Tag Archives: production challenges

What I Learned Writing for Toddlers

Tomorrow my first play for Very Young Audiences – A Bucket of Blessings – will close at the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta after a one month sold-0ut run. The play is an adaptation of the best selling children’s book written by Surishtha Sehgal and Kabir Sehgal, and as a TVYA play, is meant for an audience of 0-5 year olds. A Bucket of Blessings was directed by the ridiculously brilliant Rosemary Newcott, and I developed it in the rehearsal room with Rosemary, our cast, our choreographer, designers, and of course, our multiple adorable test audiences.

Me, top right, with our lovely cast.

It was a very intensive writing process, perhaps the most intensive theatre project I’ve done so far.

Here are the two things I want to take with me from that experience into future plays.

1. Theatre as service.


Theatre for very young audiences is, more than anything else, 100% about the audience and only the audience. There’s no room for the artist’s ego, the artist’s special voice, for flourishes, for statements. The only thing that matters is the audience. For a TVYA writer, this comes from a point of love. How could you not love these little ones? How could you not desperately care for them, and want with all your heart for them to have a safe, enriching, adventurous time in the theatre?

Now let’s take that same sacrifice of ego and unhesitating love for the audience to our work for grown ups as well.

2. Every second counts. Every line matters.

When children are that young, and their attention spans so brief, we are aware that every second we have with them is precious. The work we did in rehearsal was the most precise, exacting writing I have ever done. We worked hard on crafting every single moment to mean something, to engage the audience, and to carry the story forward.


Let’s be as ruthless as that with our writing for adult audiences. Even when we don’t have to be.

We must admit that playwrights are often coddled. What we lack in monetary compensation we make up for in creative control, but sometimes that can get indulgent. So the next time we’re in a room with our collaborators, let’s take our play to task, moment by moment. Is every single line crafted in the exact way required to communicate the story to the audience? Is every pause earned? Every word vitally necessary?

Seriously, what if our audience had the attention span of a toddler? Would our play still work? Have we built something captivating enough, engaging enough, to truly serve the audience that’s spending their precious time with us?


We should be doing these things anyway, but nothing brings it into perspective like trying to keep a room full of 2 year olds inside the world of your story.

Have you seen or worked on a play for very young audiences? What did you take away from the experience?


A fine romance, my friends this is

Sinatra sings “A Fine Romance”


It’s everywhere. Or is it?

I’m looking for your thoughts on the genre of romantic comedy.

I’ve written a number of romantic plays. They usually involve broken relationships being put back together – or not. But as I look back at those plays, I find they’re all period pieces: 1870’s San Francisco, 1950’s New York, late ‘50’s Los Angeles. I’m now working on a romantic comedy set in present day Washington, DC. And I’m stuck.

In this cynical town, in our ironic age, I put on my Carrie Bradshaw hat and ask: “is there still such a thing as modern romance?”

Name your favorite rom/com – “Philadelphia Story,” “The Lady Eve,” “Roman Holiday” – all of an earlier era. Most current films in the rom/com genre are snarky. Or artificial and insincere. Or dark, like “Silver Linings Playbook.” But the success of that Oscar nominated film reflects an audience’s craving for real romantic comedies.

Which brings me to my current dilemma.

After slogging through “serious” plays, I decided I needed a break. I wanted to write something fun and romantic. It’s tougher than it looks.

Boy meets girl. That’s easy. They’re opposites in some ways. The verbal sparks fly. There’s some physical attraction, but because of their professional relationship, nothing happens. So how do you push them to that next level, both sexually and romantically? How do they tell that other person that they’re interested? How do you break down the physical walls? How does a modern couple admit they’re in love without it ringing hollow?

My writing pal Ellen says we’re afraid of writing true sentiment. Maybe we are. I cringe as I write self-described “sappy” scenes. (Ah, that horrid interior critic!) I’m embarrassed by my own work. Not because it’s bad writing, but because it’s mushy. And I haven’t even gotten to the tougher challenge: writing the physical stuff. Even my premise starts sounding stupid: “Pride and Prejudice” set on Capitol Hill.

I believe in romance. Certainly I lucked out and found a guy who likes to dance and laugh and remembers our anniversary. So I guess I’ve seen modern day romance in action. I know it’s out there.

So why is it so hard to make it work on the page?

What do you think? Is there such a thing as modern romance? How does it work for you on the page? Hints? Suggestions?

Taking Stock

(Guest Blogger This Week – Laura A. Shamas, LA FPI Co-Founder and National Outreach Agent)

The Los Angeles Female Playwrights Initiative, as a grassroots movement dedicated to the cause of achieving gender parity for women playwrights (and all female theatre artists), has been around for awhile now. Inspired by the advocacy efforts by women playwrights in New York, Jennie Webb and I had our first conversation about it in September 2009 over lunch at the Marmalade Café on Ventura Blvd. In November 2009, we put up a temporary website, begged Ella Martin to head a study of L.A. female playwrights’ activities in the first decade of the 21st century, and tried to figure out how to organize a community-wide outreach to the hundreds of female dramatists here (and those who love them)—not an easy feat when you consider SoCal’s 500 square miles.  But we knew lots of people here cared about this issue and wanted to do something about it. We had our first official meeting in March 2010 at Theatricum Botanicum during a major storm; it seems like a metaphor, looking back. Still, many talented women and men trekked to Topanga Canyon during the torrential rain, and spoke from the heart about how and why this cause—and theatre as an art form—matters.

That initial wet chilly meeting seems like ancient history now; so much good work has happened in the past 2+ years. There’s a long list of artist-volunteers who have contributed to the LA FPI mission. Some highlights include: the creation of this website by Jennie Webb, sponsored by Katherine James; the award-winning staff of playwright-bloggers (Tiffany Antone, Erica Bennett, Nancy Beverly, Robin Byrd, Kitty Felde, Diane Grant, Jen Huszcza, Sara Israel, Cindy Marie Jenkins, Analyn Revilla, and Cynthia Wands) who are featured daily in this space, expertly managed by editor Robin Byrd; Ella Martin’s historic 2011 study results; Alyson Mead’s podcasts with inspiring women playwrights; the Women at Work Onstage page (still the only weekly list of female-authored shows in L.A.), created/maintained by Laurel Moje Wetzork; the bi-monthly e-mail blasts that include member news and submission opportunities, curated by Erica Bennett, then Helen Hill (we’re now looking for communication help!); the support from Larry Dean Harris, who wrote about us for The Dramatist—and gave us a spotlight, featuring Janice Kennedy, at a 2010 regional Dramatists Guild meeting (followed by a panel slot for us at 2011 National DG Conference); the new venture with Tactical Reads launching this week, connecting women playwrights to female directors, originated/helmed by Sabina Ptasznik; the spread of our badges on the Web and in person (a branding scheme with an important meme); an annual look at LORT seasons and stats in SoCal as related to gender parity and playwriting; the enthusiastic LA FPI support for female artists in the Hollywood Fringe Festival in 2011 & 2012 (lead by Cindy Marie Jenkins, Jennie Webb, Jan O’Connor, Alyson Mead, Kat Primeau, and Jessica Abrams); sharing scenes via social media in order to increase accessibility and visibility; approaching theaters to ask how we can build relationships, fostered by Debbie Bolsky and Tami Tirgrath; meet-ups to see plays by women, coordinated by Task Force leader Diane Grant; online discussions, such as the fascinating one just hosted by Cindy Marie Jenkins with guests Etta Devine and Carolyn Sharp, about applying the Bechdel Test to the stage—a streamed broadcast that may (fingers crossed!) evolve into an ongoing monthly LA FPI/TV theatre conversation; etc. We have more people following us on Twitter, domestically and worldwide, than ever before. Lots of folks “Like” us on Facebook. And it’s all been created and executed by volunteers of professional theatre artists, for free!


But has anything really changed? “Has LA FPI made any difference at all?” It’s a question I’m frequently asked and asking. When we compiled the SoCal LORT stats in May/June this year, for a while it looked as if there might be small gains of +1.5% or even +3.5%, in terms of female-authored shows for the 2012-2013 professional seasons. But then, in the end, it was pretty much the same as it ever was: still around 22% (or slightly less). Discouraging! “Is consciousness-raising effective anymore?” we wonder. Why doesn’t the excellent LA FPI blog have more commenters, at the very least?

In these moments, I have to remind myself: Statistics don’t tell the whole story—only part of it. Things have changed in this way: we are not sitting around and ignoring “the problem” any more. We were cautioned in the early days of LA FPI not to confuse “Activity” with “Progress.” Maybe not, but when you have this much ongoing work towards a goal (see above), there’s a shift of some sort—of attitude, of creativity, of focus, of opportunity, of spirit. It may take many more years before we achieve true gender parity for female theatre artists in the English-speaking theatre (or for women in the world at large). But we’re pretty sure that more Angelenos are aware of the issue and are working towards the goal of parity now. Solved? No. Better? Definitely.

Female theatre artists in New York continue to advocate for gender parity; the 2012 Lilly Awards held on June 4, 2012, at Playwrights Horizons, and the upcoming “We Are Theatre” protest on September 24, 2012, at the Cherry Lane Theater (organized by the Guerrilla Girls On Tour!, 50/50 by 2020, Occupy Broadway, and the Women’s Initiative members of the Dramatists Guild) are two timely examples.

Recent reports from the U.K. and Australia also mirror our struggles. Lyn Gardner, writing from London in The Guardian in February 2012, wonders if a universal blind submission policy is a possible remedy. A new report, “Women in Theatre,” released April 2012 by the Australian Council for the Arts, details the status of Australian women playwrights and female theatre artists. Those who authored the report found “no progress over the decade since 2001 and there is evidence that the situation for women in creative leadership deteriorated over that time” (pps 4-5). It’s a thorough, well-crafted study, and on page 49, there’s a “cross-sectoral approach” that suggests three pathways towards improvement in the professional theatre arena:

1) Information
2) Accountability
3) Vigilance

These points really resonated with us because they align with so much of our LA FPI work thus far. And it’s reassuring to know that others in the arts, including the Australian Council, recognize that the problem of gender parity in theatre is a grave one and must be remedied.

Here’s our promise. We will continue to spread the word; we are taking stock. And of this you can be certain: we won’t give up.

What are your ideas about how to create equal opportunities for women playwrights and female theatre artists? Join us on Wednesday, June 27, 7 p.m., for our next LA FPI gathering to share ideas and network, followed by an 8 p.m. reading of Paula Cizmar’s new play Strawberry, directed by Sabina Ptasznik in the new Tactical Reads program
. And please share your thoughts in the comments section below. 


Go-Go-Gadget Brain

I drove home from rehearsal last night, my brain firing off lists like nobody’s business – Program, DVD, Certificates, Monk’s, Forks, Fruit, Sound, Tech (!), Blog, Blog, Blog…

So I got home and stuffed my mouth with a ChocoTaco and set down to tidy up a few things on that list before my lids revolted and permanently shut down for the night, in the hopes that I could get a handle on it all somehow…

What is it that drives me to continually engineer means to be busy?  I look around at my “Civilian” friends who have their evenings free to eat at the table, watch t.v. and help the kids with their homework and I think “Am I just crazy?”

Or is it part of the artist’s path that s/he may not be satisfied until her/his work is out there… in the world… making some kind of imprint…

I woke up this morning after dreams about tornados and long, treacherous hallways (thank you subconscious) with that list-making brain already back in full gear, and noticed -forming at the bottom of that list – were fresh thoughts about the next big “What if…” project.

Umm, I might be obsessed.

Which may be why I’m so tired.

See, I started LittleBlackDressINK out of my frustration with waiting… it felt like, as a playwright, I was always waiting for a reading, or a production – and (to be honest) although readings are fun, I’ve had about all of them I can cheer about and now just experience them as the observational meet and greets they mostly are – for very rarely does it seem the reading is being held to weigh in on possible production.  (If you haven’t read Outrageous Fortune yet, they talk extensively about the realities of what many of us call “Development Hell” and it’s seriously fascinating to hear from both other playwrights AND theatre companies on this subject)

Which isn’t to say that I don’t enjoy readings – I do, I do.  I just attend them with my writing ears on and little expectation beyond some new business cards in my pocket and rewrites on my mind.

Meanwhile, I’m hungry for stage time.

So it seemed the obvious step to carve some out for myself.

Yet… the hat-juggling of working a “real” job, plus producing/directing a show, plus the numerous other projects I have running simultaneously (I’m in the midst of managing some theatrical marketing for an upcoming event and I edit two other blogs) does make me wonder when I’ll tire of this circus life and…

…Settle down?


Doesn’t it manifest a “Throw in the Towel” type vibe when you read that?

But will I ever be able to truly support myself on my writing alone?

Will I ever be able to truly be satisfied with a teaching gig and some writing time in the summer?

Will things change when I finally tie my wagon to another’s and start popping out tots of my own?

Or am I too hard wired for motion?  Too geared for hurdle-jumping, to ever truly slow down to a snails pace, and get back to just “Waiting”?

It’s probabaly all a little too much to be thinking about at the moment- I’ve got a mountain of things to check off that list today and scant time for little else – but still, it lingers…

It lingers along with loud dreams of the next “What if?”

~Tiffany Antone

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.

My new standard for when a play is working

I’m going crazy over the amount of texting going on in the theatre these days. Do people not imagine it’s driving those around them crazy?

I saw a very bad production of Jon Jory’s not very inventive adaptation of “Pride and Prejudice” in Orlando back in February. (more on this tomorrow)  People were taking phone calls, texting, even some joker on the far side of the theatre was sending messages, the light of his phone was brighter than the stage lights.

I even chewed out one young theatre goer in Silver Spring at a matinee last month.  I’m becoming the crabby old lady I always accused my mother of being.

But then I realized the only time people were taking out their phones was when the play dragged. Nothing interesting was happening onstage. They were bored. And frankly, so was I.

I tested this theory at a few plays that really worked. No one reached for a cellphone. Not a single text.  

So here’s my new standard of finding out when a play is working well: when nobody even thinks about taking out their phone. They are too enthralled in the action of the play. They care about the characters. They want to know what happens next.

THAT’s the kind of play I want to write!

Entry Level

Yesterday I published an article for Bitter Lemons on the amazing way that Arena Stage, 2amtheatre and LA Stage Alliance* are working together to widen the dialogue on new plays.

That’s fascinating in and of itself – not my article, but all the detail and coverage that Arena Stage created and is creating, so that artists know what people are talking about and can contribute in a meaningful way.

Remember that.

Cut to later that day, and Dennis Baker announces that the LA satellite convening was relocated because of high attendance. It happened to be relocated to four blocks from my house, the site of the new Atwater Village Theatres, home to EST-LA and Circle X.

Not just convenient for me, but I amended the original article and then could post it on Atwater Village Now, gaining more exposure for both the event and the neighborhood. While writing it, though, I thought of my audience for Atwater Village Now and decided they might have no idea why a convening on new plays is important. If my goal was to interest those outside of theatre practitioners to find interest in the art and the craft, then I needed to write an entryway into the article. The Editor suggested I give some history, a small idea of how important this dialogue is for the national community, the theatrical community, and in some way give a larger importance to our community.

This was my introduction. I welcome feedback and suggestions in the comments:

With Broadway focused on revivals and musicals based on movies and star vehicles, new plays often go by the wayside. If you are an unknown playwright, it’s nearly impossible to be produced.

Not so at The Arena Stage, however, and they’ve been working intensely for a national dialogue that includes all voices – new playwrights, established playwrights, and the people who decide which plays are produced. Arena Stagey began a New Plays Convening yesterday in DC, and Los Angeles participates on Saturday, in our brand new Atwater Village Theatre!

*Full Disclosure: I also write for the LA Stage Times.

How do you invite laymen into the theatrical experience?

Dramaturgy and the Playwright

I wasn’t sure what I was going to write about this week – Christmas is here, the semester is nearly over, and the possibilities seemed (frighteningly) endless; Should I lament the mountain of submissions that’s been haunting my desk?  Talk about what it feels like to send out job after job after job application as I pray for a professorship teaching playwriting and acting somewhere green (but snowy at all the right times too) allt he while trying to keep up with the algebra class on campus so I can continue to TRY to tutor these kids on absolute values?  Should I talk about my new play?  My new blog that is thrilling me but keeping me up late (www.LosAngelesFAIL.com)?  WHAT SHOULD I WRITE ABOUT?!

Then I woke up to a four-pronged debate happening on the Literary Managers and Dramaturgs of the Americas listserve.


And I thought, this is going to be an interesting Monday.

Basically (and I haven’t the permissions of those contributing to the debate, or else I’d repost their comments here) the discussion began with someone sharing a post by a dramaturg lamenting the process of dramaturging a show being directed by the playwright him/herself.  (Woof, did you get all that?  Because, I ran that sentence all the way to the finish line!)  I imagine that in such a case as this, even the best intentioned playwright could be a bit unyielding to a dramaturg’s best intentions – (after all,  there’s certainly the chance for a more balanced discussion with three at the table instead of just two) but the firestorm of discussion it stirred showed me that there is quite a lot of contention amongst two of a play’s (very important) team-players…

Because, as with many things put together through community/committee effort, so many voices are sure to have different opinions on just how the idea at hand is to be realized.

Some interesting points made (on both sides):

  • A script ain’t a Play until others (actors, designers, directors, etc) get involved – the argument stresses that you can write a script, but you can’t predict the Play .  And until it’s “played” it’s just words/ideas on a page.

Hmmmmm….. How do you writers feel about that?  Doesn’t it seem just a wee bit pretentious to assume that a playwright can’t fully understand his/her own work enough to be able to “predict” what it will look like and therefore be allowed to expect that the thing will be treated with some form of reverential realization before getting dressed down by an outside “opinionator” (now, that’s a fun new word!) –  Does such a theory indicate the theorizer believes him/herself a necessary component to “helping” the playwright’s “script” become a Play?  And until it’s a Play, is it just, merely, some thoughtful scribble on a page requiring help?

This discussion point alone saw many comments… One of the best (and most balanced) arguments I read stated that “dramaturgy is a function, not just a title, and nobody has a monopoly on insight” (credited to John Guare in regards to a note he once received, and applied, from an usher)  Isn’t it healthier for the working relationship at large if ALL involved are approaching the play with this mindset?  Rather than approaching the play as a thing that needs to be beat into shape by these new involvees (dramaturge/director/etc.)?

  • A text isn’t ever really fixed… This argument was made a few times in regards to plays “evolving” over time from production to production.  The caveat being that “new/emerging plays” (vs. those by dead playwrights) need to be aware of this “ever evolving” theatrical condition (and presumably, more open to dramaturgical responses) than those “dead” plays, long proven to work (Williams, Miller, etc.) or old enough to allow for as much “evolution” as the public will allow.

Does approaching a script as a constant “work in progress” help/hasten the development process, or does this attitude in fact, get in the way of fleshing out what the writer has written?  Jessica Kubzansky, a talented writer/direct and mentor of much esteem, has oft said “Commit to everything, but marry nothing” when working with new plays.  I LOVE this mentality!  For how can you possibly know whether a thing works, if you don’t first try it out – and try it honestly, sincerely, and to the best of your abilities?  It is only then that the “team” producing a script, and the playwright him/herself can truly decide whether the thing works.  But to approach a script thinking “It’s only words, and it’s going to have to evolve to suit those producing it” is a little too close to Hollywood practicum for my tastes…

And this was right about the time that copyright got thrown in the mix… And also about the time that someone piped in with a flippant remark that

  • Copyright is an American invention and European playwrights expect their work will be meddled with. (obviously, you can discern my opinions on this… the commentator himself did not use the term “meddle”)

Look, I’ve had this discussion before – (who hasn’t?)- when I was at the Kennedy Center Page to Stage Festival with one of my plays, I got to speak on a panel with other playwrights, dramaturgs, directors, actors, and development people.  Someone asked how we felt about letting directors have their way with our work, and the discussion suddenly got a bit frosty.  The argument was made that Shakespeare gets re-vamped/reworked all the time, and my reponse was “Yes, but how many of those ‘revamps’ are ever any good?”  The last thing I need is some cocky director looking at my text as his/her own blank canvas… I don’t write that way.  Some might (Thank you, Charles Mee and others, who write in such open and bold manner as to invite collaborators to “play” with your text.) but, until I write a script and include the author’s notes “Do with this text as ye will” – I’d like those directing or producing the thing to honor my intentions.  After all, why produce the thing if you just want to change it all around?  (I do actually write for designers and directors to have a lot of interpretational freedoms in most of my plays – because I see the benefit to varied productions on those scripts… but I include those encouragements in my author’s notes… and they’re prescribed freedoms within the context/world of the play.)

Ultimately, my response to this argument is that we have copyright and licensing laws to protect the text, and I’m THANKFUL for this “American” process!  I am thankful that we, as playwrights, can write with the expectation that our intentions should be honored and that we can also chose to eschew those protections if we see fit.

In any case… I’m not going to sit here and exclaim that the text as I first excitedly print off is the same that will be left on opening (or closing) night… but I am going to declare that until I’ve worked with actors and directors and maybe even a dramaturg or two, the script deserves to be flexed on its own merit.  It needs to be tested, discussed, tried, and re-worked… and I will do the work/revisions based on my interpretations of those readings/run-throughs/and discussions.

For, if a dramaturg wants to write a play, they should, in fact, take up the pen and paper.

If they want to dramaturg a play, they should approach it as a lover of words and “inspector” of moments/theme/consistency… they should approach the script AND the playwright with respect. (and in my experience, most good dramaturges do just this)

If it’s tearing apart and remodeling a person is into, then I think they should consider a career change… Hollyweird is always looking for new development personnel to “Fix” and “Mangle” screenplays… And the pay is way better too 😉

Part 2… (or)… Rewind!

When I was an undergrad, I worked as a literary intern for a Los Angeles theater company.  The company’s mission was to produce work by Los Angeles writers.  I was put in charge of selecting plays for a fall festival of new work.  “Oh goodie!” I thought, “I can’t wait to meet these writers!”  And I proceeded to select a handful of plays that I thought exhibited the most talent and promise.  They were on varied subjects, three were written by men, two by women, one of the women was Latina, one of the men Japanese; all the rest were white.

When I sent an email to the artistic director with the playwright’s names and play synopsis, I received back an email exclaiming that my selection wasn’t diverse enough – why were there so many white men in the line up? – Along with a list of “diverse” playwrights to contact about putting in the festival; playwrights who I had previously heard of, but none of whom had submitted work to me.

I wrote back questioningly, “It looks like you have a quota in mind – are you asking me to fill these slots according to ethnicity?” Which elicited another bristling response “Los Angeles is a diverse community.  It has always been our intent to reflect that on our stages.  We have only once done an all white-cast play, and one of those characters was handicapped”


Needless to say, only one of the plays I had selected was for an all-white cast.

So I suggested that the artistic director’s intent be reflected in the company’s mission; maybe more diverse people would submit work and we would have a more colorful (and well written) pool of scripts to pull from in the future.

To say that the whole discussion was “awkward” would be an understatement.

Now… several things must be addressed if I am to be as objective as possible :

  • I am white. It is possible that as such, on a subconscious level, my predilection is for scripts by/for/about similarly pale-skinned persons.  I don’t think this is the case, as some of my favorite authors hail from different parts of the rainbow, but, nonetheless, it could very well be a factor for me in determining which plays I find exciting.
  • I am a woman. As such, my tastes may very well be different than a man’s, or, as recent studies have shown, I might be more critical of  women’s work than men’s… I certainly hope this isn’t the case, but it must be mentioned. Especially since, as I acknowledge in the following bullet point…
  • I am a playwright. What does this have to do with anything?  Perhaps nothing… or perhaps as a playwright, I have developed a certain style/taste and hold material to similar standards of my own work… perhaps I like best the work that I would like best to have written…   I couldn’t tell you.  Certainly I revel most in work that I look at with admiration – but is this admiration based on an internal, completely subjective scale?   Am I secretly lusting after white-centric plays because those seem to be what I write?

I bring these things to the forefront of my discussion because I think it is important  (if I am going to ask what I am about to ask) that I acknowledge what may be my own limitations as a script-reader.  It is important to acknowledge that while I am a heterosexual, white, female playwright, the artistic director was a homosexual, *non-white (I don’t want you all guessing who I’m talking about now), male director, who had a completely different perspective than I .

So who was I to argue for these “White man” plays?  Who was I to be reading for this company in the first place if our aesthetic was so off?  And, as a woman, should I have been pushing them on out the door with the same verve as my AD?

But, more importantly; who were wither one of us to host a new play festival of work we had to go out and ask for, when we had a mountain of engaging submissions from Los Angeles writers before us…  just because those submissions were from predominantly white playwrights.  And was I supposed to include (what I considered to be) weaker material, simply because it was written by someone more “representational” of LA?

Was it my job to go out and ask for new material from established writers of color simply to make our festival better reflect (in the artistic director’s eyes) the Los Angeles community?

Right, wrong, or in-between, what wound up happening is what usually happens when an artistic director makes a request – we shuffled and asked, and put together a line-up much more in line with his vision and much further from the material I’d been reading the past 6 months…  Meanwhile, I had to send “TBNT” letters to a handful of very qualified and talented writers, for no other reason than that they were too pale for us to produce.

Isn’t that a strange and odd turn of events?


(Tomorrow:  Part 3, or, The Angry White Woman…)