Posts Tagged ‘Dramatists Guild’

Dramatists Guild — Ohio Region — DIY: Self-Production for Playwrights, Lyricists, and Composers

November 14th, 2011 1 comment

DIY Conference

Dramatists Guild of America

Went to the 14th Street Theatre at PlayhouseSquare yesterday for another fantastic day-long Dramatists Guild conference put on by Faye Sholiton, Cleveland Regional Rep, and the wonderful people from DG.

Both Roland Tec, Director of Membership for the Dramatists Guild of America and David Faux, Director of Business Affairs for the Dramatists Guild of America were in from New York to speak about issues relevant to the careers of playwrights: empowerment, self-production, taking the bull by the horns, artistic integrity, ownership of intellectual property, subsidiary rights and royalties, and much more. The space for the event was very generously provided by PlayhouseSquare, and Linda Jackson, Community Engagement & Education Program Manager for PlayhouseSquare was present to talk with us briefly and discuss Launch, an artistic residency program at PlayhouseSquare.

Roland Tec

First, Roland spent around an hour-and-a-half discussing the playwright as producer, including the topics of money and budgets, project oversight, organization, hiring and firing, contracts, and marketing and promotion.

For Tec, as soon as you (the playwright) begin discussing a project with others you are either moving the project forward or moving it back; that is, you’re getting a sense as to whether it is ready to be brought into the public sphere or not. Furthermore, for Tec, as soon as you gather people together to read your script you are engaged in the process of producing your play: even if as Tec says, it’s just as simple as inviting people over for lasagna and then having a read through.

In discussing the playwright as producer topics mentioned above, Tec noted that it is rare to find all the qualities that you need in one person; that is, it’s rare to find a person who can gather and motivate people and who can organize, balance a spreadsheet, etc Tec advised that if you can find such a person that you hold on to him or her for dear life.

For Tec, no production is produced by a producer — there must be a team of people. And to this end, it is crucial to get out and see other people’s work and to participate in a community. That in order to produce work you need to have a community of people to support you.

Producing a work is a monumental task. To this end Tec provided practical advice:

  1. Gather people
  2. Have a notebook for the project
  3. Every note on every conversation should be in the notebook, for example:
    • I called actor A and he will be out of town for two months and be back in June; or
    • notes on who showed up to your reading, who acted in the reading, who read parts, is the actor right for the role? Notes on how each person did.
  4. Every conversation moves the project forward or moves it back; pulling back is an example (often) of self-deprecation–i.e. not giving yourself enough credit for what you’ve done. But it can also be doing productive versus unproductive things. Example…

Tec provided a rule about productive versus unproductive communications which he learned “from the guy who brought Pedro Almodovar to America”–**Correction**Tec didn’t say and I have no idea who this person is **but now I do, and so do you, dear reader, because Roland was good enough to comment below**. The rule is that you must include all relevant information in your requests. Again:

Rule: you must include all relevant information in your requests.

It seems very basic, almost comic, but the reality is that we all do it all the time (ineffective communication) and the result can be that we’re asking someone else to do the work that we did not, or fill in the pieces of information that we left out. To this end, I’ll provide the example that Tec provided:

Counter-productive email: “Hey Joe, Just a reminder that we’ll need sides for the auditions next week. Thanks, Roland.”

Productive email: “Hey Joe, Please make sure we have at least 12 copies of all sides for the auditions next Tuesday, November 8th from 10am – 6pm at Ripley Grier Studios, 580 Eighth Avenue, 12th floor. To recap, the sides we agreed upon are: For Role A: pp 2-5; For Role B: pp. 45-49 + 88-89; For Role C: pp. 3-7 + pp. 18-21. Make sure all copies are collated and stapled and printed, single-sided, with PROPERTY ACME PRODUCTION COMPANY as a header. Thanks! And see you at 9:30pm for the setup. Cal my cell if you have any questions: 555-555-1234. Roland.”

You get the idea. In the first case, Joe is going to have to follow up with all sorts of questions: how many copies, single sided versus double, etc. In the second case the answers are provided, as much as possible, in the first email.

Clarify Your Goals

If you do a reading: are you trying to get a sense of the piece? Trying to find out what needs fixed? Find out who’s on board or interested?

Need A Producing Partner

You will need a director or actor, fellow playwright, etc. Particularly with new work. At some point the piece must be fixed (honed/refined) and this takes a critical eye. Simultaneously, there must be a cheerleader for the project–a champion for your show or what you’re doing. These two people cannot be the same person. That is, the person who is offering critical insight into the piece cannot be the person out saying “hurrah” for it.


According to Tec, a budget is a living breathing organism. It is a snapshot of your production TODAY. Reality on the ground: TODAY. For instance, rent costs change–so they may not be the same next month as you budgeted for today. Tec provided a sample budget which I can scan later as a demonstration. The point of the budget example is to show that a budget will tell a story. If you look at the proposed budget for a project and the actual budget for a project, you will see as story told in numbers that includes: assumptions, mistakes, discrepancies, opportunities, setbacks, etc.

A budget is a guestimate and it will change. It should be visited (re-visited) every week. A corollary questions is: How can we squeeze more for less? How much can you get for how little? Tec told the story of how a theater group he was working with got the use of a $2,000 light kit donated for $150 and later he heard the manager asking if it could be $0 instead. Tec says he thought, “that takes a lot of nerve”… but the reality is, again, how much can you get for how little?

Tec notest that sometimes you will simply not have the time to seek out donations (as this can take time). Same holds with volunteers–there is a plus and minus to using them. When you pay a professional to do something, he or she will do what is expected of him/her (theoretically) and the job will get done. When you hand off something to a volunteer, you might not get what you need. This brings up a point I heard many years ago when working with volunteers you should hold them to the same standard as paid employees–that you have certain expectations and they must be met, else you’ll fire them. And you can have to fire volunteers.

According to Tec, you must be clear about your expectations and that they are clearly defined when working with others. For example, a theater had a paid for the rental of a light kit and the company brought it out and installed it. However, for whatever reason they did not come back and take the kit down–but still expected it to be returned on time, etc. That is something that was just assumed when it should have been clearly defined. (i.e. who would strike)

This led to a side conversation, some notes follow:

Tec: If someone is doing your play and for whatever reason the company cannot pay you, ask for $1. If the company will not give you $1 then you know something about that company. Everyone who works on a play should have a contract. An example of something being clearly defined would be “Actors agree to speak the lines of the script.” Again, it seems absurd, but you can find yourself in a place where there is disagreement or where an actor is ad libbing, etc. Clear lines in a contract ensure that you can cancel the contract if things aren’t working out.

Faye Sholiton provided examples from a friend of hers in Los Angeles who has, over her playwriting years, had some egregious examples of things that have gone wrong or were unexpected. She may provide examples from this list later. Ask if there are hidden charges or see if you can discover any hidden fees–for instance, the LA playwright had a $400 computer repair charged to her in a production.

Another example is that a theater donated the space for a production, but the production had to use their house manager who was a union house manager and had to pay her salary for the productions.

Considerations of the space: example is that a space was identified for use in production in the summer and when the performance took place in the winter there was a dreadful knocking and banging of heat pipes. This was not something that was anticipated in the initial consideration. So, Tec gave the admonition to ask about pipes in winter, subways, etc.

Side note: when you are producing a piece in a certain space it is wise for the production to seek ads from the businesses in the area; Tec noted that the businesses are, in fact, buying good will, in that the production draws people who will use the businesses around the production. Tec also noted that this effort (ads) is done the “good old fashioned way”–face-to-face. He further suggested that there should be a synergy between the space and the piece–don’t do your play in a comedy club and expect the audience to take it seriously (if you play is highly dramatic or whatever).

Tec noted that contracts are not about suing people. They are about clear communication and to document expectations. In the end they are documents that should ensure a certain amount of civility in how people work with one another.

Tec: 10% of the total budget should be contingency. Someone in the audience suggested that he viewed it not as contingency, but opportunity $$.

Budget Worksheet

Roland distributed a Budget Worksheet that I can add to the site. It includes broad categories that one would expect in a budget for nonprofits, for instance, in Income there is fundraisers, grants, sponsorships, ad sales in the program, and even merchandise and concessions. There is also a formula that Tec uses to estimate Box Office sales at 40% capacity:

# of seats x # of performances x price of tickets x .4 = projected revenues for shows

Tec provided some good examples and ideas, for instance, when doing a fundraiser find a person who comes to your theater and supports your theater who has a fabulous home and who will handle the food and drinks, etc. If possible, find a friend who is a chef or starting a catering business to prepare the food; this person can leave out business cards, etc., to get his/her business off the ground.

Tec strongly advised that you NOT read the script at a fundraiser. He’s been to fundraisers where that has happened.

You’ll also need someone to be the “speaker” someone who is upbeat and can do an ask. Along these lines, when it comes to the ask, Tec offered a *secret*: always come to a donor with a number in your head and always speak the ask and then shut up. Let the donor fill in the silence. “We were thinking that yours support would be $25,000.” Then you shut up. Tec says that people always have a tendency to take away from what they ask, so simply shutting your mouth is the best approach.

Fundraisers raise money, but they also raise awareness.

Beginning of the PR campaign for your show is when you hold auditions. This is when the talking begins. Actors talk with one another and this is the beginning of the public promotional campaign.

Every conversation moves the project forward or backward. When auditions happen, you are communicating about the project. If you have chaos in the auditions–behind time and off schedule, uncoordinated, forget order of audition candidates, etc.–you are conveying a message regarding what these productions will be like.

Stand on stage and welcome people. You should also be in the lobby after the show and during intermissions to talk with people and get feedback, etc. You should be accessible.

Fundraising Formula

Gather core people together, have a meeting, target list of who will be invited — say 250 people? 50 people? etc. What will the charge for the house party be? $75?

500 x 75 = $37,500 x .1 = $3,750 (never estimate more than 10%)

There are some companies or organizations that allow others to piggy-back off of their nonprofit status; for instance if you want to have a fundraiser but want the donations to be tax free (or a portion thereof). Fractured Atlas is one company that was mentioned. Applying for 501(c)(3) can be expedited and take around 6 mos. Other fundraising opportunities online include Kickstarter and Indie-Go-Go.

Investing productions
Corporate sponsorships
Run of the mills stuff

All of them work on personal relationships.

Estimate Box Office at 40%

$20 Tickets = T
200 Seats = S
40% Box Office = B
3 Performances = P

P x T x S x B = $4,800

When something is happening there is momentum which can draw other investors or interested parties. The caveat being that everyone has to be having a positive experience.

A question was asked, as was mentioned above, about the difference between a contingency budget and an opportunity budget. Roland advised that it is best to prepare several dream budgets, etc., to ensure that if you have lots of $$ rolling in that you know immediately where to direct it; versus a low end budget that is more realistic.

**Groupon** one of the people present discussed at length their use of Groupon for ticket sales to an event. That a Groupon rep will buy in if they like a project. You have to price carefully with Groupon as it is based on a two for one notion; so whatever the price of your ticket is, you will only get 1/2 of that. I.e. price accordingly. For instance, a $15 ticket is actually $7.50 per ticket. In addition, Groupon will take 50%, so you’re actually getting $3.75 per ticket. The amount of money in this case drops pretty significantly, but you have to realize that it’s a numbers game. In the experience described here the folks managed to get hundreds of people because of the higher profile.

So, lets take our example from above:

$20 Tickets becomes $10 dollar tickets which in reality becomes $5.00 tickets. But say that attendance due to Groupon goes up to 100% capacity.

P x T x S x B = $3,000

So, again, it’s a numbers game. In this scenario you lost $1,800 assuming various things (that you get 100% capacity in scenario B or that you achieve 40% capacity in scenario A). Alternatively, you can boost ticket prices in the Groupon examples, as the people buying are really getting 1/2 off. If you bump tickets to $30 a piece, your scenario comes out at $4,500, which is closer to the original scenario, but you’ve added 120 viewers for your work!

Proof read the ad. In the Groupon example the contributor noted that there was a mistake on Groupon regarding the start time which was listed at 10:00pm not the 9:00pm start time, so said contributor had to delay the start for an hour to accommodate those coming late.

Roland advised a Cheat Sheet in the box office that describes your show so the person in the office can read the description. Tec noted that there is nothing more dispiriting than calling a box office and hearing a person describe the show by saying: “I don’t know what that’s about, I haven’t seen it.” Or something like that.

Explore all group buying ventures and, as Tec advised, explore cooperative deals with other theaters for joint promotion.

Scheduling and Hiring

1st person you hire should be the Director. First, you really can’t put together a schedule without the director (auditions, performances, etc); Second, the director needs to coordinate with the production team (including set design, costume design, etc)

You should identify the first date for the performance and work backward from that date.

Tec breaks the process into 3 phases:

Preproduction — includes consideration of design, space, auditions, staff, time frames, etc. Tec advises that you let the designer pick his own people/team.

During preproduction you should create a list of all the things that need to happen/be accomplished in preproduction and you must check off the list. This must include contracts, union contracts, etc.

Production — includes rehearsals (don’t start until casting is complete), PR (website), Box Office, house management. The press releases should have a contact name and that name should NOT be that of the playwright, director, or an actor.

Post-Mortem — counting money, paying all bills, strike set, PR clipping book for the play, core team dinner meeting to assess the results. Every unpaid bill is a relationship in jeopardy. Follow-up communication or email to thank everyone involved. Get feedback from everyone you can.

Should have a production office — doesn’t have to be a rented space or store front, but needs to be a place where people can come to drop things off or pick things up.

Tec distributed a worksheet — Untapped Equity Sheet — that allows you to identify untapped equity from the people around you. Tec notes that we tend to think “task then resource”–example: “I need to do a mass mailing: stuff envelopes, affix labels and stamps; so I need x many people to do this.” Again, Task –> Resource.

Tec encourages you to think the opposite direction: identify resources that you have in your life and then identify appropriate tasks for the resource (hence the untapped equity sheet). So, identify people who can help with your production and think about how they can help your production. Assign roles and tasks based on willingness, skills, etc. Start with people, then find the tasks.

Regional Dramatists Guild Meeting

July 25th, 2011 1 comment

The following post is a summation of notes that I and several other playwrights took at a recent gathering of local playwrights where-in we shared our experiences and thoughts on each of our trips across the country to national events. The events included: the Dramatists Guild’s first ever conference: “Playwrights in Mind: A National Conversation” at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia; One Theatre World 2011, a conference on Theater for Young Audiences hosted by Seattle Children’s Theatre; the WordBRIDGE Playwright’s Laboratory at Towson University near Baltimore, Maryland; and the Theater Communication Group Conference: TCG at 50: What if…, in Los Angeles, California. In addition to reporting back on our experiences at the conferences, thoughts were shared on other topics throughout the evening.

Dramatists Guild

Playwrights in Mind” convened at George Mason University, June 9-12, Fairfax, Virginia. Under the dynamic leadership of Gary Garrison, DG’s Executive Director for Creative Affairs, the conference was judged a huge success. Estimated attendance: 350. This number included a stunning array of national talent: among them, Craig Carnelia, Kirsten Childs, Christopher Durang, Carol Hall, Mark Hollmann, David Ives, Greg Kotis, Emily Mann, Susan Miller, Marsha Norman, Jeffrey Sweet, Stephen Schwartz, Georgia Stitt, and Doug Wright. All of the presenters, including several DG staff and artists from all over the country, kept the momentum going, sharing a generous mix of craft/career advice and creative inspiration.

Faye [Sholiton]:  The first national conference of the Dramatists Guild was truly a national celebration of playwrights, composers, musicians and creators of live theatre. The organization (with 22 regions and more anticipated) is now a major presence around the country. Each region hosts meetings, workshops and other events, many of which draw national officials as presenters. Regional reps exchanged ideas on programming and ways to utilize local resources and visiting artists. The guild is committed to building a supportive and enthusiastic theatre community. It was made clear that the goal is not so much about membership recruitment as it is about community building – and that we are more concerned about providing service and support than setting attendance records.

Faye mentioned that she would like story ideas for the Dramatist; she has recently written about Mike Oatman and the Cleveland Arts Prize.  The story is told of Oatman’s new black T-shirt for the event.

Discussion turned to reporting some things about the DG conference, including that of the DG website upgrades, and comments were made regarding the session at the George Mason conference about the website.

Mention was made that the restrictions on membership in the Dramatists Guild have been loosened.  I am not sure about this area of the notes as I am not familiar with the former requirements regarding Broadway productions, etc.  But, as I understand it, one now need only show a program and pay an increased fee to be eligible for higher membership levels.

There was general agreement that Gary Garrison is a dynamic and vibrant leader, and that leaders determine or predict the success and direction of an organization and that Gary is a positive force.

Here Deb took over and started discussing her experience at the Dramatists Guild conference with an initial discussion of Jeffrey Sweet and his talk “Improvising your Play.”  And the encouragement to improvise your play off of an outline.  Lots of sessions, interviews, interactives, lectures, a mix.

On Christopher Durang: “This is your life” and his talk never got past 1978. 

A lot of talks and sessions on craft and theory, nuts and bolts of the business, working with and agent, without an agent, negotiation techniques, mythology in playwriting.  Karen Hall was there and on the panel and she really knew her business.  Adaptation panel.

Deb [Magid] came back extremely energized.

Deb mentioned America Now and Here: and Marsha Norman, Jon Robin Baitz, twenty-one playwrights. Arts at the center in dealing with the consequence of 9/11 and the subsequent effect on the American psyche – xenophobia, etc.

Deb discussed how Todd London depressed everyone with his talk, but then lifted everyone (or attempted to) in the last 5 minutes, with regard to the state of the theater and the playwrights in it. (Outrageous Fortune)

Deb went to the Haiku Project.  Very engaging as it was a playwright and a visual artist.  Looked at the visual perspective: forms, rhythm, structure, color; and then at the storytelling perspective.

Everyone was massively energized by the event.  Another workshop or session used clippings in a bag as the writing prompt: color, name of a relative, etc.  Deb noted that something there spoke to someone—there was a great array offered such that all comers had the opportunity to get something out of the conference.  Play readings, Theater of the First Amendment.

Deb mentioned that, and then undertook a serious effort to find, all of the sessions that were recorded from the DG conference. (See links)

Tom [Hayes] talked next.  The big take away for him from the Dramatists Guild meeting is that playwrights need to get off their butts and start producing their own work.  There is too much reliance on old models, which aren’t working any more for the majority of playwrights.  Theaters have piles of scripts/synopses that they can’t get through, they rarely select works that are new and look for playwrights with track records for success or “old” playwrights or adaptations or other means of getting people into theaters that don’t take into consideration new voices and new perspectives—so, if you want your work produced you better get rid of any passive notions you have about sitting back while a director and actors and others create your play because increasingly it will be the writer finding space, finding a director (or directing), running the lights or sound, etc.  The do-it-yourself era is upon us. And in many ways this is a good thing—a freeing thing.  And it offers the possibility of getting in touch with the “let’s pretend” portion of our psyches that existed when we were children and making plays and acting in plays and staging them was something that was fun and not something drab and political and merciless.

Tom went to quite a few talks by Ralph Sevush, Executive Director of Business Affairs for the Dramatists Guild.  Sevush talked quite a bit about copyright, other people’s property, and subsidiary rights.  All of these talks Tom discusses at length on his blog (  The conversation at the meeting took off a bit on some issues, including the claims by director John Rando that he owned the stage directions to Urinetown; and the way subsidiary rights can eat away at the production potential of plays.

Tom also discussed the keynote talk by Julie Jordan on Gender Parity in the theater, which was an emotional talk that stuck with him.

Finally, Tom briefly mentioned the notion of creating Web Series (Susan Miller’s talk); that is, writing television for the web and a project that he is working on with a peer to create episodic pieces for the theater (i.e. television for theater); working under the name Illiterite Theatre (with the tagline “theater that will rot your brain”).

Faye discussed her interview with Doug Wright and said how it killed her not to be able to take notes while he was speaking. She highlighted some of his insights, including his statement about the role of the artist: that we are the most uncompromising moral force today, more than all those institutions set up to give us guidance. Wright talked about how he initially feared that a stage production of Grey Gardens would destroy the very thing that made the movie so wonderful: its verisimilitude. And how two years later, the collaborators had a draft of the play. On Quills Wright noted that the positioning of Jesse Helms and Robert Maplethorpe was very influential—that they were painted as opposites and yet their antagonism (from the perspective of the press) worked out very well for both of them.  Here was one of Wright’s true zingers, that the “censor is the most reliable muse.”  Also, Wright talked about the importance of The Little Mermaid to the transgender community because they can identify with the fact that you have to change what is below your waist in order to find true love. (Quotes available at

Faye attended the Dream Workshop and is a big proponent of writing down dreams.  She mentioned that she received a worksheet on dreams and creativity which perhaps she will share.

Faye noted the Spirit of Giving that was present.  That staff would race to get copies of materials that ran out.  There were troubleshooters everywhere.  There were instances when there were too many people for a space and so the location was immediately changed and everyone just got up and moved. 

Faye mentioned that she has some of Doug Wright’s scripts which are signed and that perhaps they can be raffled off to raise $$ for local DG programming.  Faye is adamant that there will be no $$ charged for any DG event.

General commentary from those who went to the DG ensued discussing how impressive it was that each of the notable writers went to each other’s sessions and sat in the audience.   That they were very approachable and open to people when they came up to talk with them.

Several speakers addressed how to self-produce theatre, noting this is becoming a national trend. Faye is hoping to organize a DIY workshop in the coming months for the Ohio Region.

There was general discussion about whether or not it is permissible to use your own student’s life in your plays…that is, a student whom you’re teaching tells you his/her stories, can you use them?

Faye discussed David Ives approach to playwriting, which apparently includes his knowing the ending of the play before he starts.  Lively discussion followed with speculation as to whether or not Shakespeare knew the end of his play before writing…or Stoppard, for that matter.

One Theatre World 2011

Jacqi Loewy, Assistant Professor of Communication and Theatre, Notre Dame College, discussed her trip to Seattle for the One Theatre World 2011 conference on Theater for Young Audiences, hosted by Seattle Children’s Theatre.  Besides Tim Webb (who was the Keynote Speaker), workshops/speakers of note: Steven Dietz, Laurie Brooks and Garry Golden. It’s iTheatrics who produce the Musical in a Day workshops.

Jacqi, being responsible for a theater program, felt that NE Ohio did not need another theater program, per se, but could use a theater program for Young Audiences.

Jacqi noted that the first person she saw at the conference was Colleen Porter from Playhouse Square.  Jacqi described the experience as energizing and amazing.


A workshop with Tim Webb, from Oily Cart, in England. ( ) They work with kids with profound disabilities, using all the senses.  Seeing many live performances and enjoying talkbacks. Learning about groups with success stories. Of note: Book It Productions (, teaches literacy through drama. And one group mounted a memorable one-time performance of ANNIE – in a single day.

Plays tend to revolve around “issues” i.e. drugs. TYA identified bullying as a theme deserving of everyone’s focus. Every company pledged to create a program on the subject over the two years, until they convene again. Anti-drug plays continue to be a theme as well.

There were teachers teaching literacy via theater (i.e. theater of the people or People Theater, a la Augusto Boal.

Jacqi was enthusiastic as she met people who are doing what she wants to do and that they were very open to sharing and she felt compelled to hit the ground running before someone else “does it here.”

There were a lot of performances. Wed – Sat. Every day, every hour – a play was being done.  Sign up. See. Feedback, talkbacks. Kaiser Permanente was convinced to give $$ up front for a theater group to write whatever.  Corporations want in on the education bandwagon. Arts are the way to educate.

There was the question as to who owns the work (art) once it’s done.  Essentially and up-front question: is it work for hire or is the artist being given a grant to create work.  Many corporations want to re-use the work, so it is work for hire and branded and once the piece is done it belongs to the company that paid for it.

Jacqi mentioned that she started her career as a TYA actor in New York (Bugs Bunny and Wonder Woman)—many equity actors get their start this way. Academic perspective she was prepared…?

Commentary about Seattle being a big theater place in the 90s; that Seattle was big for everything in the 90s (Microsoft, grunge music, theater, arts, etc).  Jacqi was blunt about the notion that B-City people view themselves as being deprived, but she is impressed at how much opportunity there is—in both Seattle and Cleveland and that artists just need to get up and motivate and do-it-yourself. Which brings us back to one take away from the Dramatists Guild conference.

Not a lot of TYA is being taught at the university level, although University of Texas (Austin) has a large program. They invited others to come and see what they do. This participant attended the conference to begin a program at a Cleveland-area college.

Although finances remain the biggest obstacle to presenting children’s theatre, there is one hopeful trend: the corporate world is discovering the value of theatre/arts in education, and corporations are getting on the education bandwagon. Playwrights are being awarded commissions from $3,000 to $20,000 to write for kids. Sometimes this means that the playwright must relinquish ownership of the work and many have done so. Companies want to use the work to establish a brand.

The final message of the meeting: collaboration: look for other companies for co-production. An out-of-town match is best. Share designers, directors. Great creative possibilities as well as cost savings.

For more information on Theatre for Young Audiences, visit


This program is organized annually to grant its full resources to a handful of selected MFA candidates working in playwriting. This year (for the first time), it was held in Towson, MD, under the direction of David White. The event lasted about 2-1/2 weeks.

WordBridge invites a small group of playwrights annually – this year, it was four. They bring work in need of development, doing rewrites, consulting with experts in multiple disciplines. They revise some more, rehearse, under the guidance of a dramaturg. What sets this program apart is the consultant list: more than 40 people with expertise in everything from music, movement, theatre, and design to mathematics and psychology. All of them offered insights into the works in progress and fueled the creative process.

Our participant, a WordBRIDGE alumnus, was one of the dramaturg/mentors. He described how a mathematician created a three-dimensional vision of one of the plays, allowing the writer to see the work in new ways. A psychologist weighed in on behavioral issues. Multiple actors read the same words so the playwright could hear different interpretations. Graphic artists offered program designs to demonstrate how the story could be illustrated.

And then the artist could keep returning to the drawing board. Said the mentor, it’s the one chance you’ve got as a playwright to have total control over your own work: you have the power to replace the director, the dramaturg, the cast.

The process ended with readings of the revised works. Said the mentor, “I never thought I could feel so proud of a play that wasn’t my play.”

Committed to making the program as free from the pressure of making a “final product” as possible, WordBRIDGE keeps the process private. No public feedback mars the creative process, at least in this stage of development.

A special bonus was meeting foreign visitors who brought a different aesthetic to the process. They also gave updates on theatre abroad. The group learned that colleagues working in Hungary, for example, must deal with a right-wing government that has begun outing gays and Jews. The constitution, newly rewritten, has legitimized this sentiment, leaving theatres latitude to produce plays with only one theme: “All theatre has to be about hope,” said one visiting director. Small theatres cannot sustain themselves under the new restrictions. For updates, visit:

WordBRIDGE provides travel, housing and meals for all participants. Funding comes largely from alumni of the program. This year, Center Stage provided actor housing. 

And the work of local artists was also featured, a nod to the huge community effort that produced the program.


TCG had its biggest-ever conference, with 1100 attendees. A pre-conference meeting brought an estimated 125-200 participants. The setting was citywide, with the central venue the Biltmore Hotel. This did not always work in the conference’s favor, since the events were widely scattered and the neighborhoods unfamiliar. 

Among the highlights:

RADAR L.A. was in full-swing, the West Coast’s answer to the Under the Radar Festival in NYC. Ten plays ran in rep and featured Western and Southwestern themes.

Julie Taymor was celebrated in an interview that included film of her astonishing body of work. Few had seen what she created in Japan, for example. And it was enlightening to see how she transferred what she had created for stage to the big screen. Looking past the recent Spiderman debacle, one could only marvel at her contributions to the art of scenic design.

For one attendee, the highlight was a session about measuring the value of live theatre. Following the earlier model (“Gift of the Muse”) study in 2004, which was largely anecdotal, they are now evaluating audience response by examining the “intrinsic impact.”  (visit

Audience members in several theatres have been asked to fill out surveys following a live production. They are asked to evaluate what they have just seen using several criteria:

  • How captivated they were
  • Intellectual stimulation
  • Aesthetic growth
  • Spiritual connection
  • Emotional resonance
  • Social Bonding

These questions should be asked with any play under production consideration as they look at so many levels of impact. Moreover, the list makes us think of our own work – how would we score on the scale with any given script? One participant returned to Cleveland to distribute the questions to the artists involved in the season just ended and to the resident playwrights’ group.

One attendee noted that breakout sessions sometimes devolved into grousing sessions. Artists remain consumed with getting agents, whom they assume will assure them productions.

On the other hand, there were sublime moments. At the top of the list, an appearance by Mrs. Smith, a performance artist who (when the dowdy costume comes off) is David Hanbury. His character, matron/patron of the theatre, dropped in on a session entitled “You Call That Theatre?” that featured non-traditional forms in unusual venues. She feigned outrage at all that this so-called “theatre” is doing to ruin her enjoyment.

How dare they destroy the only art form that can deliver “the act of communal sleeping,” she railed.  Don’t ask her to turn her chair around, or go sit in an abandoned garage. Audiences like coming to a place where they are safe for two hours – to sleep.

Hanbury, who tours his solo shows, also appeared on behalf of a telethon for people and cats with severe and persistent emotional challenges. His appearances, as much as any, reminded everyone of the thrill we experience when we are taken by surprise and don’t know how something’s going to come out.

Much attention was paid to getting younger people interested in attending theatre. To set that scene, experts spoke of the current generation of teens who now send some 4,000 text messages per month (if they’re female, anyway). A key speaker was David Houle, author of The Shift Age. He spoke about the future – a time we already know has seen time and space broken down. We are digital now.

Think of people over 20 as the new “immigrants.” We will never get back the distinctions of the pre-digital era. Kids under 15 are the “natives.”

It’s not all bad news for us immigrants. There is an unprecedented awareness of what’s going on in the world, and how it relates to “me.” Kids have a sense now that “I am important, but so is that kid in Bolivia.”

And for all the seeming disconnection, look at how teens now express affection. Years ago, guys would hug only after a touchdown. Kids now hug A LOT.

The trend is moving toward devised theatre, according to those who attended the pre-conference. For some time, that kind of writing was being done in an ensemble, coming out of improvisation, with no author listed. Now, these groups are trending toward using playwrights and giving credit.

Follow these and other trends in upcoming issues of American Theatre magazine. 

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