwright who’s trying to arrange the first public reading of one of their scripts. The playwright who has never actually finished a play yet, but who wants to do so. All the regular joes and janes off the street who have an idea, and a desire to put it on stage, but they haven’t been recognized by the larger theatrical community just yet.
It feels like the Playwrights’ Center might be interested in local writers again.
The event on Sunday is a first step.
The Dramatists Guild and the Playwrights’ Center are teaming up to bring local playwrights of all stripes together in the same place.
Sunday, October 18, 2009
3:30 pm - Dramatists Guild Town Hall Meeting/Dramatists' Rights Workshop
Guild members and non-members are invited to attend an information session that will detail an overview of the Dramatists Guild, discuss new programming in its future and then an open Q & A for all. Following that Q & A, the Dramatists' Bill of Rights will be explained and explored with participants. With Gary Garrison (DG Executive Director of Creative Affairs), Roland Tec (Director of Membership), and John Heimbuch (Twin Cities Regional Rep).
(Oops. Sorry. The RSVP date on this first part of the day is past, I just noticed. I’m working my second job, so it was already out for me, hence my lack of urgency in posting. Apologies. But fear not. If you’re not on board for the opening salvo, the evening has much more to offer that’s wide open to all.)
5:00 - Social gathering with hors d'oeuvres and drinks
(Let the awkward banter among strangers begin!)
5:30 - A reading of two short plays:
Dandelion Snow by Matthew Everett
How to View The Comet by Anne Bertram
(Hey, I know those two! They wrote a Fringe play together in which a guy played a dog, among other things.)
5:55 - Discussion: What the Playwrights’ Center and the Dramatists Guild can do for the careers of playwrights, including how the organizations are the same, and how they’re different.
7:00 - Representatives of small, medium and large-sized theatres and service organizations will discuss trends in theatre, playwriting and dramaturgy with Gary Garrison, moderator. As guests are finalized, the list will be updated.
Panelists so far include:
Hayley Finn (Playwrights’ Center)
Gary Garrison (The Dramatists Guild)
John Miller-Stephany (The Guthrie Theater)
Ben Krywosz (Nautilus Music-Theater)
John Heimbuch (Walking Shadow Theatre Company)
Ron Peluso (the History Theatre)
Trista Baldwin (Workhaus Collective)
Steve Busa (Red Eye Theatre)
Anne Bertram (Theatre Unbound)
Elissa Adams (The Children’s Theatre Company)
Reservations are recommended.
RSVP to 612-332-7481 x10
For more information go to: http://www.pwcenter.org/events.php?pid=1113
For a period of about nine years, the Playwrights’ Center was a second home for me.
Then quite abruptly, it wasn’t anymore.
It was strange to go from being one of the Center’s biggest cheerleaders, to being... not one of its cheerleaders.
For the last seven years, I’ve rarely darkened the Center’s doors. The occasional production my friends were putting on, renting the black box space. Fringe Festival season. Other than that, I stayed away.
I don’t go where I don’t feel welcome.
All this went down before I started blogging, so the words The Playwrights’ Center have turned up in the blog rarely if at all, and then never as a subject, only as a location, mentioned in passing.
To be honest, I know pretty much nothing at all about the current configuration of the Center. I didn’t visit the website, I didn’t link to the website (even though a great many of my plays were developed there, and thus it’s all over my online resume and production history of various scripts), and I have to admit I actually ripped up any mailing that came from the Center without even reading it. (Though no longer a member of the Center, since I gave them money during the capital campaign to renovate the place from ramshackle former church building into its current much spiffier state, I was permanently ensconced on their mailing list.)
The Center and I had a mutual sort of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” kind of relationship.
“George, if you existed, I’d divorce you.”
At first, the split made me angry. Then it just made me sad. Eventually, I just decided to stop expending emotional energy on a situation that didn’t look like it was ever going to change.
I didn’t blog anything about the Center, because I didn’t have anything constructive to say.
Now, here I am blogging about the Center.
Why the thaw?
Anna Peterson, the Membership Manager & Literary Associate at the Playwrights’ Center.
She sent me an email in March, curious about the background regarding my lapse in membership, wanting to meet me and pick my brain.
She had coffee with Anne Bertram, learned I used to run one of the Center’s new play reading series for several years, and was thus even more curious.
When I got past my work on the Medea play, we met for lunch and she got an earful.
Back around 2001-2002, the Center had a major shift in focus. The culture of the place seemed to turn its eyes to becoming more of a national presence on the theater scene. All to the good. Higher profile for the Center means higher profile, and access, for its members.
The trouble, as perceived by me and a number of other general members, was that the Center seemed to forget that Minnesota was also part of the nation.
It always struck me as a missed opportunity. If suddenly there was this outpouring of amazing scripts and writers from Minnesota, and the Center could take credit for helping develop that, it seems like everybody wins.
There used to be a weekly new play reading series, open to anyone, you didn’t even have to have your script written yet.
Ten months out of the year, a new play every week.
Actors volunteered their time. No rehearsal, often they could read the script ahead of time if they wanted, but it was basically a cold read. Seat of your pants theater at its most basic.
Fellow writers came to be part of the audience, and to circle the chairs and offer constructive feedback after the reading was over.
Often, those who could stay longer would adjourn to the local bar or coffeehouse just down the block and continue the discussion and the camaraderie.
A grassroots community of writers, supporting one another’s work, and each other as writers, grew up.
The shift happened. The reading series and that community doesn’t exist anymore.
Which is too bad, but water under the bridge. Spilt milk. A bell that can’t be unrung.
The refugees of that community found other places to congregate and develop their work. Writing groups, the Minnesota Fringe Festival.
Those writers have moved on. They have productions, get grants, run their own theaters, make films.
But it would be nice to think that the writers they used to be, in need of a nurturing place to act as a launching pad to start their careers in theater, could find a home again in the Center, rather than have to work around it or succeed in spite of it.
The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
When Anne and I were asked to submit short works to be read as part of the event on Sunday, there was a moment’s hesitation.
The gesture has been made. If we return the gesture, we’re saying we’re invested on some level in facilitating this moment of change. As Anne put it, “Are you ready to climb that hill?”
Local writers, the Playwrights’ Center seems genuinely interested in re-introducing itself to you. It wants to let you know what it has to offer. It wants to find out from you what you feel you need.
The door is open. I’m walking through it in order to peek around, see if I can purge a little of the bad juju, because that’s the kind of curious and hopeful fool I am on my better days.
Care to join me?
(And hey, those of you who wondered when I was going to have some kind of local reading again - this would be it.)
5pm - treats
5:30 - plays
5:55 - the dialogue offstage begins...
The Playwrights' Center is located at 2301 Franklin Avenue East in Minneapolis
Its website is www.pwcenter.org