For Playwrights Only

By Lerner, Gail | American Theatre, March 1997 | Go to article overview

For Playwrights Only


Lerner, Gail, American Theatre


In Seattle, Chicago and New York, they're circling their wagons

A pride of lions, a school of fish, a gaggle of geese. But what do you call a gathering of playwrights, a species better known for its more solitary endeavors? A number of organizations with the common aim of creating new resources for playwrights have recently arisen around the country, and groups in Seattle, Chicago and New York have some distinct ideas about what to call themselves: an alliance, an ensemble, a collective.

Robert Menna, a Seattle playwright and dramaturg, founded the Seattle Playwrights Alliance in January 1995 with the exclusive intention of serving the needs of Seattle's professional playwrights, whatever they might be.

"We set up an organization that essentially had as its mantra, 'What do you want? We'll do it,'" explains Manna. "It's an organization that's owned by the playwrights. They are in control of its direction. Ultimately, it winds up serving them and the public as well."

Not associated with any one theatre, the Alliance reaps the benefits of many of the city's institutions, actors and directors, all of whom are eager to donate space and skills to the Alliance. This abundance of resources enables the organization to offer free workshop and rehearsal opportunities to writers, many of whom have limited opportunities to see their work on its feet otherwise.

Playwright Jon Klein notes, "The attention that the Alliance has given to the more fledgling playwrights has been invaluable in the development of their plays. This is one of the strongest communities of writers in the country, yet many writers are frustrated because it's hard to get produced in their hometown. The Alliance gives them an outlet." A mainstay of the Alliance is its monthly readings, each of which culminates at a local bar where colleagues offer commentary and critiques.

"It's wonderful to have a feeling of camaraderie and the opportunity to revel in each other's accomplishments," offers Alliance member Steven Dietz. "There is a very necessary sense of envy in any writers' organization; that's a very good thing as long as its used constructively. Each of us is thrilled when one of us lands a production. We are in competition - not with each other, but with apathy. If one of us keeps a theatre interested in doing new plays, that will ultimately benefit all of us."

Chicago playwrights John Sherman and Douglas Post took a slightly different approach when they got together with Victory Gardens Theater's artistic director Dennis Zacek in the spring of 1996 to discuss forging a more formal commitment between the theater and a core group of writers.

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