Friday, July 11, 2014

Mad Dash, year two

maddash-idea-99-15-edited 

I'm taking part in the Fresh Ink/Interim Writers 24-hour hour play festival and fundraiser, The Mad Dash, for the second year in a row.  Tonight, 16 playwrights will meet up at Doyle's Pub in Jamaica Plain and be paired into 8 writing teams.  We will go find someplace to write and magically churn out a brand new ten-minute play (based on prompts we'll receive tonight) by 7 a.m. tomorrow morning.  We'll meet with directors, start rehearsing with the casts, and plays will be fully staged by 8 p.m. tomorrow night, at the Central Square YMCA in Cambridge.

Tickets are $15 in advance, or $20 at the door.  This fundraiser is all the more important this year, because we just found out the the Factory Theatre, where Fresh Ink normally performs (and where my play, Distant Neighbors was scheduled to open in November) will close on October 31 (see the story in WBUR's ARTery site).  So they're going to need all the resources they can get to find a new space.

I already took two naps today, trying to get ready for tonight. It's always a little nervewracking, knowing that you must come up with a new play by morning.  Last year, we had a blast and turned out some pretty fun work. (I'm hoping my partner will want to write at IHOP again--I could go for a serious sugar rush.)

I can't wait to see what we come up with this year.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Boston Theater Marathon 16, round up

As many of you know, the Boston Theater Marathon is one of my very favorite theater events of every year.  With 53 short plays by 53 New England playwrights, staged by 53 different companies, it's an ideal opportunity to see a cross section of the local talent pool and to be inspired by the voices of dozens of playwrights.  And it helps benefit the Theatre Community Benevolent Fund.

As I have done for the past fours years, I dragged my daughter Kira to the Wimberly Theatre at the Calderwood Pavilion, on a gorgeous Mother's Day (with my apologies to my wife, Tracy, whose Mother's Day has been interrupted by a long string of BTMs). This year, I missed just one of the 53 plays, in a day that began at noon and ran straight until 10pm.

There was, as always, a lot to admire about the day.  Here are some of my favorite moments:
  • Kevin LaVelle always seems the perfect actor for Bill Donnelly's plays, and he was on the mark again on Sunday in Grass Hog, the first play of the day, as a neighbor who's had more than his share of ups and downs.  Produced by Battleground State.
  • Rick Park gave us a very touching car play, The Doppler of My Heart, with terrific performances by Greg Maraio and Becca Lewis. Produced by Company One.
  • Steve Barkhimer totally rocked Richard Dresser's ultimate cringe-worthy wedding toast in Love, Dad. I laughed awfully hard (and took notes in case I ever have to make such a toast for my daughter someday).  Produced by the ART.
  • 16 Gigs by Maggie Kearnon, an awkward explosion/exploration of eager-unrequited longing and love was one of my favorite scripts and got a terrific performance from Stanis Johnson. Produced by Marblehead Little Theatre.
  • Film Appreciation by David Susman got a whole bucketful of well-deserved laughs, about a woman who dates the ultimate film buff (and some other types). Produced by Mill 6.
  • Webbed Hands, by Cecilia Raker, directed by Matthew Woods and produced by Imaginary Beasts, was a theatrical delight, with its use of mask and movement.  It was a real standout for me (and made me miss Rough & Tumble).  I'd love to see more Marathon plays with more adventurous or unusual staging.
  • Obehi Janice rocked the role of a math teacher having a very, very bad birthday, in MJ Halberstadt's Peggy's Properties, directed by Jeff Mosser and produced by Project: Project. I'm a sucker for any play about math, but this one was about so much more, all in a very small package.
  • Fracking With Walt Whitman, by Greg Hirschak, with Chris Webb in the role of a poet laureate who might become president in a very strange and dangerous world, made me laugh so hard I cried.  Produced by Off the Grid Theatre Company.
  • And The Maltese Walter by John Minigan, produced by Argos and directed by Ariana Gett, might have been my very favorite of the evening, with Paul Melendy starring as a man with a strange superpower (and paired with Charles Linshaw and Liza Hayes). 
Overall, I also felt like this Marathon had stronger lighting and sound design that past years, which was a treat.  (I have to give a shout out to Cassie Seinuk, the stage manager, and all the BTM folk who make the show run so smoothly.)

As in any year, there are always a few types of plays that appear more than others.  This year, we had two ghost plays, and another meta play (Peter Floyd's clever Too, Too Solid Flesh) that featured characters that not everyone on stage could see. There was the usual collection of plays in cars, the T plays, and a whole bunch of plays where people in relationships were leaving each other (often for members of the same sex).

If I had a wish list, it would be for us to make a car jig, so the various car plays could dispense with mimed steering wheels. And more plays that are more physically theatrical and/or musical (we did have one ten-minute musical, The House of All Alone, with book and byrics by Richard Schotter and music by Phil Schroeder, which was a lot of fun).

My other big wish would be to make an online directory with pictures and resumes for all the actors in the Marathon.  I am certainly not the only theater maker in the house at the BTM furiously scribbling notes on programs, as I'm looking for possible actors for upcoming readings and productions. 

Once again, congratulations to everyone on a fantastic day of theater.  I can't wait 'til next year!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

New Play Ecology 2014, part 3, New England



So a week or so ago, I took a look at this season's outlook for new plays and Boston playwrights, for large-medium theaters and the fringe (and overall).  But what about the rest of New England?

Boston writers are close enough to most theaters in the rest of Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine to take part in the development and production of their work, if their plays were being produced.  Are they?  How are New England playwrights faring at home, generally?

I wrote a similar post in 2010, but this time I'm also collecting some demographics.

Let's take a look at how many world premieres we have, state by state.  (I'm using 2013-2014 seasons, or 2014 seasons if they've been announced.)

Massachusetts:

Acme Theater:  World Premieres: 1. New Works Festival. Total plays:  5.  Written by women: 2; by people of color: 0; directed by women: 1; directed by people of color: 0.

Barrington Stage Company:  World Premieres: 1. The Golem of Havana, book by Michel Hausmann, music by Salomon Lerner, Lyrics by Ken Schiff. Total plays:  9.  Written by women: 1; by people of color: 0; directed by women: 4; directed by people of color: 0.

Berkshire Theatre Festival:   World Premieres: 1.  Cedars by Erik Tarloff. Total plays:  10.  Written by women: 2; by people of color: 0; directed by women: 2; directed by people of color: 1.

Firehouse Center for the Arts:World Premieres: 1. New Works Festival. Total plays:  3.  Written by women: 1; by people of color: 0; directed by women: 1; directed by people of color: 0.

Gloucester Stage Company: World Premieres: 0.  Total plays:  4.  Written by women: 1; by people of color: 1; directed by women: 0; directed by people of color: 0.

Harbor Stage:  World Premieres: 1. The Billingsgate Project by Brenda Withers.  Total plays:  3.  Written by women: 1; by people of color: 0; directed by women: 0; directed by people of color: 0.

Image Theater:  World Premieres: 1. FemNoire 2014, Festival of Women Playwrights. Total plays:  1.  Written by women: 1; by people of color: 0; directed by women: 1; directed by people of color: 0.

Merrimack Repertory Theatre: World Premieres: 0.  Total plays:  7.  Written by women: 1; by people of color: 0; directed by women: 1; directed by people of color: 0.

New Century Theatre:  World Premieres: 0. Total plays:  4.  Written by women: 1; by people of color: 0; directed by women: 0; directed by people of color: 0.

North Shore Music Theater:  World Premieres: 0.  Total plays:  5.  Written by women: 0; by people of color: 0; directed by women: 0; directed by people of color: 0.

Salem Theatre Company:  World Premieres: 1. Moments of Play Festival. Total plays:  5.  Written by women: 0; by people of color: 0; directed by women: 0; directed by people of color: 0.

Wellesley Summer Theatre Company:   World Premieres: 0.  Total plays:  2.  Written by women: 1; by people of color: 0; directed by women: 2; directed by people of color: 0.


Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theater:  World Premieres: 1. The Trials of Gertrude Moody by Kimberly Burke.  Total plays:  4.  Written by women: 1; by people of color: 0; directed by women: 1; directed by people of color: 0. 

Williamstown Theatre Festival:   World Premieres: 0.  Total plays:  6.  Written by women: 0; by people of color: 0; directed by women: 2; directed by people of color: 0.

Connecticut:

Connecticut Repertory Theatre:  World Premieres: 1.  The Goblin Market by Penny Benson. Total plays:  6.  Written by women: 2; by people of color: 0; directed by women: 1; directed by people of color: 1.

Goodspeed Musicals:   World Premieres: 2. The Circus in Winter, music and lyrics by Ben Clark, book by Hunter Foster and Beth Turcotte; Irving Berlin's Holiday Inn, music and lyrics by Ivring Berlin, book by Gordon Greenberg and Chad Hodge.  Total plays:  4.  Written by women: 1; by people of color: 0; directed by women: 0; directed by people of color: 0.

Hartford Stage:   World Premieres: 0.  Total plays:  5.  Written by women: 0; by people of color: 0; directed by women: 1; directed by people of color: 0.

Long Wharf Theatre:   World Premieres: 2. The Consultant by Heidi Schreck, The Shadow of the Hummingbird by Athol Fugard. Total plays:  6.  Written by women: 2; by people of color: 1; directed by women: 1; directed by people of color: 2.

Seven Angels Theatre (Waterbury):   World Premieres: 1. Romance Language by Joe Godfrey.  Total plays:  5.  Written by women: 1; by people of color: 0; directed by women: 4; directed by people of color: 0.

Yale Repertory:   World Premieres: 1.  The House That Will Not Stand by Marcus Gardley. Total plays:  6.  Written by women: 2; by people of color: 1; directed by women: 4; directed by people of color: 1.


Maine:

Mad Horse Theatre Company (Portland):  World Premieres: 0.  Total plays:  4.  Written by women: 0; by people of color: 0; directed by women: 1; directed by people of color: 0.

Penobscot Theatre.   World Premieres: 1. One Blue Tarp by Travis Baker. Total plays:  7.  Written by women: 2; by people of color: 0; directed by women: 4; directed by people of color: 0.

Portland Stage Company:   World Premieres: 1. Veils by Tom Coash.  Total plays:  8.  Written by women: 1; by people of color: 1; directed by women: 3; directed by people of color: 1.

The Public Theatre (Lewiston/Auburn):  World Premieres: 0.  Total plays:  4.  Written by women: 1; by people of color: 0; directed by women: 0; directed by people of color: 0.


New Hampshire:

Peterborough Players:  World Premieres: 1. The Granite State by Charles Morey. Total plays:  10.  Written by women: 2; by people of color: 1; directed by women: 1; directed by people of color: 0. (I'm still waiting to find out who their directors are.)

Seacoast Repertory Theatre:   World Premieres: 0.  Total plays:  7.  Written by women: 0; by people of color: 0; directed by women: 0; directed by people of color: 0.


Rhode Island:

Trinity Repertory Company:    World Premieres: 1.  Veronica Meadows by Stephen Thorne. Total plays:  4.  Written by women: 0; by people of color: 0; directed by women: 1; directed by people of color: 0.

The Gamm Theatre:  World Premieres: 0.  Total plays:  5.  Written by women: 1; by people of color: 0; directed by women: 2; directed by people of color: 0.

Wilbury Theatre Group:  World Premieres: 0.  Total plays:  5.  Written by women: 3; by people of color: 0; directed by women: 1; directed by people of color: 0.



Vermont:

Dorset Theatre Festival:  World Premieres: 1. Out of the City by Leslie Ayvazian (this is premiering at other places this summer, too.) Total plays:  5.  Written by women: 2; by people of color: 0; directed by women: 3; directed by people of color: 0.

Lost Nation Theater:  World Premieres: 0.  Total plays:  6.  Written by women: 0; by people of color: 0; directed by women: 0; directed by people of color: 0.  (I'm still waiting to find out who their directors are.)

Northern Stage:  World Premieres: 0.  Total plays:  6.  Written by women: 1; by people of color: 0; directed by women: 5; directed by people of color: 0.

Vermont Stage Company:  World Premieres: 1.  The Quarry by Greg Pierce.  Total plays:  5.  Written by women: 1; by people of color: 0; directed by women: 4; directed by people of color: 0.

Weston Playhouse Theatre Company:  World Premieres: 1.  Analog and Vinyl, book, music, and Lyrics by Paul Gordon.  Total plays:  7.  Written by women: 2; by people of color: 1; directed by women: 0; directed by people of color: 0.  (I'm still waiting to find out who their directors are.)


Okay, that's 34 theaters.  Here's how it breaks down for New England (not including Boston):
22 world premieres
12 were by New England writers (55%)
11  were written by women (50%)  (This is counting festivals of short plays.)
1 was written by a person of color  (5%)

Total plays produced by 34 theatres:  183
Percentage that were world premieres:  12%

37 Total plays written by women:    (20%)
5 Total written by people of color:  (3%)
53 Total directed by women:  (29%)  
6 Total directed by people of color:  (3%)
(I'm still waiting for some director info, so these aren't final numbers)


So.  The numbers highly discouraging.  There aren't many new plays being produced in New England outside the Boston Metro Area. The number of new plays written by women is close to parity, but the number of new plays by people of color is dismal.

If you look at the demographic numbers for all productions, the numbers for women and people of color are very low, whether you're looking at authorship or direction.  (And the numbers get even worse if you take Yasmina Reza out of the equation--she accounted for many of the plays written by women.)



Does it makes sense to completely break Boston out of the regional demographics?  I'm not exactly sure.  Since Boston is, in fact, part of New England, let's take a look at the combined numbers:

69 world premieres in New England, including Boston, this past season from 82 theaters
50 by local writers  (72%)
31 world premieres written by women  (45%)
11 world premieres written by people of color  (16%)

Overall: 334 plays produced.
97 written by women  (29%)
21  written by people of color  (6%)
113 directed by women   (34%)
21 directed by people of color (6%)
(I'm still waiting for some director info, so these aren't final numbers)


Again, not particularly encouraging. You can see the effects of the white male dominated "pipeline" that supplies material to the regional and smaller theatres, when theaters are choosing their seasons.

Though solving these numbers problems seems daunting, consider this: if each of the 82 theaters in New England produced just one more play by a woman in the next season, we would be at gender parity.  That's right, just one.  We're not talking an earthquake of change.  Just one play, per season. (For clarity: I'm talking about replacing a play by a man by a play by a woman, assuming that the number of plays/season/theater is somewhat fixed.)

And as for racial imbalance, if even half of the companies produced just one play more by a person of color next season, we would jump from 6% to 18%.  So, again, if each theatre in New England committed to producing one more play by a person of color, just every other season, the landscape would shift in a major way.

My hope is that these numbers will continue to spur conversations about what we want our theater to look like, whose voices we want to hear, and how to enact the changes we might want.  With a continued consciousness that the demographics of theater are a result of actual choices, by actual people. Those people choosing plays can elect to make different choices.

(Speaking of discussion, Ilana Brownstein has an excellent post rounding up the discussion on and around The Summit that took place in DC a few weeks ago.  Read it here.)

As I've said with previous posts, I'm sure I've missed some theaters, or might have miscounted people, and if I have, please just let me know and I'll update the info as quickly as I can.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Another Goodreads giveaway for signed copies of Moving (a life in boxes)

I'm doing another giveaway of signed copies of Moving (a life in boxes) over on Goodreads. It's completely free, so if you're a Goodreads members, just click to sign up.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Moving by Patrick Gabridge

Moving

by Patrick Gabridge

Giveaway ends March 11, 2014.
See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Creating a Diverse World--choices, opportunity, and trade offs for playwrights and theaters

There is no shortage of talk these days about racial diversity and gender parity in theater, film, and other media. In the theater-verse, the talk has been swirling around The Summit, a series of discussions with theater leaders in Washington, DC, including one meeting featuring artistic directors, where, in response to a question about lack of plays being produced by female writers, one artistic director said that there weren't enough plays by women in the "pipeline" from NYC and London, that feeds the regional theater scene.  (See Elissa Goetschius's excellent report on 2AMt for more details.)

One of the key things that Elissa points out is that despite the claims about lack of supply, the leaders at those theaters are making choices about what and who to produce. The claim of not enough material in the "pipeline" seems to be intended to let the companies off the hook--the implication is--"if there was enough material that was good enough and commercial enough, we would obviously produce it." The explosive response on Twitter was electric--posts and comments full of names of talented female writers built a huge list of active women playwrights that companies could potentially consider. But most of all, the anger was, I think, due to the apparent abrogation of responsibility by the people in charge of making choices.  Making choices is their job. And the results of those choices, which are public for us all to see, can not be pawned off on circumstance.

In the playwriting world, there are plenty of white, liberal playwrights expressing their anger against the people in charge of choosing seasons and the apparent exclusionary results.  And part of that anger, I'd suggest, comes from a frustration and powerlessness many writers feel about how plays are picked.

Which is fine.  However, I'd like to see (white) playwrights think about taking a close look at themselves when it comes to the subject of racial diversity. The cool part about being a playwright is that we each get to make our own worlds. We don't control the outside universe and what plays get produced, but we do completely control the plays we write and who is in them. As a result, we get to pick, to some extent, the racial make up of the people with whom we work on developing our plays.

But it's a choice. And I'm not sure a lot of white playwrights realize how much influence they have on the racial composition of our artform.  If you want to work in a racially diverse atmosphere, and you're a white writer, you're going to need to write plays with multi-racial casts.

For me, I'm a white father with two black kids, so race is a part of my everyday life. Working with a racially diverse group of actors is really important to me. It's important to my family--my son, who is 14, lights up when he sees a black actor on stage (or on film or reads a black character in a book)--he's always looking for a chance to see a reflection of himself. I don't always write plays about race, but I try hard not to have all-white casts. I write novels, too, and I always write books that are not exclusively populated by white people.


You might say, "Well, I don't specify race in my cast list, so that means the roles can be played by actors of any race."  That might happen.  In some of my historical plays, I've actually written a note as part of the cast list, saying something: "though these people were historically European, they can be played by actors of any racial background."  This can kind of work.

But you know what's really going to happen. The roles will very likely be cast white. The only way to guarantee that you have people of color acting in your plays is to be racially specific. (And to say No, when a producer asks if the role can be played by a white person.)

Which comes with trade offs. It means your play is less likely to be produced. I know this and accept this, because I have a compelling personal interest in a racially diverse theater. But it's still sometimes hard to accept that my latest script is going to have a much harder time getting on stage, and that I could make it a lot easier by making the characters all white.

Why does this happen? It has to do with how many theatre companies form. I submit a lot of scripts, and often burgeoning ensembles in New York and Chicago come to my attention. Time and time again, I check out their web sites, and see all these young faces, many fresh out of college, eager to work together and change the world of theater through innovative takes on classics and exciting new plays. And often, in the About Us section, they have photos and bios of all the company members. Time and after time, every member is white. I don't bother submitting my work to them.

We, in theater, need to understand that in our profession, the issues we face around racial diversity and gender parity are the results of choices. And those choices send messages.  It's not just small companies. Even though large institutional theaters might program work by diverse artists (in my recent survey of Boston theaters, the largest companies programmed much more racial diversity), they often make very different choices about whom they hire for their leadership and administrative staff. It's great to have a mission statement that talks about diversity, but if your staff is all white, that sends a message that's a thousand times louder than any carefully crafted prose.

And people notice. Some of us notice if we only see white people at your theater, some of us notice if we go to a conference and it is filled with white faces (who might be talking a lot about diversity). I'm a numbers guy and the father of black children--you can bet that I never enter a room and don't take a quick racial survey. Never.  And I'm a white man--I carry a big sack of privilege with me into that room (see Peggy McIntosh's famous essay, Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack). The message is only incidentally being received by me, but it's being sent loud and clear to the people of color in that room--we do not take racial diversity as seriously as we say we do.

If you're a white playwright, this might not matter to you. If you're a white theater-maker, it might not matter to you. But if you say that it is important, understand that you have the power to do something about it. You don't get to blame the "pipeline."  Geena Davis has a great essay, Two Easy Steps to Make Hollywood Less Sexist.  The basic answer is that writers can add more women to the films that they write.

The same can work for racial diversity in theater. Ask yourself if your characters must be white. Right now, the vast majority of work being premiered on stage is written by white writers. If those white writers diversify their characters, they will diversify the acting pool, which will ultimately help diversify the leadership pool, all of which will diversify audiences.

I'm not saying that you need to write "about race."  I'm saying you might want to consider changing some characters from white to people of color and see what happens.  There are scary parts about this--you will get fewer productions, you might be challenged on how you choose to write those characters, you might find out things about yourself that are uncomfortable. You might change.

And you might change the world of theater in which we work. 

But no matter how you proceed, understand that you have made a choice. And the results of that choice are a lot more visible than you might realize.




(In case you're interested, I wrote another post a while back called, A White Guy Writing about Race, about my play Pieces of Whitey, about well-meaning white people. Which actually did have an all-white cast, but for very specific reasons.  Which did not entirely pan out.)

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Boston New Play Ecology, part 2, 2014, Fringe


On Thursday, I put out a survey of Boston's large and mid-size theaters, as to how much new work they're producing, and some info on the demographics of who they're producing and who is directing their shows. The news is not particularly great: 13 world premieres from 12 theaters, 6 plays by local writers. But of course, large and mid-sized theaters aren't the whole story for new work.  What's happening with the smaller or "fringe" theaters?

Let's take a look, with the understanding that I'm going to miss some companies. (If I do, let me know and I will correct and expand the list.)  I'm saving some small companies like Acme, Gamm, and Image for the greater New England survey, since they're a bit out of town.  When companies produce a festival of new short plays, I'm counting that as a single production, rather than eight.  I'm not including venues like the BCA or  Charlestown Working Theatre who have various resident companies, but aren't necessarily producing plays themselves. Companies that did not produce in 2013 or 2014 (like CentaStage and Gan-e-meed) are not included.


Apollinaire Theatre Company.  World Premieres: 0.  Total plays: 4.  Written by women: 1; by people of color: 1; directed by women: 4, directed by people of color: 1.

Argos Productions.  World Premieres: 2. The Haberdasher by Walt McGough, directed by Brett Marks, and Bully Dance By David Valdes Greenwood, directed by Sarah Gazdowicz.  Total plays: 2.  Written by women: 0; by people of color: 0; directed by women: 1; directed by people of color: 0.

Bad Habit Productions.  World Premieres: 1. Diamond in the Sky, adapted and directed by Daniel Morris. (I think this is a premiere, but I'm not sure.) Total plays:  4.  Written by women: 1; by people of color: 0; directed by women: 2; directed by people of color: 0.

Boston Actors Theater. World Premieres: 2.  Paper City Phoenix by Walt McGough (who has had quite a year), directed by Melanie Garber; Twins by Julian Olf, directed by Anna Trachtman.  Total plays:  3.  Written by women: 1; by people of color: 0; directed by women: 3; directed by people of color: 0.

Boston Theater Company. World Premieres: 0.  Total plays:  1.  Written by women: 0; by people of color: 0; directed by women: 0; directed by people of color: 0.

Bridge Rep Theater. World Premieres: 1, not Jenny by MJ Halberstadt.  Total plays:  4.  Written by women: 0; by people of color: 0; directed by women: 2; directed by people of color: 0.

Flat Earth Theatre. World Premieres: 1. Lovecraft's Unnameable Tales, adapted by Amy Lehrmitt, directed by James Heyward. Total plays:  4.  Written by women: 1; by people of color: 0; directed by women: 1; directed by people of color: 0.

Fort Point Theatre Channel. World Premieres: 2. The Archives by Skylar Fox, directed by Tasia Jones. Waiting for Gilgamesh, by Amir Al-Azraki and Charles Dumas, directed by  Total plays:  3.  Written by women: 1; by people of color: 1; directed by women: 1; directed by people of color: 1.

Fresh Ink Theatre. World Premieres: 3.  Handicapping by James McLindon, directed by Tyler Monroe, Outlaw Jean by MJ Kaufman, directed by Caitlin Lowans, and 123 by Lila Rose Kaplan, directed by Shana Gozansky.  Total plays:  3.  Written by women: 1; by people of color: 0; directed by women: 2; directed by people of color: 0.

Footlights Club . World Premieres: 0.  Total plays:  5.  Written by women: 0; by people of color: 0; directed by women: 1; directed by people of color: 0.

Gold Dust Orphans. World Premieres: 2.  Mildred Fierce and Pornocchio both by Ryan Landry. Total plays: 2.  Written by women: 0; by people of color: 0; directed by women: 0; directed by people of color: 0.

Happy Medium Theatre . World Premieres: 0.  Total plays: 4.  Written by women: 0; by people of color: 0; directed by women: 1; directed by people of color: 0.

Hibernian Hall.  World Premieres: 1. To Hell With This Village by Sean Travis Taylor, and Raising David Walker by Peter Snoad, both directed by Vincent Ernest Siders.  Total plays: 2.  Written by women: 0; by people of color: 1; directed by women: 0; directed by people of color: 2.

Hovey Players. World Premieres: 1.  Summer Shorts Festival, by various writers. Total plays:  5.  Written by women: 0; by people of color: 0; directed by women: 3; directed by people of color: 1.

Hub Theatre. World Premieres: 0.  Total plays:  4.  Written by women: 1; by people of color: 0; directed by women: 1; directed by people of color: 0.

Imaginary Beasts. World Premieres: 2. Angela Carter's Hairy Tales and Rumplestiltstkin, both adapted by the Imaginary Beasts. Total plays:  3.  Written by women: 1; by people of color: 0; directed by women: 0; directed by people of color: 0.

In Good Company. World Premieres: 2.  None but the Best by Patrick Gabridge, directed by Jeff Mosser, and The Golden Door written by Joyce van Dyke, directed by Emily Ranii. Music direction of both by Kay Dunlap.  Total plays:  2.  Written by women: 1; by people of color: 0; directed by women: 1; directed by people of color: 0.

Liars and Believers. World Premieres: 2. Interference and Icarus Total plays:  2.  Written by women: 1; by people of color: 0; directed by women: 0; directed by people of color: 0.  This group makes company created work, that often runs for just one night. So I don't know quite how to count it. Same applies to the demographics, but the directors seem to be white, and the company list doesn't seem to include any people of color.

Maiden Phoenix Theatre Company.  World Premieres:  0.  Total plays: 1.  Written by women: 1; people of color: 0; directed by women: 1; directed by people of color: 0.

Mill 6 Theatre Collaborative. World Premieres: 1.  The T Plays V, a bunch of short plays written on and about the T. Total plays:  1.  Written by women: 1; by people of color: 0; directed by women: 1; directed by people of color: 0.

New Exhibition Room. World Premieres: 1.  EEP! Show by the company. Total plays:  1.  Written by women: 1; by people of color: 1; directed by women: 1; directed by people of color: 1.

New Urban Theatre Laboratory. World Premieres: 1. The NUTlab Five & Dime festival, by various writers (all women in 2013)  Total plays:  1.  Written by women: 1; by people of color: 1; directed by women: 1; directed by people of color: 1.

Playwrights Platform.  World Premieres: 1.  Playwrights Platform Summer Festival.  Total plays: 1. Written by women: 1; by people of color: 1; directed by women: 1; directed by people of color: 0.

Project Project. World Premieres: 1.  How May I Connect You by the company, co-directed by Jeff Mosser and Vicki Shairer.  Total plays:  1.  Written by women: 1; by people of color: 0; directed by women: 1; directed by people of color: 0.

Roxbury Repertory Theatre. World Premieres: 1.  6 Playwrights in Search of Stage festival. Total plays:  3.  Written by women: 3; by people of color: 1; directed by women: 2; directed by people of color: 2. (The data for these productions is a little fuzzy.)

Simple Machine. World Premieres: 0.  Total plays:  1.  Written by women: 0; by people of color: 0; directed by women: 1; directed by people of color: 0.

Science Fiction Theatre Company. World Premieres: 1. The Aurora Project by Bella Poynton, directed by Vincent Ularich.  Total plays:  2.  Written by women: 1; by people of color: 0; directed by women: 0; directed by people of color: 0.  (Not sure if this was a world premiere or not--it had a college production at the University of Iowa in 2013, too.)

Sleeping Weazel. World Premieres: 2. Real Realism by Charlotte Meehan, directed by Venessa Gilbert, and The African American History and Its Expressions, a festival of plays, dolls and music--featuring the premiere of The Purple Flower, by Harlem Renaissance writer Marita Bonner, directed by Dominic Taylor.  Total plays:  2.  Written by women: 1; by people of color: 1; directed by women: 1; directed by people of color: 1.

Stickball Productions.  World Premieres: 0. Total plays:  1.  Written by women: 0; by people of color: 0; directed by women: 0; directed by people of color: 0.

Theatre@First.  World Premieres: 0.  Total plays: 4.  Written by women: 2; by people of color: 0; directed by women 2; directed by people of color: 0.

Theatre on Fire. World Premieres: 0.  Total plays:  3.  Written by women: 0; by people of color: 0; directed by women: 0; directed by people of color: 0.

Titanic Theatre Company.   World Premieres: 0.  Total plays:  1.  Written by women: 0; by people of color: 0; directed by women: 0; directed by people of color: 0.

Unreliable Narrator.  World Premieres: 1.  Human Contact, a collection of five short science-fiction plays. Total Plays: 1.  Written by women: 0; by people of color: 0; directed by women 0; directed by people of color: 0.

Vagabond Theatre Group. World Premieres: 1. August and Autumn, by Brian Tuttle, directed by James Peter Sotis. Total plays:  2.  Written by women: 0; by people of color: 0; directed by women: 0; directed by people of color: 0.

Vaquero Playground.  World Premieres: 1.  From Denmark with Love by John J. King, directed by Barlow Adamson.  Written by women: 0; by people of color: 0; directed by women: 0; directed by people of color: 0.

Whistler in the Dark. World Premieres: 0.  Total plays:  2.  Written by women: 2; by people of color: 0; directed by women: 2; directed by people of color: 0.


So that's a total of 36 theater companies (though I'm sure I missed some, so I'll update the post as necessary).  Here are the stats:

34 world premieres
32 by local writers
13 were written by women (36%)
6 were written by people of color (mostly festivals)  (18%)


Total plays produced by 36 theaters:  88
Percentage that were world premieres:  38%

Total plays written by women:  26.  (29%)
Total written by people of color: 8.  (9%)
Total directed by women:  34  (39%)
Total directed by people of color:  10.  (11%)


In addition to the productions of new plays from the Fringe, there are also many developmental opportunities. Interim Writers does monthly readings, and Vagabond and Fresh Ink and several other small companies offer quite a few readings.  Next season, we'll be gaining a new company, Boston Public Works, dedicated to producing new plays by their 10 member writers, so that will boost next year's tally of world premieres by 3.  Many of the premieres listed here are written by members of the companies, so those productions don't necessarily equate to open slots, but that's true of some of the slots at larger companies as well.

If you compare the Fringe numbers to those from the large and medium-sized companies, you'll see that local writers get most of their opportunities from the small companies (no surprise), but that the larger companies produce a much higher percentage of new plays by women and people of color. In terms of demographics for overall productions, the Fringe produces a smaller percentage of plays by women and people of color.  The demographic stats for directors are pretty similar.


If we add together the stats for all Boston theatres, we arrive at:
47 world premieres in Boston this past season from 48 theaters
38 by local writers (81%)
20 world premieres written by women  (43%) 
10 world premieres written by people of color  (21%)


Overall:  151 plays produced.
60 written by women   (40%)
16 written by people of color  (11%)
60 directed by women (40%)
15 directed by people of color (10%)


I wish that I'd surveyed the Fringe theater scene with my initial post in 2010, so I don't have exact data to compare, but it's clear that the scene for new work has expanded drastically since 2010, with the emergence of Fresh Ink, Vagabond, Interim, and Argos. Boston Public Works will add a whole bunch of world premieres next eyar. And we'll have to see if Hibernian Hall finds success with Peter Snoad's bunch of new plays (they're staging four of them) and will continue to stage new work in the heart of a traditionally underserved community.

As writers, we can often be discouraged at what feels like an endless stream of rejection, but some of the news from Boston is actually pretty exciting--there is a lot of new work going on here.  However, there remains significant room for improvement, in terms of producing more work written by people of color and by women. (Indeed, the numbers for women and people of color are slightly inflated, because I'm counting festivals with a mix of women and men directors as being directed by a woman, and same for people of color.)

My hope is that these numbers give us a chance to engage in an honest discussion about the state of Boston area theatre (and how that relates to the national scene), to better understand some of our strengths and our weaknesses.


In the next week or so, I'll try to put together the stats for professional productions in the rest of New England.


  • I also want to point out that Art Hennessey, on his blog, Mirror Up to Life, has some other very interesting posts about Boston theatre data from 2010.
  •  And here's a post from Ilana Brownstein with a similar accounting of productions and diversity from the 2012-2013 Boston season (with a slightly different universe of companies).  A comparison of percentages between the two surveys might be a start towards establishing ideas about current trends.  
  • Here's a blog from San Francisco, where the blogger is keeping stats on gender for actors, directors, and writers, month-by-month.  http://sfbayareaactor.blogspot.com/

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Boston New Play Ecology, 2014



Back in 2010, I wrote a series of blog posts about the state of new play production in Boston and New England (which led to some discussion and also a follow up post about Orlando).  I've been meaning to do a follow up for a while, to see how things have changed, if at all, since then.

Here are the original posts:
Daddy Where Do New Plays Come From
New Play Ecology, Part 2, New England


The relevant numbers from 2010:
10 Boston theaters yielded 11 world premieres (6 by Boston writers)
24 theaters in the rest of New England staged 16 world premieres.
Total: 34 theaters offered 27 world premieres. 12 by local writers.


So where do we stand today?

Let's start with medium and large Boston theatres putting on professional productions, and then we'll look at Fringe Companies and the rest of New England in other posts.

Huntington Theatre Company:  2 world premieres: Becoming Cuba by Melinda Lopez, directed by Bevin O'Gara, and Smart People by Lydia Diamond, directed by Peter DuBois. I'm not quite sure how to count Mary Zimmerman's adaptation of Jungle Book, which was a co-production with the Goodman (I'm not counting it as a world premiere for now). The Huntington continues to be very active in new play development, having brought back their Breaking Ground readings series (last month they did readings of new plays by Ronan Noone, Lila Rose Kaplan, Lenelle Moise, Susan Bernfield, and Tanya Barfield). Their Huntington Playwriting Fellows (HPF) program is still growing strong, and for the past two seasons they've put together a Summer Play Lab doing workshops of plays by HPF writers (including me).  That's a lot of opportunity.  There's been a lot of talk on the Internet lately about demographics of writers and directors, especially after a recent Summit in DC, so I'm going to include these numbers, too:
Total plays: 7; plays written/developed by women: 3; by people of color: 2; directed by women: 4; directed by people of color: 0.

American Repertory Theatre: 3 world premieres:  Witness Uganda by Matt Gould and Griffin Matthew, directed by Diane Paulus; The Shape She Makes by Susan Misner & Jonathan Bernstein, directed by Jonathan Bernstein; The Light Princess by Lila Rose Kaplan directed by Allegra Libonati (this wasn't in the main season, but was part of the ART Institute, but it was a by a local writer).  Plus they're hosting lots of new work at Oberon and have a couple of other exciting new work programs going on right now.  Total plays: 7+, written/developed by women: 2; by people of color: 1; directed by women: 2; directed by people of color: 0.

Those are the big guys.  How about some of the mid-sized and bigger small theatres in Boston:

Lyric Stage:  none.  Total plays: 7, written/developed by women: 3; by people of color: 1; directed by women: 2; directed by people of color: 0.

Speakeasy:  1 world premiere: Kurt Vonnegut's Make Up Your Mind, assembled by Nicky Silver.  Total plays: 5, written by women: 2, by people of color: 0; directed by women: 1, directed by people of color: 0.

New Rep: 1 world premiere, Pattern of Life by Walt McGough, directed by Bridge Kathleen O'Leary. They've also now go their Next Voices Fellowship Program going, where they work with four local playwrights (I was part of it last year).  This is a big addition to the scene since 2010.  Total plays: 10 (counting their Next Rep Black Box Festival), written by women: 3, by people of color: 1, directed by women: 3, directed by people of color: 1.

Boston Playwrights Theatre:  3 world premieres: Burning by Ginger Lazarus directed by Steven Bogart, Windowmen by Steven Barkhimer, directed by Brett Marks, and Absence by Peter M. Floyd, directed by Megan Schy Gleeson. Total plays 3, written by women 1, by people of color 0, directed by women 1, directed by people of color 0.

Company One: 1 world premiere, Splendor by Kirsten Greenidge. Company One also now has created their XX Play Lab, which develops 3 plays by women writers each year--this is another big addition to the scene since 2010.  Total plays: 4, written by women 4, by people of color 3, directed by women 2, directed by people of color: 2. 

Actors Shakespeare Project:  0 world premieres. In 2010 they were doing more new play development than they are now--they actually did 2 world premieres in 2010.  Total plays: 2. Total written by women: 0, by people of color: 0, directed by women: 1, directed by people of color 1.

Central Square Theatre: 1 world premiere: Sila by Chantal Bilodeau, directed by Megan Sandberg-Zanian. Total plays: 7 (between 2 companies, Nora and Underground Railway).  Written by women: 1, by people of color: 0, directed by women 3, directed by people of color: 1.

Stoneham Theatre: 1 world premiere, The Unbleached American by Michaell Aman, directed by Weylin Symes. (In the 2010 blog post, I had Stoneham in the New England List, but really it's in Metro Boston).  Total plays: 6. Written by women: 3, by people of color 0, directed by women 4, directed by people of color: 0.

Wheelock Family Theatre:  0 world premieres. Total plays 4, written/adapted by women: 2, by people of color: 0, directed by women 3, directed by people of color: 0.  (I didn't have WFT in the list in 2010, but I should have. They reach a big audience and offer paid gigs.)

Zeitgeist Stage Company: 0 world premieres.  Total plays 3, written by women: 0, written by people of color: 0, directed by women 0, directed by people of color: 0.


So that gives us a total of 13 professional world premieres from 12 theaters.
6 were by local writers (46%)
7 were written by women (54%)
4 were by people of color (30%)

Total plays produced by 12 theaters:  66
Percentage that were world premieres:  20%

Total plays written by women:  24.  (36%)
Total written by people of color: 8.  (12%)
Total directed by women:  26  (39%)
Total directed by people of color:  5.  (8%)


I hope to address the demographics in another post, but in terms of new play opportunities in general, the news is something of a mixed bag.  On the plus side, there is a slight increase in number of world premieres since 2010 -- we went from 11 to 13 (18% increase), and we didn't lose any theater companies (no small feat).  We gained development programs from New Rep and Company One, saw more increases from the Huntington, but lost some development slots from Actors Shakespeare.  On the down side, we didn't gain any mid-sized companies who produce new work (though we did gain ArtsEmerson which is bringing in some pretty amazing shows from around the world).

It's pretty clear that professional production slots for plays by local playwrights are still are very hard to come by.  And there are a LOT of us.

There is, however, good news from the "fringe" theatre scene, in terms of new play production and development.  I didn't do a survey of those companies in 2010, but I will this time (very soon), and I think we'll see some positive numbers there. And I'll try to do a survey of the remaining professional New England theaters, as soon as I can.


(By the way, I would dearly love to see writers in other cities compile similar lists, so we can get a nationwide picture of the actual state of new play production opportunities in America.  Here is some great data from Gwydion Suelebhan about DC--for 31 theaters, 143 productions. Interesting to compare Boston and DC, though DC is a lot bigger.)

(Note: I had to make a correction--I accidentally credited SpeakEasy with some of Actors' Shakespeare's 2010 new play work.)