Search: Playwrights in Mind: A National Conversation

Addendum 2 to Playwrights in Mind: A National Conversation

Below is a reprint from the Dramatists Guild July 14, 2011 e-Newsletter regarding the streaming videos from the conference to help you find and view  them:

 

DG’s First National Conference Videos Courtesy of New Play TV

 

http://www.livestream.com/newplay/video?clipId=pla_2a79a31d-4c43-4e0b-9381-14ea742c663c
Gary Garrison welcomes everyone to the conference and does a brief introduction. Conversation with playwright Chris Durang.

 

http://www.livestream.com/newplay/video?clipId=pla_6873f662-f252-409e-af18-1a870052bae7
Artistic Director of Arena Stage, Molly Smith, gives her keynote speech.

 

http://www.livestream.com/newplay/video?clipId=pla_7d089833-ab2a-44de-8afd-298ef47b619d
Artistic Director of New Dramatists, Todd London, gives his keynote speech.

 

http://www.livestream.com/newplay/video?clipId=pla_6a4cd002-1a97-4fa6-a7b7-0ef138316b4c
Question and answer session with Todd London.

 

http://www.livestream.com/newplay/video?clipId=pla_69b9d282-3057-4d2a-b82b-c09b6bc35ce4
Mame Hunt on how to survive an audience talkback.

 

http://www.livestream.com/newplay/video?clipId=pla_52351dcc-80e1-4d49-b15e-7843e8657473
Conversation with Artistic Director of McCarter Theatre, Emily Mann.

 

http://www.livestream.com/newplay/video?clipId=pla_9012adee-a340-40d9-a35a-20cd4ea3cbf6
Conversation with Stephen Schwartz, President of the Dramatists Guild.

 

http://www.livestream.com/newplay/video?clipId=pla_ecb4d8c5-5e30-43e4-9f79-f9f5baae2200
Stephen Schwartz speaks about crafting musical theatre.

 

http://www.livestream.com/newplay/video?clipId=pla_0631e030-f47e-4010-a06b-b42fc551eab5
Playwright Julia Jordan gives her keynote speech.

 

http://www.livestream.com/newplay/video?clipId=pla_5877629f-5478-4676-95ba-3035de5e3e1b
Conversation with playwright David Ives on crafting comedy.

 

http://www.livestream.com/newplay/video?clipId=pla_4906313c-ca68-4d5d-8000-ed092fca7620
Conversation on internet piracy of sheet music.

 

http://www.livestream.com/newplay/video?clipId=pla_e2a7bf01-e104-4452-aa5c-93b299593b0a
“A National Conversation” – a question and answer session with a panel including esteemed playwrights, librettists, lyricists, composers, artistic directors, executive directors, etc.

Addendum to Playwrights in Mind: A National Conversation

The Dramatists Guild Conference, “Playwrights in Mind: A National Conversation” was held in Fairfax, Virginia from 9 – 12 June, 2011.  This was the first conference held by the Dramatists Guild.  To hear some of the speakers: Molly Smith, Arena Stage, and Julia Jordan, 50/50 in 2020, Todd London, New Dramatists, go to http://livestream.com/newplay.  You will have to do a lot of scrolling but it worth hearing.

Kitty Felde did an excellent job of covering the events, please read and reread her coverage at http://lafpi.com/author/kfelde/  or at

Day One

Day One continued through Day Three

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 Addendum for the last day of the conference:

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THE DRAMATISTS GUILD FUND

The DG Fund seminar with Fred Nelson and Tari Stratton covered the many aspects of the Dramatist Guild Fund.  There are two types of grants, individual (Kesselring Grant) and theater.  The estate of Joseph Kesselring provides grants to professional dramatists who are experiencing extreme personal hardships, health or otherwise.  The recipients don’t even have to be members of the Dramatists Guild.  It’s a confidential process.  And grant means you don’t have to pay it back.  This is the only program that I know of that helps a playwright in need.

Regarding the theater grant side, a rep from a theater that has received a general operating grant from the DG Fund was present in the seminar (City Theatre of Miami); she said that their City Theatre Summer Shorts Festival was happening due to a grant from the DG Fund.

The other project that the DG Fund discussed was its Legacy Project.  This project films an interview between an emerging playwright and an established dramatist.  The interviewer is one that has somehow been greatly affected by the interviewee.  The Fund realizes the urgency of creating this interview series and started with the oldest playwrights, lyricists and composers.  Carol Hall “The Best Little Whore House in Texas” playwright and DG Fund vice president discussed the feeling of just being in the room with the interviewees and the moments that were caught on film.  She discussed how Horton Foote was scheduled to be the first interview but passed away before it could be done.  Joe Stein was interviewed by Lin-Manuel Miranda; Edward Albee was interviewed by Will Eno.  Lanford Wilson and Romulus Linney were missed…

I met Romulus Linney at a conference in Nebraska, I really wanted to sit down and talk with him about Appalachia and how it creeps into my work though I am two generations removed.  I wanted to just be close enough to see that glint in his eye and maybe just maybe decipher it.  I liked him.  It was 2007 and that was my first encounter with his work and it was excellent, lively and funny…

It would be great if the Legacy Project could find a way to do the interviews (for the artists that passed) anyway using those closest to the artist.  Not the same as an interview with them but something. 

During the seminar, some of the audience members offered ways to create donors for this project.

Volume One of the Dramatists Guild Fund Legacy Project documentary series is complete and work has begun on Volume Two.  For more information see http://dramatistsguildfund.org/programs/legacy.php

*I just went to the legacy site and found out that Lanford Wilson was not missed!!!  8/11/11*

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MYTH ADAPTATION FOR PLAYWRIGHTS: Archetypes and Inspiration

Myth Adaptation for Playwrights: Archetypes and Inspiration with Laura Shamas was a two-hour seminar squeezed into 45 minutes (due to a change at the conference) and she didn’t miss a beat.  Laura discussed why myth matters.  Myth, she said, represents what is eternally true; it’s a tool and it’s active.  For the playwright, myth can be useful in plot, character and theme.  “You don’t find the myth, the myth finds you.”  There are three archetypal planes, celestial, earthly, and underworld.  If you visualize the archetype it is easier to use it in your writing.  Each archetype has props that stand for something in their picture, i.e., Zeus sits on a throne, with a staff topped by an eagle in one hand, always bearded, etc. – each of those things mean something like the fact that Venus was born an adult.  Laura says, “in order to translate a myth, you have to know the props of the myth and update the props for your story. 

Notes on Myth Adaptation Process:

  1. When researching myths, one should look at 1 to 7 versions of the myths because the stories can vary slightly and you need to find the one that best fits the story you are trying to tell. Document and list chronologically.  Note any important rituals or rites.
  2. Identify: 
    •  central archetypes
    •  symbols (including props),
    •  setting and other metaphors,
    •  plot,
    • transformation,
    •  psychological function (thematic): why does it matter for you personally, and why does it matter for humanity at large.

The above archetypal elements are needed to incorporate into your work to update and keep the elements that will make the story mythic.

Laura gave a list of Myth references books.  Some of the books are “The Power of the Myth” Joseph Campbell with Bill Moyers, “The Heroine’s Journey” Maureen Murdock.  Even though, Laura got through everything, we still wanted more…

For more information about Laura Shamas visit http://laurashamas.com/.  Laura is also co-founder with Jennie Webb of the Los Angeles Female Playwrights Initiative (LAFPI).

Day Three: Playwrights in Mind: A National Conversation – part four?

What will it take to have gender parity in America?  Julia Jordan says lots of local, grassroots groups are springing up – like LAFPI.  Collectively, they hold a lot of power.  But not as much as artistic directors.  They have the power to break the cycle.  Look at the Blackburn Award winners and runners up who’ve never had a production.  AD’s can aggressively go out there and decide to produce work by women and they won’t be hurt artistically or economically.

Sheri Wilner says AD’s are choosing playwrights not plays.  We need to raise their conscience – take it to the streets and ticketbuyers.

Laura Shamas says she spent a year going to nothing but plays by women.  If someone asks her to resubscribe to a theatre season, she says “no” unless they’ll do more shows by women.  Economic information.

What can I do if I live in a tiny town?  Jordan says it’s almost a PR war.  You’d be hard pressed to find an artistic director who doesn’t know the “right” answer when it comes to the question of playwrights of color.  Not so with gender.  Add to the conversation with those artistic directors, this is something people have thought about and there IS a right answer.  The numbers are so glaring, it cannot be ignored.  Write letters, don’t give them your money.  And it’s not just playwriting.  It’s about all the arts, beyond the arts. 

Sheri says there should be a wider net.  A study looked at children’s books: 33% have a lead female character; 100% have lead male characters.  We need to start early.

Laura says we were so inspired in LA by the east coast work, they did their own study, there’s a listing of plays by women on the website, and a blog as well.  Start a festival!  Address it creatively.  There are LAFPI “agents” who reach out to theatres to ask, “how can we get you to consider more plays by female playwrights.  Mixers.  You can do this in your hometown.  You’d be surprised what you can do with some cocktails. 

Marsha Norman says every woman has to help another woman.  There’s an infinite amount of “antelope” out there – we can be in the business of generosity.  Why do the stories of women need to be told?  Not just because they’re stories of women.  We need to hear the stories of all the people here on earth if we’re to live here with any semblance of compassion and understanding.  Every story that’s there to be told has to find its way to the stage.  People in power have to stop telling the same damn story again and again on the American stage.  We also have to get our own body of work done.  And make it possible for people to come after us.

When Primary Stages did a season of plays by women, it was their lowest grossing season…it was also the season after the market crash.  But did women get blamed for bad sales?  Playwrights Horizons did really well with female playwrights.  Last year, nearly 40% of the plays in NYC were by women, and many were hits.

How about cross-discipline boycotts?  Dancers boycotting theatres that don’t do plays by women.  Is there a Dramatists Guild policy on gender parity?  Marsha said if that’s what’s needed, we’ll do it.

Marsha says the “afraid” part is a huge part of it.  Be not afraid.  Because what?  It’s gonna get worse?  Her two Broadway producers kept asking whether she’d seen any Tony nominated shows.  She said no.  “In a season where’s no work by women, I’m not going.”  Our mouths have to open.  Create an organization, be the artists telling stories who go to the White House. 

Parity: Julie says she met with funding organization who told her what they did for writers of color.  No quotas.  Instead said, “we just want to see the numbers…how many did you produce…just for our own information.”  Suddenly more works by writers of color were getting done.  Something similar could be down the line for women.  It starts with data, which is being compiled now and being available for anyone who wants them.

Day Three: Playwrights in Mind: A National Conversation – part three

Self-Production Primer: Team Building – Roland Tec

Roland’s rules about producing:

The biggest challenge: writing is solitary.  In order to become an effective producer, fight against natural tendency to hide in the corner.  Producing is about gathering people together, getting a team of people to work at their peak.  Producing is a creative act.

Get a notebook.  Takes notes.  The minute you start producing, every conversation moves it forward – or back.  Take notes on every email, meeting, etc.  Time is in short supply.  Follow up quickly and effectively. 

The “all in” rule: when you’re sending someone an email or leaving a phone message, include all the necessary information.  Otherwise you slow down what needs to get done. 

Clarify your goals: what’s your objective for this production?  Is your goal to break even?  Have a commercial success?  If you don’t know before you begin, hard to access your success at the end.

Find a producing partner.  You can’t write and produce at the same time. 

We often think: who can help?  Ask another question: how can every person in my life help?  Everyone can offer something to the production.  Find the right thing they can do.  Some it may be money. Others may introduce you to other people.  Others will be your greatest cheerleader.  Or a great actor.  Or teaches at a university and can get you student interns.  Start thinking about finding ways in which the people in your world can become involved in your dream.

Scheduling: can’t start without your director.  You want to make sure you have the right director, one who understands your show.  If you have any reservations, keep looking.

Pre-production tasks: (2-6 months) Book the venue, raise the funds, hire the cast and publicist and crew (when hiring crew, delegate whenever possible – let your lighting designer hire everybody else in lighting, etc.), sign and file all union and legal paperwork, obtain the insurance.

Production tasks: rehearsing to performance level, build set and costumes, loading in, hanging and focusing the lights, rolling out the PR in all its forms (press release must drop at least six weeks prior to first performance), box office (never too early to start taking people’s money) and house management

Post: pay bills, strike set, return borrowed materials, assemble a clippings book (good press agent will do this for you, but they may miss something) – every mention in the press is there; assess financials; gather the team to say goodbye and thank you.  Followup: what were your goals?  Start assessing the success or failure or in between during the run of the show.  If you want to move the show, you need to know early.  Decide who’s on your decisionmaking team who’ll sit down with you to decide about moving the show. 

Have a production office (your living room?) where people can meet, leave packages, etc.  One central place. 

Casting: in conjunction with director.  A good director should have a way that he/she likes to cast.  If using Equity actors, must notify Equity before casting the show.  There are rules about casting Equity actors.  When you start casting the show, that’s the beginning of your PR campaign.  Actors are great marketers – talking up your show after reading the sides.  The way you run your auditions is having an impact on how folks perceive the production.  If they’re sitting around for seven hours to be seen for five minutes, forget it.  Schedule appointments in 15 minute intervals.  Your auditions are the first time you’re engaging with the public.  Be organized.  Don’t run long.  Make people feel taken care of.  Never give out roles.  People value the things they have to work for.

Day Three: Playwrights in Mind: A National Conversation – part two

Self-Production Panel: War Stories

Larry Dean Harris, Kathleen Warnock, Roland Tec

You are the one who is the most passionate about your work.  Protect your own work.  If it’s not right, you have the right to pull out.  No production is better than a bad production.  Don’t work with people who’ve already screwed you over.  When someone shows you who they are, trust that.  Work with people who like what you do.  Don’t rush casting.

PR lessons: Do not count on reviews to fill your house.  Sometimes reviewers don’t even show up.  And even if they do, the review just doesn’t have the same impact it used to.  (Reviews are good for an actor and writer for career building.)  Build an audience your own way.  New media is the way to go.  Having a PR person is the first wing of your attack.  How about a YouTube trailer?  Postcards are being used less often (except in festivals) because of new media.  But business card sized handouts are becoming popular.

Don’t count on your publicist to fill your house.  But look for the thing that’s unique about your show – it gives your publicist something to sell.  Good pictures are helpful online.  Constant Contact is helpful.  Create an event on Facebook, cultivate an individual blogger.  You first contact your personal people, then media folks you know, then start emailing reporters you don’t know, and go to the festival bar and hand out postcards or fliers.

Go out and find your audience: whatever it is about your play that will drive people to the theatre.  For a Bible play, Larry went to churches, talked to pastors and got church groups to come.  For his play about alzheimers, he went after those groups.

Venue: putting your show in the appropriate venue can be key.  Send your director to the walk thru so they know what they’re facing.  And learn to live with it.  Choose the venue with the smallest number of seats…then you’ll have a sellout.  Get your feet wet the first time.  Learn on someone else’s time: volunteer to be on someone else’s show.  Learn from their mistakes.  Find a buddy: do their show, then yours…and learn.  Go see other folks’ shows; talk to people who’ve produced in that space.  They’ll tell you what to put in your contract.  And tell you about the things you don’t know: the rockband rehearsing next door, the parking lot that fills up from restaurant patrons down the street, the helicopters that fly overhead, the pipes that bang…  Be aware that if you’re sharing space with other productions, you may have laughter next door during your serious drama.  And their intermission becomes part of your show.

Think about non-traditional spaces – the front porch of a house, a tent.  The venue can be an ad for your play.

Day Three: Playwrights in Mind: A National Conversation

Self -Production Primer; Brass Tacks – Roland Tec

Here’s a few thoughts about paying for your self-production:  hold a fundraiser party.  Roland Tec’s formula is that you invite a certain number of people (A) and ask for a set amount, say $50 (B), but only ten percent (.1) of those people show up.  A x B x .1 = projected revenue.  So if you invited 235 people and asked for 50 bucks, you’d make $1,175.  Throw a good party.  Do excerpts, but NOT the entire play.

Ticket sales: here’s the formula for estimating how much you’ll make from ticket sales.  A = number of seats in house; B = total number of scheduled performances; C = average ticket price

AxBxcX.4 (40% capacity) = ticket sales

Day Two: Playwrights in Mind: A National Conversation – part four

Publishing seminar with Abbie Van Nostrand of Samuel French, Deborah Hartnett of MTI, Music Theatre International, and Ron Pullins of Focus Publishing

Selection:
Focus: He has a list in mind what he wants to do and is interested in the changing theatre scene – acting, directing. “We sell people, not books.”  Doesn’t publish plays…except the dead ones. 

MTI: Publishes plays from Broadway, off-Broadway, sometimes a show in the Midwest.  Junior program, deliver “musical in a box.”  High school and middle school kids can keep the scripts.  Like to have a range of things for customers: large and small musicals.  They have almost 400 shows in the catalogue. 

French: publish and license straight and musical plays.  45K titles either archived or in print.  The last 4-5 years, seeking keeping authors happy, but looking for emerging and early career playwright.  Stats: Look at what theatres are doing, playing it safe.  Theatres are closing, cutting back on seasons, those that are doing the best are playing it safe.  They’re pushing their authors, finding the right theatre for the right show.  They’re pulling back on acquisitions.  They’re still actively seeing everything in NY, going to Humana, they get agent author submission, and website queries.  Check the website for updates.  But the reality is that the parameters are shrinking.

Day Two: Playwrights in Mind: A National Conversation – part three

Theatre for Young Audiences – Michael Bobbitt – Adventure Theatre and Kim Peter Kovac – Kennedy Center

TYA includes adults performing for kids, kids performing for kids, and teen theatre. Theatre for Young Audiences is the operative word these days. Denmark has 60 children’s theatres. The best theatre professionals in the country work for it.

Trends: theatre for the very young – 2-5 year olds, baby theatre, which is all about discovery and sound, where seeing yourself in the mirror is a theatrical event. (Just like actors!) Baby theatre is becoming huge.

Over the past ten years, there’s been more money and resources available for TYA. Regional theatres are doing more. Perhaps because Disney went to Broadway. And made money. Also, there’s grant money. Similar to black theatre in the 1990’s, funding organizations are looking at whether a theatre is doing educational and youth theatre. There’s also a trend where performing arts centers are booking shows…but the person who does it is also the “community engagement” person.

New work? People are looking at more popular titles. Michael Bobbit says he has the same administrative needs as a big theatre, but only charges 15 bucks for tickets. So famous titles brings in an audience. There’s a huge amount of work for adaptations.

Length: 45-hour length for under ten. One study showed the ideal length for 4-8 year olds – idela length is 47 minutes. For an older audience, 50-70 is ideal.

Getting the rights: sometimes a playwright has the rights. The Kenendy Center gets rights from the publisher, pays them, and then commissions the playwright. Make sure everyone knows there’s no money. 3-12% of gross box office is given to the picture book writer, 1.5% to the playwright or $1500 (Adventure Theatre). Kennedy pays 3% to the book writer; playwrights get 6-8% of the box office.

Who owns the play? At Adventure, they own it. Kennedy never owns the play.

Look for works in the public domain to adapt. Don’t discount movies, songs, TV shows, poems, lots of possibilities for adaptation. Only about a third of plays produced are new scripts not adaptations.

Cast size: 2-6 is great. Two is the best. Think about how a cast can be doubled – or shrunk.

Other advice: know your audience. Knowing how to tie your shoe is a big thing to a kid. Know what’s on a kid’s curriculum and reading list to see what they’re working on in school. Fairy tales are out of fashion right now. Teen theatre is issue related. But above all, it has to be a good play, not a lesson.

Popular TYA plays:
For very young (2-3 or 5) audiences: “Go Dog Go,” “Good Night Moon,” “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie,” “Knufflebunny,” “Tick Tac Moo,” “Miss Nelson is Missing (Joan Cushing),” “Flat Stanley,” Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, Very Bad Day,” “Ferdinand.”

Ages 8-12 – “Holes,” “The Diary of Anne Frank,” “Anne Frank and Me,” “A Wrinkle in Time,” Laura Ingels Wilder, “Skellig” by David Almond.

Cold submissions: Adventure: no capacity; only doing popular titles. Kennedy – only commissions.

Last thoughts: parents and teachers are the gatekeepers, deciding what shows kids come see. Diversity is good business.

Day Two: Playwrights in Mind: A National Conversation – part two

Todd London of New Dramatists gave the keynote address on Friday, on “After Outrageous Fortune.”
Here’s some excerpts: “We are perhaps a roomful of anachronisms, relying on outdated views of time and space.”

New Dramatists is in a Lutheran church in Manhattan. It used to house a soup kitchen and thrift store in the early 1900’s. It’s now a soup kitchen for playwrights. The altar is a writing area. The thrift store is a theatre space. The soup kitchen is a library. That library contains a stage manager’s copy of an August Wilson play called “Millhand’s Cast Bucket” – now known as “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone.”

“What a difference a play makes” is a song title suggested by Marsha Norman for an event celebrating the career of Horton Foote. They didn’t use the song, but the phrase stuck in London’s brain. Do plays really make a difference? To whom? Do they still? London says he’s a rabbi in a church for playwrights, constantly questioning his faith.

Horton Foote tried to stop time by remembering. Had so much been written about such a small space of real estate? Nothing can be lost as long as there are artists to write it down. But is it possible plays themselves are disappearing?

Robert Anderson had a note taped to his typewriter: nobody asked you to be a playwright. You write the plays no one asked you to write, that no one may ever produce, cultivate a garden that no one may ever wander with you. The world has no intention of meeting you where you live. Even the American Theatre doesn’t want to meet playwrights where they live. No sustainable structure that will last over time to provide a dignified life for playwrights. Theatres are concerned with pleasing an older, more conservative audience – or perhaps just the theatre’s “assets” – large donors. And audiences for straight plays are dropping every year.

Think about O’Neill. When it came to style, he tried everything. Think about how that would have played today. How could he have wrestled with scale, the years of internal struggle that separated early work and later? Where would Clifford Odets or Edward Albee or Horton Foote be without their theatres?

But London says there’s a “weird seismic shift.” The Guild will permanently fund the “Lily” awards. Arena Stage is providing its five resident playwrights with salaries, offices, and health insurance. Two separate black play festivals launched in a single year because of the “convenings” gathering at Arena this year. Money is appearing for second productions. TCG is holding national conversations on the individual artist. “The ground on which you stand is shifting.”

London says think of asking August Wilson what he was working on – a ten page cycle, performed in every theatre in the country. Will statistics keep it down? “Attention must be paid.” Think of the sweep and magnitude of his Century Cycle. “The highest possibility of human life.”

Where do we look for inspiration? London says he looks to playwrights. When you stare at a thing, it grows larger – a face, a flower, a play. We stare at plays and the machine of culture grows quiet. And the play speaks. The institutional theatre isn’t evil. It’s misguided.

“Your example is in you alone and you together: a community of writers.” Don’t be plagued by bitterness. It has killed more poets. Don’t be bitter. Or envious, which fuels that bitterness.

You have each other. You have power. Just use it.

Day Two: Playwrights in Mind: A National Conversation

The most helpful note from the “Dramatists on the Web” session: decide WHY you are blogging. One person said it was to create community. Another said it was to attract people to their work. The best blogs? Those that provide content you can use. For example, the site that just interviews playwrights. Adam Szymkowicz has a great blog that just interviews playwrights. You can google “I interview playwrights” and find it quickly

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