For some time now, without realizing it, I’ve been relying on what seems to be a very effective method for organizing, rabble-rousing, and raising awareness that I feel like I really ought to share with the wider world. I’ve beenâ€”hold onto your hatsâ€”making lists.
World-shaking, I know.
But listen: it really has been making a difference. A huge difference. I’m not sure I can articulate why that is… but I thought that perhaps if I laid out a few of the lists I’ve created (or, in some cases, crowd-sourced), you might be persuaded to give it a chance yourself.
(Yes: I’m making a list about lists. Sue me.)
This collection of the playwrights working in the DC metropolitan area was my first foray into list-making… and it’s led to some rather large-scale changes for a lot of people. It started with a simple request here on my blog: Send me, I asked, the names of any playwrights you know in DC. I seeded the list with the 40 or so people I already knew of myself, then sat back and added every name people sent me. Within days we were up to 100, and before long we’d maxed out at about 250: way more than I would have suspected were out there. It was empowering to know how many of us were out there… probably working alone most of the time.
I think peopleÂ really liked being counted… and being included in something. (Even something as small as a simple list.) Before long, in fact, they wanted more… and the DC-Area Playwrights Facebook group was born. We now have a place to congregate (virtually), ask each other questions, share opportunities, arrange IRL gatherings, and help each other develop professionally. It’s a vital resource for the community… and it came from a list.
I Follow Playwrights
Once I got a taste for organizing playwrights, I thought… why stop at DC? I knew that for many playwrights, joining Twitter and finding playwrights to follow was a daunting task, so I curated a nationwide list of playwrights who tweet. The @IFollowPWs account on Twitter serves the sole purpose of following as many playwrights as possible… so thatÂ other playwrights can explore the account’s following list and find people to tweet with. I suspect the list is also going to find other uses, somewhere down the road… but the fact that it’s offering a simple, handy service makes it more than worth the effort to maintain it right now.
Plays in the DC Theater Season
Last year, with an eye toward getting hard demographic data about the playwrights being produced in DC, I made a new (and much more ambitious) list: a spreadsheet that includedÂ all the plays that were appearing on every single stage in the DC area during the 2012-13 season. The result was eye-opening: a clear indication of the lack of diversityâ€”one that inspired a great deal of Â hang-wringing, soul-searching, genuine conversation, and debate. Not to mention progress, too… as I hope this upcoming year’s list (launching soon) will reveal.
Books I Read and Plays I Saw
Of course, lists don’t only help you hold others accountable; they can help you take a hard look at your own behavior, too. For some time now, for example, I’ve been keeping a list of the books I’ve been reading. I’m not sure what inspired me to do itâ€”I think maybe lists just come naturally to meâ€”but I’ve found that it’s really helped me more attentively and thoughtfully curate what goes into my mind. I’m also now doing a similar thing with the plays I decide to see this season. I keep a simple spreadsheet that notes which theaters I visit and the gender of the playwrights whose stories I’m being told. I’ve made a commitment (to myself) to seeing more plays written by women than by men, year after year, until there’s genuine gender parity in the theater… and the list helps me stay true to my intentions.
Playwrights Wish List and Code of Ethics
The wish list was another crowd-sourced effort: a list of things playwrights would like to be different about the American theater. It helped convene a great national conversation about the ways in which our current play-making ecosystem wasn’t serving playwrights very well… and it also inspired a companion list, the Playwrights Code of Ethics. (You don’t really deserve to ask for changes, I find, if you aren’t willing to live up to high standards yourself.) Again: much discussion ensued. (And it’s probably time to revisit both lists, now that I think about it, gathering more input from more playwrights…)
77 Good Things
The last list I want to share (though there are others) might be my favorite: 77 things I happened to like (on the day I made the list) about the DC theater scene. (I picked 77 because it seemed daunting… and, in the end, it wasn’t all that difficult to come up with that many.) This is the kind of list that’s highly subjective; I could have added a thousand different things and it wouldn’t really have mattered. What mattered was the list as a whole, which really did nothing more than spread good cheer, creating (I hope) an esprit de corps among my fellow theater practitioners. (Thinking about it again now makes me feel like creating another similar list.) But an era of good feeling can be really hard to create in an artistic community… and if lists can help achieve that goal, I think they’re great.
Okay, so… those are my lists. Are you convinced? Are you ready to start making one of your own? Or should we make a list together first? Perhaps another crowd-sourced effort: a list of lists we’d like to make! What do you say? I say: let’s do it.