Friday, May 30, 2014

Session 6: 5/27/14

It was a smaller group than usual, I’m guessing because we were coming off the long weekend, and the reminders landed in inboxes and on feeds that weren’t seen while people were actually off their devices and enjoying sun and friends. Which all sounds good and right to me. And which makes me think about having the open office hours outside one of these days …

I decided to call this not “The Dramaturgy Open Office Hours”, but “The Dramaturgy Open Office Hour Project” because I didn’t have expectations for it, so much as an experiment I wanted to make. However many people show up, feels like the right amount for the week. (I do spend some time wondering whether I need to be better at publicizing, and then I do some more publicizing, and then I try to get back to dramaturging.)

And when there is downtime between visitors, I catch up with the guest dramaturg, which is always a treat. This week, I got to share conversation and a brownie—both excellent—with Molly Marinik. Molly freelances as both a dramaturg and director.

And, she was my dramaturg on this project. When I had the question, “what would it look like for a couple of dramaturgs to sit in a public space and provide dramaturgy for a few hours a week to anyone who wanted to stop by?”, she was the person I brought it to; her involvement gave me the incentive to write a proposal draft; she listened and asked smart questions and gave feedback and helped me get this on its feet. (Yes, dramaturgs need dramaturgs, too.)

We got some questions this week from a writer about assembling the text itself—in terms of readability, format, amount of stage directions to include, what sort of character/setting details.

Molly and I were in agreement that, as with most things, there is no single correct way to approach these elements; being educated and intentional about every aspect of your script is important, but the "right way" depends on what your vision is and how you want to communicate it. Molly’s astute advice, about this and in general: if you’re new at something and not sure how to go about it, see how the people who have been doing it for a longer time and with success have been doing it. Read other scripts. Ask around.

If you don’t have strong feelings that your script must be formatted in a non-standard way in order for it to be understood, I’d suggest doing it in the accepted standard format (see here), which has become such for its easiness to read.  But anything that doesn’t make the act of reading of a play a chore, doesn’t generally bother me. (It’s ironic to be discussing this topic on the blog this week, after adjusting its own look to the critique that the white text on dark gray background was difficult to read. Sorry, folks.)

As a reader, I am looking at the script so that I can try to imagine what it would be like onstage—and often, more specifically, whether the company for which I’m reading should consider producing it. If you want to futz with the formatting in a way that makes it easier for theatermakers to imagine your play onstage, that sounds great. Your diversions in format might evoke diversions in content or structure, for example; again, as long as they aren’t maddeningly difficult to read, that’s fine with me. Great writers including Suzan-Lori Parks have done this very effectively. Futzing in ways that don’t specifically inform the stagecraft feels more about shaping the reading experience as an end in itself, and isn’t helpful in my thinking of the script as a staged experience.

We also got asked about stage directions. Molly pointed out that as a director, while it is her obligation to make sure the dialogue is spoken as written, it's unlikely that all stage directions will be strictly adhered to, for a variety of reasons. Writers should include those that they consider to be necessary to their storytelling, or that help a reader (whether that’s a director or producer or whoever else might be considering your play for opportunities or collaboration) to follow certain dramatic moments or shifts that would be clear when embodied in a theater. They can serve a similar function for a reader as regular punctuation—which is to say, that they can indicate where a phrase or beat ends. But the heavy lifting should and will be done by the dialogue, and describing the entire play’s staging or the characters’ emotions, is not necessary.

Character listings and setting descriptions came up, as well. These can also allow a reader to more easily envision the script onstage. Producers want to know whether they can support the cast size your play requires, so it’s helpful when playwrights make the cast size/range clear—indicating the number of roles, and possible or required doubling—as well as the characters’ ages and genders, and whether the play is ethnically specific. If the casting isn’t specific in these ways, indicating that you encourage diverse casting is good practice. Charles Mee has a great version specific to him and his work here.

If your play has many settings, include your thoughts about how you see those being staged. Having specific solutions isn’t necessary—through the beauty of collaboration, a set designer will likely imagine something wonderful that you wouldn’t have thought of—but it is good to be mindful of whether your bedroom-to-zoo-to-alleyway scene transitions need to be represented literally/elaborately, or can be negotiated with minimal scenic/light elements. When you see shows in different spaces, ask yourself what it would take to produce your play there. Could your multiple settings be placed onstage at once, with lighting coming up and down on each area as needed? If the stage is smaller, or the lighting too basic, for that, would set changes be required (with pieces coming on and off), which would take up stage time and require a crew? Thinking about your play in three dimensions can help you decide which theaters to submit your work to, how to articulate what is essential to your story and what is ancillary, and possibly, how many locations to use.

Why not make it easier for someone to envision saying “yes” to you? Especially if you plan on submitting your play to people who don’t know you or your work. I think about this attention to the on-page version of your play as being akin to what actors do when showing up to auditions. In order to make it that much more likely for the people behind the casting table to imagine them in a role, actors will dress in a way that suggests them embodying that character. This doesn’t mean going in costume (nobody needs to see someone with a hunchback to envision that actor as Richard III), but simply highlighting their glamor, or that they’re down-to-earth; that they can be very business-like, or more rough. A savvy actor can put themselves in the director’s position, think about what the director is looking for, and come up with ways to make sure those qualities are visible—in addition, of course, to their talent.

In the time between attendees, Molly and I talked about the importance of good theater journalism—and, in particular, theater reviews of smaller productions that are unlikely to be reviewed by major publications. Molly started a website that does just that—Theatre Is Easy, or—which has been active for six years now, providing guidance to theatergoers, and helping create a lasting record of productions and individual artistic work that would simply evaporate if not documented in this way. For the majority of us who play outside of the narrow spotlight shone on the select group of mainstream theater personalities, how do we share what we’ve made and what we’ve learned? God bless Adam Szymkowicz, whose I Interview Playwrights series (here) is creating an Internet presence for the phalanx of contemporary writers whose work has yet to make it into American Theatre or to be published in self-titled collections. Thank goodness for the Times’s In Performance series (here), which puts on camera a mix of the best-known and simply the best stage performers, sharing snippets of their work on camera. I’m glad that HowlRound’s NewCrit series (here) provides a platform for theatermakers to discuss each other’s productions. And major kudos to Molly Marinik and the crew of writers she employs at theasy to see and seriously discuss the range of theater being made in New York. Intelligent words in print about our art aren’t the only source of legitimacy for us, but it keeps our art alive and in conversation with the work that came before it and is coming after.

Last week’s blog entry on the Dramatists Guild and its stance on dramaturgs, came up in discussion with Molly and one of the writers, as well. It was great to move past talking about the Guild’s stance on the relationship between dramatists/generative artists and dramaturgs, and on to actually talking about that relationship. I’m hoping more of these conversations will ensue, and I will continue to feature updates in this blog about how that progresses.

More next week.


Thursday, May 22, 2014

Session 5: 5/20/14

Miriam Weiner was the guest dramaturg this week. She works as Literary Associate at Vineyard Theatre, and also as a freelance director. This inspired a lot of discussion about the overlap between directors and dramaturgs.

Plenty of directors bring strong dramaturgical skills to their work, whether or not they self-identify as dramaturgs. Many of those who seem most appreciative of dramaturgs, I’ve found, are in fact very dramaturgically minded themselves.

I’m eager to invite into this project all of the best dramaturgs I know, whether or not that’s the title they’re listed by on their websites or in programs, because I want to talk about the process and role of dramaturgy in collaboration, as broadly as possible.

We talked about negotiating post-show conversations with a project’s artists, the sort that happen informally, one-on-one, as people are milling around afterward. One of the writers present this week was completely new to theater, and said she wasn’t even sure what questions to ask about what to do next with her script. Another writer recently began playwriting, and talked about being eager for honest critique and disappointed that all he gets after his shows are general positive remarks.

I feel that there is a karmic power to speaking up when you genuinely liked someone’s work. The pre-condition for this is, of course, showing up to see things. I don’t think any of us ever isn’t in the mood to hear that someone understood and appreciated and was affected by something we said or made, and so we owe it to each other to be effusive in our praise when we have it. And doing it for the generosity of it makes it more likely, ironically, for us to find genuine mutual connection with other artists, and maybe eventually find some benefit for ourselves.

If you can tell your story to other theatermakers you admire (and I credit Miriam with articulating this beautifully)—where you’re coming from, what you’re looking for, what you’re hoping to learn and achieve—they can choose to get on board for your journey, and maybe help it along. Their current position or title—producer, intern, performer, stage manager— is sort of irrelevant, because those things are so fluid, and if they become part of your tribe, they will be talking about you to their entire networks of collaborators. An actor who passionately wants a part in your play can be as strong an advocate for you as an agent.

We also talked about approaching the situation of speaking with artists about work you didn’t care for. Jason Robert Brown wrote something about this that helped me, which I didn’t think to bring up in the session. It’s an essay worth reading, but what I took away was that it wasn’t ever necessary for me to make my dislike or even my ambivalence about someone’s work known to them, in the moments after they’ve shared it with me or when they are still in the process of sharing it with others (i.e., in the middle of a run). It is necessary for me to be supportive. That may mean a little bit of lying, or getting better at finding positive things to say, or ducking out and sending an e-mail if I can’t muster up the positivity face-to-face. If someone wants real feedback—as one of the writers at this week’s session said he did—I think it’s necessary to create a space that’s safe for both the artist and the person giving the critique. Because the discomfort can go both ways here—it’s not necessarily a pleasant thing to be surprised with a request after a show that you attended either for pleasure or to support someone, for an immediate, articulate, and detailed response to it. Some writers include their e-mail addresses in their program bios, so audience members can share thoughts. Some might choose to ask a friend out to lunch.

-- Miriam talked about Vineyard’s decision to stop allowing open submissions. One takeaway from this: if a writer really feels like the Vineyard, or most any company, is the right theater for their project, if they’re passionately excited about seeing their work there, ways exist for the writer to start a conversation, that are perhaps more effective and personal and direct than the open submission process. There is no prescribed path for this (i.e., there’s no page on the website indicating a policy for it), but it’s possible to do. Seeing their work and following up afterward is a good start, for local writers; sending an e-mail that tells your story and shares what you admire and asks for a little bit of someone’s time to guide you through the theater’s selection process is another way to approach it.


So, an e-mail exchange from a few weeks ago—related to this project—has been on my mind, and because it came up in conversation at this week’s session, I feel it’s worth writing about here.

I was asked by some of the artists attending this week, why I started this project, and also given some suggestions about spreading the word, since these artists appreciated what it had provided them, and thought others would be interested.

I have reached out to a number of organizations that are playwright- or new play-oriented, about including this project in their event or resource listings, and many have done so, or been generous enough to feature the project in other ways. One of the organizations I contacted is the Dramatists Guild; among their (according to their website) over 6000 members, I figured there would be some interested in talking with folks who critique/support/champion new work, and who are often in the position of recommending/evaluating plays and could provide information about that process and how to navigate it.

I e-mailed a senior staff member of the organization, at the suggestion of a Guild member who visited the open office hours in its first week. That staff member declined to include information in their online listings, which would have allowed the information to be seen by writers based in New York and across the country.

This is fine. Word is spreading. I am not owed the publicity for this project by any individual or organization.

But I was surprised and saddened by the reasoning behind this decision, and brought this up around the table at this week’s session. I was told that the Guild couldn’t support the project because “the role of the dramaturg in American new play development is quite heated and potentially volatile.”

I didn’t get (nor ask for) permission to share the e-mail, so I don’t want to reprint it in full, although there isn’t anything titillating to withhold. The tone was friendly; I was wished luck with the project, and told that if a Dramatists Guild member wanted to post about it in the Members-only bulletin, they could do so. But this open office hour project—basically, just a weekly conversation opportunity—was not something that I, as a non-member (and non-dramatist) could share with their members, through their channels.

My e-mailed reply:

Thanks for the response, for sharing that link, and for your good wishes with the project. And, yes, I understand that artistic collaborations among theatermakers, both across disciplines and within a discipline, can become volatile. I'd actually be really grateful to have playwrights who are wary of dramaturgs, come to the open office hours and talk about that.

If you're interested, at some point, in brainstorming positive ways to facilitate playwrights and dramaturgs interacting (through DG, or otherwise), I'd love to do that. Or if you'd like to talk about ways of making submission and script selection processes more transparent and easier to navigate for DG members, I'd be happy to do that as well, because so many of the writers I talk with seem frustrated and overwhelmed by it, and I find that even a brief conversation with someone from the so-called "gatekeeper" side can be of some use, and that is part of what I'm hoping to provide with this project.

I didn’t hear back.

The one instance that I am aware of involving any serious volatility around dramaturgical contribution is the Rent lawsuit. (You can read about it here and, more extensively, here.) It’s difficult to know whether that dispute would have reached the heights it did had it not been for the unfortunate death of Rent author Jonathan Larson prior to the show’s official opening, leaving the conversation about the dramaturg’s contribution to happen without the writer. But regardless, that case is related to a show that opened in 1996, and it was resolved in 2001—thirteen years ago. I’m not suggesting that there has been no volatility in dramaturgical collaboration since then, but aren’t all relationships “potentially volatile”? This isn’t inherent to dramatist/dramaturg interaction. The Dramatists Guild organizes a Director/Dramatist Exchange (information here) and there have certainly been directors who have mishandled writers and their work. (On the other hand: directors, I’d like to repeat, are also often dramaturgs.) I’m curious why those relationships are fostered, but not any with dramaturgs.

The Guild website indicates no facilitated opportunities for fostering relationships with dramaturgs; the only instances of the word “dramaturgy” appearing on their website are in regard to protecting dramatists’ ownership of their work—the language here is respectful, certainly, and dramaturgs are not singled out, but rather included along with all other artistic collaborators. You can see Google’s search results for “dramaturgy” on the Guild website here. A search for “director” (see here) gets many similar results pertaining to protecting dramatists’ work, but also evidence of discussions fostered by the Guild between directors and dramatists.

I’m not a dramatist, so I have no idea how well they serve the people they intend to serve. Nor am I in a position to expect them to do anything that serves me. The stance taken in the e-mail I received is not “personal” to the extent that I am not the only dramaturg at whom it is targeted. But to be part of an entire field of people ignored by this organization because what we do is “potentially volatile” does feel personal. (Also, silly.) I don’t know any way to collaborate without the potential for volatility. And I wouldn’t want to collaborate without that potential.

This e-mail suggests to me that the craft I practice is in fact so harmful to the artists whose work I am dedicated to holding up, that they have to be protected from me.

And when I acknowledged that there is clearly a gap between my perception of what I do and the Dramatists Guild’s, and suggested we try to bridge that gap, there didn’t seem to be interest in doing so.

As I write this, part of me is groaning, thinking: stop writing this and get back to dramaturging. Innocent girls in Nigeria are still missing, and I’m feeling slighted by someone not promoting my pet project? Try caring about something bigger than this. I’m spending too much time in coffee shops with writers on their projects and not enough time making things or doing things or just being with non-theater people. Who cares about “the process”?

But this has been gnawing at me for a few weeks, and I started this project in the hope that it would provoke me to further explore the role of dramaturgs in theater. I look for my theater work to allow me to make deep, enriching connections with other human beings. By not inviting (or in this case, facilitating a way for) dramaturgs to at least engage in conversation (I’m not suggesting endorsement…just conversation) with their members about the field of dramaturgy, Dramatists Guild seems to be ignoring the capacity of dramaturgical discussion to enrich a project or process. But also ignoring the fact that there are smart, hard-working, generous people looking to work alongside dramatists (and doing so, anyway, whether the Guild engages with the dramaturgy field or not) and not snatch their babies, and that we are worth a glance.

For a lot of theater artists, what dramaturgs do is a mystery. If that is the case, it follows that they likely don’t know what dramaturgy is. This doesn’t mean they don’t know how to do dramaturgy or aren’t having dramaturgical discussions; every project has its own dramaturgy—the structure it takes, the rules it sets up to define its world, the real and imagined histories it suggests, its context within the community where it is being made and shared—regardless of whether people are calling it that. It’s like blocking—whether or not you’re discussing it, if there are performers appearing somewhere in the theater space, there is blocking; it’s not a concept one can choose to utilize, it’s an element of the work. And being aware of its power means being able to harness it.

If Dramatists Guild was interested, ways could be found to, say, pair up young dramaturgs with young writers, to support each other, and practice their craft and grow into their careers together. Literary managers and other institutionally-based dramaturgs could brainstorm with writers about improvements to the submission processes that satisfy nobody. There could even be dramaturgs available as a resource to writers who are currently working with other dramaturgs and running into an issue they want some advice about. Dramaturgs could listen to dramatists talk about what sort of support they are or aren’t looking for on their projects or in their careers, and discuss ways to provide that.

I don’t need the Dramatists Guild to spread the word about this project. And Dramatists Guild members don’t need this project, or even dramaturgs, to make their plays. But I think it’s unfortunate that an institution with the power to promote conversation is choosing to stay out of it. That seems to be something different from avoiding the potential for volatility—that’s avoiding potential, or, really, just plain avoiding.

Take care,


Thursday, May 15, 2014

Session 4: 5/13/14

After two weeks without a guest dramaturg, I was happy to have Page 73’s Producing Director, Michael Walkup, join me for this session. I want this project to introduce theater artists to dramaturgs, in the plural and in general, and this week was a good reminder that the greater variety of dramaturgs I involve, the better. For the visitors, and for me: it’s not often I’m in the same room with another dramaturg, talking about new plays with theater artists of multiple disciplines. Getting to do so here, listening to the different ways other dramaturgs have of communicating their ideas, is teaching me plenty. I’m always looking for more ways to talk about plays, and to approach conversations about plays, and so when I see my colleagues do something particularly well in this arena, I adopt (steal) it.

People have been staying long after the questions they came with have been answered, and this is the case even when I make clear that nobody should feel obligated to linger—I welcome their participation, but the drop-in ease of this is part of the design. However, the artists visiting the open office hours often stay to hear what others have to talk about, and to engage in conversation with them, as much as with myself and the guest dramaturg. There’s a definite hunger for other people to listen (and to listen to). The questions we’re getting are not simple, certainly, but it strikes me that they’re often as much about the content of the inquiry as about the opportunity to voice it.

At several points over the past few weeks, as some of the same questions have arisen repeatedly, I’ve wondered whether a blog or website of “frequently asked questions” could serve equal good as an in-person session, and my guess is: no. Maybe an online discussion forum could accomplish it, because there is an opportunity to build community. A hope of mine is that artists will meet others at the open office hours who can provide that community to each other in an ongoing way—that they will create for themselves the forums for discussion that will fuel their work.

Some discussion topics from this session:

--One writer had questions about copyright law; he wants to incorporate existing photographs, radio broadcasts, and music into a play. We weren’t able to answer all his questions, but one of the other writers suggested he call the Dramatists Guild, and Michael added that if the works were indeed under copyright, then permission would be needed for each production, and it would be the producers’ job to work through that. (Which is not to say that the writer shouldn’t look further into the situation at this point, but that he will have allies in working through it.)

--There were a few play structure questions. A beginning playwright who is starting to write comedies while reading books on craft, asked how the rules he was learning about applied to writing in general, and to comedies—the use of a protagonist and antagonist made more sense to him when thinking of dramas. We talked about the different kinds of conflict central characters can have (with other characters, with themselves, with nature, with society), and that obstacles show up as much in comedy as in any other type of “well-made play”. We talked also about the rules of playwriting being less like laws meant to control or limit writers, but more like principles drawn from an understanding of the way people experience storytelling, and intended to harness storytelling power—not always to be followed exactly, but to be consciously molded to the artist’s purpose.

Another writer asked about getting the action going quickly versus easing into it. There isn’t, of course, any single answer to this. An audience will be looking for clues about the world they’re entering, why they’re being introduced to these characters and situations, from the first moments. Providing information that will pay off later is helpful; delaying or toying with this, can be a conscious tactic on the writer’s part. Hearing the play out loud and seeing how an audience responds, I suggested, could be useful in assessing whether the writer is achieving something in line with her vision.

--A writer who is taking her musical to a NAMT-style festival that does 45-minute presentations of full-length work, asked for advice about choosing a segment to present. I’ve never been in the position of working in one of these festivals, but having watched a number of these presentations, I articulated that I always find it much more satisfying to see a consecutive 45-minute chunk of the piece, rather than a condensed version of the entire thing. With the former, I’m at least seeing a piece of the actual creation; with the latter; it’s like I’m watching the extended trailer, and suddenly I’m paying attention to how the trailer was put together—its flow or lack thereof, the narration tying the scenes together—and don’t end up learning very much about the show itself. We also talked about what her main goals were in this process—presenting the most polished section of the show she could, to entice producers, or to work on sections she wanted to explore with performers in rehearsal. I also said that if I were in her position, I might track down writers who had been through this sort of process, and pick their brains about what worked for them.

--One playwright came with questions about finding the right dramaturg to work with on some in-development scripts. (This project is, I hope, one of those ways, with different guest dramaturgs joining almost weekly.) Literary Managers and Dramaturgs of the Americas ( has searchable dramaturg profiles, although theirs is far from a complete database. A search on Google or LinkedIn, for dramaturg+[location]+[specialty] could also work. (I include “location” in there because, while technology certainly allows for dramaturgy to take place over geographical distance, establishing a face-to-face rapport first is something I’m always eager to do, whenever possible.) After finding someone who seems like a good match, set up a meeting to discuss backgrounds, working styles, shared interests (both within theater and beyond), and your desired goals. Ask a lot of questions about how the dramaturg works. The dramaturg should be someone who ‘gets’ the artist and the artist’s work; not every skilled dramaturg is a match for every person or project.

--Michael was asked about the biggest issue he comes across in encountering new work, and he talked about (I’m paraphrasing him with his permission) plays that end before the dramatic action is complete, seemingly because the writers are beholden to a page or time limit. He’s seeing a trend of writers setting up a lot of conflict just before the 90-minute mark, and then leaving it there rather than seeing it through. There was some discussion about writers intentionally satisfying or not satisfying dramatic action and audience experience, and how those choices align or not with a producer’s attraction to the work.

Thanks for reading. More next week,


Thursday, May 8, 2014

Session 3: 5/6/14

The third session—our first week a new location, Le Pain Quotidien in Chelsea—went well. Four playwrights attended, two of whom have recently made the transition from performing to playwriting. Two heard about this from Kanjy, one from the NYCPlaywrights blog, and one attended last week. Three of the writers had general questions about honing or finding homes for their scripts; the fourth was interested in longer-term collaboration with a dramaturg on two writing projects, so we talked about how that might proceed.

Dating analogies came up a few times. In regard to applying to residencies: personalizing your message for the company to which you’re writing, as opposed to using a standard pickup line, not only strengthens your application, but forces you to see if there is actually anything about this company that attracts you. And if not, then why apply? In regards to “getting in with” a company, because it feels like the right thing to do, and shaping your work to what feels “marketable”: when has it ever been a good idea to be in a relationship simply because you don’t want to be single, or to change yourself to be what you *think* others want? (If you’re curious about the concept of professional courtship—which I can’t take credit for—it comes up frequently in marketing and fundraising circles, and is translatable in many ways to any relationship-building process; examples here and here.)

I was happy to have a return visitor—a playwright who last week talked about some challenges with a script he was writing, and this week brought in an application he was assembling for a writers’ group. When he asked about bringing in a script to be critiqued during the office hours (despite acknowledging that he’d read my statements on this blog and the Facebook page that I wouldn’t want to give a rushed critique, nor think that any writer should accept one) I felt it necessary to add that part of what I’m hoping to do with this project is reinforce that dramaturgy—and, by extension, those that practice it—have value.  While I am genuinely pleased that this project has been of use to him, this question did unlock my inner Lorax. My response was only partially to his question, and also the result of several weeks of thinking about this project, and several years of freelancing and witnessing/hearing about the situations of other freelancers. It felt worth stating in the moment, and so I wanted to repeat it here. (I wasn’t so long-winded about it in person.)

Sharing resources and support are a large part of this; if in twenty minutes, I can provide useful information, advice, or encouragement to somebody, that feels to me like a worthwhile exchange.

But if the benefit of one or two of those interactions feels valuable enough that you want more—and, specifically, someone to take a close look at something you’ve created, and respond to it—I think it’s to all parties' benefit to acknowledge that that has worth. I—like all of us—take on projects for free or for little pay, when I believe that I can provide value to my collaborators, and will receive value through my involvement. Starting this open office hours project (which I’ve been committed to making a break-even, no-cost, no-earnings experiment: I’m volunteering my time, and aiming to not spend money on this) was a way to express that I believe what I do has value, in the same way that accepting payment for other of my gigs does.

I don’t only want to work with people who can “afford it”, but I do hope to work with people who respect my and their own value. It falls within our means to offer each other for services we value, if not money, then: a meal, bartered services, recommendations, loyalty. If somebody’s expertise does not seem worth any of that, then why request it?

When we're working for free--or, perhaps more significantly, feel that our value is not being recognized--it becomes harder to pay for the services we need or desire, and easier to expect not to have to pay (because if people get our work for free, why can't we get theirs?).

And while nobody could say it is easy for artists to receive acknowledgement of their value, it is not outside our control to maintain awareness of this value, and to model the behavior we want to see. To weigh the benefit of each opportunity or offer, to ask for what we need, to be more selective in where we focus our resources, and to offer to our collaborators the sorts of acknowledgement we are seeking for ourselves. The one consistent banner I've been waving at these open office hours is on the behalf of artists having more control than they realize of steering their ships. Finding the people who recognize your value, and forgetting about the rest, would do quite a lot to upend the so-called "gatekeeper" system. I think we are so accustomed to being underpaid that it's become easy to forget that we play a role in shaping our transactions: in both the way we are compensated, and how we compensate or acknowledge the value of others.

I would love for this topic--of the value of our work--to come up in the office hours, because I rarely talk about it outside of a small circle of close friends. And while this isn’t dramaturgy-specific—it’s relevant across disciplines—such a large part of dramaturgy is advocacy, assessment, exploration, and support, and so many of the dramaturgs I know passionately take on their roles not just in regards to scripts or projects, but with their artistic collaborators holistically, and in a broader way throughout the field.

Okay. The Lorax is going back into his stump. We’ll be at Le Pain Quotidien again next week.

Best wishes,


Friday, May 2, 2014

Session 2: 4/29/14

This week, we had six visitors —
·      two recommended by one of last week’s attendees;
·      two who heard about the project through the NYCPlaywrights blog;
·      one recommended by a colleague;
·      one acquaintance

Five identified as playwrights (one also as an aspiring dramaturg, and another as a literary scholar), and one as an actor/producer.

I was leading it solo, although Janice Paran (last week’s guest dramaturg) stopped by between appointments, and again shared some of her insights. There were between one and four artists present at any one time, all participating in the same discussion, which seemed to work effectively. (If anyone who was present is reading this, and thinking they would have preferred a different method—say, a sign-up sheet when they arrived for one-on-one slots—I’d be happy to hear what their suggestions are, and why.)

The artists’ questions included some of the same ones from the previous week, among them, more about writing personal statements. Does this mean organizations need to do a better job of articulating what they’re looking for in these? Two weeks in, it’s become a (surprising, to me) recurring theme. I expected to get questions about submitting work to theaters and finding means to get your plays put on—which did come up again. The actor/producer brought up a discussion about some of the challenges inherent in producing world premieres, and we chatted about less traditional forms of finding new work (than primarily through open or even agent-only submissions) that could take particular advantage of her strengths and goals.

One writer spoke of being mid-process on a play in which he’s incorporating absurd elements, but which he wants to remain emotionally accessible. We named other plays he could reference which had accomplished that, and how getting into a room with actors and directors (as he was about to) was probably the best way to address the sorts of tonal questions he had—that rather than try to figure things out alone at his computer, the next step would be to use the workshop process to explore. Simply having those questions sounded like a great position for him to be in as he was starting this next step.

A writer working on a two-character play talked about having some trouble making it feel active. I mentioned the sorts of things I would look for when reading a script (the general basics—want, conflict, and change—and some things that tend to be challenging in extended two-character dialogues, such as having the power dynamic regularly shift between characters). He also asked for suggestions of other two-character plays to read, and the group brainstormed a few.

Again, we didn’t use the time to read anyone’s play—nobody seemed to come with that expectation, and as I mentioned in the last blog, I feel that this project is better suited to other things.

I’m glad to be having this time weekly to hear what is on the minds of a number of artists—including and in addition to their specific projects—because it’s forcing me to think about how I engage with them, and how effective or rightly-focused the things I’m doing that seem helpful to or supportive of generative artists, really are. I keep jotting down notes for this blog about what it’s making me think of, but I’m going to save any big picture-drawing for later.

New location next week! We will be at the Chelsea Le Pain Quotidien, on Seventh Avenue between 17th and 18th Streets. I'll be sitting at the communal table with my iMac and a theater book (TBD) so you can easily find me. The basement theater space at The Drama Book Shop was a short-term solution while we figured out how many people would be showing up; and it seems our needs might be just a tad bigger than the main floor of the shop (which was a potential long-term solution) could accommodate. But I couldn’t think of a better birthplace for this project. If you didn’t know The Drama Book Shop had a space for rent, and are on the lookout for one, stop by the shop and talk to Ric about bookings. And please, if you haven’t already, let the staff know how much your appreciate all they offer by shopping there, and clicking ‘Like’ on their Facebook page.

Take care,