Playwrights, Productions, a Paradox: When Is a Writer More Than Just a Writer?

By Bent, Eliza | American Theatre, May-June 2008 | Go to article overview

Playwrights, Productions, a Paradox: When Is a Writer More Than Just a Writer?


Bent, Eliza, American Theatre


THE CHALLENGE: No one ever said that getting a play up and running was easy. That's why there are producers, after all. They're the ones who gather the money, the support and the resources to put on a play. But if you aren't yet a well-known playwright, you probably don't have producer pals or, for that matter, the cash or wherewithal for a production. Still, some playwrights aren't waiting. They've stopped idling their pens until a producer comes along with the requisite ink. They've taken the reins and banded together to produce their own pieces. American Theatre spoke with three such groups of vigilante playwrights: 13P in New York City, Workhaus Collective in Minneapolis and Playwrights 6 in Los Angeles.

THE PLAN: The nitty-gritties work differently for each of the three groups. Here's a quick rundown:

13P formed in 2003 when 13 mid-career playwrights, concerned about the slow pace of new-play development, got together and devised a simple mission: "To produce 13 plays, one by each of the 13 member playwrights." The collective employs producers (rather than having that function assumed by members). "13P isn't about teaching these writers about producing," explains executive producer Maria Goyanes. "It's about giving them a full sense of the artistic responsibility for their work." The playwright whose work is being mounted takes on the job of artistic director for the duration of that project. Sheila Callaghan (P#7) will rotate into the A.D. slot when her Crawl Fade to White is in production this fall. Take note: "13P is really a 13-play project; we call it a company for convenience's sake," Goyanes says. "At the end of the 13th play, we don't know what will happen to 13P." In fact, Anne Washburn (P#1) calls this "the implosion model."

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Workhaus Collective's Dominic Orlando and Trista Baldwin met at Minneapolis's Caffetto coffee shop in 2005 and discussed what their ideal theatre company would be. They decided to invite other Jerome and McKnight fellows and core members of the venerable writer-support organization the Playwrights' Center into some "commie-style get-togethers." From there they worked out a model: Workhaus members "make all major decisions together and leave the day-to-day stuff to the producing directors" (Orlando and Deborah Stein). Institutional support for the three-show season comes from the Playwrights' Center.

Playwrights 6, which began in 1999, grew out of the workshop environment of L.A.'s Playwrights Kitchen Ensemble and currently includes five regular playwrights. Its mission is to "to develop, produce and promote high-quality new works by Los Angeles playwrights" without the assistance of outside producers. It also holds workshops for fellow writers and teaches them about how to produce their own work.

KEY PLAYERS: Rob Handel (P#3) says when 13P started out, it looked to companies whose producing scale and publicity style it admired, such as the Civilians and Clubbed Thumb. Handel also avows, "We would be nowhere without our press representative, Jim Baldassare." Larry Dean Harris, of Playwrights 6, strikes a similar note: "It's better to not hire a publicist at all than to hire a bad one," he warns. …

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