I’m looking forward to Tuesday. That’s when I’m stepping on a plane to Rhode Island where yet another college is producing my war crimes play “A Patch of Earth.” I’m looking forward to the talkback session with the students. They always ask the hard questions.
I’ve been very fortunate with this particular play to find exactly the right audience. It premiered at the Alleyway Theatre in Buffalo, where it won the Maxim Mazumdar New Play Competition. But it’s not exactly the most commercial thing I’ve ever written. As my pal who runs MetroStage in Alexandria puts it, “it’s hard to sell tickets to a show about slaughtering Bosnians at Srebrenica.”
But it’s exactly the right play for colleges, a place where young people spend hours debating moral questions. The play is the true story of Drazen Erdemovic, a Bosnian Croat who ended up fighting for all three sides during the Yugoslav war. He says he never killed anybody until his unit was sent to a farm outside of Srebrenica where they were instructed to kill busloads of men. He said he didn’t want to shoot, but was told if he felt so sorry for the victims he could stand up there with them and be shot himself. And then his compadres would go back to his village and shoot his wife and child.
It’s a story with characters around the age of college students, a story that happened in most of these students’ lifetime. The play has a big cast (at least 9, as many as 30) with lots of good female roles. Perfect for college productions.
And it’s had those college productions in Detroit, Pretoria, Costa Mesa, New Jersey, and now Rhode Island. (It even had one high school production last year in England!) “A Patch of Earth” was even published by the University of Wisconsin Press.
I don’t write all this to brag on myself, but to remind myself that not everything I write is destined for the Taper. Or the Geffen. Or the Pasadena Playhouse. That doesn’t mean the script doesn’t have value. In fact, it might affect more lives by being the perfect script for colleges. Or for community theatres. Or for young audiences.
Write the play that’s calling you to be written today. Worry about the audience it’s written for after you’re done. Because plays that need to be written seem to find their own audiences.