There are still places on the Internet where you can get lost for an hour and not feel like you’ve wasted your time. One of those places is HowlRound. “HowlRound is a free and open platform for theatremakers worldwide that amplifies progressive, disruptive ideas about the art form and facilitates connection between diverse practitioners.”
Which means they offer an abundance of resources and tools that theatremakers can use and contribute to. This includes a vast collection of essays and journal entries from a wide range of theatremakers on a diverse number of topics including, but certainly not limited to, acting and performance, adaptation, arts administration, audience engagement, criticism, cross-cultural exchange, deaf theatre, dramaturgy, freedom of expression, musical theatre, playwriting, political theatre, solo performance and theatre for young audiences.
Here are ten excerpts from essays I came across this weekend that I’ve read and enjoyed and feel are well worth sharing. If you like the excerpt you can click on the link at the bottom of each section and read the entire article at HowlRound.
Number 1: Notes to the Note-Givers; or, Embracing the Paradox
Playwright Catherine Trieschmann lists useful suggestions for giving feedback on new plays.
“…too often we mistake play analysis for new play development, and they are not the same thing. Encouraging a writer to clarify character arcs, add second act plot complications, underline the play’s themes, or more deftly, adhere more closely to the patterns established by the play’s diction will make a play more coherent. It will not, necessarily, make it more exhilarating.
Unfortunately, ignoring all the tools of play analysis, refusing to hear any and all notes, and following one’s own impulses at all times also does not make a play more exhilarating. If play analysis can’t always invigorate a new play, then neither can writing in a vacuum of one’s own imagination.
The problem is that while we generally understand how to make a play more coherent, no one really knows how to make a play more exhilarating. If we did, then brilliant seasoned theatre artists would never create flops. There’d be no Spiderman musical or After the Fall (argue with me if you want, but I stand by this assessment: worst Arthur Miller play ever). Whatever makes a play exhilarating comes from the subconscious, and yet not everything from the subconscious is exhilarating. This is the paradox of new play development and, I’d argue, the core of what we’re wrestling with in workshops and rehearsals rooms. We cannot name that which will make a play take flight, and yet we must find that thing (or things) which will make a play take flight.”
Read the entire article at HowlRound: This piece, Notes to the Note-Givers; or, Embracing the Paradox by Catherine Trieschmann was originally published on HowlRound, on February 5, 2018.
Number 2: M. Butterfly from 1988 to 2017: An Interview with David Henry Hwang
Thirty years after M. Butterfly opened on Broadway, Jen Gushue interviews playwright David Henry Hwang about the 2017 revival.
Jen: Why is revision something that’s on the table for you? What does it mean for you to be able to revisit something you’re so familiar with and make it new again?
David: I think theatre is a living thing. As an author, there are times when it feels appropriate for me to revisit a script if there are things I still want to explore with that subject or with those characters. There are other times where a piece is pretty much done for me. In the case of The Dance and The Railroad, the one I chose not to revise: that play premiered at The Public when I was twenty-four, and I feel I don’t even know how to write like that anymore. It’s very subjective to determine which works I feel excited about reengaging with. Tony Kushner was visiting my class at Columbia the other week (Tony knows so much more than I do), and he mentioned that there were four versions of Hamlet. Much greater playwrights than I have chosen to return to some of their works later in life.
Read the entire interview on HowlRound: This piece, M. Butterfly from 1988 to 2017: An Interview with David Henry Hwang by Jen Gushue was originally published on HowlRound, on November 28, 2017.
Article 3: Everyone Wants You to be Great: Thoughts on Play Submission from the Other Side of the Desk
Playwright Emily Dendinger and producer Jess Hutchinson shine a little light on the play submission process.
“Sometimes playwrights will ask literary staff—especially at the biggest institutions—for feedback on their scripts. One of my favorite literary managers in the country says he won’t give feedback if his institution isn’t going to produce the show. He doesn’t think it’s fair to the writer (it could inspire writers to change a script to “please” him thinking that then it might get produced). It’s also a fairly intimate act to give honest critical response on a play, and it is something best entered into in an environment of established trust and understanding,
If you are actually, honestly interested in building a relationship with that person, say why, and see what happens. If what you really want is to keep the door open at this institution, there are other, far more effective ways to build and nurture that relationship, and few that can sour them more quickly than asking for feedback you don’t actually want.”
Read the entire article on HowlRound: This piece, Everyone Wants You to be Great: Thoughts on Play Submission from the Other Side of the Desk by Emily Dendinger and Jess Hutchinson was originally published on HowlRound, on April 24, 2016.
Article 4: Take (more than) Five: The Argentine Production Model
Paz Pardo explores the theatre models of the United States and Argentina.
“Imagine having a year of rehearsal and the hope of a five-year run. Imagine meeting one to three times a week to explore a classic text, or creating a new play and having months to hone it in the rehearsal room. In Buenos Aires, it is common practice for people to start working on a show so far in advance that it’s not possible to lock down a venue or a precise opening date. Time is considered a paramount necessity in the process of making a play—not just time to learn the play, but time to understand it. Rehearsals are not every day, the time between them is valued as part of the process. From rewrites to physical exploration, the work is expected to be slow and extensive. A play is not an out-of-town visitor crashing on your couch for a month, it is a housemate and a companion.”
Read the Entire Article on HowlRound: This piece, Take (more than) Five: The Argentine Production Model by Paz Pardo was originally published on HowlRound, on May 26, 2013.
Article 5: Casting Myself
Susan Miller speaks on the collision of the playwright’s personal and the public, and the beauty found in performing these stories themselves.
“The other thing that sowed the seeds of writing and acting in a one-person play and permitted me to believe that people would accept me doing it was something that happened at the very beginning of my career. My first big break came at the O’Neill National Playwrights Conference with my play, Confessions Of A Female Disorder. The playwrights were asked to convene beforehand to read their plays aloud to one another. It was completely thrilling to hear the plays read by their authors. Some of us may have been better performers, more comfortable in front of people. It didn’t matter. There was nothing to obstruct the words. There was nothing to inflate or misinterpret or divert the effort we were all making. And it utterly convinced me that if people had the opportunity just once in a play’s run to see and hear playwrights offering up their own words, it might change the way theatre is approached. And received.”
Read the Entire Article on HowlRound: This piece, Casting Myself by Susan Miller was originally published on HowlRound, on April 27, 2011.
Article 6: Attending My Own Wake: The End of an Ensemble
Ensemble theatre artist and director Meg Taintor offers an overview of creating and running a small ensemble theatre company.
“For the past nine years, I had been the Artistic Director of Whistler in the Dark, a small ensemble working on the fringes of Boston. We had been steadily building a reputation for elegantly sparse, smart and moving productions of often-difficult political texts. In the past few years, in particular, a clear and interesting aesthetic was being honed and we were in an enthusiastic dialogue with our audience around the work. Thanks to a new program, pay-what-you-want ticketing, (based off learning from Available Light Theatre) we had seen an increase in both audience size and average ticket price. Our donor base was growing with our audience. We even had, dare I say it, street cred.
And then, on February 16 of 2014, I sent out an email announcing that our upcoming production of Caryl Churchill’s Far Away would be our final show and that at the end of our current season, the ensemble of Whistler in the Dark Theatre would be disbanding.
Nothing major or dramatic had triggered the announcement—just a quiet and growing realization that our work as an ensemble was done. And rather than soldier on for a few more seasons and let the ensemble become somehow less than it was, we decided to finish out our season while we were still in love with the work, and then celebrate our nine years with a kick-ass wake.”
Read the Entire Article on HowlRound: This piece, My Own Wake: The End of an Ensemble by Meg Taintor was originally published on HowlRound, on November 19, 2014.
Article 7: Playwrights: Collaborators or Contractors?
Jayne Benjulian considers the rightful place of a playwright in the rehearsal room as the executive producer of his or her own work.
“The problem is, even genius directors are maybe geniuses every other show. Add to this reality the fact that many directors do five shows a year, and you can see why it might make compelling sense for a playwright to work as a full partner in the collaboration about his own play. I am surprised how seldom they do. While I am not advocating a television model—that is, after all, a completely different economic model—it is presumptuous to think we have nothing to learn from TV, most especially now, when so many talented playwrights write television scripts for shows to which so many of us are addicted. All of these playwrights working in TV are now experienced in different ways of collaborating, including as writer-producers; they demonstrate it is possible, and not unusual, for writers to run things—and to wield power.
True collaboration might take as many forms as there are writer/director teams. Accomplished playwrights in mid-career or at the apogee of their careers—writers with a track record or whose economic power entitles them to authority with theaters may want—and have the skill—to function as equal collaborators. In a theater in which playwrights are full collaborators, it is conceivable that a writer would function more as executive producer of her own work, to use a television model, than as contractor.”
Read the Entire Article on HowlRound: This piece, Playwrights: Collaborators or Contractors? by Jayne Benjulian was originally published on HowlRound, on March 30, 2011.
Article 8: Zombies Limping in Circles, or An Argument for a Taxonomy of NPD Technique
“I am a new play development professional and I have a confession. Several years ago, I had the opportunity to spend two weeks in development on a play I truly loved. But I ended up stabbing that play right between the eyes. I was working for a big theater in the Southwest back then, and I had already unsuccessfully pitched the play to the artistic director. She thought it needed work, and she was right, to some degree.
Luckily, an external development workshop materialized shortly thereafter, bringing me and the playwright together, and offering the chance to help make this gem production-ready. I would return to the theater triumphant, bringing back their next main-stage hit. And even better: audiences everywhere could finally come to love this play as much as I did. There wasn’t much to be done, really. Yeah, it needed some touches here and there, but little more than clarifying some of the rules of the disintegrating reality of the story. The playwright was early in his career, and just needed a few insightful notes. Or so I thought.
On day two, after the initial reading for the company and a few intense, apparently fruitful discussions, the playwright locked himself in his room—locking his roommate, another playwright, out—and rewrote the play from top to bottom. He returned on day three with a jumbled, chaotic mess. With my notes on tone and reality as catalyst, the play had metastasized into something unrecognizable. The playwright lacked the craft to keep himself from wandering astray, and I lacked the right techniques to bring him back. A once gorgeous story now lumbered on, zombie-like, having volition but no soul. I gritted my teeth, and kept doing what I knew how to do: asking neutral questions, responding to what was evocative, reflecting on structure and character. I used every tool I had, all to no avail. Despite my best intentions, I had lobotomized this play.”
Read the Entire Article on HowlRound: This piece, Zombies Limping Circles, or An Argument for a Taxonomy of NPD Technique by Aaron Carter and Erik Ramsey was originally published on HowlRound, on May 1, 2011.
Article 9: On Student Loans, Craft Services, and Being a Playwright Who Writes for TV
Writer Julia Brownell speaks on the benefits of playwrights working in the world of television.
“5) Television teaches you to not be so precious—about your work and your process
There’s a bit of romanticism, at least among the playwrights I know, about process. I have writer friends who can’t work in their apartments, who have to be in coffee shops, and others who can’t work unless their draft was due last week. In television, sometimes our showrunners would assign us to write a scene and bring it back in an hour—or twenty minutes. I’d shut the door to my little office, panic for about thirty seconds and then will my fingers to start punching keys. Of course, this usually wasn’t the exact scene that made it to production, but it taught me to quit babying myself and suck it up and write.
Likewise, the great thing about theater is that the playwright is the only one who writes it. Sure, you’ve got a director and sometimes a dramaturg giving you notes, but at the end of the day, if you want your character to say “yes” instead of “yeah,” he will. Not so in TV. At first it was hard to see my (hilarious, obviously) lines get rewritten or just plain cut. But after this happened approximately forty thousand times, I got used to it and it ultimately felt very freeing. It also forced me to really clarify my intent and my understanding of the story, so if I felt strongly about a line or an action, I would fight for it to the death —or at least until three a.m., when I got into my little Jetta, went home and tucked myself into bed in my LA sublet full of somebody else’s stuff.”
Read the Entire Article on HowlRound: This piece, On Student Loans, Craft Services, and Being a Playwright Who Writes for TV by Julia Brownell was originally published on HowlRound, on March 16, 2011.
Article 10: Interview with Maria Striar
“We try very hard to produce the plays that we commission, but I’m still learning how to responsibly navigate that. A play starts out, and you don’t know where that play is going to go, and Clubbed Thumb has these specific parameters, and if the play is growing into, say, a two hour play, it’s got to able to grow into that play, you’ve got to let it be what it’s going to be. I try and give advice that fits the play, as opposed to imposing a Clubbed Thumbification of the play. Honestly, it’s a hard call sometimes.”
Read the Entire Article on HowlRound: This piece, Interview with Maria Striar by Andy Bragen was originally published on HowlRound, on January 23, 2011.
If you enjoyed this blog post here are some other posts you might enjoy:
- Theatre: The Original Social Media
- Distraction – Pleasure – Truth
- Endings: Buried – Hamlet – One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest