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, and then I talked about how awesome it is that playwrights are starting to get their mutual acts together. Today’s last post in the series:
If you want to develop a new play here in DC, it really isn’t that hard any more to find help.
For starters, we now have a diverse array of play development opportunities available for those who want to make new plays in the old way: by workshopping and reading them aloud. The Inkwell, of course, is foremost among them, and although they help develop plays that were written all over the country, they have genuine and lasting devotion to working with DC-based playwrights, as well as a track record of doing so, that sets the bar very high. After several years of operation, Artists’ Bloc — which offers playwrights a variety of means by which to explore new work with audiences, and which also serves primarily local theater makers — has become a fixture, too. And then there’s First Draft, which has begun developing not only plays, but audiences for plays: a very promising beginning that has already born fruit.
(The grandparent of them all was the First Light Festival at the now-defunct Theater of the First Amendment, which not long ago announced it was shutting its doors. As someone who developed two plays with that wonderful organization, I know we’re going to miss them.)
Along these same lines, if you just want to hear your play read in front of an audience (which is a very useful thing, if you ask me), it’s not that hard to work with a local theater and put together a reading for the venerable Page-to-Stage Festival at the Kennedy Center. (We almost lost it last year — funding was an issue — but it’s back and on firm ground again.) Audiences are plentiful, and the excitement in the building all weekend long is palpable. Another reading series that’s new to the scene (and that also has terrific ambitions for the future) is the National New Play Network’s DC-Area Writers Showcase: a fantastic opportunity to strut your stuff in front of theaters all around the country. We’re damn lucky to have it.
If you’d rather not follow a more traditional path, of course, you can always consider joining one of the new devised theater ensembles that are popping up all over the city… of starting one of your own. Thanks to Bright Alchemy, Dog and Pony, Happenstance, and a few other groups, the road has begun to be paved in the city. Artists are getting more and more familiar with the devised theater concept, and audiences are catching on, too. (If they haven’t already.) There’s great energy here, and it’s probably only going to build. I consider that very hopeful.
If you’re a do-it-(mostly)-yourself kind of person, you can also produce your own work at the Capital Fringe Festival. I’ve gone that route myself now twice, and it was essential to my early career. It’s an education in producing theater, which is great… but it’s also a relatively easy way to get your work in front of an audience quickly. The Fringe folks know what they’re doing, and the experience is a terrific whirlwind. And while we’re on the subject: the last few years in the city have seen the arrival of several new theater companies around town that began as groups of artists producing at Fringe. They have experience working with DC-based playwrights and other theater artists and they’re creating new opportunities all the time. (Which reminds me to mention the local small theaters — Active Cultures, perhaps, primary among them — that have been working with DC-area playwrights for a long, long time.)
Last, but not least, there’s the brand new Locally Grown Festival at Theater J, which kicked this past year into high gear for DC-based playwrights. It’s not clear yet what the next year will bring, but if it’s anything like what I (and four other DC-based playwrights) experienced, it’ll be a great gift. The Locally Grown Festival is (in my experience) the single most professional and profound development opportunity in the city, and as it matures, it’s likely only going to get better. I’m excited to see what comes out of it next.
So, that’s the end of my series. I hope it’s been useful: that it helped shine a light on many of the great things we’ve got going for us, while not ignoring some of the struggles we’re still facing. I hope to do this same thing every once in a while — though it’s been a big challenge, so perhaps not too often. In any event: thanks for reading, and for helping to make this a better city for new work.