Region Sets Scene for Local Playwrights

By Carter, Alice T | Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, March 7, 2013 | Go to article overview
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Region Sets Scene for Local Playwrights


Carter, Alice T, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review


If you want to make a Pittsburgh-based playwright happy, give him or her some space -- on a local theater schedule.

"I don't think there are a lot of opportunities for playwrights here," says playwright and actress Tami Dixon, producing artistic director at Bricolage Production Company.

Playwright Mark Southers agrees.

"Just to get a reading is a major milestone," says Southers, the founder and artistic director of Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre.

Many theater companies support area playwrights with a variety of programs, such as those at City Theatre. Over the years, the South Side-based theater company has helped playwrights get grants to support their work. It has offered free writing workshops, panel discussions and space for writer groups and Dramatists Guild meetings. They have given dozens of young playwrights their first experience in production through an annual Young Playwrights Festival, says Carlyn Aquiline, literary manager and dramaturg at City Theatre Company.

But playwrights say what's needed most is not more workshops and readings, but an increase in fully staged productions.

It's not that workshops aren't helpful. But too many plays never become fully staged productions with actors, sets, costumes, lights.

"A lot of playwrights have found themselves caught in that situation where plays are developed but not produced," says Tammy Ryan, who knows she's more fortunate than most.

Since 1998, Ryan, a Shadyside resident, has had seven of her plays staged at Pittsburgh Playhouse. Another of Ryan's plays may be performed there during the 2013-14 season.

"It's like I have an artistic home there," Ryan says. "If I didn't have that, I don't know that I would be able to develop and take chances."

For Ryan, the benefits go far beyond the gratification of seeing her words and characters come to life on stage. Returning to the same theater and getting to know the designers, actors and directors in the company makes it easier to follow her instincts as a writer, instead of trying to guess what sort of play the company might want her to write.

Companies such as Bricolage and Pittsburgh Playwrights routinely include fully staged plays by Pittsburgh-area playwrights in their season. Most notable is Pittsburgh Playwrights, which has staged well more than 140 one-act or full-length plays by area playwrights over the past 10 years.

"Pittsburgh Playwrights is all Pittsburgh playwrights," says Southers. "It's always great to have stories that talk about Pittsburgh. But, they have to be good."

Almost every season, one or more of the three theater companies in residence at Pittsburgh Playhouse includes a play written by a writer with ties to the community.

In addition to Ryan, those playwrights have included former Pittsburgher Thom Thomas, who now lives in Los Angeles, and Marcus Stevens, a graduate of Point Park University's Conservatory of Performing Arts.

That's largely because of a conscious effort on the part of Ron Lindblom, artistic director of the Conservatory of Performing Arts/ Pittsburgh Playhouse, who says, if he had his way, he would produce nothing but new plays and focus on Pittsburgh playwrights.

"I would have no problem doing a whole season," Lindblom says.

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