Posts tagged: Todd London

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 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.

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