In an ongoing series of posts, I’m examining the current state of affairs for those of us writing and making new plays in the DC metropolitan area. The series began with a look at what I call the audience problem, then continued with an examination of civic pride (or the lack thereof), then discussed the issue of making (or using) spaces for art.
The series then turned in a more positive direction. I started with a look at one critical ally, who I think we under-rate. Today’s subject:
I don’t know what it’s like to be a playwright in New York; I’ve never done it. (And I don’t intend to.) I sometimes think all the competition must make it stressful. (Then again, that’s what I think about life in New York in general.) I imagine always being the fifth playwright in line for a three-play opportunity, or burning the midnight oil all the time to try to meet the right people, or worrying about making ends meet in a demanding financial environment. Of course, New York also sometimes seems like the land of plenty: opportunities, collaborators, shows to see, and so on. I’m sure it comes with more than its fair share of benefits, or we wouldn’t have so many playwrights living there.
Chicago also seems like a good place to be a playwright. It’s a fine company town, if your company is theater, and it sure does have a great tradition of strong theatrical voices. I’m sure Los Angeles isn’t bad, either, if only for the opportunity to work with so many gifted actors and directors and the possibility of screenwriting gigs. Minneapolis also seems to have a lot going for it (despite the recent conflicting reports on HowlRound), too; there’s the Playwrights Center, if nothing else, and that’s a pretty great resource. (I might one day move there and see for myself.) San Francisco seems terrific in its own way, as does Boston, and maybe Seattle — I don’t know. I wonder about them all.
(For the record, I am perfectly aware that I haven’t mentioned any rural areas. I have a friends who write plays in small towns all around the country, and I’m sure those are terrific places to write, too, in their own ways.)
After more than a decade in DC, however, I’m not sure I’d trade my home here for any other part of the country. For about a year now, give or take a month or two, things have been starting to change for playwrights in the city. While it once seemed, not long ago, like I had the whole city to myself — not because I did, mind you, but because we playwrights seemed to hide underground — I now find myself surrounded by playwrights. We’ve all started to spend more time together: working, talking, connecting, scheming, helping each other out, getting to know each other, and hatching a wide variety of plans. We’ve started to peaceably assemble, both virtually and in real life, and it feels good.
What’s come of that energy? Happy hour gatherings. An artistic speed-dating event. A DC playwrights slam at the Kennedy Center’s Page-to-Stage Festival. Another DC playwrights slam at the Intersections Festival. The newly-expanded DC-Area Writers Showcase from the National New Play Network. The Beltway Drama Series at Busboys & Poets. The DC Queer Theatre Festival. And more than that to come.
The feeling of scarcity in the new play sector, I have found, sometimes tends to make playwrights competitive with one another. Here in DC, though, we’ve started to overcome that negative energy. We realize, I think, that this is a time of opportunity for those of us who make new plays, that each others’ successes are good for the new play sector as a whole in this city, and that a healthy new play sector helps us all in turn. We need to continue to build on this energy… and I believe we will.
Next post: Further Developments