We had a good turnout, in terms of audience--probably about 33 (not including our six Rhombus writers)--playwrights from all around the area, and they seemed pretty engaged in the discussion. I came prepared with a good list of questions that got people talking. I wished we'd recorded audio of the discussion, so I could post it here. As moderator, I was paying attention to the flow of the discussion and trying to figure out where to steer it next, so I didn't take very good notes (anyone out there who was there with better notes, please do post a comment here).
However, I can list a few of the highlights.
- Several panelists talked about the importance of knowing when to say no to a reading. Not all plays need every different kind of development process all the time. It's up to you, as your play's best advocate to consider seriously what is most needed for your play, now.
- In light of that, Gary Garrison posed three questions that he feels are critical to answer (or have a pretty good idea about) before you start getting into a development process (that isn't run by you). If you don't, you're at risk for easily being led in various different directions, and muddying your play. His questions were (I hope I'm getting this right):
- What is your play about?
- Why did you write it?
- What do you want to see on stage?
- Ilana Brownstein offered up an additional question--What is your nightmare version of this play? It's helpful to know what you don't want to happen to your script.
- We talked a bit about various developmental programs--the Huntington Fellows Program, Actors Theatre of Louisville, the O'Neill, and others, as well as grass roots, do-it-yourself kinds of weekends.
- The importance of giving a script time to grow and realizing that the first production does not mark the end of the growth of a script. Jacqui Parker talked about being able to remount or extend the run of a play, to allow her to fully realize changes she wanted to make after seeing the play on its feet.
- We also talked about the limitations of staged readings, and ways in which it's possible to explore plays on their feet before they reach production.
- Money was a topic. The expense of new play development greatly affects how it's put together, and how, because of union rules, it's actually more expensive for large institutions to put on a workshop of a new play than for a smaller group.
- We talked about the other elements in a play besides dialogue--set and lighting and sound design, asking is there a way for playwrights to better understand or communicate with designers. I suggested we put together a panel or workshop in Boston to facilitate this (and I think it could happen sooner rather than later).
- We had good questions from the audience about the history of new play development, and about graduate schools--the consensus was that attending a formal playwriting program was definitely not necessary in order to write good plays or have a playwriting career. This is from people who teach and run such programs. If you want to attend a formal program, it's important that you have a good idea of how you learn, and that you look closely at such programs to know who you'll study with and if they're a good match for your needs.
In addition to learning a lot, I was pleased with how generous and open all the panelists were. And how relatively easy it was to put something like this together. I definitely feel inspired to work on more such events in the future--to find answers to my questions (and share them with the community).