With the permission of the Dramatists Guild, I am re-publishing my regional reports here on my blog after they’ve been published in print and released to members. My thinking is that (in some cases, at least) the columns I write will interest other theater practitioners and non-Guild members as well.
The playwriting life is all too often solitary. Aside from rehearsals and workshops, we spend most of our time alone, writing. And let’s be honest: some of us prefer it that way. We aren’t always the most socially-comfortable bunch, though success does require us to overcome our reclusiveness.
Even when we do get to spend time with fellow theater makers, furthermore, who are they? Directors, actors, designers, occasionally dramaturgs… right? So here’s the key question: how much time do you ever get to spend with your fellow playwrights?
One side effect of our collective isolation, I have found, is that we often feel disempowered. We become combative with one another, clamoring for what we think must be the same scraps others are clamoring for. We develop an “every-playwright-for-herself” mentality. It’s destructive.
How do we fight that? The first step, I believe, is to get us out of our bunkers and put us (one way or another) into the same rooms together.
For about a year now in DC, we’ve been working on doing just that. We started by holding “artistic speed-dating” events: formal gatherings designed to help playwrights break the ice not only with each other, but with their potential artistic collaborators. (You should try them in your own city!) We’ve held two of them so far, and they’ve been lots of fun.
But they were only the beginning. Creating a venue in which playwrights could sit side-by-side meeting directors and actors was one thing; giving us all an opportunity to sit face-to-face, sharing our fears and dreams and visions, was another.
So we started hosting a series of informal happy hours. We’d pick a day, pick a bar to meet in, and just… show up, without any agenda. It took a while for things to feel natural. Some happy hours were better attended than others. In addition, we lived such separate lives, frankly, that few of us really knew each other. But they started to become fun.
They were only the first step, too. Beginning with the 2012-13 theater season, we decided to take them to the next level. Instead of just meeting in a random bar, we began seeing shows together… and not just any shows, either, but productions of our own work. Once a month, we all gather, see a play, and talk about it. Our conversations are much more focused than they’ve ever been before. And we’re supporting each other with our theater-going dollars as well.
But the piece de resistance was the first annual Dramatists Guild-sponsored “Playwrights Rally” we held at the Kennedy Center’s Page-to-Stage Festival. If getting us together 10 or 15 at a time was successful, we thought, why not try to get EVERYONE together? Not only from the DC region, but the Baltimore region as well? And so we did.
My hope and expectation is that the hours we all spend alone in our offices and studios and coffee shops will be richer and less lonesome and more empowered than they ever have been before. In time, too, I’d like us all to start actively working, on a regular basis, on behalf of the new friends we’ve made in one another. Perhaps eventually, we’ll have a revolution of some kind. Wouldn’t that be wonderful?