Recently I attended the Playwright Foundation‘s (PF) Bay Area Playwright’s Festival. In addition to the wonderful plays, they had a couple of panel discussions. In particular, Putting Yourself on the New Play Map, conducted by PF Artistic Director Amy Mueller and Brad Erickson, Executive Director of Theatre Bay Area, led me to look at how far I’ve come in the seven years I’ve been a playwright, where I want to go in the next five and how I plan to get there. And if I don’t get there, how far is enough?
It’s a bit scary putting myself out there like this, but I think I’m not the only playwright today that’s going through this.
How far I’ve come
Since I first-drafted my full-length Rice Kugel in 2004, I’ve accomplished the following:
- Staged reading of Rice Kugel.
- A public table reading and a staged reading of my second full-length, Hemlock.
- Completed editing Rice Kugel and Hemlock to the point where I could submit them to theatres.
- Submitted them to many of those theatres.
- Got several we-like-it-but-it’s-not-for-us-send-us-more-of-your-work rejection notices for both plays.
- A production of my 10-minute play On the Last Day of the Week in the Seventh Month of the Year in the City of Brotherly Love.
- Completed first drafts of and began editing three more full-length plays: The Beginning of Grammar, My Visit to America and Evil Fan.
- Wrote two other 10-minute plays. And while I tend to minimize my 10-minute plays, as I don’t find them rewarding, they still took work to write and I need to recognize them as an accomplishment.
- I turned down a contract I was not comfortable signing.
- I volunteer with the Playwrights’ Center of San Francisco as webmaster and newsletter editor and occasional other stuff.
- I met and am developing collegial relationships with fellow theatre people.
- I’ve started this blog.
And I’ve discovered the following:
- I love going to theatre to the point where I rarely see movies.
- I love seeing my own full-length work, even in a reading.
- The relationships I am making with other theatre people are rich and rewarding in their own right, something I never predicted when I set keystrokes to hard drive.
- It’s hard to get your play done if you’re not up to doing it yourself.
Where I want to go in the next five years
This was part of the exercise of the panel. I was to come up with three goals for the next five years. Here they are:
- Have 5 additional full-length plays (for a total of 7) to be sending to theatres.
- Have a developmental relationship with a local theatre.
- Have at least one full production of one of my full-length plays.
How I plan to get there
After we wrote down our goals, we were asked to rate the goals on specificity and achievability. I think all three of my goals are unambiguously specific, so I’ll deal with how achievable they are.
- 5 plays: Given that I have already completed three additional full-length first drafts, and made major progress on editing two of them, and have one more play that’s kicking and screaming to get out of my head, I think it’s not too far-fetched that I could bring these three plays and two more to fruition in five more years.
- Development relationship: This is harder, in that there need to be suitable theatres that my work is suitable for and who both like my work and have an opening in their development process. Presumably, I would have to present each one with a theatre-ready play. I have identified four local theatres or theatre organizations whose work I like and have been attending their readings and taking part in the feedback sessions and getting to know the people there. I also have at least one play that corresponds to each theatre’s focus, for three plays total (the math isn’t wrong; one of the plays is appropriate for two of them). My plan is to continue to develop my relationship with each theatre, possibly including volunteering for one of them, and bring my corresponding plays to theatre-readiness.
- Production: The last is the hardest. I don’t think I’m well-suited to self-production, which means I need to find a theatre that not only likes a particular play of mine but also has a production slot for that play. There are an order of magnitude more plays than there are productions to produce them, and it’s an uphill battle. But, it’s still possible to achieve, and my achieving goals one and two will increase the likelihood of achieving goal three. Also, I’ve chosen that one of the five plays is to intentionally be mainstream, which will give me a backup if I don’t achieve goal two.
How far is enough?
The third part of the exercise was “How fulfilled would you feel if you accomplished this?”
I would feel quite happy to complete 5 more plays to theatre-readiness in 5 years. Then I would have a lot more to submit.
And I would feel even happier to have a development relationship with a local theater or theater organization. Especially as I have some planned plays which I think need such a relationship for me to bring them to theatre-readiness.
But, let’s face it, this would all pale in comparison to having my work produced. As in a real production, not a reading, not a workshop.
Okay, suppose it’s five years from now and there’s no production. What then?
I won’t pretend that I wouldn’t be greatly disappointed. I’m disappointed now after 7 years.
But the unexpected benefit is the key that keeps me going and will pull me through whether I meet my goals or not. The relationships I’m developing in the San Francisco Bay Area theatre community are immensely rewarding. I love seeing the plays of people I’ve come to know and love in the last 7 years, and I love even more spending time with those people.
There’s a word we Jews use that’s part of the Passover ceremony, dayenu. It would have been enough.
Had I written Rice Kugel and not developed it, dayenu.
Had I developed Rice Kugel and never gotten a staged reading, dayenu.
Had I gotten a staged reading and never get a production of it, dayenu.
Had I gotten a staged reading and never went on to write Hemlock, dayenu.
Had I written Hemlock and never first-drafted three more full-lengths, dayenu.
Had I written these plays and never developed these relationships, dayenu.
Had I developed these relationships and never meet my five-year goals, dayenu.
But I’m going to try. Thanks for taking this ride with me.